The New England Patriots are undefeated heading into Week 9, but they will have to face their biggest challenge to date: not only are the Baltimore Ravens 5-2 and coming off their bye week, the team of head coach John Harbaugh also is riding a three-game winning streak and hosting the Patriots in their own stadium on prime time. Needless to say that the reigning world champions will need to bring their A-game against one of the NFL’ best teams.
Let’s take a closer look at the team and what the Patriots can expect.
Record: 5-2 (1st place AFC North)
Offense: 2nd (30.6 points/game)
Defense: 16th (22.3 points/game)
Head coach: John Harbaugh
Coordinators: Greg Roman (OC), Don Martindale (DC)
Games so far
Week 1 at Miami Dolphins: W 59-10
Week 2 vs Arizona Cardinals: W 23-17
Week 3 at Kansas City Chiefs: L 33-28
Week 4 vs Cleveland Browns: L 40-25
Week 5 at Pittsburgh Steelers: W 26-23 (OT)
Week 6 vs Cincinnati Bengals: W 23-17
Week 7: at Seattle Seahawks: W 30-16
Week 8: Bye
Coming off a playoff season, the Ravens started their 2019 campaign in style by going on the road and blowing out the Dolphins by 49 points. While the team ultimately fell to 2-2 after losses against the Chiefs and Browns, it rebounded nicely between Week 5 and Week 6: Baltimore won three straight games, with the 30-16 road victory in Seattle as one of the most impressive performances by any team in the league this season.
Three storylines that describe the 2019 season
The passing of the torch: The writing was already on the wall after the 2018 season and with first-round pick Lamar Jackson leading Baltimore to the postseason, but the team moving on from former franchise quarterback Joe Flacco was still noteworthy. Flacco had led the team to a Super Bowl in 2012, but Jackson’s rise made the decision to send him to the Denver Broncos for a fourth-round draft choice still an easy one. As a result, Jackson is now the Ravens’ leader.
The new faces of the franchise: Trading Flacco was not the only big move for the Ravens, as the team also brought some players in either through free agency, the draft or via the trade market. Four of them have shaped the 2019 iteration of the team: running back Mark Ingram is the number one back on one of the league’s best rushing attacks, first-round rookie receiver Marquise Brown is one of Jackson’s favorite targets, safety Earl Thomas III has further solidified a defense that already played some outstanding football last season, and in-season addition Marcus Peters added another big-play cornerback. Jackson’s development is a big reason for Baltimore’s success, but so are those four additions.
The offensive attack: As noted above, the Ravens’ rushing attack is one of the best in the NFL, and it is at the center of a tremendous offense that is leading the league in most efficiency categories: no other team has that many plays per drive (7.01) holds the football for that long (3:24), covers that many yards (41.6) or scores that many points (2.77). With the two-headed monster of Jackson and Ingram at the forefront, Baltimore has developed into an offensive powerhouse.
Three players to know
QB Lamar Jackson: Patriots head coach Bill Belichick often speaks about players making their biggest developmental jump between years one and two, and Jackson appears to be well on his way to do the same. The 32nd overall selection of last year’s draft has looked good as a passer (136 of 215, 1,650 yards, 11 touchdowns, 5 interceptions) and is his usual productive self on the ground as well (83 attempts, 576 yards, 3 touchdowns). Jackson is a true dual-threat quarterback.
TE Mark Andrews: Jackson’s biggest step has come as a passer and the play of his second-year tight end is a big reason why. Andrews has been outstanding so far as both a blocker in the running game and a pass catcher: the former third-round selection has caught 36 passes so far this season for 449 yards and three touchdowns — leading the Ravens in all three categories. He needs to be high up on the list of New England’s defensive priorities.
DT Michael Pierce: While Jackson and the offense have made most of the headlines so far this season, the contributions of the 16th ranked defense cannot be underestimated either. One player who stands out is defensive tackle Michael Pierce, a starter along the Ravens’ interior line that is strong against the pass but even better versus the run. If the Patriots want to get their running game going this week, they need to find a way to contain Pierce and limit his impact.
What to watch this week
For the second straight week, the Patriots will go against a team coming off its bye. Considering how talented Baltimore is in all three phases of the game, this could prove to be a major advantage for the club: John Harbaugh is one of the league’s best head coaches, and giving him and his staff an additional week to prepare certainly could hurt New England’s chances at improving to 9-0. Then again, the opposite sideline is manned by Bill Belichick...