1. Stopping Rice -
RB Ray Rice: 22 touches, 78 yards (3.54 ypt), 0 TDs
If you told me that the Patriots could hold Ray Rice to that stat line, I'd be ecstatic and assume that Rice had a terrible day. We reviewed how the Patriots would have to line up in order to slow down Rice and the Ravens run game. Here's a picture:
By splitting the gaps, the Patriots were able to get into the backfield and disrupt Rice's favorite running lanes. The most impressive factor in how they limited Rice? They didn't have a spy. They let Rice run wherever he wanted- they just made him pay for it. If he wanted to block, he was going to get trucked. If he was splitting through a gap to be a receiver, a linebacker would engage him at the line of scrimmage. If he was in the open field, the Patriots had two players in zone coverage to deter Joe Flacco from making the throw. The Patriots defense was impressive and it seemed to evolved into a more complicated, exotic, and physical defense than it had been for the rest of the season. It's a good look for them and it definitely has to do with the return of Pat Chung and Brandon Spikes. Win for the Patriots.
2. Protecting Brady -
1 Sack, 1 QB Hit, 6 QB Pressures
Those are the numbers from Pro Football Focus. Brady himself held on to the ball too long and was ticketed with one of the other QB hits. Basic point: Nate Solder's sack at the end of the Patriots second possession (first drive into the red zone) forced the Patriots into a 2nd and 15 and they had to settle for a field goal. That was pretty much the low point for the offensive line who gave Brady plenty of time all night.
The Patriots held the typically formidable Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs to a combined 7 tackles (albeit 5 were for stops), 2 QB Hits and 3 QB Pressures. That's a win any day of the week and especially on Sunday. Win for the Patriots.
3. Tight Ends - Here are the stat lines for all tight ends in the game:
Rob Gronkowski - 5 receptions (7 targets), 87 yards, 0 TDs
Aaron Hernandez - 7 receptions (10 targets), 66 yards, 0 TDs
Patriots - 12 receptions (17 targets), 153 yards, 0 TDs
Dennis Pitta - 5 receptions (7 targets), 41 yards, 1 TD
Ed Dickson - 2 receptions (4 targets), 23 yards, 0 TDs
Ravens - 7 receptions (11 targets), 64 yards, 1 TD
Looking at those numbers, I have to give the Patriots the edge. However, the lack of red zone production is definitely worrisome and is worth noting. The Patriots tight ends combined for 2 receptions on 4 attempts (both receptions by Hernandez) for 13 yards. That's not a good day for the Patriots. The Patriots get 1/2 of a win here.
4. Discipline - The Patriots were tagged with 1 flag for 5 yards and that was for having 12 men on the field on an extra point attempt. That's a great day for the Patriots and Bill Belichick must have been extremely happy with how disciplined the team looked on the field. They didn't allow Rice to break free and, while Joe Flacco broke free for 27 rushing yards, the Patriots did a good job of collapsing the pocket and not giving him much space to run around.
However, on offense Brady made some terrible throws. The interception to Matthew Slater was inexcusable and was trying to do too much with the football and almost cost the team the game. While both of his interceptions were the results of incredible athletic feats by the Ravens defenders, Brady shouldn't have been making those throws. He saw that Julian Edelman was smothered by Ladarius Webb and the safety was closing in from the top- and Brady underthrew the ball, which should have been placed further outside. The ball to Slater just shouldn't have been thrown. The offensive execution lacked discipline that they usually have. For that, the Patriots can only get 1/2 of a win.
5. Home Runs - Technically, neither team had a home run play that resulted in a home run (30+ yards), although one could argue that the Torrey Smith shake of Sterling Moore for a 29 yard TD should be counted. When looking at plays of 15+ yards, the Ravens had seven to beat the Patriots' four. The Ravens definitely had the bigger plays on the day with the only four plays on the day for over 25 yards (42, 37, 29TD, 29). Of course, it wasn't as if one player was picked on the entire game, as those four plays were against Pat Chung (misread), Kyle Arrington (missed tackle), Sterling Moore (missed tackle), and Julian Edelman (misread). The Patriots need to figure a way to limit those big plays if they wish to beat the Giants. Loss for the Patriots.
The Patriots eek out a 3/5 victory, which may seem like a little much for how close the game was at the end. Hopefully the team can put everything together for one final game and come out with a victory.