The Ravens have QB problems of their own with starter Kyle Boller injured and backup Anthony Wright (above) filling in.
If ever two teams mirrored each other, it’s the Jets and Ravens.
Both are carried by their defenses, primarily two former Miami Hurricanes stand-out middle linebackers. Both are led by running backs, one a Hall of Fame lock, the other a likely candidate. Both their fates rest on no-name quarterbacks who, in a perfect world, would be holding clip boards.
However, the biggest burden weighing down the Jets (1-2) and Ravens (0-2), whether the players and coaches want to admit it or not, is that this is must-win game. Whichever team loses virtually starts posturing for draft position.
No Jets players want to face that reality yet, but there is a sobering notion about being two games under .500 with a quarter of the season finished.
“Everyone wrote us off after the first game,” DE John Abraham said, referencing the Jets 27-7 Opening Day loss at Kansas City. Abraham added how public expectations lifted after the Jets victory over Miami, but now are “back to nothing.”
“We just try and stay positive as a team,” said Abraham, who after three games is the Jets MVP.
Defensively, that’s easy. Abraham, who has three sacks this season, has made his presence felt already. His sack of Jaguars QB Byron Leftwich pushed the ball into DT James Reed’s hands last Sunday for a 33-yard touchdown return. Abraham, whom head coach Herman Edwards feels has upgraded his run defense, had 10 tackles.
Abraham and second-year LB Jonathan Vilma carry the torches for a defensive unit which now carries the team. Until the offense gets settled with whoever is under center, the defense must bear down and shoulder the burden.
“That’s the situation,” said Vilma, the reigning rookie of the year. “We may have a bad game and the offense will pull us out of it. As long as we keep playing together and keep playing hard, we’re going to get a win. We could’ve won the game last week. If we play that game again, five, six or eight times out of 10, we’ll win.”
Vilma had a team-high 13 tackles last week and leads the team with 36 tackles through the first three games. He already garners comparisons to fellow Miami Hurricanes alumnus Ray Lewis, whose Ravens are predicated on winning with defense.
The two have similar styles that revolve around flying to the ball, but Vilma’s goal is to separate himself and eventually write his own legacy. For the time being, though, drawing parallels to the top dog isn’t so bad.
“It feels very good,” Vilma said. “It’s very flattering. He’s the best in the game right now, so to compare me to him, is comparing me to the best right now.”
Even Lewis can’t deny the resemblance. Though Lewis’ 10 seasons and over 1,600 recorded tackles far surpass what Vilma has done in 19 career games, Lewis said he sees shades of a dynamic player.
“As long as he takes care of that part and plays football the way he’s playing now, everything else will take care of itself,” Lewis said. “He’s built almost identical to how I was built when I came out.”
And the Jets are built in the Ravens’ ilk – a team centered around defense. Between Abraham, Vilma, DE Shaun Ellis, CB Ty Law and LB Eric Barton, the Jets have five former Pro Bowlers on their defense. Not too shabby.
Yet even a unit as strong as the Jets pales in comparison to the Ravens. In addition to Lewis, a seven-time Pro Bowler, and a ferocious front-seven, the Ravens best unit is their secondary. The addition of CB Samari Rolle to the ball-hawking trio of CB Chris McAlister, FS Will Demps and SS Ed Reed has fortified one of the best defensive backfields the NFL has ever seen. Don’t forget CB Deion Sanders comes in for nickel situations.
Hence RB Curtis Martin’s importance can’t be overstated. The NFL’s fourth all-time leading rusher is always the heartbeat of the Jets offense, but against the Ravens, Martin must be effective to shield third-year quarterback Brooks Bollinger.
“I’m trying to help my football team win a game this week,” Bollinger, who has thrown nine career passes, said.
Martin, who has been hampered by a strained knee since Week Two, has carried the ball 69 times for 196 yards. If you do the math, that’s 2.8 yards-per-carry. That won’t get the job done against the Ravens, who need RB Jamal Lewis to bounce back from a 10-carry, nine-yard, performance two weeks in a 25-10 loss to the Titans.
“We haven’t run enough and haven’t run well enough,” Ravens head coach Brian Billick said. “Games have gotten into a complexion that we’re not very comfortable with. We have shown the ability to throw the ball better than we have, so if we can get the running game cranked back up, that would bode well for us.”
An effective Ravens’ running game would make QB Anthony Wright’s job much easier. If the Jets are forced to put eight in the box, then Wright – starting in place of Kyle Boller – can utilize man coverage on TE Todd Heap and WR Derrick Mason.
