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Giants vs. Lions 2014, Key Match-up: Giants' revamped secondary to be tested

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If you were a defensive back, odds are the Giants gave you a call this offseason. How will the Giants' new and (hopefully) improved secondary hold up against the Lions' high octane passing attack?

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond in pre-game warm-ups
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond in pre-game warm-ups
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

There are a bunch of storylines swirling around the New York Giants' season opener at the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football.

  • How -- or even if -- the Giants' retooled offense will function, has to be the first question on everybody's mind.
  • Will the offensive line be able to keep the Lions' formidable defensive front at bay long enough to Eli to throw?
  • Will Eli and the receivers look like they're at least in the same chapter, if not on the same page?
  • How will rookie OC Ben McAdoo game plan in a live game?
  • And what will the new offense -- that everyone from players to coaches insist that we haven't seen yet -- look like?
That's just a small sampling of the questions on offense that will (hopefully) be answered Monday Night, and I'm not even getting into questions about individual positions or players.

On defense, the question on the tip of everybody's keyboard is likely whether or not JPP and the Big Blue QB Wrecking Crew show up.

However, as you might have been able to guess had you read the title, I'm going to be taking a look at the match-ups between the Giants' retooled back seven and the Lions' passing offense.

The Match-ups

  • Prince Amukamara & Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie vs Calvin Johnson & Golden Tate
If we're going simply by letter count, the Giants should dominate this match-up. However, the game is played on the field, and not in a tweet.

Any conversation about the Lions' passing attack needs to begin and end with Calvin Johnson. Last year the Giants had Prince Amukamara shadow Megatron all game long, and Prince shut him down to the tune of three catches for 43 yards. Golden Tate was held to a combined five catches for 42 yards by the Giants starting cornerbacks.

Just going by those numbers the Giants should still dominate the match up. However, Johnson was dealing with an ankle injury and Tate was in a "run first, run second, run some more, and then if you have to throw a pass or two" offense. A healthy Johnson pretty much demands a double team, and Tate is a savvy route runner who can take advantage of the attention paid to Johnson. So, who gets the match-ups?

At first glance, it seems obvious that DRC will get to do the yeomen's work of containing Megatron. He's the Giants' new high-priced corner, one of the best in the league last year, and is one of the few who can (mostly) match Johnson's length and athleticism.

However, going by what Perry Fewell has shown through preseason, when DRC is on the field the Giants run sides. By that I mean, each corner mans one side of the field. DRC held down the left side of the defense while Prince (or Thurmond and Bowman when Prince wasn't on the field), stayed on the right side. This follows how the Denver Broncos used DRC last year. Similarly, both corners typically lined up within five yards from the line of scrimmage. This allows both corners to play to their strengths, Prince to be (very) physical, and DRC to play off-man coverage and use his length and closing speed to break up plays.

So, going off of preseason, it seems reasonable to assume that both Prince and DRC will get looks at Johnson and Tate. Both Prince and DRC have the ability to stay with Tate on an island, so it seems likely that Perry Fewell will roll safety help to whichever side Johnson lines up on.
  • Walter Thurmond III vs Kevin Ogletree
The Giants know Olgetree well, he began his career in Dallas as the third receiver behind Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. Ogletree made his hay taking advantage of the attention paid to the other two receivers to attack the third defensive back. He is a good route runner who can pick up yards after the catch.

The difference between now and then is Walter Thurmond. Thurmond is one of the top slot corners in the entire NFL (THE top, if you ask him... Others disagree). Regardless of where he ranks in the league, Thurmond is very good at what he does, and what he does is prevent slot receivers from doing their jobs. When the Lions use a three-receiver set Olgetree will likely be in the slot, so he and Thurmond will be seeing a lot of each other.
  • The Giants' Safeties & Linebackers vs The Lions' Tight Ends & Runningbacks
This might be the most complicated match-up, or set of match-ups, in the whole game.

With rookie tight end Eric Ebron paired with the dangerous Reggie Bush, Brandon Pettigrew, and Joseph Fauria, the Lions will likely look to attack the middle of the Giants' defense. The Giants' linebackers have historically proven vulnerable to tight ends and running backs over the middle. To combat that, Perry Fewell instituted a three safety variation on the traditional nickel defense. The additional safety gives the Giants' defense more athleticism and coverage ability than their base 4-3, while also having more ability to defend the run than the traditional nickel defense.

The Giants will likely send Antrel Rolle down into the box to cover Reggie Bush out of the backfield, while Jacquian Williams -- who has had a very good offseason and appears to have made the leap to a three-down linebacker -- will cover the Lions' primary tight end.

If the Lions use two tight end sets, look for rookie Devon Kennard to cover the second tight end, or for Spencer Paysinger to substitute in if the Kennard struggles, or bring Quentin Demps onto the field to

Final Thoughts

The Giants revamped their secondary throughout the 2014 offseason. The Giants seemingly called every free agent cornerback out there, and brought in some very good ones. Not only that, they had an injection of confidence and swagger. As well, the Giants beleaguered and much-maligned linebacking corps looks improved over the course of the preseason.

Well, it's time for the rubber to meet the road. The Giants' back-seven face their first real test Monday night, and it looks to be a difficult one. At least on paper, the Giants have good matches for the Lions' offense.

But in the words of Tom Coughlin: Talk is cheap. Play the game.