- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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Let's call it like it is: The New York Jets stink on the road.
They've dropped 15 of their last 21, including 1-4 this season. Their minus-12 turnover margin is by far the worst in the league. They've been outscored in the first quarter, 34-6, suggesting they're not mentally or physically ready to play. Their shortcomings were on full display last Sunday in Orchard Park, where the Jets were embarrassed by the struggling Buffalo Bills, 37-14.
Here's the crazy thing: The Jets used to be a terrific road team under Rex Ryan, going 11-5 in his first two seasons -- plus four playoff wins. Those were the days.
On Sunday, the Jets (5-5) visit the Baltimore Ravens (4-6) at M&T Bank Stadium for a 1 p.m. kickoff, and this game has a scary look to it. The Ravens are 36-8 at home under John Harbaugh, whose defense tends to dominate on its own turf. They've allowed only 12.8 points per game in four home games.
This has the makings of a rough day for the Jets. What to watch for:
1. The Geno-scope: Geno Smith is one bad performance away from being involved in a full-blown quarterback controversy. He was pulled in the fourth quarter of the previous two losses, both blowouts, and he'll end up on the bench again, perhaps permanently, if he doesn't stop committing turnovers. The turnover count is up to 20, including 13 in five road games. The Jets want to make it work with Smith, especially with no viable veteran on the bench, but there comes a point where you have to say, "Enough is enough."
Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has to do something to get Smith -- and the entire offense -- out of this funk. Naturally, he will try to feature the running game to take some pressure off Smith, perhaps incorporating wrinkles in the Wildcat and read-option packages. Unfortunately for the Jets, the Ravens allow only 3.7 yards per rush, No. 6 in the league. Mornhinweg should impress upon Smith the importance of looking for his check-down options. He too often stays locked on his No. 1 read, forcing the ball into coverage. Against the Bills, he targeted his backs only four times.
2. Someone help the kid: Naturally, Smith took the brunt of the criticism for last week's mess, but he got no help from his receivers, who struggled against man-to-man coverage. That was a point of emphasis in practice; let's see if it works. Stephen Hill, branded a disappointment by Rex Ryan, received the good cop, bad cop treatment from Mornhinweg and Ryan, respectively. His starting job was threatened, but he'll still end up playing a lot. Santonio Holmes' hamstring still is an issue, so who knows how much he can contribute? Mornhinweg should feature his tight ends, as the Ravens' safeties are suspect in coverage, especially ex-Jet James Ihedigbo.
3. Secure the edges: This is a big game for the Jets' tackles, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Austin Howard. The Ravens bring plenty of heat on the edges, with rush linebacker Terrell Suggs (nine sacks) and situational rusher Elvis Dumervil (8.5 sacks). Smith took a beating last week, starting from the very first series, and he's at a vulnerable stage in his development. If he gets hit hard and early, he's liable to turn skittish. The Ravens pounded Mark Sanchez in 2011, and there are some who believe he wasn't the same after that beating. The Ravens' pass rush is particularly effective at home. Since 2011, they've record 67 sacks, tied for second in the league.
4. Homecoming, Part Deaux: This should be a special day for Ravens icon Ed Reed, except he already did the homecoming thing in Week 3 as a member of the Houston Texans. That didn't go particularly well. His team lost, 30-9, and his performance was non-descript. That, too, was the case last week in his Jets debut. Now, more than ever, the Jets need Reed to turn back the clock. A big play by the future Hall of Famer, especially in his old house, would be an enormous spark for the Jets, who have allowed an alarming number of long completions.
Joe Flacco likes to throw deep, especially to Torrey Smith, whose vertical speed could cause problems for struggling CB Antonio Cromartie. The good news for the Jets is that Flacco, he of the Super Bowl MVP and $120 million contract, is having a subpar season -- especially on deep balls. In fact, he has only two touchdowns and five interceptions on throws of longer than 15 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
5. Rising Sons: The Jets' defensive line -- a.k.a. Sons of Anarchy -- should dominate the line of scrimmage. The Ravens' offensive line is really struggling, especially C Gino Gradkowski. Their running game showed signs of life last week against the Chicago Bears, but it has been a major disappointment, especially Ray Rice, averaging only 3.0 yards per carry. It would be an absolute shock if the Jets, with the best run defense in the league, allow more than 75 yards. In theory, they should turn the Ravens into a one-dimensional offense, allowing them to devour Flacco, who already has 33 sacks. But, as we've seen a few times, it doesn't work out that way because of the problems in coverage.