A growing problem for the Patriots toward the end of the season was a lack of pressure on the quarterback. Even in last week’s win over the Texans, the Patriots were able to pressure Matt Schaub on just 20.8 percent of his dropbacks. That was the team’s sixth-worst rate this season.
Against the Texans, before reviewing the film, the Patriots got pressure on Flacco just 20 percent of the time on his 40 dropbacks: two sacks (one was a coverage sack), two hurries, and four knockdowns. The Ravens offensive line had a fairly easy time of it.
“We like zero [sacks], zero [hurries], zero [knockdowns], but two-two-four is OK,” said veteran center Matt Birk.
The only time the Patriots have been that low at pressuring the quarterback since beating the Jets on Thanksgiving: 16.7 percent in the home loss to the 49ers.
“I don’t think we were able to affect him enough,” said rookie end Justin Francis. “We got him off the spot sometimes but most of the time, it just wasn’t good enough.’’
A lack of pressure on the quarterback in 2011 prompted Bill Belichick to trade up in the draft to land Jones and linebacker Dont’a Hightower.
Jones had six sacks early in the season but none after first injuring his right ankle against the Colts Nov. 18. He had been rounding into form before reaggravating it against the Texans. Jones only played in goal line defense against the Ravens.
“He’s a great player too, a great young player,” Birk said. “Certainly he has shown that throughout his rookie season. At this point everybody has injuries.”
Hightower didn’t have a single pressure, even when he was asked to blitz a handful of times.
The injuries to Jones and Love left the Patriots with a defensive line of Rob Ninkovich (two sacks), Vince Wilfork, Brandon Deaderick, and Francis, an undrafted rookie. Jermaine Cunningham didn’t show anything after his suspension for using a banned substance. Free agent Trevor Scott didn’t get his usual couple of pressures against the Ravens.
“I don’t think we hit them enough,” said defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. “I don’t think we pressured them enough.”
When the Patriots won the AFC title last year, Wilfork had perhaps the finest game of his career with 1.5 sacks, 4 hurries, and 2.5 stuffed runs all by himself as he just about embarrassed Birk and right guard Marshall Yanda. On Sunday night, Wilfork finished officially with an assisted tackle and one knockdown.
“Whenever you play New England, you think about Vince because he’s their force in the middle and he disrupts plays and you want to try to contain it as best you can,” Yanda said. “I think we contained him pretty well. He made some plays, but he didn’t have the game he had last year which is good, because he really had a great game last year and really disrupted our offense. We didn’t double him any more than we did last year.
“When we started throwing it, they kind of got tired and they weren’t really pass rushing when you throw that much. And they weren’t getting home.
“Joe did a great job of getting rid of the ball on time. When the ball’s out and they can’t get there, they kind of get discouraged a little bit. It was great.”
In the end, the Ravens are going to the Super Bowl and the Patriots aren’t because they were able to make the key plays, and some of the players that were missing definitely factored into that.
“All year guys have stepped in and done a great job,” Wilfork said. “Who knows if it would have been different if [injuries] wouldn’t have happened? We don’t know that. I just think the Ravens played better and they made more plays than we did. That was the bottom line.”