How the Ravens Broke Down the Patriots Defense

Entering Week 9, the Patriots Defense was being talked about as one of the best of all time. Granted, the competition through their first 8 games was less than stellar, to say the least. New England’s defense might still finish the season among the all-time greats. But on Sunday night, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens Offense moved the ball on them at will and put 30 points up on the board. So how did they do it?

First, the Ravens decided to attack with big personnel. This got the Patriots to match up with their base defense more often. As we said last week, the Patriots’ greatest strength on defense is in the depth of their cornerbacks. They have the best secondary in the league by far. A good way to attack them is to neutralize that strength and go after other areas of their defense. This was one of the main ideas behind the big personnel.

The catch here is that the Ravens were still able to have dynamic speed on the field in quarterback Lamar Jackson and wide receiver Marquise Brown. They took advantage of this on their first drive with a shovel pass, which really functions similar to a jet sweep, for 26 yards. This set up Baltimore’s first touchdown.

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Notice how the threat of Lamar Jackson running right held linebacker Dont’a Hightower.

Hightower Jackson
Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Jackson holding Hightower

Out of their big personnel groupings, the Ravens were able to attack on the ground all night with both speed and power.

That said, Baltimore’s usage of read options with Lamar Jackson off of multiple types of runs gave New England the most trouble in the early going.

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The benefit of the read option is that the offense can leave defenders unblocked, yet still account for them with the threat of the quarterback keeping the ball. This lets the rest of the blocking scheme account for other defenders, especially at the second level, which leads to big runs.

The below two runs are perfect examples. These plays were read options on gap-scheme runs. The idea of gap runs is that the play-side linemen block down, pinning the defense inside and creating rushing lanes due to the angles of their blocks.

On this first play, the Ravens were in a big personnel grouping. They had a running back, two tight ends, and whatever you want to call Patrick Ricard, who is listed as a fullback and a defensive tackle but was aligned at tight end here.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

This was a run to the left. As illustrated below, the front side guard blocked down on the nose tackle. The design of this play called for the left tackle to release to the edge and block the outside linebacker. The play-side defensive end was left unblocked but actually went with the left tackle’s action.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Jackson read the defensive end and gave the ball to running back Mark Ingram inside for a gain of 14.

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Just four plays later, the Ravens ran the exact same play out of the same formation and personnel grouping, just to the opposite side of the field. This time, the unblocked defensive end went inside.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Jackson kept the ball and sped through the defense for 18 yards.

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As Cris Collinsworth mentioned during the broadcast, the defensive end is always wrong on these read-option plays. These runs led to a field goal and a 10-0 Ravens lead.

Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman did a tremendous job of mixing running schemes throughout the night. After attacking the Patriots with lots of gap scheme runs in the first quarter (power, duo, etc.), they came back on the first play of the 2nd quarter with an outside zone run. As we mentioned above, gap runs involve the play side of the offensive line blocking down and pinning the defense inside. Zone runs call for the offensive line moving in the direction of the run.

As you can see below, this was a zone run to the left. Keep your eyes on the backside guard, Marshal Yanda (#73). He did a tremendous job of quickly reaching the nose and then walling him off to the inside. His ability to make this block meant center Matt Skura (#68) could get to the second level unimpeded.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass
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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Mark Ingram did the rest.

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It’s hard to illustrate exactly, but after seeing one gap scheme run after another on their first two drives, the switch to a zone run had to have accounted for a delayed step here or there in New England’s defensive front. The result here was a 53-yard gain, setting up Baltimore’s third score and a 17-0 lead.

Something happened on the way to a Ravens blowout, though. They started making bad mistakes. A muffed punt and a Mark Ingram fumble led to 10 Patriots points and allowed New England to get back in the game.

The Patriots started going no-huddle on offense and had the Ravens Defense completely on its heels in the 2nd half. If not for a Julian Edelman fumble that was returned for a touchdown, it looked like this was going to be just another easy Tom Brady Patriots comeback, potentially complete before the start of the 4th quarter.

With the score 24-20 midway through the 3rd quarter and the Patriots Defense finally seeming to have an answer for the running game, the Ravens faced a critical 3rd-and-5 at their own 24-yard line. They could not afford a 3-and-out.

The Patriots would play 0-man coverage on this play, trying to apply the pressure. Lamar Jackson targeted his tight end Mark Andrews on a corner route against safety Terrence Brooks and put the ball up high in a spot where his tight end could use his height advantage. Andrews made a great catch to move the chains.

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The most pivotal play of the drive was a 4th-and-4 from New England’s 38-yard line. Here, the Ravens attacked New England’s man coverage with a pick play (that probably should have been called offensive pass interference).

Focus on the bottom of the screen.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

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If they don’t call it, it’s not a penalty (And let’s be honest, the Patriots Offense has benefited from some non-calls on pick plays over the years).

The Ravens would possess the ball for 8 minutes and 3 seconds on this drive, which culminated in a touchdown. Baltimore got some much-needed breathing room, and their defense got a chance to rest and regroup.

Baltimore iced the game on the following drive. The pivotal play came on yet another 3rd down. The Ravens went with another pick or rub concept, this time from out of the backfield.

First, look how they initially aligned with Mark Ingram on the perimeter. When the Patriots matched up with linebacker Jamie Collins, this was a strong indicator that they were playing man coverage. Ingram then motioned into the backfield before the snap.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

The Patriots were in man-free coverage with the two linebackers in the middle (Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts) playing Ingram’s release. Ingram would release to the right, making him Roberts’ man. Tight ends Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst, who were aligned inside to the right, ran to the middle of the field. They were not running routes at all. They were creating traffic for Roberts to have to fight through while chasing Ingram to the outside. You can see the play design below.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Andrews and Hurst did a great job of not making contact but making it difficult for Roberts to get through cleanly. The result was an 18-yard gain and another first down.

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Minutes later, the Ravens were in the end zone giving them a 3-possession lead. This drive ate up more than 9 minutes in the 4th quarter and sealed the victory.

The Ravens had a great game plan for attacking the Patriots. By and large, they neutralized New England’s strengths and attacked the lesser areas of their defense. This was by no means a blueprint for beating the Patriots, though. Baltimore has the unique ability, due to the players on their roster, to line up with big personnel and still have game-changing speed on the field. This is the Lamar Jackson factor.

The Ravens’ passing game did not offer much that New England was unable to handle. Jackson’s ability to throw from the pocket consistently still leaves a lot to be desired. However, he can do enough with his arm to be dangerous, as we saw on Sunday night. Still, the threat of his legs sets up the entire offense. This is arguably the most impressive aspect of Jackson’s game. He has the ability to influence the defense significantly on every single play of the game even when he doesn’t have the ball. He has to be accounted for in the running game at all times. This enables the Ravens to leave defenders unblocked and have their offensive line outnumber and overwhelm the remaining run defenders.

It may have taken half of the season, but it suddenly looks like Bill Belichick and the Patriots actually have some competition in the AFC.

Like what you read? Follow us on Twitter @FB_FilmRoom (Football Film Room) for more insight and analysis.

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