Five weeks to go. Five weeks to prove themselves. Five weeks to keep everyone's jobs intact. The New York Giants are entering a crucial stretch of games that will propel them down one of two paths. They will either make the playoffs and establish themselves above the junk in the NFC East, or they will miss the playoffs for the fourth year in a row, causing a line of January questioning that could shape the future of this team.
The last time such an event occurred, it too was a Big Apple battle for the ages. On Christmas Eve in 2011, Eli Manning hit Victor Cruz for a 99-yard touchdown that sent one New York team on a Super Bowl run and the other -- the in-stadium rival New York Jets -- into the bowels of embarrassment. This Sunday, it's deja vu, and the Giants are hoping for a repeat performance, but in order to stay afloat, they'll need everything they've got on defense. The Jets' offense isn't setting anyone on fire, but the Giants are highly flammable. One spark and this whole thing could go up.
Stats At A Glance
|Rushing Yards||Passing Yards||Total Yards||Points|
|New York Jets Offense||89.5 (28th)||242.4 (20th)||114.3 (14th)||24.7 (7th)|
|New York Giants Defense||110.5 (19th)||309.2 (32nd)||419.6 (32nd)||24.8 (22nd)|
Earlier this week, Jason Pierre-Paul talked about putting his right hand on the ground for the first time since his accident. He mentioned that this should help his on-field performance. Call me a skeptic, but I'm not sure this one slight difference is going to suddenly ignite a unit that hasn't been strong in what must be a few years now. I mean, it's a good thing that the Giants' best defensive end has another weapon in his arsenal, but given the failures of this unit up to this point in the season, it's a little redundant. This car doesn't need a turbo when it's still sitting on blocks. Attention to detail at a time of fundamental problems is a hallmark of the Giants roster this year.
We will likely still see Markus Kuhn line up as a 1-technique defensive tackle. His job will be to occupy double teams during passing downs and handle multiple gaps in the run game. I hate piling on this guy, because it seems like every week he's getting trashed in some way or another, but I have to keep talking about him because he keeps playing and that means we're going to keep this record turning until the needle gives in or the power goes out. Kuhn is not up to this task. Sing it with me; we're going down with this sinking ship.
If there's a glimmer of hope, it's that there are some weak spots on the Jets' offensive line that the Giants may be able to overload with pressure. Brian Winters and Breno Giacomini should be blocking to the right of six-time Pro-Bowl and two-time All-Pro center Nick Mangold. Notice that Mangold gets a list of credentials while the other two do not. The Jets' protection schemes will likely call for their center to cheat to the right on a majority of passing downs. Well, we'll see. The Giants may not pose enough of a threat, but that's what they'd probably do against a team with a good pass-rush.
Devon Kennard may not play in this game. He practiced on Wednesday, then didn't practice on Thursday. He's dealing with a hamstring injury, so it's not uncommon to see a player test himself too early and delay the healing process. If he suits up on game-day, Kennard probably won't be full strength. Which would you prefer; a half-speed starter or a problematic back-up?
In this case, the back-up choices are Jonathan Casillas, J.T. Thomas, or Uani' Unga. The initial two will both see time in the base package, but it'll be interesting to see which one comes off the field on passing downs. I suspect that it will be Thomas who is entrusted with the extra snaps because the Giants could use all the help they can get covering tight-ends -- even if the Jets don't have a particularly dangerous one. Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Davis aren't scaring anyone, though if either is going to have a big week this year, now is the time.
It's amazing that it's just presumed that Jasper Brinkley is now an unquestioned every down player. He wasn't signed until after the preseason, and replaced Jon Beason in the line-up seamlessly, with the possible argument that he has been the better player for the Giants thus far.
Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Price Amukamara? That sounds like one hell of a match-up. Unfortunately, the limitations of this battle are those of the passer; Ryan Fitzpatrick. Does "The Amish Rifle" have enough in his back pocket to go up against two of the best corners in the game? Yes, and no.
Yes, because Fitzpatrick is an average quarterback and even average players will make the most of their surroundings every now at certain points throughout the game. The Giants' safeties are so bad in coverage lately that all it will take is for one of these guys to beat a corner and they'll be home free. The Big Blue defense have given up a touchdown of at least 60 yards in each of the last three games. I'd bet on that streak to continue, but I'd put equal odds on both cornerbacks to come up with an interception. The Giants haven't played the Jets since 2011, but they faced Fitzpatrick just last year. Three picks on the day. Fitzpatrick is that kind of player -- streaky in both positive and negative forms.
This is a tough area to predict. Both the Jets offense and the Giants defense are such boom-or-bust units that the game will probably come down to whomever can capitalize on their luck. Last week, the Rodgers-Cromartie dropped what would have been a sure-fire pick-six and sure enough the Giants lost by six points. The Jets have had similar issues with a pair of one-score divisional losses.
These New York teams are very different on the field, yet quite similar in narrative and projection. Both need this game to stay alive in their respective divisions. Right now, I'm not trusting any quarterback that the Jets have trotted out in the last ten years. The Giants defense should be able to do enough to at least slow down Fitzpatrick and company, but whether their own glitchy offense can keep up is another story entirely.