Although head coach Tom Coughlin is expecting a hard-fought, competitive game, he admitted that these final two games could potentially make or break the futures of players currently on the team.
“I think it says a lot about people, I really do. It talks about responsibility and accountability, competitiveness, believing in each other, really understanding what your team is all about,” he said.
Coughlin and the Giants might say they’re playing for the present, but make no mistake about it—the head coach is going to be looking to see which players are willing to fight until the very end.
“You've got to have the passion and the character to fight on. That’s what you signed up for, that’s what this game is all about—playing as hard as you can possibly play,” he said.
“Pride gets involved, the name on the front of your shirt being more important than the name on your back, all that stuff, so I expect that to take place.”
This week is the 41st regular-season meeting between the Giants and Lions. Detroit leads the series 20-19-1, but the Giants have won the last two games, the most recent of which was a 28-20 win at MetLife Stadium. The Giants are 8-31-1 against Detroit in away games.
|Giants at Lions: The Competitive Edge|
The Giants could be without Peyton Hillis (concussion) this weekend, while the Lions tandem of Reggie Bush, second on the team in receptions behind receiver Calvin Johnson, and Joique Bell form the league’s 18th-best rushing attack.
Detroit’s Brandon Pettigrew has 41 receptions for 416 yards and two touchdowns. Brandon Myers has been just a little bit better, with 460 yards on 41 receptions and four touchdowns.
The Giants will likely be without Victor Cruz, their most reliable receiver this season, as he is trying to recover from a concussion and a knee sprain suffered last week.
The Giants are potentially looking at fielding their seventh different starting offensive line, per NFL Game Statistic and Information System (login required). Will this be the week the unit, which has allowed its quarterback to be sacked 36 times this season, finally pitches a shutout?
The Lions have allowed 16 sacks all season, and that’s with having a pair of rookies, guard Larry Warford and LaAdrian Waddle on the right side of their line.
The Giants are, for the most part, getting solid play from this unit, especially from their starting defensive tackles, Linval Joseph and Cullen Jenkins, and from defensive end Justin Tuck, who are contributing to the NFL's 10th-best defense and 12th-best against the run.
However, the Lions are getting better production as former first-round picks Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley alone have combined for nine of the team’s 28 sacks this season and are a big—no pun intended—reason why the Lions currently have the league’s fourth-best rushing defense, per Team Rankings.
When a team’s top two leaders in tackles are linebackers, as is the case with Detroit’s Stephen Tulloch (115) and DeAndre Levy (104), the latter of whom also leads his team with six interceptions, that’s usually a good reason why the overall defense is ranked in the top half of the NFL (16th).
Over on the Giants side, Jon Beason is quickly working his way up the tackle charts with 73, third-best on the team, which is not bad considering he wasn’t with them for the beginning.
Still, when one considers that Tulloch and Levy have combined for 219 tackles, while Beason, Keith Rivers, Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams have combined for 207 tackles, that says the Giants still have a ways to go in their overall production.
The Lions defensive backfield—corners Chris Houston and Rashean Mathis and safeties Glover Quin and Louis Delmas—have the same number of interceptions (six) combined as Giants safety Antrel Rolle.
Where the Lions defensive backs rise up is in their 40 pass breakups, which tops the Giants’ 30.
The Lions are tied for the fifth-best kickoff return average in the league, 25.6, and the 14th-best punt-return average (10.3 yards) per return. The Giants are near the bottom of the league in both categories, ranking 28th on kickoff returns and 22nd on punt returns.
The Lions have home-field advantage and a playoff berth in their sights. The Giants meanwhile are trying to fulfill head coach Tom Coughlin’s desire to have their first perfect game of 2013.
Keys to the Game
At 6’5”, Megatron is nothing short of a giant mismatch against Giants cornerbacks Trumaine McBride (5’9”) and Prince Amukamara (6’0”).
But if you think that McBride and Amukamara are about to wave the white flag because they're going up against one of the league’s best and tallest receivers, think again.
“With him being so tall, I can’t jump with him,” said McBride. “It doesn’t make sense for me to try to jump with him. It makes more sense for me to play his hands when he’s coming down and knock the ball out. That’s one of the things that I could do possibly.”
Another thing he and Amukamara can do is to play press, making sure to get their hands on Johnson to prevent a free release, such as what Arizona’s Patrick Peterson did in Week 2 whenever he had to defend against Johnson.
When Peterson was able to press against Johnson, the receiver was held to minimal gains because this allowed the safety assigned to provide the deep help to come with the support.
Another thing worth noting was that Johnson had two drops against the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night, as the result of the Ravens deploying a safety to the inside on some of the coverage.
That contributed to Johnson, who this season has 10 dropped passes, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), to take his eye off the ball for a split second while trying to locate the safety.
Pressure Matthew Stafford
This year, the Lions have 31 giveaways, 31st in the NFL, which is just one spot ahead of the last-ranked Giants.
If the Giants are to have a chance at keeping pace with the Lions, they’re going to have to create some turnovers.
A good place for them to start would be quarterback Matthew Stafford, who has only completed 44.1 percent of his pass attempts when under pressure, according to Pro Football Focus; when he hurries his throws, that’s when he gets into trouble.
Per Pro Football Focus, seven of Stafford’s 17 interceptions have come when he’s under pressure.
Against the Ravens on Monday night, one of his three interceptions was a result of the pocket collapsing around him (denoted by the Xs).
Stafford, in his attempt to avoid the sack, threw behind his receiver—and right to a defender.
Protect Eli Manning
You have to admire quarterback Eli Manning for wanting to play this week.
