Oct 222004

Approach to the Game – Detroit Lions at New York Giants, October 24, 2004: The break was nice, but it’s time to get back to football. It seems like an eternity since the Giants have played a home game – indeed, the last home game was in September. With the Yankees now off the back pages, New York sports fans need to quickly readjust their sight on football and get over their Red Sox hangover. The team needs your vocal support on Sunday in a key conference game against an improving team.

Detroit is better this year because of their defense and special teams. Much attention – and justifiably so – has been focused on rookie sensation WR Roy Williams. But the Lions’ offense continues to be hampered by inconsistent quarterback play by third-year quarterback Joey Harrington and an inability to run the football. Still, Detroit is a 3-2 team who beat the Falcons in Atlanta a few weeks ago and also defeated the up-and-coming Houston Texans in week two.

Nevertheless, this is a game the Giants should win if they can quickly shake off their bye week rust – something they have had problems with in recent years. Unless the run defense is as sloppy as it was against Dallas, the Giants should be able to make the Lions one-dimensional on offense and force Harrington to make mistakes. The Detroit defense, led by DT Shaun Rogers, has played well, but it is a bit beat up with injuries.

This is important game for the Giants. The Lions are one of the few NFC teams with a winning record and both teams could be vying for a Wild Card spot down the line. The players, coaches, and fans need to get motivated to excel on Sunday and bury this team.

Giants on Offense: The Detroit defense is no push-over. They have a very good defensive line that can get pressure on the quarterback all by itself and allow the back seven to focus on pass defense. The strength of the defense is the defensive line, and specifically, the two big defensive tackles inside who can also make life difficult in running the football. DT Shaun Rogers (3 sacks) is playing at a very high level right now and is very disruptive. The Lions list him as a right tackle, but they like to move him to both spots, which means that both RG Chris Snee and LG Jason Whittle will have their hands full on Sunday. Most likely both will require double-team support from OC Shaun O’Hara. This will allow the Detroit linebackers freer access to HB Tiki Barber and QB Kurt Warner. The other defensive tackle is pretty imposing too. Dan Wilkinson (questionable with an arm injury) has never lived up to his lofty draft status and has changed teams quite a bit in recent years, but his is a big, athletic talent who has given the Giants problems in the past when he was with the Washington Redskins. The ability or inability of the interior of the Giants’ offensive line to deal with these two will probably determine how successful the Giants are on offense against the Lions.

The defensive ends are decent. RT David Diehl will face DE Cory Redding and LT Luke Petitgout will battle DE James Hall (4.5 sacks). Pettigout faces the tougher task as Hall is one of the better defensive ends in the game.

The Lions will be without LB Boss Bailey (knee), but rookie SLB Teddy Lehman has been impressive. WLB James Davis is the replacement for current Giant Barrett Green. Former Steeler Earl Holmes mans the middle linebacker position. He’s a tough, physical run defender who sometimes has problems in coverage. Given Lehman’s inexperience and Holmes’ issues in coverage, there may be some room here for Tiki Barber and TE Jeremy Shockey to exploit in the passing game. But running the ball may be tough for Tiki unless the Giants can get those defensive linemen up front blocked.

The Lions’ secondary is helped by the fact that Detroit does not normally have to blitz all that much in order to pressure the passer. LCB Fernando Bryant (questionable with a groin injury) and RCB Dre Bly are decent corners. Bryant is a fast cover corner who sometimes has problems with bigger receivers. If healthy enough to play, he will line up against Ike Hilliard. Bly will face Amani Toomer. Bly is a quick, but not fast, ballhawk who will gamble at times (as will Bryant). If Bryant does not play, Chris Cash will start in his place. Rookie CB Keith Smith is the regular nickel back. Rookie WR Jamaar Taylor may be able to make a big impact in this game if he doesn’t get too nervous in his first real playing time. FS Brock Marion lacks speed, but he makes a lot of plays on the football. Bracy Walker is the strong safety.

