Week 1 Preview: Baltimore Ravens @ New York Jets

January 16, 2010…that was the last time the Ravens played a game that mattered. Seems like a long time ago huh? Well the wait is over, September 13th has finally arrived, and what a game we have tonight!

The Jets and Ravens are very similar teams. They both have the young quarterbacks with plenty of experienced weapons on offense. Defensively, both squads play good ol’ “smash mouth football”.

There has been quite a bit of talking leading up to this game, and it’s fun, but I’m not gonna address the jabber. I want to look at the types of games both teams need to play to come away with a win tonight.

First off, believe the hype, Darrelle Revis is the real deal. He is as good as advertised and has to ability to take a whole side of a field away from the opposition. That opens up options for the New York defense to blitz, especially with their safeties. And everyone knows Rex Ryan loves to blitz. He will be sending extra guys at Joe Flacco early and often to try to fluster the third year signal caller. On the other side of the field will be Antonio Cromartie, who is also a very skilled corner, not as talented as Revis. However he does have lightning fast speed. If he comes up with an interception, he is likely to take it to the house.

That being said, Revis can only cover one guy at a time, tonight that guy will be Anquan Boldin. Baltimore has plenty of other options to go to other than Boldin when airing it out. Flacco will have to spread the ball around to targets Todd Heap, Derrick Mason, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Ray Rice in the flat.

Speaking of Rice, I believe he is more dangerous on those flare passes and toss plays tonight. Do not expect much from him rushing up the middle. The Jets have a beast in Kris Jenkins at nose tackle. He can take up so much space and will be a challenge for center Matt Birk on first and second downs. Against a defense as physical and brutal as New York’s, getting backs Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain at least half a dozen carries each is crucial. Rice isn’t built to take such a pounding for four quarters.

On to the Jets and their offense. Mark Sanchez enjoyed a solid rookie campaign and is looking to continue his growth as an NFL quarterback. He has plenty of viable options at his disposal to help him win not only tonight but throughout 2010. The addition of future Hall of Famer Ladainian Tomlinson as well as 15-year veteran Tony Richardson adds depth, experience, and stability to a young corps of backs in Shonn Greene and John Conner. Receivers Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes are solid options who have great hands as well as breakaway speed. However, Holmes is out for tonight’s game. He is missing the first four games of the season due to a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy this past offseason. Jerricho Cotchery will have to step up and fill in his place tonight. Tight end Dustin Keller averaged just over 11½ yards per catch last year but only hauled in two TD’s. I like him to have a big 2010, watch out for him across the middle.

This leads to the one glaring weakness of the Ravens, their secondary. With Ed Reed on the PUP list for the first six weeks of the season, and Dominique Foxworth gone for the year, the Ravens are vulnerable and everyone knows it. Baltimore will have to work with Fabian Washington, Josh Wilson, and Chris Carr at corner. Lardarius Webb is listed as a game time decision, however I expect him to suit up and get plenty up snaps. Tom Zbikowski fills in for Reed at free safety, while Dawan Landry provides the most experience and talent of the group at strong safety.

There are lots of big names at the skill positions for both teams, and they very well could be the difference in the outcome of the game. But I believe it will all come down to who can dominate in the trenches, specifically when New York is on offense. I already mentioned earlier that Kris Jenkins will cause disruption in the middle of the Ravens line, but more importantly is if the Jets big men can hold up against a tough Baltimore front seven. If they can, it gives Sanchez the necessary time to pick apart the corners and safeties. A poor effort up front will lead to sacks, hurries, and in turn, poor decisions by the second year QB.

I believe nose tackle Haloti Ngata is a bit better than Jenkins due to his speed and athleticism. Remember last year in the preseason (against the Jets) when Ngata droped back into coverage like a linebacker and picked off Sanchez and took it to the house? Center Nick Mangold, fresh off signing an 8-year, $57.4 million contract, will have the tall task of blocking Ngata all game. And a great matchup I’m excited to watch will be left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson against a leaner and quicker Terrell Suggs.

So many storylines and matchups to digest in this one. Both teams have “super” aspirations if you know what I mean. Lots of questions will have been answered by the conclusion of this evening’s battle. Time for the prediction: I say the Ravens get off to a slower than expected start, and possibly fall behind. But the offense has too many weapons and will unleash its firepower in the 2nd half. The defense will bend but not break, and limit the Jets to field goals when backed aginst the wall. BALTIMORE 27 – NEW YORK 16

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