Three keys to victory for the Giants on Sunday in Houston:
1. Don’t wait until third down to make a first down. Third down is an important down, but it’s not the only one that matters. For example, the Giants and Chiefs are both converting at a rate of 40 percent this season, tied for 11th in the NFL. But Kansas City is averaging 40 points per game, the best in the league. So where is the disconnect? First and second downs. Big Blue has a league-high average of 10.02 yards to go on second down, which they turn into a first down only 18.2 percent of the time.
“Let’s be productive, efficient, productive on first and second down,” offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. “Let’s make first downs on first down or second down, so the good news last week was we were better on third down (8-for-17 vs. Dallas), we had too many of them, but they helped us stay on the field at times. Unfortunately, it wasn’t good enough to come up with a win or get enough points.”
2. Know where No. 99 is at all times. The Giants face five of the past six AP NFL Defensive Players of the Year this season, beginning with a man who has earned the honor three times – J.J. Watt. He won in 2012, 2014 and 2015, but has played in only 10 games since then after landing on injured reserve the past two seasons with a back injury and fractured tibia. The 2017 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, however, has suited up both games this season and said Week 2 was “a lot better” than Week 1 for him. So what does that mean for Week 3? The Giants have to prepare for that.
“He’s productive at all the spots, too,” Shula said. “It’s not like he’s just outstanding on our right side outside. He can play outside on our left and inside or play over the center. I mean, he’s just so, not only talented and explosive, but his awareness is off the charts. Then you add in [Jadeveon] Clowney on the other side or when they’re together, so that’s why they’re really good on defense. We just got to continue to focus on ourselves, number one, and obviously be aware of those guys and execute our plan.”
After the trip to Houston, the Giants also face past DPOY honorees Luke Kuechly (2013) in Week 5 at Carolina and Khalil Mack (2016) in Week 13 when the Bears come to town.
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3. Be disciplined in defending zone-read. In Week 1, Blake Bortles broke a 41-yard run. In Week 2, Dak Prescott ran for 45 yards. Even going back to the preseason finale, Danny Etling had an 86-yard touchdown run. They are all quarterbacks. Now the Giants face the Texans’ Deshaun Watson, who averages 39.2 yards rushing per game. As a team, Houston has the No. 1 rushing offense through two weeks.
“We’re going to have to play disciplined football, both with the motions and with the responsibilities in the zone-read stuff,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “That’s been certainly a point of emphasis the last couple of weeks. I’m sure the question is going to come up of handling the zone-read stuff the last couple of weeks. That starts with me. I got to coach it better, and then collectively as a group, we’ve got to execute it better. There’s no magic pixie dust to sprinkle on it, nothing like that. It is coach it better, and execute it better. That’s a very simple solution, to be very honest with you.”