Still in control of their own destiny, the New York Jets will face the defending Super Bowl champions in a game that will have huge playoff implications for both sides.
Of course, this game has much more meaning because of the number of ex-Raven coaches and players on the Jets, including head coach Rex Ryan. Having gone 0-2 in his two chances on his former team (that passed on hiring him as a head coach in 2008), you can bet that this game has a lot more juice to it.
While they have hardly been a model of consistency, the Jets have managed to churn out arguably the most surprising 5-5 record in football. The Baltimore Ravens, on the other hand, are on the brink of playoff elimination less than a year removed from winning the Super Bowl.
Still, while the Ravens may have one less win than the Jets, they are more than capable of beating a Jets team that has won just one game on the road this year.
Here is the blueprint for how the Jets can get back on track against Rex Ryan's former team.
It is no secret that the Jets secondary has been prone to giving up huge plays in the passing game in large part thanks to some horrendous play by their two starting cornerbacks, rookie first-round pick Dee Milliner and former Pro-Bowler Antonio Cromartie.
For how much they have invested in their corners in terms of money and draft picks, the Jets should not need to handicap this position.
However, if the Jets want to win this week's crucial game, they must accept the reality that both of their corners are huge liabilities, no matter how much talent they have, especially when considering how dangerous the Ravens can be with the deep ball.
If the Buffalo Bills' rookie wide receiver Marquise Goodwin was able to go off for six receptions, 81 yards and a touchdown against the Jets, how on earth can they stop a proven veteran in Torrey Smith?
The best way for the Jets to deal with the Ravens' speedy receivers is to play with a lot of Cover 2 looks.
The Jets utilized this strategy against the New Orleans Saints on many occasions. Outside of a few plays given up to Jimmy Graham, the strategy worked against one of the most aggressive offenses in the NFL, and the Jets were able to win the game.
On this play, the Jets utilized Cover 2 to take away the two deep targets, putting their money on Antonio Allen against Jimmy Graham—and won.
With the limited tight end options the Ravens have (Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark), they stand a much better chance of stopping the Ravens by rolling the dice on players like Antonio Allen than Dee Milliner or Antonio Cromartie.
Use the Tight Ends
|Ravens Safeties in Coverage|
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Outside of a few grabs in garbage time, one of the most disappointing aspects of the Jets' loss to the Bills last week was their two tight ends, Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Winslow, were completely missing for the vast majority of the game—and that should change this week against the Ravens.
For one, the Jets are not going to have much success throwing to their receivers on the outside. The Ravens' top three cornerbacks (Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith and Corey Graham) all rank in the top 45 of Pro Football Focus' rankings. Jimmy Smith comes in the highest at No. 28.
Therefore, the Jets need to attack the weakest link of the Ravens secondary in coverage, the safeties.
Both starters, James Ihedigbo and Matt Elam, are very physical and effective against the run, but they can be had in coverage.
If Jeremy Kerley cannot play, the Jets should fill his role as a security blanket for Geno Smith by using both tight ends against Elam and Ihedigbo.
If the Jets are able to draw more attention to the tight ends, it will allow the receivers on the outside to draw more single coverage, giving them a better chance to make plays.
Give Antonio Allen Playing Time
Last week's game against the Bills reeked of bad coaching decisions, but perhaps the most criminal decision made during the week of preparation was to virtually remove their best safety, Antonio Allen, from the game.
Even with the mid-week addition of Ed Reed, there was no reason to give Allen just three snaps on defense all afternoon.
|Jets Offensive Line vs. Buffalo Bills|
|Player||Position||Hurries Allowed||Hits Allowed||Sacks Allowed|
For the historically nostalgic Rex Ryan, it may be tempting for him to start Ed Reed over Allen against the team where the two men built their careers, but doing so will dilute the talent and athleticism of his starting 11 players.
While things may change in a more familiar defensive system, Ed Reed was allowing a perfect passer rating (158.3) during his time in Houston without defending or intercepting a single pass. If Reed has anything left, it should be used in a rotational role where he can thrive in "big nickel" packages with three safeties on the field.
Simply put, Rex Ryan will have to make the decision between satisfying his thirst for nostalgia or doing what is in the best interest of his team.
Keep Running Back in to Protect
After allowing three sacks, two hits and seven hurries in a turnover-filled affair last week, it is abundantly clear that the Jets have a problem with their pass protection.
While they made plenty of fixable mental mistakes when recognizing blitzes, they were beat on an individual basis as well. The only player who had a relatively clean sheet against the Bills was left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, who allowed one quarterback hurry, according to Pro Football Focus.
Nick Mangold is a shadow of his formerly dominant self, while Brian Winters and Willie Colon have been uneven at best at the guard positions.
Right tackle Austin Howard had a relatively clean sheet from a stats perspective, but he allowed the hit on Geno Smith that caused him to miss a play. Smith was never quite the same after taking that early hit.
While the Bills' talented defensive line is difficult for any team to deal with, life does not get any easier this week going up against the likes of Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata.
Improvements must be made along the offensive line in all areas, but the Jets cannot just assume that the line has simply learned its lesson. Until the offensive line proves it can protect Geno Smith on its own, the Jets need to keep more running backs in to help in pass protection.
The obvious negative of keeping a running back in to protect is that it removes one less option for Smith to throw to, but as long as it makes the Jets' young rookie more comfortable, the trade-off is well worth the price. Besides, taking away extra progressions with more two- and three-man routes may help simplify things for the struggling rookie.
Despite owning a greater record than the Ravens, this could wind up being a very difficult game for the Jets to win. As shown by their two blowout losses to the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills, the 2013 Jets have not had great success against tougher, more physical, defensive teams that they cannot push around as easily.
As always, the only chance the Jets have to win is to play a smart, yet not overly complicated game that plays to their strengths. If they can stick to their game plan and avoid turning the ball over, the Jets are going to at least have a chance to win any game they play in.
Advanced statistics provided by ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required).