PLEASE REFER TO GRAPHIC BELOW
In this week's chalkboard session, we break down the critical play late in Sunday's Patriots-Ravens game ó when Baltimore fooled New England quarterback Tom Brady with a tricky blitz.
Here's the situation, as shown in the below graphic.
New England leads 30-28 with 2:12 remaining, and has a second-and-nine on the Baltimore 44-yard line. Pats coach Bill Belichick obviously has no desire to run into a stacked pile. He calls for a pass. A first down would get New England into field-goal range and might even seal the deal.
The Pats line up in a five-wide with two wideouts, two slot receivers and tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Ravens counter with a nickel set (five defensive backs), not a dime (six defensive backs), and jam eight men along the line of scrimmage. It looks like a blitz.
What must appear unclear to Brady, though, is what the hell three tightly bunched Ravens linebackers opposite Gronkowski (TE) are up to.
The orange arrows show what each winds up doing.
On the snap, Brady looks left toward Gronkowski. Inside linebacker Ray Lewis picks up Gronkowski in coverage. It is in that first second that Brady realizes the linebacker lined up widest to that side, Dannell Ellerbe, is charging fast around the edge, unblocked, right at him.
Before Brady can think about Plan B, he looks to the right and sees Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (DT) has evaded right guard Dan Connolly (with a brilliant outside spin move) and is about to eat him. Hard-crashing Ravens outside linebacker Paul Kruger (OLB) is also collapsing the right side of the pocket.
Trapped, Brady has no choice but to turtle and take the sack. Ellerbe and Ngata gobble him up.
From snap to sack, the whole play lasts but two seconds. Insta-blitz.
For the Pats, this is the danger of going five-wide. Nobody is left home for pass protection to help pick up blitzes. The Ravens rushed only five, so it was five-against-five, but their alignment and paths clearly confused the Pats' offensive line. For instance, New England's left tackle and left guard double-teamed the Baltimore defensive end lining up inside (DE), but let Ellerbe go.
Kudos to Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and defensive co-ordinator Dean Pees for trumping Belichick's aggressive play with an even more aggressive, tricky defensive call.
On the next play, third-and-16, the Ravens blitzed Brady again, pressuring him to throw prematurely and off-balance to Gronkowski at the right sideline for an incomplete pass.
Baltimore thus regained possession, and marched for a game-winning field goal.
Who else thinks that if the Ravens had rushed only four and dropped six or seven defensive backs into coverage on that second down the Pats would have picked up a first down and ran out the clock?