The New York Giants, coming off an embarrassing, turnover-filled performance on offense, are ready to put last week's odd game behind them and get things back on the right track.
The Giants, claiming to be a better team than what they showed in the regular season opener, will get a good test against a team that head coach Tom Coughlin said is much more than just quarterback Peyton Manning and his record-tying seven-touchdown performance against the defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens.
“All you have to do is start with their return man (Trindon) Holliday, and you know that someone that has that kind of scoring potential is indeed very unique with four touchdowns," Coughlin said.
“Defensively they play a multiple form of (defense), lots of substitutions, (and) lots of situational defenses,” he added. “They’re a very good, well-balanced football team.”
The Giants, meanwhile, want people to know that they weren’t quite as hapless, at least offensively, as they showed last Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys and believe that the Denver defense affords them some opportunities to exploit.
“There are a lot of opportunities for us,” said receiver Victor Cruz. “We like when guys play bump-and-run, play a little bit of man coverage as well as some zone, but we like the challenges. They present some challenges for us and having some one-on-one opportunities. We want to be able to exploit that.”
On defense, the Giants say they’re not intimidated by Manning’s seven-touchdown showing.
“Seven touchdowns in a game, that’s nothing less than miraculous, but at the same time, he wasn’t going up against the Giants, and we’re going at him,” said safety and defensive co-captain Antrel Rolle.
“We’re going to play ball, we’re going at him. It’s a great way for us to go out there and test ourselves.”
The Giants are 24-19 against AFC West teams in games played in the regular season and are 49-34-5 in regular-season home openers.
This weekend’s contest promises to be a high-scoring affair with a heavy dose of the passing game from both sides. Who will be the last team standing? Let’s break it down.
Denver and the Giants have only met 10 times in the regular season. The regular-season series is tied at 5-5.
However, the Giants are 4-1 in games in which they’ve played the host, and they are 1-0 against the Denver Broncos in the postseason play, having defeated Denver, 39-20, for their first Super Bowl championship.
This is, of course, the third—and likely final—regular-season game between the Manning brothers’ respective teams. Peyton holds the 2-0 advantage over Eli, both wins coming when he was with the Indianapolis Colts in 2006 (26-21) and 2010 (38-14).
The Competitive Edge
Quarterback: They share the same bloodline, they each have a Super Bowl MVP trophy to their name and they are a cerebral, classic passers capable of dissecting the opposing defense with the precision of a skilled surgeon.
Eli Manning might have one more championship to his name, but big brother Peyton, a future Hall of Famer, tends to be more consistent, assuming he's not harassed in the pocket.
Peyton probably won't record another seven-touchdown performance this week, but he's still very much capable of lighting things up. Meanwhile, Eli showed last week in Dallas that he can still make things happen, even if his blockers aren't chipping or if he's under duress.
Advantage: Giants (by a hair)
Running Backs: The Giants have a few issues in their running game, the biggest of which is how David Wilson will respond after being benched last week for two lost fumbles.
Wilson seems to have the right attitude, but then again, he’s said all the right things since training camp started, and actions do speak louder than words.
Also of concern is the knee injury suffered by current No. 2 man Da’Rel Scott, who was forced to leave Wednesday’s practice early.
ESPN’s Josina Anderson reported, via Twitter, that Scott’s MRI showed no structural damage and that the team would be monitoring the third-year running back for a few days to watch for swelling in the joint.
With Brandon Jacobs having just returned after almost a year away from the game, he's likely to be rusty. If Scott can’t play on Sunday, the Giants might not have any choice but to press Jacobs, who initially was projected to be the pass-protection specialist, into a change-of-pace type of role.
Meanwhile, the Giants short-yardage and goal-line packages continue to be inconsistent. If fullback Henry Hynoski, who had his worst game as a pro last week, bounces back from that performance, that should help.
The Broncos’ running game might not have the firepower of, say the Ravens or Minnesota Vikings, but in addition to rookie Montee Ball, they have experienced guys like Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno who can not only move the chains but also protect the quarterback.
Receivers: Both teams have solid receiving trios.
The Giants have Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Rueben Randle, who had 15 receptions for 333 yards (22.2 yards per catch) in Week 1.
Tight Ends: Giants’ tight end Brandon Myers led his team last week with seven receptions, and he had one of Eli Manning's four touchdowns.
However, he hasn’t looked completely comfortable running patterns, and his 66 receiving yards averaged out to a pedestrian 9.42 yards per catch.
His counterpart, Julius Thomas, averaged 22.0 yards per catch in Week 1 and seemed more at ease working with the elder Manning brother.
In addition, Meyers is simply not a blocker, which is a role the Giants need their tight ends to fill. When Myers is on the field as the lone tight end, and it’s a running play, odds are, the play is designed to go to the other side.
