New York Giants: 5 Players to Watch vs. Philadelphia Eagles
The New York Giants want you to believe, and it will happen.
The “it,” of course, is their first win of the 2013 season they are hoping to get against one of their NFC East division rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles (1-3), who visit MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
If talk is cheap, as the Giants like to say, why should fans believe them this week when they say that their month-long dry spell is about to end?
“Obviously a win this week will get us closer to that, so that’s the focus,” said quarterback Eli Manning, who is 27-5 in the month of October. “Guys know that and coach brought that up the other day, so we understand.”
“No one has really taken off with a huge lead in this division,” added safety Antrel Rolle. “But, more importantly than what’s happening in our division, I think we need to fix ourselves and give ourselves a chance to even go in there and compete and to battle for winning that division title.”
The Giants' team leaders believe they can become the second.
“There’s a lot of football left to be played, but we’ve got to start playing football,” said Manning. “We’re a better team than what we’ve been playing like, but we’ve got to go out there and prove it.”
“This is a 12-game season for us at this point; nothing that has taken place matters," added Rolle. “The guys just have to believe again. We have to get that good feeling again as far as winning.
“We will, we definitely will get back to it again.”
If they’re to get back to it again, as Rolle vowed, they’re going to need every man who gets a uniform on Sunday to do his part.
Here’s a look at five guys whose contributions—or lack thereof—could help make or break the Giants’ chances of getting that elusive first win.
Wide Receiver Hakeem Nicks
The good news for Hakeem Nicks, as well as the rest of the Giants passing game, is that they’ll be facing an Eagles pass defense that has given up an average of 325 yards per game, 31st in the NFL.
Head coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis have had little success in finding a defensive backfield combination that has worked so far. According to the Eagles’ weekly game package distributed to the media, they have started three different defensive secondary combinations in their first four games.
The Giants, meanwhile, feel that they’re on the verge of finally getting more production out of their 10th-ranked passing offense (1,071 passing yards).
"We feel we can, but it’s still a matter of execution," said quarterback Eli Manning. "We’ve got to go do it and guys have got to make plays and everybody has got to do their job. If we have the opportunities to make those plays, we’ve got to make them."
While the passing game statistics haven't been that bad, only receiver Victor Cruz (26 receptions for 425 yards, 4 TDs) has had consistency in the first four games of the season, recording 100-plus yard games in three of the first four contests.
"He’s playing as well as we’ve seen him play," said head coach Tom Coughlin. "Thank God for it."
Defensive End Damontre Moore
Attention Giants opponents: Lock your doors and close your windows because "DaMonsta" is coming!
No, it’s not a cheap Halloween gimmick. Rather, the Giants are looking to start scaring a few opposing offenses with their pass rush, which to date has yet to make its presence felt in any game.
To do that, they'll be looking to Damontre Moore, the rookie defensive end who is the team’s third-round pick this year.
Thus far, Moore's contributions have been limited to special teams for the past three weeks (he was inactive Week 1 due to a shoulder contusion suffered in the first week of the preseason).
“Moore will get an opportunity to contribute,” head coach Tom Coughlin said earlier this week. “He has done a nice job on special teams. He has good energy. Hopefully, we can build on that.”
Moore, No. 98 in your program, could barely contain his excitement over possibly getting the chance to contribute to the Giants pass rush, whose 4.0 sacks is tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for last in the NFL.
“Tell me what to do and I'm going in open eyes and run as fast as a I can, hard as I can and hopefully something happens,” he said earlier this week.
Can one man—a rookie, no less—make a difference for the Giants pass rush?
We'll find out on Sunday, but given that veterans Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka have just 2.5 sacks among them, the infusion of a little Moore can’t make things any worse…unless it’s for the opposing quarterback.
Running Backs David Wilson and Brandon Jacobs
Since switching to a 3-4 defense, the Eagles have allowed an average of 121.8 rushing yards per game, 27th in the NFL.
That breaks down to a 4.1 average per rushing attempt by opponents, who have run for 793 yards in four games.
Those statistics are good news for a Giants rushing offense that, although limited in its chances over the past two weeks, has actually shown some signs of life.
