Breaking Down the Jets vs the Ravens
After a bitter loss in Oakland, the Jets have to regroup quickly as they take on the very physical Baltimore Ravens, arguably the class of the AFC.
Jets Offense vs Ravens Defense
One of the difficult things to get a read on early in the season is just how good or bad the units on a team are and the Ravens defense falls into that category. Are they as good as the team that held the Steelers and Rams to just a touchdown or are they the team that allowed the Tennessee Titans to throw all over them? Baltimore’s defense is built on the solid play of their defensive line and the ability of two game wreckers up front in DE/DT Haloti Ngata and LB Terrell Suggs. Ngata, who was just signed to a $61 million contract, has become the new standard for the position. Ngata is an animal at the point of attack demanding the attention of two players and often forcing plays to go in the opposite direction. He lines up at multiple positions creating confusion and mismatches against the opponent. Suggs is one of the elite pass rushers in the NFL and he often finds open lanes to the QB with Ngata taking up so much of the offensive lines concentration. Suggs obliterated the Steelers in week one, recording 3 sacks and 2 fumbles. Veteran LB Ray Lewis is still a fiery player and will lay big hits on players going across the middle. He excels at stopping the run and remains the inspirational leader of the team. S Ed Reed continues to stake his claim to being the best safety of all time. He just has tremendous instincts for reading a play and breaking on the football. If there is a weak spot in the defense it could be at the corner position where a season ending injury to CB Dominique Foxworth has left them a little thin. CB Ladarius Webb is a solid corner that doesn’t make plays on the football but doesn’t make too many mistakes, normally bringing his receiver down as soon as a ball is caught. CB Cary Williams is well below average and has been beaten for some big receptions, often being two or three steps behind his man.
Though the Jets offense was incredibly inconsistent last week they probably took on an unfair amount of criticism for the loss. Again they showed in spurts how good they could be but also showed just how ineffective they could be. The real disappointment has been the offensive line where only one player, LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson, has played to expectations. The Jets will hope that C Nick Mangold will return for this game, but ankle injuries are the type of injury that lead to recurring and lingering problems if the player rushes back too soon. C Colin Baxter is in over his head right now and RT Wayne Hunter is the worst tackle in the NFL. With the line in shambles the Jets are having a difficult time of finding any flow in their offense.
QB Mark Sanchez is still battling the interception bug and he is going to have to cut down on that if the Jets are to win. He ranks near the bottom of the NFL in interceptions. Sanchez has been one of the most effective passers in the NFL in terms of yardage, but it comes in bunches rather than consistently during the game. WR Santonio Holmes is coming off a nothing game where he publicly complained about the offensive gameplanning. The Jets are paying him to be a top receiver and he needs a big game this week. WR Derrick Mason made some nice catches last week and will likely be one of the game captains as he matches up against the team that cast him aside this past year. TE Dustin Keller has bad memories of the Ravens from last season. They nearly knocked him out cold and then Keller ended whatever hopes the Jets had when he inexplicably failed to pick up a first down on the Jets final drive.
It is unlikely that this will be the week that the Jets will be able to get their running game on track. Though the Ravens have yet to be tested in the run game, historically they have been very good against the run and have not been gashed this year the way the Jets were last week in Oakland. The Jets running game is one of the worst in the NFL and does not stand to get much better until the offensive line is able to right itself.
Still the Jets have to attempt to establish something on the ground to try to keep the defense honest. Allowing Suggs and Ngata to just tee off on Sanchez has the possibility to put Sanchez on the shelf. RB LaDainain Tomlinson has been extremely effective on screens and the Jets may try to screen over the Ravens if they can not establish any run game early. The Jet receivers all should have the advantage over the Ravens cornerbacks and Mason could get some added looks with the Ravens secondary banged up. For that to be effective Sanchez has to play his best game of the year. He has to be aware of Reed at all times and not stare down any of his targets. He can not hold the ball too long in hopes of a player getting open and leave himself open to a big hit and potential fumble. Sanchez has to make his decision quickly and get the ball out of his hand. When your line is playing poorly sometimes the QB has to take it upon himself to build their confidence by being decisive and quickly delivering the football.
