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Approach to the Game – Houston Texans at New York Giants, November 5, 2006: October was a good month for the Giants. New York went 4-0 as other NFC East teams sputtered and the Giants moved the top of the division. But it’s a new month with new challenges. And just like we learned with Giants in the month of October, things can change quickly. Dallas is only one game out of first place with a couple of easy opponents on the horizon. The Eagles are regrouping during the bye week and not dead yet. The Giants are not guaranteed of anything. The still have to earn the right to be a playoff team.

If the Giants want to maintain their lead in the NFC East, if they want to seriously challenge for a playoff bye, they need to defeat the Texans on Sunday. This is a game the Giants can ill-afford to lose given the level of competition they will face in the second-half of the schedule. Right now, the focus has to be on getting to 6-2. Nothing else matters.

Giants on Defense: Houston has some very talented offensive football players, most notably at the wide receiver position. They also have a rookie running back who has played well the last couple of weeks. This is a team that has put up almost 800 yards of offense the last two games, including a shocking drubbing of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Make no mistake, the Giants are quite capable of losing to the Texans if they don’t come prepared to play.

Where the Giants have an advantage is they are facing an offensive line that the Giants should tear apart. Also, the Texans have received inconsistent play from the quarterback position. Turnovers – particularly fumbles – have been a problem for QB David Carr.

First things first, as always, the primary key is to stop the run. Rookie halfback Wali Lundy ran for 116 yards on 18 carries (6.4 yards-per-carry) against the Titans and 93 yards on 19 carries (4.9 yards-per-carry) against the tough Jaguars’ defense. New York needs to shut him down so they can put Houston in difficult down-and-distance situations where their pass rushers can cause problems for the Texans’ offensive line. The defense also needs to prevent Houston from keeping the Giants’ offense off the field by controlling the clock and winning the field position game.

Indeed, it’s a bit surprising that Lundy has run so well given the state of the offensive line in front of him. It’s a journeyman group at best both inside and at the critical tackle positions.

The Giants must stuff Lundy so they can focus on the Houston passing game. With the injuries in the Giants’ secondary (CB Sam Madison may not play again this weekend), there are some scary match-up concerns here for the Giants. R.W. McQuarters will face the extremely talented WR Andre Johnson (56 catches). He’s a Pro Bowl talent who can take over a game. Most likely, McQuarters will need help there. Eric Moulds (28 catches) has not lived up to expectations. However, in my opinion, Corey Webster is really going to be on the spot this week as Houston has to have noticed that Webster was beaten on a couple of deep balls last week. The Giants need Webster to do a good job on Moulds. Houston’s third-receiver, Kevin Walter, is a big target. With Frank Walker likely to return, I would expect him to play outside and McQuarters inside when the Giants go to the nickel – however, the Giants may also simply want to keep McQuarters on Johnson. The one thing New York doesn’t want to do is give up some cheap big pass plays – we may see more conservative coverage (i.e., playing off the receivers) this week. Of course, the best pass defense is a strong pass rush. The Giants should present all kinds of problems for the Texans with not only the rush of their down four, but their blitz packages as well. Lundy, after all, is a rookie and rookies usually struggle with their blitz pick-ups. That’s one reason why we probably will see him come out of the game in obvious passing situations (this is where ex-Giant Ron Dayne usually comes in).

The Houston offense will use the tight end and backs in the passing game. While TE Owen Daniels only has 18 receptions, five of them are for touchdowns. FB Jameel Cook has 13 receptions and the halfbacks have caught a total of 27 passes. Linebacker coverage will be another key. Houston may try to exploit rookie WLB Gerris Wilkinson if Brandon Short does not play.

David Carr was benched last week due to his poor performance, particularly turning the football over. Carr has talent, but he has been battered and beaten the last few years and may be pressing now. Get after his ass and hit him hard. The ball may come loose. Carr lost two fumbles last week.

If the Giants dominate the line of scrimmage and prevent any big passing plays, the defense should be able to keep Houston’s offense from doing too much damage. Don’t let the Texans breathe. Take all hope away early.

Giants on Offense: To be frank, the Texans are not a good defensive football team. They have a couple of promising rookies in MLB DeMeco Ryans and weakside DE Mario Williams, the latter being the first player taken in the 2006 NFL Draft. But opposing teams have been able to both run (134.6 yards-per-game) and pass (224.1 yards-per-game) on the Texans.

The Giants’ offensive line did not play very well last week. I look for them to come out with a chip on their shoulder and try to re-exert themselves with their run blocking. Expect a lot of Tiki Barber early, then some play-action shots down the field. Up front, LT Luke Petitgout draws Williams and that will be an interesting battle to keep an eye on. LDE Anthony Weaver is a better run defender than pass rusher, but RT Kareem McKenzie should not have problems with him. Inside, Travis Johnson is a former #1 pick who will mainly face RG Chris Snee. Anthony Maddox shouldn’t provide too many problems for LG David Diehl either.

The linebackers are subpar except for Ryans. He’s an Antonio Pierce-type who has a real bright future in the league. TE Jeremy Shockey and Barber should have a field day in the pass-receiving department if the Giants choose to go that route.

The Giants should also present problems for the Texans’ secondary, though they are decent at corner. Their best player, left corner Dunta Robinson, will face Amani. Robinson is tough, quick, instinctive, and confident, and Toomer may have some problems shaking loose from him. The other corner, right corner Demarcus Faggins, returns from injury. Faggins has good speed, but he’s not a big guy and Plaxico Burress’ size is going to be a problem for him. Let’s just hope that Plax’s back injury doesn’t affect him like it did against Seattle. The safeties are not good in coverage – again, this is where Shockey should shine. Look for a deep strike to Tim Carter.

The Texans have not been good at rushing the passer. Eli should have time to make his throws, and if the ground attack is doing damage, play-action should be particularly deadly. I’d like to the Giants really take control of this game from the get-go. I really think we’ll see a breakout game from Shockey this week.

Giants on Special Teams: The big worry is that David Tyree is “questionable” with an ankle injury. Keep in mind what his absence meant last year against the Vikings at home.

Edell Shepherd is only averaging 23.2 yards per kickoff return and he only recently took over the punt return chores. Chad Stanley is averaging 42.4 yards per punt and PK Kris Brown has only missed one field goal this year.

Obviously, the Giants need Chad Morton to start producing on kickoff returns or they need to consider trying someone like Michael Jennings there.

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Eric Kennedy

Founder and owner of BigBlueInteractive.com, which is now entering its 20th season. Follow Eric on Twitter @BigBlueInteract.

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