Saquon Barkley was injured in 2020, the last time the Ravens faced the Giants.
Two years later, Barkley is back. The Ravens defense will face a major test from Barkley, the elusive running back who leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage (676) heading into Sunday's game against Baltimore.
Barkley is second in the league in rushing (533 yards) and has caught 18 passes for 143 yards, and his ability to make razor-sharp cuts in the open field has returned.
The Ravens' defense took a step in the right direction during their 19-17 victory over the Bengals, but Cincinnati's struggling run game came to life in the second half and finished with 101 yards on 21 carries. Joe Mixon (14 carries, 78 yards) had some effective runs, and he's not having a season like Barkley. He's capable of making a big play at any time, and he's a major reason why the Giants (4-1) are one of the NFL's biggest early-season surprises. A huge part of Baltimore's game plan will focus on keeping Barkley from doing major damage.
"Strength, balance, change of direction; he's just a really tough guy to tackle," Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday of Barkley. "Good out of the backfield, catches passes. Great all-around running back [and] a heart and soul of their offense.
"But it's just not him. (Quarterback) Daniel Jones is playing really well, and he's a tough tackle. He's been making plays out of the pocket that I didn't really expect to see, and he's really made a big difference for them – throwing and running around. [Their] offensive line is playing well – Ben Bredeson, who was here, he's doing a nice job for them. So, they're doing a good job on offense, obviously, and winning games."
Barkley's comeback has been an inspiration for Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins, who missed last season with a serious injury and reached out to Barkley during his rehab. Dobbins has looked stronger every week and rushed for 44 yards on eight carries in his third game back since his injury. Barkley and Dobbins have communicated regularly and feed off each other's success.
"It's great to see him out there doing that," Dobbins said last month. "I always knew he could bounce back. He's been doubted by a lot of people. … Guys like us, the work ethic is amazing. He's not going to be stopped. I feel like I can do that, too. That's what I plan on doing."
Under first-year head coach Brian Daboll, the Giants have been getting the ball to Barkley in creative ways. During Sunday's 27-22 comeback victory over the Packers in London, two of Barkley's biggest plays came when he lined up at quarterback in a Wildcat formation – a 40-yard scamper that set up New York's first touchdown, and a 2-yard touchdown run that broke at 20-20 tie.
Baltimore's tackling will need to be on point against Barkley. Every opponent game plans to slow down Barkley, but the Giants have been superb at making adjustments that create running lanes for Barkley, when he's not creating his own.
"My biggest thing that I take pride in is how we're able to adapt and adjust," Barkley told reporters last week. "Every week is something new. We come in with a game plan, a team comes in with a little something different to try to stop us. It's not always the first drive … at the end of the game we figure it out."
Barkley has rushed for at least 70 yards in every game this season, so containing him is going to take a group effort. The Ravens (3-2) haven't won two straight games this year and would love to build momentum, but the defense knows it can't relax following Sunday's win. Inside linebacker Patrick Queen had his best game of the season against Cincinnati with seven tackles and an interception, but he didn't plan to celebrate the victory for long.
"Once we watch the film, the relief is gone," Queen said. "Now it's back to work."