The New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens are two of the best teams in the NFL at the moment, and on Sunday they will meet in one of the most anticipated games of the 2019 season — one that projects to be a highly contested affair. As such, it could be decided by how a few key matchups unfold. With that being said, let’s take a look at five that certainly could have a major impact on the game’s final result.
Patrick Chung vs. Mark Andrews
Mark Andrews is developing into one of the best tight ends in all of football, and the number one receiving weapon in Baltimore: the 23-year-old, who is capable as both a blocker and a pass catcher, is having an impressive sophomore season so far as quarterback Lamar Jackson’s go-to-guy. As such, he leads the team in every major receiving category and will certainly be a player high up on New England’s list of defensive priorities on Sunday.
In order to counter him, the Patriots might turn to one of their most experienced players. Safety/linebacker-hybrid Patrick Chung returned to the lineup in Week 8 against the Cleveland Browns after missing two of the previous three games because of injury, and will be a big factor for New England when it comes to stopping the Ravens’ balanced offensive attack: Chung will help as an additional box defender in 3-3-5 looks and also likely be the primary coverage matchup against Andrews.
When looking at the numbers, this battle could be an intriguing one:
Stats: Patrick Chung & Mark Andrews
While Chung has given up a comparatively high completion percentage so far this season, Andrews has not been perfect either: the former third-round draft pick has dropped four passes so far — three of which coming in Baltimore’s Week 7 game against the Seattle Seahawks — while Jackson has thrown three interceptions while trying to get the football to his most trusted target.
New England’s offensive tackles vs. Tyus Bowser and Jaylon Ferguson
Patriots starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn returned to practice this week, but is not yet eligible to play for the team — while designated to return off injured reserve, he will have to remain on the list until at least Week 12. The team will therefore again field Marshall Newhouse as a part of the starting offensive line, one week after he had his fair share of troubles against the Cleveland Browns’ talented edge rushers.
This week, Newhouse and his right side counterpart Marcus Cannon will face a different challenge. Jaylon Ferguson and Tyus Bowser are not on the same level as Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon, but the two can also impact a game positively for Baltimore’s defense as a look at their numbers shows:
Stats: Tyus Bowser & Jaylon Ferguson
Newhouse and Cannon, meanwhile, performed as follows during the first eight weeks of the season:
Stats: Marshall Newhouse & Marcus Cannon
“He’s kind of the head of the snake. In order to kill the snake, you’ve got to get the head. That’s what we plan on doing. We’ve just got to push the pocket and play our style of football,” said Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams about his team’s matchup with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady earlier this week. Needless to say that Bowser and Ferguson will play a big role for the team on Sunday, as will Marshall Newhouse and Marcus Cannon for New England.
New England’s front six vs. Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram
The Ravens field one of the best rushing attacks in all of football: the unit of offensive coordinator Greg Roman leads the league in run plays (258) and yards gained on the ground (1,429) while ranking second in yards per carry (5.5) and sixth in touchdowns (10). The lion’s share of the statistics has been put up by two men, quarterback Lamar Jackson and running back Mark Ingram. Baltimore’s offense runs through them, and the Patriots need to find a way to slow them down.
In order to do this, New England’s front line defenders will need to play a disciplined game: the edge needs to be set well, while gap integrity becomes a key factor. In order to achieve this, we might see plenty of 3-3-5 Tite concepts up front — a scheme that a) was broken down in great detail by colleague Mark Schofield, and b) should allow the Patriots to limit Baltimore’s opportunities on the ground by taking advantage of the athleticism and range at the linebacker position.
Bill Belichick vs. Lamar Jackson
His abilities to take off with the football are not the only problem when it comes to defending second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson: the 32nd overall selection of last year’s draft has also taken a big step forward as a pure passer capable of making plays with his arm as well. It will therefore be interesting to see how the Patriots and de facto defensive coordinator Bill Belichick will meet this challenge.
The aforementioned Tite fronts in combination with more zone coverage in the secondary could be a part of the approach, while multiple blitz and pressure packages will likely also be employed: as they often do when it comes to comparatively inexperienced quarterbacks, the Patriots will try to win on the mental level and by trying to confuse Jackson by throwing different looks at him. It surely will be an exciting back-and-forth between the youngster and the greatest defensive coach the game has ever seen.
Julian Edelman vs. Marlon Humphrey
The Ravens play matchup-based coverages in the defensive backfield, and they have used third-year man Marlon Humphrey as their guy for the difficult assignments: the former first-round draft choice is usually aligned on the opposite side of the number one wide receiver, and has played some very good football along the way. It would therefore not be a surprise if Baltimore opted to use Humphrey against the reigning Super Bowl MVP this week.
Julian Edelman is having another terrific season as the Patriots’ number one — and most consistent — pass catcher: the chemistry between him and quarterback Tom Brady is on display on a weekly basis, even while other wide receivers have had their fair share of ups and downs and defenses pay close attention to him.
Likely to face off against Humphrey on a regular basis this week, the 33-year-old will need to bring his A-game yet again:
Stats: Julian Edelman & Marlon Humphrey
If Edelman is able to win the matchup regularly, the Patriots should be able to move the football down the field successfully. If not and Humphrey comes out on top, however, New England better hopes that the other pass catchers in the arsenal — primarily wide receivers Phillip Dorsett and Mohamed Sanu, and running back James White — will win their battles against a defense that has had its inconsistencies but features plenty of playmakers in the secondary.