January 22, 2013 in Observations
In a rematch of last years AFC Championship Game, the Baltimore Ravens outlasted the New England Patriots by a score of 28-13. At halftime the score was 13-7 to the Patriots. Once the second half started the Ravens had a new offensive scheme, pass the ball. This worked as it led to 21 second half points. The defense rose to the occasion and shut the Patriots out in the second half. In the first half, the Ravens were out played but, in the second half, the Ravens outplayed the Patriots. Before this game, the Patriots had won 71 games in a row under head coach Bill Belichick when leading at half, including a 67-0 record when the quarterback is Tom Brady. Now the Ravens will head to New Orleans to play in Super Bowl XLVII. They will have the San Francisco 49ers who are coached by the brother of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, Jim Harbaugh. The game will take place on February 3rd and kickoff is at 6:29 pm Eastern time.
The Red Zone
The Ravens play in the red zone, on offense and defense, is what won them this game. On offense, they made it to the red zone four times and, scored four touchdowns. This offensive efficiency can make an offense almost unstoppable, as long as they can actually get to the red zone. On defense, they allowed the Patriots to make it in to the red zone four times but, they only scored one touchdown. The Patriots also got to the Ravens 24 and 22-yard line but, the Ravens were able to force interceptions both times. This red zone defense describes this years Ravens Defense. They are not the best in the league anymore however, once the other team makes it to the red zone, they dig in and stop the offense. It is very hard to lose a game when you have these two stats on your side.
For Flacco, it was almost like two different games. In the first half, he went 6-of-12 for 81 yards with 0 TDs or INTs. This isn't bad quarterbacking but, it also isn't how an elite one plays. In the second half though, he went 15-of-24 for 159 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs. For the game, he went 21-of-36 for 240 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs. His QBR was 80.2 and his QB rating was 106.2 compared to Tom Brady's QBR of 45.1 and QB rating of 62.3. Brady also threw 2 INTs. So, for the third time in as many games, Flacco has outplayed Tom Brady and, two of these games have been the AFC Championship.
As stated above, the Ravens offensive strategy in the second half changed. In the first half they had been doing a lot of run plays, especially on first down. The offense just looked really conservative in the first half. At halftime, there were some changes as the Ravens came out throwing in the second half. In fact, Flacco accounted for 70% of the Ravens offense in the second half. With this change, the offense started to move the ball. Soon they had taken a 14-13 lead and they never looked back after that.
On to more game specific things, Flacco never really got the deep ball going as his longest completion of the game went for 26 yards to Anquan Boldin. The lack of a deep passing game can be attributed to the weather as it was very windy on the field with the wind at around 20 mph if I remember correctly. All of Flacco's touchdown passes were good but the one that stood out to me was the first to Anquan Boldin. The first was a play action jump ball. After the fake, Flacco threw the ball up where only Boldin could get it. Flacco also had one rush attempt where he scrambled and picked up 14 yards and a first down.
Starting with his performance in the passing game, Rice had 3 catches for 22 yards on 4 targets. Of these three catches, two of them went for first downs. The most memorable was a 15 yard screen pass. The Patriots originally had the screen covered but, Rice got away and Flacco threw it. Rice broke three tackles on his way to the first down. Now to the run game. While Rice had 19 rushes, he only ran for 48 yards which is an average of 2.5 yards per carry. Three of these rushes went for first downs. One was a 5 yard run that put the ball on the Patriots 2-yard line after he ran for eight yards the play before. Another of his first downs was a short run on a 2nd and 2 which put the ball on the Patriots 3-yard line. The last of his first downs was a 3rd and 1 run with five minutes left in the game which helped run more time off the clock. Along with his 48 rush yards, Rice also had a rushing touchdown. He only went for two yards but, he broke two tackles on the way. The play called for Rice to run up the middle but, like most of the game, there wasn't running room in the middle. So, Rice bounced the run outside to the left and scored. The only negative from Rice is he had a false start on a 3rd an 8 from the Ravens own 29-yard line. This was early in the game so it can probably be accounted to nerves.
While couldn't get much going on the ground, Pierce had much more success. On 9 carries he had 52 yards. Three of these carries went for first downs. One of them was a 2nd and 5 run for nine yards which put the ball on the Patriots 22-yard line and another was a 3rd and 2 draw that he was able to bounce outside for a gain of eleven, the longest rush by any running back in the game. Pierce also had 1 catch for 8 yards. This also went for a first down; it was a 2nd and 8 swing pass that just barely was enough for the first.
