The Giants will attempt to rebound from their disappointing outing in Atlanta and stay in the thick of the NFC playoff race when they visit the Baltimore Ravens Sunday in M&T Bank Stadium. Both teams have winning records – the Giants are 8-6, the Ravens stand at 9-5 – but none of the coaches and players are at all happy right now. The Giants are coming off a 34-0 loss in Atlanta and Baltimore has dropped its last three games, including a 34-17 decision last week at home to Denver. Despite the losing streak, the Ravens are in first place in the AFC North and have clinched their fifth consecutive playoff berth, the NFL's longest active streak. Baltimore leads the regular-season series, 2-1. The Giants won the most recent meeting, 30-10, on Nov. 16, 2008 in Giants Stadium. The Ravens defeated the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, 34-7.
Baltimore is ranked 21st in the NFL with an average of 339.6 yards per game. The Ravens are 22nd in rushing (105.1) and 14th in passing yards (234.6). They are fifth in the league in scoring at 24.9 points a game.
Jim Caldwell is the Ravens' new offensive coordinator and play-caller after replacing the fired Cam Cameron two weeks ago. In his first game calling the plays the Ravens threw 40 passes and had just 19 rushing attempts. On the season, they have 491 pass attempts and 353 runs. Baltimore has a downfield passing attack that uses a lot of play action and five-step drops. The Ravens like to send receivers out vertically to clear space for the short and intermediate routes.
Quarterback Joe Flacco has started 78 consecutive regular-season games, the third-longest streak among active quarterbacks behind Eli Manning (133) and Philip Rivers (110). He has completed 59.1 percent of his passes and thrown 20 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. Flacco has outstanding size and arm strength and is an accurate play-action passer who throws an impressive deep ball. He is skilled at looking safeties off. Flacco is not particularly nimble and has been sacked 34 times this season. His backup is Tyrod Taylor, who has thrown four passes this season and has good scrambling skills.
Ray Rice has rushed for 1,031 yards and nine touchdowns. He is an experienced every-down back with outstanding vision and patience and he has nifty feet when following blockers. Rice, who is also a good receiver with 55 catches, runs low to the ground and is tough to tackle. He is also stout in pass protection. Rice's backup is rookie Bernard Pierce, who has 320 rushing yards but left last week's game with a concussion. Pierce is a physical back who runs with strength and power.
Vonta Leach is perhaps the NFL's finest blocking fullback. He is a heavy-bodied player who is explosive on contact and can dominate his opponent in the ground game. Leach also has good running and receiving skills.
Anquan Boldin is a big, strong, physical wide receiver who leads the Ravens with 58 catches. He does most of his work on short and intermediate routes and is adept at gaining yardage after catching the ball. Boldin lines up in the slot when Baltimore uses three wideouts. The other starter is Torrey Smith, whose blazing straight line speed makes him a dangerous home run threat. He is averaging a team-high 17.4 yards a catch and has scored seven touchdowns. But Smith also left the Denver game with a concussion. Jacoby Jones, a speedy wideout and the league's leading kickoff returner, is battling an ankle injury but has a knack for finding voids in zone coverages and has good speed and receiving skills. The fourth receiver is Tandon Doss, who is a big target underneath.
Starting tight end Ed Dickson has missed the last three games with a knee injury. Last year, he caught 54 passes. This season, he's been utilized most often in the run game, where he is a reliable positional blocker, and has just 14 receptions. The receiving tight end is Dennis Pitta, who sits right behind Boldin with 57 catches and is tied with Smith with seven touchdowns. Pitta is quick to get down the seam and can work his way through traffic. Billy Bajema is a strong blocker with the lateral quickness to get to defensive ends on the edge. He has not caught a pass this season.
The Ravens have a big, powerful and strong offensive line (average size: 6-5 and 314 pounds) that uses both man-to-man and zone blocking concepts and is creative in utilizing pulling and trap schemes. Right guard Marshal Yanda, a 2011 Pro Bowler, was inactive last week with an ankle injury. Yanda, arguably Baltimore's most consistent lineman, was replaced by 13-year veteran Bobbie Williams, whose strong upper body helps him control opposing defenders. The Ravens have started three left guards this season. Ramon Harewood and Williams couldn't keep the job, which now belongs to Jah Reid, who is a strong anchor in the run game. Six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk has started 110 consecutive games. His wide base makes it difficult for defenders to get through or around him. Birk also runs well in space. Left tackle Michael Oher has good foot speed and agility and is a feisty blocker. On the right side is rookie Kelechi Osemele, a 6-5, 335-pounder who plays with a violent chippiness. Former starter Bryant McKinnie is now used an extra blocker in short yardage and goal line situations.
