In the AFC Divisional Round of the 2015 NFL Playoffs, the New England Patriots defeated the Baltimore Ravens by a score of 35-31. Tom Brady had to bring the team back from a 14-point deficit twice. The Ravens proved once again that playing at Gillette Stadium did not faze them. I took a look at the All-22 film to see what went wrong and what went right for the teams.
The Pats started the game questionably, coming out in a 3-4 zone defense. Bill Belichick has used this scheme before with his team, often yielding poor results. It is possible that he used the 3-4 so the Patriots could attempt to contain Baltimore’s Justin Forsett, who picks up a lot of his yards on the ground on outside zone runs. However, Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are not suited to be outside linebackers. Jones is very poor in run defense and Ninkovich, while solid in all aspects of the game, struggles to cover running backs that leak out into the flat.
The Ravens promptly scored on the first drive on a Kamar Aiken touchdown reception off of a Joe Flacco bootleg. Aiken beat safety Patrick Chung in coverage, exposing the safety’s biggest weakness. Chung, who recently signed an extension, has been a revelation for the Pats in the secondary and is a great box safety. However, his weakness has always been coverage, although he has improved in that aspect this year.
The Ravens could do little to stop the Patriot offense. With the exception of Tom Brady’s interception to Daryl Smith and a couple of other miscues, Brady had his way with the Baltimore defense. While New England had success on offense, they could not get their run game going at all, finishing the game with 13 carries for 14 yards. Baltimore defensive tackles Haloti Ngata and Brennan Williams were forces in the run game. The interior of the Patriots’ offensive line could not get any push, and the Baltimore defensive line was very disruptive in the run game. New England right guard Ryan Wendell had a poor overall game, highlighted by Baltimore’s Timmy Jernigan utilizing a swim move to fly past Wendell and sack Brady.
With the Patriots in their nickel D, Darrelle Revis was isolated in press-man coverage against Steve Smith, and Patrick Chung was tasked with covering Kamar Aiken. At the snap, Aiken broke in like he was running an in route, but then cut it back out to get separation from Chung and Flacco hit him for the TD. Safety Tavon Wilson could have helped, but was too far away due to the play-action.
In the second quarter, the Patriots did a better job of getting pressure against Flacco, a key to beating the Ravens. If Flacco even feels a hint of pressure, he rushes the throw and his mechanics get sloppy. On the Ravens’ first drive of the quarter, the New England defensive line got to Flacco and the result was errant throws.
When the Patriots got the ball back, they went to work dissecting the Baltimore secondary. Ravens cornerback Rashaan Melvin was targeted all game long by Brady. The street free agent who was picked up late in the season by the Ravens was targeted 19 times in the game. Out of those 19 times, Melvin allowed 15 completions, 224 receiving yards, 2 TDs, and a quarterback rating of 150.9, according to Pro Football Focus. The New England offense took advantage of the Ravens playing off the wide receivers by having Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola run quick out routes, which negated the Baltimore pass rush in addition to getting the receivers open quickly.
The injury to Bryan Stork is certainly something to monitor the rest of the playoffs. The rookie center has been a stabilizing force for the offensive line of New England. The injury forces Wendell to become the center, which inserts Josh Kline into right guard. Kline has had a very poor season, and it is amazing that the Patriots thought he could contribute to this team out of training camp. It is scary to think how good this New England team could be if they had a consistent, stable offensive line. If they can re-sign key veterans in the offseason such as Darrelle Revis and Devin McCourty and improve the offensive line through the draft, this team could be even better next season.
Brandon Lafell had a great block on his defender on Danny Amendola’s first touchdown. Lafell has been a revelation this season, and has become a weapon for the Patriots in the intermediate and deep passing game.
Brady’s interception right before the half to Daryl Smith was alarming to see. Brady saw pressure coming and immediately looked to his safety blanket, Rob Gronkowski. Brady might have been able to hit his tight end, who was streaking down the seam, but threw a frozen rope that went right to Smith, who was sitting underneath Gronk’s route. Brady had Edelman open downfield, as well as Lafell and Amendola, but the pressure gave him tunnel vision, leading to the interception.
The Patriots went into Belichick’s beloved “Prevent” defense as the Ravens drove down the field to score the go-ahead touchdown. The Pats went dime the whole way, leaving the middle of the field open. Flacco picked them apart because of it, leading to an amazing touchdown throw to tight end Owen Daniels with linebacker Dont’a Hightower draped all over him.
