No, I didn't have a brain fart when writing the title for this article. This week's critical match-up has nothing to do with the Houston Texans. Of course J.J. Watt is some sort of demon summoned from the depths of a Wisconsin-shaped hell. We (and I hope the Giants) should be concerned about him.
However, all due respect to Calvin Johnson and the Lions, and Drew Stanton and the Cardinals, nobody has done more damage to the New York Giants than the New York Giants. Offense, Defense, Special Teams ... The Giants have been beating the Giants up in all phases of the game.
On paper, the defense was supposed to be the strength of the New York Giants. The defense was supposed to carry the team, while the offense continued to work through growing pains.
Reality hasn't been so kind.
One of the trends I noticed since Week 1 is that I feel more confident with the opponent in a third and short as opposed to a third and long. Up until the middle of the second quarter against Arizona, it seemed that the Giants' defense would do well on first and second down, getting the offense backed up into third and forever situations, only to lose contain on a run, miss a tackle, or have a coverage break down to let the offense convert when they should be jogging off the field.
Coach Tom Coughlin noticed this, too:
"I think another one of our problems, again, the second week in a row, is the longer the yardage is on third down, the easier it is for the opponent to make it. I have no idea why that happens, but it does."
Probably the best example of this is Calvin Johnson's first touchdown of the season:
This play had both undisciplined play by the defensive line (ie: Moore's missed sack setting Stafford loose) and miss-communication in the defensive secondary (ie: Stevie Brown and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie running into each other, while Megatron runs free).
While other plays like that gave opponents more chances, that one gave the Lions points instead of forcing them to punt.
My original idea for this piece was "Eli Manning vs the wide receivers", then I decided to expand it to include all phases of the game.
One of the biggest concerns coming in to the 2014 season was how Eli would adapt to a quicker, timing based offense. And while he looked uncomfortable in the season opener, Eli looked comfortable, decisive, and accurate against the Arizona Cardinals.
However, the Giants' receiving corps has been letting Eli down. Despite completing a good 66.7 percent of his passes, the Giants left completions, yards, and points out on the field. Literally.
We've already been over how Victor Cruz's drop against the Cardinals changed the game, but that was just one of many. By Pro Football Focus' count, through two games Manning has had the third-most passes in the NFL dropped by his receivers.
If just two more of those passes that hit his receivers' hands stay there, Eli would have been over the "laughable goal" of 70 percent completions on Sunday. If one of those was the Cruz drop mentioned above, not only would the Cardinals have (likely) scored nine fewer points, Eli very well could have had 300 yards, and three touchdowns on the day.
Do I really have to outline all the mental errors on special teams the last two weeks? Blocked punts, a fumble on a return ...
Oh, and a punt return for a touchdown. Steve Weatherford tried to take the blame for that play, but many players had chances to make the stop. Not one ... not two ... not three ... not ... you get the idea. That play was a LeBron of fail.
The reason why I chose the Giants battle against their own selves to be this week's critical match-up is because I saw glimpses, flashes, of a good football team out there against the Cardinals.
After a rough start the defense clamped down. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie played some of the most physical football he ever has, and allowed only three catches for 18 yards, Jason Pierre-Paul not only notched a sack and a half, but continued to be a force against the run. There were fewer mis-communications in the secondary, and the defense as a whole applied pressure.
The offense looked disjointed and basically dysfunctional in preseason. It looked better against Detroit (not much, but there were signs of improvement). Against Arizona, the Giants fielded an actual, functional NFL offense. Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle finally made their presence known with some very good plays.
Even the special teams, for all the indigestion and grief they caused fans -- probably an order of magnitude greater in coach Coughlin than in us -- showed signs of life. A blocked punt, coverage that had the Cardinals backed up deep in their own territory.
All those good signs are the reason why not beating themselves is critical to the New York Football Giants beating the Houston Texans.