New York Giants vs. Detroit Lions: Breaking Down New York's Game Plan

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New York Giants vs. Detroit Lions: Breaking Down New York's Game Plan
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants will take one more step this weekend toward concluding an abysmal 2013 season when they wrap up their road games with a visit to the Detroit Lions.

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Although head coach Tom Coughlin is expecting a hard-fought, competitive game, he admitted that these final two games could potentially make or break the futures of players currently on the team.

“I think it says a lot about people, I really do. It talks about responsibility and accountability, competitiveness, believing in each other, really understanding what your team is all about,” he said.

Coughlin and the Giants might say they’re playing for the present, but make no mistake about it—the head coach is going to be looking to see which players are willing to fight until the very end.

“You've got to have the passion and the character to fight on. That’s what you signed up for, that’s what this game is all about—playing as hard as you can possibly play,” he said.

“Pride gets involved, the name on the front of your shirt being more important than the name on your back, all that stuff, so I expect that to take place.”

 

The Series

This week is the 41st regular-season meeting between the Giants and Lions. Detroit leads the series 20-19-1, but the Giants have won the last two games, the most recent of which was a 28-20 win at MetLife Stadium. The Giants are 8-31-1 against Detroit in away games.

 

Giants at Lions: The Competitive Edge
Giants Lions
Quarterback x
Running Backs x
Tight Ends x
Receivers x
Offensive Line x
Defensive Line x
Linebackers x
Defensive Backs x
Special Teams x
Coaching/Intangibles x

Advantage: Lions

 

Unit Analyses

Quarterback

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Both Eli Manning and Matthew Stafford have been turnover-prone, though Stafford’s 17 interceptions are nowhere near Manning’s league-leading 25.

Stafford has also had better success with throwing the deep ball. He has thrown 59 passes of 20 or more yards, which ranks second in the league behind Peyton Manning’s 62.  

 

Running Backs

The Giants could be without Peyton Hillis (concussion) this weekend, while the Lions tandem of Reggie Bush, second on the team in receptions behind receiver Calvin Johnson, and Joique Bell form the league’s 18th-best rushing attack.

 

Tight Ends

Detroit’s Brandon Pettigrew has 41 receptions for 416 yards and two touchdowns. Brandon Myers has been just a little bit better, with 460 yards on 41 receptions and four touchdowns.

 

Receivers

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

"Megatron" (Calvin Johnson) is second in the NFL with 1,449 receiving yards, and his 12 receiving touchdowns lead the NFL

The Giants will likely be without Victor Cruz, their most reliable receiver this season, as he is trying to recover from a concussion and a knee sprain suffered last week.

 

Offensive Line

The Giants are potentially looking at fielding their seventh different starting offensive line, per NFL Game Statistic and Information System (login required). Will this be the week the unit, which has allowed its quarterback to be sacked 36 times this season, finally pitches a shutout?

The Lions have allowed 16 sacks all season, and that’s with having a pair of rookies, guard Larry Warford and LaAdrian Waddle on the right side of their line.

 

Defensive Line

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Fairley

The Giants are, for the most part, getting solid play from this unit, especially from their starting defensive tackles, Linval Joseph and Cullen Jenkins, and from defensive end Justin Tuck, who are contributing to the NFL's 10th-best defense and 12th-best against the run.

However, the Lions are getting better production as former first-round picks Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley alone have combined for nine of the team’s 28 sacks this season and are a big—no pun intended—reason why the Lions currently have the league’s fourth-best rushing defense, per Team Rankings.

 

Linebackers

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport
Stephen Tulloch

When a team’s top two leaders in tackles are linebackers, as is the case with Detroit’s Stephen Tulloch (115) and DeAndre Levy (104), the latter of whom also leads his team with six interceptions, that’s usually a good reason why the overall defense is ranked in the top half of the NFL (16th).

Over on the Giants side, Jon Beason is quickly working his way up the tackle charts with 73, third-best on the team, which is not bad considering he wasn’t with them for the beginning.

Still, when one considers that Tulloch and Levy have combined for 219 tackles, while Beason, Keith Rivers, Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams have combined for 207 tackles, that says the Giants still have a ways to go in their overall production. 

 

Defensive Backs

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Lions defensive backfield—corners Chris Houston and Rashean Mathis and safeties Glover Quin and Louis Delmas—have the same number of interceptions (six) combined as Giants safety Antrel Rolle.

Where the Lions defensive backs rise up is in their 40 pass breakups, which tops the Giants’ 30.

