SCREEN DOOR: When Wes Welker went down last week in Houston, the Patriots leaned heavily on the screen game. And there was no way the Ravens were going to let the Patriots beat them with it.
From the start, in the Ravens nickel defense, they’d drop their ends off into flats coverage, and blitz linebackers through the middle. When Julian Edelman was dropped for a 3-yard loss on New England’s first screen of the day, it was because Suggs was waiting for him, having dropped off his rush. Seven plays later, Suggs was waiting, again, for Laurence Maroney in the flat, which led to Brady taking a big hit from Ray Lewis.
The offensive line had to adjust to this, as well. On Ray Lewis’ sack, the line failed adjust to the dropping ends, and both Dan Koppen and Logan Mankins pick up blitzing Dannell Ellerbe, clearing a path for Lewis to come free with another rusher coming behind him. So almost immediately the Patriots were taken out of their comfort zone offensively, and really, never found that.
WELL RECEIVED: In this space last week, we discussed how most of the hay made by Julian Edelman was coming on screens. On Sunday, he took another step, it seemed, in his development.
It’s pretty obvious watching the pace of the offense that he doesn’t get open as quickly as Wes Welker (please put those comparisons to rest), and he did have a bad drop, but it was encouraging to see him in scramble situations, showing awareness and feel for the game.
On his first touchdown, Edelman darted to his left, trying hard to get in Brady’s sightline as the quarterback broke the pocket, eventually getting there to position himself for the catch. Then, on a 24-yard catch to convert a fourth-and-17, he slipped behind safety Tom Zbikowski and scrambled toward Brady’s sight, as the quarterback moved to his left.
Again, he’s shown he can work the open field, and make guys miss in tight spots, but really, that’s what he did as an option quarterback at Kent State. The scramble plays are signs of progress.
PREPARE PLUS PERFORM: Besides the schematics, there’s the matter here of how well each team was prepared for the other’s best shot. Baltimore, it seemed, had the Patriots’ tendencies down to a science.
On the third-and-7 before the big Edelman 24-yarder, Brady looked for Kevin Faulk, but he was being spied by Haloti Ngata, who forced the QB to look elsewhere. A harried Brady then put the ball high for Sam Aiken, who got knocked into next week. Later, Dwan Edwards instinctively came off his pass rush when he smelled screen, and dropped Sammy Morris for no gain.
On the flip side, on Flacco’s big third-and-7 scramble, Gary Guyton appeared to be the spy. Yet, inexplicably, Flacco turned the corner on Guyton and got to the sticks, to set up the game’s final touchdown. Same deal with Brandon Meriweather on Ray Rice’s 83-yarder – he came up aggressively, but turned reckless quickly, got a bad angle, and watch the opposition run right by him.
Believe it not, the Ravens were the more disciplined team in this regard on Sunday.
MAKING THE POINT: At its simplest level, this game was one by the Ravens at the point of attack, and that fact could permeate the Patriots’ offseason.
In the trenches, Vince Wilfork was the only Patriot to consistently win his one-on-one battles. One Faulk no-gainer on a big second-and-8 in the second quarter happened because Stephen Neal got absolutely blown up by Ray Lewis. Earlier, Fred Taylor was dropped for a 1-yard loss after Koppen whiffed on Ngata – blocking the big guy was a recurring problem – and allowed him into the backfield. Then there was a defense that had to sub guys in and out, and move Wilfork around to hold up in front.
So add that to Guyton’s usual struggles holding up against guards (not his fault, he’s miscast doing these things), and the defense’s season-long issues setting the edge, and it’s not hard to see why Baltimore’s 234-64 edge in rushing yards is easy to figure.
ALLOWING THE EXTRA YARDS: For some reason, the Patriots have had tackling issues for most of the season, and it was apparent in two young linchpins – Meriweather and Jerod Mayo – on Sunday.
On the Ravens’ third scoring series, Meriweather missed Willis McGahee in the hole, allowing a cut-back to lead to a 9-yard gain that put the Ravens in third-and-1. On the next play, a poor angle by Mayo on a swing pass to McGahee gave the back a 13-yard gain. In the second quarter, Mayo had Ray Rice in tight quarters low, but the Pro Bowler found a way to make him miss and churn out 5 yards to get to another third-and-1.
Yes, McGahee and Rice are playmakers for the Ravens, so you won’t get them every time. But these breakdowns seemed far more rare in the past, and might be one of the larger teaching issues going into the offseason. Stuff like this would indicate that training camp will be no-holds-barred.
THIS AND THAT: Faulk deserves a game ball for what he did Sunday. Outstanding. In some spots, he was running the option routes you’d generally see Welker running. And in others, he was providing a spark, no
ne moreso than when he drove through a Ngata tackle in the first quarter. If that was his last game in New England, he’s got nothing to be ashamed of. … That said, Wilfork was, far and away, the Patriots’ best player on Sunday. On a first-and-goal at the 2, he blew up a block from one of the league’s best guards, Ben Grubbs, to get to and bury Rice. There might not be 10 players in the league capable of that play. … The Patriots offensive coaches get blame here, because when there had to be an adjustment, there wasn’t one. It seemed like the Ravens’ effort to take away the screen game not only worked, but left New England out of answers. And Randy Moss wasn’t there when they needed him most, leaving the Patriots no downfield options to loosen the Ravens defense up.