New York Giants 30 – Baltimore Ravens 10
Summary: The Meadowlands, New Jersey…the New York Giants’ running game recruit depot – a sixty minute college for the phony-tough and the crazy-brave. Taking liberties with Gustav Hasford’s depiction of Parris Island, South Carolina (The USMC Recruit Depot) from his novel “The Short-Timers” (which later became Stanley Kubrick’s cult classic film “Full Metal Jacket”) seemed the most accurate method for describing the textbook way in which the Giants taught the Baltimore Ravens a lesson in humility last Sunday afternoon. “Phony tough” might be the most apt way to describe the overblown bravado and diminishing aura of Ravens’ MLB Ray Lewis and his defensive cohorts, who came up small time and time again when faced with the Giants’ running attack. In fact Lewis didn’t come up tough for a tackle in Sunday’s game until 198lb HB Ahmad Bradshaw got his first carry, but even then Lewis was driven back. Coming into Sunday’s game against the stingy Ravens defense, the Giants’ offense appeared to be facing a dangerous enemy, but the only danger lurking on Sunday afternoon wore blue jerseys and piled up 207 yards on the ground. For the “phony tough” Ravens, school was in for 60 grueling minutes in the proving grounds known as Giants Stadium.
Right out of the chute, Brandon Jacobs bulled his way right, spun back and sprinted for a 36 yard rumble that just wasn’t supposed to be possible against the Ravens. Coming into the game the Ravens had not given up more than 76 yards on the ground all year. That opening run would set the tone for the day as the Giants taught the band from Baltimore that it takes more than words to intimidate this battle hardened bunch. Oddly, and most likely due to stubborn pride, the Ravens played a base defense nearly all day with their LBs playing about 5-7 yards deep. Little effort was made to stack the box and slow down the Giants’ running attack, so just like Forrest Gump, the Giants “just felt like running” and would stop when they were ready.
Behind that rushing attack, the Giants raced out to a 20-0 lead, which was cut in half late in the 3rd quarter and appeared ready to dwindle even more until CB Aaron Ross returned a Joe Flacco pass 50 yards for a score and a 27-10 lead. Despite the INT, if not for Ravens rookie signal caller Joe Flacco, this game may have been even more embarrassing for the woefully unprepared Ravens. Flacco did give the Giants’ defense some problems running, actually leading his team on the ground, but in the end the World Champs were just too physical, too talented and too determined to prove who the tougher kid on the playground was.
Quarterbacks: Eli Manning’s job is pretty easy at this point so it’s tough to notice if he struggles. Just make long 3rd downs, don’t turn the ball over and stay accurate in the red zone. Manning, for the third week in a row played second fiddle to the Giants’ ground game, and had a few badly thrown balls. The game’s first play for Manning was a play action pass to Amani Toomer that sailed out of bounds, which might have persuaded the Giants to keep it simple instead of trying to battle the swirling winds. Manning’s next pass again floated high over Derrick Ward’s head, but on 3rd and 15 Manning connected with WR Plaxico Burress for a 21 yard gain to keep the early momentum going. On the Giants’ second TD drive, Manning escaped disaster when his over throw and subsequent interception to Fabian Washington was negated by an offside penalty. It’s hard to tell from home if the wind was taking the ball, but some of Manning’s passes were just getting away from him. Manning missed a wide open Kevin Boss deep in Ravens’ territory with another bad overthrow and upon review his feet were all over the place and he was not set up to throw which happened again early in the 3rd quarter as Eli sailed another pass over the head of Amani Toomer.
When Eli’s mechanics are iffy, especially his footwork, it shows up on tape and on the stat sheet. The Manning to Boss connection failed again late in the first half, as Eli threw an awful interception right at Ray Lewis to end a scoring drive right before the half. In fact, the football Lewis caught was the only thing he wasn’t genuinely afraid of all day. You showed that mean old football who was boss didn’t you Ray? Yes you did!!! Manning finished a pedestrian 13/23 for 153 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT and while he didn’t do anything egregiously bad he just looked off on some throws.
Running Backs: Earth, Wind and Fire played to another sold out crowd, and had their fans on their feet and their opponents on their seats. Brandon Jacobs, who only played a full quarter, started the game off with an almost unfair 36 yard run around left end that set the tone for the afternoon and let the Ravens know they’d be in for a long and agonizing day. Jacobs managed 73 yards and 2 TDs on 11 carries in just over a quarter of play, and put to bed early any notion that he and Ray Lewis were on the same plane physically. On #27’s second run, a 5 yard dive, he bulled right through Lewis who acted angrily as if he just missed making the play. It’s an act no one is buying anymore Ray, you’re just not the player you were, stop making an idiot of yourself on the field after you get bulled over. Not wanting to be flattened again, Lewis valiantly dove out of the way of a Madison Hedgecock lead block on Jacobs’ first TD run and was able to get a finger on Jacobs as he crossed the goal line. (This was the play that Jacobs hurt his knee, in case any of you beat writers didn’t like Tom Coughlin’s answer as to when it occurred). Give Lewis credit, he knows how to make it look like he’s in on the play without actually doing anything. Jacobs was the main cog in the Giants’ second TD drive of the day, bulling ahead on 3 straight plays from the Ravens’ 18 yard line to put the Giants up 13-0, including a 15 yard beauty in which S Ed Reed couldn’t stay on for his 8 seconds and was tossed aside like a rodeo clown. Lewis was again around the pile but goshdarnit just couldn’t figure out who had the ball and he flopped to the ground in mock disgust.
