While in past weeks, this column's title has been pretty easy to break down, this week's matchup poses significant problems when determining the best way of defeating the Ravens next opponent. The New York Giants have the home field advantage, and we all know how hard, regardless of the Ravens recent success, it is to win on the road in the NFL. Mind you, these aren't the Houston Texans, Miami Dolphins or even the Cleveland Browns we're facing. At the same time, we beat the Browns in Cleveland while the Giants couldn't. Don't read too much into that, although I'm sure the Ravens top brass have picked apart that tape all week.
The problem herein lies with the solid play of the Giants on both sides of the ball. Normally, you either have a weakness on the opponent that the strength of our team can exploit. The Giants provide a quandry of issues on this. They really don't have a significant weakness that we can pinpoint to attack. At the same time, the reverse is just not true about the Ravens. We all know our most glaring weakness is our pass defense, and more specifically the lack of depth in our secondary. If teams can protect their QB, then they can have the time to wait and pick us apart, as evidenced by the way Indy's Peyton Manning did so in their 31-3 beatdown of us. Usually, we can cover that weakness through a harrassing pass rush that does not give the time to the opposing QB and often results in sacks or interceptions, as the Ravens are tied for second in the league with 14 picks, thanks in part to four last week in Houston. The problem with this issue is that the Giants might have the best offensive line in the NFL with only 11 sacks allowed, tied for fifth in the league, not coincidently with the Indianapolis Colts.
So then how do our Ravens go into the Meadowlands and leave Sunday with a victory over the 8-1 and defending Super Bowl Champs? There are only two chinks in the armor that I think we can plan to exploit. The first is in our control, the second we'll need New York's cooperation. The Ravens lead the league in time of possession. If we can have a couple of long, time consuming drives that result in points, that will wear down the Giants defense, as their offense also ranks high in time of possession and their defense is just not used to being kept on the field longer than the offense. At the same time, the Ravens will need every advantage they can get and to me that translates to a wide open playbook, including trick plays. A quick, easy score can give us some breathing room and take pressure off Joe Flacco and the rest of the offense, while giving them the confidence to move the ball and keep the Giants alert and on their heels.
The second item that we will need the Giants to cooperate with us for is that while the Ravens turnover differential is -2, the Giants are at +6, which is tied for the best in the NFC, but lags far behind the Titans +11 which leads the NFL. The Ravens will need Eli Manning to continue his streak of throwing an interception in the past two games. This should help the Ravens get the short field they feast upon to drive the ball downhill to the end zone. While the Giants defeated the Ravens next opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles last week, they did give up 31 points in the victory, proving that as good as their defense is, it can be scored upon, and we all know the Ravens are averaging over 33 points during their current four game winning streak.
Last, but certainly not least, is the ability of Special Teams to affect the outcome of the game. The Ravens absolutely must shut down the Giants return game if they want to keep this game close and have a chance to pull another one out on the road. Conversely, they will need a big return or two to give them a boost and put the Giants on alert.
The Ravens can definitely stay in this game until the end. In their last four victories, the Ravens have owned the second half and shut out their opponents in the fourth quarter. If the Ravens can come anywhere close to this, what was looked at as a definite loss when the 2008 schedule was originally unveiled, can be a possible win in what has become a surprisingly successful season for the Ravens.