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Bridgestone Performance Review: Ravens-Patriots

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1st Quarter

…The Ravens moved the ball effectively on the game's opening drive with only a handful of plays that exposed some holes in New England's D. Their first touchdown was a textbook play-action bootleg to the opposite side, a staple of OC Gary Kubiak's offenses. Former NE WR Kamar Aiken was lined up in the slot right, and at the snap, QB Joe Flacco faked a handoff to the left side to RB Bernard Pierce. Aiken started to run a slant to the inside left, then stopped and cut back to the outside. Safety Patrick Chung marked him, but Aiken's move caught Chung flat-footed and Aiken found space to the outside. Chung gave chase, but couldn't bring him down from behind when he finally caught up with him around the 5-yard line. Aiken got a good block from fellow WR Steve Smith, who shielded CB Darrelle Revis from stepping in front of him and making the tackle. Chung got his arms around Aiken, but the receiver fought through it and dove to the goal line and broke the plane with the ball.

…Patriots had a short first drive that ended when the officials reviewed a catch by Danny Amendola on 3rd down. The call was ruled a catch, but then overturned upon replay inspection. To my eye, it looked like Amendola secured the ball and maintain possession throughout, even though the ball was touching the ground for a moment. Amendola retained control of the ball, so, it should have been a catch and not overturned. Refs obviously saw it differently.

…New England continued to show zone looks on the second Ravens drive, which also ended in a touchdown toss. Flacco was able to find several different receivers in the pockets of the Patriots' D. Again, on the score, Flacco's intended target was lined up tight to the right. Smith, guarded still by Revis, began his route by angling to the corner, but then cut inside across Revis' body with a bit of a shove to Revis' shoulder. This gave Smith just enough space in front of Revis, who maintained his feet by was a step behind, and Flacco delivered a ball slightly behind Smith. He bobbled the ball and Revis nearly made a play to swat it down, but Smith secured it the second time and fell to the ground in the end zone to put Baltimore up 14-0.

…Baltimore allowed TE Rob Gronkowski to gain 30 combined yards on back-to-back receptions simply because they failed to cover him. He was untouched getting off the line of scrimmage both times and ran free through the Ravens' secondary.

…Brady was not at this sharpest throwing the ball in the first quarter. His passes were either too low or high, but he got his team on the scoreboard with a 4-yard run at the end of the quarter. He was in the shotgun on 3rd-and-goal from the BAL 4, with four receivers wide and RB Shane Vereen in the backfield. At the snap, Vereen flared out on a pass route. Baltimore's edge rushers converged on Brady like pincers. The interior o-line swallowed up their defenders, leaving a lane in front of Brady straight to the end zone. WR Julian Edelman was running a pattern across the goal line and, as Brady was sprinting for the end zone, Edelman threw a key block on safety Darian Stewart which Brady needed to continue across the goal line. The Ravens had overloaded to Brady's right side, which also helped clear the space in front of him.

2nd Quarter

…First drive of the second quarter for New England, Brady found something he could exploit on the left side (the Ravens' right side of their defense). He hit several throws to that area outside the numbers on the field to move the ball down to the Ravens' 24. That's when things broke down for the Patriots' offense.

…Brady was in the gun, Vereen to his left, a trips right, and Gronk split left. DT Timmy Jernigan used a great swim move to dispose of RG Ryan Wendell, leaving Wendell staring down at the ground at Jernigan ran untouched to a sitting-duck Brady. Just a great individual move by Jernigan cost the Patriots six yards.

…Very next play, Brady had Vereen to his right and RB Brandon Bolden to his left in the shotgun, with Gronk and Edelman split right and WR Brandon LaFell out left. The Ravens rushed just four players, one of whom, OLB Terrell Suggs, was 1-on-1 with LT Nate Solder. Suggs worked his way forward and Solder held him off at first, but Suggs eventually tossed Solder to the ground and was able to bear down on the QB from Brady's left. Suggs and OLB Pernell McPhee sandwiched Brady for a four-yard loss. Significantly, rookie C Bryan Stork injured his right knee as Suggs lunged at Brady and Suggs' flying body came down on the side of Stork's leg. Stork limped badly to the sideline and never returned to the game. It's unclear how long he'll be out of commission, if at all, but any absence will be a huge blow to an unstable Patriots o-line that seemed to have congealed again at just the right time.

...Wendell then slid over to center and Josh Kline entered the game at right guard. The Ravens immediately put pressure on that wounded area and got into Brady's line of sight, though he wasn't brought down again for the rest of the game.

…New England tried to run to the right side a few times, but to no avail. The line wasn't opening up any holes there.

…Amendola did a tremendous job of shaking his defender on his first touchdown catch, but it was a block down field by LaFell that made it possible. LaFell engaged CB Rashaan Melvin, opening up just enough space between them and the sideline for Amendola to sneak through and make a diving leap for the pylon. Without that block, Amendola likely doesn't get near the goal line.

…Brady's interception at the end of the half was all his doing, and he knew it immediately. He had Gronkowski racing up the seam with Ravens LB Daryl Smith falling back in coverage. Gronk was untouched again and roaming free downfield as Smith allowed him to do so. Smith turned back to Brady as he backpedaled, and the QB inexplicably fired a pass directly at the defender, almost as if he hadn't seen Smith shadowing Gronkowski downfield. It was just a poor throw. If there were a little more air under the ball, Gronk might've had a chance to make the catch.