Unlike the Denver game, Smith wasn't able to catch a deep pass but, he still had an impact on the game. Most of his catches were in the intermediate range due to the wind. He had 4 catches for 69 yards on 9 targets. He had three of these go for first downs. The first was a 25 yard catch on play action on a 2nd and 6 which put the Ravens on the Patriots 15-yard line. The second was a 2nd and 14 conversion that went for 23 yards. Lastly, he had a 16 yard catch on a first down.
This was another record setting game for Boldin. With his two touchdown catches, Boldin became the Ravens all-time postseason receiving touchdown leader. He had 5 catches for 60 yards with 2 TDs on 8 targets. All of these catches came in the second half and only one wasn't a first down or touchdown. One of these first down catches was a 3rd and 9 for 26 yards and the other was on 2nd and 10 that put the ball on the Patriots 10-yard line. Boldin's first touchdown was on the first play of the fourth quarter. The other touchdown (the first was discussed with Flacco), was on a 2nd and 4 and was for 12 yards. Boldin lined up in the slot and ran a seam route, Flacco threw it up and Boldin caught it for another touchdown.
For the second game in a row, Pitta had 55 receiving yards. This week he did it on 5 catches with 7 targets. Three of these catches went for first downs, one for a touchdown, and the other was in the red zone. Starting with his first down catches, Pitta had a 3rd and 4 catch from deep in Ravens territory, a 2nd and 10 catch for a gain of over 20 yards, and a 2nd and 4 catch that put the ball on the Patriots 13-yard line. His touchdown was on 2nd and goal from the 5-yard line and was a quick pass. Lastly, his other catch occurred on the play before his touchdown. It was first and goal from the ten and he went over the middle. Pitta caught the ball and took a big hit but still was able to hold on to the ball. On the negative side, Pitta had a diving catch go right through his hands on a 3rd and 8.
Yet again, the offensive line performed great. They only gave up two sacks for a combined loss of five yards which is nothing in terms of sack yardage. The first sack was given up by LT Bryant McKinnie on a 3rd and 6 from inside the Ravens own 10-yard line. The other sack was more of a coverage sack and Flacco was starting to scramble so it wasn't really the fault of the offensive line. It only went for a loss of one so it was basically a failed run play. None of the offensive linemen were called for a penalty which is very impressive. In the run game, they got some movement but for the most past, there never were any big holes to run through. Of the offensive line can protect Flacco like this for one more game, they could be tough to beat in the Super Bowl.
Ngata may have only had four tackles but, for a defensive lineman in a 3-4 defense, that is good. One of these tackles was a run stop for no gain. The part of the game that Ngata was the best at yesterday was rushing the passer. Ngata finished with three of the Ravens seven QB hits (they didn't record a sack but seemed to have a fair amount of pressure). On a 4th and 4 play from the Ravens 19-yard line, Ngata had pressure with Terrell Suggs which caused Brady to throw the ball away. Once the Ravens made this stop, it seemed like the Ravens were going to win and make it to the Super Bowl. This play is an attribute to Ngata's speed as Brady had an open field in front of him but didn't run because he probably wouldn't have made it. Ngata also had pressure on another play which caused a throw away. The last play where Ngata caused a throw away was with two minutes left. Ngata had pressure which caused Brady to throw the ball away.
So how does a defensive lineman without a tackle make it here? Simple, deflect two passes (including one that leads to a touchdown) and say that you have discovered Tom Brady's flaw. First, McPhee batted away a pass in the fourth quarter that Dannell Ellerbe was able to intercept. After this interception, with seven minutes left in the game, it seemed like the game really was over as the Patriots never got the ball back until there were two minutes left. The other pass deflection came with under two minutes left in game. On to him discovering Brady's flaw, McPhee says "He throws all of his balls low." When asked about how Brady has been so successful despite this McPhee said "He just throws it fast and he always gets good pockets. But I tried to stay in front of him after watching film and knowing where he likes to go and how he likes to do it. So that was my best advantage, just get my hands up." This strategy clearly worked for McPhee as he had his two pass deflections at the line.
As usual, Lewis recorded double digit tackles with 14 but, according to Pro Football Focus, only two of those were defensive stops (runs for little or no gain). Lewis was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit which was the right call even though it was pretty obvious that he didn't mean to do it. Lastly, after the game, Lewis fell to the ground and started saying "Hallelujah."
