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Victor Cruz, New York Giants (November 20, 2016)

Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: New York Giants at Cleveland Browns, November 27, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
This is the last “easy” game on the schedule and the last game of November. Everyone is thinking the same thing: beat the Browns, get to 8-3, and then concentrate all efforts on a December run leading up to the regular-season finale on New Year’s Day. But make no mistake about it, if the Giants take the Cleveland Browns lightly, they will lose. The Browns are not without talent. And the odds that they will go winless in 2016 are not good. They will beat someone. A New York Giants team that has beaten seven teams by a combined 27 points had better be on their game.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Orleans Darkwa (lower leg) – questionable
  • WR Dwayne Harris (wrist) – probable
  • WR Roger Lewis, Jr. (concussion) – questionable
  • OG Justin Pugh (knee) – out
  • OL Brett Jones (calf) – out
  • OL Marshall Newhouse (knee) – out
  • OL Adam Gettis (calf) – questionable
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) – questionable

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The 3-4 defense of the Cleveland Browns is 31st in the NFL (31st against the run, 22nd against the pass). They don’t rush the passer very well as they only have 16 team sacks on the year. That said, they do have some players who can present problems. Rookie defensive end/linebacker Emmanuel Ogbah (3 sacks) is beginning to flash as a pass rusher. Nose tackle Danny Shelton is a 335-pound load in the middle of the defense who could present problems for center Weston Richburg. Ex-Patriot outside linebacker Jamie Collins is an athletic play-maker. Two-time Pro Bowler cornerback Joe Haden has three interceptions and is one of the NFL’s best covermen. He will line up against Odell Beckham, Jr.

What hurts the Giants coming into this game is the situation at left guard. The Giants are down to 4th stringer Adam Gettis starting and that’s a bit scary. And Gettis is also playing hurt with a calf injury. Heaven help the Giants if someone else gets injured on the offensive line on Sunday – depth is nil with only Will Beatty and Shane McDermott in reserve.

Given that Cleveland is 31st against the run, there may be a temptation to force the run and really get the ground game going. The Giants have to be careful not to play it too conservatively and allow the Browns to hang around. I would suggest using the passing game to get a two-score lead and then focus more on the ground game. Amazingly, Beckham has not cracked the 100-yard mark since his 222-yard performance against the Ravens on October 16th. The Giants have to do a better job of moving him around to defeat double-team coverage and get him more involved.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Browns are 29th in the NFL in offense (25th rushing, 27th passing). Much of the failure of the Browns franchise for decades has been the inability to to acquire a true franchise quarterback. Five different quarterbacks have played for the Browns this year alone. Due to injuries to other players, Josh McCown will get his third start of the season on Sunday. The 37-year old McCown has played in four games this year and only completed 53.3 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and six interceptions. McCown is a journeyman who has played for seven teams. But he is an experienced veteran with 59 regular-season starts. The Giants should not take him lightly. In the two games he started (against the Ravens and Jets), the Browns moved the ball and had a good chance to win both games.

Despite their offensive rankings, the Browns actually have some offensive talent. Ex-quarterback wide receiver Terrelle Pryor is a big, athletic target with 56 catches and four touchdowns. While he has struggled somewhat during his rookie year (only 17 catches), wide receiver Corey Coleman is a 1st rounder who is very capable of breaking a game open. Fellow wideout Andrew Hawkins has three touchdowns. That all said, the Giants secondary matches up pretty well with this group. The primary concern will be tight end Gary Barnidge (39 receptions) as the Giants have had issues covering athletic, pass-receiving tight ends. Running backs Duke Johnson (42 catches) and Isaiah Crowell (26 catches) are also both factors in the passing game. The Giants linebackers and safeties will be on the spot given the Browns tendencies.

And while the Browns are 25th in rushing, Crowell (4.3 yards-per-carry) and Johnson (5.0 yards-per-carry) are productive when they get a chance. The Giants must also be wary of the trick play, especially since Pryor is a former quarterback.

I would put the onus on the corners to handle the wideouts and focus my coverage attention more towards Barnidge and the two running backs. McCown’s game is better suited to the short-passing attack rather than taking shots down the field. Obviously, the Giants must keep the ground attack under control. That will help to mute play-action – something the Giants linebackers had issues with against the Bears.

The injury issue on this side of the ball is Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) is “questionable” although he says he will play. The elite player on the offensive line for the Browns is left tackle Joe Thomas.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Browns haven’t been very good in kickoff returns (long of 24 yards) and punt returns (long of 18 yards). Undermanned teams such as the Browns are always capable of rolling the dice and using a fake field goal or punt, or an onside kick.

It’s a bit unnerving to not know what kind of kicker the Giants have yet in Robbie Gould. The weather was a factor in his missed extra points last week, but the Giants obviously need Gould to produce better.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan on Odell Beckham, Jr.: “When it comes to Odell, obviously we all know he is a dynamic play maker. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the more we give him the ball, the higher our chances are of winning. He is seventh in the NFL right now, I mean, he’s got 98 targets, so we’re trying, and that’s always a big part of our plan. I think the thing that is important to realize when it comes to that is really two things; number one, based upon where he’s aligned, in formation, often times that can create some other opportunities in terms of the run game; shifting the front, getting some things that have created some openings that have helped us the past two weeks. Secondly, opportunities for other guys. There is no more revealing clip or picture to have all of you guys take a look at, than the touchdown of Sterling Shepard. We put Odell in a specific spot and if you go back and look at that clip, the safety who was aligned to his side, it was a two high configuration, his eyes are right on Odell. Had he not done that, then it’s one-on-one and he’s got a touchdown in the end zone, and we can all see him enjoy the celebration. But, because of his commitment to him and the corners commitment to him, that opens up the middle of the field and that created a touchdown for Sterling. There are certain by-products, if you will, based upon his alignment. While he may be not getting the ball, it certainly creates those opportunities. We definitely would like to get the ball in his hands as much as possible and want to be good coaches and know that what makes us good coaches is getting the ball and what helps us win.”

THE FINAL WORD:
Playing a winless team this late in the season scares the bejesus out of me because the opponent is due for a win. The Giants had better take the Browns seriously.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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