Here are the New York Giants again on the Patriots' schedule, looming as the only team in the NFL that hasn't lost to the Patriots since 2008.
Tom Coughlin is 5-1 all-time against Bill Belichick and New England hasn't beaten New York since the 2007 regular season.
But Sunday brings the Patriots' fourth road game of the season and the Giants' fifth home game of the season. It is the fifth time, including the postseason, the teams have squared off in the last eight seasons.
The Giants have highs and lows this season, struggling to find consistency and put together a complete defensive performance.
They started the season by losing two straight to the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons before rattling off three straight wins against the Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills, and San Francisco 49ers.
New York then split its next four: loss at Philadelphia, win against Dallas, loss at New Orleans, win at Tampa Bay.
The Giants are trying to pull further ahead in the NFC East standings and continue their magic over the Patriots.
"I think I just happen to catch them on the right day," quarterback Eli Manning said on a conference call Wednesday. "We've played some close games, our defense has played outstanding against them in the games, and so we've had the opportunity to get the ball back with just enough time to go get a score. We've been able to make some plays in that situation. They've all been tight games, could've gone either way, and we just found a way to pull them out."
Here is a look at how the teams match up statistically:
|Points per game||34.5||1||27.4||4|
|Margin of victory||16.6||1||2.3||14|
|Yards per game||420.2||2||349.7||21|
|Yards per play||6.3||2||5.4||T-18|
|Rush yards per game||94.8||26||96.7||24|
|Pass yards per game||325.5||3||253||14|
|Third-down conversions||48 percent||T-1||41 percent||13|
|Time of possession||30:26:00||16||28:32:00||28|
|Points per game||17.9||5||25.1||19|
|Yards per game||334||8||422.8||32|
|Yards per play||5.2||T-7||6.1||31|
|Rush yards per game||89.2||3||114.8||23|
|Pass yards per game||244.8||16||307.8||31|
|Third-down conversion||41 precent||T-23||48 percent||T-31|
Run it up
The Giants went the first four games of the season without allowing an opponent to rush for more than 90 yards. Their run defense ranked in the top five of the league, allowing 69.7 yards per game and 3.1 yards per carry.
Then, in Week 5, something changed. In its last five contests — against the 49ers, Eagles, Cowboys, Saints, and Buccaneers — New York has surrendered 754 yards on the ground, 150.8 per game.
The run defense is leaky, plummeting to 21st in the league and giving up more than 7 yards per carry in second- and-third-and-long situations. The Giants are missing tackles, misdiagnosing plays, shooting the wrong gaps, and simply failing to bring down ballcarriers.
"We've got to do a better job of holding the point, of being where we're supposed to be from a gap responsibility, of recognizing the style run that's coming," Coughlin said at the end of last month, before his defense gave up nearly a combined 1,000 total yards to New Orleans and Tampa Bay. "We lost leverage on the corner consistently."
Coughlin was referring to the Giants' outing against the Cowboys, in which they yielded 233 yards on the ground, a season high. Dallas pounded the ball at New York, running 41 times, compared to 24 passes. Fourteen of those runs were to the edges, according to Bleacher Report's Patricia Traina. Six of those 14 edge runs gained at least 10 yards.
Traina thoroughly diagnosed the Giants' run game issues:
"The first thing the defensive front needs is to make sure the defensive ends are playing honest assignment football," Traina wrote on Oct. 29. "The second thing is to make sure the interior linemen leave paths for the linebackers and safeties to fill the holes. That one extra split-second or two in which a linebacker or safety has to make a detour around a fallen defensive tackle can and does make a difference. The third, and obvious fix is improved tackling."
To make matters worse for the Giants, defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins is out for the rest of the season after tearing a pectoral muscle against the Buccaneers in Week 9. He was a key cog in the run defense and his absence forced the team to sign defensive tackle Montori Hughes from the practice squad this week.
"It is easy not to notice Hankins, even at 320 pounds, because he plays his assignment, plays the run, takes on double-team blocks to free up others and gets in position to make tackles," the New York Post's Paul Schwartz wrote this week.
"Cullen Jenkins will likely have to play more inside at tackle — a move he can make more freely now that [Jason] Pierre-Paul is back. Finding increased snaps for Markus Kuhn is not necessarily the answer. The key here is Jay Bromley, a second-year defensive tackle from Syracuse. He's a 2014 third-round pick and he needs to accelerate his development, because the Giants need him now, not later."
Air it out
The saving grace for the Giants defense is not in the passing game either. The secondary has been far from a no-fly zone.
