The Ravens will try to get back on track after their epic collapse against the Miami Dolphins. The New England Patriots aren’t the titanic opponent they were a few years ago, but they still have a stingy defense and the greatest coach of all time in Bill Belichick. Who has the advantage going into Week 3?
Ravens passing game vs. Patriots pass defense
The Ravens wasted one of the best passing performances of Lamar Jackson’s career (21 of 29, 318 yards, 3 TD) in their 42-38 loss to the Dolphins. Jackson benefited from a clean pocket created by the Ravens’ offensive line, and he was sharp on both timing and touch passes. His top two targets, wide receiver Rashod Bateman and tight end Mark Andrews, both surpassed 100 yards against Miami, and Bateman has established himself as a deep threat with touchdown catches of 55 and 75 yards in the first two weeks. The 2021 first-round draft pick is a chore for any cornerback to cover because of his quick, clean releases from the line of scrimmage. Devin Duvernay, who cleared concussion protocol and returned to practice Friday, has emerged as an efficient No. 2 wide receiver, with six catches on six targets in the first two games. The Ravens also got rookie tight end Isaiah Likely going (4 catches on 5 targets, 43 yards) against Miami after he was shut out in his debut. Through two games, Jackson has taken two sacks for a combined loss of 2 yards and thrown one interception, significant improvements on his performance from 2021. He wore a padded sleeve on his right elbow in practice Wednesday and was listed as a limited participant but said he will play Sunday.
The Patriots said goodbye to their top cornerback, J.C. Jackson, in the offseason, and incumbent starter Jalen Mills, who is questionable with a hamstring injury, has played poorly in the first two weeks. But Belichick usually finds a way. New England ranked second in pass defense last season and ranks ninth so far this year. The Patriots also lost to the Dolphins but performed better against Tua Tagovailoa In Week 1 than the Ravens did in Week 2. They have blitzed on 30% of dropbacks, up from 23% last year. Former Ravens outside linebacker Matthew Judon is off to a strong start with two sacks and five quarterback hits. Defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. has also played well.
Patriots passing game vs. Ravens pass defense
It’s difficult to say the Ravens have an advantage over any opponent after Tagovailoa’s passes sailed over their broken coverages to the tune of 199 fourth-quarter yards. Patriots second-year quarterback Mac Jones is off to a slow start, with just two touchdown passes and two interceptions. He ranks 26th in ESPN’s comprehensive QBR statistic. New England has invested heavily in its wide receivers and tight ends with mixed results to show for it. Wide receiver Jakobi Meyers has been Jones’ top target this year, with 13 catches for 150 yards, but he missed practice twice with a knee injury and is questionable to play. Tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry have combined for just five catches on 11 targets. Patriots blockers have done a good job keeping Jones clean.
The Ravens have to hope their secondary is healthier this week. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey played well against the Dolphins but is questionable to play with a groin injury. His partner, Marcus Peters, is also limited, playing 44 of 71 defensive snaps in his first game back after missing last season with a torn ACL. Brandon Stephens (quadriceps) did not play against Miami but returned to practice Wednesday. Tagovailoa took advantage of rampant miscommunication in the Baltimore secondary, connecting with Tyreek Hill for 48- and 60-yard touchdowns as the Dolphins rallied from a three-touchdown deficit. The Ravens also struggled to create meaningful pressure as their edge rushers, Odafe Oweh and Justin Houston, appeared to tire late in the game. It was an all-around disaster for a defense that finished last against the pass in 2021 but expects to do much better in 2022. On the bright side, safety Marcus Williams has three interceptions in his first two games as a Raven.
Ravens running game vs. Patriots run defense
Jackson was the Ravens’ running game against the Dolphins, with 119 yards on nine carries, including a 79-yard touchdown that put them up 35-14 at the end of the third quarter. The touchdown, with Jackson exploding up the middle as two other potential runners swept right, was a reminder of offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s nifty play designs. But the Ravens have struggled mightily to squeeze production from running backs Kenyan Drake, Mike Davis and Justice Hill, who combined for 28 yards on 14 carries against Miami. The Ravens’ inability to convert in short-yardage situations helped facilitate the Dolphins’ comeback. Coach John Harbaugh said opponents have committed extra man power to stopping the running attack but acknowledged his team has to do better. The return of No. 1 running back, J.K. Dobbins, would help, but Harbaugh said he’s still week-to-week as he recovers from a serious knee injury.
The Patriots have limited opponents to 156 rushing yards over the first two weeks after ranking 22nd against the run last season. Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley (12 tackles) has played well, while former Ravens Lawrence Guy and Carl Davis remain contributors on the interior.
Patriots running game vs. Ravens run defense
The Patriots remain a committed running team but have averaged just 3.8 yards per carry, 22nd in the league. That’s not the fault of their lead runner, Damien Harris, who has 24 carries for 119 yards after he averaged 4.6 yards per carry and scored 15 touchdowns last season.
The Ravens led the league in run defense last year, and opponents have rushed just 35 times against them through two games, but they are allowing 4.8 yards per attempt. Defensive tackle Justin Madubuike and nose tackle Michael Pierce have played well. Veteran linebacker Josh Bynes has struggled, with two tackles in 69 defensive snaps, while fellow linebacker Patrick Queen has remained on the field for every defensive play, earning a decent run-defense grade from Pro Football Focus.
Ravens special teams vs. Patriots special teams
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The Ravens finished first in Football Outsiders’ special-teams DVOA in 2021. All-Pro Justin Tucker made his only field-goal attempt from 51 yards against the Dolphins and is perfect on the season. Duvernay returned the opening kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown. Rookie Jordan Stout struggled in his second game, with a net average of 36.5 yards on two punts.
The Patriots have always emphasized special teams under Belichick but have not played up to their lofty standards over the last two years. Kicker Nick Folk has made one of two attempts this season. Three Patriots have averaged 28.3 yards on four combined kickoff returns.
Ravens intangibles vs. Patriots intangibles
The Patriots aren’t the automatic playoff team they were for so many years with Tom Brady at quarterback. But Belichick has never been easy to outmaneuver, especially at home, where the Patriots have had their way with the Ravens in the regular season. They shut down Jackson in a 23-17 upset the last time the teams met in 2020, a game marred by heavy rain and wind.
Harbaugh, meanwhile, has to rally his team from one of its most embarrassing home defeats and hope his secondary is healthy enough to hold a mediocre offense in check. The Ravens will feel urgency not to fall to 1-2 with the red-hot Buffalo Bills on their way to Baltimore in Week 4.
The Patriots do not have enough offensive weapons to keep up with the kind of performance Jackson delivered against Miami. So the question is whether Belichick can devise a way to throw off the Ravens quarterback. Another shootout would be a surprise. The Baltimore defense will find its footing enough to help Jackson pull out a tough road win. Ravens 27, Patriots 20.