Approach to the Game – New Orleans Saints at New York Giants, September 19, 2005: My sympathy for the people of New Orleans and the surrounding Gulf Coast does not extend to the playing field.
To put it another way, if the Giants miss the playoffs by one game, I won’t be sitting on my couch in January saying to myself, “Well geez, at least we made the Saints’ fans feel better in Week Two.”
So screw ‘em. And screw this “America’s Team” crap and screw this whole belief that the Hurricane Katrina disaster has made the Saints a stronger team. Bull! The Saints remain what they are: a solid, physical football team that is capable of looking great in one game and then laying down like dogs in another.
If the Giants take care of business and don’t get caught up in feeling sorry for the Saints, they should win. The key in my mind is to keep mistakes at a minimum. The Saints have a long history of shooting themselves in the foot. Let them lose the game. My biggest worry? Call me a paranoid Giants’ fan, but I am very wary of the officials throwing New Orleans a bone or two.
Giants on Offense: Looking at the bigger picture, the Giants need to find a way to keep winning during the early season time period when QB Eli Manning and the newly revamped offensive line will likely be struggling to gain consistency. In a month, Manning and the line will be playing at a much higher level. But expect the mistakes to continue in the short-term. My strategy would be the same as it was for the Cardinals – run, run, run. The Giants have a very good trio of running backs and they should exploit this. By running the football, the Giants will keep the pressure off of Eli, make things easier for the offensive line, and help to diffuse the Saints’ strong pass rush.
The Saints have a solid defensive line, but like the Giants, they are far stronger at defensive end than they are at defensive tackle. To me, this argues for a heavy dose of the inside running game, and potentially a heavier dose of HB Brandon Jacobs. RG Chris Snee should be able to run roughshod over LDT Brian Young, a blue-collar-type, who is on the small side. LG David Diehl will battle RDT Willie Whitehead, a DT/DE ‘tweener who isn’t real big either. The offensive tackles, on the other hand, face stern tests. Darren Howard and Charles Grant are certainly one of the finest set of defensive ends in the league. Both have good size and quickness and both can rush the passer. Much will depend on whether or not RT Kareem McKenzie (ankle) plays, and if he does, how healthy he will be? LT Luke Petitgout once again has to prove that he can deal with a quality opponent on a consistent basis and keep Manning’s blindside protected.
The Saints’ linebacking corps isn’t real strong. The starters – SLB Sedrick Hodge, MLB Courney Watson, and WLB Colby Bockwoldt – are more back-up-types. Hopefully, TE Jeremy Shockey (ankle) will play and not be limited because he could have a big day as a receiver if Manning and the offensive line do their jobs. There is no Karlos Dansby in this group.
The Saints played better pass defense against the Panthers than I expected. Much of that has to do with the fact that they can exert a pass rush with their down four and keep more people in coverage. The Giants will be in trouble if the offensive line can’t protect Manning against the front four. But if they can, Manning should be able to do some damage. As I mentioned, this is a good match-up game for Shockey vis a vis the linebackers. In addition, SS Jay Bellamy is good in run support, but he lacks the athleticism to excel in coverage.
RCB Fakhir Brown is a very average player. If the Saints keep him on Plaxico Burress, Burress should have a big game. The Saints’ best corner, Mike McKenzie, would normally line up over Amani Toomer unless the Saints choose to keep him on Burress. The nickel back situation for New Orleans is not real strong either and the Giants could do some damage in a three-WR set.
So let’s pray that McKenzie and Shockey play (and that they can play at a high level). To me, this game largely comes down to the Giants’ offensive line. The Saints are a physical football team, but if the Giants can match (or exceed) them in physical play, the Giants should be able to put some points on the board.
Giants on Defense: The Cardinals’ ground game was not much of a threat to the Giants. The Saints, on the other hand, have a very good offensive line and a very good running back. This is the first time this season that the Giants’ rush defense will be significantly tested. If the Giants can stuff the run and make the Saints one-dimensional, New York will win this football game. If the Giants can’t stop the run, it could be a long night.
RT Jammal Brown is a rookie, but his a very talented lineman who did a real nice job on DE Julius Peppers last week. The Giants need a big game once again out of DE Michael Strahan, especially in run defense. LT Wayne Gandy is steady. But if DE Osi Umenyiora is indeed going to become a quality player, this is a match-up that he needs to win. The real test comes inside. The Saints have a very solid interior trio. We will find out this week how good (or bad) the Giants’ defensive tackles are. William Joseph will line up most of the time over LG Kendyl Jacox. Kendrick Clancy faces ex-Eagle Jermane Mayberry. OC LeCharles Bentley is one of the better centers in the league. The Giants should see a heavy dose of HB Deuce McAllister, who can run over or around you. This is truly the key for the defense, stopping McAllister.
This will be a tough game for the Giants’ linebackers too. FB Mike Karney is a good blocker. McAllister is a quality pass receiver out of the backfield. TE Ernie Conwell, who is questionable with a jaw injury but who will most likely play, provides a solid security blanket for QB Aaron Brooks. He also is a good blocker. The linebackers obviously not only have to do a good job of making plays against McAllister against the run, but they have to be careful not to let the backs and tight ends make any plays in the passing game.
Brooks is a coach killer. There are times when he looks brilliant and plays like one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Then there are times where he will make such an incredibly stupid play that you can’t believe it. Stop the run and put the game on his shoulders. If he beats you, then so be it. But don’t make it easy on him. Keep him in long distance situations. Sooner or later he will make that killer mistake.
The Saints have some excellent wide receivers. But WR Joe Horn isn’t playing against Ike Charlton and Kato Serwanga this year, like he did in 2003 when he put up big numbers against the Giants. Will Allen matches up very well with Horn. Donte Stallworth has a nice combination of size and athleticism – but so does Curtis Deloatch, if the latter is forced to play for CB Will Peterson (knee). If Peterson does play, the big questions are how healthy and how rusty will he be? CB Corey Webster (quad) is also “questionable”.
Giants on Special Teams: Teams don’t usually return more than one or two kicks/punts for touchdowns in a year. Have the Giants’ already hit their quota? If they have, the Giants can still make things easier for their offense by providing outstanding field position. The Giants’ special teams are starting to build a special aura around them. It seems like players now want to play on specials and play hard (I’m talking about blockers as well as returners). Other teams may start getting a tad nervous when facing the return game and this could lead to some additional opportunities. Teams that tense up tend to make mistakes.
The Giants did a fine job on punt coverage last week, but they gave up an unacceptably long kick return. During his career, Michael Lewis has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and one punt for a touchdown.