New York Giants vs. San Diego Chargers: Breaking Down New York's Game Plan

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New York Giants vs. San Diego Chargers: Breaking Down New York's Game Plan
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Giants quarterback Eli Manning had to force a smile when the San Diego Chargers made him the first overall pick in 2004.

The New York Giants and San Diego Chargers, who this weekend square off against each other on the West Coast, have a lot more in common than their 5-7 win-loss records.

Besides each team trying to keep its dwindling playoff hopes alive, the Giants and Chargers remain linked by their famous 2004 draft-day trade.

That deal saw the Chargers send quarterback Eli Manning, their first-round pick and the first overall pick in the draft to the Giants for quarterback Philip Rivers and a handful of other draft picks.

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
When it came to getting quarterback Eli manning, former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi (left) had no doubts about engineering one of the biggest trades in franchise history.

“I remember (former Giants general manager) Ernie Accorsi making that deal, of being 100 percent in belief that this was the right thing to do for our franchise,” said Giants head coach Tom Coughlin.

“I remember that Ernie had studied Eli since he was a freshman in college and had really a strong, strong feeling about him. I remember the fact that he had the confidence and the constitution, if you will, to push the deal through.”

Manning, who has never made his reasons for not wanting to play for the Chargers public, has tried to downplay his return to the city he spurned 10 years ago, per the Star-Ledger's Conor Orr:

Nothing against San Diego as a city.  We had our rookie symposium there, but besides that, I have been to San Diego for a few other things.  I know it’s a beautiful city and great weather and has a lot of great things to it.

He grinned as he fielded continuous questions about that big day, saying he hasn’t looked back at the trade and insisted that just because he has won two Super Bowls while Rivers and the Chargers have yet to win one, that doesn’t ’change anything. 

“You’re playing for this year and this season and it’s the next game on the schedule.  You’re just trying to go out there and play a good ball game,” he said. 

The Chargers might want to take some solace in the fact that since the deal was made, they have dominated the Giants, outscoring them 66-43 in three games since 2005.

Although Manning has had one of his worst seasons as a pro this year, Coughlin didn’t hesitate to respond when asked if there were any doubts over having made the trade with the Chargers.

“None whatsoever. There are a couple things out in the hallway you might want to take a look at,” he said, referencing the framed newspaper front pages detailing the Giants’ last two Super Bowl championships that were engineered in part by Manning.

 

The Series

This will be the 11th regular-season meeting between the two teams, with the series at 5-5. The last time they met was on Nov. 8, 2009, a 21-20 Chargers win at Giants Stadium. The Giants were last at San Diego on Sept. 25, 2005. 

 

Giants at Chargers: The Competitive Edge
Giants Chargers
Quarterback X
Running Backs X
Tight Ends X
Receivers X
Offensive Line X
Defensive Line X
Linebackers X
Defensive Backs X
Special Teams X

Advantage: Chargers

Unit Breakdowns: Key Personnel

Quarterbacks

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Eli Manning and Philip Rivers will be forever linked since the two were involved in the blockbuster draft-day trade.

Rivers has 10 touchdowns versus three interceptions and a 101.7 passer rating in games played at home this season. His 3,633 passing yards are the fourth-best in the NFL and second-best in the AFC behind Peyton Manning of Denver.

Rivers also has a higher touchdown percentage (5.3 percent to Manning’s 3.6 percent), half (nine) of the interceptions as his counterpart and has done a great job of spreading the ball around to different receivers. 

"They’re diversified in how they operate," noted Giants head coach Tom Coughlin. "All you’ve got to do is look at that third-down number. That’s hard to do in this league now and because the nature of their offense, the complicated looks that they see on third down, you have to give them a lot of credit for that."

 

Running Backs

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Brandon Jacobs

San Diego is averaging 109.2 yards per game on the ground, just 2.6 yards under the NFL average of 111.8. Their top two rushers are Ryan Mathews (178 carries, 782 yards, three touchdowns) and Danny Woodhead (77 carries, 288 yards, two touchdowns).

When it comes to scoring, the Giants, who are averaging 87.7 rushing yards per game, are scoring every 32.3 carries to the Chargers’ 54.8 carries. Brandon Jacobs leads the group with four scores, followed by Andre Brown’s three.

