This is the first in a series of weekly articles targeting the key one-on-one battles that should ultimately decide the game. This week, the Giants travel south to Baltimore to face the Ravens.
The Ravens are one of the elite teams of the AFC and a strong contender for the Super Bowl. They arguably have the best offensive line in the league and now have plenty of weapons for quarterback Joe Flacco. The Ravens defense anchored at three levels by all pros Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis, and Ed Reed is still formidable, but a decline is eventual given the age of the group in total.
Ravens LT Michael Oher vs Giants DE Mathias Kiwanuka / Osi Umenyiora
Oher was moved to left tackle this offseason where he is expected to be a fixture for the next decade. Oher is a driven and dedicated player and has a great combination of power and technique.
Kiwanuka and Umenyiora were both disappointments last season, particularly against the run. Kiwanuka has had a relatively quiet camp, but has done little to lose his role as incumbent starter.
Umenyiora has shown flashes of his old self. If motivated, he posses one of the quickest starts off the line in the league. The player who plays best against Oher is likely the opening day starter.
Ravens RB Ray Rice vs Giants MLB Du Jour
Ray Rice has developed into one of the top and most versatile backs in the league. It is his versatility that will make this a tough cover for the Giants middle linebacker. Rice led the Ravens in receptions in 2009 and should come close to repeating those numbers in 2010.
The chief weakness of the Giants linebacking corps is that they do not have players with the speed needed to keep pace with some of the elite running backs in the NFL. Expect the coaching staff to experiment with a number of players. Jonathon Goff will get the first crack, followed by Gerris Wilkinson, and Phillip Dillard. This position will be in flux well into the regular season.
Giants G Rich Seubert vs Ravens DE Haloti Ngata
If the Giants pre-camp plan had worked out, Rich Seubert would be on the bench and this would be a match-up for David Diehl. Ngata is a one man wrecking crew. He is the anchor to the Ravens defensive line and one of the best 3-4 ends in the game.
The feeling here is that the Giants still believe that they are best suited with Seubert coming off the bench to back-up both guard and center. I believe that newly acquired Shawn Andrews will be given every opportunity to take this job away from Seubert. Expect to see Andrews sometime in the second quarter at this spot and for the rest of the game.
Giants WR Hakeem Nicks versus Ravens CB Chris Carr
The Ravens cornerbacks are the weakest link on the defensive side of the ball. Hakeem Nicks is the Giants primary deep threat and looks ready to take over the starting WR position over Mario Manningham. Nicks has shown great hands as a Giant. What he needs is consistency in running his routes and making the necessary adjustments that come with this level of football.
The Ravens are expected to use a lot of press coverage on the Giants receivers. Being able to shed that coverage quickly will allow Nicks to move into the upper echelon of wide receivers. Expect a few deep passes early in the game as the Giants attempt to exploit the Ravens aggressiveness.
Wins and losses do not matter in the preseason. The Giants primary objective is to come away from this game healthy.
As a fan, I am looking for real improvements in the Giants red zone efficiency on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. The goal should be to hold the Ravens offense to FGs in 75% of possessions inside the 20. A tall order given the recent injuries on the defensive side (Canty and Ross are both out for the game), plus the still unsolved linebacking situation.
On offense, the Giants are looking to reclaim their identity as a physical football team, so expect a lot of running the ball inside the 20 and especially inside the five yard line. I don't expect a lot of success against the Ravens defense if this is the case.
Final score: Ravens 20 - Giants 14