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N.Y. Giants vs. New Orleans Saints preview: The start of grand finale fireworks

giantssaints120912_optBY SAM HITCHCOCK
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

In most fireworks shows on the Fourth of July (or a little before or after), a formulaic pattern is followed: begin the display with decently-sized fireworks explosions; follow with smaller fireworks as the intense spectacle and volume begin to abate; and then launch the grand finale that sounds like bombshells going off at a frenetic pace. It is the same shtick in nearly every corner of the country.

This analogy extends to this afternoon’s Giants-Saints game and the teams’ offenses. The New York Giants and New Orleans Saints are both averaging 26.8 points per game, but aside from the Giants’ throttling of the Packers (their only win in their last four games and also their only time scoring above 20 points), both teams have seen their offenses sputter the last couple of weeks.

That makes this juicy head-to-head the beginning of the “grand finale.” Here are two reasons why this matchup will be fun for fans that love how offense-centric the league has become due to the rule changes. If you’re a “defense rules the day” adherent, this game will be less fun than a colonoscopy.

Reason Number 1: Two Quarterbacks Who Are Facing Suspect Secondaries

Saints Safety Malcolm Jenkins has a -20.1 rating according to ProFootballFocus (the worst in the NFL), and his counterpart, Roman Harper, checks in at -12.9. That’s a combined -33 rating for the Saints’ safeties! The only safety duo in their division of the same ineptitude is the Philadelphia Eagles, as Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman are a combined -27.8.

Eli Manning has to be licking his chops at the chance to face such an unsuitable bunch and, aside from New Orleans cornerback Jabari Greer, who has been stellar, the Giants’ three-wide sets will have a big opportunity to exploit an overmatched secondary. With Hakeem Nicks all the way healthy and getting double digit targets in three consecutive games, and Victor Cruz eclipsing the century mark against the Redskins, look for the pair to use a switch-release to gain an advantage over defensive backs.

A switch-release is a combo pattern that has one receiver run a route to the outside and the other wideout go to the inside. If the routes are run to precision, it forces the secondary to take away the space for one of the receivers, leaving the other with very favorable position and room on the cornerback. Also, look for Giants tight end Martellus Bennett to be reinstated back into the offense unlike the last several weeks. The threat of him catching balls in the red zone and through the seam adds another wrinkle to this attack.

This Giants offense was severely damaged by penalties against Washington last Monday, which became costly when they were in the red zone. New York is not a much-penalized team typically, so if they can continue to pass well on third downs and utilize second-round pick Rueben Randle in the offense more, they will be a mismatch against the New Orleans secondary. The Giants will set up the play-action pass and utilize its explosive potential to greater success in the future.

Drew Brees does not have the cream puff lineup of defensive backs against him that Manning does, but there is certainly some room for tactical attacking of the Giants’ vulnerabilities. And that starts with targeting Corey Webster and Jayron Hosley, who both rank atrociously in their coverage rating on PFF (Webster has -9 and Hosley -8.9). Prince Amukamara is a very talented cornerback, and if he is locking down on Marques Colston, Brees will have ample opportunity to feed Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, Darren Sproles, and Jimmy Graham. Brees likes to spread the ball around, and after such a bafflingly bad performance last Thursday night (five interceptions), he will rebound and be much less reckless with the football and clock management.

Reason Number 2: "And I Ran, I Ran So Far Away. I Just Ran, I Ran All Night and Day."

Sorry, I couldn’t resist the Flock of Seagulls setup. But the run offense and run defense for both teams will prove crucial. For the Saints, their run defense was porous against Atlanta. It appears that defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s NFL starter days are numbered, unless they find the fountain of youth.

Atlanta began the game last week appeasing their over-the-hill veteran, running back Michael Turner, but Turner enjoyed great success in the very favorable matchup. Turner moved effortlessly between the tackles and through the layers of the Saints defense for 83 yards on 12 carries.

The Saints have now given up over 1,000 yards after contact due to their sifter-like defense, and a strong dosage of Ahmad Bradshaw and first-round pick David Wilson on between-the-tackles runs would allow the Giants to expose a weak New Orleans interior. Giants right tackle Sean Locklear is out for the season, so utilizing left tackle Will Beatty on runs when pushing the ball to the edge would be advantageous for New York.

The Giants got absolutely demolished by the Redskins’ ground game last week, so ensuring the Saints do not have the same success will be essential. New York’s defensive ends in particular struggled to put themselves in the right position when RGIII got the ball in the zone-read option, and Washington’s blocking helped Alfred Morris reach the second level with ease.

When Morris confronted the back end, he wreaked havoc among the Giants’ linebackers and safeties. The Saints have four capable running backs with Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram, and Chris Ivory, so better tackling and smarter reads (especially on short yardage conversions) will allow the Giants to push the Saints into situations they are less comfortable in.

Final Verdict:

The Giants’ offense is poised for the big fireworks, but this game will come down to how effective their defense is. The unfortunate reality for the G-men is that their front four have underwhelmed through 12 games, and since they employ the Big Nickel (four defensive linemen, two linebackers, three safeties and two cornerbacks), they are reliant on their pass-rushers being effective in disrupting the quarterback and forcing quicker decision-making.

If that does not happen, their cornerbacks and linebackers are exposed. Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, and Justin Tuck have sporadically had excellent games, but more consistency is needed from the defensive line collectively for this team to compete at the highest level.

If the flares don’t detonate, the Giants can look very ordinary. But the Saints have a very weak defense and New York is in danger of falling out of the NFC East lead with a loss. Historically, they have played superbly when their backs are against the wall.

Giants 35, Saints 31

 
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