Well, if the Atlanta Falcons weren’t the worst team ever in the history of teams, the Ravens could be sitting in first place in the AFC North this morning without having yet even played a down in 2010. The Bengals came out looking like the Bungles of old against the Patriots before getting things together in the second half and making the final score a respectable 38-24, and the Browns were undone by two Jake Delhomme interceptions (raise your hands if you’re surprised…anyone? anyone?) down in Tampa. Pittsburgh, however, pulled another one out of their rear ends, winning despite going four full quarters without scoring a touchdown.
So the Ravens miss out on the ridiculously meaningless chance to enter their Monday Night showdown with the Jets with an early 0.5 game lead in the AFC North. No matter. At this point its all about results on the field anyway.
And those results will come after a week of jabber-jawing between these two teams, smack talk which is sure to continue well after the opening kickoff. The Ravens and Jets would be wise to keep the extracurriculars to a minimum, however, as the officiating crew set to watch over this one is the same group that was on the field for the FLAGSFLAGSFLAGSFLAGS Game, which saw an incredible 310 collective penalty yards. I think about 270 of those were Frank Walker’s though, so maybe we’ll be ok.
As long as the zebras let them play, this game could easily be the most smash-mouth, hard-hitting contest of Week 1. They say familiarity breeds contempt, and if that holds true, the hate will be palpable on the field in East Rutherford Monday Night. The Jets’ roster and coaching staff are, as has been well documented, littered with former Ravens.
However, some important things have changed since guys like Rex Ryan, Bart Scott, and Jim Leonhard left B’More. Most notably are the emergence of Ray Rice as a budding superstar, and the addition of some other quality weapons to Joe Flacco’s arsenal, including wide receivers Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and tight end Ed Dickson. The threat of the 3-headed monster Ravens’ backfield still exists as it did when Rex was still going up against the Ravens’ O in practice every day, but the Ravens have since obviously put much more effort into becoming a team that can more efficiently move the football through the air.
Moving the ball in general Monday night, whether through the air or on the ground, will prove difficult against Rex’s Jets.
New York had the #1 defense in the NFL in 2009, #1 against the pass and #8 against the run. That scary-good pass defense has the potential to be even better in 2010, having been bolstered by the offseason acquisitions of cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson, a rookie out of Boise State. As everyone has heard 10,000 times by now, they will also be with Darrelle Revis, thought by many to be the best CB in the league. Flacco and all his fancy new weapons will have their work cut out for them.
Surprisingly, even with Rex’s complex blitz schemes, the Jets had only 32 sacks in 2009, the same number as the Ravens (tied for 18th in the NFL). While the numbers don’t really back up the reputation of the Jets as a get-after-the-passer type team, the Ravens have some questions on the offensive line that make us uneasy regardless. Jared Gaither’s back issues will keep him out, and Oniel Cousins is still dealing with some headaches after suffering a concussion in the preseason, but is expected to start at right tackle. If his noggin starts to hurt, or if his play is poor, the Ravens will likely move right guard Marshal Yanda to right tackle, and insert Chris Chester at right guard. This may be the safest course of action anyway, but the Ravens seem willing to start with Yanda in his more natural spot. If Cousins is effective, this is easily the Ravens’ strongest offensive line alignment in Gaither’s absence.
The Ravens have shown a fair amount of the “slow-hurry” no-huddle offense during the preseason, and Flacco looked very comfortable doing so, especially against the New York Giants. This is something that Ravens fans can attest Rex Ryan’s defenses always struggle to defend against. The issue will be whether or not Flacco can run this offense in what is sure to be an extremely loud New Meadowlands Stadium. He has used a silent snap count in the past, and while it will be a challenge, it could still be the best kryptonite to counter the Jets’ defense.
On the other side of the ball, its surprising how everyone is still talking up the Jets’ rushing attack, which was also #1 in the league last year, despite leading rusher Thomas Jones departing for Kansas City. Sure, Shonn Green may be able to step in and seamlessly continue Gang Green’s dominant ground attack, but let’s make him prove it before we go ahead and just assume they will be as effective this season as last. I’d feel much better about the Ravens defense against this Jets rushing attack were rookie Terrence “Mount” Cody playing. Cody will miss the game with knee issues, and Kelly Gregg will have to play like the Buddy Lee of old to make up for the giant rookie’s absence. Stopping the Jets running game, especially if the offense can jump out and put some points up early, will put the game squarely on the shoulders of second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez, which, conventional wisdom suggests, plays right into B’More’s hands.
Sanchez was just good enough as a rookie, getting his team to the AFC Championship despite throwing 20 picks to just 12 touchdowns, with a QB rating of 63.0. This preseason he hasn’t looked any better, throwing 2 scores and 2 interceptions. Much ado has been made of the Ravens’ issues in the secondary, but it hasn’t looked all that bad so far in the “fake” games. With the potential return of Lardarius Webb, a game-time decision, the chance is there for the Ravens to lock down the Jets’ passing game, which will be missing perennial Raven-killer (while he was in Pittsburgh) Santonio Holmes, who is suspended for the first four games.
More concerning has been the play of the linebackers against the pass. Jets’ tight end Dustin Keller caught 45 passes in 2008, and could cause the Ravens problems. The best defense against Keller may be to crank up the pass rush on Sanchez, so that they are forced to keep their tight ends in to block, much as the Ravens have been forced to do with Todd Heap in the past.
The build-up to this game has been a bit extreme, and admittedly probably tiresome for fans that don’t quite care for these two teams (which, if we’re honest, is MOST NFL fans). Like Ray, we’re all just ready to see them “strap up their chinstraps” at this point.
The Jets seem all too willing to take the torch from the Ravens as the league’s most brash, heaviest trash-talking, and generally universally despised team. What better way to officially pass said torch than to treat the Nation to a very public shutting-up of Rex and his yet-to-win-anything squad?
Ravens 20 Jets 13