Baltimore Ravens 37 – New York Giants 14

Game Overview: Why are the Giants in the middle of a six-game losing streak? It’s not the coaches, play-calling, officials, bad luck, etc. They are in the middle of a six-game losing streak because the players are not good enough. Let that sink in for a minute because there has been far too much debate about what the problems are. There should be no debate. The players are not good enough.

The offense is dysfunctional because the Giants can’t pass the football. Teams, like the Ravens, are loading up against the run and daring the Giants to beat them with the pass. They can’t. The rookie quarterback is struggling terribly and the Giants’ receivers don’t scare anyone. It’s as simple as that.

Defensively, there have been too many injuries. But even if everyone was healthy, the Giants have some serious talent question marks. The team needs better linebacking and pass rushers.

Was it all bad on Sunday against the Ravens? Surprisingly no. What I found most encouraging is that despite the lopsided score at halftime, the defense played extremely hard in the second half. I’ve witnessed a lot of Giants’ defensive teams quit in far less difficult circumstances against less physical opponents during the last 14 years. The young guys on the defense did not quit. They stood their ground and that in itself says a lot about the character of some of these men.

Also, pass protection by the offensive line against a quality opponent was solid. I saw very few pass protection breakdowns by the offensive line this week.

Quarterback: Eli Manning (4-of-18 for 27 yards, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 1 fumble, and a 0.0 quarterback rating) was abysmal. What was most disturbing about his performance was that Manning was not under a lot of pass pressure and he was not getting hit much. Being confused as a rookie is one thing, but to look so terribly flustered and unconfident is another. In other words, Manning had ZERO poise on Sunday and that is shocking. As the game progressed, it was obvious that he was pressing more and more and, in turn, he became more and more inaccurate. Before he was pulled, Manning could not even complete the simplest of passes to wide-open receivers.

I’ve seen a lot of fans post that there is no need to worry, that Manning will overcome this. Well, I’m a worrier by nature and when you mortgage the future for a quarterback who is not poised or accurate, I think there is cause for concern. Have I given up on Manning or do I think he will be a bust? No. But I am worried. C’mon…4-of-18 for 27 yards?!?

You can’t blame Eli’s teammates for his poor performance this week. He was simply off from the start of the game. On the Giants’ first drive of the game, Manning had outstanding pass protection on a 3rd-and-11 deep pass to Ike Hilliard that he overthrew. Fortunately, a defensive holding away from the play gave the Giants a first down. But on the very next play, Manning badly misfired on a pass intended for a wide-open Marcellus Rivers and the ball was tipped. On the Giants’ next possession, Manning had excellent pass protection again but this time badly underthrew Amani Toomer who was open deep. The pass was easily intercepted.

On the third possession, Manning’s 2nd-and-10 pass to Amani Toomer was no where near the wide receiver. On 3rd-and-7, Manning could not find anyone open (the announcers said both of Manning’s receivers were double-covered) and Manning was sacked as Ron Dayne got beat in pass protection by the blitzing linebacker. Manning’s best pass of the day, a 12-yard slant to Toomer coming off the goal line occurred on the next drive. Two plays later, Manning forced a ball deep to Toomer on a post route. Toomer was double-covered and the ball was thrown too long and intercepted. Fortunately the officials called pass interference. This promising drive however ended with two terrible officiating mistakes…a simply horrible, non-existent crackback block penalty called on Hilliard and a non-call on a flagrant tripping, pass interference penalty on a deep pass into the end zone to Hilliard.

On the fifth possession, Manning again had time on first down and could find no one open. On 3rd-and-8, he threw a short pass to Barber to his left for a 1-yard gain, but he had FB Jim Finn wide open to his right for what may have ended up being an easy first down. The Giants’ final offensive play of the half was a terrible decision by Manning as his pass was intercepted with 14 seconds left in the half, setting up a field goal for the Ravens. Manning thought the safety was going to stay with Shockey, but he broke off the route and jumped in front of WR David Tyree as it was obvious that Manning was staring down his intended receiver.

