Well it probably wasn’t how anyone drew it up with the offense putting together just two touchdown drives the entire game, but the Patriots once again won by double-digits despite sloppy conditions and a team full of offensive playmakers. Nonetheless there are numerous things to work on for them as it would be hard for any team to look quite as inept and self-destructive as the Browns were their first three drives of the game. No matter what happens though, a win is a win regardless of what it looks like and with the Bills losing, the Patriots have an even bigger edge in their race for home-field advantage as every AFC team now has at least two losses. Throw in the tiebreaker against the Bills and it’s a three game edge on every AFC team for the top spot. Ho-hum. Thus is the life of the Patriots dynasty, the most consistent and dominant run in professional sports.
Much has been made about the Patriots defense not having played anyone decent yet and beating up on lighter opponents. Well after this upcoming stretch, that will not be a valid take. This next stretch of five games in six weeks will see the Patriots take on Baltimore, Philadelphia and Houston on the road, while playing Dallas and Kansas City at home. Four of the five teams rank in the top 10 of points per game with Philly ranked 14th. Moreover all five are alive for playoff spots, with three being division leaders. All five are prime slots with two Sunday night games, and three late afternoon CBS or Fox game of week treatment. For all the yelling and complaining, this next stretch will be a good one to determine just how good this team is in all three phases of the game.
Focusing on this week’s opponent, the Patriots will not face a more unique offense the rest of the way, making it a good test for a strong group. The Ravens feature a dynamic rushing attack with Lamar Jackson ranking 10th among all players in the NFL with 576 yards ahead of names like Aaron Jones, James Conner, Alvin Kamara, Philip Lindsay and even his own teammate Mark Ingram. Because of that it should be no surprise that Jackson and the Ravens have the top ranked rushing attack at 204 yards per game on the ground. This certainly is something to monitor after Nick Chubb sliced and diced the Patriot defense for 131 yards on just 20 carries, good for an average of 6.55 yards per carry.
If the Patriots hope to stop the Ravens offense, one way to do it would be to make the Ravens a passing attack. The Ravens rank just 18th in yards through the air and Lamar Jackson has touchdown to interception ratio of just 11 TDs/ 5 INTs. However it shrinks even smaller if you take out the opening game against Miami, bringing it down to just 6 TDs/ 5 INTs. If the Patriots can hold the Ravens under 150 yards on the ground, they stand an excellent chance to win.
As far as how to stop Lamar Jackson the answer is fairly simple. Make him throw from the pocket as much as possible, while holding rush lanes and allowing no escape. The best way to do that is multifaceted. If New England can stop the running game on early downs with a stout presence at the line of scrimmage, specifically on the edge to keep things in the middle of the field, it will force third and longs. Third and longs equal pass plays and that is where the Pats can rely on their excellent corners to play tight man-to-man coverage making the windows Jackson has to throw into small and difficult with no real number one receiver for the Ravens breaking through. The Ravens best player in the passing game, Mark Andrews will likely be Patrick Chung’s responsibility.
Going back to keeping Lamar in the pocket, don’t be surprised if rookie Byron Cowart plays a good chunk in this game. The Patriots will want as many big bodies up front as they can get to hold the line of scrimmage and not allow big rush lanes or even passing windows. If the Patriot defense can hold their ground and be lock-out the offensive linemen (arms extended and getting control of the gap allowing them to play both sides of the lineman) that will allow them to swat passes and keeping Jackson from running.
One would be remiss if not mentioning Josh Gordon, as his time as a Patriot came to an end on Thursday. Gordon was waived off injured reserve and will now have to pass through waivers and with him potentially carrying a compensatory pick in the offseason, he will likely not make it to any contender. However Gordon really turned his career around this year as he seemed to finally figure it out, be at peace with himself, and seemed happy. Gordon always was described as someone who is a good guy and a smart football player, but had a tough road getting here. Here is hoping he continues down this path and does well in the future.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Ravens 16
The Patriots will likely get a big test as any time you play in Baltimore it is a tough game. The fans are ferocious, the team is physical, and they are usually amped up for the game. I see the difference here being the Patriots play at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Look for the Patriots to come away with at least two turnovers (what else is new) and for the offense to come out firing on all cylinders. If the Patriots make Jackson a passer and keep him under 70 yards I think they stand an excellent chance to win the game.
–David Albiani is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @david_albiani