Derrick Ward took part in the Ray Lewis Piñata Party, nailing the big mouthed MLB on a blitz pickup on the Giants’ opening drive. It didn’t matter who Lewis went after, he continually looked like the lesser player in each encounter. Ward finished with 41 yards on 11 carries, including an explosive 22 yard burst over right guard early in the 2nd quarter. Perhaps more impressive though was the 54 yards on 4 catches that Ward made, including an overhand snag of a low pass from Manning that he was able to make on the run. In the midst of running for 96 yards on 9 carries, Ahmad Bradshaw had another highlight reel run, almost identical to his TD run in Buffalo late last year. This time, #44 bounced left, bounced right, and exploded upfield for a 77 yard run that would have been a score if not for a great effort by Raven CB Fabian Washington who never gave up on the play. With Jacobs gimpy, expect Bradshaw to see more time in the coming weeks, which should provide a few more explosive runs for Giant fans to enjoy and defenses to loathe.
Wide Receivers: Plaxico Burress pulled down a mere three grabs for 47 yards, and at first glance seemed to again not be overly involved in the game but upon further review #17 played better than I first thought. Burress had an outstanding block on Jacobs first run of the game, shoving CB Samari Rolle down the field about 15 yards as Jacobs cut back to his side. Burress again was flattening Rolle on the outside on Derrick Ward’s 22 yard scamper in the 2nd quarter. Sure it’s his job to block, but Burress has been criticized for not playing when his number isn’t called, but he was giving maximum effort on a play not designed to even go to his side of the field. Again, that’s what he SHOULD be doing, and it’s good to see that he did after a few weeks of so so effort. Burress’ first grab was a big one though on the Giants opening drive, as he pulled down a 21 yard gain on 3rd and 15 to keep the opening drive alive. Want to know what type of role the wide receivers game played? RB Derrick Ward led all Giants with four catches, just one less than the total number of grabs COMBINED for Amani Toomer, Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon. Smith was able to make his weekly 3rd and long contribution, nabbing a 12 yard strike on 3rd and 10 as the 3rd quarter opened.
Tight Ends: Darcy Johnson gets the first spot this week, for his first career catch, which was a 1 yard TD grab from Manning. Johnson lined up right, feigned a block, then ran a drag to the backside and pulled in a slightly errant pass for a TD. Kevin Boss was not heard from in the passing game, but again turned in a solid day at the office by operating effectively on the edge in the running game.
O-Line: “Up in the morning to the rising sun, gotta run all day till the running’s done.” Like a finely trained platoon, the Giants’ offensive line and running backs were in perfect sync all day. Even on the cutback to open the game, there was RG Chris Snee, shoving Ray Lewis around and preventing him from making any attempt to chase down the play from the backside. It’s often not what the Giants’ OL does at the point of attack, but the backside that creates so many big running lanes. By staying with their blocks despite not being play side, the linemen are able to keep all options open to their stable of versatile running backs, who always know when one hole closes another is likely opening up. One change I have decided to make is to stop talking about FB Madison Hedgecock with the RBs. Technically I know he’s a RB, but he doesn’t carry the ball, God knows he can’t catch it and he’s been blocking like a lineman all year. Hedgecock will be an honorary lineman until he does something to prove otherwise. Hedgecock blasted into the hole on Jacobs’ first rushing TD, and absolutely flattened LB Bart Scott on a 15 yard Jacobs scoot on the Giants second drive of the day. Hedecock did get bullrushed badly by OLB Jarret Johnson, giving up the only sack of the day, but that was the only blemish on an otherwise great job by the OL all day. RT Kevin Boothe had to fill in for Kareem McKenzie and did an outstanding job when called upon. 207 yards on the ground against a team that had been giving up just over 65 yards per game is a feat that will get people to stand up and take notice. They should have noticed by now, given that this is week #3 the Giants have rushed for 200+ yards, but you never know who just isn’t paying attention.
Front 7: Author’s Note: Given the varied fronts and personnel packages the Giants use under Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, I’ll be looking at the front 7 as a whole initially rather than separating the D-line and Linebackers. Hybrid roles such as LBs playing in a 3 point stance make analyzing the front 7 as one unit more cohesive. It may change as we move forward or from game to game.
The Giants’ defense, seemingly ignored in all the Ravens’ hype, stepped up early with their only 3 and out on their first defensive series and held the Ravens to 275 yards of total offense. The front seven did have some shaky moments, mostly due to Joe Flacco’s running ability, but they were able to control the Ravens’ running attack, holding RB Willis McGahee to 18 yards on 9 carries. The only sack of the game came late but, there was enough pressure to keep Flacco on the move and uncomfortable all day. DTs Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins were the keys to the defense all day long, collapsing the interior of the Ravens’ front and completely controlling the line of scrimmage. Cofield might have had his best game of the year, coming up with 6 stops, and looking quick and disruptive all day long. Cofield’s best stop came on the Ravens’ lone TD drive as he dragged down RB Ray Rice on a screen pass down the left side.
