The Giants are a familiar opponent. These two faced off in Detroit in Week 16 last season, a game the Giants won 23-20 in overtime. That crushing defeat ended the Lions' playoff chances, dropping them to 7-8 after starting 6-3.
Even in defeat, the Lions defense played a strong game. Detroit held Manning to a modest stat line:
One of those sacks resulted in a safety. The Giants scored the game-tying touchdown on an interception return by Will Hill, who picked off Matthew Stafford having one of the worst games of his career.
Detroit's defense should have an even better day in the opener. While the defensive front is even stronger and deeper, the New York offense struggled mightily in preseason. Both of those developments figure to pervade here.
Manning did not look comfortable in the preseason. He completed less than half of his attempts (20 of 41), often throwing under duress behind an inexperienced line. It was not pretty:
"If you look at Eli Manning and that Giants offense as a whole, I think you need to be legitimately concerned." - Tim Hasselbeck— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) August 27, 2014
Attacking the line with deception and heavy pressure worked quite well against New York in the exhibition season. Here's a play the Jets used to flat-out embarrass both the offensive line and Manning himself.
Rusher Jason Babin uses a quick inside move to easily defeat left tackle Will Beatty, who barely touches him as he blazes toward a skittish Manning. Yet Babin isn't the only one to get into the backfield. This offensive line collapsing in multiple spots shows up time and again on preseason game tape.
Detroit also has an ace in the hole in DeAndre Levy, one of the best coverage linebackers in the league. Levy was very effective in last year's meeting, no more so than on this play.
The Giants set up and get the matchup they think they want, isolating nifty slot receiver Jerrel Jernigan on Levy in man coverage.
What New York didn't take into account is that Levy's savy and speed allow him to run the route better than Jernigan. Levy quickly reads Jernigan's downshifting and knows he's breaking outside. The linebacker is in perfect position to make a cleaner, quicker break than the wide receiver.
The pass rush also impacts this play. Ndamukong Suh runs an outside twist and explodes around the right side. Even though he doesn't get within two steps of Manning, he's right in the sight line and that impacts the quarterback.
Manning doesn't step into the throw, causing the velocity to drop and the accuracy to wane even further. Eli is so aware of the pressure that he exacerbates it by overreacting to the pass rush even when it's not right on top of him.
Detroit can take full advantage of this, and the new defensive scheme only helps in this regard.
During the preseason, Detroit demonstrated a much higher propensity for blitzing linebackers. Stephen Tulloch and Tahir Whitehead both showed they had a knack for timing the blitz and getting at the quarterback.
The willingness to bring extra rushers helps out the linemen even more. Here's a play from the Jacksonville game where the confusion created by bringing more rushers gets end Devin Taylor an easy sack.
There is no better way to stress young offensive linemen than to force them to make snap decisions under pressure. Detroit's newfound blitzing prowess figures to present major issues for a Giants line starting three new players between the tackles.
Also keep in mind the Giants are hurting at running back. Newcomer Rashad Jennings takes over for David Wilson, who was forced to retire with a neck injury. Jennings, now on his third team in as many seasons, rated poorly in pass protection last year in Oakland, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Behind Jennings, who does catch the ball well out of the backfield, is rookie Andre Williams. Bleacher Report's own Ryan Lownes had this to say about Williams' pass-protection skills in his comprehensive scouting report:
"Poor pass protection technique, does not use his hands or sustain blocks. Must do a better job of sliding his feet to mirror and using his length to keep rushers at bay."
Look for the Lions to bring all sorts of creative pressures to fluster Manning and flummox the young line. This could be a dynamic start to the season for a newly aggressive Detroit defense.