Primetime games under the lights in your home stadium are always exciting, but there is an extra level of thrill in Baltimore this week. The Ravens are set to renew a rivalry with an old foe, the New England Patriots. The Ravens and Patriots, two teams once perennially locked in a battle for the top of the American Football Conference, have not met on the gridiron since 2016. While the Patriots have remained largely unchanged with the dynamic coach-quarterback duo of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady still in control of the franchise, the Ravens will now enter the rivalry for the first time in nine matchups without Joe Flacco under center. Instead, Lamar Jackson will attempt to bring this rivalry to a new age with a victory to stun the nation.
Here’s how the Ravens can win one of the most anticipated games of the year:
Ravens Offense Must Keep Patriots Defense Reactive, not Proactive
Greg Roman has done exceptionally well in his first year as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator. The Ravens rank second in the National Football League in total offensive yards gained per game with 434.9. Despite the success, the Ravens offense has remained largely untested. The only top-ten ranked defense the Ravens have seen this year resided at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The rest of Baltimore’s opponents had defenses that are currently ranked in the bottom 11. This includes the Browns (21st), Seahawks (23rd), Chiefs (24th), Cardinals (29th), Dolphins (30th), and Bengals (32nd). The 10th ranked Steelers defense only allowed 23 points in regulation against the Ravens, and an extra three in overtime. In order to overcome the Patriots’ first-ranked defense, Greg Roman and the Ravens offense must dictate the terms of the game to Bill Belichick. To accomplish this, the Ravens must keep him, guessing, and use Lamar Jackson’s unpredictability to their advantage. Expect a heavy dosage of run-pass options and play actions.
Ravens Ground Game Must Remain Strong Against Vaunted Patriots Defense
If there is any weak point on New England’s defense, it’s in the run game. The Patriots allow 4.6 yards per carry, a stat that makes their defense the 12th worst in the league in the category. The Ravens are in the perfect position to exploit this vulnerability. Baltimore currently ranks first in the league in rush yards per game, with an average of 204.1. Baltimore also ranks second in the league in average yards per rushing attempt. Baltimore’s 5.5 average yards per attempt is just 0.1 yards under the top-ranked Cleveland Browns. The Browns may have been toasted by the Patriots last week, but running back, Nick Chubb, ran for 131 yards on the ground against New England. The Ravens must keep their run game diverse. Baltimore needs to get Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill involved to keep Belichick from successfully focusing on Jackson.
Ravens Secondary Must Make Things Difficult for Aging Tom Brady
Tom Brady is slowing down. The greatest quarterback in history is now 42 years old and is no longer at the top of the NFL’s stat sheet. Brady averages 281.4 passing yards per game, which is still very good, but there are ten other quarterbacks ahead of him in that department. Brady is becoming ever more reliant on running back checkdowns. So far this year, running back James White has 358 yards on 42 receptions, Rex Burkhead has 126 on 15, and Sony Michel has 51 on six. Brady will be reliant on these checkdowns and quick passes, as Julian Edelman is banged up and Josh Gordon is off the team. Mohammed Sanu will surely pose a threat to the secondary, but Marlon Humphrey with the help of recent addition Marcus Peters, and the returning Jimmy Smith should be able to handle Sanu to an extent. If the Ravens can take away these passing options, Baltimore should be in a good position to win.
Lamar Jackson will need to outsmart Bill Belichick in Sunday’s chess match, or at least create a problem he cannot solve. Belichick is known for his defensive genius and is often able to shut down the best weapon on the opposing team. Lamar Jackson, though, is not the average weapon. His unpredictability may be enough to break Belichick’s scheme and lead the Ravens to victory.
When healthy, Jimmy Smith is one of the league’s elite cornerbacks. Baltimore will need him to keep the secondary grounded. The unit struggled early in the year, but with Smith’s return, coupled with the addition of Marcus Peters, the Ravens secondary is much improved, just in time for the most important game of the year.
Marquise Brown has been absent since week five, but the first-round selection is scheduled to make his return to the gridiron on Sunday. Lamar Jackson will need Brown to be his normal, speedy self to add a boost to the offense.
The Ravens will not score as many points as one might expect on Sunday. This game will be a very close, low scoring affair, but Baltimore will emerge triumphantly.