It is crunch time for the New York Giants. No more lapses can be tolerated. No more weeks of 'we'll turn it on later when we have to.' Now is the time when they have to. Can they? We find out on Sunday as the defending Super Bowl champs face the Baltimore Ravens with their margin for error sliced to nothing. They have to win. Period.
Here is a look at some of the things to watch on Sunday.
The Giants' Defensive Front Seven
Yes, that is a somewhat generic category but if you have paid attention this week it has many facets. The focus of talk about the defense has been on the pass rush, which has not produced like it did last season. Increasingly, though, the finger is being pointed at the run defense for not creating pass-rushing opportunities.
"This question has been asked 9,000 times and I’ve answered it 9,000 times and it will probably take an off season to maybe analyze it even further," head coach Tom Coughlin said. "I think the first thing you do on defense is stop the run. If you stop the run, I think you rush the passer pretty well."
So, can the Giants hold Ravens' running back Ray Rice in check well enough to release what they hope will be a fearsome pass rush?
Who Will Play?
The Giants have 11 players on their injury report, with seven questionable. That list includes starters Ahmad Bradshaw, Chris Snee, David Baas, Justin Tuck and Kenny Phillips. The Ravens have a whopping 18 -- yes, 18 -- players on their injury report. That does not include middle linebacker Ray Lewis -- who could be activated from short-term IR for Sunday's game.
Mostly thanks to Jacoby Jones (32.5 yards per return) the Ravens are second in the league in kickoff returns with an overall average of 28.2 yards per return. Giants' placekicker Lawrence Tynes has missed kicks in three straight games. So, the Giants will have to step up on special teams Sunday.
Can The Giants' Offense Finish Drives?
This has been an issue all season. Tynes leads the league in field-goal attempts with 39, and that is largely because the offense has had difficulty finishing. The Giants score touchdowns on only 50 percent of their red-zone trips, 22nd in the league. They are third in the league in red zone opportunities at 4.0 per game. Last week against the Atlanta Falcons the Giants had three drives end in scoring territory when they could not convert on fourth-and-short. Eli Manning and Co. have to do better than that to win the final two games.
Which Eli Manning Shows Up?
You always know with Eli that once in a while during the course of the season that the 'Bad Eli' we saw so much of early in the season is going to show up instead of the 'Super Bowl Eli' who has won the Giants two titles. Unfortunately this season, 'Bad Eli' is making a surprising number of appearances. Last week was one of those as Manning compiled a 38.9 passer rating in the 34-0 loss to Atlanta. Any more appearances by Eli's dark side and the Giants' season will implode.
When the Giants hit the field on Sunday they will already know if the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins have won their games. Dallas faces New Orleans and Washington plays the Philadelphia Eagles, so both teams should win.
The Giants, however, also have to worry about wild-card scenarios. So, pay attention to the outcomes of Minnesota vs. Houston and Chicago vs. Arizona on Sunday, and San Francisco vs. Seattle on Monday night. If things break badly this weekend the Giants could find themselves out of the playoffs by Monday night.