By Paul Dottino
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If the Giants were an automobile, they would not have much of a chance of gaining a passing sticker at the inspection station. They are taking a broken-down roster into New Orleans, where the Saints are putting up nearly 40 points per game this season.
Thanks to injuries, coach Tom Coughlin does not have his starting running back (Ahmad Bradshaw, foot) nor his starting left tackle (Will Beatty, eye), not to mention his best linebacker (Michael Boley, hamstring). And one of his starting receivers, Mario Manningham (knee) is nursing a sore knee. Did we forget to add that defensive end Justin Tuck (ankle, shoulder) hasn’t looked like himself since he returned to the lineup during the two-game losing streak?
Enough said, so let’s get to the Giants’ three key match-ups to watch:
1. Giants offense coordinator Kevin Gilbride vs. Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Obviously, the Giants would like to control the clock to keep the ball away from the Saints’ high-powered offense. The Saints are allowing 5.2 yards per carry and have been hit for almost 6 yards per attempt when running around the right edge of their defense.
But the Giants are averaging less than 85 yards per game on the ground and their revamped offensive line may not be able to establish a ground attack. If they cannot move the ball on the ground, they must switch gears in a hurry and turn the game into a track meet – see if QB Eli Manning can match up score for score with the Saints’ Drew Brees.
Williams is a blitz-happy defensive coordinator who has gotten a team-leading 6.5 sacks from safety Roman Harper, who’s forced to bring the heat because the front four does not get enough pressure by itself. So the secondary is apt to give up the big play and the defense has just five interceptions. Gilbride cannot be afraid to let Manning wing it, if necessary.
2. Giants’ front seven vs. Saints RB Darren Sproles. Sproles is averaging 6.8 yards per carry, but he can beat you in the running game, the passing game and in the kick return game. He has terrific quickness, speed and – you guessed it – juke-a-bility – so the Giants MUST make sure they do not allow him to operate in open space.
One potential answer would be to use a spy on him, perhaps speedy rookie Jacquian Williams could handle the assignment. The trouble with this strategy is that Sproles could be used as a decoy and run the linebacker away from the play.
Regardless of what defensive coordinator Perry Fewell does, the Giants’ front seven must maintain its gap integrity because allowing a crease to Sproles is sure to result in a big play.
3. Giants’ pass rush vs. Saints QB Drew Brees. Brees leads the NFL with 3,326 passing yards, ranks second with a 71 percent completion mark and is tied for second with 23 TD passes. He has fired scoring strikes to eight different receivers and six Saints have caught at least 25 passes. Oh yes, and the Saints are second in the NFL in scoring at 31.3 points per game.
There is only one blue print to slow them down: the front four MUST get consistent pressure from the inside in order to push the pocket into Brees’ face and clog his passing lanes. At the same time, the defensive backs must get a solid jam against the receivers off the line.
Brees, who stands at a diminutive 6-feet tall, utilizes his quick release and throws timing routes as well as any quarterback in the league. The Giants must wreck his timing with some type of push up the middle – even if it requires a periodic safety or linebacker blitz, although it must be disguised well or he’ll get a completion off a hot read.
PREDICTION: Saints 35, Giants 23
PREDICTION RECORD VS THE SPREAD: 3-7
What’s your prediction for Giants-Saints? Let Dottino know in the comments below…