The New York Giants will be on the brink of digging themselves an early hole when they host the Detroit Lions on Monday night.
There is no shelter from the raging storm of offensive ineptitude hanging over the boys in blue right now. Odell Beckham could miss half of the season with the ankle injury he suffered in the preseason, and no other receiver has stepped up to fill the void of a No. 1 option.
Not to mention the running game is in shambles, and the offensive line struggles are giving Manning a taste of what life is like for Andrew Luck with the Indianapolis Colts. Things won’t get any easier after they face the Lions. There’s a division game against the Philadelphia Eagles, followed by another road game against the Tampa Buccaneers. Then there’s a six-game stretch where they face the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs.
Someone in a Giants uniform better bring enough rope to pull them out of this mess.
As for the Lions, things are running as smooth as head coach Jim Caldwell’s sideline demeanor. That guy never gets rattled. We’ll see if the same can be said about his quarterback, Matthew Stafford, when he matches wits with an elite Giants defense.
It’s not all bad news for the Giants. The defense is capable of taking over a game, assuming the offense doesn’t turn the football over or put them in bad field position.
The should have their hands full Stafford, who opened the season by heaving up four touchdown passes against the Arizona Cardinals defense. Consecutive wins over Manning’s Giants and Carson Palmer’s Cardinals would be a strong start for the Lions.
Here are five things to watch for in Monday night’s game.
Giants running game
The Lions can put up points in bunches, and the Giants might have to consider the option of playing keep-away on offense. That kind of game plan entails taking time off the clock by running the football more, a feat that looks impossible for the Giants at this point.
Manning was left on an island against the Cowboys defense thanks in part to the nonexistent Giants running game. There were serious concerns ahead of the season when the team opted to pass on adding any veteran talent through free agency. Now, they are stuck with Paul Perkins leading a ragtag committee of unproven backs.
The Cowboys might be underrated as a defense, but there is no excuse for a team combining for only 35 rushing yards. Perhaps things would have looked better if the backs had more carries. Perkins only had seven on the night for 16 yards.
However, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference considering the struggles on the offensive front. The running backs were swallowed up by one of the NFL’s best defensive lines. It still doesn’t mean the Giants should have abandoned the running game entirely. The Giants had no balance to their offense, and Manning was out of sync with his receivers. They’ll likely start the season off 0-2 if that trend continues against the Lions.
This is a team that had every opportunity to sign LeGarrette Blount and Adrian Peterson in the offseason.
Who will replace Beckham?
The biggest question mark surrounding the Giants these days is the health status of Beckham, who is easily the team’s best offensive player. His absence in last Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys was magnified by the lack of fire in the Giants’ offense. They looked more like a team going through the motions without their big-play star on the field.
That has to change when they go head-to-head against the offensive scoring machine that is Stafford. His offense can explode for 30-plus points on any given week. Manning’s receiving weapons can’t sit around collecting dust if the game turns into a shootout. Even with their suffocating defense, they still have to be prepared to meet fire with fire if necessary on offense.
Brandon Marshall was brought in as a secondary home-run option adjacent to Beckham, and he only had one reception for 10 yards in the season opener. It was a disappointing performance for a receiver already coming off one of the worst statistical seasons of his NFL career.
There isn’t a Ryan Fitzpatrick to put the blame on either.
Manning does need to start trusting Marshall more by putting the ball in the air and giving him opportunities to make a play. He looked too hesitant at times against the Cowboys.
That could be a combination of developing chemistry with Marshall and seeing ghosts from the defensive pressure in the pocket. The Giants better arrange a séance for Manning—whatever it takes—because they can’t function on offense with an indecisive quarterback.
As for the receivers, the most effective players on the field were Roger Lewis, an undrafted second-year player, and third-down running back Shane Vereen.
B.J. Goodson becoming a force on defense
B.J. Goodson was the silver lining in the loss to the Cowboys. Whenever a tackle needed to be made, the second-year linebacker’s jersey was somewhere in the pile. He was a one-man wrecking crew on defense, doubling every other player on the field with 18 tackles.
It has been quite the turnaround for a player that didn’t even start in a game a year ago.
While we definitely don’t want to diminish his sensational primetime performance, Goodson still has some work to do to prove he can be a consistent contributor on defense. Dealing with Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott was already a handful, and things won’t get any easier with Stafford and his versatile running backs.
Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah have quietly formed a nice little one-two punch combination coming out of the Lions’ offensive backfield. They also provide Stafford with a pair of security blankets. Both are capable of chewing up yards on the ground and catching dump off passes across the middle. That likely means another busy day for Goodson.
He’s been up for the challenge so far.
Matthew Stafford vs. Giants defense
It’ll be an interesting chess match between Steve Spagnuolo’s defense and Jim Bob Cooter’s offense.
The struggles on offense will put even more pressure on the Giants’ defense to slow down Stafford since there is no surefire way to stop a quarterback that averages over 4,000 passing yards a season.
Along with his versatile running backs, Stafford has plenty of firepower at receiver with Golden Tate, rookie Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. He even has a viable receiving option with tight end Eric Ebron, who caught 61 receptions for 711 yards last season.
However, there is talent across the board on a Giants defense that is capable of making Stafford look human. The true test will be if the receivers for the Lions can get separation from defenders.
That Giants secondary is a sea of awaiting pain and confusion with Landon Collins, Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple and Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie lurking back there.
Early tests for Jarrad Davis
Jarrad Davis is the Lions’ answer to Goodson.
The rookie linebacker was flying all over the field against the Cardinals offense last week. He finished the game with a team-high nine tackles and a fumble recovery. In back-to-back games, he’ll have a chance to cut his teeth against two strong veteran quarterbacks.
Manning targeted Vereen more than any other player on the Giants offense. That trend should continue if Beckham isn’t available and Marshall continues to struggle. It’ll give Davis a chance to show off some of that versatility that made him a first-round draft pick. He can clog up the front line as a run-stuffer and step back to defend the pass.
The Lions definitely have problems on defense, but middle linebacker isn’t one of them, not when Davis is on the field.
He’s the first rookie to start at that position for the franchise since Chris Spielman in 1988.
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