Lose Sunday and at 0-3 the New York Giants will basically spend the season's final 13 games playing out the string. Win Sunday and at 1-2 things won't exactly be rosy, but at least the Giants will give themselves a chance. You do all remember what happened after the 0-2 start of 2007, correct?
So, what do the Giants have to do in order to win Sunday against the 2-0 Houston Texans? Here are five things to watch.
Handle J.J. Watt
Watt has been All-Pro the past two seasons and had 31 sacks, eight forced fumbles and 23 passes defensed during that time. He has one sack in two games thus far this season.
The Texans will move Watt all around the defensive line. He may line up over right tackle Justin Pugh, left tackle Will Beatty or either guard, Weston Richburg or John Jerry. The Giants, who have had mixed results with their still-developing offensive line, will have to neutralize Watt to find a rhythm on offense.
"They do a good job of moving [Watt] around. They are not going to leave him in one spot so you can put in one scheme and try to take care of him and double-team him every snap," Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said.
Hold On To the Blasted Ball!
The Texans are +5 in takeaway/giveaway ratio, tied for second-best in the NFL behind the +6 Carolina Panthers. They have six takeaways, and have only fumbled the ball away once. The Giants are last in the NFL at -6 in takeaway/giveaway ratio. Eli Manning has thrown four interceptions, the Giants have fumbled the ball away twice and they have yet to get a takeaway.
If that story line holds true on Sunday afternoon, it is almost certain that the Giants will be 0-3.
"You pay a tremendous price when the ball is turned over," said head coach Tom Coughlin. "Our task and our goal is to toughen up. Stop beating ourselves. This is professional football. Make the plays necessary to win and do it on a consistent basis and eliminate these bizarre events which take the heart right out of you."
Play From In Front
One of the things has allowed the Texans to be successful, and to stick to their ground-oriented offensive game plan, is playing with a lead. Houston has outscored its opponents, the Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders, 31-6, in the first half and 41-6 over the first three quarters. The Giants, on the other hand, have been outscored 24-0 in the first quarter and have had to play from behind in both of their games.
The Giants need to flip that script on Sunday. Houston has the most rushing attempts (80) and the fewst passing attempts (41) in the NFL after two games. The Giants not only need to get a lead, they have to bottle up Arian Foster and force the Texans to throw the ball. That would put the Texans in a situation where they may have to take more risks, and allow the Giants to perhaps create their first takeaways of the season.
Make The Real Ryan Fitzpatrick Show Up
The journeyman quarterback, on his fifth NFL franchise in 10 seasons, has numbers after two games befitting Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. He has an insane 118.2 passer rating, behind only Manning after two games. Fitzpatrick has completed 68.3 percent of his passes. He has three touchdown passes and no interceptions. His adjusted yards per pas attempt is 9.9.
This is definitely not the Ryan Fitzpatrick who has spent nine season in the NFL, compiled a 29-49-1 record in 79 starts, and NEVER played on a team that finished with a winning record.
Fitzpatrick has a career completion percentage of 60 percent, 109 touchdown passes, 93 interceptions, an adjusted yards per attempt of 5.7 and a career passer rating of 78.2.
The difference? Coughlin says the Texans' offense has been "well-managed," and that appears to be the case. In two games, the Texans have run the ball 80 times and thrown only 41 passes. They have allowed only one sack, so when they have asked Fitzpatrick to throw they have protected him well.
Can the Giants make the Texans change their formula? As we mentioned above, getting a lead would help. So would putting pressure on the Houston quarterback. The Giants got four sacks last week, and they need a repeat of that performance.
Judging from the numbers, Fitzpatrick has been comfortable in his first two games with Houston. The Giants need to make him uncomfortable on Sunday.
Get Help From Special Teams
Special teams blunders cost the Giants 10 points in Sunday's 25-14 loss to Arizona. There was the 71-yard punt return touchdown by Ted Ginn that the Giants allowed. Immediately following that was a fumble by kickoff returner Quintin Demps that the Cardinals turned into an easy field goal.
Even if the Giants don't get explosive positive plays from Demps and punt returner Preston Parker, they need to at least not get burned by their coverage and return teams.
One issue, of course, is the health of punter Steve Weatherford, who is punting despite having torn ligaments in his left ankle.
"The thing you worry about is the length of the game. He can go out and punt for a period (of time), but then a game is three hours long, so that is where your concern comes," special team coordinator Tom Quinn said. "Whatever comes off his foot, we have to cover."
Quinn said Demps, averaging just 22.4 yards on returns thus far, has been close to hitting several returns for long gains.
"One or two blocks each time and he could come spitting out of there and give us some good field position," Quinn said
Quinn added that Parker will continue to return punts despite now being a full-time wide receiver.