Believe the hype: Ravens-Jets should live up to billing

Darrelle Revis' return has made the Jets' matchup with the Baltimore Ravens one of the most intriguing games to watch this season -- and it's only Week 1.

Revis emerged as a dominant player in Rex Ryan's scheme a season ago, and his exceptional cover skills are critical to the Jets' game plan. Revis was often assigned to the opponent's top receiver while the defense directed double coverage to the No. 2 receiver. With the opponent's top options taken out of the mix with the complex coverage, quarterbacks are challenged to find open secondary targets while facing a barrage of pressure.

The clever combination of blitzes and coverage keyed the Jets' ascension to become the league's No. 1 defense. The additions of veteran Antonio Cromartie and rookie Kyle Wilson will only make it more difficult for opponents to pass.

Cromartie, a former Pro Bowler with 15 career interceptions, has the size and length to handle big receivers on the edge. The Jets are encouraging him to take advantage of his physical nature by demanding he play press technique at every opportunity.

Wilson, the team's first-round pick, will be the nickel corner. Although that would seem to require him to play in the slot, the Jets have the option of matching Wilson up with the opponent's third receiver, regardless of alignment. This gives New York enormous flexibility.

In looking at the game with the Ravens, Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh present a tremendous challenge. All are accomplished, with Boldin and Houshmandzadeh having the ability to thrive from the slot. Given coordinator Cam Cameron's innovation, the trio will be deployed in various alignments to create mismatches and ensure free releases off the ball. For a set of speed-deficient receivers, imagination is essential to getting the veterans free early in routes.

In addition, the Ravens will incorporate crossing routes to get rubs or picks on defenders trailing in coverage. The use of "on the run" routes will give the group the chance to maximize their ability to pick up yardage after the catch. For Boldin, in particular, this is an effective way to use his unique skills as a runner.

There's plenty of hype going into this game, but the battle waged between the Jets' secondary and Ravens' receiving corps could be the deciding factor.

Coming to Washington's defense

The Albert Haynesworth saga has thrust the Redskins into the limelight for all of the wrong reasons, but the defense might soon earn recognition for its performance instead of drama.

Coordinator Jim Haslett is quietly transforming the Redskins into a defensive force that is more dangerous and dynamic than previous incarnations.

While some might scoff at that notion due to the success the defense has enjoyed over the past decade, Haslett's aggressive scheme and mentality has his unit poised for more. He has installed a multiple 3-4 system that features a host of zone blitzes. Although using zone pressures would appear to be designed to slow down opposing aerial attacks, the creative usage of gut and overload pressures disrupts the flow of the running game.

The constant slanting and stunting of defensive linemen and linebackers makes it difficult for blockers to correctly identify defenders at the point of attack. The immediate penetration in the backfield often results in negative plays. Those disruptive plays lead to long-yardage situations, which then allows Haslett to dial up exotic pressures to harass quarterbacks into mistakes and turnovers.

Last season, the Redskins finished last in the league in takeaways (17), continuing a disappointing trend of failing to produce turnovers. Although the Redskins have perennially ranked among the top 10 in total defense since 2000, the team has never ranked higher than 10th in turnover margin during that span.

Given the tremendous impact that turnovers have on the outcome of games, the Redskins spent the preseason emphasizing the importance of taking the ball away. In four preseason games, the unit forced 10 turnovers.

For the Dallas Cowboys, the emergence of a more aggressive Redskins defense could be problematic this week.

The Cowboys' offensive line has struggled in pass protection, and the myriad of exotic blitzes that Haslett will throw at them has the potential to create confusion. Dallas had issues picking up some of the basic games orchestrated between the defensive tackle and defensive end during the preseason, so the Cowboys will surely see a few of those tactics. Their inexperience on the right side of the line will also lead to more overload blitzes being directed from that side.

With Haslett willing to flip-flop his outside linebackers (Andre Carter and Brian Orakpo) to take advantage of favorable matchups, Tony Romo could see a lot of Orakpo crashing from the front side as the Redskins try to force the QB into critical mistakes.

Haynesworth provides a wildcard in the matchup. While the assumption is his role could be limited, he has the potential to be a disruptive force when motivated. That could lead Haslett to incorporate Haynesworth into the game plan as a multi-dimensional threat.

As a nose tackle or defensive end, Haynesworth is sure to attract double teams, so his inclusion in some overload rushes will lead to defenders coming free from inside.

Washington's defense has flown under the radar, but a stellar debut against rival Dallas could earn the unit pub for the right reasons.

Secondary a primary concern for Patriots

The defensive reputation of Bill Belichick will be tested by a unit relying on a young and inexperienced secondary.

Though safeties Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders have logged 27 and 41 starts, respectively, they are joined by a young quartet of corners (Darius Butler, Devin McCourty, Jonathan Wilhite, and Terrence Wheatley) that have only 18 combined starts. That inexperience reared its ugly head in the preseason, when the Patriots ranked 27th in pass defense (238.2 yards per game) and failed to get off the field in critical situations.

While preseason games aren't an accurate indicator of regular-season success, the trends indicate that the Patriots could have serious issues containing some of the more explosive passing attacks. Blown assignments have shown up periodically and would be detrimental if the issue isn't corrected.

The first test will come Sunday against the Bengals. The Patriots have the arduous task of facing a pair of dynamic receivers in Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco.

Though the veterans have gained acclaim for their zany off-field exploits, they still rank as one of the league's most-formidable tandems.

Owens, 36, is still a dangerous weapon on the outside. A big, physical option with deceptive straight-line speed, Owens is still a viable option as a No.1 receiver. He works the short and intermediate areas, and is still explosive enough to occasionally command double-team attention.

On the other side, Ochocinco presents a formidable challenge as a No. 1 receiver with the unique ability to make plays on every level. He requires constant attention and is capable of punishing defenses when given free access off the line of scrimmage. He's the centerpiece of Cincinnati's aerial attack and New England's secondary must limit his explosive plays by directing multiple defenders in his direction.

Although those tactics are sound in principle, an anemic pass rush could leave Carson Palmer with too much time to find other options. Tully Banta-Cain is the Patriots' only legitimate pass rusher, and he might be unable to produce a consistent rush without a complementary threat. On top of that, the Bengals' rock-solid running attack will force the Patriots to use eight-man fronts to slow down Cedric Benson and frequently leave defenders in single coverage.

The young secondary holds the key to the Patriots' lofty aspirations, and we will immediately see if the group is up to the challenge.

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