By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
Baltimore Ravens week. Lamar Jackson week. However you want to spin it, it’s one of the most fascinating games of the year.
The Ravens offense blends sets not seen regularly in the NFL since the Nixon administration with modern concepts mostly popular at the college level. This season, they’ve paired that retro-futuristic offense with a much improved defense.
Patriots players and coaches have mentioned throughout the week that experience against a team like the Ravens is key, and having seen their offense in person last year will make things easier for them this time around. What adjustments will Bill Belichick fare batter in his second shot at stopping Lamar Jackson? And can Jakobi Meyers have another breakout game? Let’s take a look at what it will take in this week’s key matchups.
When New England has the ball: Jakobi Meyers vs. Marlon Humphrey
Whether or not N’Keal Harry plays, after the last two games it’s likely Jakobi Meyers will face at least some number one coverage.
Meyers comes into the matchup coming off a career game, while Humphrey returns to the field after missing last week due to landing on the COVID reserve list. Will Meyers expose any rust? Or will Humphrey prove to be the challenge he should be, after Meyers faced a weak Jets secondary last week.
It’ll be interesting to see how Meyers approaches this matchup mentally. Both Bill Belichick and Cam Newton raved about his ability to find the holes in coverage and get himself open. Given Baltimore’s penchant for the blitz, he’ll have run-after-catch opportunities all night if he can get the ball in space.
When Baltimore has the ball: Patriots edge rushers vs. Lamar Jackson
The best way to slow down Lamar Jackson is to seal off openings and dictate his running lanes for him, instead of allowing him multiple options and turning your defense into a pretzel. Of course, that’s much easier said than done.
If the Patriots hope to contain the reigning NFL MVP, it all starts on the edge. What makes this even more interesting is that the team has not used a consistent edge pairing this season, and it doesn’t seem realistic to think that would change this week.
Whether it’s Chase Winovich, John Simon, Deatrich Wise, Shilique Calhoun, Tashawn Bower, or somebody else, it’ll be up to that group to keep Lamar Jackson inside the pocket and running between the numbers. If they can do that, Adrian Phillips and the Patriots linebackers should be able to clean things up. It’s a strategy that’s worked for a number of other teams over the last year and a half.
Bill Belichick has been hesitant to use rookie linebackers Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings this season, but both (especially Jennings) are ideal fits for this situation. If there was ever a time to get them on the field, this is it.
If there isn’t a combination of two of those players who can keep things sealed, it could end up being a very long night for the Patriots’ defense.
Bonus: Joejuan Williams & Kyle Dugger vs. Mark Andrews
Let’s say the Patriots can contain Lamar Jackson on the ground. Then they’d have to deal with the Ravens putting the ball in the air.
Tight end Mark Andrews has been Baltimore’s most reliable receiver this season, and presents what should be a fascinating matchup. Despite facing a gauntlet of tight ends this season including Geroge Kittle, Travis Kelce, and Darren Waller, the Patriots rank first in catches allowed and fourth in yards allowed to opposing tight ends in 2020.
For the most part, rookie safety Kyle Dugger and second-year cornerback Joejuan Williams have drawn those matchups, with help from Devin McCourty over the top. If the Ravens start throwing regularly, can they keep Andrews in check like they’ve done with countless other tight ends this season?
For more on Sunday’s Patriots-Ravens game, check out the Patriots Preview Podcast below:
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com.