Offensive Line: The Giants offensive line had its share of hiccups last week, allowing some pressure against Manning.
If center David Baas returns, this unit, which has yet to have the same lineup for more than two weeks in a row, would be looking at its sixth combination since training camp started.
Meanwhile, right guard Chris Snee, the Giants' lone Pro Bowler, still looked a bit rusty in his regular-season debut.
Defensive Line: The Giants defensive front looked much improve from a year ago, and that was with their best defensive lineman, end Jason Pierre-Paul, showing signs of rust from nearly three months of no activity following back surgery.
The Broncos, meanwhile, are not fully healthy along this unit, as starting right defensive end Robert Ayers has been bothered by an Achilles injury which most likely affects any burst off the snap he might have.
The Giants defensive interior has been an early season surprise, as the duo of Linval Joseph and Cullen Jenkins have had success in taking away the cutback lanes and in collapsing the pocket. They should be able to continue winning their battles in the pit this week.
Linebackers: Even without pass-rushing specialist Von Miller (suspended) and middle linebacker Wesley Woodard, who is currently dealing with an ankle injury that kept him out of Wednesday's practice, the Broncos linebackers have the edge over a Giants unit that is also dealing with the potential absence of middle linebacker Dan Connor due to a neck injury.
If Connor can't go, Mark Herzlich, who was completely abused last week by Dallas, would probably get the start in the team's base defense.
The bigger problem for the Giants linebackers, at least if the tape from the regular-season opener against Dallas is to be believed, is the lack of speed in covering tight ends and receivers coming across the middle.
Defensive Backs: The Giants should have cornerback Prince Amukamara back for this game from a concussion suffered last week.
Denver, meanwhile, looks like they could be without cornerback Champ Bailey (foot) for another week.
Special Teams: The Giants duo of kicker Josh Brown and punter Steve Weatherford had a strong opening-night performance in terms of limiting the Cowboys return game.
With Broncos return specialist Trindon Holliday trying to work through a knee issue that limited his participation in Wednesday's practice, there's no reason to think that the Giants won't continue to keep the opposing return game under control again this week.
Giants Offense vs. Denver Defense
With the Giants running game in a state of flux, and the Broncos defense missing key personnel due to injury or, in the case of linebacker Von Miller, suspension, don't be surprised if the Giants deploy a lot of three-wide sets.
The trio of Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle proved difficult to cover last week, as one of the three was almost always left against single coverage.
With the Broncos likely to try to get pressure off Manning, he'll probably try to exploit the underneath routes with his receivers and with tight end Brandon Myers who, last week, had a productive evening as a pass receiver.
Giants Defense vs. Denver Offense
The Denver offense begins and ends with quarterback Peyton Manning, but not even the man who tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in the regular-season opener is without his weaknesses.
"You definitely have to get him out of rhythm," noted Giants safety Antrel Rolle. "He loves the game to be played to his tempo, he loves the speed of the game and how the game is playing. Once you get him out of his comfort zone, he’s like any other quarterback."
So how then does the defense accomplish this task of getting Peyton Manning out of his comfort zone?
"You have to rush him, you have to get some hits on him," said Rolle. "Peyton doesn’t like to be hit. That’s one thing I’m sure of. He doesn’t like to be hit, he doesn’t like to be sacked."
A key matchup could be slot receiver Wes Welker vs. the Giants slot cornerback, who will be either Terrell Thomas or Aaron Ross. Thomas is still coming back from two consecutive ACLs, and he played well last week, while Ross tends to give too much cushion against receivers.
The Giants linebackers are a concern.
With Denver likely to rely heavily on their passing game, there's a good chance that projected starting middle linebacker Mark Herzlich who, last week against Dallas, was dreadful, won't be on the field much if he gets the nod over injured starter Dan Connor. Instead, look for the Giants to use a lot of nickel, with Jacquian Williams seeing a lot of snaps on those underneath routes.
Look for the Giants to do whatever it takes to keep the ball away from punt returner Trindon Holliday who, in the regular-season opener, averaged 9.0 yards per return.
Giants’ punter Steve Weatherford is capable of kicking touchbacks, but he'll be putting a heavy focus on his directional kicking this week in practice to make sure that his coverage guys are in the best possible position to limit Holliday's returns.
Meanwhile, kicker Josh Brown did an outstanding job of sending all of his kickoffs into the back of the end zone for touchbacks last week. If he continues that practice this week, Holiday won't be a factor on kickoff returns either.
What They're Saying
“Every single year, I try to do whatever I can to help my team win. Anything that comes along with that, so be it.”
—Denver quarterback Peyton Manning on if he would trade some of his recorders for a second Super Bowl ring.
I love going up against the best of the best. I can only speak for myself. I think it tests myself to see where I am as a defender. You’re going to see a little bit of everything from Peyton, and more importantly, this game is not so much about Peyton, it’s about us as a defense and how we go out there and how we are effective as a unit.
