One of the characteristics that every good team has in common is resiliency, and after a tough loss in Oakland last week, the (2-1) New York Jets will be looking to get back on track against a (2-1) Ravens team. Baltimore is by far better than any team that the Jets have played up to date, and Sunday will be a great test for Gang Green. In many ways, the Ravens are identical to the Jets: ferocious defense, young quarterback, and superstars on both sides. Last year, Baltimore prevailed 10-9 in the season opener, but both teams experienced change over the offseason, which might lead to slightly different results. Take the jump for the keys to this heavyweight battle.
As we all know, Rex Ryan was hired as the Jets head coach after working 9 years for the Ravens organization. Along with Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard, Ryan brought a style of defense that he had perfected in Baltimore: a system that put fear in the eyes of quarterbacks and offensive coordinators alike. Ryan might no longer be in Baltimore, but an intimidating defense remains, led by the ageless Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. The offense is not as frightening, quarterbacked by Joe "Bert" Flacco, who has yet to make the jump from mediocre to outstanding. This leads into the first key of the game:
David Harris & Jim Leonhard: For this game, the Jets do not need to focus much attention on beating Joe Flacco. A better strategy would be to take his weapons away, and allow the 4th year QB to beat himself. He has an elite arm, but his mechanics remain inconsistent and the secondary shouldn't have too much trouble shutting down Anquan Boldin (welcome to Revis Island!) and the two headed monster of Torrey Smith and Lee Evans. Ray Rice is the straw that stirs the Ravens' drink, and it will be essential to stop him if the Jets have any hopes of winning this game. Last year, the Jets managed to hold Ray Rice to 62 all purpose yards, but were burned repeatedly by Anquan Boldin. Boldin took advantage of a myriad of factors, including Revis' rustiness after a long holdout and Kyle Wilson's inexperience. Revis is back to being the best CB in the NFL, and Kyle Wilson has improved by leaps and bounds this year, so I don't expect Flacco to look in Boldin's direction very often. Instead, he will look for the sparkplug that is 4th year RB Ray Rice. He is an all-around machine, both running the ball and catching it out of the backfield. The Jets will blitz Flacco often, and they aren't careful, Ray Rice will run rampant off of screen passes. David Harris and Jim Leonhard will be crucial to this game, as they need to keep an eye on the 5' 8'' dwarf with a big heart and a wide array of skills. If Rice is taken out of the offense, the Jets will have a great shot at victory.
Mark Sanchez: Lost in a heartbreaking defeat to the Raiders was another stellar performance by the Sanchize. He set a career high in pass yardage with 369, and has thrown the ball very well. In fact, the first three games of the season are arguably the best three game stretch that Sanchez has ever enjoyed during the regular season. He threw for a paltry 79 yards in last season's game against the Ravens, but the kid gloves are clearly off and the captain is ready to lead his offense into Baltimore. The Ravens have a great front 7, and the running backs are going to find it extremely difficult to find holes, especially behind a ragtag offensive line. However, their cornerbacks are as inexperienced as they come, with 1st year starters Cary Williams and Lardarius Webb filling in for injured cornerbacks Dominique Foxworth and Jimmy Smith. Sanchez can take advantage of the Ravens' unseasoned CB's, as long as he watches out for ballhawk Ed Reed. The Jets can no longer afford for Sanchez to simply take care of the ball and hand off to his runningbacks; he should now be expected to make plays, rather than watch his teammates make them.
Plaxico Burress: Despite having a menacing defense, the Ravens allowed the 12th most passing yards in the NFL last year. This places them as below average, which is strange given that they only allowed 22 passing TD (good for 9th best in the league), and held opposing quarterbacks to a 76.4 QB rating (5th best in the league). This is the type of bend-but-don't-break defense that can win many games. Clearly, their Red Zone defense was outstanding last year, a fact that is supported by TeamRankings.com. The Ravens had the 6th best Red Zone defense last year, allowing opponents to score only 46.67% of the time. Couple this with the fact that the Jets had the 5th worst Red Zone offense last year (scoring only 44.26% of the time), and you might think that Gang Green is in for a rough day. This is where Plaxico Burress and his 6' 5'' frame comes in. He has helped Sanchez in the Red Zone, and has already caught 2 TD's (including one last week, from 16 yards out). The stats seem to support the Jets' improvement, as they have scored on 62.5% of their trips to the Red Zone this year. Obviously it is too early to tell whether this statistic will hold true for the entire year, but the early returns are positive. The Ravens have proven that they will give up yards through the air, but will clamp down when it really counts. It is up to Burress to break through this seemingly indestructible Red Zone defense.
Calvin Pace & Bart Scott: Luckily for Flacco, the Jets do not possess a Mario Williams/ DeMarcus Ware type of talent, and instead feature Calvin Pace and Bart Scott as their main pass rushers. Scott leads the Jets with 2 sacks on the year, and Pace comes into the year with a proven track-record (having led the Jets in sacks in 2009, and finishing in 2nd last year despite playing with an injury). The Ravens do not do a great job of protecting Flacco, giving up the 9th most sacks last year. New York got to Flacco twice last year, and forced him to fumble once and throw an interception. If the Jets give him time to throw, Flacco has the arm to make big plays happen.
Rex Ryan: Since hiring Rex Ryan as the head coach, the Jets have been (6-6) in games after a loss. That kind of mediocrity is unacceptable, and Ryan should certainly do a better job of motivating his troops after a loss. After giving up 34 points and being criticized by Joe Namath for being unprepared and not respecting the opposition enough, I expect Ryan to light a fire under his defense.
Antonio Cromartie & Dustin Keller: Cromartie cannot possibly play much worse than he did last week. From the fumbled return to the (unwarranted) penalties, Cromartie had one of the worst games of his career. This week he'll likely be matched up with Torrey Smith, who had 3 TD's last week but is extremely raw. For Cro, the only way from last Sunday is up, right? On the other side, Keller has become Sanchez' favorite target, but I am featuring him here because of what happened last year. For those that haven't seen, Keller was absolutely pummeled by Ray Lewis. Dustin needs to keep that hit out of his head, because Sanchez needs his TE to fearlessly go over the middle. Honestly, I wouldn't even blame Keller if he decides to avoid Lewis this week. Stay away from the brick wall.
Prediction: This is a Jets blog, and I am a Jets fan. The Jets are a team that is talented enough to win every single game, and frankly, I would never bet against them. With that being said, I believe that it will be a physical, hard fought, and very close game, but I predict that the Jets will come out victorious.