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Patriots vs Ravens: Three keys to the game

The 8-0 Patriots gear up for a rivalry night with the Baltimore Ravens,

NFL: Cleveland Browns at New England Patriots Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots have one more game before a much needed week off as they face a crucial matchup with the 5-2 Baltimore Ravens today. The Patriots, who sit comfortably atop the AFC, have an opportunity to start to run away with the number one playoff seed in the conference with a win on Sunday night. However, today’s game could be the Patriots’ toughest test so far.

We all know that Ravens head coach John Harbaugh gets his guys up for the challenge and they haven’t faced a quarterback with the skillset Lamar Jackson presents. Baltimore is a also tough place to play for opposing teams so fully expect tonight’s contest to be a battle. With that in mind, here are the keys for the Patriots to come away victoriously:

Contain Lamar Jackson

Duhhh! But seriously, Jackson is real tough to stop when he gets defenses guessing, something he did a great job of two weeks ago in Seattle. Jackson’s athleticism makes him a tough quarterback to prepare for. But despite his arm strength and improved ability to read coverages, he lacks accuracy and can get erratic at times passing the ball. Forcing him to stay in the pocket and basically making him beat you with his arm is the way to be successful against him.

Using a quarterback spy with a faster linebacker like Jamie Collins may be the way New England does this, or we could see Belichick experiment and use somebody like slot cornerback Jonathan Jones or safety Patrick Chung to keep an eye on Jackson instead. Either way, if New England can set the edge and collapse the pocket so Jackson can’t get outside and make plays with his legs and on the run they should be just fine.

Get Mohamed Sanu involved

Mohamed Sanu was on the field for 28 snaps during last Sunday’s win over the Cleveland Browns, which is around what new wide receivers typically play in their first game in New England after being brought on board. Sanu had two catches against Cleveland: one being a crucial catch on third down for 28 yards on a crossing route when he beat press coverage, the other a fourth down conversion.

With a strong, young corner in Marlon Humphrey, who has been playing really well as of late, likely to be on Sanu it serves as an interesting one-on-one matchup for the newly acquired wideout. Sanu will be one of the key factors in the New England passing game down the stretch and has the smarts and physical tools — the size and strength — to beat press-man coverage while also having the awareness to beat zone concepts.

Getting Sanu the ball in his hands, especially on third downs, will make this offense a lot less predictable and should help the Patriots find success tonight.

Continue working towards consistency as an offense

I know people may think you should figure out what works for you as an offense nine weeks into the season. However, it really took the Patriots until mid December to figure it out last year, so there is no need to panic (yet). Finding consistency offensively is something that the Patriots have struggled with the last six or so weeks: Sony Michel hasn’t been able to find his groove, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry, while the passing game has been inconsistent.

Despite facing a Ravens defense tonight that has allowed the third fewest rushing yards in the league, however, the only two teams Baltimore has played so far that are over .500 have found success on the ground. If the Patriots can establish the run early, it allows for Tom Brady to do a lot more in the passing game which makes the Patriots’ offense a whole lot tougher to defend.