FOXBOROUGH — When it came to defending Lamar Jackson and Ravens' offense on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots knew a few things had to happen to emerge with a victory:
1. As much as they could, the Patriots had to make the Ravens fight them in a telephone booth. New England couldn't defend this team sideline to sideline all night, not at a speed disadvantage. If the Ravens were able to spread the Patriots out, then they could gash the seams as they did in last year's matchup in Baltimore.
2. The Patriots had to rally — from all sides — to the ball, take on blocks forcefully, and tackle much better than they had in recent weeks.
3. New England needed to eliminate chunk rushing plays, and make the Ravens have to embark on scoring plays that took several plays and even more time on the clock to play the game more on the Patriots' terms.
The Patriots accomplished all three and that went a long way to helping them spring a big 23-17 upset over the Ravens, who entered as 7-point road favorites. Sure, the weather helped, but that wasn't really a factor until the game was largely out of reach. And if the Patriots' offense didn't stall out in the fourth quarter, when they were obviously more interested in avoiding a costly turnover for the second-straight game, the game would have been over a lot earlier.
"We knew they were an offense that loves to run the ball and they love to get to the edge of the defense," said safety Adrian Phillips. "That was pretty much our whole game plan, do not let them get to the edge. They ended up getting to the edge a couple of times. Mainly just keep those guys contained and make them play behind the sticks and that is what we did. We did that with a variety of different looks and it ended up working out well for us because they could not pick up on it.”
The Patriots did what they needed to do this time around.
In last year's 37-20 Ravens victory, the Patriots actually did a solid job against Jackson the ballcarrier, as he averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. But overall the Patriots allowed the Ravens to rush 33 times for 187 yards (5.7 average) in the first three quarters before the game was out of reach.
More importantly, the Patriots allowed too many big plays on the ground. Of the Raven's 10 longest plays in that game, six were rushes that went for 121 yards.
Most importantly, New England limited the big plays on the ground. This time, zero of the Ravens' top 10 plays were rushes. In fact, the Ravens didn't have a rush for more than 10 yards until there was 3:49 remaining in the third quarter when the Patriots had a 23-10 lead. Jackson later added two scrambles over 10 yards on the final two drives in the game.
Mission accomplished for the Patriots' defense. Without an explosive running game, the Ravens were forced to try through the air and that was a losing proposition for Jackson.
The question is, how did the Patriots do it? Two key plays in the second half illustrated the Patriots' plan against the Ravens' running game and it led to a big sequence in the game (with video analysis).