Jets Defense vs Ravens Offense
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year has been the play of the Ravens offense, which has been terrific in two of the three games they played this season. QB Joe Flacco has put together a great start to his season and has been mistake free in the two wins on the year. Flacco has been making good use of all his wide receivers and getting the ball down the field better than he has in the past. What has made this most impressive is the fact that the Ravens big offseason acquisition, WR Lee Evans, has only played in one game and will likely miss the game against the Jets. Evans is a downfield threat whose star has faded greatly since he peaked with Buffalo in 2005. WR Anquan Boldin has not been able to duplicate what he did in his prime years in Arizona, but he still catches the ball in traffic and runs with it after the catch. Last week WR Torrey Smith, a 2nd round draft pick, came out of nowhere to record three touchdowns and over 100 yards in just the first quarter of the Rams game. RB Ray Rice is considered the best player on offense and is a threat in both the running and passing game. Rice is a stout, powerful runner that has big play potential every time he touches the football. Rice already has 6 plays of more than 20 yards on the season. The weakest area for the Ravens is the tackle play on the line. Both Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher are allowing rushers to move around the edge and pressure Flacco. Oher also continues to struggle with penalties and seems to get jumpy before the snap after giving up a pressure.
The Jets defense was embarrassed last week and now the question is just how good is the Jets defense? The Jets certainly have the reputation for being a good defense, but they have been no-shows in 2 of 3 games. CB Darrelle Revis has been the only consistent player and has finally gotten to the point where he is not being thrown on after two years of teams testing him and not getting anywhere. CB Antonio Cromartie is nursing injuries but will be expected to play. He played poorly last week but has had a tendency to bounce back big after poor games. The Jets big problems last week came against the run and the Jets linebackers have to play better. The Jets are paying Bart Scott and David Harris big money to stuff the run and both were invisible last week. They should not be singled out as nobody up front was sealing the field, but when you are the big money guys you will get the most criticism.
The pass rush remains a hangover problem from last year. LB Calvin Pace has had a good start to the year, but they have had little from anyone else. LB Jamaal Westerman was to have a role on passing downs of replacing LB Bryan Thomas and rushing the QB, but he has been poor. The Jets acknowledged the problem with the resigning of former Bills bust Aaron Maybin to potentially split time with Wetserman. The Jets need someone with the speed to get into the pocket off the snap and will hope Maybin can do something with NY that he could never do with Buffalo.
This is a measuring stick game for the Jets defense. If the Ravens come out, run all over the Jets and put up 30 points then there is no sugarcoating the reality of the situation. You can not be considered a good defense when you have bad efforts in three of your first four games of the season. It is extremely important that the Jets contain Rice and start the game off well. The Jets gave up touchdowns to both the Cowboys and Raiders on their opening drives and they have to make the Ravens work harder than that for their first score. Baltimore is a very difficult place to play and handing them a 7-0 lead makes it that much tougher. The Jets should be able to count on Revis to shut down Boldin leaving it up to Cromartie and the safeties to take care of the other targets. If the Jets can rattle Flacco and break up some pass attempts early that can lead him to a bad day, something that has worked well against Flacco in the past. Most importantly for the Jets they have to re-establish the fact that they are a physical defense. The last time they were manhandled as badly as they were last week was in 2009 in Miami. They came back and played well after that game and completely shut Miami down when they me them a few weeks later. That is the type of effort this defense needs.
K Billy Cundiff has been an accurate kicker in his time with the Ravens, only missing two attempts under 50 yards in his 19 games with Baltimore. P Sam Koch remains one of the better punters in the NFL. Koch has a decent leg and gets good hangtime on the football, helping to limit the potential for a return. Kick coverage has been an issue for Baltimore when Cundiff is unable to kick the ball deep into the end zone. Baltimore’s return game can be dangerous if they are given a chance to field the ball. Webb is a solid punt returner and will likely return kickoffs as well covering for the injured David Red.
The Jets special teams have had a very good start to the season with the exception of the Cromartie fumble last week, a play where a frustrated Cromartie simply tried to do too much. The one negative of having Cromartie field kicks is the fact that he is not a polished return man and might make decisions like the one he did last week, but he is explosive and if he gets his hands on the football this week it could be a big return. Both K Nick Folk and P TJ Conley seem to be settling into their roles and will likely be active in the game this week. PR Jeremy Kerley showed some real promise in that role last week, though its unlikely he would be much of a factor against the Ravens.
