Monday, January 23, 2012

Review of my Key Points versus Baltimore

Am I an idiot? Did I know what I was talking about? Did I have any relevant insight in advance about how the Patriots won on Sunday? Join me for full accountability time as I review my Key Points versus Baltimore:

1. Pass protection for Tom Brady. 



I said:  In addition to this being simply the one thing the Patriots did NOT do in 2009, the Patriots have the ability, if Seabass (Sebastian Vollmer) is healthy to bring Nate Solder in as a 3rd tight end and basically give the team a six man offensive line. In that set they could line up Gronk tight to the line on the opposite side of Solder, put Aaron Hernandez in the backfield, Wes Welker in the slot strong or weak-side and Deion Branch out wide. Hernandez then can empty the backfield to the opposite side of Welker, he can split wide to allow the Patriots to have "trips" on one side and Gronk in isolation on the other side, or simply stay in the backfield as a 7th blocker or slip out for one of his short catches where he beats a linebacker and turns it into a big game.  

In reality:  Seabass (Sebastian Vollmer)  did not even dress for the game, but the offensive line had an overall great game.  Tom Brady stayed upright for the most part and the line opened some holes for Ben-Jarvis Green-Ellis who had a strong game running the ball.  Nate Solder gave up a sack on one play where he was just plain beat.   If it only happened once that is not bad.

2.  Ray Rice as dual threat  

I said:  Ray Rice is the offense for the Baltimore Ravens. Period. Great job by Mike Reiss digging up the nugget about Dane Fletcher as spy on Rice ("like white on rice" is inappropriate and in poor taste, so I'm not making this pun here) as he did previously. Rice is a handful for any defense, and if the Ravens are to have any chance at all, they HAVE to have Joe Flacco attack the Patriots secondary deep with Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin (deep middle of the field is where he works best). If the linebackers are up in the box, Flacco has the opportunity to strike deep. That said, San Diego had that same game plan against the Patriots, and once their running backs started putting the ball on the ground, a back and forth battle (Phil "Biff" Rivers is much more comparable and capable to hold his own in a shoot-out than Flacco) became a strong win for the Pats.

In reality:   I still feel very strongly that Philip Rivers should be referred to as Biff.  The Patriots front seven did a great job of containing Ray Rice, but did make Flacco try to beat them.  They, save for a few exceptions, kept Baltimore from connecting deep.  Other than Super Bowl costly drop at the end of the game in the end zone, Lee Evans made more plays than expected.  



3.  Who wins inside the 20?  
I said:  Red Zone offense and defense is something that seemingly comes up every time Bill Belichick is speaking. That Patriots game plan is built around scoring touchdowns on offense inside the 20 and holding their opponents to field goals. Danny Woodhead becomes a huge x-factor for New England in the Red Zone with his ability to operate out of the spread offense as a darting runner or catching a pass swung out of the backfield. With all the attention given (and rightfully so) to the tight ends ends and Wes Welker, Woodhead could end up with the ball in his hands in space with one man to make miss making the difference of four crucial points squarely on him. 

In reality:   Well, the call of Danny Woodhead as the X-Factor was dead-on, but for the wrong reason. His costly fumble turned momentum.  That said, on the Patriots eventual game-winning touchdown, it was Woodhead's run down to the one yard line that set-up Brady's "victory dive".  The Ravens kept the Patriots out of the end zone, and that is why they were able to stay in the game when the Patriots offense moved the ball more effectively.  A couple of field goals in the first half converted to touchdowns changes the whole dynamic of the game.


4.  Ravens' coverage vs. "Boston TE Party" 
I said:  Speaking of those tight ends, am I the only one that wants to see Bernard "Brady's knee" Pollard juked out of his shoes and breaking his ankles trying to stop Hernandez or getting bowled over in the open field by the runaway Gronk train? Again, a key in deciphering the Ravens pass defense has to start with Ed Reed and where he is on the field and what he sees going down. The man is simply the best secondary player in this generation, bar none. Charles Woodson is great, but he's no Ed Reed (and don't throw that weak-ass Troy Polamalu crap over here...the man is Brandon Meriweather running around out of position out on the field with a better PR man). 

In reality:   One good juke by Aaron Hernandez leaving Bernard Pollard grasping at air as he slithered out for a first down was the highlight. Of course, the one almost knock-out by Pollard with his (legal) tackle and twist of Gronk's ankle almost cost the Patriots a chance in the Super Bowl.  Two weeks of rest may do Gronkowski good.  Looking at where I wrote "breaking his ankles" and feeling a little sick to my stomach as I initially thought Gronk broke or tore something on that tackle.


5.  Ravens' Haloti Ngata vs. Patriots' Vince Wilfork 

I said:  Ah, yes. The two beasts of defense. In addition, Kyle Love, Gerard Warren, Shaun Ellis, Ron Brace, et al need to be stout up front. Games are won and lost in the trenches, and the past two years (three if we count 2007 Super Bowl versus the Giants) in the playoffs the Patriots were dominated on both sides of the ball and lost winnable games. To get to the big game, this must not happen.  

In reality:   The biggest key of this game was the Patriots defensive line.  Their hogs showed up big time.  Pressure neutralized Joe Flacco when they needed to. After years of being spoiled by Tom Brady's poise in the pocket, it was so surprising to see Joe Flacco so roiled by pressure.  A fourth down pass lobbed so far out of bounds? Unfathomable.  Give Big Vince Wilfork his due: he made the plays! On the other side, the Patriots offensive line protected Brady. Haloti Ngata was effectively neutralized by Patriots interior line. Center Dan Connolly with Guards Brian Waters and Logan Mankins picked a great time to have their best game of the season.  Those three along with Vince Wilfork were the AFC Championship game MVPs.

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