The Baltimore Ravens are coming off a huge win in Seattle followed by a crucial bye week that is coming at the right time. This is a primetime game to start a important stretch of games, beginning with a matchup against New England.
The Ravens couldn’t be in a better situation with a win following a bye, to turn around and play one of their biggest out of division rivals at home on Sunday Night Football. John Harbaugh is 12-1 in prime time games at home and 9-2 coming off of a bye week. These are great numbers to reference with a game of this caliber and magnitude in the purview. Baltimore will need to play their best all-around game to beat a team that is 8-0 with a defense that is smothering everyone they face. The Patriots have their vulnerabilities just like every team, but can they exploit these and exploit them effectively.
Ravens will need stand out players from special teams, defense and offense to give their opponent their first loss of the season. The Patriots have played quite a “cupcake” schedule to start their season, but they’re undefeated. You must respect that no matter the circumstances. Let’s look at some players that you’ll need to keep an eye on during this primetime matchup.
Jaylon Ferguson & Tyus Bowser:
Pernell McPhee is officially out for the season with torn triceps and Eric DeCosta was unable to add a pass-rusher at the October 29th trade deadline. The Ravens have always encouraged the “next man up” mentality. Jaylon Ferguson and Tyus Bowser are improving weekly. Their stats may not jump off the page, but they are playing at a high level in both the run game and the pass game. Ferguson looks like a player Ravens fans are very familiar with, Terrell Suggs.
Although Ferguson hasn’t quite lived up to his “Sack Daddy” nickname through his first few games in a Ravens uniform, he has the size and physicality that we’ve seen for years from Suggs. He is big, strong and able to move lineman wherever he wants too to affect the running game and passing game. Suggs was drafted high because he was a polished pass rusher, Ferguson will get there through growing pains and increased reps. He was drafted in the third round because he was viewed as a project.
Bowser, on the other hand, is playing in a contract year where expectations are high. Bowser stepped up to take the majority of reps when McPhee went down against Seattle and played extremely well. Ravens fans should be overjoyed with the way Bowser has played this year. He has certainly had his ups and downs through the first seven games of the season, but he is consistently involved with setting the edge and racking up QB hits. Bowser has been relentless getting after the quarterback, dipping and bending effectively around tackles to develop pressure or draw holding penalties
This Ravens pass-rush is much more effective against a quarterback like Tom Brady who isn’t going to move the pocket and extend plays. The sack numbers will go up against New England and Tyus Bowser and Jaylon Ferguson will have a say in that. Look for both of these linebackers to receive a drastic increase in snaps and effectively take over where McPhee left off.
Cyrus Jones was a former second-round pick of the Patriots in the 2016 draft as a cornerback. There would be nothing better for him to show off in front of his home crowd and show the Patriots what they are missing out on. Jones has yet to turn a big gain or be a playmaker in the return game, but he’s due for a big play. He’s a playmaker in the return game and when given the necessary space, he looks electric.
If the Ravens defense is able to force the Patriots to put deep into their own territory, Jones will take his chances on trying to make something happen for the offense. Field position will be a crucial aspect of this game and putting points on the board. If Jones is able to gain some extra yards in the return game to help the offense, this will greatly increase the chances of at least giving Justin Tucker an opportunity to kick long field goals.
The Patriots recently signed Justin Bethel after being cut by the Ravens shortly before the bye week. Bethel will also do his damndest to show Baltimore what they’ve given up for a measly (possible) fourth round compensatory pick. Bethel is a special teams player by trade and will do what he can to contain Cyrus Jones and the Ravens special team squad. Look for Cyrus Jones and Justin Bethel to duel in the special teams game. This should be a quiet aspect to enjoy. It’s not often you see teams trade off special teams players.
The run game:
The Patriots played the Cleveland Browns during the Ravens quick time off and they were simply ran all over by Nick Chubb and company. Chubb racked up 131 yards on the ground and the Patriots defense gave up over 160 yards total. The Ravens coaching staff should be jumping with joy after watching this performance. The Browns turned the ball over on three consecutive drives with one resulting in a recovery for a touchdown. This game could’ve ended drastically different if they hadn’t turned the ball over.
Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill and Lamar Jackson are leading the NFL with 204.1 yards per game. This is roughly 20 yards more per game than the second place team (Minnesota Vikings). The reason for this number is because of Lamar Jackson. Teams must respect what the Ravens quarterback is doing and what his running backs are capable of doing when he’s handing it off.
Mark Ingram has been quiet the last few games with Lamar taking the spotlight. Look for the roles to reverse come Sunday night at the “Bank.” This game screams Ingram’s name as being a tough and physical runner gaining yards after contact. The Patriots may have the best red zone defense in the NFL by a wide margin, but they are inconsistent stopping the run being ranked in the middle of the pack allowing 4.6 yards per carry. The Patriots defense has played subpar opponents throughout their first eight games but this doesn’t discredit their historic defense. The Ravens will have to run the ball effectively and keep the Time of Possession in their favor. Look for the Ravens running game to turn it up to a different level against one of the Patriots vulnerabilities.
“Peanut” Onwuasor has missed the Ravens last two games with an injury and has been replaced by L.J. Fort during his absence. Fort has played admirably during this time and has proven to the coaching staff that he can be called upon at any time. Fort and Peanut will split time because of certain situations but this should push Peanut to make plays. The Ravens will have to win the turnover battle to beat New England. As the season progressed in 2018 Onwuasor stepped his play up. Now that he is able to play his natural position of weak side linebacker, Peanut should get back to being a playmaker. Josh Bynes has taken over the “Mike” position and hasn’t looked back. When Peanut has a capable linebacker at that spot, he has consistently played better than your average linebacker.
The weak side linebacker spot should NOT be handed back to Onwuasor because the way Fort has played in his place, but he still deserves the opportunity to win it back and take over the majority of snaps. The situation as it stands should light a fire under Onwuasor to force the ball out, create turnovers and get to the quarterback. Look for No. 48 to be flying around the ball.
Seattle was a good trip for a Baltimore team that needed to prove its worth to the league, but it wasn’t a good trip for Mark Andrews. Andrews recorded three drops against Seattle that would have resulted in big gains during crucial downs. This was something that Ravens fans were surprised to see from their reliable tight end. Andrews HAS to be better than that, but if that was his worst game of his career, the Ravens can live with that. They came out of Seattle with a win while their star tight end letting them down at times when it mattered most. This was very unlike anything we’ve seen from Andrews and the guy looked lost and lacked confidence. Andrews will get everything figured out and will most likely have a big game against the Baltimore crowd to regain Lamar’s confidence in him.
If you’re a fantasy football owner, you might want Mark Andrews in your lineup come Sunday night. He’s a competitor and turns up to another level when the pressures of the game is on. Andrews had three drops but was still able to record two big catches for 39 yards. Look for a major turn around this week against New England.