Both the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints are coming off of monumental victories in the past week that may have saved their respective seasons. With both teams set to do battle on Sunday, it’s obvious that one of these desperate teams will lose an oh-so-pivotal Week 8 matchup. Stay tuned for Overtime’s comprehensive Giants-Saints game preview.
As long as Drew Brees is leading the New Orleans Saints and Eli Manning is in charge of the New York Giants, you can be assured that you will be in line for quite a quarterbacking duel. In fact, both Brees and Manning are having quite similar statistical seasons in quite similar situations with their teams. Neither has a good offensive line (Brees has been sacked 17 times in 6 games and Manning 9 times in 7 games and seems to face constant pressure), a deep receiving core (Manning’s primary targets are injured or hobbled whereas the Saints just don’t have a lot of depth), or a stress-reducing defense (the Giants and Saints are 29th and 30th in the league in terms of total yardage allowed, respectively). Due to this, their similar numbers (1,871 yards, an 8-4 TD-INT rate, and a 93.2 QBR for Brees versus 1,776 yards, an 11-4 TD-INT rate, and a 92.4 QBR for Manning) are to be expected, and lead to a draw in terms of quarterbacks on Sunday.
After 4 years of limited success, former Heisman Award winning running back Mark Ingram (the son of the ex-Giants wide receiver of the same name) has put together a solid season for the Saints. His average of 4.4 yards per carry and his 5 touchdowns in addition to 29 receptions out of the backfield make for a complete player. His bruising style could give the subpar-tackling Giants fits on Sunday. His backups include Khiry Robinson (3.4 AVG but 4 touchdowns) and 3rd-down back C.J. Spiller (3.6 AVG but 21 receptions and an 80-yard receiving touchdown). Meanwhile in New York, the Giants will count on their 4-headed running back by committee. Rashad Jennings has had a couple of plus weeks in a row but has still seen his snaps dwindle due to the emergence of 2nd year back Orleans Darkwa, an excellent blend of power and speed. Secondary options include Andre Williams as the power back and Shane Vereen as the elusive 3rd-down pass catcher. The Giants and Saints each have deep backfields, again resulting in an even matchup.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
Another week has gone by for the Giants without the services of elite wideout Victor Cruz; he will miss his 18th straight regular-season game due to a calf injury. In his stead, Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle have been up and down thus far. While Beckham’s numbers (42 catches for 524 yards and 4 TDs) look nice, he has gone missing versus the Cowboys twice, a sign that perhaps defenses are catching up to him some. Randle and Dwayne Harris are quality secondary looks for Manning to throw to, and tight end Larry Donnell could use a big game versus a weak Saints’ defense. New Orleans has trouble with their wide receivers. Brandin Cooks is having a nice year on paper (35 catches for 444 yards) but isn’t everything the Saints need out of a number 1 wideout. Marques Colston has declined this year in this his 10th NFL season, failing to record a touchdown yet, but young Willie Snead has come out of nowhere to be the Saints’ best receiving option (29 catches for 461 yards and a touchdown). Veteran tight ends Benjamin Watson and Michael Hoomananawanui are steady options for Drew Brees to target in the red zone. The Giants have the bigger names, and Odell Beckham Jr. versus the Saints’ secondary is a good look for the Giants, giving them the edge.
The Saints have an interesting offensive line, again much like the Giants’ group. The Saints excel from center to right tackle, where Max Unger, Jahri Evans, and captain Zach Strief are excellent, but fail on the left side, where Terron Armstead has been good but injured often (he is questionable for Sunday) and left guard Tim Lelito has been quite poor in his first year replacing Ben Grubbs. The Giants are similar in that they dominate from left guard to right guard, but struggle at the tackles. Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, and Geoff Schwartz have been top-10 linemen this year, but left tackle Ereck Flowers runs hot and cold and right tackle Marshall Newhouse has looked like a backup despite being forced into action due to injury. Again, the Giants and Saints are remarkably evenly matched, even in regards to their O-Lines.
