To get ready for Sunday's game I exchanged five questions with Ed Valentine of Big Blue View, SB Nation's blog. My answers to his questions can be found over at BBV, and his answers to my questions are below.
1. The Giants got off to a bit of a rough start, dropping games to the Colts and Titans that weren't even close. Since then, however, New York has won back-to-back games over the Bears and Texans in impressive fashion. What has been the key to this recent turnaround for the Giants?
Defense, plain and simple. The Giants dominated the Bears and Texans with good, old-fashioned, physical defense. There is a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball, and guys are buying into the system that new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has been selling. He is moving guys around, asking some of them to do things they maybe have not done much before, and shuffling personnel to fit situations. It's working, and it's what gives me optimism that the Giants can be in every game they play.
2. Lions fans watched as Jay Cutler got annihilated back on Sunday night a couple weeks ago. As fans of a team whose starting quarterback already went down with an injury, there's obviously some concern over the Giants' pass rush. What makes it so effective, and do you think it will be successful against the Lions, which have actually done a pretty solid job of not giving up sacks so far this season?
Well, there are a few reasons for that. First and foremost, has been health. Justin Tuck is healthy after playing last season with one arm. Osi Umenyiora and Barry Cofield are now a year removed from major knee surgeries. Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard are healthy after each missing significant time last season. Mathias Kiwanuka is down right new (neck), but had four sacks in three games before his injury popped up. The Giants have quite often just dominated with a four-man rush the last couple of weeks. Second is the solid run defense. In 2009 the Giants could not defend the run. This year, with the exception of the Indianapolis game, they have been stout against the run. They are putting teams in second- and third-and-long, where they can just sell out, forget the run and go hit the quarterback. Third, Fewell has moved people around. Kiwanuka plays a lot of linebacker when he is healthy. You will see four defensive ends sometimes. You will see Tuck standing up and moving around occasionally. It's interesting, and tough to block because sometimes you can't be sure who is coming and who isn't.
3. Eli Manning's numbers appear to be very inconsistent on the surface. Has he been as up and down as they suggest?
Ah, how to explain Eli. That requires me to actually figure him out first, which I sometimes can't. Eli has, for the most part, been absolutely fabulous this season. His completion percentage is a career-high, and the Giants are moving the ball really well. Now, about those interceptions. He has eight, and that is a ridiculously high number for a quarterback as good as he is. Part of that can be explained by the fact that five of those picks came on balls that were well thrown and should have been caught by his receivers. Instead, they were tipped into the air and intercepted. Those go on his record, of course, but they should have been completions. The other three? Yikes! A foolish left-handed throw into triple coverage intercepted in the end zone. A bad throw while scrambling to avoid a sack. A poor decision to throw into double coverage when the Giants had a comfortable lead against Houston. Those plays I don't expect from a guy who has been around as long as Eli, and they need to stop. I sometimes think that Eli a) has so much faith in his receivers that he will throw a questionable ball because he thinks they will catch it and b) forgets that this is not last season when the defense stunk and he was forced to attack all the time. He just needs to remember that this defense is good, and it's his job not to put them in a hole.
4. Ahmad Bradshaw has seemingly established himself as the Giants' top running back, but Brandon Jacobs has scored a touchdown in each of the last two games. How are the Giants handling their stable of backs?
Bradshaw, without question, is the No. 1 back. And deservedly so. He is quicker, breaks more tackles, makes more guys miss and is generally much more dangerous. Jacobs has become the second back, and will often get the short-yardage and goal line carries. That's why he gets the touchdowns. Another thing is that the Giants offensive line has not been as good as it was a couple of years ago. Jacobs needs a hole to get to the linebackers and safeties. Bradshaw can sometimes make his own hole, and he's a little quicker to take advantage when one is there. In general, Bradshaw gets about two-thirds of the carries now.
5. What do you think is the key matchup for the Giants on Sunday and do you have a prediction for the game?
The key for the Giants is ALWAYS the play of the defensive line, and really the front seven as a whole. You have seen it the past couple of weeks. When they can stop the run and force teams to be one-dimensional this is a group that can and will inflict a great deal of pain on the opposing quarterback. The Giants have not played what I would call a 'complete' game yet, and I hope it comes this Sunday. I'll say, 24-14 Giants.