Monday, November 16, 2020

Patriots Outlast Ravens 23-17

For the second straight week the Patriots came from behind to post a close win, topping the Jets (30-27) last week and the Ravens last night (23-17). The win "catapults" New England to a 4-5 record, 2.5 games behind the Bills (who lost) and 2 games behind the Dolphins (who won) in the AFC East. Next up is a trip to Houston to take on the 2-7 Texans -- a team they rarely lose to.

A few weeks back I compared this year's Pats to those of the early 1990s. And that wasn't a compliment. They were playing poor situational offense and defense, committing way too may turnovers, costing themselves with untimely penalties, and didn't seem to be improving as the year went on.

Well, the last two weeks they remind me more of the 2001 Patriots. (No, I'm not saying what you think I'm saying -- please slow your roll!) They were down 27-17 late in the Jets game but scored 13 unanswered points in the last 6:04 to eke out the win. And last night they ran the ball, minimized mistakes (second straight game with no turnovers), and waited for the other team to wilt under the pressure.

And that's exactly what the Ravens did. They had three 15-yard penalties, two bad snaps that cost them scoring chances, a number of dropped passes, and they took way too long to adjust to the Pats offensive game plan -- which is a coaching choke, IMO.

The other coaching choke on the Ravens' sideline was calling so many pass plays in such bad conditions. The Ravens threw the ball 34 times, while the Patriots threw just 18 passes. Hell, the Ravens completed more passes (24) than the Pats attempted -- but in the sloppy conditions it made more sense to attack with their running game and keep possession of the ball.

In fact, the Patriots running attack was their most potent weapon. Damien Harris ran 22 times for a career-high 121 yards, and he ran under control and repeatedly finishsed by delivering punishment to defenders. Rex Burkhead had some key carries, and the team ended up with 39 carries for 173 yards (4.4 ypc).

QB Cam Newton was kept mostly clean (1 sack, 3 QB hits), he got two critical first downs on QB sneaks, and was effective in the passing game, completing 76% of his passes (13 of 17), with 1 touchdown, importantly no interceptions, and a 114.3 QB rating. He seems to grasp the offense better each week and he'll need to continue to minimize turnovers because this team doesn't have the margin for error they had in the past.

Newton was not the highest rated passer, however. That honor goes to receiver Jakobi Meyers, who completed his one pass for a 24-yard touchdown for a 158.3 QB rating. Meyers is also the only Pats WR who caught a pass or was even targeted in the game. The rest of the completions were to running backs and one for tight end Ryan Izzo.

The offensive line deserves a shout-out, not just for this game but for being the team's most consistent unit to this point in the season. They showed power in the running attack, pushed linemen to the second level on multiple plays, and did a good job in pass protection when needed. Rookie Michael Onwenu has trouble with outside pass rushers. But other than that, he and everyone else on the line has been great so far this year.

And special shout-out to David Andrews, who handled his center duties much better than his opposite number on the Ravens. Not one bad snap all night, as opposed to multiple bad snaps by the Baltimore center.

The defense fluctuates between shutdown and barely hanging on. I guess that makes it exciting, but I'm not sure I want that much excitement. Something clicked in the fourth quarter of the Jets game. They have given up just 16 points in their last five quarters, their best such stretch since the opening five quarters of the year.

Last week corner J.C. Jackson looked awful against the Jets, though he came up with a timely interception during the fourth-quarter rally. But yesterday he looked great, with coverage tight enough that he was rarely thrown at -- and when he was, he had one pass defended and another INT. Devin McCourty bounced back from a poor showing at NY to post one of his better games of the year.

The secondary has held it together without star corner Stephon Gilmore, going 2-1 in his absence. But I'm sure everyone on D would like to have him back. One note on rookie safety Kyle Dugger: he led the team in tackles with 12, two ahead of another rookie, Terez Hall.

Linebacker Chase Winovich looks like a new man after returning from a semi-benching. He's attacking the quarterback on passing plays and holding up pretty well against the outside run. I like what I see from rookie Josh Uche, and second-year man Hall improved his play from last week. It's important to have more talent at linebacker. The team started the season in a 5-1-5 because the only linebacker they trusted was Ja'Whaun Bentley (and frankly he hasn't played well this year).

The D-line and linebackers (and whatever secondary players were up near the line) did a great job with spacing and making sure tackles last night. It was imperative to minimize big plays, which are what feed the Ravens offense. Making them take 10+ plays in a drive gives them that many more chances to make mistakes, which they did last night (see above).

Forcing Baltimore to work down the field slowly meant they only had three scoring drives in the game. Commentators will often say it's important to keep star QBs on the sideline. But Belichick knows eventually they get their turn -- his job is to make their life as hard as possible.

Both teams have very good special teams; the only big difference in the game was the missed extra point by the Pats kicker, Nick Folk. He's lucky it didn't come back to bite him. And even though the conditions were difficult, he has to be able to convert extra points.

The coaching staff came in with a great game plan. Neutralize the Ravens' blitz packages and secondary play by running and staying out of second- and third-and-long downs. It took Baltimore three quarters before they started to run-blitz, and by then the home team had a 10-point lead.

Where does that leave us? If the Patriots take care of business in Houston, they will be no worse than two games out of the division lead (Buffalo has a bye week, Miami could tie Buffalo with a win). Buffalo is likely to revert to form down the stretch, I'm more worried about the Dolphins because head man Brian Flores is a great coach!

Biggest on-going issue: It has to be the lack of explosiveness at wide receiver. Although that is unlikely to be fixed this year; not many great receivers out there to be signed. The lack of explosion and weapons showed last night; only Meyers was even targeted out of the wide receiver group.

Non-QB MVP: It's Harris just barely over Dugger. Good to be getting contributions from young players!

Statistical oddity: Despite having won two fewer games, the Patriots are actually closer to the division lead (2.5 games back of the Bills) than the Ravens (3 games back of the Steelers). Tough playing in a division with an undefeated team.

Water-cooler wisdom: "Didn't the Pats win a Super Bowl two years ago with ground-and-pound?" #JustSayin

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 4-5!

No comments:

Post a Comment