The New York Giants are coming off an uplifting Monday Night Football win in San Francisco in which quarterback Eli Manning threw three touchdowns and was not picked off, and in which he enjoyed better-than-usual protection from an embattled offensive line. The Giants improved to 2-7 with the victory and are trying to heed wide receiver Odell Beckham's call to close out the season with eight straight wins. The Buccaneers are trying to snap a three-game losing streak that has dropped their record to 3-6, and they'll head to the Meadowlands this Sunday looking for their first road win since opening day in New Orleans.
Even after scoring 27 points in San Francisco the Giants are averaging just 19.7 points per game. The New York defense is allowing 25.3 points per game, and the resulting per-game scoring differential of -5.7 points is tied for 26th in the league. Despite the obvious talents of second-overall pick Saquon Barkley, the Giants are second-to-last in the NFL with 80.0 rushing yards per game, but a passing attack that features Beckham, tight end Evan Engram and wide receiver Sterling Shepard is putting up 264.8 yards per game, 16th in the league. Here's a closer look at some of the challenges the Buccaneers will face against the Giants on Sunday:
Each week during the season, Head Coach Dirk Koetter puts together a specific video package to show to his players called "Game-Wreckers." The clips are meant to identify the three or four players on the opposing team who are likely to make the big plays that most affect the game's outcome. The Buccaneers know they have to limit the damage inflicted by these game-wreckers if they are going to come out on top.
Koetter's cut-up is an internal tool for his team and it is not shared publicly, though he does occasionally note an opposing game-wrecker or two during media sessions. Below are four players who might be on this week's tape.
1. WR Odell Beckham. After injuries robbed the supremely-talented Beckham of all but four games in 2017, he has returned fully to the Pro Bowl form of his first three seasons in 2018. Beckham ranks sixth in the NFL in both receptions (65) and receiving yards (858) and he's averaging 95.3 yards per game, just a bit above his career average. Beckham's speed, quickness and sudden movements make him one of the hardest players in the league to stick to in man-to-man coverage, but he's also dangerous against zone coverage with his elite run-after-the-catch skills. And, of course, all one needs to know about Beckham's hands they can glean from one of the most famous catches of all time.
2. LB Olivier Vernon. Vernon has just one sack so far this year and the Giants' defense as a whole has had difficulty putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Of course, injuries forced Vernon to miss the first five games of the season, so he is still rounding into midseason form. New York gave the former Dolphin a monster contract in 2016 after he had racked up 29 sacks over four seasons in Miami, and in his first two years as a Giant he record 15 more QB takedowns. Vernon, who plays the WILL linebacker position in New York's 3-4 front, also had three forced fumbles over the previous two seasons.
3. RB Saquon Barkley. The second-overall pick in this year's draft, Barkley has been an unqualified success as a rookie. He's already topped 500 yards both on the ground (586 rushing yards) and through the air (530 receiving yards), he's averaging 4.5 yards per tote and he has scored seven times. The former Penn State star has already put together an impressive highlight reel of runs involving multiple flummoxed and leapt-over defenders, and he can also take a simple break through the line to the end zone with his top-end speed. Barkley has already scored four touchdowns this season on plays of 50 or more yards, two each in the rushing and passing games.
4. S Landon Collins. The first pick of the second round in 2015, Collins emerged as a star in his second season, earning All-Pro honors in 2016 and Pro Bowl berths each of the last two campaigns. A punishing hitter, Collins is far and away the Giants' leading tackler with 71 stops. The Alabama product is also a force in coverage, with eight interceptions through his first three seasons. Collins hasn't picked off a pass yet in 2018 but he has broken up four passes and forced a fumble.
New York's offense ranks around the middle of the NFL pack in most categories but it has done a good job of protecting the football, turning it over just nine times in nine games. The Giants are 20th in the NFL in scoring defense but have been excellent in the red zone, allowing a touchdown rate of just 43.8% to rank third in the league. Here are some other areas in which the Giants have excelled so far this season:
· The Giants' defense is giving up 244.7 passing yards per game but is not commonly getting burned by the deep ball. When throwing the football more than 20 yards in the air, opposing quarterbacks have compiled a passer rating of 72.7, the seventh-lowest in the NFL. New York is allowing just 31.3% of such passes to be completed.