Things deteriorated even further for Manning in the second half. On 3rd-and-4, the Giants tried to run a screen pass to HB Tiki Barber. The Ravens read the screen and instead of throwing the ball away, Manning ran back to the goal line as was flagged with a legitimate intentional grounding penalty at the New York 1-yard line. This poor decision set up the Ravens’ third field goal of the day. On the next possession, Manning looked to his right where he had a wide-open Jeremy Shockey, but for some reason did not pull the trigger and tried a stupid shovel pass to Barber instead. At this point, it became clear that Manning was afraid to trust his own eyes. The drive ended with Manning under heavy pressure (for one of the few times on the day) on 3rd-and-14.

Could it get worse? Yes. On the very next offensive play on the next drive, Manning lost his grip on the football on a play-action fake to Barber and the ball was recovered by the Ravens. Next possession. Manning’s pass intended for Toomer was so bad that Kurt Warner caught it on the sidelines. His 3rd-and-4 pass to Tyree was thrown terribly high and fell incomplete. Punt. Barber fumbled the ball away on the next possession. Then on Manning’s final drive of the game (before he was pulled), he threw behind a wide open Barber on a swing pass and was sacked on 3rd-and-11 when Dayne missed another blitz pick-up. By the time Manning was pulled mid-way through the 4th quarter, the Giants had accrued four first downs for the game.

Kurt Warner (6-of-9 for 127 yards) entered the game during garbage time. Fans are making too much of his performance. He was operating against a prevent defense. Would Warner be more effective than Manning at this point? Yes. But this season has become about 2005, not 2004. Playing Warner now makes no sense unless the Giants are worried about Manning’s psyche (a legitimate concern).

Warner completed his first three passes of the game: a 9-yard WR-screen to Hilliard, a 41-yard catch-and-run to Toomer over the middle, and a very nicely thrown sideline pass to Shockey down to the Ravens’ 1-yard line. This drive resulted in a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Barber – the Giants’ first offensive touchdown since the Atlanta game. On the next drive, Warner was not as sharp. He made a nice play by stepping up into the pocket away from pass pressure to hit Shockey for a 38-yard gain. But he badly overthrew Barber on the next play and then missed a wide-open Shockey in the end zone for what should have been a final touchdown, making the score 37-21.

Wide Receivers: Hard to judge the wide receivers this week as Manning was so poor. Manning missed both Hilliard and Toomer deep. It was also pretty obvious on Toomer’s 41-yard catch-and-run that he is not anywhere near a 100 percent. His gait looked very labored. The run blocking by the wide receivers left a lot to be desired (though the crackback penalty called on Hilliard was pure bullshit…just a terrible, terrible call). Hilliard was also flagrantly fouled on a deep pass where he might have scored had he not been tripped…however, the officials didn’t call the penalty.

Tight Ends: Shockey caught 5 passes for 83 yards, but most of the damage came late in the game. TV commentators are making too much out of Shockey being called upon to block. Shockey is being sent out on pass patterns on a regular basis, including being split out wide (and he is the leading receiver on the team). In Fassel’s offense, Shockey was called upon to pass block on occasion too. Shockey’s run and pass blocking was pretty solid this week. However, Shockey was flagged with a false start.

The Giants need to get Marcellus Rivers out of the line-up. He simply is not strong enough at the point-of-attack as a run blocker. He got shoved back into Tiki on the play where Tiki fumbled the ball away on the Giants’ opening offensive possession. Rivers later got shoved back again on a Barber run that lost a yard in the 4th quarter. Rivers, too, was flagged with a false start.

Running Backs: Not a good game for everyone concerned here. Barber (19 carries for 55 yards, 1 touchdown) wasn’t going to have a good day with the Ravens stacking the line of scrimmage, but he made the situation much worse by fumbling the ball away twice – his first two lost fumbles of the season. There is no excuse for this. His first fumble came on the Giants’ opening offensive drive and set up a field goal. On the second fumble, not only did Barber fumble, but he abandoned his pretty solid run blocking to his right in an effort to ad lib to his left.

