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Patriots used zone coverage to fluster Ravens QB Joe Flacco

The Patriots defense is rounding into form in the final stretch of the season.

New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia pretty much told the Baltimore Ravens how he was planning on defending their offensive attack earlier in the week.

“I think the routes and the system, the West Coast system, with [Ravens offensive coordinator] Marty Mornhinweg and what they do from the passing game fits those quicker-type shorter throws,” Patricia explained on Tuesday, “where the ball is going to be on [WR Steve Smith Sr.] fast and he’s going to be able to get the ball in his hands and be able to get yardage after the catch, if that makes any sense.”

Patricia knew the Ravens West Coast Offense relied heavily on crossing patterns and yards after the catch, so he made the simple decision to play a lot of zone defense and to flood the crossing lanes.

“[The Patriots] were dropping a lot of guys,” Ravens QB Joe Flacco said after the game. “It seemed like most of the game they had a lot of guys in the middle of the field and weren’t rushing a bunch of guys.”

“We expected to get probably a little bit more man-to-man that we got,” Flacco admit.

The Patriots defense rushed just three or four players for most of the night, instead opting to take away Flacco’s intermediate option in TE Dennis Pitta, forcing Flacco to hold on to the football and ultimately check the ball down to the running back.

“I’d say probably both teams played quite a bit of zone defense tonight,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. “We were able to make [Joe] Flacco hold the ball just a little bit and get to him.”

Ravens WR Steve Smith Sr. acknowledged the Patriots “had a great game plan” and WR Mike Wallace explained that the Patriots “know we have a lot of speed so they tried to eliminate the big plays.”

The Patriots prioritized stopping Pitta, who collected just 18 yards on 4 receptions. It seemed like Smith and Wallace had to run across the entire field horizontally if they wanted to pick up one or two yards after the catch. The Ravens didn’t really offer a vertical threat for much of the game, so the Patriots could drop three defensive backs into deep zones and four or five players in the middle of the field and the flat.

“I think [the Patriots] were covering deep and they had their safeties back and they did a good job staying on top of things,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. “Corners were bailing a lot in their 3-deep coverages. They wanted to stay on top and I think they did a good job of that, not giving up the big plays. Certainly a better job than we did and that was probably the difference in the game.”

Flacco finished the game with 324 passing yards on 52 attempts, but the Patriots defense was in control for most of the game, warm tackling to limit yards after the catch, and forcing the Ravens to string together 8, 9, and 10 play drives to score a measly field goal.

Patricia pretty much told the Ravens that he knew what they were going to do on offense and drew up a game plan to stop it.