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Defense faces more ground threats vs. Titans

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – In the previous two weeks, two NFL running backs have scored on touchdown runs at least 90 yards long. Each time, their next opponent was the Giants.

On Monday night, Dec. 3, Washington’s Adrian Peterson gashed Philadelphia for a 90-yard touchdown, which accounted for the vast majority of his 98-yard total in the Eagles’ 28-13 victory. Last week, the Giants held Peterson to 16 yards on 10 carries. In the teams’ first meeting on Oct. 28, Peterson ran for 149 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown.

Nine days ago, Tennessee’s Derrick Henry became just the second player in NFL history to run for 99 yards on one play. That was the highlight of his franchise-record 238-yard, four-touchdown performance in the Titans’ 30-9 domination of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Tomorrow, Henry and the Titans will be in MetLife Stadium to face the Giants in a duel between two teams looking to extend two-game winning streaks. The Giants will help their cause significantly if they are more successful corralling Henry than the Jaguars were.

Defensive coordinator James Bettcher probably didn’t have to spend much time convincing his players about Henry’s capabilities. He just had to put on the tape from the Jacksonville game and perhaps suggest to them that they didn’t want to be similarly victimized.

“I don’t know if you luck out when you say you get to see that the week before, but we’ve been fortunate two weeks in a row,” Bettcher said. “Adrian had one of those runs the week before we played him in Washington, and had one against us the first time we played. When that stuff’s on tape, it’s certainly a great example about maintaining gap integrity, playing with great leverage, and finding a way to get someone on the ground when you’ve got to tackle him in space.”

“You’ve got to stop him like you do Adrian Peterson or any marquee, downhill, hard-running back,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “Good run defense, it takes the whole team to fit the runs properly and then when he’s in your area or in your gap, you’ve got to get him on the ground. We’ve got to do a really good job of fitting the runs, and we’ve got to do a good job of tackling, and I think it’s a team thing.”

Henry’s big game against Jacksonville was an anomaly; he hadn’t run for more than 58 yards in any previous game this season. His four touchdowns account for almost half of his season total of nine.

But he is a threat against a Giants run defense that ranks 22nd in the NFL, allowing 121.8 yards a game. When Washington rushed for 84 yards last week, it was just the third time this season the Giants held an opponent to less than 100 yards on the ground.

The team’s young defensive linemen, including Dalvin Tomlinson, rookies B.J. Hill and RJ McIntosh, Josh Mauro, and Mario Edwards, have shouldered a larger load since run-stuffing tackle Damon Harrison was traded to Detroit on Oct. 25.

“These are really good players, but at the same time, just like when guys get hurt, it’s opportunities for other guys,” Bettcher said. “It’s unfortunate, like we talked about a week ago with (safety) Landon (Collins, who had shoulder surgery this week and is on injured reserve) – I love Landon and Landon knows that, but it’s an opportunity for the next guy. So it’s (the Harrison trade) been an opportunity not just for Dalvin, but opportunity for about three or four other guys that were maybe playing eight snaps or five snaps or 10 snaps a game. All those guys are getting more and getting more opportunities. With RJ coming back now, RJ’s getting more and more opportunities and he’s getting better each week. Whether it’s Mario or whoever it is in that room, it’s just opportunity for other guys.”

At 6-3 and 227 pounds, Henry is a load to bring down. But the Titans also have 5-8 speedster Dion Lewis, who has 50 receptions. And quarterback Marcus Mariota is also a threat on his feet, with 339 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

Last week, Josh Johnson relieved Mark Sanchez as the Redskins’ quarterback and led the team with 45 rushing yards, including an eight-yard touchdown. He also had a 13-yard scramble immediately preceding a 79-yard scoring pass to Jamison Crowder.

Bettcher was asked how to stop a quarterback that can hurt a defense when a play breaks down.

“Number one is integrity of the rushes, and that’s first and second down, that’s third down,” he said. “It happened to us in the game Sunday, we lost the edge and the quarterback scrambles in, and we really got a third down stop. Great coverage, but the rushes have to have great integrity and that’s both on the edges and the perimeter, because he’s going to scramble both places. Really, the second thing is those off-schedule downs, you’ve got to cover a few more seconds longer. It might be, we use the word ‘plaster’ like a lot of people do, we’ve got to plaster in coverages, downs, extend themselves, and understand how and where different receivers are going to break. Everybody has a scramble thought process to them, where they want to break and how receivers want to break, and we’ve got to be aware of where those guys are going to break.”

Between the bullish Henry, wide receiver Corey Davis, Lewis and Mariota, the Giants’ defense will face a multi-tiered challenge tomorrow.

*Since their early-November bye week, the Giants have a plus-nine turnover differential, which ties them with the Denver Broncos for the NFL’s best mark during that time.

*The Giants hold a 6-5 edge in what has been a series of streaks. The Giants won their first five games against the franchise that played in Houston prior to 1997 and was known as the Oilers prior to 1999. Those games were played between 1973 and 1994. The Oilers/Titans won the next five games, including in 2002 in Giants Stadium and 2010 in their only previous game in MetLife Stadium. The Giants broke that streak on Dec. 7, 2014, when they trounced the Titans in Nashville, 36-7.

*The Giants and Toyota, in partnership with the United States Marines, will hold their annual Toys for Tots drive at MetLife Stadium when they host the Tennessee Titans tomorrow. Fans are encouraged to bring new, unwrapped toys to any of the Toyota collection vehicles located at each entrance to the stadium prior to the game. Uniformed Marine Corps Reserves and volunteers will be on hand to assist in collecting the donated gifts.

Modell’s Sporting Goods has donated $2,500 worth of sports equipment to the cause and will hand out coupons to all fans who donate a toy. Coupons are redeemable at Modell’s locations only. All gifts collected during the drive will be donated to Toys for Tots, the premier community action program of the United States Marines. Over the last 50 years, the Marines have distributed over 272,000,000 toys to children across the country during the holiday season.

Since the late 1970’s, the Giants have participated in this program and hosted an annual Toys for Tots drive, helping to bring the joy of Christmas to children across the tri-state area. Once again, the Giants ask their friends and fans to join the team as we assist our neighbors in need.

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