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Breaking Down the Giants, Passing Attack

Posted Sep 13, 2013

Independent Analyst Andrew Mason takes a look at the New York Giants, who the Broncos played on Sunday.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The worst thing you can do in preparing for an opponent is to assume that a negative outlier could become the norm. That isn't a worry for the Broncos; they know that the Giants are highly unlikely to turn over the football six times for a second consecutive game — especially considering that the chances of any team having six turnovers in a game is less than 1.5 percent.

“Other than the turnovers, they still look like a pretty good offense,” said Chris Harris.

Still, the Giants' ball-security issues didn't go unnoticed in the defensive meeting rooms and on the practice field. Denver got a pair of interceptions in Week 1, and two takeaways is satisfactory production for a single game. But all that meant was that the Broncos finished even in turnover margin; they'd like to do better, and if they can get an early takeaway from the Giants, they might gain a key psychological edge over a foe that spent the entire week answering questions and dealing with the fallout from a sextet of turnovers.

The Broncos always work on strip-the-ball drills, but such work took on extra value the last three days.

“It's that way every week,” said linebacker Wesley Woodyard, “but especially when a team fumbles the week before you play them, you always hone in on that — (thinking) hey, that's a weakness of the team. So we're definitely going to be trying to get strips and most importantly, turnovers through the pass.”

Whether it's fumbles or interceptions, an early forced turnover could nullify the tactical strengths the Giants bring to Sunday's game. That was the case last Sunday in Dallas; the Giants averaged 3.6 more yards per snap than the Cowboys and outgained them by 147 yards, but still had to scramble to a late touchdown to avoid a two-score defeat.

TARGETS GALORE

With Champ Bailey out for a second consecutive week because of a sprained foot he suffered on Aug. 17 at Seattle, the Broncos' secondary faces a greater challenge than the one it had last week. By halftime, the Ravens were without wide receiver Jacoby Jones, which added to the hits their collection of receivers and tight ends had absorbed since their Super Bowl XLVII win last February: the trade of Anquan Boldin and the training-camp hip injury to tight end Dennis Pitta left them short-handed and inexperienced.

The Giants offer no such relief heading into the game. Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and Hakeem Nicks are all healthy; all had at least 100 yards last week. If they go heavy with three wide receivers, Tony Carter will once again see plenty of work, along with expected starters Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Chris Harris.

But none of them led the Giants in targets and receptions last Sunday; that distinction belonged to Brandon Myers. In his first game with the Giants, Eli Manning targeted Myers nine times, catching seven passes for 66 yards and a last-minute touchdown.

You might remember Myers from his recent work for the Raiders. He was the red-zone target that Carson Palmer wanted to find in the first quarter of last December's game at Oakland, before Champ Bailey intercepted the pass that helped the Broncos preserve a two-score cushion.

Myers is an effective receiving tight end, especially in the red zone, but his production last week was skewed by the lax defense the Cowboys played on the Giants' last scoring drive to prevent a quick touchdown; they conceded underneath routes, allowing Myers to make four of his seven receptions. The Giants may try to give Myers heavier involvement earlier in Sunday's game, especially if their running backs remain as turnover-prone as they were last week.

But Denver can't afford to devote too much attention to the tight end when the three receivers pose such a potent threat — especially Cruz, who can control the game from the slot in the same way that Wes Welker can.

“Whether Champ (plays) or not, I know who I have: I'll be on Cruz,” said Chris Harris. “He has that two-way go, kind of like Welker, and he's able to find those open holes. He's smart, and he brings a lot of big-play ability.”

This will serve as the examination of Harris' progress after spending most of the practices the last few months lined up opposite Welker. If the daily challenge of Welker has hardened him, he should have a better chance of containing Cruz than most cornerbacks. Harris and Cruz are among the league's best undrafted success stories;

PRESSURE ON THE PASSER

New York's defense has been predicated on its ability to rush the passer in recent years, but the Giants are in a bit of a transition phase without Osi Umenyiora, who signed with the Atlanta Falcons in the offseason.

Like the Broncos, the Giants prefer to rotate their defensive linemen liberally; seven linemen played at least 39 percent of the snaps last week, and none played more than 77 percent. They finished last week with six hits of Tony Romo and two sacks on 51 pass plays; by comparison, the Broncos hit Joe Flacco eight times on 66 pass plays and finished with four sacks.

When the Giants' pass rush works, it relies upon speed and moves from the edges, usually from defensive ends Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, each of whom got to Romo last week. New York's ability to get pressure from its front four alone has helped sustain the defense in recent years, and if that is again the emphasis, the onus of protecting Peyton Manning falls upon tackles Orlando Franklin and Ryan Clady and tight end Julius Thomas. Clady and Thomas both allowed sacks last week.

“They've had great pass rushers for a while now,” Thomas said. “They've got to be accounted for. You can't go to sleep in protection. It's something we take very seriously — protecting our quarterback — and we're going to do everything we can to slow those guys down a little bit.”

It will be interesting to see if the Broncos' attempt to take the punch out of the pass rush involves more max-protection formations. These were rarely seen last week until they were in clock-chewing mode in the fourth quarter, and when they made heavy use of three-tight end sets, they ran more often than not. Instead of using two-tight end packages or other sets that keep a running back home to protect Manning, Denver could opt to use screen passes to dull the Giants' pass rush and make their ends hesitate briefly before attacking. Another option would be to emphasize short passes to Thomas; in that case, he might have more receptions than the five he amassed last week, but might not break 100 yards again with fewer opportunities to run routes down the seam.

The Giants aren't unbeatable when they attack the passer, but they do pose some difficult questions nonetheless.

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