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Giants at Ravens: When the Giants have the ball

Can the Giants score enough points to compete with Baltimore?

Dallas Cowboys v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

There are a few things you should know when the New York Giants travel to take on the Baltimore Ravens this week.

  1. Marylanders love their flag and Old Bay seasoning. Seriously, last time I was in Maryland someone tried to sell me both state flag and Old Bay underwear. No, I didn’t buy either.
  2. The crab cakes and craft beer are really good.
  3. The Ravens pride themselves on playing tough defense.

All things considered, that last point is the one which should really concern the Giants this coming Sunday. After all, the Giants are still in a fight for the playoffs and as Joe Judge correctly observed after the Giants’ loss to the Cleveland Browns, the team that scores the most points wins.

“I’ve done a lot of studying on this,” Judge said. “One hundred percent of NFL games, the team that scores more points, wins, so we’re going to try to do that as much as we can.”

Of course, points have been difficult to come by lately for the Giants. They’ve lead just three scoring drives over the last two weeks, totaling just 13 points. They’ll probably have to score more than that if they want to beat the Ravens.

What can the Giants’ offense expect from the bruising Baltimore defense?

A stout defensive front

The Baltimore Ravens have pretty much always been known for good defense, and punishing defensive fronts in particular. The 2020 iteration of the Ravens is no different, featuring a deep, talented, disciplined, and dangerous defensive front.

The Ravens like to rotate their defensive linemen and EDGE players freely, with none playing more than DL Derek Wolfe, who has played just 58 percent of their defensive snaps this year. The Ravens are based in a 1-gap 3-4 defensive scheme, but show a variety of looks, from 2 down linemen, to 3-4 fronts, to Tite fronts, to 4-2 nickel fronts, and more.

And while the Ravens don’t have a single defender in the top 10 of ESPN’s pass rush win rate, but they are still a top-10 pass rushing unit, with 47 percent pass rush win rate that ranks eighth in the NFL per ESPN. The Ravens are effective with their “normal” pass rush, rotating Matt Judon, Parnell McPhee, and Yannick Ngakoue off the edge, while veteran linemen like Derek Wolfe and Calais Campbell generate interior pressure.

With Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ offense hitting their groove at the right time of the year (putting up 121 points and 1,303 yards in their last three games), the Ravens’ defense has faced defenses forced to pass simply to keep up. That being said, they are a balanced front who are also disciplined run defenders.

The Raven’s defense is, unsurprisingly, well coached with front seven players who are generally faithful to their assignments and secondary players who consistently rally to the ball.

The Giants’ offensive line has been better of late, but they will have their hands full against the Ravens. New York’s offense depends on their running game to keep them on schedule and in manageable third down situations. We’ll likely see the Giants use misdirection, likely jet motion from one of their receivers or Evan Engram or play action, to try and slow down the Raven’s defensive front. However, that’s easier said than done, considering the type of offense against which they practice.

The Giants were only able to put up 75 yards on the ground against the Cleveland Browns. They will need to learn from the experience — and quickly — to get production from their running game and avoid the Ravens’ pass rush.

Linebacker envy...

This next section should probably come with a trigger warning for long-suffering Giants fans who just want the team to finally draft a damn linebacker (highly).

The Ravens drafted Tyus Bowser out of Houston with the 47th pick in the 2017 draft, then selected Patrick Queen out of LSU with the 28th pick in the 2020 pass. Together the two young linebackers have become a dynamic duo at the second level. They both have good size with rangy athleticism, as well as games which compliment each other well.

Queen quickly became the Ravens’ starting middle linebacker, playing most of their defensive snaps. He’s the guy getting the defense lined up and already excels in coming downhill to play interior gaps.

Though a (slightly) undersized rookie, Queen is already a violent linebacker with the ability to stack and shed lineman to make tackles at — or behind — the line of scrimmage. He already has 98 total tackles, including 8 tackles for a loss, to go with 3 sacks, 8 quarterback hits, and 2 forced fumbles.

Bowser fills a variety of roles alongside Queen in the Ravens’ defense. Listed as their weak side linebacker, Bowser lines up as both an EDGE and an off-ball linebacker and is capable of playing downhill as well as in space. He’s a player the Giants will need to keep track of in pass coverage, as he’s tied with cornerback Marcus Peters with a team-leading 3 interceptions — and fourth with 5 passes defensed. While some linebacker interceptions are the result of being in the right place at the right time (such as tip-drill interceptions), Bowser is fully capable of playing in coverage.

Here we see Bowser lined up outside of the left tackle as an EDGE rusher, and he initially fakes a rush before dropping off into a zone coverage while the slot corner blitzes from the other side.

Bowser does a great job of quickly getting depth in his drop, all the more so because he starts the play showing pass rush. But while he does so, he is also reading Baker Mayfield’s eyes, letting them lead him to the receiver. Bowser gets in perfect position to pick off the quick pass and nearly returns it for a touchdown.

This isn’t to say that the 6-foot-3, 242-pound linebacker is just a coverage player. He is also a capable run defender and a pass rusher with a pair of sacks and 12 QB hits of his own.

Aggressive secondary

The Ravens field a very aggressive secondary largely built on man coverage principles — though they obviously mix in zone coverages throughout games. Baltimore have a pair of big, long, and athletic starting corners in Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters who allow them to consistently play tight man coverage on the outside with a wide variety of receivers. That man coverage gives the Ravens flexibility with the rest of their defense, whether to play with eight defenders in the box or to send extra pressure with blitzes.

The Ravens do tend to give up yardage through the air. They are 14th in the NFL in passing yards per game (233.8) and 16th in the NFL in completion percentage allowed (65.5 percent). That’s to be expected as opposing offenses struggle to keep up with Baltimore’s explosive offense. But while teams are able to throw the ball around some, what they can’t do is attack the Ravens deep. The Ravens are fourth in the NFL in allowing passes of 20 or more yards (36), and have allowed the second fewest passes of 40 or more yards (4). The longest passing play allowed this season by the Ravens’ defense is 50 yards, the second shortest in the NFL.

The Ravens’ secondary — their entire defense, really — close fast and hard on ball carriers, and do so with the intention of knocking the ball loose. Baltimore has, by far, the the most forced fumbles in the NFL with 25 on the season and it isn’t really close. The next closest team is the Cleveland Browns with 17. Much of the Browns’ success forcing fumbles comes from their secondary, with their starting secondary forcing 16 fumbles so far this year cornerbacks Humphrey and Peters have forced 8 and 4, respectively, while safeties Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott have forced two each.

The combination of tight man coverage and a turnover-happy defense poses a couple problems for the the Giants. The first being that the Giants’ receivers simply aren’t very good at separating from tight coverage. While Sterling Shepard may dispute the fact, the NFL’s GPS data shows that he’s about the only receiver the Giants have who can get separation with his route running. Regardless of who starts for the Giants at quarterback, consistently throwing into tight windows is not a recipe for success.

The second is that ball security remains an issue for the Giants. The Giants are just outside of the top 10 in the NFL with 20 giveaways, while their 10 fumbles lost is tied for sixth.

While the Ravens’ defense might not be the terrifying unit has been in years past, it compliments their unique and explosive offense very well. The Giants’ defense is going to have their hands full slowing down that offense, which means the Giants’ own offense might have to try to keep up.

That will be easier said than done this week.