Quick Slant: Defending Patriots Inside Receivers
I decided to do some film work on my free time. I put out a feeler on Twitter to see where people’s interests lied given the Ravens match-up with the Patriots this Sunday. I got a bit carried away watching film so I was only able to address one half of a response:
@BSL_Bryden potential of us having success in the run game, and how are corners matchup with the Pats smaller wideouts.
— Eric Puckett (@RavensAllDay87) December 21, 2013
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Defending the Edelman/Amendola Duo
Over the Patriots last 3 games, Tom Brady has targeted Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman a total of 64 times. That’s 47% of Brady’s targets. They will clearly be a factor in Sunday’s game. So how will the Ravens defend them?
I imagine Corey Graham will shadow Edelman in the slot while Matt Elam and/or a linebacker (likely Arthur Brown) will be responsible for Danny Amendola. This is by alignment only as we know the Ravens like to play a lot of zone coverage (they favor Cover/Tampa-2 and Cover-3).
Both Edelman and Amendola are quick and shifty inside receivers. They think flexibly and efficiently during their routes and they play off the leverage of their defenders very well. Matching up to these receivers will be difficult in man coverage. Corey Graham has had an uneven season in coverage but he handled Wes Welker in last year’s AFC Championship game admirably. Additionally, Matt Elam played a large proportion of his Florida snaps as a slot corner and his height (5’10) is less of a factor against the smallish Edelman and Amendola.
This Tom Brady led offense will do all it can to obtain the match-ups they want however:
This is from the AFC Championship game. Corey Graham had been following Wes Welker most of the game. But this situation brought Welker into the #3 receiver in a Trips formation. This gave Brady a match-up with linebacker Ellerbe instead of Graham.
Welker had his way with the relatively slow-footed linebacker. Welker ran an Option route, a Patriot favorite. Edelman and Amendola have used In/Out Option routes against linebackers in the middle of the field throughout the 2013 season. The Ravens will have to make the tackle after the catch and live with these plays when they happen. In-game adjustments will be necessary for minimizing such plays. And a good ol’ Ray Lewis hold/interference in the middle of the field may save a big play in a crucial point in the game.
The Ravens like to blitz Corey Graham out of his slot alignment especially when his receiving assignment is aligned close to the formation. This can cause unpredictable pressure/coverage exchanges that muddy the QBs reads. Tom Brady is familiar with the Ravens defense and he is masterful at adjusting the play-call and/or using hot-reads.
The Ravens are attempting a defensive staple of theirs: the Slot Blitz Exchange. Brady can see this coming via Graham’s pre-snap alignment. He changes the call at the line of scrimmage.
Welker runs a quick Smoke Screen and his new cover guy (Pollard) has no chance to exchange quickly enough to stop the pass. Once Welker makes the catch, he has three blockers in front of him. A huge gain follows.
Edelman has shown the rapport with Brady to pull off similar plays. With the Ravens poor play against WR Screen passes this year, these quick hitters could create explosive gains.
Will the Ravens switch up their Match-Ups?
The Ravens don’t always stick to the same match-ups during games. If nothing else, they change their defensive alignments to give the opposition a different look. I expect bracket coverage when the Ravens choose to move Graham to the opposite side of the field:
The Ravens will run Cover-1 with a Cloud defender (Pollard). This defense creates one-on-one match-ups across the board while effectively bracketing Wes Welker (an almost literal double-team). Ellerbe’s job is to simply wall-off Welker, impeding any in-breaking routes. Pollard will play with outside leverage to contain out-breaking cuts.
This coverage makes Brady look elsewhere during this down.
The Dolphins chose to play with two literal double-teams on the goal-line against Amendola and Edelman:
By alignment, Brady’s best guess is Man-Coverage. But will the Safeties drop? Blitz? Exchange with a defensive lineman?
The Safeties ultimately double-team Edelman and Amendola in the truest sense. Given the pressure in Brady’s face soon after this screenshot, the play ended up being a throw-away.
How much faith will the Ravens have in their Cornerbacks?
The Ravens played 3-4 snaps of Cover-0 (man-pressure, no Safety) against the Lions on Monday Night. Will they have the same faith in their defenders against smaller, shiftier receivers?
This play in the AFC Championship game was a called Cover-0.
Raven cornerbacks Graham and Brown apparently had a communication breakdown and allowed a Touchdown to this Slant/Flat combination. My impression is that Graham and Webb/Jimmy have better chemistry together, but the Ravens will tell us how they feel about their match-ups by how they choose to defend this offense.
Some Notes to Wrap-Up on
- I based this piece on the Ravens using Corey Graham as a primary option at slot corner. Lardarius Webb very well could fill this role as well. They may both play Edelman/Amendola throughout the game. The match-ups (and how they change) is something I’m looking forward to seeing.
- The Ravens use a lot of zone coverage. Tom Brady has made a career out of torching zones, particularly ones that don’t shift during the pre-snap phase. The Ravens will need to vary their defensive looks to keep Brady from gathering all of the needed information prior to the snap.
- Tom Brady (like most QBs) doesn’t handle frontal pressure very well. If the Ravens feel their linebackers are poor in coverage against the smaller New England receivers, they may choose to blitz Brady up the middle more often than not.
- The Ravens used a lot of bracket coverage on slot receivers in the Steelers game. I expect a healthy portion of this on 3rd downs.
- I’m interested to see how Jimmy Smith matches up. Smith is a long-bodied outside corner whose strengths lie in covering traditional Split Ends. The Patriots tallest receiver (by far) is Aaron Dobson. But Dobson hasn’t played since Week 12 and hasn’t been targeted since Week 11.
- I expect the Pats to show a look that spreads Amendola and Edelman as the far wide receivers to see where the Ravens put Jimmy Smith. Expect this early.