Good news for people that like punting: the punchless Jets will be playing the equally punchless Ravens this Sunday in Baltimore. So if you have Ben Graham or Dave Zastudil on your fantasy team, consider starting both of them while you still can, because this promises to be a low-scoring affair that only a punter’s mother could love.
Jets Offense v. Ravens Defense
The Jets will be starting Brooks Bollinger at quarterback in place of the injured Jay Fiedler, who would have been playing in place of the injured Chad Pennington. The main asset that Bollinger possesses, and the one that just barely guaranteed him a roster spot coming out of camp instead of the rookie Kevin Eakin, was that he had taken an NFL snap before. Eakin had not. And so, it’s Bollinger’s turn at the controls of a Jets offense that has been positively dismal since the Jets started lining up in May. JN’s favorite fact about Bollinger is that in college at Wisconsin, in his senior year, he was often pulled on passing downs for now-Colt and Peyton Manning back-up Jim Sorgi. Further proof that Barry Alvarez is still a step ahead of Herm Edwards.
Meanwhile, the Ravens defense hasn’t exactly been the wrecking crew of past seasons. Through two games, the Ravens formerly ferocious unit has only one sack and zero interceptions. However, they have been stubborn, turning each of their games into grind-em-out brawls in the trenches that were both decided relatively late on opponent interception returns for TD’s off of QB’s Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright.
Bollinger will face pressure all day, as Adrian Jones takes over at LT for the injured Jason Fabini and veteran Scott Gragg mans Jones’ spot at RT. While the Ravens have been nearly shut out as far as sacks are concerned, speed rushing phenom Terrell Suggs and newly re-signed Peter Boulware figure to test the two Jets tackles early and often, as both struggle tremendously with speed rushers. If Bollinger doesn’t get sacked he will have to worry about throwing the ball into the waiting arms of Pro Bowl CB Chris McAllister or SS Ed Reed. Reed, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and McAllister will both be looking to disrupt the Jets’ short passing game. Bollinger’s arm, even with a healthy rotator cuff, may be the weakest on the squad even with Pennington and Fiedler both wearing matching slings. Look for Bollinger to try and find TE Chris Baker on hot routes against the blitz as the Ravens send the kitchen sink at the struggling Jets offensive line. Also expect Lavernues Coles to be a non-factor this weekend with McAllister getting him one-on-one, combined with Bollinger’s puny arm and the pass rush that the Ravens are sure to bring. Jet opponents have gotten to the QB nine times in three games so far, so it’s a good bet that the Ravens will get their second sack, and more, this Sunday. If Bollinger can avoid giving them their first, and/or second, and/or third INT’s of the season while actually finishing the game with two functioning shoulders, his day will have to be considered a success.
On the plus side, Curtis Martin should be happy as he will get to potentially increase his yards-per-carry average in this game. The Ravens are giving up a paltry 3.3 YPC on the season, a full 4/10ths higher than Martin’s 2.9 YPC. The match-up of this entire game rests on how well the interior of the Jets line can get to and bother MLB Ray Lewis. Lewis has slowed down the past two seasons, as opposing offensive lines have been able to single-block the Ravens’ DT’s and focus on getting into Lewis’ facemask. (The Jets could learn a lesson from watching Lewis’s struggles, as they have gambled with not protecting their own stud MLB out of “The U,” Jonathan Vilma, thus exposing him to getting pounded on early this season). Depending on how well Kevin Mawae, Pete Kendall, and Brandon Moore are able to control the small but active Kelly Gregg and Anthony Weaver, as well as get into Lewis’ territory, the Jets might be able to control the ball running it up the middle. If they can turn this game into a mosh pit, with Martin grinding out carries, and time off the clock, the Jets will be able to hang in and not put any pressure on Bollinger to throw the ball.
