Doug Pederson remembers the game well, though for all the wrong reasons.
He was the starting quarterback for a Cleveland Browns team that finished 3-13. His opponent was the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, owners of arguably the best defense in NFL history.
When those teams met on Nov. 26, 2000, the results were as expected. Pederson completed 8 of 16 passes for 108 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions before leaving the game with cracked ribs, and the Ravens won 44-7 en route to a Super Bowl title.
Pederson, now the Philadelphia Eagles’ head coach, witnessed firsthand the overwhelming power of that historic Baltimore D. He’s expecting a similar challenge this Sunday.
Speaking Wednesday on a conference call with New England reporters, Pederson said the 2019 Patriots defense — a unit that ranks first in the NFL in points allowed, total defense and interceptions entering its Week 11 matchup in Philadelphia — reminds him of Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and Co.
“It is an interesting conversation, and you can obviously draw some parallels with those two defenses,” Pederson said. “I think the biggest thing that jumps out to you right now, the glaring thing, is the turnover ratio. I mean, the fact that they’ve got six defensive scores this season, the interceptions, the fumbles they’re causing — it’s a brand of defense where they just smother you. They just corral you. They’re OK with giving you 2, 3, 4 yards, but they’re right on top of you. Their secondary is that way aggressively, and their front seven are that way.
“That’s something I think when you look back, if I remember correctly with that Baltimore team, the same structure, the same style of defense. It was a smothering style of defense, and they played fast and they played aggressively. They may not do a whole lot schematically, and I think that’s a positive because it does allow your guys to play free, and to play fast and to play smart. I think that’s a similarity that I see with this Patriots defense today.”
So, is that comparison valid? Are the 2019 Patriots really in the same league as the 2000 Ravens?
Short answer: yes, at least so far.
Here’s a quick snapshot:
— The 2000 Ravens allowed 10.3 points per game (first in the NFL) and 247.9 yards per game (second). Through nine games, the Patriots are allowing 10.9 points (first) and 249.3 yards (first) per.
— The 2000 Ravens boasted an NFL-best plus-23 turnover differential and led the league with 49 takeaways (23 interceptions, 26 fumbles). The Patriots currently lead the league in both categories, as well, recording 27 takeaways (on pace for 48) and a plus-17 differential.
— The 2000 Ravens tallied 35 sacks. The Patriots already have 32.
— The 2000 Ravens were significantly better against the run, allowing a league-best 60.9 rushing yards per game and 2.7 yards per carry to the Patriots’ 99.1 (11th) and 4.7 (26th). New England has been stingier against the pass, though, in an era much more conducive to success through the air. The Patriots have allowed 150.2 passing yards per game (second) and 4.6 yards per attempt (first) to the Ravens’ 187.3 (eighth) and 5.7 (seventh).
— The 2000 Ravens ranked second behind the Tennessee Titans in Football Outsiders’ defense DVOA (minus-23.8), a metric that measures a unit’s overall efficiency. The Patriots’ DVOA so far this season (minus-33.7, which leads the NFL) is nearly a full 10 points better.
— The 2000 Ravens scored one defensive touchdown during the regular season: a 98-yard interception return by Chris McAllister. The Patriots already have four (two pick-sixes, two fumble returns), plus two more off blocked punts.
— Critics of the Patriots’ defense have noted the lack of quality quarterbacks they’ve faced thus far. That’s a fair critique. But the 2000 Ravens schedule included games against nearly every mediocre QB of that era, with a few legit tests (Mark Brunnell, Steve McNair, Troy Aikman, Rich Gannon) sprinkled in.
Here’s the full list, including postseason:
The Patriots, who allowed 37 points in a loss to the current-day Ravens two weeks ago, can cement their place in the pantheon of great defenses in the coming weeks. Their next four games are against Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles, Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys, Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans and Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Thumbnail photo via Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports Images