Game Preview: New Orleans Saints at New York Giants, September 18, 2016
The opening day victory against the Dallas Cowboys was huge. The obvious goal now is to get off to a 2-0 start by winning the home opener against a team that has given the Giants issues in recent years. Steve Spagnuolo and his defensive unit were humiliated last season as the Saints put up 52 points against New York. That marked yet another game where the Giants struggled on defense against an elite quarterback, in this case Drew Brees, who has had some of his best games of his career against the Giants. Enter Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and Darian Thompson. We’re about to find out how much things have really changed on the defensive side of the ball.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- DE Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) – questionable
- DE Olivier Vernon (wrist) – probable
- DT Robert Thomas (illness) – out
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The Saints are going to put points on the board. So will the Giants. The traditional ways to approach this game are to either (1) slow the game down, maintain possession, and keep the Saints explosive offense off the field; or (2) be aggressive against a terrible defense and beat the Saints at their own up-tempo game. In the dome in New Orleans last year, the Giants got into a shootout and Eli Manning threw six touchdown passes – yet the Giants lost. But now the defense is improved. So the temptation will be to attack, attack, attack against a weak cornerback group that just lost its best player. That said, Ben McAdoo also has to like what he saw out of his ground game against Dallas last week combined with the possibility of wet weather on Sunday.
The 4-3 Saints defense is not good. They lack talent at all three levels. But they do have some strength down the middle with ex-Lion Nick Fairley at defensive tackle, ex-Ram James Laurinaitis at middle linebacker, and Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd at safety. Right defensive end Cameron Jordan is a very good player. We’ll get a far better read on Ereck Flowers this week. This is a match-up that could be a problem for the Giants. I’d be tempted to shift a tight end over there to help out Flowers. The cornerback situation for the Saints is a mess. Their best corner – Delvin Breaux – is out and all they are left with are no-names with little experience.
If I’m the Saints, I play it safe on defense, give up the underneath plays, and force the Giants to drive the field without making mistakes (penalties, negative yardage plays, turnovers). If they aggressively challenge Eli Manning, I think Odell Beckham, Sterling Sheppard, and Victor Cruz will eat them alive with big plays down the field (assuming the weather cooperates). But if the Saints play off with more defenders in coverage, like I suspect, then Manning will have to be patient and the ground game will have to produce. And like against the Cowboys, the Giants need to score touchdowns rather than field goals in the red zone. My guess is this is a game where Shane Vereen could possibly thrive as a runner and receiver. I think the short pass to him will be there all day long.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Drew Brees loves playing the Giants. But historically this Saints team is not the same on the road as it is at home, including against the Giants (see Giants 52-27 win in 2012 at the Meadowlands). And the 2016 New York Giants defense is not the 2015 version. Brees and the Saints are going to score. The key is to limit the damage. New Orleans is very, very good at converting on 3rd down and keeping drives alive. Again, weather could play a factor here too.
Brees is the heart-and-soul of the offense. He makes it go. They key is pressure him, make him uncomfortable, without leaving gaping holes in the secondary for him to exploit (like last year’s game in New Orleans). I would not send a lot of blitzes but rely on the front four to apply pressure, and often utilizing the Nascar package when the down-and-distance enable the Giants to do so. This is a game where ends Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul can really make a difference. Brees is not a scrambler. The Giants can pin their ears back and get after him. Now the risk obviously is that Saints cross up the Giants with a heavy dose of running back Mark Ingram, but that’s a risk they are probably willing to take. The thought here is Damon Harrison and Johnathan Hankins can hold down the fort and limit the damage.
The Giants do match up well on the back end because of their corners. Janoris Jenkins seems to have the ideal skill set versus the quick and speedy WR Brandin Cooks. I’d use Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple to take out the other wideouts – Willie Sneed and Michael Thomas. The Saints will probably try to free up Cooks by moving him to the slot quite a bit. Ex-Colt tight end Coby Fleener was added in the offseason, but so far he has not produced as expected. Still, given the Giants poor history of defending tight ends in recent years, the defense needs to account for him.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Saints have good coverage teams and Ben McAdoo has voiced his concern that the Saints will take some chances with trick plays on special teams. Josh Brown returns from suspension and a butt-load of negative media. It will be interesting to see how he responds.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Ben McAdoo on Saints DE Cameron Jordan: “Jordan is a guy that is a very talented player, as well. He’s a guy that can wreck a game and destroy a game. We have to make sure we’re aware of where he is. He’ll line up in multiple spots.”
THE FINAL WORD:
Many Giants fans are gun-shy of the Saints because of recent history when playing them down in New Orleans. But the Giants match-up extremely well with the Saints on both sides of the ball. Look for the Giants to win by at least 10 points.