The Baltimore Ravens’ victory last week over the St. Louis Rams triggered a big sigh of relief from Ravens fans. Most fans were confident that the team was better than they played against the Tennessee Titans, and most analysts are now giving the Titans more respect. The fact that the Ravens lost to the Titans doesn’t seem like such a huge surprise, especially now that their defense is ranked first in the NFL in yards allowed and second only to the Ravens in scoring.
Even still, the Ravens played badly versus the Titans, and Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco had one of the worst games of his career.
In retrospect, the Titans game was a true "trap" game. The Ravens didn’t have enough game film on them to realize how good the Titans defense was, and the Titans were without their two best defensive linemen in their first game. Furthermore, no one expected a true West Coast passing attack from a team with All-Pro running back Chris Johnson. On top of that, the Ravens were without three of their top four corners in the game.
That’s not to say that the Ravens had an excuse for playing poorly—only that they were surprised by several factors in the game. Those surprise factors along with the lack of depth at corner played a huge part in the loss to the Titans. The Ravens knew that they were much better than they played, and needed to bounce back in a big way versus the Rams.
Unfortunately for the Rams, the Ravens were angry and spent all week furiously fixing the problems and weaknesses that were exposed in the Titans game. The Rams didn’t really stand a chance.
The Ravens came out passing and didn’t look back. Wide receiver Torrey Smith caught three touchdown passes in the game and Flacco threw for 389 yards while the team set a franchise record for offensive yardage with 553 total yards. The defense harassed rams quarterback Sam Bradford all game and sacked him five times while forcing a fumble that was returned for a touchdown and intercepting a pass in the red zone.
There’s no question that the Ravens bounced back from their bad game and showed everyone that they're still an elite team in the AFC. Now, they have a real challenge coming to town with the New York Jets. Beating the Rams is one thing, but beating the Jets is another.
As usual, Jets head coach Rex Ryan returning to Baltimore, where he coached the defense for nearly a decade, adds emotion to this game. Players on both sides will be playing their best and will want to put on a good showing for the prime time game, but when it comes down to it, it’s still just a football game.
The Ravens have to like the matchup on paper. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez has never played well versus the Ravens. In Week 1 last season, Sanchez only threw for 74 yards against the Ravens defense, which was clearly the better defense versus the Jets and was able to harass Sanchez all game.
In this meeting, the Ravens will certainly try running the ball with Ray Rice after the Jets defense allowed 171 rushing yards to Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden last week. Stopping the run is the weakness of the Jets defense, so it’s only logical to expect the Ravens to try pounding the rock with Rice.
Even after the success that the Raiders had versus the Jets on the ground, it would be unrealistic to expect the Ravens to have as much success. The Jets will be spending all week finding creative ways to shore up their run defense and planning for the Ravens running attack. That’s the way coaching works in the NFL. The Jets know that the Ravens will test their running game early.
That’s where the passing game will come into play. Obviously, the Ravens had incredible success throwing the ball last week, so the Jets cannot ignore that fact either. They will need to have a game plan to stop the Ravens through the air as well, and a big part of that is covering Torrey Smith deep down the field after his breakout game last week.
The Jets probably feel much more comfortable with the prospect of stopping the Ravens' passing game since they have one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. Revis could be a huge factor in this game.
Revis can effectively shut down any receiver that the Ravens have on offense which leaves Cromartie to handle the receiver on the other side. The Ravens will have a hard time getting the ball to their receivers in this game. Revis will shut down his man, and Cromartie is a good matchup with Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin.
That leaves the Ravens’ young tight ends. Former Raven Todd Heap had a few big catches versus the Jets last year, and tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta could be a huge factor in this game. Much like the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were exploited by Dickson and Pitta, the Jets run a very aggressive defensive scheme. The Ravens will run play-action, and Dickson and Pitta could have big nights.
On defense, the Ravens will need to be on their guard more than last season. Sanchez is throwing the ball much better now. Of course, that has been out of necessity since the Jets' running game has been lackluster for the most part.
The Jets have Santonio Holmes, the Raven killer from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Holmes has had some of his best games against the Ravens, and Rex Ryan knows this. The Jets will be trying to get Holmes the ball early and often, and more than likely, they will be successful.
In order to win against the Jets on defense, the Ravens will need to play solid pass-defense. They are not going to shut out the Jets offense or Holmes, so playing good red-zone defense will be the key to the game. The Jets do not have the offensive strength to crack the Ravens defense in the red zone when the field is shortened and compressed.
Therefore, the Ravens just need to prevent Holmes from getting behind the secondary for a long score. If they can do that, Holmes can have all the yardage he wants between the 20-yard lines, and the Ravens would still win the game.
Ultimately, the Ravens should be confident heading into this game. They are at home playing a team that they match up well against. The Jets defense should be stretched thin trying to overplay the running game and play-action passing game, and the Jets' offense doesn’t have the power to crack the Ravens' red-zone defense if the Ravens can prevent quick scores. If the Ravens play their cards right, they should be able to come out with a win and a very strong showing.