The New York Giants fell to the Baltimore Ravens 27-13 in a Week 16 matchup with big post-season implications for both teams. That the Giants lost isn’t much of a surprise, this was always going to be a tough match-up for the G-Men. That’s particularly true with reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson playing very good football over the last three weeks and the Ravens’ defense rounding into form.
But that being said, this game was still hard to watch from a Giants perspective. The Giants looked unprepared at the start of the game and out-classed for most of the rest of it.
But even in a loss there are still things we can take away as we begin to process the game.
The Giants are scoreboard watchers
This one is admittedly obvious, but it has to be mentioned.
At this point we all know the scenarios, but with the Giants’ loss to the Ravens, the Giants are now watching the scoreboard for the 4 p.m. games. Joe Judge has said that the playoffs didn’t necessarily determine whether or not the season was a success — but we’d be lying to ourselves if we said that the Giants don’t want to get into the postseason.
But as of this writing, their fate is in the hands of others. The Giants need both the Carolina Panthers to beat the Washington Football Team, as well as the Dallas Cowboys to beat the Philadelphia Eagles. If either Washington comes away with a win this evening, the Giants are eliminated, while a Philadelphia win puts them in position to eliminate the Giants as well.
It’s been a long time since all four of the NFC East teams had a chance to win the division as late as week 16.
The Ravens were too fast, too tough
The Ravens controlled this game from start to finish. The Giants played hard, as they have all season, but the Ravens played harder and faster.
Baltimore controlled the game on the ground, thrashing the Giants’ run defense to the tune of 249 yards on 40 rushing plays (6.2 yards per carry). And it wasn’t all Lamar Jackson on scrambles, either. The Ravens had three separate players, Gus Edwards, Jackson, and J.K. Dobbins, each rushing for over 75 yards. The Ravens’ offensive line consistently created movement up front while their pass catchers out-muscled the Giants’ secondary.
We knew all along that the Ravens’ blend of size, speed, and unconventional scheming would be a problem for the Giants’ defense, but it was still somewhat sobering to see in action. Particularly considering some Ravens miscues kept the score closer than it could have been.
On the other side of the ball, the Giants’ offensive line held up okay against the Ravens’ pass rush. That was, at least, until Wink Martindale unleashed the Ravens’ blitz packages. In the first half we saw the Ravens play games at the line of scrimmage and confusion reigned along the line of scrimmage. But when the ball was actually snapped, the Giants were able to hold up against their four and five-man pass rushes reasonably well. Then Martindale adjusted, decided to trust his talented press-man corners against the Giants’ receivers, and unleashed a torrent of rushers on almost every play.
The Giants, quite simply, had no answer for the Ravens’ pressure. Players like Yannick Ngokoue, Matt Judon, and Derek Wolfe were too powerful, while Chuck Clark, Patrick Queen, and Chris Board were too fast. And while the Giants did what they could on the ground, with Wayne Gallman Jr. averaging a respectable 4.5 yards per carry on his 9 rushes, the Giants’ running game was limited as much by circumstances as the Ravens’ defense.
Today we saw the difference between a mature team with Super Bowl expectations and a team still hoping to get there.
The Giants need help on offense
17, 7, 6, 13.
That’s how many points the Giants’ offense has scored over the last four games. All told, the Giants have scored 20 or fewer points in 11 of their 15 games this year. They’ve averaged just 17.4 points per game this season, trailing only the New York Jets for the dubious distinction of “worst offense in the NFL”.
Sterling Shepard is a reliable option. Evan Engram is a matchup problem for defenses when allowed to use his athleticism. Gallman runs extremely hard and can keep the offense on schedule through sheer bloodymindedness in carrying defenders. But they still don’t have enough to force defenses’ hands and take over games.
The Giants are going to have to address their offense in the offseason, likely through multiple avenues. The Giants have shown that there is a foundation for improvement in 2021, but the team will need to be very smart this off-season. They will need to look long and hard at the pass catchers available in free agency, the 2021 NFL Draft, and perhaps even on the trade market.
Stopping the Ravens is easier said than done
The Ravens aren’t simply a suped-up college offense, but they do run a lot of zone read and spread-option concepts. And with Lamar Jackson, why wouldn’t they?
The rules for stopping zone read offenses are pretty simple at their base. Be disciplined at the point of attack, delay the quarterback’s decision as much as possible, force the ball to go where you want it, tackle soundly, and make sure you hit the quarterback.
With a stout defensive line and a sophisticated zone defense, one would think that the Giants would be well-equipped to slow down the Ravens’ offense. Unfortuantely, nothing is ever that easy. Because if the defense knows the basics to stopping that brand of offense, so does the offense itself. And Baltimore pairs it with a second level of concepts designed to attack those defensive adjustments. As with the Cardinals and Browns, the Ravens ran a variety of zone-beater passing concepts and gave Jackson full control to throw the ball.
When the Giants were forced to switch to a more man-based defensive scheme, the Ravens had contingencies built in to combat that as well. It is simply hard to match up with an offense that defies NFL conventions and is powered by a quarterback who can beat you running and throwing.
It doesn’t help that the Ravens’ size and speed allowed them to expose the Giants’ depth players and mediocre speed on defense. The Giants’ needs on offense should take precedence, but needs at premium positions on both sides of the ball are going to make navigating the upcoming offseason challenging to say the least.