Jim Leonhard will return to the city of his professional breakout Sunday night when the Jets face off against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
“It’s another chance to play a group of guys you’ve had history with and who you respect. It doesn’t change. Those are the games you want to play,” Leonhard told me on this week’s installment of “Four Quarters.” “They’re a great football team — they’re one of the best football teams in this league. Those are the tests you want to have week in and week out. That’s how you really judge your football team.”
Leonhard, who played with the Ravens under Rex Ryan in 2008 before joining him up north in March of 2009, hasn’t been pleased with the D’s efforts in two of the first three games.
“I think it’s just the fine details. That’s what’s coming up. It’s not necessarily the same thing schematically over and over, but it’s always something,” he said. “A lot of plays there were 10 guys who played the play really well and one guy made a mistake, and that’s where the ball went. There are a lot of issues we need to clean up, but we’re the right people for the job and I think we’ll be fine.”
Jets icon Joe Namath made news this week when he questioned the Green & White’s preparation and wondered if the players were starting to think they were better than they actually are.
“It’s an execution thing,” said Leonhard in reference to Namath’s interview on ESPN’s Michael Kay Show. “It’s one of those things that some Sundays you go out and for whatever reason it is, you don’t execute. There are no excuses for it. This is our job and you go out there to play sound football for 16 regular-season games. That’s your goal and we haven’t done that.
“I don’t think it’s a preparation thing at all and Rex is a confident coach. He’s going to give us confidence and we can’t just live off of that,” he added. “We can’t just show up and say, ‘We’re a good football team.’ You have to go out and prove it week in and week out.”
The defense fell far short of its expectations in Oakland, allowing 234 yards on the ground overall and 171 and two rush TDs to Darren McFadden in the 34-24 loss. That performance moved them back to 31st in the league against the run, but they have already had film review, corrected the mistakes and now must look ahead.
“Baltimore is a great football team if they have 100 percent of your focus. If you are dwelling on a loss and feeling sorry for yourself, that makes them even more dangerous,” Leonhard said. “It’s one of those things where you have a good 24, 48 hours to put it behind you and then you move on. Life in the NFL is whether you win or lose. You have to be able to put it behind you.”
The 2-1 Ravens have the same record as the Jets and they’ve also been inconsistent at times. They spanked the Steelers in Week 1 at home, amassing seven takeaways defensively and getting strong performances from Joe Flacco with three passing TDs and Ray Rice with 107 yards on the ground. But then they got dominated in Nashville in Week 2 as the Titans rolled up 432 yards of total offense and Flacco was intercepted twice.
Last week, the good Ravens flew again as they crushed the Rams, 37-7, in St. Louis. Rookie burner Torrey Smith hauled in a trifecta of scoring passes in the opening quarter and the Edgar Allen Poes rolled up 406 yards of offense in the first half. Rice had a nice day at the office, but he actually had only eight rush attempts as Flacco tossed the rock 48 times in the blowout win.
“I think they are a little bit more a passing-oriented team than they have been in the past. They still want to run the football — don’t get that twisted. But at the same time they realized they have a lot of talent on the outside and Joe Flacco is coming into his own and becoming a very solid quarterback,” Leonhard said. “They aren’t afraid to spread you out and throw the football around if they have to, so they’re definitely a little bit more balanced than they’ve been in the past. Obviously, that defense is everything you expect it to be.”
Former Bills wideout Lee Evans, a teammate of Leonhard’s at Wisconsin, didn’t suit up against the Rams due to a left ankle injury. It’s possible he could make a return and that could mean speed galore on the outside.
“They have some guys who can blow the top off a defense. If you’re on that side, you almost can’t be deep enough. You know they’re going deep and you know they’ll throw it up to them,” said Leonhard.
The physical Anquan Boldin and Rice are tied for the Ravens’ lead with 14 receptions, but second-year TE Ed Dickson is next with 12 and he can get down the field as well.
“He’s becoming that vertical threat down the middle of the field for them, really putting pressure on teams,” Leonhard said of Dickson. “When you have a tight end who can get vertical, it really stresses the defense and they’re doing a great job with him. Anquan Boldin is who he is — he’s a big, physical receiver. They’ll put him in the slot, they’ll put him on the outside, and they’ll run reverses with him. They’ll do everything with him — you have to have your eyes on him every play. They’re doing a lot of very good things with that offense.”
For more, please watch “Four Quarters” Wednesday.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Baltimore Ravens, Darren McFadden, Jim Leonhard, Joe Flacco, Lee Evans, Oakland Raiders, Torrey Smith
Posted in Eric Allen | 42 Comments »