Giants at Patriots
Today, 4:15 p.m., Channel 25 (Line: Patriots by 9)
When the Patriots runThe exceptional balance the Patriots displayed in previous games was absent against the Steelers after they fell behind and all but abandoned the run. Kevin Faulk got the most touches, and it appears age and injuries have taken their toll on him. Clock-killing tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis never got on track in Pittsburgh, either. A rugged, north-south runner, Green-Ellis charges hard to the hole, will break tackles, and almost always falls forward. Green-Ellis gets stronger as the game wears on, so getting him in a groove early is crucial. Danny Woodhead needs more touches - and not on kickoffs. He could excel today on draws and screens as he hides among the Giants’ big bodies, who will focus on getting to Tom Brady. It would be a shame if the return of Faulk renders rookie Stevan Ridley a spectator. Ridley has shown excellent leg drive and a nice competitive spirit. New England’s interior three of Dan Connolly, Logan Mankins, and Brian Waters excel at run blocking. The Giants’ first line of defense is built to rush the passer, so the run defense falls on the linebackers. Rookie middle man Greg Jones has nice instincts and will rattle teeth. Wingmen Mathias Kiwanuka and Michael Boley are smart and versatile.
When the Patriots passTom Brady and his protectors will be under the gun as they face one of the fiercest pass-rushing defenses in the NFL. The relentless Giants can bring the heat from the inside and outside. Ends Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, and Justin Tuck get in the backfield in a flash using explosive first steps, great strength, and athleticism to catch tackles flat-footed. Tackles Chris Canty and Linval Joseph have the strength to collapse the pocket up the middle. Brady will have to get rid of the ball quickly, and that means a heavy dose of Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez (Rob Gronkowski will be a blocker today) and plenty of screens to Kevin Faulk and Danny Woodhead. Corey Webster is New York’s best corner, and he may draw Welker. Hernandez can be a beast after the catch but he drops too many balls. If the short game loosens up the defense, Brady will go on the attack with Deion Branch and possibly Taylor Price. Branch runs great routes and has a great rapport with Brady. Giants safeties Kenny Phillips (excellent range) and Antrel Rolle (good cover skills) are solid but not spectacular.
When the Giants runThe Giants’ rushing attack, once a hallmark of the Tom Coughlin Administration, has struggled this season. Ahmad Bradshaw is the lead horse, but he is out today with a foot injury. Bradshaw’s longtime running mate, Brandon Jacobs, is looking a little long in the tooth. Once a bruising 6-4, 264-pounder who would wear defenses down with power and size, Jacobs is more of a plodder now. While he is still strong, he no longer has the speed to consistently blast through creases and get to the second level. Seldom-used D.J. Ware has good size (6-0, 225) but lacks speed and vision. Starting center David Baas also is out with a knee injury. Left guard David Diehl (6-5, 304) has an excellent combination of size and strength. Diehl has deceptive quickness and moves well laterally. He will pick off his share of linebackers. Right guard Chris Snee (6-3, 305) is quick and powerful and rarely loses one-on-one battles. Patriot tackles Vince Wilfork (he’s big - really big - and strong) and Kyle Love (he’s quick and exuberant) will clear space. The linebacking corps sorely misses a fully-healthy Jerod Mayo.
When the Giants passThe ongoing debate in New York this season is whether or not the Jets’ Mark Sanchez is an elite quarterback. He is not. There is no such debate about the other quarterback at the Meadowlands. Eli Manning is not only elite, he may be playing the best football of his career. A sturdy 6-foot-4-inch, 218-pounder, Manning has excellent mechanics, a quick release, and an accurate, above-average arm. He reads defenses quickly and checks down effectively. He has zero foot speed and his ball sails when he’s on the run, but the Patriots don’t force QBs to go on the run consistently. Hakeem Nicks is usually receiving option No. 1, but he is out with a hamstring problem. Victor Cruz continues to impress. The former UMass star isn’t exceptionally strong, quick, or fast. He does have great awareness, runs nice routes, and has the uncanny ability to get open. Mario Manningham is a smooth route-runner who slips in and out of his cuts fluidly. Tight end Jake Ballard has excellent size (6-6, 275) and good hands but lacks speed. New England’s secondary is in shambles; safety Patrick Chung is the only consistent performer in the bunch.
GIANTS’ KEY PLAYER: Mathias Kiwanuka
The former defensive end initially struggled when he was switched to outside linebacker in New York’s 4-3 defense. Consider the transformation complete. He no longer struggles. He dominates.
How he beats you: With speed, instincts, and power. Kiwanuka is a bundle of energy who never takes a play off. He’s just as comfortable rushing the passer as he is exploding into running backs.
How to shut him down: By wearing him down. He’s going to take his shots at you, so it’s imperative to return in kind. Match his physicality on every down to limit his effectiveness.
GIANTS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. Copycats: The Steelers used a quick-hit offense to keep the chains moving and the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands. The Giants need to do the same thing.
2. Zoned in: Mix in some zone blitzes to get to Brady. You can’t send extra bodies, because he’ll find the favorable one-on-ones and exploit them.
3. Cruz control: Victor Cruz has emerged as a dynamic playmaker this season. Get the ball in his hands as much as possible and let him do his thing.
PATRIOTS’ KEY TO VICTORY:
1. Return game: Last week is over. It’s time for the offense to get back to its balanced ways to keep the Giants off-guard.
2. Chip off the old blocks: The Gronkowski boys have to use their big bodies to help tackles Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer keep the ends out of Tom Brady’s face.
3. Early indicators: Get some pressure on Eli Manning from the get-go. He is feeling very comfortable right now, and if you don’t hit him early, he will riddle this secondary.
Prediction: Patriots 24, Giants 18