Needing a win in the worst way, the (5-5) New York Jets will take on the (4-6) Baltimore Ravens in a matchup with potentially serious wild-card repercussions. The Jets currently hold the 6 seed, but the Baltimore Ravens (among others) are breathing down their neck. The Ravens have not played great football this season, but have some players that may present the Jets with some difficulties. Lets take a closer look at some of the key players and matchups for this Sunday's tilt.
Ed Reed: That's right; one of the newest members of the Jets may play a huge role this Sunday. The Ravens offense is no juggernaut–their 20.8 points per game is the 8th lowest number in the NFL–and their passing game has been particularly disappointing. Joe Flacco, the NFL's highest paid player, projects to have the worst season of his career, with 13 interceptions and a 75.3 passer rating (6th worst in the NFL). One facet that the Ravens have excelled at is the deep ball. They have connected on 10 passes of 40 yards or longer–only 2 teams have more–and especially like to target Torrey Smith over the top. Antonio Cromartie has looked a step slow all season long, and will need safety help for much of the game if he is matched up with Smith. If Ed Reed can dissuade Flacco from looking for Smith–who has 5 of the 10 catches of 40+ yards–it would be a huge advantage for Gang Green. The Bills weren't afraid to look deep, so the Jets better hope that Ed Reed gets up to par and does it fast.
Muhammad Wilkerson: Joe Flacco has been battered this season to the tune of 33 sacks. The Ravens have had particular trouble protecting him off the edges, where Michael Oher and Eugene Monroe will try to slow down Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples. Flacco has been the most blitzed quarterback in the league thus far, and has had some serious struggles against the blitz. He is bottom 5 among all starters in passer rating, completion percentage, and yards per attempt when facing the blitz, meaning that the Jets shouldn't be afraid to expose the secondary when getting after Flacco (of course, they must always account for Torrey Smith). Wilkerson in particular has played well even when the Jets have struggled, and a big game from the defensive superstar would be a key to disrupting the Baltimore offense.
Haloti Ngata: Although Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil account for much of the Ravens' pass rush–they combine for 17.5 of the Ravens' 34 sacks–it is stopping nose tackle Haloti Ngata that might prove most problematic this Sunday. Assuming that Ngata plays (he is questionable with a sprained left knee), he will likely matchup with rookie left guard Brian Winters. Stop me if you've heard this story before. Winters has been disappointing in his rookie season, which is to be expected given the steep learning curve. Regardless, he has been abused by the likes of Kyle Williams and Geno Atkins in recent weeks, and the impending battle against Ngata must be giving Geno Smith nightmares. Nick Mangold will be helping out on most plays, but we have seen that start to affect his own assignments. Winters has to start carrying his weight, or risk torpedoing the Jets season.
Geno Smith: After starting hot, Geno Smith's season has taken a sharp turn for the worse. The turnovers continue to accumulate–he has only had 2 games without an interception–but the big plays have dried up as well. He has looked tentative and slow in his reads, often missing open receivers or overthrowing them. He hasn't surpassed 200 yards in over a month and hasn't thrown a touchdown in that span, a troubling statistic given his propensity for big plays earlier in the season. He has been particularly bad when faced with pressure, and the Ravens generate plenty of it, ranking 3rd in the NFL with 34 sacks. Their secondary isn't anything to write home about, allowing a passer rating of 89.8 to opposing QB's, so there will almost certainly be opportunities to take shots down the field. Given the Ravens' tremendous run defense (they allow 3.7 yards per carry), Geno will likely need to make some plays down the field for the Jets to have a chance.
Players to Watch: Stephen Hill has been a phantom for much of the season, and it looks like Rex is just about ready to hold him accountable. Having recorded a grand total of 40 yards in the last 4 weeks (and 0 in the last 2), it is fair to say that the young wide receiver is struggling out there. On a team that likes to talk about "competition", it appears that the hammer has dropped.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Jets WR Stephen Hill on his playing time: "Some will be cut down." WRs coach delivered news to him today. <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%23nyj&src=hash">#nyj</a></p>— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) <a href="https://twitter.com/MMehtaNYDN/statuses/403258844664856576">November 20, 2013</a></blockquote>
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And yet, I think that Hill can make a big impact on this game. The Ravens have allowed a league high 15 passes of 40+ yards, and are extremely vulnerable over the top. The Jets passing game is nothing to write home about, but they should be looking deep this Sunday. This is what #84 was brought in for, so I'll be looking for him to make an impact. With Ray Rice in the opposing backfield, I will also be watching David Harris this Sunday. Although Rice has been pretty awful this season, he came on strong last week and is still the focal point of the Ravens offense. Harris will have a tough task sniffing out tosses and screen plays, but will likely be critical to the game's outcome.