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The New York Giants are heading into New Orleans for Monday Night Football to take on the Saints in a crucial game that could also happen to be a potential playoff matchup. For the latter to happen, it seems the Giants need to win this one a little bit more desperately than the Saints do, as New York (6-4) will try to snap their two-game losing streak and avoid another second-half swoon that would foil playoff their chances, as it has the past two seasons.
With the Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day victory, the slumping Giants find themselves half a game behind Dallas (7-4) for the division lead. Tom Coughlin’s seat continues to get extra toasty as winter nears, and that has nothing to do with him being cold.
The Saints (7-3) come out of their bye week with Drew Brees and the Saints’ passing arsenal as hot as it has ever been. As a matter of fact, Brees is on pace to top Dan Marino’s historic 1984 single-season passing yards record (5,084 yards). Being atop his game and having an additional week to prepare for the Giants only greater benefits New Orleans.
Brees has efficiently utilized two new impressive weapons this season in tight end Jimmy Graham and running back Darren Sproles. Graham, a second-year player, has come out of nowhere to become one of the best pass catching tight ends in football. It’s obvious now that the former Miami Hurricanes College Basketball player has found his niche in football, and he certainly can thank Brees and Sean Payton for that.
Darren Sproles has made everyone forget about fan-favorite Reggie Bush. Sproles has assumed Bush’s role as the third-down, passing-down back and return specialist. Sproles in on pace to post better stat totals than Bush did in almost all of his five seasons in New Orleans.
The Giants defense will be sure to have their hands full containing those two, all while trying to stop the rest of Brees’ weapons, such as receivers Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Lance Moore and Devery Henderson. Former University of Alabama Heisman Trophy Winner Mark Ingram starts at running back as the short-yardage guy. Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory have been derailed by injuries over the past two seasons, and both are vying for more touches as the third down running back as they get back to full strength. Offensive Linemen Carl Nicks, Jahri Evans and Jermon Bushrod are some of the game’s best at their positions.
All this talk about the Saints offense is necessary, but their defense can make some fuss from time to time as well. Middle Linebacker Jonathan Vilma is questionable (knee), which will be a significant loss for the Saints if he’s unable to go. This Saints defense is a little bit older and slower from the one two years removed from defeating Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. Will Smith and Sedrick Ellis lead the unit up front while Roman Harper, Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter lead the secondary unit.
Now, the ‘other’ Manning will try to work his magic against his hometown team in front of what is certain to be a lot of friends and family. Eli will look to rebound from a rather ineffective performance in Week 11. Still having his best statistical season as a pro, Manning knows none of his performance on the field will be praiseworthy if it doesn’t spell a playoff birth. With the remaining schedule only looking more and more worrisome, an even greater emphasis of importance is put on this game and Eli’s shoulders.
It was apparent in Week 11, as well as some other recent games, that the Giants weakest link may not be pass defense anymore. The running game in Ahmad Bradshaw’s absence continues to be awful, and it appears the offensive line deserves a share of the blame for it. Pro-Bowl Guard Chris Snee was benched last week on a handful of plays for ineffective play, which speaks volumes. Da’Rel Scott and DJ Ware could find themselves getting a few more touches than usual this week, as we know Brandon Jacobs is on thin ice filling in for Bradshaw. Jake Ballard has to put the dropped passes in his rear view and go back to being the always-forgotten-about clutch target for Manning.
On defense, the greatest challenge for the Giants will obviously be pass defense. The Giants had to be pleasantly surprised by Prince Amukamara last week, who played effectively, receiving more time on the field than Tom Coughlin originally anticipated. Any help the Giants can get on pass defense is welcomed, more so in this matchup against the best passing attack you’ll see in years.
The biggest key for the Giants is going to be what their biggest strength is – getting to the quarterback. The Giants have to get pressure consistently on Brees. Amidst his brilliant totals this season, Brees has thrown more interceptions than he normally is accustomed to, which the Giants need to take full advantage of.
Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) is out again. Michael Boley (hamstring) is out. Mario Manningham (knee) is questionable, and is likely to be a game time decision. DJ Ware (concussion) is expected to be active. Look for Jacquian Williams to get the majority of time in Boley’s absence this week, as he seems to have been dubbed the default passing-down outside linebacker. Will Beatty (eye) is out indefinitely following surgery to repair a detached retina. David Diehl will move over a spot from guard to left tackle and Kevin Boothe is expected to start at left guard.