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Giants at Lions: When the Giants have the ball

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Can the Giants’ offense get some traction against a struggling Lions’ defense?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The 2-5 New York Giants are not where they thought they would be at this point in the season. It was hoped that they would be somewhere around .500 as they travel to take on the Detroit Lions in Week 8, but that has not come to pass.

After a series of games against two great defenses and three unconventional schemes, the Giants face a Lions team sporting an uncharacteristically poor defense and a relatively conventional offense — though Matt Stafford is playing some of the best football of his career.

In an added twist, this game will resemble something of a Mortal Kombat “mirror match,” as many Giants’ fans wanted Matt Patricia to be the successor to Tom Coughlin and their team will feature several former Giants.

Can the Giants’ get redemption after falling against the Arizona Cardinals? Let’s take a look at the matchup between New York’s offense and Detroit’s defense.

Stats at a glance

*ESPN has added the pass rush and pass block win rates for every team as a freely available stat, and I’m also adding turnovers to give a more complete picture of the respective offenses and defenses. Turnovers represent total fumbles and interceptions for the offense, and fumbles and interceptions recovered by the defense.

Keys to the game

Keep Daniel Jones upright

There are, of course, keys to winning this game from an X’s and O’s or personnel perspective. But after the Giants dropped a winnable game against a rebuilding team they were favored to beat, we have to backtrack and start from the basics. And the basic of the basics is that for an offense to succeed, the quarterback has to be on his feet and able to deliver the ball.

As Mark Schofield so eloquently and elegantly detailed, not all of the Giants’ pass protection woes are on the offensive line — play calling and the play of Daniel Jones have contributed plenty.

The Giants have a chance to get on the right track against Detroit.

The Lions have not had a good pass rush this season. Their 10 sacks are the fewest in the NFL and their pass rush win rate is the lowest in the NFL. And while the Giants’ pass protection has been a serious issue of late, they are still in the middle of the pack with respect to their pass block win rate. And although their Adjusted Sack Rate is 21st in the NFL per Football Outsiders, they should have the advantage in this matchup.

That doesn’t mean they should take the Lions’ defense lightly. They have been coming on in recent weeks, playing hard against the Chiefs, Packers, and Vikings. Last week the Giants were expected to have a high-scoring affair against a young and porous Cardinals’ defense. They can’t afford to make assumptions against any team.

Take advantage of opportunities

The Giants have had opportunities to win games. Part of what makes their loss to the Cardinals so frustrating is that they had multiple opportunities throughout the game to seize the lead and come away with the win.

It has been a common theme throughout their season. The only time they truly took advantage of an opportunity was coming back to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when they decided to try and run the clock out in the second half after Saquon Barkley was injured.

Lions’ head coach Matt Patricia noted that his rush defense has been particularly poor this season — surprising considering the presence of Damon Harrison — and that is a bad thing with Saquon Barkley coming to town. Barkley did not appear to be healthy last week and further tweaked his ankle during the game, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t take advantage of a porous run defense. Wayne Gallman has proved to be a viable starting running back who can execute the Giants’ entire playbook. He isn’t as explosive as Barkley, nor can he create magic out of nothing, but he is capable as a receiver and pass protector.

The Lions are have been vulnerable to the pass as well. Their pass defense is on par with the Giants’ having given up the same number of touchdowns and more yards per game, but allowing fewer big (20- and 40-yard) big plays. The opportunities should be there for chunk plays on offense, as long as the Giants can take advantage.

Hang on to the ball

The Giants have a turnover problem.

Their -10 turnover ratio is the second-worst in the NFL behind the Miami Dolphins, their 18 total turnovers are the most in the NFL. All told, they have lost their handle on the ball 24 times in seven games — not counting Eli Manning’s two interceptions, nor the six interceptable passes against the Buccaneers, Redskins, and Vikings which fell incomplete.

That is, frankly, far too many for any team to compete at a consistent level.

The good news for the Giants is that the Lions haven’t come down with many passes in coverage. They have just three interceptions on the season — one each for CBs Darius Slay and Justin Coleman, as well as one for DB Tracy Walker.

The bad news is that they are second in the NFL with 12 forced fumbles and lead the league with 8 fumbles recovered. The Giants’ defense might have caught a break with Kerryon Johnson going on injured reserve, but they still have their work cut out for them with Matthew Stafford playing some of the most efficient and effective football of his career. If the Giants want to come away with a win in this game, they are going to need to play a clean game, not give Detroit any extra possessions or better field position.