After squeaking out a win over the Jets, the Patriots will look to make it two in a row when the Baltimore Ravens come to Gillette Stadium for a Sunday night showdown. Despite last Monday night’s win, the 3-5 Patriots failed to make up any ground in the division, as both the Bills and Dolphins came away with impressive wins against NFC West competition.
At 6-2, the Ravens appear to be on track to return to the playoffs, but they are two games behind the undefeated Steelers in the AFC North and will be looking to keep pace.
Here’s what you need to know about the Ravens:
They lead the league in rushing
When the two teams met last season, the Patriots were riding high at 8-0 and appeared to be well on their way to securing the No. 1 seed in the AFC. But the Ravens ran all over the Boogeymen for 210 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-20 win. The teams have trended in opposite directions ever since, with the Patriots going 7-9, while the Ravens are 14-3 in that same span.
This season, Baltimore is averaging 170.1 yards per game on the ground, tops in the league, paced by Lamar Jackson’s 469 yards on 79 carries. Running back Mark Ingram (50 carries for 225 yards) has not played since Oct. 18 because of an ankle injury, but could be back Sunday night.
In Ingram’s absence, J.K. Dobbins has stepped up. The rookie out of Ohio State has 52 carries for 297 yards. Third-year running back Gus Edwards has carried the ball 75 times for 328 yards and three touchdowns.
“They’re all good players," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "They all run well. They’re tough downhill runners.
"Ingram, I think, is clearly their primary early-down runner when he’s healthy. Dobbins has shown up a little more in the passing game, or in passing situations, I should say, but he’s an excellent runner, too. So, I mean, they have good depth in their backs.”
This would not seem to bode well for a Patriots defense that is allowing 131 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 25th in the league.
Their production has dipped this season
After leading the league with 36 touchdown passes and winning the MVP in 2019, Jackson has taken a bit of a step back, as Ben Volin wrote earlier this week, observing that “defensive coordinators have a full year of tape on Jackson now.”
Jackson seemed to confirm that earlier this week in an interview with Rich Eisen when discussing opposing defenses.
“They’re calling out our plays, stuff like that, like they know what we’re doing,” said Jackson. “Sometimes stuff won’t go our way if they’re beating us to the punch.”
Baltimore offensive coordinator Greg Roman called it a chess match, with defenses trying to guess what the offense is going to do, and noted that Jackson always has the option to audible.
“We work hard to change it up,” Roman said. “We’re very aware of our tendencies. We’re aware that there are some right now. … When you’re good at something and you can keep pressing that button, then you have the opportunity to flip the script at some point moving forward.”
Their defense has been stingy
The Ravens are allowing just 17.8 points per game, tops in the league, and rank in the top 10 in both passing yards allowed (223.1) and rushing yards allowed (101.8) per game. They are anchored by a pair of All-Pro cornerbacks.
Marcus Peters, acquired last year in a midseason trade with the Rams, has three interceptions to go with three forced fumbles. He should be joined in the secondary this week by Marlon Humphrey, who was activated Wednesday from the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Humphrey had tested positive Nov. 2 and was forced to miss last Sunday’s game against Indianapolis. He is third on the team in total tackles (40), tied for second in sacks (2½), and leads the team in forced fumbles (4).
One player the Patriots will not have to deal with is Calais Campbell, who is out with a calf injury. The veteran defensive end leads the Ravens with four sacks after coming over from the Jaguars in the offseason.
Helping to fill the void left by Campbell will be Justin Madubuike. The rookie defensive tackle out of Texas A&M missed the first four weeks with an injury, but has seen his playing time increase in each of the last four games, collecting eight tackles.
“He had a great game against Indy. He was hustling all over the field," said Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. "He’s just getting better every time he puts on his helmet.
"He gets challenged by Calais and the veterans every day, and he’s been answering the challenge every week. I just see him getting better and better. He’s a big strong kid and he’s playing that way.”
Follow Andrew Mahoney @GlobeMahoney.