Diary of a Giants Fan: Giants – Patriots Preview
5-2. Who knew? First place in the NFC-East. Who saw that coming? Two possibly devastating injuries to stars? Well, that one's pretty much par for the course this year. With no word on whether Hakeem Nicks (hamstring) or Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) will be available, the Giants will begin to run the gauntlet that is their second half schedule on Sunday when they take on the New England Patriots. This is Diary of a Giants Fan.
Rather than rehash the disappointing yet important win over the Dolphins last week, let's get straight to the news of the week. Brandon Jacobs made a lot of noise after Sunday's game intimating that he is still livid about his lack of playing time. This outburst came just minutes after a game in which he dropped a pass, fumbled a handoff and looked barely alive at best when running with the ball. No matter how off base his cries for more playing time are, it looks like Jacobs will be getting some, however. Reports have come out that Ahmad Bradshaw has a cracked bone in his foot and will be out indefinitely, placing Brandon Jacobs in line to earn back some of the respect he's lost in the past days. However, there are conflicting reports and as I write this very sentence it is being reported on ESPN Radio that Bradshaw's injury is less serious and that he is expected to play.
Let's hope the latter report is correct. Bradshaw's ability to control the game and use his speed to attack the Patriots defensive line and linebackers will be important to the Giants this Sunday. And let's face it. I don't care how much it makes Brandon Jacobs whine, he's just not playing like a starting running back in the MAAC, let alone the NFL, right now. In other news from the New York Giant's infinitely expanding triage unit, Hakeem Nicks is the latest to join the vast array feeling the injury report's sweet sting. Nicks has not practiced this week after hurting his hamstring at the end of the Dolphin game. His status for this week is unkown.
If Nicks does miss the game it will be a big loss for a Giants pass game which figures to be the way that they'll look to attack this God-awful Patriots defense. A matchup that looked to decisively favor the Giants, Giants offense vs. Patriots defense, is a little less absolute now with the possibility of the Giants being without their two best skill-position players. I still like the Giants offense, especially with Manning playing as well as he has, but Jacobs, Manningham and Cruz are much less impressive than Bradshaw, Nicks, Manningham and Cruz.
Breaking down the game I think the Giants offense will need to have a big one. This Patriots offense has looked dynamic at times this season and they're facing a secondary who's flaccid coverage has helped make some of the worst quarterbacks in the world look like hall of famers. This is without a doubt a horrible matchup for the Giants defense. Yes, I'm well aware that the Patriots offensive line isn't exactly world beating and I know that Tuck, Umenyiora and Pierre-Paul should have an absolutely huge day rushing Brady whenever he drops back, but I don't think they'll have a chance. The Patriots watch tape, they're smart, they game plan well. They know that if they let Tom Brady's Ugg booted feet hit the ground more than three times when he drops back the next thing that will hit the ground will be his back.
For that reason alone I don't see the Patriots offense being a vertical passing attack this week. I think Brady, Welker and Branch will take advantage of the fact that the Giants, regardless of down and distance - even, infuriatingly, in third and short scenarios - give roughly a mile and a half of cushion to opposing wide receivers. Alright. I exaggerate. But my point stands. The Giants have never played bump and run, which is what I guess is the natural response to spending the bulk of the first half of the season getting burned by anyone who has feet - again, forgive me, hyperbole is my friend. I expect the Giants defense to be repeatedly punished by their inability or refusal to play physical, press coverage. I fear that the Patriots offense will slowly and demoralizingly matriculate the ball down the field by way of repeated slant passes and crossing routes. The Pats offense simply won't let the Giants pass rush beat them the way the Steeler's pass rush did last week.
Because of that I think the Giants offense has to have a big day for them to win, something that is certainly within their reach. Even without Bradshaw and Nicks, and I expect Bradshaw to play, I look for this Giants offense to find continued success. Eli Manning has played some of the best football of his career this season, and I find it hard to believe that this feeble Patriots pass defense, ranked last in the NFL, will mount any opposition. Whatever wide receivers play for the Giants this Sunday will have big days, I expect. The G-men's run game will figure as well. Bradshaw's speed and cutback ability, if he plays and plays well, will force the Patriots linebackers to honor the run, opening the middle of the field for Jake "Kevin Boss Who?" Ballard.
The keys to a possible Giants win start on the defensive side of the ball. If the Giants are to stop Mr. Gisele Bundchen enough for their offense to get them the win then they'll need to develop a bump and run defensive game. I'm terrified that Big Blue will come out and try to play a cushion-a-plenty zone defense against the Patriots pass game. If they do, they'll be blown out of Gillette Stadium faster than I'd care to think about. There is no winning strategy that involves anything but press coverage for the Giants. Offensively, I think the G-men need to have a somewhat balanced attack on offense. While I absolutely expect Gilbride to steer clear of the balanced attack I've called for (how dare he not heed my word), I think he needs to make the Patriots honor the run to help Manning - particularly if Nicks does not play. If the Giants can't establish the run they'll find nothing but moderate success in the pass game rather than the dynamic success that I think they'll need to win. Running the ball effectively will also help the Giants control the clock and keep Tom Brady off of the field. Additionally, I think a fast start is imperative for the Giants. If they can jump to an early lead and force Tom Brady to try and throw his team back into the game I think this Giants pass rush can keep the Patriots offense at bay.
Ultimately, I'm not sure where to look for a winner of this game. I think the Giants have the advantage on the defensive side of the ball, though I think the Patriots have the advantage offensively. While I certainly expect a well played, close game that will be in doubt in the game's final minutes - which I think the Giants have an excellent shot at winning - I'm not sure the G-men have enough in the secondary to get this W. The defensive backs have certainly played much better of late but they have to prove to me that they can play effective bump and run man coverage before I can pick them. If the Giants can get themselves the lead late in the fourth quarter I expect this pass rush to win them the game, but I'm not sure they'll ever get the chance. It's as much of a toss up game as you can find, but the Patriots are at home, they're coming off of a loss and ultimately, I think they get the win in a very hotly contested game, 27-24.
...But let's hope not. Check back here Sunday night for my recap of the game and follow me on Twitter for updates @JoeBianchino. Go Giants!