 

Tight Ends 

Antonio Gates leads all AFC tight ends with 64 receptions for 726 yards, numbers that, league-wide, rank just behind Jimmy Graham of the Saints.

Gates doesn’t have the touchdown production—his three touchdown receptions average out to just one per every 21.3 catches—but he's still very much a threat over the middle, where he has 51 of his 64 receptions for 582 yards and two touchdowns, per Pro football Focus (subscription recquired).

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA
Chargers tight ends Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green

Ladarius Green’s 22.1 yards per reception average is 12th in the NFL and tops among NFL tight ends with at least 10 receptions.

On the Giants’ side, Brandon Myers has finally begun to look comfortable in the passing game and has recorded 11 receptions for 132 yards and two touchdowns in his last three games.

His run blocking, however, continues to be an issue. Last week, he graded out at minus-1.4, per Pro Football Focus, his third such poor grade this season when asked to run block. 

 

Wide Receivers

Stan Liu-USA TODAY Sports
Keenan Allen

Chargers receiver Keenan Allen, who has become a favorite target for Rivers, leads NFL rookies in catches (58) and receiving yards (843). 

With five games of 100 yards or better already under his hat for this season, he is the Chargers’ leader in receiving yards despite being third on the team in receptions.

The Giants’ leading receiver is Victor Cruz (66 catches for 931 yards).

Cruz has drawn a lot of attention this season from opposing defenses, who have successfully schemed to limit his big playmaking ability; this is probably due in part to Hakeem Nicks not being the threat he once was and the offensive line’s poor pass-blocking efforts when it comes to setting up for the deep passing game.

Yet, somehow, Cruz has managed to record four 100-yard receiving games this season, most recently his 110-yard effort against Green Bay three weeks ago.

However, he last scored a touchdown way back in Week 4, against Kansas City on Sept. 29.

 

Offensive Line

Because the Chargers run a West Coast offense, the offensive linemen don’t have to hold their blocks very long, which is a big reason why, with 22 sacks, they’re ranked ninth in the NFL for fewest sacks allowed.

Their line is anchored by 10-year veteran center Nick Hardwick. Long-time right tackle Jeromey Clary made the switch inside to guard to make room for first-rounder D.J. Fluker.

On the left side, the Chargers have two new starters that include former Eagle King Dunlap, their left tackle, and 2012 fifth-round draft pick Johnnie Troutman, who was plugged into the lineup ahead of veteran Chad Rinehart.

Tackles Fluker and Dunlap have allowed six of the 22 sacks this season, per Pro Football Focus.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Left tackle Will Beatty has given up 10 sacks this season.

The Giants are expected to move ahead with the same offensive line they fielded last week against the Redskins; however, they’re going to be looking for the left side of their linetackle Will Beatty and guard James Brewer—to have a better game than last week.

According to Pro Football Focus, Beatty has given up 10 sacks this season, the most of any left tackle in the NFL and more than his first four seasons combined. That total included two sacks given up last week to Washington outside linebacker Brian Orakpo.

Brewer, meanwhile, allowed five quarterback pressures, tied for fourth most of any guard this week.

As a tandem, Beatty and Brewer were atrocious in run blocking. Pro Football Focus has the Giants averaging just 1.4 rushing yards per carry to the left of center versus the 6.1 yards per carry on the right side, behind tackle Justin Pugh and guard David Diehl. 

 

Defensive Line

The Giants' strength has been their tackles, a unit that disrupts things inside by collapsing the pocket and which most recently held yet another top-tier running back, Alfred Morris of Washington, to well under 100 yards.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Justin Tuck

At defensive end, Justin Tuck has been playing lights-out ball these last few weeks, as he will look to end the season on a strong note.

On the other side though, Mathias Kiwanuka, in for Jason Pierre-Paul, has had perhaps one of his least impressive seasons, grading out negatively three weeks in a row, per Pro Football Focus, and getting worse each week at that.

Kiwanuka has seemingly reached a point where he’s best in the contain game and not much else, as he seldom makes any tackles these days and has just one stop for a zero or negative yardage in his last three games.

The Chargers, who run a 3-4, have Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes at end and Cam Thomas in the middle. Liuget leads the defensive line with 40 tackles , four sacks, 10 quarterback hits and 12 pressures, but he’s been banged up.

