The third game of the preseason is taken so much more seriously by coaches, evaluators, and Monday Morning Quarterback’s like you reading this blog. The starters play into the third quarter and the entire tone of the game has a “real” feel to it. Hits are just a little bit harder, offensive lineman stay on blocks a split second later, and coordinators treat their scripts as if these games count. Jobs and starting positions are on the line.
Here are some individual and team battles to watch tomorrow night when the Baltimore Ravens take on the New York Giants:
Ravens Offensive Line vs. Giants Defensive Line: This unit has been spotty for Baltimore so far in the preseason. I think he we all expected Michael Oher to transisiton to the “Blind Side” without a hitch, but he has had a few hiccups. This is the time to resolve those hiccups. But he and his line mates won’t have an easy time. New York was supposed to be led by a dominating defensive line last season, but injuries and ineffectiveness robbed them of their greatest strength. The defensive line is back and better. Whichever side wins this battle will control the game.
Ravens Secondary vs Giants Receivers: Steve Smith, Mario Manningham, Hakeem Nicks, and Kevin Boss. These guys are tremendous as a group, but don’t seem to get the respect around the league they deserve. On the other hand, their lead guy, Smith, is a Wes Welker type of possession receiver. While Nicks has the tools, they don’t yet possess that true game breaking #1 guy. If the Ravens can’t keep these guys contained, it will make fans skeptical that they can stop a Reggie Wayne, Vincent Jackson, or Randy Moss when it counts.
Ray Rice vs. Giants Linebackers: Will we see the full complement of Ray Rice that we are waiting for? If we do, it will be fascinating to see how the Giants play him, especially when he is used as a check down in the passing game. Linebacker is clearly the weak point of the GMEN heading into the season. Some combination of Keith Bulluck (coming off of a torn ACL), Michael Boley (ultra talented but oft injured), and unproven Jonathon Goff and Clint Sintim will be the three starters. Can any of these guys cover Rice in open space? Boley seems like the best bet to do it, but if Cam Cameron can get Rice one on one with any of them, Flacco is going to find a match up he likes.
Joe Flacco vs. Antrel Rolle: It is no secret that Joe like to throw the ball deep and that Cam Cameron likes to design throws that enable Joe to use his cannon for an arm. It is no secret that the Giants had immense difficulty stopping the deep pass last season, often being gashed by streaking receivers down the middle. Enter Antrel Rolle. The former Cardinal corner turned safety was given 40 million to help combat this problem. If a Donte Stallworth gets loose down the middle of the field, look for Rolle to pick him up and let his corner instinct take over. Will Flacco be shy about throwing deep? Will Rolle do what he is being paid to do? If Baltimore can stretch the field early, it will open up the middle for Mason and Boldin to operate effectively.