Game against Jets isn’t a must-win, but Ravens can’t af­ford to lose it Young OLBs need to de­velop quickly, fill void cre­ated by in­juries

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - Mike Pre­ston By Jeff Zre­biec

The Ravens are not in a must-win sit­u­a­tion when they play at the New York Jets on Sun­day, but this is a game they can’t af­ford to lose.

A must-win game oc­curs when a team faces elim­i­na­tion from the post­sea­son chase. It’s too early for that, but all sea­sons have turn­ing points and the Ravens are fac­ing one with the Jets (1-5).

If they can beat New York, the Ravens (3-3) would go into their bye week with a win­ning record and a chance to get sev­eral starters healthy and back into the lineup. They also have good chances of win­ning the next two games be­cause both op­po­nents, the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers and Cleve­land Browns, have Sun­day, 1 p.m. TV: Chs. 13, 9 Ra­dio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Jets by 2

It’s not nec­es­sar­ily any­thing line­backer Al­bert McClel­lan has seen that makes him be­lieve the Ravens’ young edge rush­ers will be able to make up for the ex­pected ab­sences of Ter­rell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil on Sun­day against the New York Jets. It’s more what he’s heard.

Since the start of train­ing camp, McClel­lan has lis­tened as rookie lineback­ers Ka­malei Cor­rea and Matthew Judon have pep­pered vet­eran team­mates with ques­tions and con­cerns. He’s heard the young pass rush­ers speak up in meet­ings and ac­knowl­edge that they are strug­gling to grasp a de­fen­sive con­cept.

“They’re ask­ing all the right ques­tions. They’re not afraid to ask for help,” McClel­lan said. “That’s a huge thing, as far as be­ing a man, as far as be­ing a foot­ball player. At least I know they’re in­ter­ested, and not just

con­cerns at quar­ter­back.

If they lose ... oh, this sea­son could get ugly.

“Hon­estly, I haven’t re­ally thought about it,” Ravens wide re­ceiver Bre­shad Per­ri­man said of the bye week. “I try not to think about it. I try to deal with it when it comes, but I’m sure some of the play­ers will not mind a bye week. For now, we are just fo­cus­ing on the Jets.”

Ev­ery­one knows what is at stake over at the Cas­tle. New York started the sea­son 1-1 but has lost its past four games. Granted, those losses have come against some de­cent teams: the Kansas City Chiefs, Seat­tle Sea­hawks, Steel­ers and Ari­zona Car­di­nals. But a Jets de­fense that was ex­pected to be one of the best in the NFL has al­lowed 59 points over the past two games.

The Jets have the No. 23 de­fense, al­low­ing 375.5 yards per game, in­clud­ing 290 pass­ing, and the No. 26 of­fense, which is av­er­ag­ing 331.5 yards per game, in­clud­ing only 92.5 rush­ing. Here’s the fi­nal rub: The Jets are mak­ing a quar­ter­back change this week, re­plac­ing Ryan Fitz­patrick with Geno Smith. Smith’s record as an NFL starter: 11-18. “I think he has the tal­ent,” Ravens safety Lar­dar­ius Webb said of Smith. “I know he has the tal­ent. He has Bran­don Mar­shall and a cou­ple of guys that catch the ball. He has the guys around him.

“When you have Matt Forte in the back­field, you can take some of the pres­sure off of him and just run the ball a lot. I think they be­lieve in Geno. We just have to worry about this one game. We have to get a win, and we have to get back on the right track.”

This would be a good time to get onto a roll. If the Ravens win, the week off would al­low some in­jured play­ers such as wide re­ceiver Steve Smith Sr., guard Mar­shal Yanda, re­turner Devin Hester Sr., corner­back Jimmy Smith and lineback­ers Ter­rell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and C.J. Mosley more time to heal.

Also, the Steel­ers will prob­a­bly be with­out in­jured quar­ter­back Ben Roeth­lis­berger when they play the Ravens on Nov. 6. That means the next two quar­ter­backs the Ravens face will prob­a­bly be Landry Jones and Cleve­land’s Cody Kessler on Nov. 10.

That is cer­tainly bet­ter than go­ing against Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins and Eli Man­ning, all quar­ter­backs who have beaten the Ravens this sea­son.

The Jets aren’t pushovers. They’ve got Mar­shall and Forte on of­fense and line­men Muham­mad Wilk­er­son, Leonard Wil­liams and Shel­don Richardson on de­fense along with Dar­relle Re­vis and Calvin Pryor in the sec­ondary. New York can play good de­fense, but an er­ratic of­fense forces it to stay on the field too long.

It will prob­a­bly be a close game, es­pe­cially if Ravens quar­ter­back Joe Flacco (shoul­der) doesn’t play. The Ravens make ev­ery game close re­gard­less of the com­pe­ti­tion.

Coach John Har­baugh has spent this week try­ing to re­duce the num­ber of penal­ties the team com­mits. The Ravens are tied with the Oak­land Raiders for the most in the NFL with 52 and rank eighth in penalty yards (403).

“It is tough,” Flacco said. “We are stop­ping our­selves so much. We are get­ting in­side the 50-yard line, in­side the 40-yard line, and then a lot of drives we are mov­ing back­ward. We get down to the 10-yard line, and we go back­ward. In­stead of hav­ing goal-to-go, you give your­selves goal-to-go from the 15-yard line. It just makes it a lot tougher to go out there and be suc­cess­ful and put points on the board. By that, I mean touch­downs, not field goals.”

The Ravens should be health­ier than a week ago. Flacco is still ex­pected to start de­spite miss­ing two straight days of prac­tice. Both of­fen­sive tack­les, Rick Wag­ner and Ron­nie Stan­ley, should be in the lineup as well.

Nearly a week ago in the same sta­dium, the New York Giants and the of­fi­cials tried to gift-wrap a win for the Ravens, but they couldn’t take it. The Giants won the game in the clos­ing min­utes on a 66-yard touch­down catch by wide re­ceiver Odell Beck­ham Jr.

The Ravens can’t al­low that to hap­pen Sun­day. These are the Jets, not the Giants. If they lose this one, it will be hard men­tion­ing the word “play­offs” for the rest of the year. If the Ravens win, they could end up tied for first place in the AFC North with the Steel­ers, who host the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots on Sun­day with­out Roeth­lis­berger.

They can’t af­ford to lose.


Line­backer Matthew Judon gets ahold of Jaguars quar­ter­back Blake Bortles just af­ter Bortles gets a pass off.


Geno Smith, the Jets’ new start­ing quar­ter­back this Sun­day, has a ca­reer record of 11-18 as an NFL starter.

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