Seven of the Giants’ nine big-play runs (20 or more yards) have come in that period. Following Week 4’s action, the Giants rushing game jumped up in the league ranking from 32nd to 10th.
In addition, their total rushing yards per game has risen over the past two weeks, from 60 against the Panthers, to 98 last week against the Chiefs.
With Da’Rel Scott having been waived earlier this week, look for the Giants to go with the one-two punch of David Wilson and Brandon Jacobs in what could be a rushing strategy resembling what they used to run with Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.
That attack saw Jacobs wear opposing defenses down with his physical style and the lightning-quick Bradshaw finish them off with his cutback runs.
Speaking of the running game, this will probably be the week that new fullback John “The Terminator” Conner becomes involved on offense.
Last week, Conner did not receive any snaps with the offense after signing on Wednesday, the day the Giants usually begin installing their game plan.
Having two weeks of practice to learn the Giants’ playbook, Conner should be able to relieve tight end Bear Pascoe, who had been filling in at fullback for Henry Hynoski (injured reserve/shoulder), of the fullback duties.
Defensive Tackle Johnathan Hankins
The Giants became alarmingly thin at defensive tackle this week thanks to injuries to Linval Joseph (ankle/knee), Cullen Jenkins (knee/Achilles) and Shaun Rogers (back).
Joseph has been declared out for the game; Jenkins, listed as questionable, will be a game-time decision; and Rogers looks like he’ll be able to play.
To shore up their depth at that spot, Johnathan Hankins, the precocious rookie nicknamed “Big Hank” for his 6’3”, 320-pound physique, will likely be activated for the first time this season.
“I liked Hankins’ work a week ago,” said head coach Tom Coughlin. “I thought he was a really difficult guy for us to block from an offensive standpoint. I really felt like John was ready to contribute and I feel the same way right now, so I’m looking forward to watching him play.”
Hankins noted that the game is starting to slow down to where he’s not doing as much thinking and can instead fly around the field to make plays.
“I feel a little more comfortable with the scheme and just going out there and making plays,” he said. “I’m not worrying about messing up because this is a game and you’re going to have those types of mistakes. But just having a clear mind and just going out there and having fun.”
One of the biggest concerns for the Giants defense is stopping Eagles running back and NFL rushing leader LeSean McCoy. The Giants have done a very good job of taking away the cutback lanes for runners to exploit, and Hankins is hoping that this weekend will be no different.
“Obviously, stopping the run is what they drafted me here for and just help out the defensive line,” he said. “I feel like overall, as a unit, we’re going to put more of an emphasis on (stopping the run) and we will get the job done.”
Right Guard David Diehl
David Diehl let the cat out of the bag this week, telling reporters that he would be starting at right guard, a position change for the 11-year veteran, who has mostly played at tackle since the 2007 season.
In moving to guard, Diehl replaces James Brewer, who replaced the injured Chris Snee.
“It’s like riding a bike,” he said of returning to the starting lineup after missing the first four games while recovering from thumb surgery back in mid-August.
A likely reason why the coaches are turning to Diehl at the right guard position is to continue keeping a veteran presence alongside of Justin Pugh, the rookie first-round draft pick who is lining up at right tackle.
Diehl, who started nine games at right tackle last season, can take on the role of being an on-field coach for Pugh.
“I’m excited about the opportunity," Diehl said. "Justin and I have been working very hard together the last week watching film, working together, hammering out all the details of everything going into this game.”
The Giants offensive line, which this weekend will field its fourth different configuration in five games, has had its struggles, particularly in pass protection. The Giants are tied for sixth (with the Eagles, New York Jets and Oakland Raiders) in the league with 14 sacks surrendered.
Because of the struggles to keep quarterback Eli Manning on his feet, the Giants’ passing offense has fallen from being the league’s top-ranked passing offense in Week 2 to No. 21 after Week 4.
For all the experience that Diehl brings to the table, he reminded people that he’s not a miracle worker.
“Everything’s not going to be perfect, everything’s not going to be fixed,” he said. “I just know that I’m going to bring my leadership, I’m going to bring energy, I’m going to fight each and every play. I’m going to do whatever I can to bring the best out of my teammates, just like they do for me.”