Time to welcome Gang Green to reality
From HBO to MNF, Rex Ryan's Jets will take the field with a target on their backs
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- It hangs on the far wall of the New York Jets' cavernous field house, high above the playing field -- a 30-foot picture banner of the Vince Lombardi Trophy. It's a new addition to the facility, a reminder of what was -- see the "1968" tag -- and what can be.
What will be, according to Rex Ryan, who expects to add "2010" to the banner in due time.
"Everybody expects us to be a great team," he said, "and we expect to be a great team ourselves."
Five Things To Watch
1. Mark Sanchez: Let Him Throw? The Ravens are down two starters in the secondary, S Ed Reed (PUP list) and CB Domonique Foxworth (IR). The best way to attack the Ravens is through the air, but this doesn't play to the Jets' strength, running the ball. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will manage Sanchez closely, but he has to let him take some shots downfield. They should be able to make plays against CBs Fabian Washington and Chris Carr.
2. Darrelle & Friends. Darrelle Revis, who missed the preseason because of his holdout, had no game time with new CB Antonio Cromartie, rookie nickel Kyle Wilson and new S Brodney Pool. The success of the secondary is predicated on communication, and there could be some issues. With Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the Ravens finally have the weapons to spread the field in the passing game. They have the means to pick on the Jets' third and fourth corners.
3. Dealing with Ray Rice. He's a great runner, but the bigger problem could be his ability in the passing game (702 receiving yards last season). Rice is ultra-quick, with fantastic acceleration. The Jets' inside linebackers, David Harris and Bart Scott, have trouble in space. Said one AFC scout: "Love Harris, but [the Ravens] can expose him with a nifty receiving back." The Jets could assign a "spy" to Rice, but who would it be? Tough matchup for the Jets.
4. On Guard. LG Matt Slauson, who makes his first NFL start, had serious protection issues in the preseason. He doesn't have great foot speed and gets caught leaning. The Jets expect the Ravens to come after Slauson with their horses -- DT Haloti Ngata and Trevor Pryce (on passing downs). Don't be surprised if you see LB Ray Lewis running "A" gap blitzes, testing Slauson. OL coach Bill Callahan has to slide protections to Slauson, providing help. This could be a major issue for the Jets.
5. The Rex Factor. Rex Ryan and his old crew from Baltimore (assistant coaches Mike Pettine and Dennis Thurman) know the Ravens' personnel, inside and out. Most important, they know QB Joe Flacco, and you can bet Ryan will find a way to get into his head with never-before-seen blitz packages. The familiarity is a big edge for the Jets. As the college statue in "Animal House" reads: "Knowledge Is Good."
-- Rich Cimini
Starting Monday night, the team with the big talkers, big expectations, bigger-than-life coach and really big stadium will strut to the center of the stage. America's cable-TV stars will face the Baltimore Ravens in a rock 'em, sock 'em football game at the New Meadowlands Stadium, and it's going to be crazy.
And different, but not because they have new digs, a $1.6 billion metal and cinder-block palace. No, it will be different because the Jets have gone from Rudy to Rowdy, the team everybody loves to hate. The Jets brought it on themselves, and now they have to deal with the consequences.
They're wanted. It's a most unusual position for a franchise that hasn't achieved championship glory in 42 years, but last season's playoff run, coupled with a big and brash offseason, has raised expectations to an all-time high. It's Super Bowl or bust and, in their minds, bust isn't allowed in the stadium. (Maybe the PSLs are too expensive.)
This is the Jets' most important season opener in a long time, a wonderful opportunity to validate themselves as a legit team, worthy of the headlines. Are they hot air or the hot heir to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC?
Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis made his feelings known this week, basically saying the Jets are unworthy of the hype. ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski named the Jets as one of the most overrated teams in the league, saying, "They were a 9-7 team a year ago. Many people have them picked for the Super Bowl. Only time will tell if they continue to improve."
Fellow ESPN analyst Jon Gruden believes the Jets added a "bevy of outstanding players," but he wants to see how it comes together. As for the bravado, he called it "elevator music ... I don't think it offends anybody or stimulates any team, but I do think they have a lot to prove."
Now it's proving time.
It's time for Mark Sanchez to prove his mediocre preseason was an aberration and that he really is the quarterback who matured last January. The Ravens' secondary, sans safety Ed Reed, is an inviting target. A poised quarterback, with the help of a clever offensive coordinator, should be able to figure out ways to probe the secondary and find the weak spots.
Time for Jason Taylor, another sure-fire Hall of Famer, to prove that 30 other teams were wrong about him. After being discarded by the only other team he ever loved, the Miami Dolphins, Taylor, 36, received only one free-agent nibble -- the Jets.
Time for Matt Slauson to not be Adrien Clarke, the overmatched scrub who was handed the left-guard job when Pete Kendall was unceremoniously traded in 2007. The Jets gave Alan Faneca a Kendall sendoff, jeopardizing the chemistry on a wonderful offensive line.
There are questions, to be sure, but the Jets have an impressive collection of talent. They also have a very good coaching staff, but the landscape has changed. They're not going to surprise opponents anymore. Some teams act differently when they're a favorite. Some get out of their comfort zone and forget the things that made them successful.
The Ryan Jets were built on defense and a ball-control offense, same as the Ravens, who are showing signs of becoming more versatile on offense. It would be a mistake for the Jets to suddenly morph into a passing team, especially if it becomes obvious that Sanchez isn't ready for the promotion.
"If you want to win, you ought to be man enough to stand up there and say we expect to win," Ryan said. "I've got news for you: We expect to win this week, next week and every week."
In case they forget, they have a 30-foot mission statement hanging from the wall. Big reminder.
AFC TITLE GAME: STEELERS 24, JETS 19
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