For the past two weeks, for the most part, the Patriots defense has handled two very potent offenses with aplomb.
They held the Atlanta Falcons to just 10 points and made 2008 Offensive Rookie of the Year Matt Ryanlook pedestrian at QB. Then this past Sunday against another second-year QB, Joe Flacco of Baltimore, New England did an equally impressive job overall.
The Pats had a difficult time containing second-year back Ray Rice, however. Even if you don't consider his 50 jaunt late in the third quarter, Rice would have had 10 carries for 53 yards – better than a 5-yards-per-carry average.
What helped New England limit Flacco's productivity, though, was their ability to pressure him consistently and from all sides. Outside linebackers Derrick Burgessand Tully Banta-Cain, along with down linemen Mike Wright, Ty Warren, Jarvis Green, rookie Myron Pryor, and newcomer Terdell Sands, won their one-on-one match-ups with the Ravens o-line numerous times.
"I thought we had good pressure on him most of the day," Patriots head coach Bill Belichickremarked Monday. "Not all the time certainly, but we hit him plenty."
Although the Ravens lost their starting left tackle, Jared Gaither, to injury in the first half, the Pats stuck with their game plan of attacking Flacco. Midway through the second quarter, the Pats pass rush collapsed the pocket on Flacco and he collided with Gaither.
The 6-9, 340-pound Gaither injured his neck and shoulder area on the play and had to be carted off and taken to the hospital (he was to be reevaluated today in Baltimore, though Ravens head coach John Harbaughsaid afterward he expected Gaither to be "fine").
The Ravens readjusted their offensive line by moving rookie right tackle Michael Oherto Gaither's spot and promoting backup lineman Marshall Yandato Oher's position.
"You know, I was a little surprised what they did with that," Belichick admitted. "I didn't really see that move coming … but it didn't really change what we were doing. It wasn't like, 'OK, they've got this player in here now, we're going to run a lot of this instead of that.' It never really came to that. We ran what we were running and I thought the players did a good job.
"Derrick had some pressure on Yanda, and Tully had some pressure on Oher. Ty rushed well I thought yesterday … Jarvis … We had different guys on them and we were able to stay after him. We didn't always get him, but we had good pressure up the middle from Mike Wright and Terdell Sands, Myron. We were gaining on [Flacco]. We did hit him a few times."
The secondary, meanwhile, had to reevaluate its assignments after giving up a touchdown to wide receiver Derrick Masonon Baltimore's first possession. He wound up being the game's leading pass catcher, with 7 for 88 yards and the score. However, most of those came in the first half. He had just one catch for 11 yards in the second stanza.
"We played more split-safety coverage after the first drive. That might have had something to do with it," Belichick explained.
In split-safety coverage, there's a safety over the top of the receiver (i.e., deep in the secondary toward one side or the other), as opposed to having a safety in the middle of the field to patrol either side. That gives the corners an opportunity to play a little bit tighter to the receiver at the line of scrimmage because they're backed up by the safety on outside perimeter routes.
OLB Tully Banta-Cain received the Dirty Show Champions belt following team and positional meetings today. That means this past week, of all the practice players of the week, he did the most on the scout team to help the team prepare for the Ravens.
Tuesday night at 9:30, NFL Network will replay a truncated, 90-minute version of the Patriots win over Baltimore. And if you want a sneak preview of this week's opponent, the Denver Broncos, tune in to NFLN at 8 p.m. The network will rebroadcast Denver's win over Dallas this past Sunday.
The week ahead
The Pats had their usual team meeting, treatment for those who needed it, and Monday film study session to put this week's game to bed. They'll have the NFL's traditional Tuesday off and be back on the practice field Wednesday afternoon to prepare for this Sunday's road game against the Denver Broncos.