 

Special Teams

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Return specialist Jeremy Ross

The Lions are tied for the fifth-best kickoff return average in the league, 25.6, and the 14th-best punt-return average (10.3 yards) per return. The Giants are near the bottom of the league in both categories, ranking 28th on kickoff returns and 22nd on punt returns.

 

Coaching/intangibles

The Lions have home-field advantage and a playoff berth in their sights. The Giants meanwhile are trying to fulfill head coach Tom Coughlin’s desire to have their first perfect game of 2013. 

 

Keys to the Game

Dismantle Megatron 

Leon Halip/Getty Images

Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson is second in the NFL with 1,449 receiving yards. He’s had seven 100-yard receiving games, including his amazing 329-yard performance against Dallas in Week 8.

At 6’5”, Megatron is nothing short of a giant mismatch against Giants cornerbacks Trumaine McBride (5’9”) and Prince Amukamara (6’0”).

But if you think that McBride and Amukamara are about to wave the white flag because they're going up against one of the league’s best and tallest receivers, think again.

“With him being so tall, I can’t jump with him,” said McBride. “It doesn’t make sense for me to try to jump with him. It makes more sense for me to play his hands when he’s coming down and knock the ball out. That’s one of the things that I could do possibly.”

NFL Game Rewind

Another thing he and Amukamara can do is to play press, making sure to get their hands on Johnson to prevent a free release, such as what Arizona’s Patrick Peterson did in Week 2 whenever he had to defend against Johnson.  

When Peterson was able to press against Johnson, the receiver was held to minimal gains because this allowed the safety assigned to provide the deep help to come with the support. 

Another thing worth noting was that Johnson had two drops against the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night, as the result of the Ravens deploying a safety to the inside on some of the coverage.

That contributed to Johnson, who this season has 10 dropped passes, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), to take his eye off the ball for a split second while trying to locate the safety.

 

Pressure Matthew Stafford

NFL Game Rewind

This year, the Lions have 31 giveaways, 31st in the NFL, which is just one spot ahead of the last-ranked Giants.

If the Giants are to have a chance at keeping pace with the Lions, they’re going to have to create some turnovers.

A good place for them to start would be quarterback Matthew Stafford, who has only completed 44.1 percent of his pass attempts when under pressure, according to Pro Football Focus; when he hurries his throws, that’s when he gets into trouble.

Per Pro Football Focus, seven of Stafford’s 17 interceptions have come when he’s under pressure.

Against the Ravens on Monday night, one of his three interceptions was a result of the pocket collapsing around him (denoted by the Xs).

Stafford, in his attempt to avoid the sack, threw behind his receiverand right to a defender.

 

Protect Eli Manning

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY
The Giants must find a way to keep this sight from happening this week.

You have to admire quarterback Eli Manning for wanting to play this week.

Given the play of his offensive line, Giants fans might just be wondering if perhaps Manning, who last week was sacked three times, has lost his mind in wanting to play behind an offensive line that might have to resort to scraping the bottom of its depth chart.

The line's task doesn’t get any easier this week as it will have to try to fend off the massive Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, the Lions interior defensive linemen who were drafted in the first round of the 2010 and 2011 drafts, respectively.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Ndamukong Suh (shown) and Nick Fairley are former first-rounders.

Suh and Fairley, who together weigh 605 pounds, have combined for 9.0 of the Lions’ 28.0 sacks this season.

Both present the dangerous combination of power and speed, something the Giants offensive line, particularly the interior, has had trouble handling all season.

Yet Manning has faith that they'll get the job done.

“You go out there, and you've got to have confidence in them that they’re going to do their jobs, just like they have confidence I’m going to do my job, and so it doesn’t change,” said Manning.

“We’re not going to put a new guy playing one on one on Suh all day and take seven-step drops and pump and go this way and that way, so you've got to be smart about it in a sense, but you’ve still have got to run our offense and we’ll make the best of it. “

Ideally, Manning would like to be able to drop back, set his feet, and throw the ball. However, with his pocket collapsing around him at an alarming and consistent, he’s been working on sliding around in the pocket to avoid the rush and to buy time to find his receivers.   

 

Get Off to a Fast Start

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Quieting down the Ford Field crowd early will go a long way toward helping the Giants offense.

It might sound elementary, but with the Lions having the edge in the intangibles due to their quest to stay alive in the postseason hunt, if the Giants don’t get off to a fast start, it could make for a long afternoon.

