(note: Special thanks to Andrew Ilnicki of GMEN HQ for taking the time to answer my questions about the Giants and their upcoming game with our Detroit Lions. I answered Andrew’s questions to return the favor.)
Zac Snyder: The Giants strike me as an up-and-down team, any chance the Lions can catch the Giants on one of those down days?
Andrew Ilnicki: We will know within the first 5 minutes of the game for sure, but I don’t think so. One of the things that the Giants don’t do under Tom Coughlin is under-prepare for a game. The 2 losses indicate that the Giants had the wrong game plan defensively and didn’t adjust against the Colts, and with the Titans their execution of offense wasn’t there. Tipped balls, fumbles in scoring position, etc. I think the Giants know how important it is to take every game from now on extremely seriously to make up for those early blunders. New Meadowlands Stadium looks to be a real home field advantage for the Giants now as well, it gets much louder it seems than the old stadium, and should the defense show up early and get the crowd into it…. look out.
ZS: What is an area that you feel the Giants have underachieved and one are where they have overachieved?
AI: Special Teams is obviously a problem area. No return game, no coverage, penalties, dropped punts, bad snaps, bad holds — the works. But I’d also point to injuries causing some offensive line issues, but they’ve seemed to get better each week. Even LT David Diehl had a better week last week… although he’s still ranked toward the bottom of the league as tackles go. They’ve made some adjustments though, incorporated Shawn Andrews here and there — it’s looking better now than it did week 1 and 2.
The Giants will never admit to overachieving in any facet, but they are the #1 pass defense in the NFL right now. It’s a bit skewed though since they played the Panthers, a run-happy Colts team, and the Titans. The dominant performance against the Bears and Texans most recently point to what a great secondary they’ve developed in NY with Antrel Rolle, Deon Grant, and getting Kenny Phillips back from injury. They are there to make plays on the ball as well as anyone I would say. But again, the front 4 has played extremely well creating that pressure… that central push to collapse the pocket is finally there and Umenyiora and Tuck look like the 2007 versions of themselves again. Lots of depth all around and good rotation and scheme from DC Perry Fewell. Defense has certainly been a high point.
ZS: We hear a lot about the pressure the NY media places on its players. Is Eli getting some heat because it looks like he will never be as good as Peyton?
AI: That hasn’t really been an issue since the Superbowl in 2007, certainly in my mind. The very next year Eli led the team to an NFC regular season title as well, Eli had a terrific year through 12 games before Plax was lost. And I think to a large extent the NY media has come to grips with the fact that Eli is not Peyton, but they’re not really asking him to be. Eli has shown he knows the scheme in NY, which is completely different than what takes place in Indy… and Eli has managed his offense extremely well the past few years. Last year was a career year for Manning, and he had not a single #1 receiver to work with in the media’s mind. Now Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith are pro bowl caliber players, and the Giants are looking at potentially one of the most complete offensive systems you’ll see in the NFC assuming the receivers catch the ball and the offensive line holds up their end of the bargain. They showed that last week — the Giants are capable of displaying a very dynamic offense that’s hard to stop once it gets going.
ZS: Comments from Justin Tuck this week make it obvious that the team doesn’t see this year’s Lions as the “same old Lions”, what is the fan buzz about this game? Are the Lions getting any respect outside of the Giants’ dressing room?
AI: Tom Coughlin certainly has a hand in preparing his team for each and every game — you won’t ever hear him say “this is a lock”. And that trickles down. His opening statements this week were very complementary of your team… so he’s not like Rex Ryan with the swagger and the bravado. But Coughlin certainly expects the same results with professionalism to be there week in and week out no matter who you’re facing. He wants his team to dominate physically, he wants a tough, very competitive effort no matter who’s on the other side of the ball. And contrary to what the media has said about Coughlin losing the locker room… I think the last 2 weeks have shown that there never was really a crisis to begin with there, it came down to execution more than anything.
Do we think as fans the Giants are better than the Lions? Yes. But do we respect them at the same time? Of course. I think the fans respect the fact that if the Giants don’t keep to the grind stone this week, it becomes that dreaded trap game we all want to avoid. So insofar as winning this game is concerned, we respect you.
ZS: The Lions have scored more points than any other team in the NFC. What will the Giants defense try to do to keep the Lions from adding to that total?
AI: They’ll do what they always do — mix it up to get pressure early while stopping the run and try to make you one dimensional. They’ll want to get deceptive early, get some early pressure, get the crowd into it. If they can shut you down on the ground, they’re going to then try to shut you down through the air. They’re going to try and take away every possible outlet you have on offense until your spirit is broken. And make no mistake, they have some young and hungry guys peppered throughout the entire defense to play at that kind of level. If the Giants offense can get up on your defense, that’s when you have to watch out for the sacks.
ZS: What is the X-Factor for the Giants this week?
AI: It’s being able to have a complete game on offense and not turning the ball over. Your defense has allowed 133 rush yards per game and 235 yards through the air… I’d think the run defense will stand out but again the Giants are going to try to keep you guessing.
They’ll try to establish some running game and then go to play action for some deep passes later on. I’m not convinced with Ahmad Bradshaw starting that defenses can keep the Giants all that one dimensional by stopping the run — he’s very elusive and makes things happen that no one can anticipate. So for the Giants the key is going to be finding success moving the ball with short passes, gain positive yardage on the ground, and keep their options open all game. If they can find success on offense like they did last week it’s going to be very hard to stop them from winning this much needed game.
ZS: What is the X-Factor for the Lions?
AI: I think find a way to pick apart the defense like the Colts did. That involved a ton of zagging for Peyton Manning… which means figuring out the defense and letting his backfield do the running when we thought he’d rely on his arm. He managed a brilliant game. Can the Lions be that dynamic? It’s worth a shot.
ZS: Final prediction?
AI: 34-17 Giants