RAVENS RUN OFFENSE VS. JETS RUN DEFENSE: The Jets have spent the days leading up to the game answering questions about what has happened to their run defense. Unable to set the edge and deal with the Oakland Raiders’ speed last week, they were gashed for 234 yards on the ground, an average of 7.3 yards per carry by Darren McFadden and company. The Jets currently rank 31st in the NFL in run defense, a surprise considering that they ranked third in the NFL in that category last season, and they boast fast and athletic linebackers in David Harris and Bart Scott. The Ravens didn’t run the ball a lot last week against the St. Louis Rams, but they still accumulated 168 yards on the ground and averaged 6.5 yards per carry. The Ravens are eighth in the league with 383 rushing yards and Ray Rice is ninth in the league with 231 yards despite ranking 20th in the NFL with 41 carries. Rice was shut down by the Jets in last year’s season opener, gaining 43 yards on 21 carries. It’s likely that the Ravens will try to establish him early.
RAVENS PASS OFFENSE VS. JETS PASS DEFENSE: The Ravens passing attack gained a ton of confidence against the Rams, as Joe Flacco passed for a career-high 389 yards, rookie Torrey Smith caught three first-quarter touchdown passes and seven different players had catches. It will be a totally different challenge Sunday against a Jets secondary that features one of the league’s best cornerback tandems in Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. The Jets have held quarterbacks to a 64.1 passer’s rating, the NFL’s best mark. They have also allowed the fourth fewest passing yards in the league. Cromartie, who is questionable with bruised ribs and lungs, has been shaky at times, committing four penalties last week and fumbling a kickoff. The Ravens attacked him last season, drawing four penalties. They were also able to make some plays on young corner Kyle Wilson. Anquan Boldin caught seven balls for 110 yards in that game, though Revis didn’t play. The Jets have nine total sacks, and it’s fair to expect that Rex Ryan will get after Flacco and force him to get rid of the ball early.
JETS RUN OFFENSE VS RAVENS RUN DEFENSE: The Jets running game has been virtually nonexistent, totaling just 246 yards, the eighth lowest total in the NFL. That doesn’t figure to change much this week against a Ravens defense that has been stingy against the run. The Ravens have allowed 252 rushing yards through three games. The longest run they have allowed is 23 yards. Jets lead back Shonn Greene has just 134 yards rushing in three games, and LaDainian Tomlinson has just 62 yards on 17 carries while remaining a threat in the passing game. The pair did have moderate success in limited opportunities against the Ravens last year, rushing 16 times for 80 yards. Jets All-Pro center Nick Mangold missed last week’s game with a high ankle sprain and his return Sunday is tenuous. His absence would leave rookie Colin Baxter making his second start. Ryan, more than anybody, knows that running the ball on the Ravens will start with neutralizing Haloti Ngata and getting a body on Ray Lewis.
JETS PASS OFFENSE VS. RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: Quarterback Mark Sanchez had a subpar day against the Ravens last season, completing just 10 of 21 passes for 74 yards. Slowly but surely, the Jets have put more and more responsibility on their young single caller, and Sanchez has responded by throwing for 886 yards and six touchdowns. He has thrown four interceptions and been sacked nine times. The key will be whether the Jets offensive line, anchored by left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, can keep Terrell Suggs and Jarret Johnson in check. If Sanchez gets the time, he has more than enough weapons to give the Ravens defense problems. Wide receivers Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress have combined for 12 touchdowns against them during their days with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Former Raven Derrick Mason will work out of the slot, while tight end Dustin Keller demands attention down the field. The Ravens have had trouble covering pass-catching tight ends in the past. The Ravens pass defense has allowed 245.3 yards a game, 17th in the NFL.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Billy Cundiff had made 18 straight regular-season field goals for the Ravens before missing twice from 51 yards out against the Rams, while Sam Koch has averaged 45.8 yards per punt. The Ravens have averaged 34.1 yards on kickoff returns and 8.4 on punt returns, compared to 24.4 and 13.3 yards, respectively, for the Jets. New York kicker Nick Folk, who went 30-for-39 on field goals last year, has hit his first six this season, including a game winner against the Dallas Cowboys. Jets rookie punter T.J. Conley has averaged 41.4 yards over his 16 punts. The Jets have gotten a boost from rookie return man Jeremy Kerley, who is currently averaging 13.3 yards a return, fourth best in the AFC. The Ravens are acutely aware of the Jets’ history of blocking punts. Under special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff, the Jets have blocked 11 kicks since 2001, including one that went back for a touchdown in their season opener.
INTANGIBLES: This matchup has produced six straight Ravens wins, but it’s hard to put too much stock in that because only one of them has come with Ryan at the helm of the Jets. It is fair, however, to focus on the Ravens’ home-field advantage. They are 11-1 in their past 12 games at M&T Bank Stadium, and 66-23 there dating back to 2000. Only the New England Patriots have a better home record during that span. But the Jets are obviously battle tested, having played in back-to-back AFC championship games. They also are 15-8 on the road under Ryan. There is plenty of motivation on their side as well after losing to the Ravens, 10-9, in last year’s season opener, and getting publicly challenged by legendary Jets quarterback Joe Namath this week following their loss to Oakland. The sense of urgency should be there as well because after leaving Baltimore, they have a date in New England the following weekend. The Ravens, meanwhile, will enter their bye week.
PREDICTION: It’s been a long week for the Jets, but much like the Ravens, they usually respond to adversity under Ryan. With the Patriots on their schedule next week, the Jets can’t afford to take a two-game losing streak into that showdown. In a game that will likely come down to the final couple of minutes, a late turnover will tip the game in the Jets’ favor and they’ll gain some revenge for the 10-9 loss to the Ravens last year. The two teams, who share many similarities, do nothing to alter the perception that they are among the AFC’s elite in the first of two potential meetings.
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