The New England Patriots’ offense faces a tough test on Sunday Night Football in week nine of the NFL season as they travel to face the Baltimore Ravens. Don’t pay attention to the statistics this week–now healthy, the Ravens’ defense is much better than their numbers show.
The New England Patriots defeated the Cleveland Browns last Sunday with a dominating 27-13 victory over Baker Mayfield and the over-matched alleged AFC North contenders. The Patriots’ dominant defense helped the offense leap out to a commanding 17-0 lead early. At one point, the Brown committed turnovers on three consecutive offensive plays.
The weather was ugly at times with rain and wind, but New England had a firm grasp on the game from start to finish. Cleveland running back Nick Chubb took advantage of the light fronts (dime and nickel packages) and gained 131 yards on 20 rushing attempts (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted). However, he did have two fumbles.
His college teammate Sony Michel had a tough time finding space to run the ball although there was some signs of him breaking out. He finished with 74 yards on 21 carries. The New England defense had yet another dominating performance finishing with five sacks, seven quarterback hits, two forced fumbles, an interception, and four tackles for a loss.
The New England Patriots had wide receiver Mohamed Sanu at wide receiver for the first time. He was clearly working on getting comfortable on offense and there were a few hiccups. On the other side of the ball, the departure of Michael Bennett was hardly noticed as the defense continued harassing opposing quarterbacks.
Now at 8-0, the Patriots play on the road in prime-time in the Sunday Night Football national game facing another AFC North team, the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens are 5-2, coming off a bye week, and as always a difficult match-up under head coach John Harbaugh.
Of course, the Browns were coming off a bye week last week and desperately needed to turn their season around to meet their playoff aspirations. That did not happen. Now it is the Ravens and their number two ranked offense who should be motivated and rested and looking for a big win at home under the bright lights.
This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC and can be seen locally on NBC 10 Boston or WJAR NBC-10 in the greater Providence area. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michele Tafoya will work from the sidelines
On the radio, Sunday’s game will be broadcast on 98.5 The Sports Hub is the flagship station for the Patriots Radio Network and all of the network’s 38 stations carry the game live. Play-by-play broadcaster Bob Socci is back to call the action along with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, who provides his own unique color analysis.
Each week the game comes down to the match-ups. These are the top match-ups on offense that will determine if the Patriots are the team which emerges victorious.
The Patriots’ offense has been far from perfect in 2019. However, through eight weeks they remain number one in the NFL with 250 points scored (31.3 points per game). Yes, the defense and special teams has helped with both points and field position, but while they are 16th in the NFL in yards, they are seventh in passing yards. It has been the running game (762 yards) which is 23rd in rushing yards. However, they are fourth in the league with a dozen rushing touchdowns.
The balanced offensive attack of last season remains off-kilter as the Patriots have struggled to run the ball due to injuries on the offensive line, fullback and tight end. That disciplined and effective running game from last season has been missing for the first half of the season. However, New England has stayed committed to running the football no matter what in 2019 to set-up the play-action passing game.
The New England Patriots’ offense faces a Baltimore Ravens defense which lost a number of key contributors in the offseason. Add in some injuries to key players and this unit has been middle-of-the-pack. But with a number of key contributors expected back on Sunday night after the bye week, the Ravens could be in a position to challenge the undefeated New England Patriots.
How does the New England Patriots’ offense get back on the right track in 2019 against the Baltimore Ravens’ defense?
Patriots’ Offensive Line vs Baltimore’s Defensive Line:
The Patriots face a team in the Ravens who have made their bones as a defense-first team. This season they are 16th in points allowed (156) and 16th in yards allowed (2,448). They’ve only created nine turnovers in eight games (18th).
Run defense has not been a problem for the defensive front. They’ve allowed just 590 yards on the ground (3rd in the NFL) but some of that may be due to opposing team’s attacking by the pass. The Ravens are allowing 4.3 yards per rush (18th) and have allowed eight rushing touchdowns (24th).
The Ravens have just 12 sacks on the season, three of which came from outside linebacker Pernell McPhee who was injured against Seattle and is on season-ending injured reserve. That means more snaps for rookie Jaylon Ferguson and Tyus Bowser opposite starting outside linebacker Matt Judon (four sacks).
Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce are the best of the no-name down linemen. Who? Exactly. There is little pass rush and the rest of the group are average to below-average. None of the down linemen have recorded a sack
New England has key offensive lineman Shaq Mason listed as questionable and although he missed last week’s game, he did travel to Baltimore. The guards (Mason and Joe Thuney) have been the glue of the offensive line in 2019. With tackles Marcus Cannon and Marshall Newhouse struggling in pass protection and run blocking, the interior offensive line (along with Ted Karras stepping in at center) has been the strength of this unit.
