The New York Giants are in a rut. There isn't a position group on the team that is performing at a particularly high level right now. In fact, strangely enough, the secondary and the offensive line—which were the team's biggest weak spots last year—might be their strongest position groups this season.
I took that into consideration when brainstorming this week's game plan for the Giants in their road matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals.
On Offense, Commit to the Run
The Bengals are giving up 7.9 yards per pass attempt, which is the seventh-highest average in the league. That despite the fact they have the second-best sack percentage in football, with Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap bringing it consistently.
The problem is that Hakeem Nicks is off his game, as is the entire passing offense in New York. Nicks is a question mark again this week with swelling in his knee, and the Bengals might be able to do a decent job against Victor Cruz. Two thirds of Cruz's snaps come in the slot, and Cincinnati's Nate Clements has given up only three receptions on 48 slot snaps this season (ranking second in the league in terms of reception allowed per snap, according to Pro Football Focus).
I was impressed by how often the Broncos kept giving it to Willis McGahee when the passing game was clicking, and I think the Giants have to adopt a similar approach in this game. They have to at least attempt to create balance and draw in safeties Reggie Nelson (if he even plays) and Taylor Mays, both of whom have been good in coverage this season.
The reality is that if the Giants keep pushing on the ground, they'll eventually get the opportunities they need to hit a home run or two. And who knows, maybe Ahmad Bradshaw or Andre Brown or even David Wilson can do to this D what Jonathan Dwyer was able to do to them a few weeks ago (122 yards on 17 carries), or what Alfred Morris and Trent Richardson did to them earlier in the year (5.2 yards per carry between the two of them).
This running game's been struggling lately, too, but I believe they have to stick to it against a defense like this.
On defense, Trust Your Defensive Backs and Avoid Nickel and Dime Packages
"I feel like they've got a lot of holes in their defense," Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green told WFAN radio in New York Thursday. And he's right. But the key holes to exploit right now might not be with Green or his fellow receivers.
The easy assumption would be that the Giants have to add reinforcements to the secondary, what with the pass defense being ranked 26th in the league and all. But Corey Webster appears to finally be picking up his game and Will Hill is returning this week from suspension. With that in mind, Webster, Hill and the steady Amukamara should be good enough to limit Cincy's passing game with a little help from Antrel Rolle.
So if I'm New York, I'm inviting the Bengals to test that secondary with lots of three-receiver sets and a fewer extra blockers, especially with my pass rush performing better of late (four sacks and 14 pressures against the Steelers last week, per PFF).
The reality is that the Bengals, who are averaging just 3.8 yards per carry this season, don't match up very well with a suddenly very vulnerable run defense. Starting middle linebacker Chase Blackburn is still out with a hamstring injury, while rangy backups Jacquian Williams and Keith Rivers might not be healthy enough to return yet and/or make an impact.
Who should the Giants be more concerned with?
Mark Herzlich and Michael Boley did not play well against the Steelers, as the G-men let Isaac freakin' Redman run all over that front seven. And now, making matters worse, defensive tackle Chris Canty is a question mark with a groin injury.
So what the Giants have to do defensively is trust the veteran Webster and the young but reliable Amukamara to handle Green and Andrew Hawkins and hope that the safeties—who are good in coverage—can take care of Jermaine Gresham. Stay away from the nickel unless absolutely necessary and devote your energy to plugging holes against the Cincinnati running game.
Because if BenJarvus Green-Ellis has one big game all year, it could come against an unsuspecting Giants' D that has been ravaged by injuries up front. And if that happens, the underdog Bengals will be able to control the clock and shorten the game, increasing their chances of pulling off an upset.