The New York Giants 2012 season has been a bit of an enigma. We've seen this team come out on the road and beat the San Francisco 49ers 26-3 and last week we saw them get shut out 34-0 by the Atlanta Falcons. Despite going 2-4 in their last six games, Big Blue has somehow retained control of their playoff destiny. Win these next two matchups against the Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles, and the Giants will be playing football in January for the second consecutive season.
However, anybody who tells you that they know how this team is going to come out and play today is a liar. As much as one would like to think that a group of 53 grown men getting paid millions of dollars to do their job would be able to perform to the best of their ability in the biggest game of the season, the only thing that the Giants have proven with their performances in 2012 is that they are consistently unpredictable.
Luckily for Big Blue, the Ravens are coming off an ugly loss at home to the Denver Broncos. There will be a sense of desperation in the air for both squads today. Let's take a look at how the Giants can leave Baltimore with both a victory and their playoff hopes intact.
Eli Must Lead the Offense
We touched upon this in the game preview leading into last weekend's debacle down in Atlanta. We further discussed Eli Manning's shortcomings in 2012 during the week here at Giants 101. The Giants are only going to make it as far as Eli Manning takes them this season. Manning has thrown multiple interceptions in each of his last two games and has been inaccurate with his deep passes as of late. When asked if the team relies too much on Manning, head coach Tom Coughlin said reiterated that Eli can't do it all by himself.
"I don’t think it’s bad for them to say that. But I do think they have to understand sometimes it helps to create an opportunity for Eli," Coughlin said. "Everybody relies on Eli to go do it. We did it seven times the year before, and I like that for him in terms of when people think about him and his reputation as a quarterback and as a pressure player. I like that. I want that, but I’d like to see it happen a little bit right now.”
We don't need to look at statistics or watch game film to realize that the Giants' offense desperately needs their star quarterback to play to his potential in this game. Baltimore has had issues on the defensive side of the ball this season without Ray Lewis, Lardarious Webb and an injured Terrell Suggs. However, the Ravens are historically a tough opponent at home in December. It's going to take a monumental offensive effort from Manning to orchestrate long, consistent drives as the road team.
These are usually the games when Manning comes out and shows his true colors. When the Giants backs are to the wall and the lights are brightest, Eli generally comes through and delivers. If Eli doesn't have a bounce back game today, the Giants will more than likely emerge with a loss.
Get Martellus Bennett Involved
The Ravens have struggled against athletic tight ends all year. Rob Gronkowski, Jason WItten, Owen Daniels, Brent Celek and even Brandon Myers have all had productive games against this Ravens defense this season. Bennett has been an underutilized weapon in the Giants offense this season and could provide the safety blanket over the middle of the field that Eli manning has been missing this season.
Bennett is also effective because he can be used in both run blocking schemes and down field passes. He's faster than most linebackers, but too big for a safety to blog. Bennett has freakish athleticism that could allow for some serious production against a vulnerable defense.
Stop the Run Early
Ravens running back Ray Rice only received 13 carries last weekend for 36 rushing yards. You can bet that Baltimore will attempt to get their star running back involved early and often in this one. The Ravens offense is built around an elite rushing attack and play action passes over the middle of the field. Not only does giving the ball to Rice slow the game down and keep Eli Manning off the field, but it creates difficulty for the Giants in the secondary .
Stopping Baltimore's ground game in its tracks early is going to be key in this one. In recent weeks, we've seen just how deplorable the Giants run defense can be. The interior defensive linemen have been getting blown off the line of scrimmage and Chase Blackburn has had trouble stopping anything up the middle. It's likely going to take a combination of well timed run blitzes to truly hinder the Ravens rushing attack.
Eli Manning vs Ravens Secondary
Eli Manning must play a fundamentally sound football game. His drop backs must be concise, his throws must be thrown with authority and he has to be willing to take what the defense gives him. As long as he receives adequate protection, the Giants skill players will have the ability to get open. It's just a matter of Eli making the right reads and getting the ball to where it needs to be.
The Ravens secondary is vulnerable, but Ed Reed is still one of the most dangerous safeties in the NFL. One bad decision, and Eli could be looking at another pick six this week. That can't happen for Big Blue to win a game like this on the road.
Big Game Alert
If the Giants are going to get production through the air today, Victor Cruz is going to be a major part of the equation. He's an explosive player with precise route running ability. The Giants will rely heavily on him to make big plays down the field today.
Cruz was limited to just three catches for 15 yards last week. Statistically, it was his worst game of the season. Don't count on No. 80 to come up short in two consecutive contests. He will have a physical advantage against anybody that attempts to cover him today. He just needs to get open in spots where Manning can get him the football.
The Giants have more talent than the Ravens do. They have a better quarterback, better wideouts and they are probably better in the trenches as well. As long as Big Blue comes out and plays with energy, passion and desire, we should see the team come away with a victory. However, as we've learned from past experiences, that is far from a given with this particular roster.
Big Blue usually responds with their backs to the wall. A loss today, and you can pretty much kiss the season goodbye. It will be a close one in Baltimore, but the Giants will be just a little more desperate for a victory this afternoon.
Giants 27, Ravens 23
Also…Baltimore, Baltimore Ravens, Eli Manning, Football, Martellus Bennett, New York, New York Giants, NFL, Owen Daniels, Ray Lewis, Ray Rice, Rob Gronkowski, Tom Coughlin, Victor Cruz