By Aaron Wilson, The Baltimore Sun
10:25 PM EST, December 23, 2012
Flustered, harassed and repeatedly knocked to the ground by a relentless Ravens defense, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning couldn't get his bearings Sunday.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees stuck with an aggressive approach, blitzing defenders and using unusual alignments. He occasionally utilized safeties James Ihedigbo and Omar Brown as edge pass rushers lined up outside the tackles and shifted outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw to nose guard.
During a 33-14 victory at M&T Bank Stadium that secured an AFC North crown for the second consecutive season, the Ravens mixed up coverage schemes to keep the defending Super Bowl champions off guard. The defense generated three sacks and a season-high nine quarterback hits against a Giants offense that entered the game having allowed an NFL-low 16 sacks.
"Coach Pees did a great job of showing different plays, showing pressure and playing coverage and showing coverage and running pressures," said Ihedigbo, who had two quarterback hits. "It kept them on their toes. It messed up his communication with his receivers. We played great as a defense. Whenever you play that fast and that physical, it's tough to beat."
Although Manning didn't throw any interceptions and delivered one touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach, the two-time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player was erratic overall.
One week after his older brother, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, dismantled the Ravens' injury-riddled defense, Eli Manning completed just 14 of 28 passes for 150 yards and a mediocre 78.0 quarterback rating.
"We kept Eli on his toes," cornerback Cary Williams said. "He didn't know if we were in man or zone or whatever it may be. He wasn't able to figure it out. We held him to a minimum."
The Ravens had one sack by blitzing inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe nullified by an offsides penalty, but defensive tackle Haloti Ngata dropped Manning for a 15-yard sack, inside linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo tackled Manning for a 7-yard sack and rookie safety Omar Brown recorded a 9-yard sack.
It was a breakthrough against an offense that rarely allows Manning to play under this much duress.
"We watched their offensive line all week and we noticed they were really protecting Eli well, but we really gave them fits," Ayanbadejo said. "Dean did a great job of mixing up the calls and the guys executed. Overall, we played faster than them. They were a step behind us."
It was nearly constant pressure for a maligned defense that had entered the game with only 32 sacks.
"I think it's a step forward," said Ngata, who registered his fifth sack of the season. "We had kind of been down the last coupleof weeks. This is a game where we showed our defense.
"Coach Pees did a great job. He called blitzes when he needed to. Guys beat their one-on-one blocks. It was good all the way around."
Ray Lewis out until playoffs
Veteran middle linebacker Ray Lewis will remain sidelined until at least the postseason, according to Ravens coach John Harbaugh.
Lewis, who remains on the injured reserve-designated to return list with a surgically repaired torn right triceps, won't get back on the field for the regular-season finale next week against the Cincinnati Bengals, per Harbaugh.
"We will not look at him again for this week," Harbaugh said. "We'll look at him for the playoffs. It's a 12- to 16-week injury. So if you do the math going back, we thought there was a chance. He's progressing really well.
"I'm not saying he couldn't have played the last couple of weeks, but it would've been risky to re-injure it. The fact that there was some patience on Ray's part and our part, it turned out well."
The two-time former NFL Defensive Player of the Year tore his triceps in a win over the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 14.
Lewis has been sidelined for the past nine games and has been champing at the bit to get back on the field.
"It's hard, he wants to play," Harbaugh said. "Nobody wants to play more than Ray, but Ray sees it for what it is and he sees the big picture."
When asked if Lewis could potentially return in time for the Ravens' opening-round playoff game, Harbaugh replied: "There's always a chance. We can't say right now for sure."
Big day for Pierce
Ravens rookie backup running back Bernard Pierce bolted through a gaping hole created by fullback Vonta Leach and offensive guard Marshal Yanda, and he didn't stop until he reached the New York Giants' one-yard line.
It was a career-high 78 yard run as Pierce scooted away from pursuit until being caught from behind by cornerback Jayron Hosley in the fourth quarter.
