BOSTON (CBS) – The New England Patriots have only lost two games in a row twice in the last eight years. In order to keep it that way, they’ll have to put out a great effort against the New York Giants.
Although they have problems of their own, the Giants have plenty of weapons on both sides of the ball to give the Patriots a good game. Here are a few of the key matchups in Sunday’s showdown.
Eli Manning vs Patriots Secondary
Manning has said he is in the same class as his older brother and Tom Brady, and so far this season he is making a case. Eli has 13 touchdowns to just five interceptions and has a passer rating of 102.1. His highest career rating was 93.1 in the 2009 season.
Completing nearly 65-percent of his passes and throwing for over 2,000 yards, Manning is legit this season.
“He’s accurate, he’s got a good arm, he makes good decisions – like every player, there’re always plays that could be better, that he might want to have back,” Pats head coach Bill Belichick said this week. “He’s a productive passer. He’s led their team to a lot of successful offensive plays and wins, so that’s how you measure a quarterback.”
“I think he’s a guy that makes a lot of throws on the field,” Patriots corner Devin McCourty said of Eli. “When you watch their offense, they’re really never in a bad situation. He’s a smart quarterback that I think is able to check them into good situations, good plays against whatever he sees out there on the field. As a defense, we really have to be ready to play all around.”
While the mistakes have been there, like a 94-yard interception return for a TD in the final minutes of a 26-25 loss to the Seahawks, Eli has been steady. He hasn’t thrown a pick since the game-loser nearly a month ago, and three of his five INTs came in that one game.
Manning may be missing his biggest playmaker in Hakeem Nicks, who is doubtful with a hamstring injury, but he will be going against a secondary that is the worst in the NFL.
The Patriots have had a revolving door at defensive back this season, with Leigh Bodden out and Antwaun Molden and Phillip Adams in. They’ll have playmakers like Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham to deal with, along with tight end Jake Ballard who is forming a good chemistry with Manning.
The Patriots secondary has heard all the criticism, and right now just want to prove everyone wrong.
“We really don’t worry about what everybody else says. We’re just trying to get better and we’re trying to do it as soon as possible,” McCourty said. “When we go out there today we’re going to have that urgency at practice to get better. [We’re] trying to make sure it keeps coming over on Sundays, not just for a week, not for two weeks but that we can be consistent stringing each game together.”
The secondary could use a little more help from a pass-rush that has been non-existent at times. The Pats have just 15 sacks this season, with Mark Anderson (4.5) and Andre Carter (4.5) accounting for nine of them.
“We all take part of that,” nose tackle Vince Wilfork said this week. “We’re not going to sit back and say ‘they’re catching balls because they’re not covered.’ It’s part of us up front too, not being able to get to the quarterback quick enough. It goes hand in hand… You win together.”
While Manning is not as mistake prone as he has been in seasons past, he is far from perfect. If the secondary can get some help from big men up front, they can force Manning into making mistakes. It will take a full defensive effort, but Manning can be turned into the Eli of old.
If the Seahawks can do it, anyone can, right?
Tom Brady vs Giants Pass-Rush
The last time the Giants and Patriots played in a game that mattered (some night four years ago in Glendale) New York made sure Tom Brady spent most of the game on his back.
The dominant Giants pass-rush will try and do the same Sunday at Gillette. They lead the NFL with 26 sacks, and that can come from a number of different guys on their defensive line and linebacker corps.
“These guys are good,” Belichick said this week of the Giants D. “They have a lot of guys who can rush. They move them around. You can’t be really sure of the matchup that you’re going to get. Some weeks you kind of know where this guy is going to be or where that guy is going to be.”
“The offensive line really has to do a good job preparing for all the guys as opposed to sometimes each lineman knows pretty much who they’re going to be blocking for a high percentage of the game. That’s not really quite the case this week,” said Belichick.
Gresh & Zo Whiteboard: Stopping The Giants Pass-Rush
“It’s a little bit of everything. Perry Fewell does a great job. He’s been a coordinator in the league for a while now. He does a really good job of mixing things up, mixing up the looks, making sure that he has some different things for each game,” offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien said on Tuesday.
