By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun
1:08 PM EST, December 22, 2012
RAVENS PASSING GAME: Struggling Ravens' quarterback Joe Flacco maintains he hasn't lost his confidence even as his late-season slump widens. He has completed more than 60 percent of his passes just once in four games, he hass thrown for under 200 yards in five of his last eight contests and he has committed six turnovers over the last three games. He has also been sacked 13 times over the past four weeks. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin was held without a catch last week for the first time in 107 games.
GIANTS PASSING GAME: Eli Manning has had his moments, but it hasn't been a great regular season for the two-time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player. His quarterback rating (84.0) is the lowest it has been since 2007, and his 20 touchdown passes put him on pace for his fewest since 2008. Manning has thrown four interceptions over his past two games. Still, he has a well-earned reputation as a clutch quarterback. He also has Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Martellus Bennett as down-the-field threats.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged this week that the run blocking needs to improve. Right now, the Ravens' ground game is just 22nd in the NFL with an average of 105.1 yards per game. Two-time Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice is on pace to have his fewest rushing and receiving yards since his rookie season. Right guard Marshal Yanda's expected return should help. Backup Bernard Pierce is dealing with a concussion, meaning that Anthony Allen could play a bigger role.
GIANTS RUNNING GAME: Ahmad Bradshaw, the Giants' top running back, missed last week with knee and foot injuries, and he's expected to be a game-time decision Sunday. Bradshaw is a shifty back who is tough to bring down. If he can't play, rookie first-round pick David Wilson would likely start. Wilson, an absolute burner, had 100 yards rushing and two touchdowns two weeks ago against the New Orleans Saints. The Giants rank 15th in the NFL in rushing, averaging 115 yards per game on the ground.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: It appeared the Ravens had fortified their run defense, but in the past two games, they've allowed 335 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground. That has dropped them to 26th overall in the NFL against the run. They've also allowed four 100-yard rushers this season. In last week's 34-17 loss to the Denver Broncos, the Ravens were without four of their top five tacklers. They could be buoyed this week by the potential return of Dannell Ellerbe.
GIANTS RUSH DEFENSE: Like the Ravens, the Giants have struggled against the run, allowing 123.7 yards on the ground per game, which ranks 22nd in the NFL. Poor tackling has been a big reason for that as the Giants missed 18 tackles last week in their 34-0 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. While defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Chris Canty are entrenched in the middle, the Giants have had a revolving door of inside linebackers. Michael Boley is their top tackler, but he has been slowed by injuries.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: The Ravens have allowed only 13 passing touchdowns this season, tied for a league low, but they've had communication and tackling issues all season. The 242.1 passing yards per game that they've surrendered ranks 22nd in the NFL. They have just two interceptions over the past four games and have generated little pass rush beyond Paul Kruger and Arthur Jones. Cornerback Corey Graham continues to play well, but the Ravens need more from second-year cornerback Jimmy Smith.
GIANTS PASS DEFENSE: The pass rush that Giants coach Tom Coughlin called his team's bread-and-butter has been surprisingly absent at times this season. A group that includes defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora is tied for 16th in the NFL with 32 sacks. The Giants also have been susceptible to big plays on the back end, allowing 23 passing touchdowns and 253.7 passing yards per game, the fifth highest total in the NFL. Safety Stevie Brown has seven of the Giants' 20 interceptions.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Jacoby Jones has come close to breaking a big return the last couple of weeks and he still leads the NFL with 32.5 yards per kickoff return and three return touchdowns. The Ravens rank second in the NFL in average starting position after a kickoff and are fourth in the league in opponents' average field position following a kickoff. Punter Sam Koch has averaged more than 50 yards per punt for three straight games.
GIANTS SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Lawrence Tynes was having a career year, but he has missed a field-goal attempt in three straight games, including a 30-yard attempt last week. He still leads the NFL with 33 made field goals. Wilson leads the NFL and set a franchise record with 1,387 kickoff return yards, and he had a 97-yard return touchdown two weeks ago against the New Orleans Saints. The Giants have allowed more kickoff return yards than any team in the NFL.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens have lost three straight games for the first time since October 2009, and they've dropped back-to-back home games for the first time under John Harbaugh. Though they know they're in the playoffs, they need at least one more win to win the AFC North. The Ravens have won nine consecutive regular-season finales and they've won 12 consecutive home games against NFC foes dating back to 2006. This is a team badly in need of a quality win.
GIANTS INTANGIBLES: No team has been more unpredictable than the Giants this season, and the reigning Super Bowl champions need to win to keep their playoff hopes alive. They have lost three straight road games and they've been outscored, 82-29, in those games. They are 3-4 on the road this season. However, under Coughlin, the Giants have shown the ability to bounce back from tough losses and win when the stakes are the highest. New York is 4-1 this season in games following a loss.
PREDICTION: The Ravens have to win one of their final two games or they're likely going to face the prospect of opening up the playoffs on the road against either the New England Patriots or Broncos. If they're not in must-win territory now, they'll certainly be next week if they aren't victorious Sunday. Until Flacco and the offense starts playing better and the defense gets a little healthier, it's really hard to foresee the Ravens beating a quality opponent, even one as inconsistent as the Giants.
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