In reviewing this week's game, it made sense to me to examine the big plays the Patriots defense gave up. I wanted to focus on the growth of the defense prior to the game, so determining why they relapsed to last season's level of play is important as a post-mortem.
When looking at the stats, it seems five Baltimore Raven receivers had plays for over 20 yards. It was worse than that.
Play 2: 2nd Q, Joe Flacco throws 18 yards deep to Jacoby Jones, who turns up field for 41 total yards- a nauseating 23 yards after the catch (YAC). Kyle Arrington is unable to catch up as Jones just pierces the Patriots zone defense. We'll look more at this one.
Play 3: 2nd Q, Joe Flacco throws to Dennis Pitta in the flat who runs 20 yards into the end zone for a score. Steve Gregory tries to "sweep the leg!" instead of go for the wrap up tackle but just straight up whiffs. It seems that Devin McCourty slows up on the play thinking that Gregory would be able to take him down, allowing Pitta to get by him and into the end zone.
Play 4: 3rd Q, Joe Flacco throws 20 yards down the field to Torrey Smith, who is able to turn up the field for an additional 12. Devin McCourty was on an island as Steve Gregory cheated to the middle of the field as he tried to protect the seam. Dont'a Hightower was technically in the throwing lane, but he jumped up to cover the outlet receiver in the flat, leaving an open zone for Smith to cut inside towards. Just a well executed play by the Ravens.
Play 5: 3rd Q, Joe Flacco throws 30 yards down the field to Torrey Smith, who is able to hold out and go out of bounds for 8 YAC. This is the play where Pat Chung faking a blitz and was caught at the line, leaving Sterling Moore in essentially single coverage down the sideline. Smith is a blazer and Chung kind of laid Moore out to dry.
Play 6: 4th Q, Joe Flacco throws 22 yards down the field to Anquan Boldin coming out of the slot, who manages to pick up 2 YAC before going out of bounds. Kyle Arrington was in coverage and did a solid job, but Flacco was able to drop the ball over Boldin's shoulder.
Play 7: 4th Q, Joe Flacco throws 12 yards down the field to Jacoby Jones, who picks up 9 YAC. Broken coverage as Dont'a Hightower sets an accidental pick by knocking the tight end off his route and directly into Sterling Moore, allowing Jones to create separation. Just really unfortunate.
Play 8: 4th Q, Joe Flacco dumps off to Ray Rice who scampers for a 27 yard gain. Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower were in coverage, but both stepped towards Flacco as he left the pocket, leaving Rice open with space to run. Spikes looks more liable as Hightower seemed to have contain on the outside.
Play 9: 4th Q, Joe Flacco tosses deep right on a 24 yard throw to Jacoby Jones. Pat Chung makes the play as Devin McCourty overshoots the backshoulder toss. As this was the first play after the 2 minute warning, the Patriots already looked like they were in a ton of trouble. I'll also say that Zoltan Mesko's 30 yard punt to the 21 yard line, while muffed, was one of the worse plays of the day, giving the Ravens a relatively short field instead of potentially pinning them deep in their zone with a directional kick.
So over the course of the game, Flacco had 9 completions for over 20 yards- and the blame goes all around. Three of those plays can be considered breakdowns in the defensive scheme, which can be attributed to the coaches as well as given to the Ravens for making great plays. Beyond that, Arrington (x2), McCourty (x2), Gregory, Chung, Moore, Hightower (x2), and Spikes all had roles in giving up big plays. In case you're keeping track, that's all of the top 5 players in the secondary and two thirds of the linebacker corps. Hooray for Jerod Mayo, I guess.
After the jump, let's look at the 41 yard gain by Jacoby Jones and why the Patriots were unable to make a play.
The play starts near the Ravens 21 yard line ans the Ravens have two wide receivers, a tight end, a fullback, and a running back on the field. The Patriots are countering with their base 4-3 defense.
The routes are drawn up- the slot receiver runs a go route to take the top off of the defense. The Ravens hope that he can draw off safety help to reveal a lane for Jones underneath. The tight end and full back run to the opposite side line to spread the defense even more thin. Ray Rice helps to block and reveals himself as a potential outlet target.
The play has developed a little bit and the Patriots linebackers are definitely in a zone read while the defensive backs are in man coverage. This causes an issue as Pat Chung cheats over to the far side of the field, leaving his half (the near half) without deep coverage. If and when a receiver breaks through the zone of the linebackers, the Patriots are left entirely exposed.
Additionally, you can see how each defender finds someone to cover. Jerod Mayo takes the fullback, Devin McCourty has the tight end, Kyle Arrington is trying to shadow Jacoby Jones, the two safeties have the deep end, and Brandon Spikes is about to bite and take a step up to cover Ray Rice as the outlet receiver.
The only person without a real defined role is Dont'a Hightower. I expect he'll grow, but he looks like a rookie in this case. Technically he's doing his job, but when he has more veteran savvy and experience, he'll be able to read the play as it progresses and possibly step into the throwing lane. That will come with time.
This is where Chung biting on the deep route hurts the defense- Jones has caught the ball with both safeties on one side of the field and now he has plenty of space to run.
So who is to blame for this? A little Chung, a little Hightower, a little Spikes (whose step towards Rice opens up a space for Flacco to drop the ball), a little of the coaches for drawing up this play. But in reality, this was a great call by the Ravens and they earned this big play.
In the future, look for the Patriots to continue to improve. Chung needs to stop biting on coverage and Spikes definitely needs to improve as well. Hightower has more leeway as he develops, but he has time to come along. These mental errors are what cost the Patriots big plays and that can come down to sloppiness and a need for stronger coaching.
Hopefully the Patriots can rectify these issues moving forward and let's hope they can stop the big play in the future.