Reporting Paul Dottino
By Paul Dottino
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EAST RUTHERFORD – Better proceed slowly, there are Lions lurking in the NFL jungle, waiting for foolish prey to fall into their trap. Might they be able to satisfy their hunger for a win this weekend after losing 23 straight road games – one short of their own NFL record?
The Giants appear to be too smart to become an unsuspecting victim. Tom Coughlin has said just about everything he could think of to make his players wary of the Lions, who don’t have the personnel to match up. Obviously, the Giants (3-2) don’t want to break Detroit’s road skid, but they also are seeking their third consecutive victory and would much prefer to guarantee themselves a winning record coming out of next weekend’s game at division-rival Dallas, which leads into their bye week.
It would be difficult for the Giants to lose this one, unless they get sloppy with the ball or careless in drawing penalties. As long as we’re mentioning penalties, did you know the Lions 91-4) have been penalized an NFL-leading 48 times this season and that 40 of those have come against their defense? You can be sure Coughlin knows.
Here are three key matchups to watch:
Lions rookie RB Jahvid Best vs. Giants linebackers. Contrary to popular belief, the Lions do not have a very dangerous offense despite their NFC-high 126 points (Remember, turnovers and special teams can contribute/set up scoring). And with WR Calvin Johnson (shoulder) nursing a right shoulder injury – he couldn’t raise his arm in practice and will be a game-time decision – QB Shaun Hill and the Lions likely must put all of their eggs in Best’s basket.
A few Giants, perhaps taking the lead of defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, have compared Best to Ahmad Bradshaw, although Fewell says Best is “faster.” This would explain why the Lions feature Best in their short-passing game, isolating him against a slower defender or freeing him up in space. Best (68 carries for 241 yards with 4 TDs, 25 grabs for 254 yards and 1 TD) leads the NFC in yards-after-the-catch at 12 yards per reception after snaring the ball an average of more than a yard behind the line of scrimmage. There’s no way to expect a lineman to cover Best – well, maybe Jason Pierre-Paul could do it – so it’ll primarily be up to the linebackers, and perhaps nickel safety Deon Grant, to mark him.
Giants RBs Bradshaw (449 rushing yards) and Brandon Jacobs (172) vs. Lions’ front seven. The Giants’ game plan ought to wear out their two running backs. The Lions’ defense has allowed an average of 9.26 yards per carry on 31 rushes up the middle – the worst in the NFL – and an average of 5 yards per carry on 29 total runs running wide – putting it in the bottom third of the league. Coughlin said all summer he wanted the Giants to re-establish their identity. This would be a great opportunity for the running game to find its rhythm no matter how many nice things are being said about DTs Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams. Remember, that’s 9.26 yards per carry up the middle! Oh, I’ve got it – keep letting the Lions think they’re doing a wonderful job so they don’t fix it before the game.
Lions KOR Stefan Logan vs. Giants’ KO coverage unit. Logan ranks fourth in the NFC with a 29-yard kickoff return average that includes a 105-yard touchdown last week against St. Louis. He leads the NFC with 14 returns of at least 20 yards. The Giants have shown signs of improvement in covering kickoffs – watch how Pierre-Paul races down to erase some blockers.
Oh yeah. One more thing before we get to the prediction. C.C. Brown is the Lions’ starting strong safety. It has to make you wonder if anybody from the Detroit personnel department watched film and saw often he was out of position when he played for the Giants last season. You can expect Eli Manning to look for Brown any time the offense needs to make a big play.
PREDICTION: Giants 31, Lions 9
PREDICTION RECORD: 3-2 (1-4 vs. the spread)