The Giants 4-0 start and their dominant win over the Seahawks in Week 5 has the sports media world buzzing: Are the Giants going to repeat? Are the Giants the 2008 New England Patriots? Is New York going to go undefeated? Of course, most of this speculation is absurd, but the Giants have definitely looked impressive thus far.
Certainly, the answer to that last question is most likely "no," as last year we saw that teams just can't go through an NFL season without suffering a loss here or there. But while perfection in the standings is improbable if not impossible, this Giants season is still all about the pursuit of perfection - perfection on the field.
What separates this Giants team from teams of the past is its relentless work ethic and drive to improve. Despite shellacking Seattle last week, the Giants have not grown over-confident or complacent; they retain that same attitude and work ethic that has brought them so much success in the first part of the season. Improve each week; the next game is the most important one...
And the next game for Big Blue is on the road this week against the 1-3 Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football.
LOWDOWN ON THE CLEVELAND BROWNS
After narrowly missing the playoffs last season, there were high hopes for the Browns coming into 2008, but poor play and a number of key injuries have caused them to struggle thus far. Statistically, their offense is the worst in the league. QB Derek Anderson has struggled after a Pro Bowl season last year, throwing 6 picks and just 3 touchdowns and posting a dismal QB rating of 49.9. WR Braylon Edwards has also struggled. Last year he finished with over 1200 yards receiving. A quarter of the way through this season, he is on pace to finish with only 300 yards receiving.
The Browns do have a lot of other weapons on offense though. RB Jamal Lewis is a force in the backfield and TE Kellen Winslow is one of the best receiving TEs in the NFL, though he has been hospitalized this week with some mystery illness. Free agent pick-up WR Donte Stallworth is set to make his regular season debut on Monday night.
The Browns have been mediocre on defense, ranking 15th in the league in yards allowed per game and 22nd in the league against the run. They are ranked 10th in both points allowed per game (19.5) and passing yards allowed per game (187.0). Look for both of these numbers to rise when the best offense in the NFL rolls into town.
The statistical gaps between these two teams don't guarantee anything however, and in order for the G-men to notch their fifth consecutive win this week, they'll have to win a few key battles. The most fundamental will be the most critical: establish the Giants running attack, spread the ball offensively, shut down the Browns' running attack and generate turnovers on defense.
- Giant Running Attack vs. Cleveland Front 7: When you establish the run, you set up in the entire offense. In the Giants' case, when you establish Brandon Jacobs you set up the opposing team to be completely slaughtered. When Jacobs opens well, the Giants offense rolls, just look at St. Louis and Seattle. The bruising back not only sets up Eli Manning and the passing game, but also lays the table for the second and third acts of the Giants dynamic running game. Even without the Browns calling out Jacobs this week, look for the G-men to stuff it down their throats from the opening drive.
- OC Kevin Gilbride vs. Himself: Last week without Plaxico Burress the Giant offense exploded for 44 points, partially due to a strong outing from Brandon Jacobs, but also in part due to outstanding play-calling. Kevin Gilbride dialed up a perfect game plan and took full advantage of the deep pool of talent at his disposal. He balanced his attack and spread the ball around. He even called a reverse for Domenik Hixon in the first quarter...a reverse! It will be interesting to see how KG follows up this week with the return of Plaxico.
- Giants' Front 7 vs. Cleveland Running Attack: For the Giant defense to truly exploit their opponents' weaknesses, they must first stop Jamal Lewis. Last week against the 3rd best rushing attack in the league, Big Blue shut the Seahawks down and dominated the line of scrimmage. Look for the Giants front 7 to build off of last week's performance as the unit continues to gel together. If they can take away the run game, that will put more pressure on struggling QB Derek Anderson, increasing the likelihood for sacks and turnovers.
- Giants' Secondary vs. Cleveland's Receivers: Of course, the latter will be contingent upon the Giants' secondary continuing their outstanding play against some talented Cleveland receivers. This young unit has been phenomenal over the first four games and CB Kevin Dockery notched the group's first turnover last week. Spagnuolo said that turnovers come in spurts. Let's see if the streak can continue this week.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
And so it is, turnovers headlines this week's things to watch for.
- Turnovers: Will be critical to taking momentum away from the Browns and elevating the level fo the Giants' defense going forward.
- QB Pressure: Analysts this week are looking for Justin Tuck and company to have a big game this week against a beat-up Cleveland O-line. If Anderson faces a lot of pressure, it could allow for some big plays by the Giant defense.
- Giants Early Rushing Success: If Big Blue can establish the run early, the Browns D is in for a long night.
- Who's on the Field on Offense? The personnel on the field Monday night will serve as a good indicator for what direction the Giants offense is going. If we see a lot of Smith, Hixon, and Bradshaw, Big Blue should be taking care of business. Perhaps even Sinorice Moss can continue to make more of a contribution following his success last week.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
RB 27 Brandon Jacobs - After being called out my Browns' DT Badmove McFootinmouth, I expect Jacobs and the O-line to be aggressive and hit Cleveland in the mouth from the opening drive. It could be another 100+ yard performance for the man-beast, coming off of one his best games of the season.
DE 91 Justin Tuck - Justin Tuck has not had a sack in two games. The Browns right tackle is returning from injury and I expect Tuck to do injury the Browns' pride with a truly cromular performance.
I'm excited to watch my first Giants game from U.S. soil in over a year on Monday night, and even more excited to be watching it in HD on a real TV and not a grainy 3 inch window on my computer. It's an important game for Big Blue to continue to build momentum and a cushion over the division before some tougher competition in the second half of the season. I expect the Road Warriors to get their 12th straight away from Giants stadium and make it 5-0 on the season.
Prediction: Giants win, 31 - 10
NFL.com's preview of Giants @ Browns
Giants.com's Browns Scouting Report