—Giants safety Antrel Rolle on going against Peyton Manning.
“I’m not at that game mode. I’m fatigued. My legs are getting fatigued sometimes. I’m trying to get that burning sensation out of my legs.”
—Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul on how he came through his first extensive action (52 snaps) since returning from back surgery
To be a Giant, that means more to me than anything. Making an impact, making a little noise and trying to get this thing right and be with my teammates, that means a lot to me as well. I’m blessed and happy to be back and I just can’t wait until Sunday gets here.
—Running back Brandon Jacobs on returning to the team that drafted him after a year away.
The following is the Giants’ Wednesday injury report.
Did not practice: Cornerback Prince Amukamara (concussion), tackle David Diehl (thumb), linebacker Dan Connor (neck) and tight end Adrien Robinson (foot)
The good news is, Amukamara was seen outside running sprints in the hot humid weather and bright sunlight during the part of Wednesday’s practice open to the media.
Although he hadn’t passed the concussion protocol, there was optimism in the air that Amukamara would be OK for Sunday’s matchup. If so, his presence would be huge against the Peyton Manning-led aerial attack.
The biggest concern, though, is the injury suffered by Connor, the team’s starting middle linebacker. Connor is now dealing with his second burner in as many games, and it would appear he might not be rushed back onto the field so quickly this time around.
If he can’t go, that would leave the Giants with just four healthy linebackers. However, even more concerning is if Connor can’t go, that would probably mean Herzlich, who was abused by Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo last week after the third-year linebacker came into the game for Connor, would get the start against the potent Denver passing attack.
The Giants did add linebacker Emmanuel Acho to their practice squad and won’t hesitate to bring him up to the 53-man roster if he’s ready and if they aren’t comfortable with their linebacker situation as it currently stands.
Of course, one way around the problem could be to use a lot of defensive sub packages that are specifically geared toward defending the pass, which would likely mean fewer reps for the middle linebacker position.
Limited: Defensive end Damontre Moore (shoulder), center David Baas (knee) and running back Da’Rel Scott (knee)
The biggest mystery on the Giants injury report continues to be the “bruised’ shoulder suffered by Moore, the dynamic rookie who showed some promise as a pass-rusher.
Moore has missed the last four games going back to the preseason with what’s been categorized as a “contusion,” but reportedly, the bruise has been so bad that in the days following the injury, he had trouble with a full range of motion in the joint.
However, since then, Moore has said that he’s doing everything he possibly can do to prepare each week, though he remained cloudy on the exact nature of his injury.
“Honestly, I don't even know. It's their decision,” he said when asked how close he was to returning. “It's a day by day thing. I just show up and go when they tell me to go. When they tell me not to go, I don't go.
Baas is hoping to return to action following a sprained MCL, but like any player who hasn’t practiced in a while, he will need to convince the coaches that he has shaken off enough of the rust to be effective.
“The plan’s to play,” said Baas, who, if he does return, would mean that current center Kevin Boothe would slide back to his left guard spot which, in turn would send James Brewer to the bench.
Scott’s injury happened during Wednesday’s practice and the extent of it wasn’t immediately known.
The third-year running back, whom head coach Tom Coughlin praised for his showing on Sunday night (save for the botched screen pass that was picked off and returned for a touchdown by Dallas), was undergoing tests as of Wednesday evening to determine the exact nature and severity of his injury.
If Scott can’t play on Sunday, that could very well force the Giants to give some carries to newly re-signed running back Brandon Jacobs, who was back with the team after spending last year with the San Francisco 49ers.
This Week's Game Stats and Facts
(Courtesy of the NFL's Communications Office)
- Denver has won 12 consecutive regular-season games, the longest active streak in the NFL. They were 6-2 on the road in 2012.
- Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has played in four games against the Giants (two against teams led by his younger brother, Eli). In those four games, Manning's 3-1 and has nine touchdowns versus four interceptions and a 96.5 passer rating.
- Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno is averaging 106.3 rushing yards per game in his last three road trips.
- Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker has 20 receptions for 258 yards in two regular-season games against the Giants.
- Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has two career interceptions against the Giants.
- Giants quarterback Eli Manning has won six of his past seven regular-season home games and is currently riding a three-game home winning streak in which he’s completed 51 of 86 passes (59.3 pct.) for 716 yards with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions for 116.1 rating.
- Giants receiver Victor Cruz has eight touchdowns in his past seven home games and is looking for his fourth home game in a row with at least one touchdown reception.
- Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has eight sacks in past nine games against AFC teams.
- Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, who, last week, reached the 50-sack mark for his career, has four sacks in his last five home games.
- Giants cornerback Corey Webster has six interceptions in his past 10 games against AFC teams.
Patricia Traina is the Senior Editor at InsideFootball.com. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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