Fact or Fiction: Biggest threat on Sunday?

Derrick-Henry-Fact-or-Fiction

Titans running back Derrick Henry is the biggest threat to the Giants on Sunday. 

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - Despite Henry’s monster 238-yard rushing day last week, he is fairly far down the list for me when it comes to the Giants’ problems. Jurrell Casey can be a game-wrecker as a defensive tackle. For the Titans offensively, Marcus Mariota’s ability to scramble and run the football could be a big problem. He is one of the best running quarterbacks, either by design or scrambling, in the NFL. Finally, do not sleep on Dion Lewis. He is a smaller but elusive back who is a big target for the Titans in the screen game. Henry’s numbers last week were bolstered by two very long runs, and he is unlikely to repeat that success.

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - When I think of Mike Vrabel, I think of defense. And a physical one at that. So that’s the side of the ball I’m looking at first. Tennessee comes in with the No. 4 scoring defense in the NFL and is getting the job done in the red zone. The Titans have allowed 16 touchdowns inside the 20-yard line, the fewest in the league. Three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jurrell Casey is the biggest disrupter for the unit and therefore the biggest threat to the Giants on Sunday.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - Derrick Henry is coming off not just his best performance of the season but arguably the best performance of his entire career. He ran for a franchise-record 238 yards and four touchdowns in last Thursday’s win over the Jaguars, highlighted by a NFL record tying 99-yard touchdown run. That’s not the sole reason why Henry is the Giants’ biggest threat. The key to the Titans’ offense is their run game. They run the ball on nearly 50 percent of their plays, are averaging 124 yards per game (11th NFL) and Henry has nine touchdowns in the last seven contests. Given Henry is a big physical runner, if the Giants can keep him in check, much like they did last Sunday with Adrian Peterson, then that will put all the pressure on Marcus Mariota to make plays with his arm and legs. If you’re the Giants, you want Mariota to have to throw the ball between 35 to 40 times. That would mean Henry likely couldn’t set the tone on the ground.

Keep an eye on these five players as the Giants take on the Titans Sunday

Saquon Barkley will lead the team in receptions vs. Tennessee.  

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - If Odell Beckham Jr. can’t play on Sunday, or is seriously limited, the Titans will likely stack the box to slow down Saquon Barkley and go to a lot of man-to-man defense. Barkley can take advantage of that, but so can Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram. Manning will have to find someone to throw the ball to down the field, and I think those two will be frequent targets.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - Even if Odell Beckham Jr. plays Sunday, I would still go with “fact” here. Just like how the Giants heard all about Adrian Peterson’s 90-yard touchdown run heading into the Redskins game and Derrick Henry’s 99-yarder this past week, the Titans are gearing up for No. 26. Barkley is averaging 121 yards on the ground since the bye week, a span in which the Giants are 4-1, and you can bet Tennessee’s game plan begins and ends with not allowing Barkley to wreck the game on the ground. Through the air is a different story. Opponents have been able to survive games in which Barkley racks up the catches. The Giants are 0-6 when he has more than five catches. 

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - Last Sunday, with Odell Beckham out against the Redskins, Saquon Barkley led the team in receptions with four and was tied for second with Evan Engram in targets with five. Eli Manning mentioned the team saw more man coverage against Washington than they had seen all season because the Redskins’ philosophy was ‘let’s see if the other receivers can win one-on-one coverage.’ To the receiving corps’ credit, that group made plenty of plays, but Manning also likes to spread the wealth. If Beckham doesn’t play Sunday, I would expect Tennessee to adopt a similar philosophy to the Redskins and good things tend to happen when the Giants put the ball in Barkley’s hands. I figure he’s a good bet to lead the team in receptions.

The Giants will force multiple turnovers for the third consecutive game.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - As we’ve talked about in this space before, takeaways are as much a product of the team with the ball making a mistake as the team taking it away making a play. The Titans have 15 turnovers this season with a minus-4 turnover ratio. It is impossible to sustain the type of takeaway streak the Giants are on. Does it end this week? It is anyone’s guess, but I’ll say yes, and then we’ll get to see whether the Giants can win their first game without being plus-2 in the turnover column. Defensive scores and good field position set up by takeaways have been a huge part of the Giants’ success since the bye week.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - The Giants are on a roll in that department, and I think they keep rolling in what could be cold, wet conditions at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. This also applies to special teams, a unit that has been coming on strong as the roster has leveled off after months of turnover. Maybe the Giants get a muffed punt and an interception? That doesn’t seem like too far of a stretch, even for a Titans team that has turned the ball over just 15 times this season.

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - The Titans have turned the ball over 15 times in 11 games, so they’re averaging not much more than one mishap per gameOverall, Tennessee has been a fairly disciplined team this season with just four multi-turnover games and none in the last three contests. Takeaways are fluky and it’s not a statistical category that you can enter a game banking on x amount of opportunistic plays. The Titans’ track record in protecting the ball doesn’t favor the Giants here.

Derrick Henry’s 99-yard touchdown last week was the best play of the 2018 NFL season – so far.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - The whole one-hand catch phenomenon has become so commonplace now, I’ll eliminate any of those as a possibility already. Patrick Mahomes has made some superhuman throws that are hard to forget. Even someone like Josh Allen and his running has been fun to watch. I’ll tip the cap to Henry because his run was a rare combination of speed and power you don’t see as much anymore. But there was nothing that can compare to what the Dolphins did to the Patriots at the end of their game last week. Using rugby principles, they pulled off a play so many teams try to at the end of games but never can.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - It didn’t register as a Beast Quake, but the magnitude was still pretty high last Thursday night. Henry was “just throwing guys off of him like it was high school,” Saquon Barkley said when he was asked about this week. “That’s like the vintage Derrick Henry from college at Alabama,” Barkley added. “I think he was doing that every single week at Alabama. He’s a big back, but a lot of people, I guess you can say, don’t realize how fast he is.” I’m also a fan of tight end Vance McDonald’s stiff-arm on a 75-yard touchdown for the Steelers in Week 3 against the Buccaneers.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact All you need to know is that there’s been just two plays of that kind in NFL history. The only other player to accomplish that feat is Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett against the Vikings on Monday Night Football in the 1982 regular-season finale. That alone puts Derrick Henry in an exclusive club. Add on the fact he stiff-armed two players up the left sideline while somehow staying inbounds en route to the end zone, and you show me another play that tops that effort. Coincidentally, last week, the Dolphins pulled off a remarkable game-winning touchdown against the Patriots, thanks to a pair of laterals. That play deserves heavy consideration for best of the season, but I’m still not putting it ahead of Henry’s touchdown, which brought back memories of Marshawn Lynch’s beast mode 67-yard touchdown run against the Saints in the wild card round of the 2010 playoffs that caused an earthquake in Seattle.

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