It has taken some time but the Ravens have finally become John Harbaugh’s team in the eyes of the media. While they have maintained their defensive identity, Harbaugh has made people take notice of the Ravens offense and it is arguably their better unit on the field. The expectations for the team are very high and you get limited opportunities to play in prime time on NBC to make your case to the world. He has players that really cherish these opportunities and he will use that intensity to his advantage to get his players prepared.
Rex Ryan is coming off a very bad week where people are questioning the teams preparation, defensive ability, and situational playcalling. Ryan seems to take the criticism very personal, but he has to understand that when you have a team that talks so much about how good they are that they will be even more scrutinized following a losing effort. Despite having no recent Super Bowl wins to speak of the Jets have put themselves in a position usually reserved for a Super Bowl champion in terms of how close they are watched and how much other teams get up to play them. They, along with the Patriots and Eagles, are right at the top of the target list and Ryan needs to be prepared for when that happens.
Ryan lost to his former team last year in a very emotional game. He came into the game showing far too much respect for the team he once wanted to coach rather than for the team he currently coached and the Jets lost because of it. How he approaches the game this year will be an interesting subplot of the game. If he shows the same respect for the secondary and plays to win 9-3, the Jets will likely get blown out. He has to have his team ready for a physical game and well versed in the weaknesses that the Ravens have rather that overemphasizing the strengths of the Ravens, which seemed to be last seasons’ approach.
If not for the loss to the Raiders this would be considered a luxury game with the Patriots coming up in week 5. While all these AFC games are important for playoff possibilities nobody would worry too much if the Jets simply got caught looking ahead to their big rivals next week. The loss to Oakland changes everything, however. Falling to 2-2 on the year is unacceptable and puts the Jets in real danger of having a losing record after 5 games. If the Jets really believe that they have every possibility of winning the division and getting homefield advantage they can’t fall to 2-2. That leaves such a limited margin for error during the rest of the season, basically calling for the Jets to go 11-1 or 10-2 down the stretch.
In many ways these teams are mirror images of one another. Both teams believe they are the big bully on the field and both don’t like to be the ones hit hard early in the game. Both teams had terrible letdown games where they got beaten down by teams they were expected to beat and looked terrible in losing. Both are teams that if they get beaten in the trenches will probably not just lose the game but lose the game going away. Whichever team can establish that physical play early is going to win this game.
For the Jets this game is a lot about proving just who they are. The Jets have faced two good football teams this year and arguably could have lost both games. In adjusted yards per attempt the Jets run defense ranks 26th in the NFL which is very uncharacteristic of a Rex Ryan defense. If Rice does well enough to help the Jets maintain that ranking it’s going to be a long day and season for the team. Dallas and Jacksonville moved away from the run due to the reputation, but if Rice follows in McFadden’s footsteps all the money invested in Darrelle Revis will be wasted this year. The Jets can survive without a running game on offense, but they can not survive without a run defense. They are built to force teams to pass the ball which can only happen if they get back to that swarming style run defense they employed the last two seasons.
The Ravens are such a great home team that it would be a huge victory for the Jets this week. In the last three years the team is 19-5 in Baltimore and historically the team is dominant when they win on their home turf. That said if there is one team to beat them on the schedule this year it is probably the Jets. Baltimore also has their bye week next week and has been an unfocused group heading into the bye. In their last five normal pre-bye week games the Ravens are 1-4 with the lone win coming in overtime against the Buffalo Bills, who were heavy underdogs in the game. If the Ravens come in already preparing for a week off the Jets have a big advantage.
I don’t think anyone would be surprised if the Jets or Ravens won the game. I do think people will be surprised if it is a blowout in either direction. A blowout shows serious flaws in one team. This is all about pride and the Jets just have more to play for this week than Baltimore. Revenge for the coach. Revenge for themselves. Proving the doubters wrong. It’s all there for the Jets. Hopefully they realize it.
Jets 19 Ravens 16