Tensions to be high for Jets-Ravens marquee matchup
Can't we all just get along?
Twenty months after their first AFC Championship Game appearance in a decade and eight months off of their second, it seems the honeymoon phase could be over for the New York Jets as they prepare for a Week 4 visit to Baltimore to meet the Ravens in a Sunday night showdown.
Still smarting from last week's disappointing 34-24 point loss at Oakland in which a perpetually chest-thumping defense was gashed for 171 yards and two scores by Raiders running back Darren McFadden, the first hairline cracks of dissension are showing in the Gang Green foundation under head coach Rex Ryan.
The brash third-year boss was called out after the defeat by no less than franchise icon Joe Namath, who implied that an overly talkative culture bred by Ryan was responsible for what Namath perceived as a lack of proper preparation, because the Jets players think they're better than they actually are.
"Rex has been the only coach that we know, in maybe the history of the game that I'm familiar with, that keeps continually telling his guys how good they are," Namath said on a New York radio show. "And they have been pretty good -- pretty good -- but they haven't won a championship yet.
"There's one thing about the athlete. You keep telling him how good he is, he's going to start believing it to the point that he may not be preparing quite the way he should. He may be losing some respect for the other team."
Not shockingly, Ryan had a few words in response for the Super Bowl III hero.
"I welcome him to come out here and watch our guys prepare," he said of Namath. "He'd see a team that, in my opinion, prepares as well as any team I've been around. I disagree with him. I'm not going to change who I am just because Joe Namath said something.
"Joe Namath can come in here and if he can still throw, we'll have him as a backup quarterback. He doesn't know our team, he's on the outside. Even though he's a Jet, and once you're a Jet you're always a Jet, but he's on the outside. He's not in these meetings. I think if he was, he'd be shocked with our preparation."
As fate would have it, if any team actually does know Ryan and his preparation, it's the Ravens.
Ryan spent 10 seasons with the Baltimore franchise, climbing the ladder from defensive line coach to defensive coordinator to assistant head coach under both former head coach Brian Billick (1999-2007) and incumbent head man John Harbaugh (2008).
He left that organization to take the job in New York in 2009, leaving Harbaugh to go 9-7 and 12-4 in two more seasons while establishing himself alongside his former employee as one of the best in the league's new fountain of sideline managers.
Ironically, Harbaugh himself has stirred tempers after Baltimore's 37-7 win at St. Louis last week, in which quarterback Joe Flacco was still playing and passing the ball late in the fourth quarter with a 30-point lead -- much to the initial chagrin of Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo, a longtime friend of Harbaugh's.
"During the game and toward the end [I felt like I wouldn't speak to Harbaugh again]," Spagnuolo remarked. "Even when I was home with (his wife) Maria, I said, 'We're not ever talking to him again.'
"John Harbaugh is a competitor. I know that, and I've got no problem with it. I did feel one way [the day before], but I calmed down and looked at it."
The Ravens have usually had the upper hand in this series, having prevailed in six consecutive matchups with New York since losing the first-ever meeting between these teams in 1997, a 19-16 overtime decision at the Meadowlands. That includes a 10-9 verdict on the road in last year's season opener. The Jets have also never won in three previous trips to M&T Bank Stadium, leaving with defeats in 2000 (34-20), 2005 (13-3) and 2007 (20-13).
Ryan is 0-1 against both his former employer and Harbaugh, who took over as the Ravens' head coach in Ryan's final year with the organization.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez aims for fourth game in a row with two or more touchdown throws and an 85-plus passer rating. He had a career-best 369 passing yards in last week's loss to the Raiders. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson has averaged 85.5 rush yards per game against Baltimore over four lifetime meetings. Last week, Tomlinson joined Hall of Famers Jerry Rice (208) and Emmitt Smith (175) as the only players in history to score 160 touchdowns with a scoring catch. He posted his third career 100-yard receiving game against the Raiders with a 116-yard effort and leads AFC running backs with 196 receiving yards in 2011. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes aims for a seventh consecutive game with a touchdown against Baltimore. The former Steeler has seven career touchdown catches against the Ravens, his most versus any opponent. Wide receiver Derrick Mason spent six seasons (2005-10) with Baltimore before joining the Jets this offseason and needs 38 receiving yards to become the 18th player in NFL history to reach 12,000. Tight end Dustin Keller ranks second among AFC players at his position with 249 receiving yards, trailing only New England's Rob Gronkowski's 281 yards.
The Baltimore defense is tied for second in the NFL with five interceptions, trailing only Buffalo's six. Linebacker Ray Lewis (39.5 sacks, 31 interceptions) needs just half a sack to reach 40 for his career and can become the first player in league history with 40 sacks and 30 picks. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has 15 sacks in his past 19 games and safety Ed Reed has an interception in two of three career games against the Jets.
The Jets are ninth in the NFL in scoring (27.7 points per game), 16th in total offense (360.7 yards per game), 10th in passing (278.7 ypg) and an uncharacteristic 25th in rushing (82.0 ypg). Defensively, Baltimore is first in the league in scoring defense (13.3 ppg), 13th in total yards allowed (329.3 ypg), 17th against the pass (245.3 ypg) and sixth in rushing defense (84.0 ypg).
WHEN THE RAVENS HAVE THE BALL
Flacco has a 20-5 career record at home with 32 touchdown passes, 13 interceptions and a 93.3 passer rating. The Ravens are 19-2 when he has a 100- plus rating, and Flacco had a career-high 389 pass yards last week. Running back Ray Rice had 162 yards from scrimmage (79 rushing, 83 receiving) in last year's win over the Jets, while in three career games against New York, wide receiver Anquan Boldin has averaged 105.3 receiving yards (316 total) and will be aiming for a third straight outing with 100-plus yards against the Jets. Wide receiver Lee Evans has five career touchdowns versus the Jets, though the ex-Buffalo Bill is doubtful to play this week with a sprained ankle. Rookie Torrey Smith took Evans' place last week, and the 2011 second-round pick became the first rookie in NFL history with three touchdown receptions in the first quarter of a game, scoring from 74, 41 and 18 yards out.
For the Jets, aggressive linebacker Bart Scott spent seven seasons alongside Lewis at Baltimore from 2002-08. Sixth-year safety Eric Smith has 20 tackles to lead the backfield, in addition to a sack and an interception. Up front, defensive end Mike DeVito has nine tackles, a sack and a forced fumble through three games.
The Baltimore offense is eighth in scoring (28.3 ppg), 11th in total yards (389.0 ypg), 13th in passing yards (261.3 ypg) and eighth in rushing (127.7 ypg). Defensively, the Jets are 12th in scoring defense (20.3 ppg), 11th in yards allowed (325.3 ypg), sixth against the pass (188.7 ypg) and second from last against the run (136.7 ypg).
KEYS TO THE GAME
Baltimore's Rice will be first to test whether the gaping wounds on the Jets' rush defense last week were a temporary mirage, or a long-term symptom. If it's the latter, New York could be in for a long night.
Though the Ravens have been effective snuffing the run, it seems a certainty that New York will at least try to revive the ground-and-pound attack identified with it for two playoff runs, which will be a key to its success.
The Jets may be without two dinged-up starters, cornerback Antonio Cromartie and center Nick Mangold, which could hamstring their attempts to defend the pass and execute the run.
Though they both have a 2-1 record and are in the thick of the playoff discussion, the tangible perception is that the Ravens are headed forward after a second-week stumble, while the Jets may be primed for a plummet with a big game with New England up in Foxborough next week. Expect Harbaugh to seize the chance to shovel early-stage dirt on a perceived rival for AFC supremacy.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ravens 24, Jets 17