The Football Educator’s guest blogger Frank Martin’s breaks down the AFC Championship match up Baltimore vs New England.
Sunday’s AFC Championship Game pits two of the best NFL teams of the past few years. Since 2008, New England (60) and Baltimore (54) have combined for 104 regular season wins. While there is no doubt whichever team wins on Sunday deserves to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, there is a question as to who that team will be. Not anymore.
That team will be the Baltimore Ravens.
I know what you’re thinking… predicting a logical outcome for a football game has been done before. Even though “Arun the One-Horned Asian Rhinoceros” may beat me in showmanship, I believe I shine with evidence. In this case, my evidence is game film.
I have no rooting interest in either team. I try to predict winners based on educated reason. After an extensive look it became apparent the Ravens are the pick in this game. Heck, even Brendon Ayanbadejo says so… But the tape tells a better story.
These two teams met in the regular season with Baltimore rallying to a 31-30 win. At a quick glance, there are certain similarities in the two games… The most important to me is once again due to an injury at the tight end position as Rob Gronkowski is out after re-breaking his arm.
In week 3, one half of New England’s dynamic duo at tight end was hampered by an injury. Aaron Hernandez’ absence left a huge hole in offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ game plan. The Patriots had lost a week earlier to an inferior Arizona Cardinals team and in this game (without the luxury of two tight ends) McDaniels was limited as well. The main problem was New England’s inability to disguise their intentions in the pass game. Minus one of their top three playmakers, the Ravens were able to build their coverage and pressure around where Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker lined up.
Here’s how the Ravens took advantage in week 3.
Play #4 – Third and 14 at the NE 28
The Patriots line up in “11 personnel” with Brady in the shotgun flanked by Danny Woodhead at RB. Brandon Lloyd and Julian Edelman are split out left. Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker are the receivers on the right of the formation. New England wants to run a version of “verticals” with Gronkowski having the MOFO/MOFC read (below).
The Ravens answer with a 3-3-5 look on defense… “Rush” LB #99 Paul Kruger lines up over TE Gronkowski, Ray Lewis sets up at MLB and Dannell Ellerbe at WLB. The secondary lines up in a man 2 deep shell look. The “set-up” alerts Tom Brady to an impending Ravens blitz…
At the snap Baltimore does indeed send pressure in the form of a dual A gap blitz by #52 Lewis and #59 Ellerbe (below).
There is a huge hole in the middle of the field vacated by the two blitzing LBs. Gronk will see the blitz, diagnose man coverage and run away from Kruger toward the middle of the field (which because of the two deep safety look identifies as MOFO).
Needing 15 yards to move the chains, Gronk breaks his route off at the 38 and expects to catch the ball in stride and run for a first down. Easy?
Here’s the rub…
The Ravens coverage is diabolical in the fact that what “looks” open to Gronkowksi and Brady, really isn’t open. There “man 2 deep look” quickly turns into a double team when Safety Ed Reed jumps the “deep in” route and shuts down the play (below).
A few steps later, here’s how the Ravens coverage turns out… (below)
Gronkowski has “run away” from Kruger, but Ed Reed has shut off any window Tom Brady had to squeeze the ball into. Gronkowski is double covered. At the bottom of the screen, Baltimore’s other safety Bernard Pollard has deep help over CB Jimmy Smith. Wes Welker is double covered. Brady diagnoses the coverage in time to avoid an interception but not the sack.
I know it’s rare for a team to convert on 3rd and 14 (especially in the NFL), but New England’s failure is not the point. HOW the Ravens played the down is the point. Ed Reed’s disregard for two WR’s to his side of the formation clearly tells me the Ravens believe if they double Welker and Gronk, New England’s other outside wide receivers can’t beat one on one coverage ENOUGH to hurt them.
Baltimore clearly feels they can stop New England’s short, precision passing attack with man coverage. If New England answers by bringing Aaron Hernandez in to block they take away a weapon in the pass game. The only answer is an early does of Brandon Lloyd deep to clear things up. Last I checked, the weather doesn’t bode well for that. It could be a long day for New England.