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The Dossier, Week 10: A Rivalry Renewed

NFL: New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to “The Dossier” a weekly look across the aisle at the Ravens’ opponents, and how they stack up on paper. This Week 10 edition features a look up to the Northeast, where the Ravens take on an old postseason rival.

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The Matchup: Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots

The Setting: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro Massachusetts

The Forecast: Rain early. Decreasing clouds with clear skies late. Low 41F. Winds SW at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of rain 90%. Rainfall near a half an inch. (via The Weather Channel).

The Stakes: The Ravens look to continue stacking wins and hopefully improving on offense, while the Pats are fighting for their playoff lives at 3-5.

The Spread: The Ravens are currently a –7.5 point road favorite.

The Ravens have officially made the turn and will head into the back nine of the 2020 season (little golf reference for you all during Masters week) with a 6-2 record. It of course sounds on paper like a fine and dandy situation, but if you were to stroll the virtual streets of Ravens Twitter without any context, you may actually think the team is 2-6. Go figure.

The angst this week seems to focus on two of the team’s key figures: Lamar Jackson and Greg Roman, and for two very different reasons. Baltimore fans left and right are clamoring to Jackson’s defense after several different talking heads have gone on the attack against him, insinuated that they’d rather have Kyler Murray. As for Roman, he’s really starting to come under fire for his play calling, and in particular an alleged lack of creativity in the passing game.

There’s certainly merit to a lot of it, but there’s also some strangeness with the fact that so much debate is surrounding a team well over .500 heading into the second half of their season. In that sense, think what you want, but always remember you’re discussing a team that’s likely playoff bound. It could always (and I mean always) be much worse than that.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at this week’s matchup. It’s the first primetime game in a while versus a team that was once a perennial Super Bowl contender, and is now fighting for their lives as far as the postseason picture goes. It sets up well for the Ravens, but as we all well know, you can never count the New England Patriots out.

The Offense

NFL: New England Patriots at New York Jets NorthJersey.com via USA TODAY NE
NFL: New England Patriots at New York Jets NorthJersey.com via USA TODAY NE

It’s been a pretty strange year for the Pats on this side of the ball, as they started off hot and have since gone extremely cold, to a devastating effect on the team at large. The signing of Cam Newton was looking like a massive coup when he opened up strongly against teams like the Dolphins and Seahawks, but a bout with COVID-19 and a not-yet-explained loss of the pop his arm was showing in those games has seen his stock decline a bit. His numbers paint the picture of a guy who’s at best been a game manager in 2020.

Per Player Profiler, he’s 29th in air yards per attempt, 28th in completed air yards (with 759), and 27th in money throws with four. That’s fine if you are in fact just a game manager, but those types of quarterbacks usually make their money via efficiency and ball security. Newton is near the bottom of the league in accuracy with a 7.2 rating, and 28th in catchable pass rate with a 74.3 percentage.

It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s of course not all on him – his supporting cast is currently ranked 29th in the league, and both on paper and on tape it looks like a bizarre fit. It’s put them at 24th overall in offensive DVOA, though it’s hard not to notice a discrepancy in this rating along their offensive line. They rank fourth in run blocking DVOA, and 23rd in pass blocking. That’s obviously a massive difference, and it speaks to the issues that they’re having with getting Newton going in the passing game.

All of that coupled with a strange and limited receiving corps that only features one pass catcher over 100 snaps with a PFF grade over 80 (Jakobi Meyers with an 84.1), speaks to the issues they’re having in that aspect of the game. That said, they are in fact running the rock very well when looking at the numbers, as Michael Onwenu, Shaq Mason, Jermaine Eluemunor, and Isaiah Wynn all grade over 80 in PFF’s run blocking analysis (with Onwenu and Mason each above 90). While they are one dimensional, they seem to know where their bread is buttered in that sense.

Perhaps one of the biggest indictments of this offense is that in watching it, I was only able to find a handful of plays that I thought were worth clipping off for this. The one I’d like to highlight is a summation of how they’ve used Cam up to this point - as a battering ram by the goal line:

To their credit, they’ve executed that plan pretty well as Cam has been a weapon on the goal line this season, including on this play. As far as a blueprint on how to stop it, (and their offense on the whole), the Ravens and Wink Martindale may be smart to simply just be themselves in this one. They rank 5th in total defensive DVOA and 1st in rush defense in that category; a lack of Calais Campbell and possibly Jimmy Smith certainly will hurt them in that sense, but even so, sticking to the plan should help that unit this Sunday night.

The Defense

NFL: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

New England as a franchise are somewhat similar to Baltimore in that their typically known for having a strong defense, thanks to Bill Belichick’s history as a coordinator on that side of the ball. This year though? That isn’t quite the case.

Per DVOA, they’re among the worst in the league with a ranking of 31 (30th against the pass, 31st against the run). Their poor performance is back up by their PFF grading, as they only have two players total over 70 (J.C. Jackson with a 71.9, and Deatrich Wise with a 75). Again, all you need to know about how the Pats have been playing on defense recently is the fact that they were just lit up by our good friend Joe Flacco in the year 2020.

We all know how rough the Jets season has been, and we of course know that Joe Flacco since the first quarter of 2018 has looked like anything but a functional starting quarterback. Against New England, he looked like a Pro Bowler. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how that happened, but in watching the game back, you’ll notice a ton of a play concept that every Ravens fan should know is Joe’s favorite: Play action.

The play below (I-Formation, post over the middle, off of the fake) is ripped straight from Kubiak’s 2014 playbook:

Another one that will be reminiscent of that offense is below, with the bootleg and TE crossing back over the middle:

As far as a specific gameplan goes, Willie Snead has really begun to pick things up the last few weeks. His veteran sensibilities and his apt for finding the soft spot in the zones has really shown up, and as I highlight below, I think a blueprint that does that and incorporates him heavily will be a winning one for Baltimore:

Again, the argument on this side of the ball is to keep things simple and do what works. If you ask Patriots safety Adrian Phillips, Baltimore’s offense already does that in spades:

No matter what he says, the Ravens offense is more talented and more accomplished so far in 2020 than the Pats defense, and what they have should be enough to put up some points on Sunday night. The key is to not overthink it, and to put your playmakers in position to succeed. That means pound the rock, utilize play action, and give Lamar some open looks off of it as well.

The Outlook

NFL: New England Patriots at New York Jets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

In looking at the uniforms in this matchup and the time the game is set, it feels like it should be a very big deal, and a very close game. For the reasons I just listed though, I can’t help but shake the feeling that people tuning in expecting a classic Ravens/Patriots tilt will be disappointed. As much as I’ll always respect New England, it feels like they’re in a pretty tough spot right now.

For all the talk of Lamar and the Ravens offense being limited, there’s plenty of hard evidence that Cam and the Pats can’t get things off the ground in a very tangible way. Against a very tough Ravens defense, those issues will buck their heads big time, and for a Ravens offense that’s looking for a complete 60 minutes, this is a good spot to start. I have a feeling on Monday morning, we’ll be talking less about firing Greg Roman, and more about potential playoff seeding, as we really should’ve been to begin with.

Jake’s Official Prediction: Ravens 27, Patriots 17