1. Stop the run and keep the action in front of defense
Piggybacking on the last few slides, the other thing the Ravens do exceptionally well this season in addition to defending the run is running the ball themselves. Baltimore is the only team in the entire league that averages more than 200 yards per game; second-place San Francisco is over 20 yards behind them in that category, and third-place Minnesota is over 40 yards back.
Those are some impressive facts and figures to consider, and they should make Patriots fans a bit squeamish considering how New England’s run defense fared just last Sunday against the Cleveland Browns’ Nick Chubb.
While Chubb did have two costly fumbles that essentially cost the Browns the game, he also rushed for 131 yards and averaged 6.6 yards per carry during that contest. If the Pats allow Mark Ingram to have a similar day, they might not be fortunate enough to offset the damage with a pair of timely takeaways.
It all starts with the big bodies up front. Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Danny Shelton… they’ll need to maintain solidarity and present a brick wall all evening in the center of the line that opposing runners cannot get past. On the edges, Bill Belichick will likely rotate a slew of talented players to try and contain Ingram and keep Lamar Jackson in the pocket. Expect to see a lot of Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins right around the line of scrimmage.
As important as it is to contain Ingram and his backups, the No. 1 key to a Patriots victory on Sunday night is shutting down Jackson. The electric dual-threat quarterback out of Louisville has been a revelation in Year Two, doing much more damage with his arm this season in addition to the havoc he creates with his legs.
Even with an improved completion percentage and better overall decision-making, Jackson as a passer is much more preferable for the Pats than Jackson as a runner. Time and time again, Bill Belichick has shown a knack for taking away his opponent’s strengths and making first or second-year quarterbacks look their age. If he does both in this game, it will likely mean the Patriots defense does enough at the line of scrimmage to prevent Jackson from scrambling for easy first downs and touchdowns.
New England’s zero-blitz packages might not work as well against a mobile quarterback like Jackson as they did against Sam Darnold or Daniel Jones. Instead, look for the Patriots to pull a few key defenders back into coverage and show more zone looks, trusting their corners to blanket Baltimore’s average receivers while simultaneously deploying more help to the middle of the field as a preventative measure against the real threats: Jackson, Ingram, and tight end Mark Andrews.
If the Patriots can force Jackson into making some costly mistakes – which they are certainly capable of doing with Belichick at the helm of this turnover-happy defense – this game might not be as competitive as many people think it will be. If, however, Jackson and the Raven’s top-ranked rushing attack are allowed to keep the chains moving, it could spell the end of New England’s hopes for an undefeated season.