“They get pressure probably better than anybody in the league,” said Brady. “They lead the league in sacks. Damn, every guy on that defensive line can rush the quarterback. JPP (Jason Pierre-Paul) has eight sacks and Osi [Umenyiora] got six and [Justin] Tuck hasn’t been in there a lot, but he’s still getting them. They got a whole group of pass rushers.”
“Most times, a team may have one player that is the caliber of a rusher that you have to game plan for. But the Giants have about five of them,” Belichick said. “They have so many guys and they are all very good.”
Pierre-Paul already has 8.5 sacks this season, and will be chasing Brady all day Sunday. As will Justin Tuck, who sacked Brady twice and pestered him all evening in Super Bowl XLII.
“With a guy like (Brady), it’s always a chess match and you try to stay one step ahead of him,” Tuck said this week.
“I don’t care who you are, if you get hit in the face by a 300-something pound lineman, it’s going to change your day,” Giants lineman Kiwanuka said on Thursday.
“You cut the head off the snake,” Chris Canty said of getting to Brady. “It’s really that type of mentality. In order to disrupt what they do, it all starts with Tom Brady and the offensive line. We have to be prepared for that and understand that and prepare accordingly.”
Stats: Patriots-Giants Head to Head
One way to avoid this would be to establish a run game. The Giants have struggled against the run this season, allowing 130 yards per game, ranking 28th in the NFL.
Running the ball, or dumping off to a running back (enter Kevin Faulk), is one of the ways to make sure Brady stays upright, and will help in establishing the air attack as well. The Patriots were held to just 43 yards on the ground against the Steelers, just the second time this season they did not eclipse the 100-yard plateau. If they can get BenJarvis Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley and/or Faulk going, Brady will have a much easier day against a tough Giants pass-rush.
Welker vs Giants Secondary
Welker was held to human-like numbers against the Steelers with just six receptions for 39 yards. His six catch, 45 yard showing against the Cowboys three weeks ago looked a little better since he found his way into the end zone.
But teams are starting to focus, and double team, Welker now, something the receiver has come to expect.
“There has been a lot more man-coverage, guys getting in your face and grabbing and doing whatever they need to do,” Welker said Friday. “At the same time, you have to understand that and do business as business is being done, and be physical and get open. That’s what it comes down to.”
Welker said before the season he felt as good as he ever has, and it has shown. He leads the NFL with 57 receptions and is second with 824 yards.
Giants corner Samari Rolle is not impressed though. He believes he’ll be fine when it comes to covering Welker on Sunday, despite other corners struggling.
“I don’t plan on having to answer those questions,” Rolle replied when asked why Welker was giving defenses a tough time. “Our job is to go out there and do what we need to do as a unit. It’s not going to be a one-man defense. It’s not about Wes Welker. There’s 10 other guys you have to account for. They run a very respected offense and they’re good at what they do.”
“I handle anything. I’m up for all challenges,” Rolle added. “At the end of the day, it’s may the best man win.”
The comments didn’t seem to bother Welker on Friday, but rest assure he will have them in the back of his head on Sunday.
“I could care less either way if he did or didn’t. I’m focusing on the game,” said Welker. “I think at this point you hear it all and you just don’t worry about it. You move on and get ready for the game.”
“I’m not too worried about it. Just trying to study him up on film and get ready for him; make sure I do anything possible to be successful on Sunday. That’s where my focus is, not really worried about too much else,” Welker said.
If Welker can get open, it will go a long way in helping Brady avoid the pass-rush. The sooner he can get rid of the ball, the less likely he is to get a face full of Gillette Stadium turf lodged in his helmet.
Tune in to the Patriots-Giants game on 98.5 The Sports Hub Sunday at 4:15pm. Pregame coverage kicks on WBZ-TV at 11:30am with Patriots Gameday, with the Hub’s coverage beginning at 1pm. After the game, tune in to the Hub for the Patriots Postgame show, and to MY TV38 for Patriots Fifth Quarter.