It appeared that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s game plan was to hem things in from tackle to tackle, often stacking his LBs in the box and sending pressure up the A gaps when he chose to blitz. All three LBs moved in concert in the running game and played downhill most of the day, clearly indicating an effort to completely shut down the Ravens’ running game which was a success. MLB Antonio Pierce led the way with 7 total stops and his counterparts Danny Clark and Chase Blackburn had 6 and 5 respectively. Clark had one of his better games, not surprisingly against a team that relies on the run. As the weather turns cold and teams try to run, Clark will be a key cog in controlling the edge. One of the few times the Giants did send pressure, Flacco was able to escape the blitz on 3rd and 9 and scoot down the right sideline for a 14 yard gain.
With the exception of a late sack, Mathias Kiwanuka and Justin Tuck were fairly quiet all day. Again, this was a product of the defensive game plan which sought to control the line of scrimmage and prevent cut back lanes from opening. The good news for the front 7 though, is that even when its two most dynamic players are held in check, it can get the job done with sound team defense.
Defensive Backs: CB Aaron Ross rebounded in a big way, undercutting a Derrick Mason post to snuff out a Ravens drive with an interception late in the first half. Ross allowed a few completions in front of him, but was very sound in coverage all day after a few rough weeks. None of the DBs really seemed to make an impact, save for Ross. It was evident though that the Giants intended to keep everything in front of them, and force rookie QB Joe Flacco to lead long drives to score. That led to some wide open WRs underneath and a few times where it looked like no one was in coverage, but that is what you give up when you commit to shut down the interior running game with your LBs and keep your DBs from getting beaten deep on any cheap plays. CB Corey Webster had an assist on the Ross interception, flattening Derrick Mason as the ball arrived, to allow Ross to swoop in and make the pick. The only safety who made a splash was Michael Johnson, who flew in on a blitz to force a Flacco incompletion.
Special Teams: Big Fred Robbins made the special teams play of the day, blocking a Ravens’ FG early in the game that set up the Giants at the Ravens’ 33 for a short TD drive. K Lawrence Tynes got to handle all of the kicking chores and he responded with a terrible kickoff out of bounds and a missed extra point. Granted it wasn’t Tynes fault there was a bad snap, but I’m going to blame him anyway for messing with the mojo of the kicking game. No Haggis for you!
Coaching: Tom Coughlin certainly had his guys ready but his puzzling decision to deactivate PK John Carney was a head scratcher. Carney’s replacement, Lawrence Tynes booted a kickoff out of bounds after the Giants rolled out to a 20-0 lead, which gave the Ravens the ball at their own 40. Much to my surprise, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo didn’t use too many exotic packages to confound rookie QB Joe Flacco, instead allowing his front four to apply the pressure while his LBs controlled the running lanes and his DBs prevented any big plays. It was a very vanilla defense employed by the usually creative Spags, but it worked well and as Occam’s razor always shows us, sometimes the simplest answer is the best one. Kevin Gilbride, you pass happy chuck and duck, game ruining…wait, what? 30 points? 207 yards rushing? Dominating offensive performance against vaunted defense…again? Atta boy Kev, keep proving me right!
JPog (Joey’s Player of the Game) – Everyone’s whipping boy the past few weeks, CB Aaron Ross rebounded in a big way against the Ravens. The second year CB nabbed two interceptions at key junctures and was able to return one for a score to put the Giants up 27-10 and effectively end the game. For your ability to bounce back so well after a dismal performance Aaron, you get one of those Super Hi Bouncy Balls from the gumball machine (weak economy, sorry). Anytime you have a bad game, just drop it on the floor and watch it bounce back. It’s fun AND it has metaphorical meaning, how can you beat that?
JBog (Joey’s Bum of the Game) – Meet Baltimore Ravens’ MLB Ray Lewis…trash talker, pile jumper, stat compiler extraordinaire. All week the refrain was the same, Jacobs vs. Lewis, immovable object vs. irresistible force. Well, the clash that was supposed to happen happened early and once Lewis got a taste of Jacobs’ power, he proceeded to pile jump and avoid the big fella all day long. In fact, even little Ahmad Bradshaw was able to drag Lewis along on a short run in the 4th quarter. I realize players lose something with age, and the fact that Lewis is still a heady leader in Baltimore makes for great story lines, but the truth is, he’s a marginal LB who no longer relishes contact but still yaps like he’s the biggest dog in the yard. Lewis weakly threw a half hearted shoulder at Jacobs on two-sevens’ second TD of the day, despite meeting big Brandon in the hole with a chance (tee hee) to make a stop at the goal line. For your efforts Mr. Lewis, you will receive an “Oscar the Grouch” iron on T-Shirt ; because at this point Ray, you’re nothing more than a garbage LB who does nothing but talk big.
“GOOD NIGHT LADIES!”