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Approach to the Game – New York Giants at New England Patriots, November 6, 2011: My brain says this Giants’ team is still an 8-8 team because it doesn’t play good defense or run the football very well.

My heart says screw it!  The Giants are 5-2 with nine games to play and a two-game lead in the NFC East.  It’s all in front of this team.  Don’t worry about the schedule.  Maybe better competition will bring the best out of this team.  Take it one game at a time and let’s see how the chips fall.

The worrier in me says the Patriots don’t lose at home in the regular season and the Patriots are pissed off because they just lost a big game in Pittsburgh.

The optimist in me says the Patriots are due to lose at home in the regular season and have recently lost at home in the playoffs.  The Patriots have question marks on defense.  And the Giants’ pass rush could present problems for the Patriots since the Patriots are a pass-oriented football team.

For kicks, I went back and looked at my old Super Bowl XLII game preview.  Much of what I said there is still appropriate.  The Giants do not have to play a perfect game to beat the Patriots.  Don’t play tight! Play smart, physical football.  Win the one-on-one match-ups.  Win the turnover battle.  This game should be close in the 4th quarter and the team that plays better late will win. It may come down to who has the football last – Eli Manning or Tom Brady.

Giants on Offense: New England is dead last in the NFL in defense in terms of yards allowed, but they are middle of the pack in scoring defense (17th).  There biggest problem has been defending the pass (32nd in the NFL).  They have been much better against the run (9th).

Meanwhile, the Giants are 4th offensively in passing and 30th in rushing.  Assuming you want to play a top opponent like the Patriots using a strategy that employs what you do best, what do you think the game plan should be?

The Steelers dominated time of possession last week against the Patriots and kept the ball away out of Tom Brady’s hands, but they did not do it with the running game.  They did it with the pass.  Even though the Patriots have probably focused all week on tightening up that aspect of their game, the Giants most likely need to employ the same strategy.  I know Tom Coughlin likes to be balanced and Hakeem Nicks is ailing and may not play, but the Giants are not running the football well.  The fullback play has been subpar, the tight end blocking inconsistent, guys like Chris Snee are having an off year, and now David Baas (knee) and Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) are ailing.  (Late Note: Bradshaw has a fractured foot and will not play). Can Eli Manning keep up this pace?  All quarterbacks are due stinkers (see Tom Brady against Dallas).  But you go with your best and hope for the best.  And right now, Eli Manning is the best player on the Giants and the primary reason this team is 5-2.  Put the ball in his hands.

In this game, I would like Kevin Gilbride to dust off his old run-and-shoot playbook and pass, pass, pass.  Keep the chains moving.  Guys like Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham, and Jake Ballard are really going to have to play well.  And the blockers have to give Eli time.  I think they can do it.  I think they beat the Patriots in a shoot-out.  I’d be more optimistic if I knew Nicks was playing and playing near 100 percent, but you have to play with what you have.  Next man up!

Giants on Defense: The Patriots are still a finesse passing team.  They don’t completely ignore the run, but it’s the passing game that makes their offense go (and which opens up the running game for them).

The great news for the Giants is that they can rush the passer with the best of them and they have the fantastic luxury of being able to do it without blitzing.  The bad news for the Giants is – despite the pass rush – they still have all kinds of issues in pass coverage.  Some of this is due to issues at linebacker (inexperience of Jacquian Williams and/or Greg Jones) and talent (Mathias Kiwanuka better moving forward than backwards).  Some of it has to do with injuries at cornerback (Terrell Thomas, Prince Amukamara).  Just when the Giants appeared to at least partially solve their nickel problems with the breakout game from Justin Tryon, the injury Gods once again taunt us Giants fans by breaking his arm.  So now the Giants are back where they started…Antrel Rolle being miscast as a nickel back and Deon Grant having to play more of a traditional safety spot.  What about Amukamara?  He’s still taking reps with the scout team, not the regular defense. For better or worse, the Giants need to think about giving Michael Coe more playing time.

I think much of the Patriots’ game plan is pretty obvious.  Short drops by Brady, get rid of the ball quickly in the short- to-intermediate range.  Try to expose the Giants undercoverage (usually the linebackers and safeties) in coverage.  I would also very much look out for screens, draw plays, and other misdirection.  Belichick and Brady will want to slow down that pass rush.  The big question mark is how much more – if at all – will the Patriots try to use their running game?  Will the Patriots try to cross the Giants up like the Eagles have done at times by running more than they usually do?

Can the Giants cover these shorter routes?  Can they deal with Wes Welker out of the slot?  Can they also cover the tight ends and backs?  In my mind, these are the key defensive questions of the game for the Giants.  To limit the damage, the Giants have to get a great game out of Michael Boley, Jacquian Williams (I expect to see him more this week because the Pats are more a passing team), Kenny Phillips, and Antrel Rolle.

Giants on Special Teams: Special teams will be huge in this game.  Giants need to keep the Patriots from getting great field position while at the same time helping their own offense and defense with respect to field position.  Lawrence Tynes may be called upon to hit a big field goal.

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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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