NFL Preview - Detroit (1-4) at N.Y. Giants (3-2)
By Scott Garbarini, Associate NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - After breaking through with their first victory of the 2010 season -- and in a most impressive fashion -- the Detroit Lions now set their sights on obtaining their first road win in nearly three full years.
That may be a task easier said than done, however, when the long-suffering Lions head to New Meadowlands Stadium this Sunday to battle a resurgent New York Giants team that's also riding high after delivering a second straight notice-serving triumph in its most recent outing.
Detroit finally put an end to a 10-game losing streak that included defeats in its first four tests of 2010 with last weekend's home rout of the St. Louis Rams. The Lions didn't leave any doubt about the outcome either, dominating their fellow longtime doormats in all phases in a 44-6 thrashing that offered ample evidence that they're indeed a team headed in a positive direction.
All three units had a hand in Detroit's most lopsided win since a 44-0 decision over Jacksonville on Dec. 17, 1995. Quarterback Shaun Hill tossed three touchdown passes while subbing once again for the injured Matthew Stafford, return specialist Stefan Logan took a kickoff back 105 yards for a score in the second quarter, and cornerback Alphonso Smith put on the final exclamation point with a 42-yard interception return touchdown with just over seven minutes to go.
The Lions are now averaging 25.2 points per game for the season, the highest mark in the NFC.
While Detroit has been putting up points in bunches as of late, the Giants have been awfully stingy in giving them up during their current two-game tear. After racking up 10 sacks and yielding a minuscule 110 total yards in a 17-3 dismantling of previously-unbeaten Chicago in Week 4, New York shut down one of the league's most diverse offenses in last Sunday's 34-10 road verdict over Houston.
The Giants limited the high-powered Texans to 195 total yards and 11 first downs while stifling the NFL's top-ranked running game, with Houston mustering a meager 24 yards on 15 attempts.
New York's new-look defense has allowed a league-low 244.6 yards per game and produced 19 sacks over the course of its 3-2 start, good for a tie with Philadelphia and the improved Washington Redskins for first place in a wide- open NFC East pack.
Sustaining that success will now be the primary focus for Tom Coughlin's squad. The Giants were 5-0 at this stage of the season a year ago, but lost eight of their final 11 contests and endured a prolonged defensive meltdown to finish out of the playoff hunt.
Detroit, meanwhile, will be aiming to halt a dubious 23-game losing streak on the road and avoid matching the franchise's own NFL record for consecutive away setbacks set between 2001-03. The Lions haven't prevailed as the visitor since a 16-7 besting of Chicago on Oct. 28, 2007.
Hill is expected to lead the offense for a fifth straight week with 2009 No. 1 overall draft pick Stafford still recovering from a shoulder sprain sustained in the team's season-opening loss to the Bears, and it's possible the Lions could be without star wide receiver Calvin Johnson as well for Sunday's tilt. The talented fourth-year pro hurt his shoulder in the second half of last week's win and will likely be a game-time decision.
Detroit holds a 20-18-1 lead in the all-time regular season series with the Giants, but was a 16-10 home loser when the teams last met, in 2007. The Lions won the previous meeting, a 28-13 affair at Giants Stadium in 2004, the third consecutive road game they've won against Big Blue. The road team has won the last six installments of the series since a New York win at Giants Stadium during the 1990 season, and the Lions are 3-0 in series games played in North Jersey since the '90 loss.
In addition to the regular season series, the teams met once in the postseason, a 26-7 Lions win for the 1935 NFL Championship.
Coughlin is 2-2 against the Lions in his career, including 1-1 since taking over in New York in 2004. Detroit's Jim Schwartz will be meeting both Coughlin and the Giants for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
Stafford may be the Lions' quarterback of the future, but the team hasn't fared badly with Hill (1218 passing yards, 8 TD, 7 INT) at the controls in the present. The well-traveled backup has averaged over 280 passing yards and thrown for eight touchdowns in his four starts directing an offense that comes in sixth in the NFL in yards gained through the air. Johnson (24 receptions, 4 TD) is the unquestioned No. 1 target whose commanding presence helps to free up the rest of the receiving corps, but Detroit won't exactly be up the creek if the imposing wideout isn't able to go on Sunday. Veteran counterpart Nate Burleson (6 receptions, 1 TD) is now mostly healthy after missing a pair of games with a sprained ankle and had four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown in last week's win, tight ends Brandon Pettigrew (26 receptions, 1 TD) and Tony Scheffler (24 receptions, 1 TD) are both capable pass catchers who must be accounted for, and rookie running back Jahvid Best (241 rushing yards, 25 receptions, 5 total TD) has shown to be extremely dangerous as a receiver in open space. The speedy youngster hasn't been as effective running the football, averaging a pedestrian 3.5 yards per rush attempt thus far, and the Lions are putting up just 82 yards per game on the ground (27th overall). The front line has done a solid job in protection, though, having surrendered sacks on less than four percent of the club's pass plays, the fourth-best mark in the league.
