Giants Notebook, October 15, 2009
By Michael Eisen
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The New Orleans Saints have the highest-scoring offense in the NFL this season. They also have one of the league’s most balanced and confusing attacks, meaning the Giants’ defense will likely face its most daunting challenge of the season when the two unbeaten teams clash Sunday in the Superdome.
The 4-0 Saints are averaging an NFL-best 36 points a game, including a 48-point outburst at Philadelphia in Week 2. Quarterback Drew Brees has a 108.4 passer rating, five different receivers have touchdowns and four have at least 14 catches. Three outstanding running backs – Mike Bell, Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush – have helped the Saints average 166.3 rushing yards a game, the league’s third-best average. They are 11th in passing, with an average of 248.0 yards a game.
Those numbers represent a significant change from the 2008 season, when the Saints moved the ball primarily through the air. New Orleans was first in the NFL in passing yards per game (311.1) and 28th in rushing (99.6). Last year, the Saints dropped back to pass 649 times (attempts plus sacks), while finishing with only 398 runs.
This season, the distribution is virtually even. Brees has dropped back to pass 133 times. And the Saints have 134 rushing attempts.
“That is the most difficult thing, when you play a team that can and does do both,” defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said today. “And in my mind they have done a fantastic job of running the ball. Their production is excellent and their run/pass percentage is so balanced, especially on first and second down. They are even willing to run the ball on third down and they have converted on third down runs. You get a lot of teams that won’t even try to do that. They are very clever in the run game and very, very productive. They have a good offensive line and they have several tailbacks that can play. Everybody recognizes Reggie Bush, but their other tailbacks are excellent runners as well. So, yeah, they are a very legitimate rushing offense. And our players recognize that.”
Recognition will definitely be a key for the 5-0 Giants’ defense on Sunday. New Orleans, perhaps more than any NFL team, is constantly changing personnel groups, players and formations. By disguising tendencies, the Saints try to keep defenses off balance and unsure of themselves.
“I’m not sure it is more difficult to prepare for, but when you get into the game it is a pain in the neck, for sure,” Sheridan said. “We try to match personnel like everybody does. The thing they do a good job of is orchestrating their personnel changes. And it is usually multiple changes, not just a one-for-one swap, which is easier to get from the press box. But they do a good job of having multiple personnel changes on a down-to-down basis. And of course, we usually try to match that. The rules allow you to match it. But when you get into the game and it is up-tempo like they always do to start the games off, it is hard to simulate that in practice. We have tried to do that, but it is not going to be quite the same as them actually doing it to the speed that they are going to do it early in the game.”
The defense’s task is no easier when the Saints keep the same personnel grouping on the field for two or more consecutive plays.
“But even if they do that, they are going to switch guys (for example, keeping three wide receivers on the field, but using different wideouts),” Sheridan said. “They will keep the same personnel group, we refer to it as, but they are going to put different people in it. So in your mind they are changing personnel but really they have just switched guys and kept the same personnel in name. You still have to wait for it to see what the final distribution of the people is to make your call. So they do a real clever job with that; a lot more than a lot of teams.”
The Giants players must quickly decipher who’s on the field and what play that group would like to run in a particular down and distance situation. Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, whose ability to predict what play is coming is legendary, has been putting in his usual long hours of tape study this week.
“They challenge you from the standpoint of personnel, because regardless of what personnel they use, they will come out in any formation,” Pierce said. “I think it requires more film study and getting used to seeing it and knowing they can use any personnel in any formation. I think once our guys get a key for it and know what the personnel is and the formation of the day is with the Saints, we will be okay.”
“They’re definitely a team that tries to keep you off balance with all the different things they do,” defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. “The motions, the shifts, the different personnel, you just have to shrug it off and play football, no matter what. You still have to go up against the guy you are lined up against. You’ve got to try and whip him so all that shifting and all that stuff doesn’t really mean much to us.”
Even if they recognize what’s coming, the Giants still have to stop the Saints. Brees has an uncommonly quick release, a big reason he’s been sacked only four times this season. He was sacked just 13 times all of last year.
“All you can do is try and get as much pressure as possible,” Umenyiora said. “Get as much push in the pocket as you can. You are not going to get too many sacks. They have given up four this year. So we know it’s not going to be a big sack game, but as much pressure as we can get on the quarterback, we are going to do that.”
