Tonight’s game is gonna be a helluva treat. We’re 8 weeks into the NFL season and two of the biggest storylines so far have been Lamar’s Jackson progression as a passer (and subsequent ability to further do damage with his legs) and the Patriots historic start to the season defensively. This game pits the unstoppable force against the immovable object in front of the entire nation.
But it goes so much deeper than that. This game is pornography for any football junkie. The Patriots are the Patriots because they’re the best coached team in the league year in and year out. It’s been that way for two decades and will continue to be that way as long as Belichick is at the helm. They’re well known for taking away a team’s #1 weapon and forcing the opposition to find another way to beat them. What makes this matchup so tasty is that Lamar presents a new kind of problem that nobody has really had a solution for, or at least not since he put that perfect passing display on film in Miami Week 1. He will beat you with his arm or with his feet. It’s pick your poison in every sense of the phrase. The first month of the season had teams trying to follow the Chargers’ blueprint from Wild Card Weekend of forcing Lamar to throw, and Lamar made them pay. The pendulum then swung the other way with teams forcing Lamar to try to run, and we’ve seen Lamar go for 100+ rushing yards in his past two games.
On the other side, the Patriots defense has rightly earned the reputation of the league’s #1 defense. Say what you will about their opponents, they’ve manhandled every team they’ve gone up against. That’s where all of this gets interesting. The Ravens are as unique an offense as I’ve seen in my lifetime. They run the football, then they run it some more, and then they run it again. They’re all about time of possession. This stat I dug up says it all:
This goes directly against the grain of what NFL offenses are doing these days, which are obviously the types of offenses the Pats have dominated so far this year. Underneath all those flashy stats about the Pats defense (#1 in both YPG allowed and PPG allowed) is a potential chink in the armor. The Patriots are actually pretty pisspoor at stopping the run. They rank 21st in the league in yards allowed per rushing attempt at 4.6. You just may not realize this because they only allow 85 rushing yards per game (good for 4th in the league) as well. They skate by and don’t get exposed because teams are always chasing them on the scoreboard and throwing the ball every down. Credit to them for building leads, but they haven’t faced anybody half as committed to the run as the Ravens are. The Ravens will run whether they’re down 14 or up 14. There’s no hiding from Lamar, and I can’t wait to see what Belichick’s answer is to him and what he opens up for Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards.
Obviously none of this acknowledges the other side of the ball. Tom Brady is obviously a legend and they’re been putting up more than their own share of points. That’s why the first few possessions of this game will dictate the type of football game this is. The Ravens have done a masterful job of controlling football games and wearing teams down in the 4th quarter, and the Patriots know that. Each team knows getting on the board first is paramount, and the building should be loud early and often. The Ravens defense has the benefit of getting Jimmy Smith back in the secondary and having Marcus Peters with another couple of weeks of practice under his belt. They’re coming off the bye so the defense will be fresh and ready to pull their weight.
It’s going to be a chess match til the very end, and just might be a preview of the AFC Championship game. With the Chiefs reeling and the Colts losing in Pittsburgh today, this is an opportunity for the Ravens to establish themselves as the #2 team in the AFC. Building will be raucous, the environment outside the stadium has been unreal all day. I think it comes down to the GOAT. And by GOAT I mean Justin Tucker. He kicks a big time field goal and maybe we even see Nick Folk botch a kick or two as well. Either way, gonna be a fun one.
Ravens win 23-20.