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saint5221 12-10-2003 07:15 AM

Sporting News Saints Giants Matchup and Prediction


The Giants have lost five consecutive games and scored one touchdown in each of those defeats. . . .

The Saints, losers of two of their past three, have missed a golden opportunity to get back in the NFC South race. While they were losing, the Panthers kept the door open by losing their past three. . . .

Deuce McAllister continues to be the NFL's most explosive running back. In 13 games, McAllister has 1,462 yards, passing his total of 1,388 yards in 2002, and he'll have an opportunity to continue adding to his stats against a Giants defense that has lost its will. . . .

The Giants will be in even more trouble if quarterback Kerry Collins, who left last week’s game on a stretcher as a result of an ankle injury, can’t play. The results of his MRI were negative, but his status might not be determined until late in the week. If he can’t go, which is starting to look more likely, the Giants will need to start Jesse Palmer, who has played in mop-up duty in only five games during his three-year NFL career.

Giants Keys For Success

1. Use three- and five-step drops to protect Collins or Palmer. If Collins is healthy enough to go, he will be playing on a bad ankle behind a young and inexperienced offensive line that is struggling mightily in pass protection. As a result, the Giants have needed to and must continue to simplify their protection schemes by leaving in backs and tight ends to block, so Collins rarely has had the luxury of seven-step drops. This makes the threat of a vertical passing game almost non-existent. The key for Collins or Palmer will be to get back in short drops, get the ball out quickly and negate an improving Saints pass rush that brings good pressure off the edges. The Giants’ perimeter protection simply can’t hold up enough for Collins or Palmer to go deep, so they will need to resort to short passes such as quick-hitters and hitches.

2. Get Tiki Barber involved in the passing game. Saints linebackers do not excel in coverage, and their coaches like to blitz them up the middle.

The Giants aren't able to establish a ground game because of their inability to open holes for Barber, so they must get the ball to him with short passes. Look for the Giants to get Barber matched up on a linebacker, where he can use his quickness and elusiveness to make something happen after the catch.

3. Play disciplined, gap-responsibility defense up front. The Giants are thin in the secondary because of injuries and inconsistent play. As a result, they are using four-man rushes while dropping seven into coverage to protect their safeties and cornerbacks. This puts pressure on the front four, who at times lack discipline and will be over-aggressive in their pursuit.

The Giants do not tackle well, and their pursuit angles will leave holes and running lanes to exploit. They must not over-pursue or allow the Saints to seal the backside and open cutback lanes, which are McAllister's bread and butter.

Saints Keys For Success

1. Stay patience with the running game. McAllister impresses us more each time we see him because of his patience and ability to follow his blocks. Saints offensive linemen are doing a better job on trap plays, and they are effective on pulls and in getting to the second level.

McAllister waits to hit the hole and seems to have great faith in fullback Terrelle Smith and his linemen. As a result, he is becoming very effective on cutback and misdirection plays.

Aggressive, over-pursuing defenses struggle against McAllister. The Giants are struggling to make things happen, and the Saints should be able to create lanes and take advantage of inconsistency in gap responsibilities.

2. Quarterback Aaron Brooks must be focused. A notoriously slow starter, Brooks takes time to get into a game. He makes early mistakes, and the Saints get behind more than they should. When that happens they are forced to abandon the run and McAllister.

The Saints' best chance for success is to establish their running game early and help Brooks limit his mistakes. In what has become a run-first, pass-second offense, Brooks must be more of a caretaker rather than a quarterback who carries the attack.

3. Use combination coverage. Without tight end Jeremy Shockey in the lineup, the Giants cannot spread the field or force the Saints into nickel and dime packages. Cornerbacks can play aggressive coverage on wide receivers Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard, using press techniques without worrying about deep passes.

The Saints can take Toomer and Hilliard out of the game and not put man-to-man coverage on other players. They will play aggressive in short and intermediate areas and depend on safety help deep downfield.

Injury Update


TE Jeremy Shockey: Knee (12/9).
Shockey told the New York Daily News that his knee feels better and that he plans to play again this season. Coach Jim Fassel seems to disagree, however, and will list him as doubtful.

WR Tim Carter: Concussion (12/9).
Carter will be listed as doubtful this week, according to the New York Daily News. He has had concussion problems in recent weeks.

WR Ike Hilliard: Knee (12/9).
Coach Jim Fassel told the New York Daily News that Hilliard (knee) will be listed as doubtful for Sunday.

QB Kerry Collins: Ankle (12/9).
The New York Daily News reports Collins is likely to miss Week 15. His sprained ankle has him on crutches, and coach Jim Fassel said Jesse Palmer probably will start.


WR Michael Lewis: Ankle (12/6).
Lewis practiced on a limited basis on Thursday, and his status for Sunday's game vs. Tampa Bay will be a game-time decision.

