Oct 302015
 
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Orleans Darkwa, New York Giants (October 25, 2015)

Orleans Darkwa – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at New Orleans Saints, November 1, 2015

THE STORYLINE:
The victory against the Cowboys may have been the team’s most significant win since 2011. If the Giants had fallen to Dallas, they would have been 1-3 in the NFC East with two losses to the Cowboys. Now at 4-3 overall and 2-2 in the NFC East, the Giants find themselves very much in the hunt for the division title with nine games left to play.

But it’s important to keep in mind that this remains a thus-far seriously-flawed team that has greatly benefited from a weak division. The offense – which was supposed to be the strength of the team – is currently 23rd in the NFL in yards per game (14th in passing and 25th in rushing). And despite the strong initial start in run defense, the once-proud NYG defense doesn’t do anything well except generate turnovers – and that’s a well that can dry up very quickly. The Giants are 29th in defense, having fallen from 1st to 21st in run defense in the span of a few weeks, and 30th in pass defense. The fact that the Giants are one game in first place is a minor miracle.

The good news is that there is potential to improve, especially if the team starts to get some players back and if those players can play at a level anywhere near their previous form (Jason Pierre-Paul, Victor Cruz, Will Beatty). Offensively, the line and running game appear to be slowly improving and the passing game has yet to hit its stride. Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, Rueben Randle, and Dwayne Harris are capable of much more. Defensively, the pass rush will probably remain an issue unless JPP, Robert Ayers, Devon Kennard, and Damontre Moore come on. But the Giants were missing a lot of defensive players in the first half of the season who are getting healthier, including JPP, Ayers, George Selvie, Kennard, Jonathan Casillas, and Amukamara. The more the players become comfortable with Steve Spagnuolo’s new scheme, the better they should play. And the special teams are playing extremely well.

The short-term problem for the Giants is that many of those reinforcements are not quite ready yet. The Giants will have to scrape by for 1-3 more weeks. It’s a bad time for Amukamara to be out. The linebacking corps is beat up with Beason, Thomas, and ‘Unga ailing. The obvious goal is to win two important NFC games in the next two weeks against the improving Saints and Buccaneers. Get to 6-3.

Do not underestimate the Saints. They are 3-4, the Giants 4-3…not much difference. And the two teams are very similar in a lot of ways…winless start to the season, winning 3-out-of-4 of their last four (Giants actually 4-out-of-5), franchise QB, struggling defense, running game showing signs of life. Giants’ fans know the narrative coming into this particular contest. New York has gotten fat by beating the likes of Kirk Cousins, Tyrod Taylor, Colin Kaepernick, and Matt Cassel. Can the the 30th-ranked pass defense not get embarrassed by Drew Brees? Can a Giants’ offense that has scored two touchdowns in two games keep pace?

This is a big game. 5-3 is a lot better than 4-4.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Odell Beckham (hamstring – probable)
  • WR Victor Cruz (calf – out)
  • RG Geoff Schwartz (ankle – probable)
  • OT Will Beatty (pectoral – on PUP/out)
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (hand – roster exemption/out)
  • DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa (hamstring – out)
  • LB Jon Beason (ankle/knee – questionable)
  • LB J.T. Thomas (ankle – out)
  • LB Uani ‘Unga (neck – probable)
  • CB Prince Amukamara (pectoral – out)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
After an initial positive start under Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan in 2013 (ironically replacing the then-maligned Steve Spagnuolo), the Saints have struggled on defense for the last season and a half. There was significant turnover on the defensive side of the football in the offseason, and although the defensive unit has played much better in recent games, it still ranks 30th overall (one spot below the Giants’ defense). They are 26th against the pass and 29th against the run.

That all said, the Saints do some things well. They have 11 take-aways this year (4 interceptions, 7 fumble recoveries) and they are tied for 12th in the NFL in sacks (16). The Saints are also very good at third-down defense (33.7 percent – 4th in the NFL).

The Saints like to use a lot of different packages and looks in order to attempt to confuse opposing offenses. “They have a number of exotic schemes that you have to be totally prepared for in terms of how they’re using their people and the numbers game, in terms of the number of defensive linemen on the field and defensive backs on the field,” says Tom Coughlin.

The best defensive players are right defensive end Cameron Jordan (6 sacks), who will face LT Ereck Flowers, and strong safety Kenny Vaccaro, who can blitz, stop the run, and cover. They have a young linebacking corps who Ryan will send after the quarterback. Blitz pick-ups will be key. If the Giants can pick up the blitz, they will have some great opportunities for big plays.

