The Giants’ defense insists it’s not still licking its wounds following last week’s debacle in New Orleans, but that performance should definitely linger in their subconsciousness, as they head to Tampa to face the Buccaneers on Sunday (4:05 p.m., FOX).
Just because they no longer have to deal with Drew Brees, to a man, they’re well aware that rookie quarterback Jameis Winston is also capable of torching their secondary. Winston, last April’s number one overall pick, has been on a roll lately. And while he won’t likely torch Big Blue’s defense for seven touchdown passes, the neophyte is more than capable of making the defense weary – particularly with deep throws down the field.
Winston’s passer rating on throws of 20 or more yards is 123, which is second-best in the NFL, backing up Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin’s claims that the rookie has been playing like a seasoned veteran lately.
Tampa’s youthful signal caller won’t be doing it alone, though, as he’s been complemented by the rejuvenation of running back Doug Martin. The diminutive (5-foot-9), yet sturdy (225 pounds) back is enjoying his best season in years, as he’s tallied 612 rushing yards (fourth in the league).
Martin has been one of biggest surprises this season, as he’s seemingly regained his explosiveness. He’s also second in the league in rushes of 10 or more (19), rushes of 20 or more (seven), and forced missed tackles (30).
Tampa certainly has the firepower to stay with New York, so look for yet another high-octane game.
Metro takes a look at the key storylines to follow, as the Giants (4-4) head to Tampa to face the Buccaneers (3-4).
What to watch for:
1. Will he stay or will he play
Giants’ fans are anxiously awaiting the go-ahead from head coach Tom Coughlin on whether he’ll let defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul stay back in Jersey or accompany the team to Tampa. All signs point to the latter, which means Pierre-Paul should be making his much-anticipated season debut against a rookie quarterback. That could bode well for a Giants’ defense that only has nine sacks – fewest in the league. Pierre-Paul is certainly ready, and has been practicing all week. He hopes his diligence and his excellent physical conditioning are enough to impress Coughlin.
“I’ve got to convince him [Coughlin], and it’s up to the medical staff. They’re taking me slowly. As of right now, I’m continuing to do the reps out there and getting the play calling,” said Pierre-Paul. “I want to play, yeah. But it’s up to the medical staff. Like I said, they’re taking my slowly.”
RELATED: 2016 NFL MOCK DRAFT
It’s easy to know where Pierre-Paul stands, but his teammates feel the same. Many have been lobbying to get their star defensive end back on the field this Sunday.
“I’m sending him out there,” said left guard Justin Pugh when asked what he’d do if he was the head coach. “I know one thing, when he does, I wouldn't want to be playing left tackle against JPP the rest of the year. I think he’s got something to prove.”
2. Will Big Blue make him famous?
Winston has his fair share of weapons around him, so he can definitely stick with Eli Manning and Co., point for point. Big Blue allows 316.1 passing yards per game, so Winston will have plenty of chances to test their resolve. The Bucs average 353.3 total yards per game, with 222 yards coming from Winston’s right arm. The rookie doesn’t have as many yards passing per game as Manning (258), but he bests the two-time Super Bowl MVP in downfield passing precision, meaning he can make all the throws. And just like Manning has a star at wideout in Odell Beckham Jr., Winston has his own downfield weapon in receiver Mike Evans, who may have the league’s best catch radius. Evans (6-foot-5, 231 pounds) is Beckham’s draft classmate. And while he may not be as well known, he may be even more fearful in the long ball (16.1 to 13.1 in yards per catch). Winston will no doubt look to Evans early and often and try to show the league that they’re an up-and-coming duo.
3. Can Eli duplicate his efforts?
Manning was just as impressive as Brees, last week, but does he have an encore in him? Sunday will likely be a shootout, so the Giants will need their veteran quarterback to be on point. Manning isn’t the type to brag or make guarantees, but he is confident that the offense can stay hot.
“I think it’s just comes with practice. We’ve had a great week of practice and getting a lot of reps on the plays that we’re running … we’re playing fast,” Manning said, adding they’ll need to be extra careful in ball control, as the Buccaneers have forced 17 fumbles. “They do a great job causing turnovers, I think. Stripping the ball, getting fumbles, [and] getting pressure on the quarterback. They have a good pass rush, good defensive line, and mix up their coverages and disguises. They have a good scheme.”
Should the Giants’ offensive line continue to gel and give Manning time, he just may be able to put on another aerial assault.