As we gear up for the Monday night showdown between the Ravens and Patriots, it’s time to take a closer look at a match-up that very well could have a big impact on the outcome of the game. The Baltimore defense is one of the best in the NFL in the moment and have been a big reason why they currently lead the AFC South. Part of the defense’s success can be directly linked to veteran outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.
Suggs currently leads the Ravens with eight sacks this season and has 16 quarterback hits on the season in total, good for top 20 in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus, Suggs is the 24th best edge defender this season out of 110 eligible players at the position. He continues to be a force in the pass rush category and despite this being his 14th season in the league, Suggs is still able to keep up with the best in the game.
Opposing him this week will be left tackle Nate Solder, who has had a bounce-back season after missing 12 games last season due to an arm injury. According to the Washington Post, Solder has given up five sacks this season (11 games). Despite that, he is part of an offensive line that has not given up a single sack over the past two games and has performed extremely well overall. According to PFF, Solder is the 14th best offensive tackle this season out of 80 eligible players. For the most part, Solder has played up to expectations and has been a solid blind-side protector for Tom Brady and the other Patriots quarterbacks.
What Suggs has done this season considering he missed almost all of last season with a major Achilles injury is even more remarkable. Both Solder and Suggs have enjoyed great bounce-back seasons after both suffered injuries that caused them to miss most of the 2015 season and now get the chance to face off when both are having great seasons thus far. Both are expected to face off quite a bit in what could be a very interesting and nearly-even match-up. Considering 68% of snaps that Suggs has been on the field for this season are on passing plays, we will see Solder and him go up against each other quite a bit through-out the game on pass plays.
Something that Suggs has done a bit this season (and been able to beat top left tackles such as Joe Thomas) is line up wide off the line of scrimmage pre-snap. Suggs uses those wide angles to gain leverage at the point of attack and force blockers to expand their blocking set. Using proper angles allows him to gain momentum and be able to convert his speed into power at the point of contact. On the other hand, Suggs can also convert his momentum into quickly going by his blocker with a spin or swim move for example.
What will be important for Solder is to establish a good base at the point of contact and make sure he can seal the edge properly. Suggs’ ability to win the angle battle and his unique ability of proficient speed and power moves will be a unique challenge for Solder. Unfortunately for him and the Patriots, the loss of Rob Gronkowski extends beyond the receiving game. When healthy, he is one of the best blocking tight ends in the league, which allows the Patriots be more creative in their play-calling on both run and pass plays. He also provides another solid blocker for the Patriots when needed.
Without Gronkowski and also Martellus Bennett’s play slipping somewhat due to his troublesome ankle injury, the Patriots are unlikely to play as much two tight end sets as they would when both are healthy. Besides Bennett, Matt Lengel is the only other healthy tight end for the Patriots, who has barely been used since being signed. He has only 16 snaps in two games and likely won’t be much of a factor going forward anyway. The Patriots have and will likely continue to run more three wide receiver and two running back sets. And when Bennett is on the field for passing down snaps, he will likely being running routes as opposed to staying back and helping to block.
The Patriots do on occasion use an extra tackle (usually Cameron Fleming) to help with run and or pass blocking, so that could be another option to assist Solder from time to time. Also, with the Patriots using more two running back sets now that Dion Lewis is healthy again, it’s possible that one running back between Lewis or White is kept back to assist with blocking on passing/third down situations. Their function will likely be more so in case any rusher gets into the backfield, but they could also move up the pocket to assist if needed.
Ultimately, this battle comes down to Solder and Suggs. Whether Suggs comes rushing from wide out or sticks closer to the line of scrimmage, Solder will need to make sure he maintains a good base and that he doesn’t get tricked on what type of pass rush move Suggs may deploy. If Suggs comes from the edge, working towards bringing him back closer to the line of scrimmage could help with someone like Joe Thuney chipping in on the blocking efforts. The Ravens do like to rush the passer quite a bit but often play defense using a nickel formation and taking someone off the defensive line, which allows the other offensive lineman some flexibility on how properly block for Tom Brady.
Overall, this will be a very important match-up to watch as this could determine just how much pressure overall Brady has to deal with throughout the game. The Patriots offensive line has done well over the past few weeks but this may be the toughest test of the season for New England. Solder may have the toughest assignment of them all going up against the still-elite Suggs. This will surely be a match-up, if not THE match-up to watch in this exciting Monday night showdown.