Bill Belichick, the linchpin of the New England dynasty, is the best head coach in the history of the sport. He consistently brings out the most from his personnel while out-sceheming his opponents on a weekly basis.
However, John Harbaugh has held his own against the mighty Patriots. Harbaugh’s Ravens went on the road and outplayed the Patriots in all four playoff contests, winning two. Notably, Harbaugh also carries a 12-1 primetime home record and an 8-3 mark in games following a bye week.
Ravens Offense vs Patriots Defense
New England’s defense has padded their stats against a rather unimpressive schedule this season. Nonetheless, they have the top top ranked scoring defense and have racked up an remarkable 25 takeaways through eight games.
The strength of their unit is the secondary. Stephon Gilmore is one of the premier cover men in the game, free safety Devin McCourty currently leads the league with five interceptions and Jonathan Jones is an ascending slot man. Even with the expected return of Hollywood Brown, the Ravens receiving corps will likely have difficulty uncovering.
Their defense has run predominantly man coverage and used blitzes to create pressure, linebacker Jamie Collins leads their team with six sacks. Against Lamar Jackson, however, Belichick may opt for more zone coverage with extra defensive backs on the field in an effort to minimize damage on the ground from the elusive quarterback.
The Patriots employ a rotation of workmanlike defensive lineman and edge rushers with veteran linebacker Dont’a Hightower anchoring a defensive front that has allowed the 12th most yards per rushing attempt (4.6). Baltimore will need strong showings from their power backs, Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards, especially if New England uses lighter personnel packages to counter Jackson’s speed.
Per usual, Lamar will be tasked with carrying the offense. Belichick will attempt to force Jackson into tight window throws to Mark Andrews and Willie Snead. Jackson’s intermediate distance passing efficiency will be paramount. Connecting on a couple vertical routes and executing the innovative plays Greg Roman devised during the bye will be necessary to put several touchdowns on the scoreboard.
Unlike dominant defenses of the past, New England does not necessarily boast a collection of top tier defenders. Yet they execute their gameplan with impressive discipline. In front of a national audience, Lamar has a great opportunity to prove he is up to the challenge of outmaneuvering Belichick.
Ravens Defense vs Patriots Offense
The Patriots offense is predicated on precision. Aging legend Tom Brady spearheads the league’s 16th ranked total offense that has called a 42/68 run/pass split,
Second year tailback Sony Michel has struggled to break tackles behind a mediocre run blocking line. Baltimore’s run stuffers should be able to bottle up the run effectively, prompting New England to turn to their rhythm-based short passing attack.
At 42 years old, Brady is still playing efficient football. His pocket presence and quick release nullifies most edge pressure. A second consecutive strong game from Brandon Williams in the pass rush department would be beneficial, pressure up the middle can affect Brady. His intelligence makes blitzing a risky proposition, but the Ravens matchup quite well in the secondary.
With a 27-percent target share, Julian Edelman is Brady’s primary receiver. Coordinator Martindale may ask Marlon Humphrey to shadow Edelman all over the field, leaving Marcus Peters, Brandon Carr and Jimmy Smith to mark their other wideouts. The majority of Brady’s recent deep passes have been to Edelman in the seams, an area of the field where Earl Thomas will be lurking.
James White will probably play a large role for the Patriots. An excellent pass catcher out of the backfield with a nose for the end zone, White will test the coverage and tackling of Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine, L.J. Fort and Patrick Onwuasor. And Rex Burkhead is another back capable of taking underneath passes past the chains.
The Ravens and Patriots are two well run franchises and well coached teams. In a bit of a role reversal, Baltimore has the more potent offense and New England packs the suffocating defense. The chess match is sure to entertain.
Playing at home, with an extra week to prepare and Justin Tucker providing a special teams advantage, the up-and-coming Ravens earn a 23-16 victory.