The question has been asked since the final seconds ticked away in the Ravens’ statement win at Seattle two weeks ago.
How will Baltimore attack a New England defense that’s given up an absurd 7.6 points per game and third-down conversions just 15.6 percent of the time this season? The Patriots defense has scored as many touchdowns (four) as it’s allowed all year. Easy schedule or not, you just don’t see those kinds of amazing numbers in the modern NFL that panders to offense.
A Bill Belichick defense tries to take away what an opponent does best, forcing its offense to play “left-handed.” But no one makes a defense look like it’s playing with two left feet quite like Lamar Jackson, creating one of the most fascinating matchups of the season.
You can bet on Belichick and the Patriots showing Jackson something he hasn’t seen in his first full year as a starter, but New England hasn’t faced anyone quite like the 22-year-old, making New England’s streak of 21 straight wins over rookie or second-year quarterbacks less relevant.
“We’ll see how good they are once we play them,” Ravens tight end Nick Boyle said. “I mean I don’t think they’ve seen anyone like our offense or like Lamar — special player. But they’re a good team, and we really need to bring our ‘A’ game and make sure we’re on everything.”
It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the first time since 2016 and the 10th time overall in the regular-season series with the Patriots enjoying an 8-1 mark. The Ravens are just 1-3 against New England in Baltimore, but they’re 3-6 overall against the Patriots in the John Harbaugh era, which includes a 2-2 record in the postseason.
Below are five predictions for Sunday:
1. Mark Ingram will rush for 100 yards for the first time since Week 3. Recent opponents have committed to stopping the Baltimore running game between the tackles, which has led to Jackson running wild off the edge while Ingram has averaged just 3.2 yards per carry over the last three games. One of the Patriots’ biggest strengths is their discipline, which will keep Jackson from dominating with his legs. However, their relative weakness has been stopping the run as Buffalo and Cleveland — the only good ground games New England has faced — both averaged more than 6.0 yards per carry. The Patriots have a good front, but it isn’t dominant enough to contain both Jackson and Ingram.
2. A trick play will lead to a Patriots touchdown. New England leads the league in points scored, but 25 takeaways mask what’s been a mediocre start for an offense ranking 16th in yards per game, 23rd in rush offense, 18th on third down, and 23rd inside the red zone. Meanwhile, the Ravens are coming off their best defensive showing of the season against Seattle. The defensive communication and discipline have improved in recent weeks, but there are still many new parts to this group and Tom Brady and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels are aware of that. With two receivers — Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu — capable of throwing the ball, the Ravens must be on alert for trickery.
3. Lamar Jackson will throw for 180 yards and a touchdown to Mark Andrews with no turnovers. The Patriots play more man coverage — and play it better — than anyone in the league, but a secondary turning its back to Jackson is a dangerous proposition when he breaks free from the pocket, which is why opponents are forced to play more zone against him. Zone coverage creates the throwing lanes a more accurate Jackson has taken better advantage of this year. New England is also very good playing zone and opportunities for big plays against a terrific pass defense will be sparse, but Jackson’s improvement protecting the ball has been the most overlooked part of his progress this year.
Defenses have reduced their man coverage rate by 8.3% when facing Jackson compared to all other QBs (largest decrease in NFL).
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) October 30, 2019
4. James White will catch a touchdown and be Tom Brady’s leading receiver. With Marlon Humphrey likely to travel with Edelman, Brady will need to look elsewhere for consistent completions with White ranking second on the team with 42 catches for 358 yards. Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort have brought stability at inside linebacker, but that’s still an area of the defense opponents should try to exploit. New England must rely on scheme more than ever without dynamic talent at the skill positions, so look for White to find space underneath thanks to some creative looks and formations. Of course, if the toe injury that landed White on Friday’s injury report is an issue, all bets could be off here.
5. A late takeaway and superior special teams will help the Ravens hold on for a 20-17 win. Neither of these teams is built to play from behind, making it critical for Baltimore to stay on schedule and have a lead entering the fourth quarter when the ground game can impose its will. But special teams will also loom large in a tight game with Football Outsiders ranking Baltimore first in efficiency and New England ranking an uncharacteristic 26th and having just signed new kicker Nick Folk this week. Justin Tucker is a perfect 16-for-16 on field goals this season and will once again be a difference-maker in a close tilt. The Ravens are the more rested team and are 9-2 coming off their bye under Harbaugh, which will give them another edge in handing the Patriots their first defeat of 2019. What more could you ask for in the first Sunday night game played in Baltimore since 2012?