Monday, September 13, 2010

Ravens vs Jets Preview

Baltimore Ravens at New York Jets
New Meadowlands Stadium
September 13, 2010, 7:00 PM.

The Jets open up their season in a game Jets fans have been anticipating since January. Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens come to town in a battle of two teams that think they can win the Super Bowl. The two teams have staged a minor war of words, which tends to happen with the Jets since Rex Ryan became the coach, but Monday's game means a lot more to the Jets than to the Ravens.

This is the home opener at the Jets' brand new stadium, and this game will allow the Jets to assert themselves as an AFC power. Losing at home to start the season, with back-to-back games against New England and Miami to follow, could get this season started on a really bad foot.

This figures to be a low-scoring game, with two prideful defenses trying to impose their will against another AFC contender.

When the Jets have the ball...
The Jets will go into Monday night with just three receivers dressed. If that doesn't tell you what they plan to do during the game, nothing will. They are going to run the ball until Baltimore proves they can stop it. Of course, the Ravens just happen to have one of the most fearsome front sevens in the NFL, so there's a good chance they're going to slow down the Jets' rushing attack a lot.

This is going to be an extremely physical matchup, with two teams that like to hit the other. If Ray Lewis and John Conner (or Shonn Greene for that matter) collide, the earth might implode. The main key for the Jets on the ground is to just keep getting positive yards. If Greene or LaDainian Tomlinson break open a big play, that's great, but if they can keep manageable 3rd down scenarios for Mark Sanchez and pick up positive yards on 1st downs, they will have done their job.

However, points will need to come out of the passing game. While the Ravens have a stout defensive line and linebacking corps, the secondary is vulnerable. If Sanchez has time to throw, Braylon Edwards should be able to get open deep. If Edwards can stretch the field and give the Ravens a reason to respect the passing game, the Jets' offense might have some success in this game. And without Ed Reed patrolling the middle, the Jets will be able to attack the middle of the field with more confidence.

That is where Dustin Keller and Jerricho Cotchery get their work done. Keller, in particular, needs to create separation on the linebackers and safeties covering him to give Sanchez a safety valve and a red zone target.

Everything will need to start up front though, as the offensive line needs to be able to protect Sanchez. In particular, D'Brickashaw Ferguson needs to handle Terrell Suggs. The last thing the Jets want to see is their quarterback taking hits.
However, the most important thing, as always, is limiting turnovers. After throwing 20 interceptions his rookie season and nearly torpedoing the Jets' playoff chances last season, Sanchez needs to play mistake-free football and not let the opportunistic Ravens' defenders get their hands on the football. If the Jets' offense doesn't turn the ball over, that will almost be a win.

When the Ravens have the ball...
When you think Baltimore Ravens' offense, you think a smash-mouth, running attack that only throws when it has to. But this year will probably mark a shift in philosophy for John Harbaugh's team. Quarterback Joe Flacco enters his third season in the NFL healthy and with some new weapons to throw to.

Anquan Boldin and TJ Houshmandzadeh were brought in this offseason to join Derrick Mason in the passing game. However, with Donte Stallworth out for several weeks, the Ravens lack a deep threat, making them slightly easier to defend.

The bulk of the Ravens' offense goes through Ray Rice. The former Rutgers standout is an all-around threat, as he can run over and around you, and he's also a great pass-catcher out of the backfield. With so many players who can catch the football, the Ravens should throw more this year and test Flacco. But when the Ravens do run, Kris Jenkins needs to be disruptive, and the linebackers need to tackle well.

Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine will dial up a lot of blitzes as usual to see if Flacco can handle it, and Revis, Cromartie, and Wilson match up well physically with the three veteran Ravens. The Jets hope Flacco won't have time to throw because of all the players in his face. Right tackle Oniel Cousins, taking the place of Jared Gaither, may be targeted with a lot of overload blitzes.

If those blitzes rattle Flacco and force him to make bad decisions, the Jets should be able to win this game. If not, Flacco has three savvy veterans who should be able to keep moving the chains. Then it's up to the red zone defense to hold the Ravens to field goals. Baltimore will be a difficult test, but the Jets should be able to handle it. To what extent is the question, as the offense probably won't be scoring many points.

Prediction
This game will most likely come down to Mark Sanchez and the passing game. Sanchez doesn't have to be great, but he needs to move the chains, not turn the ball over and possibly hit one big play. Cotchery, Keller, and Edwards should be able to do enough against this secondary, which lacks the playmakers to capitalize on Sanchez's inconsistencies. This game can go either way. In the end, the Ravens lack of deep threats will come to haunt them as the Jets will come away with a big early season win.
Jets 13, Ravens 9