The Giants and Patriots renew their inter-conference rivalry on Sunday (4:25 p.m. kickoff, CBS), and for what may seem like a recurring situation, Big Blue gets the opportunity to try and knock off an unbeaten New England squad. While this game’s ramifications aren’t anywhere close to those of the last time they faced a perfect Pats team, this contest is still highly important for both franchises.
The Giants (5-4) are looking to win their second-straight game – and its third in four games – before heading into their much-needed bye week. The Patriots (8-0) may be the league’s best team, but they still need this win, too, considering the Cincinnati Bengals are also unblemished, as the two teams race for the top seed in the AFC.
Metro takes a look at some of the key storylines that will have an impact on the outcome.
What to watch for:
Opportunistic defense versus over-protective offense.
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin had nothing but praise for a Patriots offense that is rather stingy with the football. New England has the least amount of giveaways in the league, and is plus-seven in turnover ratio, as it only has five giveaways – including just two interceptions. That’s a daunting task for any defense to accept, but at least with Big Blue, they head into this game well equipped, as they have the most takeaways (21) and lead the league in a plus-12 in the turnover ratio. They also have 13 interceptions, with two returned for touchdowns, so something has to give. Whichever team wins the turnover battle will go a long way in determining a winner.
Can JPP get to Brady?
Although Jason Pierre-Paul didn’t register a sack on Jameis Winston last week in his season debut, he played admirably in recording two tackles and a couple of quarterback hits. The rookie was merely an appetizer, though, as this week Tom Brady serves as the main course. It’ll be Pierre-Paul’s home opener, so emotions and adrenaline will be high. The former Pro Bowl defensive end said he’s looking forward to the challenge.
“I think I’ll be better this week than last week. I was a little bit rusty, but each day is a day for me to get better, so I’m up for the challenge,” said Pierre-Paul, adding Brady is the league’s ultimate capture. “It’s a big challenge. He’s a great quarterback. Pretty soon, he’ll be in the Hall of Fame when he retires. But it’s going to be a big challenge and we’re up for a challenge.”
Pierre-Paul played 46 of the Giants’ 63 defensive snaps (73 percent), in 80-degree Tampa weather. He didn’t wither at all and still had enough energy in the fourth to almost get to Winston a couple of times. He’ll need to actually take down Brady, to not only give the league’s worst pass defense some help, but to aid a unit that is dead last in sacks (nine). By comparison, Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones has 9.5 sacks by himself.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said from what he saw on film, he’s expecting an improved Pierre-Paul.
“I’m sure he’ll be faster, and quicker, and more explosive at home [than last week in Tampa on grass]. He’s obviously very athletic and has great length, balance, speed, quickness, [and a] good motor, so he’s a tough guy to block in any situation,” Belichick said. “I’m sure he’ll be better this week than last week with another week of practice and that first game under his belt. We’ll expect his best and try to prepare as best we can to handle him … He’s a great player.”
Who wins the meeting of the minds?
Belichick and Coughlin are the NFL’s two-winningest active coaches, and among the top 11 all-time. They’ve won six Super Bowls between them, with Coughlin, of course, defeating Belichick’s Patriots twice.
Belichick leads all active coaches and is fourth in NFL history with 219 victories in the regular season and 241 overall, including playoffs. Coughlin is second among active coaches with 169 regular-season triumphs (12th all time) and 181 overall, including playoffs.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the first meeting of head coaches with at least 388 combined regular-season victories since Dec. 17, 1995, when Miami’s Don Shula (327) faced Buffalo’s Marv Levy (126, for 453 combined).
Coughlin-coached teams are 5-1 against Belichick’s teams, as his Jacksonville Jaguars beat Belichick’s Cleveland Browns twice in 1995, plus the 2011 regular season, and the two Super Bowls. Coughlin is one of just five coaches to have faced Belichick at least five times and have a winning record against him. He joins Bill Cowher, Jack Pardee, Wade Phillips, and Mike Shanahan – although Coughlin’s winning percentage is the best of the group.
Belichick had nothing but praise for his friend and former Big Blue co-worker.
“Tom is very intense, smart, [and] obviously offensive oriented," he said. "He always has a good plan of attack and he does a good job of making the defenses work and attacking the weak points of whatever the defensive scheme or personnel is. They’re sound. Their blitz pickup is always good. They have a good balance with the running game and the passing game. They always have a lot of big players on the field – full backs, tight ends – guys like that [who] force you defensively to defend everything. … They don’t run a lot of bad plays.”
It’ll be interesting to see which head coach pushes the right buttons.
Big Blue notes:
- Left tackle Will Beatty, who was supposed to come off the Physically Unable to Perform list (PUP) this week, will not be activated, effectively ending his season. Beatty, who tore his pectoral muscle in a weight-lifting session back in May, will undergo season-ending rotator cuff surgery. Coughlin was surprised at the news, noting the “new injury … just popped up.”
- Pierre-Paul on the progress of his hand: “My hand doesn’t hurt. There’s no pain, so I’m good to go,” he said, adding the giant club may soon be a thing of the past. “Sooner or later, I’m not going to use a club. It’s just for protection, but my hand didn’t hurt. When I feel like I don’t need it anymore, it’ll be off … No pain at all. It’s like any other injury, though. Any time you have an injury, you’re going to be iffy about stuff. [Like] my back surgery [in 2013], I was scared to turn the corner [but] at some point in that season, I turned the corner. I trust myself, but I think I’ve just got to trust myself even more. But honestly, I think my back surgery was worse. My hand, you would think is worse, but I think my back was worse. Yeah, I’m missing an index finger, but the back was worse.”
- The Giants are 7-20 in regular-season games against defending Super Bowl champions (though they are 3-0 in the postseason). Their last regular-season victory over a reigning champion was against Denver in 1998. They defeated the defending champion 15-1 Green Bay Packers in a 2011 NFC Divisional Playoff Game. The last time the Giants lost to a team that won the title the previous season was last year in Seattle.