Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson is the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for 1,600 yards and rush for 500 through the first seven weeks of a season. Nick Wass/Associated Press

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Underneath the rain, cloud cover and celebration last weekend at Gillette Stadium, was a weakness exposed?

Cleveland running back Nick Chubb and his 131 rushing yards proved opposing offenses can run on the league’s best defense.

The New England Patriots are scary, to be sure. Terrifying, even. But they are not invulnerable. And the Baltimore Ravens, owners of the league’s No. 1 rush offense, are intent on thrusting an increasingly suspect run defense under the spotlight Sunday night.

“We’re going against the best running team since I’ve been in the league,” said fourth-year Patriots linebacker Elandon Roberts. “They’ve got some explosive players all throughout that offense, starting with the quarterback. And they’ve got a great O-line.”

But back to Chubb for a moment.

His longest run of the day, a 44-yarder in the first quarter, has been lost to history as a spectacular defensive play – which it was. As soon as Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones popped the ball free and Devin McCourty recovered it, no one was going to remember how Chubb had broken free. But the gain itself was not a fluke.


Chubb steadily gained five and six yards per handoff, save for the freak accident fumble he coughed up the play before. He was the Browns’ best player, outshining Pro Bowlers Odell Beckham Jr. and Myles Garrett.

Chubb’s success was no outlier, either. His outing followed Le’Veon Bell’s quietly strong effort the Monday before, when he averaged 4.67 yards per rush for the Jets. Through six games, opponents were already averaging 4.29 yards per rush up the middle, according to data compiled by Sports Info Solutions. That figure ranked fourth-worst in the league.

On the whole, the Patriots rank 20th in run defense, per Pro Football Focus.

Because the Patriots took an immediate, sizable lead against the Jets and Browns, they could dictate the terms of engagement, as they have all year. Running the ball was rendered useless. Playing catch up meant passing.

That script will flip if Baltimore – which plays its own style and has lost just two fumbles all season – keeps possession or takes its own lead. The run-heavy offense is a carefully designed zig in a zagging, pass-happy league. The Ravens rank first in the NFL in rushing yards per game. They employ the fastest, quickest quarterback in the league and several tight ends and running backs who see the field together.

“They bring unique skill sets, they bring unique plays, they bring unique personnel groupings and kind of take an old-school mentality to the game,” said Patriots defensive line coach Bret Bielema.”


It starts with Lamar Jackson. According to ESPN, the second-year quarterback became the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for 1,600 yards and rush for 500 through the first seven weeks of a season. Jackson leads the Ravens in rushing and single-handedly carried them to a win at Seattle two Sundays ago during his worst passing performance of the year.

Overall, he’s completed 63 percent of his passes for 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. Now, coming off a bye, Jackson will be fresh.

“He’s a running back who can throw,” said Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo. “(He’s) tough to tackle, so definitely a lot different looks that we have to prepare for.”

Baltimore incorporates several read elements into its run game to allow Jackson to hand the ball off or keep it himself based on the movement of an isolated defender. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman wielded them during previous battles with Coach Bill Belichick in 2015 and 2016, when Roman was in Buffalo.

He’s tweaked the offense. Belichick expects more tweaks on Sunday.

“Some of the things that we’re working on now, I’m sure we’re not going to get, and there’s some things that we’re not working on that I’m sure we’re going to get. He does a good job of changing things up,” Belichick said. “They have a core, certainly a base core of plays, that they run, but they also have some complimentary plays to those and their core plays that they can run a lot of different ways, so they disguise them, they put you in different positions and change the run force and force you to handle it differently with different personnel groups.”

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