Two teams who entered the season with playoff aspirations are now trying to avoid a damning 0-3 start as the New York Giants visit the Houston Texans.
Both teams are struggling mightily offensively. Of their combined four games, the Texans are the only team to say they have hit the 20-point mark in a game. That came in a 27-20 Week 1 loss to the New England Patriots.
For the Giants, there are some alarming similarities to the team that went 3-13 just a year ago even though new general manager Dave Gettleman attempted to rebuild on the fly over the offseason.
So far, it’s not looking good, though.
The team that loses on Sunday can virtually kiss their season goodbye already.
Since 1981, only five teams have started 0-3 and made the playoffs.
Here is what you need to watch for on Sunday afternoon NRG Stadium:
Giants Offensive Line Woes
Once again, quarterback Eli Manning is getting no time in the pocket as New York’s offensive line continues to struggle.
They gave up six sacks to the Dallas Cowboys last week as Manning was either shuffling for his life or getting off dink-and-dump passes to Saquon Barkley.
Speaking of Barkley, the rookie running back has been given no room to run during the first two games of his NFL career.
After a 100-plus-yard outing on his debut, a bulk of it coming on a 68-yard touchdown run, Barkley averaged just 2.5 yards per carry against the Cowboys last Sunday night.
Elusiveness and an ability to break tackles can only get you so far when your offensive line isn’t opening up any sort of running lanes.
The line isn’t going to get much a reprieve this week as they will face a tough Texans pass rush that features J.J. Watt. The All-Pro defensive end was scheduled to be matched up against Ereck Flowers, which would have been a recipe for disaster. But the Giants announced on Saturday night that Flowers would be benched in favor of Chad Wheeler.
Jadeveon Clowney, who was questionable with a back injury, will play. So New York will have another talented pass rusher to deal with.
Tweaking the Outside Game
When Manning was rarely given a few seconds to scan the field against Dallas, there wasn’t much to throw to.
Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard were stymied for most of the evening against Dallas, though Manning did miss Beckham on a few wide-open looks as the pocket collapsed around him.
Beckham had just four catches on the night while Shepard had three.
Given the state of the offensive line, the Giants can’t afford to be sending Beckham or Shepard on long, convoluted routes. Keep it short and concise in order for Manning to have another option besides Barkley because he is likely going to see the same kind of pressure against the Texans.
Both Beckham and Shepard can be elusive when they get the ball in their hands so a series of wide-receiver screens and slants could do wonders for Manning’s confidence.
Can the Defense Keep Building?
Lost within the offense’s ineptitude is the Giants’ defense, currently a top-10 group in the NFL.
Much of the success though has come from the pass defense, something that hasn’t necessarily been a calling card of the organization over the past few decades.
Usually a staunch unit against the run, the Giants have allowed 275 yards on the ground through two weeks this year.
Granted, they were playing against teams featuring Leonard Fournette and Ezekiel Elliott, but only three teams have allowed more rushing yards so far. It’s worth noting though that they’ve only allowed one rushing touchdown.
The Giants secondary has been the backbone of the defense as it ranks second in the NFL against the pass with just 328 yards allowed against the Jaguars and Cowboys.
They’re going to meet a dual-threat quarterback in Deshaun Watson though who will be keen on shaking off a slow start. Not only can he beat the Giants with a strong arm, but he can scramble, too. That’s something New York has never matched up well against.
Giants vs. Texans free live stream, viewing information
Date: Sunday, Sept. 23
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Free Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Giants vs. Texans odds, pick
Latest odds: Texans (-6)
The Giants offensive line will likely inhibit any sort of offensive success against a talented Texans pass rush. The Giants haven’t scored 20 or more points in 10 of their last 12 games and haven’t scored 30 or more since 2015.
Against a scrambling quarterback, one of the best wide receivers in the game in DeAndre Hopkins, and a team that entered the year with AFC title hopes, I can’t see the Giants keeping up.