Given the play of his offensive line, Giants fans might just be wondering if perhaps Manning, who last week was sacked three times, has lost his mind in wanting to play behind an offensive line that might have to resort to scraping the bottom of its depth chart.
The line's task doesn’t get any easier this week as it will have to try to fend off the massive Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, the Lions interior defensive linemen who were drafted in the first round of the 2010 and 2011 drafts, respectively.
Suh and Fairley, who together weigh 605 pounds, have combined for 9.0 of the Lions’ 28.0 sacks this season.
Both present the dangerous combination of power and speed, something the Giants offensive line, particularly the interior, has had trouble handling all season.
Yet Manning has faith that they'll get the job done.
“You go out there, and you've got to have confidence in them that they’re going to do their jobs, just like they have confidence I’m going to do my job, and so it doesn’t change,” said Manning.
“We’re not going to put a new guy playing one on one on Suh all day and take seven-step drops and pump and go this way and that way, so you've got to be smart about it in a sense, but you’ve still have got to run our offense and we’ll make the best of it. “
Ideally, Manning would like to be able to drop back, set his feet, and throw the ball. However, with his pocket collapsing around him at an alarming and consistent, he’s been working on sliding around in the pocket to avoid the rush and to buy time to find his receivers.
Get Off to a Fast Start
It might sound elementary, but with the Lions having the edge in the intangibles due to their quest to stay alive in the postseason hunt, if the Giants don’t get off to a fast start, it could make for a long afternoon.
If the Giants let the Lions jump out to an early lead, the crowd noise could very well become deafening. That especially wouldn’t be good news if they indeed have to play with a new offensive line combination.
What They’re Saying
“He was a big, fast, athletic guy in college. There’s no difference now. Obviously (he has taken his) game to a whole new dimension. He’s definitely become one of the best receivers in this league.”
—Giants safety Antrel Rolle on what he remembers about Calvin Johnson's collegiate days
“Forget everything else, all we can do is control what we can and go out and get these last two games. We can’t worry about everything else going on around us or who can help us out or whatever. We’ve just got to do what we’ve got to do and get these last two games.”
—Lions receiver Calvin Johnson on the mood of the team
“It never came up as a question whether I wanted to play or not, and I never thought about it any other way but going out there and playing. I want to compete. I want to make improvements and try to run this offense more efficiently and go out there and try to do the best I can and try to get a win.”
—Giants quarterback Eli Manning when asked if he contemplated taking a seat this weekend given the injuries along the offensive line
“I mention we had the Ravens come in here on Monday night; the Ravens lost four out of their five last year. They managed to get themselves into the playoffs and win four in a row or whatever it was and win the Super Bowl.”
—Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, whose team as lost four of their last five games and whose playoff hopes are hanging by a thread
“Because we play to play football and we still have two more games on our schedule.”
—Giants defensive end Justin Tuck on why it won’t be difficult for the team to get focused for this weekend’s game despite being out of the playoff hunt
|Giants - Lions Injury Report: December 18, 2013|
|LG James Brewer||ankle||S Louis Delmas||knee|
|WR Victor Cruz||concussion/knee||WR Calvin Johnson||knee|
|RG David Diehl||knee||LB DeAndre Levy||foot|
|RB Peyton Hillis||concussion||LB DeAndre Levy||right groin|
|DT Cullen Jenkins||shin/quad||TE Brandon Pettigrew||ankle|
|WR Jerrel Jernigan||knee||CB Darius Slay||knee|
|CB Trumaine McBride||groin||S John Wendling||ankle|
|DE Jason Pierre-Paul||shoulder||CB Chris Houston||toe|
|S Cooper Taylor||hamstring|
|CB Terrell Thomas||knee|
|New York Giants|
Giants Injury Analysis
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse for the Giants this season, along comes their injury report.
James Brewer and David Diehl are both question marks on an offensive line that hasn’t played well to begin with.
Of the two, Diehl is the more likely to be available on Sunday, as his issue was just some swelling that developed in his knee last week.
However, if neither of them can go, the most likely lineup would see Kevin Boothe returning to left guard, Dallas Reynolds playing center and Brandon Mosley at right guard.
The receiver situation is also a mess. Cruz almost certainly won’t play this weekend, and the New York Daily News' Ebenezer Samuel speculated the Giants wideout could, in fact, be done for what's left of the regular season.
Jerrel Jernigan, who led the team lat week in receiving yards and receptions, is iffy. Those two injuries make the team’s decision to elevate Julian Talley from the practice squad clearer.
While the Cruz injury is huge—if he isn’t able to practice this week, he’s not going to play—the Jernigan issue is also a big one because of the effect it could have on special teams.
Jernigan, remember, has been returned to kickoff-return duty over Michael Cox. With Hillis also trying to work through a concussion, the running back situation is extremely thin to where the coaches might think twice about putting Cox back there on kickoff returns.
On the other side of the ball, the return of McBride to the injury report is not very settling considering the Lions’ receiving duo of Nate Burleson and Johnson can break open the game. McBride should be able to play on Sunday, but will he be able to keep up with the speedy receivers?
Prediction: Detroit 24, Giants 17
On the face of things, the Lions have too much on their side not to win this game—the home crowd behind them and a playoff berth to be earned.
They are also going against a bruised and battered Giants team that has been hit hard with injuries at several key areas.
Yet their aggressive style of play, specifically that of defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh, who have 16 of the team's 78 penalties, more often than not gets them into trouble.
The Lions should come out on top, but this game might just be a lot closer than the stats are forecasting.