SUBJECT TO REVIEW: THIRD-DOWN STANDS;The 4-1-1 on the 1-5-5;Quirky nickel scheme key to Pats
FOXBORO - The Patriots have shown the scheme before. One down lineman, five linebackers, five defensive backs, and it was off to work.
No, never with undrafted free agent Dane Fletcher and linebacker Shawn Crable as key elements. But they've used it.
That's why Patriots coach Bill Belichick shrugged when asked about the 1-5-5 scheme that stopped the Ravens on four of the last five third downs in Sunday's 23-20 overtime win.
''It was just a little changeup,'' Belichick said. ''That's why I don't think it's a real big thing. It worked well for us, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't like we recreated a defense or anything.''
Still, it's noteworthy that this quirky look was the answer to why the Patriots stuffed the Ravens in the fourth quarter and overtime.
The Patriots had been last in defending opponents on third down. Yet, including a key stop on third-and-1 and the final four in their creative nickel packages, the Pats held the Ravens to one conversion in their last seven attempts.
''Third down, all year, we had problems,'' nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. ''Something went off, we basically turned it around.''
''We were prepared for the sneak and tried to do our job,'' Warren said.
Then came three consecutive third-and-manageables, which caused Belichick to bust out his 1-5-5 look and feature Fletcher and Crable, the 2008 third-round pick who had produced little. Each time, the Patriots rushed three - nose tackle Myron Pryor, Crable and outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain - and dropped eight into coverage.
The Patriots used the same technique on each of the four late third-down stuffs. They allowed Pryor, Crable and Banta-Cain to attempt to make Flacco move from the pocket, and they succeeded twice. Fletcher's job was to spy running back Ray Rice out of the backfield, and he succeeded twice, too.
In addition, by flooding the zones with defenders, the cornerbacks could jam the Baltimore receivers at the line - particularly top targets like Todd Heap and Derrick Mason - and disrupt their patterns without fear of swinging and missing. ''That was a point of emphasis at the beginning of the week,'' cornerback Kyle Arrington said, ''just to be physical on the receivers.''
Each part of the operation paid dividends.
On third-and-6 from the Baltimore 24 with 1:03 left in regulation, Crable beat his block and forced Flacco to throw sooner than he wanted. As Fletcher bore down on the targeted Rice, the throw was behind him, and the pass went incomplete.
On third-and-5 from the Ravens 25 on the first series of OT, the secondary locked up the receivers, Gary Guyton forced Flacco to flee, and he threw it away.
On the penultimate third down, Flacco tried to find Heap deep, only cornerback Devin McCourty had stunned him at the line and thrown off his pattern. McCourty batted down the ball, while safety Patrick Chung drilled Heap.
And on the final attempt, the secondary covered and covered, making Flacco settle for Rice on an underneath pattern that ended far short of the first down.
Combine enough pressure with a quick jam and disciplined play, and the Patriots suddenly solved their third-down woes.
''We adjusted to some of the things that Baltimore was doing,'' Belichick said. ''Maybe had a little better feel for the passing game, the timing, the tempo of it. We were just able to defend it a little bit better.''
But can it continue?
GRAPHIC: THIRD DOWN THEATRE
The Patriots' defensive unit straightened up after three quarters against the Ravens, turning its struggles into successes by simply getting off the field. Following the Ravens' final touchdown, the Patriots had five third-down stops in six chances. It was a key factor in their 23-20 win. Here are the five plays that paved the way for the victory:
Situation: 3rd-and-1 at the Baltimore 47
Time: 9:10, 4th quarter
Result: QB Joe Flacco no yard rush
Skinny: From an empty backfield, Flacco tried to sneak, only to be met by Gerard Warren, Vince Wilfork and Brandon Deaderick, the trio who lined up over the center, Matt Birk. Flacco charged forward and immediately ran into Birk, who Warren had stood up. Wilfork and Brandon Spikes cleaned it up.
Situation: 3rd-and-6 at the Baltimore 24
Time: 1:03, 4th quarter
Result: Flacco incompletion intended for Ray Rice
Skinny: The Patriots rushed three and dropped eight players into coverage in a nickel package they'd never shown before. But Shawn Crable still came off the edge and pressured Flacco. That forced Flacco to throw too soon, and he fired behind Rice. Rice dropped it before Dane Fletcher crushed him.
Situation: 3rd-and-5 at the Baltimore 25
Time: 13:36, overtime
Result: Flacco incompletion to Anquan Boldin
Skinny: With the same nickel package as the previous stop, the Patriots dropped eight but Flacco still scrambled to his left under pressure. All five receivers were covered and Gary Guyton closed in on Flacco, forcing him to throw it away along the sidelines.
Situation: 3rd-and-6 at the Patriots 48
Time: 8:16, overtime
Result: Flacco incompletion to Todd Heap
Skinny: Once again, the Patriots rushed three, with Crable coming on a delayed rush. Devin McCourty stunned Heap at the line and kept him engaged, though Flacco threw early intended for him. On the same play that saw McCourty flagged early in the game, the rookie leapt and deflected it as safety Patrick Chung delivered a finishing blow.
Situation: 3rd-and-19 at the Baltimore 10
Time: 6:08, overtime
Result: Flacco 9-yard pass over the middle to Rice
Skinny: The three-man rush forced Flacco to slide in the pocket, as he went through his first two reads. With four receivers hit by defenders at the line, all were covered and Flacco dumped it off short to Rice. Fletcher hit him once over the middle and Mayo and Jonathan Wilhite wrapped him up.
Compiled by Ian R. Rapoport