The Giants and Ravens will face off in a pivotal Week 16 matchup this weekend, with playoff implications on both sides.
The Giants are coming off a tough home loss against the Cleveland Browns, 20-6. The Giants were able to limit Cleveland's electric rushing attack to just 106 yards, including a combined 71 from Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. But Baker Mayfield threw for nearly 300 yards and two scores while the Giants' offense struggled to capitalize in the red zone, resulting in just six points on offense.
The Ravens cruised to a 40-14 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars last week. Lamar Jackson threw for three touchdowns while running for an additional score and the Ravens totaled 159 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. The Baltimore defense was able to take down Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew five times, resulting in one lost fumble.
Here are five players to watch in this weekend's battle at M&T Bank Stadium.
TE Evan Engram
Engram was tied with Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton with a team-high four receptions against the Browns last Sunday, finishing with 46 yards on seven targets. This outing represented the third time in the last four games that Engram registered at least four receptions, with 16 receptions total during that stretch.
Engram received some big news this week, as Giants legend Howard Cross shared the news that the young tight end had been selected to his first Pro Bowl this season. Engram currently ranks sixth among all tight ends and third within tight ends in the NFC with 54 receptions. He has turned those 54 catches into 572 yards and a touchdown while adding a score on the ground. Engram currently leads the Giants in receptions, while his receiving yards trail only Slayton.
"I think line one with Evan is he's a competitor, he works hard every day, comes to work every day, he's never had a bad day from a standpoint of effort and enthusiasm for the game and stuff like that," tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens said this week. "Evan loves football, and that allows him to put his best foot forward each and every day, and that enables him to get better each and every day in all aspects of his game."
The Ravens are tied for 23rd in the league with its 72 receptions allowed to tight ends. The 731 receiving yards allowed to the position is tied for the 13th-most, while they have also surrendered five touchdowns to tight ends. In last week's win over Jacksonville, Tyler Eifert snagged three of four targets for 51 yards, just two yards behind DJ Chark for the most on the team.
OT Andrew Thomas
Last week, Andrew Thomas had the incredibly difficult challenge of trying to slow down Myles Garrett, one of the league's top pass rushers. And Garrett was held to four tackles, one quarterback hit and a half-sack that came at the very end of the game. Garrett received a 60.5 pass rush grade from Pro Football Focus, his second-lowest of the season.
"I've been extremely impressed with how he's handled it," Daniel Jones said about how his rookie left tackle has done this year. "That's a tough position to step in and play in the NFL. You're going up against a lot of the best athletes on the field in those pass rushers. You look at who he's faced through the course of the year, and he's faced a lot of good players. For any rookie, it is a little up and down.
"I think for any young player, you're always learning and you're always improving. I felt like that's been his approach throughout this whole season. He's learned every week, he's continued to attack the practice, attack meetings. His learning process has been one he's really attacked. He's done a good job with that, and his approach every day has been the same. I've been impressed with him. I think he's going to be a great player."
The Ravens rank in the middle of the league with 33 sacks, but defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale's unit annually proves it's more than capable of getting after the quarterback. Matthew Judon leads the team with five sacks, while Calais Campbell (four), Patrick Queen and Yannick Ngagoue (three apiece) are right behind him.
"Wink does a great job of really spinning the dial," head coach Joe Judge said." It's all about the pressure with these guys. He manages to have a lot of combinations of blitzes and pressures throughout the game. Everyone gets a swing of the bat, as we say with them. It's corners, it's safeties, it's nickels, it's linebackers. It's one at a time, it's two at a time, it's all of them coming. They'll play cover zero and then they'll drop into max coverage and change it up on you right there so you have to be alert."
LB Blake Martinez
Martinez is coming off another solid game. The veteran linebacker recorded 10 total tackles, the sixth time he's reached double digit tackles this season, and two tackles for losses vs. the Browns. He earned a PFF tackling grade of 83.9, one of the highest tackling grades on the defense, while helping limit Cleveland's No. 3 ranked rushing attack to just 106 yards on 30 carries (3.5 avg.). Chubb and Hunt combined for 71 yards on 22 carries (3.2 avg.).
