Student assistant Mike Rodak takes a look at the television copy of Sunday’s game against the Ravens and offers some of his first-quarter observations:
1. The Ravens often began their drives with poor field position. The opening kickoff was the first such example of this. The Patriots benefitted from a wind-driven Stephen Gostkowski kickoff and from solid coverage work as well. LB Tracy White and safety Jarrad Page both beat their blockers on the first kickoff to stop RB Jalen Parmele.
2. The first third-down conversion for the Ravens came on the third play of the game, a third-and-10. The Ravens motioned TE Todd Heap to the left slot, adding him to the two receivers already split out left. The Patriots were in their nickel package, leaving ILB Jerod Mayo to protect the inside of the field while also keeping an eye on Heap to the outside. The Ravens ended up using Heap as a blocker on an outside screen. With both defensive backs (safety Patrick Chung and CB Kyle Arrington) blocked, Mayo showed some range in getting outside and preventing WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh from splitting the blocks after the catch. However, that opened up the middle of the field, and the backside pursuit – safeties Page and Brandon Meriweather – both took the same angle and were blocked out as Houshmandzadeh still gained 15 yards for the first down.
3. The Patriots run defense was inconsistent early on, leading to the Ravens holding the ball for the first eight-plus minutes of the game. NT Gerard Warren struggled at times holding up to double-teams, getting thrown to the ground in the backfield on one play, while OLB Jermaine Cunningham let RB Ray Rice run by him as he was concentrating on setting a good edge on LT Michael Oher. Making his first start, LDE Brandon Deaderick opened the drive with a good stop, but was overpowered and out of position on other plays. It’s clear he still has work to do on his technique, as he appears to have trouble anchoring himself through his lower body and frequently gets turned sideways by blockers.
4. The decision to use Vince Wilfork at defensive end likely had the Ravens’ offensive strategy in mind. With Baltimore typically employing at least one tight end, sometimes two, as well as an unbalanced line, the Patriots likely felt that they needed to have two nose tackle-types on the field. With extra blockers on the line, the Ravens’ center of their formation on many plays could have been considered the guard. Having Wilfork at end kept the Patriots' defensive line stout on both the inside and outside, and gave Wilfork an opportunity to make plays against single blockers.
5. The Ravens exploited matchups on their third-and-9 conversion late on their opening drive. With three wide receivers on the field, the Patriots were in their nickel package. Without a third reliable option at cornerback, safety Patrick Chung was used to cover the third receiver. However, the Ravens had a fourth receiver of note on the field, as Heap, the tight end, was lined up in the backfield. LB Gary Guyton, who is smaller than Heap, covered him out of the backfield and was unable to break up the lofted pass from QB Joe Flacco. Had Chung not been used as a nickel back, he may have been a more athletic option used to cover Heap.