Starting with pass coverage, Ellerbe gave up three catches for one first down. With about seven minutes left in the game, Ellerbe intercepted Brady off of McPhee's tip. This came the next play after Wes Welker caught a 56 yard pass. The last positive for Ellerbe was a pressure on Brady which caused a bad deep pass that ended up going out-of-bounds. Also on this play, Ellerbe was able to take down Brady. On the negative side Ellerbe was flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty after slapping a Patriots offensive lineman when a play was over. Ellerbe was retaliating to a late block but, you can't do that in the NFL and he was flagged, even if his slap barely was anything.
While Suggs is though of as a pass rusher, he is actually quite a good run defender and this was on full display yesterday. Suggs had two run stops for no gain including one on a 2nd and 1. In the pass rush department he wasn't able to record a sack (like all of the Ravens) but, still had at least two pressures. The first was on the 4th and 4 with Haloti Ngata as already discussed. The other was with under two minutes left where he hit Brady as he threw causing an incompletion.
Walking off the field, Suggs was overheard saying "Tell them to have fun at the Pro Bowl. Arrogant f—ers" and "These are the most arrogant pricks in the world starting with Belichick on down." He also said "That's funny, ever since SpyGate they haven't been able to win" though I don't know if he said this one to reporters or if he was overheard like the other two. He did respond to reporters saying "All BS aside they are a hell of a ball club … They have the right to be arrogant." While he may believe this, there is no reason to say this but, on the positive side, he didn't come out and say it to the media, he was just overheard. Either way, the Ravens don't need publicity like this, especially after these two controversial things about the Patriots.
It seemed like Pollard was all over the field going full speed all night. He finished with 9 tackles, 1 pass deflection, and 1 forced fumble. In the run game, Pollard had a run stop for a gain of two yards. In pass coverage, he only gave up one pass. On a blitz he was able to bat down a pass at the line-of-scrimmage. This batted pass came on 1st and goal from the Ravens two-yard line. On a 3rd and 4 from the Ravens 19-yard line, he had great coverage and forced an incompletion. Pollard had a big hit on a receiver but was called for a helmet-to-helmet hit. However, he led with his shoulder on the play and his shoulder hit the receiver on his head so I am going to call this one a bad call.
Lastly is the play we all remember, his hit and forced fumble on Patriots RB Stevan Ridley. Pollard hit Ridley hard and they both lowered their heads on the play so it was a helmet-to-helmet hit but since it was a running back it isn't a penalty. Ridley was unconscious before he hit the ground and on his way down, the ball came out of his hands and was recovered by DT Arthur Jones. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said "That [Pollard's hit] was the turning point of the game. A tremendous hit, football at its finest." This play goes in line with Pollard's history with the Patriots. In 2008, it was Pollard that hit Brady when he tore his ACL. In 2009, it was Pollard that Welker was trying to avoid when he tore his ACL. In 2012, it was Pollard that injured Rob Gronkowski ankle which limited him in the Super Bowl.
Williams had a solid performance last night only giving up four completions and one first down. He also had a deflection on a 3rd and 2 that went right to Paul Kruger but, since the deflection took a weird bounce off of Williams, Kruger dropped it because he wasn't expecting the ball to come to him. Lastly, Williams intercepted Brady in the end zone with 1:06 left in the game. After this interception the Ravens just took a two knees and the game was over.
Like Williams, Graham gave up four completions, however, three of his went for first downs and the other was for the Patriots only touchdown of the game. The touchdown was on a 3rd and goal from the one. After the play, Graham and Chykie Brown were upset because they didn't communicate well after the Patriots motioned a receiver over. This led to Welker being open for the touchdown. Graham was also beaten on the first drive on a 3rd and 2 but Welker dropped the pass. On a pass that Welker didn't drop, Graham was beat deep for 56 yards. He bit badly on the double move leaving Welker wide open. Ending on a positive note, Graham had a run stop for a loss of one on a 3rd and 2 which forced a field goal by the Patriots.
This game was the first time in a while that Smith received substantial playing time. Brown started as the nickel corner and then Smith took it over. By the end of the game it seemed like they were being rotated. This could have been part of the game plan to put Graham on Welker instead of Brown doing that. This would mean that Graham would be in the slot. Since Smith is better on the outside than Brown, he would come in when in nickel. This is just a speculation so it will be interesting to see who is the nickel corner in the Super Bowl.