ReFo: Patriots @ Ravens, Week 16
There is no shortage of postseason storylines this season and the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens are right in the thick of it. In a rematch of the last two AFC Championship games, the Patriots had a chance to put the Ravens’ playoff hopes at virtually nothing while the Ravens were hoping to push the Patriots out of their first round bye status. While these two teams generally find themselves playing within a score of each other, New England got off to a fast start that proved insurmountable as the cruised to a 41-7 victory.
It was an odd game as the Patriots got up 20-0, though it felt like much more, and by the time the Ravens cut the lead to 20-7, it was much too late. A handful of late touchdowns made the final score feel much more like the first half vibe, but it wasn’t truly indicative of how close the Ravens were to making it interesting in the fourth quarter. With the win, the Patriots are one game away from sealing the bye, while the Ravens needed some help yesterday, but they still have a glimmer of postseason hope as we head into the season’s final week.
Here’s a look at the key performances from the game.
New England – Three Performances of Note
It’s always a group effort in the New England backfield and Sunday was no different as Stevan Ridley carried the ball 15 times while LaGarrette Blount had 16. Ridley graded at +1.2 on the ground as his season long battle to climb out of the fumbling doghouse continues. The Patriots showed some trust by giving him the ball during close-it-out time in the fourth quarter and he made the most of it, picking up two first downs with a couple hard-nosed runs. Blount graded at +2.1 on the day as he showed some quickness cutting downhill in the Patriots’ zone scheme. While he spent most of his time running between the tackles, he kicked off the day with a nifty 14-yard run at the 12:18 mark of the first quarter as he cut back across the grain before making a nice cut on cornerback Jimmy Smith to pick up the first down. Perhaps most importantly for the Patriots, when the time came to hand it off and run out the clock, the Ravens didn’t have an answer as Ridley and Blount nine straight times on their last drive, capping it off with a 7-yard Blount touchdown to officially put the game out of reach. That type of late-game physical play could bode well come playoff time.
Rookies Making Plays
Just as the backfield is often a committee approach, so too is New England’s defensive effort that uses a number of players in a variety of roles. Among the players still finding their niche are a pair of rookies in cornerback Logan Ryan and linebacker Jamie Collins. Ryan played a career high 75 snaps and made the most of it with two interceptions while adding a pass deflection. He took advantage of LB Dont’a Hightower’s tip and came away with a sliding interception at the 8:12 mark of the first quarter. He then made a nice play on an errant Joe Flacco pass with 10:28 to go in the third quarter as the out-route to tight end Dennis Pitta sailed wide and Ryan snatched the ball out of the air. While the interceptions usually get the headlines, Ryan’s best play was his pass deflection with 12:23 to go in the third quarter. With the Ravens facing a 4th-and-3, Ryan dropped back from the flat to deflect Flacco’s corner route attempt to WR Jacoby Jones to end the Ravens’ drive and put a damper on their second half comeback hopes. As for Collins he graded at +1.6 in coverage, he got his hands on two passes as well, first along the sideline at the 6:46 mark of the fourth quarter then during garbage time as he showed his athleticism to break up and nearly intercept a pass intended for TE Ed Dickson. Both rookies made big contributions in the 41-7 effort.
Mixed Results Up Front
While rushing for 142 yards looks good on the surface, it’s not always indicative of a dominant offensive line performance and the Patriots got some mixed results with the front five. Surprisingly, their lowest graded players coming in, center Ryan Wendell and right guard Dan Connolly, led the way this week grading at +1.6 and +1.2 respectively. The rest of the line had some issues, however, starting on the left side where Logan Mankins was forced to play left tackle for injured starter Nate Solder while undrafted rookie Josh Kline stepped in at left guard. Mankins actually held up well in pass protection despite getting burned by outside linebacker Terrell Suggs for a sack, but he wasn’t his usual self in the run game grading at -2.9. Kline graded at -2.8 overall while right tackle Marcus Cannon struggled for a -3.9 run block grade. Perhaps it was all about familiarity on Sunday as Wendell and Connolly are the only two of the five to start and play the same position they played on opening day.
Baltimore– Three Performances of Note
While the Ravens didn’t exactly get torched through the air, it wasn’t the best day for their secondary. CB Jimmy Smith picked up only his second negative grade since Week 5 as he gave up three first downs on five targets to go with a 34-yard pass interference penalty and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. On the other side, though he only gave up one catch for four yards on five targets, CB Lardarius Webb picked up an illegal conduct penalty of his own to with a late hit and he got beat by WR Julian Edelman who was unable to haul in QB Tom Brady’s 9:21 mark of the fourth quarter. As for the safeties, James Ihedigbo and Matt Elam graded at -2.5 and -1.1 respectively while combining to allow receptions on all four targets into their coverage for 48 yards. Both safeties had a missed tackle apiece, with Ihedigbo completely whiffing on WR Danny Amendola in the open field with 6:26 to go in the first quarter. The back end was certainly not the Ravens’ best defensive unit on Sunday.
Flacco Turns it Over
It’s difficult to gauge just how healthy Joe Flacco (-2.3) really is, but it was obvious that he was off his game from the get-go. It started with a bad underthrow to WR Torrey Smith that allowed FS Devin McCourty to make a play on the ball. Flacco then followed that up on the next drive with one of his worst throws of the day on Ryan’s first interception. He either misread the coverage or simply tried to squeeze the pass in over Hightower’s head, but it didn’t work as Hightower should have come down with the interception himself, but instead tipped it to Ryan who finished the play. Flacco put the ball in harm’s way again at the 12:45 mark of the second quarter as he completely overthrew a post route into McCourty’s hands who was unable to come down with it. While he settled down for the most part, there were still a number of misses sprinkled in and he was simply unable to make enough plays to dig the Ravens out of their early hole.
Making Plays on the Edge
Among the bright spots for Baltimore was OLB Elvis Dumervil’s continued strong play and Suggs’ bounce-back game after a tough Monday night outing. Dumervil finished at +2.3 with three hurries on just 13 pass rushes while adding a stop in the running game. Suggs beat Mankins handily for the sack, his first since Week 9, and he had one of the game’s better plays when he knifed past Cannon to make a tackle for loss in the backfield at the 1:18 mark of the first quarter. He finished with a team-high five stops on his way to a season-best +3.7 overall grade.
-Flacco was 0-for-6 with an interception and a -3.6 grade on passes thrown beyond 20 yards.
-Patriots CB Aqib Talib’s struggles continued as he graded at -2.7 overall including -3.1 in coverage.
-The two teams combined for only seven missed tackles, three for New England and four for Baltimore.
PFF Game Ball
CB Logan Ryan found himself in the middle of critical plays throughout the afternoon and his +3.3 overall grade paced a stout New England defense.
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