At the beginning of the season, the Ravens’ five-game stretch in November didn’t look to have any reprieves.
But by mid-November, if there’s a game that will give the Ravens, at least on paper, that reprieve it’s going to come in the unlikeliest of places.
The Patriots are just 3-5 through the season’s first half and are on-pace for their worst record since 2000. If there’s not a second-half turnaround, they’ll miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
So as the Ravens head to face a less-than-normal and Tom Brady-less Patriots squad, the game still has various pitfalls. They’re just not the typical ones from New England.
“I think Bill Belichick, he’s the smartest football coach in the history of the game, so that part doesn’t change,” defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said. “And he’s going to attack what he perceives as your weakness. It’s one of the greatest self-scout weeks you can have, because after you get done playing New England, you know, ‘Here’s how he wanted to attack you,’ and you go back and look at it, and you go from there. New England is New England with or without Tom Brady.”
Under Newton, the Patriots rank fourth in the NFL in rushing yards per game (159), but have struggled — at least as it relates to record. But a closer diagnosis shows the Patriots are a bit better than their 3-5 record suggests.
They lost in Week 2 to the Seahawks when Newton was stopped at the goal line on a final attempt to win the game. They lost two weeks later against the Chiefs, when they didn’t have Newton on the field. After their bye week, they lost by six points to the Broncos at home.
After a blowout loss in Week 7, they lost by three points to the AFC North leading Bills.
In short, with a few breaks, they could be right back in the AFC playoff picture, like they’ve always been.
“You really don’t look at the record when you look at the tape — you look at the tape, and you look at the scheme and the players and how it relates to what you’re trying to do,” coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s a very big challenge, because they have a great coaching staff. They always find ways to scheme up their opponents (in) different ways; we have to try to anticipate that. Especially with what we do offensively, which is different than what a lot of people do.”
Still, if there were a game for the Ravens’ offense to get back on track, this would be it.
The Patriots rank 25th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (128.6), which should give the Ravens enough leeway to get the offense rolling. If they’re able to set the run game up, it could springboard the passing attack to a much-improved second half.
That’s precisely what the Ravens need, as they have a physical game against the 6-3 Titans next Sunday, who will have more tie to prepare after their Thursday night game against the Colts. Then, it’s a short week before the rematch against the unbeaten Steelers on Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh.
Should the Ravens beat the Patriots, they’ll be 7-2 before the massive two-game stretch against some of the AFC’s best. A loss, and they’ll put themselves behind the eight-ball ahead of the two most important games of the season.