The most difficult stretch of the New England Patriots’ 2019 schedule kicks off this Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens and their dynamic second-year quarterback, Lamar Jackson.
Jackson has been one of the NFL’s most effective ball-carriers this season regardless of position, ranking 10th in the league with 576 yards on 86 carries (every player above him on that list has at least 120 attempts) and leading all qualified rushers with 6.9 yards per carry. No other player has an average above 6.0.
In a 30-16 victory over the Seattle Seahawks last week, Jackson completed just 9 of 20 passes but racked up 116 rushing yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. One week earlier, the 2018 first-round draft pick rushed 19 times for 152 yards and a score during a 23-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
“He’s very fast, and he’s definitely a hard guy to handle,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday in a conference call with reporters. “That’s definitely a problem. He’s fast, and that’s really a big problem. A lot of times, he just outruns people.
“I mean, he’s got good moves, too. I’m not saying that. But a lot of times, he just outruns people with his speed. Catching him is an issue, especially when he keeps the ball. A lot of times he’s running against a defensive end, and the ends just aren’t fast enough. They have him, but they don’t have him. He’s a problem. He’s definitely a problem.”
With Jackson at the controls, the Ravens have won five of their first seven games, tying them with the Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills for the second-best record in the AFC behind the 8-0 Patriots. Each of New England’s next five opponents (Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs) currently sits at or above .500.
This week’s primetime matchup will be the first Pats-Ravens meeting since 2016 and the first in Baltimore since 2013.
“I think it’s going to be a hell of a game,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said Monday on WEEI’s “The Greg Hill Show.” “It’s going to be a really great environment. They’ve got a really great history there of, especially, defensive football and their ability to run the ball, control the clock. The way Lamar’s playing, he’s doing a great job for them. We’ve always had really tough battles (in Baltimore) … They’re leading their division. They’re off to a great start. They’re playing for a lot. We’re playing for a lot. It’s going to be a hell of a game. It’s going to be tough.”
The Patriots are 14-0 against second-year QBs since 2013 and have beaten three this season, with Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and Josh Allen combining for eight interceptions and just one touchdown pass. But Jackson poses a unique challenge for New England’s top-ranked defense, which has yet to face a player with his distinct skill set.