The Baltimore Ravens pulled out an impressive fourth-quarter win over the New England Patriots, 31-30. While Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had an amazing game, with 28 pass completions for 382 yards and three touchdowns, he couldn't have done it without the help of receiver Torrey Smith.
Smith, who took the field less than 24 hours after finding out his younger brother, Tevin, had been killed in a motorcycle accident, had an amazing on-field performance, catching six of the 10 passes thrown his way, for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
Clearly, the emotional day had some impact on Smith's inspired performance, but so did some terrible defensive decisions by the Patriots secondary. Let's take a closer look at five of his six receptions to see just how he was so successful in this game.
Second Quarter, 9:53: 25-yard touchdown reception
This is Smith's first of two touchdowns on the night, and the beginning of a pattern that emerged in the majority of his receptions: The Ravens offense worked out of the no-huddle. At first, it appears the Patriots will put two defenders on Smith—cornerback Kyle Arrington and safety Patrick Chung.
However, Chung decides to work the midfield zone, while it's just Arrington alone alongside Smith
Single coverage on the Ravens' biggest deep-threat playmaker is never smart. Once the Patriots realize that Joe Flacco is indeed going to target Smith, it's too late. Smith is ahead of Arrington and Chung is too far away to make any impact. All that's left is for Flacco to throw the ball well
And he does, leading the Ravens to an easy first-half touchdown.
Third Quarter, 12:49: 11 yards on a 3rd-and-2
As you see here, Smith is going to head away from the sideline and into the middle of the field. Safety Steve Gregory is up close, as one of the defenders tasked with keeping him under control. Not pictured here is cornerback Devin McCourty, who is in the deep middle zone.
At first, it appears Flacco won't get the pass out—he's being blitzed and the pocket appears to be closing. However, he steps up and has enough time to throw. Again, this is out of the no-huddle.
Flacco flips it right to Smith, who is in the middle of the field just past the first-down line. McCourty is too deep to keep him from getting yards after the catch, and Chung, not pictured, bit on the fact that Smith was lined up wide and is far off of his man. It should have been double coverage, but it failed.
Chung finally catches up to Smith as he heads to the opposite sideline, but the damage has been done: 11 yards, more than enough for a Ravens first down.
Third Quarter, 12:18: 32 yards on a 2nd-and-10
This is not a no-huddle play (for a change—though the Ravens didn't use it constantly, it was the motive power behind the majority of Smith's catches), but it's just as effective. As you can see, Smith is at the bottom of the screen, headed eventually to the middle of the field, same as last time, but deeper.
What makes this play work is the play-action that Flacco runs. Notice two Patriots defenders bite on it while Smith streaks away from the play.
There are defenders deep (again, Gregory and McCourty), getting ready to double-cover Smith, but he cuts his route shorter than where they stand. And the two defenders who were fooled on the play-action help him accomplish this. Smith makes the catch without issue—he's wide open.
Smith is able to turn upfield and grab a few more yards before McCourty and Gregory grab him. Notice linebacker Brandon Spikes heading towards the play; he was one of the Patriots faked out on the play-action. If he hadn't been, it wouldn't have been such an easy completion from Flacco to Smith. First down, Ravens.
Fourth Quarter, 5:40: 1st-and-10, Building a touchdown drive
This no-huddle pass play helped extend what ultimately became a Ravens touchdown drive that helped them along to winning the game with just over seven minutes of solid play on both offense and defense. Here, it appears that Smith will be double covered, with Gregory and (ostensibly) McCourty right where Smith is going to run.
Flacco intended to test that double coverage from the snap of the ball. He looks Smith's and only Smith's way once the ball is in his hands.
Wherever did McCourty (or whichever cornerback that was) go? He's too far away from the play. What started as double coverage broke down into single, with Gregory the lone man to stop Smith. There was no commitment to the double team on the Patriots' behalf, and the result is a 16-yard completion.
Fourth Quarter, 4:08: Touchdown No. 2, 1st-and-goal at the five
This drive, in which Smith has proved so dangerous, concludes with his second touchdown of the game, which put the Ravens just two points down and poised to eventually kick the game-winning field goal. This is single coverage from McCourty the whole way.
Here, McCourty backs off a bit, which results in Smith having more running room and more time to make a play.
Flacco again rolls away from pressure, and again, has his sights set on Smith. Did I mention this is again a no-huddle play? And again, notice it's only McCourty who has any idea where Smith even is. Not smart, considering the night he's been having.
Contact, contact, contact, but Smith manages to shake McCourty somewhat, but cutting back inside in the end zone.
Smith cuts back enough to get ahead of McCourty to roll back to Flacco's right just slightly ahead of the defender. He's starting to get open. Dangerous.
Smith makes the catch, ultimately with at least a foot on McCourty, if not more. What was some seriously effective press coverage breaks down, thanks to Smith's shiftiness and strength.
And: Touchdown. Yes, McCourty, a touchdown.
Clearly, Smith's good hands and solid route running combined with Flacco's well-thrown pases to yield these huge gains, but much of his success on the night can also be ascribed to the Patriots simply making error after error when covering him.
It was practically disrespectful of Smith's skills to play so much zone, off-man and single coverage with him, and when they doubled him, it was as though the two defenders couldn't figure out where to be to stop him.
What this game taught us is this: Smith may not constantly be Flacco's most-targeted receiver, but he's absolutely the most dangerous, and that the Patriots' secondary isn't all that much better than it was when they faced Baltimore in the AFC Championship game.
Throw in a dash of Flacco playing well with his new toy, the no-huddle, and it was a near-flawless display of what a good quarterback and a good receiver can do on any given night.