Dec 042015
 
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Odell Beckham and Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (August 29, 2015)

Odell Beckham and Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Jets at New York Giants, December 6, 2015

THE STORYLINE:
I’d like to say the Giants are out of rope and this is a must-win game, but if the Cowboys beat the Redskins on Monday and the Patriots beat the Eagles, New York would still be in first place at 5-7. But I’d prefer not go there at this moment even though that scenario is certainly possible.

For their own self-confidence and well being, the Giants need to win on Sunday and improve their record to 6-6. It will not be easy because the Jets are a tough, physical football team on both sides of the ball. And they are also facing a must-win scenario. That all said, on paper, there are areas where this is good match-up for the G-Men.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • TE Larry Donnell (neck – out)
  • OC Weston Richburg (ankle – questionable)
  • LG Justin Pugh (concussion – probable)
  • RT Marshall Newhouse (back – questionable)
  • LB Devon Kennard (hamstring/foot – out)
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (hand – probable)
  • DE Robert Ayers (toe – probable)
  • S Brandon Meriweather (knee – out)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The Jets are bit of a throwback 3-4 defense. They are 3rd overall on defense (12th against the pass and 1st against the run). Opposing offenses are only averaging 17.5 first downs per game against the Jets and the Jets’ red zone defense is the best in the NFL (38.5 percent). The Jets also have forced 22 turnovers, 3rd highest in the NFL.

While their linebackers, led by ILB David Harris, are solid, the heart of the defense is their line. Nose tackle Damon Harrison (6’4”, 350lbs) and defensive ends Muhammad Wilkerson (6’4”, 315lbs), Sheldon Richardson (6’3”, 294lbs), and Leonard Williams (6’5”, 302lbs) are big, physical, athletic, and a handful for any offensive line. Much of this game’s focus will be the ability or inability of the Giants’ beat up offensive line to deal with these four.

Harrison will be handful for gimpy Weston Richburg (high ankle sprain) or journeyman Dallas Reynolds. Wilkerson is having an outstanding year as a run defender and pass rusher (8 sacks). He will line up over Ereck Flowers and whomever plays left guard. Reserve ex-Giant Leger Douzable is no slouch either. Whomever plays on the right side will have to deal with Richardson and high #1 draft pick Williams. We really don’t know the make-up of the line as right tackle Marshall Newhouse (back) is questionable too. Justin Pugh (concussion) could play at left guard, or right tackle if Newhouse can’t go. Rookie Bobby Hart could make his first NFL start at right tackle or right guard. John Jerry will start at one of the guard spots.

The strength of this group is obviously stopping the run. While they are not as adept at rushing the passer, they can get heat on the quarterback, especially when they know their opponent can’t run the ball. All this week, Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo have talked about offensive balance…that the Giants have to run the ball more than the 13 times than they did against the Redskins. After all, the Giants did have good success on the ground against Washington on their first drive and then got away from it. The question is does running the football with the #28 rushing attack against the NFL’s #1 run defense equal wasted snaps? Or by not running the football are you playing directly into the Jets’ hands? It’s important to note that aside from the Bills, the Jets have played a bunch of teams with statistically poor running attacks.

The Giants should not ignore the run, but when they do, I would suggest doing so in more unconventional ways such as spreading the Jets out with multiple receiver sets and running out of the shotgun with Shane Vereen and Rashad Jennings. This is not the type of opponent you even want to waste a few snaps with Andre Williams and Orleans Darkwa. I would also use the short passing game in lieu of the run. The Giants are not going to regularly be able to blast this line and Harris off of the ball.

The primary offensive focus should be the passing attack. The Jets will be without star CB Darrelle Revis (concussion) and likely without solid reserve CB Marcus Williams (knee – officially “doubtful”). Antonio Cromartie has struggled at times this year at corner while Buster Skrine has been serviceable as a nickel corner. A real difference maker has been SS Calvin Pryor, who is an intimidating presence against the pass and the run.

