Ravens - Jets: Inside slant

When the Ravens have the football: Expect All-Pro runner Jamal Lewis' request to get the football early and often to be accommodated by the coaching staff. Lewis complained vehemently after only rushing 22 times for 81 yards as the Ravens passed on 9 of their first 12 offensive plays in last week's 27-13 win over the Browns. This time, the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year is likely to carry the mail as much as he wants even though the Jets have a fairly stingy rushing defense.

New York allows only 108.5 rushing yards per game and ranks 12th in rushing defense. Former Maryland linebacker Eric Barton leads the Jets with 61 tackles followed by former University of Miami star Jonathan Vilma, a rookie who has recorded four tackles for losses and an interception. Both linebackers are very fast, as is rush end John Abraham, but the 245-pound Lewis will have a size advantage, especially over Vilma, who's 230 pounds.

When Baltimore looks to throw, Kyle Boller will likely direct his attention toward wide receivers Travis Taylor and Clarence Moore. He has had the most success throwing to them, and naturally has gravitated toward those targets. Randy Hymes has been left out for the past few weeks and no one has a valid explanation for why he's been completely de-emphasized upon the inconsistent Taylor's return from a groin injury.

Rookie return specialist B.J. Sams may be involved in the game plan for a few choice plays.

Key matchup: OT Ethan Brooks vs. DE John Abraham

Brooks has excelled the last two weeks, opening some eyes since he used to be viewed as a detriment in pass blocking as well as prone to penalties. The extra weight he put on this off-season, bulking up to 330 pounds, has aided his cause. Abraham is one of the most explosive pass rushers in the NFL and leads the AFC with 8 ½ sacks. He lines up at defensive end and outside linebacker.

How the Ravens can win

1. Bottle up veteran running back Curtis Martin, and force erratic quarterback replacement Quincy Carter into a few critical mistakes.

2. Establish the running game with Jamal Lewis against a Jets defense playing so aggressively under new coordinator Donnie Henderson's direction that long runs are quite probable if he can get past the line of scrimmage.

3. Continue to capitalize on the big-play capability of Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed by allowing him to gamble liberally to intercept passes and blitz off the edge.

When the Jets have the football

Expect offensive coordinator Paul Hackett to take some of the pressure off of Quincy Carter in his first start in place of the injured Chad Pennington. That means extra run plays for Curtis Martin, a shifty, accomplished, underrated runner. Martin has rushed for 865 yards and seven touchdowns on 190 carries even though his longest run is only 25 yards. He's an expert at reading his blocks and attacking a team where it's most vulnerable.

Meanwhile, fullback Jerald Sowell and Martin are both adept at catching passes out of the backfield and lead the Jets with 26 and 25 catches, respectively. Carter has a strong arm and excellent mobility and led Dallas to a 10-6 mark and a playoff spot last year before off-field issues earned him being fired. He launched a 51-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss in his debut last week in a loss to the Buffalo Bills. Moss and Justin McCareins are potentially a potent receiving tandem.

McCareins beat Gary Baxter for a touchdown in the Ravens' playoff loss to Tennessee last winter. Keep in mind the Ravens' defense has scored four touchdowns, so any mistakes by Carter will likely be exploited.

Key matchup: C Kevin Mawae vs. LB Ray Lewis

Mawae is one of the most athletic centers in the NFL, a fullback in an offensive lineman's body. Between his passion and Lewis' unbridled love for contact and playing fast, it should be quite an encounter.

How the Jets can win

1. Run directly at Ray Lewis to cut off the All-Pro linebacker's excellent pursuit and force him to take on blocks.

2. Blitz error-prone second-year quarterback Kyle Boller to rattle him and eventually get him to force the football off-balance into heavy traffic.

3. Attempt to throw at second cornerback Gary Baxter and nickel backs Corey Fuller and Ray Walls, who are likely to replace Deion Sanders today because of his left toe injury.

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


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