By Paul Dottino
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Perhaps coach Tom Coughlin ought to force his team to eat apples to keep the doctor away.
The injury bug has bitten the Giants once again, less than a week after several players returned to the lineup.
It’s very unlikely RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) and WR Hakeem Nicks (hamstring) will play in Sunday’s game at New England – both players missed Thursday’s practice, as did C David Baas (knee) and tackle Stacy Andrews (back). And that doesn’t count H-B Bear Pascoe (finger) and DE Jason Pierre-Paul (neck), who left the workout early.
On the flip side, WR Ramses Barden (ankle) took most of the snaps with the first team for the second straight day and appears on track to play for the first time in more than a year.
And the Giants could use him. The Patriots own an overall record of 63-12 (.840) at Gillette Stadium in regular season games since the facility opened in 2002 – no other NFL team has a home winning percentage .800 during that span.
Now that we’ve gotten the medical report and the most dramatic statistic out of the way, let’s get to the Giants’ three key matchups:
1. Giants’ interior offensive line vs. Patriots DTs Vince Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth. The offense much control the time of possession and the best way to do this is via the running game, although a short passing game may be used as a supplemental attack.
Guards David Diehl and Chris Snee will flank either Baas or backup center Kevin Boothe opposite two of the biggest run-stuffers in the league. The line has failed to provide a consistent push this season and must do so against the Pats, regardless of whether they are in a 3-4 or 4-3.
Wilfork usually commands a double-team and Haynesworth appears to be experiencing a resurgence under Bill Belichick’s four-man front after a failed stint with the Redskins. Bradshaw has the Giants’ only 100-yard game this season (vs. the Bills) and the Patriots have allowed 101 rushing yards per game.
2. Giants FS Antrel Rolle and his bracket partner vs. Patriots WR Wes Welker. The Giants have been matching up CB Corey Webster against the opponents’ best receiver but are unlikely to do this week because of how much Welker lines up in the slot. It will be Rolle’s job to jam Welker at the line and get as physical as the officials will allow before allowing Welker to get into his routes, where a second defender – perhaps S Deon Grant or S Kenny Phillips – will be waiting for him.
Webster could be used to shadow WR Deion Branch, which leaves CB Aaron Ross to take on WR Chad Ochocinco. The important thing to remember is that the Patriots’ receiving corps – outside of Welker – does not do a great job of creating separation against quality man-to-man coverage, as the Steelers showed last weekend. The secondary’s physical play, combined with a strong pass rush from the front four, is the best way to keep QB Tom Brady and Co. under control.
3. Giants’ passing game vs. Patriots’ secondary. Why so generic? Simple. The Giants want to spread around the ball as much as possible with short- and medium-range passes to take advantage of the Patriots’ soft zone and their plodding linebackers, who don’t cover much ground.
The approach should be to run the ball while dinking-and-dunking down the field, hoping that a few of Eli Manning’s targets are able find open space and create a periodic big play with significant yards after the catch. The Patriots, whose man-to-man scheme did not work earlier in the season, have resorted to using a heavy dose of zone coverage – which could be problematic for Belichick, who would prefer to pressure Manning and force him out of the pocket. But blitzes usually are built to use in conjunction with man-to-man defense.
Watch for yards after the catch specialist Victor Cruz and the seemingly always-open Jake Ballard to have key roles.
PREDICTION: Patriots 34, Giants 30
PREDICTION vs. the spread: 2-5
What’s your prediction for Giants-Patriots? Let Dottino know below…