By Paul Dottino
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Coach Tom Coughlin knows it. His players know it. The Giants have built a 6-3 record and own a two-game lead in the NFC East without having consistently played championship-caliber football.
Bengals WR A.J. Green knows it too, and that’s why he stated the obvious when he said there are “a lot of holes” in the Giants’ defense going into Sunday’s game at Cincinnati. That’s why it’s up to the Giants to plug those holes with better tackling, better run fits and more physical play against the Bengals (3-5), losers of four straight.
It’s also up to Eli Manning, who’s in a slump with one TD pass and four INTs over the past three games, and his receivers to make sure they get back into rhythm. The Giants changed up some of their practice drills in the passing game this week so that more attention could be paid to creating space and running the correct routes.
Here are this week’s three matchups to watch:
1. Giants WR Victor Cruz vs. Bengals slot CB. The Bengals have used a variety of personnel combinations in their secondary, but it’s very likely to be Adam Jones on Cruz out of the slot.
Regardless, Cruz is going to have to find ways to help the Giants improve their third-down efficiency (21st in the NFL at 38 percent), which is a bit of a problem since TE Martellus Bennett has been asked to block more and WR Hakeem Nicks has been playing on a sore knee.
Eli Manning has targeted 31 percent of his passes at Cruz this year, up from 22 percent last season – might this be part of the problem? Perhaps WR Domenik Hixon becomes a key player in this game. Cincinnati’s defense is ranked 24th in the NFL on third-down conversions, allowing them at a rate of 42 percent.
2. Bengals WR A.J. Green vs. Giants CB Corey Webster. Green (51 catches for 735 yards with eight TDs) has caught a scoring pass in seven consecutive games and 73 percent of his grabs have gone for first downs. He also ranks fifth in the NFL with 37 third-down receptions.
Those are solid numbers, but they are even more impressive when you consider that he’s basically a one-man show – with the Bengals ranking 31st in the NFL with a 29 percent third-down conversion rate. Webster was limited by a sore hamstring earlier this season but lately appears to be playing closer to the level he’s accustomed to.
3. Giants kick coverage units vs. Bengals PR Adam Jones and KOR Brandon Tate. Coughlin hopes the coverage breakdowns against Pittsburgh (249 total return yards) turn out to be a blip on the radar screen since this area had not been a problem until the Steelers went wild.
Jones (12.7 PR avg.) has an 81-yard PR for a touchdown this season. Tate (27.3 KOR avg) has put up a 40-yard KOR in each of the past two weeks. The Giants’ coverage units may be missing CB Michael Coe (hamstring) but may see the return of S Will Hill (NFL suspension).
Prediction: Giants 23, Bengals 16
Prediction record vs. the spread: 4-4-1
Your prediction for Giants-Bengals? Give it your best shot in the comments below…