New York Giants: 5 Players to Watch vs. Seattle Seahawks
Despite what the New York Giants might believe, they really don’t have much else to play for in this upcoming three-game stretch that begins this weekend with a home matchup against the Seattle Seahawks.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, have a lot to play for this weekend, as with a win, they will finish with their best road record (6-2) in franchise history.
It’s a bleak outlook for the Giants, who will try to play the role of spoilers and avoid their ninth loss this season, which would guarantee them of finishing below .500 for the first time under Tom Coughlin since 2004.
If the Giants really do want to play spoilers and see how they stack up against what is perhaps the best team in the NFC, they’re going to need strong performances from the following five players.
Receiver Hakeem Nicks
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell, the Seahawks’ starting cornerbacks, both have positive overall grades.
Sherman, who has allowed 56 percent of the passes thrown against him for 448 yards, has only given up 149 yards after the catch and just two touchdowns all season.
Per Pro Football Focus’ weekly rankings, Sherman is currently rated as the 15th-best cornerback in the NFL with a 7.5 rating.
The lesser of the two evils, based on the stats, appears to be Maxwell, who has been filling in for the injured Brandon Browner.
Maxwell has allowed 58.8 percent of the passes thrown against him to be completed for 222 yards and one touchdown, with 34 yards coming after the catch.
All season long, the only Giants receiver who seems to get open with any kind of consistency is Victor Cruz, and this despite the fact that he’s often drawn double coverage.
It sure would be nice if Nicks, whose contract season has been one of the strangest in recent memory, could build on last week’s five-catch, 135-yard performance (51 yards of which came on a Hail Mary reception that fell about six yards short of the goal line).
One thing that could work in the Giants' favor is the Seahawks’ physical style that almost certainly will put a bull’s-eye on their collective backs.
The Seahawks defensive backs have been flagged for pass interference 11 times this season, per NFL Game Statistics and Information System (membership required).
They’ve also been flagged for defensive holding nine times.
However, Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said Thursday that his team can’t rely on the officials to police the Seahawks on every play:
I think the biggest thing is you just have to prepare them to recognize what they’re in for and that is from the moment the game starts to the moment until the game ends, guys are going to be up in your face, grabbing you, holding you...If you think they’re going to be called and expect that to be the solution to the problem, you’re going to be sadly mistaken. They’ve perfected the art and you just have to keep fighting and battling and not give up and you’ll have your chance to make plays.
The good news is that Gilbride and company apparently have spotted some weaknesses in Seattle’s coverage that they think they can use to their advantage.
One thing that stands out when watching Seattle's defense is that the Seahawks often put eight men in the box while relying on their corners to jam receivers coming off the line of scrimmage.
“Some of the things they do should give us some chances,” Gilbride said. “Our guys are always clamoring for one-on-one opportunities.
"You’re going to get more than your fair share of one-on-one opportunities to win against some pretty good coverage and guys that play very physical.”
Linebacker Jon Beason
In one of the more interesting matchups of this game, middle linebacker Jon Beason, the Giants’ every-down linebacker, who has taken 100 percent of the defensive snaps since Week 10, will try to limit the damage done by Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Lynch has had his best success this season running the ball to the right side of his formation (5.6 yards per carry behind right guard and 5.0 YPC behind the right tackle).
Beason, who has been solid against the run, has made 11 stops for zero yards or for loss since coming over to the Giants in a trade in early October.
Showing very few signs of any injury issues, Beason has moved well from sideline to sideline and has done a nice job of filling holes, forcing running backs to cut back.
The important thing for Beason and the rest of the Giants run defense is to bounce back from last week’s disappointing performance, in which they gave up a season-high 144 rushing yards to the San Diego Chargers.
On stopping the run, Beason says:
We’ve done it so there’s no reason why we can’t do it this week, but it’s going to take a special effort...Guys have to prepare harder, especially when you’re coming off a disappointing loss in terms of your performance. It’s on the individual, but you have to do it for the man next to you, too. Everyone has to buy in and say, ‘Okay, let’s get back to the basics and just do what we’re supposed to do. Whatever the call is, know your job and do it.’
Defensive End Justin Tuck
There aren’t very many weaknesses on the Seattle Seahawks, but one that bears watching is the Giants’ matchup against a Seahawks offensive line that has allowed 32 sacks this season, fewer than what the Giants’ offensive line has allowed.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the Seahawks starting tackles, Russell Okung (left) and Breno Giacomini (right) have allowed 4.0 sacks this season, while left guard Paul McQuistan has allowed a team-high 8.0 sacks.
When quarterback Russell Wilson has been under pressure this season, he’s completed just 49.6 percent of his passes (60-of-121 for 876 yards, five interceptions and 10 touchdowns).
What does all this mean for the Giants and Justin Tuck, who has been on fire these last three weeks with 7.0 sacks in that period?
If New York's defensive tackles can push the pocket as they have done throughout most of the season, Tuck could find himself in an excellent position to record a sack in his fourth straight game.
The other thing to watch regarding Tuck has been his run defense. In the last four weeks, he’s posted 13 stops against an opposing offense (solo tackles for zero or negative yardage, including sacks), eight of which have come over the last two weeks alone.
Tuck is the runaway leader on the Giants with his 29 total stops this season, and he could be a big factor in trying to contain Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who Tuck said is dangerous in the Seattle offensive scheme.
“I’m more impressed with Marshawn just for the fact that he’s a running back that gives more of a pounding than taking it,” Tuck said.
“That scheme really fits him well. It’s a constant that you see him falling forward, breaking tackles. You really don’t see him getting hit for negative yardage so that’s going to keep the sticks in their favor and plus he’s one of those backs that when he does break it, he can take it to the house.”
Quarterback Eli Manning
It’s been a bad season for the Giants quarterback, he with the two Super Bowl MVPs and three Pro Bowl appearances in his 10-year career.
While a large part of the problem has been his pass protection—Manning has been sacked 33 times which is a new career-high—he has also forced a number of throws.
“You can’t just say it’s the offensive line; that’s not always the case,” Manning said, when asked about the sacks and pressures that have resulted in him often not getting the chance to step into his throws.
“It’s running backs, it’s receivers getting open, it’s me setting the right protections and doing those things. I think there’s a combination of a number of things, but hopefully we can get back to eliminating those and get the ball out quickly, but also have some chances to get the ball down the field.”
While Manning, who has been sacked at least once in every game this season, can’t control his blocking, he might want to consider moving around a little more in the pocket to buy some time.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), of the six runs Manning has tried this season—all of them of the north-and-south variety—five of them have come during the 200 times he’s been under pressure.
While Manning obviously doesn't want to put himself in harm's way by running at random—nor should he—he might be able to avoid the rush a little more if he tries sliding around in the pocket.
If he can do that, he might just be successful at buying himself extra time to make a play, especially against a Seattle pass rush that mostly sends just four at the quarterback.
Running Back Andre Brown
Ever since returning to the starting offensive lineup in Week 10, Running back Andre Brown has given the Giants' anemic offense a shot in the arm.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he’s averaged 4.3 yards per carry, and 227 of his 424 rushing yards have come after contact.
After posting back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances in his first two games, Brown’s carries have gradually declined, with his 14 carries in Week 14 being a season low.
If the Giants want to achieve offensive balance, it might be a good idea to give Brown a few extra carries this week against the Seahawks' 15th-ranked run defense, a unit that is allowing an average of 111.5 yards rushing per game.