Ravens - Jets: 5 Keys to the game

1. Give Jamal the ball. Baltimore Ravens star running back Jamal Lewis complained vehemently about his workload following last week's 27-13 win over the Cleveland Browns where he carried it 22 times for 81 yards. Guess what? He was absolutely right, and Ravens coach Brian Billick affirmed that Lewis' complaints were valid. His request will be complied with several times today against the New York Jets at the Meadowlands.

Although the Jets rank 11th against the run, they allowed Willis McGahee of the Bills and Corey Dillon of the Patriots to rush for more than 100 yards over the past three weeks. The Jets have only played against one of the top 10 rushing offenses.

Baltimore is tied for eighth with 1,069 rushing yards for seven touchdowns. Lewis has gained 575 yards on just 127 carries. The Ravens are 21-5, including the playoffs, when Lewis rushes for 100 or more yards. That formula also applies to his attempts. They're 14-3 when he carries the football 25 times or more. Patience is a necessary attribute for a great running game, and Baltimore's power style is one of attrition. They grind out the yards with Lewis and wait for him to break one.

This is a fast Jets defense, but Lewis will have the size advantage against smaller defenders like Jets middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma. As Ray Lewis so eloquently put it, if Jamal Lewis wants the football, give it to him. There are 2,066 reasons from last season's rushing champion to validate his argument.

2. Tackle Curtis Martin

Jets running back Curtis Martin has rushed for 100 yards five times this season, and is 135 yards shy of his 10th straight 1,000-yard season. Baltimore has allowed only one opposing runner, Kansas City's Priest Holmes, to eclipse the century mark this season. Martin was held to 67 yards in last week's loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Baltimore is allowing only 98.9 rushing yards per contest. Martin is a shifty runner who rarely breaks a long run. He rips off a series of 5, 7 and 10-yard runs, piling up first downs. He's also a capable receiver out of the backfield and has caught 25 passes as a safety valve. The Ravens allow only 3.5 yards per carry, second-best in the NFL.

Meanwhile, linebacker Ray Lewis has to get clear reads on Martin and that's where nose guards Kelly Gregg and Maake Kemoeatu come in. They need to keep All-Pro center Kevin Mawae tied up at the line of scrimmage so Lewis can flow freely to the football and track down Martin. It has been four games in a row since Baltimore has allowed an opponent to rush for 100 yards or more.

3. Force Quincy Carter into mistakes

Quincy Carter is a great athlete and, yes, he led Dallas to a 10-6 mark and a playoff berth last season before being expelled by Bill Parcells for a reported violation of the NFL substance-abuse policy. He lacks the precise accuracy and sound decision-making skills of Chad Pennington. Carter threw 36 interceptions in 16 games for the Cowboys. Half of his games have been multiple-interception outings.

The Ravens have 11 interceptions to rank third in the league and have returned three of them for touchdowns, the most in the NFL. Baltimore is also tied for third in the NFL with 23 sacks. Although the game plan is likely to be scaled down and tailored somewhat for Carter's abilities, he still has to contend with safety Ed Reed and blitzing linebacker Terrell Suggs.

4. Capitalize on special teams

In their five victories, the Ravens have always made the critical special-teams play. Whether it's rookie B.J. Sams returning a punt for a touchdown, as he's done twice, or downing a punt inside the 1-yard line, he has helped Baltimore remain in playoff contention. It's been a while, though, since Sams had a long punt return as opponents are on to him. Meanwhile, the kickoff coverage unit has to stay in their lanes and can't duplicate the lack of discipline that led to a touchdown return for the Browns last week.

5. Limit turnovers while forcing them

Quarterback Kyle Boller needs to play extremely safe football against the Jets. The Ravens are 42-2 when they win the turnover battle (.956) since Brian Billick became the coach in 1999. The Jets lead the AFC in turnover margin with an outstanding +10 margin keyed by 17 turnovers vs. three interceptions. Baltimore ranks sixth in the AFC in turnover margin with a +5 ratio headlined by 11 interceptions.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times and ravensinsider.com

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