EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Since the opening of training camp, the New York Giants have been boasting that their defense has the potential to be one of the NFL’s best.
Safety Antrel Rolle and Co. are going to get a chance prove it Monday when they face the Detroit Lions in the regular-season opener.
The Lions are loaded on offense, starting with Calvin Johnson, arguably the league’s top wide receiver. Quarterback Matthew Stafford also has former Seahawk Golden Tate as a target on the outside along with a trio of tight ends, led by Brandon Pettigrew. Out of the backfield, running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell are threats both rushing and receiving.
“I only love to go up against the best,” Rolle said Thursday. “Clearly they have one of the best receivers, if not the best receiver, in the league on that side of the ball in Calvin Johnson. … Those guys are going to go out there and be productive, but it’s our game plan to go out there and make sure that they’re not so productive.”
What makes this test even bigger is that the Giants’ new offense struggled in the preseason and needs help.
“The ball is in our court,” Rolle said. “We just have to go out there and play team ball. We can talk about it all we want to, but unless we go out there and display it, talking means nothing.”
The big question mark on the defense is the line, which lost end and captain Justin Tuck and tackle Linval Joseph to free agency. It has gotten a seemingly healthy Jason Pierre-Paul back.
The linebackers and secondary are solid, with the defensive backs being the strength of coordinator Perry Fewell’s group.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who was signed as a free agent, has the ability to be a shut-down cornerback, and running mate Prince Amukamara has been getting better each season. Add in free agent cornerbacks Walter Thurmond and Zack Bowman along with safeties Stevie Brown and Will Demps, and the secondary has the potential to blanket receivers.
“It is going to be a great test for us,” said Brown, who is starting at free safety after missing last season with a knee injury. “They are a great offense. If we go out there and we do what we are supposed to do and do what we are capable of, with everybody on the same page and flying around, we can make a statement on Monday night.”
The Giants beat the Lions 23-20 in overtime in December, but that game means little since Detroit has changed significantly under new coach Jim Caldwell.
“He came in and set his standards from the get-go,” said Johnson, who played with a nagging knee injury last season and was limited to three catches for 43 yards by New York. “He’s a disciplinarian, he preaches to us about ways that, one: We beat ourselves in the past; and trying to prevent those things in the future.”
The Giants usually don’t assign their cornerbacks to cover one receiver, so Johnson should get a run at several different defenders.
“They’ve got a mixed group. I’ve played against most of them, for the most part, at least the outside guys in Cromartie and Prince,” Johnson said. “Both of them have pretty good ball skills. Cromartie is a very shifty guy, a very long guy. Prince likes to get his hands on you, it seems like, early in the play.”
The Lions can use Johnson in the slot, which would put him against Thurmond, Tate’s teammate with the Super Bowl champions in Seattle.
“I think we have enough talent out here,” Thurmond said. “We’ve been playing our defenses that we’ve been playing the whole preseason and everything like that. We’re just going to go out there and compete, make it difficult, let the front four do what they do and get after the quarterback and put some pressure on Matt Stafford and really stop the run. Those are our main priorities this game.”
Of course, the Giants can take the pressure off their ‘D’ if Eli Manning gets rolling in Ben McAdoo’s new offense.
“He’s focused, he’s focused, he’s focused,” coach Tom Coughlin said of Manning. “It is serious business for him.”
NOTES: OL Adam Snyder, who was signed by the Giants Wednesday, practiced Thursday and says he will be ready for the opener if needed. He has played in eight offenses in his 10-year career and said he can adjust. … First-round draft pick WR Odell Beckham (hamstring), OT James Brewer (back) and DT Markus Kuhn (ankle) did not practice. LB Jon Beason (foot), OT Charles Brown (shoulder) and G Brandon Mosley (back) were limited. Veteran lineman John Jerry took Mosley’s snaps with the first team when needed. … Coughlin plans to simulate crowd noise at practice to prepare the team for what is expected to be a loud environment at Ford Field.
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