We wrote last week that for the Ravens to beat the Patriots, their pass rush had to get to Tom Brady. By and large, they did not. Brady was able to get rid of the ball with quick, underneath passes. This is what the Patriots always do on offense. Against Baltimore, that didn’t change. Brady threw 39 of his 50 passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. He completed 28 of those passes for 250 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions (105.7 QB rating).
The surprise was that the Ravens allowed New England to operate in the passing game as they normally do. Baltimore played lots of soft zone coverage. This, in effect, allowed Brady to get the ball out of his hands quickly and negated Baltimore’s pass rush, which was a distinct matchup advantage for the Ravens. Baltimore took the best component of their defense out of the game. The only time the Ravens got pressure on Brady was when it was quick and inside. Their two sacks came on back-to-back plays in the 2nd quarter. They did physically beat the Patriots in the trenches, and they were actually close to having a few more sacks. The ball was already out of Brady’s hands because of the coverage, though.
One reason the Patriots were able to throw quickly is that they were so successful on first and second down. We wrote last week that the Patriots probably wouldn’t be able to run the ball (which they didn’t), and that they would have to stay in manageable down-and-distances. They couldn’t get into too many 3rd-and-long situations where the Ravens’ pass rush would have time to get to Brady. The Patriots knew this too, and they attacked the soft coverage they saw on first and second down. In fact, Brady finished 29-43 for 315 yards with 3 touchdowns, an interception, and a 102.4 rating on first and second down. This enabled the Patriots to keep the chains moving and sustain their offense without a running game.
Whether it’s on offense or defense, we know that Bill Belichick will always try to take away the thing that a team does best. He did that with the Ravens’ run defense and pass rush, not allowing them to be a factor in the game. The other thing we know about Bill Belichick’s teams are that they will attack your weaknesses. Enter Ravens cornerback Rashaan Melvin. Melvin was part of the Ravens revolving door at defensive back this season. He played in just 3 games during the regular season, and actually spent time with both the Buccaneers and Dolphins in 2014 before joining the Ravens. Let’s just say he is not the strength of the Ravens defense. The Patriots knew this and attacked him. They targeted him 19 times, including 5 times on New England’s game-winning drive. Brady completed all 5 of those passes for 51 yards and a touchdown to Brandon LaFell.
Belichick and company pulled out all the stops against the Ravens. Wide receiver Julian Edelman threw a touchdown in the 3rd quarter to tie the game. Another second-half touchdown was set up by the Patriots’ use of a 4-offensive-linemen shell that completely confused the Ravens. They weren’t sure who was eligible and who wasn’t, ended up covering the ineligible receivers, and this created 3 quick and easy passes to wide-open receivers for 41 yards. It resulted in an additional 5 yards on a John Harbaugh penalty. This was a legal scheme by the Patriots, and another example of Bill Belichick’s greatness.
Finally, Tom Brady orchestrated the offense brilliantly. He did what he always does as a quarterback. He took what the defense gave him, keeping the ball out of harm’s way with the exception of one throw towards the end of the first half. Brady also stood in the pocket on the few moments that he needed to and delivered accurate passes before taking some big hits. This was one of the better games that we’ve seen Brady play in his playoff career.