New York Giants: 5 Players to Watch vs. Kansas City
Changes are coming for the New York Giants.
They have to be, right? After all, this team is off to its worst start since 1996, and clearly what they have been doing so far has not worked.
This week’s changes are mostly driven by injuries to the offensive line, who will be missing starters David Baas (neck) at center and Chris Snee (hip) at right guard.
Those two players’ absences will mean that the Giants will field their sixth different offensive line configuration since the preseason and their third one in four regular season games.
That’s not good news for an offensive line that, according to NFL.com statistics for Week 4, is ranked 27th overall, or a line who is part of the league’s worst rushing attack (133 rushing yards, or 44.3 per game).
Hoping to stop the bleeding, the Giants coaches have been spending a lot of extra time on the field and in the classroom to bring up the comfort levels of the young guys who will be called upon to help this weekend.
“You’re just trying to advance them along as rapidly as you can and that you hopefully expedited the process that will advance at a point where we go out and play well,” said offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.
“We have confidence in their athleticism. It’s just a matter of how fast you can get them acclimated to the speed with which they’re going to be facing the opposition on Sunday, which is significant.”
What will also be interesting to see is if Gilbride adjusts the game plan to accommodate for this latest shakeup.
One such possibility could be trying more quick stuff in the passing game so that the offensive linemen don’t have to hold blocks for more than three seconds.
By expediting the plays, the thinking is that the offensive line might be able to build some collective confidence and cohesion early on to carry them through the game.
The Giants are in desperate need of getting into a rhythm, as through three games, they are averaging a paltry 4.45 average numbers of plays per drive.
“We’ll try to do whatever we can to galvanize this group and give them a chance,” Gilbride said.
The offensive line won’t have the only players under the spotlight this weekend. Here’s a look at this week’s five players to watch.
Right Tackle Justin Pugh
If Pugh thought last week’s assignment against Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson was tough, this week's matchup against NFL sack leader Justin Houston might make last week pale by comparison.
The Chiefs’ outside linebacker whose 4.5 sacks last week against the Philadelphia Eagles boosted his total to a league-leading 7.5 for the season.
Pugh is hoping to take the good and the bad from his performance last week and parlay it into a more consistent showing that will keep Houston from recording his second multiple sack game in a row.
“He’s similar to the guy I went against last week, a very physical player,” Pugh said. “He’s got a good motor so it’s a good challenge for me.”
Pugh said he is confident that he’ll rebound from last week’s shaky performance, and noted that he hasn’t done anything differently this week to prepare for the possibility of facing Houston.
“You just go out there and play your game,” he said. “You have to go out there, be physical, trust the technique and just keep working and getting better.”
It will be interesting to see if the coaches give Pugh much, if any help in the way of help blocking to manage the AFC Defensive Player of the Week winner for Week 3.
A lot may depend on how well he initially does against Houston, who in addition to his sack total, has, according to ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required), recorded eight hurries, two batted passes, and one hit against opposing quarterbacks this season.
Defensive End Justin Tuck
Like the rest of the Giants’ defensive front four, defensive end Justin Tuck has been stymied in the sack department.
Tuck currently has half of a sack, gained in the regular-season opener against the Dallas Cowboys. That half sack is part of the three accumulated by the Giants defense this season.
If there was ever a week for the sacks to start flowing, this could be the one. The Chiefs have allowed 10 sacks so far this season, one less than the Giants’ 11 and four fewer than the league-leading Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins.
Tuck, who has 1.5 sacks in his last eight regular games dating back to last season, will be lining up across from rookie right tackle Eric Fisher, the Chiefs first-round pick.
According to ProFootbalFocus.com (subscription required), Fisher has allowed one sack but has allowed five pressures.
If the Giants can find success with getting to quarterback Alex Smith, that could be just the push they have been looking for since Week 1 of the regular season.
Beyond the sacks, Smith is not effective when under pressure. Per ProFootballFocus.com, he has completed just 10 of his 26 pass attempts for 136 yards for an average of 5.2 yards per pass attempt when under pressure.
Offensive Lineman James Brewer
Injuries seem to have finally caught up with the Giants' line to the point now where they will call upon Brewer, the third-year player who has yet to start an NFL game.
Based on Brewer's preseason play—he spent his time at both tackles and was given a start at left guard when Kevin Boothe had to step in at center for the injured David Baas—Brewer held up well at guard but struggled at tackle.
Wherever Brewer does line up—assuming, of course, that he does get a start this weekend—he’ll face a very good test against the Chiefs defense, which, like the New York Jets, have been known to unleash multiple looks, something that Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride acknowledges can be confusing.
“They do a terrific job of going to some odd spacing and give you some unusual, exotic blitzes and blitz packages,” he said of the Chiefs defense, led by former Jets defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.
“If you’re not on your toes, they can make life difficult for you.”
The key for Brewer, as well as the rest of the offensive linemen, is to stay true to their technique.
“We have to challenge them to improve their technique, improve their knowledge and scheme,” said Gilbride, adding, “but it’s up to us to try to put them in positions where they have a chance to be successful.”
Fullback John Conner
Signed on Sept. 25 to replace Henry Hynoski, who was placed on injured reserve after suffering a fractured shoulder in the 38-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers, Conner’s first order of business was to learning this week’s game plan.
Just how many snaps Conner will be given remains to be seen considering his limited knowledge of the team’s playbook.
Once he does gain a better grasp on the blocking schemes, the former Jet and Bengal could become another option in the pass protection.
More importantly, though, the coaches are hoping that the man nicknamed “The Terminator” and his punishing lead blocking style help to jump start a Giants running game that is currently averaging 2.7 yards per carry.
Offensive Lineman Jim Cordle
Cordle hasn’t seen the field much since his struggles in the team’s third preseason game against the Jets.
If the Giants coaches subscribe to the philosophy that it’s best to make as few changes on the offensive line as possible, presumably Kevin Boothe would stay at left guard, necessitating just center and right guard to be replaced.
Cordle would then be in line for another chance to prove that he can handle the center duties in starter David Baas’ absence.
During the 2013 preseason, Cordle was tagged for one sack, one quarterback hit and three hurries in four preseason games, as per ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required).
Besides needing to execute against the run and the pass, a center’s job is also to make the line calls. If Cordle does indeed get the start on Sunday, he’ll need to make sure that his mental grasp of the game plan is sharp.
If there is any doubt about Cordle’s ability to handle that aspect of the game, Kevin Boothe could be called upon to help the third-year center with making the line calls, if necessary.
The job could also fall solely on quarterback Eli Manning’s shoulders.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.