A year ago Eli Manning passed for 350 yards and a career-high six touchdowns against the New Orleans Saints, but it wasn’t enough. The defenseless New York Giants surrendered 505 passing yards, seven touchdown passes, 608 total yards and 52 points in a gut-wrenching last-second 52-49 New Orleans victory.
Can Manning and the Giants’ offense have that kind of game against the Saints for the second year in a row? Is that what it is going to take for the Giants to emerge from Sunday’s home opener 2-0 for the first time since 2009?
“You have to expect that they’re going to be able to score just because they have that ability. He’s put up 40-some odd points (actually 34) last week,” Manning said early in the week. “A bunch of times when we’ve played them, it’s been high scoring. We have to know that offensively and do our part. We have to protect the football, sustain drives and convert on third downs. We have to do our part, make sure we’re scoring touchdowns and put us in a position to win.”
The last four times the Giants and Saints have played, dating back to 2009, the winning team has scored 48, 49, 52 and 52 points. New Orleans has won three of those four meetings.
Let’s break down Sunday’s matchup between the Giants’ offense and the Saints’ defense.
Injuries crushing the Saints’ defense
Cornerback Delvin Breaux won’t play this week for the Saints after suffering a broken fibula against the Raiders. He will be out around six weeks. Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, the team’s first-round pick, was already out with that same injury. Veteran linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (quad) did not play Week 1 and was limited in practice on Wednesday for New Orleans.
That’s a difficult circumstance for a team that was 31st in the league defensively a season ago and needs all the help it can get.
Matchups to watch
Ereck Flowers vs. Cameron Jordan
In his sixth season, Jordan is probably the biggest difference-maker on the New Orleans defense. He had 10 sacks last season, has 39 over the first five years of his career and has twice been named to the Pro Bowl.
Flowers, in his second season, struggled mightily in pass protection as a rookie and has been inconsistent in that regard throughout the preseason and Week 1. You have to expect the Giants to run an extra blocker at Jordan whenever possible.
Giants’ receivers vs. Saints’ cornerbacks
Without Breaux, the Saints have a group of young, largely unknown players at cornerback. P.J. Williams was a third-round pick in 2015, but spent all of last season on IR. Undrafted rookies Ken Crawley and De’Vante Harris are expected to share the load of replacing Breaux.
New Orleans coach Sean Payton says his young corners are “learning on the job right now.”
With Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard, expect the Giants to challenge those corners. Obviously, this is a matchup that should favor the Giants.
Cruz is taking nothing for granted.
“You have to face every opponent. They got drafted and they are in this league for a reason,” he said. “They have some talent, so you have to be able to understand that and prepare the same way that you would prepare for any other team.”
The Big Blue wall
After an offseason and preseason during which the Giants were heavily criticized for not making any major additions to the offensive line, that group played well against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1. Much-maligned right tackle Marshall Newhouse was even graded as the league’s best Week 1 right tackle by Pro Football Focus.
Eli Manning was sacked twice but generally had a good enough pocket to throw from. The Giants also ran the ball well, especially at the end of the game when it mattered most. In all, the Giants ran 24 times for 113 yards (4.7 yards per carry).
For those who think that was an anomoly and the Giants have no running game, here is a rather stunning stat from NFL Network.
From @nflnetwork research: Since Week 14 of last season, Rashad Jennings leads NFL in rushing (507 yards) & in rushes of 10+ yards (15).— Kimberly Jones (@KimJonesSports) September 14, 2016
Can Jennings, a seven-year veteran who had a career-best 863 yards last season, keep up that pace? That doesn’t seem likely, but the numbers do indicate that the Giants — even with the perceived lack of talent on the offensive line and without a proven blocking tight end — have figured out how to run the ball.
Let’s acknowledge that the Giants had a favorable matchup against a Dallas defense that was missing three suspended starters — defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, as well as middle linebacker Rolando McClain.
This could prove to another favorable matchup in the trenches for the Giants. Derek Carr of Oakland threw 38 passes last week. He was never sacked and was hit just twice by Saints’ rushers. Oakland also averaged 6.7 yards running the ball, gaining 167 yards on 26 carries.
The great equalizer in the NFL is, of course, turnovers. The Giants committed only one last week, a Manning interception on a pass intended for Sterling Shepard. It cost them seven points, however, and nearly the game.
The Saints may be challenged in terms of not having premier defensive playmakers, but Giants’ coach Ben McAdoo said Wednesday that “their crew challenges schematically. They give you a lot of different looks.”
Undoubtedly, on paper this matchup favors the Giants’ offense. If they can handle whatever wrinkles the Saints come up with to create pressure and manage to protect the Duke, as McAdoo calls the ball, the Giants should be able to put a significant number of points on the scoreboard Sunday.