The Jets hit the turf this Sunday afternoon for their regular-season opener against the Ravens. This is the year when the team is supposed to take that next step towards contention following an 11-year playoff drought.
And while the roster is better (on paper) entering the 2022 season, the first few weeks may not be so kind to head coach Robert Saleh’s crew. Second-year quarterback Zach Wilson will be out for at least the first three games with a knee injury. Wilson suffered a bone bruise and meniscus tear in the team’s preseason opener back on Aug. 12.
Enter Joe Flacco, who will be facing his former team right off the bat. The veteran is entering his 15th season and first as a Week 1 starter since 2019 (when he was in Denver). He’ll have a daunting task — the Jets don’t want to set themselves too far back in the standings before Wilson’s eventual return, so Flacco will need to turn heads.
New York has the entire AFC North division to start the year. After the Ravens and Lamar Jackson, the Jets face the Browns (without Deshaun Watson), the reigning AFC champion Bengals and Joe Burrow, and finally the Steelers in Week 4.
Can Flacco outplay the competition so the team is in a good spot when Wilson is healthy? We’ll start finding out Sunday.
Ravens at Jets
When: Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022.
Where: MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford.
Time: 1 p.m. ET.
Radio: ESPN Radio New York 98.7 FM.
Keys to victory
Run game emergence. You can’t rely entirely on Flacco to win this game for the Jets. He’s 37 years old and a primary backup at this stage of his career. The Jets need to take pressure off the veteran signal-caller by utilizing their two-headed monster at running back: Michael Carter and rookie Breece Hall.
Strong tackle play. But for the running game to find a spark, and for Flacco to produce on passing downs, the Jets offensive line must win the battle in the trenches. There’s confidence in the interior (left guard Laken Tomlinson, center Connor McGovern, and right guard Alijah Vera-Tucker), but there are question marks at the two tackle spots. Can George Fant continue his strong left tackle play from last year in Duane Brown’s absence? Can rookie fourth-rounder Max Mitchell be trusted on the right side?
Saleh’s line. Saleh has made it a mission to build a Jets defensive line similar to the one he coached in San Francisco. It may finally be coming to fruition. Carl Lawson is returning from injury and rookie Jermaine Johnson is now in the mix alongside John Franklin-Myers and Quinnen Williams. The defensive front can get off to a hot start this season by making things very difficult for Jackson, and would take pressure off the new-look secondary by doing so.
It’ll be crucial for the rookies to get off on the right foot in Week 1. Will wide receiver Garrett Wilson flash? Will cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner be a problem for Jackson and the Ravens passing attack? How will Hall fare against the Baltimore front seven?
Did you know?
When Flacco takes the field Sunday, he will be facing the 32nd different team in his NFL career. Flacco, who was drafted by the Ravens in the 2008 first round out of Delaware, has yet to play against his former team. That will change this weekend (barring any unforeseen circumstances).
The Jets roster does look better on paper and the defense is supposed to make a tremendous improvement from last year. But the team still may need time to gel, especially considering Wilson’s absence.
This is a quarterback-driven, offense-driven league. And in this matchup, how could you not take the team who employs the potential $200 million quarterback over the team fielding a 37-year-old at the same position?
The Jets defense could find a way to get to Jackson, but the fifth-year quarterback will figure the unit out eventually. And on the other side of the ball, it’s hard to imagine Flacco truly elevating a young offense with multiple new faces and question marks on the offensive line. Ravens 21, Jets 10.
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