5 CRITICAL QUESTIONS
1. Will the Baltimore Ravens bounce back from last week's debacle?
Don't be surprised if the Ravens behave like an angry football team eager to prove that last week's meltdown in Cincinnati was an aberration. They're not always going to commit six turnovers, directly yielding 24 points, commit 10 penalties and lose by just a touchdown. Or lose All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden to an aggravated turf toe after one quarter. They are 4-1 all-time against the Jets, including a 2-0 mark in Baltimore. Plus, they are 4-3 in games following a season-opening defeat, and own the NFL's best home record since 2000 with a 42-14 clip. With five consecutive victories at M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore has won 25 of its past 30 home games and went 7-1 at home last season.
2. Who will play quarterback and how will they fare?
Three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Steve McNair is ailing with a groin injury and didn't practice all week after struggling with his accuracy and ball security in Cincinnati with three fumbles and one interception. He has a significant history of excelling despite playing through pain and is expected to be a game-time decision. If it's determined that he can't go, then backup Kyle Boller will start his first game since being replaced by McNair last year. Boller, who recently signed a one-year, $3 million contract extension, has been a polarizing figure ever since being drafted in the first round in 2003.
3. How ugly will it get for Jets quarterback Kellen Clemens if Chad Pennington is out?
The Ravens have tormented several young quarterbacks in the past, including Andrew Walter, Chris Simms, Philip Rivers and Charlie Frye a year ago. Walter was abused the worst, being sacked five times and intercepted three times. Clemens is known as a composed, accurate young passer, but he hasn't been exposed to the NFL's reigning top-ranked defense's intimidating tactics or defensive coordinator Rex Ryan's crafty schemes.
4. How will rookie Yamon Figurs perform in the wake of B.J. Sams' season-ending knee injury.
Figurs is the fastest rookie in the league with 4.29 speed, qualifying him as one of the quickest in the NFL. Although he flashed big-play capabilities during the preseason, the Ravens have to be concerned about potential fumbles or gaffes on when to call for a fair catch. Just in case, running back Cory Ross was activated as an insurance policy.
5. Which running back will continue to dominate their opponent?
Willis McGahee has averaged 132.6 yards against the Jets in his past five games, and Thomas Jones had a 139-yard outburst against Baltimore when he was with the Bears. Bank on McGahee getting the football more often and being extremely productive against a small front seven that just allowed 134 rushing yards in a loss to the New England Patriots.
Who has the Edge?
Total (14) Rushing (16) Passing (9t)
It might be a smart move to rest Steve McNair this week and start Kyle Boller considering how much his groin pull hampered his ability last week to deliver the football or hold onto it. Especially since the Jets won't have Chad Pennington out there. Don't be surprised if McNair plays, though. He has a long history of playing through injuries after not practicing all week.
Willis McGahee was displeased that he didn't get the football on the goal line against the Bengals, popping off on his radio show a little bit even though it didn't rise to the level of a full-blown Jamal Lewis gripe. He ran hard and hit the holes quickly against Cincinnati, an encouraging sign from a runner with a lot to prove.
Demetrius Williams would have had a more impactful game if the accuracy had been there from the quarterbacks. Derrick Mason demonstrated that he's far from washed-up. Mark Clayton's ankle injury is affecting his acceleration and cutting ability. Tight end Todd Heap needs to be involved more heavily.
Jonathan Ogden is sidelined indefinitely with a turf toe, a major blow to this young line. Adam Terry will play left tackle, and should be able to operate solidly. Rookie tackle Marshal Yanda is tough, but has to cure his bad case of offsides. The interior line competition between Chris Chester and Ben Grubbs is still brewing.
Total (8) Rushing (3) Passing (15)
Bookends Trevor Pryce and Terrell Suggs were far too quiet last week. Haloti Ngata was dominant inside, forcing a fumble and collapsing the pocket blitzing from the middle linebacker position. Nose guard Kelly Gregg's preseason knee injury seems to be curtailing his pursuit.
Although he initially insisted it was torn, Ray Lewis is planning to play with a strained triceps. He had an inspirational 14 tackles last week despite playing with one arm. Jarret Johnson answered the critics who doubted he could ably replace Adalius Thomas, notching a sack and five tackles. Bart Scott didn't exactly pour on any hot sauce.
Ed Reed had a stellar game, returning a punt for a touchdown, but fellow safety Dawan Landry was caught off-guard on a Chad Johnson touchdown and was exposed in space. Samari Rolle is already picking up nagging injuries, a troubling sign at his age. Chris McAlister had his usual issues against T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
With B.J. Sams out for the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, rookie speedster Yamon Figurs is about to hit the spotlight. However, he needs to be sure he doesn't try to catch punts with his shoulder pads. Matt Stover's 410 career field goals ranks him fourth all-time behind Morten Andersen, Gary Anderson and John Carney.
Total (26) Rushing (29) Passing (23)
Chad Pennington is likely out with an ankle injury, meaning the Jets' quarterback of the future -- Kellen Clemens -- is now their quarterback of the moment. The Ravens liked Clemens a lot coming out of Oregon, meeting with him at the scouting combine. He's fairly mobile and accurate with sound mechanics and fundamentals.
Thomas Jones was limited to 42 yards last week, but has excelled against the Ravens in the past, including a 139-yard game with a 42-yard run in 2005 when he was with the Chicago Bears. Diminutive backup Leon Washington is extremely dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield.
Laveraneus Coles and Jerricho Cotchery represent an underrated outside tandem, combining for 173 receptions last season for 1,869 yards and a dozen touchdowns. Both were productive against the Patriots last week with Coles catching two touchdowns. Tight end Chris Baker is just another guy.
