The Ravens know Rex Ryan well. The Jets coach worked 10 years on Baltimore’s staff, with his last four seasons spent as the team’s defensive coordinator.
So the Ravens know as well as anyone exactly what they’re up against when taking on a Ryan-coached defense, especially when it comes to the running game.
The Jets come to Baltimore Sunday possessing the NFL’s top rush defense, allowing 73.2 yards per game.
“That’s a tradition with Rex. He’s had those over the years from time to time,” coach John Harbaugh said. “(Ryan is) a very good coach, a very good defensive coach, and a very good front coach. I’d say it’s right along the line of what they’ve been known for.”
So the Ravens will have a chance to see whether last week’s breakout running day was a mirage or a sign of things to come.
“It’s always going to be a challenge with the Jets,” tailback Ray Rice said. “Rex Ryan is well-respected. I was here with Rex and what they’ve built up there is similar to what we’re used to seeing. They have a Cleveland, Pittsburgh, that kind of front. The first thing they do in their front is they stop the run and the Jets have, quite frankly, been doing a pretty good job at it. It’s going to be a heck of a challenge.”
In last Sunday’s loss to Chicago, the Ravens ran for a season-high 174 yards. It was just the second time in 10 games that Baltimore posted at least 100 yards on the ground as a team. Rice had his first triple-digit rushing game of the year, gaining 131 yards on 25 carries for an average of 5.2 yards per carry.
Rice would have preferred a victory, but after entering the game with just 289 yards in eight games, he needed a performance like that.
“All you care about really is wins. But on a personal aspect, it did feel good to get out in the open, get some yards,” Rice said. “But like I said, the only thing that matters to me right now is getting a W and that’s what I just wanted to try to do - to help my team out. We didn’t get it done, but we really took a step in the right direction. That felt good because the O-line jelled. We all were on the same page.
“That’s what really matters at this point in the year. We all just need to be on the same page. We realize what’s at stake and when you’ve got a young group mixed with a bunch of veterans, it’s the veteran guys that take precedent on what really matters. As far as stats are concerned, we really just need to get that W and get it in the column, and then we’ll be all right.”
Defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson (eight sacks, two forced fumbles) and Damon Harrison (41 tackles) are critical to the Jets’ run stuff. Being able to win that battle and improve on the NFL’s 27th-ranked rushing attack could be the difference between the Ravens netting a critical win or making a postseason berth look highly unlikely.
“They give you all kinds of problems. They have very, very good personnel up front,” offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. “They’re big, they’re physical, and they hit and run with the best of them. Then also from a schematic standpoint, they give you a number of challenges, too, because they’re very, very multiple.
“Oftentimes, you have to prepare for one or two fronts with different teams, but they give you a lot of different looks. As you know, Rex has done (that) over the years. They compound issues, they present problems for you, but their personnel presents problems for you from a schematic standpoint. We’ll have to look at all those things closely and try to get in the best situation for us.”
The Jets rank eighth in total defense (324 yards allowed per game) and the Ravens might have an opening through the air, as New York is just 23rd against the pass. But running the ball could be a major problem.
What do the Ravens do about that?
“We need to be honest with ourselves and get a hat on a hat, and the old saying I would say, ‘If there’s two yards, we’re going to take the two yards.’ If there’s a 20-yard gain and it happens, we need to make the 20,” Rice said. “But if they’re going to give you something where you’re going to plow in there for two yards - the biggest thing for a running back, the one thing we want to get out of is a tackle for loss. So we always want to be on the plus side of things. I think that’ll help out. It’ll still be a challenge, but it’ll definitely help out.”