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Baltimore Ravens

Previewing Ravens vs. Giants: 8 things to watch, including Saquon Barkley’s elusiveness, third-down success and more

The New York Giants have been one of the NFL’s most surprising teams, starting 4-1 under first-year coach Brian Daboll. But the Ravens know what awaits them Sunday in MetLife Stadium. And it’s not just running back Saquon Barkley.

Giants defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale will take center stage as he faces his old team for the first time. Their meeting in East Rutherford, New Jersey, comes less than nine months after the Ravens (3-2) parted ways with Martindale, who quickly found a new job as Daboll’s defensive coordinator. Now he’ll have to stop quarterback Lamar Jackson, whom he faced every week at Ravens practices. Here’s what to watch in the teams’ Week 6 matchup.

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Offense

1. Even with wide receiver Rashod Bateman (foot) ruled out, the Ravens’ offense shouldn’t have too much trouble staying on schedule. Their early-down attack is one of the NFL’s best, ranking second in overall efficiency on first down and sixth on second down, according to Football Outsiders. The Giants’ early-down defense is one of the NFL’s worst: last in first-down efficiency and 18th in second-down efficiency.

If Martindale’s going to cause headaches, it’ll probably happen on third and fourth down, where his aggressiveness and exotic blitz packages can rattle opposing quarterbacks. When facing a Giants blitz on late downs this season, only the Dallas Cowboys’ Cooper Rush has produced positive expected points added on pass attempts, and even then only barely, according to Sports Info Solutions. (EPA is a measure of efficiency that accounts for situational factors such as down, distance and field position.).

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Jackson and the Ravens’ offense cooked high-pressure looks to start the season, but his production has fallen off sharply the past two games. He went a combined 11-for-24 for 103 yards, a touchdown and an interception against five or more Buffalo Bills or Cincinnati Bengals pass rushers, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Every week is different,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Thursday. “Every challenge is different. You certainly can’t rest on your laurels.”

2. Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins and Barkley have shared the field only once. Five years ago, they met in a top-10 matchup at Ohio Stadium. Barkley, a Heisman Trophy contender for Penn State, returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. Dobbins, a freshman sensation for Ohio State, had 13 carries for 88 yards. The Buckeyes won, 39-38, after a late rally.

On Sunday, they’ll reunite with a new bond between them. Barkley has been one of the NFL’s best comeback stories, and Dobbins could join him by season’s end. In 2020, Barkley underwent ACL reconstruction and a meniscus repair after an early-season knee injury. After averaging only 3.7 yards per carry in his return to action last year, he’s up to 5.5 yards this season.

When Dobbins tore the ACL, LCL and meniscus in his left knee last year, along with his hamstring, Barkley reached out. The surgeon who operated on Barkley’s knee was the one who repaired Dobbins’. Now, as Barkley’s star rises, Dobbins’ play has, too. He’s coming off his best game of the season, an eight-carry, 44-yard showing against the Bengals.

“It’s been great to see [Barkley] do his thing, because I know he went through a lot dealing with his injury,” Dobbins said Thursday. “So I’m just so happy to see him doing that, and I’ll be happy to see him this Sunday.”

Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) hands off the ball to running back Saquon Barkley (26) during a game against the Packers at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London on Sunday. While Barkley ranks second in the NFL in rushing, Jones is averaging a team-high 5.6 yards per carry.

Defense

3. The Ravens rank 26th in the NFL in run defense efficiency, according to Football Outsiders. The Giants, meanwhile, are sixth in run offense efficiency. If Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald is intent on bottling up their ground game, help might come from an unexpected source: quarterback Daniel Jones’ right arm.

With injuries ravaging his receiving corps, Jones is averaging just 169.6 passing yards per game this season. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard (154 receiving yards) suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 3, and former big-ticket signing Kenny Golladay (22 yards) was ruled out of Sunday’s game. Playing behind a shaky offensive line, Jones has struggled on downfield throws. According to Sports Info Solutions, he’s just 1-for-6 on passes of at least 20 air yards this season.

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That should make Macdonald’s job easier. Against Cincinnati, his coverage schemes and the Ravens’ safety depth put a lid on quarterback Joe Burrow’s deep-passing options. Against the Giants, the Ravens can line up closer to the line of scrimmage and move a safety into the box, when needed, for extra run support.

4. Jones doesn’t have Jackson’s running talent, but if his ankle’s fully healthy, he can run by defenders almost as quickly. On an 80-yard run against the Eagles in 2020, Jones hit a top speed of 21.23 mph, faster than the 21.01 mph Jackson clocked on his 37-yard touchdown run against Philadelphia one week earlier, a personal best.

The Giants haven’t shied away from using Jones (team-high 5.6 yards per carry) as a runner, either. According to Sports Info Solutions, he has 34 yards on seven designed quarterback runs and 38 yards on five read-option keepers this season.

Jones’ improvisational ability is worth watching. Buffalo’s Josh Allen scrambled five times for 48 yards and three first downs against the Ravens in Week 4, and the New England Patriots’ Mac Jones scrambled five times for 31 yards, a touchdown and two first downs in Week 3. Daniel Jones has 22 scrambles for 164 yards (7.5 per carry), two touchdowns and 15 first downs this season.

5. Stopping Barkley means tackling Barkley, and few players in the NFL make that more difficult. According to Pro Football Focus, Barkley is ninth among running backs in yards after contact per carry (3.81). Barkley has forced 18 missed tackles this season, tied for seventh most among running backs, and only the Cleveland Browns’ Nick Chubb and Las Vegas Raiders’ Josh Jacobs have more yards after contact.

“Strength, balance, change of direction — he’s just a really tough guy to tackle,” Harbaugh said Monday.

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The Ravens can’t afford many whiffs Sunday. According to Pro Football Reference, their defense ranks second in the NFL in missed tackles this season (38), behind only the Houston Texans (39). Four players have at least three missed tackles: inside linebacker Patrick Queen (five), injured safety Marcus Williams (four), defensive lineman Justin Madubuike (four) and rookie cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis (three).

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson eludes Giants linebacker Cam Brown during a game Dec. 27, 2020, in Baltimore. Jackson is 12-0 as a starter against NFC teams.

Extra points

6. Jackson is 12-0 as a starter against NFC teams. His 12 straight wins tie former Oakland Raiders great Ken Stabler for the second-longest streak of interconference victories by a quarterback to begin his career in NFL history. Former New Orleans Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert holds the record, with 15 straight wins against the AFC.

In Jackson’s 12 career starts against NFC teams, he’s passed for 2,167 yards, rushed for 1,115 yards and scored 26 total touchdowns (20 passing and six rushing).

7. The Giants’ roster features a handful of recent Ravens, including starting left guard Ben Bredeson, reserve guard Tyre Phillips, reserve defensive end Jihad Ward, reserve defensive tackle Justin Ellis and reserve safety Tony Jefferson. Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor and starting kicker Graham Gano also started their careers in Baltimore.

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8. A start Sunday would be the 200th of Ravens defensive lineman Calais Campbell’s career, joining six active players who’ve reached that mark. (All are offensive players: quarterbacks Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan, tackles Duane Brown and Jason Peters and tight end Marcedes Lewis.) Even at age 36, Campbell remains one of the NFL’s better interior defenders, ranking 21st overall among players at the position, according to Pro Football Focus.

Week 6

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RAVENS@GIANTS

Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Chs. 13, 9

Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Ravens by 6


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