Assuming the Giants make it safely to Minnesota by game time, there’s one overarching key to the game that cannot be understated this weekend. And it’s not hang onto the ball, although that is a crucial facet of this game. No — what I’m talking about is SHARPNESS.
The Giants looked as sharp as they could possibly be last week – no question about it. The offensive, defense, and special teams all dominated the game for the Giants — you can’t get much sharper than what the final score ended up being last week. But the reason sharpness is even more key this week is simple, myriad starters are returning to the game after weeks of being sidelined by injuries.
• Steve Smith – will he be sharp enough to hang onto the ball and move the chains? The Giants cannot afford to let Smith tip balls into the air and possibly get Eli intercepted on account of rust… the Giants need to get started early and hit the Vikings in the mouth on their very first drive. Set the tone. That cannot happen and will not happen if Steve Smith isn’t at full speed and it rythem with Eli. Derek Hagan did a superb job last week showing what can happen with just 2 weeks of practice in this offense after a shaky first game back, Smith will need to be back up to speed immediately Sunday to put this team in position to win the battle over the game clock. Short passes with high execution percentages win ball games for this team, particularly if the Vikins D-line brings the heat. Bottom line if Smith isn’t ready to handle the workload in the slot, the Giants may be in trouble.
• Hakeem Nicks is a walking trifecta. Not only is he a big play threat deep down field, he can be a great 3rd down option as well. But most importantly, his presence in the red zone was enough for teams to be completely and utterly baffled as to where the ball was going when the Giants were in scoring position. That red zone metric has suffered since Nicks went out, I think there is a correlation there. But this game, the Giants are going to lean on Nicks to establish some presence inside the 20’s and open up opportunities for the Giants to put points on the board. Whether the Vikings double him, or go single coverage and hope for the best — Eli will be glad to have him back and find the best mismatch available to him when he snaps the ball. Of course, Nicks needs to get on the same page with Eli to be most effective.
• David Diehl. Great guy, played every snap of last years pro bowl. But here’s what bugs me about Diehl coming back into the lineup at tackle. The Giants have not allowed a sack in 5 games. Diehl hasn’t started at left tackle since week 7… and even before that Diehl was not exactly having a banner year for the Giants. The only positive game Diehl had in terms of production is when he moved over to Guard during the Seattle blowout… and he’s been out ever since. He left action on a high note, for sure. But I’m thinking that Will Beatty and Kevin Boothe have done a tremendous job in his stead. They get better every week it seems like, they need those reps. Will Diehl be sharp enough to keep Eli Manning off his back with Jared Allen bearing down on him? We’ll see.
• The run game. Ahmad Bradshaw sat out 2 practices this week with a couple of injuries, and he took the bulk of the carries last week. Brandon Jacobs only carried 9 times last week. Will the Giants backfield be amped up, confident, and ready to go this week? The game may depend upon it.
• Eli Manning. Managed a heck of a game last week, but the numbers weren’t there for him. With his starting receivers coming back for him this week, Eli will need to show that he can place that ball where it needs to be and lead his receivers around the field in the event that THEY aren’t sharp this week. He can handle the pressure obviously, but can he deliver the goods? He’ll have to be sharp this week and get his team in a position win the division as the showdown matchup with the Eagles fast approaches. It would be nice to hone his attack this week against a team that beat the Giants so very badly last year.