By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Approach to the Game: I know I’m in the minority but more is going to be made out of the outcome of this game than it should. Win or lose. Don’t get me wrong, it is an important game because (1) the Eagles are still breathing down the Giants’ necks, and (2) this game definitely could have home-field playoff implications. But if the Giants win, it doesn’t change the fact that New York is playoff bound regardless. And it doesn’t change the fact that what ultimately matters more is how the Giants perform in the playoffs. If the Giants lose, they are 5-1. If they have to play a playoff game in a dome in January, I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing.
That all said, I think this is a bad match-up for the Saints. They are lucky they have had two weeks to prepare and the Giants are still a bit beat up.
Giants on Offense: Everyone is talking about the Saints’ offense. I think there is a good chance by the end of the game that people will be talking about the Giants’ offense.
It’s not that the Saints don’t have a good defense. They are much, much improved. Their biggest single offseason acquisition was Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams, someone Tom Coughlin is very familiar with from his days in Tennessee (when Tom was with Jacksonville) and Washington. Williams employs a very aggressive, confusing scheme that can cause problems even for the best offense.
“They mix it up, they play a lot of different looks,” said Eli Manning. “We have to be very well prepared offensively. They have gone into some games and shown some different things. They had a whole new game plan kind of depending on who they were playing. There is going to be some new stuff, I assume, that we haven’t seen yet but we have to be prepared for all the looks they have given so far and be prepared for something new.”
That’s the big worry – being prepared for the unexpected. But Eli Manning doesn’t rattle. Neither does his offensive line.
The Saints are sixth in total defense (yards allowed) and seventh in scoring defense, only allowing 16.5 points per game. That’s very good. The defensive line is very solid with quality ends (RDE Charles Grant and LDE Will Smith) and tackles (DT Sedrick Ellis and former Giant NT Kendrick Clancy). New Yorkers are very familiar with ex-Jet Jonathan Vilma’s game at middle linebacker. And the safeties are play-makers – SS Roman Harper is a guy who the Giants originally were reported to be interested in when they were talking trade about Shockey. FS Darren Sharper already has five interceptions on the season and has a history of picking off Eli.
But Eli Manning plays well in domes. And I’m not sold on the Saints’ secondary, especially at cornerback. Most people expect the Giants to try to run the ball early and play keep away from the Saints’ offense. I wouldn’t do that. I’d play a lot of 3- and 4-wide receivers sets early – especially if Kevin Boss’ ankle is still an issue. I’d come out throwing, make some big plays, and then hit them later with the run. Let’s indeed see who has the best offense!
Giants on Defense: The Saints are first in scoring by a wide margin, averaging 36 points per game. In terms of yards, their offense is third overall – 11th in passing and a shocking 2nd in rushing. The Saints are averaging 166 yards rushing per game.
The Giants match-up well with what the Saints like to do on offense. This is especially true if Michael Boley were playing. And if Kenny Phillips was not lost for the season, forget about it! But with Boley and Phillips out, the Giants may have problems covering our old friend Jeremy Shockey and the backs on underneath routes. Without Boley, the Giants don’t have a lot of range or speed at linebacker unless the Giants intend to play Bryan Kehl or Gerris Wilkinson more instead of Chase Blackburn. If Phillips were around, it would less of an issue, but he’s not. But don’t worry. If the Giants lose this game and the defense struggles, it will be different the next time when Boley plays.
So why do I think this is a bad match-up for the Saints? The Giants are built to stop finesse passing offenses. With their rush and their corners, the Giants can pressure Drew Brees while at the same time locking down on their talented outside receivers (Marques Coltson and Devery Henderson). If the Saints add more receivers to the mix, the Giants can simply bring in Kevin Dockery and Bruce Johnson.
The real key – and the Giants clearly know this based on their comments in the press this week – is stopping the run. The Saints are killing teams with their running game. And it’s not one guy as Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, and Mike Bell have all gotten into the act. The Giants have to stop the run first and foremost. Now that said, knowing Sean Payton and how he views match-ups, I have to think he is coming out throwing against THIS defense and specifically at the linebackers. If I’m the Giants, I don’t blitz all that much. For one, Brees can get rid of the ball quickly and secondly, I don’t want to leave a lot of open ground over the middle of the defense for the tight ends and backs to exploit. The Giants have to get credible performances out of their linebackers both against the pass and the run in this game. The stress will be on them.
A lot of the Saints’ offensive success the last couple of years has been due to their dramatically improved play on the offensive line. But their starting left tackle is gone for the season. This would be a good time for Osi Umenyiora to have his breakout game.
I think the Giants have to go into this game assuming Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas will largely handle their opponents. If they can’t, then this could get ugly. But the Giants should be confident here. That said, we’re about to see how much of a concern the safety position is for the Giants with Kenny Phillips gone.
Giants on Special Teams: Reggie Bush is the punt returner and WR Courtney Roby the kickoff returner. The Giants’ punt and kick coverage units have been performing at a high level in recent weeks.
The hope here is that Domenik Hixon replaces Sinorice Moss on both punt and kickoff returns. Danny Ware could possibly be a factor on kickoff returns too, but his elbow still isn’t 100 percent. The Giants have been missing the big play in the return game. Hixon could prove to be the difference in this game.