Marshawn Lynch will be a tough tackle for the Giants on Sunday. Credit: Getty Images
The Giants are in the midst of playing out the string, but promise to continue to play hard and for pride.
But for the visiting Seahawks (11-2), much more is at stake, as they’re currently the top seed in the conference and can lock up homefield advantage in the NFC with a victory.
Three things to watch for ...
1. Strength vs. strength.
The Giants’ trio of wideouts of Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle will have its greatest test of the season going against the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” secondary. That unit, led by loquacious cornerback Richard Sherman, is arguably the most physical and talented in the league. The Giants’ wide receivers will literally be hard-pressed to make plays against the Seahawks, as they thrive on as much clutching, grabbing and rerouting as is allowed under league rules. The Seahawks are ranked first in the NFL in total defense (287.1 yards a game) and pass defense (175.6) and their 17 interceptions are tied for third in the league.
Seattle routinely plays eight men in the box, meaning their bump-and-run corners are often left on an island in man-to-man coverage. If Giants quarterback Eli Manning has time to throw, it’ll be interesting to see how much success Big Blue’s wideout corps can have.
Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said his receivers have been itching for the chance to prove themselves all week.
“It always gives you an opportunity to test yourself, see how you fare against one of the better teams in the league and certainly one of the better defenses in the league,” Gilbride said. “Some of the things they do should give us some chances. Our guys are always clamoring for one-on-one opportunities. You’re going to get more than your fair share of one-on-one opportunities to win against some pretty good coverage and guys that play very physical. You have to fight your way through the holds and continue to battle.”
2. Let them play?
The wideout-secondary battle may be the most intriguing story on Sunday, but another important sidebar to the game will be the tone set by the game officials. The Seahawks corners are widely known for their aggressive ways, including grabbing receivers’ jerseys and nudging guys off their routes, even after the legalized 5-yard limit. Last week’s loss to the 49ers drew the ire of Sherman, who before the game boasted they were going to manhandle the 49ers’ wideouts and “force the refs to call it.” But when Seattle’s defensive backs were repeatedly flagged for penalties, it was the Seahawk players who cried foul.
“They got the benefit of a few calls throughout the game and that helps you especially on third down,” Sherman said.
On Sunday, it’ll be up to the referees to decide whether Sherman and Co. can go back to their physical ways or if the Giants’ receivers will be allowed to roam free in the secondary.
“When you see the film and you see them play, you know what type of players they are and you know that they’re going to be physical and it’s going to be a battle,” Cruz said. “You have to go in there expecting to fight -- maybe not physically, but expecting for there to be a battle back and forth from a press coverage aspect and be able to fight and win your battle.”
Randle said he’s embracing that challenge and hopes the referees let them play.
“I don’t mind it at all,” said Randle, who leads the team with six touchdown receptions. “We have big, physical guys like that, too. You’ve just got to be able to get their hands off you, so I’m looking forward to just taking advantage of it, using my skills and using some of my quickness to get off those jams and kind of beat them down the field. ... I think any [receiver] likes the press coverage [because] big plays are pretty much available when you press one-on-one. The safeties are in the middle of the field a lot, so mainly it’s just you and that corner. It’s going to be up to you to go out there and make that play and beat that guy head-up above you. The weight is on your back. It’s going to be up to us receivers to go out there and make those plays.”
3. Beast mode
When the Seahawks have the ball, they’ll look to slowly sap the will out the Giants, behind a rushing attack that’s among the league’s best.
The Giants’ run defense is 11th in the league (105.4 yards allowed a game) and have routinely held many of the league’s best backs to far below their per-game and per-carry averages -- including Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy, Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson and Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles – and recently had a six-game stretch in which they didn’t allow more than 110 rushing yards in a game. That streak ended two weeks ago when Washington had 114 yards on the ground (88 from quarterback Robert Griffin III) and continued last week when San Diego Charger running back Ryan Mathews had 103 yards. Mathews was just the second back to pass the 100-yard barrier against the Giants this season (joining Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams).
Now comes a running back in Marshawn Lynch who is far more accomplished than anyone in Washington’s and San Diego’s running back stable. Nicknamed “Beastmode,” Lynch is a power runner with great vision and swift footwork who has a stiff arm that defenders have nightmares about. Seattle possesses the NFL’s third-ranked rushing attack, averaging 141.5 yards a game. Lynch, their workhorse back, is third in the NFL with 244 carries, fifth with 1,042 yards and tied for first with 10 rushing touchdowns. And even their quarterback, Russell Wilson, has enough mobility (485 rushing yards) to keep Big Blue from solely focusing on Lynch.
Giants defensive end Justin Tuck acknowledged that Lynch is one of the league’s most effective weapons.
“I’m more impressed with Marshawn just for the fact that he’s a running back that gives more of a pounding than taking it,” Tuck said. “That scheme really fits him well. It’s a constant that you see him falling forward, breaking tackles. You really don’t see him getting hit for negative yardage, so that’s going to keep the sticks in their favor. Plus, he’s one of those backs that when he does break it, he can take it to the house. We’ve played a lot of great backs this year and hopefully that experience helps us out with him, because he’s a load.”
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter@TBone8.