Ron Dayne was terrible in blitz protection. He gave up both of the Ravens’ sacks against blitzing linebackers. He also failed to pick up the linebacker on the 3rd-and-14 pass play where Manning was immediately under pressure.

This was not one of Jim Finn’s better games. He made a poor block in pass protection on the Giants’ first play of the game. And watching him try to move out MLB Ray Lewis reminded me of Greg Comella’s futility in Super Bowl XXXV.

Offensive Line: It’s tough to judge the run blocking as the Ravens’ were stacking the line of scrimmage. Also, this wasn’t the best efforts by complementary players such as Barber, Finn, and Rivers. The Giants had more consistent success running to their right behind RT David Diehl and RG Wayne Lucier. The run blocking to the left was not as strong as there was one play where LT Luke Petitgout got out-muscled and LG Jason Whittle also missed a block on a Barber run in the 4th quarter. I saw one poor run block by OC Shaun O’Hara too.

Pass protection by the offensive line was a bright spot. Manning was sacked twice, but that was not the fault of the offensive line. And Manning was not under much pressure. Both tackles continue to improve. Diehl was very solid except for the first play of the game and the last drive. On the first play, he missed a stunt (same play that Finn missed the blitz) and Manning’s pass to Barber was tipped. On the last drive, Diehl didn’t recognize the blitz coming from his right on the play where Warner hit Shockey for 38 yards. A few plays later he was flagged with a false start. Still, it was a good game by Diehl.

Petitgout was rock solid except for the aforementioned missed run block and a false start.

O’Hara had a bit of an up-and-down game. He was mostly solid, but he did have problems on one stunt in the 1st quarter and gave up two pass pressures in the 2nd quarter.

This was probably Lucier’s best game of the season. He was much better in pass protection this week and made some nice run blocks. Whittle missed the blitz on the same 3rd-and-14 play that Dayne missed the blitz on. He also had a false start on the second-to-last offensive play of the game.

Defensive Line: What was interesting was the fact that the coaching staff recognized that the usual defensive line of LDE Lance Legree, LDT William Joseph, RDT Fred Robbins, and DE Osi Umenyiora wasn’t going to be able to defend the run against the Ravens. So Umenyiora was benched, Robbins was moved to RDE, and Kenderick Allen started at RDT. Damone Duckett also saw quite a bit of playing time inside. Umenyiora did not play all that much but was used in some obvious pass rushing situations. DE Regan Upshaw only saw a few snaps.

With this unusual (four defensive tackle-types) and inexperienced (inside) starting line-up, everything was not positive. After all, the Ravens rushed for 169 yards on the day. And there were plays where I saw all four starters get handled at the point-of-attack. However, I also saw strong play from all four starters. And what intrigued me the most was the play of Allen and Joseph inside. I don’t know what kind of players these two will turn out to be, but I was encouraged by the fact that both of these two kept playing hard throughout the game and flashed ability. Allen (6 tackles, 2 pass defenses) played a lot and kept coming. There were plays where a guy like All-Pro Jonathan Odgen would crush him to the ground, but there were also plays where he stood his ground, played off the block, and made the tackle. He was very active. Joseph’s stats (2 tackles) don’t look good, but I thought this was his best game of the season. He far stouter at the point-of-attack. I think his biggest problem right now is locating the ball. He is often in position to make the play due to his ability, but doesn’t finish (it’s not lack of effort as has been speculated). There were three tackles he missed early in the game – one on the scrambling quarterback, two on the halfback. He got negatively highlighted on an 11-yard gain by the back as he over-pursued the play to his right and failed to make a play on the ball carrier cutting back to his left. But he then flashed his ability on the next play by penetrating the line and nailing the back for a 3-yard loss.

