The New York Giants are no strangers to 0-1, but with tough road games in Carolina (on a short week) and Philadelphia looming in Weeks 3 and 4, the G-men would really like to avoid starting 0-2 for the first time in five years.
That means they'll have to get past a sneaky and unpredictable Tampa Bay Buccaneers team Sunday at MetLife. Allow me to offer up offensive and defensive game plans that should help the Giants accomplish that feat.
Commit to the Run on Offense
The Giants have little hope of surprising the Bucs on offense. Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan ran the New York D only three years ago, and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan was Eli Manning's position coach the last two years.
So instead of getting fancy, New York simply has to rely on its offensive talent outperforming a speedy Tampa Bay defense.
We already saw how much the Giants' running game struggled last week, but I'd encourage Big Blue to keep at it on the ground in Week 2. David Wilson should get some more reps as he climbs out of the doghouse, and Ahmad Bradshaw should be active.
Yes, Tampa Bay shut down the Panthers on the ground, but I thought Carolina made the mistake of abandoning the running game too early and too often. It was a one-dimensional attack, and Cam Newton was only 3-of-8 on passes that traveled 20 yards or more (per Pro Football Focus). As a result, drives stalled often as the Panthers converted just two third-downs all day.
It's also important that they mix in a steady dose of Bradshaw and Wilson in order to keep a feisty front seven honest. Tampa Bay's pass rush was on fire as last week's game wore on, sacking Newton three times and forcing an interception.
How many carries should Bradshaw and Wilson combine to get Sunday?
I realize this defense has undergone a transformation with the new coaching staff, but this is still pretty much the same group of players that led the NFL in missed tackles in 2011 and allowed opponents to run for an average of 5.0 yards per carry, a number that ranked second-to-last in football. Middle linebacker Mason Foster isn't very good and had a mediocre performance in Week 1, and rookie Lavonte David is manning the weak side.
Plus, this Tampa Bay secondary is solid, man. Aqib Talib and Eric Wright both performed well against Carolina, and the ageless Ronde Barber was the NFC's Defensive Player of the Week.
Of course, that unit also struggled last year, giving up a terrible 8.2 yards per pass attempt, so there will be plenty of opportunities for Manning to strike. I just think they'd be smart to bide their time against a defense that is a lot better than last year's numbers would lead you to believe.
Lock in on Vincent Jackson on Defense
Tampa Bay's offense was extremely conservative against Carolina. They took zero shots downfield and ran only 28 total passing plays while executing 34 designed runs from either the running backs or quarterback Josh Freeman.
Freeman had the advantage of pacing through his reads against a mediocre Carolina pass rush, which is why the Giants have to hope that Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora bring the heat in a whole new way. This isn't necessarily a game plan thing, because it doesn't involve blitzing. Instead, it's about performance and execution.
But Big Blue can help that defensive front in the game plan, and a key will be locking down Vincent Jackson, forcing Freeman to look elsewhere.
Who should the Giants be worried about most?
From what I gathered in the opener, Jackson is already Freeman's favorite target. He's also the team's most dangerous offensive player. Locking him down with bracket coverage often will force Freeman to spend more time on his progressions, giving that pass rush time to get pressure. And by the time Freeman finds his first safe option, the hope will be that someone will have already arrived to disrupt the throw.
I suppose this indicates that I'm not confident in New York's secondary beyond Corey Webster, but that shouldn't be surprising. If Prince Amukamara and Michael Coe play, they'll likely be less than 100 percent. Beyond that, it gets really thin.
Corey Webster struggled mightily against the Cowboys, but the Giants have to believe that said lackluster performance was an anomaly. Webster might be slightly overrated as a cover guy, but I haven't seen him play that badly in a long time. Have faith in him to shut down Jackson with some help from Antrel Rolle and/or Jayron Hosley, and then hope that Coe, Amukamara or Justin Tryon can hang in against Mike Williams.
Force Williams or rookie running back Doug Martin to beat you.