Looking for a positive shift in momentum, the Giants will need to carry last week’s dominant defensive performance to Houston on Sunday when they face the Texans and their second-ranked offense (1 p.m., FOX).
The Giants (2-2) made a strong defensive statement with 10 sacks against Chicago. But controlling the line of scrimmage to stifle Houston’s Arian Foster, the NFL’s leading rusher with 537 yards and a 6.3-yard-per-carry average, would be a true announcement of Big Blue’s arrival.
The Texans (3-1) could be without two-time All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson, who is hobbled by an ankle injury.
Stopping the offensive blooper reel
Big Blue’s self-inflicted struggles with ball protection – 13 turnovers with six picks and seven lost fumbles – won’t make them a convincing competitor. Ahmad Bradshaw’s fourth-quarter fumble last week was recovered near the goal line – his second red zone fumble in as many weeks – after what could have been a 35-yard touchdown run. Limiting turnovers will also limit the Texans’ offensive opportunities.
Turning deflections into receptions
With center Shaun O’Hara expected to return to the line, protection for Eli Manning should improve, as should his timing with his receivers. Manning’s six picks and near picks are the results of poorly-timed passes. His inaccurate ball placement while under pressure force passes to drift high outside his receivers’ grasps. Improved protection and Houston’s league-worst pass defense could help the unit find more consistency. Unleashing second-year receiver Hakeem Nicks – the team leader in yards and scores (21 catches, 279 yards, 4 TD) – on Houston will create opportunities for Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs.
Overtime for the linebackers
The Titans’ Chris Johnson proved a running back can break free if he keeps chipping away. But with the Texans’ prolific rush offense and running back committee, the Giants’ linebackers will have difficulties containing Foster, former Giants running back Derrick Ward, and change-of-pace runner Steve Slaton. Ward’s six-yard per carry average is his best since averaging 5.6 with the G-Men in 2008; and Foster’s dominance as a runner is only matched by his efficiency as a receiver (11 catches, 152 yards, TD).
Pounding when he’s not pouting
Perhaps drowned out by his own discontent, Jacobs is quietly producing with the same efficiency that initially endeared fans with his rumbling running style. Big Blue’s big bruiser is averaging five yards per carry for the first time since 2008 and should factor well against Houston’s deceiving second-ranked rush defense. The Texans’ 3.6 yards allowed per carry average is the worst of any Top 5 rush defense, meaning Jacobs can soften their front seven – regardless of linebacker Brian Cushing’s return – while putting them on their heels to guard against the pass.