With the Ravens up 27-7 at halftime and sure to pound the ball repeatedly with their physical ground game, the scene was set for a defensive collapse. However, it did not occur. The Ravens’ final 10 points of the game were set up by poor offense, not bad defense. And I think the run defense actually improved despite the game being out of reach. I give a lot of credit to Allen, Joseph, Legree, and Robbins for playing hard when a lot of other teams (and Giant teams) would have quit.

Fred Robbins (2 tackles, 1 pass defense) was up-and-down at his new position and facing a tough, tough opponent (Jonathan Ogden – the best offensive lineman in football). Some of his problems had to do with Ogden, some I think by the fact that playing right end was a new experience for him. On the Ravens’ first drive, Robbins failed to bring down a scrambling QB Kyle Boller. And then for much of the 1st quarter, Robbins was not sharp in run defense. Robbins then settled down at the point-of-attack, but the Ravens were able to take advantage of some of his inexperience. For example, they ran a misdirection toss to his side on one play. And on another play in the 3rd quarter, Robbins got caught too far up field and the runner was able to find a big hole through the natural gap created by his vacancy en route to a 19-yard gain. Robbins was actually more disruptive as the game wore on, penetrating the backfield a couple of times, including smashing the ball carrier on one 4-yard loss (he missed a tackle on another penetration). Robbins also deflected a 3rd-and-6 pass in the 4th quarter.

Lance Legree (3 tackles, 0.5 sacks) was also up-and-down. There were plays where he did a real nice job of holding his ground, others were he got blocked at the point-of-attack. But he kept fighting and never quit. He shared a sack with Umenyiora on the second Raven possession of the game. Like Robbins, he sometimes gets fooled because of his inexperience at end…such as when the Ravens ran a play-action boot on him with the quarterback.

Umenyiora (4 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 2 passes defensed, 1 fumble recovery for a touchdown) was benched but made some plays. He split a sack with Legree on a 3rd-and-4 play where he was not blocked. (This was the only sack by the defensive line in the game…there was far too little pass pressure on Boller). Umenyiora also showed off his athleticism on the play where Boller fumbled the ball and Osi scooped it up and sprinted 50 yards for a touchdown. Umenyiora also tipped two passes away, including a 3rd-and-goal incompletion. Osi had one nice run defense in the 4th quarter.

Duckett (zero tackles) played a lot, but got blocked pretty easily. Upshaw saw some playing time late and missed a tackle on the halfback on one 9-yard gain.

Linebackers: I wasn’t impressed. Granted injuries are a factor as Barrett Green (knee) was forced to leave the game early and Nick Greisen (ankle) was gimpy.

Green had one tackle before he left the game, his run defense, as usual, was up-and-down. Greisen (5 tackles, 1 pass defense) at times made nice plays by shooting gaps and hitting the back at the line of scrimmage. But he continues to remain vulnerable to cutback runs and the Ravens were able to take advantage of that. He also dropped a sure interception where he had nothing but open field in front of him. It was a great read by Greisen, but he has to make that pick there.

Kevin Lewis (8 tackles, 1 pass defense) was too quiet. He made a nice play in coverage on the first drive of the game, but he was nowhere to be seen on too many Raven rushing attempts despite what his tackle totals say. There was only one play that stood out to me where he ran through his block and made the tackle.

After a few stronger performances, I thought Carlos Emmons (9 tackles) regressed this week. The Ravens were able to run at him with some success. To me, the most damning play of the game defensively was his missed tackled on the 3rd-and-9 draw play right after the Giants’ defense had just scored. The game was 17-7 at this point with only 2 minutes left before halftime. The Ravens were obviously looking to run more time off the clock and then punt. But the draw play picked up 18 yards and the Ravens went on to put another 7 points on the scoreboard before halftime. What is so distressing was that Emmons was looking for the draw. Carlos also got abused by TE Todd Heap twice on their second TD drive of the game. First he was beat badly on a 37-yard gain. Then he got beat in coverage and missed the tackle on the 6-yard catch-and-run by Heap for a score. I also didn’t like the way he attacked a screen pass that picked up 8 yards on 3rd-and-7 late in the game.

