1. Prepare for zone looks
In light of the way the quarterback Joe Flacco has performed against the blitz in two contests against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the St. Louis Rams, there is a chance that Rex Ryan might pull back on some of his aggressive tactics. Flacco has been cool under pressure, and the Ravens have been able to pick up the blitz effectively.
When Flacco has struggled, it has been against zone looks in which the coverage changes after the snap.
The Jets are known for playing a ton of man coverage, but Ryan has changed his gambling ways when the situation presented itself. Against the Colts and the Patriots in the playoffs last season, Ryan used more coverage based schemes and that strategy worked effectively against pass-first offenses.
Moreover, Flacco burned the Jets a year ago, either completing or draw pass interference calls against defensive backs not named Darrell Revis.
While Ryan won’t stray completely from bringing the heat, Flacco and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron should be ready for some mask looks, especially in predominant passing situations.
2. Smoke screens and YAC
One area of the passing game that the Ravens used successfully last Sunday against St. Louis was the screen game. Not only did they hit on some nifty short screens to Ray Rice in which one lineman would pull out in front, but they also got the receivers involved.
Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin were outstanding in space and showed the ability to gain YAC. Against a New York secondary that is not known for its tackling prowess, these plays could be effective.
In particular, the Ravens should attack cornerback Antonio Cromartie if he is indeed able to play on Sunday night. Cromartie is battling a rib injury, so it remains to be seen how physical he will play, and he’s known for bailing as a tackler anyway.
These plays may be more open on first down and could serve as a pseudo running game, as the Jets may crowd the box using their safeties and backers.
3. Speed sets up the underneath game
Given how Smith lit up the Rams last Sunday, there may be a chance to hit on some underneath routes in which Smith breaks free on the outside. One of the routes to watch out for is the stop route. This has become a signature route in the NFL today, in which a receiver will run full speed and stop abruptly to look for the ball at his back-shoulder.
The Packers run these routes to perfection and it is almost impossible for a cornerback to defend it. The key to its success is how the receiver sells the “go” route.
Smith has already sold his speed and should gain the Jets respect. He’ll have the chance to take advantage of this route if he runs it the right way, especially against a cornerback like Cromartie who has a tough time using his footwork to run with speed demons.
Also, if the coverage shades to Smith’s side, look for the tight ends to have a chance to make plays underneath against single coverage.
1. Stop the run with a seven-man front
Last season, the Ravens had zero respect for quarterback Mark Sanchez and his ability to make plays on the outside. The Ravens were more focused to shut down tailback Shonn Green and the crowded the box on first and second down. Sanchez wasn’t able to deliver and the Ravens stymied the New York aerial attack.
This season, the focus should shift to containing a passing game that has improved greatly under Sanchez’s direction. He has been able to take advantage of man-to-man looks and he has the weapons on the outside to make the Ravens pay if they drop a safety in the box.
Conversely, the New York “ground and pound” running game is a mess. Greene has not been much of a factor as an inside runner. The power of the offensive line isn’t the same as it was before with center Nick Mangold out of the lineup.
The Ravens should keep their safeties back as much as possible to protect their corners. The front seven should be up to the task of stopping the run on its own.
2. Double cover Holmes
Santonio Holmes was the integral missing element when these two teams met in ‘10. He will be active and that is unfortunate for a Baltimore secondary that has been unable to contain him in the past.
Holmes has been able to take advantage of one-on-one coverage when he was a member of the Steelers. However, this time around, the Ravens have to make sure he is double-covered as much as possible.
No matter where Holmes lines up, he must be forced to cut his routes off underneath or funneled to the middle of the field.
3. Check the great LT
LaDanian Tomlinson’s role might not be the same as it once was. He is now a third-down back that Sanchez counts on to pick up the blitz and catch passes in the flat. However, he is still very dangerous as a pass-catcher, and he must be accounted for when he releases into the open.
Specifically, Tomlinson should be hit at the line and if he is able to release, the linebackers have to find a way to bring him down quickly. Tomlinson should present the biggest challenge to date for the Ravens.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Plaxico Burress versus Cary Williams: There is a good chance that the Ravens keep cornerback Lardarius Webb on Holmes and give Williams the chance to cover Burress. Williams is a long, lean cornerback who might be able to fight for the ball when it’s lobbed up to Burress. Burress is still dangerous in jump-ball situations, although he doesn’t have the same leaping ability and timing that he once had. It’ll be interesting to see if Williams can match up against Burress, as he has struggled at times to contain the big play.