The Patriots began practice preparations for the Ravens on Wednesday, a difficult task given the speed of Lamar Jackson, which is impossible to replicate on the fields behind Gillette Stadium with only the team's internal personnel.
"I've never seen a player like this at the quarterback position," said Devin McCourty. "His ability to throw the ball down field, but also they come out there in empty and if it's not there, if he doesn't like what he sees, he's able to make three guys miss in the backfield and now it's 45, 50 yards later before anybody gets next to him."
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick concurred with his captain's assessment.
"He's a major problem and everybody's had trouble with him," said Belichick. "It'll be a big challenge for us. Yeah, he can do it all. He can run, he can throw, can throw on the run, can extend plays. He's tough."
McCourty shot down the notion of just having a player "spy" the mobile quarterback. He's simply too fast for that and there needs to be a full defensive plan how to contain and tackle Jackson.
"You can't just have one guy in there and say 'just tackle this guy everywhere he goes,' it's going to be too tough," said McCourty. "We have to have a plan of where we want him to come out, how we want to get him. And obviously you watch the games, it's not easy. I think all teams have that kind of plan but it's not easy to go out there and execute."
But Jackson is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Ravens offense that features a unique combination of size and speed. There's a power run game with Mark Ingram and three versatile tight ends, but there's also the elite speed of Jackson and players like rookie receiver Marquise Brown. Together, it gives the Ravens excellent balance and the ability to morph into different attacks without changing personnel.
"I think that's what hard, this offense can get in a lot of different things," continued McCourty. "They can get into a triple option type feel with some plays and the very next play they're in empty. You have two tight ends that run 4.6, you have Brown out there that's one of the fastest guys in the league, and now you're in a drop-back passing game, where they go to four or five verticals going. He can get to them or he can still run. So, I think what's tough schematically is this offense can get in so many different looks."
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has beaten the Patriots twice before, once with San Francisco in 2012 and again in 2016 with Buffalo, using similar balanced attacks withe mobile quarterbacks who can also throw. Belichick expected Roman to have some new twists up his sleeve.
"They're a game plan offense, so they dress things up a little differently each week," said Belichick. "Some of the things that we're working on now, I'm sure we're not going to get, and there's some things that we're not working on that I'm sure we're going to get. He does a good job of changing things up."
But the Patriots defense is leading the league in most major statistical categories for a reason and if there's any group of defenders that can handle the multi-pronged attack of the Ravens, it's The Boogeymen.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged his offense will face a stiff challenge from a defense allowing just 7.6 points-per-game and one that has an impressive ability to disguise what they're doing.
"That, to me, is one of the strengths of their defense – you don’t know who is doing what," said Harbaugh. "They’re changing it up within the scheme. I think they play a very solid, sound, almost a throwback type of a defense – very physical, fundamentally solid in every single way, well-coached, smart guys. And then they mix it up, you know, who’s dropping, who’s coming, who’s containing, what coverage they’re going to be in. They’re going to blitz everybody or drop eight, you just never can be sure."
The bottom line for McCourty? That this would be a great game between two teams that still don't like each other despite not having played in almost three seasons.
"For now I think everybody's focused on putting everything in," said the veteran safety. "I think you have to because this is the best team we've played so far. It will be on the road, Sunday night football in an environment that's not too friendly to us every time we go there. It will be intense. This is a game you'll need all the energy you possibly have stored in you to go out there and try to play well."
Practice & Injury Report
The Patriots welcomed Isaiah Wynn back at Wednesday's fully padded practice, officially starting the clock on the second member of the team to return from IR. Wynn must miss a total of eight games so he'll have to practice for three weeks before he's eligible to come back against the Cowboys on November 24th. Now, with the trade deadline passed and two players practicing after being on IR, we're officially locked in on the real 2019 Patriots roster.
Also returning to practice was Matt LaCosse who suffered a knee injury against the Giants and has missed two games. New kicker Nick Folk was also in attendance after being officially signed. It's the Patriots third kicker this season. The last time they used three kickers was 1983.
The full injury report featured a couple of notable additions with Tom Brady and Julian Edelman popping up with new shoulder issues. Those will obviously be significant developments to monitor the rest of the week.
QB Tom Brady, Right Shoulder
RB Rex Burkhead, Foot
S Patrick Chung, Heel/Chest
WR Julian Edelman, Chest/Shoulder
TE Ryan Izzo, Concussion
TE Matt LaCosse, Knee
G Shaq Mason, Ankle
WR Gunner Olszewski, Ankle/Hamstring
Locker Room Sound Bites
James White on playing on Sunday night football:
"It's definitely exciting. It's what you dream about as a kid, being able to play on Sunday night football, Monday night football. Everybody's watching you. Two good football teams. We've played a lot of good football games against the Ravens. It will be a lot of fun out there."