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Giants vs. Lions: When Detroit has the ball

Comeback king Matthew Stafford, Giants’ defense will match strengths

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NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants
Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins forces a Dez Bryant fumble.
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants meet the Detroit Lions on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. It is a matchup of hot 9-4 teams, the Giants winners of seven of eight and the Lions winners of eight of nine. The game could be critical to the playoff hopes of both teams. Let’s look at how the Giants’ defense matches up with the Detroit offense.

By the numbers

Lions’ offense

Points per game: 22.7 (17th)
Yards per game: 336.2 (21st)
Passing yards per game: 252.5 (14th)
Rushing yards per game: 83.7 (29th)

Giants’ defense

Points per game: 18.8 (7th)
Yards per game: 349.3 (14th)
Passing yards per game: 256.6 (23rd)
Rushing yards per game: 92.7 (8th)

Matthew Stafford is carrying the Lions

Golden Tate is good, and Marvin Jones is averaging 17.6 yards per catch, but Detroit does not possess a great wide receiver. Their running game looks good pretty much only when you compare it to the one the Giants have. Football Outsiders ranks the Detroit offensive line among the worst in the league, 31st in run blocking and 17th in pass blocking.

What do the Lions have? They have quarterback Matthew Stafford, arguably playing the best football of his career.

Chris Lemieux of SB Nation’s Pride of Detroit told me that the 2016 season has been “probably the best I’ve seen him (Stafford) play.”

The notoriously anti-Eli Manning folks at Pro Football Focus penned an article this week in which they opine that Stafford is carrying the Lions while the Giants are carrying Manning.

“The Giants have managed to suddenly put together an extremely good roster, but find themselves hampered by their quarterback—a player that has been instrumental in winning two Super Bowl rings—while the Lions are being propped up by theirs, as Matthew Stafford is enjoying the best season of his career.”

Stafford has completed 66.7 percent of his passes this season, thrown 22 touchdown passes to just seven interceptions with a ridiculous 1.5 percent interception rate, and has a career-best passer rating of 97.8.

Stafford will be dealing with a hand injury this having, having possibly suffered both a dislocation of and torn ligaments in a finger on his throwing hand last week against the Chicago Bears. No one has any idea how that will impact Stafford against the Giants.

“We are going to work our way through that this week and kind of get a sense of it. It is his first time, so we will see how it goes,” said Lions coach Jim Caldwell.

Fourth-quarter showdown

Now we get to the REALLY good stuff. Stafford has led a record-setting eight fourth-quarter game-winning drives this season, breaking the single-season record of seven set in 2009 by Peyton Manning. The Giants’ much-ballyhooed defense has held off last-minute game-winning drives in eight of the Giants’ nine victories.

If the Giants are nursing a fourth-quarter lead on Sunday, that would pit a record-setting quarterback against a proud defense that has specialized in closing out games. The defense is a big part of the reason why the Giants are 8-2 in games decided by eight points or less, the NFL’s highest victory total in such games.

“We like to finish in the fourth quarter,” said Giants’ safety Landon Collins. Last year when we had the chances to finish in the fourth quarter, we didn’t. Now we get to showcase that.”

“They can make explosive plays. That’s one of the key things, just making explosive plays on third down. They’re making plays when it counts. You do that, it’s a dangerous team,” said Giants’ defensive end Olivier Vernon. “That’s why where they are right now is a good spot. It’s going to be a good football game.”

Giants coach Ben McAdoo knows the defense will have to stay aggressive to close out a game against Stafford.

“I remember them always really being that way from my time in Green Bay,” McAdoo said. “Stafford's a guy that can get a play on you and if you play soft coverage, at the end of ball games, he can get some numbers and get the team really moving at the end.”

Stafford’s supporting cast

As much as we talk about Stafford carrying the Lions, it’s not like the Detroit quarterback has nothing to work with. Golden Tate (71 receptions), the ageless Anquan Boldin (55 catches) and Marvin Jones (46 catches, 17.6 yards per reception) form a solid if unspectacular receiving corps. Running back Theo Riddick has 53 catches, and tight end Eric Ebron has 43.

“They have been great,” Giants’ safety Landon Collins said of the Detroit receivers. “They have a quarterback that knows how to get the ball to receivers and they have receivers who are going to get down field when they get the ball in their hands and you have got to tackle. You have got to tackle. You see a lot of missed tackles on their receivers and they get the ball downfield even more, so just make sure that when they get the ball they don’t get extra yards.”

Riddick leads the running backs with 357 yards on 92 carries (3.9 yards per carry).

The offensive line has been a question mark, with rookie left tackle Taylor Decker perhaps emerging as the best player.

About the Giants’ defense

If you have paid any attention to the Giants at all, you know how good the defense has become. Even if the only thing you know about the Giants’ defense is that even without Jason Pierre-Paul they held the Dallas Cowboys to seven points last Sunday night, that was enough to tell you it’s a pretty good group.

Detroit coach Jim Caldwell knows what his team is up against:

“I just think they (the Giants’ defense) have been playing really, really well. They are big up front. Harrison is big and strong, Hank is big and strong up front, they are powerful guys. They can rush the passer well, Vernon is doing a great job there, Romeo is doing a nice job, all across the board up front they are talented. Their linebacking corps is good and perhaps maybe one of the most talented secondary’s in the league,” Caldwell said while speaking to New York media this week.

“Two very, very good corners, very good safeties, it is a heck of a group all the way across the board. Landon Collins is playing extremely well and Janoris, you see the game the other night and he is really a standout. He can move and go and play well and Rodgers-Cromartie is a talented guy, Eli Apple is a talented guy, so yeah, it is a very, very talented group and Spags, I worked with him a little bit. I worked with him for a short time there in Baltimore and I know he is very creative and a very, very good teacher, so we have our work cut out for us.”