Phil Perry's Report Card: Mohamed Sanu's under-the-radar emergence encouraging
It was the toughest challenge the Patriots had seen to this point, and it wasn't pretty.
What happened in Baltimore didn't necessarily "expose" what Bill Belichick's roster can and can't do. There is only one team in the league that has what the Ravens have in Lamar Jackson, their heavy personnel packages, and their option running game.
For that reason, the grades this week aren't a referendum on what we've seen from the Patriots throughout the course of this season. But, for one week, against a unique opponent with a unique scheme and a uniquely-talented quarterback, they did not have the answers to the test.
Tom Brady's arm-punt in the fourth quarter wasn't as bad as it looked. There was a miscommunication between Brady and Mohamed Sanu, who looked like he was running a deep-over route and slowed up before seeing Brady's pass travel straight down the middle. Brady's short throw to start the game -- a little swing route to James White -- was a little wild, though he may have been trying to save his back from getting lit up upon catching the football. Otherwise, Brady was solid. His throw down the sideline to White was a gem, as was his late seam ball to Ben Watson that wasn't reeled in. There was a lot on Brady's shoulders while running the hurry-up, on the road, changing protections and making the right calls, and he largely came through.
RUNNING BACK: B
The Patriots used a good rotation of their top-three backs in order to try to take advantage of a gassed Ravens defense that had to match up with the same personnel package (11 personnel) on every snap as well as the tempo the Patriots deployed. The result was one of the best running days the Patriots offense has had (4.4 yards per carry). Sony Michel's second target of the night dock's this group's grade as he ran an incorrect route and was seemingly the object of Brady's ire immediately after the resulting incompletion. White's "sluggo" (slant-and-go) catch over Earl Thomas is about as good as you'll see from a running back on a vertical route.
WIDE RECEIVER: B+
Despite the loss, even Mohamed Sanu's teammates could acknowledge that what the new Patriots receiver did on Sunday night was impressive. He played every snap (67 total) after what was really his first full week of practice with the team. (He worked on a short week -- a week in which there were no padded practices -- with the Patriots before making his debut against the Browns.) Sanu also was able to handle the communication associated with the Patriots' hurry-up attack. And he did it in a hostile environment on the road. Just to be able to line up correctly and run the right routes would've been relatively impressive. But then he came through with 10 catches on a team-high 14 targets for 81 yards and a touchdown. Lost in the loss was Sanu's promising second game with Tom Brady. He should only get more comfortable in the offense and become more of a factor as the season wears on. Julian Edelman worked through multiple injuries to catch 10 passes of his own for 89 yards, but he looked exhausted by the pace of the game and fumbled away a scoop-and-score for one of the game's biggest plays. Phillip Dorsett was hurt on the first drive of the game and only saw four targets despite playing 66 snaps. Jakobi Meyers played one snap and N'Keal Harry was inactive.
TIGHT END: C
Ben Watson -- like Sanu and Edelman -- played every snap. Not an easy ask for a 38-year-old veteran. He caught four of the five targets sent his way, but the one he couldn't snag was a second-and-10 pass down the seam on New England's "HOSS" concept. Had he caught the pass, the Patriots would've been deep in Ravens territory with an opportunity to cut Baltimore's lead to three points with most of the fourth quarter remaining.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C
As the countdown to Isaiah Wynn's return ticks down, Tom Brady must be watching the clock. Brady was hit 10 times on Sunday night. It's not as though all of those hits were thanks to Wynn's replacement Marshall Newhouse. The Ravens schemed up pressures to overload one side of the New England formation, putting a back in pass protection in a difficult scenario where he had to rushers coming at him and had to choose one to hit. Ravens' coverage also forced Brady to hold onto the football at times, leading to hits. This group did well to keep up with the pace that the offense wanted and helped their grade by being in good condition. That 4.4 yards per carry average is largely thanks to this unit as Watson was often detached from the formation, and there were no fullbacks used all night -- even deep in the red zone.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
The Justin Bethel recovery of Cyrus Jones' muff was huge. It led to seven points. But the special-teams star of the day was Jake Bailey, who had three of his five punts downed inside the 20, including one 57-yard bomb. He also had a pair of kicks that were purposefully kicked short that pinned the Ravens inside their 20. Jon Jones and Justin Bethel tackled Justice Hill at the 19-yard line late in the second quarter on a popped-up kick to the Baltimore nine. Later, in the third quarter, Bailey dropped one at the Baltimore five and Brandon Bolden downed the returner at the 19. Those hidden yards -- even if it's just six, the difference between being at the 19 and a touchback that goes to the 25 -- are yards Belichick will take. The rookie punter-turned-kicker has clearly quickly taken to his larger role. The reason this grade isn't higher is thanks to the killer penalty taken by Shilique Calhoun early in the game that allowed the Ravens to continue their first touchdown drive of the game. That was a four-point mistake.
DEFENSIVE LINE: D
I thought our Ted Johnson did a really thorough job explaining what the Patriots front could've done to help slow down the Ravens rush attack. Had the defensive ends been more aggressive with the tackles in front of them, that might've allowed the Patriots to have their gaps covered more often, freeing up linebackers to make plays near the edge. Had Danny Shelton been more aggressive in getting into the center aligned across from him, that might've created a log-jam for the Baltimore offensive line, not allowing guards to "reach" Shelton (getting across Shelton's face to seal him off) and creating a domino effect that the Patriots front-seven couldn't handle. Mark Ingram averaged over seven yards per carry, and Lamar Jackson took knees at the end of the game that hurt his team's overall average -- and yet they still averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
Because the linebackers and defensive linemen are inextricably linked in slowing down opposing running games -- particularly on nights such as Sunday when base defense was such a significant part of the plan -- they end up with the same grade here. The Patriots did what they could in terms of trying to scrape over the top of blockers to flow to the football, but by the time they did, the Ravens had already picked up significant gains. When linebackers got aggressive shooting up the field to blow up runs, Lamar Jackson kept the football and hammered them with outside runs. Elandon Roberts got caught doing just that on one play that went for 18 yards. When the linebackers paid too much attention to Jackson, they got caught out of position and allowed for key gains by backs. Ja'Whaun Bentley got caught looking in the backfield twice on the same drive in the second quarter, leading to a Gus Edwards score to put the Ravens up, 17-0. The edges of the defense, taken care of by outside linebackers in Belichick's 3-4 looks, were at times non-existent.
DEFENSIVE BACK: C
The secondary had to be a part of the plan to stop Baltimore's running game Sunday as well. At times, they were asked to be the force players on the edge in the running game when the linebackers at the line of scrimmage were out-leveraged. But, for someone like Devin McCourty coming from the deep middle of the field, that's a long way to travel to provide run support and the Ravens took advantage. The Patriots played a lot of man-to-man defense, requiring the free safety to come up in run support quite a bit as corners traveled with their coverage assignments. In zone, the corners can help more against the run since they have their eyes back to the line of scrimmage, but it didn't matter much what type of coverage the Ravens saw; they ran against it all. Credit Lamar Jackson for making good throws when he needed to. He hit a third-and-five to Mark Andrews with Terrence Brooks there in tight coverage, and he hit a fourth-and-four to Willie Snead on a rub route that picked off Jason McCourty. In those spots, after the run defense did its job, the Patriots needed their playmaking secondary to make a play and it couldn't.