Another Sunday, another opportunity for the New York Giants. After all the gnashing of teeth about last weekend's clunker against the Washington Redskins, a win over the New York Jets on Sunday and a loss Monday by Washington to the Dallas Cowboys would put the Giants alone in first place in the NFC East.
Let's take a look at five things to watch as the Giants host the Jets at MetLife Stadium.
Will the Giants "extend themselves?"
Head coach Tom Coughlin asked his team for more effort this week:
"People have to, they've gotta extend themselves this time of the year. If it's that important to them, extend yourselves. And by that I mean it's no different than you guys (media). Go to the office early, stay late, make sure you're responsible for your assignments, make sure you're prepared, make sure you know the guy you're going to play against, do everything in your power.
"We're in December now. There's not many games left to play. There's no reason not to commit yourself totally and completely to something you've spent your life wishing and hoping for. That's the attitude I take."
Will Coughlin's players respond, or will they give the same sort of lackluster effort that led to last Sunday's damaging, disappointing, disturbing defeat to the Washington Redskins?
The way things are going in the NFC East, the Giants may still be able to win it even if they don't beat the Jets on Sunday. It would be nice to see a sense of urgency from the Giants. Coughlin, and many of the players on the roster, may not be around in another year, though, if there isn't one.
Will Giants stop dividing one by four?
In other words, will they FINALLY pare down the four-man running back by committee approach? Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo says the Giants "don't want to go down that road" of completely abandoning the run despite the Jets' defense being first in the league in that department, giving up only 84.4 yards per game.
"We anticipate going into the game and being able to run the ball this week," McAdoo said. "It's important to us. We need to play with some balance, we don't want to be a throwing team. It's good for our pass game and playing with balance is the way we want to go."
If guard Justin Pugh and center Weston Richburg, who each missed Sunday's game in Washington, are able to play that would help. If the Giants can find a back who is getting the job done and stick with him that will also help.
Can the Giants get the Jets blocked?
As mentioned already, the Jets are No. 1 in the league against the run, giving up 84.4 yards per game. They are fourth in the league in yards allowed per rushing attempt at 3.7. They have 25 sacks, which is middle of the pack in the NFL but dwarfs the Giants' league-worst 12. The Jets have first-round draft picks Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams on their defensive line, along with Damon Harrison, who has the best run stop percentage among all defensive tackles at 16.9 percent. He has 30 stops in 177 run snaps. They have good linebackers.
The Giants will task rookie left tackle Ereck Flowers with blocking Wilkerson, who has eight sacks. They will likely have rookie seventh-round pick Bobby Hart making his first NFL start at right tackle. John Jerry will be replacing Geoff Schwartz at right guard. Justin Pugh will be back in the lineup for the first time in three games as he has recovered from a concussion, and center Weston Richburg (high ankle sprain) may return.
Can this group open some holes for running backs and, probably more importantly, give quarterback Eli Manning a chance to take advantage of a Jets secondary that won't have Darrelle Revis?
Eli & OBJ vs. the world
The Giants targeted Odell Beckham Jr. 18 times last week against the Redskins. They weren't efficient, completing just nine, but they got 142 yards and one amazing touchdown for their efforts. The Giants have targeted Beckham 47 times in the past three weeks, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the ball head Beckham's way 20 or more times on Sunday.
Why not? He's the best player they have. It's a game, a stretch of games in fact, where they have to win. Getting the ball to Beckham affords them their best opportunity. Granted, you can't throw it to him on every play, but considering the Giants' dearth of a running game, and the inconsistency and inexperience of just about every other passing target for Manning why wouldn't the Giants throw the ball to Beckham at every opportunity?
Can Manning and Beckham beat the Jets all by themselves? We might be watching them try on Sunday.
Prince Amukamara, DRC vs. Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker
How to describe how bad the Giants are at covering the opposing team's tight end? I'm sure you can come up with your own adjective(s), but let's just leave it at this -- it's not something the Giants do very well. Fortunately, the Jets are one of the few NFL teams that really doesn't use the tight end as part of the passing attack. Jeff Cumberland has five receptions and Kellen Davis has one. That's it.
If the Jets are throwing the football they are most likely throwing it to their wide receivers, most often to Brandon Marshall (71 receptions, 931 yards, nine touchdowns) and Eric Decker (51 catches, 700 yards, eight touchdowns). That makes this a strength-on-strength match-up with Marshall and Decker going up against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara.
How will the Giants play this? Will they have one of their corners, most likely DRC, shadow Marshall? Will they play sides? Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo isn't offering any hints.
"There are thoughts of that. I'm not going to obviously give away the game plan," Spagnuolo said. "But I do think both Prince and DRC are competitive guys and somewhere in the game they're going to find themselves covering a pretty good threat."
Marshall is a five-time Pro Bowler who has five 100+ reception seasons and 844 catches in a 10-year career.
"I've got a lot of confidence. He's [Marshall] a really good football player, don't get me wrong. He's one of the top in the league, but I think our guys will battle him," Spagnuolo said. "We certainly don't want to have a lot of snaps where those guys are all by themselves with a four-man rush. I think if we can combine a decent pass rush and put somebody over there to help them or have somebody there that has their eye on him, I think we'll be fine."
The Jets, if they are smart, will try to pick on the Giants' linebackers and safeties. Still, Marshall and Decker are huge parts of their offense and this should be a fun match-up to watch.