So, I’m guessing everybody is all excited after beating the winless Jets, right? I don’t blame your short-term optimism. It was a solid team win. If this was a game against a team like the Buffalo Bills, or this weeks’ opponent in the Baltimore Ravens, it would be a worldwide narrative that the New England Patriots were turning it around. If you’re wondering why Monday nights’ game against the Jets isn’t getting a whole lot of attention, it’s because the Jets are objectively the worst team in the NFL. The Patriots were supposed to win this game with ease. The fact that a 35-year-old quarterback Joe Flacco passed for 262 yards and three touchdowns on our defense is a shameful fact in itself. If the Patriots allowed the Jets to take a 10 point lead heading into halftime, imagine what a team like the Green Bay Packers would do to us.
Lucky enough for the Patriots, the Baltimore Ravens offense has been, lackadaisical to say the least. Last year’s league MVP, quarterback Lamar Jackson, hasn’t had the same season he had in 2019, which was impossible to expect, but this Ravens offense has been worse than any regression we could have predicted. They’re coming off of a game against the Colts where they had just 110 rushing yards, a season-low. Granted, the Colts have quite possibly the best defense in the NFL, but with an offense that is loaded with talent in Jackson, rookie running back J.K. Dobbins and others there’s no reason that they should be so offensively flustered. Under 200 yards passing per game isn’t exactly meeting the mark of MVP caliber that you expect out of Jackson. Though if Jackson’s predecessor can put up more than 250 passing yards on the Patriots, who says Jackson can’t do the same? Set it up Bailey, let’s get this one underway.
Three Keys To The Game
Key #1: Make Lamar Jackson Throw
Not too much to describe here. The rushing attack should be the strength of this team. Because it is, teams look to take it away from them, thus why their offense has struggled through the first half of the season. Making Jackson throw the ball and beat you with his arm is easier said than done, but Pittsburgh did it, and Indianapolis would’ve too if they had a better offensive attack.
Key #2: Take Away His Favorite Targets
The big complaint that I’ve seen from Ravens fans is that Lamar Jackson only throws to two receivers. Those being tight end Mark Andrews and second-year wideout Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, cousin of former Patriot Antonio Brown. Thus far in the 2020 NFL season, Jackson hasn’t been able to get the ball to anybody else consistently. Those are the three things you need to do to beat the Baltimore Ravens, easier said than done. Stop the run, take away Andrews, take away Hollywood.
Key #3: Play A Full Game Of Good Offense
Last week against the Jets, the Patriots could get away with only playing one solid half of offensive football. Going into halftime down 20-10, they ended up scoring 20 points to take the lead at the end after a Nick Folk game-winning 51 yard field goal. Cam Newton had his best day passing since returning from COVID-19 by completing 27 of 35 passes for 274 yards. Fourteen of those targets went to Jakobi Meyers who turned 12 receptions into 169 yards on his 24th birthday. Damien Harris also had a fantastic day running the ball going for 71 yards on 14 attempts before getting taken out of the game with a chest injury. He should be good to go this week against the Ravens, but the point is this offense needs to put a full game together. They haven’t all season long. Their average points per game are just under 21, and that’s not taking away their defensive touchdowns or defensively set up scores. On pure offense? I can tell you that figure isn’t close to 20. Regardless, 21 points aren’t going to be enough to beat this Ravens team. Unless this defense steps up in a major way, which they’ve been incapable of doing against rushing offenses.
X-Factor: S Adrian Phillips
The play of safety Adrian Phillips will be key in shutting down both the Ravens on the ground when patrolling the middle of the field to take down running backs like Dobbins, Gus Edwards and even Jackson when he tries to scramble out of the pocket, and through the air when covering tight ends Andrews and Nick Boyle. He’ll essentially be playing the role of half of the defense if the running backs make it past the defensive line, and then covering up one of the fastest and biggest tight end cores you’ll see in the NFL today. He and the secondary were up to the task in Week 3 against the Las Vegas Raiders when taking on Darren Waller with Stephon Gilmore and rookie Kyle Dugger. It’ll take a similar gameplan to stop the Ravens tight end attack, and the Patriots are going to be without their All-Pro corner Gilmore for the third straight game, so, ultimately, Phillips is going to take on a larger role than maybe Bill Belichick had anticipated if he wants to stop the duo of Andrews and Boyle.
The Patriots seriously can’t afford to lose too many more games. At worst a 9-7 record might just get them a spot. That gives the Patriots two losses to work with, and I don’t know how many more games I favor them in to finish the campaign. Here’s the remaining schedule to close out the season and if I think the Patriots will win or lose as of today not counting the Ravens game yet:
vs. Arizona (L)
@ Chargers (W)
@ Rams (L)
@ Miami (L)
vs. Buffalo (W)
V. Jets (W)
That’s me being totally realistic. Maybe they pull out the win against Arizona or sweep the Los Angeles trip, but even then, it’s going to be tough to have an above .500 record over these next eight games, I give them .500 at best as this team stands today. Which would put the Pats at 7-9 and more than likely missing the playoffs with how good the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins have been. It would take a ton for this team to make it, and I don’t love counting out Belichick in the must-have moments, but thus far in the year? They haven’t gotten them done. As much as I would love for the Pats to go on a tear, I’m gonna have to see it out of the Brady-less Patriots to believe it.
Final Score: 34-20, Baltimore wins (New England falls to 3-6)
Photo Source: Gail Burton, AP Photo