Detroit will need to mount at least a semblance of a running game on Sunday to prevent the Giants from teeing off on Hill with their relentless pass rush. New York has been able to terrorize enemy quarterbacks even with steady end Mathias Kiwanuka (11 tackles, 4 sacks) sidelined indefinitely with a neck problem, as fellow linemen Osi Umenyiora (13 tackles, 6 sacks) and Justin Tuck (32 tackles, 4 sacks) have each raised their games a notch over the past two weeks. Umenyiora has notched five sacks and forced four fumbles during that time span, with Tuck recording four sacks in addition to helping anchor a run defense that ranks ninth in the NFL (98.6 ypg). The Giants have been even better against the pass, having permitted a league-best 146 yards per game through the air and a 55 percent completion rate. Safeties Antrel Rolle (31 tackles), signed as a free agent in the offseason, and Kenny Phillips (25 tackles, 1 INT), who missed most of last year with a knee injury, have both been difference-makers in a secondary that's been terrific at eliminating the big play.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
While the defense has gotten most of the headlines during New York's two-game win streak, the offense came through with its best showing of the season in last week's shellacking of the Texans. The Giants scored touchdowns on three of their first four possessions to build a comfortable 21-0 lead and got a sharp effort from Eli Manning (1302 passing yards, 8 TD, 8 INT), with the highly-paid quarterback completing 27-of-42 throws for 297 yards and connecting on three scoring strikes. Second-year wideout Hakeem Nicks (33 receptions, 409 yards) enjoyed his best day as a pro, establishing career bests with 12 catches and 130 yards against a beleaguered Houston secondary and hauling in a pair of touchdowns, giving him six in five games this year. Pro Bowler Steve Smith (28 receptions, 1 TD) gives Manning a reliable target on the opposite side of Nicks, with third receiver Mario Manningham (14 receptions, 1 TD) providing a deep threat despite being held without a catch over the past two contests. New York has displayed good balance as well, with the hard-nosed Ahmad Bradshaw (449 rushing yards, 3 TD, 12 receptions) ranking second in the NFC in rushing yards as the featured back and former starter Brandon Jacobs (172 rushing yards, 2 TD, 4 receptions) averaging nearly five yards per carry as a physical complement. The offense has been sloppy at times, however, as the Giants have committed 15 giveaways in their five games and Manning has been picked off eight times already this season.
Look for the Giants to try to establish the run against a Detroit stop unit that's given up unhealthy averages of 133.2 yards per game on the ground (26th overall) and 4.8 yards per rush for the year and allowed three individual backs to surpass the 100-yard barrier. The Lions have had major issues at linebacker, with sophomore DeAndre Levy -- the intended regular in the middle -- having sat out all but one game with a lingering groin injury and veteran strongside starter Julian Peterson (29 tackles, 1 sack) having been benched by Schwartz at one point earlier in the season. It's doubtful that Levy will be available for this week's test as well, and backup Landon Johnson's (14 tackles) status is also in question after he incurred a concussion against the Rams. Detroit's rebuilt defense has done some good things, however, with rookie tackle Ndamukong Suh (18 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT) and high-motor end Kyle Vanden Bosch (22 tackles, 1.5 sacks) leading a strong pass rush that's generated 14 sacks so far and Alphonso Smith (16 tackles, 3 INT, 3 PD) playing at a high level since being inserted as a starter at cornerback. The ex-Denver washout has garnered an interception in three consecutive games.
This matchup contains a pair of quality fantasy backs in Bradshaw and Best, both of whom should receive plenty of work come Sunday and warrant starts. Calvin Johnson owners will need to monitor his health status over the course of the week, as he's certainly worth a play if active. If not, Burleson, Pettigrew and Scheffler all get significant bumps up in value. Nicks has clearly established himself as the Giants' top pass-catching option and should be started in all formats, with Steve Smith a decent choice as a second receiver or flex player. Manning's a lower-end No. 1 quarterback who merits consideration as well, but use Hill only as a fall-back plan in spite of his good recent numbers, as New York has been exceptionally tough against the pass and the Lions won't have their best receiver at 100 percent. Those with the Giants defense at their disposal need to keep riding the hot hand, especially considering Detroit's longstanding problems on the road.
The Lions' confidence is beginning to rise, as is the talent base after stockpiling a considerable amount of good young players over the past couple of years, but the Giants are simply playing at a different level right now. The defense should have its way against a Detroit team that's become a little too reliant on the pass, and having an ailing or sidelined Calvin Johnson won't help the visitors' hopes of finally ending their epic losing streak on the road. New York's propensity for turning the ball over could leave the outcome hanging in the balance for a while, but Big Blue should make enough plays on both sides to keep the hungry but still-flawed Lions at bay.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 27, Lions 17
10/14 15:55:40 ET