www.baltimoresun.com/sports/ravens/bs-sp-ravens-defense-sider-1223-20131222,0,249414.story

baltimoresun.com

Ravens defense struggles to stop Patriots' balanced offense

By Aaron Wilson, The Baltimore Sun

1:05 AM EST, December 23, 2013

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Between the precision of quarterback Tom Brady and running back LeGarrette Blount busting through tackles Sunday, the Ravens' defense was perplexed by a balanced New England Patriots offense.

When the Ravens attempted to pressure Brady, he quickly located open receivers. When the Ravens tried to load up the line of scrimmage to bring down Blount, the 6-foot, 250-pound running back lowered his shoulders and powered through defenders for 76 yards and two touchdown runs on 16 carries.

It all led to the Patriots beating the Ravens, 41-7, at M&T Bank Stadium.

When asked for his assessment of what went wrong, Ravens rush linebacker Terrell Suggs initially suggested reviewing the game tape before saying, "Actually, you could burn the tape. It's not even worth looking at."

During a loss that damages the Ravens' playoff outlook, the Patriots efficiently gained 300 yards of total offense (158 passing, 142 rushing). They committed no turnovers.

"I think offensively they were just able to maintain balance and that ultimately ended up hurting us," defensive end Chris Canty said. "We weren't able to make enough plays. They made more plays than we did, and that was the difference."

Brady had one touchdown pass and was sacked twice, entering the game with 10 career interceptions and 8 touchdown passes against the Ravens, the only team he had more interceptions than touchdowns against.

"Brady didn't make no mistakes," Ravens cornerback Corey Graham said. "He was careful with the ball. The whole game, he made good decisions. It's pretty simple. Being Tom Brady means not turning the ball over."

Brady wasn't impressive statistically as he completed 14 of 26 passes for 172 yards and an 87.3 quarterback rating, but he made the key plays that the AFC East division champion Patriots needed.

That included Brady's 4-yard touchdown pass to running back Shane Vereen in the right corner of the end zone to boost the Patriots' lead to 14-0 in the first quarter following a Joe Flacco interception.

"That's what a guy who helps his team win does," middle linebacker Daryl Smith said. "He's just there when he needs to be, making the throws and putting them in the right situations. This is what we earned. We got to live with it."

The Patriots averaged 4.2 yards per carry on the ground, grinding out yards on 34 runs.

Besides Blount, Stevan Ridley contributed 54 rushing yards on 15 carries.

"They were able to get the run game going on us," Smith said. "We had to step up on the run. When a team has a lead and can do things they want to do, it makes it difficult. They played a hell of a game."

Given how well Blount was running, the Ravens had to respect the play-action fakes of Brady. And Brady carried out those fakes sharply to get the Ravens to aggressively attack the line of scrimmage to defend the run. Then, Brady would drop the football into the hands of his receivers on quick-hitting plays.

"They run the ball well," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "They always have. They've been running the ball well all year with all of their backs, but especially with [Blount]. So, play-action is going to be a factor on that. They didn't hit any big shots in play-action on us. I thought we did a pretty good job with that part of it."

The Ravens fell behind immediately after a 34-yard defensive pass interference penalty on cornerback Jimmy Smith, who grabbed wide receiver Julian Edelman in the first quarter. One play later, Blount plunged into the end zone off right tackle from one yard out for the Patriots’ first touchdown.

“I ain’t got nothing to say,” said Smith in the locker room while politely declining an interview request.

The Ravens allowed the Patriots to build a 20-0 lead by the third quarter as Edelman caught a game-high seven passes for 77 yards on 11 targets.

Between the fast start, the steadiness of Brady and Blount's tackle-breaking capabilities, it was a rough game for the Ravens' defense.

"They started real quick," cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "They jumped out on us. We've got to go back to the drawing board. We still have to get better as a defense as a whole. We've got to improve on all aspects.

"We wanted this one, and we fell short. It was surprising to see the scoring, not surprising that they came out on top."

awilson@baltsun.com

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