In last week’s disappointing loss to the Cowboys, the weakness in the Giants defense was exposed by Tony Romo’s fleet feet as he scrambled away from every New York blitz package. And Terrell Owens was able to get behind the one-on-one coverage presented by New York’s corners all game long. In short, Dallas exploited the flaws in what had seemed an impressive Giants defense.
When coordinator Steve Spagnuolo sends Giants defenders out on to Ford Field against the 6-3 Lions, they’re going to deal with a similarly potent passing offense that they’ll have to contain in a must-win game. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz, formerly the architect of the Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis, coordinates a Detroit attack that averages 24.6 points a game and 30.6 on their home field, not to mention 271.6 yards through the air. Luckily, New York only has to concentrate on the aerial assault: the Lions hardly run the ball (they’ve run 186 times, last in the league) and starting back Kevin Jones is banged up. And last week, in a loss to the Cardinals, they ran only 8 running plays—for 18 yards.
But it’s not as simple as ignoring the run and pressuring quarterback Jon Kitna with Spagnuolo’s patented variety of blitzes. According to a receiver who played under Martz with the Rams, the coordinator’s offense is built around flooding the secondary with receivers, including tight ends and running backs. Kitna simply has to get rid of the ball quickly to those receivers, including, as that same wideout points out, one short pattern in case the quarterback needs to bail himself out on a blitz. The Giants will have to be vigilant sticking to their assignments, especially because Martz will send multiple receivers into the same zone on the field to confuse safeties and cornerbacks in coverage.
With all of that activity downfield and the lack of extra blocking against the pass rush, the Lions are prone to the one thing the Giants have delivered this season: sacks. Detroit has allowed a league-high 40 so far this year. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Spagnuolo can send his usual array of blitzes. With a lack of protection on the offensive line, Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan (who will have his way with tackle George Foster, league-leader in false-start penalties) will have plenty of one-on-one situations to exploit throughout the game. Spagnuolo should put the linebackers into coverage underneath the secondary instead of sending them in to distract Kitna, who doesn’t scramble like Romo but can still get a pass off through traffic.
But the deciding factor in this contest may well be the cornerbacks. Sam Madison looked slow on coverage last week and made game-changing mistakes, including his bump of Owens at the line that resulted in an easy touchdown. He’ll be facing the Lions’ best receiver, Roy Williams.
Breakout rookie Aaron Ross made a nice diving deflection of a pass meant for Owens underneath in the first half of the loss to the Cowboys and looks stronger in coverage every week. Nickel back Kevin Dockery has shown inconsistency and he’ll have his hands full against Mike Furrey, rookie sensation Calvin Johnson, or veteran Shaun McDonald, depending on where those three line up. Martz has a tendency to pick on one weakness early in the game and will probably look to Williams against Madison.
The hope for the Giants is that their “four aces” (Strahan, Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka) can generate enough pressure to force Kitna into bad throws or to gather multiple sacks so the aforementioned weakness in the secondary won’t be exposed by the Lions’ passing game.