Student assistant Mike Rodak takes a look at the television copy of Sunday’s game against the Ravens and offers some of his fourth-quarter observations:
1. Safety Brandon Meriweather’s second-quarter illegal hit on Ravens TE Todd Heap was not proper form, but safety Patrick Chung’s hit on WR Derrick Mason in the end zone to break up a would-be touchdown pass was textbook. After Mason beat LCB Devin McCourty on a quick slant route, Mason had the short pass from QB Joe Flacco in his hands as he crossed into the end zone. However, Chung was able to demonstrate the legal way to break up the pass, leading with his hands to shove Mason down and have the ball fall incomplete. In a game full of big plays, this one meant the difference between a field goal and touchdown for the Ravens.
2. One of the few times in the game when the Patriots tried to establish the running game with RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis was on their first drive of the fourth quarter. The first run went for a short gain after backside LB Dannell Ellerbe came in unblocked behind pulling LG Dan Connolly. The second run was stopped for a loss after center Dan Koppen had trouble containing DL Haloti Ngata, disrupting a zone blocking scheme that would have blocked an otherwise unblocked LB Ray Lewis.
3. However, the Patriots were able to get the ground game established on one of the plays that sparked their touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, a 14-yard Danny Woodhead run. On second-and-11, the Ravens were in their dime package, putting safety Haruki Nakamura up against much larger TE Rob Gronkowski at the point of attack for the run, off the right side of the line. Gronkowski drove Nakamura 10 yards downfield before pushing him to the ground. RT Sebastian Vollmer first sealed a defender at the line of scrimmage before leading Woodhead downfield and getting contact on Ellerbe to stem the first-down run.
4. When the Patriots offense moved 80 yards on 13 plays to set up the game-tying field goal, they did so using short, controlled passing and precise route-running. The only third down situation came at the end of the drive, when Brady’s pass to Branch fell incomplete. Otherwise, the offense stayed out of third-and-long plays, which along with the short passing neutralized the Ravens’ pass rush. As Branch noted in his post-game press conference, the game may not have gone to overtime had he heard the correct adjustment from Brady and had ran the correct route near the end zone. Instead, the Patriots settled for a field goal.
5. The Patriots altered their sub package, using ILB Dane Fletcher to spy Ravens RB Ray Rice. On the final drive of regulation, the Ravens targeted Rice all three plays, with two passes falling incomplete. On second down, Rice caught the pass from Flacco, but was quickly wrapped up by Fletcher before he could record a first down and move the Ravens closer to game-winning field goal range. It was an out-of-the-box strategic move by the Patriots coaching staff that paid off.