It took six weeks for the Giants to finally play a team worth calling an opponent this season when they travel to New Orleans this Sunday to take on the Saints. While the Saints will be at home, there will not be any advantage against the Giants, as New York has gone 18-3 in their last 21 road games.
While cheese-heads, Vikings, and dirty-birds may disagree, the truth is, these two powerhouses will be competing all season for the number one spot in the NFC.
Giants Offense vs. Saints Defense
The Giants offense has blown away any questions of concern over the departures of Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, and Derrick Ward.
Since the beginning of the season, Eli Manning has utilized every weapon around him, and completed 63 percent of his passes with a quarterback rating of 104.1. This type of production will come in handy this weekend against a Saints secondary who has picked off 10 passes and is not afraid to challenge receivers.
Since the Giants have established multiple threats at the receiver position in Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, and Steve Smith, the Saints will be forced to keep the box light in order to have proper coverage down the field.
For most teams, keeping the extra safety out of the box against the Giants would be a recipe for disaster, but New Orleans has been very good against the run, ranking seventh in the league, and can afford to take some extra chances on defense. Because of their ability to contain the run, the Saints will be able to use their safeties in numerous ways.
Darren Sharper, who plays safety for the Saints and has terrorized Manning in the past, will most likely be the guy who will have the most flexibility. Sharper, who has five interceptions already, is a complete ball hawk and also has the ability to blitz the passer. Because of his all-around talent, Sharper will be New Orleans' key to keeping Eli Manning off balance and disoriented in the pocket.
The best way to beat a player with Sharper’s ability is to keep the ball away from him by throwing screens and short passes. This year, Sharper only has one interception and one pass deflection with passing plays less than 10 yards. The less he is involved, the better the chances are of moving the ball down the field.
If the Giants happen to take some shots down the field against the Saints defense, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw are going to have to work hard to keep New Orleans honest in order to set up the play action pass and keep Sharper on his heels.
Jacobs has struggled when you compare his numbers to last year, but his ability to dominate is still there. His success will be the key to allow Manning to prosper in a stadium that is very loud. The game plan on the offensive side of the football for the Giants is to have long sustained drives to keep Drew Brees on the sideline for as long as possible.
Giants Defense vs. Saints Offense
A defense that has been terrorized by the injury bug will be put to the test this week. The only other “high-powered” offense they faced was at Dallas, and that was by far their poorest outing.
Lead by Drew Brees, who has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL through the first quarter of the season, the Saints have managed to score consistently while maintaining turnovers, ranking them in a tie for first in give-and-take differential.
Although they have played the season with a thin secondary, the Giants defensive backs have been solid, ranking first in the league in pass defense. While they have been outstanding against mediocre teams, the Giants secondary will need to be even better to stop a passing attack that is relentless.
But if the secondary is going to be successful this week against Brees & Co. they’ll need more than their talent, they’ll need the big boys up front to lend them a hand.
When faced with four downed lineman, Brees has thrown two interceptions and sacked three times, and that’s with no extra help. When the blitz was on, however, Brees has made defenses pay with 228 yards and three touchdowns on only 16 pass attempts.
If the Giants can get enough pressure with their front four and drop their linebackers into coverage, the Giants' secondary will suffocate the Saints' wide receivers, as they’ve done all season.
Another key for the Giants defense is to stay fresh. The Saints have a ton of playmakers and a depth chart full of talent.
Do not be fooled by the individual production by the running backs down in New Orleans. The Saints have three backs with over 30 attempts each this season, and have all found the end zone.
Running back Mike Bell, who has missed the past two games with a sprained MCL, will be available for Sunday. New Orleans likes to use multiple backs during the game, and with Reggie Bush's ability to play receiver, the Giants will have more talent to deal with than they’ve had all season.
What to Watch For
Perhaps the most intriguing matchup will be Antonio Pierce, should he draw the assignment, on Jeremy Shockey. The ex-Giant has had a productive season and it doesn’t take a mind-reader to know he wants revenge on his former club.
This game is shaping up to be a classic. Two of the NFL’s powerhouses who stress opposite thoughts will collide for NFC supremacy.
The Giants, who have set the bar on the defensive side of the football, will put their pride on the line against a Saints team that has been lighting up scoreboards for two seasons straight.
In the end, defense wins games, and when the Giants need a stop, they will come up with it and the victory.
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