Every week, I hope to bring you a quick Q&A with someone who covers the Ravens' opponent that week. This week, I chatted with reporter Jenny Vrentas, who covers the New York Giants for The Newark Star-Ledger.
MV: Both the Ravens and Giants are coming off embarrassing losses. Ravens fans saw what happened to their team, at least before they left M&T Bank Stadium during the fourth quarter. But what happened to the Giants, particularly Eli Manning and the passing game, in their shutout loss to the Atlanta Falcons?
JV: For the second straight week, Manning threw an early interception that led to a touchdown by the opponent. But unlike the Saints game, the Giants didn't benefit from excellent field position to help them climb out of a hole. Manning wound up being picked twice at Atlanta, and it could easily have been three times. He faced a good deal of pressure in the game, but the inconsistency of the offense starts with Manning, a fact coach Tom Coughlin readily acknowledged. But Coughlin also pointed out that Manning is the right guy to find a fix.
MV: Manning is one of the NFL's coolest quarterbacks in crunch time, as evidenced by his two Super Bowl rings, but he is going through another uneven regular season. Is that something the Giants just have gotten used to?
JV: That's probably with every quarterback. But the way Manning played last season, particularly after his turnover struggles in 2010, raised the bar for what he's able to do on the football field. It's interesting because, early in the season, offensive players were raving about the passing game being the most in synch so early on as they could remember. Then, it hit a speed bump. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride made some adjustments in the bye week -- moving receivers around to more consistently get guys open, for starters -- which seemed to help. With Manning, his ups and downs are more tolerable, because of what his ceiling is, and because of his ability to shake off early bumps and rally, whether it be in the context of a game or a season.
MV: Despite having all that talent up front, the Giants are in the middle of the pack with 32 sacks. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has just 6.5 after recording 16.5 a season ago. Why aren't the Giants sacking quarterbacks?
JV: The Giants' sack numbers are no doubt down. We're not used to seeing them ranking in the middle of the pack in an area that's supposed to be their signature. It is true that teams are scheming well against them, using tight ends and backs to slow the edge pass rush and eliminate one-one-one matchups. But another big factor is that the Giants aren't stopping the run. They're allowing an average of more than 120 rushing yards per game. When you're not stopping the run, that limits situations in which they can line up and tee off against the passer.
MV: That being said, is a lack of pressure up front the main reason for the struggles of the Giants defense?
JV: When the strength of a unit is targeted by opponents, it has to find another way. And that's been an issue for the Giants. If the edge rushers are neutralized, they need to get push up the middle, which they haven't done regularly. Injuries on the back end -- safety, linebacker -- have also presented challenges, such as communication breakdowns that have led to big plays by the opposition and less flexibility to blitz. So yes, the inconsistency of the Giants defense starts up front because that's how their defense is built, but each phase has a hand in it.
MV: It seems impossible to predict which Giants team will show up each week. Your best guess: Do the good Giants or the bad Giants show up at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday?
JV: Inconsistency has been the story of this team, and each side of the ball. In fact, when asked to use a word to describe his defense -- he had just used "physical" to describe the Ravens D -- Coughlin picked "inconsistent." This week, I do think the good Giants show up. Other than the Falcons game, the Giants have risen to challenges against good opponents this year (49ers, Packers). The Ravens are not an ideal matchup for the Giants, with a strong run game and the ability to throw deep. But give the Giants the benefit of the doubt, based on their recent championship experience, for their ability to be able to turn it on when they have to. And they have to. The Giants have a guaranteed path to the playoffs if they win out, and they could very well miss the postseason if they don't.