This Sunday, the 1-4 Lions play the 3-2 Giants in the $1.6 billion New Meadowlands Stadium. The game begins at 1 pm, assuming that there isn’t another lightning storm raging in the vicinity of the un-domed New Jersey venue.
Coming off their 44-6 shellacking of the 2-2 Rams, the Lions now have to prove that they are truly “over the hump” by pulling off an upset on the road over a solid team with a winning record.
Not only do the Giants have a winning record, they are ranked first in the NFL in total defense (first in passing defense and ninth against the run). They are also fifth in total offense (ninth in passing and 11th in rushing offense).
Meanwhile the Lions are ranked 25th in total defense (24th against the pass and 26th against the rush). Detroit currently ranks 17th in total offense (sixth in passing and 27th in rushing).
Based only on these statistics, the odds favor the Giants this week.
Fortunately for Detroit, the outcome of every contest is determined by how much game a team brings to the field every week and how little of it they leave on the field afterwards, not by past statistics.
However, an opponent’s prior performances can help guide a coach in putting together a good game plan. In fact, the keys to a Lions’ victory this Sunday can be found in the Giants 29-10 loss to the Titans at home and their 38-14 road loss to the Colts this season.
Titans vs. Giants
Even though Eli Manning threw for 386 yards against the Titans, he threw two interceptions, both occurring in the first quarter. He was also sacked twice.
In fact “the other Manning” has thrown as many interceptions this year (eight) as he has touchdown passes and he has been sacked nine times in five games.
The Giants also turned the ball over on an Ahmad Bradshaw fumble. Bradshaw, the Giants primary running back, has already fumbled the ball three times this season and is tied for first place for the most 2010 fumbles by any running back in the NFL.
The Giants were penalized 11 times during this game for 86 yards. Their red zone efficiency rating was 25 percent. They had an average gain of 3.9 yards per running play and 6.5 yards per passing play for a combined average gain of 4.7 yards per play.
Although Vince Young only threw 16 times for 118 yards during their win over the Giants, one of those tosses was a touchdown to Kenny Britt. Chris Johnson ran the ball 32 times for 125 yards and two touchdowns on a day when Tennessee racked up a total of 161 yards rushing. The Titans red zone efficiency rating was an impressive 75 percent.
Colts vs. Giants
Eli Manning completed 13 of 24 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns against the Colts. He also threw an interception and was sacked four times by a Colts defense that’s currently ranked 23rd in the NFL.
The Giants ran about as many passing as rushing plays and managed an average gain of just under five yards per play in both categories. They also managed only 12 first downs against the Colts.
Meanwhile, Peyton Manning completed 20 of 26 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns. The Colts also racked up 160 yards on the ground, including a run by Donald Brown for a touchdown.
A Brief Guide to Beating the Giants
The Giants offensive line is mediocre at best. As mentioned above, they’ve allowed Eli Manning to get sacked nine times in just five games.
Manning makes poor decisions when pressured, as evidenced by his eight interceptions (tied for second place with Sam Bradford for the most INTs).
The Lions’ seven interceptions have earned them a tie for sixth place in the NFL in that category and their 14 QB takedowns is the fifth best sack stat in the league.
Our aggressive defense (similar in many ways to the Titans defense) matches up well against the Giants offense, especially if our secondary continues to play as well as they did against the Rams.
On offense, the Lions have to continue to spread the ball around and keep the Giants off-balance. Shaun Hill has to get the ball out of his hands quickly to avoid the Giants formidable pass rush (19 sacks in five games) and he has to avoid throwing interceptions, especially in the red zone late in the game.
Both Tennessee and Indy ran the ball well against New York. Scott Linehan knows this and has to set up some well-designed running plays if the Lions are going to beat the Giants. The New Meadowlands Stadium is fitted with FieldTurf, so barring torrential rain Jahvid Best won’t be slipping and sliding this Sunday.
Best and Kevin Smith are both good receivers out of the backfield. Detroit has to get both of them, especially Best, in-space on screen passes when the Giants blitz.
Brandon Pettigrew is currently ranked the fourth best tight end in the NFL and Tony Scheffler is tied for fifth place with Vernon Davis and Tony Gonzalez. By comparison, the Giants tight ends, Kevin Boss and Travis Beckum, are tied for 34th and 35th place respectively.
With Calvin Johnson nicked up, getting the ball to the premier tight end tandem in the NFL would be a very good thing to do. Tossing short to medium range passes to Best, Smith, Pettigrew, and Scheffler will be an important key to putting up enough points to beat the Giants.
Nate Burleson, Bryant Johnson, Derrick Williams and Stefan Logan will all have to step up their games at wideout if Calvin isn’t close to 100 percent, or worse, is out for the game.
And finally, Jason Hanson will have to convert longish field goals with his usual consistency. He is currently perfect inside the 40-yard line, 4-for-5 from 40-49 yards, and 1-for-2 from 50 yards and farther.
Beyond the Bye Week
If the Lions can manage to build on their momentum coming off their home win over the Rams and beat the Giants on the road, they will be 2-4 going into their bye week.
There’s a good chance that Matt Stafford, DeAndre Levy and Calvin Johnson will all be on the field for the Lions seventh game against the Redskins in Week 8, and the rest of the team will have two weeks to rest and recuperate.
The NFL’s October 19 trading deadline will occur two days after the Lions play the Giants, and there’s always the chance that Martin Mayhew will work his magic once again and maybe add some additional talent (at linebacker, please!) to the team for the final 10 games of the regular season.
Despite Chicago’s current standing at 4-1 in the NFC North, they are far from guaranteed the division title. The Packers are currently 3-2 and have been riddled by injuries. The Vikings are 1-3 and are suffering from severe quarterback-induced disarray.
It’s happened only once in NFL history, but after the Chargers started out 0-4 in 1992 they went on to win 11 of their last 12 games and advance to their divisional playoffs.
It can be done.
Detroit probably won’t win 9 of their last 10 games, but they may not need to in order to qualify for the playoffs this season.
The Lions will still be in the hunt if they manage to create some lightning of their own this Sunday on the New Meadowlands playing field.