In this article we're going to take a look at a few Ravens trends and how they might influence Sunday's game. This isn't meant to be an exhaustive list, or even necessarily the most important trends and matchups to focus on. Rather, it is a highly idiosyncratic look at trends which caught my eye this week and might prove interesting in the game's outcome. The focus will primarily be on Ravens' vulnerabilities and how they might or might not be exploited by the New York Jets. Please feel free to supplement this article with any trends you've noticed. If this gets a positive response it might become a weekly feature. Now, let's get to it.
Big, Physical Wide Receivers: A Little Hope
The Ravens have at times been torched by big, physical wide receivers this year. A. J. Green burned the Ravens for 151 yards and a TD, Jordy Nelson went for 113 yards and a TD, and Demaryious Thomas went for 161 yards and 2 TDs. I know what you're thinking: how does this help the Jets? These guys are some of the NFL's best receivers, and the Jets have nobody remotely comparable to them, so who cares? Well, there might be just a Little hope here. Specifically, Greg Little. Drafted in 2011 by the Cleveland Browns, Little is something approximating the Browns' version of Stephen Hill. Like Hill he was big, strong, fast and raw coming out of college, although not as big, strong, fast or raw as Hill. Like Hill he has so far been a disappointment. Little is stuck in second gear, seemingly not improving much over the years. His best year was his rookie year in 2011, and his yardage per game has declined each year he has been in the league, from 44 in 2011 to 40 in 2012 to 34 this year. Yet for all his struggles Little has saved some of his best for the Ravens. Little has recorded two of the four best yardage games of his career against Baltimore, including a 122 yard gem, his career best game, in week 9 of this year that came out of nowhere and represents more than 35% of his entire 2013 yardage total. Without that one game his numbers are even worse than Hill's this year. So it may be just a Little hope, but it is something.
If Rex Ryan was known as a master motivator, always skillfully pushing just the right buttons, one might even imagine the benching that wasn't for Stephen Hill this week to be just the right prod for our under performing physical specimen. We might imagine Rex looking at the kind of receivers that have torched the Ravens, looking at Little in particular, and thinking, now is the time. Stephen Hill, we need you this week more than most. You are our best hope of doing serious damage through the air this week, IF you can get your act together. We might imagine such a scenario, and if we were particularly optimistic
living in a dreamworld, we might imagine Stephen Hill producing a breakout performance, going over 100 yards and maybe even producing his first multiple TD game in the NFL, leading the Jets to a crucial upset victory on the road. We might dream such a thing, and if we did, it would be because Greg Little gives us a Little ray of hope.
Big Physical Backs: Sensing A Pattern Here?
The Ravens have not only been torched by big, physical receivers. Big, physical backs have also given them fits. In particular, Eddie Lacy (5' 11", 230 pounds) ran for 120 yards, his second best game this year, against the Ravens, and Le'Veon Bell (6' 1", 244 pounds) had his best rushing day as a pro, going for 93 yards against the Ravens. The Jets don't have anyone quite as big as those guys, but Chris Ivory comes close, at 6' 0", 222 pounds. Look for the Jets to feed Ivory early and often, and Ivory's performance, good or bad, might well go a long way toward determining the outcome of the game.
Thinking Outside The Box
The Ravens have struggled to protect Flacco this year, allowing 33 sacks so far this season. Interestingly, only one defensive tackle has gotten to Flacco all year: the Bills' Marcell Dareus did it twice. Two sacks have come from cornerbacks, one from a safety, and 28 of the 33 sacks have come from defensive ends and linebackers; 15 from linebackers, 13 from defensive ends. The pressure that has been effective against the 2013 Ravens has been mostly outside pressure. If the Jets are going to win this game, they will likely need big time pressure from the likes of Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples, Calvin Pace, and Sheldon Richardson. Pace has been surprisingly effective in the pass rush this year, collecting 6 sacks on the season, good for second on the Jets behind Wilkerson. A wild card in this might be new Jets pickup Jermaine Cunningham, signed specifically to provide a speed rush threat. It may not be a coincidence he was picked up just in time for this game, against a team that has given up nearly all its sacks from the outside. It is a long shot, but I wouldn't be completely shocked if Cunningham gets thrown into the fray immediately and often on passing downs, being asked to do only one thing: pin his ears back and rush the passer. He might be an interesting player to watch this Sunday.
Taming A Beast
This year has been Torrey Smith's breakout year. His first two years were good, but not great. They were nearly identical years of around 50 catches for about 850 yards and 7 or 8 TDs. This year, however, Torrey Smith has emerged from the shadow of the departed Anquan Boldin and transformed into a major deep threat. Currently Smith is on pace for more than 1250 yards this year, which would firmly place him among the league's elite receivers. But it has been a tale of two seasons for Smith. The first five games Smith looked like one of the two or three best receivers in the NFL, averaging 5.4 catches for 111 yards per game. Really great stuff. Then, he just kind of disappeared. In the last five games Smith has averaged 3.8 catches for 45.8 yards. The Jets desperately need to catch the latter Smith on Sunday. At his best, Smith is the kind of dynamic deep threat that can and will torch the Jets' inadequate cornerbacks. If First 5 Games Smith shows up, Antonio Cromartie might be getting a lot of prolonged views of the back of Smith's uniform as he proceeds towards the end zone. If on the other hand Last Five Games Smith shows up, Cromartie just might get the better of this crucial matchup and the Ravens might struggle mightily to move the ball without production from their best receiver.
So there you have them. Four trends that might prove pivotal in the Jets' Sunday meeting with the Ravens. What trends do you think might be important this week?