Sep 062014
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (August 16, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Detroit Lions, September 8, 2014

THE STORYLINE:
The New York Giants injury-riddled offensive line limps on to Ford Field in Detroit and prepares to face the vaunted Lion defensive front. As many questions surrounding the receivers, quarterback Eli Manning and tight end position, more than double are placed around the offensive line.

Is Will Beatty 100 percent? Is Weston Richburg ready to be a starter? Who starts at right guard? Can Geoff Schwartz be 100 percent again this year? Will Justin Pugh avoid a sophomore slump? The list goes on and on.

The simple fact remains: It doesn’t matter when Odell Beckham returns, or how quickly Manning picks up the West Coast scheme. If the Giants offensive line isn’t vastly improved from a year ago, it’ll more of the same for New York.

FOUR DOWNS:
First Down
Can John Jerry, J.D. Walton and Weston Richburg contain Ndamukong Suh?
It won’t take long for the Giants offensive line to get their first test. Monday night, the team will face one of the top defensive tackles in the NFL in Suh. The former first-round picks brings a rare combination of size, speed and strength to the interior of the Lions defensive line and is a handful for any all-pro guard. Jerry, Walton and Richburg will have their hands full.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Second Down
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie vs Calvin Johnson
The two have matched up several times before in their careers, and Rodgers-Cromartie may be one of the few corners in the NFL who is athletically gifted enough to stick with a healthy Megatron one-on-one. Last year, the Giants contained Johnson, albeit while the receiver was injured. Lions quarterback Matt Stafford will most definitely take a few shots in Johnson’s direction. Who wins the jump ball when it’s at its highest point?

Third Down
Reggie Bush
There’s been a lot of talk surrounding Calvin Johnson versus the Giants secondary, but what may be the biggest difference maker in Monday’s game is if the Giants can contain Reggie Bush, both as a runner and receiver. The fact is, if the Giants give up 100 yards and a touchdown to Johnson, the team can still win the game. If Bush goes off against the Giants nickel defense which is so focused on stopping the pass? It could be a very, very long night. Bush is a shifty player who has shown that he’s much more than a third down back since leaving New Orleans. The Giants need to keep him from getting to the second level.

Fourth Down
Walter Thurmond III vs Golden Tate
Two of the few subtractions from last year’s Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks team will match up Monday night in Thurmond and Tate. Thurmond is the Giants nickel corner, Tate the Lions slot receiver. Thurmond seemed excited to face his former teammate after the two went at it every day in practice a year ago. It’ll be a nice battle within the battle to watch.

PLAYER TO WATCH:
Connor Hughes – Eli Manning
It seems like the easy option to take, but I’ll have both of my eyes fixed squarely on Eli Manning Monday night. I’ve been critical of the signal caller this year with how uncomfortable he’s looked in the West Coast scheme this year. The excused have been dropped by the Giants of “We aren’t game planning for the preseason” and “It’s just the preseason” and “We’ll be ready for Detroit.” Well, it’s Detroit, are the Giants ready?

Manning is one of the smartest quarterbacks in the NFL, but when he has been the most successful is when he’s been allowed to cock back and throw the ball deep. That’s not really this offense anymore. Can Eli make it work in a West Coast offense?

Then again, I digress. If the offensive line doesn’t get it going, it doesn’t matter if Joe Montana, Steve Young, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady lined up behind center. Manning needs time to throw, no matter the scheme. Can the depleted line give him that?

Rueben Randle, New York Giants (October 21, 2013)

Rueben Randle Scores from 24 Yards Out – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Eric Kennedy – Any Other Receiver Besides Victor Cruz
While I share Connor’s concern about the offensive line, particularly if there is another injury, my greater fear right now is Eli will have no other receiver who he trusts to run the right route, get open, and catch the football. And very much related to this, is there a wide receiver or tight end on this team who really concerns the other team? If I’m Detroit or any other team, I load up against the run, and double Victor Cruz. I dare Rueben Randle, Jerrel Jernigan, and Larry Donnell/Daniel Fells to beat me. If Rueben Randle doesn’t begin to CONSISTENTLY make other teams pay for focusing too much attention on Cruz, then the Giants’ passing offense will be in deep trouble. Manning will get blamed, but he has to have guys to throw the football to.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • Jon Beason (foot)
  • Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring)
  • James Brewer (back)
  • Charles Brown (shoulder)
  • Markus Kuhn (ankle)
  • Brandon Mosley (back)

FROM THE COACHES MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin (NYG) – The Detroit Lions had a good preseason; they were 3-1, they played three very good, close games, which is good. Again, indicating the depth is there. They have a new coach, Jim Caldwell, at the helm in Detroit and with new coaches, new coordinators, we have spent a lot of time trying to study and predict, but here we go. So we’re excited about it.