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New England will not have to account for Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith as they, along with C.J. Mosley, all left for richer contracts elsewhere. Judon is a solid player, but he cannot take over a game like Suggs and Smith could. The loss of McPhee will be felt and the Patriots’ much-maligned offensive line should be able to keep quarterback Tom Brady upright.
ADVANTAGE: New England
Patriots’ Running Backs vs Baltimore’s Linebackers:
The New England Patriots have been trying to get their running game on track all throughout 2019. The run-based attack that carried the team through the last quarter of the 2018 season and playoffs has been nowhere to be found.
This week the Baltimore Ravens and their third-ranked run defense travels to Foxboro. The loss of C.J. Mosley in free agency has been notable. The Ravens allow 4.3 yards per rush. The three teams they dominated on the ground were the Dolphins, Cardinals and Bengals (74 yards combined on the ground for the three teams). The Seahawks (106 yards), Chiefs (140 yards), Browns (193 yards), and Steelers (77 yards) all ran over the Ravens.
Patrick Onwuasor and Josh Bynes are solid if unspectacular inside linebackers. Former Steelers linebacker LJ Fort was supposed to be a key free agent signing in Philadelphia, but he lasted just four games. He has been pressed into service along with Bynes (signed off the scrap heap).
Sony Michel may have a chance to finally break out after having solid performances in four of his last five games. Baltimore can be run on, and Michel seems to be adapting to not having the kind of blocking that spoiled him his rookie season.
Rex Burkhead is finally healthy and could get a few series to spell Michel. His versatility in the running and passing game can open things up for the offense.
The belief of the Ravens as a pass rushing and run-stuffing defense are holdovers from the past. The Patriots should face little pass rush and should be able to run the ball and dictate their offense. Getting the run game going could be a big boost for the passing game against a strong secondary.
Patriots’ Pass Catchers vs Baltimore’s Secondary:
The New England Patriots have had plenty of attention focused on the wide receiver position in 2019: From the Antonio Brown saga to the Demaryius Thomas drama to the recent Josh Gordon release. Add in injuries to Phillip Dorsett and Julian Edelman and first round draft pick N’Keal Harry on injured reserve for eight games, undrafted rookie free agents Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski were forced into larger roles than expected at times.
With Edelman looking and playing healthier despite being a regular on the injury report and Dorsett back in the fold, the New England passing attack looked improved the past two weeks. A trade last week brought in wide receiver Mohamed Sanu from Atlanta and as he acclimates to the offense he brings a new weapon to add to their passing attack. With N’Keal Harry back on Sunday, the passing offense could be very different–particularly in the red zone– for the second half of the season.
The Ravens get some relief in the secondary with top cornerback Jimmy Smith returning for the first time this season after a knee injury in week one against Miami. With Marlon Humphrey having a strong season so far, the return of Smith gives the Ravens’ pass defense a pair of strong man-to-man cover cornerbacks. With Marcus Peters added via trade, the Ravens secondary has gone from weakness to strength.
It also pushes Brandon Carr to a secondary role as the fourth cornerback and gets cornerbacks Maurice Canady, Anthony Averett and Cyrus Jones out of the rotation. A large part of the problem in the secondary was due to Carr and company being forced into playing larger roles. Add in the lack of pass rush this season and the pass defense suffered.
On a match-up for Sunday night to watch is who the Ravens put on Julien Edelman. While Peters thrives in a zone concept, the Ravens are really a man-coverage team with Smith healthy. Asking Smith to cover Edelman in the slot is a tough task in his first game back. Look for Humphries to slide down and take him.
If they can run the ball, New England may counter with more two wide receiver/two tight end looks to force the Ravens to choose two cornerbacks to stay on the field. That will allow New England to get match-ups to the tight ends (Ben Watson and Ryan Izzo are active) and running backs while trying to get Edelman in a match-up they like.
The New England offense faces a defense that is at as close to full strength as it has been since week one. Baltimore’s numbers are not great, but they now rival the New England defense being four-deep at cornerback. They have been weaker on the ground and better against the pass–no matter what the statistics say. That plays into the Baltimore strengths and highlights the weaknesses in New England. If the Ravens can find a pass rush, it will be loss number one for the Patriots.
NEW ENGLAND EXPECTED POINTS SCORED: 21
-Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01