The Patriots will face their toughest opponent of the season in the Baltimore Ravens. This game has the makings for a potential loss: on the road, AFC Rival with extra motivation to prove they belong, and an offense that can break down the New England defense. The Ravens enter Week 9 as the #1 offense in Points Per Drive (2.86), Yards (42.51), Plays (7.24), Time of Possession (3:32), and are getting either first downs or points on 78% of their total drives. That offense will be facing a Patriots defense who is #1 in those same categories, so it in theory should present a great matchup, although in the past when the Patriots were on the other side of the match-up they’ve come out on top.
When talking about the Baltimore offense, the first player is always going to be their dual threat QB Lamar Jackson. Jackson is the fastest QB in the NFL and the most dangerous to pick up chunk plays when the play breaks down. If there is one weakness in his game, he’s not a great passer. In his 4 losses as a starting QB, the opponent was able to shut down the running game early and build a lead to force the Ravens to play catch-up. The Patriots offense will have to do that to force their opponent out of their element. Starting the game off like against the Jets and Browns, where they had a 17-0 lead after the first quarter, is paramount.
The Patriots defense will do their best to take away Lamar Jackson’s legs. That means the players will need to play with great fundamentals in team defense: setting the edge, maintaining gap integrity, don’t leave your feet, and tackle well. Tackling was an issue in the rain when defending the Browns, which is why they were able to have a few successful drives and score the most points against New England (13) on the season to date. It will be interesting to see what personnel groupings the Patriots play against the Ravens and their 2-head rushing attack of Jackson and Mark Ingram, who has made quite a few Pro Bowls in his time in New Orleans. Last season, the Chargers elected to play dime in the game and match with speed. That worked against the Ravens, but the following week the Patriots exploited that personnel grouping to steamroll the Chargers defense. I think the Patriots will take a different approach and match 12 and 21 personnel groupings with base defense to best defend the run.
So if the #1 thing the Patriots are taking away is the running game of the Ravens, that means they will have the entire Front 7 plus Chung playing a hybrid linebacker role in the box. That will open up opportunities 1-on-1 for WR Marquise Brown and TE Mark Andrews, who are the main receiving threats on the Ravens. Brown was the fastest receiver in the 2019 draft class and a consistent threat to take the top off the defense. Stephon Gilmore will be most likely drawing that assignment, as the Patriots might not be in a position where they can double him with Jonathan Jones and Devin McCourty. Against the New England defense, the Ravens will likely want to have Andrews hit the Patriots down the middle on crossing routes and seam routes. What makes Andrews tough to defend is both size (6’5” 260) and WR-level body control that allows him to make the tough catches between linebackers and the safeties. If those two get going, the Patriots are going to have a tough time against an offense that is right now the best at extending drives, flipping the field, and putting up points.
The Patriots have two high-profile games to look back upon and see what they did well and what they didn’t do well against a similar offensive attack. They have the game in 2012 against the San Francisco 49ers that featured Colin Kaepernick as the QB and the offense coordinator at the time, Greg Roman, is now the OC for the Ravens. That’s where they’ll look first, but also Super Bowl XLIX against a very mobile QB with the ability to throw the ball in Russell Wilson. The Patriots struggled with turnovers in the rain and the 49ers offense late in a 41-34 loss and did a pretty solid job overall on Russell Wilson in Super Bowl XLIX, shutting him down the first 20 and final 15 minutes of the game, although Wilson exploited mistakes by the Patriots defense when they happened. The coaching staff will try to take the lessons learned from those games and try to apply it to this upcoming match-up against a very explosive Ravens offense this week.