Saturday, October 17, 2009

Game 6 Scouting Report


THE TEAMS: In case you haven't heard, this is the biggest game of the year for the Giants to date. It bears repeating that the Giants are off to their fastest start since the Super Bowl title season of 1990. But in their five wins, they've beaten one semi-serious playoff contender in Dallas, one divisional mediocrity in Washington, and three patsies in a row. Now comes New Orleans, a balanced team that put up 48 points in Week 2 victory over Philadelphia. Eli Manning will make his competitive debut in his hometown Superdome, and frenemy Jeremy Shockey will face his old Giants squad for the first time. There's plenty of juice to go around in this one, a big change from the humdrum nature of the Giants' last three games.

THE HISTORY: The Giants lead the series 14-10, but the Saints are up 5-4 in games in Louisiana. This is the Giants' first visit to New Orleans since 2003, an infamous 45-7 loss in which former wide receiver Joe Horn pulled a cellphone from the goalpost padding after a touchdown. Ah, those were the days. The Saints also won their most recent meeting in Giants Stadium, 30-7 on Dec. 24, 2006.

THE INJURIES: Giants -- CB Aaron Ross (hamstring), DT Chris Canty (calf) and LB Michael Boley (knee) are out. QB Eli Manning (heel), RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot and ankle), TE Kevin Boss (ankle), G Rich Seubert (shoulder), S C.C. Brown (shoulder) and RB Danny Ware (elbow) are probable.
Saints -- CB Malcolm Jenkins (foot) and CB Leigh Torrence (hamstring) are questionable. RB Mike Bell (knee), T Jermon Bushrod (knee and ankle), DT Kendrick Clancy (knee and ankle), and TE Darnell Dinkins (foot) are probable.
WATCH THIS: Wanna know what the biggest individual matchup is? Nope. Not Drew Brees against the Giants' secondary. Not Jeremy Shockey against the linebackers, though that should be a good one.

Nope. It's Eli Manning against safety Darren Sharper. That guy just LOVES to play against Manning. Torments him endlessly. When playing for Minnesota in 2005, Sharper intercepted him three times and brought one back a career-high 92 yards for a touchdown. Picked him again in '07 for the Vikings, this time bringing it back 20 yards for a touchdown. He signed with the Saints this offseason, and has five of New Orleans' 10 picks this year to bring his career total to 59, tops among active players. And he has returned two for touchdowns. "I’ve kept him in the Pro Bowl many years," Manning said. "I know he likes facing me. But he is a good player. Obviously I’m not the only one who he has made plays against. He has got four or five interceptions this year, a couple for touchdowns. He is a smart player. He reads and reacts and he will guess and he will take some chances. You have to keep your eye on him and try to play smart." Smart means making sure Steve Smith, Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks run clean routes. Smith can expect double-coverage with a corner and Sharper, so the ball may be going the other way to Manningham or Nicks quite a bit.

The Shockey angle has been fun, given the agita he caused Manning during his Giants career. But he'll play into the game only as much as Brees lets him. Shockey does lead the team in receptions with 18 for 162 yards and two touchdowns, but Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, and Reggie Bush are right there with 17, 14, and 14 receptions each. That indicates Brees spreads the ball around, and whoever is open gets it. The trick the Giants will have in covering Shockey is finding someone with the speed and mobility to stick with him. With LB Michael Boley still out, we could see a shuttling of Chase Blackburn with the faster Bryan Kehl at weakside linebacker, especially on passing downs. Safeties C.C. Brown and Michael Johnson will also get a piece of him. Whoever takes him, however, won't have to cover long because Brees gets the ball out quickly, as his low, four-sack total indicates. Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora will want to play a combination of pressure and contain to keep the mobile Brees from doing maximum damage.

The Giants' secondary should be up to the task of covering Henderson and Colston, especially with LCB Corey Webster playing at a Pro Bowl level. "Obviously we try to match up Corey to the best guy or away from the roll of the coverage regularly," defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said. "But really our other corners (Terrell Thomas, Bruce Johnson, and Kevin Dockery) are playing well, too. But yeah, Corey has had a solid year. No wide receiver has really torn it up against us, an individual guy who had an eight or 10 catch game against us."

