The Giants’ coaching staff doesn’t like to use the phrase “must win,” but for all intents and purposes, Sunday’s tilt with the co-tenant Jets amounts to basically just that.
Gone is any hope to build a cushion within the terrible NFC East, as the Giants (5-6) are coming off arguably their worst defeat of the season, last week in Washington (5-6).
Had Big Blue knocked off their division rival, they would’ve owned a series sweep and essentially gone up two games in the race, due to tiebreakers and the fact every other team within the division had lost last week. Alas, their fortune didn’t break their way, which means they’ll need to upend the frisky Jets (6-5) just to stay in contention – and the remaining schedule isn’t too kind going forward for the Giants, with Carolina, Minnesota, and Philadelphia still ahead, meaning they need this win on Sunday.
The Giants own one of the worst rushing attacks in the league (89.4 yards per game), while the Jets are an elite run-stuffing unit (84.4 allowed per game). Such a dilemma for the men in blue means a lot will be heaped upon quarterback Eli Manning’s plate – and wideout Odell Beckham Jr. They’ll likely catch a break, as multiple reports state that star cornerback Darrelle Revis will likely sit out a second-straight game due to the concussion protocol. But even without Revis, the Jets’ defense is quite stout and able to wreak havoc (323.9 yards allowed per game, which is the third-best ranking in the league).
Should Manning have the time to pick apart the Jets, it’ll go a long way in helping them stay in the divisional race. Otherwise, Sunday could be the beginning of the end for Big Blue, and also likely starts the clock on enduring a fourth-straight postseason-less campaign.
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Metro takes a look at the key storylines to watch, as the Giants host the “visiting” Jets.
Nowhere to run
The Giants’ rushing attack has been an albatross this season, as they’ve had problems gaining any traction. Their 84.4 yards per game is the fifth-worst tally in the league. They lack a go-to running back that can get the tough yards and move the chains. And that in turn adds more stress to the passing game.
While Manning is definitely capable of shouldering the load, he shouldn’t have to – especially since the franchise has brought in new faces over the last two seasons to help alleviate the duties. Lead back Rashad Jennings has been pedestrian (417 yards and 3.8 yards per carry), while newcomer Shane Vereen is mostly lauded for his pass-catching abilities (342 receiving yards), rather than running between the tackles (203 rushing yards).
Andre Williams has ability but it hasn’t translated on the field, as his 2.8 yards per carry average is a team worst. Orleans Darkwa runs hard and is leading the team with 4.4 yards per carry, but he’s only toted the ball 25 times. The Jets’ top-ranked run defense will be begging the Giants to try and run the ball, and when that fails, all the pressure falls at the feet of Manning. It will be a long day for Big Blue if they can’t at least make the rushing attack seem respectable.
Manning, though, noted he has total faith in both the running game and his banged-up offensive line.
“I have confidence in those guys. Whoever’s out there will be fine,” said Manning. “We need to get the running game going. We can’t be stuck throwing every down. We definitely need to complement each other.”
Man-ning the load
It’s December, and the home stretch of the season, meaning Manning should be used to being the savior of the franchise. But a funny thing about the signal caller’s legacy, he’s been an average – at best – quarterback in the month of December. The two-time Super Bowl MVP may own January and February, but this is the month in which he historically struggles. Manning owns a 24-25 record in this month, the worst of any in his career. His completion percentage is Tebow-esque (56.5) and his passer rating is mediocre (77.8). He’ll need to pick up those numbers, beginning Sunday, if he’s to help his team begin the trek of ending their three-year playoff drought.
“Well, he has to [rise above the circumstances and his play in past Decembers]. But he’s our guy and he’s done it so many times before,” said head coach Tom Coughlin. “He can do it, he’s done it before.”
Manning didn’t disagree with his coach, but noted that it won’t be a one-man show, adding he won’t subject himself to such heavy thinking.
“I try not to put more pressure on myself than there needs to be. I just try to go out there and do my job,” Manning said. “I need to worry about the game plan. I need to know it, study the defense, have a great understanding of what they’re trying to do, what their responsibilities are in the defense, try to be able to get the ball out quickly, and get it to our playmakers.”
Pretty simple. No pressure.
Football fans get robbed of the Beckham v. Revis battle, but the under-card isn’t too shabby. Revis Island is still under construction, but that doesn’t mean gridiron fans won’t get to see the Jets’ wideouts visit the Prince’s kingdom. Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker will be a great challenge for Big Blue’s cornerback tandem of Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
What it lacks in the flash and star power of a Beckham-Revis battle, the savvy Jets’ veteran wideouts going against one of the league’s best cover corner tandems is still a nice fall back. Amukamara, who has been ascending into top-flight status over the past two seasons, said he and his running mate won’t solely be locked onto the same guy all game – meaning no chasing a specific wideout all over the field. Regardless, Amukamara said he has faith in his – and Rodgers-Cromartie’s -- abilities to shadow either star receiver on any given play.
“Me and DRC can guard any receiver in this league one-on-one,” Amukamara said. “We’ve had great preparation through this week of practice. … We’ll have the right mindset on Sunday.”