For the last two decades, the Ravens knew exactly what they were getting when they faced the Patriots’ offense.
With Tom Brady at the helm, the Ravens knew they were set to face the most accomplished player in NFL history with a bevy of short, quick-hitting passing plays. No matter if he was just a few years into the league or a veteran of 20 years, Brady was dangerous when he stepped onto the field.
What the Ravens didn’t have to account for, though, was Brady’s rushing ability. Through 294 career games, he’s rushed for 1,043 yards — less than Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson totaled last season.
Now, the Patriots have downgraded at quarterback, in a way, as Cam Newton signed with the team over the summer. But with Newton comes a whole host of difficulties.
“He’s a big-body guy who can move, so you have to tackle him like a back,” defensive lineman Derek Wolfe said. “You have to be aware of him at all times. People forget that he won the MVP not too long ago; that wasn’t that long ago. So, he’s still got it. He’s still a good football player. I have a ton of respect for him. I’ve played against him a bunch. So, we just have to respect what he can do with his legs.”
Newton hasn’t been terribly accomplished as a passer this season and has thrown for 1,417 yards (202.4 per game), which is on-pace for the lowest number of his 10-year career. He’s added just two passing touchdowns and seven interceptions, but his numbers are a bit skewed when you factor in the run game. Much like Jackson’s totals from his MVP season, Newton’s impact can’t be quantified simply by passing numbers.
He’s run for 44.9 yards per game and tallied eight touchdowns in seven games as the Patriots rank fourth in the league with 159.6 yards on the ground per game — just 10 yards off the pace of the league-leading Ravens.
“He’s an MVP player, you know what I mean?” defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said. “And he’s a quarterback that’s taken a team to a Super Bowl. I just think that he’s a threat every time he has the ball in his hands — whether he’s getting rid of it throwing it, whether he’s running it. He’s, obviously, a gameplan guy that you have to attack.”
Newton leads the Patriots in rushes, but Damien Harris has more attempts on a per-game basis than Newton does. He’s averaging 70 yards per game in a backfield with four players that average more than 29 yards per game.
Still, the run game flows through Newton, and it’s up to the Ravens to slow his 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame down. For those who have watched Ravens-Patriots games for the last two decades, it will feel a bit different with the Patriots on-pace for their worst record since 2000.
But the biggest difference will appear at the quarterback position.
“I don’t know how it’s going to feel,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ve played against Cam Newton before, obviously. The last time we played against him, he had a very good game against us – we remember that. So, that will be the challenge. He’s an excellent quarterback. (He’s) a very aware player, very talented, a great arm. (He) can beat you with his legs, as well. So, that’s our challenge this week.”