As dangerous as Brees became with 5,000 passing yards and a team-record 34 touchdowns last season, he's almost as deadly this year. He moves the ball downfield and has nine touchdowns in four games. But a look behind the stats shows that six of those scores came in the opener and the other three came in Game 2 against Philadelphia. In other words, he hasn't thrown a touchdown pass his last two games. That has been left to the equally-potent ground game of Reggie Bush (36-148-1), Mike Bell (45-229-1), and Pierre Thomas (33-212-3). Bell, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, is working his way back from a knee sprain, and Bush has been as much a receiving threat. But a run defense that has come around since a 251-yard Week 2 debacle in Dallas must be strong on the edges, as Bush remains one of the fastest guys to the outside in the NFL.

The Saints play an up-tempo game and constantly shuffle personnel. It's a rarity that they'll keep the same players on the field on consecutive plays. But even when they do, they may put their skill people in completely different roles.

The best way to keep Bush and the league's highest-scoring offense (36-point average) off the field is to get the Giants' own running game going again. Brandon Jacobs, frustrated over questions surrounding a drop to a 3.6-yard per carry average, would love to kick it into high gear. But the Saints have the seventh-best run defense in the league, allowing 83.3 average rushing yards. He'll have to barrel through a front seven that features linebackers former Jets middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, reliable vet Scott Fujita, and the team's leading tackler, Scott Shanle. Nose tackle Kendrick Clancy is a 305-pound presence in the front, and Charles Grant (four sacks) and Will Smith (2 1/2 sacks) on the ends are better run-stoppers than pass rushers.

The Saints blitz a lot, but the effect is more pressure than sacks. TE Kevin Boss and Darcy Johnson will probably have to stay in a lot to keep Manning upright, but that could open things up for the screen to Ahmad Bradshaw, who took one of those 55 yards last week. Bradshaw is averaging 6.5 yards per carry and has more than made up for Jacobs' yardage shortcomings.

This one may well come down to a kicker's leg, and in that the Saints have the advantage. John Carney, last year's machine for the Giants, is 6-for-7 this year, his only miss coming from 34 yards. Lawrence Tynes went a flawless 3-for-3 last week and appears to be coming out of the chip-shot problems he's had this season. He needs to make good on everything tomorrow, or Tom Coughlin may well give a mighty tug on the short leash Tynes is on. Also, Domenik Hixon could replace the Sinorice Moss as the kickoff and punt returner following Moss' flawed performance against the Raiders. Field position in this game will be paramount, given the relative strengths of the defenses, so look for another big game from Jeff Feagles. Nobody brings punts back on this guy, and he'll be looking to pin that offense behind the 10.

PREDICTION: I've struggled with this game all week. The Giants are on a roll, but haven't played anyone since Dallas. The Saints come off a bye, meaning the injured like Bell and Thomas will be well-rested, but perhaps rusty. It's definitely going to be a close game. Only because of the Superdome being the Superdome, it's going to be the Saints, 17-14, with Shockey dropping two potential touchdown passes. Did you really think the Giants would go undefeated this year?

GUEST PREDICTION: That's Paul Schwartz of the Post over there. No? Okay. It's Keith Hernandez. But Hernandez was once a member of Schwartz' favorite baseball team. Led them to a World Series championship in '86. Die-hard Mets fan, this guy. Smiles at their successes, weeps at their failures (he did a lot of crying this year). I figure a couple of days in the Big Easy will do him good after this year. Unfortunately for you fans, he and I seem to be in agreement about the eventual outcome of this little junket. Schwartz promises he'll come back with a full stomach, and with a Giants' loss. He's picking it 31-27 Saints, explaining that "this is the game where the injuries and deficiencies on the defense, to Boley and Kenny Phillips, will show up."



  1. Great scouting report, Sharper is always big time and I was disappointed the Giants didn't try to get him. Also Shockey will def have some dropsies. That being said I have two major gripes. 1. Tuned appears to be over his chip shot misses???? Come on uncle we need to see a little more to proclaim that and if the Giants do lose he will have a hand in it. 2. Just like Vegas u are being seduced by the Saints. How could u not think the Giants are going to win even on the road? The saints are a better team this year but I watched that Jeys game and they are not workdneaters. U are taking 4 games of a positive stretch and I am using 4 years. GMEN 31 Saints 27

  2. First time I've seen your column and I think your breakdown is excellent. Both teams have done a good job of fattening up on lower quality teams. This is a good barometer for both clubs. A factor you touched on is key to the game - the role of young receivers Nicks and Manningham.