Approach to the Game – Denver Broncos at New York Giants, September 15, 2013: Being 0-1 and playing a home game in Week 2 has a familiar feel to it for Giants’ fans. After all, that’s the way the last three seasons have started. But this time the Giants are not facing the lowly St. Louis Rams (2011) or Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2012) in Week 2, but the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos who are coming off a 49-point explosion against the NFL Champions.
The Giants will be 0-2 if they don’t play extremely well on offense, defense, and special teams on Sunday. Given the apparent state of the NFC East, that would not be a catastrophic start, but it would reduce the Giants’ margin of error in the upcoming road games.
My gut tells me the Giants are better than they looked against the Cowboys and the Broncos are not as good as they looked against the Ravens. I expect a close game. Hopefully, the Giants will channel some of those ghosts of the past when the heavily-favored Denver Broncos were upset by the Giants in the Meadowlands in 1998 and 2005, the latter being one of Eli Manning’s early dramatic come-from-behind victories.
Giants on Offense: Brandon Jacobs returns. His presence will likely pump up the fans and his teammates. Given his familiarity with the Giants’ offensive system, unlike most players signed right off of the street, he may play right away. It will be interesting to see how he performs. When the Giants released him in March 2012, he was a declining player. Jacobs barely played last year and missed all of training camp and the preseason this year. Fans should remember a couple of things: (1) despite his size, Brandon has never really been a good short-yardage runner, and (2) due to his lack of initial quickness, he’s the kind of guy who needs a play to be well-blocked in order to get going. Once he picks up a head of steam, he’s dangerous, but the line, tight ends, and fullback need to give him the room to pick up that steam.
For obvious reasons, the focus of much of this past week has been on David Wilson. I am in no way, shape, or form excusing Wilson, but he’s not the only reason why the Giants lost last Sunday night. Wilson wasn’t “careless” with the ball on either of his fumbles. But Dallas made a concentrated effort to rip the ball out of his hands and now he’s a marked man. The only way you overcome that is by holding onto the football. Also, a lot of focus has been on Wilson not blocking DE George Selvie on the goal line. As Joey in VA pointed out in his game review, the bigger issue was Henry Hynoski not chipping on Selvie. If your play design is counting on a 205 pound halfback to block a 270 pound defensive end, then the play is likely to fail.
Where am I going with this? By far, David Wilson remains the best running back on this team. Fans need to get behind him and support him. He has the skillset to change the way a defense plays the Giants. No other back on this roster does. Hopefully the fans won’t turn against Wilson and recognize that we need him.
David Wilson’s issues also overshadowed the fact that Eli Manning, despite mostly playing a stellar game last week, threw three interceptions. Two came on screen passes.
“One was a play action screen and you hope that the defensive end goes one way, while he ended up coming underneath,” said Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride. “We have some inexperienced backs who are just learning how to play the game so they didn’t float out. Should have just thrown it into the ground. The other one, the back just turned in when he should have just stayed where he was. The first one might have gone to the house, but it is what it is. We threw two interceptions on two screens, which is maybe the first time in 25 years in the National Football League. It wasn’t very encouraging. Think of it, when you’re throwing a ball, that’s an integral and very complimentary part of what you’re trying to do. We have to get the screen game going.”
On the first play, the defensive end wasn’t blocked correctly and Wilson may not have been in the correct position, but Manning can’t throw that pass. His second interception simply looked like a bad throw. And on his last pick, the back was in the wrong spot, but Manning also put too much mustard on that throw. My point? The Giants need Eli to play at an “elite” level (there’s that damn word again) and in order to do that, he’s got to cut out the 2-3 brain farts. 450 yards and three touchdowns might not matter if you throw three interceptions.
Up front, Chris Snee needs to play better. David Baas (MCL) may return to the starting lineup at center this week and Kevin Boothe may return to his left guard position. Justin Pugh is developing. But Snee is not playing up to his contract. I also hope Baas isn’t rushing it. He’s another guy who hasn’t played well when hurt (which seems to be all of the time). When you take into account the constant line-up changes on the offensive line, combined with Hynoski’s injury and the subpar blocking at tight end, it’s no wonder the running game is struggling.
Which brings us to something that is going to haunt the Giants all season if they don’t get it fixed: short-yardage. Once again, the Giants couldn’t gain the single yard they needed last week (the play right after Ryan Mundy’s interception). I don’t care if the opposing defense is geared up to stop the run. At any level of football, you have to get one yard when you need it, even if the other team expects the play to be coming. These short-yardage struggles will end drives and lead to punts and field goals instead of touchdowns. You want to be a tough, physical football team and not a bunch of pussies? Then get a yard when you need it.
