Watch CBS News

Patriots-Ravens What To Watch For: Can defense keep Lamar Jackson in check?

Vince Wilfork heading into Patriots Hall of Fame on Saturday
Vince Wilfork heading into Patriots Hall of Fame on Saturday 00:48

BOSTON -- Lamar Jackson has gone up against a Bill Belichick-coached team twice in his career. The first time was a rousing success for the dual-threat quarterback. The second time wasn't quite as good.

The up-and-down results for Jackson make it difficult to figure exactly how the Patriots' defense might fare in meeting No. 3.

That meeting will come Sunday at 1 p.m., as the Patriots (finally) get to host a football game at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots are coming off an encouraging -- if imperfect -- road win in Pittsburgh, while the Ravens are coming off a somewhat embarrassing loss at home, in which they blew a 21-point fourth-quarter lead to the Dolphins. John Harbaugh's team will no doubt be looking to remove the lingering stench from that game with a solid performance on Sunday, but the Patriots will be equally eager to get to 2-1 on the young season.

Here's what to watch for when the game kicks off on Sunday.

Containing Lamar

Obviously, the game plan begins and ends with containing No. 8. After failing to reach an agreement on a long-term contract this summer, Jackson looks like someone trying to prove his worth in the league. Thus far, he's done nothing but make that dollar figure go up. Through two games, he's thrown for six touchdowns and one pick, averaging 9 yards per attempt and completing 64.4 percent of his passes, good for a 120.1 passer rating. As a runner, he's picked his spots, rushing just 15 times. But he's made the right choice more often than not, picking up 136 yards and a touchdown on those runs, averaging 9.1 yards per rush.

When the opposing QB is averaging 9 yards per pass and 9 yards per rush ... defending him is a bit of a challenge.

For the Patriots, the principles will be simple: Keep Jackson in the pocket, maintain gap control along the line, and force throws into coverage. Actually maintaining those principles for every snap in a 60-minute game, however, is always a challenge.

Patriots fans surely remember getting burned by Jackson in 2019, when the MVP of the league looked at that top-ranked Pats defense and sliced them up with relative ease. He completed 17 of his 23 passes (73.9 percent) for 163 yards and a touchdown, and he also ran 16 times for 61 yards and two more touchdowns. From a Patriots perspective, it was ugly.

The Patriots did better a year later, when Jackson went 24-for-34 (70.6 percent) for 249 yards with two touchdowns and one pick, while rushing for 55 yards on 11 carries. Cam Newton was the more effective quarterback that night, which featured a downpour or two that certainly affected the game.

This time around, the weather gods won't be around to help the Patriots. And it'll take a lot of focused, unsung work by the D-tackles as well as disciplined pass rush angles off the edge to make the game more difficult for Jackson. As always, that's easier said than done.

Bateman's speed

Folks are used to hearing about the speed of Tyreek Hill, and how it can wreck defensive game plans. We probably ought to start saying the same for Rashod Bateman.

The second-year receiver is off to an explosive start to the season. He had a 55-yard touchdown reception in Week 1, and he followed it up with a 75-yard touchdown reception in Week 2. Though he has just six catches thus far, he's certainly made them count.

According to Next Gen Stats, Bateman reached 21.48 mph on that 75-yard touchdown last week vs. Miami, making him the second-fastest ball carrier in the NFL this season. (Teammate Devin Duvernay ran 21.6 mph when taking the opening kickoff to the house in that same game.)

A concerning angle for the defense has to be that Bateman's 75-yard touchdown was not on a go route where he simply beat his man. It came on a slant, a route that he ran so well that he gained separation from All-Pro corner Xavien Howard before making an off-balance catch while maintaining his momentum. From there, it was afterburners for the 22-year-old.

With defenses perhaps dedicating an extra man to spy the quarterback, some holes may open up on the back end the way one did for Bateman there. It's the type of play that can flip a game on its head, and considering the Patriots allowed a similar TD to Jaylen Waddle before halftime in Week 1, they'll have to put some extra emphasis on keeping plays like that in front of them.

Just like containing Jackson, though ... that's also easier said than done. Plays happen fast, especially when Bateman is involved.  

Oh, and fear not: Bateman can make the big reception the old-fashioned way, too.

One way or another, Bateman figures to be a problem for the New England secondary.

Who steps up in passing game?

Jakobi Meyers was present but did not participate in practice on Wednesday due to a knee issue. OK. No big deal.

Jakobi Meyers then was present but did not practice again on Thursday. OK. Might be a problem here.

The fourth-year receiver has turned himself into an incredibly reliable option for Mac Jones, and the quarterback has clearly leaned on Meyers through the first two weeks. Meyers leads the Patriots with 19 targets, which is eight more than Nelson Agholor and roughly 270 percent more than Jonnu Smith, who ranks third on the team with seven targets.

Even if Meyers does play (here's a safe guess that his status on Friday's injury report will be questionable), it feels safe to assume he'll be a bit limited. If so -- and really, even if not -- it's time for someone else to step up in the passing game.

The most logical option would be Kendrick Bourne, who poked his head out of the doghouse door last week when he took 24 offensive snaps -- 22 more than he took a week earlier in Miami. Bourne is quick, he is sure-handed, and he has Jones' trust. Meyers' situation could and should lead to the first real impactful game for Bourne of the season.

The aforementioned Smith as well as fellow tight end Hunter Henry could be more involved, too. Tight ends haven't put up huge numbers vs. Baltimore thus far, catching nine passes for 62 yards. But two of those receptions were touchdowns -- one by Tyler Conklin late in a blowout in Week 1, and one by Mike Gesicki last week. After Henry took just 50 percent of the snaps last week, it may be his time to come through in the red zone.

It's also getting slightly dicey with DeVante Parker. Yes, it's early, but the returns have been so tremendously bad -- with Jones throwing two picks on his four targets to Parker -- that the veteran receiver is in need of doing something to help the passing game. One reception for nine yards on 109 offensive snaps taken is not going to cut it. (Nobody on the Patriots outside of Jones and the offensive linemen have taken more snaps than Parker.)

Even if Meyers is a full-go, it's time for the rest of the receiving corps to play the way they are supposed to play.

After last week's collapse against Tua Tagovailoa, the Ravens rank 32nd in passing yards allowed, and 31st in passing touchdowns allowed. They're probably much better than that, of course ... but last week's performance did show that there should be room to operate for Patriots pass catchers.

Time to get creative

Beyond just the pass catchers, it's time for the Patriots offense to show that it has more to offer than your standard high school operation. Through two weeks, they've presented a very uninspiring operation, with very little pre-snap motion, very little play-action, very little RPO variety, and very little flavor. They've more or less lined up and run their plays without much spectacle or deception.

That's partially why they rank 22nd in offensive yardage and 29th in points scored. They have three touchdowns through two games, with one of those coming after a gifted muffed punt by Gunner Olszewski.

While the ground-and-pound game to close out last week's win was mightily impressive, and while the jump ball to Agholor for the TD got the job done, maybe it's time for a little variation to the offense. Whether that's some trick plays, or some jet sweeps, or some more basic misdirection in the backfield, it would be encouraging to see something from this Matt Patricia-Joe Judge-Nick Caley-Bill Belichick-Everyone Has A Say In The Game Plan offense that might offer some belief that real progress is being made. Because the longer the Patriots remain a basic offense, the easier they'll be to defend as the year goes on.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.