“We are still shooting for sacks,” said end Justin Tuck, who leads the team with 3.5 of them. “We are definitely still shooting for sacks. Drew is a little shorter quarterback than average, so we have to get up in his face and kind of block some of those passing lanes that he’s had. If we can do that and kind of move him off his target, then we can have some success. But obviously, if he is able to sit back there and look downfield for four or five seconds, then he is going to pick us apart.”
Brees did that to New Orleans’ first four opponents this season. He is completing 67.4 percent of his passes, the fifth-best figure in the league.
“He has confidence,” cornerback Terrell Thomas said. “He is making every throw, he believes he can make every throw. Even if it’s good coverage, he is throwing it in there. His receivers are making plays to the ball, so it’s going to be a tough challenge for us to cover because he is still throwing it; even if you are in good leverage, he is still throwing the ball in there.”
Tight end Jeremy Shockey, the former Giant, is the Saints’ leading receiver with 18 catches. Marques Colston is right behind him with 17, followed by Devery Henderson and Bush with 14 apiece.
“They have a lot of skilled players and a great, accurate quarterback,” cornerback Corey Webster said. “He knows how to get the ball to the skilled players and playmakers. He allows them to make plays down the field. So you have to be real close and disciplined on coverage assignments.”
“(Brees) does a good job of spreading it around,” Sheridan said. “It is not like you can say, ‘Hey, we are going to double this guy on every third down,’ because he doesn’t do that. He spreads the ball around on all of the downs. We look at those stats and try to get some tendencies to see who he is really going to on the different third-down situations. But he does a great job of spreading the ball around. And I think he, like most good quarterbacks, he takes what the coverage gives him. But no, there is not just one or two guys. He is too smart for that.”
The challenge for the Giants’ defense is to out-smart him and the rest of the Saints offense on Sunday.
*One of Brandon Jacobs’ great contributions to the Giants is that his powerful running style helps wear down a defense, which often benefits the backs who substitute for him. But this year Jacobs has 20 fewer rushing yards that Ahmad Bradshaw despite having 42 more carries. And he’s apparently not pleased about his 3.6-yard average, which is significantly less than his 5.0-yard average each of the previous two years. Bradshaw is averaging 6.5 yards per attempt.
“He is a different style runner from what I am,” Jacobs said. “A lot of the stuff suits him perfectly. If someone is running free, he is able to see him real quick, make him miss and do something. Me, I am 6-4, 265 pounds. I am supposed to run into people. I am supposed to take somebody on. That’s me. If I don’t do that, I am terrible. So it is what it is.”
Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said Jacobs has been candid about his frustration.
“We have talked about it,” Gilbride said. “I told him to ‘just keep playing. We aren’t disappointed at all. You’re a big part of what we do. You can express your contributions as a runner and also as a pass protector.’ (He’s) a guy that is chipping and neutralizing some superior rushers that we are facing. Not everybody has a guy who can do that; he can do that. We can match him up against a linebacker. We don’t have to make adjustments that a lot of teams have to do. He helps us in so many areas I don’t worry necessarily about the yardage per carry. I just look at the tone he is setting, not only with his running, but also with everything he does.”
*The same four players did not practice today: Bradshaw (ankle/foot), linebacker Michael Boley (knee), defensive lineman Chris Canty (calf) and cornerback Aaron Ross (hamstring). This is the third week in a row Bradshaw did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, but is expected to work on Friday. “He will take some snaps tomorrow,” Tom Coughlin said. Asked if he expected that to be Bradshaw’s schedule for a while, Coughlin said, “The original thought was maybe starting next week or the week after he might get some snaps during the week, too.”
Quarterback Eli Manning (foot) was the only player who was limited.
“He practiced well,” Coughlin said. “He takes probably better than half of the snaps. He takes all of the things that he needs to take and David Carr gets some work as well. So it has worked well.”
Tight end Kevin Boss (ankle) and safety C.C. Brown (shoulder) practiced fully after being limited yesterday. Guard Rich Seubert (shoulder), linebacker Bryan Kehl (finger) and running back Danny Ware (elbow) also participated fully.
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