Stop Tom Brady. If I had a consistently successful blueprint for this, I would have a nicer paycheck and some office space in Foxboro. Coming up with a plan for Brady is tough, but not impossible, and with the way the Ravens’ roster matches up with New England’s from top to bottom, Baltimore may stand the best chance of any team remaining in the playoffs to beat Brady and Co.
Potential Ravens Strategy vs. Brady
What to Take Away
New England’s #1 WRs (those closest to the sideline) cannot be allowed uncontested releases from the line of scrimmage (LOS). Also, Baltimore must not allow Brady time to go through pass progressions. Allowing Brady more than three seconds to throw the ball is almost guaranteed failure over the course of a full game.
What to Allow
If the Ravens bring aggressive, twisting pressure in both run and pass situations, Stevan Ridley may pop a long run or two. But, against an elite offense, a defensive unit has to decide what to take away. The Pats’ run game is the least of three evils (behind Brady’s precision when given time and New England’s effectiveness in play action when a team schemes to stop the run).
What to Try
First, delaying the release of the Patriots’ WRs (including Aaron Hernandez, wherever he is lined up) will trim Brady’s options. Several incompletions in Week 3 were the result of this strategy, as Brady was forced to make early or “back shoulder” throws to smaller/shorter WRs that lack the physical advantage to win fights for contested balls. The Ravens must sell out to limit clean get-offs from the LOS – to the point of borderline pass interference. That is not always an easy task, given how slippery both Wes Welker and Julian Edelman can be off the LOS. Baltimore’s best bet here is to play a softer version of press coverage in which the defenders hands get on and stay on the WR after he has established his initial route path (even if the WR is a stride or two beyond the 5-yard limit for contact). Next, Baltimore should bring pressure, pressure, pressure. Similar to their Week 3 strategy, the Ravens’ should think faster and lighter, and get blitzers into gaps from odd angles to take advantage of the absence of Rob Gronkowski as a quick throw alternative in this week’s matchup.
What to Avoid
Three and four-man pressure packages. Brady’s best traditional pocket throws vs. the Ravens in Week 3 were against four or fewer pass rushers. This is the simplest proposition in this game: If you allow Brady consistent time to make throws, his combination of smarts, anticipation, and velocity on throws will beat you.