By Steve Silverman
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The Giants have proven nothing as they go into the second week of the season. It’s easy to draw conclusions after one week of action, and one-game conclusions are almost always illusions or false positives.
But one thing that should make coach Ben McAdoo smile is that the Giants won a one-point game. New York lost its opener last year at Dallas by a point, and then went on to record a 1-4 mark in games decided by three or fewer points.
That’s probably the main reason Tom Coughlin was forced into retirement. Things went wrong in close games for the Giants, and in addition to having the worst defense in the league, they just couldn’t finish games when they had a chance to win.
A win in the opener doesn’t mean this situation has turned around, but it’s a good start.
Giving up 19 points to the Cowboys in the season opener is seemingly a step in the right direction for the defense. But the Week 2 encounter with the Saints will provide a lot more information.
Every Giants fan remembers last year’s trip to the Superdome and the 52-49 shootout between Eli Manning and Drew Brees. It ended badly for the Giants as those end-of-game and close-game issues bit Coughlin and the Giants.
The defense has a chance to get a lot better this year. When teams play as badly as the Giants (32nd in yards allowed) and the Saints (31st in the same category) did last year, there’s nowhere to go but up.
Well, a repeat performance is possible, but the Giants have made a number of moves to get better, including the free-agent acquisitions of defensive end Olivier Vernon, defensive tackle Damon Harrison and cornerback Janoris Jenkins, along with the drafting of cornerback Eli Apple and safety Darian Thompson, should make the Giants a better defense.
However, the real improvements are not likely to be seen for a month or more. No matter how much the talent level on defense has been upgraded, it takes time for a unit to find its timing and play cohesively. The key for the best defenses is for each man to know what everyone else is doing. It builds remarkable confidence and know-how, and that takes a lot of time in practice and games.
McAdoo and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo have plenty to work with this year. In addition to the newcomers, Jason Pierre-Paul and his fireworks-gnarled hand are in the lineup. He wasn’t there the last time the Giants lined up against Brees, and his presence should have an impact on the way Brees attacks the Giants.
Brees, you will remember, threw for 505 yards and seven TDs against the Giants. If Pierre-Paul and his linemates can get after the quarterback with the same consistency they showed in the opener against the Cowboys, they have a much better chance of dramatically cutting down Brees’ production.
The Giants didn’t record a sack in Week 1 against the Cowboys, but they did pressure rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, and Spagnuolo felt the unit was picking up steam as the game went along. Stopping the run was a bigger priority against Dallas, but the pass rush will be required to produce against the Saints.
Adjustments will be made, and Pierre-Paul, Vernon, Harrison and Jonathan Hankins have to pick it up if they are going to make it uncomfortable for Brees.
The Giants are not going to shut the Saints down, but they can slow their roll. The 37-year-old Brees has a new contract and a big-play receiver in Brandin Cooks, so the Giants know whom they have to stop.
Figuring out the Saints’ game plan is not the issue. Stopping the execution of it is the challenge in Week 2.
McAdoo and his team have one victory in the books. Getting that second win and an improved showing from the defense against an explosive offense is this week’s assignment, and there can be no backsliding.
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