When it comes to preparing or the Patriots, one advantage the Ravens have with defensive coordinator Dean Pees? He doesn’t waste time predicting what New England will do.
PATRIOTS VS. RAVENS
- Curran's preview: This playoff rematch's been a long time coming
- Sean McDonough: Belichick wishes Harbaugh would stop talking about formations from two years ago
- Curran: Patriots' three keys to victories
- Patriots vs. Ravens: Game notes
The former Patriots defensive coordinator knows that’s a shell game you just can’t win. Best be ready for everything.
“(Preparing successfully) is more about just knowing the mindset of them than it is knowing the scheme of them, because the scheme changes week to week,” Pees explained. “I’ve seen these guys go out and run no-huddle empty for an entire quarter against Minnesota … against a great run defense at that time in Minnesota. They went up and down the field. I’ve seen them come back the next week and go with three tight ends and run the ball. A couple of years ago, [Jonas] Gray, the running back, against Indianapolis all of a sudden emerged and had 200 yards rushing. Their playbook is so big and massive on offense. They just have a lot of stuff, and they utilize it to the best of their ability. That’s what I know about them. The only advantage I have is just knowing that they have a lot of stuff, and they can do a lot of things. That’s the advantage I have, if that’s an advantage.”
Pees was with the Patriots from 2004 through 2009. He was linebackers coach in his first two seasons before becoming defensive coordinator in 2006. His last game was the 33-14 playoff loss to the Ravens. As much as he’s still identified as a former Pats coach, Pees has been in Baltimore since 2010 – longer than he was in Foxboro. He is as much a part of Ravens’ culture as he was Patriots culture though his football view is certainly similar to Bill Belichick’s as the two have similar influences and shared touchstones. Pees worked for Nick Saban at Toledo and Michigan State and spent three seasons at Navy.
Pees, now 67, would be an outlier among the Pats coaching staff now in that he’s a more experienced coach. Belichick’s hires have always skewed young and they’ve gotten more youthful it seems over the past seven seasons during the Patriots post-2009 reboot.
Perhaps because he’s been around the block a few times, Pees has always been one to speak pretty freely about Belichick and the Patriots. For instance, replying to a question about the loss of Rob Gronkowski, Pees veered into discussing the Patriots “Gates.”
“There’s nobody that does a better job with personnel than the Patriots. I’m sure they wish they had him,” Pees began. “But I’m just telling you that over the years and being around them, there’s nobody that does a better job of setting up a game plan based on the personnel that they have. They’ll be ready.
“The other thing I’ll tell you about New England is that the more adversity you give them, the better they play,” he added. “If you really look back over the years … I was there in ’07. We had ‘Spygate,’ we went undefeated. When they had whatever the other ‘gate’ was, they went to the Super Bowl. They play through adversity, and sometimes, I think they actually enjoy the adversity and actually play a little harder and game-plan a little harder. The fact that they [don’t] have ‘Gronk’… I’m sure they would like to have him. I’m glad they don’t have him, but it’s just another set of problems for us to face on what they are going to do with the personnel they have.”
While there’s a tremendous amount of strategizing, game-planning and personnel maneuvering in every NFL game, games like Monday night’s promise to be even more compelling. While the Ravens can sometimes show up some weeks with their pants around their ankles, they won’t against the Patriots. It will be a high-level chess match and the game will likely turn on tiny things -- the brilliance of a particular player operating within his scheme, a mental breakdown, a physical mistake. That’s what the Seahawks game was like. That’s what the last meeting between these teams was like.
Pees knows that, as opposed to coaching against Andy Dalton or even Ben Roethlisberger, there’s a calculating side to Brady and the Patriots offense that means they get more dangerous as the game goes on.
“The thing about Tom is that he’s much more patient than a lot of quarterbacks, and [offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach] Josh [McDaniels] is much more patient as a coordinator than a lot of coordinators are, but you still have to make them go the long, hard way,” said Pees. “You just can’t give up cheap touchdowns. You can’t give up big runs after catch. You have to stop the run. It didn’t change any with their team.”
Pees did allow that, even after being gone from New England since 2009, this game carries some extra significance.
“Anytime you’re playing against a team that is a really, really good organization and good team -- they have been a good team for a long, long time -- it always means a lot,” he said. “The fact that I was there, yeah, it’s kind of like playing against your brother in golf. Sometimes you want to beat your friends and your family more than you want to beat somebody you don’t know. The significance, really, of the game is the significance of where we are right now in the season. And we’re playing a really good team, and when you beat a really good football team, it gives you even more confidence.”