This Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens face the unenviable task of hosting an undefeated New England Patriots, winners of last year’s Super Bowl. A defense that is approaching ’88 Bears status with a reputation goes before it. Possibly the best quarterback of all time (at least the most successful) in Tom Brady and the greatest coach of all time in Bill Belichick. So it’s no small task for Lamar Jackson and the rest of the Ravens to come away with a win.
Here’s a quick history lesson for you: before Bill Belichick was the New England Head Coach, he was the coach of the Cleveland Browns franchise that relocated to Baltimore and became the Ravens. Having led the Browns to 36 wins and 44 losses (and one playoff appearance), Belichick was fired in February 1996. The Browns then relocated to Baltimore for the next season and became the Baltimore Ravens.
That’s why this match-up is always a personal one for Belichick, a man accustomed to winning as a coordinator and now as New England’s HC. Sunday’s win over the Browns was his 300th win as Head Coach. In many ways, this season is more personal to him, having seen Brian Flores and a few positional coaches leave for Miami. This season could be seen as an opportunity to reset and go again for Belichick. It’s an opportunity for the vindication of his mind and philosophy as the catalyst for the Patriots’ continuing dynasty. Having fewer coaches around him further strengthens the view that Belichick is the greatest defensive coach of all time.
These Patriots are a match-up team on both sides of the ball. They game plan to take away the biggest threat of a team and capitalise on that team’s biggest weakness. In that respect, expect New England to scheme around keeping Lamar Jackson in the pocket.
Jackson has been great outside the pocket, running for 576 yards and three TDs, but his passing numbers have declined since Weeks 1 and 2 and the secondaries of Miami and Arizona. Against Seattle, Jackson threw for only 143 yards with 45% accuracy and if he hadn’t moved the ball with his legs, we would not be talking about him as such a dangerous weapon. When watching game film, it’s clear that Jackson is better than last season but still lacks the accuracy of a top-tier quarterback. If he remains in the pocket, he will need a lot of help from the running game and short yardage passes to move the ball. It is therefore critical for the O-line to improve on its recent showings. It needs to provide a better platform for the running trio of Mark Ingram, Justice Hill and Gus Edwards.
Through six weeks of the season, the secondary of the Ravens had been a liability. That affected the play calling of the defense, as it was clear the secondary could not cover for long enough to blitz opposing QBs. With the addition of cornerback Marcus Peters from the Rams, that changed against Seattle, with blitzes being called with greater frequency and Wilson being held to 241 yards and one TD. Peters was also responsible for a pick-six that changed the momentum of the game.
It would seem that the Patriots will focus on the lack of pressure up front. The Ravens have struggled to generate pressure and only have 12 sacks this season. We all know what Brady can do from a clean pocket (see six Super Bowl rings as evidence) and we can expect similar in this match-up: the Patriots place less reliance on the running game and lean more on the short passes around the line of scrimmage.
This game will be a true test of Lamar Jackson. We saw in the win over Seattle that he is a true competitor who’s desperate to win, but the Patriots’ defense is the sternest test he will have faced in his young career. The fiercest competitor in the NFL of the last 20 years, Tom Brady, still has the skills to dice up a Ravens defense that has struggled to generate pressure on the quarterback. Without that pressure, Brady will find the soft spots in coverage using his trusted shifty WR weapon Julian Edelman and new toy Mohamed Sanu.
It is important to remember this is the toughest test for New England this season but I don’t feel there is much hope of an upset for Baltimore. But I’ve been wrong before!
Prediction: Patriots 24, Ravens 14
Featured Picture – Credit: Gail Burton/Associated Press