The Ravens and former defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said all the right things over the course of the week, a sign of the genuine respect between the sides.
But that doesn’t mean the competitive juices aren’t flowing ahead of Sunday’s meeting between Baltimore and the New York Giants, who are off to a surprising 4-1 start under new head coach Brian Daboll and Martindale. The Ravens defense is out to show it’s on the right track after a rocky start while Martindale would love nothing more than to stifle Lamar Jackson and one of the highest-scoring offenses in the NFL. There’s no shortage of familiarity between the sides, which adds a psychological coaching layer to this matchup.
“It’s all about the players, putting them in the right positions, and the players are going to be the ones who decide what happens — the result,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “You really just turn on the film and you can kind of see the personality their defense has. It’s aggressive, play hard, and they’re getting the results right now.
“I think you have to be careful to try not to overthink that stuff because you can end up in a room of never-ending mirrors.”
It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Giants meet for the seventh time in the regular season with Baltimore holding a 4-2 advantage and a 2-2 record in the John Harbaugh era. Of course, the Ravens overwhelmed New York in a 34-7 final in Super Bowl XXXV for their first NFL championship.
Below are five predictions for Sunday:
1. Chuck Clark will register his first interception of the season. It’s no secret Clark wanted to be traded after Eric DeCosta signed Marcus Williams to a five-year, $70 million contract and drafted Kyle Hamilton with the 14th overall pick in the spring, but the Ravens didn’t find an offer to their liking and the sides continued their relationship. Months later, Clark remains the foundation of the position with Williams out indefinitely with a dislocated wrist and the 21-year-old Hamilton not yet earning the trust of the coaching staff for a larger role than playing in the dime package. As a result, 2020 seventh-round pick Geno Stone — who’s been tutored by Clark for this kind of moment — is expected to start at free safety. Clark should see plenty of time playing in the box this week, which will allow him to fool Giants quarterback Daniel Jones into turning the ball over.
2. Giants running back Saquon Barkley will eclipse 140 total yards and score a touchdown. The truth falls somewhere in between regarding a Baltimore defense ranking 12th in rushing yards allowed per game and an ugly 26th in both yards per carry (5.0) and run defense efficiency. Yes, the Ravens have used more two-high safety looks with lighter boxes to take away big plays and allow more running room, but allowing 4.8 yards per carry or worse in each of their five games is below the standard, especially as the weather turns. Meanwhile, Barkley is looking more and more like the player drafted second overall in 2018 as he’s averaging 5.5 yards per carry and 106.6 rushing yards per game, and he’s doing that for an offense that doesn’t exactly scare you with its other skill players. The Ravens figure to put more defenders in the box on Sunday, but setting the edge has been an issue, the linebackers are shaky in coverage, and Baltimore has the second-most missed tackles in the league, according to Pro Football Reference. In other words, Barkley has the potential be a major problem as a rusher and as a receiver.
3. J.K. Dobbins will exceed 80 total yards for the first time since his rookie year. In the aftermath of his strongest game of the season at 5.5 yards per carry, it was evident Dobbins wasn’t pleased with his usage and how little he played in the second half of the win over Cincinnati last Sunday night. Asked about still being on a pitch count this week, the 2020 second-round pick reiterated his need to remain patient, but he also mentioned how he’s never had more than 15 carries in an NFL game. You can understand a 23-year-old — playing a position that isn’t exactly valued like it used to be and doesn’t have a long shelf life — struggling to be patient with next season already being his contract year, but the Ravens seem likely to continue exercising some restraint playing on the MetLife Stadium turf this week. Dobbins won’t set a new career high for touches, but he will continue to look more like the pre-injury version of himself, which is great news for both his value and the Ravens over the second half of the season.
4. New York defensive tackles Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams will each record a sack and limit rushes between the tackles. While Tyler Linderbaum has been as good as advertised as a first-round rookie center, Sunday marks a big challenge for him and left guard Ben Powers with the 6-foot-4, 342-pound Lawrence off to an excellent start and the rock-solid Williams expected to return from a knee injury. Jackson is at his best as a passer when he’s able to climb the pocket, but Lawrence and Williams will make that more difficult in addition to disrupting the between-the-tackles ground game. That’s not to say the Giants will shut down the run entirely, but Roman may need to be creative finding ways to get the ball to Dobbins and multipurpose receiver Devin Duvernay in space.
5. Jackson will handle the Giants’ pressure to throw two touchdowns in a 27-16 victory for Baltimore. The star quarterback said there “ain’t no telling” how much the Giants will blitz on Sunday, but Martindale is also aware of how much better Jackson has been against the blitz in 2022. That’s not to suggest New York will call off the blitzing dogs entirely, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see less blitzing and more pre-snap disguise and simulated pressures in hopes of fooling Jackson into throwing a cheap one to a defender dropping into coverage from the line of scrimmage. It certainly doesn’t help that the Ravens will again be without starting wide receiver Rashod Bateman, an absence that’s prompted more underneath passing from Jackson. The Giants are a well-coached and improved team that’s pesky enough to hang around, but the talent disparity — beginning at quarterback — should be evident over 60 minutes and New York also played in London last Sunday, making this a different kind of “short” week for the home team. While the Giants have the superior record entering Week 6, the Ravens have played the tougher schedule and are the better team even if they’ve had some difficulty closing games. That shouldn’t be a problem this week as they improve to 4-2.