- Field Yates, ESPN Insider
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After sorting through the television copy of the Patriots' matchup with the Ravens, passing along observations and notes noticed during the game.
1. Throughout the week leading up to the game, a wide variety of music blared from the practice fields at Gillette Stadium, with volume reaching levels such that the lyrics could be heard clearly from inside the media press box. That was an attempt by the Patriots to simulate the crowd noise they anticipated seeing in Baltimore, and with good reason. On the third offensive play of the game, center Ryan Wendell inadvertentdly snapped the ball prior to quarterback Tom Brady calling for it, and the Patriots were fortunate to recover the loose football. The mix-up appears to have stemmed from the raucous crowd noise, as Brady was walking towards his line to point out a protection adjustment. That's what we call a home field advantage.
2. Steve Gregory came up with his first interception as a Patriot, and it came out of what looked like a Cover 4 defense to his side of the field. The Ravens sent two receivers to the right side, Anquan Boldin split wide and tight end Dennis Pitta flexed out. Cornerback Devin McCourty checked Boldin out wide, and both Boldin and Pitta pushed vertical in their routes. Once Boldin pushed vertical, he essentially became McCourty's on his own, which allowed Gregory to play from the outside-in, and absorb coverage on Pitta. There was no threat from Gregory's right side of a player coming into his zone, so he too was essentially in man-to-man coverage. Credit Gregory for tracking the eyes of Joe Flacco and timing up his break onto the ball extremely effectively.
3. There were some questions as to why running back Brandon Bolden - not Stevan Ridley - was on the field as the Patriots approached the end zone after the Gregory turnover. One thought would be that it was Bolden who was the most effective short yardage, between-the-tackles runner that we saw throughout training camp. He presents a package of a strong, solid, compact runner who leans forward and does well to chunk up yardage between the tackles in short-yardage scenarios. Bolden has the ability to "get skinny" between holes and finish runs. He did exactly that on his short scamper into the end zone to put the Patriots up 10-0.
4. Some have wondered whether or not Brady and new wideout Brandon Lloyd have been able to get on the same page early on in the regular season, but one throw on Sunday night seemed to suggest they're in sync. With roughly 3:30 left in the opening quarter and facing a 2nd & 7, Brady darted a throw to Lloyd, who was blanketed by Ravens cornerback Cary Williams in man coverage down the left sideline. Williams was leveraging Lloyd's downfield shoulder, leaving Brady a window to hit Lloyd on his back shoulder. Lloyd anticipated the throw, made the adjustment to turn back for the ball, and moved the chains for a first down. That's a sign that these two are hitting a groove together, as is the fact that Lloyd had his best night as a Patriot, tallying 9 catches for 108 yards.
5. Make no mistake about it, Tom Brady isn't nearly the athlete of other NFL quarterbacks such as Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Aaron Rodgers, or others, but that does not detract from what is known as his within pocket mobility. On the play following the aforementioned Lloyd catch, Brady faced heavy pressure as Ravens defensive end Courtney Upshaw looped around defensive tackle Haloti Ngtata to generate interior pressure. Brady, who is always moving his feet in the pocket, was nifty in sidestepping Upshaw, stepping up in the pocket, and eventually navigating to the left side of the pocket and scrambling for seven yards. The gain wasn't significant, per se, but many quarterbacks - even more athletic ones - would not have felt and eluded the pressure that Brady did. To boot, Ngata was called for a personal foul on the scrambling Brady, adding 15 yards to the end of the run.
6. The Patriots weren't able to get much going on the ground last night (just 77 yards on 34 carries), and one area that they seemed to struggle in was sealing off the backside and the edge of the line on interior runs. The Ravens seemed to play some hard-crashing defensive schemes off the edge, and the Patriots weren't able to wall off those defenders to prevent them from making an impact on the interior runs. There were also instances where backside defenders were able to ride down the line of scrimmage to make a play. One example that highlights both was a 1st & 10 run with 2:43 remaining in the first quarter. The Patriots deployed three tight ends to the right side of the line of scrimmage, and attempted to run Stevan Ridley off the left side of the line. Ravens safety Bernard Pollard, who lined up over Daniel Fells (the middle of the Patriots' three tight ends to the right side), drove Fells back and pursued Ridley down the line for a short gain.
7. On defense, the Patriots struggled to generate pressure off the edge, and also appeared to lose the battle of setting the edge in the running game. Left end Rob Ninkovich was not able to generate much against rookie tackle Kelechi Osemele, while right end Chandler Jones was largely contained by left tackle Michael Oher. As it relates to Jones and Oher, credit the Ravens lineman for getting back in his stance quickly, and gaining depth in his kick step. That's something that the tackles of both Tennessee and Arizona were less effective in doing against Jones, and he hurt them accordingly.
8. Ravens receiver Torrey Smith was one of the stars of the night, and deserves credit for his performance under adverse circumstances. On his first of two touchdown scores, Smith beat cornerback Kyle Arrington down the sideline for a long score. Arrington was unable to get his hands on the receiver and divert his path in his stem, which allowed Smith to get a step on Arrington. By the time Arrington was able to turn his hips, Smith had re-set the line of scrimmage and was able to make a big play.
9. With the Patriots driving in the second quarter, they attempted to execute a trick play of sorts that involved Danny Woodhead taking a toss sweep pitch and then pitching it again to receiver Julian Edelman, who was circling back around the play. Problem was, Ravens right end Courtney Upshaw sniffed the misdirection play out and came up with a major tackle for loss. Upshaw was not blocked on the play, but rather, the hope for the Patriots was that the flow of the pitch to his left would suck him down the line and catch him out of position. While the Patriots didn't execute at the level they were hoping for, Upshaw deserves a nod of approval for staying home, playing disciplined, and making a solid tackle in space.
10. The Patriots put together an impressive drive to close out of the half, which was topped off with a touchdown from Brady to Edelman. A few notes from the drive: credit the Patriots receivers for getting off of man coverage, particularly early on in the drive (side note: Welker was matched up against Lardarius Webb, the Ravens top corner, for much of the night. That's a sign of how much his ability is respected). ... Deion Branch made a nice adjustment to pull in an overthrow by Brady and scamper for a first down. ... The offensive line grew stronger throughout the drive, giving Brady time to dissect and make throws down the field. ... Great clock awareness by Brady to rifle his throw to Edelman, as just two seconds remained on the clock.