I feel better after reading this...zero sacks vs. Yates!

Discussion in 'PatsFans.com - Patriots Fan Forum' started by Double TE, Jan 16, 2012.

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  1. Double TE

    Double TE 4 LIFE PatsFans.com Supporter

    Jan 12, 2012
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    After watching the Denver Broncos' defense get slaughtered by the New England Patriots and Tom Brady on Saturday night, it's hard to believe any team has much of a chance of slowing them down. The Baltimore Ravens finished the regular season as the best pass defense in Football Outsiders' defensive DVOA ratings, so one would believe that they have a better chance than any other team. However, the Ravens also finished 28th on defense in our variance stat, which measures how consistently good the defense was. What that means is that while the Ravens have played some phenomenal defensive games (for instance, destroying Mark Sanchez and the Jets in a memorable Sunday night matchup), they've also played some very average games.

    More importantly, the Ravens played a team with a top-10 DVOA passing offense only four times this season: San Diego, Houston and Pittsburgh twice. None of those teams were in the top five, and the Ravens' defense averaged just an 8.0 percent DVOA against them, a decline in effectiveness of about 25 percent.

    BAL pass defense vs. top-10 pass offenses
    Week Opp DVOA Rank Game DVOA
    Week 1 v. PIT 7 -78.6%
    Week 6 v. HOU 9 -16.3%
    Week 9 at PIT 7 -1.7%
    Week 15 at SD 6 128.6%
    Average -- -- 8.0%
    There's even more subjective reason to doubt the Ravens' performances in those games will be indicative of what will happen against New England, though, because in the two best games they pitched against those four, both Houston and Pittsburgh weren't fielding their best offenses. Antonio Brown had yet to crack the starting lineup in Week 1, and Andre Johnson was out with a hamstring injury in Week 6.

    The Ravens finished the year seventh in our rankings on passes to tight ends, with a DVOA of minus-0.5 percent. To their credit, they shut down the only two tight ends in the top-10 in DYAR this season that they faced: Owen Daniels and Antonio Gates were both held to just two catches when they played the Ravens.

    The Patriots are a tier above those teams, though. In fact, Aaron Hernandez (seventh in DYAR among tight ends) essentially functions as their Owen Daniels. Rob Gronkowski is on an entirely different level. The DYAR difference between Gronkowski (first) and Gates (third) is essentially the same distance between Gates and Ed Dickson (22nd). The Ravens have proven that they can defend good tight ends, but Gronkowski has been so much better than that this season, it's hard to reliably say they can stop him.

    Baltimore is facing a challenge that is statistically unlike anything it has seen this year. Perhaps the best blueprint for beating the Patriots' pass offense was showcased by the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8, when they played a lot of press coverage and stayed in nickel even when the Patriots put three tight ends on the field. They held Brady to just 198 passing yards and sacked him three times.

    Surprisingly, the two teams that had the best games against New England's pass offense this season were the Giants and Cowboys -- a pair of teams that didn't exactly have a great pass defense in our numbers this season. What they did do was constantly generate pressure on Brady from a straight four-man rush, forcing a lot of turnovers.

    Brady was sacked 20 times this season, and eight of them were in those three games. Pittsburgh was able to constantly rush five at New England, but the Steelers also have one of the best safety tandems in the game in Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu. Baltimore has the quickly-aging Ed Reed and some combination of Bernard Pollard and Tom Zbikowski. The Cowboys managed to generate seven pass pressures on the Patriots to go along with their sacks, and only one of those came with a blitz. The Giants didn't get quite as much pressure, but they too barely blitzed at all, sending five or more rushers on just 13 of 51 pass drop backs.

    The Ravens definitely have the cornerback depth to play the same sort of style that Pittsburgh did. However, they don't have a cornerback who has played as well as Ike Taylor did this year by our charting numbers, and that will hurt them because they don't have someone who can consistently limit Wes Welker. Nominal No. 1 Ravens corner Lardarius Webb allowed 6.9 yards per pass this year in our charting project; Taylor allowed just 5.1.

    Assuming that Baltimore can't emulate Pittsburgh's game plan against the Patriots, the absolute key to the Ravens having a chance to slow down New England is pass pressure from the defensive line. That puts the pressure squarely on Terrell Suggs. Suggs was the only Ravens player to finish with more than six sacks, as well as the only one to generate more than seven quarterback hits. Situational pass-rusher Pernell McPhee has shown some quality moves in his limited playing time, and defensive linemen Cory Redding and Haloti Ngata combined for 9.5 sacks, but Suggs is definitely the star and the man who needs to be stopped.

    Considering Baltimore accumulated zero sacks against rookie T.J. Yates in 35 drop backs, that will take quite the quick turnaround. It's certainly possible that the Ravens could find a way to slow Brady down, either by having certain secondary members play phenomenal games or through accumulating a lot of turnovers. However, all the statistical and anecdotal data we have strongly points to their offense needing to step up and match the Patriots score for score in this game if they want to pull off the upset.
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