Containing Lamar Jackson and more: Patriots vs. Ravens key matchups
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.
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 19 game down there, the 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.