The New York Jets need these guys to step up against the Baltimore Ravens
For the New York Jets to pull off a season-opening victory as 6.5-point home underdogs, they’re going to need some unusually big games from a few players in particular.
These three guys really need to step up against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
OT Max Mitchell
It’s not fair for the fourth-round rookie from Louisiana to be facing this much pressure at the very beginning of his career, but that’s how the cookie has crumbled. With Mekhi Becton’s replacement, Duane Brown, expected to miss at least four games after being placed on injured reserve, it’s the Max Mitchell Show for the entire duration of the Jets’ AFC North gauntlet.
The Jets do not need Mitchell to be “good” or even the caliber of a league-average starter. But they badly need him to be at least respectable. That’s all it would take for Mitchell to have what I’d classify as a “big game” considering the expectations.
An offensive line can be dragged down by its weakest link. Four guys can win their battles on every play, but if there is one player who cannot win his reps, plays can still be continuously ruined despite the majority of the line doing its job. Mitchell must avoid being that weak link.
Baltimore doesn’t offer a star pass-rusher like the Jets’ next three opponents do. What they do offer is one of the more complex pressure schemes in the NFL. Mitchell’s first NFL test will challenge him mentally more than physically. He must be ready for the unique stunts and blitz packages that will be thrown his way.
Mitchell will also be critical in the run game. The Jets will seek to establish a strong rushing attack that can set up effective play-action opportunities against Baltimore’s man coverage. Considering that the Jets are a wide-zone based running team and the Ravens’ run-stuffing strength lies with the interior of their defensive line, the Jets will likely be running to the outside quite frequently. That puts pressure on the tackles, including Mitchell.
All eyes are on No. 61.
LB C.J. Mosley
As the captain of the Jets defense and an every-down starting linebacker, C.J. Mosley will obviously be an important player in every game the Jets play. I think he will be especially important in this game, though; for a few reasons.
Above all, I think Mosley’s coverage will play a massive role in the Jets’ effectiveness at stopping Baltimore’s best receiving weapon, tight end Mark Andrews.
Andrews does an incredible amount of damage on crossing routes, which challenge the communication and camaraderie of the defense’s zone coverage in the middle of the field. The linebackers are in the middle of all that action. Mosley must do a good job of picking up and passing off Andrews as he passes through the middle of the defense.
Mosley will also be a key cog in the run game.
The Jets’ defensive line might have trouble preventing Baltimore’s rushers from getting through the first level, as the Ravens’ run-blocking scheme is a mismatch for New York’s defensive playstyle. This will leave a ton of pressure on the linebackers and safeties to clean things up at the second level.
If the linebackers can tackle efficiently, the Jets can keep everything in front of them and prevent Baltimore’s rushing attack from breaking the game open. But if Mosley and company struggle to tackle, the Ravens’ run game can truly dominate.
Plus, Mosley is a former Raven who played with Lamar Jackson and is familiar with Baltimore’s long-standing traditions on both sides of the ball. His experience with Baltimore is a unique advantage that no other Jets defender has.
WR Braxton Berrios
As the Jets look to establish their run game in this one, look for them to rely on a ton of pre-snap motion. Using motion to force pre-snap movement from the defense can create natural running lanes, almost replicating the effect that a fullback might have with his blocking. This is especially true against man-heavy teams like the Ravens.
Braxton Berrios will be the Jets’ primary motion man. He can affect the game even without touching the ball through the mere threat that he will get the rock.
But to maximize the impact of his pre-snap motion, Berrios must be successful when he touches the ball. If Berrios can make some big plays on end-arounds, jet sweeps, and screens, the Ravens defense will react even more aggressively to Berrios’s jet motion – opening up everything for the New York offense.
I also think Berrios’s play on special teams will be particularly important in this game when considering the opponent.
Led by a head coach who comes from a special teams background, the Ravens consistently field one of the best special teams units in the NFL. There is a great chance they will steal some hidden points and yards on special teams this week. As an underdog, the Jets cannot allow that to happen. They must match the Ravens punch-for-punch on special teams, preventing them from gaining that little extra edge.
Some big returns from Berrios would be a tremendous aid in mitigating Baltimore’s special teams advantage. The Ravens have an excellent returner of their own in Devin Duvernay, whose 13.8 yards per punt return last season was the only mark in the NFL better than Berrios’s 13.4 out of 37 qualifiers (min. 10 returns).
Berrios has the edge in the kickoff return game, though. He ranked 2nd out of 38 qualifiers (min. 10 returns) with 30.4 yards per kickoff return while Duvernay placed 13th with 24.1.
To have Berrios match or outplay Duvernay in the return game would be a valuable win for New York.