The Jets head to the big Monday Night Football stage tonight in Baltimore, and although it's preseason, the competitive spirit will be alive between the two projected defensive powers.
That's one reason Jets head coach Rex Ryan said on Saturday, "If there's such a thing as a special preseason game, I think this is it."
Ryan returns for the first time to M & T Bank Stadium, where he spent the previous decade coaching on the Ravens' defensive side of the ball.
"I have a lot of respect for a lot of guys over there and just like anything else you want to compete against them," said Ryan. "You want to compete against your friends. You want to compete against those players that you've been with for 10 years."
In that time the Ravens have consistently ranked among the league's defensive elite, won the Super Bowl after the 2000 season and reached the playoffs four times since then.
Ryan brought his defensive philosophy to the Jets in this year's off-season along with former Baltimore OLB coach Mike Pettine — now the Jets' defensive coordinator — and several ex-Ravens players in LB Bart Scott, S Jim Leonhard and DE Marques Douglas.
Scott spent seven seasons in Baltimore and came to the Jets this season to play alongside starter David Harris in the middle of the defense. He's looking forward to returning to the place where he started his career and going at it in a live situation.
"This game is all about getting in better football condition, playing on the grand stage, getting the coaches out of the way," said Scott. "You really don't have the training wheels out there with you. You're kind of out there on your own. The coaches just kind of let you play."
Douglas, who began his career with the Ravens as a 264-pound pass rusher, has evolved into a 290-pound run stopper and is focused on the task at hand with his new team.
"You might shake a couple of hands with your former teammates at the beginning of the game, but they want to see your best, and I want to give them my best," Douglas told Jets Radio on newyorkjets.com. "I might be in for limited time, but the time that I'm in there I want to show them that I'm productive. One team's loss is another team's gain."
Leonhard is excited about going back to the place that gave him the opportunity to be a starter. The place where he got the nickname "White Lightning" last season and excelled as the Ravens went to the AFC Championship Game before losing to Pittsburgh, the eventual Super Bowl champion.
"It'll be weird going into the opposing locker room for the first time," said Leonhard. "I had a great time in Baltimore, I had a lot of fun, I thank [John] Harbaugh for giving me the opportunity to play there. At the same time, we'll have to go in there and try to get a W."
Ryan's competitive spirit came out after last week's 23-20 home preseason loss to St. Louis. Under the national spotlight with his new team, he'll try to lead the Green & White to their first win of the preseason and his first win as a head coach.
"I think this will be a great opportunity for us to see where we're at as a football team," said Ryan. "Baltimore was probably the second-best team in the National Football League last year. I think that will be a big measuring stick. You're going to be playing in a big-time environment. That stadium will be packed so it's going to be a lot of fun."
Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez will be starting in his first pro game after going 3-for-4 for 88 yards in one drive that ended in a Thomas Jones TD vs. the Rams. Kellen Clemens is scheduled to come into the game sometime in the second quarter, Erik Ainge in the second half, and newly re-signed rookie Chris Pizzotti for the final offensive series.
Sanchez, the fifth pick of this year's draft will face a tough test going against a Ravens first defense that still features Pro Bowlers Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs. Last year their D was a nightmare for visiting teams, holding them to 222.9 yards and 10 points per game at M & T, where the Ravens lost only twice by a combined seven points.
"Whatever they bring, we need to be ready," Sanchez said Saturday. Asked what he needed to do to be ready to clear this next big hurdle in the Jets' QB competition, he replied:
"Be smart with the football, don't turn it over. Whatever it takes, throw the ball away, take a sack, just don't give it to the defense, because they're good. The other thing: Just be a leader. Be accurate, make positive plays. Eliminate negative plays and see what happens. It can't be an all-or-nothing deal or it's not going to work out right."
Clemens, who went 4-for-4 for 24 yards and a field goal in two drives, said facing the Ravens defense after practicing against the Jets' similar scheme all summer makes this challenge a little easier than it could be.
"But when Bart [Scott] comes free, now that he's a Jet, he has to lay off us whereas when Ray Lewis comes free on Monday night, he'll probably be seeing a whole different kind of red. There is a familiarity, but I'm sure they've made some tweaks since Rex has been gone. We'll take a look at them on tape, get a pretty good bead on what they're doing and go from there."
"We'll get to go up against them," said Ryan. "I know how the Ravens play. The Ravens are going to give everything they've got and that's what we want. We want to see them give everything they got because I want to see how we stack up against the best."