Week 8 of the 2015 season witnessed the third highest scoring game in NFL history. The New Orleans Saints got the better end of that 52-49 contest against the New York Giants at he Superdome. History does not repeat itself in every case. No matter how similar events may appear, each event is in fact different. Let’s take a look at the possible lessons learned by the New York Giants last season. Can those lessons be used by the G-Men to change their fate in this contest?
In the 2015 meeting, Drew Brees threw for 505 yards and 7 touchdowns according to ESPN. Last week, he threw for 419 yards and four touchdowns against the Raiders. While one game was a win and the other a loss, no one can deny Brees’ ability to score and score often. His quick release and deadly aim make the Saints a formidable opponent.
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A weapon is only as good as his targets. For the Saints, Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks are potent targets indeed. In last year’s game against the Giants, the two were secondary targets, yet combined for 12 receptions for 158 yards and four touchdowns. Last week, in their loss against the Raiders, the pair caught 15 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns. Clearly, their value has increased in the past year.
On the ground, Mark Ingram is the primary grinder. The first round pick in 2011 has a career average of 4.3 yards per carry. Because of the Saint’s powerful aerial attack spreading defenses out, that average is on the rise.
Big Easy Liabilities
Aug 20, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton during a game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
As powerful as New Orleans’ offense is, the opposite is true of the defense. Perhaps Saints’ Coach Sean Payton just likes gaining large numbers. According to NFL.com, the Saints led the league with 476 points allowed all season, or 29.8 per game.
The Saints are clearly a lopsided team. Honestly, can you name any of the Saints front seven? How about the secondary? Nope, me either.
A portion of the reason for this is due to the backlash over “Bounty-Gate” that came to a head in 2012. According to ESPN, Head coach Sean Payton offered “crush-for-cash” bonuses to players for targeting specific opposing players. He was suspended for the entire 2012 season over the affair. The team was fined and lost draft picks in 2012 and 2013. Clearly, the team is still reeling from those effects.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
Following the disastrous 2015 season, the New York Giants completely retooled their defense. In addition to spending nearly $200 Million to lure Olivier Vernon, Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins and Damon “Snacks” Harrison, plenty of draft capital was also spent on defense. In addition to the free agents, three of the first four round picks were on defense.
Though the retooled Giants’ defense still has to gel, the impact of GM Jerry Reese’s investments has already begun to pay out. Last week, the Giants’ beat the Dallas Cowboy in a tight contest. After last season’s disappointing loss of six game when leading with two minutes left, this win allowed the Giants a glimmer of hope. They did not revisit the sins of last season.
Feb 24, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo speaks to the media during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
McAdoo’s Miracle Grow
If it aint broke, don’t fix it, right? While that may apply to furniture or gardening equipment, the Giants’ offense clearly does not conform to that axiom.
Though a star return specialist, Dwayne Harris was forced to provide an alternative target for Manning. The other receivers, Reuben Randall, Geremy Davis, Hakeen Nicks and Preston Parker were all liabilities. They are now gone.
This year’s prospects are much better.
After 700 days, Victor Cruz returned from injury to make the game winning touchdown. Rookie Sterling Shepard also caught a first half touchdown. Though he has had a few growing pains, Shepard has shown sparks of brilliance.
In addition to Jennings’ ground pounding, McAdoo is finally allowing RB Shane Vereen to play his game. While trading snaps with Jennings, Vereen has become an effective force out of the backfield.
Does the Offensive Line Really Have Problems?
Much angst has been caused by the offensive line. Despite being rated as one of the worst units per Pro Football Focus, they did manage to keep Manning upright. They allowed the 7th fewest sacks on any quarter back last season.
The offensive line is responsible for pass blocking and opening holes for the run game. While not individually exceptional, as a unit, the Giants’ offensive line has been quite serviceable.
Nov 1, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) at the line against the New Orleans Saints during the first half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Giants 52-49. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
While the offensive line remains the same as last season, the blocking schemes have been upgraded. By focusing on blocking angles rather than straight-up blocking, the Giants have been able to create opportunities for the weapons to exploit.
One of the surprising tricks has been in utilizing backup center Brett Jones as a full back. Tom Rock of Newsday reports that the idea for Jones’s cameo in the backfield was only brought up a few days prior to the Dallas game.
While the use of specific personnel was inspired, the idea of using the backfield to shore up blocking is not. One of the main reasons for Jennings receiving the lions share of snaps is his blocking. This implies a new view for the Giants. They are willing to use all the tools in their disposal, often in fairly unconventional (for them) ways.
Bringing it all Together
While the Saints might have a high scoring offense, their defense is suspect. Keeping Brees off the field is the best way to mitigate his talents. The Giants’ new defense may be capable of just that.
More than that though, the Giants are now a versatile offensive force. They are capable of both stretching the field or grinding down the clock with their myriad of weapons. Clearly they have the tools to dictate the flow of the game. And, therefore, their own destiny. Fate and history need not repeat themselves. Supposing so is a futile defensive mechanism for the fearful, not the Big Blue Faithful.