Baltimore's 3-4 defense, which finished in the top 10 in the league each of the last five years, is ranked 26th in the NFL, allowing 374.3 yards a game. The Ravens are 26th against the run (132.2) and 22nd vs. the pass (242.1). But like the offense, the scoring belies the yardage figures. Baltimore is 13th in the league with an average of 21.9 points allowed per game.
The Ravens also have injuries on defense. Ray Lewis, the emotional leader of the team, has not played since tearing his triceps on October 14. His imminent return has been rumored, but it is uncertain when he will again play. Linebacker Jameel McClain has been placed on injured reserve with a neck injury and Dannell Ellerbe (ankle) were inactive for the game against the Broncos (ankle). Safety Bernard Pollard sat out with a chest injury.
Tackle Haloti Ngata is the only every-snap player on the defensive line. A three-time Pro Bowler, he has a rare combination of size and athletic ability and the 340-pounder is extremely difficult to move off the line. Terrence Cody has taken over as the starting nose tackle. He is a good scheme reader who constricts rush lanes. Former starter Ma'ake Kemoeatu plugs holes against the run and provides occasional inside pass rush. Arthur Jones now gets the most playing time at defensive end, where Pernell McPhee started the first half of the season. Jones has impressive quickness at the snap and pursuit effort after it. McPhee is a productive pass rusher off the edge who had a six-yard sack last week.
The linebackers have a different look without Lewis, who has been a mainstay for 17 years and
has been selected to 13 Pro Bowls. Terrell Suggs, a five-time Pro Bowler, missed the first six games while his torn Achilles tendon mended. He tore his biceps vs. Pittsburgh on December 2, missed a game and saw limited action last week. When healthy, Suggs can make plays all over the field. Paul Kruger is listed as a backup, but he is the Ravens' top pass rusher right now and leads the team with 8.0 sacks. Rookie Courtney Upshaw is a strong anchor vs. the run. The versatile Albert McClellan has started 10 games and is getting more snaps on the inside. He is strong on his feet and a reliable wrap tackler. Brendon Ayanbadejo started last week for Ellerbe. He is a special teams ace who hustles to the ball. Josh Bynes also received a larger role in Ellerbe's absence and is strong at the point of attack.
Free safety Ed Reed, an eight-time Pro Bowler, is a smart, savvy ball hawk who creates turnovers. Opposing offenses need to know where he is on every play. Despite missing last week's game, Pollard leads the team with 98 tackles (71 solo). He has good range and awareness in pass coverage. James Ihedigbo, who is at his best when he's blitzing, started for Pollard vs. Denver. Left cornerback Corey Graham is playing the best football of his six-year career. He has the speed to run with the fastest wide receivers and the toughness to come up and make a big hit against the run. On the other side, Cary Williams leads the team with 15 passes defensed and is tied with Reed for the lead with four interceptions. He is a quick-footed player who takes good angles to the ball. Chris Johnson has been the extra corner in the nickel the last couple of weeks; Graham moves inside to cover the slot receiver. Chykie Brown is a young press corner and Jimmy Smith has size and athletic ability and breaks quickly on the ball.
Baltimore has one of the best special teams units the Giants have faced this season. Jones leads the NFL with a 32.5-yard kickoff return average. He has brought back two for touchdowns, a 108-yarder vs. Dallas and a 105-yarder against Oakland. Jones is 10th in the league with a 9.6-yard punt return average and has a 63-yard touchdown. Ayanbadejo is a three-time Pro Bowl special teamer and Graham earned that designation last season with Chicago. Rookie kicker Justin Tucker has made 25 of 27 field goal attempts, including all four of his tries from 51 yards and longer. His 45 touchbacks are the NFL's fifth-highest total. Punter Sam Koch is having an outstanding season; his 41.0-yard net average is 12th in the league. Baltimore is ranked eighth in the league in both kickoff and punt coverage.