It will be tough for the Giants to run between the tackles against the Lions unless Wilkinson is really hurting. When the Giants run the ball, it would probably be wise to focus on Barber runs around the ends. Creating mismatches with Barber and Shockey on the linebackers should also be productive. Whether Bryant plays or not should impact the Giants’ strategy. Really where the Giants may make some hay is with Jamaar Taylor (or Hilliard) on Detroit’s third corner. I would come out passing the football and try to get a big lead early. It’s time for Kurt Warner to start throwing some touchdown passes.

Giants on Defense: Detroit was really hurt by the loss of WR Charles Rogers at the beginning of the season. However, rookie WR Roy Williams also looks like a superstar in the making. He did not play last week against the Packers due to an ankle injury and remains questionable for the game against the Giants. He creates match-up problems because of his superb combination of size and speed.

The key for the Giants in this game is to keep the Lions one-dimensional by taking away the running attack (we can pretty much say this every week against any opponent). Two weeks ago, it was believed that Dallas would not be able to run on the Giants, but the Cowboys did so in a big way. So until the Giants shore up their run defense, the opposition is going to test it. Look for the Lions to run the ball early with halfbacks Artose Pinner and rookie Kevin Jones. Pinner is a tough runner who can change directions, but he has some fumbling issues and isn’t much of a pass blocker (the Giants maybe able to challenge him here with their blitzes). Jones has dynamic moves and can catch the ball. He also had some fumbling issues in college. As a team, the Lions are only rushing for about 3 yards a carry. And Detroit will likely be without FB Cory Schlesinger (hamstring). The Giants need to make sure they do not get untracked on Sunday like Dallas did two weeks ago.

The Lions have some decent talent on the offensive line. The tackles are good. RDE’s Keith Washington/Osi Umenyiora will face LT Jeff Backus and LDE Michael Strahan will line-up against RT Stockar McDougle. Backus is a solid technician. Quick rushers can sometimes give him problems so Umenyiora has a chance to shine here in obvious pass rushing situations. McDougle is a massive player who can maul his opponent with his size and strength. However, he sometimes has issues in pass protection. Ex-Patriot Damien Woody is the right guard who will likely face DT William Joseph and/or Norman Hand. Last week, with Fred Robbins out, Joseph often played left defensive tackle with Hand moving over to right defensive tackle. If Robbins (shoulder) does not play again this week, expect a similar rotation with Lance Legree also seeing a lot of work. The other starters are LG David Loverne and OC Dominic Raiola. Woody is a much better player than Loverne.

The Lions have good receivers. As I mentioned, Williams is a stud. Whether he plays or not will change everything. If he does play, CB’s Will Peterson and Will Allen will be severely tested. The other top receivers are Az-Zahir Hakim (who is questionable with an ankle injury) and ex-49er Tai Streets. Hakim is quick and shifty; Streets is a big and physical.

Lions’ head coach Steve Mariucci is a West Coast Offense guy so passes to the tight ends and running backs are always a threat. Ex-Redskin TE Stephen Alexander is a decent receiving tight end and the Lions will throw to all three of their halfbacks (including HB Shawn Bryson).

The guy who the Giants need to rattle is QB Joey Harrington. Harrington is a high first rounder who has yet to live up to his lofty draft status. At times, he makes excellent throws; at other times, he will make a bone-headed decision. The Giants need to get after him and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. But the Giants have to be careful not to give up cheap points on big plays as Harrington can throw the ball deep.

If the Giants can stop the run and get after Harrington, the defense should be able to control the Detroit offense.

Giants on Special Teams: This is one area where Detroit may have a big advantage over the Giants. They are extremely well-coached under Chuck Priefer, the father of current Giants’ special teams assistant Mike Priefer. Eddie Drummond is a dangerous punt and kick-off returner as Detroit does an excellent job of blocking for both types of returns. Drummond is averaging almost 30 yards a kick return and has scored a touchdown already.

New York is not likely to break any long kick returns with Mike Cloud replacing Willie Ponder.

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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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