"I think every week, we have a certain kind of understanding for a team," Martinez said on Monday. "What they're really good at, what their strengths are. Then for us as a defense, we always pride ourselves on being able to stop the run. We've gotten better at it each and every week. But I think it more comes back to kind of the cliché thing of it comes back to us doing our job on every single play. Being in the right gap, leverage in the formations, understanding the offensive formation to being able to stop the play. I'll always give us the upper hand if we're in those situations and we're in the right spots."
Martinez and the entire defense will have their hands full as they try to slow down Lamar Jackson and the Ravens' top-ranked rushing attack. Jackson leads NFL quarterbacks and ranks 12th overall with 828 rushing yards. Over Baltimore's last three games, the offense is averaging 228 rushing yards, due in part to Jackson's dominant play. The young QB is averaging just over 10 carries per game and a league-leading 7.9 yards per carry while the Ravens are averaging just over 40 points during this stretch.
"He's one of those special guys, and I think everyone knows it," Martinez said. "I kind of got a taste of it early before he was the MVP Lamar Jackson. We played him in the preseason last year. He was spinning, doing crazy stuff, jumping over people and we're like, 'wait, hold up, who is this guy?' Obviously, he had his amazing season after that. It's one of those things you obviously as a competitor, for me, you want to go against guys like that. But it just adds the extra heightened awareness to make sure that you're extremely perfect in all fundamental aspects of your game going into that."
CB James Bradberry
Bradberry was forced to miss last week's game against the Browns due to his placement on the COVID-19 List. But the Giants' top corner will be back on the field for this weekend's crucial matchup, just a couple of days after he found out he was selected to his first career Pro Bowl.
"It was surreal, and I was excited of course because this is my first Pro Bowl," Bradberry said earlier this week. "But it was just surreal. Going into my fifth year, I didn't really think about making the Pro Bowl honestly. I think I went into my fourth year definitely thinking about the Pro Bowl and it didn't happen, so I was disappointed after the season. This year, I just tried to go in there with an open mind and just try to play the best football I could."
Bradberry is tied with Miami's Xavien Howard for the second-most passes defensed in the NFL this season with 17, one behind Tampa Bay's Carlton Davis. This is already a new career mark for Bradberry, who has also set new personal standards for forced fumbles (two) and fumble recoveries (one) while matching his previous bar of three interceptions.
The Giants' pass defense has done a great job of keeping opponents out of the end zone. The unit ranks ninth with 22.2 points allowed per game, while the 20 passing touchdowns surrendered are the sixth-fewest in the league. Bradberry will likely see a lot of Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown, who has either caught a touchdown or topped 95 receiving yards in each of the last four games with a total of 17 receptions for 272 yards and three touchdowns.
Said Bradberry: "[Jackson's] able to make plays with his legs and also has a strong arm. He's able to complete several explosive plays down the field because he has Marquise Brown, an explosive receiver on the outside."
S Logan Ryan
Ryan finished with nine total tackles against Cleveland and he earned an elite 86.3 tackling grade from PFF.
The veteran is one member of the Giants' defense with experience battling last year's league MVP. As a member of the Tennessee Titans, Ryan faced Jackson in the playoffs and put together a dominant overall performance. The defensive back finished with 13 total tackles (nine solo), a tackle for loss and a pass defended in the Titans' 28-12 win over Baltimore.
"He's a world-class athlete, a generational athlete," Ryan said. "Not many ball-carriers run like him with the ball in his hands, his speed, his ability to change direction. He's a former MVP for a reason. He's really, really good. You have to play really fundamentally sound. I don't think it's a one-on-one tackling game with him, I don't think you want that, he makes a living on that.
"But they have tendencies with what they do. It's football, they run plays, there's gaps, there's jobs, we've got to win our jobs, I really like our front, I really like our ability to stop the run and that's what we all have to commit to doing. He makes it difficult because he's that added runner, that extra runner."
Ryan may be one of the players responsible for trying to contain Baltimore's talented tight end. Mark Andrews has at least five receptions and 60 receiving yards in each of his last four games, totaling 22 receptions for 301 yards and two touchdowns. Since the start of the 2019 season, Andrews leads all tight ends with 17 touchdown receptions. He is second on the Ravens with 48 receptions for 598 yards (Brown leads the team with 49 receptions for 703 yards) this year, while his seven touchdown receptions are the most on the team. He caught five passes for 66 yards and a touchdown against the Jaguars in Week 15.
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