Giants vs. Saints: Who Has the Edge in Each Positional Matchup?
When the Giants stroll into the Big Easy on Monday night in front of 70,000 ravenous "Who Dats" and millions watching across the country and world, it will be with great anticipation that we as fans watcheven in spite of a multitude of primetime football games all throughout this Thanksgiving weekend.
In addition to this gameplan article, it seems necessary to discuss which matchups favor which team in what figures to be an all-important NFC showdown.
QB Eli Manning vs. Drew Brees
Let's see. You've got the No. 1 QB in the league in passing yards, second in touchdowns, third in QB Rating, and the second highest completion percentage going against a guy who ranks no higher than fourth in any of those categories.
Statistically speaking, Brees wins this battle by a long shot. That being said, Manning is having probably his best career as a pro, and not just statistically speaking.
The way Manning is making clutch plays, avoiding sacks and creating explosive pass plays down the field is something he's always shown the ability to do, but is now doing with more regularity.
Of course, Brees has been doing such things for years now, and nobody is better in the NFL at controlling the huddle and getting his team into the right play.
And he too is exceptional at avoiding the sack for a big play exercise that Manning is just now exhibiting on a more regular basis.
For the longevity and regularity he possesses, I have to give the edge to Drew Brees.
It is unknown if Ahmad Bradshaw will play for the Giants, leaving them with Brandon Jacobs and D.J. Ware as their primary ball-carriers, aided by the presence of rookie Da'Rel Scott.
The Saints have four healthy running backs, each of whom present different skill sets to an opposing defense. Chris Ivory is basically the equivalent of Brandon Jacobs in terms of style and ability.
Pierre Thomas and D.J. Ware are somewhat similar as talent-limited players who make a lot out of a little. Da'Rel Scott is kind of an unknown as a rookie, and to some degree that is also true of Mark Ingram, though arguably Ingram's future is brighter.
Ahmad Bradshaw is the home run hitter for the Giants, but if he's not playing the obvious advantage goes to Darren Sproles and the New Orleans Saints. Even if Bradshaw were healthy I'd be awfully tempted to go their way, since the Giants rank 31st in the league in rushing.
And in case you hadn't noticed, Darren Sproles is one of the most electric playmakers in the entire NFL.
Hakeem Nicks is one of my favorite receivers to come out of college ever. His unique skill set is only bettered by Andre and Calvin Johnson. Not even Larry Fitzgerald has the after-the-catch ability that Nicks does. It's his ability to get open deep down the field and pull the ball in on a jump ball which has truly surprised me.
Throw in the dependable Mario Manningham and the emerging Victor Cruz and you have one of the finest receiving cores in the entire NFL.
None of this is meant to discount the group the New Orleans Saints throw onto the field every week, but from a talent perspective the Giant's group is far superior to the Saints' group which is led by Marques Colston—a former seventh round draft pick.
Colston does not possess the same kind of after-the-catch ability as Nicks, though he is more refined as a route runner and ball snatcher.
Lance Moore has been doing the same things as Victor Cruz for a lot longer, but the winning factor for the Giants is that Manningham outproduces the duo of Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson on a regular basis.
The Giants get the edge here, but that is due more to talent than overall production.
This one is really a slam dunk! I know Jake Ballard has been surprisingly great for the Giants, but only one tight end in the league can match the production of Jimmy Graham (Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots).
Graham is a matchup nightmare for any defense. There is no defender who can truly match the unique skillset he brings to the table. His ability to out run every linebacker in creation yet out jump every safety or corner is quite unique.
Ballard has been a nice story, but right now he's not much more than an average tight end in the league. At least the Giants can boast that he's worked out well, after letting Kevin Boss walk in free agency.
The Giants' offensive line has maneuvered a 31st ranked rushing attack. But they've also given up a relatively low sack total—16—compared to 19 by the Saints.
For this reason, I tend to think the matchup between these two units is relatively even. Heck, it's not as if the Saints o-line is just blowing up, running holes for their running backs with any kind of regularity.
Perhaps the edge would go to the Saints since they have two notable guards in Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks, whereas most fans would be unable to name a single Giants' lineman, or so I would guess.
I really don't know, in all honesty. If the tie-breaker is name recognition, they must be pretty darn even. Nonetheless, we'll give the edge to the Saints.
Do we need to even bring up the Saints defensive line in this discussion? Truthfully, I think not.
The Giants' unit of Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and Jason Pierre-Paul at the end spots—to go with Chris Canty and Linval Joseph at the tackle spotsmakes the Giants the finest defensive line in all of football.
No unit is better at getting pressure on the QB without blitzing than the Giants, and very few defensive lines possess the ability to slow down a running game that this Giants' defensive line does.
Few teams have struggled to paste together linebacking units in the past few seasons as either of these teams. Both the Saints and Giants seem to be walking mash units at this spot; though for the Saints, that has less to do with injury and more to do with destruction the unit has done to the rest of the team.
Nonetheless, when healthy, the Saints have more talent at the position—especially with any of these guys: Jonathan Vilma, Jonathan Casillas, Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Martez Wilson in the game. Those players make up a talented group of players who are still learning to play in the NFL at an effective level. Vilma is trying to teach them.
That is a better predicament than what the Giants have faced in recent weeks and years at the position, as they are always seemingly trying to find healthy bodies to throw out onto the field. Last week undrafted Mark Herzlich got his first start for Big Blue and played fine. But he barely made the team back in early September.
At least the Saints have healthy bodies and continuity at the position. Of course, with the Saints multitude of personnel groupings and spread-the-rock mentality expect the Giants to feature a lot more nickel and dime defenses this week, negating some of their talent disparity at this position.
Considering the Saints have three guys in the secondary who I believe should be in the Pro Bowl and the Giants have a litany of injuries back there, I'm going to say this one isn't even close.
Roman Harper, Malcolm Jenkins, Jabari Greer, and Tracy Porter make up what I believe to be the finest secondary in all football. The Giants' secondary might not even be the best were they to play in college football.
Corey Webster, Aaron Ross, and Prince Amakamura make up a shaky defensive back group, while Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle aren't exactly a group to write home to mom about.
If the offensive line can give him just enough time, Drew Brees figures to show America just how bad this unit is. And if the Saints can apply just enough pressure to Eli Manning, the Saints defensive backs figure to show just amazing they are.
It's probably wrong of me to say this, but off the top of my head I can't even tell you who the Giants' kick returner or punt returners are. I can't tell you even who their kicker is. I remember Steve Weatherford is their punter only because I watched the Eagles game last Sunday night and saw way too much of him—that and he's a former Saint.
Sometimes not knowing who those guys are is a good thing. But for a team such as the Giants, it really isn't. Everyone should know exactly who those guys are. After looking it up, Devin Thomas is their primary kick returner, while Aaron Ross returns punts, and Lawrence Tynes kicks their field goals.
For the Saints, it's a much more settled situation, as Darren Sproles takes on both return jobs while John Kasay and Thomas Morstead make up one of the best kicking duos in the NFL. More importantly, the Saints kicking unit has produced more positive plays for the Saints than the Giant's special teams unit has.
Will it make a big difference Monday night? Probably not, but who is to say for sure?