Giant fans can remember the feeling. A close game in the 4th quarter, and you just waited. Waited for Eli Manning to make the wrong decision. Waited for Eli Manning to hold the ball just a second too long. Waited for Eli Manning to force something. Waited for Eli Manning to scramble to the right and throw the ball back across the field to the left. Waited for the inevitable pick at the wrong time. The Big Mistake.
It became a regular occurrence during Eli's first two years at the helm. It had Giants fans wondering, was this guy really worth what we gave up for him?
However, in the 2007 season we saw Eli Manning mature and really step out of that shell of a QB Giant fans used to know and NOT adore. Eli Manning was indeed worth what the Giants gave up to get him.
This is no fluke. This Eli Manning you've seen through a 4-0 start is for real. A Super Bowl Champion with a little more swagger, a little more confidence, and much more maturity. A QB who HASN'T made the Big Mistake.
Going into Week Six, Manning will get his first taste of the Dog Pound, visiting the 1-3 Cleveland Browns on Monday Night. While the Browns, who are coming off a bye, have only squeaked out a win versus the winless Bengals, that fact is more indicative of their offensive woes rather than their defense.
Defensively, Cleveland ranks 10th in points allowed per game (19.5) and have yet to allow more than 28 points in a single game. Cleveland also has had success against the pass. After allowing Tony Romo to pass for 320 yards in Week One, Cleveland has not allowed more than 200 yards passing from an opponent's QB since (Roethlisburger—179; Flacco—129; Fitzpatrick—156).
Despite Clevland's marginal success on defense, these Giants present a HUGE challenge for the Browns, offensively they rank No.1 in the NFL in yards per game (431), rushing yards (131), and points per game (31.8). Their pass offense ranks 6th (250 yds per game).
To stop the Giants and disrupt Eli Manning's rhythm, Cleveland will need to focus on stopping the run. One of Eli's most effective weapons is the play action pass. Keeping Brandon Jacobs and counterparts Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw in check will put the Cleveland defense in more favorable situations on the defensive side of the ball.
Stopping the run makes the play action much less effective and will force Manning into longer passing situations, something he hasn't really had to do. The Giants are much improved on 3rd down, but part of the reason is they are rarely in 3rd and long situations.
Tom Coughlin comes from the Bill Parcell's "school," so the Giants run a balanced attack of run and pass. Forcing the Giants to become more one dimensional (and forcing Eli to beat you with the pass) may be the best approach to stop this freight train the Giant offense has become.
The Giants play mistake free football and don't turn the ball over, so this may be Cleveland's best hope of keeping the game close. Perhaps this approach will increase the likelihood of that old Eli mistake.
One thing we've seen out of this new Eli Manning is his ability to stand in the pocket and not get giddy when he's under pressure. Constant pressure may not be the best answer, as we've seen Eli check down or throw the ball away when needed—again, yet to make the big mistake.
If we learned one thing last week versus Seattle, it is that Eli has morphed his approach into a Tom Brady-eque mindset—many weapons and many ways to move the ball down the field. Plaxico Burress returns this week, but continue to expect to see the ball spread around the field.
Ironically, Cleveland's offense can be their best defense, similar to how the Giants managed the Patriots in Super Bowl XXLII. The best way to stop an extremely potent offense is to keep them off the field. Jamal Lewis could turn out to be Cleveland's biggest "defensive" weapon.
Expect the Browns to attempt to play a ball control offense, especially with their growing number of injuries and the probability that Kellen Winslow will be out. The best way to keep the Giants out of sync is to disrupt their long drive, ball control offense with a little dose of their own medicine. The question is, can Cleveland sustain a ball control offense under the constant attack of a ferocious Giant defense? Probably not.
Prediction: Giants 27 Browns 16
Eli Manning and the Giants to put together another strong effort in a hostile environment and will remain unbeaten on the season. Expect to see Brady Quinn in this game, as the offensive enigma will continue out of Derek Anderson and company vs. the Giant defense, especially if Kellen Winslow doesn't play.
**Note - these teams matched up in pre-season, with the Giants putting up 30 first half points. Osi Umenyora knocked Derek Anderson out of that game with a concussion before Umenyora suffered a season ending knee injury.
Brady Quinn moved the ball well versus the Giants, but that was primarily versus their second and third string personnel. If Quinn gets a chance to play this week, it will be interesting to see how he fairs against Steve Spagnolo's aggressive, hard hitting blitz packages of the first team defense.