WR Donte' Stallworth: Ankle (12/7).
Stallworth (ankle) isn't active for Week 14.

The Bottom Line

Mediocre results have ruined these teams' hopes. On both offense and defense, the Giants are underachieving and have been devastated by injuries. The Saints have become one-dimensional, relying heavily on McAllister because their potentially explosive passing game has no consistency.

The key will be the Saints' ability to run the ball, control the clock and wear down the Giants with McAllister. If McAllister has success early, the Giants will overcompensate to stop the run, which is when they get into trouble. Brooks should be able to exploit man-to-man coverage vs. a thin secondary, especially off play-action.

The Giants cannot play from behind. Their best chance is to hope McAllister fails to dominate and keep this a slow, low-scoring game.

Neither team is great, but the Saints have the difference-maker in McAllister.

Pick: Saints 20, Giants 13

When The Saints Have The Ball

20.2 22.0
200.6 210.8
134.5 120.2

By The War Room
For Sporting News

Deuce McAllister has been one of the league's hottest running backs this season, but the way the Buccaneers defended him last week may have painted a blueprint for the Giants this week. The Bucs loosened up their linebackers and had them play much deeper than usual to prevent frequent cutback runs by McAllister.

The Saints do a good job of starting in one direction with the run, led by fullback Terrelle Smith, and most defenses overpursue, allowing the offensive line to seal off the backside and give McAllister room to run when cutting back. The Giants' front four has clearly been worn down and that puts much pressure on their linebackers to make plays vs. the run.

The dilemma for the Giants is how to defend the running game. Ordinarily they could bring in a safety to the box and play man-to-man on the perimeter, but because of a depleted secondary, they will need to rush only four and drop seven to protect their defensive backs. The Saints had good success early in the season using three-wide receiver sets to push defenses into nickel packages, and then they would come back and run the ball between the tackles against six-man fronts. Because of recent injuries to Donte' Stallworth and Joe Horn, however, the Saints have struggled to put three able wideouts on the field at the same time.

As a result, the Saints will be hard-pressed to have much success in the vertical passing game vs. the Giants' soft coverage. Aaron Brooks should have ample time to throw the ball, however, as the Giants cannot afford to blitz often. Crossing routes, slants and similar routes should work well, because they will get the ball to the Saints’ receivers in stride against New York's replacement defensive backs, who are untested open-field tacklers.

In addition, the Saints' new go-to receiver has become tight end Boo Williams, who can exploit man-to-man matchups on either Giants safety. Patience is key in both the running and passing games. The Saints may not get many big plays, but if they play with discipline, they can sustain long drives and control the flow of the game.

When the Giants Have the Ball

16.1 22.5
230.4 189.6
101.4 138.6

By The War Room
For Sporting News

With Kerry Collins likely missing this game with a high ankle sprain he suffered last week vs. the Redskins, the Giants' struggling offense is set to be in the hands of backup Jesse Palmer. The Giants drafted Palmer in the fourth round in 2001. While he has shown progress and flashes of developing into a good No. 2 quarterback in exhibition play, Palmer has played in only five regular-season games to spell Collins in mop-up duty.

Palmer has a quick release and a strong arm. He has good pocket presence, feels the rush and has adequate mobility to buy extra time. He isn't much of a threat to run, however, and is a very streaky thrower who can get erratic when he goes cold. He also tends to panic under pressure and make bad decisions when rushed, which aren't good traits to have behind the Giants' struggling offensive line.

The last thing their offense needs is more turnovers. The Giants have been plagued by giveaways in the running game, as they lost two more fumbles last week. Tiki Barber, who continues to struggle with ball security, lost one of those fumbles.

Another problem is the Giants' lack of strong blocking on the second level. Barber isn't a power back and gets little yards after initial contact. The Saints' front seven is undersized and tends to wear down vs. a physical north/south rushing attack, but the Giants don’t have that capability with Barber as their featured back. Look for the Saints to load up inside to make Barber run wide, where the pursuit can contain him.

The passing outlook isn't much better with Palmer at the helm. The Saints will play primarily soft coverage schemes because of injuries and the resulting lack of depth in their secondary. They still will blitz often enough and the Giants' pass protection is a great target.

Look for the Giants to use three- and five-step drops and a quick-hitting passing game that allows Palmer to get rid of the ball quickly in an attempt to negate the blitz. That means plenty of underneath and crossing routes in front of the soft coverage, so wide receivers Ike Hilliard and Amani Toomer will need to make something happen after the catch. The Saints' safeties have had problems in coverage, so if the Giants can find them in man-to-man situations, it could lead to some big plays. Palmer will need to play with better discipline and make some good decisions for that to happen.

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