Get Dobbins to the Edge
The strength of the Giants’ defense is right up the middle. Along the defensive line, Dexter Lawrence (1st), Dalvin Tomlinson (2nd) and Leonard Williams (1st) are all young, early-round draft selections. The second level is manned by ILB Blake Martinez. Martinez, who was a tackling machine for three years in Green Bay, currently ranks 4th in the NFL in tackles. Jabrill Peppers, a former 1st round pick of the Cleveland Browns, has had his best NFL season playing down around the line of scrimmage in New York.
In tailoring his game plan around the Giants’ defensive strengths, Greg Roman needs to focus on concepts that get J.K. Dobbins to the outside. Roman could lean heavily on the outside zone run to make life easier on everyone. The outside zone will get the Giants’ defensive linemen running and prevent them from being able to absorb a double team, sit in a gap and stuff inside runs. Outside zone also plays to Dobbins’ strength by allowing him to see the blocks develop, make one cut, and get vertical through the hole.
Roman could also use zone read concepts that get Dobbins or Lamar Jackson running horizontally. The Ravens should also dip back into the jet sweeps that they have shown over the past few games.
Any rushing concepts that can get Ravens’ playmakers away from Martinez and the Giants’ talented trio of defensive linemen will be helpful in securing a win.
Move the Launch Point
Unless you’re an NFL Draft aficionado, the average Ravens fan probably doesn’t recognize a single name among the 2020 Giants’ outside linebackers. The most recognizable name, Sheard, the Browns’ 2011 second-round pick, was signed from the Jaguars’ practice squad just two months ago. New York’s pass rushers aren’t exactly a group of household names and their production matches; Sheard leads all Giants’ OLBs with 1.5 sacks. The bottom line for the Ravens is that they don’t have the be scared about a bunch of heat coming off the edges on Sunday.
The talented players who make running up the middle against the Giants a tough task are the same players who have the bulk of New York’s pass rush production. Williams leads the team with 8.5 sacks, Lawrence is 2nd with 4.0 sacks, and Peppers and Tomlinson are tied for 3rd with 2.5 sacks. Martinez is 4th with 2.0 sacks. If the Giants are able to pressure Lamar Jackson on Sunday, the bulk of that pressure is going to be coming right up the middle.
One way to combat talented interior pass rushers is by moving the pocket. Instead of trying to consistently hold the line and create a clean pocket, the offense can “move the launch point” by rolling the QB out of the pocket. Moving the launch point will force the Giants’ defensive linemen to chase Jackson around the perimeter of the field. Besides the fact that Tomlinson is very unlikely to tackle Jackson in the open field, forcing the defensive line to chase will also tire them out and make them less effective in all aspects of their game.
Getting a QB like Jackson out of the pocket also puts a lot of extra pressure on the weaker edges of New York’s defense. Moving his launch point has to be a priority for Greg Roman on Sunday.
Stay Away from Bradberry
With the 62nd pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Panthers selected CB James Bradberry. Bradberry, a Samford (not Stanford) University product, became an immediate starter and went on to have four successful years in Carolina. Then, on March 26, 2020, Bradberry signed a three-year, $ 45 million contract with the New York Giants.
In his first year with the Giants, Bradberry has really made a name for himself. Bradberry has taken on the responsibility of covering the opponent’s top WR and has performed exceptionally. He has three interceptions but ranks 2nd in the league in pass break ups with 17. Bradberry’s 2020 performance has been so impressive that he was recently named to the NFC Pro Bowl roster alongside the likes of Jalen Ramsey, Jaire Alexander and Marshon Lattimore.
Sunday’s game is a must win for the Ravens. Coming off a hard-fought win against the Browns and a blowout win over the Jags, Baltimore has all the momentum and are significant favorites on Sunday. Jackson should not regularly challenge Bradberry on Sunday and frankly, he shouldn’t have to do that for the Ravens to win the game.
In a game that the Ravens should be able to win handily, the risk simply is not worth the reward.
The Giants are not a great pass protecting team. At 27.9%, Giants’ QBs are pressured at the 2nd highest rates in the NFL. Giants QBs have been hit at the 5th highest rate in the NFL. The offensive line has allowed the 5th most sacks in the NFL (42). Like the Ravens, the Giants have experimented with offensive line rotations (whether by design or necessity).
The fact that the Giants have struggled in pass protections means that opposing defenses have found pass rushing success against them. One thing that defenses that have faced the Giants can agree on is that blitzing the Giants is a path to a lot of success. The Giants have been blitzed the 5th most, 187 times, of any team in the NFL. Wink Martindale should follow the rest of the NFL’s lead and blitz the Giants early and often on Sunday. That shouldn’t be a problem at all, though. The Ravens currently lead the NFL in blitzes per drop back (42.9%). A heavy dose of blitzes should be a top priority for Martindale.
Treat Engram as a WR
Evan Engram is not your average TE. Engram, the Giants’ 1st round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, solidified his value as a 1st round pick after he ran a 4.43 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. Now in his 4th year in the league, Engram was just named as one of the two TEs on the NFC Pro Bowl roster. The Ole Miss product leads the 2020 Giants in both targets (95) and receptions (54). Engram has the Giants’ longest reception of the year (53 yards) and leads the team in yards after the catch (244).
Despite the fact that he is listed as a TE, Engram’s traits, abilities and production earn him the unofficial title of “WR1” in New York. Engram is the Giants’ top receiving option and it is an absolute necessity that the Ravens’ defense treats him as such. Against a lesser TE or one more suited to blocking, the Ravens might choose to cover them with a LB or a S. Against a TE like Engram, who spends a good deal of his time in the slot or split out wide, the Ravens’ need to be prepared to cover him with a CB when they’re in man coverage.
After losing superstar RB Saquon Barkley to season ending ACL tear in Week 2, New York has gone through a litany of other backs. In addition to Barkley, Wayne Gallman, Devonta Freeman, Alfred Morris, Elijhaa Penny and Dion Lewis have all recorded carries for the Giants this year. The name Dion Lewis should sound familiar to Ravens fans. His peak, at this point in Lewis’ career, came during his time with the Patriots from 2015 – 2017. During his years in New England, the “scat back” became known for his ability as a pass catcher. In 2015, Lewis had 234 yards rushing and 388 yards receiving. In his two years with the Titans, Lewis had 726 yards rushing and 564 yards receiving. In his 14 games as a Giant, Lewis has more targets (29) than carries (27).
Martindale and the Ravens’ defense need to have an “alert” in place for Dion Lewis. Lewis entering the game has to trigger a call by the defense that makes everybody aware of his presence in the backfield. When Lewis is in, he simply can’t be treated the same way as Gallman or Morris.
The defense has to be extra aware of a screen pass or swing pass designed for Lewis. Martindale may decide that a blitzer should cover Lewis in man coverage instead.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Giants’ LT Andrew Thomas versus Ravens’ OLB Yannick Ngakoue
Ravens’ pass rush specialist Yannick Ngakoue is starting to hit his stride in Baltimore. After seven relatively quiet games as a Raven, the former Jaguar’s breakout game came in the form of a two-sack revenge game against the team that drafted him. Ngakoue’s athleticism and speed off the edge could make him a bad matchup for Giants’ rookie LT Andrew Thomas. Thomas, the 4th overall pick in the 2020 draft, has not been immune to some growing pains during his rookie season. The Giants have not done a good job protecting their QBs this season (see above).
If Ngakoue continues his momentum against the Giants’ rookie LT, McCoy or Jones will be in for a long afternoon.