The Return of Ed Reed (Part Two): Ravens vs Jets

Baltimore Ravens What to Look For
Lardarius Webb

In week three, former Baltimore Ravens’ safety Ed Reed, a Baltimore legend, returned to M&T Bank Stadium with the Houston Texans after signing with them in free agency. Fast-forward to week 12 and Reed is now with the New York Jets after the Texans released him. Reed gets to make his return to Baltimore again tomorrow as the Jets come to Baltimore.

Other than Reed’s return, this game is going to be key because both the 4-6 Ravens and the 5-5 Jets are battling for the sixth and last playoff spot in the AFC (which only has five good teams this year).

Currently the Jets own this sixth seed, but their performance has been inconsistent all season. They have won every other game this season and their only win on the road came against a now 2-9 Atlanta team. This week pits those two trends against each other as the Jets lost to the Buffalo Bills last week and have to travel to Baltimore this week.

1.  Force Turnovers
When the Jets lose games, their main problem is turnovers. Rookie, second-round pick, quarterback Geno Smith has been as inconsistent as possible and when he succeeds, the Jets succeed.

For the season, Smith is second in the NFL with 16 interceptions. In comparison, he only has eight touchdown passes. Adding to this, he also has four fumbles — giving him a NFL-leading 20 total turnovers, and average of two per game. Of these 20 turnovers, five have been returned for touchdowns.

In Jets’ losses, Smith has been particularly bad as 12 of his interceptions have come in these five games. Throughout the season, Smith has played well in wins and bad in losses.

Which Smith will show up against the Ravens? Good Geno or bad Geno?

The Ravens’ defense can influence this with their schemes that they use for the game. Against the Cincinnati Bengals two weeks ago, the Ravens’ defense had their best performance of the season as they intercepted Andy Dalton three times, sacked him five times and held him to a quarterback rating of 17.3. Last week, the Ravens faced Josh McCown, a backup quarterback, and lost forcing no turnovers and only sacking him two times for one yard. The pass rush was non-existent.

What was different in these two games? The type of defense the Ravens ran. Against the Bengals, the Ravens were blitz-happy, attacking and confusing Dalton. This forced him to rush his decisions and he made many bad ones. Against the Bears, the Ravens ran a conservative zone defense with little blitzing. With the weather being bad enough to cause an almost two hour delay, this could have factored in to the decision, but the conservative defense wasn’t working.

Lardarius Webb

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Going up against a quarterback who is coming off of his worst game this season according to Pro Football Focus (Smith was benched late in the game) and who has only two games without a turnover, expect the Ravens to blitz often.

Smith has struggled against pressure all season and the Ravens’ defense has been best when playing aggressive this season. When an aggressive form of defense is played, the cornerbacks are usually left by themselves in coverage. Over their last two games, the Ravens cornerbacks have played their best two games of the season. Lardarius Webb looks to have finally bounced back from his second torn ACL and Jimmy Smith seems to have taken the so called “next step.”

The last time these two teams played, 2011, the Ravens won 34-17. The Ravens force four turnovers scored three defensive touchdowns including a Webb interception returned for a touchdown. The defense also didn’t allow a touchdown as the Jets scored on a kickoff return and an interception return.

Forcing turnovers is the number one way to beat the Jets. At times, the Ravens’ defense has struggled to do this season, but when they run an aggressive defense, they have had success. Expect them to come out and try to confuse Smith with some exotic blitzes, bringing back memories of Rex Ryan’s (the current Jets head coach) Ravens defenses when they used “organized chaos.”

2.  Stop The Run
In order to help protect Smith and following Ryan’s brand of smash-mouth football, the Jets’ offense is run-heavy.

Having a successful run game is the number one way to help a rookie or inexperienced quarterback. With a good run game, the defense will stack the box in order to stop the run. This then leaves easier reads and throws for a quarterback when he has to throw the ball.

The Jets did this a few years ago when they have Mark Sanchez at quarterback and, despite Sanchez’s shortcomings, they were able to make it to the AFC Championship Game in back-to-back seasons (a dominant defense led the way though).

This season, the run game is working yet again. Averaging 129.5 yards per game, the eighth best in the league, the Jets are having success pounding defenses with a constant running game. The Jets are also eighth in the league in rushing attempts so they are not going to go away from their game plan if they fall behind. Even in last weeks blowout loss to the Bills, the Jets ran the ball 23 times while attempting 29 passes.

Spearheading the Jets run game recently has been Chris Ivory. Over the last four games, he has 350 yards — despite only gaining 11 in one of the games. Acquired in a draft-day trade, Ivory didn’t handle the bulk of the workload at the start of the season as he struggled with injuries. Recently though, he has gotten healthy and showed why the Jets gave up a fourth-round pick for him.