As for the Broncos, with LB Von Miller (suspension) out, they are a bit of a no-name defense, but use multiple fronts, are fast and quick, and hustle to the football. The four sacks the Broncos had last week are a little misleading as the Broncos had problems in the first half getting pressure on the quarterback. The bigger danger is the confusing fronts leading to pass protection breakdowns. If the Giants play smart up front, Eli should have time to throw the football. The Broncos have an impressive array of blitz packages (Perry Fewell could learn something here). The fact that Denver likes to blitz a lot, we may see Brandon Jacobs having more of an impact as a pass protector.
The Broncos do have a couple of big bodies inside at defensive tackle. Terrance Knighton (335 pounds) and Kevin Vickerson (328 pounds) can be difficult to move out. With Miller out, the best pass rusher now may be reserve DE/LB Shaun Phillips (ex-Chargers). Champ Bailey (foot) may not play, but the Denver has some talent in the secondary. From what I could tell from watching them last weekend, they run very well. Their best defender is probably MLB Wesley Woodyard.
Giants on Defense: Peyton Manning will always get a defense’s attention. But the fact that he’s coming off of one of his best games ever, and an NFL-record tying seven touchdown passes, you know what the focus will be.
The strength of Denver’s offense is obviously their passing game and the temptation must be there for Fewell to play pass first. He did that against Peyton Manning and the Colts in 2010 and his defense got clobbered as a poor rushing team ran up and down the field on New York. Fewell says he won’t do that again.
“There were some things we prepared for and that we did that I wouldn’t do again,” said Fewell. “I felt like, from a planning standpoint, that we planned properly but it was not the best plan we could have come up with. Without trying to reveal a lot of things I learned, I would just say that we’re doing it differently. We’re doing it much differently because there’s some things that when you go into a contest and you have a plan against a guy like that and you come out and make some notes and try to improve on those notes that you made so when you take that test again you got your cheat sheet and you hope you’re much better.”
I don’t know about you, but that didn’t fill me with a lot of confidence. Neither does the idea of Mark Herzlich trying to cover the short-to-intermediate passing threats. I would play this game with only two linebackers on the field, and the linebackers I would use are Keith Rivers and Jacquian Williams. Terrell Thomas would be my third “linebacker.” Yes, that makes you vulnerable to the run (just like 2010), but I think the more linebackers the Giants have on the field on Sunday, the worse it will get for them. To be frank, Jerry Reese did a horrible job at this position in the offseason and it’s going to cost New York all season.
Peyton is going to play those mind games with the defense, and to be honest, I wouldn’t get caught up in that chess match. No Giant defender is going to out-think Peyton. Just line up and play aggressive, physical, and fast. Think too much and that will take away from your game.
“You need poise, you need to make sure that you’re aligned properly, that the communication is good, that you’re ready to go,” said Head Coach Tom Coughlin. “(Peyton is) looking for a weakness, but if you’re lined up properly and ready, then there’s no apparent weakness. It’s going to give you at least a pre-snap opportunity to be in the right spot. If you’re running around like a crazy person and expending all this nervous energy, not poised, not lined up, wondering, ‘What’s the signal,’ then he has the advantage.”
Peyton’s go-to guy is slot-receiver Wes Welker, who fortunately, the Giants are very familiar with. He runs the same option routes that Cruz does that gives defenses trouble. He’s going to get his catches. You have to make sure they are not down the field and you come up and tackle him right away. WR Demaryius Thomas is a Pro Bowler with an excellent combination of size and speed. WR Eric Decker is solid and TE Julius Thomas had a huge game last week with over 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns. In short, Peyton has a tremendous array of talent to throw to. Hopefully, CB Prince Amukamara (concussion) will play as he would likely face Thomas. The big match-up issue will be Welker. Thomas usually plays the slot and will likely be the one covering Welker, but Thomas isn’t the quickest guy in the world and could have problems with Welker’s quickness.
To state the obvious, much will depend on the Giants’ defensive line. Denver’s offensive line is very good, led by Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady and Pro Bowl left guard Zane Beadles. Jason Pierre-Paul/Kiwanuka and Cullen Jenkins will be hard-pressed to make much noise against these two. The Giants need big games out of Justin Tuck and Linval Joseph. A few timely blitzes could help, but blitzing Peyton is risky business. Perhaps just as important as the pass rush, if the Giants do play more defensive backs, there will be a greater burden on the defensive line to stop the run more on its own. If the Giants can make the Broncos more one-dimensional while keeping more defensive backs on the field, then they have a greater shot at causing problems for Peyton.
Giants on Special Teams: Diminutive Trindon Holliday is exceptionally dangerous on both kickoff and punt returns.
“He’s very dangerous,” said Special Teams Coordinator Tom Quinn. “We’ll try to not let him touch the ball, which is easier said than done. We’ve got to be very disciplined in coverage. Every guy has got to do their job. You do have to attack him at some point. You can’t play on your heels. So it’s a huge, huge challenge for both our punt coverage and our kickoff coverage.”
If the Giants expect to give Brandon Jacobs some serious playing time, the Giants may want to consider allowing David Wilson to return kickoffs in this game.