That could be a challenge in itself, as New York hasn’t scored an opening-possession touchdown in nine consecutive games, the NFL’s third-longest streak behind Miami (12) and New Orleans (10).

If the Giants let the Lions jump out to an early lead, the crowd noise could very well become deafening. That especially wouldn’t be good news if they indeed have to play with a new offensive line combination.

 

What They’re Saying

“He was a big, fast, athletic guy in college. There’s no difference now. Obviously (he has taken his) game to a whole new dimension. He’s definitely become one of the best receivers in this league.”

—Giants safety Antrel Rolle on what he remembers about Calvin Johnson's collegiate days

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

 

“Forget everything else, all we can do is control what we can and go out and get these last two games. We can’t worry about everything else going on around us or who can help us out or whatever. We’ve just got to do what we’ve got to do and get these last two games.”

—Lions receiver Calvin Johnson on the mood of the team

 

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

“It never came up as a question whether I wanted to play or not, and I never thought about it any other way but going out there and playing. I want to compete. I want to make improvements and try to run this offense more efficiently and go out there and try to do the best I can and try to get a win.”

—Giants quarterback Eli Manning when asked if he contemplated taking a seat this weekend given the injuries along the offensive line

 

“I mention we had the Ravens come in here on Monday night; the Ravens lost four out of their five last year. They managed to get themselves into the playoffs and win four in a row or whatever it was and win the Super Bowl.”

—Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, whose team as lost four of their last five games and whose playoff hopes are hanging by a thread   

 

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

“Because we play to play football and we still have two more games on our schedule.”

—Giants defensive end Justin Tuck on why it won’t be difficult for the team to get focused for this weekend’s game despite being out of the playoff hunt

 

Giants - Lions Injury Report: December 18, 2013
Giants Injury Lions Injury
LG James Brewer ankle S Louis Delmas knee
WR Victor Cruz concussion/knee WR Calvin Johnson knee
RG David Diehl knee LB DeAndre Levy foot
RB Peyton Hillis concussion LB DeAndre Levy right groin
DT Cullen Jenkins shin/quad TE Brandon Pettigrew ankle
WR Jerrel Jernigan knee CB Darius Slay knee
CB Trumaine McBride groin S John Wendling ankle
DE Jason Pierre-Paul shoulder CB Chris Houston toe
S Cooper Taylor hamstring
CB Terrell Thomas knee

New York Giants

 

Giants Injury Analysis

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse for the Giants this season, along comes their injury report.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports
David Diehl should be available for duty on Sunday despite a knee ailment.

James Brewer and David Diehl are both question marks on an offensive line that hasn’t played well to begin with.

Of the two, Diehl is the more likely to be available on Sunday, as his issue was just some swelling that developed in his knee last week.

However, if neither of them can go, the most likely lineup would see Kevin Boothe returning to left guard, Dallas Reynolds playing center and Brandon Mosley at right guard.

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
The Giants could be without Victor Cruz this weekend.

The receiver situation is also a mess. Cruz almost certainly won’t play this weekend, and the New York Daily News' Ebenezer Samuel speculated the Giants wideout could, in fact, be done for what's left of the regular season.  

Jerrel Jernigan, who led the team lat week in receiving yards and receptions, is iffy. Those two injuries make the team’s decision to elevate Julian Talley from the practice squad clearer.

While the Cruz injury is huge—if he isn’t able to practice this week, he’s not going to play—the Jernigan issue is also a big one because of the effect it could have on special teams.

Jernigan, remember, has been returned to kickoff-return duty over Michael Cox. With Hillis also trying to work through a concussion, the running back situation is extremely thin to where the coaches might think twice about putting Cox back there on kickoff returns.

On the other side of the ball, the return of McBride to the injury report is not very settling considering the Lions’ receiving duo of Nate Burleson and Johnson can break open the game. McBride should be able to play on Sunday, but will he be able to keep up with the speedy receivers?

 

Prediction: Detroit 24, Giants 17

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
The Lions have way too much on the line. Detroit 24, Giants 17.

On the face of things, the Lions have too much on their side not to win this game—the home crowd behind them and a playoff berth to be earned.

They are also going against a bruised and battered Giants team that has been hit hard with injuries at several key areas.

Yet their aggressive style of play, specifically that of defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh, who have 16 of the team's 78 penalties, more often than not gets them into trouble.

The Lions should come out on top, but this game might just be a lot closer than the stats are forecasting.

 

Patricia Traina is the senior editor for Inside Football. All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Patricia on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina. 

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