Jim Caldwell (DET) on what he sees in Eli Manning – What I see is a very talented guy who certainly has unique abilities to move his team and score, which no matter what the stats might say, this guy is dangerous, and I think he has proven that over time. You don’t win two Super Bowls without having an unusual skill set. I happen to know a bit about his family. I know one thing, and that is you better prepare for him just like you would anybody else that is as talented as him. He can hurt you.

Mathias Kiwanuka, New York Giants (December 22, 2013)

Mathias Kiwanuka – © USA TODAY Sports Images

THE FINAL WORD:
Connor Hughes – From watching the team every day in practice for the last two months, there truly is little optimism surrounding the squad. I am not saying that it’s impossible to turn this thing around, but just going on what I’ve seen thus far.

If the offense takes even miniature strides, I could see them being a 10-6, 11-5 team, because the defense is that good. Completely ignoring the present lack-of playmakers, questions at the tight end position and Manning’s early struggles in the West Coast offense, my biggest red flag is the offensive line.

The Giants did do their best to fix up the “broken” unit that took the field for 16 games last year, but I’m not sold on if the changes made are truly going to make that big of a difference. Are the Giants better up front than a year ago? Absolutely. Is it good enough? I just don’t know.

J.D. Walton is a huge question at center. So are Richburg, Jerry and Mosley at guard. Pugh is solid, but what is there to expect from Beatty? It’s often forgotten that before Beatty’s injury, he was hardly playing like the franchise left tackle the Giants paid him to be.

In my opinion, Detroit has one of the top defensive lines in the NFL. It’s going to be tough for the Giants to get anything going against them. Is it impossible? I’d never put anything past Tom Coughlin, but I see it as unlikely the Giants establish much on the offensive side of the ball. Countering that, as vastly improved as the Giants defense is, it won’t be able to keep with Detroit if the offense turns in three-and-out after three-and-out.

The Giants could easily win this game if the offense takes a jump from the preseason. But again, going off what I’ve seen each day in camp, I don’t see that happening. Detroit 28 – Giants 13.

Eric Kennedy – While it appears the Giants have solid special teams (kicking game) and perhaps a very good defense, my head tells me the Giants are a deeply flawed offensive team. In 2013, the Giants had one good wide receiver and arguably the worst group of tight ends, running backs, and offensive linemen in the NFL. Fast forward to September 2014. It appears the Giants still only have one good wide receiver, the worst group of tight ends in the NFL, and a very shaky offensive line with no depth. That’s not on Tom Coughlin, Ben McAdoo, or Eli Manning. That’s on Jerry Reese. It’s his job to procure talent and to be frank, he didn’t do enough this offseason despite all of the free agent activity. Many think I’m picking on Mr. Reese. I’m not. I’m just calling it like I see it. How does a team that has converted to a tight end-centric offense go into the season with Larry Donnell or Daniel Fells as their starter? The offensive line is literally a house of cards. One more injury and it will be a disaster.

For all his fast starts, Tom Coughlin’s Giants have lost three openers in a row. On the other hand, Coughlin’s Giants are 8-4 on Monday night.

I’m not going with my head on this game but my heart. New York is a flawed team, but so is Detroit. If the Giants play it close to the vest, combining a good running game and defense with solid special teams, I think Detroit will shoot itself in the foot. I like the character of this team. Team leadership – with captains like Manning, Cruz, Rolle, Beason, and DeOssie – is strong. And Tom Coughlin is still one of the best coaches in the NFL. My shot in the dark, wild card predictions are the NYG defense scores in this game and the Giants block a punt. Giants 27 – Lions 20.

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Connor Hughes/BBI

Connor Hughes has been working in both the broadcasting and journalism fields for the last seven years. His work has been heard on WMCX, WBZC and Lenape District Television, while read on the pages of The Star-Ledger and The Burlington County Times. Connor can be reached via email (Connor_Hughes@bigblueinteractive.com) or on twitter (@Connor_J_Hughes)

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