With the Patriots players off on Tuesday, the coaching staff turned the page and began preparations for the 5-2 Baltimore Ravens. With explosive quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Ravens are coming off an impressive 30-16 win on the road over the Seattle Seahawks.
"It's a tough, hard-nosed football team," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on Tuesday. "Well-balanced, very good in the kicking game, physical on defense, physical running the ball, stopping the run, covering kicks, very good specialists."
The Patriots have had some notable battles with the Ravens over the years, with the Ravens ending the Patriots' seasons in 2009 and 2012, while the Pats knocked them out in 2011 and 2014. But it's been three long years since the last time the two teams met, a 30-23 win for the Pats back in December of 2016.
Baltimore might have a new look now, but the Ravens are still the same kind of team built in a similar image to New England that they've always been.
"They’ve always been a physical group, which that stands out again, and they do a good job of limiting run game production," said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels of the new-look Ravens defense. "I think they’re top-five in the league in rushing defense; that’s always a good place to start on defense. They’ll challenge you with a variety of different pressure looks and disguises."
Defensive line coach Brett Bielema saw similar characteristics from the Raven offense.
"They’re big, they’re physical, they consume people, they’re very, very – I think as a group, play very well together," said Bielema. "They understand what they’re doing on every play."
That physicality of their offensive line helps pave the way for Jackson and his playmakers, who should get a boost with the return of speedster Marquise Brown, a first-round pick who made an immediate impact taking the top off of defenses. He's missed the last two games but still has 21 catches and three touchdowns and is expected to return this weekend.
"I can’t say enough good things about, obviously, [Lamar] Jackson and what he’s been able to accomplish, but behind him to have a running back, on the perimeter to have the speed that they have, and then the big guys up front," continued Bielema. "It’s a very formidable task and one that’s got our full attention, obviously, and our preparation as we go into the week."
Per Albert Breer, the team released kicker Mike Nugent on Tuesday. Nugent made five-of-eight field goals and 14-of-15 extra points in four games since replacing Stephen Gostkowski. The team went for it on fourth down with increasing frequency, including twice against the Browns, from their 33- and 24-yard-lines. The team should sign one of the many kickers they've continued to work out in short order.
5 Stats to Define the First Half of 2019
- 7.6 Points Allowed-per-game: There isn't a more eye-popping stat out there as the defense is in unprecedented territory with the amount of points they're giving up.
- 31.3 Points Scored-per-game: No, the offense hasn't been on an epic tear like the defense but they're still scoring points even if they've lacked consistency. If you took out the 42 defensive/special team points scored, they'd only drop to 11th in the league in points-per-game.
- 25 Takeaways: Even the completely takeaway-reliant 2010 (38) and 2011 (34) teams weren't on this kind of pace.Their Belichick-best was 41 in 2003. The elite defenses of all time got 54 ('85 Bears) and 49 (2000 Ravens) and if the Pats keep this pace they'll be right there with both.
- 20th Rushing Offense DVOA: This is the lowest ranking for the rushing offense since 2003. The results of that season might be a nice reminder that poor running games can be overcome. Of other note is that the team is 31st in power situations, which are 3rd or 4th down with two-or-less yards to go. Overall, the offense is 15th in DVOA, their lowest ranking ever with Brady under center.
- 26th Special Teams DVOA: This ranking is uncharted territory as the team has never ranked below 16th. The big part is the continued missed extra points and field goals, they're last in that regard and it's likely why the team released Nugent. Jake Bailey and his gunners do have them third in punt DVOA though, a lone silver lining on special teams.
Honorable Mention: 13 players on IR - It's not hard to imagine how different the Patriots offense might look with David Andrews, James Develin, Isaiah Wynn and N'Keal Harry in the mix from the start of the season. Injuries are always a part of the season but this year the Pats have been hit notably hard.