Game Preview: New Orleans Saints at New York Giants, September 30, 2018
So the 2018 version of the New York Football Giants has a little fight in them after all. The short-term importance of last Sunday’s victory over a talented Houston Texans team cannot be understated. Had the Giants lost, their season would have all but officially been over on September 23. It was a gutty and unexpected performance.
But the team is not out of the woods just yet. As I mentioned last week, there is a huge difference between 0-3 and 1-2. Well, there is also a huge difference between 1-3 and 2-2. The Giants can build upon last week’s success or watch it largely flushed down the drain. It’s up to them.
The Giants have had a weird recent history with the Saints filled with some ugly blowouts. But this game is at MetLife. That will help.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- RB Jonathan Stewart (foot – out)
- WR Cody Latimer (knee – out)
- WR Stacy Coley (hamstring – questionable)
- TE Evan Engram (knee – out)
- NT Damon Harrison (knee – probable)
- LB Olivier Vernon (ankle – out)
- LB Connor Barwin (knee – probable)
- CB Eli Apple (groin – out)
- CB Antonio Hamilton (groin – questionable)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Will this be the week where the Giants finally get the 30-point monkey off their back? It’s the right opponent. Defensively, the Saints are 30th in yards allowed (30th in pass defense, 6th in rush defense). The Saints are also dead last in scoring defense.
All Giants fans know what the game story was last weekend. The team’s offensive line went from “beyond abysmal” to “below average” status. But that somewhat sad improvement was all Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Saquon Barkley needed to do their thing. It was direct proof of where the issues lie. If this line can just be mediocre, this offense can be very dangerous and exciting to watch.
As Sy’56 correctly pointed out, Chad Wheeler is getting a bit too much of the credit. That was an Ereck Flowers-esque performance that fans were willing to ignore out of the satisfaction of seeing that sun flower eating machine standing on the sidelines. I felt the steadying force was the presence of veteran John Greco manning the middle and directing traffic. I mocked the Giants when they re-signed the aging veteran. I couldn’t have been more wrong on that one. Clearly what the team needs is for the offensive line to build upon and improve from last week’s performance, not regress. Give Eli some time. Let Beckham and Shepard do their thing. Give Saquon some room to make a man miss.
Unfortunately for the Giants, Wheeler will be matched up against the Saints’ best pass rusher, defensive end Cameron Jordan, who already has four sacks on the season. The Giants should consider giving Wheeler some help and not let Jordan ruin the game. With Evan Engram out, it would make sense for Scott Simonson or Rhett Ellison to at least chip on him.
With New Orleans’ pass defense being so bad in comparison with their more stingy run defense (allowing only 3 yards per carry), the temptation would be for New York to concentrate on throwing the ball more. I wouldn’t do that. The Saints haven’t seen a back like Saquon. Plus, you do not want the Saints teeing off on Manning. And you want to control the clock. You have to be a bit stubborn and patient when running the football. Give Saquon enough touches and he’s going to burn any defense.
That all said, the Saints’ secondary has not been good. And they lost their nickel corner Patrick Robinson with a broken ankle. The obvious counter-move for the Giants is to exploit the new nickel corner with both Beckham and Shepard. The Giants will miss Evan Engram and the vertical threat he poses, but Rhett Ellison is a reliable, sure-handed receiver who Eli trusts. In the short-term, the Giants may actually do a bit better moving the chains as Ellison is more dependable.
Stating the obvious, the Giants need to score more points than they usually do to win this game. 17, 20, and probably 24 points isn’t going to do it. But don’t look at the big picture and just focus on one play at a time. Run Barkley. Take your shots with Beckham and Shepard. The points will come.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
For better or worse, this will be fascinating to watch. We’re about to get a more complete read on James Bettcher and his troops as the Saints’ offense is a much different animal than what the Giants have faced in the first three games of the season. The Jaguars, Cowboys, and Texans are run-oriented offenses with quarterbacks who could hurt you with their feet. That’s not to say the Saints’ offensive line isn’t physical or the Saints can’t hurt you running the football (19th in yards per rush), it’s just that their passing game is so dynamic. The Giants haven’t seen an offense like this. And it will be a real test for the secondary and linebackers in coverage. And to make matters worse, Eli Apple is out yet another week and Antonio Hamilton is questionable.
Enter Alvin Kamara, a running back who plays like a wide receiver. The good news for the Giants’ defense is they have practiced against this type of back since OTAs in Saquon Barkley. The bad news is the Giants may not have anyone who can match-up with him. Kamara has rushed for 141 yards in three games, but more alarming is he has caught 30 passes for 289 yards during that same time span, averaging almost 10 yards per catch. Brees is smart. When he needs to move the sticks, he checks down to Kamara on option routes. So the question for the Giants is do they put a linebacker like Ray-Ray Armstrong on him, safety Landon Collins, or a reserve corner? Obviously, things will switch up as the Giants move from man to zone coverage, and attempt to disguise their coverages. But it will be interesting to see who has Kamara on most plays. I would not play B.J. Goodson much in this game.
But the threats don’t end with Kamara. Wideout Michael Thomas has caught an unbelievable 38 passes for 398 yards and three touchdowns in just three games. The Saints use Thomas like Beckham. They’ll move him around, including into the slot. Literally two-thirds of Brees’ passes go to Kamara and Thomas.
Giants fans are well aware what happens when the team loses track of the “lesser” players. Receivers like Ted Ginn, who only has 12 passes, have hurt the team before. Tight end Benjamin Watson can also be a thorn. So while the defensive focus must be on the two bigger threats, those covering Ginn and Watson must do their job.
Which brings us to Drew Brees. The guy is a machine. I never thought I’d see the day when a quarterback was completing over 80 percent of his passes. That’s almost unfair. In three games, Brees has thrown for over 1,000 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. His season QB rating is 122.2. He can only go down, right? Let’s hope so. There is no good answer to defend him. If you come after Brees, he’s smart and experienced enough to read it and burn your defense for a long touchdown. If you play back, he can dink and dunk you to death. Again, Bettcher will obviously switch things up. And it’s in Bettcher’s nature to attack. We’re about to find out just how gutsy and fearless Bettcher is. The smart play would probably be to play it safe, rush four, and play back. The good news for the Giants is that Brees is the most immobile QB they have faced. The Giants’ pass rush has actually been better than the stats show as mobile quarterbacks have gotten away from them in all three games. Brees shouldn’t be able to do that.
I’ll tell you who my wild card for this game is: Landon Collins. He hasn’t had a great start to the year. He’s due for a big game. And Landon is the kind of player who be a difference maker as a blitzer and creating turnovers. If Landon plays poorly, the Giants are probably in trouble; if he plays well, the Giants may be able to slow down this offense.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Knock on wood again. One of the biggest and flying under the radar surprises this year has been Aldrick Rosas. On the other hand, the Giants are still having ball security issues with their punt returners. They ditched Kaelin Clay, but Stacy Coley also muffed a punt last week. And Coley’s dealing with a hamstring now. We may see Odell returning a punt in the game out of necessity.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher on the Saints’ offense: “Before the snap some of the things Drew is able to get up and do and change protections, change routes, change formations at the line of scrimmage so it’s going to be a great challenge. The running back is a really special player. A guy that they use in the backfield to carry the ball, heavily in the screen game or they split him out and use him as a slot-type receiver. They’re going to find ways to target him and get him touches and Thomas is another really, really talented receiver on the perimeter. Has really strong hands at the point when balls are up and some of those 50/50 balls he’s a really good player in those scenarios.”
THE FINAL WORD:
When I predict a win, they lose; when I predict loss, they win. Giants get crushed this weekend.