 

Linebackers

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Beason

The Giants linebackers are playing very well of late, and a lot of that has to do with having Jon Beason in the middle, as he has done a solid job of getting everyone lined up as well as roaming from sideline to sideline to make plays.

At weak-side linebacker, the Giants have also instituted a system in which they split the duties depending on the anticipated opponents’ attack. For passing downs, Jacquian Williams gets the nod. For run situations, usually it is Spencer Paysinger. The system has been effective, so there’s probably no reason to think it will change this week.

The Chargers inside linebackers are Donald Butler, the unit’s leader with 69 tackles, and first-round pick Manti Te’o, the rookie that many Giants fans lusted after.

Teams have managed to rush for 4.9 yards per carry against the Chargers, and Te’o in particular has struggled to make the kind of impact the Chargers were likely hoping for when they drafted him, particularly due to decision-making and reading his keys.

"I've got to do better with my eyes," Te'o told Eric D. Williams of ESPN after Week 10’s loss to Denver. "I've got to know the situations and know my responsibilities. And I've got to do a better job of getting my eyes in the right place."

 

Defensive Backs

The Giants managed to get by last week with the inexperienced Jayron Hosley starting for the injured Trumaine McBride.  

Per Pro Football Focus, Hosley allowed four of five targets to be completed for 31 yards, 13 after the catch, as he wasn’t really tested by Washington.

The star for the Giants of late has been safety Antrel Rolle—that is when he’s been left at safety. Rolle earned his highest overall grades of the season last week from Pro Football Focus, making three stops against the run and allowing just one of two passes thrown against him to be completed for one yard.  

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA
Eric Weddle

The Chargers’ defensive secondary has struggled this year. Safety Eric Weddle leads the Chargers defense with 81 tackles, which is never a good sign for a defense, because that means too many plays are getting to the second level and beyond to warrant that kind of production.  

Their corners have especially been vulnerable and have given up 11 touchdowns this season while only coming up with two interceptions and breaking up 11 passes.

Shareece Wright has allowed 67.7 percent of the balls thrown his way to be completed for a team-high 613 yards. Richard Marshall appears to have moved ahead of the struggling Derek Cox at the left cornerback spot.

 

Special Teams

The Giants kicking duo of Steve Weatherford and Josh Brown have been stable these last few weeks, but the Giants return game has been far too conservative, which doesn’t help the Giants win the field-position battle.

Rueben Randle has been steady with the ball in his hands, but whether he’s being asked just to secure it and not take chances gaining yards or he’s failing to spot openings ahead of him, he’s simply not been effective as a punt returner.

The same could be said for Michael Cox on kickoffs, as he has looked hesitant of late. His 19.4 average ranks 80th in the league.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Kicker Nick Novak

The Chargers’ kicking specialists are middle-of-the-pack guys in terms of the league rankings.

Kicker Nick Novak has made 23-of-26 field goals this season (88 percent), his conversion percentage putting him 16th in the league.

Chargers punter Mike Scifres’ 39.9 net average has him at 18th in the league. He has just one touchback this season, but has put 23 of his punts inside of the 20.

 

Strategy Preview

Giants Offense vs. Chargers Defense

What's the key on offense for the Giants?

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If there ever was a time for the Giants to contemplate eschewing a balanced offense, this week might be the one to do it, as the matchups and statistics seem to favor the Giants’ running game having success.

The Chargers are allowing 117.8 rushing yards per game (22nd in the NFL) to opponents and 4.86 yards per carry.  

The Giants' 87.7 yards per game aren't exactly eye-popping, but what is worth noting is that they have made just about every yard count.

Not only have the Giants done better with their short-yardage game; the biggest result to come from their running game is that they’re scoring every 32.2 carries. That’s good news considering the Chargers’ run defense is allowing opponents to score on the ground once every 29.1 carries.

By placing a heavier emphasis on the run, the Giants not only chew up the clock, but a successful running game should also hopefully draw the linebackers in a little closer to the line of scrimmage. That should open things up for the short passing game that, according to Pro Football Focus, has worked for New York of late, especially in the middle of the field.