This group isn't really NFL caliber at several spots, most notably left guard Adrien Clarke and backup Jacob Bender. The Jets allowed five sacks last week, a mark that could be equaled today. Tackle D'Brickashsaw Ferguson and center Eric Mangold are emerging young blockers, and right tackle Anthony Clement is a fairly reliable veteran.
Total (28) Rushing (22) Passing (29)
They didn't generate a sack last week against New England despite the presence of former first-round picks Shaun Ellis and Dewayne Robertson. This bunch doesn't remind anyone of the famed "Sack Exchange" once headlined by flamboyant defensive end Mark Gastineau.
This is the strength of this unpredictable 3-4 defense, featuring active, hard-hitting middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma and steady former University of Maryland star Eric Barton. Watch out for rookie linebacker David Harris. The former Michigan standout has a reputation as a thumper.
Randy Moss absolutely torched these guys last week, especially rookie first-round draft pick Darrelle Revis. Cornerback Justin Miller is one of the fastest players in the league, but he lacks ideal size. Kerry Rhodes is a heady, intense safety. Erik Coleman is an overachiever.
Kicker Mike Nugent is coming off the most accurate season in Jets history, going 24 for 27. He hasn't missed in his last 18 attempts. Australian punter Ben Graham puts a left-footed twist on his punts, averaging 41 yards on five punts against the Patriots. Leon Washington and Justin Miller are fast enough to impact the game as kick returners.
EDGES: Quarterback: Baltimore; Running back: Even; Receivers: Baltimore; Offensive line: Baltimore; Defensive line: Baltimore; Linebackers: Baltimore; Secondary: Baltimore; Special teams: Baltimore.
Three Downs with …
Ravens tight end Todd Heap
1. On getting over the season-opening loss: "The attitude of the team now is all about the New York Jets. We've got to really buckle down and get the game plan down quicker because we have less time.
"Those are difficult to get over, but you learn in this business that you have to get over them. In Week 1, half the teams are going to go home losing. We happened to lose. The Jets lost, so they're going to be hungry. So, it's going to be a good matchup."
2. On the Jets' unpredictable defense: "They do bring a lot of different looks. You think about Eric Mangini and where he came from, his school of thought, and we probably are going to see a lot of different looks.
"Safeties are going to be moving around. We're used to running against the 3-4 defense, so definitely we're going to see a lot of different forms of that and that's what we'll be ready for."
3. On backup quarterback Kyle Boller: "He came in and did a good job. I think he came in and was confident that he knew what was going on, that he knew the offense and definitely had command of it. Obviously, he made some good plays and we just weren't able to capitalize at the very end. Any time you get that much time in an offense, you get to sit back and watch a Steve McNair, you are going to learn.
"Things are going to slow down for you. You see things differently. You're not as antsy. You're not as anxious to get the ball out of your hands because you know what you're looking at. You know how to study film a little bit better.
That's what Kyle's shown, especially in practice out here and he did a little bit in the game the other night as well."
Three Downs with …
Jets middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma
1. On preparing differently for Steve McNair or Kyle Boller: "For us, no, not really. They run the same offense with both guys in the game. They both can throw the ball well. Boller is very athletic, as well as McNair.
"They can make any throw, so, for us, we still have to cater to their offense and just understand who's in the game and the differences that each quarterback brings to the game."
2. On the Patriots' signal-stealing scandal: "Were we betrayed? How would we be betrayed? That's their issue. I don't know how we would be betrayed. It's not like they were our friends at first and then they betrayed us. For us, that's what they felt they needed to do to get an edge."
3.On Willis McGahee having a chip on his shoulder: "You know what? I don't think he has much to prove. I think he proved a lot while he was at Buffalo. Just coming back from the surgeries that he had to deal with when he was drafted and he was coming out into the NFL. I just think, for him, it's a matter of a fresh start, a new start and wanting to get in there and play well."
How the Ravens can win
1. Exploit Kellen Clemens. This fierce defense traditionally eats up young quarterbacks and spits them out half-chewed.
2. Cut down on the turnovers. It's unrealistic to expect to win a football game, let alone remain competitive when you give away six turnovers. Especially when they directly lead to 24 points.
3. Bottle up running back Thomas Jones. The Ravens haven't forgotten how he gashed them repeatedly when he was with the Chicago Bears. They're hoping for a measure of revenge.
How the Jets can win
1. Get the football in Laveranues Coles' hands. Coles has lost a step, but still flashes big-play capabilities. It's Chris McAlister's job to shut him down.
2. Protect Kellen Clemens. The Ravens' intricate blitz packages could wreak havoc with the Jets' porous offensive line that allowed five sacks last week to the New England Patriots.
3. Do something they usually haven't. Stop Willis McGahee. He has averaged 132.6 yards over the past five games against them with 705 career yards, his most against any NFL team. He has 38 rushing first downs and 18 runs of 10 yards or more against the Jets.
Jets coach Eric Mangini has deep ties with the Ravens' franchise. He used to be a 23-year-old ball boy for the original Cleveland Browns and a public relations intern prior to being hired as the 1996 inaugural Baltimore team's offensive assistant/quality control coach on the bottom rung of the coaching ladder. One of his first duties was a no-brainer formality: phoning in the team's selection of future All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden as the first draft pick in team history. Mangini also met his wife, Julie, the daughter of Baltimore attorney Ron Shapiro, while working for the Ravens. Rising in stature, "Mangenius" made a cameo appearance on "The Sopranos" earlier this year.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.
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