Picked-up pieces from 1st-quarter review

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
4:25
PM ET
Picked-up pieces from reviewing the first quarter of the New England Patriots’ 41-7 win over the Baltimore Ravens:

1. Offensive lineman Logan Mankins talked after the game about the Patriots having success with zone runs, which displaced the Ravens' sturdy defensive front, as defenders were often over-pursuing. This was evident on LeGarrette Blount’s 11-yard run (1:50 remaining) as the Patriots created a strong side to the left with tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan and ran in that direction, with Blount hitting the cut perfectly as the left side sealed things off and right guard Dan Connolly got enough of nose tackle Terrence Cody to create enough of a crease. That was the type of run play in which the Patriots had great success throughout the day, and the key seemed to be getting the big Ravens defenders moving east-west at the snap.

[+] EnlargeLeGarrette Blount
Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesLeGarrette Blount's runs in the first quarter, including one for a TD, owed much to the Patriots' offensive line.
2. The overall offensive line play was solid, although right tackle Marcus Cannon seemed to be the primary breakdown with two negative runs – defensive tackle Arthur Jones crossed his face to bring down Stevan Ridley for a loss of 2 yards (7:03 remaining) while Cannon missed a block on Terrell Suggs when Blount was brought down for a loss of 3 yards (1:18 remaining).

3. The first offensive play foreshadowed what was to come the rest of the day in terms of the Patriots’ approach. Out of their 2 WR/2 TE/1 RB package, the Patriots aligned tight ends to both sides (in more of a pass set) and brought receivers Aaron Dobson and Julian Edelman in tight to the formation to constrict the defense. The Ravens countered with an eight-man box and Connolly pulled to deliver one of several solid blocks on Blount’s 5-yard run over the left side. An opening play can sometimes be described as an “attitude” play, and that’s how we’d view this one.

4. Marquice Cole, playing the role of gunner on the punt team, drew the penalty on Jimmy Smith that led to the Ravens starting their initial drive at their own 7.

5. When the Patriots’ running game is discussed, much credit goes to the offensive line, tight ends and backs. But receivers shouldn’t be overlooked. Patriots receivers are willing blockers, and they were involved in run-blocking Sunday, as evidenced on Blount’s 14-yard run (12:18 remaining). Dobson half-motioned into the line of scrimmage and blocked down on Suggs before getting up on linebacker Jameel McClain. Good effort, and you also see Edelman doing his part, knocking safety Matt Elam on his backside in front of the play.

6. More physical play – fullback James Develin plowing through the hole and pancaking linebacker Josh Bynes on Blount’s 1-yard touchdown run.

7. Develin was also a factor on the Patriots’ second red-zone touchdown, his vertical route helping create traffic so McClain had to go around him to cover running back Shane Vereen. Great design and execution, which came after CBS analyst Phil Simms said, “Of course they didn’t give us any details last night, but I think the Patriots have a lot of stuff up their sleeve [in the red zone], ways to get guys singled up so they can make plays a little easier. No Gronkowski for the jump ball. No big, tall receiver on the outside to throw the fade to in the corners. Gotta find a different way.” Simms’ timing, like the Patriots’ execution, was perfect.

8. For such a flag-happy game, one detail stood out on the play in which Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan intercepted Joe Flacco: Ravens left tackle Eugene Monroe isn’t on the line of scrimmage, as it’s noticeable that the left side of the Ravens’ line is fanned out in a way that gives them an unfair advantage in pass protection. That should have been an illegal-formation penalty from our view.

9. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork once again accompanied the team on the trip and was seen jotting down notes after Ryan’s interception. Looks like the Patriots have an addition to their staff: Coach Wilfork.

10. Cornerback Kyle Arrington can be a lightning rod of sorts among Patriots followers because of his occasional struggles on the outside, but one aspect that coaches have to appreciate about him is his toughness when playing in the slot. On Bernard Pierce’s 5-yard run (3:41 remaining), Arrington set the edge against tight tackle Michael Oher, forcing Pierce to cut the run back. Tale of the tape – Arrington (5-foot-10, 190 pounds) vs. Oher (6-4, 315). Those are little effort things that showed up throughout review of the game -- the Patriots getting more of those type of plays. The run wasn’t defended particularly well on the backside, but Arrington more than did his part.

11. One change for the Patriots in their rush front was keeping Chandler Jones outside, with Andre Carter instead rushing from an interior position. Probably just a case of the Patriots attempting to dictate specific blocking matchups, but it was a switch from the norm.

12. Edelman’s first quarter: 34-yard pass-interference penalty drawn, 5-yard illegal-contact penalty drawn, one incomplete pass, a 17-yard reception and an 11-yard punt return. It’s the type of production we regularly saw from Wes Welker in 2007-2012. No doubt, this is as well as Edelman has played in the NFL. He's their go-to guy right now in the passing game.

13. Vereen came out of the game after pulling up on a second-and-13 incomplete pass in his direction (44 seconds remaining) as he was running down the left sideline with McClain in coverage. Vereen left for the locker room but later came back to the sideline (although he never re-entered the game). As of late Sunday night, it wasn’t considered anything serious with Vereen; it was more of a precaution. There was a penalty on the play for an illegal shift on receiver Danny Amendola.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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