Ravens Know They Must Protect the Football vs. Turnover-Happy Pats


Take nothing away from Tom Brady, but defensive takeaways are fueling the New England Patriots this season.

New England (8-0) leads the NFL with 25 takeaways – 19 interceptions and six fumble recoveries. The Patriots have nine more interceptions (19) than the next closest team. New England's defense has scored as many touchdowns (four) as it has given up.

If the Ravens get through Sunday's game without committing a turnover, they'll be the first Patriots opponent this season to do so.

The opportunistic defense, coupled with an offense led by a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Brady, makes for a difficult combination to beat.

New England's defense doesn't wait for opponents to make mistakes. The Patriots force miscues on a regular basis. They fool quarterbacks with exotic blitzes and coverages. They take advantage when any ballcarrier loses his concentration, lurking for an opportunity to punch the ball away. Like so many things with the Patriots, excellence is no accident.

"The interceptions have been remarkable, especially with pressure," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "They have guys who know how to make plays on the football. It's just good football in my mind. I don't think it's anything that's new to football. They're just doing it at a really high level."

Playing his first game against New England, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson knows he must avoid the turnover traps the Patriots will undoubtedly set. Nine different Patriots have at least one interception, led by safety Devin McCourty with five.

"They're just fundamentally sound," Jackson said. "A lot of veterans on the defense, all 11 at the ball at all times. That's how they're getting so many turnovers.

"They've got 19 interceptions? That's crazy."

Jackson's point about the Patriots having a veteran-laden defense is correct. Of the 15 defensive players who have logged the most snaps this season, 10 have spent at least three years with the Patriots. They understand Head Coach Bill Belichick's system, and each year they keep adding new wrinkles with talented players who can execute them.

Like Marlon Humphrey of the Ravens, Patriots cornerback Stephen Gilmore has emerged as one of the NFL's top corners this season, playing next to the solid safety tandem of Devin McCourty and Jason McCourty.

Meanwhile, New England is generating a consistent pass rush led by outside linebacker Jamie Collins (six sacks) and three players with 4 ½ sacks each – inside linebacker Kyle Van Noy, defensive tackle Adam Butler and defensive end Chase Winovich.

That's the trouble with facing the Patriots pass rush. It comes from every direction, not just from one or two players. No quarterback is more elusive than Jackson, but if he doesn't recognize quickly where the pressure is coming from, he runs the risk of being forced into mistakes. Just like Jackson's running and throwing will put pressure on the Patriots' defense, New England's ability to force mistakes will put pressure on Jackson and the entire Baltimore offense.

Taking the ball away as frequently as the Patriots makes it difficult to lose. Against the Browns last weekend, New England became the first team since 2012 to force takeaways on three consecutive plays.

Cutting down on turnovers was a major point of emphasis for Jackson during the offseason and he has succeeded with just four fumbles and five interceptions through seven games, compared to 12 fumbles and three interceptions in just seven games as a starter last season.

Overall, the Ravens have been one of the league's best teams at protecting the football. They've committed just seven turnovers, tied for fourth fewest in the NFL. Only the Arizona Cardinals (four turnovers), Tennessee Titans (six) and New Orleans Saints (six) have committed fewer.

However, facing New England's defense will be the ultimate test when it comes to avoiding turnovers. 

"They're playing at a very high level," Harbaugh said. "They have a lot of very good players, who are very well coached, playing at a very high level."

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