EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -The New York Giants have run for 200 yards or more in two straight games. The Baltimore Ravens have allowed just over 65 yards per game on the ground.
So there will be some interesting collisions when the NFL's best rushing offense meets the best rushing defense at the Meadowlands on Sunday. More specifically, when Brandon Jacobs, the Giants' 264-pound battering ram runs into Ray Lewis, who prides himself on giving up nothing.
``The name of football is hit or be hit,'' says Lewis, who at 33 seems to have been reborn as the inside linebacker who was the league's dominant defensive player nearly a decade ago. ``The only way to stop somebody like that is to run into them full speed. I don't care how big his size is.''
Jacobs, who knows Lewis well from a joint sponsorship deal, has the same attitude.
at 5.3 per carry as part of a three-back rotation that also includes Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw.
In their own way, both these teams are surprising.
Yes, the Giants are the defending Super Bowl champs. But few expected them to be 8-1 at this point in the season, two games up in the difficult NFC East. For one thing, their run to the Super Bowl was generally regarded as the product of a good team getting on a hot streak; for another, their division, supposedly led by Dallas, was comprised of four good teams that would knock each other off.
The Ravens, who like New York have won four straight, already have surpassed the five wins they posted last year, and at 6-3 have moved into a tie with Pittsburgh for the lead in the AFC North.
The most important new elements are coach John Harbaugh and rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, who stepped into a job he wasn't supposed to get until next season. Troy Smith, who was supposed to start, got sick after the team's second exhibition game and missed a month. Kyle Boller injured a shoulder, opening the way for Flacco.
``He was running third,'' Harbaugh concedes when asked about his young QB.
four straight victories, the last a 41-13 win at Houston last week.
Having a young quarterback with a bright future is a huge advance for the Ravens, who since arriving in Baltimore from Cleveland in 1996 always have been a team where defense came first. Quarterback was an afterthought, even in 2000, when a team that beat these same Giants in the Super Bowl had a record-setting defense that required Trent Dilfer simply to avoid major errors.
The Giants represent the biggest challenge for the Ravens since they lost 13-10 on Oct. 5 to Tennessee, currently the NFL's only unbeaten team.
Baltimore's four straight wins are over Miami, Oakland, Cleveland and Houston, combined record 13-23. Only the Dolphins, at 5-4, have a winning record. That doesn't keep the Ravens from being confident.
``We've seen some good guys and these guys are definitely good,'' Flacco says of the Giants, who are third in the NFL with 30 sacks. ``We're going to handle it just like we've been handling the other guys all year, and we feel we have the guys to go up against them.''
Eli Manning, the Giants' QB, has come full circle since he played in Baltimore as a rookie.
It was the fourth start of his career and by far the worst: Manning was 4-of-18 for 22 yards and was sacked twice, lost a fumble and threw two interceptions in a 37-14 loss. His passer rating for the game was zero.
d any self-respecting Super Bowl MVP, now established as one of the NFL's better quarterbacks. Different season, different teams, different situation, different stadium.
But he may have a bigger role than he's had recently.
Unlike the Ravens, the Giants have beaten winning teams: Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on the road and Dallas at home, although the Cowboys were without Tony Romo and offered barely token resistance. But Manning has thrown for less than 200 yards in all of them as Jacobs, Ward and Bradshaw have rumbled and/or the defense has dominated.
This week, the Giants will certainly try to establish the run, even against the fierce Ravens front.
But look also for Manning to throw more than he has been throwing against a Baltimore secondary that will be without two injured starters: cornerback Chris McAlister and safety Dawan Landry. That might mean more receptions for Plaxico Burress, who has been drawing double coverage and has only 10 catches in the last four games, leaving Manning to target perceived lesser threats Steve Smith and Kevin Boss.
In the end, expect a physical battle.
Just talk to the main participants.
Asked if the game is a gauge for the Ravens to determine if they belong with a team considered at the top of the NFL's elite, Lewis shrugged it off.
om line. We're the best team in football doing that, so if there's a test, the test is just to uphold what you are already built to do, bottom line.
``The Giants are 8-1, they're playing some great football right now. We're trying to just get over the hump. And, we're doing some good things. So we're going to find out.''

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