"I hit the hole and I saw the safety coming down and I thought to myself, 'Run away from him,' because he was coming down pretty fast," Pierce said. "I kind of took a little right turn, put my head down and started running."
The Ravens gained a season-high 226 rushing yards, topping the 186 yards they gained in a 31-28 overtime loss to the Washington Redskins. They had a season-high 533 yards of total offense.
"It seemed like they had 13 guys on the field, and then two would run off," Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn said. "The one long run at the end, we just can't give up."
And the third-round draft pick from Temple finished the game with a career-high 123 rushing yards on just 14 carries as he averaged 8.8 yards per rush.
Both Pierce and Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, who gained 107 yards on 24 carries, eclipsed the century mark.
"It felt great," said Pierce, who returned one week after suffering a concussion. "I'm very excited for myself and I'm really excited because I feel like we're going to accomplish our goals this year."
Pierce was cleared for contact Saturday after passing his baseline neurological test.
"I've had a concussion before, so I know my body," Pierce said. "By Wednesday or Thursday, I was really starting to feel better."
For the season, Pierce has gained 443 yards and scored one touchdown as the replacement for Ricky Williams following his abrupt retirement.
"I joked with him," said Rice, who has rushed for1,138 yards and nine touchdowns. "I said we've got one thing in common: We do get caught from behind. We've got two different running styles, but it was great to see him go over 100. He's definitely been a great complement to me. He's a student of the game, and he's only going to get better."
Ed Reed under microscope
Ravens star free safety Ed Reed is under NFL scrutiny once again after being flagged for a personal foul for hitting a defenseless wide receiver in the head and neck area during the fourth quarter Sunday.
Reed was penalized for his sideline hit on wide receiver Victor Cruz when he delivered a shoulder blow high to his upper body during the Ravens' 33-14 victory at M&T Bank Stadium.
As a repeat offender who had a one-game suspension overturned by NFL hearing officer and former Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell prior to the San Diego Chargers game earlier this season and replaced with a $50,000 fine stemming from his hit to the head of Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, Reed has now had four incidents in the past three seasons.
If Reed is suspended without pay, it would cost him an entire game check of $423,529. This hit could fall into a grey area in how it's interpreted under the NFL rulebook considering that the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year led with his shoulder and it wasn't a crushing blow that caused an injury.
"I don't know," Reed said when asked if he thinks he'll be punished by the league office. "I don't know what's going to come of it. I had the referee whispering in my ear on the second play. All I like to do is play the game. I don't really know what to do with it. I don't really know what to do with that. I thought it was a decent hit. He got up from it."
Ravens shut down Giants' pass rush
Headlined by disruptive defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, the New York Giants' pass rushers have built a reputation of causing chaos in opponents' backfields.
They didn't live up to that advance billing Sunday, though, as they were stonewalled during the Ravens' 33-14 victory at M&T Bank Stadium.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco wasn't even sacked once and was only hit twice. He had plenty of time to locate his receivers, completing 25 of 36 passes for 309 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 114.2 quarterback rating.
Paul, who had 16 1/2 sacks last season and entered the game with 6 1/2 sacks, was contained as he had just one quarterback hit.
"I think we played really well as a unit," rookie offensive tackle Kelechi Osemele said. "It was great timing. We worked hard. We made our corrections during the week, and we performed."
Pro Bowl offensive guard Marshal Yanda returned to the starting lineup after missing one game with a sprained right ankle, and experienced no setbacks.
"It was good having Marshal back in there," Osemele said. "The communication was good. We didn't lose a step."
Running an efficient offense that set season-highs with 533 yards of total offense and 224 rushing yards, the Ravens converted 11 of 18 third downs.
"It was a collective effort from everybody protecting Joe, and a matter of Joe getting the ball out on time," Yanda said. "Converting third downs was huge. You're going to win football games doing that."
Promoted from the practice squad earlier this month, Omar Brown was thrilled to learn he would have an increased role against the Giants.