Reggie Torbor (1 tackle, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble) played both right end and linebacker again. Unblocked on a stunt, he sacked Boller and forced the fumble that was returned for a touchdown.

James Maxwell (6 tackles, 1 sack) played a lot and played well, subbing for the injured Green and Greisen in the second half. He was instinctive and active in run defense and ran over the guard on the play where he sacked the quarterback.

Defensive Backs: The Giants have a good secondary, but their inability to make plays on the football is dumbfounding. The Giants have not had one interception since October. October!!! And one of the biggest story lines of this game was the plays that the defensive backs could have made but didn’t. For example, Will Allen (6 tackles, 2 pass defenses) and Will Peterson (6 tackles, 2 pass defenses) both played fairly strong games once again. However, both Allen and Peterson were outfought for touchdown receptions on plays where they had excellent coverage on the receiver. Frank Walker, who subbed for the injured Peterson, had both his hands on a deep pass that he deflected and then was completed for a 35-yard gain, setting up the Ravens’ final touchdown before halftime. This is a pass that Walker has to intercept!!! Walker did have good deep coverage on an earlier pass into the end zone.

Terry Cousin (7 tackles) had some problems at strong safety this week. He had a 10-yard pass interference penalty called on him on 3rd-and-4 (this was a bad call by the officials however). He was beaten on 3rd-and-5 later in the drive, but the pass was dropped by the wide receiver. Cousin made a nice play in run defense on 2nd-and-goal on the next possession, but on 3rd-and-goal, he got beat by the receiver for an 8-yard touchdown reception.

FS Brent Alexander (13 tackles, 1 sack, 2 pass defenses) was often called upon to handle Todd Heap by himself. At times, he did a great job, at other teams he got beat. Alexander did a great job of forcing a fumble and recovering the ball on the Ravens’ first drive of the game. However, the officials somehow missed this obvious fumble and the Ravens’ scored on the next play. Later in the 1st quarter, Heap beat Alexander for a 22-yard gain. But Alexander then did an excellent job on Heap on two subsequent plays on this drive, including knocking away a 3rd-and-12 pass. In the 3rd quarter, Heap beat Alexander for an 11-yard gain. On the next play, Alexander blitzed, sacked Boller, and forced a fumble that the quarterback unfortunately recovered. Alexander got beat by WR Travis Taylor for a 7-yard gain on 2nd-and-6 two plays before their final touchdown.

Special Teams: Derrick Ward is a good special teams player both as a kickoff returner and coverage man. However, his fumble on the opening kickoff set the tone for the day and was extremely costly as the Ravens took a quick 7-0 lead…not something you want to face against a tough Ravens’ defense. Ward returned seven kicks for a 25.3 yards-per-return average. His best return of the day was a 42-yard effort. The Giants are doing a much better job now of blocking for kick returns.

Blocking on punt returns remains problematic. Curtis Deloatch is getting better as a special teams player, but he continues to let opposing gunners get by him. Mark Jones had a decent day, returning two punts for an 11.0 yards-per-return average.

Kickoff coverage was decent as Baltimore returns went for 24 (Nick Greisen on the tackle) and 21 yards (Frank Walker).

Jeff Feagles punted the ball seven times for a 41.1 yards-per-punt average. Raven returns: 0 (big hit by Deloatch), fair catch, fair catch, 20 (Ward), 14 (Jack Brewer), 11 (Ward), and 9 yards (David Tyree, but a big hit by Willie Ponder). Obviously, punt coverage was a bit too much hit-or-miss, although coverage on the 20-yard return was hampered by the fact that the Giants had to max protect out of their own end zone.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Baltimore Ravens, December 12, 2004)