Carroll County Times

Ravens: Giants' passing game sputtering, but still dangerous

OWINGS MILLS - Eli Manning's a two-time Super Bowl MVP. He has three of the most memorable completions in recent Super Bowl history. He's a three-time 4,000-yard passer, a two-time Pro Bowler and has thrown no less than 27 touchdowns in any of the last three seasons he's started all 16 games.

But this year's been a little different for Manning.

His numbers have declined following an impressive first half of the season, his arm strength has been said to be diminishing - a result of a perceived "tired arm" - and he's struggled with turnovers, as has been the case at other points during his career as well.

But Manning faces a depleted Ravens pass defense Sunday that ranks 22nd out of the NFL's 32 teams and has yielded 21 passing plays of 14 yards or longer during Baltimore's last three games.

"All I can worry about is this upcoming game and try to play my best football in this game and try to find ways to get wins for the Giants," Manning said during a conference call with Baltimore media Wednesday. "Not every game goes as planned. You just have to play to the opportunity that you have and the situations that you're in and try to make the best decision, the best play you can make on every play."

But after throwing for an average of 301 yards in New York's first seven games, Manning's thrown for an average of just 212 yards in the Giants' seven games since.

He's coughed up 10 interceptions in New York's last eight games and has finished without a touchdown pass in four of those eight games.

He threw for just 161 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions during the Giants' 34-0 loss to the Atlanta Falcons last week, a game during which Manning completed only 13 of his 25 pass attempts.

But Manning - along with a deep and talented group of pass catchers - will challenge a Ravens secondary that's allowed an average of more than 240 yards per game to opposing quarterbacks.

Giants wide receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are two of seven New York pass catchers with 14 catches or more.

Cruz leads the Giants in catches (79), yards (1,019) and touchdown catches (9). He's been targeted by Manning an average of nine times per game.

Nicks has been limited by knee and ankle injuries, but has 53 catches for 692 yards and three scores despite missing three games. He had 76 catches for 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns last season after catching 79 passes for 1,052 yards and 11 scores in 2010.

And containing tight end Martellus Bennett will provide a test for a Baltimore pass defense that's had problems with opposing tight ends at times this year.

"They are a very, very talented group," Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said of New York's group of pass catchers. "I don't think there's any place that you can really say, 'That's really a weakness.' They have a good group. ... . They can go up and get the ball. Very talented - [Victor] Cruz - all of [the receivers] are quick, and Eli [Manning] can get them the ball."

NOTE: Ravens safety Bernard Pollard appears likely to miss his second consecutive game after aggravating the rib injury he's dealt with since Week 2 during Baltimore's loss to the Washington Redskins in Week 14. Pollard's listed as doubtful for Sunday's game against the Giants. Pollard leads the Ravens in tackles (98). ... Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda (ankle) and wide receiver Torrey Smith (concussion) are both listed as questionable, but both practiced for a second straight day Friday and appear on track to playing Sunday. Middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (ankle) is also questionable. He's missed three straight games, but he seemed optimistic regarding his availability earlier in the week. ... Backup running back Bernard Pierce (concussion) missed practice for a third straight day Friday and looks unlikely to play Sunday although he's listed as questionable.