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Ravens don't fear Giants' defensive line

Big Blue’s front seven has been in a season-long slump.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh doesn’t necessarily fear the Giants’ once-vaunted defense, and for probably good reason. Big Blue’s front seven has been in a season-long slump.

When Harbaugh was asked if he fears the Giants’ defense during his weekly conference call with the New York media, the fiery head coach had to catch himself after his first response.

“I wouldn’t use that word,” Harbaugh said, though he quickly back-peddled. “We respect them. We think they’re very good. They’ve got a great front, and I think their secondary is playing exceptionally well.”

The Giants’ defensive front, once the most feared in the league, has slipped in production this season.

Big Blue has yielded a whopping 45 big runs this season, which the NFL quantifies as 10 yards or more — with the longest being a 48-yard jaunt by the Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray in the season opener. The Giants’ defense has also allowed an alarming 51 big pass plays, which is 20 yards or more — with the highest being a 62-yard pass play by Browns’ rookies Brandon Weeden to Josh Gordon.

New York’s once-feared pass rush has been by far the biggest failure, as opposing quarterbacks are staying clean for the most part. Matt Ryan wasn’t sacked last week in the Falcons’ 34-0 rout, and even in their 52-27 win over the Saints the previous week, New Orleans’ quarterback Drew Brees was only sacked once.

Most team’s defensive game plans start up front, which explains why the Giants have sputtered at times. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul leads the team with 6.5 sacks, but that’s a far cry from his 2011 total of 16.5 when he took the league by storm. Fellow starting defensive end Justin Tuck only has three sacks, and hasn’t forced a fumble or recovered one in three seasons. Osi Umenyiora, whose main job is to be a pass-rush specialist, has underwhelmed as well. He’s tallied only six sacks — down from the nine he had last season.

The identity of last season’s Super Bowl-winning team was the play of its franchise quarterback, Eli Manning. But right behind Manning in importance was the pass rush. And while both performances have been down this season, Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin is hoping they’ll right the ship by Sunday.

Not even Coughlin, though, could say for certainty if he knows which team will show up in Baltimore.

“It would be easy for me to say I do, but the reality of it is we haven’t been able to play [well enough] to substantiate what I would say is the personality of this team,” Coughlin said. “So I’m definitely counting on the veterans to go ahead and prove this and do it with consistency. Last year we did it over a six-game run and [we’re] exactly in that situation again.”

Coughlin isn’t a man of excuses, but even he admitted the disruption in playing time, specifically on the front seven with injuries to the defensive line and linebackers, messes with cohesion.

“Naturally, you take a starter out of the game and you’re going to notice he’s not in the game,” said Coughlin. “Your cohesiveness is interrupted. We like [the reserves], but anytime you take a starter out of the game it’s going to be a factor.”

Ravens running back Ray Rice is a native of the tri-state area and played college ball at Rutgers, so he’s well aware of the Giants’ defensive reputation. So when asked whether Big Blue’s defense is slumping or simply on the decline, he never took the bait.

“They’re still a very physical bunch, [and] obviously, they have premier pass rushers, smart linebackers and physical safeties,” Rice said. “When that team puts it all together, there’s a reason as to why they’re Super Bowl champs. You don’t just become the Super Bowl champs by surprise or by accident. … That’s a really good football team over there.”

Big Blue notes

»Running back Ahmad Bradshaw (knee) didn’t participate in practice, and Coughlin wouldn’t commit as to whether the banged-up back would dress for Thursday’s practice.

» Offensive linemen David Baas (hip/shoulder) and Chris Snee (hip), wideout Hakeem Nicks (knee) and Tuck (shoulder) also didn’t practice.

»The Giants did receive some good news on the injury front. Cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring), defensive tackle Chris Canty (neck) and safeties Kenny Phillips (knee) and Tyler Sash (hamstring) were able to practice — albeit on a limited basis.

Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.

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