In 2007, the 18-0 New England Patriots went into the Arizona desert with dreams of completing the perfect season. Instead they met defeat at the hands of the New York Giants, 17-14. Fast forward to 2011.
The Patriots were riding a 20-winning streak at home as they welcomed in the Giants. Most Pats fans and media were crowing about how easy this game will be. Instead the Giants left Foxborough with a 24-20 victory in hand. The Giants would then meet the Pats again in Super Bowl XLVI that same season, only to beat them again 21-17.
Now as Week 10 of the 2015 NFL Season approaches, these two teams will draw swords in the Meadowlands at MetLife Stadium. Coming into the game, the Patriots are riding a 9-0 record with Tom Brady putting up MVP numbers (225-of-328, 2709 yards, 22 TDs, 2 INTs, QB Rating 113.5).
There are some Pats fans (and media) out there that believe the team will just wipe the floor of the Giants because of their porous defense (32nd overall with 422.6 ypg allowed, including 31st against the pass with 307.8 ypg allowed). Yet there are a few factors Pats fans are overlooking or just ignoring. Factors that would help the Giants upset the Pats and once again prove why they are kryptonite to the NFL’s most dominating team.
Jason Pierre-Paul's Return
Even Stevie Wonder could see that the Giants lack an adequate pass rush this season. The team’s leader in sacks is backup DE Damontre Moore with 3.0, accounting for 1/3 of the team’s total of 9.0 sacks. Pretty abysmal for a team that has a history of a defense built on rushing the QB. But with Jason Pierre-Paul back on the field, this gives the Giants a quality pass rusher they desperately needed. Yes, he’s missing a finger from a fireworks accident this past offseason. Yes, he looked good against a mediocre Tampa Bay Bucs offensive line in Week 9. And yes, he doesn’t have a sack.
But sometimes the stat sheet doesn’t always tell the full tale. As said so many times here at WBOB Sports HQ, you need to ask ‘What does the eye test tell you?’ In his first game back, Pierre-Paul was able to get to Bucs QB Jameis Winston on 4 QB pressures, 2 QB hits, and had two tackles in 45 of 63 defensive snaps during the game. Even after being out of football for over 4 months, Pierre-Paul was able to get to the quarterback and pressure him into overthrowing or underthrowing his receivers. Also because of Pierre-Paul’s presence back on the defensive line, he draws more attention to himself which frees up his fellow defenders (i.e. DE Robert Ayers Jr., DT Cullen Jenkins) to get one-on-one match-ups and be able to get after the quarterback themselves easier than when Pierre-Paul was out.
Now with Pats OT Sebastian Vollmer ruled out for Sunday’s game (concussion), the Pats are pretty thin at the tackle position. With a full week of full participation for Pierre-Paul, that will definitely turn the tide around for the Giants on the defensive side of the ball.
Odell Beckham Jr.
I can talk about how great Odell Beckham Jr. is in his first season and a half in the NFL that you might think I’ve already designed his bust in Canton, OH. In 9 games this season, Odell has 59 catches for 759 yards with 7 TDs. His 759 reception yards are 4th best among receivers and tight ends for the season while his 7 TDs are second to Bengals TE Tyler Effiert. But he does more than fill up the stat sheet.
Odell is the heart of the Giants receiving corps. He can be put on the outside or in the slot, has good cuts and route-running ability, great breakaway speed, and hands that can catch anything out of the air. Because of that, defenses put more emphasis on trying to stop him (i.e. double-team him). But that then opens up the field for teammates Rueben Randle (36-424-3), Dwayne Harris (19-222-3), and Shane Vareen (34-309-3) to make plays.
This season, the Patriots have not gone up against an elite-type of receiver since Week 1 against Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers. In that game, he torched the Pats secondary (mostly CB Malcolm Butler) to the tune of 9 catches for 133 yards and a touchdown. Odell is not an elite receiver like Brown, not yet. But if you’re a Pats fan, you’re going to be sweating some bullets when you see your ‘top’ corner going up against one of the game’s up-and-coming stars.
