The Baltimore Ravens have a primetime matchup this Sunday night, as they’ll be taking on the New England Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium. This may be one of the most anticipated games of recent memory because the Ravens have the opportunity to spoil an undefeated season. The Patriots will trot out the best defense in the NFL (by a wide margin) and of course, Tom Brady. Baltimore has been one of the only teams in recent memory that has had success against Brady and Bill Belichick, especially in the playoffs. Baltimore finally has the opportunity to play them at home during primetime.
The Ravens will have to exploit the Patriots vulnerabilities and minimize mental mistakes. These are essentials when playing a team of this caliber. Let's look at a few keys that the Ravens must execute to come out on top.
Make Tom Brady beat you deep:
As most of you know, Tom Brady is 42 years old and isn’t exactly a gunslinger any longer. Of course, he is still the greatest quarterback (or possibly player) of all-time, but Father Time is beginning to catch up to the six-time Super Bowl winner. Brady can still place the ball anywhere on the field but he is particularly struggling throwing the football down field. His offensive line isn’t exactly giving him the time to launch deep balls left and right, and he has always been a better quarterback when he can get the ball out quickly to his receivers and let scheme blocking and playmaking take over.
If Baltimore wants to control Brady, they must maintain the flats and the middle of the field. Linebackers can’t allow players to run crossing route after crossing route, picking up crucial catches. They must monitor how the play is developing and what’s around them at all times.
The Ravens secondary should be at full strength come Sunday for the first time since Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins. This will be a huge factor on how successful the Ravens defense will be against the “GOAT.” Baltimore has all the tools to defeat this offense and it starts with limiting Brady’s capabilities throwing the football down the field. Force him to throw in the flats and defensive players should be able to keep the ball in front of them and make tackles when it matters.
Use heavy personnel to bully Patriots defense:
The Patriots have somewhat struggled against the run and have allowed big plays in crucial situations. This is another game that will fit the style of Nick Boyle and Patrick Ricard. Both of these guys are a force in the pass and run blocking. Baltimore will need to pull out all of their tricks to knock Patriots defenders off the football to get to the second level of the defense. The Patriots simply don’t have the physicality along their defensive line to match what the Ravens have to offer.
As most people say, Nick Boyle is like having a tackle that can catch when called upon. Ricard is a defensive tackle by trade and has absolutely demolished linemen on both sides of the football. The Ravens staff definitely will look to use their extra blockers during all downs to try and force their defense to bite. Baltimore must be able to run between their blockers and push the line of scrimmage up field. If the Ravens are able to successfully push the Pats line around, they will control where this game goes.
Win the turnover battle:
This is obvious for just about every game in the NFL any given week, but the Ravens MUST win or break even in the turnover category to win this football game. The Patriots are developing historic numbers in the turnover department and its helping them win games. Earl Thomas III, Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey and the defense need to force turnovers and change the dynamics of the game. The Patriots defense leads the league in turnovers and it’s a big reason why they’re undefeated.
The importance of turnovers are absolutely the number one aspect they should be worried about. Lamar Jackson and the offense need to protect the ball and the defense needs to force something that is out of the Patriots comfort zone. Maybe they just need a taste of their own medicine
Control Time of Possession:
If the Ravens try to play the Patriots like they did against Kansas City, I can make a promise that they will not win this football game. The offense needs to wear down the Patriots defense and keep the ball moving for long, timely drives. Baltimore needs to run the football early and often to keep Brady on the sidelines. Baltimore should lean heavily on its running back committee to move the ball and keep the clock ticking. The Patriots may figure out ways to stop the run at times, but the coaching staff must stick to running the ball. They may not be breaking off 10 or 20 yard runs every touch, but they are eating clock with every run.
It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff reacts when the run game isn’t working in their favor. Do they force Lamar to run? Do they completely abandon? Or do they stick with the run game regardless of its success. My guess is that they will eventually abandon the run game and try to rely on Lamar’s arm and leg. This is a completely logical route to take but it may not be the only solution. Regardless of how they go about it, they must win the T.O.P.
Spread the ball around:
The Patriots will do what they have to do to keep the ball away from Mark Andrews. It’s widely known that he is Jackson’s favorite target and they will look to take that comfort zone away from him. The ball needs to get spread around to other players other than Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews. Hayden Hurst is a prime candidate that may need to step up when Jackson’s first read isn’t available. Hurst has been flying under the radar but is getting open and creating separation quite often.
At this point in the season, no one is expecting Jackson to throw the ball to Seth Roberts 5-8 times a game. This is most certainly Lamar’s last option while he’s scrambling around running away from defenders. The Pats defense will bait Jackson to throw to people he’s comfortable with, it’s now his job to spread the ball around effectively and consistently.
Look for someone that the defense may not be accounting for. Again, Hurst comes to mind as someone that can get open, especially when a play breaks down (See Week 7). The Ravens must keep the shares moving throughout the game and not simply rely on one or two receivers to carry them to a victory.