The New York Giants are looking to disrupt another season of the New England Patriots and I'm going to be upfront: I don't think it's going to happen. I don't think I'm challenging the fates. I don't think I'm making any great claim.
The Giants defense isn't good. Their offense is okay. The Patriots are better on both sides of the ball. Here's why:
When the Giants run the ball
The Giants rotate their running backs, with Rashad Jennings as the lead back and Shane Vereen as the third down and receiving back. Andre Williams spells Jennings from time to time, but he's generally ineffective when he's in the backfield. Whenever Williams has a fullback in front of him, it's going to be a run play (33 out of 36 snaps this season), but he's not a big threat.
Jennings flashes moments where he looks like the Jets Chris Ivory, bowling over defenders and picking up yards after contact. And then there are times where Jennings looks like the Jets Chris Ivory when Ivory was playing the Patriots on a bum hamstring. Jennings can run and he can catch. Jennings is a wildly inconsistent runner and is essentially an off brand version of Ivory.
Vereen is the same as he's always been: extremely dangerous as a receiver, nothing to write home about as a runner. The Giants rarely use Vereen to actually run the ball, but when they do it's usually on draw plays when the defense is spread wide. The Patriots defensive line is going to have to do a great job of maintaining their gap integrity when Vereen is on the field.
The Giants offensive line has quality pieces, but it's not overly dominant. Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, and Geoff Schwartz create a very good interior, while rookie Ereck Flowers and veteran Marshall Newhouse get the job done at tackle. The Patriots will match Chandler Jones against Flowers and will hopefully disrupt all action towards that side of the field.
The New York offensive line doesn't get to the second level in the run game, like the Cowboys line does. They like to pull block and combination block, but if the Patriots can get their linebackers to crash the gaps on run plays, then the running backs will have nowhere to go.
When the Giants pass the ball
Quarterback Eli Manning does a good job of spreading the ball around in the offense. Odell Beckham Jr. is as good as advertised and will likely see twice as many targets as the second player in the offense. Rueben Randle is athletic and can get open and will see plays drawn up for him, just like tight end Larry Donnell (if Donnell can play. If not, Will Tye will see targets). If these players aren't open, then Manning will check down to Vereen.
While the Giants game plan does a good job of trying to get every player a target, Manning has a real tendency to lock in on Beckham. The typical passing play will ask Manning to read to see if Beckham or Randle is open on the outside. If not, Manning scans the middle to see if Donnell or Dwayne Harris, the typical third receiver, is open. If those players are covered, then Vereen will leak out of the backfield to act like a receiver.
This offense provides more depth than most that the Patriots have faced. It's similar to the Dolphins in distribution, but the Giants skill players are far superior and the quarterback is better.
The Patriots should match up Malcolm Butler on Beckham with Devin McCourty cheating over to his side as the single deep safety. Logan Ryan should match up on Randle, while Justin Coleman plays against Harris. Patrick Chung is a great match when asked to cover whatever tight end the Giants are able to field.
The key to breaking the Giants passing attack is to make sure that Vereen never gets a free release out of the backfield as an outlet. For whatever reason, every single opponent lets Vereen leak out untouched, while the linebackers drop too far back into the passing lanes to respond. The Patriots defensive linemen need to wallop Vereen when he stays in to blitz pick-up and then Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, or Jonathan Freeny need to break out of their coverage drop the second the defensive linemen pass Vereen in their rush.
But if the Patriots can double on Beckham, then Manning will be forced to hold onto the ball and the Patriots pass rush will be able to get home. The offensive line is good. It isn't great.
When the Patriots run the ball
The Giants will be without their top defensive tackle in Jonathan Hankins who has been placed on the season-ending Injured Reserve. 34-year-old Cullen Jenkins is now their top defensive tackle and the rotation of Jay Bromley and Markus Kuhn isn't great. This is not a stout defensive front.
Linebacker Jon Beason has been placed on the Injured Reserve as well, while J.T. Thomas III has missed the past two games with an ankle injury. Those were their top two linebackers. Uani Unga, their #3 linebacker, is dealing with a neck injury and hasn't practiced this week.
This means that old friend Jonathan Casillas is in line to see heavy snaps next to Devon Kennard, an extremely north-south defender that struggles to move laterally. Technically these two players complement each other, but neither are starting caliber players and it shows. The Giants really struggle to plug in the running game and it's very likely that the Patriots are going to try to take advantage.
Over the past five games, the Giants are one of the worst in the league in defending the run up the middle, allowing nearly 5 yards per carry, and that's absolutely connected to the injuries. Washington is one of the teams that are slightly worse than the Giants and we witnessed how the Patriots continuously attacked with 19 runs up the middle.
With the current state of the Patriots offensive tackles, I wouldn't be surprised if the offense funneled most of the runs up the gut with LeGarrette Blount. Blount should really have a fine time getting into the second level and making some noise.
When the Patriots pass the ball
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC) is a very, very good cornerback, but he is their only good player in the secondary. Landon Collins has a bright future and he packs a wallop, but he's a rookie that makes a lot of mistakes. Prince Amukamara has missed time with a pectoral injury and Jayron Hosley hasn't been great as a fill in. There's a chance Amukamara can return and that would really impact the outlook of this game.
But the Giants defense isn't what we've come to know in the past. They don't have a good pass rush. They don't have a roster of defensive ends that can give the Patriots tattered offensive line a bad time.
This is a defense that loves to sit the defensive backs over the top of the receivers, with huge cushions underneath. This is a defense that puts the linebackers in a position where they have to try and run the hip of the tight end. This is a defense that plays with two deep safeties, meaning there's an obvious seam up the middle for a talented tight end to pick up massive yards.
The Saints countered the coverage with a ton of well drawn up plays. They used quick slants to abuse the cushion from the defenders. When the Giants adjusted, Drew Brees threw over the top because the safeties would get lost in communication of coverage.
DRC has been one of the best corners in the league this year, but he spends a lot of his time on the outside and will likely draw the match-up against Brandon LaFell. That's fine. No one on the Giants is capable of sticking with Julian Edelman or Danny Amendola. No linebacker or safety can stick with Rob Gronkowski. James White can and will produce as a receiver out of the backfield (remember that Kennard struggles with lateral movement. White will pick up plenty of yards after the catch).
The Patriots, injured offense and all, are still perfectly capable of dissecting this Giants defense and taking advantage of all of the mismatch opportunities.