By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Approach to the Game: Had the Giants lost to the Bears last Sunday night, it would not have been the end of their season, but it would have put the team in a difficult hole. Now at 2-2 and tied for first place in mediocre NFC East, the Giants have a little bit of wiggle room again. I get the sense that it is going to be a roller coaster ride for the Giants, Cowboys, and Eagles in the division, with the Redskins playing the role of spoiler. I think that the teams in the NFC East, and in most of the NFC, will hover around .500 for much of the season. At times, after a win or two, optimism will run high for a team and its fans. Then after a loss or two, there will be doom and gloom.
As I’ve said in my previous game previews, I felt the Giants would start off in an inconsistent fashion and then start to gain some consistency as the OL rounded into form and the defensive players got more familiar with Perry Fewell. I still stand by that belief although the injury to Shaun O’Hara is disconcerting and has hurt cohesion. If I’m right, then the Giants may get on a bit of a role here with a couple of more wins in the next two weeks.
The Giants are fortunately 2-0 in the NFC, but they are also 0-2 against the AFC South. They play yet another AFC South opponent on Sunday in the Houston Texans. The Texans have a very good and balanced offense. Their defense is not as impressive although they do have some very good defensive players. Many will expect the Giants to lose this game, but I think this is a game the Giants can win. Much depends on Texans, a historically inconsistent team. But I look for the Giants offense to start looking more in sync this week, especially the passing game.
Giants on Special Teams: Most fans thought the special teams were a disaster against the Bears, but I saw real improvement outside of Matt Dodge. The missed 38-yard field goal was on Dodge, not Lawrence Tynes, as Dodge didn’t field the snap cleanly and misplaced the ball. Most importantly, the punt and kickoff coverage was very much improved against an exceptional return team. Darius Reynaud was more productive on kick returns, but the blocking for him on punt returns remains extremely disappointing.
Which brings us to Dodge. The Giants clearly love the kid’s talent. But he also is clearly struggling mentally. Perhaps going on the road will help him again, like it did in Indianapolis.
Giants on Offense: The Giants put up some very impressive rushing numbers last week against a stingy Bears’ defense, but that was a bit misleading as Ahmad Bradshaw was often able to make good yardage on plays that were not blocked particularly well. Houston is only giving up 70 yards per game on the ground, but that is also a bit misleading given who the Texans have played and the fact that teams have tended to attack them more through the air. I do think the Giants can run on Houston, maintaining the balance that Tom Coughlin prefers.
But it’s Houston’s pass defense that is really suspect. The Texans are allowing almost 340 yards per game through the air. We’ve seen big games from Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham this year, but I get the sense that Steve Smith is due for a big performance.
The real key in his game is to limit the damage DE Mario Williams can do. Williams is one of the very best defensive ends in the game and the Giants’ tackles have struggled this year with the elite ends. LT David Diehl will be very much on the spot again. The Texans also have a very solid linebacking corps that will receive reinforcements as Brian Cushing is now back after his 4-game League suspension due to steroid use. DeMarco Ryans is one of the best middle linebackers in the game.
The Houston secondary is not good. As long as the Giants can protect Manning and the receivers stop dropping the football, the Giants really should be able to do some significant damage in the passing game.
Giants on Defense: Here is where the real challenge is this week. Houston has a very well-balanced offense. They run the ball very well, employing the same type of zone-blocking schemes that the Denver Broncos made so famous. Personally, I consider the type of run-blocking tactics a bit dirty, but there is no questioning their effectiveness.
“When you play a team like this, they like to cut block you and that type of thing and they get your hands down, so they take your mind off of ‘I’ve got to stay in this gap or I’ve got to do this,’ because (the defensive players are) trying to protect themselves a lot. So, we’ve just got to get over that mental barrier of, ‘Hey, it’s going to happen man, but we’ve got to be where we need to be though.’”
What Fewell is basically saying is that Texans will go for the knees and that defensive players often get so distracted by this that they are not as disciplined in their gap control as they should be. That’s the key to defending a zone-blocking scheme where the running back will crease through the hole if a gap is left exposed.
The Texans’ offensive line are more technicians than maulers, relying on walling off defenders more than moving them out. This favors the Giants as long as they play smart and play with intensity. The one physical bulldozer they have to watch out for is FB Vonta Leach. He’s a monster lead blocker. The linebackers are going to have to be very physical with him or they will get mauled. With Keith Bulluck (toe) out, Clint Sintim will see more time in a key game than he has seen to date in his young career. He needs to come through. The Giants need good games from all of the defensive linemen up front against the run, both ends and tackles.
The key is to stop the run. Because Houston will kill you with its play-action passing. Obviously that won’t be as effective if the Texans can’t run the ball. That’s easier said than done, however, as the Texans are #1 in rushing in the NFL, averaging 172 yards per game. HB Arian Foster has already rushed for an amazing 537 rushing yards. Steve Slaton and ex-Giant Derrick Ward can hurt you too.
When the Texans pass, watch out of play action. If the idiots the Giants had playing safety last year were still on the team, this would be a huge problem. Still, Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips, and Deon Grant need to play with great discipline and not come up to support the run too fast.
The Texans have very good size at wide receiver, but the Giants have a pretty big group of defensive backs to match-up. The real key obviously is limiting the damage All-World Andre Johnson does. He’s been hampered by an ankle injury but he is likely to play this weekend. The Giants will need to put two men on him if they can.
Don’t expect the Giants to rush the passer like they did last week. Their first responsibility this week is gap control in defending the run. But obviously, if the Giants can generate good pass pressure, it will make life easier for the linebackers and defensive backs in coverage.
Prediction: The Giants out-rush the #1 rushing team in the NFL and win their second in a row. Big game for WR Steve Smith.