Tom E. Curran's Patriots-Ravens Preview/Review: So much for 16-0
PREVIEW: For the first eight games of this Patriots season, you usually had the option of watching from the corner of your eye. But Sunday night’s game with the Ravens commands full attention. Both teams have played suspect schedules. One team has the best quarterback of all-time. The other has perhaps the fastest one of all-time. Both eyes on Sunday night. Both eyes.
REVIEW: As expected, this game was worth the extra hour wait caused by Daylight Saving Time. Unexpected was the Ravens ease at running through the Patriots defense in the first quarter and their unflappability when New England started to close in the third quarter. I don’t know if 37-20 should stand as a landmark game in the Pats-Ravens pantheon but the ramifications of the result — Lamar Jackson dealing in prime-time against the best team in football, removing the lasting image of his playoff faceplant from 2018; the Patriots defense being taken down a peg; and New England losing a shot at 16-0 — make it a memorable one.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RAN
PREVIEW: The Ravens have played such horrendous competition, there’s some sifting to do. Their first two games were Miami and Arizona in its second week under new head coach Kliff Kingsbury. They allowed a total of 41 yards. Then they allowed 333 yards in their next two games against KC and Cleveland (!). Every good team they play piles up yards on the ground. Bad teams don’t. The Patriots are a great team with a bad running game. Sumpin’ gonna give. Advantage: Ravens
REVIEW: While they only ran it 17 times for 74 yards and nine of those were with third-down back James White taking the carries, this was the most effective rushing attack the Patriots mounted this season. It was complementary rather than a staple, a fact-of-life caused by the early deficit. And they were running out of shotgun in a spread formation but that seems like what they may be relying on this season. It was a positive game on the ground for a group that needed it. Advantage: Patriots
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASSED
PREVIEW: With a full week to get Mohamed Sanu enmeshed in the game plan, expect the earnest effort to try and divvy up the workload a little more so that Julian Edelman and James White aren't carrying outsized burdens. The Ravens have a godawful pass rush. But they do have talent on the back end with safety Earl Thomas and corners Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr and newly-acquired Marcus Peters. Advantage: Patriots
REVIEW: Tom Brady was sacked twice but took plenty of heat and hits along the way as the Ravens knew harassing him was the key to short-circuiting the New England offense. And still, once he settled in, he was outstanding. During the stretch from the end of the first half up until his pick early in the fourth, the offense operated at the best level it had all season. The presence of Mohamed Sanu (10 catches on 14 targets) is having a trickle-down impact. The Patriots still have a hard time in the red zone and that’s likely going to continue. They just aren’t good enough at tight end and don’t have a player right now to consistently win a physical battle for the ball. Maybe N’Keal Harry will provide that. Advantage: Patriots
WHEN THE RAVENS RAN
PREVIEW: I’m not falling for the notion that the Patriots run defense is a “weak spot.” It’s not. Down-in, down-out, they are solid. And they have to be this week. The Patriots will likely have to devote a player solely to Jackson as the Ravens try to get him in space while the Patriots try to get him to throttle down. The Patriots will obviously want to make him a thrower. This cat-and-mouse game between the two sides will be fascinating and it will force the Patriots into schemes they haven’t much relied on. Advantage: Ravens
REVIEW: This was the game. The Patriots got gashed in the first 15 minutes, falling behind 17-0 because they couldn’t stop Baltimore on the ground. Even the longest pass play the Ravens had early — a jet sweep shovel to Marquise Brown for 26 yards — was really a running play. The Ravens finished with 210 on the ground and were 5 for 10 on third down. Dont'a Hightower lent some stability to the proceedings after the first quarter onslaught. He was their best player on defense. The plan hatched by offensive coordinator Greg Roman — to attack the edges first and get the Patriots flowing East-West, then come back attacking the interior on the next drive — had the Patriots on their heels all night. Huge gaps ensued. And credit the Ravens for extremely hard and physical running. Advantage: Ravens
WHEN THE RAVENS PASSED
PREVIEW: There are only two factors that make the Ravens passing game a concern. First, because the Patriots play zone against running quarterbacks to guard against having their backs turned to the line of scrimmage in coverage, they won’t be locking down man-to-man as much as usual. That takes Stephon Gilmore away from his strong suit. Second, Lamar Jackson’s arm strength — if not his accuracy — makes him a flick of the wrist away from a deep connection at all times. Advantage: Patriots
REVIEW: The Ravens passing game was effective. It wasn’t pretty. It sure wasn’t perfect. And there were plenty of throws when Jackson showed why it’s OK to say he’s about a C-grade thrower. The off-the-lineman’s-helmet throw and his insistence on dropping down to sidearm are concerning. But he made big throws when he had to. A third-and-5 to Mark Andrews for a big first down in the third. A pick-aided fourth-and-4 completion. A handful of sprint-out, on-the-move throws and his first third-down completion of the game when he was being dragged down by Hightower. He was 17 for 23 for 163 and a touchdown. Advantage: Ravens
PREVIEW: The Ravens have the league’s best kicker in Justin Tucker. The Patriots have Nick Folk, who hasn’t kicked in the NFL since 2016. Other than that, the rest of the special teams units are a wash but that’s still a huge advantage for Baltimore. Advantage: Ravens
REVIEW: Justin Bethel, the former Raven the Patriots claimed, is a coverage beast. He and Matt Slater together on special teams is unfair. Jake Bailey dropped three of his five punts inside the 20. Former Patriot Cyrus Jones muffed a punt that Bethel recovered. The Patriots were great on kickoff coverage. Nick Folk didn’t suck. Justin Tucker missed an extra point. Advantage: Patriots
PREVIEW: Officiating this game is always a challenge because both coaches are angle guys. And John Harbaugh in particular is a tantrum-tosser. Carl Cheffers’ crew gets this game. They are a skosh below the average number of penalties called per game league wide but are walking off 16.1 yards more per game than the league average. Only twice have teams reached double-digits in penalties in a Cheffers game. They did Patriots-Jets at Foxboro earlier this year. The Patriots have taken 49 penalties in eight games; the Ravens have 53 in seven games. Interesting to note: The Ravens haven’t drawn a defensive pass interference flag all season.
REVIEW: Not a great night for Carl and the boys. The Brady grounding was absurd. They missed the pick play on fourth-and-4 (and Belichick should have challenged that because Marquise Brown definitely sought and initiated contact on Jason McCourty) was costly. There was no neutral-zone infraction when they called a neutral-zone infraction on Adam Butler. You’re not allowed to pull a teammate into the end zone when he’s carrying the ball (you can push from behind). And the head-bob that drew an offsides early and led to the Ravens' first touchdown was also disputable. So nuts and bolts, nuts and bolts, they got screwed.
PREDICTION & LINE
PREVIEW: Patriots are favored by 3.5. The total is 45.5. New England is 6-2 ATS and six of their games have gone under.
Patriots 23, Ravens 13
REVIEW: The Ravens cover easily and the game goes way over the total. New England now 6-3 against the spread.
Ravens 37, Patriots 20