Coming off 132 yards on the ground against the Cowboys, the Giants should be able to run the ball on the Saints. My preference would be for New York to let one or two backs get into a rhythm – let Rashad Jennings and/or Orleans Darkwa receive the bulk of the carries. I also expect a big home coming from receivers Odell Beckham and Rueben Randle. Both who are due for a big game, especially against a team with a suspect secondary with one starting corner (Keenan Lewis – hip) ailing. I would also attack the inexperienced and somewhat banged up linebackers in pass coverage with Shane Vereen. Linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and David Hawthorne have missed practice this week.

The keys? No turnovers, convert on third down against a stingy third-down defense, and convert in the red zone. “We need consistency of scoring in the green zone; when we get there, we’ve got to score,” says Coughlin.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Fans rightfully are fearful of what Drew Brees can do against the NFL’s 30th-ranked pass defense. The Giants miss Prince Amukamara as Jayron Hosley has been shaky and saved at times by opposing quarterback ineptitude. The safeties have played better than expected, but still have had issues at times as Landon Collins is still learning the pro game. Worse, the Giants have an NFL-low nine sacks. Nine. Give Drew Brees time and he will tear up any secondary, let alone one with the issues the Giants have in covering tight ends and wide receivers.

If we’re being honest, the Saints are going to move the football and they are going to score. Saints’ Head Coach Sean Payton has probably preached all week: don’t turn the ball over against the Giants, that’s the only way they are stopping people.

New Orleans is 6th in the NFL on offense (3rd passing, 22nd rushing). One would think the priority would be to focus on the pass over the run. The problem is the Giants’ run defense has rapidly deteriorated the last few weeks and the Saints’ running game – led by RB Mark Ingram – is starting to kick it into gear. The Giants have to make the Saints one dimensional or they are in real trouble. The Saints have had issues with injuries on the offensive line but the regular starters are expected to play against the Giants. My focus would be to stop the run and cross your fingers against the pass.

Brees has to be salivating at facing a defense that can’t seem to rush the passer and missing Amukamara. He’s completing over 67 percent of his passes and well on pace for another 4,000 yard season despite missing a game. Brees spreads the ball around to a variety of players at wide receiver, tight end, and running back. Five players have over 20 catches: the diminutive but explosive WR Brandin Cooks (35, 444 yards), WR Willie Sneed (29, 461 yards), TE Benjamin Watson (29, 325 yards), RB Mark Ingram (29, 235 yards), and RB C.J. Spiller (21, 181 yards). That doesn’t even include WR Marques Colston (19, 220 yards). While the Saints wide receivers have not been as dangerous as in recent years, they are using their running backs more as Ingram is having a career year as a receiver. Spiller – as his 80-yard game-winning TD in OT against the Cowboys demonstrated – can be a match-up problem for linebackers. Keep in mind Jon Beason is ailing and J.T. Thomas is out. The tight end Watson caught 10 passes in the win over the Falcons.

On paper, this match-up looks like a disaster unless the Giants continue to force turnovers or begin to generate pass pressure. Though Brees has six interceptions on the season, he’s not Cousins, Sam Bradford, or Cassel. I would expect Steve Spagnuolo change things up to make it somewhat challenging for Brees, but Brees is pretty darn smart and I don’t think Spagnuolo will want to give up the cheap play. The Saints lead the NFL with 32 plays over 20 yards. Spagnuolo will try to have his unit stop the run, not get too risky in coverage, and force Brees to drive the field without making a mistake. The problem is the Saints are very good on 3rd down, converting almost 46 percent of the time. The Giants desperately need their defensive line to rebound from an atrocious game, and need big efforts from Ayers, Selvie, Johnathan Hankins, and Cullen Jenkins in particular.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Rookie Marcus Murphy has returned one punt for a 74-yard touchdown this year so punt coverage will obviously be on the spot. He also returns kickoffs, where his long has only been 35 yards. The Saints have had issues at place kicker, now with journeyman Kai Forbath handling field goals and extra points. New Orleans did block a punt for a touchdown against the Falcons.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin on the pass rush: “Somehow, some way, we’ve got to make the quarterback uncomfortable… We need more pressure on the quarterback, we need to do a better job of that.”

THE FINAL WORD:
The Giants haven’t won in the Super Dome since Phil Simms was the quarterback. That said, this is not a very strong Saints team. This contest features two bad defensive teams that can cause turnovers, and potentially explosive offenses with ground attacks that are starting to come to life. The difference could be special teams.

The match-up issues on defense are scary for the Giants. How much longer can they count on multiple turnover games? The Giants’ offense most likely will need to come up big. New York will probably need to score almost 30 points to win. This would be a good time for Odell Beckham to take over a game.

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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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