Seen by many, myself included, as a preseason contender, things haven’t gone to plan for the New York Giants. Five games in and the team remain winless as injuries and chronic under-performance have everyone sweating about their future. It’s a different story in Chicago, but the pressure has started to crank up after two defeats on the bounce put paid to their perfect start to the year. Was it a blip against talented opposition? Or was their start to the year the aberration? We look at three match ups that could play a role in answering that.
The Bad Beatty
When the Giants handed William Beatty a five-year deal worth $37.5m it seemed a shrewd investment. Not as well thought of because of guys who had been drafted higher, he had nonetheless proven himself a very good player. You don’t finish the year our eighth-ranked left tackle in 2012 (ahead of guys like Russell Okung, Eugene Monroe, and Trent Williams) without having more than a bit of something about you.
However, he’s been like a different player this year, and that’s for the worse. At the moment he’s sitting on a -9.3 grade, which is the sixth-lowest of all left tackles, with his pass protection being the major problem. He has the sixth-worst pass blocking efficiency score (90.9) of all offensive tackles and it doesn’t help the team that one of the guys with a lower number is Justin Pugh (90.4). All of which points to a big day for the Bears’ defensive ends.
Chiefly that means Julius Peppers (+3.0 on the year), who has so far hit some highs and lows with his play as he struggles for consistency. If the first five weeks of the season are anything to go by, he can expect a lot of Beatty with 81.3% of his pass rushing coming from the right. He certainly has something to prove as he’s yet to have more than four hurries in a single game, but if any game is the time to do it, it’s this one.
A Banged Up Secondary
It doesn’t get any better for the Giants when you look at the key match-up on the defensive side of the ball. Their ailing secondary is going to have to find a way to slow down the trio of Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Earl Bennett. The Bears have favored the 11-personnel grouping on 44.6% of their offensive plays, so expect a heavy dose of all three, with just 13 snaps afforded to the other receivers on their roster.
Obviously the two to cause the biggest headaches will be Jeffery (+7.6) and Marshall (+7.2), and both men are in the kind of form that should cause problems. Jeffery, with 6.06 yards per route run against the Saints, is coming off the most productive game for any receiver this year and provides the kind of alternative that means Marshall himself won’t see quite so much defensive attention. And that is where the Bears could really capitalize.
So far this year Marshall has run 51.3% of his routes from the slot, and that creates a matchup problem for the Giants. Right now it’s not obviously clear who they’ll have manning the slot but the options don’t fill you with joy. At the start of the year that man was Terrell Thomas but he only got on the field for one snap versus the Eagles, with the team using Antrel Rolle in the spot. Needless to say it did not go well for Rolle who earned his -2.8 grade in coverage. The other option would be for the team to have a cornerback shadow Marshall, and in the past this is something they might have considered with the now fit again Corey Webster. But his play has dropped off the past two years to the point you just couldn’t do that anymore (nor did the Giants earlier in the year). Look for the Bears to take full advantage of this unless Marshall receives bracket coverage, and if he does look for the physical Jeffery to make the Giants pay for that decision.
Making Them Pay up the Middle
It’s not all bad for the Giants, and it wasn’t against the Eagles. The previously excellent Jason Kelce was given a hard time by the ability of the Giants’ defensive tackles to stunt and get off the snap exceptionally quickly. It saw them get in the backfield on numerous occasions and leave LeSean McCoy averaging a seasons worst 2.3 yards per carry.
So the onus is on those big bodies to do the same against the Bears’ front line. While the team has struggled to generate any sort of consistent pass rush they have delivered the goods against the run, led by former Eagle Mike Patterson (+9.0 run defense). His 10 defensive stops against the run are second most of all defensive tackles, with the rest of the unit combining for a not too shabby 20 (including four on 21 run snaps from debutant Johnathan Hankins last Sunday).
That poses a big problem for the Bears line that, outside of a couple of big runs, would have Matt Forte averaging 3.4 yards per carry — not the kind of consistent number that is likely to get you into favorable down and distances. Given that the last two centers the Giants have faced have combined for a -12.0 grade that means a lot falls on the veteran shoulders of Roberto Garza (+2.4), our 11th-ranked center on the year. Outside of some problems with Detroit he’s been the definition of solid but the variety and depth the Giants have defensive tackle are sure to test him.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled