The New York Giants have a game this is just a little bit challenging this week, hosting the 8-0 juggernaut known as the New England Patriots. Let's find out more about the Patriots from SB Nation's Patriots web site, Pats Pulpit. Our "Five Questions" counterpart this week is Pulpit's Richard Hill.
Ed: The Giants are 5-4 and their play has been all over the map. The Patriots are the Patriots and might be the best team in the league. Do Patriots fans look at this game as an easy 'W,' or does this one make them nervous?
Richard: I'm sure there are some Patriots fans that think this game will be an easy decision, but I'm fairly certain those people come from an obnoxiously specific demographic that has never had their heart broken by 18-1. Anyone over the age of 15 should be able to remember both times the Giants beat the Patriots in horrifying fashion.
But while there is always going to be hesitation when the Patriots face the Giants, and when Bill Belichick brings his 1-5 head-to-head record against Tom Coughlin, there's definitely a quiet confidence this week. Not an overly assertive we're the greatest and we're going to win sort of feeling, but just a sense that New England is on a mission this season and nothing can break their stride.
New England is probably licking their chops at the Giants passing defense. The Patriots defense is top five this year for a reason. The team is probably quietly confident, while some folks are secretly justifying a potential upset by saying this game and the week 12 match-up against the Giants "were always going to be tough games."
Ed: The Pats always seem to find ways to overcome injuries, but New England lost Dion Lewis for the season last week and the offensive line is beat up. What impact do you expect those injuries to have?
Richard: Let's start with the offensive line because that really impacts the rest of the unit. Starting left tackle Nate Solder is on the IR with torn biceps. His back-up Marcus Cannon is out with turf toe. His back-up Sebastian Vollmer, who is the team's traditional right tackle, is currently going through concussion protocol. So the Patriots left tackle is Cameron Fleming, who was elevated from the practice squad a few weeks ago.
The left guard is 4th round rookie Shaq Mason, who returned from a knee injury last week, the center is undrafted rookie David Andrews, who is battling a minor leg injury, the right guard is 3rd year undrafted veteran Josh Kline, and the right tackle is currently penciled in as Bryan Stork, who was the Patriots center last season.
Curiously enough, the Patriots didn't give these players extra help when defending Washington's pass rush, and the line did a pretty okay job. But the biggest issue is that these injuries limit the Patriots playbook. They can't run complicated blocking patterns and they have no cohesion when facing stunts. The RG Kline even said that the Patriots offensive line in the second half against Washington had never even worked together in practice. Maybe they'll be a little better this week.
Losing Lewis is a big hit because no other player on the roster offers the same running, catching, and blocking ability. LeGarrette Blount can run the ball and James White can catch and block a la Shane Vereen. But no one can do it all. The Patriots are going to have to adjust and compensate for the loss of Lewis with multiple players, and it wouldn't be a surprise if Blount saw more time on the field, while a receiver like Danny Amendola picked up some slack in the passing game.
Ed: If you could take one player off the Giants' roster NOT NAMED ODELL BECKHAM and put him in the New England starting lineup who would it be? Why?
Richard: But wouldn't it be fun to watch Beckham and Rob Gronkowski in the same offense? That'd be incredible, right? No? You sure?
Okay, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is my pick. Pair him up with cornerback Malcolm Butler, with Devin McCourty as the free safety, and put him behind the leagues #1 run defense since week 3? Yeah, no offense would be able to move the ball on this unit.
This isn't to say that Logan Ryan, Rutgers graduate, isn't a capable corner; he has a penchant for forcing turnovers. It's just that's he a limited player that gets safety help and he's thriving when kept in his own element. DRC goes above and beyond and can be trusted to operate out of multiple schemes.
Ed: Tell us about a few under-the-radar New England players, maybe guys who have surprised this year and we should watch out for on Sunday?
Richard: On offense, the Patriots have Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman as the household names. Brandon LaFell is fully recovered from the injury that held him out of the first half of the season and he just posted a 100 yard game (and was nearly a 1,000 yard receiver last season). The New England offense functions with a running back on the field for essentially 100% of the snaps. With the offensive line getting so much attention, I think people should focus on wide receiver Danny Amendola.
Head coach Bill Belichick loves what Amendola offers as a run blocker and what the receiver offers in the vertical passing game. With the Patriots quick passing attack, Amendola is generally used to draw away coverage to open up passing lanes for the other players. But I suspect that he's going to see an increased role as a receiver out of the backfield in the upcoming weeks.
On defense, I don't think too many defensive tackles stand out on the national stage. Most of the attention goes to the linebacker duo of Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower, the defensive backs McCourty and Butler, or sack leader Chandler Jones. But the defensive tackles are really underappreciated in what they bring to the defense.
The starters are the Patriots past two first round picks in Dominique Easley and Malcom Brown. Easley has really stepped up his game as a passing threat and he disrupts roughly every-other passing attempt. Brown started the year off slowly as he adjusted to the NFL speed, but since the week 4 bye week, he has become one of the team's most reliable defenders.
The back-ups are 350 lbs of Alan Branch, mid-season acquisition Akiem Hicks from the Saints, and then Sealver Siliga. All three are huge bodies that do a great job of stopping the run. The Patriots typical strategy is to absolutely stuff the run for the first half of the game, and then unleash the pass rush once the offense has built a lead. Watch out for how that plays out.
Ed: You are game-planning AGAINST the Patriots this week. What's the Kryptonite? How would you attack them, both offensively and defensively?
Richard: If I'm the Giants offense, I ignore the run game. This isn't crazy and it's what the Patriots did against the Jets, when Tom Brady only handed off on 5 of the team's 67 snaps. Teams have such a desire to establish the run that they forget that throwing the ball in the flat to Shane Vereen for four yards is going to be more successful.
When teams run the ball against the Patriots, they set themselves up for 3rd and long, and if that happens on consecutive drives to open the game, then New England is already up two scores. Don't waste a precious drive with a fruitless play.
The Giants defense needs to play tight man coverage with safeties over the shallow top to try and remove the rub/slant/quick passing attack from the Patriots arsenal. New York also has to be able to generate consistent pressure against this offensive line with just four players, while dropping the linebackers into the passing lanes.
It's all easier said than done. There is no real Kryptonite for this offense, unless you're talking about poisoning them with actual Kryptonite. I've never seen an offense more willing to adjust their game plan on a drive-to-drive basis and every player is in full agreement that getting in the end zone is more important than any individual role.
If Rob Gronkowski goes out and blocks for 50 plays because the line needs help slowing Jason Pierre-Paul, and it allows LeGarrette Blount to pick up 150 yards and three scores, then Gronk will be ecstatic to do his job.
Thanks to Richard for the insight. Check Pats Pulpit for my answers to Richard's questions, and more about the Patriots.