By Paul Dottino
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Although coach Tom Coughlin may have almost as many questions about the New York Giants entering the Week 1 as he had when the summer started, he’s got no choice but to take his players to Detroit for the Monday night season opener.
The most glaring issues are at tight end, where Coughlin says he will deploy a position by committee, and with a banged-up offensive line, which hasn’t inspired a great deal of confidence (specifically in pass protection) because it’s seemingly gone through hour-to-hour adjustments. And don’t forget, he was hoping first-round WR Odell Beckham Jr. (sidelined by hamstring issues) or free agent signee Trindon Holliday (IR with a hamstring) would provide a spark on punt returns. And the receiving corps was expected to get a much-needed infusion of speed from Mario Manningham, who was released because he was unable to fully overcome his knee issue.
On the flip side, Coughlin ought to have much optimism about his running game, thanks to newcomers Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams, his overall defense (much money was spent to upgrade the secondary, beginning with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), the apparent health of pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul (back, shoulder) and the dramatic improvement of backup QB Ryan Nassib, if needed.
Where does this leave the Giants, who have installed a West Coast-style offense under new coordinator Ben McAdoo?
Their best chance to compete for a playoff spot is to ride the defense, dominate the turnover battle, and heavily lean on what appears to be an emerging power running attack. In other words, QB Eli Manning would be well-advised to “manage” the game — at least while the rest of his passing components get up to speed — while allowing the team’s stronger units to handle their business. Think of how the 1997 Giants swept the NFC East en route to winning the division with a 10-5-1 mark and you’ll get the idea of what’s possible if they play smart, mistake-free football.
But if the dominoes do not line up correctly, the team likely will be out of the playoffs for the fifth time in six years.
As for Week 1, here are three key matchups to watch against the Lions:
1. Lions LDT Ndamukong Suh vs. Giants RT Brandon Mosley or John Jerry and C J.D. Walton. If the Giants are going to run the ball, they’ll have to make sure to neutralize one of the most dominant interior defensive linemen in the league. Mosley (back) and Jerry shared reps last week – regardless, either one likely will get some help from Walton. Mosley’s game is based on power; Jerry’s on size. Their job should be made a bit easier by the fact that RBs Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams don’t need much room to create positive yardage.
2. Lions WRs Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate vs. Giants CBs Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara. The Giants said DRC would draw the top assignment each week when they signed him, but Amukamara held a weary Johnson (knee) to three catches for 43 yards last December. How about playing the Lions receivers straight-up with occasional help from the safeties over the top? Don’t be surprised if the Giants mix up their coverages A LOT during the game.
3. Lions RBs Joique Bell and Reggie Bush vs. Giants linebackers. MLB Jon Beason (toe) is expected to be on a snap count, given that he missed the preseason, so fellow LBs Jameel McClain and Jaquain Williams will have to be at their best in not only stopping the Lions’ formidable 1-2 punch on the ground — they’ve also got to contain them in the short-passing game.
Prediction: Lions 23, Giants 16
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