Nov 082013
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (October 10, 2013)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Approach to the Game – Oakland Raiders at New York Giants, November 10, 2013: The strategic goal is obvious: win the next two games and improve the overall record to 4-6 in order to play meaningful back-to-back games against the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins. There is no margin for error. The Giants only have themselves to blame for that. But the fact that they are still in the race, despite their record and last-place standing in the NFC East, should give them faith that someone upstairs is willing to give them a second chance. So why not have some fun and run with it? The pressure is not on the Giants, but the Dallas Cowboys.

The Giants could be primed for a second-half run. Aside obviously from the players on Injured Reserve, the Giants should be getting healthier. They have only played two football games in the last 30 days. New York has been playing better football: cutting down turnovers, running the ball better, and most importantly, playing very good defense.

But the Raiders – who have a better record than the Giants – may not be the pushover some think they are. Oakland’s defense looked terrible against the Eagles, but their defense had actually been an improving strength of the team, despite 10 new starters. And mobile running quarterbacks have given the Giants fits. Last but not least, the Giants’ special teams keep giving up scores. In short, this one is no gimme.

New York Giants on Offense: The Giants have clearly adjusted their offense. They are now emphasizing the short-passing game in combination with a no-nonsense straight-ahead running game in order to cut down the all of those 3rd-and-longs and turnovers that were sabotaging the offense. It’s not pretty. After all, the sum total of the Giants’ offensive output two weeks ago was five field goals. But the Giants’ offense did not turn the ball over and dramatically won the time of possession battle. With the way the defense is playing right now, that may enough. At least in the short term.

The running game has improved. There haven’t been any 20+ yard runs, but the Giants are keeping the chains moving. The power running game would be stronger with a more physical, more talented interior trio on the offensive line, but the Giants have to work with what they have. Now is not the time to keep tinkering with the line. There are only eight games left and there is no time for that. There also aren’t many other options. That will have to come in free agency and the draft next year.

David Wilson (neck) is done for the season and Brandon Jacobs (hamstring/knee) won’ t play in this one. So look for a heavy dose of Peyton Hillis with Andre Brown (who is coming off of temporary IR) getting Michael Cox’s former touches. Ground and pound up front behind FB John Conner. It won’t be easy. The Raiders are actually sixth in the NFL in run defense, allowing less than 95 yards per game.

The Giants might want to mix things up early on with the short passing game, especially to Hillis, Brown, and former Raider TE Brandon Myers. Quick passes to Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks may be in order too. Get a Raider defense that is likely to play the run first, to back up some. That said, the Giants may have some opportunities for some big plays down the field, depending on how the Raiders approach this game. Leading up to the Raiders-Eagles game, the Raiders had featured much more blitzing and attacking up front, and that worked well for them. Against the Eagles, the Raiders did not blitz as much, trying to rely on their down linemen to generate pressure and that backfired. Look for the Raiders to emphasize the blitz more this weekend. If they do, Cruz, Nicks, and Rueben Randle will be left in some one-on-one opportunities. And the Raiders had problems defending passes down the field last week. The key? Can the offensive line, tight ends, and backs give Eli enough time to take some shots down the field?  If they can, we may see the return of some explosive big plays from New York’s offense. CB D.J. Hayden of the Raiders had all kinds of issues against the Eagles when the Raiders were in their nickel package.  (Late note: Hayden has been ruled of the game due to injury).

Much also depends on Nicks and Randle. Victor Cruz is getting double teamed by every opponent. Nicks and Randle have to win their one-on-one matchups.

If the Raiders play it safer, and force the Giants to put together long drives, then New York will have to take what the Raiders give them. Run the football, short passing game – just like against the Vikings and Eagles. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot with penalties and turnovers.

New York Giants on Defense: Critics charge the Giants’ defensive improvement is more due to the inept quarterbacks they have played recently. That remains to be seen, but my gut says it’s more than that. Jon Beason has been a tremendous addition both in terms of on-field productivity and leadership. Will Hill has also had a big impact and Antrel Rolle may be playing his best football as a Giant. Combine that with solid cornerback play, stout defensive tackles, and defensive ends who are finally showing some life, then the recipe may be in place for a strong defensive performance for the remainder of the 2013 season.

But… and it’s a big but… (insert Pee Wee Herman joke here)… the Giants are facing one of those dreaded option-type mobile quarterbacks this week in Terrelle Pryor. In fact, Pryor may be the most dangerous quarterback in the NFL when he decides to run it, as evidenced by his 93-yard touchdown against the Steelers. He’s big, he’s strong, and he’s fast. And he’s rushed for almost 500 yards, averaging almost eight yards per carry. The Giants will have to be much more disciplined against him than they were against Robert Griffin in 2012 and Michael Vick before he strained his hamstring this year. It’s not just the ends maintaining outside leverage, but the defensive tackles can’t vacate their rush lanes. The good news is that with Jon Beason and Jacquian Williams starting, the Giants are more athletic now too at the second level, especially if they continue to use their three-safety package.

In this game, it’s all about stopping the run. RB Darren McFadden (hamstring) may be out, but RB Rashad Jennings is a no-nonsense, between-the-tackles runner who can keep the chains moving. He is also adept at catching the ball out of the backfield.

Up front, the Raider offensive line is a bit of a mess. Like the Giants, there have been a lot of injuries and lot of patchwork with many different lineup combinations. Pryor is not a good passer at this point. The Raiders do have a deep threat in WR Denarious Moore. With issues on the offensive line, look for Pryor to try to get the ball out quickly to the backs and tight ends, then to take off if those targets are covered. If the Giants can stop inside ground game of Jennings and limit Pryor’s damage on the ground, the Giants should have no problem stopping this offense. But to do this, the Giants have to play more disciplined run defense against a mobile quarterback than they have to date.

New York Giants on Special Teams: The Giants’ special teams are responsible for four touchdowns scored against New York already this year. Minus David Wilson, the kickoff return game has not been very productive, and neither has the punt return game. The good news is that both Giants’ kickers to be out of their funks. The Raiders’ returners have struggled this year to produce good field position.

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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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