The NFC East-leading New York Giants are using opportunistic plays on defense to produce the league’s best turnover margin.
Turnovers were a major reason why the New Orleans Saints got off to a 1-4 start, but they have held a decisive edge in that category in consecutive victories since.
Both teams are emphasizing limiting their mistakes heading into Sunday’s contest at the Superdome in which Giants stars Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. will play in their hometown.
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It’s hard to believe that New York (4-3) has a winning record since it ranks 27th in total offense with 349.3 yards per game and 29th in total defense, allowing an average of 410.3 yards.
The Giants’ success has been predicated on a league-best plus-10 turnover margin. They took the ball away four times last Sunday without committing a turnover in a 27-20 home win over Dallas.
Though turnovers are hard to count on through 16 games, coach Tom Coughlin doesn’t believe his team has been lucky.
"It had nothing to do with luck, it had to do with us being in the right spot at the right time," he said. "Again, I attribute that to the turnovers and to the lack of penalties and us not turning it over – that’s not luck, there’s a lot of hard work involved in that."
New Orleans (3-4) was at minus-5 through five games but is now even for the season after winning 31-21 over Atlanta on Oct. 15 and 27-21 at Indianapolis last Sunday. The Saints recovered three fumbles against the Falcons and came up with their third and fourth interceptions of the season versus the Colts.
"It is just something that has been a big point of emphasis and I would say that after a few weeks, it became a bigger one with us," coach Sean Payton said. "It is good news that it is trending that way and it is going to have to continue if we’re going to continue to want to have success."
The Saints have gotten five sacks in the last two games by Cameron Jordan.
”I can’t be more proud of the D-line and the way we’re playing right now,” Jordan said. ”We’re dealing with a lot of growing pains, but at the same time we’re overcoming a lot of different things.”
Jordan will be a concern for Manning, who has lost his only two trips to the Superdome with the Giants by an aggregate score of 97-51.
Manning may not be the most popular New Orleans native to come back this weekend since Beckham will play there for the first time as a professional. Beckham had a season-low four receptions for 35 yards and no TDs last weekend, though he’s hoping to making a splash in this contest.
"It’s definitely going to fun being able to go back home, a place that I always wanted to really play in back in high school, you want to get to the state championship, and had a chance to play in it one time but it didn’t pan out the way we wanted it to," Beckham said. "I’m definitely excited to go back."
Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will return for the first time after serving in that role for the Saints in 2012 when New Orleans allowed 452.3 yards per game for the worst mark in NFL history.
Spagnuolo’s pass rush has produced nine sacks for the league’s second-lowest mark. That unit received good news since Jason Pierre-Paul is finally back more than three months after losing a finger in a July 4 fireworks accident, though it’s unclear when the defensive end will play again.
New York is conceding that Drew Brees and company will be able to move the ball. Brees, who is fifth in the NFL with 1,871 passing yards, has thrown for 732 yards and eight TDs in two games at the Superdome versus the Giants.
"They’re going to make some plays, there’s no doubt about that," Coughlin said. "They average 385 yards a game, and that’s with a 3-4 record. So they’re going to make some plays, it’s just can you take some of those plays away?"
Neither team has an impressive rushing attack, with both averaging fewer than 100 yards. Both defenses are vulnerable against the run, with New Orleans surrendering an average of 129.1 yards and New York 113.4 – including 171.7 in its last three games.