While he was recovering from injuries, Bilal Powell took the reins of the Jets attack. In the first six games of the season, he had 360 rushing yards — enough to keep the offense going while waiting for Ivory.

For the season, Ivory has 467 yards and Powell has 441.

The Ravens’ run defense has been up-and-down this season. Allowing 102.7 yards per game, they ran 11th best in the NFL and have allowed only one rushing touchdown this season — the best in the league by two. The Ravens also rank sixth in yards per attempt at 3.7.

Despite this success, the Ravens have been run on this season. The Bills ran for 203 yards, the Packers had 140 (with Eddie Lacy gaining 120 of these) and the Pittsburgh Steelers ran for 141. Lacy is the only 100-yard rusher allowed this season though.

With key run defender Haloti Ngata questionable (very questionable at that), expect the Jets’ game-plan to include lots of run plays. Ngata missed last week against the Chicago Bears and the Bears ran for 104 yards, though they ran outside more than inside.

3.  Neutralize The Defensive Line
Moving to when the Ravens are on offense, the most important thing for them to do is to neutralize the Jets’ defensive line.

The clear-cut star of the Jets’ defense is defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. With his performance this season, he has locked down the title of the best 3-4 defensive end not named J.J. Watt. Dominant all season and last year, Wilkerson has eight sacks this season and only has three games without a sack. Adding to this, he has 40 tackles, two forced fumbles and one interception. The best pass rusher of the Jets’ line, he is also a great run defender. At only 24-years old, Wilkerson is set to disrupt offensive lines for years to come.

At the other defensive end is Sheldon Richardson — the 13th pick of this year’s NFL Draft. Reaping the benefits of playing next to Wilkerson and in Ryan’s defense, Richardson has 50 tackles, 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble in just 10 games. Already one of the best run defenders in the NFL, his pass rush has been slower developing. Despite this, he is one of the leading candidates for defensive rookie of the year.

Playing the all-important nose tackle in Ryan’s 3-4 defense is Damon Harrison, an undrafted free agent from the 2012 draft. At 350 pounds, he is the perfect player to play nose tackle for Ryan. Commanding a double team, Harrison is very hard to move out of the way in the run game. Because of this, he has enjoyed great success in run defense, which is all the Jets ask of him. He has 41 tackles and one sack this season.

Because of these three great, young defensive lineman, the Jets have the number one run defense in the league. They are top of the league in total yards (732), yards per game (73.2) and yards per attempt (2.9). On the flip side, the Ravens’ offense is 27th in total run yards (832), 27th in yards per game (83.2) and 31st in yards per carry (3.0).

The Ravens’ offensive line is going to struggle to move the Jets’ defensive line out of the way when they run. After having their best run game of the season — against one of the worst run defenses in the Bears — the Ravens will likely continue to struggle to run the ball this week.

On the other hand, the Jets’ pass defense is a lot worse (22nd in the NFL). This means that the Ravens will game plan to pass the ball against this Jets team. Quarterback Joe Flacco is going to need to play a great game this week in what will likely to a low scoring affair. If any team can get to 20 points, they will more than likely win the game.

4.  Torrey Smith vs Antonio Cromartie
Flacco’s number one target this year when passing the ball has been Smith and Cromartie is the Jets number one cornerback.

Ryan likes to leave his cornerbacks on an island in man coverage while he blitzes. He also has his best cornerback matchup with the opponents number one receiver. Darrelle Revis was the master at doing this, but he was traded this offseason which put Cromartie in the number one spot.

At the start of the season, Smith was at the top of most receiving categories, but over the last few weeks, his performance his dipped. Currently he is only in the top ten of two categories: yards per catch (eighth) and receptions over 20 yards (tied for third).

When you compare him to the other Ravens’ receivers, he is miles above the others. He leads the team in catches by 10, has twice the amount of targets as the second highest (92 for him 46 for next best), yards by 474 and first downs by 15.

He is best at deep routes, though he has become a more complete receiver this season. This plays into the weakness of the Jets’ defense: the big play.

Ryan has called big plays the “Achilles heel” of his defense this season and Cromartie has been beaten deep multiple times by speed receivers.

The easiest way to create a big play is to throw a deep pass. Last year, Flacco had much success throwing deep passes — especially during the Ravens’ playoff run. However, this season has been a different story.

Expect the Ravens to use Smith to attack Cromartie and the Jets’ defense deep throughout the game. Cromartie has struggled in coverage this season so there is a good chance that Smith can beat Cromartie deep.

Related Articles

Look for Baltimore Ravens to add secondary help in upcoming draft

That saying you grew up with, “lightning never strikes twice in the same place,” is bogus. Totally false.…

Read More about Look for Baltimore Ravens to add secondary help in upcoming draft

A writer for the Baltimore Ravens' website paints a sobering picture when it comes to the team's needs…

Read More about