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Giants vs. Saints: For Giants’ offense, it all starts with Eli

Can the Giants build on a promising offensive performance in Houston?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants return home on Sunday to host the New Orleans Saints after two weeks in Texas. The Giants looked down and out against division rival Dallas Cowboys, but found some life against the Houston Texans.

Back home, the Giants have a chance to get back to .500 against the Saints — a mark many might not have thought possible entering the season.

New Orleans has been hemorrhaging yards in the passing game, and the Giants have the skill position players to take advantage. And they will need to, as the Saints still boast as potent an offense as ever, averaging just under 35 points per game. This game looks to be a shootout, so the Giants will need to win with the ball in their hands.

Their offense finally started to get traction against Houston, so can they build on that against New Orleans?

Stats at a glance

Giants’ offense

Rushing yards: 87.7 yards per game

Passing yards: 231.7 yards per game

Total yards: 319.3 yards per game

Points: 18.3 points per game

Saints’ defense

Rushing yards: 84.3 ypg

Passing yards: 336.7 ypg

Total yards: 421.0 ypg

Points: 34.3

Chad Wheeler vs. Cameron Jordan

Second-year offensive tackle Chad Wheeler had a rough time in his first start of the 2018 season at right tackle. He was routinely beaten by J.J. Watt who notched his first three sacks of the season last week.

Wheeler struggled as well against outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, but he had few answers for Watt’s size, power, and explosiveness. Likewise, he was hampered by technical flaws which limited his ability to deal with inside moves. Unfortunately, Wheeler will face Cam Jordan, who is nearly as big, powerful, and explosive as Watt — and has been consistently getting to quarterbacks this season.

The Giants need to hope that Wheeler will be able to make a jump from his first week to his second week as a starter.

Game plan

The Giants had an excellent game plan against the Houston Texans. Their use of passing concepts to create quick, simple reads for Eli Manning, as well as some wide open passing windows, helping to hide some of the issues on the offensive line. Pat Shurmur and Mike Shula also showed some intriguing play design, such as lining Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, and Cody Latimer up on the left side of the offense, while Saquon Barkley lined up as a wide receiver on the right to influence the defense and open up a void in the coverage for Rhett Ellison at tight end.

Hopefully this is a harbinger of things to come, because while the Saints have a pair of good young defensive backs in Marshon Latimore and Marcus Williams, they have given up a lot of yards through the air. Despite missing Evan Engram, the Giants’ passing attack can still be potent and threaten the defense anywhere on the field.

Since drafting Latimore and Williams, the Saints have adopted much more of an aggressive, man coverage defense. While the Giants’ smaller receivers can be vulnerable to press-man coverage, there are schemes and concepts to defeat those coverages, such as mesh or scissors concepts — which Beckham and Shepard run very well.

Ultimately, the Giants’ game plan will need to be one which finds a rhythm and gets Beckham and Barkley going early. Beckham is just 740 yards from ranking second on the Giants’ all-time yards list (behind only Amani Toomer), and Barkley already has three 100-yard performances, in addition to two touchdowns. With those two active and producing, it will open up the defense for the other skill position players.

Keep the cape on, Eli

The Giants fielded a reworked offensive line featuring Wheeler and veteran John Greco, as well as a much-improved game plan, against the Texans. However, the biggest change from the losses in weeks one and two to the win in week three came from Eli Manning.

Manning seems to have found his stride within Pat Shurmur’s offense, completing 25 of 29 passes vs. Houston. But more than the sky-high completion percentage, Manning played with a precision and poise we haven’t seen in years. When throwing on the run, Eli consistently put the ball where only his receivers could get it, often putting them in position to pick up yards after the catch. When he hung in the pocket, Eli showed a disregard for pressure which we haven’t seen from him since the first half of 2012.

It wasn’t that the offensive front protected him markedly better than in previous games — in fact, per Next Gen Stats, the Texans rushers’ average pass rush came closer to Manning than those of either the Jaguars’ or Cowboys’. But Manning had the confidence to flow within the pocket and buy an extra second for a receiver to work open or risk taking a big hit to get the pass off.

For the first time in his career, Manning is in a truly quarterback-friendly offense with weapons he trusts, and he appears to finally be getting comfortable after barely playing in the pre-season. The result is the quarterback in whom the Giants went all-in on in January, dissecting the defense, finding favorable match-ups, doing what he has to find the time to exploit them, and making accurate throws.

If the Giants want to claw their way out of the hole they have dug for themselves, and beat the Saints in the process, they will need Eli to keep his cape on until February. He might not match this performance, but the Giants will need this Eli to stick around.