It’s fitting that the phrase “I’d rather be lucky than good” originated in New York.
It was first uttered (as far as I can tell) by New York Yankees pitcher Vernon “lefty” Gomez back in the 1930s. But despite his preference for luck, Gomez was, at the time, one of the best pitchers in baseball. He twice lead the American League in wins and strikeouts, and three times lead the AL in ERA.
The New York Giants defense hasn’t been good this year. We’ll get to the stats in a minute, but even just the eye test tells us that they can’t stop good offenses and can’t get off the field when they absolutely need to. At the end of the day, that’s the benchmark for a good defense, and one the Giants’ have largely failed to consistently meet.
Fortunately, while the Giants’ haven’t been good since their bye week, they have been lucky.
And now, for the fourth time in five games, the Giants’ defense will face a backup quarterback when they square off against the Washington Redskins.
Stats that matter
Starting at quarterback will be ... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Alex Smith was off to a perfectly “Alex Smith” season for Washington — by which I mean “solid,” “effective” and “wholly unspectacular.” Then he suffered a potentially career-ending injury which bore a frightening resemblance to the one suffered by former Washington QB Joe Theisman.
Colt McCoy took Smith’s place, and he didn’t play poorly... Until he too went down with an injury. The last QB left standing, for now, is Mark Sanchez, but there have been rumblings that Sam Bradford could be brought onboard. As it stands now, it seems unlikely that Washington will make a move there before Sunday, but they’re also playing for their playoff lives.
Against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sanchez completed 13-of-21 passes for 100 yards, with an interception and a fumble (and a pair of sacks).
It’s hard to come in as a backup quarterback to the backup quarterback and win a game, but Sanchez does have starting experience in the NFL, and knows how to prepare as a starter. The Giants’ best hope this game is to do as they did against the San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Chicago Bears, and force the backup to make mistakes, then capitalize on those mistakes.
Defend Adrian Peterson (and the running game in general)
Adrian Peterson still has it.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the running back who held pride of place as the freakiest freak in league full of athletic freaks (before Saquon Barkley assumed the crown this year) is still a phenomenal athlete at 33 years old. He showed as much Monday when he took a handoff from Sanchez through a well-blocked hole 90 yards down the field for a touchdown.
Washington’s passing game wasn’t especially frighting before Smith suffered his injury, and it is less so with Sanchez and a beat-up offensive line. However, Peterson makes their running game dangerous, and that added dimension will force the Giants to divide their attention on defense. But, if they are going to focus on taking away one aspect of Washington’s offense, they should choose to concentrate on Peterson and the running game.
B.J. Hill is coming off a fantastic game against the Chicago Bears, and Dalvin Tomlinson is a good defensive tackle in his own right, but the loss of the single best run defender in the NFL leaves the Giants’ run defense wanting from what it was earlier in the season. They will have to make a concerted effort to be stout against the run, but if they are able to force the ball in to Sanchez’s hands, it could result in the kind of quarterback play upon which the defense has thrived since their bye week.
And as we’ve seen, taking advantage of quarterback miscues has been the surest route to success for the Giants. They need to ensure opportunities for those to happen, and that means taking the ball out of Adrian Peterson’s hands, and putting it in Sanchez’s
How will the Giants replace Landon Collins?
We knew early in the week that Landon Collins would likely be out for the game. But now we know he is done for the season as he gets surgery to repair a torn labrum. There might have been hope that the last four games of the season might help give clarity for his impending free agency, but now that’s out the window.
Instead, the Giants need to figure out how to replace one of their best players — though in doing so, they’ll get a glimpse of their defense without Collins, and that might sway their decision one way or the other.
Veteran free agent safety Michael Thomas will likely be the first man up to replace Collins. Thomas has the physical demeanor to man Collins’ role as a box safety, as well as the experience. He has also recently seen an uptick in snaps as the team looked to find the right mix of players to maximize their coverage ability and down-hill play.
However, the team can hardly ask Thomas to play all the defensive snaps (as Collins routinely did). He is, and has been, one of their core special teams players, and a big reason for their improved play this year. Playing 60-80 defensive snaps plus most (if not all) of the special teams snaps is a lot to ask a player, and someone will have to split time with Thomas.
That player will likely be UDFA rookie Sean Chandler.
“He has enough size to play at the position, but he’s very quick, very aggressive style,” Thomas said of Chandler. “He’s willing to tackle, he can cover well so he has all the talent, he’s just got to keep improving and learning the pro game now compared to what he did in college and once he gets that, I’m excited for his career.”
Like Thomas, Chandler has experience at both safety and cornerback, which might be of use to James Bettcher who likes versatile players for his aggressive defense. However, having two rookies (along with Grant Haley) in the same secondary could cause communication issues. Likewise, the Giants have asked Collins to wear many hats, playing roles from deep zone coverage, to man coverage underneath, to strong safety, to weakside linebacker as they search for solutions to their twin problems of coverage at the second level and in the deep parts of the field.
The Giants have some intriguing players behind Collins, but replacing him will be easier said than done.