Student assistant Mike Rodak takes a look at the television copy of Sunday’s game against the Ravens and offers some of his third-quarter observations:
1. The Patriots offensive line continued to struggle with DL Haloti Ngata early in the second half. On an early third quarter run by RB Danny Woodhead, a missed cut block by LG Dan Connolly allowed Ngata to chase Woodhead through the backfield; however, Woodhead was able to outrun Ngata for an 8-yard gain on a play with otherwise solid blocking. Two plays later, the Patriots tried running Woodhead outside. This time, Ngata got penetration against RT Sebastian Vollmer before breaking free and stopping Woodhead for a short gain.
2. On QB Tom Brady’s third-and-10 interception early in the third quarter, the Ravens used a blitz scheme seen in a similar form in a few earlier plays. Against four players split out wide, the Ravens were in their nickel package, with two blitzers on each end of their three-man line. The Patriots countered with only TE Alge Crumpler to help on the left side of the line, leaving RG Stephen Neal and RT Sebastian Vollmer to block against three potential rushers (the defensive end and the two outside blitzers). This is the side the Ravens ended up blitzing on, dropping the two blitzers on the other end of the line into coverage. Vollmer was left to block two blitzers, leaving one free to pressure Brady, who was trying to get a deep pass off to WR Wes Welker, who had three defenders around him, before getting hit. In this case, the onus likely falls on Brady to either motion Woodhead, who was in the right slot, into the backfield to help block, or to get a safe throw off as quickly as possible. He did neither and it gave the Ravens the ball at the Patriots’ own 36-yard line.
3. Ravens WR Anquan Boldin’s 20-yard touchdown catch came on a play-action by the Ravens with CB Kyle Arrington in man-coverage on Boldin. Off the snap, Arrington had the right idea in looking into the backfield for the run, but kept his eyes on RB Ray Rice for nearly 10 yards downfield. He eventually hesitated and stopped, which caused Boldin, who was running a "go" pattern, to run into Arrington’s back, drawing a defensive pass interference penalty that was declined. That gave Boldin more than enough separation as Arrington stumbled when trying to recover. Also not helping Arrington’s cause was safety Patrick Chung coming down to double-team TE Todd Heap with OLB Jermaine Cunningham. That left Brandon Meriweather as the single deep safety and prevented him from being close enough to provide help in the end zone.
4. The value that TE Aaron Hernandez brings to the Patriots from a versatility standpoint continued to show on his 18-yard end-around run in the third quarter. On the play, Hernandez was lined up as part of a 3 TE formation off the right side of the line, which to any team in the league would signal a power run to that side of the field. The Patriots even started the play doing that, with Brady faking a hand off to RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Once Hernandez received the end-around, the attention of the Ravens’ defense had to shift from stopping a power run to turning around and chasing down one of the only tight ends in the league to carry the ball.
5. After playing their safeties only 10-15 yards off the line of scrimmage early in the game, the Ravens began to back them up in the third quarter, moving as much as 30 yards off the line. The Patriots quickly exploited the hole in the intermediate level of the defense, with Hernandez and Welker finding large openings in the middle of the field for 21-yard gains.
6. The Ravens got creative on their final drive of the third quarter, taking a page out of the Patriots’ playbook circa 2001. Ravens FB Le’Ron McClain was motioned across the formation to the left, with QB Joe Flacco faking a screen pass to him before spinning around and faking a screen pass to RB Ray Rice to the right. Patriots ILBs Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes each bit towards one of the fake screen passes, leaving a crease in the middle of the field for TE Todd Heap to slip into as Flacco turned his attention back downfield. Flacco then completed a 16-yard pass to Heap.