Where do I even begin? In most years, the first meeting between Ryan and the team of which he was a part for 10 seasons would make this a must-see all by itself. But that storyline has seemingly been ignored in favor of giving attention to the multitude of offseason acquisitions and signings achieved by both teams. Of course, that attention is probably warranted, as those signings have given both groups the look of ones that can realistically hope to hoist the Lombardi trophy in Dallas next February.
Rarely does a team go into a season with such lofty expectations having ditched their first and second-string rushers from the previous year—especially when that team led the NFL in that very category. But for the Jets, that is exactly the case, and come Monday night we'll get to see if one of the aforementioned pickups, LaDanian Tomlinson, and incumbent Shonn Greene will be sufficient replacements for Thomas Jones and Leon Washington.
Tomlinson, though, won't be the only Charger-turned-Jet under the microscope on ESPN in Week 1. With the Ravens likely to steer clear of the recently-resettled Revis Island as much as possible, Antonio Cromartie will have ample opportunity to show that he can still be the player that picked off 10 passes in 2007 and that lackluster '08 and '09 seasons were merely aberrations.
With Revis now back in the saddle, the Jets have to be feeling a lot better about their ability to defend Baltimore's receivers, which have to be among the best veteran groups in the league. Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason made a formidable group as it was, but Monday's signing of T.J. Houshmandzadeh that makes the corps look downright deadly. The latter two may not be No. 1 receivers anymore, but they should be superb compliments to Boldin.
Three Keys to a Jets Win
1. Establish the short passing game
If the Jets have to ask Sanchez to win the game by throwing the ball deep, they'll be in trouble. The Ravens know that, and figure to put a lot of emphasis on keeping Tomlinson and Greene from beating them on the ground. The best way to open up both the run and the deep ball—and simultaneously allow Sanchez to build some confidence—is to utilize LT and Dustin Keller on short and intermediate routes.
2. Trust the DBs, stop Rice from cooking
If Ray Rice gets hot early on, the Jets will find themselves in a whole mess of trouble. They'd be well-served to stop him at all costs, even if it means regularly sending more than one linebacker at a time. Sure, that will decrease the amount of Jet defenders who'll be in coverage, but the secondary is—or at least should be—good enough to limit the damage caused by Joe Flacco and the Raven receivers.
3. Make Flacco feel the heat
The Jets' secondary and the Ravens' receiving corps will likely be a dogfight, and New York's ability to get a solid pass rush going will prevent the scale from tipping in Baltimore's direction. The more comfortable Flacco gets, the tougher things will be for Cromartie and Revis (who will have less than a week of practice under his belt).
Three Keys to a Ravens Win
1. Make Mark beat you
Mark Sanchez may not be ready to join the upper-echelon (or even the middle-echelon, if you will) of quarterbacks in the NFL just yet, but his 2009 postseason showed what he is capable of when the chips fall his way. The jury is still out on whether he can lead the Jets to Super Bowl XLV with his arm, though, and the running game is still what makes them go. If Sanchez lights Baltimore up through the air, the Ravens clearly aren't who we thought they were, and daring him to do so isn't exactly a death wish.
2. Don't let Kris Jenkins dominate
Keeping Jenkins in check will free up Rice and liberate Flacco, and effectively take the Jets' defensive line out of the game. It would be silly to think Calvin Pace's absence won't have an impact, and even with Jason Taylor filling in, Jenkins' performance in the middle is critical to the Jets' success.
3. Throw a "Heap" of passes the way of the TE
Boldin and company can't expect to walk all over New York's secondary; if they do, they're probably a bit overconfident. One way to gain an edge will be getting Todd Heap involved. Heap had a solid preseason, and seems healthy once again. He's no spring chicken, but his 6'5" frame and great hands are a tough matchup for anybody.
Jets fans shouldn't get too down if their team falls on Monday. Baltimore looks primed for a serious playoff run, and should be the better team on opening day. The Jets still have a big year in front of them, but re-acclimating Revis, filling the void left by Pace and getting Sanchez in a groove will take some time.
Tom Szieber covers the Jets for GreenAndWhiteReport.com and can be reached at TomSzieber@gmail.com