Monday, October 18, 2010

How to lose the Patriots in Foxboro:

• 3:17 left in the second quarter, Ravens lead 10-7

Belichick challenges the spot of the ball after Flacco scrambles for an apparent first down on 3rd and 6 near midfield. After the challenge, the ball is moved back a bit and the Ravens have 4th and a foot from the Pats 49 yardline.

There are some positions on the field where you should almost always consider going for it on 4th down. Those positions are across midfield, just in the opponents territory, say around their 40 or 45 yardline. This is sort of a no-man's land, between a punt and a field goal. Much closer, and you'd just take the FG. Further away and you'd punt it. But just in this area, it's too far away for a FG, and a punt is very likely to result in a a touchback, thus not gaining you very many yards.

The Ravens weren't *quite* there on the field. But they were very close. More importantly, the distance-to-go for a first down was very small, definitely less than a yard. An easy pickup for the QB sneak, esp if your formation keeps the threat of the handoff alive. And most importantly, the game situation seemed to dictate it. The defense was playing very well, but you've got to figure that Tom Brady is a lock to wake up in the 4th Q and start putting together some scoring drives. You need another score here: going up 10 before half makes it a whole different game.

As it happened, Sam Koch makes a great punt (he was excellent all day) and Jalen Parmele downs it at the Pats 8, so great field position for the Ravens D. That successful spec teams play sort of negates one of the points about "automatically" going for it on 4th: the punt netted 40+ yards of field position, so it was much more viable than the argument to go for it implies. However, I think this fails to take into account the sense of urgency the Ravens SHOULD have had, dealing with a powder-keg of an offense like they were Sunday. There are some QBs who are simply too dangerous, for you to let their team hang around within one or two scores. Obviously Tom Brady is one of those.

Harbaugh is a very traditional coach, playing field position and emphasizing executation on spec teams. This results in sound play, defensible decisions. This felt like one of those traditional defensible decisions that get you beat.

• Failed sneak

9:10 left in the 4th, the Ravens try a QB sneak on 4th-and-1 near midfield (Ravens 47 yardline), and get stuffed.

It may seem strange, that I should call for a QB sneak in one situation (above) when it failed in a similar situation later in the game. Doesn't the failure here mean that Harbaugh was right not to use it before halftime?

I think no, for 2 reasons. One, the Ravens telegraphed it. They lined up unbalanced left (RT Yanda lined up outside LT Oher) with McClain the only back (2 TEs, 2 WRs). The Pats countered with two 2 D-linemen in the A gaps. McClain motioned to the right to empty the backfield. The moment they did that, the Pats D-line scrunched in, clogging up the middle. Pats DE Cunningham (#96) moved over from his spot over Yanda on the offensive left side, and crashed the middle on the snap. Everyone and his brother surged directly to the point of attack. There was no other threat: the whole stadium had read “sneak”. Usually an offense will at least show some other credible threat: spread the D out or something. Compare this failed sneak with the one the Packers ran on the goal line this weekend.

Two, it seemed like Flacco used poor technique or judgement in picking his gap. Simms telestrated it for the game broadcast, and it seemed like the defensive formation should have dictated that Flacco run left with the ball, in the direction of the LG. If he'd literally bounced it outside like a running back, he may have had 3 or 4 yards; but even keeping it inside, running toward the LG or the gap between the guard and tackle, it looked like he should have had the first down. Harbaugh seemed to acknowledge as much in his Monday press conference, when he said: “You can still run the quarterback sneak against that look, it's just a matter of where you run the ball. Obviously they can't defend every gap, and Joe's got some options in there where to take the ball.” (quote starts at about 17:25 mark on

Anyway: that was a crucial situation in which to come up short.

• Flacco runs cold

With 10 mins left in 4th, Flacco's stats were 21 of 25 (84%) for 244 yds (9.8 yds/att) with 2TDs, for a passer rating of 134. Unbelievably efficient and productive play. Flacco threw 10 more passes the rest of the game, for a total of 41 more yards. His 6 completions sounds decent, but the 4.1 ypa is terrible. Either he became Captain Checkdown, throwing timidly; or the play-calling changed; or his coaches were telling him to be careful; or something. The Ravens needed just one more score to win the game, on any of their last 4 possessions, and instead they were mostly impotent on offense. I'm sure the Patriots had something to do with it: they must have been playing better coverage. But you have to be able to execute against the prevent D.

• McClain's penalty

7:14 left in overtime, Ravens have the ball 2nd and 9 on their own 20. Ray Rice is stopped for no gain, and in the pileup McClain gets mad and shoves a Patriot defender, drawing an amazingly stupid penalty. Instead of 3rd and 9, the Ravens are looking at 3rd and 19. Of course they fail to pick it up. They punt it away, and the Pats drive down the field for the winning score.

What is there to say about such a critical loss of composure, in such an important moment?

Other notes:

The Ravens loss of a 10-pt lead in the 4th Q represents the largest collapse of the Harbaugh era.

• Flacco became the Ravens all-time leader in passing yardage, over Kyle Boller.


I don't have any right as a Ravens fan to be disappointed that they lost this game, because I had this one earmarked as a loss. When the schedule was announced in the offseason, this was an automatic loss. Belichick & Brady, at home, with a chance to avenge the playoff beatdown? And with the bye week added in. I figured that even if the Pats lost 15 games, they would win this one.

But it is annoying to be in position to win, to have a 10pt lead in the 4th and have a great chance to go 5-1 and take control in the conference, and then come up short, in this entirely predictable Tom Brady comeback. It's annoying to play so well for 3+ quarters, and then fold.


Chris was on a Ravens discussion board earlier, and wrote that Ravens fans need to keep some perspective:

that was simply a horrendous loss.
But then at the same time, I realize we're 4-2 through a just BRUTAL stretch of our schedule. @ NYJ, @ Cin, @ Pitt and @ NE, with two disadvantages via six days before Cin and NE coming off a bye week. Now we roll into the easy stretch where 4 of 6 are at home with the six vs. teams a combined 14-18, plus Reed coming back. We have a good chance of being no worse than 8-4 or better going into the home stretch of the year.
I should totally agree: esp as I'm the guy who wrote that “Given the way their schedule falls, I think if the Ravens get thru the first 5 or 6 games at or above .500, they will have a chance at a first round bye in the playoffs.” If you told me then that the Ravens would be 4-2 coming out of game 6, I would have shouted “WOO HOO! Look out, league, here we come!”

But this feels like one of those losses that reveals something fundamental about the team. The Ravens seem plodding and deliberate, rather than explosive. Compared to the other good teams in the AFC:

Steelers – The Ravens have a good front 7, but they don't have the same violence and power that the Steelers have, and they don't have Bathroom Ben.

Jets – The Ravens have a good defense and a good young QB, but they don't have the speed & athleticism the Jets have, nor the powerful O-line; and Sanchez hadn't thrown an INT this season until this week.

Patriots – The Ravens have a balanced team, but they don't have the clutch opportunism the Pats seemed to display, and their QB hasn't shown the comeback ability that Brady has.

Indy – The Ravens don't have Peyton Manning, and Indy does.

I dunno, I'm probably overreacting. Really, it was a great game.


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