The New York Giants (0-1) face a critical game in Sunday's home opener against the 1-0 Arizona Cardinals. Teams starting 0-2 have only a 12 percent chance of making the playoffs, so the Giants already find themselves in a precarious spot.
Let's look at five things to watch in Sunday's game.
The Giants Secondary
The talented secondary was, and still is, supposed to be a strength of the Giants defense this season. That is why the coverage breakdowns that led to the Giants being torched by Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and the Detroit Lions on Monday were so disturbing. They were unexpected, and they simply can't be repeated if the Giants have any chance of becoming a good football team. Simply put, this secondary has to be stellar.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell explained what happened against the Lions this way:
"It was some missed assignments and it was a little bit of [the defense] trying to do too much. Trying to help another guy when they really should have gotten tighter to their coverage," Fewell said. "The first touchdown, I cannot explain. I haven't seen two guys run into each other like that. It was just a comedy of errors."
What will be really interesting Sunday is how the Giants approach the Cardinals. When he wasn't foolishly playing some sort of zone, Fewell had Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie shadowing Johnson around the field on Monday. Will Rodgers-Cromartie shadow an Arizona receiver on Sunday? If so, will it be rising star MIchael Floyd or future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald? Fewell did not address that topic Thursday when he spoke with reporters.
No matter how they line up, the secondary has to play better Sunday against Arizona. If they give up big plays to the Cardinals the Giants have no chance of pulling off an upset.
Can The Giants Punt Effectively?
Steve Weatherford hopes to punt on Sunday despite suffering four torn ligaments in his left ankle Monday night against the Detroit Lions. Weatherford tested his ankle on Friday and observers felt he looked good. The Giants will likely have to wait and see about any after-effects from Friday before making a decision.
The Giants have been preparing placekicker Josh Brown to punt in emergency. Brown has five career NFL punts, none since 2008. They could also sign a veteran punter as a short-term replacement.
No matter what they ultimately decide, punting could be an adventure for the Giants on Sunday.
The Victor & Rueben Show?
Victor Cruz said during the week that both he and Rueben Randle need to be targeted more often for the Giants to be successful on offense. Will that happen Sunday against Arizona?
"You would like to get all your playmakers a touch early. That is easier said than done," offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said during the week. "Again, the way I believe it goes into preparation and it goes into practice. I need to do a better job coaching and the players need to do a better job playing."
The Cardinals have talented corners in Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie, so it might be difficult to get the ball to Cruz and Randle with consistency. It is imperative, however, that Cruz and Randle be involved and that they make some plays.
Offensive Line Play
'Raptor' did an excellent job on Friday exploring the critical match-up between the Giants offensive line and the Cardinals front seven. The Cardinals don't have a player the caliber of Ndamukong Suh, but their 3-4 front will pose challenges for the Giants.
Eli Manning was sacked, hit or hurried on 11 of 35 drop-backs (31.4 percent) vs. Detroit. The Giants also averaged only 2.4 yards per rushing play against the Lions. The offensive line has got to be better than that against Arizona.
One thing to look for is who starts at right guard. Brandon Mosley has been elevated to first team on the depth chart, but the Giants have not officially said Mosley would start in place of John Jerry.
Giants Pass Rush
Entering the season there was a question about whether or not the Giants could rush the passer effectively. They did not really answer that question on Monday. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was sacked only once and managed to escape on-rushing linemen on a few other occasions.
Veteran Carson Palmer likely doesn't possess the mobility Stafford showed on Monday. He does have a bevy of outstanding receivers at his disposal. The Giants need not only to pressure Palmer more than they did Stafford, but make plays when they do get there.
"Honestly, we've got to get to the quarterbacks," said defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. "It wasn't good enough. I need to do better, everybody needs to do better on that defensive line and you've just got to get to the quarterback. We stopped the run [vs. Detroit], but we've just got to get to the quarterback."