1. Quick drops: Against Pittsburgh and Oakland, quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked eight times. In particular, he and the offensive line struggled on third down, against heavy blitz packages.
Enter New England and Bill Belichick’s blitzkrieg scheme. Belichick doesn’t have the edge rushers that he’s had in years past, so he relies on exotic looks to breakdown protection. He’ll bring defenders from every direction, including from the secondary.
Against Baltimore in Week 4, New England blitzed Flacco often, and they will likely recycle the same formula.
One way that the offense can combat the potential quick-hitting pass rush is to strike even quicker through the air. Flacco’s snap count should be fast-paced, preventing the Patriots from dancing around before the snap.
Moreover, the second-year quarterback should get rid of the ball off of three and five step drops. The quicker he gets the ball out of his hand, the more efficient the passing attack will be.
2. Pass out of power sets: Make no mistake — Belichick will come up with a defensive design to stymie the Baltimore rushing attack. Whether he uses a three-man line or a four-man line, he’ll load the box on early downs and keep his safeties active as run defenders.
The Ravens need to anticipate Belichick’s move by counter-punching on the opening series and throughout the game. This is going to be a chess match, and for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, his best move would be to pass to set up the run.
When the Ravens line up in their heavy formations, they should use play-action to open up opportunities for their backs and tight ends against the New England linebackers. This was a plan they executed against Chicago three weeks ago. Given that Baltimore has run the ball so well, defenses have honored their heavy look by stacking the box, and the Ravens have been able to successfully pass the ball out of run formations.
The New England backers are exploitable, and the Ravens should look to create matchups problems using their tight ends and backs in space.
3. Stay on schedule: There is a saying in the NFL that for an offense to be productive, they have to “stay on schedule.” What that means is that an offense needs to win the down-and-distance battle.
In the first matchup between the two clubs, there were too many times when the Baltimore offense stalled and was unable to bleed the clock.
Of the five times in which the offense was unable to convert a third down to keep the clock moving, the offense faced a third-and-five or longer three times. For those three series, Flacco dropped back and threw four incomplete passes on first and second down.
The offense has to be more balanced on early downs to put themselves in manageable third down situations.
1. Contain mini-Welker: Much of the media focus has centered on the loss of slot receiver Wes Welker from the New England arsenal. Although Welker’s loss will be felt, his replacement is capable and dangerous.
Julian Edelman has been dubbed a mini-Welker by the Baltimore coaching staff. However, the irony is that Edelman is a bigger player. Once the ball is in his hands, he has the same type of shiftiness and lateral quickness to make defenders miss in the open field.
2. Fake the overload: Although New England doesn’t show as many empty and single back formations as they did in ‘07 – when the pass offense set all sorts of records – they still operate from the spread as much or more than any team in the league.
The Patriots rely on their front five to protect Tom Brady without much help from the backs and tight ends. At times, the line has struggled to keep Brady upright in the face of a well-designed blitz.
One of the best ways to get pressure against a wide open offense is to bring the overload blitz off of the weak side or strong-side. Depending on how the protection slides, that type of attack can be unblockable.
However, for the defense to get home, deception will be paramount. Brady is outstanding at adjusting protection to pick up the blitz. Therefore when the Ravens blitz, they should show an overload look on one side so Brady can counter, only to bring the blitz from the other side.
3. Interior rush: Even if the outside rush is effective in getting Brady to move off of his spot, it won’t get home if he’s able to step up in the pocket. That was the case in the prior meeting between the two teams, as the comeback player of the year was consistently able to find lanes in the pocket to avoid the rush.
In order to flush Brady out of the pocket, the interior pass rush must improve. The defensive linemen will have to push the pocket, and on the third down, speed rushers should line up against the New England interior line to create pressure up the middle.
If Brady is able to step up in the pocket, it will be a long day for the Baltimore pass defense.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch: Domonique Foxworth versus Randy Moss: Moss remains the epicenter of the New England aerial attack. He is the ultimate deep threat who can get behind most cornerbacks. Foxworth has improved as the season has progressed. He has the speed to keep pace with Moss, but he’ll also need to play a physical game to disrupt Moss’ timing.