Looking to rebound from their first flop in Jerry's World, the New York Giants will host the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium in Week 2, where Eli and Peyton Manning will go head-to-head for only the third time in their careers.
For the Giants to avoid an 0-2 start, several playmakers will need to be on their game.
The Comeback Crew
The Giants defense was on the field for nearly two-thirds of the game against the Dallas Cowboys, yet the unit held relatively firm for 60 minutes. Although Dallas racked up 36 points, two of the Cowboys' scores came on touchdowns by the defense. The more telling statistic is 4.5—Dallas' yards-per-play average.
Two key contributors to the Giants' defensive success were Justin Tuck and Terrell Thomas. Both players are on the comeback trail in 2013.
Tuck was once the most feared member of the Giants' defensive front. After turning in an MVP-caliber performance in Super Bowl XLII, Tuck was an All-Pro disruptive force in 2008. He was still on the upswing two years later, when he logged 11.5 sacks and his second Pro Bowl selection.
Then suddenly in 2011, Tuck fell off the map production-wise. He recorded just five sacks before displaying a mini-resurgence in the playoffs. Last season, the defensive captain sunk even further, totaling just four sacks as he and his team finished a game shy of the postseason.
Now, in 2013, Tuck vows to return to true form. Against the Cowboys, we saw the first positive evidence toward such a comeback; he led the team in tackles with eight, while also notching a half-sack and two QB hits.
With Peyton and the Broncos in town, the Giants need to turn the pressure up all the way. Until Jason Pierre-Paul is back at full strength, Tuck will lead this charge. That means No. 91 will have his sights locked firmly on Manning for most of the night.
Taking the field behind Tuck is Thomas, who was once one of the more dominant Giants on the defensive side of the ball. Thomas overcame an ACL injury to become a successful college athlete at Southern Cal. New York drafted him in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft, and, two years later, he was a highly productive starter.
Then, in a 2011 preseason game, Thomas tore his ACL again. Less than a year later, Thomas re-injured that same ACL during a training camp drill. He had torn his ACL a total of three times; he was out of the game for two full years.
Until he made the Giants' final 53-man roster this summer.
Thomas played nickelback in Week 1 against the Cowboys and limited Miles Austin to 7.2 yards per catch. He played aggressively in the box all night, making seven total tackles and knocking down a pass on a blitz.
Thomas' contributions in the nickel will be essential in slowing down Peyton's passing attack, which features a plethora of dangerous targets.
The Terrific Trio
Can you name six better receivers taking the same field on a single Sunday?
The Giants threesome can outshine its visitors by replicating the assault they put on Dallas' secondary in Week 1.
Play with precision
On Eli Manning's second pass of the game, the Giants showed perfect execution. Down by three, New York started this drive with two wide receivers, an in-line tight end and two backs in the I-formation.
The situation and formation indicate that the play will be a run.
Nicks and Cruz take off downfield while Manning's play-fake to David Wilson draws the linebackers toward the line of scrimmage, opening up the field behind them. That's when Manning strikes.
When the ball reaches Nicks' hands, Dallas' Morris Claiborne cannot recover from the massive cushion he allowed New York's top receiver. Manning's pass was perfectly delivered, and Claiborne immediately becomes a chaser.
Since Nicks is able to catch the pass in stride, Dallas' linebackers are unable to recover quickly enough to catch him as he slices through the middle, reversing his field. The precision on the play-action fake, route and throw were the difference between a short gain and a 57-yard strike.
Recognize the breakdowns
Just outside the two-minute warning before the half, the Giants took advantage of a disoriented Dallas defense. With New York running the two-minute drill, Cowboys safety Will Allen is visibly unsure of the coverage before the snap. Moments before the play begins, three defensive lineman are turned away from the line of scrimmage, while linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter appear to be facing each other.
Cruz takes off on a fly route, releasing from the slot position. The Cowboys get a significant push up the middle, but Manning is able to sidestep the rush.
Manning's nifty move in the pocket allowed just enough time for Cruz to blow past Allen, who is clearly not prepared for deep coverage.
By the time the ball reaches Cruz, he is far behind the confused Cowboys' defense, on his way to his first of three touchdowns on the night. By taking notice of Dallas' defensive breakdown, Manning and Cruz were able to connect on a score as quick and painful as the lash of a whip.
Keep the chains moving
Manning looked Randle's way six times against the Cowboys and all but one resulted in a first down. Randle accounted for nearly a quarter of the Giants' total first downs in Week 1. Twice, Randle converted on a third down; on this one, he found a soft spot in the Cowboys' defense.
Randle also showcased his ability to catch in traffic. On this third-down conversion, Randle moves the sticks by securing a 15-yard reception despite contact. The Giants' third receiving threat needs to be the go-to target to keep drives alive.
The preceding playmakers will all be sideshows to the game's main attraction: the Brothers Manning in their third ever NFL showdown. The battle for sibling superiority has long been won by older brother Peyton. The four-time league MVP reminded everyone that—at age 37—he is still a dominant QB by throwing seven touchdown passes against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 1, tying a league record that had not been matched since 1969.
Eli, the two-time Super Bowl MVP, did not best big bro in Manning Bowl I or II. In their first meeting, Eli's 2006 Giants lost by five to Peyton's Indianapolis Colts, that season's eventual Super Bowl champions. The last time they shared a field was 2010, when Peyton served New York a 38-14 beatdown in primetime.
Talk about a noogie.