Folger’s Forecast: Giants vs. Saints
By Bob Folger, Senior Analyst
The Giants did enough things to defeat the Redskins on Monday night, but their mental laziness did them in. They know that they have enough talent to beat the best teams in the league, which is part of the problem.
It’s no secret that they only play their best when their backs are against a wall, when no one believes in them. They don’t seem intent on paying the price until they have no choice. A loss this Sunday, and they’ll get their wish.
Running the ball against the Giants makes so much sense that we’re surprised that most teams don’t do it more. The Saints have the personnel to run it down the Giants’ throats, but that would entail taking the ball out of the hands of quarterback Drew Brees, and we’re not sure that an interim head coach has the power to do that.
Giants on Offense
It’s that time of the year when a new face or two needs to rise from the ashes. It doesn’t look like running back David Wilson is going to be that guy. Receiver Jerrel Jernigan, however, has a chance, especially if the Giants fall behind and have to throw the ball.
Teams are defending the Giants’ passing game by getting up in the wide outs’ faces. Quickness can beat the jam, and Jernigan has that in spades. Look for the Giants to start challenging opposing defenses with quick hitters off those jams.
Losing Sean Locklear for the season is a blow, but the Giants are fortunate to have David Diehl back from his litany of injuries. Diehl has always come up big in big games for the Giants. He’ll have to overcome his declining skills as well as the injuries, but we wouldn’t put it past him to come up big.
Eli Manning still doesn’t look completely comfortable out there. Not having Hakeem Nicks at full speed is certainly one of his problems. He has to start looking to Martellus Bennett more often, as Bennett played very well last week and looks to be eager to take on a bigger role. Rueben Randle is another young player who needs to step up.
One player who has executed his role to near-perfection all year is fullback Henry Hynoski. This second-year player’s lead-blocking has been consistently superb. Let’s hope that Ahmad Bradshaw gets behind him and stays there more often, and that the Giants focus on running behind the much stronger left side of their offensive line.
Red zone difficulties continue to frustrate this offense, and a lot of it is mental mistakes. The offense’s mental level has to increase. If this group can commit totally, it can do great things. This is the time of year when those things have to start coming together.
The Saints’ defense has been their Achilles heel all year. They are not strong in any one area. Their defensive line likes to rush the passer, but at the expense of the run, which should play right into the Giants’ hands. Second-year defensive end Cameron Jordan leads the Saints with 7.0 sacks. Their leading tackler is veteran strong safety Roman Harper.
The Giants have to dominate this match-up. The offense has to score, they have to be efficient, and they have to finish. Ball control and a committed running game should be priorities. And on passing downs, quick hitters in the middle of the field should work.
Giants on Defense
It’s no fun playing a crazy, hybrid offense like Washington’s. We suspect the Giants’ defense will be glad to get back to seeing a conventional offense on the other side of the line of scrimmage, even if it has as much talent as New Orleans does.
Though the Saints have success running the ball, they don’t have the strong leadership on the sideline to tell Drew Brees to tone it down for the good of the team. Brees has really hurt his team with his forcing throws this year. It seems like every one of his 16 interceptions have really hurt.
And yet, Brees has numerous options at his disposal in the passing game that is very difficult to ignore. Jimmy Graham is as talented a receiving tight end as there is in the game, while receiver Marques Colston is the big and effective mid-range receiver that the Giants probably envisioned when they drafted Ramses Barden.
Still, it would be crazy for Brees not to hand the ball off 25-30 times against this Giants defense that isn’t always committed to the run. The Giants’ sack totals are down this year, but so is their run defense. If the defensive line can’t pick up their intensity, this season is going to end much too soon.
One of the defense’s keys could be the three-safety look that is tailor-made for the Saints’ pass-first style. If Antrel Rolle is on the field as a third linebacker, it would behoove the Saints to run the ball right at him, but again, we’re not sure Brees can be that disciplined in his approach.
The Giants’ linebackers will have to be at their best. Scheming to isolate Chase Blackburn in space should be one of the Saints’ strategies, especially when cat-quick Darren Sproles is on the field. We’re not sure if even Michael Boley can stay with Sproles. The defensive line will have to play its most disruptive game of the year to keep this excellent offense off the scoreboard.
Giants on Specials
It’s obvious that the special teams haven’t played well ever since Jacquian Williams went down with his knee injury seven weeks ago. He’s missed six weeks plus the bye and remains questionable. This group needs a leader, a playmaker like Williams. Spencer Paysinger remains their best player but he needs more help.
The Giants’ return game continues to struggle, and though the coverage has been solid they’ll be going up against two strong returners in Sproles on punts and rookie Travaris Cadet on kickoffs. Fortunately, both Giants’ kickers are doing their jobs very well. New Orleans also has a strong kicking game in punter Thomas Morstead and kicker Garrett Hartley. Hartley is a touchback machine on kickoffs, while Morstead has a very strong leg, too.
We’re not so sure that the Giants’ mental approach will be where it needs to be to defeat this talented opponent. The Saints can be their own worst enemy, but they can also stay with anyone. Manning will have to have a big game to out-score Brees and his multi-faceted attack. We suspect that the Giants defense will again struggle to get off the field.