Eli Manning: Passes in the Middle of the Field
Completion % Yards Touchdowns Interceptions
0-9 yards 72.9% 770 1 4
10-19 yards 65.4% 697 3 3
20+ yards 33.3% 169 0 2

Source: Pro Football Focus (Subscription Required)

When the Giants do pass, it’s important that they protect their quarterback. Manning already has been sacked a career-high 31 times for 214 yards lost, roughly seven percent of his dropbacks.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Giants left tackle Will Beatty has been trying to get too cute with his technique this season and it's cost his team.

The biggest culprit has been left tackle Will Beatty, who, according to Pro Football Focus, has allowed 10 sacks (32.2 percent).

Beatty first told Bleacher Report last month that he was feeling like he had something to prove after receiving a new five-year, $38.75 million contract this past offseason.

After appearing to straighten out his issues in the middle part of the season, last week against the Washington Redskins, Beatty was unable to handle outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, who beat him for two sacks.

Simply put, that left side of the offensive line has to do a better job with pass protection, starting with Beatty and including left guard James Brewer, who as the new starter at left guard allowed five quarterback pressures, per Pro Football Focus.

 

Giants Defense vs. Chargers Offense

Quarterback Philip Rivers has completed 70 percent of his passes, which is tops in the league among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts.  

Rivers and company have also been on the money when it comes to converting on third down, their 46.4 percentage second in the league behind Denver’s 49 percent.

So how does a defense stop a Chargers offense, which, by the way, has only allowed 22 sacks, the fourth-lowest in the league?

Stan Liu-USA TODAY Sports
These are just two of the guys that the Giants defense hopes to stop on Sunday.

“You try to look at what they do well and take that away from them,” said Giants linebacker Jon Beason. “They run the ball well with (Ryan) Mathews. They have (tight end Antonio) Gates, who’s a matchup nightmare for everybody.

“If you can take those two guys out of the game, you have an opportunity to win. But at the same time you know Rivers is going to make that spectacular play on third down, keep the chains moving and that’s how they win games.”

The other thing the Giants might want to try is creating turnovers. The Chargers are minus-five in the turnover differential, which puts them 25th in the league, according to NFL.com. However, only nine of those turnovers are a result of interceptions thrown by Rivers. 

If the Chargers are going to win, they’ll likely do so in the air, where they’re averaging 268.8 yards per game and 7.89 yards per pass, both marks above the league average in each category.

 

What They’re Saying

Just the excitement of being drafted and then traded to the Giants. A lot of things went down that day. Ultimately, I remember it as a positive day and a fun day of my life.”

—Giants quarterback Eli Manning on what he remembers from the day he was drafted and then traded 10 years ago. 

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

I think it’s human nature. There are certain guys or certain positions and certain things that you’re always linked to. I know for the three of us being in that draft class and how everything went down that there’s always going to be the comparisons and such.”

—Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, when asked if he has tried to keep tabs on how the other quarterbacks in the 2004 draft have done.

 

“Their offense is different. They have done some things differently with their offense and his decision-making is a lot more crisp this year. He’s not taking too many chances. He’s very decisive with what he wants to do with the football. “

—Safety Antrel Rolle on what he sees when he looks at the Chargers on tape.

 

“Sometimes the ball just doesn’t bounce your way. You don’t get the breaks, (then) all of a sudden, you get on a roll and win one. You get going and your football team gets energized from it and you start making those plays that you might not have been making early on, or you get that turnover, you don’t turn the ball over. Whatever it is, that’s why you have to play 16 weeks.”

—Chargers head coach Mike McCoy on what he’s seen from the Giants in their last six games.

 

Giants Injury Analysis

Giants - Chargers Injury Report (as of Wednesday, 12/4/2013)
Giants Injury Chargers Injury
RB Brandon Jacobs Knee C Nick Hardwick Neck
CB Terrell Thomas Knee WR Eddie Royal Toe/Chest
CB Corey Webster Ankle T King Dunlap Neck
CB Trumaine McBride Groin T D.J. Fluker Ankle
DE Jason Pierre-Paul Shoulder DE Lawrence Guy Toe
WR Lavelle Hawkins Knee
LB Jarret Johnson Hand
DE Corey Liuget Knee

Source: NY Giants

Just as head coach Tom Coughlin said on Monday during his day-after conference call with the New York media, the Giants came out of last week’s game relatively unscathed.

