The New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens will both enter Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium with losing streaks, the Giants three straight and the Ravens two. Which team will leave with their streak broken? Here are some of the keys to finding out.
Marty Mornhinweg’s impact
This is a difficult week for the Giants when it comes to putting together a defensive game plan, because they don’t know exactly what they are preparing for. Marty Mornhinweg will call plays for Baltimore for the first time this week after taking over as offensive coordinator from the fired Marc Trestman.
Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said this week he expects a healthy number of deep shots from Baltimore with Mornhinweg at the controls, but there is no way to know exactly what the Giants might see.
Baltimore is 22nd in points per game, 28th in yards per play and last in the league in yards per pass attempt. With those numbers, it’s a good bet DRC will be right. Let’s see if the Giants are ready.
Giants’ offensive line
Will there be any changes? Specifically, might Will Beatty finally get off the bench and onto the field? Perhaps as a replacement at right tackle for Bobby Hart? Might Beatty play some left tackle if Ereck Flowers is benched for a short period of time for disciplinary reasons after last week’s locker room incident with an ESPN reporter?
No matter who plays, can the Giants do a better job up front? Eli Manning was pressured on 43.5 percent of his drop backs last week against the Packers, far too many. Facing six- and seven-man front the Giants also failed to run the ball adequately, mostly because they failed to get Green Bay defenders blocked. Point at whatever offensive failings you want, the Giants will never be as good as they can or should be unless they get defenders blocked.
The line, and let’s include the tight ends, has to do a better job.
Can the Giants find Flacco?
The Giants have a league-worst four sacks and, per Pro Football Focus, they gave Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers more time to throw in Week 5 than any other NFL quarterback had. Even if the plan was to contain Rodgers rather than try to sack him, that’s ridiculous. And it didn’t work, because Rodgers was either sitting in the pocket and surveying the field or escaping it to buy additional time most of the night. The Giants were fortunate they played well in the secondary.
Baltimore’s Joe Flacco is much more of a stationary target than Rodgers. Can the Giants finally generate some consistent pressure on the opposing passer, and actually close the deal? The fact that the Ravens are likely to be without All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda can’t hurt.
The Giants are counting on Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul for most of their pass rush. Those two have applied pressure, but each have only one sack thus far. The Giants need someone else to provide a boost. We also have to wonder whether defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo trusts rookie safety Andrew Adams and his injury-ravaged secondary enough to dial up some of the creative blitz packages the Giants used the first couple of weeks.
Spags, for his part, has tried to downplay the importance of sacks. Which, from his perspective is probably a good idea since during his two seasons calling the defense the Giants have barely gotten any.
“I only really know the sack numbers when somebody tells me,” he said. “Sacks are great, they're effective, they make a huge difference. It is not the telltale, in my opinion. It's not one of the statistics that we use that has a great correlation between points allowed and points not scored. To us, we take the most important that correlate most to points allowed.
“Quarterback rating, first and second-down rushing stats. There's like 10 of them that we use, explosive plays. Sacks is not one of them. Some people do use it, though, I will tell you that. I will say this. Would we like to have more? Yes. Would we like to have more pressure on the quarterback? Yes. I do think that there are moments in there where we are hitting and getting pressure on the quarterback that don't show up on a stat sheet. But we need more."
Big plays from the Big Three?
The Giants’ trio of wide receivers — Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz — is as talented as any trio in the league. Yet, the Giants do’t have a pass completion of longer than 16 yards to any of those three players in the last two weeks. Against the Packers Sunday, Shepard had two catches for 14 yards and Cruz was held without a reception. Manning went 7-for-22 for 70 yards targeting them.
It’s getting tiresome to hear the Giants talk about how defenses are playing two high safeties and making it difficult. It’s not like Cover 2 is some sort of new-fangled, incredible defensive concept no offense has ever had to plan for before. It is a pretty standard defensive concept.
I have said this before, but the Giants need to make some adjustments — be they formation, route concept, whatever — because they are allowing defenses to dictate the game to them. With a quarterback of Manning’s pedigree and the talented group of skill position players he has at his disposal that simply should not be happening.
The return game
We haven’t talked much about special teams this season, but there are two reasons to do that this week. Devin Hester of the Ravens and Dwayne Harris of the Giants.
Hester is the most accomplished return man in league history and likely headed to the Hall of Fame based on that ability alone. He is still going strong on kickoffs, averaging 28.8 yards per return. That places him second in the league among returners with at least five tries. He is averaging only 7.2 yards per punt return, down from his career average of 12.0 yards per return.
Giants’ special teams coordinator Tom Quinn said Thursday that “it’s always scary” kicking the ball to Hester.
“He’s the career return leader and very dangerous. To try and keep him without any touches on the ball - it’s hard to do. You have to do a great job in coverage and protection, give the punter a chance to try to get down there and cover him up,” Quinn said. “You try and kick it high enough where he has to fair catch it or kick it out of bounds. Both of those things are tough to do. You got to do what you try and do best and hope for the best.”
As for Harris, the issue is that right now the Giants don’t know if he will be available due to the sprained big toe he suffered last week against the Green Bay Packers. Harris is averaging 28.7 yards per kickoff return and 9.2 yards per punt return.
If Harris can’t play, Bobby Rainey would be the likely kickoff returner. He had a 37-yard kickoff return against the Packers after Harris was injured. Rainey, Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard are options to return punts.