Breaking Down How the Patriots Running Game Can Attack the Ravens Defense

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Breaking Down How the Patriots Running Game Can Attack the Ravens Defense
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The New England Patriots blitzkrieg running game must be an exercise in anger management for opposing defenses.

They attack you before you're ready. They hit you where they know it will hurt most.

They can attack so many different ways, that it's hard to know what's coming. In fact, the Patriots running game has proven difficult to stop even when opponents know it's coming. Dolphins defensive tackle Tony McDaniel felt disrespected by the Patriots running the ball in the same spot over and over again (via The Palm Beach Post):

It really (ticked) me off. It was disrespectful to us to run the same play over and over and be successful. Normally when somebody’s driving down the field you just think, ‘Well, they just had a good run there,’ but you run the same play over and over, as a competitor that (ticks) me off.

Are there any tendencies and weaknesses the Patriots might look to exploit in the Ravens run defense? 

Bleacher Report commenter Gavin Toso had a very interesting thought in a previous post:

I'm curious...as to where the Ravens are struggling against the run and where they are strong. I think that will determine whether the Patriots go heavy with [running back Stevan] Ridley up the gut, or utilize [Shane] Vereen more as they try to stretch the corner.

That being said, might any players on the Ravens defense have a bulls-eye on their chest when the Patriots are running the ball?

The Ravens run defense has given up 277 rushing yards on 71 carries (3.9 YPA) over the past two games, so while they may give up yards in high volume, they aren't completely futile against the run.

Also, the last time the Patriots played the Ravens, New England picked up just 77 yards on 34 carries (2.26 YPA). They were able to run it when they needed to, with six rushing first downs and two rushing touchdowns. They converted three of four third-down runs for first downs, the only failed attempt coming on a 3rd-and-19 draw play to Danny Woodhead.

For advanced metrics, Football Outsiders defensive line stats are a great place to start.

All the info about the meaning of the numbers can be found here, but the numbers are staggering: the Ravens have the lowest percentage of stuffed runs in the league, and struggle defending power runs (percentage of runs on third or fourth down with two or fewer yards to go that achieved a first down or touchdown).

Running the ball against them is almost guaranteed yardage, no matter how short of a gain it is. That being said, they're great at the second level and in the open field.

Football Outsiders also has the Ravens as a bottom-10 between-the-tackles run defense across the board: 23rd off left tackle, 29th up the middle and 29th off right tackle.

Turning to ProFootballFocus.com, their run defense grades support Football Outsiders' stats aside from their grade for Haloti Ngata, who is the only Ravens defensive linemen that ranks favorably against the run. 

Ngata is a force in the running game, but he doesn't always play a heavy number of snaps. In games Ngata has played, he has lined up for 79.8 percent of the Ravens' defensive snaps this year, but over the past two games, he has played just 131 of 188 snaps (69.8 percent).

When he is not on the field, the Patriots will probably attack the middle of the Ravens defense. Defensive tackles Arthur Jones and Ma'ake Kemoeatu are average and below average against the run, respectively, and the Patriots ran at them in the last meeting, as well.

Jones and Kemoeatu both graded negatively in run defense against the Patriots, as well as linebacker Paul Kruger.

When the Patriots are watching tape of what they did on the ground against the Ravens in the last meeting, they won't like what they see. They ran the ball between the tackles 20 times, gaining 55 yards (2.75 YPA) with two touchdowns.

The Patriots most successful run of the night was a 14-yard gain behind center Ryan Wendell on a first-down stretch run to the left.

Wendell cleared defensive tackle Arthur Jones out of his lane, and Ridley cut back through the crease between Wendell and right guard Dan Connolly, who had already reached the second level and blocked linebacker Dannell Ellerbe out of the play.

Ray Lewis might have been able to chase the play down from behind in his heyday, but he was unable to catch up as Ridley bounced the run away from him. Ridley would then scamper into the secondary to set the Patriots up with beautiful field position.

Regardless of the narrative about the Ravens defense aging and struggling, it's going to be tough sledding trying to run against them. They could give themselves an edge if they're able to take advantage of Baltimore's heavy defensive workload over the past couple of weeks, so look for a lot of the hurry-up offense to try to catch Baltimore off-guard.

That being said, there are clearly some areas the Patriots will have more success running the ball, and if past history is any indication, those will be the areas the Patriots will attack most frequently on Sunday.

 

Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.

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