The Baltimore Ravens make their first appearance on Monday Night Football in 2011 and while it is as a visiting team at the Jacksonville Jaguars, the nation should see why the Ravens deserve to be featured more on prime time and have at least one home MNF game every year. Surprisingly, this is the first of two home Monday Night Football games for the Jaguars while as mentioned above, the Ravens do not have any, although they will have three Sunday Night Football games and host the San Francisco 49ers on Thanksgiving night.
That should be just part of the motivation that the team should not even need to be mentioned along with the best teams in the league when talking about the Super Bowl contenders. The Ravens sit atop the AFC North with a 4-1 record, and while they should never overlook any NFL team, there is a solid chance that they will win tonight and next week, hosting the Arizona Cardinals before they head into Pittsburgh to play the Steelers on their next prime time game on Sunday Night Football (November 6th).
Meanwhile, the focus is firmly on beating what appears to be a downtrodden Jacksonville team that while boasting one of the best multi-purpose running backs in the league (Maurice Jones-Drew), is "led" by a rookie QB (Blaine Gabbert) who has not been able to get it going and prove he is deserving yet of that first round draft pick.
It shouldn't be difficult to figure out the Ravens defensive game-plan tonight. Baltimore will stack the box to stop MJD and force the Jags into throwing the ball. If the game goes as planned, they might not even have to do that to change the play-calling. If the Ravens jump out to a big lead, Jacksonville will have no other recourse than to go to the air, which then is where the Ravens do their best "hunting." With a harassing pass rush and opportunistic secondary ed by All-World safety Ed Reed, this game is beginning to look a lot like the 62-7 embarrassment that the Indianapolis Colts suffered at the hands of the New Orleans Saints last night.
While there is no comparison between what appears to be a decent Jaguars defense and the horrible Colts one we saw last night, the Ravens should be able to limit if not virtually shut out the opposing offense in the same manner that they have done all season. the Ravens lead the NFL in what I have always preached as the most important defensive statistic, points-allowed, giving up a paltry 14 points a game. At the same time, the Ravens winning point differential is also a league-best 22 points a game.
This all bodes very poorly for Jacksonville, a city that got an expansion team when Baltimore was overlooked despite a better market, presentation and long NFL history. Jacksonville even needed a 24-hour extension to sell out their stadium to get the game on local TV tonight, even though they have "tarped" over close to 10,000 seats to make it easier to sell every available seat.
If the Ravens play mistake-free football and do not beat themselves, there should be no reason why this game will not go into the win column. With what is becoming the most balance offensive attack in team history, they should be able to wear down the Jaguars on the ground as well as through the air. The Jags played the Steelers tough last week and will not give up and lay down for the Ravens, but there is no question who is the better team in this game.
The only question should be is by how many points the Ravens will win tonight, but don't expect to hear any sort of that bravado from the players or the coaching staff, as they will approach the game in a controlled and efficient manner to eliminate mistakes, big plays and put pressure on the rookie QB to turn the ball over,....and over,...and over...