By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots (5-2) return home to face the New York Giants (5-2) this week in a matchup of two teams in the hunt for their respective divisional crowns. The Giants had a nice comeback to beat Miami last week as the Patriots were dominated in every facet of the game last week except on the scoreboard in a loss to the Steelers.
Both teams are in the midst of stretch of difficult games in November on their schedules and will be looking to build some momentum heading into the month. So on to the matchups.
Patriots Running Game: The Patriots abandoned the running game a tad too early last week and obviously having Kevin Faulk in the lineup wasn’t a sentimental thing, he was the featured back in the offense against Pittsburgh. I thought that was a tad too premature after being out for so long, and that going with BenJarvus Green-Ellis was the way to go….but no matter, when Bill calls me for advice, I will worry about it.
The Giants have had their issues with stopping the run this year, and this week, look for the Patriots to balance out their offense much more. With Green-Ellis, Faulk and Stevan Ridley, the Pats will look to wear down the Giants defense and bring the safeties up a bit in run support. The Giants have a fine front seven, but they are best when pinning their ears back, so with that in mind….
Patriots Passing Game: This won’t be breaking news, but the Giants can rush the passer and the Patriots and Pats fans know all too well how they do it. They do it with four down linemen, come at you in waves, and like to bring the pressure right up the middle. Those are the three things that when you talk about putting pressure on Tom Brady, is how to do it best. The Giants did it in 2007, and they still play a similar style.
When they rush only four, they still bring tremendous pressure and can drop seven into coverage. Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora are outstanding and create such havoc that Jason Pierre-Paul is in prime position to pick up sacks. No slight to Pierre-Paul, who is an athletic and has a non-stop motor but those other guys drive the quarry to the hunters and Pierre-Paul has reaped the benefits of it.
With Corey Webster having a fine season and Aaron Ross at the corners, the Giants will not fear the Patriots wideouts, beating them physically or with the deep ball. Antrelle Rolle and Kenny Phillips likewise, will not be intimidated either, and will try to be physical and jam the Patriots at the line of scrimmage to disrupt timing.
For the Patriots Tom Brady will have his work cut out for him, Deion Branch and either Taylor Price or Chad Ochocinco will be jammed hard at the line, look for the Giants to put someone on Wes Welker at the line of scrimmage and contest everything. The tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez will be looked upon to open things up for the rest. It all comes down to protection. If Brady is ducking within 3 seconds, it could be a long afternoon for the passing game.
Along the Pats offensive line, Matt Light will be lined up opposite Umenyiora and Pierre-Paul and will have his hands full, Vollmer if he plays will be opposite Tuck, but the Giants like to stunt and those guys will also take turns coming up the middle and that is an area where Brady is most vulnerable.
Giants Running Game: *Update on Thursday afternoon* With Ahmad Bradshaw possibly sidelined with a broken bone in his foot, it will be looked upon to Brandon Jacobs to get the running game going. This could be a golden opportunity for Jacobs, who was booed last week to jump start his career again. He could be a wildcard in this game. He’s a huge bruiser who is difficult to bring down when he brings his “A-game.”
The Giants haven’t run the ball this season effectively at all averaging just over 85 yards per game. The Patriots front seven have been very effective at stopping the run. But when teams have spread them out, their sub-package has struggled stopping the run.
But I don’t see the Giants trying to run much other to keep things balanced this week, it’s a copycat league and the G-men are going to want to throw.
Giants Passing Game: Manning is having perhaps his finest season, currently third in the NFL with a 102.1 passer rating. Even with the injuries the Giants have had, he’s continued to play at a very high level.
The Giants have no doubt looked at the film from a week ago and with Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, they will be looking to spread the Patriots defense out and throw the ball. One thing which may hurt is the possible loss of Bradshaw whom Manning likes to use out of the backfield as a safety valve.
With Nicks’s hamstring still hurting and Bradshaw possibly out, Manning may take a page from the Pittsburgh playbook and utilize TE Jake Ballard across the middle much more. Ballard has only caught 19 passes thus far this year, but may get a larger piece of the pie. The Patriots Achilles Heel has been the coverage down the middle of the field in the soft parts of the zone under the safeties. Pittsburgh picked them apart with this last week, and the Giants may attempt to do the same.
Like the Patriots, the Giants have struggled somewhat with pass protection at times allowing 15 sacks, but the Patriots have struggled getting consistent pressure. We may see more of Mark Anderson, considered more of a pass rush specialist this week as Shaun Ellis has sore ribs and may miss this game.
The key for the Patriots is having Albert Haynesworth healthy for this one, with he and Vince Wilfork at DL, they can collapse the pocket and force Manning into either getting rid of the ball early or pushing him into Anderson or Andre Carter coming from the DE. The LBs of the Patriots have struggled mightily in coverage but with Jerod Mayo hopefully returning to full health, they will fix that somewhat and get a better push on blitzes.
Special Teams: The Pats STs in Pittsburgh mirrored the play from the offense and defense…badly. A missed field goal, a horribly botched on-sides kick and both the return and coverage teams fared poorly.
The Giants kicking game is solid with P Steve Weatherford with a 46.4 average and Lawrence Tynes who has kicked 6-8 FGs. They also have Devin Thomas who will be dangerous against a Patriots coverage unit struggling to make tackles.
The Patriots kicking game is solid with Stephen Gostkowski and P Zoltan Mesko but since Julian Edeman went down with an injury, the return game has been pedestrian. Now with Edelman’s availability in question, it makes that an even bigger question mark. Simply put, Danny Woodhead will have to play much better than last week against a solid Giants coverage unit.
“X”-Factors: One thing the Patriots have been able to do is put losses behind them in the Bill Belichick era. They very rarely lose two straight games, nor lose at home. The last home loss was in 2008 with Matt Cassel at QB. Also at home against NFC opponents they are 18-2 under Bill Belichick.
November has never been a great month for the Giants under Tom Coughlin, so we’ll see how the Giants play this week. They’ve had a lot of lower tier teams so far and have lost to both Seattle and Washington but have beaten both the Bills and Eagles.
The Patriots will need a big comeback effort, which has never been a big problem in the Brady/Belichick era and home cooking may be just what the doctor ordered.
Conclusions: This will be a tough physical matchup with two teams that play each other every summer during the pre-season. One thing to keep in mind is this…the Patriots scoring has gone down every week since week one, from a high in Miami on opening weekend of 38 to just 20 and then 17 against Dallas and Pittsburgh.
Teams are figuring out that they must take away Wes Welker down low and that the Patriots WRs can’t beat the physical jam at the line of scrimmage and have no one who can stretch the field. That’s why Offensive Coordinator Bill O’Brien said this week that Taylor Price needs to get himself more involved in the offense.
The difference this week I think will be in the Patriots running game, the Giants have had their troubles defending it and the strong running of Green-Ellis, Ridley and Faulk will balance things out just enough for the Patriots to move the ball and score points. But they must be touchdowns, not field goals as points are going to continue to be tough to come by.
Eli Manning will attack the middle of the field, everyone else is, and the Giants will also pile up the yards, but the possible loss of both Nicks and Bradshaw or having them at a diminished capacity will hurt the Giants options in the red zone, the one area that the Patriots defense has played fairly well in. The return to health of Jerod Mayo will also help. It doesn’t look like LB Dane Fletcher is returning anytime soon, who would also help in passing downs.
Brady will claw and scratch for yardage against the pressure coming up the middle of the field but the Patriots will pull out a very close 27-24 win.