A lot has changed for this team since last year’s blowout loss. That was an ugly game and I don’t expect tomorrow’s matchup to be anything like it. It will be a tough test for our Hawks, infamous for road game shortcomings and coming off a hard loss at home. To boot, The Giants have a really, really good team and stack up better in nearly every matchup. That being said, every game is winnable, given the head coach doesn’t abandon his offense and try for a 61 yard field goal against the wind. Here are 4 keys to the game:
1) Hawks OTs on Giants DEs. Tempering New York’s edge pass rush is, in my opinion, the most important aspect of the game. Jason Pierre-Paul has played very well stepping up for Justin Tuck (who is expected to sit), and in Osi Umenyiora’s only game back, he recorded two sacks and a forced fumble. Okung was excellent in limited time last year against elite rushers but has not shown the same consistency this year. James Carpenter has progressed every game, and the line as a whole has matured impressively over four games. I’ve yet to see Carpenter, however, remain a consistent pass protector. I think he’ll have a good day run blocking, but I’m worried about his ability to keep Jackson upright. We may see some misguided QB scrambles due to pressure from the right side.
2) Defensive line penetration. It looks like Brandon Jacobs won’t be playing tomorrow, meaning Ahmad Bradshaw will receive the bulk of the carries. The Hawks, as you know, have been stout against the run, but still gave up two touchdowns to Michael Turner last week. Penetration into the offensive backfield has been the key to stopping Bradshaw, who blew up this team last year. From what I’ve seen, and let’s be honest I’m no scout, Bradshaw does not have the lateral acceleration to elude immediate contact. He can juke a LB or DB (and does it very well), but I haven’t seen him recover from quick, initial contact in the backfield like the better running backs around the league. If a D lineman can get an arm or bump on Bradshaw, I can see the LBers cleaning it up and preventing him from finding running lanes and open space. Early penetration has also been a key to keeping guys like Fitzgerald and Roddy White in check, and will hopefully do the same to Hakeem Nicks.
3) Start hot, stay hot. The offense needs to improve its first half production. We can’t realistically expect to win games if the offense only shows up for the second half. In one game, we’ve seen the same offense play as if they’re the worst in the league, then as if they’re in contention as the best. Tomorrow, the offense will have to match the Giants’ touchdowns with six points of their own. The Seahawk offense must sustain drives by converting third downs- something they failed miserably at in the first half last week but excelled at in the second.
4) Zach Miller. The Giants will do everything they can to slow down Sidney Rice and the running game. Expect excessive double coverage on Rice, mixed in with a healthy dose of 8-in-the-box fronts. Ben Obomanu will be starting opposite Rice, and has played OK as an injury replacement, but will probably not warrant much attention from the secondary. If Okung and Carpenter can hold their own in pass protection, and Zach Miller doesn’t have to help, I can see him finding a lot of space in the middle of the field. Bevell will need to take some shots down field early, use effective playaction and/or bootlegs to get the TE released on routes, and dial up screen passes on obvious blitzing downs. I’ll also be keeping an eye on Doug Baldwin and Kris Durham, to see how they get rotated into the slot or opposite wide of Rice.
It will be a hard fought game, no doubt. If the Hawks can keep defenders out of Jackson’s face, and conversely disrupt Bradshaw and Eli, the final score could be a lot closer than most predictions. Hell, they may even pull off an upset.