…Flacco and the Ravens responded with a score. Baltimore had an empty backfield shotgun, trips left. TE Owen Daniels was the tightest receiver in that formation. The Patriots manned up on all the receivers. Daniels was chipped at the line by DE Chandler Jones, but not enough to throw him off his route. LB Dont'a Hightower picked him up with inside technique, but Flacco threw to Daniels' outside through a tight window of three Patriots defenders who were converging, and making the TE spin clockwise 180 degrees to make a tremendous grab at the back of the end zone. Baltimore went into the half with a 21-14 lead.

3rd Quarter

…Ravens upped the lead to 14 for the second time in the game on their first drive of the second half. RB Justin Forsett appeared to get wide open out in the flat. But it wasn't a busted coverage. Forsett was the responsibility of LB Jamie Collins on the play. Collins was off the line of scrimmage and was supposed to flare out to cover Forsett. As he began to do so, Aiken came flashing across the front of Collins, who tried to assist Revis by giving Aiken a shove within the allowable five yards of the line of scrimmage. Collins didn't get a got hit, though, and fell forward, essentially taking himself out of the play. He was too late at that point to get over to tackle Forsett, who had nothing but green grass between him and the end zone. Easiest score of the night for either team.

…Biggest story of the game happened here, on New England's second possession of the half, when the Patriots employed their "ineligible receiver" tactic. On 1st-and-10 from their own 31, the Patriots sent Vereen into the game to tell the officials that he was going to be ineligible. Effectively, he was the fifth offensive lineman, as Kline was sent to the bench and only four traditional o-linemen remained on the field. TE Michael Hoomanawanui lined up in a three-point stance at the left end of the line, next to Nate Solder. So, it appeared that Hooman was the left tackle and Solder the left guard, next to Wendell at center. Vereen lined up in the right slot, but he was not an eligible receiver on the play. This confused Baltimore's D, which sent a man to cover Vereen, but not Hooman. At the snap, Hooman released into the secondary and Brady hit him for a completion of 16 yards.

…A few plays later, the Patriots did it again and Hooman got open down the seam again, this time for 14 yards. It was entirely legal, just unconventional, and Baltimore wasn't quick enough to respond. New England obviously came up with this concept during the past couple of weeks, judging by how effectively and decisively they executed the plays. It was a halftime adjustment, for sure, but the team had clearly practiced it beforehand. Tremendous idea and implementation by New England's offense. It helped them march down the field and score their third touchdown.

…The TD was something we've seen plenty this season: Gronk in short yardage all alone to the left, with a single safety (this time Will Hill) in coverage. Mismatch. Gronk just runs a slant and Brady hits him. Unstoppable play.

…New England tied the game after a Baltimore punt, needing just three plays. Almost no one other than Brady every throws a pass for the Patriots, which made this play call perfect. Edelman was slot right before the snap, then motioned to the left side, where two other receivers were split out. Brady tossed to ball backward to Edelman, making it appear like a wide receiver screen play. The Ravens thought this, too, allowing Amendola to race up the sideline freely. Edelman set his feet and threw a perfect pass to his teammate and hit him in stride.

…Patriots got the ball back on the next Baltimore possession thanks to Devin McCourty. The safety was playing deep and anticipated a crossing route by Torrey Smith beautifully. Logan Ryan was covering Smith man-to-man, and Smith came from the left side, all the way across to the right. McCourty watched Flacco eyeing Smith from the get-go and raced to the spot where he expected the ball to arrive. McCourty guessed right and beat Smith to the point, made the catch, and stepped out of bounds in front of his own bench. Great awareness my McCourty of what was about to transpire. Offense couldn't convert, however, and the Patriots ended up punting it back to Baltimore.

…A holding call against Revis negated what would have been a Collins strip-sack and fumble recovery inside the Ravens' 4. Steve Smith was running a crossing route, then stopped and cut back outside. Revis extended his arm and got a piece of Smiths' shoulder, which caused the receiver to swivel his torso ever so slightly. Close call, but it's hard to argue with the refs' ruling.

4th Quarter

…Brady's go-ahead touchdown toss to LaFell was very pretty. LaFell was 1-on-1 with Melvin, who gave LaFell a clean release off the line of scrimmage. Melvin had his back to the ball the whole time, and LaFell smartly didn't raise his arms for the football. He just waited for it to land in his left hand and he cradled it to his body. Melvin never had a chance to make a play on the ball, because he didn't know it was coming. Great deception by LaFell and perfect throw by Brady.

…Have to credit the Patriots' o-line. Despite injury and on-paper mismatches, it did a great job of keeping Brady relatively safe in the pocket. Yes, he was pressure a number of times and had to elude rushers now and then, but Suggs and Elvis Dumervil were virtually non-factors for most of the game.

…Backup safety Duron Harmon came up with a huge play at the end by picking off Flacco on a deep pass to the end zone. Harmon was the single deep safety on the play, apparently giving Torrey Smith, 1-on-1 with Logan Ryan, a large chunk of empty field down the left sideline. But at the snap, Harmon drifted to Smith's side, anticipating where Flacco wanted to go with the ball. While Smith beat Ryan by a step, Harmon was already in the right spot to catch the ball when it got to the end zone.

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