· Second-year kicker Aldrick Rosas is having an outstanding season. He has made all 12 of his extra point tries and is 19 of 20 on field goal attempts, putting the Giants in a tie for fourth in the NFL in field goal percentage. Rosas' only miss came from beyond 50 yards and he's 13-13 from 30-49 yards.
· Defenses tasked with stopping the Giants' offense still have to worry about the run on second down even after getting a good stop on first down. New York is averaging 5.0 yards per carry on second-down runs, the fifth-highest mark in the NFL. Thanks primarily to Barkley, eight of the Giants' 57 runs on second down have broken out for 10 or more yards.
· New York's run defense ranks 25th in the NFL overall, but the Giants have kept a high percentage of runs against them from being successful plays. Opponents are getting four or more yards on just 41.5% of their runs, which is the ninth-lowest mark among all NFL defenses.
As noted above, the Giants' defense is not getting much pressure on opposing passers, with a sacks-per-pass-play rate of 3.19% that ranks second-to-last in the NFL. The New York offense has struggled in the red zone, getting a touchdown on just 41.4% of its trips inside the 20. In addition:
· It's a good thing that the Giants can run well on second down (see Strengths above) because their offense has really struggled on first down. The Giants have gained four or more yards on just 37.2% of their first downs, which is the lowest success rate in the NFL. The league average is 49.4%.
· New York's kicking game has been good (in addition to kicker Aldrick Rosas' success, punter is having an outstanding season) but the Giants haven't gotten much out of the return game. Four different players, including Beckham, have combined to give the team a punt return average of just 4.4 yards, which ranks last in the NFL.
· The New York defense has been susceptible to the run when opponents reach its red zone. Opponents are averaging 14.8 rushing yards per game in the Giants' red zone, which is the third-highest total against any team in the league. New York is also giving up 3.91 yards per tote in that part of the field, second-worst in the NFL.
· As dynamic a runner as Barkley is, his search for the big play has led to a bit too many negative-yardage runs. The Giants have been stopped for a loss on 24 of their 172 rushing plays, or 14.1% of all tries, and that is the second-highest such percentage in the league.
NEW FACES IN 2018
The Giants surprised some by passing on this year's deep crop of quarterbacks in the draft and opting for Barkley, who we've already discussed at length, at pick number two. New York also used the third-round pick they got from the Buccaneers in the Jason Pierre-Paul trade to add a new piece to the defensive front, our first player noted below.
1. DT B.J. Hill. The North Carolina State product has stepped right into the starting lineup as one of the team's three down linemen and he is tied for the team lead with two sacks. The rookie also has three tackles for loss and a pass defensed.
2. G Jamon Brown. The Giants signed this former Rams blocker on Halloween and had him in the starting lineup 12 days later against the 49ers, replacing the departed Patrick Omameh. Brown was lauded for his play as the Giants' new-look line allowed only one sack of Manning in San Francisco. New York is also starting rookie second-rounder Will Hernandez at the other guard spot.
3. CB Grant Haley. After trading CB Eli Apple to New Orleans at the deadline, the Giants promoted this undrafted free agent from the practice squad and made him the primary nickel back. Haley has started two of the three games in which he's played and has six tackles, a pass defensed and a tackle for loss.
1. DE Jason Pierre-Paul. Pierre-Paul won't be absent from Sunday's game, actually, but he'll be wearing the visitors' colors. The Giants traded their two-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher to the Bucs in the offseason and have had trouble rushing the passer in 2018.
2. LB B.J. Goodson. One of the two inside 'backers in the Giants' 3-4 front, Goodson sustained a shoulder injury in the Monday night win in San Francisco, giving him one fewer day to return in time to face the Buccaneers on Sunday. Goodson
3. WR Cody Latimer. Latimer gave the Giants something of a deep threat in the early going, with six catches for 108 yards (18.0 avg.) in the first four games of the season, but he is now on injured reserve with a hamstring ailment.