The undefeated Patriots (8-0), take on the Giants (5-4) Sunday afternoon in the New Jersey Meadowlands. Forgive us if this sounds somewhat familiar. The last two times the Patriots have played the Giants they were on long winning streaks of 10 games+ and each ended in losses to New York. Currently the Pats are on an 11-game winning streak heading back to the playoffs in 2014.
So we know that the Giants and in particular Eli Manning seems to channel his best performances against New England. Manning plays his best when the money is on the line especially in the playoffs, much like Joe Flacco his regular season numbers belie a solid if not spectacular post-season quarterback, so he is the polar opposite of his more famous brother.
But those Super Bowls were then and this is now. So from a Patriots perspective how do the Patriots end their three-game slide against those G-Men from New York? Here are our three keys to victory for the Pats to come out of New York with a 9-0 record:
Win the Turnover Battle: This sounds innocuous enough and we state it every week but for the Giants winning the turnover battle is essential. How does a team that has a defense that is 25th in the NFL and 31st against the pass go 5-4? Turnovers.
No one is better than forcing turnovers than the opportunistic Giants defense. They’ve forced 21 turnovers in 2015, (13 interceptions and 8 fumbles) and lead the league with a plus-12 turnover differential. Entering Thursday night’s game between the Jets and Bills, the Patriots and Jets were tied in 2nd with a +7 turnover differential.
The Giants defense gives up a lot of yardage and a lot of points, but how they’ve been able to counter that is to force a lot of turnovers that have stopped drives. The Patriots will make things much easier on themselves by limiting the turnovers, something the Patriots have been excellent at this season. Tom Brady has thrown only two interceptions and the team has lost only three fumbles.
This is also an area where the Patriots can improve defensively. They’ve forced ten fumbles but only recovered three. And so many times this season, we’ve seen would-be interceptions slide thru the Pats secondary’s hands. This will be one of the key areas to watch on both sides of the ball on Sunday.
This is a Gronk Sunday: When the Patriots and Giants last met in Super Bowl XLVI, TE Rob Gronkowski was hurt and a shadow of himself. Brady and the Patriots offense used him mostly as a decoy as his ankle injury suffered in the AFC Championship Game really limited his effectiveness.
Gronkowski is healthy and is facing a team that has a lot of trouble stopping opposing tight ends. Indeed, opposing tight ends have caught 52 of 70 pass targets for 658 yards and five touchdowns against the Giants. The 77.9 yards per game given by the Giants defense to opposing tight ends are the second most in the NFL behind the Saints (80.6). Now they’re facing the best overall tight end in the game. With a beat-up secondary and a pass rush that’s struggled to get after opposing QB’s this is a perfect week for Brady to attack the middle of the Giants defense.
There was some talk of the Giants sliding their best available cornerback, Dominique Rogers-Cromartie over to cover Gronkowski this week, something coach Tom Coughlin joked with the media about earlier in the week. Coughlin said with a smile that he was going to listen to the media about the matchup. That would be a mistake considering the Patriots can counter with WRs Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola. That would open up large areas of the field for them to operate in.
However, Gronkowski is a big matchup mismatch on the Giants safeties, former Patriot Brandon Meriweather and Landon Collins. With injuries to the linebacking core as well, this is an area where Brady and the Patriots can really attack the defense. Look for Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels to call Gronk’s number early and often Sunday.
Flip the tables on Manning With the Pass Rush: One of the reason’s the Giants were able to derail the Patriots last two Super Bowl matchups was the pass rush, specifically using just a four-man rush. Manning and the Giants haven’t had a productive running game but they’ve been very good thru the air.
Odell Beckham Jr., Rueben Randle, Dwayne Harris, Larry Donnell and Shane Vereen give Manning plenty of weapons to use in the passing game. They’ll get even more dangerous once Victor Cruz returns around Week 12. So to stop Manning and the Giants passing game, they’ll have to get after Manning.
Now it is the Patriots who have the better pass rush, they’ve logged 26 sacks, good for 2nd in the league and will need to bring some heat on Manning and disrupt his deep passing game. Given time, Beckham Jr. will no doubt get open and then he’s very apt to break a long gainer.
Having Jabaal Sheard back to practice this week is a big plus, if he is able to go on Sunday, the rotation with him, Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones is an area the Patriots will have to win. One area to watch will be the A-gap pressure from Dont’a Hightower. Hightower has been an effective blitzer and the team may opt to use him over Jonathan Freeny who wasn’t effective coming up the middle last week.
Normally Hightower shares that responsibility with Jamie Collins, but this week with the team activating Eric Martin from the practice squad, it is looking like the virus that sidelined Collins last week will hold him out again.
If the Patriots can carry out those three keys on Sunday, then the chances look much better for them to leave New York for a happy plane ride back to Foxboro.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2015 NFL Season Bill Belichick Brandon LaFell Chandler Jones Danny Amendola Dwayne Harris Eli Manning Geneo Grissom Jabaal Sheard Jason Pierre-Paul LaGarrette Blount Malcolm Butler New England Patriots New York Giants NFL Odell Beckham Jr. Patriots Pats picks predictions Rex Ryan Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich Rueben Randle Shane Vereen Tom Brady Tom Coughlin Tre' Jackson Trey Flowers