Every opponent New York has faced has reached at least the 220-yard mark (the league average is 249 yards per game). The Giants have faced the most pass plays in the league (368), given up the most passing yards (2,770), and allowed 36 pass plays of 20 or more yards, third most in the league and an average of four per game. (505 of those yards came by way of Drew Brees's arm in the Saints' 52-49 win over the Giants in Week 7.)
"Considering how vulnerable the Giants' defense has looked, with its passive pass rush, some might consider [playing the Patriots] a frightening test," the Post's Mark Cannizzaro wrote Monday. "It is easy to let your mind wander and wonder: If Brees threw for 505 yards and seven touchdown passes against the Giants last week, what might [Tom] Brady do to them?"
The pass rush has been nonexistent in creating pressure to help out the secondary. The Giants are dead last in the league in sacks with nine. The NFL average is double that; the Patriots have recorded triple that.
New York is hoping it gets a boost from Jason Pierre-Paul, who made his season debut against Tampa Bay on Sunday and was held without a sack. Though Pierre-Paul has just one sack against Brady in his career, he was feeling confident about the Patriots visiting the Meadowlands this Sunday.
"Everybody knows about Tom Brady," he said. "But he's coming through here. It's an away game for them."
Take it away
Though New York's defense hasn't been able to stop much on the ground or through the air, it has forced a league-high 20 takeaways, 13 of which have come in the last four games, and has a plus-12 turnover margin. Thirteen of those have been interceptions and four have come against top quarterbacks.
|QB||INTs vs. NY||Rating||Games started|
Vereen’s New York venture
Eli Manning has good things to say about Shane Vereen, the running back who caught a team-high 11 passes for the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX.
Vereen, who spent his first four seasons in the league with New England, signed with the Giants this offseason, taking his pass-catching ability to New York.
"Obviously seeing him play and thought he was good out of the backfield, caught a lot of passes out of the backfield, but once he got here I've just been impressed with his football awareness, his knowledge, and his feel for route running," Manning said in a conference call Wednesday. "He just has a natural feel, how to get open, where the lanes are, where the openings are, and has been impressive with his playmaking ability and what he can do whether out of the backfield or splitting him out wide, or running the football, catching the football, he's an impressive football player."
He picked up with the Giants right where he left off with the Patriots — as a passing game threat out of the backfield.
"I think the role is very similar in the sense to where it's a starting point, a similar off-speed type back catching the ball in the backfield," he said in a conference call Wednesday. "I still need more time here to really see what the role transitions into because we're still midway through the first season."
In nine games this season, Vereen has 75 touches (41 rushes, 34 catches) for 483 yards (174 rushing, 309 catching) and three scores. His career highs for receiving yards (447) and rushing yards (391) in a season came a year ago, marks he could surpass this season.
He is the Giants' third-leading rusher behind Rashad Jennings (94 carries, 364 yards) and Andre Williams (BC product with 61 carries for 177 yards), but leads the running backs in receiving.
"It's been a learning process for me," he said. "I've slowly but surely made gains and strides towards getting on that same page and really thinking the same way, but I still have some steps to go and we will get there."
Catch it like Beckham
Odell Beckham is trying to become ambidextrous.
The receiver — who is righthanded, as we are all well aware after last year's highlight-reel catch against Dallas — is sixth in the league in receiving yards with 759 on 59 catches and tied for first in touchdown catches with seven.
But while he he continues to dominate on the field, he has taken to doing everything else off the field with his left hand: brushing his teeth, playing basketball, writing, swinging a bat.
"My left didn't feel the same as my right so I'm trying to become ambidextrous," he told the Wall Street Journal. "It's something I've been trying recently, to get my left hand intact with the rest of my body. This was finding a way to be better."
The near-ambidextrous receiver will almost certainly be the focus of the Patriots' defensive game plan, trying to contain him as much as possible.
"Beckham won't get many chances against a defense that's geared to stop him, with heady safety Devin McCourty likely shading toward his side on every deep play, but he could get a handful of opportunities," the New York Daily News's Ebenezer Samuel wrote this week.
While Beckham is by far Manning's most targeted receiver — 92 targets with the next closest being Rueben Randle with 51 — and an exceptional athlete, the Giants have 26 passes of 20 or more yards (T-22 in the league) and Beckham has eight of them. Instead, New York has been favoring shorter underneath routes, which allows Manning to get the ball out of his hands faster.
"We're trying to hit guys in stride and get the ball out quickly when possible," Manning said. "You have to take some shots down the field or hold it some, but we're trying to have a plan and be able to execute it. It eliminates some hits on me, which is always good, and lets me get the ball to the athletes and playmakers, and let them break some tackles and make some big plays."
Follow Rachel G. Bowers on Twitter @RachelGBowers.