Jets (2-1) @ Ravens (2-1)
Rex Ryan and Gang Green come to M&T Bank Stadium this week for some Sunday Night Football action. The Ravens are riding high following their 37-7 shellacking of the St. Louis Rams, while the Jets are licking their wounds after being run over roughshod by Darren McFadden (171 yards) and the Oakland Raiders last week 34-24. Despite being 2-1, the vaunted New York defense has been looking very vulnerable and un-Rex-like here over the last couple weeks. They find themselves ranked 31st in the league against the run on the heels of allowing Maurice Jones-Drew and McFadden to rush for 4.9 and 9.0 yards per carry, respectively. They undoubtedly come into Charm City with a chip on their collective shoulder, ready to do anything and everything to stop Ray Rice.
Rice, the Ravens do-everything running back, is off to a fast start here in 2011. The diminutive former Scarlet Knight sits fourth in the NFL through three games with 409 yards from scrimmage, and is averaging a hefty 5.6 yards per carry. It was tough sledding for Rice when these teams last met though, as he gained only 43 yards on 21 carries in 2010 week 1.
Helping open things up for Rice has been the Ravens’ suddenly (maybe) respectable passing game. Joe Flacco threw for a personal best 389 yards in St. Louis last week, hooking up with rookie Torrey Smith for touchdowns of 77, 41, and 18 yards. Smith, though, will have to prove he can make plays in the NFL on a consistent basis, and going from facing the Rams secondary to that of the Jets is akin to jumping from the high school J.V. to a BCS opponent. Smith will likely find himself matched up with Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie for most of the night. Cromartie had a rough game in Oakland before leaving with a bruised lung – as incredibly painful as that sounds, he has been practicing and expects to play. On the other side, Anquan Boldin, one of the most physical wide receivers in the league, will find himself dealing with one of the most physical cornerbacks in the league, All-World defender Darrelle Revis. Boldin had 7 catches for 110 yards in his Ravens debut against New York in 2010, as the Ravens moved him around while pretty much avoiding Revis altogether. They’ll likely aim to do the same this week, unless New York decides to just match Revis up with Boldin wherever he goes, daring the Ravens’ rookie wideouts – Smith, Tandon Doss, LaQuan Williams – to beat them. The Ravens would certainly feel better about their chances if Lee Evans was on the field, but he may miss his second straight game. In his last two games against the Jets though, Evans has just 2 catches for 44 yards.
While the Jets have struggled to stop the run of late, the other side of their typical “ground and pound” philosophy has also failed to live up to expectations. New York finds themselves just 25th in the NFL in rushing yards, with both Shonn Green (3.3) and LaDainian Tomlinson (3.6) averaging less than four yards per carry. They’ve been successful through the air however, riding this new NFL wave of 300-yard-passers as the norm, with quarterback Mark Sanchez putting up 295 yards per game passing. Sanchez’s favorite target is tight end Dustin Keller (16 receptions, 249 yards), and if Keller can shake the memory of what happened when he went over the middle against Ray Lewis in 2010, he could do some damage on Sunday night.
Of course the Jets also bring perennial Raven-killer Santonio Holmes to town. Holmes, who gave the Ravens nightmares as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, missed the 2010 opener due to suspension. This will be the first time the Ravens face Holmes wearing white and green, so let’s hope the results are much different than when he wore black and yellow.
The Ravens’ already depleted secondary got some more bad news this week when Dominique Foxworth was placed on injured reserve. Lardarius Webb has played well lately, and Chris Carr should continue to improve the pain from his quad injury fades away and he gets more reps, but teams have been picking on Cary Williams. Rookie Chykie Brown and practice squad signee Danny Gorrer don’t inspire much confidence either. One thing the Ravens may have going for them is that Sanchez has never faced Ed Reed. The ballhawk extraordinare could goad the Jets’ QB into some mistakes, despite Rex undoubtedly stressing to Sanchez all week how dangerous Reed can be.
New York have given up nine sacks as well, while the Ravens have registered nine of their own.
The Jets, for the first time in Rex’s tenure, can’t run the ball and can’t stop the run. While Rex will be pumped up to beat his former team, his intensity won’t be able to match that of the Ravens, who are not only playing at home for the first time since decimating Pittsburgh 35-7 in Week 1, but they’re doing so in their all black uniforms, at night, in a nationally televised contest. M&T Bank Stadium will be rocking, Ray Rice will be running, and the Ravens will get enough pressure on Sanchez to keep him from doing too much damage to their still very questionable secondary.
Ravens 23 Jets 13