Similarly, Bollinger can get the ball to WRs Laveranues Coles and Justin McCareins if Martin loosens up the Ravens’ front seven. Head coach Herm Edwards said the Jets stagnant running game has been due to lapses in concentration and not finishing off blocks. With Bollinger starting, the Jets will likely scale back the playbook and play a vanilla offense.
“We'll do things we feel we can do,” Edwards said. “They find a way to put you in the predicament where you say this guy has to pass now. You don't want to get into those situations. If you do, you're in trouble.”
Whichever team comes away with a loss this week, will be in big trouble.
-Last year S Ed Reed stole the momentum from the Jets when he intercepted RB LaMont Jordan on an option pass in the Ravens 20-17 overtime win at Giants Stadium.
-If T Jason Fabini can’t play, Adrian Jones will move to the left side and Scott Gragg with play right tackle.
-The Ravens are 45-3 under coach Brian Billick when winning the turnover battle.
-DE John Abraham has three sacks this season. He has 46 career sacks in 60 games.
-The Jets offense must be efficient on first and second downs. Through three games, the Jets are 19-for-22 on third-and-seven-or-less, but just two of 21 on any third downs with eight or more yards to go.
KEY MATCHUP: Jets Offensive Line Against Ray Lewis
Without any question, if you were building a defense from scratch, Lewis would be the premiere player to start with. He flies to the ball, won a Super Bowl MVP trophy in 2000, and is one of the best linebackers of all time. The Ravens have always used massive DTs to clog the middle and free up Lewis, and this season the onus falls on Kelly Gregg (6-foot, 310 pounds) and Maake Kemoeatu, who is 6-foot-5 and 350 pounds. The Jets offensive line must stop these behemoths from getting a strong push or drawing double teams, otherwise QB Brooks Bollinger and RB Curtis Martin will be seeing a lot of No. 52. “If you don’t figure out where No. 52 is at he could be sitting on your lap,” Edwards said.
THREE THINGS THE JETS MUST DO TO WIN
1.Stop Jamal Lewis. Naysayers have jumped on Lewis early this season, but he is the same back that rushed for 2,066 yards in 2003. The Jets will get a heavy dose of him on first and second down, and he can’t be neutralized, then that will open up the play-action passing game for the Ravens. Put eight in the box if necessary, but don’t let Lewis let the Ravens offense get into third-and-short. So far this season, teams are converting over 50 percent (12-for-23) against the Jets in third-and-five or less. Over five yards and opponents are just six of 21 on third down.
2.Stay in the “plus” field position. Last week the Jets average starting field position in the first half against the Jaguars was their own 13 yard-line. Two drives started on the inside the five, and in overtime the Jets only possession started at their 12. Utilizing P Ben Graham’s leg – not to mention rookie K Mike Nugent’s leg – is key in this low-scoring game. The Jets must maintain positive yardage throughout the game.
3. Protect Brooks Bollinger. He may be in his third year, but he’s making his first career start. To make matters worse, it’s against the Ravens defense. The o-line, which has been shaky all season, must give Bollinger time to make reads without worrying about where the pressure is coming from. He can scramble, but if he is forced to run for his life he won’t get settled in the pocket.
It sounds like “coach speak,” but this game comes down to field position, special teams and time of possession. Simplifying the offense this week may help the Jets, but they are going into a buzz saw. The Ravens had two weeks to stew over their winless start, and might win the game on sheer adrenaline. It won’t be pretty, but it won’t be ugly either.
Ravens 16 Jets 6
Mark Brown, who had a tackle and two assists against the Jaguars last week, will play in place of Eric Barton.
-QB Chad Pennington (shoulder): out
-QB Jay Fiedler (shoulder): out
-FB B.J. Askew (ankle): out
-LB Eric Barton (ankle): out
-T Jason Fabini (knee): questionable
-DE Trevor Johnson (concussion): probable
-DE Shaun Ellis (knee): probable
-DT James Reed (shoulder): probable
-FB Jerald Sowell (ankle): probable
-QB Kyle Boller (foot): out
-FB Alan Ricard (leg): questionable
-TE Todd Heap (toe): probable
-WR Randy Hymes (elbow): probable
--DE Anthony Weaver (knee)
-RB Jamal Lewis (illness): probable
Game time is 4:05 PM Sunday. Local TV is CBS 2. Local Radio is 1050 ESPN AM. Be sure to check back to Jets Insider.com after the game for a recap and exclusive game photos.