By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Approach to the Game – Baltimore Ravens at New York Giants, November 16, 2008: The Giants are sitting pretty right now. 8-1 overall, 3-0 in the division. Three games up on the Cowboys and Eagles. Two games up on the Washington Redskins. Seven regular season games to play.
But now is not the time to get complacent or comfortable. Although the Giants just completed the three-game, meat-grinder stretch (Steelers, Cowboys, Eagles), with a perfect 3-0 outcome, the remaining schedule remains extremely difficult. All of the remaining opponents are playoff-caliber teams. Three division games remain, two of them on the road. And after the Giants play the Ravens, four of the remaining six games are road games. The Giants are sitting pretty, but things can get tight once again in a hurry.
Teams that play good defense and run the ball well are never easy to defeat. The game against the Ravens will be a tough, physical affair. With the Giants coming off three tough and physical games in a row, including two back-to-back division games, will they be able to maintain their level of intensity one more week? The physical toll is beginning to show as the injury list gets a little longer each week.
That said, the Giants should not be in too much awe of Baltimore. The Ravens have fattened their 6-3 record with victories against the Browns (twice), Bengals, Raiders, and Houston. They beat a respectable Dolphins team but were defeated by the Titans, Colts, and Steelers.
Giants on Offense: The good news for New York is that the Giants have seen quite a few 3-4 defensive teams in recent weeks, including the top-ranked defense in the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The bad news is that, like the Steelers, the Ravens are exceptional in defending the run. Indeed, the Ravens are currently #1 in the NFL in run defense, allowing only 65 yards per game. The pass defense, while top 10, is a bit weaker, allowing 193 yards per game. This would seem to suggest that the Giants eschew the run in favor of the passing game, at least early on in the contest.
That might be the smart strategy and the strategy that I would advocate in the past, but this Giants’ offense should not refuse any challenge. The Giants are the #1 rushing attack in the NFL. They have arguably the best offensive line and the deepest group of running backs in the game. Many teams facing the Ravens head into the game believing they will not be able to run the football. The Giants – right or wrong – believe they can run on anyone. No, it will not be pretty. Look to the Steelers’ game as an example. The Giants only rushed for 83 yards in that game. But those 83 yards and 35 rushing plays kept the Steelers’ defense honest. The Steelers did not make the Giants one dimensional that day and the threat of the run helped the passing game. The same will hopefully hold true against the Ravens.
Why are the Ravens so good defensive? It’s simple. Personnel. They are extremely talented in the front seven on defense. Haloti Ngata is 6-4, 345lbs and arguably the best nose tackle in football. He will be a nightmare for OC Shaun O’Hara. If O’Hara has one big weakness, it is dealing with huge, powerful nose tackles. He will need help from the guards. The other two defensive linemen are no slouches either. Left end Trevor Pryce is getting up there in years, but he’s big and can still rush the passer. Right end Jeff Bannan is a plugger who is playing very well. The duty of all three of these men is to tie up the blockers so the active, physical linebackers can make the play. Obviously, the leader of the unit remains LILB Ray Lewis. Love him or hate him, Lewis is a warrior who comes to play each and every Sunday. He’s a physical, intimidating presence who studies his opponent as hard as anyone. RILB Bart Scott is the second-leading tackler on the team and a very underrated player. ROLB Terrell Suggs may be the best of the bunch and is the best rusher of the group. LOLB Jarret Johnson is big and physical. These four are the four top tacklers in the team, just the way you draw it up for a 3-4 defense. Blocking them, and the three down linemen in front of them, on running plays will be a supreme challenge for the Giants’ offensive line, tight ends, and FB Madison Hedgecock.
The secondary of the Ravens is having a down year. LCB Chris McAlister, the team’s best corner, was recently placed on Injured Reserve. RCB Samari Rolle, who will face WR Plaxico Burress, is solid, but not as good as his reputation. Ex-Raider and speedster Fabian Washington will line up at left corner against Amani Toomer. Corey Ivy is the nickel corner. Free safety Ed Reed is an impact player who is having a bit of down season. When at the top of his game, he is an intimidating presence in the secondary against both the run and the pass. The diminutive but over-achieving Jim Leonhard is the strong safety.
It is important for the Giants remain balanced with the run and the pass. That said, it may behoove Kevin Gilbride and Eli Manning to attack the weaker secondary, targeting Ivy in particular. The Ravens could have trouble with the Giants 3- and 4-wide receiver packages.
Once again, this will be a game where Eli Manning will be on the spot. But it’s always that way for a quarterback against a good defense. He needs to minimize mistakes and make plays in the clutch. Most importantly, the Giants need to stop turning the ball over. It’s become a problem in recent weeks. The Ravens feast on turnovers.
Giants on Defense: The Ravens like to run the football. They are third in the NFL in rushing but 18th in yards per rush. That demonstrates their commitment to the running game. With a rookie (albeit impressive) quarterback, the game plan is clear. Stop the run. Put the onus on the young quarterback to beat you.
The Ravens have a very solid offensive line. LT Jared Gaither is massive and a good athlete for his size. LG Ben Grubbs is a former first-round pick. OC Jason Brown is big and strong. The right side is not as strong with RG Chris Chester and RT Willie Anderson (Anderson has been battling an ankle injury). If Anderson can’t go, Adam Terry will replace him. Obviously, the Giants’ defensive line and linebackers need to play stout up front against the power running attack with Willis McGahee being the feature back. But very much unlike most teams, the Ravens will also employ their fullback as a ball carrier. 260-pound FB/H-Back LeRon McClain has almost 100 carries on the season. He will line up at halfback and is the Ravens’ goal line/short-yardage specialist. Rookie HB Ray Rice has proven to be the big-play reserve.
Linebacker and safety coverage on Pro Bowl TE Todd Heap will be crucial. The Ravens will also throw to their backs (Rice is third on the team in receptions, McClain fifth, and McGahee sixth). The Giants will have to be careful of screen passes in particular. Also, be on the lookout for misdirection and gadget plays.
The Ravens’ leading receiver, Derrick Mason, has a painful shoulder injury. He is not expected to practice all week, but says he may play. The other starting wideout is Mark Clayton. Yamon Figurs is now the third receiver. He can get deep.
The real key is stopping the running game. If the Giants can make the Ravens’ one-dimensional, the Ravens should have trouble moving the ball provided the Giants keep Heap in check. The Ravens don’t have a lot of offensive weapons that scare you in the passing game. Pressure the rookie quarterback and give him a lot of different looks in the secondary. Hopefully, the Giants’ offense doesn’t turn the ball over and provide the Ravens with a short field.
Giants on Special Teams: Yamon Figurs in the primary punt and kick returner. The Giants need to do a better job on kickoffs and kickoff coverage and not provide the Ravens’ offense with a short field. The Giants’ own kickoff return game remains anemic. Hopefully, Ahmad Bradshaw breaks one soon. Domenik Hixon broke off a big punt return last weekend.