By SAMANTHA DESMOND
Good news Giants fans! Christmas has come early this year – or at least it should – because come Sunday afternoon, Big Blue faces off against a less-than-stellar Jacksonville squad, an almost certain victory.
It would be a welcome change of pace in a completely underwhelming season that has seen the Giants squeak out only three wins. Jacksonville, led by the struggling rookie, Blake Bortles, has managed to ink only one win in their 2014 campaign, which can only be described as a fluke victory against an rather solid Browns squad. Add Bortles’ borderline abysmal play, and even the lackluster boys in blue should have no problem putting the Jags away early.
Sunday’s game against Jacksonville is the first of a stretch of positive matchups for the Giants, and could very well set the tone for the remainder of the season. And while no game for the Giants is ever a “gimme”, execution in key areas on Sunday should propel Big Blue to their fourth win in 2014.
PROTECT ELI AT ALL COSTS
It’s no secret that the Giants’ offensive line has underperformed to heartbreaking lengths this season, but that needs to change on Sunday if the Giants want to take advantage of their floundering opponent. As Tom Coughlin pointed out in his weekly briefing, the Jags, despite their record, can be quite menacing on the defensive front. Their fairly fortified pass rush sacked Indy’s golden boy, Andrew Luck, a total of five times last week, bringing their season total to 33 sacks. The ineptitude of the offensive front for New York could be Eli Manning’s worst nightmare on Sunday, but Jacksonville’s inability to close games could leave some margin of error.
A SUCCESSFUL PASSING GAME
Eli’s success is 100 percent contingent on the play of his offensive front, which held up surprisingly well against Dallas last week. The Giants’ passing attack has been reinvigorated in recent weeks with Manning’s precision and ability to stay in the pocket for more than a fraction of second without being sacked. Add Odell Beckham Jr. and his emergence as the prime passing target, and the Giants have a legitimate threat through the air. However, the Jacksonville defense will surely look for a way to isolate Beckham and force Manning to extend plays with his legs or utilize his check downs. Ben McAdoo’s philosophy of high-percentage completions and efficiency will be tested, and should prove successful, so long as Eli can survive the pass rush to avoid excessive fourth down situations.
WILL THE REAL GIANTS DEFENSE PLEASE STAND UP?
Do you remember the last time the Giants defense dominated a game? Neither do I, and it’s not due to short-term memory loss. Big Blue’s defensive unit has been riddled with injury, ineptitude and a lack of fire, among other things. They face a plus matchup against Bortles and the Jags’ offense, which boasts few offensive weapons aside from second-year man Denard Robinson, who is averaging 4.5 yards per carry and has snatched another 25 catches for 272 yards on the year. The key to victory on defense will be stopping Robinson in his tracks and forcing Bortles, whose poor performances have drawn widespread criticism, to win the game through the air – something he has not been able to do thus far. Perry Fewell’s defense will surely look to rattle Bortles early and often.
LET JENNINGS PLAY BALL
The return of Rashad Jennings was a welcome one, especially after disappointing production from Andre Williams in his absence. Jennings, who performed relatively well against Dallas with 52 yards on 19 carries and another 68 yards on eight receptions, will be key for the offensive attack on Sunday as they look to minimize mistakes and keep Eli Manning safe in the pocket. Not only should he headline the rushing duties, but his dual-threat nature out of the backfield will be beneficial for Manning as they look to create opportunities in the passing game. While Williams is a nice compliment to Jennings in short yardage situations, letting Jennings control the run game could be a strong advantage for the Giants against Jacksonville.
Although both teams boast borderline embarrassing records, nothing is guaranteed in this league. Sunday’s matchup should be an easy win for Tom Coughlin and his Giants, but as fans of Big Blue know all too well, nothing is guaranteed – wins especially.
My prediction: Christmas has come early for the Giants, who will close this one with a win before heading into a few plus matchups to end the season. We can’t finish over 500, and are definitively out of the playoffs, so a win these days is like a gift from Santa Claus himself.