The first Monday night football game of the 2010 season features two defensive juggernauts with a lot of history and no love lost between them.
This September 13th match-up has Ray Lewis leading his Baltimore Ravens into the first Monday night game in the New Meadowlands to take on his old pal Rex Ryan's New York Jets.
Ray Lewis has been very outspoken about his displeasure with his former defensive coordinator's boisterous disposition in the press. It seems that Ray doesn't agree with Rex labeling the Jets defense as the best in the league, or his bold predictions of a 2010 Super Bowl appearance. Ray is more than a little offended that Rex isn't giving the Ravens defense as much credit as he feels they deserve.
The truth is, apart from the Super Bowl prediction, Rex is actually correct with most of the things that he has said. Like it or not Ray, statistically, the Jets are the best defensive team in the NFL. On paper, they are actually better than the Ravens.
The Jets were ranked no.1 in the NFL in almost every significant defensive category in 2009. The list of first place marks includes total yards allowed (4,037), total points allowed (236), passing yards allowed (2,459), passing yards allowed per attempt (4.6), total passing TDs allowed (8), and even first downs allowed.
Led by 2010 training camp holdout CB Darrelle Revis, the Jets were flat out stingy against the pass in 2009. Revis is one of the only true shut-down corners in the league. He didn't allow a single receiver to catch for 100 yards last year (by now everyone knows about "the list"), deflected 31 passes, and picked off six balls over the course of the year. Revis even managed to return one of those picks for a TD. However, missing all of training camp this season may leave his skills a little rusty to start the year.
This is something that the Ravens may try to test early in the game. If there is any rust on Revis at all, Baltimore will be able to exploit it. Ravens QB Joe Flacco played well in his second year with the team in 2009. The sophomore QB threw for 3,616 yards, 21 TDs to only 12 interceptions, and finished out the year with a respectable passer rating of 88.9. With the new deep threats that the team added for him to throw to, he should be all set to have a serious breakout year in 2010.
Flacco's favorite target in 2009, Derrick Mason (73 catches;1,028 yards; 7 TDs,) will get the luxury of playing out of the slot for much of the 2010 season. The Ravens upgraded the WR position better than any other team did this off—season with the signing of free agents Anquan Boldin (Arizona Cardinals: over 80 catches, over 1,000 yards in four of the last five seasons) and T.J. Houshmandzahde (Seattle Seahawks: 79 catches, 911 yards in 2009.)
Revis and the rest of the secondary had better study hard and bring their "A" game in this one. Revis might be able to shut down one of these guys, but the rest of the Jets secondary will need to step up.The Ravens had as above average passing attack in 2009, and it should be stellar in 2010. They have three WR who were no.1 guys on their respective teams last season on the field at the same time,
That's not to say that they won't be running the ball much, though. RB Ray Rice is coming off of a year in which he put up 2,041 all purpose yards (1,339 rushing, 702 receiving.) He had eight TDs, 78 catches, and rushed for 5.3 yards per carry. Entering his third season, the sky is the limit for this young man. With all of these weapons at WR, there's no way that teams can stack the box on Rice.
The Jets weren't very generous against the run last year, though. The team finished eighth in rushing yards allowed. They also forced 31 turnovers last season. That was good for the eighth spot in the league in that department. Jets LB Bart Scott will have something to say about Ray Rice's production in this game. You can be sure of that.
In fact, The Jets' biggest (and maybe only) weakness last season was in the passing game. Rookie QB Mark Sanchez was very inconsistent in 2009. He came out of the gate strong, but quickly fizzled out. Sanchez finished out the season only 2,444 yards, a completion percentage of 53.8, and only 12 TDs to a whopping 20 interceptions. He even managed to fumble the ball 10 times.
These kind of numbers would leave a ball hawk like safety Ed Reed licking his chops, but an injury is keeping him off the field for at least the first six weeks of the season. His backup, Tom Zbikowski, will have his work cut out for him. The Jets will have WR Braylon Edwards for his first full season in a Jets uniform, and they brought in Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes from the Pittsburgh Steelers to help solidify their WR staff.
The Jets strong suit, offensively, is their running game. They finished first overall in rushing yards and rushing TDs. However, they lost their no.1 back Thomas Jones in the offseason. They're putting all their chips on second year back Shon Greene this season. Greene never started a game in the 2009 regular season, but he played very well in the playoffs, taking the brunt of the work load away from Jones and ran the Jets all the way to the AFC Championship game.
With that, we come full circle back to the head—hunting Ray Lewis, the Baltimore Ravens' perennial run stopper. This guy literally does it all. In 2009, at the age of 35, Lewis racked up 134 combined tackles, three sacks, seven pass deflections, 2 forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, and started all 16 games. He also has 28 career interceptions as a middle linebacker.
Lewis is a first ballot Hall—of—famer, and has a chip on his shoulder for Jets Head coach Rex Ryan. Both of these men are out to prove a point. As Ray's former coach look for Rex to get creative and try to take Ray out of this game as much as possible.
Now that Ravens offensive-minded head coach John Harbaugh has some weapons to with which to attack, I look for him to dial up a completely different offensive assault then we have ever seen from any Ravens team.
The Ravens finished third in overall yards allowed (4,808) and points allowed (261.) With as long as Ray Lewis is around, this Defense will be one of the elite groups in the NFL. Now that they have a dynamic offensive line-up, they may be the team to represent the AFC in Super Bowl. (I'm sticking with my preseason pick, the New England Patriots)
No matter What happens on Monday night, there's a good chance that these two teams will see each other again before this season is in the books.
But for now, we'll just have to see if the Jets can deliver some hard knocks to the Ravens, or if they'll be living the "hard knock life" on Monday night.