With 1:11 left in the half, the Patriots were in “11” personnel, with the Ravens in a Cover 2 zone, rushing four. Edelman ran a go route down the sideline, and Gronk ran a seam route. At the snap, Gronk drew the attention of three Ravens defenders, and the other receivers were all open, but Brady did not see them.
Brady could have hit Edelman down the right sideline for a touchdown.
Undrafted rookie left tackle James Hurst was very impressive in this game against Chandler Jones. Hurst has adequately filled in for the injured Eugene Monroe, and the Ravens should feel confident that they have a better option in Hurst at left tackle than the inconsistent Monroe.
The Patriots—as most teams do—have struggled to defend receivers coming out of the trips formation. The Ravens were 5-7 and drew two penalties when coming out of the trips set. At one point in the third quarter, the Patriots used a defensive line with Hightower and Ninkovich at defensive end, and Akeem Ayers and Jones playing on the inside, with Jamie Collins as the lone linebacker. Bill Belichick loves versatile players, and having Hightower and Ayers, who can play on the line and at linebacker, allows him to get creative with his defensive schemes when the need arises.
Jamie Collins had a strong game all around, but was at fault for Justin Forsett’s TD catch. He tried jamming a Ravens’ receiver and missed Forsett open in the flat, allowing Forsett to walk in for the score.
The Patriots caught the Ravens in their base D midway through the third, and went no-huddle to make sure the Ravens couldn’t make the necessary substitutions to adjust. The result was two straight easy catches for Julian Edelman, one with a safety covering him, and the other with a linebacker responsible for him.
The key to the Edelman-to-Amendola touchdown was a slot blitz from the Ravens that allowed Amendola a free release. Edelman froze his defender by taking a step forward as if he was going to run the ball, and that allowed Amendola to get behind the Baltimore secondary and catch the pass from Edelman.
The Devin McCourty interception occurred because the Ravens ran the same exact play in the first quarter, but flipped it in the third. In the first, Torrey Smith caught a 20-yard pass on a post route, and McCourty just missed breaking up the pass. In the third, McCourty jumped Smith’s route and picked off Flacco.
Bill Belichick showed off his coaching genius by putting in only 4 OL, and having tight end Michael Hoomanawanui act as the fifth “offensive linemen”, although he was an eligible receiver. This was because Shane Vereen declared himself as an ineligible receiver, so in reality he was the fifth offensive linemen. That meant he could not run forward. This threw the Ravens into all sorts of disarray.
The Ravens had no idea who to cover, and left Hoomanawanui open down the seam for the completion and the first down. The caveat is that Vereen still could have caught a pass; he ran backwards at the snap and was open on the screen if needed. The Patriots really had 6 receivers, and twisted the NFL rulebook to their advantage.
Joe Flacco certainly was not elite in the fourth quarter. He made several bad throws including a forced pass to Daniels in the end zone when Daniels was covered by Jamie Collins and Pat Chung.
LeGarrette Blount has not enjoyed nearly as much success in his second stint with the Patriots. It’s largely because of the poor run-blocking his offensive line gives him, but some of it has to do with his lack of burst and quickness. He did a poor job in blitz pickup when he was on the field, and was directly responsible for a Brady sack.
You won’t see a better throw than the throw Tom Brady made to Brandon Lafell running down the sideline with a step on his defender and a safety closing in fast. Brady dropped it right in to Lafell’s hands perfectly for the touchdown to put the Patriots up for good, 35-31.
The Ravens showed blitz, but backed off at the snap and only rushed four. They were in man coverage with a single high safety in Will Hill. Brady was daring in throwing to the side with safety help, but a future Hall of Fame quarterback like Brady is not afraid to make those throws.
The Ravens gave the Patriots all they could handle this game, but in the end Bill Belichick and Tom Brady were too much for the Ravens to overcome. Belichick’s genius plus Brady’s greatness are a potent combination that will be tough for any team left in the playoffs to overcome. That was clearly on display on Sunday night, when the Patriots rolled over the Colts by a score of 45-7. With the Patriots’ offense rolling, the Super Bowl is set to be a showdown between Brady and the Seahawks defense.
Image Courtesy of USA Today
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