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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

Weekend Recap

Loved the final round of the Masters yesterday. Great golf, great drama. Personally I was cheering for Tiger. He’s my favorite and I thought it would be cool for him to go out there and win it all after going through a tumultuous winter of shame and disgrace. I know there were quite a bit of folks who just couldn’t bring themselves to cheer for the man, but you got to respect his game. CBS’ Peter Kostis made a great comment during yesterday’s telecast: “Say what you will about Tiger the person or Tiger the brand. Tiger the golfer is still exciting.” It looks as if viewers agree. Preliminary Nielsen  estimates indicated CBS’ rating for Saturday’s third round was 33 percent higher than 2009’s third round coverage.

And although it was who Tiger drew the ratings, it was Phil Mickelson who finished atop the leaderboard to earn his third green jacket in seven years. Mickelson has always been “the peoples champ” and it was so enjoyable to see him win the tournament given the circumstances surrounding his wife Amy, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer. He played tremendous golf, shooting 67’s on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. Sunday’s final round was also bogey-free for Mickelson, what a great way to finish.

Now on to a topic slightly less heartwarming. The state of the 2010 Orioles after 6 games.  They own a record of 1-5, their worst start since 2002. Like I always do because I’m a homer, I’m going to look at this situation with the glass half-full.

The starters have for the most part done their job, through six games they rank 13th in the league with a 3.89 ERA. I know it’s early to be referencing stats but they really do not lie and the starters have held up their end of the bargain, plain and simple.

The run support was one run short in the first four losses. But on Saturday and Sunday scoring zero and two runs respectively is just not enough. Garrett Atkins is hitting .350 and Matt Wieters .409, however they bat towards the bottom of the order. No one else on the roster owns an average higher than .300.

Mike Gonzalez has now blown two saves and people are calling for his head. I was fine with the first one on opening night in St. Petersburg, and pretty frustrated when he did it again in the home opener on Friday. I’ve given him the benefit of the doubt but now my leash is short with him. He better rattle off a few solid scoreless innings before his next blown save. If he can’t, its time for Dave Trembley to make some changes at closer.

So it’s a new week of what is still a very young season and grabbing two out of three or dare I even say sweeping  this upcoming series against Tampa Bay is critical for the team’s confidence. After these three upcoming home games they hit the road for a seven game trip on the west coast against Oakland and Seattle. Then they have to face the Yankees and Red Sox for twelve consecutive games! The Birds went a combined 7-29 in ’09 against the two powers of the A.L. East.

And a very interesting and unexpected move in the NFL last night. The Steelers have traded wide receiver and Super Bowl 43 MVP Santonio Homes to the Jets for a fifth round pick in this month’s draft. Holmes will be suspended for the team’s first four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Well this is good news if you are a Ravens fan. Holmes has always been a dangerous weapon at receiver and has made big plays against Baltimore several times in his career, most notably in the 2008 AFC Championship Game when he scored on a 65 yard catch and run.

Titans – Steelers Preview

kickoffblog

The NFL season kicks off tonight from Heinz Field as the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers host the Titans. The previous meeting between these teams was in Nashville last December with the number one seed throughout the playoffs at stake. The Steelers held a 14-10 advantage early in the third quarter. But Tennessee scored 21 unanswered points, capped by a Michael Griffin 83 yard interception return for a touchdown. What ensued has started a massive controversy. A Terrible Towel was thrown from the stands towards the Titans sideline. A few Titans, most notably LenDale White, started stomping on the towel. This pretty much declared war between these two franchises, which were destined to meet in the AFC Championship as the respective 1 and 2 seeds. But the Ravens knocked off the Titans in the divisional round and Steelers never needed redemption, they got something better instead, a Super Bowl victory. As you can imagine, the Titans feel as though they beat the best, so they should be the best. “If we would’ve had a chance to play them again in the AFC championship and those guys would’ve beat us, it would’ve been a little easier to swallow,” Pro Bowl safety Chris Hope said. “Being we beat the Super Bowl champions and never had a chance to compete and go play for the Super Bowl, that left a bad taste in our mouth.” So fast forward almost nine months, it’s time for the rematch.

Tennessee is a different defense without Albert Haynesworth, who signed with the Redskins this offseason. It will be a little tougher stopping the run without his presence. But they still have the majority of their defense intact from last season, a defense that trailed only the Steelers in points allowed with 14.6 PPG. Keith Bulluck, Javon Kearse, and Kyle Vanden Bosch are the leaders of unit. On offense the M.O. for Tennessee is simple: Heavy doses of Chris Johnson and LenDale White. White lost 30 pounds this offseason and is the slimmest he’s been since high school. This has got to be one of, if not the best two back tandem in the league. Alge Crumpler is a reliable tight end who is always a threat to score inside the redzone. Former Steeler Nate Washington is solid vertical threat and a nice addition to Tennessee’s less than stellar receiving corps, but he is questionable for tonight’s game with a hamstring injury.

They go up against a tremendous Steelers defense, which gave up the fewest yards and points per game last season. It is such a tough task  for the offense to account for so many good players on one side of the ball. Players such as Troy Polamalu, Casey Hampton, James Farrior, Lamar Woodley, Ryan Clark, and reigning defensive player of the year James Harrison. This defense against the Titans running game will definitely be something to keep your eye on. On the offensive side of the ball the Steelers are just as dangerous. Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes, Health Miller, Hines Ward, Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, and Ben Roethlisberger can all make plays. Roethlisberger’s instincts are amazing. His ability to make plays on the move and always get the ball out just before the pressure gets to him makes him a pain for any defense.

Both of these teams are built on physical defenses that force uncomfortable 3rd and long situations. This could be a low scoring affair with average field position being the most important stat of the night. I am picking the Steelers to win this one. You have heard it before and your will hear it again a million times this season. It is hard to win on the road in the NFL. The Steelers have won 6 straight season openers dating back to ’03, which is the longest active streak in NFL. I’m not going against that trend. STEELERS 27 – TITANS 13.


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