The Seattle Seahawks obviously have the best defense in the NFL since the “Legion of Boom” was established in 2012. They’ve allowed a league-low 1,201 points against over the past five years.
Pop quiz: what team ranks 2nd?
Is it the Broncos and their ferocious defense? Or maybe the historically good Ravens or Steelers? Maybe even the Chiefs or Cardinals?
You’d be wrong if you guessed any of those teams. The New England Patriots rank 2nd in the NFL in points against since the start of 2012 with 1,504 points against. Oh, and you forgot the Bengals, which rank 3rd over that time frame with 1,507 points against.
Ignore the fact that the Seahawks are so much better than the rest of the league for a second. The 303 points separating the 1st ranked Seahawks (1,201) and the 2nd ranked Patriots (1,504) is greater than the difference between the 2nd ranked Patriots (1,504) and the 21st ranked Giants (1,806).
2012 is also the first year that Matt Patricia ascended to defensive coordinator. He’s done a better job- and a more consistent job- than his reputation suggests. So when Patricia breaks down the Patriots week 14 opponent and says he knows what he’s watching, perhaps he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
“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.”
So the Ravens have adopted a quick passing attack with Steve Smith Sr. and they have a deep threat with Mike Wallace. How does this Ravens offense compare to years past? Has Patricia accounted for some institutional knowledge in the Ravens offense from prior years under Gary Kubiak, along with new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg?
“Yup,” Patricia said, “and I mean if you go back to that season, the 2014 season with Gary Kubiak, you know we played Marty Mornhinweg too with the Jets. So there are two games there from that year where there’s going to be things that we have to take a look at and take an understanding of what the team is and what they do.”
The Patriots are familiar with all the elements of the Ravens offense and believe they’re prepared to stop whatever version of the Baltimore offense takes the field.
“Kubiak has a lot of principles that carry over from the West Coast offense [Mornhinweg’s offensive style] from a passing game standpoint and really in the run game it’s very similar to what we’ve seen before also,” Patricia said. “So there is a lot to tie together as far as the overall package and the overall philosophy of what they’re trying to do.
“There is quite a bit of carry over and there are some differences too, stuff that is specific to Coach Kubiak when he was there but this is Marty Mornhinweg all the way. The thing is that even just from the transition there are a lot of principles that are carried over from before also. So everything is, just for them, really kind of falling into place.”
The Patriots have struggled to defend Kubiak’s rushing attack over the years, while Mornhinweg’s relatively talentless Jets offense averaged 20.25 points per game against the Patriots in 2013-14. He has more talent in Baltimore than he ever had in New York and they’re coming off a 38-point explosion against the Dolphins.
Would it be in the Patriots best interest to press Smith at the line of scrimmage and to have some help over the top of Wallace? How will the Patriots focus on slowing the Ravens rushing attack with Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon?
Maybe Patricia has the answers. Maybe he’s still studying the Ravens. Whatever the case, Patricia has earned the benefit of the doubt.