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Picked-up pieces from 3rd-quarter review

12/24/2013

Picked-up pieces from reviewing the third quarter of the New England Patriots’ 41-7 win over the Baltimore Ravens:

1. The biggest part of the quarter for the Patriots was coming up with two stops on fourth down, which are essentially turnovers. On the first (12:23 remaining), with cornerback Logan Ryan batting down a pass, quarterback Joe Flacco seemed to miss a better option underneath in Dennis Pitta. On the second (3:03 remaining), the Patriots won at the line of scrimmage with linebacker Brandon Spikes and defensive tackle Sealver Siliga driving blockers back after shifting/moving right before the snap, and Rob Ninkovich using a swim move on right tackle Michael Oher to crash down the line and wrap up Ray Rice short of the sticks for no gain. The Patriots were the more physical team during the game, and that play was one example.

2. The Patriots stalled a bit offensively in the quarter, as their execution faltered and they also seemed be willing to play a bit closer to the vest given their double-digit lead. Quarterback Tom Brady wasn’t taking many chances, knowing that one mistake could help the Ravens get back in the game. While Julian Edelman was a star performer on the day, he did have a drop early in the quarter on a short pass that was essentially a glorified running play. Not the Patriots' best quarter offensively.

3. Chandler Jones’ 11.5 sacks leads the Patriots and is the most-often cited statistic when referencing his solid season, but there is more to his game than just sacks. A good example came on the third-and-3 play with 12:30 remaining, when Jones initially took himself out of his rush to chip Pitta and make it harder for him to get into his route. He did so, before going from zero-to-high-gear in an instant to surge up the middle and pressure Flacco into an incomplete pass. Jones doesn’t get credit for a sack on the play, but in many ways his ability to carry out the dual responsibilities effectively is more impressive than just a single sack.

4. In the last game that rookie safety Duron Harmon played extended snaps, Dec. 1 in Houston, his tackling wasn’t up to his personal standard. That is brought up here because on the second play that Harmon was on the field, replacing injured Devin McCourty, he had a sound wrap-up tackle on Pitta to limit him to a 4-yard gain on second-and-7 (13:00 remaining). Those are small things, but to a player like Harmon who's had limited reps of late, it's extremely important. It also ultimately contributed to the Patriots getting the Ravens to turn the ball over on downs two plays later.

5. Rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones’ hustle stands out, and it caught the eye on a three-play sequence. After locating the ball and shedding to make a tackle of Rice on a 1-yard gain (7:09 remaining), he then drew a hands-to-the-face penalty (6:43 remaining), before chasing down a screen play downfield (6:19 remaining). It is sometimes said that a player has a motor that never stops, and we’d put Jones in that category, with those three straight plays a good example of it.

6. One pregame storyline was if the Patriots might put cornerback Aqib Talib on receiver Torrey Smith. The Patriots didn’t match him up that way, playing Talib mostly on the defensive left side and letting him cover whichever Ravens receiver lined up across from him (most often seemed to be Jacoby Jones).

7. One head-scratcher: When the Ravens faced a third-and-1 from the Patriots’ 4 (3:10 remaining), they went with an empty set and Flacco in the shotgun. This against a Patriots run defense that entered the day ranked 31st in the NFL. So while the Patriots’ defense deserves credit for coming up with the stop in the critical situations, the feeling here is that the Ravens also made it easier for them with some questionable decision-making.