Ravens Offense v. Jets Defense
Anthony Wright is the new Baltimore quarterback, replacing the collosal bust that is Kyle Boller. When Boller went down with a toe injury versus Indianapolis, it just accelerated what was soon to be a certain demotion, as Boller, after almost three seasons of grooming, had proven to be completely ineffective behind center. Wright, a strong-armed and confident player, played well in a few spot starts last season, but has gotten off to a rocky start this year, with 2 TD’s and 3 INT’s. Still, Wright should scare the Jets, as he is a mobile guy with a strong, but streaky, throwing arm. If he gets hot, Derrick Mason and Todd Heap could have big games getting open in the middle of the Jets zone coverages. Of course, all of this depends on how well John Abraham is able to get past future Hall of Famer LT Jonathan Ogden and into Wright’s face. Ogden, for years the standard by which all other tackles were judged (along with Seattle’s Walter Jones) was surprisingly victimized by the Colts’ Dwight Freeney in the opener, yielding countless pressures on Boller, though keeping him without a sack. If Abraham can have similar success in getting to the QB, it would go a long way towards putting the sputtering Ravens offense back to sleep. However, if Abraham gets stood up the entire game by Ogden, Wright could have an easy day throwing the ball. Three of the Jets five sacks belong to Abraham, again proving that as much of a distraction as he can be, Abe is still the straw that stirs the Jets’ defensive drink.
Like Curtis Martin, Jamal Lewis has also struggled this season, averaging a mere 2.2 YPC. Both Lewis and Martin have paid the price for being the sole offensive weapons on their respective teams, as both offenses’ passing games have been putrid. Lewis will be looking to have a breakout game against a Jets defense that yielded big yardage to both the Jaguars’ Fred Taylor and the Chiefs’ Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson. If Lewis starts ripping off gains of five to six yards early, the Jets will be in for a long day. Exactly the same way that the Jets will have success if they can get a body on Ray Lewis, the Ravens will have some easy going if they are able to get to Jonathan Vilma, as teams have been able to do by pushing through the over-matched James Reed at NT and the penetrating Dewayne Robertson. Eric Barton, the Jets emotional leader on defense, is out for the game, and in steps Mark Brown who, along with rookie SS Kerry Rhodes, will get the assignment on Todd Heap for much of the game. Heap, a WR disguised as a TE, is back healthy this year and could find himself wide open on play action, a Wright specialty.
This could likely be where the game is won or lost, as both offenses figure to struggle against the opposing defenses. Matt Stover, the Ravens’ long-time kicker, has been surprisingly poor this season, going one for four on field goals so far, while the Jets’ rookie K Mike Nugent has been solid since his disastrous slip-and-miss in the opener at Kansas City. If the game comes down to field goals, as it very well may, the edge has to go to Stover based solely on experience and being on his home field.
In the return game the Ravens feature the dangerous B.J. Sams, who is always a threat to take it to the house. Sams is averaging 9.3 yards per on punt returns, and 22.3 on kick returns. Meanwhile, the Jets’ Justin Miller has been an adventure at times catching punts, getting pulled for Justin McCareins and Jerricho Cotchery in last week’s game against the Jaguars after a huge muff in the third quarter. Look for Cotchery or McCareins to again replace Miller, as a muffed punt in this game, where every point will be extremely valuable, could mean another Jets loss.
The Jets began the week announcing the probable end of the season for their first and second string quarterbacks, and they ended it by announcing a 99-year lease deal to remain the only team in the NFL without their own stadium, turning their backs on the masses who logged their support for both a West Side and a Queens complex. In between, they presumably prepared to play the Ravens in Baltimore. How will they deal with all of these distractions? I fear, not well. Look for Wright to have time to throw it, and look for Bollinger to spend alot of time on his fanny pack. Vinny Testaverde, a late signing, probably knows about one percent of Heimerdinger’s playbook at this point, so it is imperative that Bollinger stays on his feet, meaning alot of carries for Curtis Martin, to no avail. Also expect Jamal Lewis to run with a vengeance against the Jets small defensive front. and to break 100 yards: Ravens 24, Jets 3