What: Baltimore Ravens (1-1) at New England Patriots (1-1)
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA
When: 1 p.m. ET, Fox
Who's Won: Patriots lead series 11-4 (Last: 23-17 NE, 11/15/20)
Tell the world that the New England Patriots are coming home.
The Patriots, fresh off a curious, roller-coaster road trip to open the season, will stage their 2022-23 Gillette Stadium debut on Sunday afternoon, welcoming in the equally perplexing Baltimore Ravens. The latest iteration of one of the NFL's more recently-formed rivalries should provide clarity to both teams seeking stability for both the rest of what's already been a thrilling NFL season.
New England did the Ravens a favor last week, downing their divisional rivals from Pittsburgh in a 17-14 final. Baltimore couldn't return the favor, infamously blowing separate three-touchdown leads in a 42-38 last-second loss to the Miami Dolphins.
How will the 3-point underdog Patriots prevail?
1. Bombs Bursting in Raven Air
Though obviously satisfied with a win, the Patriots' offense took on more of a managerial role against the Steelers. Though Nelson Agholor and Jakobi Meyers are turning into a respectable breakout duo, most of the progress was made through a dual-power rushing attack (Damien Harris/Rhamondre Stevenson) that ate up field position and clock.
But if the Patriots want Mac Jones to take on the next steps of his franchise quarterback journey ... namely by posting bigger yardage gains and playing a more active role in victories ... a reeling Ravens secondary may be the perfect group to attack.
Miami's comeback served as a potential coming-out party for Tua Tagovailoa, who lit up the Ravens for 469 yards and six aerial scores in the comeback effort after more or less matching Jones' pedestrian numbers in Week 1. Historically, Baltimore is well-known for its dangerous defenses and Marcus Williams (three interceptions in the first two games) ensures a fearsome prescience lingers. But Marlon Humphrey has been dealing with groin issues, Marcus Peters is working the rust off after a year away from the game, and freshmen Jaylen Armour-Davis and Kyle Hamilton are still getting their NFL legs. If there was ever a time for Jones and Co. to attack, this is it.
Granted, Agholor, Meyers, and Kendrick Bourne/DeVante Parker aren't Tyreek Hill or Jaylen Waddle. But it's time to reward the faith of the Patriots' defense and take chances. Chewing the clock with Harris and Stevenson isn't the surefire strategy against the Ravens, who currently rank eighth in run defense at just over 84 a game.
2. Keeping Things Tight in the End
One of the underrated aspects of the Patriots defense's early success has been their ability to plug up tight ends. Facing names like Mike Gesicki and Pat Friermuth, the Patriots have allowed only 37 yards on six receptions to tight ends. Only four teams have allowed fewer yards and five teams have bested them in receptions.
That, of course, leads to what Baltimore has done at the tight end spot: though Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay have been early deep threats, that hasn't stopped Mark Andrews (14-156-1) from picking up right where he left off. Statistically, the Ravens further added to their tight end ferocity with the fourth-round addition of Isiah Likely (43 yards on four grabs).
The Patriots often struggled with losing receivers in the middle of the field last season but have greatly benefitted from the rise of Kyle Dugger, who has united his physicality with stronger coverage this season, allowing only seven yards on four targets. Facing threats of both proof (Andrews) and promise (Likely) should be an intriguing test for one of the NFL's rising defensive talents.
3. Tuck Rules
Much has been by Lamar Jackson's critics, both in realistic argument and bad faith, that Jackson is incapable of being the primary reason the Ravens win. While Jackson has more than proven his NFL worth ... a nine-figure contract, be it on Baltimore letterhead or elsewhere, is coming ... a healthy Ravens defense has also been responsible for paving the path to gridiron damnation.
But opponents are never out of a game with the Ravens if the reason you're trailing is ... Justin Tucker.
Tucker is another player destined for immortality, a near-lock to join the small but growing kickers' wing in Canton. But while it's great to see that Tucker has made himself an NFL staple despite the game's apparent attempt to phase forms of kicking away through the embracing of bold analytics, field goals are slowly gaining a reputation as four-point swings in the wrong direction. Whether that's a fair label is perhaps another question entirely, but the bare bones of opposing the Ravens is relatively simple: if Tucker's the one beating you, you've done something right.
The Patriots' defense has proven capable of limiting opposing opportunities: they've let up only two touchdowns in the first two games. New England has let up 1.53 points a drive, good for 10th in the league, tied in the same spot in yards per opposing pass (6.6) and fifth in average yards per opposing rushing attempt (3.5). That spells trouble for a Baltimore offense that has made its bread and butter through big plays. Once Miami was able to snuff those out last week (allowing only one play of at least 20 yards after letting up six in the first three, including a 103-yard touchdown by Duvernay on the opening kickoff), they were able to start their comeback.
It won't be easy and time will tell if the offense is ready to accept any favors. But the Patriots, at least in their earliest incarnations, are built for challenges like the ones Baltimore presents.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags
Want the latest in breaking news and insider information on the Patriots? Click Here