In his 13 years in the NFL, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has seen just about everything that a crazed, caffeine-infused defensive coordinator could possibly scribble on a whiteboard in the wee hours of the morning. But the Ravens tried their best to give him something different to think about on Sunday night.
For most of the 31-30 victory over the Patriots, the Ravens lined up in their nickel package -- New England's offensive personnel usually dictated that part -- with only two down linemen with a hand on the turf. At first those linemen were Haloti Ngata and either Ma'ake Kemoeatu or Terrence Cody, with defensive end Pernell McPhee standing upright like a linebacker. Eventually, McPhee became that second tackle alongside Ngata.
Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe were the inside linebackers in that nickel look, and a revolving group of outside linebackers -- Courtney Upshaw, Albert McClellan, Paul Kruger, McPhee, and occasionally Jameel McClain -- stood over the offensive tackles and stalked Brady in passing situations as the Ravens mixed up their blitzes.
Brady was able to dissect the Baltimore defense for 335 passing yards, but the Ravens finally found a way to fluster him in the fourth quarter. He completed just five of his 10 fourth-quarter attempts for a total of 41 yards. On New England's final possession, Brady moved the Patriots across midfield, but Ngata and Ellerbe buried him for a sack on a second-down play and Kruger got a clean shot at Brady and rushed him into an incompletion on third down.
"We were just trying to show different looks throughout the whole game, just because Brady is smart at picking up blitzes, and killing us that way [by] finding the hot read," said Ngata, who also had nine tackles and two quarterback hits. "At the end of the game we were able to do some things that got him a little confused."
It also helped that the Ravens took away those hot reads -- his quick outlets when he is under pressure -- with solid coverage. On those last two plays, they blanketed tight end Rob Gronkowski.
"We had to tune in. Like I told [Tom] Brady after the game, he's a great quarterback," said safety Ed Reed, who made nine tackles and broke up one pass in the end zone. "The way he adjusts and knows the receivers, it's like they're one. They understand and know exactly where to be, and he's putting the ball right there."
A byproduct of that gameplan was limited snap counts for a few Ravens regulars. Starting inside linebacker Jameel McClain played just 17 of the team's 82 defensive snaps and starting outside linebacker Albert McClellan played 16. Kemoeatu, who started at defensive tackle, played 26. Cody played 11. And run-stuffing defensive end Arthur Jones played 21. Meanwhile, Kruger, Upshaw, Ellerbe and McPhee each played more than 60 snaps in the win.
We will see if this alignment becomes a regular look for defensive coordinator Dean Pees or if this was a one-time thing he jotted on the board to confuse Brady, one of the savviest quarterbacks ever.