Dec 162016
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (November 6, 2016)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: Detroit Lions at New York Giants, December 18, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
At 9-4, the New York Giants are close to finally returning to the playoffs. But they are not there yet and they can still screw this up. This is a dangerous game for the Giants. Sunday’s contest against the Detroit Lions is sandwiched between two division games, with the following game against the arch-rival Philadelphia Eagles coming four days later on Thursday night. After the Giants biggest win of the season thus far, will New York suffer an emotional letdown against the first-place, 9-4 Detroit Lions?

Amazingly, eight of Detroit’s nine wins have been 4th-quarter comebacks. If the game is close, the Lions believe they will pull out the win.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Shane Vereen (concussion) – questionable
  • OG Justin Pugh (knee) – probable
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (core muscle) – out
  • DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa (knee) – probable
  • DT Johnathan Hankins (shoulder) – probable
  • LB Keenan Robinson (shoulder) – questionable
  • LB Mark Herzlich (concussion) – probable
  • S Nat Berhe (concussion) – questionable
  • LS Zak DeOssie (hamstring) – probable

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
It’s bad and getting worse. The Giants are now down to 27th in offense in terms of yards and 25th in terms of scoring. Eli Manning hasn’t topped the 200-yard passing mark in the last three games. The last time he threw for more than 260 yards was on October 16th against the Ravens. Victor Cruz has caught FOUR passes since the bye week. The starting tight end – Will Tye – hasn’t caught more than two passes in a game the last four contests. The Giants are 30th in the NFL in rushing (both yards per game and rushing average).

Enter the Detroit Lions, who are middle-of-the-pack in yardage allowed (15th) but 10th overall in scoring defense (20.6). “Last seven ballgames, they’ve given up about 16 points and have caused 10 turnovers,” said Ben McAdoo. “It starts upfront. They’ll try and squeeze you. They play the wide-nine as they try and play with width and work hard up the field. Try and get to the quarterback first and play everything else along the way. Their secondary and the linebackers are doing a nice job playing to the front. They’re well-coordinated.”

In Detroit’s 4-3 defense, the players to watch up front are DE Ezekiel Ansah, ex-Raven DT Haloti Ngata, and DE Kerry Hyder. Ansah is the primary pass-rushing threat even though he has no sacks thus far this year (14.5 in 2015). Hyder is a player who has come out of nowhere to lead the Lions in sacks with eight. So both Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart will be under the spotlight once again. Ngata is on the downside of his career but he can still present problems. What will be interesting to see is how effective left guard Justin Pugh will be coming off of a knee injury that caused him to miss the last five games. Middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead leads the team in tackles (107) and Darius Slay is developing into one of the NFL’s better cornerbacks. Linebacker DeAndre Levy has missed most of the season due to injury but is getting healthy again. He’s strong in coverage. [LATE NOTE: Ansah (shoulder), Slay (hamstring), and Levy (knee) are “questionable” for the game.]

Weather may be an issue again on Sunday with rain in the forecast. Through 13 games, the Giants are averaging 3.4 yards per rush. The Lions have allowed 4.3 yards per rush. With Eli struggling and the defense peaking, I would not be shocked to see McAdoo make a big commitment to the run on Sunday. But in the end, the Giants will be what they have been – the Manning-to-Odell Beckham show. If that duo can click, the Giants will move the ball and score. If they struggle to connect, the offense will be dead in the water. It would be nice to say the Giants can diversify their passing game, but they have proven incapable of doing so. At some point, the coaches have to decide whether Victor Cruz – who is struggling to separate – is helping or hurting the offense. I’d be tempted to get a more vertical threat such as Roger Lewis more playing time.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Giants defense is coming off its best game and the team is now 7th in scoring defense (18.8 points per game). But with the Giants offense struggling and a diverse passing offense coming to town, the Giants defense can’t afford to let the positive press go to their heads. Jason Pierre-Paul is still out.

Statistically, the Lions are just 21st in the NFL in yards per game and 17th in scoring (22.7 points per game). But quarterback Matthew Stafford is having a tremendous season with a 22-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio and completing 66.7 percent of his passes. Stafford has five targets with over 42 receptions, including WR Golden Tate (71 catches, 3 touchdowns), ageless slot WR Anquan Boldin (55 catches, 7 touchdowns), RB Theo Riddick (53 catches, 5 receiving touchdowns), WR Marvin Jones (46 catches, 4 touchdowns), and TE Eric Ebron (43 catches, 1 touchdown). There is no one target to concentrate on.

The Lions do not run the ball well. They are 29th in rushing (25th in yards-per-rush with 3.8 yards per carry). Detroit only has four rushing touchdowns and Riddick leads the team with just 357 rushing yards. Obviously, the Giants don’t want to allow the Lions to get their ground game going on Sunday (especially if the weather is bad), but the defensive focus will be more on the 13th-ranked passing game.

The Giants have to feel good about their cornerback match-ups on Tate, Boldin, and Jones. An interesting battle will be Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie vs. Boldin – these two played together with the Cardinals. Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple will likely cover Tate and Jones most of the time. The issue will probably be covering Riddick and Ebron as receivers. (LATE UPDATE- Riddick is “doubtful” with a wrist injury and Ebron is “questionable” with a knee injury). Ebron is having a decent year and the Giants have a way of making opposing tight ends look like superstars. So pass coverage by Landon Collins, Jonathan Casillas, Keenan Robinson (who has a shoulder issue), and Devon Kennard will be key. My guess is we don’t see a lot of Kelvin Sheppard this week.

One variable to keep an eye on is that Stafford has a significant injury to the middle finger of his throwing hand. He played with it last Sunday and fully practiced this week, but it could be a factor, especially if the ball is wet. The Lions have only turned the football over 10 times this year (7 interceptions and 3 fumbles). Also, DE Olivier Vernon will be facing rookie left tackle Taylor Decker.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Detroit Lions are very good on special teams across the board. They are top-10 in both punt and kickoff coverage. The punter and kicker are having fine seasons. Andre Roberts has returned two punts for touchdowns this year and is averaging over 14 yards per punt return. He also returns kickoffs.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Ben McAdoo on Detroit’s offensive weapons: “They’re all players that would probably be featured in other places. With the collection of guys they have, they have a pretty unique group and a guy that’s pretty special delivering the ball. Marvin Jones, we looked at him as a free agent. He’s a very talented player. He doesn’t just go long; he can really stick his foot in the ground and separate. (Anquan) Boldin is tough playing inside. He’s a completion waiting to happen. (Golden) Tate can do a lot of different things for you, short, deep, in the backfield, whatever the case may be. (Theo) Riddick is a guy that is a matchup challenge coming out of the backfield getting screens and burst routes. He can run away a little bit. (Eric) Ebron is a young, developing player. He’s a big target and can run down the middle of the field. Put the fear in two-deep coverage.”

THE FINAL WORD:
Historically-speaking, this is the type of game the Giants would lose… coming off of an emotional divisional win, now facing a non-division opponent with another division game on the horizon. It will be interesting to see if a Ben McAdoo-coached team suffers a letdown in this spot. The Lions are a well-coached team with a solid defense, diverse passing game, and very good special teams. This game will be close. And the new Cardiac Kids in Detroit believe they will win the close game. The difference maker in this contest could be returner Andre Roberts.

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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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