It appears the Giants are going to live or die with the Eli Manning to Odell Beckham connection. In the last two games, Manning has thrown to Beckham an astounding 30 times. Unfortunately, only 13 of those passes have been completed. That efficiency has to increase or more drives will stall. I’d like to say the Giants need more out of Rueben Randle, but that ship apparently has sailed. And based on comments from the coaches this week, Hakeem Nicks is still not familiar enough with the offense to make a real impact (unfortunately one of the real downsides on waiting for Victor Cruz for so long). Dwayne Harris’ production fell off from 6 catches for 82 yards against the Patriots to 2 catches for 28 yards against the Redskins. The Giants need more of the former. They also need to get the ball more in the hands of Vereen as a receiver (only 10 catches total in the last three games).

Last week, Kirk Cousins out-played Eli Manning. Manning has to be the better quarterback in the field on Sunday for the Giants to win.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Jets are ranked 14th on offense (20th passing and 13th running). Their obvious focus is to run the ball (2nd in the NFL in rushing attempts), stay balanced, and keep pressure off of journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. While Fitzpatrick is only completing 58.5 percent of his passes, he has thrown 20 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. He’s an up-and-down thrower, who can look sharp at times and downright horrible at other moments. The Jets lead the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage (73 percent).

Though they have had some injury issue, the Jets’ offensive line has done solid work this year as Chris Ivory has rushed for 766 yards (4.1 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns. Even better, Jets’ quarterbacks have only been sacked an NFL-low 14 times all season – not a good sign for a Giants’ defense that is on pace for the franchise’s worst sack performance in memory. Obviously, the focal point has to be stopping the run – for all four quarters. The Giants’ run defense started off strong against Washington but wilted in the second half. The Jets surely noticed that and will look to wear the G-Men down.

If the Giants can stop the run, they could be in decent shape as the Jets really only have three consistent offensive play-makers: Ivory at running back and wideouts Brandon Marshall (71 catches for 931 yards and 9 touchdowns) and Eric Decker (51 catches for 700 yards and 8 touchdowns). The Jets’ next highest targets are running backs Bilal Powell (22 catches) and Ivory (19 catches). Jets’ tight ends have only six catches all year. The Giants desperately need Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC) to play the entire game and handle Marshall while Prince Amukamara handles Decker. With Brandon Meriweather (knee) out, Craig Dahl will start alongside Landon Collins. One or both will be needed to cheat up more against the run.

The Giants have to stop the run. Period. They will surely miss LB Devon Kennard (hamstring/toe). J.T. Thomas and Jonathan Casiallas have to pick up the slack. There will be a lot of pressure on Jasper Brinkley to perform but this is his kind of game – facing a run-based offense without a scary threat at tight end. The final question is can the Giants get any pressure on Fitzpatrick and force him into mistakes? The pass rush simply has been missing in action this year.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Jets are 16th in kickoff coverage and 29th in punt coverage. If the Giants can’t get Dwayne Harris going on punt returns this week, it ain’t happening and it will once again throw into question Tom Quinn’s coaching on setting up punt returns. In the three seasons before coming to the Giants, Harris was averaging 12.3 yards per punt return. With the Giants, he’s averaging 7.5. Jets punt returner Jeremy Kerley is averaging a respectable 9.3 yards per punt return.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin on the Jets’ Offense: “They can open up and go from being a two-tight end running game to then going empty with three and four wide receivers and their running back. They do force you under the circumstances of their combinations of personnel to be able to adjust to them. They have weapons, they have some outstanding weapons. So you’re always in that position, because not only are they good, they’re big. Your match-ups are a big deal. Hopefully with DRC and with Prince, we can match-up better.”

THE FINAL WORD:
On paper, it looks like the Giants will be one dimensional offensively against the Jets with an inability to run the football. However, the injury issues at cornerback could be a problem for the Jets. If the Giants can increase their passer efficiency on Manning-to-Beckham passes, as well as get Vereen more involved in the passing game, the Giants may be able to hit some big plays against a very stingy defense that excels in the red zone. Defensively, the Giants must stop the run. The good news there is the Giants should match-up well with the Jets’ receiving targets. Both teams thrive on forcing turnovers (Giants 2nd in NFL, Jets 3rd in NFL). Ball security will be paramount. Eli needs to protect the football.

Keep in mind that while the Jets are 6-5, four of their wins have come against bad football teams (Dolphins twice, Jaguars, and Browns). They also beat the Colts early in the year when Indianapolis was really struggling and the Redskins. The Giants and Jets are two mediocre teams fighting for a playoff spot.

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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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