NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
In one of their most impressive defensive efforts of the year, the New England Patriots were able to get on the board early and often, while frustrating efforts from the Baltimore Ravens to throw the ball downfield, improving to 11-4 on the season via a 41-7 victory over an ineffective Ravens squad which would not make the playoffs if the season ended today. Read on for five observations from the contest.
1. Productive downfield passing conspicuously missing from Baltimore’s offensive attack
The Patriots were able to take advantage of Joe Flacco’s aggressiveness in the early going, with Devin McCourty nearly intercepting a deep throw down the left sideline which was intended for Torrey Smith on the first Ravens drive of the game to help force a Baltimore punt. After LeGarrette Blount’s one-yard touchdown run, Flacco attempted to throw to Jacoby Jones about twenty yards downfield, but linebacker Dont’a Hightower was able to bat the ball up into the air, allowing cornerback Logan Ryan to catch it off of the deflection for an interception which gave the Patriots the ball near midfield. Early in the second quarter, Flacco gravely overthrew Jones again on a pass which was nearly intercepted by McCourty. On a fourth-and-three play early in the third quarter, Flacco made a poor read, trying to throw a deeper pass to Jacoby Jones when he had a man open underneath, with the ball being deflected and surrendered to the Patriots. Logan Ryan intercepted another Flacco pass which deflected off of a Ravens receiver, and Tavon Wilson also picked off backup Tyrod Taylor for a seventy-four-yard touchdown.
2. Underneath passing game is there for Ravens, but abandoned in favor of deep shots
This week’s preview touched upon the popular belief that Joe Flacco favors downfield passing, but in actuality we discussed how Flacco often favors the short passing game despite his outstanding arm strength. New England seemed willing to concede underneath routes throughout the game, something that allowed the Ravens to make some consistent gains through the air. Flacco found Bernard Pierce for nine yards on the team’s second drive, and for fifteen more on the team’s first drive of the second quarter. Ray Rice was wide open on another underneath route later on, gaining the team ten yards and a first down. Had Baltimore been more patient on their first few drives of the game, they may have been able to keep the game competitive in the first half, rather than finding themselves on the wrong end of a substantial first-half deficit which informed their playcalling from that point on. The two most explosive plays through the air today came on short throws.
3. Flacco sacked on four separate occasions, highlighting Ravens’ offensive line troubles
Baltimore’s insistence on trying to establish the downfield passing game for quick points ultimately allowed the Patriots to successfully pressure Flacco, who was forced to wait for routes to develop. Flacco tripped on the team’s third drive of the game, with Andre Carter officially being credited with the sack. On the team’s first endeavor of the second quarter, Kyle Arrington successfully blitzed off of the right end of Baltimore’s offensive line for his second sack in as many games, forcing a punt. The Ravens started to put together a bit of an extended drive late in the second quarter, but Flacco was sacked once more, this time by Rob Ninkovich on a third-down play which forced Baltimore to punt. Pursuit from Chandler Jones early in the third quarter flushed Flacco from the pocket and forced a fourth-and-three which Baltimore failed to convert. Overall, the Patriots were able to capitalize on a poor opposing offensive line by sacking Flacco on four occasions.
4. Vereen exits early, Blount and Ridley provide the primary offense for New England
Because of the effectiveness of Baltimore’s run defense, it was fair to wonder whether or not the Patriots would be able to establish their rushing attack early on, but the team demonstrated an early reliance on their running backs, primarily starter LeGarrette Blount, which proved successful. Blount carried the ball six times in the first quarter, with one of those carries being a one-yard touchdown run which gave New England an early lead; the team also gave first-quarter touches to Shane Vereen, who caught a four-yard touchdown, Stevan Ridley, and Brandon Bolden, with the Patriots running the ball twelve times in the quarter and with their running backs catching two passes. Unfortunately, Vereen pulled up early on a pass pattern and left the game with what was described as a groin injury. That meant that Blount and Ridley were the two backs most commonly carrying the ball, with Blount receiving sixteen carries and gaining seventy-six yards and two touchdowns, while Ridley carried the ball fifteen times and gained fifty-four yards.
5. Even without accurate passing, Patriots are somewhat efficient through the air
Mistakes made by Baltimore’s secondary also played into New England’s hands early, with the calls effectively extending critical Patriots drives. Jimmy Smith’s thirty-four-yard defensive pass interference penalty gave the Patriots the ball on the one-yard line on the team’s second drive of the game, a flag which was immediately followed by LeGarrette Blount’s one-yard touchdown run. On New England’s next drive, following cornerback Logan Ryan’s interception of Joe Flacco, Lardarius Webb was called for illegal contact on what had been an incomplete pass in a second-and-seven situation, giving New England a first down. Three plays later, a blown coverage in the secondary resulting from the confusion caused by a three-receiver bunch formation allowed Danny Amendola to gain thirty-four yards on a catch-and-run, setting up the team’s second touchdown. Tom Brady didn’t look particularly accurate today, but New England’s passing game was able to move the ball through the air periodically.