The Baltimore Ravens begin their 2010 regular season tonight as they visit the New York Jets to help them open their new Meadowlands Stadium on Monday Night Football. Hopefully, they'll provide the same thing to the Jets as they did for the Dallas Cowboys when they "helped" them close their Texas Stadium by embarrassing them on national TV in 2008.
The Ravens as well as the Jets are both being spoken about as potential Super Bowl contenders. Both teams finished the 2009 regular season with 9-7 records and made the post season, with the Ravens losing in the second round while the Jets lost in the AFC Championship Game. The Jets might have been lucky to have even made the post season, as their last two opponents "laid down" for them to help them back into the playoffs in many opinions. The Ravens have a thrid year QB while the Jets have a second year signal caller. Both teams boast tough defenses and seem to focus on the running game offensively. The coaches are former associates, although personality-wise, they could not be more different.
Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh prefers to let his team's performance talk for him, while the Jets' Rex Ryan loves being in the limelight, as his "performance" on HBO's 'Hard Knocks' has proved this summer. However, all the talking means nothing at 7pm tonight as the two team get it on for real and this one should be a war on both sides of the ball.
(Click on the 'Jump' to read more and see my prediction and join us at gametime for an 'Open Thread')The teams have some noticeable similarities and some noticeable differences. The Jets this year remind me of the Ravens last year. In 2009, the Ravens had a 2nd year QB with a good running game and an excellent defense. Passing only when needed and not having to carry the team on the back of a young QB was the same thing Ravens fans were looking at in 2009. However, we did not get rid of a 1,400 yard running back after Joe Flaco's sophomore season. The Jets did just that and now rest their laurels on the hope that who will now carry the ball, be it a young stud or an aging veteran, can match or even upgrade their run game. Otherwise, the pressure on Mark Sanchez to shoulder more of a load may end up being their downfall. Sanchez' 2009 campaign was not one to impress too many pure fans, but while he did make it to the brink of the Super Bowl, he must improve significantly to assume a greater responsibility if the Jets rushing attack falters.
Conversely, the Ravens significantly upgraded their receiving corps in the off season and as recently as last week and now have as strong a threesome between Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh as anyone in the league. The third year of Flacco'sprogression should put him light years ahead of Sanchez in only his second season.
The Ravens defense should be able to slow if not shut down the Jets run game, forcing the Jets to turn to the passing attack to move the ball. Despite the fact that the Ravens secondary is uncertain and easily the weak point of their vaunted defense the starters did not give up a defensive touchdown in the entire pre season. The team's 'bend-but-don't-break' mentality should help them and their pass rush will make those defensive backs look a lot better if they can pressure Sanchez out of the pocket and make him release the ball too early. As long as Ray Lewis is roaming the middle, the team should make the Jets pay for every yard earned. The biggest concern to me is the short-to-middle passing game to the tight end, as that has stood out as a void in coverage through the pre season.
But is that enough for the Jets to put enough offensive points on the board to slow down the Ravens new "juggernaut" offense? New York's defense plans to answer that with their own reputation of shutting down offenses. Despite his holdout, expect CB Darrelle Revis to lock down Boldin, but between Mason and TJ, the Jets corners might be over-matched and vulnerable. That leaves the Ravens trio of TE's, including veteran Todd Heap along with the two rookies, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, who should present match-up difficulties all season long to the slower linebackers and smaller defensive backs who are forced to cover them.
Flacco is no longer the wide-eyed rookie nor is he being coddled like Sanchez still is. Possessing one of the strongest arms in the game, he now has the weapons to complement the running game. Ray Rice, along with Willis McGahee and LeRon McClain, are a three-headed monster that will test the toughness of the Jets front seven, who are as good as any in the league. The Ravens pass protection has been suspect this pre season and with RT Jared Gaither out for the game and replaced by normal starting RG Marshal Yanda, that is where the focus will need to be. Rice is one of the more dangerous players and a fantasy favorite, as he is so versatile running the ball inside or out, as well as in open space in the passing game.
He will get his chance, as will everyone else on both teams. The difference to me is that the Ravens should be able to move the ball onthe ground and throughthe air with some measure of success. However, I don't see the Jets getting anything on the ground and I'll take the Ravens' Flacco and his receiving corps over Sanchez and his targets any day. The defenses might be very similar and this should end up a low scoring contest, boring to many basic football fans, but fascinating to us fans into the intricacies of the game that begin in the trenches, where the game is won or lost.
The Jets are favored as the home team, but the line has moved down from three points to two or less in some circles. Three point favorites at home mean the game is virtually even, and less means more money is being bet on the visitor, which is apparently what has happened since the line opened. I agree with the wagering public and if I were a betting man, if I couldn't stay away fro the betting window and just enjoy what will be a great game, I'd take the Ravens in this battle.
The Ravens passing game takes center stage tonight as they disappoint the home team fans and ruin their opening night on prime time TV: Ravens 20-10