Ravens vs. Patriots: How Tom Brady Can Pick Apart Ray Lewis, Baltimore Defense

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Ravens vs. Patriots: How Tom Brady Can Pick Apart Ray Lewis, Baltimore Defense
Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Brady and Ray Lewis in a grudge-match.

Again it's Tom Brady vs. Ray Lewis for a trip to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

The New England Patriots are hosting the Baltimore Ravens for a second consecutive conference title bout after last season's nail-biting finish.

This rivalry has only intensified as well, because in an article by Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun:

[Bernard] Pollard always expects football to be a violent game, embracing the physical aspect of the NFL, even when it has cost him in the past in the form of hefty fines.

"There’s no intimidation," Pollard said. "You have two good teams going against each other. You don’t fear no man or no team. We’re going to go in there with our heads high and ready to play. We understand what kind of team we are facing.

"This is a very experienced team that has been there before. [Patriots coach Bill] Belichick is [5-1 in conference title games]. I saw that this morning. But that does not scare us. We’re going to go out, and we want to outhit you and outplay you and we want to go to the Super Bowl.”

Earlier this season, the Ravens edged out New England, 31-30, at home in Week 3. There, Brady tossed for 335 yards and one score with a 68.2 completion percentage.

The Pats were also above 50 percent on third down, but Baltimore's defense tightened up when backed inside the red zone. Fortunately for New England, Brady and Co. remained consistent all season when in scoring position.

They ranked No. 1 in red zone scoring offense with a 69.74 touchdowns percentage. Interestingly enough, Baltimore's defense is No. 2 in red zone touchdown percentage at 44.07 percent.

So, how can Brady get in the end zone to reach a sixth Super Bowl? Let's break the previous match down.

 

Note: All screen-caps are courtesy of NFL.com's Game Rewind.

 

Brady to Edelman for Six

After going up 13-0 over Baltimore, New England allowed Joe Flacco to lead Baltimore back in the second quarter.

Down 14-13, Brady faced a 2nd-and-goal with seven seconds remaining in the first half.

Receiver Julian Edelman motions down from the top—circled in yellow—and the Ravens don't blitz. In addition, Baltimore sits in a shallow Cover 3 behind the underneath shell. Man coverage on the outside.

Notice how Edelman is directly behind his teammate on the route. This obstructs Ed Reed's vision and forces him to react to the nearest threatening receiving target.

At the bottom, the receiver gets inside leverage on the cornerback. As a result, the near safety must honor that and level off to bracket the receiver. He is, however, glancing in the backfield.

Elsewhere, the running back leaks out at the bottom.

That makes the defensive end take a wide path in keeping contained, because rerouting the back helps the linebacker in coverage. At the same time, though, Ray Lewis goes with the back, and that, along with the bracketing safety, widens the middle.

Edelman then slips underneath his zoning linebacker, getting an easy score. Check out Brady's pocket and passing lane as well. This occurs when defenses don't blitz against elite signal-callers.

Also, even if Reed wanted to react to Edelman, he could not, because had Reed addressed the middle, then that would have left the tight end completely uncovered on the right.

 

Pats Fail to Convert Third Down Inside 10-Yard Line

Lining up for another crucial third down, New England need a touchdown on 3rd-and-goal from the eight-yard line.

One minute error was Brady's impatience as Baltimore blitzes.

Wes Welker's route breaks off well before the goal-line and he gets tackled two yard shy of six points. If you're going to run a pattern short of the line to gain—in this case the end zone—it can't be shorter than one yard—especially against a cerebral defense such as Baltimore.

Behind the blitz we see a Cover 3 zone, but it becomes man coverage once a receiver threatens a defender's territory. The bottom safety ends up not manning-up, since no receiving threat nears him as the play develops.

What we get from the blitz are one-on-one matchups for Brady everywhere to his left.

Notice how Reed quickly reacts to walling off his inside of the receiver entering his zone. Although Brady's has limited time due to a slightly missed block from the running back, waiting another 0.5 seconds would have shown him a scoring opportunity.

Since Reed took away the middle, the receiver breaks off his route and pivots back outside. The top cornerback is not a threat for creating a turnover, because he is occupied by the receiver heading toward the back corner of the end zone.

This is where Brady could have stepped into one, taken a hit, and put it to the receiver's outside shoulder opposite of Reed. Fortunately, we can certainly expect that from the NFL's best quarterback on Sunday.

On this play instead, Welker is targeted and has plenty of work to reach the zone. He gets tackled short and New England settles for three points.

Red zone offense proved to be the determining factor during this regular season affair.

Although the Pats reached scoring position five times, they settled for field-goals twice. Baltimore on the other hand, attempted just one kick for three points, and it was the game-winner.

Without question, Brady moved New England on more effective drives; however, the Ravens capitalized on big plays. So, to counterbalance Baltimore's explosive offensive potential, a stronger ground game in short-area situations is required for balance.

Twice did New England get rushing touchdowns here, therefore utilizing play-action benefits on subsequent trips inside the red zone. Anticipate New England moving the rock consistently this week, but also expect Brady to make the key plays when it matters most.

 

Follow John Rozum on Twitter.

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