Dean Pees has been calling the Ravens defense since 2012. (Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports)
FOXBORO — How will the Patriots attack the Ravens Monday night?
Whether it’s Tom Brady firing passes all over the field against their secondary or mixing in Dion Lewis and James White, one thing is for certain, the Patriots’ offense will be taking on a very familiar foe.
Dean Pees is in his fifth year as Ravens defensive coordinator. As Chris Price notes, Pees is no stranger to Brady and the Patriots, beating Brady twice in four meetings over that period, including the 2012 AFC championship at Gillette Stadium.
The last time the Patriots faced Pees, Rob Gronkowski had seven catches on 13 targets for 108 yards and a touchdown. Danny Amendola had five catches on six targets for 81 yards and two touchdowns, including the trick play from Julian Edelman. That’s 12 catches, 189 yards and three touchdowns worth of production from the top two receivers from the 2014 AFC divisional game that will be missing Monday night.
Pees, of course, is no stranger to Patriots fans either, having run the Patriots’ defense from 2006 through 2009, taking over for Eric Mangini when Mangini left to become the Jets head coach in ’06.
Pees was at the helm in 2007 when the Patriots went 18-0 before falling 17-14 to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII. It was in that game that Pees and the defense came under scrutiny at the end for allowing Giants receiver Plaxico Burress to be in single coverage with 5-foot-9 Ellis Hobbs on the outside.
But that’s water under the bridge and now it’s up to Josh McDaniels and the Patriots to come up with some type of game plan to attack a Ravens defense that is leading the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed at 73.8. The next closest team is Dallas at 82.3.
How might knowing Pees and his tendencies factor into game planning?
“I don’t try to guess, that’s for sure,” McDaniels said. “Dean is going to change things up. Dean is going to do the things that have made him successful as a coach and Baltimore successful as a team. I think my concern is not going to be trying to over-analyze how Dean may or may not think about this week, but to try to prepare the best we can with our staff and our players to get ready to play one of the best defenses in the league without question.
“They’re aware of the fact that he was here. He had a great run here and he’s doing an incredible job there. Their whole staff does a really great job. Coach [John] Harbaugh, they have a tremendous culture in the way that they play. They’re going to do what they do and try to do it better than what we do. Hopefully we’ll do a great job of preparing for them and do a great job on Monday night.
“We’re going to spend a lot of time on Baltimore in every way, shape or form that we can. We’re certainly; I mean this is as well-coached of a defense that we’ll play. They’re a physical group that doesn’t really give up any easy plays; no big plays, stops the run, makes you one-dimensional, forces you into a lot of third-and-long situations, they’re the best third down team in the league. They create a lot of turnovers; they’re in the top five in that. They stop the run; second in points, 12th in sacks. They challenge you on every play and they don’t give up any easy yards. That’s the sign of a team that’s well-coached, disciplined, knows their scheme really well.”
A former secondaries coach with Miami (Ohio) and Navy early in his career, Pees has coached up a secondary as part of his defense that entered Week 14 second in the NFL in interceptions with 14.
“Dean’s background is primarily in the secondary so they’re well-schooled back there, good fundamentals,” Bill Belichick said. “They give you a number of different coverage looks – single-high, split-safety, man-pressure, zone-pressure – so they do a good job of mixing it up, making it hard for you to really get a real consistent read on what they’re going to do. They’re going to play a number of different things and you’re going to have to block them, figure it out, and get the ball to the open guy. It won’t necessarily be an easy read for the quarterback or for the receivers in terms of route adjustments and things like that.
“They’ve been able to hit the quarterback and they’ve got good instinctive players in the secondary. [Lardarius] Webb and [Eric] Weddle do a great job of finding the ball and getting around the ball. Their corners are instinctive. Their linebackers have good range – [C.J.] Mosley, [Albert] McClellan – but if you don’t take care of the ball they get it off of you. They do a good job of raking the ball out and taking advantage of poor ball security situations by the quarterback, or running backs, or receivers, whoever’s carrying it; tight ends.”