The Giants received a big boost in their defensive line with the return of Jason Pierre-Paul now looking imminent. Fortunately for the Saints, that return will not be this week. Kerry Wynn is a solid run defender in JPP’s place, but fails to generate pressure on the quarterback. The return of Robert Ayers Jr. helps the Giants too; he can play anywhere on the line and is their most complete non-JPP lineman. DaMontre Moore will likely return this week after being healthy scratched versus the Cowboys; his discipline will dictate his impact. Interior linemen Jonathan Hankins, Cullen Jenkins, and Jay Bromley are steady and hard to move off of blocks. The Saints’ pass rush comes primarily from Cameron Jordan. Jordan has 6.0 sacks in 7 games and the 5th year player will challenge his career best of 12.5 set in 2013. Bobby Richardson starts opposite Jordan and 17 tackles on the season. Veteran Kevin Williams is still productive at DT, as is his run-stopping partner John Jenkins. The Saints generate a lot of pressure from their linebackers as well. The Giants’ D-Line is improving, but needs to clean up its run defense to beat the Saints.
The Saints have a good group of linebackers in Stephone Anthony, Hau’oli Kikaha, and Dannell Ellerbe. Anthony and Ellerbe are the run-stoppers and Kikaha is the pass rusher; he has 4.0 sacks on the season. Veteran David Hawthorne sees lots of time as well. The Giants will be without weak-side linebacker J.T. Thomas III on Sunday, but adversity is nothing new for this unit. Jon Beason is questionable due to an ankle injury (his latest lower-body injury), but if he plays he will be a factor as he was versus Dallas, where he posted 12 tackles. Devon Kennard shouldn’t have any limitations on Sunday. Look for the Giants to utilize Kennard’s speed as a blitzer while Jonathan Casillas and Uani ‘Unga can hold down the fort while Thomas rests up. With these two teams near last in the league in terms of defense, it’s hard to give anyone the edge here.
The Saints have boast some big names in their secondary but are lacking results this year. Jairus Byrd is a Pro Bowl caliber safety and his partner Kenny Vaccaro has returned from a tough knee injury in a big way, although he is still looking for his first interception on the year. Corners Brandon Browner, Delvin Breaux, and Keenan Lewis have just 2 combined interceptions as well. Still, Browner is a proven shutdown coverage man and the Saints have no shortage of depth. The Giants are still limited without Prince Amukamara (pectoral), but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie stepped up in a big way versus the Cowboys, posting 2 interceptions, including one for a pick-six. Jayron Hosley was victimized versus Dallas; look for Brees to throw in the direction of the 5’8″ corner. Trumaine McBride and Trevin Wade are small slot corners that have been picked on this year as well. Fortunately, the Giants’ safeties, Landon Collins and Brandon Meriweather, have had the corner’s backs. Collins leads the team in tackles and Meriweather has been a revelation in his comeback from suspensions and street free agency. These teams are 29th and 30th in the league in defense. Is it really right to give anyone the “edge” here? It just feels wrong.
When were the Giants’ special teams ever truly special? Maybe not ever until now. Dwayne Harris is the return man the Giants have needed since David Wilson got injured, and kicker Josh Brown, punter Brad Wing, and snapper Zak DeOssie are consistently reliable. The Saints have a new kicker, Kai Forbath, who will make his Saints debut on Sunday. Punter and kickoff specialist Thomas Morstead is among the best, and snapper Justin Drescher has been their man for 6 years; he must be doing something right. The Saints’ primary return man is running back Marcus Murphy; the rookie averages 25 kick return yards and has brought a punt back for a touchdown. Still, the Giants’ special teams excellence gives them the edge here.
Have I already made it clear that the Giants and Saints are evenly matched teams? Despite the Giants having 2 more wins, they can’t take the Saints lightly. This could be closer game than some are projecting, but I do expect the Giants to emerge victorious.
Prediction: 30-20 Giants (Record picking Giants games: 6-1).