After watching nearly four full games of the Giants defense, I've come away with a few trends and patterns that Sean Payton—as a playcaller—and Drew Brees can take advantage of in Sunday's mammoth matchup of unbeatens.
Most prominent among these advantages is the Saints' ability to run the football against a less-than-great run defense. The Giants' main difficulty in defending the run is being overaggressive and not playing gap-assignment football.
Linebackers and safeties over-pursue, allowing runners to cut back against the flow of the play and get to the second, and sometimes the third level of the defense.
Teams in recent weeks have been unable to take advantage of this flaw, in part because they've been behind early, but also because they were not as talented at the running back position or as physical at the point of the attack as the Saints likely will be on Sunday.
In the passing game, the middle of the field tends to be open on intermediate to deep seam routes. These openings are generally gained by getting a tight end on one of the linebackers and clearing out the safeties with other routes.
Finally, the Giants can be had in the short passing game by clearing out with deep routes and having a running back or tight end swing out into the flats and allowing them to pick up yards after the catch. To go along with this flooding one side of the field with three receivers will often produce the same result.
More specifically though here is an in-depth gameplan I've come up with. I would expect Sean Payton's to be at least somewhat similar to this one.
First and Second Down
Expect to see a good amount of base personnel (Thomas/Bell and Evans, Shockey, and two receivers) with the tight end lined up on the line of scrimmage.
This will put the Giants in either an over or under defense with an outside linebacker either playing over the tight end or over the opposite tackle. The other two linebackers balance out the core to the other side, but always fly to the ball on run plays.
Because of this I would run inside zone and off tackle runs to the side of the outside linebacker with the cutback as a potential result.
These linebackers are very aggressive, especially when they know the run is working, and sometimes the safety will come up as well. Playaction becomes more than a viable option. Having the tight end fly out to the flat is a favorite play of the Saints.
It is possible to use playaction and push the ball down the field with a series of vertical routes using both receivers and the tight end. Evans could check out into the flat in case that deep throw is unavailable.
Also out of this formation, I would expect to see a reverse to either Robert Meachem or Devery Henderson, away from the linebacker.
I also think we'll see some 11 personnel which would put three receivers, Shockey, and Bush/Thomas on the field. Bush can run from this personnel grouping, but it is also an ideal way to get him involved in the passing game out of the backfield.
We must also not forget the famous swing screen the Saints have used so successfully in prior years, but have yet to showcase this season. Having twin receivers to the opposite side of the tight end should get an open flat area, giving Bush the room he needs to make something exciting happen.
The Giants like to get aggressive on third down, as does just about every other NFL defense. This is when they will bring blitzes, or show them and not come. My guess is that in this game they will try to mix it up and throw some zone blitzes at Brees, something they haven't done much of yet this season.
In long-yardage situations, the running game becomes virtually non-existent, although some of those quick screen plays to the receivers are good options. The Giants like to play underneath coverage and keep receivers in front of them. Because of this it is very possible to complete passes on third down, but gaining first downs is difficult.
It is imperative that Henderson, Meachem, and Shockey push their routes past the sticks in order to have the first down prior to catching the football. Meachem and Henderson have the speed to back the defenders up so this shouldn't be a problem.
I would expect to see some deep curl routes on the hashes and some combo routes with a receiver going over the top to occupy a safety.
It is possible to run some sideline routes, because you're getting man-to-man out there, but it is going to have to come from a three-receiver side in order to clear out the rest of the coverage. The crossing route from this should also be open against a linebacker, an advantage for any Saints receiver.
It wouldn't shock me to see a run or two in long-yardage situation, especially if the game situation allows for it. The Giants often will completely clear out their coverage, potentially leaving the middle of the field wide open.
I also think this is possible in medium-to-go situations, but it would probably be on a toss, or a reverse or something to that effect. Screens to the backs would also be good third-and-medium.
In short-yardage, I would go with run formations, and go playaction some of the time, and other times just run the football right up the middle. They can't stop the run routinely.
The Giants corners are not big guys, meaning Marques Colston could have a field day in the red zone. The run game remains realistic until you get within two or three yards, at which point playaction is probably a better option. This is also another good time for the swing screen or a reverse even.
This is kind of a moniker for the whole team and their gameplan, but is extremely important for the Saints not to turn the ball over on Sunday. The Giants just about always capitalize on turnovers. Ball security will at a premium on Sunday.
Running the football will do a couple things. It will tire the Giants front four, force the Giants to be more aggressive than they generally prefer which is always good to get a defense out of their comfort zone, opens up playaction, and allows the vertical throw to open up.
I'm not overly concerned with the Giants front four in this game. Sean Payton is not going to allow them to be a factor because of play selection and a heavy dose of the run. Getting ahead is the key to a Saints victory and I think if they get the ball first they'll be able to do that.
I think the Saints will be able to score. I'm just concerned about whether they can stop the Giants from scoring.
It should be a shootout in the dome on Sunday. It should be fun.