By Brad Carroll
The New York Giants are in a heap of trouble, there’s no denying that. The odds of making the postseason after starting the year 0-3 are astronomically bad, as in 2.9 percent bad. Since 1980, only five of 168 teams to start the season without a win after three weeks made the playoffs. So, yes, this Giants season may already be over.
But to throw dirt on the grave of a team after just three weeks, especially one you root for, isn’t the easiest thing to do, or smartest, especially when looking at the positives for the Giants, as small as they might be. Sunday’s loss to the Eagles might have been the death knell in the season, but if you simply look at the offensive explosion in the fourth quarter, one that saw Big Blue score 24 points and nearly get an unlikely comeback victory, there is hope.
The Giants offense has been downright awful, but if that fourth quarter performance carries over to this Sunday and the into the future, this campaign may still have some life to it. After all, there are five teams who did make the playoffs after an 0-3 start. There’s no reason why the Giants can’t be No. 6, if they get a whole lot better that is.
It’s not going to be easy getting that first win this Sunday, as the Giants travel to Tampa Bay for a showdown with the talented Buccaneers. Led by quarterback Jameis Winston and wide receiver Mike Evans, the Bucs are 1-1 on the year, with their opener postponed because of the hurricane in Florida. They were dominating in a 29-7 win over the Bears in Week 2, but then suffered a surprising 34-17 loss to the Vikings last week. Tampa Bay has all the talent a team could want, but the loss to Minnesota was an eye-opener.
Here are three keys to a Giants victory Sunday in Tampa Bay, one they must find a way to get in order to remain relevant this season.
Offensive Line Must Protect Eli Manning
This key to victory isn’t likely to change for the rest of the season. Simply put, the offensive line has to be a lot better than it has been and must protect quarterback Eli Manning. If they don’t, the Giants will lose again. Luckily, the Buccaneers may be the team to change the offensive line’s fortunes. Tampa Bay has recorded just one sack this season, in two games, which could mean either the Giants offensive line can use this game as a building block for the rest of the season, or it could be a coming out party for the Tampa defense, which breaks free from their own struggles and gets to Manning multiple times. The latter is more realistic. Just look at Ziggy Ansah, who recorded three sacks against Ereck Flowers in Week 2, his only three sacks of the season. The Giants used quick drop-backs and passes last week against Philadelphia and will likely do the same here, as the less time the ball is in Manning’s hand the better it is for the line to hold their blocks. The Eagles didn’t record a sack last week. Once again, however, the Giants success will be dictated by the offensive line.
Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Mike Evans
It’s not your typical key to victory, but the big matchup Sunday will be two of the best wide receivers in football going head-to-head, even though neither will have anything to do with stopping the other. But whomever has the better game between the two could determine who ultimately wins this game. Beckham Jr. returned to prominence last week, save for his touchdown celebrations which put him in the dog house once again for his outlandish antics, catching nine passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns. He returned to his previous form in that game, looking to finally be completely healthy, which is a great sign for the Giants and their struggling offense. Evans, who had his own run-in with controversy with he threw a tantrum on the sideline last week, has caught seven passes in each of his first two games, totaling 160 yards with a touchdown. Evans is a matchup nightmare considering his size, but the Giants might have the player to slow him down in Janoris Jenkins, one of the best cornerbacks in football. As seen in the fourth quarter last week, if Beckham is on, the Giants can play with anyone. They need him to be that player for four quarters Sunday.
Giants Defense Must Stop Run
When the Buccaneers are forced to throw the ball, as they were last week against the Vikings, the results aren’t good. Tampa Bay rushed for 26 yards on nine carries, with Jacquizz Rodgers, the team’s top back, gaining just 15 yards. Without a running game to speak of, Jameis Winston threw three interceptions to the Minnesota defense. In Tampa’s win over the Bears in Week 2, Rodgers had 67 rushing yards and a touchdown, part of a 117-yard team performance overall. Winston didn’t turn the ball over in an easy victory. The Giants got some good news as well Friday when Olivier Vernon made progress with his ankle injury and should be able to play Sunday. It’s a must-win game for the Giants Sunday, and stopping the Tampa running game will go a long way in seeing that happen.