This Sunday, the 8-0 New England Patriots will travel to Baltimore for a highly anticipated matchup against Lamar Jackson and the 5-2 Ravens. The game will mark just the second time this season that New England will face an opponent with a winning record. New England’s success in this game will depend entirely on the performance of their defense.
Patriots Defense Shows Vulnerability
The Patriots have been crowned as the NFL’s number one ranked defense for all of the 2019 season. However, New England is coming off a game against the Cleveland Browns in which they allowed running back, Nick Chubb, to rush for 131 yards. Chubb’s rushing yardage was the most this Patriots defense has given up all season and Baltimore will surely have a run heavy game plan. The Ravens are currently averaging over 200 rushing yards per game, which ranks first throughout the league. The biggest contributor to the Ravens rushing attack is not their starting running back, Mark Ingram, but rather their quarterback. Jackson currently ranks tenth among all rushers throughout the league, racking up 576 total yards with an average of 82.3 yards per game. New England has very rarely allowed for mobile quarterbacks to beat them by running the football. In fact, the Bill Belichick Patriots have never given up over 100 yards rushing to a quarterback, with the most being a 93 yard performance from Tim Tebow. Although, Jackson’s athletic ability and speed have not been seen from the quarterback position since the era of Michael Vick in his prime.
Containing the Ravens Rushing Attack
The Patriots defense will have no room for undisciplined play during this game, as Jackson will exploit those mistakes. New England’s defensive game plan will center around containing Jackson within the pocket and forcing him to make NFL caliber throws. The Patriots pass rush will need to avoid rushing too far up field in an effort to limit running lanes for Jackson. Additionally, coverages and spy roles will be key components in limiting Jackson’s rushing yards. The spy role features an athletic linebacker whose job is to hang back in free space and shadow Jackson’s movements within the pocket. Expect for linebackers Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy to take turns playing this role throughout the game. Furthermore, New England’s defense will likely play much more zone coverage than they otherwise have this season. The issue with playing man coverage against a mobile quarterback, is many times receivers will run deep routes to clear out underneath space. This makes running for chunk yardage far easier for a mobile quarterback as he only has to shake the spy in order to break into the open underneath space. With zone coverage, secondary players and linebackers can be spread more evenly across the field, which allows for far less free space.
The Ravens running game will be the toughest test New England’s defense has faced thus far and there will be no room for undisciplined errors. If the Patriots can force Jackson to remain in the pocket and throw the football, they will be in a great position to win this game. However, if they can not contain Jackson and give up chunk plays, the Ravens will have a more than real shot at handing New England their first loss of the season.
Rian Queen is a Contributor for the Unwrapped Sports Network website. Follow him @takes_boston on Twitter.