After weeks of build-up and what seems like months of talk, the Baltimore Ravens Monday night debut against the New York Jets is nearly upon us. This figures to be a passionate affair between two teams who pride themselves on being the baddest of the bad in the NFL. Add familiarity to all the bravado and this will be a contemptuous, hard fought game that would appear to more about imposing wills than about out-scheming the opposition. The Ravens had been the king of defense in the NFL. The Jets and some others displaced them last year. Let’s take a look at what the Ravens need to do to be successful stopping the Jets.
Against the Run: The Ravens run defense limited opponents to 3.4 yards per carry last season. Jets starting tailback Shonn Greene averaged 5.0 yards per carry last season. Which trend gives will play a huge factor in determining who wins Monday night. In the Jets favor is a bruising and mobile offensive line that carried the Jets offense last year. C Nick Mangolt is tough and smart, the Jets have good fullbacks and they open a lot of holes while trying to control the clock with their ground game. The good news for the Ravens is that this plays into their hands. The strength of the Ravens defense is the ability of the front seven to disrupt and shut down opposing ground games. NG Haloti Ngata will give the interior of the Jets line trouble and command double teams, allowing play-making LB’s Ray Lewis and Jarrett Johnson to roam and hit. Look for Lewis to step up his game in prime time as he is clearly edgy after hearing his tirades directed towards Rex Ryan and the Jets in mid-week. SS Dawan Landry and OLB Terrell Suggs will play key roles in limiting the Jets on the ground. Suggs is known as a pass rusher, but his defense agaisnt the run is what makes him as versatile a rush linebacker as there is in the NFL. The Ravens will look to stuff the Jets ground game and put the job of beating them in the hands of 2nd year QB Mark Sanchez.
Against the Pass: The weakness of the Ravens defense in 2009 was undoubtedly their ability to slow down opposing passing attacks, and more specifically the corners ability to stick with opposing receivers. Let’s face it, gone are the days of Chris McAllister, Duane Starks, Samari Rolle and the do-everything shutdown corners in Baltimore. What the Ravens do have is a collection of smaller corners, who run well, but struggle against bigger, more physical receivers. The Ravens got good news when LarDarius Webb was upgraded to probable on the injury list. Webb, who will be a game time decision, will likely be limited to nickle duty, but he represents an upgrade over Chris Carr. Despite suspect coverage in the secondary the Ravens have a couple of reasons for optimism against the Jets. First, that they are facing a 2nd year QB in Sanchez, who threw 20 picks last year and had a rough pre-season. Second, the Jets have an inconsistent group of receivers and will be missing the biggest Ravens killer in Santonio Holmes. Holmes had several big games against the Ravens as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Left are Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery. At this point Cotchery figures to be Sanchez’ go to target, as Edwards, who has the size and speed combo to give the Ravens fits, struggles to catch the ball consistently.
The Ravens will need to watch out for TE Dustin Keller and RB LaDanian Tomlinson in the passing game. The Ravens LB’s struggled to cover opposing back and TE’s in the pre-season, a trend that does not figure to change considering that none of the LB’s are particularly good in pass coverage. The Ravens will place an emphasis on getting after Sanchez and pressuring the Jets QB into making poor decisions. Sanchez did show that he can still be rattled in the pre-season. A match-up to watch will be Suggs against Jets T D’Brickashaw Ferguson. Ferguson is big and athletic, but Suggs seems to be playing his best football in over a year. Suggs should have enough quickness to give Ferguson some trouble, or at least make the Jets think of giving help with a TE or RB. If that happens, Cory Redding, Trevor Pryce and Jarrett Johnson will have some exploitable one-on-one match-ups. Also look for the Ravens to get more creative with the blitz packages to give Sanchez more to think about.
Monday night will be a physical test for the Ravens defense, who no doubt have a chip on their shoulder facing Ryan and the Jets, and looking reclaim their spot as the premiere defense in the NFL. Overall, this is a favorable match-up for the Ravens. The Jets strength plays right into the Ravens, and the Ravens have taken away opposing running games for 10 years and counting. Without Holmes or a dynamic passing attack, I expect the Ravens to hold the Jets offense to 17 points or less.