Snap back to reality for the Patriots. As it turns out, the defense is not invincible, as the Ravens exposed them in the Patriots 37-20 loss. It’s the Patriots’ first loss of the season and their first matchup with a dangerous offense. However, let’s not overreact.
The Patriots still hold first place in the AFC. Additionally, it’s almost ideal to have their first loss come at this point in the season. At the midway point, it serves as a wake-up call. Also, being right before the bye week gives the team time to reflect.
Good teams respond to adversity well, and I think the Patriots are a good team. As discussed last week, we’re just now finding out what kind of team this is. The time is now for the Patriots to find their identity and write the story for this season.
Rewatching the Film
First things first, that Ravens offense is damn good. Lamar Jackson presents a unique threat that the whole league needs to figure out. The issues stemmed from the Patriots’ front seven delaying their reactions to cover the threat of Jackson while accounting for the run game and also jet sweeps coming across the formation. This essentially gives the Ravens three options to run on each play. With more assignments to cover, the Patriots had to read before they could react. This gave the Ravens lineman the upper hand in getting upfield and hitting blocks. The Ravens executed all of this very well, and the Patriots will have a lot to learn from for their inevitable playoff rematch.
Defensively, the Patriots have been most successful when running cover zero. That means all the receivers are in single man coverage with no over the top help. Everyone else blitzes, which always leaves the offense one man short in blocking. The Patriots have been almost impossible to pass against when running this, so the Ravens responded with a deceptive, run-heavy approach. Where the defense has played fast and aggressive this year, they needed to be more disciplined against the Ravens. They failed to execute and Jackson burned them.
The Ravens used this strategy to get out to a 17-0 lead in the second quarter. The Patriots were struggling to just force the Ravens into third downs. Even then, they were usually short-yardage downs or Jackson made something happen with his legs.
On the other side, the Ravens defense used cover zero against the Patriots and exposed their banged-up o-line. Tom Brady was under constant pressure throughout the night and the offense struggled. It wasn’t until they switched to no-huddle that they found success.
Despite the slow start, the Patriots found themselves back in the game after some fortuitous fumbles by the Ravens. Brady connected on long passes with Julian Edelman and James White to set the Patriots up goal to go. However, they settled for a field goal to trail 17-13 at halftime.
In the second half, the no-huddle offense was working for the Patriots. Pushing into Ravens territory, Edelman caught a pass and fought for extra yards before a devastating fumble. Marlon Humphrey scooped the ball up and strolled into the endzone. It stopped all the momentum the Patriots had built and snatched away their first chance at taking the lead.
The Patriots responded with a long touchdown drive, but the Ravens countered with a longer, more methodical drive of their own.
On their next drive, trailing by 10 in the fourth quarter, the Patriots had exhausted their no-huddle approach. On a third and 10 from midfield, Brady heaved the ball deep but into the waiting arms of Earl Thomas.
The Ravens capitalized on the mistake, this time with a 14-play, 10-minute drive that essentially iced the game. Just as the Patriots have so often done, the Ravens took advantage of their opponent’s mistakes and bled them out from there.
The first game ball goes to Josh McDaniels for turning to the no-huddle in a pinch. With the initial offensive gameplan not working, McDaniels switched to the no-huddle to stop the Ravens from subbing and then finding favorable matchups from there. In no-huddle, they used 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) which gave them enough balance to run or throw. This approach neutralized the Ravens pass rush and produced all their points. It was an excellent in-game adjustment.
The second game ball goes to Tom Brady for running the no-huddle. While the adjustment by McDaniels put the offense in favorable matchups, Brady was the one who executed on the field. After lining up quickly and reading the defense, Brady changed the play at the line, essentially turning into the play-caller. It takes a seasoned quarterback with a true command of the offense to have that responsibility put on them. Yes, Brady wasn’t perfect and the offense struggled, but a lesser QB would have been disastrous.
Updates from Outside the Uprights
The Patriots activated N’Keal Harry for the first time this season on Saturday. Despite traveling with the team, Harry was ultimately inactive for the game. There hasn’t been much explanation from the team as to what dictated these decisions. However, there’s still reason to believe the rookie should be debuting soon. Hopefully, the bye week will heal any remaining ailments, as the offense needs the boost.
Left tackle Isaiah Wynn started practicing this week for the first time since being put on IR this season. Again, Belichick has not said much as to what the teams’ plan is for this player, but the expectation is similar to Harry. The hope is that following the bye week the team will be getting some reinforcements.
Next Man Up: Bye Week
The Patriots may be coming off a bitter loss, but there is plenty to be optimistic about heading into the bye. Once again, they find themselves on the inside track to home-field advantage. The offense has a week to get healthy and the defense is still one of the league’s best.
Last year before their bye week, the Patriots lost at the Titans 34-10. It was an ugly game, but we all know how that season turned out. So if this week’s game was concerning for you, take a breath, and trust in Belichick.
The Patriots may have a bye week, but I sure don’t. I’ll be doing a full analysis of the Patriots halfway through the season, highlighting where what they’ve done well, what they need to improve on, etc. Stay tuned for that coming out sometime next week.
Top Photo: Todd Olszewski/Getty Images