By Paul Dottino
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – How many times have we seen this motion picture before? The Giants host a less-than-stellar opponent at MetLife Stadium and come away with either an ugly victory or a loss.
Coach Tom Coughlin and his staff are reminding the players that, not only are the Cleveland Browns better than their 0-4 record indicates – they easily could have won three games – but that the Giants already have put themselves in a bit of a sticky situation with a 2-2 start. It's the latter that should bother Coughlin's team.
Despite an injury report that includes 13 names, the Giants are more talented than most. And they cannot afford to dip under sea level with the gauntlet of a schedule they'll have to face, beginning next week in San Francisco.
Here are this week's three key matchups to watch
1) Giants RBs Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown vs. Browns LBs D'Qwell Jackson and Scott Fujita
Sooner or later, the Giants are going to have to establish a running game worthy of commanding respect if they are going to make another run at the postseason. After moderate success against a poor Carolina team, the Giants did not open holes or run well in the loss at Philadelphia. Although the Browns have allowed more than 400 yards of total offense per game, Jackson is a complete player who excels in stuffing the run and Fujita has been a good run-stopper since his days with the Saints. The Browns also have a physical set of linemen, anchored by DTs Ahtyba Rubin (a plugger at 330 pounds) and Billy Winn. Cleveland is allowing a modest 117 yards per game on the ground and a 4.0 average -- good enough to make the Giants work for their real estate
2) Giants QB Eli Manning vs. Browns' secondary
Manning has been very inconsistent during the first month, having thrown seven TD passes and four INTs. This ratio is unacceptable for a player of his experience and talent. But he's made some poor decisions under pressure in the pocket, and those throws remind you of the bad habits he had earlier in his career. Point blank, the Browns do not have a good secondary -- mediocre and declining former Eagles DB Sheldon Brown starts at right corner, yet opponents still would prefer to throw long against LCB Dimitri Patterson and nickel Buster Skrine. Enough said. Manning should be able to methodically pick apart these defensive backs to take whatever he wants -- without making any foolish mistakes.
3) Giants KOR David Wilson vs. Browns' kickoff coverage unit
Wilson had a breakout game against a poor Eagles coverage unit, explaining that he was within a fraction of taking any one of his returns the distance. He averaged 36.2 yards on six returns, with a long of 53. The Browns are average in their kick coverage, so this would be a great opportunity for Wilson to prove that he was not a one-shot wonder in Philadelphia. He can gain some momentum for his team and perhaps even gain some more playing time.
Prediction: Giants 24, Browns 10
Prediction record vs. spread: 2-1-1
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