By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Approach to the Game: It’s been two weeks since my last preview and the NFC East landscape has changed quite a bit in that short timeframe. With losses to the Giants and Jaguars, combined with the injury to QB Tony Romo, Dallas is effectively out of the playoff hunt. The aging, offensively-challenged Redskins have a full-blown quarterback controversy on their hands and finally appear ready to show their true colors and remove themselves from the division hunt as well. With nine regular-season games to go, the Philadelphia Eagles seem to be the Giants’ sole challenger for the division title.
After a 1-2 start, things are breaking right for the Giants. The four-game winning streak has given them a 1-game advantage over the Eagles. And their next two games appear to be very winnable contests. It’s not hard to envision the Giants being 7-2 in two weeks, heading into their showdown with the Eagles. On top of that, the offense and defense units are on the upswing.
That brings us to the Seahawks, a team that more than any other has a Jekyll and Hyde attribute when it comes to playing games at home versus playing them on the road. The Seahawks are 3-0 at home, beating teams on average by more than two touchdowns per game. In the meantime, they have been dreadful on the road. Normally, this would be a huge red flag for a Giants’ team that has not won in Seattle since 1981.
However, the Seahawks are really beat up. Not only is their starting quarterback not going to play, but Seattle has major injury issues on both the offensive and defensive lines. Since the Giants are strong on both lines, this game has mismatch written all over it as long as the Giants play smart and intense football.
Giants on Special Teams: This is the one area where the Seahawks have a huge advantage, and thus one of the few ways the Seahawks could pull off the upset. Former Jet returner Leon Washington is one of the best in the business. Washington is averaging 44.5 yards per kick return at home. He has also scored two touchdowns on kickoffs. If those facts don’t catch your attention, nothing will. Obviously, quality kickoffs by Lawrence Tynes, combined with strong kickoff coverage, are one of the huge keys in this game.
With WR/punt returner Golden Tate (ankle) likely out, Washington will also return punts. The Giants had a major breakdown on punt coverage against the Cowboys that resulted in a 93-yard touchdown return.
Tom Coughlin indicated earlier this week that Darius Reynaud is still the main return man for the Giants. But with the signing of Will Blackmon during the bye, it will be interesting to see if Blackmon is (1) activated, and (2) inserted into the lineup if the return game continues to struggle on Sunday. The lack of quality return yardage is hurting the Giants’ offense.
When one team is clearly mismatched, that’s when you really need to watch out for trick plays on offense and special teams. The Giants must be very wary of fake punts and field goals.
Giants on Defense: Everyone wants to focus on the absence of Matt Hasselbeck (concussion), but an equally big advantage the Giants have is the injury situation on the Seahawks’ offensive line. The left side of their line is a mess and guys like Osi Umenyiora and Chris Canty have to be licking their chops.
Much depends on if first-rounder LT Russell Okung (ankle) plays. Seahawks’ Head Coach Pete Carroll indicated earlier in the week that he expected Okung to play on Sunday, but Okung did not practice on Wednesday and Thursday. The problem for Seattle is that if he can’t go, his back-up, Tyler Polumbus (knee), might not play either. That would leave Chester Pitts, a natural guard who hasn’t played tackle in five years, having to play over Umenyiora. Making matter worse for Seattle, LG Ben Hamilton was placed on Injured Reserve. His back-up is Pitts. If Pitts has to play at tackle, then Mike Gibson will have to start at left guard. Center Chris Spencer (neck) has been battling an injury too, but is expected to play. The right side of the line is more settled with ex-Eagle RG Stacy Andrews and RT Sean Locklear.
These offensive line issues do not bode well for a Seattle team that has struggled to run (26th in rushing) and pass (25th in passing) the football. Especially when you consider that the strength of the Giants’ defense is their defensive line. But intensity matters. The Giants, coming off a bye week, need to quickly shake off whatever rust they might have. Don’t let a lethargic ground game get going. Make the Seahawks one dimensional and get after the inexperienced quarterback.
This brings us to QB Charlie Whitehurst, who will be making his first NFL start. Whitehurst is a big, pocket quarterback with a strong arm. But he has struggled with his accuracy at times. The Giants should mix up their coverages quite a bit in order to confuse Whitehurst. Getting good pressure on him should also help force some mistakes. But be a bit wary. New quarterbacks who don’t have much of a track record in the NFL sometimes cause problems for other teams early in their careers until other teams have “a book” on their strengths and weaknesses. Look no farther than the current Carolina quarterback who started his NFL career 4-1, but who is now struggling. The Giants should not be afraid of Whitehurst, but they better not take him lightly either. He has talent.
Mike Williams is the most productive wide receiver (33 catches) is also battling a knee injury. Their starting fullback, Michael Robinson, has a hamstring injury. The Giants need to watch the tight ends in this game, especially John Carlson.
Like special teams, be careful of the unexpected. This is not a fair fight given the injuries to Seahawk players. Watch out for the trick play such as a halfback pass or a flea flicker.
Giants on Offense: The Seahawks are not hurting as badly on defense, but their defensive line is really banged up. Defensive end Red Bryant was placed on IR and Kentwan Balmer, a first-round bust in San Francisco, is expected to start in his place. DT Colin Cole, the Seahawks’ best inside run defender, is out with an ankle injury. Junior Siavii will start in his place. The other starting defensive tackle, Brandon Mebane, is expected to play despite battling a calf injury. He missed the previous three games. Mebane can be disruptive as well as can DE/LB hybrid Chris Clemons (5.5 sacks).
These injuries can’t help a team that is 26th in defense (10th against the run, 29th against the pass). But the Seahawks do a decent job in preventing points (11th in scoring defense).
The odd thing about the terrible pass defense figures is that Seattle does have some very good talent in the secondary. FS Earl Thomas may win defensive rookie of the year honors. CB Marcus Trufant is a former Pro Bowler. The Seahawks also get CB Kelly Jennings back from a hamstring injury this week. Seattle has only given up 8 touchdown passes.
It will be interesting to see how the Seahawks play the Giants. I would expect a lot of blitzing and maybe even some craziness in the form unusual defensive packages (i.e., perhaps some of that amoeba defense we saw in the NFL last season). Because Seattle could be overmatched up front, the Seahawks may try to confuse New York with unusual looks to get them in long yardage situations and then come after Eli Manning with the hopes of creating turnovers. In particular, they will try to take advantage of Adam Koets’ inexperience at center. Look for delayed dogs and stunts up the gut.
This is a game where Eli may really earn his paycheck in terms of reading what the defense is doing and reacting with audibles at the line of scrimmage. Take what the defense offers. Run the football when it makes sense; pass it when it makes sense. Most importantly, don’t get sloppy with the football. Seattle’s best hope is turnovers.
Prediction: If Seattle were healthy, I think the Giants would have been primed for a loss here. Teams coming off the bye are often lethargic (see the Jets). In addition, the Giants are much improved, but they are still not playing their best football. Issues on special teams, and averaging three turnovers a game, are areas that need to be cleaned up. It’s also unfortunate that Shaun O’Hara (foot) is out again at a time when the offensive line was coming on. But as long as the Giants don’t get annihilated on special teams and dramatically lose the turnover battle, they should win on Sunday. Just be careful of the trick plays!
Even if the Giants win on Sunday, I expect a bitchfest in The Corner Forum because “it wasn’t pretty enough” given Seattle’s injury issues.