If you've paid much attention to the New York Giants this season, you'll notice one thing that sticks out above all others: the determining factor in all of their games was the success, or lack thereof, of their pass protection and pass rush. Their strength on defense is their front four. On offense, Eli Manning is their strength. But he only plays ELIte when he has great protection. They've made inexcusable, inexplicable errors at critical times in nearly every game. The Giants haven't dominated anyone, but they haven't been subjugated either. Almost every game came down to the last possession; you'd expect as much from a Tom Coughlin coached team.
Most surprising is the Giants inability to establish the run. This is a far departure from the identity they would prefer to have. When the offensive line gives Eli good protection, the Giants usually win, but with very little help from their running game. When the offensive line looks horrible (about every other week), Eli either pulls a rabbit out of his hat or is rendered ineffective due to a one-dimensional offense that can't convert on third and short. Their wins are much closer than they should be, and their losses are the types that cause fans coronaries.
The G-Men have lost two in a row now, while the Saints are on a two-game winning streak. Like most games, this one will likely be determined by who wins the battle at the line of scrimmage. New York is desperate right now. On Tuesday (normally an off day), most of the team was in the facility watching extra film and chomping at the bit to get back on the field against the Saints and show that they are a better team (according to David Diel, who co-hosts Sirius Late Hits). Which Giants team will show up? The one who beat a Tom Brady-led Patriots team in Foxboro to a script reminiscent of their recent Super Bowl meeting? Or will it be the team who struggled at the point of attack against the Seahawks, Rams, and Eagles?
I'll let you in on a secret: it doesn't matter. While New York's defensive line can make its presence known or not, they don't have the answer to a Drew Brees-led exploitation of their "back seven." Simply put, the Giants pass rush may have a good night, but it won't be enough. You've seen a Rams team dominate the Saints offensive line, but unlike the Rams, the Giants don't have good linebackers.
The significance is that Drew will be able to dump the ball off quickly and nullify the pass rush more times than not. The depth at LB for the Giants lacks the ability and experience to dominate sideline to sideline. When Drew dumps it off, expect yards after the catch. When Drew throws a slant, expect a nice gain. Saints historians might have to break out the record books, because come Monday night, the Saints will be fielding the better group of linebackers and I can't remember the last time that occurred.
Do you remember the last time the Giants and Saints played each other? Both were undefeated, and the Giants came into the game looking dominant on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Yet coming off the bye week, Drew Brees carved up the New York secondary and quickly took away the Giants prerogative to run. I expect this game to be very similar. The Giants are still just as weak in the secondary and at linebacker, while the Saints offense is still able to take full advantage of the matchup problems they'll create by design and athletic ability. The biggest difference is that the Giants are coming into this game without the much heralded rushing attack they took into the 2009 contest.
This game may turn into a shootout early. The Gregg Williams blitzes may be more successful against New York's offensive line, especially if they struggle to get Brandon Jacobs going. I can easily see this game as close in the first half, while the Saints gain separation in the third quarter. I do not believe Eli and his passing offense can keep pace with Drew Brees. This combination of the Giants pass rush and the Saints pass defense will keep this game close until the Saints figure out New York's blocking scheme, at which point the Giants will fall behind. How quickly this occurs depends solely on how soon New Orleans can win the battle at the point of attack on both sides of the ball. I believe the Saints will win by a double digit margin, 38 to 24.
1st Saints - 31.3 points per game, 437 yards per game, 6.3 yards per play, 53% 3rd down conversion, 32:04 Time of Possession, -5 turnover margin
13. Giants - 22.8 ppg, 365 ypg, 5.7 ypp, 36% 3rd down, 29:35 TOP, +7 turnovers
1st Saints - 319 ypg, 7.9 yards per attempt, 70.2% completion, 23 TDs, 11 INTs, (38) 20+ yard pass completion, 19 sacks given up, 101.3 QB rating
5. Giants - 281 ypg, 8.3 ypa, 62.0% completion, 18 TDs, 9 INTs, (42) 20+ yard passes, 19 sacks, 94.7 QB rating
13. Saints - 118 ypg, 4.6 yards per carry, 9 TDs, 2 fumbles, (8) 20+ yard runs
31. Giants - 83 ypg, 3.2 ypc, 9 TDs, 2 fumbles, (2) 20+ yard runs
20. Saints - 22.8 ppg, 361 ypg, 5.7 ypp, 35% 3rd down conversions allowed, 4 fumble recoveries
21. Giants - 22.8 ppg, 362 ypg, 5.5 ypp, 36% 3rd down conversions allowed, 8 fumble recoveries
18. Giants - 239 ypg, 7.5 ypa, 60.5% completion, 12 TDs, 14 INTs, (36) 20+ yard pass completions allowed, 31 sacks, 78.3 opposing QB rating
19. Saints - 240 ypg, 6.7 ypa, 55.4% completion, 16 TDs, 5 INTs, (28) 20+ yard passes, 21 sacks, 84.8 opp. QB rating
Rush Defense -
19. Saints - 121 ypg, 5.2 ypc, 7 TDs, 5 forced fumbles, (11) 20+ yard runs allowed
21. Giants - 123 ypg, 4.5 ypc, 10 TDs, 8 forced fumbles, (8) 20+ yard runs allowed
Overall Statistical Comparison: On defense, both teams are eerily similar. The biggest difference is the Giants pass rush from their front four. The second biggest difference is the secondary. While the Giants have a better pass rush, they give up more big plays with fewer attempts per game. While they may have success getting to Drew Brees, Brees will have more success getting to their defensive backs.
On offense, each quarterback has been playing at a high level. They both have a 2:1 TD to INT ratio and rank near the top with explosive (20+ yard) pass plays. The difference is the Saints ability (and Giants inability) to run the ball. The Giants have been banged up at RB, but before injuries began to take a toll, the offensive line just hasn't gotten in a groove opening up holes. Their 3.16 yards per carry ranks dead last in the NFL, which is a good thing because the 5.2 yards per rush the Saints defense allows ranks dead last as well.
In summation, while the Giants rushing attack and Saints rushing defense features weakness versus weakness, the difference will be Drew Brees versus a weak Giants secondary. They give up nearly the same yardage as the Saints secondary but more explosive plays, and that's with the benefit of the No. 1 ranked pass rush. Simply put, they may get to Drew, but it won't be enough.