The players on the injury report this week are holdovers, including Jacobs and Thomas, both of whom remain on a managed practice schedule for the rest of the season.

Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Jacobs (knee), who wasn’t able to work at all last week, was cautiously optimistic about his chances this week despite being listed as limited on the Wednesday practice report. 

 “It wasn’t exactly how I thought it would go—a little stiff,” he said of his Wednesday practice session. “I got through practice, but it wasn’t the best. But you just go ahead, take some reps, get involved in the offense and see what the game plan is. I’m just where I thought I would be.”

Jacobs did say that he felt better than he did a week ago and that he would just have to manage his knee issue moving forward until he could sit down and contemplate whether to have surgery.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll just have to figure out how to do it and deal with it and make it happen,” he said. “I’m going to go out and do the best that I can possibly do to make Coach Coughlin say, ‘You know what? I want that guy to play for me on Sunday.’ That’s my goal.”

Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) continues to progress slowly, though early indications are that he probably won’t be available this weekend.

Pierre-Paul, remember, struggled two weeks ago against Dallas when he tried to play with literally one arm.

“I’m going to take it day-by-day,” Pierre-Paul said, adding that he couldn’t predict if he would play on Sunday. “I’ll continue to come in and get treatment twice daily and rehab it.”

If Pierre-Paul can’t go, rookie Damontre Moore, who last week saw his highest number of snaps in a regular-season game (17, per the official NFL game book), will likely get another chunk of the snaps in that defensive end rotation behind Mathias Kiwanuka, who is again expected to start for Pierre-Paul.

 

This Week’s Game Stats and Facts
(Courtesy of the NFL's Communications Office, unless otherwise noted.)

Giants

  • Quarterback Eli Manning has completed 49-of-74 (66.2 percent) of his throws for 567 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions (107.2 rating) in two starts versus the Chargers. 

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Justin Tuck bows to teammate Cullen Jenkins, who has three sacks in his last two games.

  • Running back Andre Brown is looking to score a rushing touchdown in his fourth straight game versus AFC opponents.  
  • Receiver Victor Cruz has 21 catches for 319 yards (106.3 per game) and one touchdown in three games versus AFC teams this season. 
  • Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has nine sacks in 12 games against AFC opponents. 
  • Cornerback Terrell Thomas had a 33-yard interception in the last meeting verus the Chargers.
  • Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins has three sacks in his last two games. 

 

Chargers

  • Quarterback Philip Rivers (3,633) needs 367 passing yards for his fifth 4,000-yard season. He has four games this season with at least 390 pass yards, which ties him with Dan Marino (1984) and Joe Montana (1990) for most such games in season.
  • Tight end Antonio Gates (9,047) needs 156 receiving yards to surpass Charlie Joiner (9,203) for second-most receiving yards in team history.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA
Receiver Eddie Royal

  • Receiver Eddie Royal’s seven receiving touchdowns this season are a career best.
  • Receiver Keenan Allen posted his fifth game of the season with 100 or more receiving yards last week.
  • Tight end Ladarius Green has touchdowns of 30 and 60 yards in his last two games.
  • Safety Eric Weddle has an interception, forced fumble and two fumble recoveries in his last two games. He also leads the Chargers defense with 81 tackles. 

 

Prediction

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Prediction: San Diego 27, Giants 13

Each of the Giants’ five wins this season have come against teams with unstable situations at quarterback.

That includes last week’s game against Washington, whose signal-caller, Robert Griffin III, was clearly not the same threat he was as a rookie thank to his ongoing recovery from a serious knee injury suffered in January. 

While it would be nice for the Giants to get a win against a very good quarterback and his offense, the Giants coaching staff’s insistence on trying to achieve balance rather than sticking with the hot hand is as troublesome as anything this team has done this year.  

On defense, a big concern has been the Giants’ inability to stop the opponent on third down, which, of course, is a strength for the Chargers.

Per Team Rankings, the 24th-ranked Giants are allowing opponents an average of 5.6 third-down conversions per game, or 40.1 percent to be more precise.

The Giants will fight and scrap until the very end, but on paper, they just seem to have too many things stacked against them against a Chargers team that is better than its 5-7 record indicates.

 

Patricia Traina is the senior editor for Inside Football. All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Statistics drawn from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), unless otherwise noted. Follow Patricia on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina. 

 

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