3TFO: Giants @ Lions, Week 16
You could say the Giants’ playoff chances were crippled way back in Week 3, when a 38-0 loss to the Panthers exposed all of the inadequacies that would sink Big Blue to an 0-6 start. New York regained a faint mid-season heartbeat, but finally came full circle Sunday in a 23-0 loss to the Seahawks. For the first time in a long-time, the Giants are a non-factor in the December playoff push.
The Lions impending demise has been much more dramatic. Since they started 6-3 and watched the Packers and Bears both lose their starting quarterbacks to injury, Detroit has been the assumed winner of the NFC North. But they’ve lost four of their last five games, despite holding a fourth quarter lead in every single contest. Now, they no longer control their path to the playoffs and may even be eliminated if Green Bay and Chicago both win this weekend.
While I’ll let you decide whether it’s tougher to be a Giants or Lions fan this season, here are three matchups that may determine which team will make their supporters a little bit happier this Sunday.
Both quarterbacks should enter this game with one top priority on their minds: avoiding turnovers. After five interceptions versus the Seahawks, Eli Manning now has a league-leading 27 giveaways this season. Matthew Stafford isn’t far behind him, with 21 after his three picks versus the Ravens. But that’s where their similarities end.
Only five quarterbacks had a higher pass grade than Manning last season, but he’s fallen to a negative mark this year. His reputation for struggling versus the blitz, erroneous in the past, is completely valid now. In the previous three seasons Manning had a 96.7 passer rating and +31.1 grade when the defense sent extra rushers at him, but he’s at a 55.5 rating and -9.1 grade this season. The Giants’ offensive line has been shaky for years, but no quarterback in the league was better at getting rid of the ball than Manning. Despite consistently being under duress, his 10.8% sack rate on pressures from 2010-2012 was the lowest of any starting quarterback. Not so this season, as his 16.1% sack rate is simply average, and combined with the further deterioration of New York’s line has resulted in bunches of drive-killing losses. Once very successful in offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride’s option route-heavy offense, Manning just has not been on the same page as his receivers this season.
Stafford, though often plagued by the same turnover bug, has the league’s fourth-highest pass grade this season. He still earned a positive grade last week despite his three interceptions, as the first two were rather unfortunate. That bad luck has been with him all season, as his 54 completions and 492 yards on dropped passes are both the highest marks in the NFL. Stafford’s biggest downfall comes when he resorts to old habits and poor form when he is under pressure, as then his Accuracy Percentage falls to one of the worst rates in the league and his seven interceptions are tied for the sixth-most among passers. But when he’s given a clean pocket, Stafford eviscerates defenses to the tune of a +28.8 grade. Whereas both are prone to huge mistakes, Stafford has been much better at offsetting them with big plays than Manning has.
Megatron Going Long
You don’t need hours of film study to realize that Calvin Johnson is one of the best players in the NFL. His 2.79 Yards Per Route Run is the highest rate for any wide receiver with over 15 targets this season; he’s not just one of the most prolific receivers in the league, he’s also the most efficient. Sometimes it seems that the only person who can stop him is himself, as his two big dropped passes last week showed. A reminder that Megatron is in fact human, his Drop Rate has jumped to 10.6% in the last two seasons after being a solid 7.0% the previous three. Johnson is a big downfield target for Stafford, as his 36 Deep Passing targets are second only to Torrey Smith. He’s only caught 10 of them, but with an average of 37.1 yards and four total touchdowns, he’s made those 10 count. But those deep targets have also brought five interceptions, tied for most of any receiver in the league, and that’s what the Giants hope to capitalize on this Sunday.
New York has been relatively solid against the deep ball this season, and much of that is thanks to the dynamic duo of Will Hill and Antrel Rolle. Rolle has gotten Pro Bowl buzz thanks to his league-leading six interceptions, but it’s Hill who owns the seventh-best coverage grade of any safety. They’ve been particularly excellent the 11 times they’ve had to defend a deep target, allowing just two receptions for 49 yards and zero touchdowns while picking off three passes. Johnson has used his size and strength to force 13 missed tackles, tied for seventh-most among receivers. But Hill has only missed one tackle in the passing game all season, and Rolle has missed just three after a rough September. The Giants won’t stop Megatron, but they can contain him if their two standout safeties stay disciplined in coverage.
Giants Interior O-Line vs. Suh & Fairley
The Detroit offense will not need to produce much if the biggest mismatch of this game plays out like it threatens to. The Giants’ interior offensive line has been ravaged by injuries and poor performance this season, and now it has to face the best defensive tackle group in the NFL. Right guard Chris Snee had a bad start to the season before hitting the injured reserve list, and David Diehl has yet to register a positive pass block grade filling in for him. The Giants are also down to their third center after David Baas and Jim Cordle both suffered season-ending injuries. Kevin Boothe slid over from his usual left guard spot and did a great job in his first start against the Cowboys, but has a -6.2 grade in the three weeks since. James Brewer took Boothe’s place at left guard, but was benched after allowing 12 pressures in his first two starts and then looking lost in the run game versus Seattle. As a testament to how far the Giants run blocking has fallen, New York had a combined negative-1 rushing yards before contact last week.
Granted, stopping the likes of Brandon Mebane and Tony McDaniel is a tall order for any interior line, but the challenge gets even tougher this week against Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Those who still judge defensive linemen solely by sacks might think this duo is having a mediocre year, but nothing could be further from the truth. Though they’ve combined for just nine sacks, their 23 quarterback hits are more than any other team’s entire defensive tackle group combined. Suh’s 64 quarterback pressures are second at his position only to Gerald McCoy. The Lions defensive tackle group as a whole has 117 pressures, 19 more than any other team’s. And though Suh has been a very one-dimensional player in the past, he’s finally balanced his game with a run defense grade that’s tied for 11th among defensive tackles. As far as potential matchups go, you don’t get more lopsided than this one.
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