This AFC battle finds two teams still in the playoff race. The 5-5 New York Jets have surprised this season on the back of their usually stout defense, even though rookie Geno Smith hasn’t played well recently. The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, meanwhile, have disappointed with a 4-6 record. Much of the blame can be placed on the struggling offense; the defense, despite numerous new players, has keep their end of the bargain more often than not.
The good news for the Ravens is that they’ve only lost one game at home, while the Jets have only won one game on the road. Both these squads are coming off loses – the Jets lost in a blowout in Buffalo, while the Ravens fell a field goal short in OT in Chicago.
Here are three matchups to watch in this contest.
Can Geno Not Be A Problem?
While the Jets are still having a Jekyll and Hyde season, they are still performing better than many expected in the off-season. That improvement over last year owes little to rookie passer Geno Smith though. His two highest-graded PFF performances came early in the year – the first Buffalo game and the comeback victory on primetime in Atlanta – and, coincidentally, were his only multi-TD performances. Aside from those two contests he has usually been dreadful; this is exemplified by his worst-overall passing grade among his peers and the fact that he’s thrown twice as many interceptions (16) as scores (8). Smith has only had two games without a turnover, and five of his turnovers have been returned for scores. The Buffalo rematch last week was his worst showing yet (-8.2).
Fellow rookie EJ Manuel had a turn-over filled performance against this Ravens defense (two picks, two fumbles although only one was recovered by Baltimore) and his Bills still got the win. The Jets can obviously win without a solid performance from Geno – in the Saints win he only completed eight passes for 115 yards, with only four of those yards coming in the air. To be fair, Geno did contribute a rushing TD in that win in which he impressively juked stud New Orleans DE Cam Jordan. But can the rookie give his team a chance to win this week? Can he protect the ball?
Ravens Offensive Line vs. Jets Defensive Line
Joe Flacco has been one of the biggest disappointments on this championship-defending squad, although he has performed better when he isn’t under pressure (11 TDs, nearly 1800 passing yards) than when the heat gets to him (two TDs, 675 yards). Can his offensive linemen keep the Jets D-Line away from Flacco? LT Eugene Monroe has given up four sacks since being traded prior to Week 6, but only eight other hurries since and has had back-to-back impressive performances against Pittsburgh and Cleveland. C Gino Gradkowski has been the weakest link on the line overall, but he has stepped up his game in the last four games with only a sack and two hurries on his resume.
The Jets D-Line is arguably the best unit on their team. They are led by former first-rounder Muhammed Wilkerson, who only has three games without a sack. While his peers in the trenches excel at stopping the run though, none of them comes close to Wilkerson’s pass-rushing production. Rookie first-rounder Sheldon Richardson had a solid three-game stretch early in the year against the Bills, Titans, and Falcons, but hasn’t graded positively harassing QBs since. Sophomore first-rounder Quinton Coples hasn’t lived up to expectations either with only a single sack this year, but, rotating between outside LB and DE, he does occasional flash; in the Saints game he achieved the rare feat of putting Drew Brees on the ground four times, along with three further hurries. With a lot of focus on Wilkerson, can someone else step up and take advantage?
Jets Running Game vs. Ravens Run Defense
Even if Smith does play well, the Jets know they have to consistently run to have the best chance to win. Ex-Saint Chris Ivory has been the bell-cow recently with 73 carries in the last four games for over 350 yards. There’s also Bilal Powell and Smith himself, who has contributed three rushing scores. They will have to fight for their yards though, as none of the current starting Jets offensive lineman have even an average run blocking grade on the year.
Despite conceding chunks of yards to several solid RBs this season (Fred Jackson, Eddie Lacy and Matt Forte), run defense has been the strongest area on Ravens’ defense. They have stout run defenders at all three areas of their defense – DE Chris Canty (15 tackles, 11 stops, two missed tackles, tied with Wilkerson for 13th best Run Stop Percentage among 3-4 DEs), OLB Terrell Suggs (36 tackles, 28 stops, two missed tackles, best Run Stop Percentage among 3-4 OLBs), and safety James Ihedigbo (28 tackles, 13 stops, three missed tackles, 5th best Run Stop Percentage among safeties). There are weak links, though. Free agent ILB Daryl Smith has been shockingly bad against ground attacks (lowest run defense grade on this unit at -5.2). Rookie safety Matt Elam has had his struggles as well (ending up on the wrong side of a Fred Jackson highlight run being one example), but hasn’t graded negatively as a run defender since the Green Bay game.
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