Sacking Manning in the third quarter was a huge moment for the undrafted rookie safety from Marshall.
"It felt great," Brown said. "I really worked hard on the practice squad, learning the system. As a free agent, you got to earn your way a little bit more."
One week after former first-round cornerback Jimmy Smith struggled in pass coverage, he was replaced in the nickel package by cornerback Chykie Brown.
Brown was beaten for a touchdown late by Domenik Hixon, but held up well otherwise with four pass deflections.
"The touchdown I gave up was a lesson learned," Brown said. "I tried to get greedy and looked for the ball and went for the pick instead of just playing my man. It's something I got to learn from. I was happy with how I played for the most part. I came into this game with the mind frame that I've got to make a name for myself."
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin left the game with a shoulder injury after catching his seventh pass of the game. He caught all seven passes he was targeted for 93 yards.
Harbaugh announced that there were no major injuries.
"Injury-wise, we don't have any injuries that are of note," Harbaugh said. "Right now, everything looks like it's minor."
Ellerbe, Dickson return
Ravens starting inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe returned to action after missing the previous three games with a sprained right ankle.
He led the Ravens with five tackles, limping off at one point before going back in the game.
"Yeah, I felt all right," Ellerbe said. "Yeah, it's fine. It's not bad. It's good enough to go."
Ellerbe had a sack taken away when outside linebacker Terrell Suggs jumped offsides. Ellerbe had timed up the snap on a blitz to sack Manning.
"Yeah, I got bad luck like that," said Ellerbe, who has 4 1/2 sacks this season. "I timed it up."
Did he say anything to Suggs about the play?
"There was nothing I could say to him at that point," Ellerbe said. "He already knew how I felt. He said something like, 'Sorry, man, my bad.' So, I said, 'It's all right.' But he went offsides on me, so I didn't get the sack."
Meanwhile, starting strong safety Bernard Pollard was out for the second game in a row with damaged ribs.
Tight end Ed Dickson (hyperextended knee) started as he returned after missing the previous three games. He caught one pass for nine yards.
"Just going into the playoffs, I didn't want to wait and test the waters," Dickson said. "It felt the way it felt and it felt good to get back out there. I kind of got rolled up on one play. A little soreness, but I think I did pretty good."
Outside linebacker Albert McClellan (hamstring, shoulder) was scratched as well as offensive guard Bobbie Williams, offensive guard Ramon Harewood, wide receiver Deonte Thompson and defensive tackle Bryan Hall.
"It was tough to sit on the sidelines, but the guys played great," McClellan said. "I hate this feeling of sitting on the sideline. It feels like college again when I tore my ACL. I don't want to have this feeling again. I'll be back out there soon."
Offensive tackle Michael Oher was penalized three times during a third-quarter drive. He was flagged for a false start, a holding penalty and a personal foul. Oher has nine penalties for the season, ranking second on the team with one less than Boldin. ... In his first NFL game, rookie outside linebacker Adrian Hamilton had one special-teams tackle. "[Special teams coordinator Jerry] Rosburg and the other staffers took me aside and showed me what I needed to do," Hamilton said. "I didn't play special teams in college, so it was something I needed to work on. It felt great. It's a testament to hard work." ... With 68 plays of 20 yards or more, the Ravens set a franchise single-season record. That included six plays of 20 yards or more against the Giants. ... The Ravens converted 11 of 18 third downs, tying a season-high and held the Giants to 2 of 10 conversions on third downs. ... The Ravens had a season high 39:21 of time of possession while the Giants had 20:39 for the lowest amount of time an opponent has held the ball this season. ... Rookie kicker Justin Tucker made four field goals and is 29 of 31 for the season, a 93.5 percent conversion rate. Tucker is closing in on Matt Stover's franchise single-season field goal percentage record of 93.3 percent, which he set in 2006 on 28 of 30 kicking. ... Under Harbaugh since 2008, the Ravens are now 10-0 against the NFC at home. Going back to 2006, the Ravens have won 13 games in a row over the NFC.
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