Alen Dumonjic, an x's and o's football junkie who blogs for The Score, continues to give us his insight on the intricacies of the game.
INSIDE THE RAVENS OFFENSE
Another week has passed and the Patriots are once again facing a familiar foe. This time, it’s the Baltimore Ravens, who they’ve recently had great battles with. The last time the two met, the Ravens squeaked out a 31-30 win at home, but there’s been a change to the team since then.
Cam Cameron, who coordinated the offense at the time, has since been let go and replaced by play-caller Jim Caldwell. Caldwell hasn’t changed the offense a significant amount, sticking to Cameron’s preferred 11, 12 and 21 personnel groupings, but he has made it coherent.
Unlike Cameron, Caldwell’s play-calling has seen the Ravens attack the middle of the field more with combination routes, such as double posts, smash (hitch + corner route), Y-sail and pivot-dig. Cameron had a preference for isolated routes on the outsides, which didn’t benefit quarterback Joe Flacco. Since the firing of Cameron, Flacco’s improved as a passer and appears to have more control over the offense.
The concepts in the running game haven’t changed much. The offense still uses a lot of zone stretch concepts that allow Ray Rice to find cutback lanes and creases that spring him into the open field.
Other concepts used include lead and counter, which enable not only Rice to get downhill but rookie Bernard Pierce, too. Pierce had only four carries in the first meeting but could be a factor in this weekend’s game, assuming his reported knee injury doesn’t slow him down. When healthy, he’s a downhill runner with a blend of power, vision and quickness.
INSIDE THE RAVENS DEFENSE
On the defensive side of the ball, the Ravens were without pass-rusher Terrell Suggs in the last meeting but won’t be this time. Suggs has been playing with torn right biceps but still must be accounted for. Meanwhile, future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis has also returned from injury and is playing in his final postseason.
Like I wrote in the last meeting, the Ravens defense is multiple, featuring separate fronts of one, two, three and four defensive linemen. All of these fronts are not drastically different from each other, however, because they frequently amount to four man rushers. The reason they are used is for disguise when attempting to confuse the offensive lines protection schemes.
Last week against the Denver Broncos, the Ravens played a lot of nickel personnel and could be doing the same this week. With nickel personnel, they’ll likely be playing an array of coverages, such as Cover 1 (Man-Free), Cover 1 Robber, Cover 2 (five under, two deep zone), Cover 3 (four under, three deep zone), Cover 4 (Quarters), loaded zone and their variations.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
- Ravens play action: If there’s one area of the Ravens passing game that should be a concern, it’s the play action passing game. As many know, Flacco has a very strong arm and throws an abundance of vertical routes to wide receiver Torrey Smith. Smith burned cornerback Champ Bailey and the Broncos numerous times last week and will have to be identified before the snap this week.
- CB Cary Williams: The tall and lengthy cornerback sometimes struggles getting out of his breaks. He lacks the quickness to sink his hips and change directions, which is likely a big reason why the Ravens often have him play off-man coverage. Although he is physical, it is worth monitoring how he deals with any double moves that the Patriots throw at him or simple comebacks, which has given him trouble in the past.
- Special teams: The Ravens gave up kick return and punt return touchdowns last week to the Broncos and can’t have that happen again. They didn’t do a good job of accounting for the entire width of the field on the touchdowns given up, which is something to watch in this game.
- For the Patriots, they have to make sure that Jacoby Jones doesn’t make a big play on special teams. He’s done it on multiple occasions this season and overall has done a good job of getting the Ravens field position. During the regular season, he led the league with two touchdowns and an average of 30.7 yards per kick return.
- Patriots RBs/TEs vs. Ravens LBs: The Patriots have had to make some adjustments since Rob Gronkowski has been lost to injury (twice), and one of the things they’ve done is use the running backs more in the passing game. Last weekend against the Texans, Josh McDaniels did a good job of getting running back Shane Vereen in space against the Texans’ slow linebackers. I expect him to look to do the same this weekend because the Ravens linebackers are also slow, lacking change of direction skills and foot speed.
- Patriots LBs vs. Ravens TEs: Tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are also factors in the passing game for the Ravens, especially the former. Pitta is athletic and quick changing directions, making him a good route-runner. He is one of Flacco’s favorite targets, and he’ll look to him again this weekend with a belief that Pitta can beat the Patriots’ linebackers in coverage.