The New England Patriots play against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 10, and if Bill Belichick wants to begin to establish his team as a legitimate playoff team, he can start by winning on Sunday night.
But the Patriots are major underdogs, and rightfully so, after struggling to beat the lowly New York Jets in Week 9. But the Ravens are somewhat vulnerable. They dealt with a few positive COVID-19 tests this week, and quarterback Lamar Jackson said defenses are calling out their players before they happen. So perhaps the Patriots have a shot.
Here are the five burning questions with Ravens Wire editor Matthew Stevens ahead of the primetime matchup.
Why has the Ravens offense grown so predictable? Is someone to blame?
Matthew Stevens: I think the predictability is a little overblown honestly. But with the coronavirus pandemic limiting the offseason work the team could do, there was bound to be fewer changes this season, leading to defenses having months of tape on what Baltimore runs and their tendencies. Where the Ravens were able to hit on big plays last season due to how new and confusing the offense could be, this year they’re having to earn their yards and points a little more. Still, offensive coordinator Greg Roman needs to do something to get everyone out of whatever funk they’re in and get quarterback Lamar Jackson into more of a rhythm at the beginning of a game. What’s needed is worthy of a lengthy debate but he’s got to do something or Baltimore will be in real trouble if they get to the playoffs.
How might COVID impact this game?
MS: All of the Ravens players who were going to be active, should be active for this one. While Baltimore had eight players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list last week, seven returned to action in time for kickoff while cornerback Marlon Humphrey — the player who tested positive last week — returned this week. Cornerback Iman Marshall tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday but he’s been on injured reserve since the offseason, so he wasn’t really around anyone and he was never going to play this week anyway. The only potential hiccup here for the Ravens is having so many defensive players miss practice last week, but they showed up against the Indianapolis Colts, so that seems more of a stretch than something to expect.
Are you intimidated, in any way, by this Patriots team?
MS: Honestly, yes. Anyone in this league who says they aren’t at least a little afraid of New England still is lying. The Patriots were a dynasty known for consistent play and outstanding coaching. While Tom Brady is no longer under center and the Patriots appear to be rebuilding, they still have a good core of talent, a former MVP in quarterback Cam Newton, and Bill Belichick on the sideline. That makes them dangerous regardless of what else is going on
I am bizarrely inclined to believe New England can pull off an upset. Help me build a case. What would the look like?
MS: An upset would have to be a whole team affair but it can absolutely be done. The top thing is getting off to a fast start and putting points on the board while limiting Baltimore. Getting out to a 14-point lead early would completely change Baltimore’s offense. That pressure often sees Roman abandon the run in favor of turning the game into a shootout while Jackson struggles, trying to carry the entire team on his back on every play, forcing balls and getting happy feet. Unfortunately, getting that lead is easier said than done thanks to this Ravens’ defense. If New England is going to have success there, Newton has to be on point. Baltimore is one of the few teams that knows how to handle a mobile quarterback, so I doubt they’ll be completely thrown off by Newton’s rushing ability and misdirection plays. But with a cornerback group that has been decimated by injury, the Ravens are likely going to be putting in their fifth different slot cornerback who was just signed, making the middle of the field susceptible to quick throws. Baltimore has also struggled to stop running back screens, so I’d expect to see a few of those to stymie the aggressiveness of defensive coordinator Don Martindale. Beyond how the Patriots attack, ball security has to be the top priority. The Ravens live and die on their emotions and coming up with a turnover is the easiest way to get the whole team humming again like you’re jumping a car battery.
Who wins? Why?
MS: I think Baltimore has this. They’ve yet to live up to the standard set last season but they’ve made some strides on both sides of the ball to still dominate lesser opponents. And no offense to New England right now, but they just don’t have the amount of talent the Ravens do. If previous weeks are an example, the defense will set the pace and the offense to get out to a comfortable lead. Then the defense can pin their ears back and force turnovers while the offense coasts the rest of the game by grinding it down on the ground. Ravens 24 – Patriots 6
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