The Baltimore Ravens return from what was a relatively uneventful bye week to welcome the undefeated New England Patriots to M&T Bank Stadium. This week marks the first Sunday Night Football game held in Baltimore since Week 3 of the 2012 Super Bowl season, which was a 31-30 win for the Ravens over the Patriots.
Over the bye week, the Ravens released special teams ace Justin Bethel in order to recoup a compensatory pick they would have lost if Bethel were on the roster by week 10. The Patriots scooped him up, prompting the Ravens to sign former New England special teams contributor Jordan Richards and pluck defensive end Ufomba Kamalu off New England’s practice squad.
Earlier this week Willie Snead received a one-year, $6 million contract extension that will keep him in Baltimore through the 2020 season. Many thought this extension would create enough cap space for General Manager Eric DeCosta to upgrade at pass rusher via trade before Tuesday’s 4 pm trade deadline. The second shoe never dropped and the Ravens extension of Snead remained the biggest news of bye week much to the chagrin of Lamar Jackson:
Following byes in the John Harbaugh era, the Ravens are 9-2 with losses coming in 2013 to the Browns and 2015 to the Jaguars. In the victories the Ravens have an average margin of victory of 13.5 points-per-game. Marshal Yanda offered the following on the Ravens post bye week success:
But a stiff test awaits the Ravens as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick descend upon M&T looking to push the Patriots to 9-0 after they dropped the hapless Browns 27-13 Sunday in Foxborough. Brady tossed two touchdowns in the contest and now has 13 scores through the air with four picks on the season.
This is one of the more anticipated Ravens games in recent memory coming your way Sunday. Here’s what I am looking for ahead of the contest.
1) Ravens need to start fast
The Patriots have trailed for 13:51 so far this season. No that isn’t a typo.
With a sure-to-be raucous M&T Bank Stadium behind them, it would behoove the Ravens to get off to a quick start on Sunday night. The Patriots haven’t been pressured all season. Making them uncomfortable early could go a long way in deciding who emerges with the win on Sunday night.
The Ravens have opening drive touchdowns in four contests so far this season and have tallied field goals on two other opening drives. The only game where the Ravens didn’t record points on their first possession so far in 2019 was against the Browns in the 40-25 shellacking we’d all like to forget.
I know the Ravens typically like to defer the kickoff and play defense first. But Sunday night is an instance where I would personally take the ball and hope to make a statement early on. This Patriots team has not yet been pushed as their opponents to-date are a combined 15-43 so far on the season.
Pounce on them early.
2) So how good is this Patriots defense?
You have probably heard all week or for several weeks that the Patriots defense is special. Some have called it historical and legendary despite the powderpuff opponents this unit has competed against. Some have even went as far to say (incorrectly) that they might be the greatest defense ever.
There’s no doubt that this Patriots defense is incredibly special but let’s break down the numbers. They are second in the NFL in yards allowed and passing yards allowed, while sitting at fourth in rushing yards allowed. They were, however, gashed by Nick Chubb and company for 159 yards last week which is an encouraging sign for a Ravens offense predicated upon running the football.
More on this Patriots defense. They have given up just 61 points to-date on the year through six games and are on-pace to obliterate the NFL record for points allowed in a season. They have actually scored 44 points so far on the season if you factor in blocked punts and safeties in addition to fumble recoveries and pick-sixes
So yeah they ain’t bad. The Ravens present, by far, the steepest challenge for this defense as they come into the game ranked second in yards-per-game and first in rushing yards-per-game at 204.1. The Ravens need to lean heavily on their three-headed monster of Jackson, Mark Ingram, and Gus Edwards. Get Justice Hill in space for the love of God and let him go to work.
Hollywood Brown should be back on the outside to help give the defense more to think about in regards to the deep ball. Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst, and Nick Boyle should have success working the middle of the field and the underneath routes. Snead has had the knack for big plays in big moments of games as well.
I am looking forward to see who comes out on top between these two top-ranked units.
3) Ravens need to tackle at an elite level.
This seems simple enough but hear me out.
Brady and the Patriots offense is built upon quick release, short-to-intermediate passing concepts. Rarely does Brady take the deep shot. This season he doesn’t really have the horses in the receiving stable to do so anyways. Dumpoffs, quick slants, quick outs, and screen passes are staples of this Patriots offense. It is imperative that the Ravens put together their best tackling effort of the season.
Julian Edelman ranks in the top 15 of NFL receivers with 574 yards and his 53 catches ranks him fourth. He is a handful out of the slot and will be public enemy number one throughout Sunday’s contest as he hopes to help Brady dink and dunk his way to a win.
With Josh Gordon on injured reserve and Antonio Brown having gone haywire, the Patriots added Mohamed Sanu to the fray ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline. He provides Brady with a big target to pair with Edelman in an otherwise thin receiving corps that also includes Phillip Dorsett and Jakobi Meyers.
The Pats will get their backs involved out of the backfield, namely James White who has 42 catches and 358 yards on the season, ranking him second on the Patriots. This is a big week for the Ravens linebackers and corners in terms of their tackling ability.
Preventing Edelman and White from beating the Ravens will be a tall task but if the Ravens are successful on that front, they should come out with the win.
Jake McDonnell: Patriots 27 Ravens 24
Nolan McGraw: Ravens 27 Patriots 20
Isaiah Stumpf: Ravens 24 Patriots 21
Ian Schultz: Ravens 27 Patriots 25
I have no idea who is going to win this game. Something tells me the Ravens are the better team overall. But at the end of the day, New England has Brady and Belichick and the Ravens don’t. The extra preparation for Harbaugh and company will help the Ravens a great deal in this contest. It might even be enough to push the Ravens over the top.