Special Teams Return Game
As much as people like to ‘poo-poo’ on Special Teams, I’m sure if you can ask any NFL offense if they like starting drives at their 35-yard line instead or their 15-yard line, they would pick the former. In 2014, the Giants were ranked 18th in punt return yards (7.7 yards per return) and in kick return yards (23.3 yards per returns). Their average starting field position was their own 27-yard line (15th overall). It was mediocre at best, if not just embarrassing.
This past off-season, they signed WR/ST Dwayne Harris away from the Dallas Cowboys to a 5-year/$17.5 million contract. Now in 2015, the Giants are still 18th in punt return yards (7.8 yards per return) but they’re ranked 1st in kick return yards (29.2 yards per return). Not to mention their average starting field position has increased to their own 28-yard line (12th overall so far this season). Because of Harris ability to cut and hit the hole that his blockers are making. He also has deceptive speed to go along with good ball carrier vision which gives coverage guys fits. So by having a reliable return man back their on kickoffs and punts, it’ll give the Giants better field position to work with and instead of being trapped deep within their own territory.
Perhaps one of the most non-talked about factors going into Sunday’s game. For the first four years of his NFL career, Shane Vereen played with the New England Patriots. Mostly used as a 3rd down receiving RB, he had a total of 907 yards on 217 carries for 7 TDs and 107 catches for 1332 yards and 10 TDs during his 4-year career with the Pats.
Then in the offseason, he signed a 3-year/ $12.35 million with the Giants to be that running back who can catch out of the backfield and provide another weapon for QB Eli Manning. So far it’s paying dividends as he’s third on the team in receptions (34) and receiving yards (309) as well as tied for second in receiving TDs (3). Also, Vereen helps provide a spark to the Giants’ offense when Odell Beckham Jr. is off the field for a little bit.
But the one element Vereen brings to the table is whatever knowledge he has about the Pats’ offensive scheme. He is just one year removed from the team so he would have the recent knowledge of some of Brady’s audible vocabulary, some timing information on what routes Gronkowski and Edelman run, and perhaps a way to slow them down. With Josh McDaniels still calling the shots for the Patriots' offense, chances are there are still a few plays that are unchanged from when Vereen was a Patriot, which could led to new, easier adjustments on defense for the Giants to stop the offensive juggernaut that is the New England Patriots.
The Head Coach
In 1988, the New York Giants brought in Tom Coughlin to be the receivers coach of the team. It was there when he first met future Browns & Pats head coach Bill Belichick, who was the Giants’ defensive coordinator. After 3 years of working together (1988-1990), Coughlin and Belichick went their separate ways with each following different coaching careers.
Fast forward to present day, this will be the seventh overall meeting. Tom Coughlin’s record in head-to-head match-ups against Bill Belichick: 5-1, including 2-0 in the postseason (The one loss came in 2007 when the Patriots beat the Giants in the final week of the regular season to go undefeated in the regular season). What’s Coughlin’s key to success? It’s simple really: He doesn’t like other coaches (i.e. Rex Ryan of Buffalo Bills), nor does he try to outsmart Belichick with gadget plays (Chuck Pagano of Indianapolis Colts).
Instead Coughlin views Belichick almost as an equal and fellow Bill Parcell's coaching assistant. That in turn helps block out all the ‘noise’ surrounding the Pats’ head coach, which can allow Coughlin to focus on his team’s game plan and in-game execution rather than be too preoccupied on what trickery Belichick might have up his hoodie sleeve. The team feeds off of Coughlin’s demeanor and calmness, which translates to confidence, which then translates to victory.
But with all those factors, what it all comes down to is who shows up on Sunday. It’ll be a close game as both teams boast high-powered offenses driven by elite quarterbacks.
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