New England Patriots

  • The Patriots and Ravens renew their rivalry Sunday at Gillette Stadium in the Patriots’ home opener. These two teams are familiar with each other, with this being their third matchup in the last four years.

    Their two most recent matchups turned out to be notable games in those respective Patriots seasons. In 2019, the Patriots went into Baltimore with an 8-0 record but suffered their first loss of the year in a 37-20 defeat. That team would go 4-4 down the stretch before losing in the first round of the playoffs, seemingly never bouncing back from that game. The next season, the Ravens came to Foxborough in a torrential downpour. The Patriots got their revenge in that one with a 23-17 win, which was arguably their win of the year.

    What can we learn from those two matchups heading into Sunday? Let’s take a look with this week’s key matchups…

  • When New England has the ball: Patriots offensive line vs. Ravens pass rush

    EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - SEPTEMBER 11: Justin Houston #50 of the Baltimore Ravens rushes the passer against Laken Tomlinson #78 of the New York Jets during the third quarter of the game at MetLife Stadium on September 11, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

    EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – SEPTEMBER 11: Justin Houston #50 of the Baltimore Ravens rushes the passer against Laken Tomlinson #78 of the New York Jets during the third quarter of the game at MetLife Stadium on September 11, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

    The Patriots offense was able to make some strides last week in large part because the offensive line held up much better in pass protection. Mac Jones was pressured on just 13 percent of his drop backs, which was down from the opener despite the Steelers blitzing more often than the Dolphins did.

    Granted, the Patriots did catch a bit of a break last week with defending Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt not playing in that game. This week, they’ll face a fully loaded Ravens front that has began the season shot out of a cannon. Through two weeks, the Ravens’ defense ranks in the top half of the league in most major pass rush metrics, including being tied for fifth in the league with 23 quarterback pressures.

    Part of what makes the Ravens’ rush so hard to contain is the fact they can attack from a number of angles. Outside linebacker Justin Houston is a player Patriots fans may be familiar with – he has four sacks in three career regular season games against the Patriots (both when he was with the Kansas City Chiefs). He has a sack in both games so far, and has recorded eight QB pressures on his own.

    It’s not just on the edge the Ravens can be a problem. Third-year defensive tackle Justin Madubuike can also be a problem in the passing game. He has five quarterback pressures through the first two weeks.

    There should be opportunities for the Patriots to attack down the field against Baltimore – the Ravens have allowed a league-worst 379 passing yards per game through the first two weeks, and their three top corners appeared on the injury report this week. The only way the Patriots can take advantage though is if Jones is protected.

  • When Baltimore has the ball: Lamar Jackson vs. Mack Wilson

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - SEPTEMBER 18: Mack Wilson Sr. #30 of the New England Patriots breaks up a pass intended for Diontae Johnson #18 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first quarter at Acrisure Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – SEPTEMBER 18: Mack Wilson Sr. #30 of the New England Patriots breaks up a pass intended for Diontae Johnson #18 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first quarter at Acrisure Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    While the Patriots haven’t exactly eliminated Lamar Jackson as a threat in either of their two meetings, he hasn’t had the explosive performance against them he has against other teams. In those two games, he’s completed 71.4 percent of his passes for 412 yards (7.2 yards per attempt) with three touchdowns an and interception, while rushing for 116 yards on 27 carries (4.3 yards per attempt) and finding the end zone twice.

    In their last meeting, Jackson hurt he Patriots more as a passer (threw for 249 yards and two touchdowns on 34 pass attempts) than a rusher (55 yards on 11 carries), as the Ravens managed just 17 points. Can the team repeat that effort?

    ” I think that game is going to be quite a bit different this time around, for a number of reasons,” Belichick noted. One key difference will be the fact that while that game was played in a torrential rain storm, conditions are forecasted to be ideal on Sunday in Foxborough.

    Belichick went further than just the weather though. “We’ll look at all our games against them. The [20]19 game down there, the [20]20 game, but they’ve had a lot of changes, we’ve had a lot of changes,” he noted. “I think the guys that will be out there on the field for us are quite different than what we had out there in ’20. You’re looking at the same thing with the Ravens. They drafted 10 players this year in the first four rounds, so certainly a youth movement there. We’ll look at it. I don’t think it’ll have much bearing on the game.”

    One big personnel change for the Patriots as it relates to this game could be the departure of Chase Winovich. While for the most part Winovich failed to live up to his third-round selection during his time in New England, that 2020 game was arguably his best in a Patriots uniform. Usually an edge defender, the Patriots moved Winovich into a MIKE linebacker role for that game, where he played a key role in keeping Jackson contained.

    It would make sense for the Patriots to fill that role in this game with the player they acquired when trading Winovich this spring – Mack Wilson. Wilson’s speed and athleticism should help him keep up with Jackson. Wilson saw an increased role last week, playing 65 percent of the team’s defensive snaps up from 35 percent in the opener. Expect to see him on the field often again this week, spying or shadowing Jackson.

  • Bonus: Specialists vs. Gillette Stadium

    (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – AUGUST 19: A general view of the construction in Gillette Stadium during the preseason game between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium on August 19, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    This will be the first regular season game in Gillette Stadium since construction began overhauling the area behind the north end zone. That means new wind patterns and wind tunnels. Even for the Patriots who played a preseason game in the building, significant construction has taken place in the month-plus since that game. That construction could end up making the wind currents more extreme in some spots given the way things jut out and create sharp angles.

    If anybody can handle this change, it will be the group of kickers and punters on the field on Sunday. Ravens kicker Justin Tucker has been the best player in the league at the position for about a decade now, and Nick Folk has also been among the best during his three-plus seasons in New England. As for the punters, Jake Bailey is a former All-Pro and has talked about his scientific approach to punting that includes factoring in weather variables. Jake Carmada was the first punter to come off the board in the draft this spring, and was a two-time All-SEC player with Georgia.

    Of course, it’s not just the kickers who have to deal with the wind. Returners – especially punt returners – have to be able to track the ball as the wind knocks it around on the downswing. The Ravens’ punt returner, wide receiver Devin Duvernay, played in the game at Gillette during his rookie year in 2020 but didn’t return any punts. This will be his first time doing so at Gillette Stadium. As for the Patriots, whether it’s Myles Bryant (just started returning punts this year), Jabrill Peppers (signed in free agency this spring), or Marcus Jones (rookie), none have significant experience returning punts inside the building.

    The current wind forecast for Sunday afternoon is in the low teens, which isn’t major but not insignificant either. Could this week’s game swing on a special teams play, as last week’s game did? It will be something to keep an eye on.

  • 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 abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.