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Don't Fear The Reaper: These Giants Aren't Killing The Patriots This Time

By Matt Dolloff (@mattdolloff)

BOSTON (CBS) -- Patriots Nation will always remember where they were that night. Staring at the TV in disbelief, numb as as Eli Manning performed at least three miracles in a 60-second span to have the 18-0 New England Patriots on the ropes. Eli's pass sails over Ellis Hobbs' head, dreams of perfection are crushed everywhere, and Patriots fans rage-quit sports for months after.

The Giants showed up to that game in all black to dress for the Patriots' funeral, and the Patriots' Grim Reaper showed up again four years later to snatch another Super Bowl victory. Four years later they meet again, and while the Giants have almost a completely different team around Eli and coach Tom Coughlin, the scars remain and the irrational fears of what they could do to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick yet again.

But fear not, New England: this time, the Giants aren't equipped to kill the Patriots' latest winning streak.

The ultimate factor that derailed Brady and the Patriots offense in those two Super Bowls was consistent pressure from the front four. This season, the Giants can't get pressure at all, let alone consistently. Through Week 9, they rank dead last in the NFL in sacks with 9; Chandler Jones alone has 9.5. They are last in total yards allowed per game (422.8) and 31st in passing yards allowed per game (308).

But those numbers do not tell the whole story, as stats like passing yards and sacks tend to do. The 2011 Giants ranked poorly in passing yards too - but further analysis proves that this incarnation of the Giants defense really is that bad. Most striking is the team's utter ineptitude on third downs; they have stopped only 47.6 percent of third down plays, 31st in the league. It's the same problem that has haunted Patriots defenses in the past.

From the "Looks Good On Paper" department, the Giants lead the league in interceptions (13) and tackles (682), and rank 5th with 46 passes defended. But that's not valuable production; that's a byproduct of their inability to get to the QB or get off the field on third down. It has led to the most passing attempts allowed in the league (368) - and good QBs are making them pay.

New York Giants v New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints looks to pass during the first quarter of a game against the New York Giants on November 1, 2015. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The Giants have played three games this season against quarterbacks one would consider Pro-Bowlers: Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, and Drew Brees. Although skewed a bit by Brees' 7-touchdown outburst in Week 7, those three QBs nonetheless averaged 408 passing yards, 4 touchdowns and one interception in those games.

If the Giants gave those guys too much time, what is Brady going to do with a clean pocket? He has been getting the ball out in two seconds or less against several strong defensive fronts this season, and even if they got real pressure it hasn't mattered all that much. Brady also moves significantly better in the pocket than the statue he was in 2007 and 2011.

I looked deeper into the performance of the Giants defense this season using advanced stats from the trusted experts at Pro Football Focus. For the uninitiated, PFF analyzes and scores how well players execute their assignment regardless of outcome of the play - in other words, whether they do their job - then converts their totals to a grade on a 0-100 scale. This allows you to evaluate a player's performance independent of how his teammates may influence his numbers - for instance, a QB gets a good grade for making a perfect throw that the receiver drops, which otherwise goes in the books as an incompletion.

How about that Giants pass rush? Robert Ayers has been by far their best performer with an 83.3 out of 100, which according to PFF grades as a high-end starter but not quite a Pro-Bowler. Next-best is Cullen Jenkins with 70.2, which would grade him as borderline starter. George Selvie and Kerry Wynn are 1-2 on the team in number of snaps on passing downs, but their pass rush grades are 44.2 and 41.7 respectively - "replaceable", according to PFF's grading scale. The Giants also just lost their highest-graded defensive tackle, Johnathan Hankins, for the rest of the season. Jay Bromley (69.7 pass rush grade) is likely to step into Hankins' role.

As below average as the Giants defensive line has been against the pass, the linebackers aren't helping matters. Uani 'Unga leads Giants LBs in in passing down snaps (245), yet grades at 43.1. Next is Devon Kennard with 56.3. Even with a patchwork offensive line, the Patriots should be able to contain these guys - for at least the two seconds Brady needs, anyway.

New York Jets v New York Giants
Zac Stacy of the New York Jets jumps over Brandon Meriweather of the New York Giants to score a touchdown. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

As putrid as the Giants pass rush has been this season, their coverage hasn't been much better. While cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has played at a high level, their linebackers and safeties have been porous. J.T. Thomas has been their only LB that grades above 80 in that department, while aforementioned snap leaders Unga and Kennard have been heinous (44.7 and 39.7, respectively). Old friend Brandon Meriweather has actually been decent in coverage (79.0) and starts alongside rookie Landon Collins, who has not (37.9). Can these guys contain Rob Gronkowski? They have allowed 5 touchdowns to tight ends this season, but haven't faced anyone near the caliber of Gronk - and another old friend, Ben Watson, just torched them for 147 yards and a score.

The X-factor here, of course, is Jason Pierre-Paul. The Pro-Bowl end is back in the lineup after recovering from his horrific fireworks accident that partially severed two fingers and a thumb, and looked OK in his first game back against Tampa Bay. He could give their pass rush a major boost if he plays up to his potential, but could still show some rust as he works his way back.

Ultimately, the reason New England fans may still get queasy about this game - especially if it's close late in the fourth quarter - is the coach and quarterback on the other side of the field. The Giants have some great skill players and could put some points on the board, but their defense is not up to the task this time to stop Brady. If and when Brady plays as well as he has all season in New York, and the Giants still can't get consistent pressure, they are in for a long day.

Don't fear the reaper, Patriots Nation - the Giants can't afford the funeral this time.

Matt Dolloff is a writer for His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Read more from Matt here. Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at

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