I just checked into my hotel up here in beautiful New Jersey (no, there's no sarcasm in there whatsoever), and will head over to the new Meadowlands stadium in about half an hour or so.
Before I do, I wanted to check in with some keys to tonight's game for the Ravens. If they're able to take care of the three areas that I list below, they should have a very good chance of leaving Jersey with a victory.
1. Pressure Sanchez
Mark Sanchez did a decent job navigating the Jets on their run to the AFC Championship game last year, and people up here in the New York/New Jersey area are expecting him to take a big leap in his second season. But the fact remains, he's a young, fairly inexperienced quarterback who struggles when he's forced out of his comfort zone. Sanchez didn't exactly light the world on fire statistically last year (53.8 completion percentage, 12 touchdowns, 20 interceptions), and he had a shaky preseason, going 31-of-48 for 270 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
I had a couple Ravens players tell me they were expecting to come after Sanchez hard tonight and would force the second-year QB make tough throws under pressure. If the Ravens can get to Sanchez throughout the night, they should be in good shape.
2. Work the middle
The Jets are incredibly stout up the middle defensively, and if the Ravens are to sustain long drives and put points on the board, they'll have to outwork that part of New York's defense. For the Jets, it all starts up front with Kris Jenkins, who missed most of last season with a torn ACL. The massive 6-4, 360 pound nose tackle is back healthy this season, however, and that's bad news for the rest of the league. Jenkins is one of the toughest nose tackles in the league to block, because, like Haloti Ngata, he has freakish speed and agility for a guy his size. Ravens center Matt Birk will have the tough task of squaring off against Jenkins most of the night.
Behind Jenkins, inside linebackers Bart Scott and David Harris do a great job flying to the ball and making plays. Strong safety Jim Leonhard is the last line of defense for the Jets up the middle, and Ravens fans remember how tough and smart he is in the deep middle of the field. This will be a key area to watch tonight.
3. Keep Flacco upright
We all know that Jets head coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will bring pressure from all angles tonight, and the Ravens have to do a good job up front protecting Joe Flacco and limiting the big hits on their quarterback. They'll be at a disadvantage tonight because of the health questions surrounding Jared Gaither and Oniel Cousins at the right tackle spot, and it looks like Marshal Yanda will need to move from his right guard spot to tackle, with Chris Chester sliding in at guard. Yanda and Chester are both proven guys and give the Ravens the best chance up front tonight, but they'll have their hands full against this Jets pressure defense.