Oct 142016
 
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Sterling Shepard, New York Giants (September 18, 2016)

Sterling Shepard – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: Baltimore Ravens at New York Giants, October 16, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
Once again, we find the Giants in a must-win game before October is even over. This has been disturbing recurrence for the team the last few seasons. But if the Giants fall to 2-4, they have to pray that the Cowboys and Eagles lose or they are in deep trouble.

The Giants have lost three in a row; the Ravens have lost two in a row. Both teams are beat up and desperate for a win.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Rashad Jennings (thumb) – questionable
  • WR Dwayne Harris (toe) – questionable
  • TE Larry Donnell (concussion) – probable
  • TE Jerell Adams (ear) – probable
  • RT Marshall Newhouse (calf) – out
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (groin) – questionable
  • DE Olivier Vernon (wrist) – probable
  • LB Devon Kennard (concussion) – questionable
  • CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (groin) – questionable
  • CB Eli Apple (groin) – questionable
  • FS Darian Thompson (foot) – out
  • SS Nat Berhe (concussion) – out

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Baltimore’s base defense is the 3-4, something New York struggled against last week. The Ravens have the #3 ranked defense in the NFL (5th against the pass, 4th against the run). Those statistics are a bit skewed in that the Ravens have not played a murder’s row of offensive juggernauts (Bills, Browns, Jaguars, Raiders, Redskins). And Baltmore will likely be missing some key defenders such as linebackers C.J. Mosley and Elvis Dumervil. But this is tough, physical, and well-coached unit. They will hit you in the mouth. The finesse Giants offense hasn’t responded well to this kind of challenge in recent years.

To win, the Giants tackles need to play better than they did last week. Both Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart struggled with pass-rushing linebackers that are the trademark of a 3-4 defense. It gets worse this week for Flowers as he faces Terrell Suggs, who leads the Ravens in sacks. DE Timmy Jernigan has also been very disruptive. The secondary is a veteran, experienced group that also plays a physical game.

It’s hard to believe the Giants will make a living running the ball against the Ravens. They certainly didn’t last week against an equally tough and stout run defense. If I was Ben McAdoo, I would be very tempted to throw caution to the wind and give Paul Perkins a heavy dose of playing time. This is risky as rookie running backs usually need a lot of work in pass protection, and 3-4 defenses like to blitz from all angles. But Perkins appears to be the only back on the team who can create on his own, and once he gets pass the line, he’s a home-run threat.

Ultimately on offense, the Giants are going to live or die with Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Victor Cruz. Eli has to get out of his funk. And the Giants have to do a better job of adjusting to what teams are doing to them defensively. If teams are going to double- or even triple-team Beckham, then Shepard and Cruz have to make them pay. I love what I see from Perkins in the screen game – another reason why I want him to have more snaps.

“Teams want to make us go the long way,” said McAdoo. “It’s probably pretty smart. They don’t want to let Odell wreck the game. That’s been their focus. He’s had a lot of man coverage underneath and a safety over the top. Sometimes another safety leaning that way. They want to force you to go elsewhere, force you to run the ball and be patient. A lot of that has to do with if teams make you go the long way, you’re going to make a mistake and it’s going to kill the drive. A penalty or a mental error. That can certainly happen. Where we are in the season, we should be very confident in our ability to minimize the penalties. Hone in on the mental part of the game so we don’t make those types of mistakes, so we can go the long way.”

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Giants secondary is still a mess. Safeties Darian Thompson and Nat Berhe are out again. Eli Apple is officially “questionable” but he didn’t practice all week. Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie is hobbled once again. The pass rush has been anemic and now Jason Pierre-Paul joins Olivier Vernon on the injury list. Against this backdrop, the Giants face the NFL’s 22nd-ranked offense (22nd passing, 16th rushing). Like on defense, the Ravens have some key cogs missing on offense: WR Steve Smith, RG Marshal Yanda, and LT Ronnie Staley. RT Rick Wagner is also ailing but probably will play. The fly in the ointment is that the Ravens changed offensive coordinators this week – so there will be a different flavor that Steve Spagnuolo will have to adjust to. The good news is that Spagnuolo is familiar with the Ravens’ personnel, having served as an assistant coach there in 2013-14.

Terrance West has received the bulk of the touches at running back and is averaging 5.0 yards per carry. Tight end Dennis Pitta is the leading receiver on the team. Wide receiver Mike Wallace is the deep threat. With Smith out, look for Kamar Aiken (who started 14 games in 2015) and Breshad Perriman to see more action. Both are big receivers. Of course, the heart of the offensive team is Joe Flacco, who has been up-and-down, prompting the offensive coordinator switch.

With the injury issues on the Ravens offensive line, the Giants defensive line needs to step up. Those guys need to start earning their paychecks. The run defense was shoddy last week. Stop the run and make the Ravens one-dimensional. The focus in the secondary should be on Pitta. My guess is the Giants keep Janoris Jenkins on Wallace. Like last week, much depends on how long Rodgers-Cromartie can play. When he leaves the field, without Apple and the safeties, the secondary is woefully undermanned.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
John Harbaugh’s background is special teams, and year in and year out the Ravens field one of the very best units in the NFL. The are particularly adept at blocking kicks. And their returners are dangerous. The Giants catch a break with Devin Hester out.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Ben McAdoo on the Giants offense: “I need to do a better job staying committed to the run. I believe in our run game. I believe we’re making strides upfront and our backs are making progress. We need to stick with it and continue to chip away so we’re in a position to win the battle of the hitting game in the fourth quarter.”

THE FINAL WORD:
I hate making grandiose statements about one regular-season game, but if the Giants lose this one, we may be looking at another year where the season is effectively over by November. My guess is this game will come down to which quarterback plays better. I have no idea who that will be.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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