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Giants defense prepares for dangerous Lions offense

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 Steve Spagnuolo and the Giants defense are ready to face Matthew Stafford and the rest of the challenging Lions offense come Monday night:

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.– When defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo lists his goals for the Giants' defense each week, No. 1 – after winning the game, of course - is to hold the opposing team to no more than 17 points.

In the season opener last week in Dallas, the Giants surrendered just one touchdown. But Dan Bailey kicked four field goals and the Giants lost, 19-3, thereby falling short of their top two objectives.


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Today, Spagnuolo didn't endorse a theory presented by a reporter that the Giants should have won because they kept Dallas' point total under 20.

"We go look at it and say, 'What could we have done to have less points to keep us in the game and make it a one possession game, so maybe Eli (Manning) gets the ball at the end of the game and who knows, right?'" Spagnuolo said.

"But going back to your original question, find a way. That was a good football team. That was a good offense we played. I would have felt better and still lost the game, that's the bottom line, right? So if I say, 'I would have felt better if we held them to six or nine, we still would have lost. We got to do better than that.' But we'll find a way to do that this week, hopefully."

That would be Monday night, when the Giants will meet the Detroit Lions in their home opener. The Lions scored 35 points in their 12-point victory against Arizona, including 26 in the second half (the final seven on an interception return). With quarterback Matthew Stafford and numerous talented receivers and runners, Detroit is capable of quickly scoring a lot of points.

"He's a veteran quarterback, highest paid quarterback in the league now," defensive tackle Damon Harrison said. "Much respect to him for getting his due, but he's a slinger. He's a gunslinger. He can make all the throws and he's athletic."

"He definitely trusts his arm," cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. "You can see on film, he has tight coverage, but somehow he zips it in there. When he's healthy, he's got a real strong arm."

Nine months ago in MetLife Stadium, Stafford threw for 273 yards, despite nursing a finger injury. But the Lions scored only six points in an 11-point loss.

"He's flinging it around," Spagnuolo said. "He has a real strong arm. Tim Walton, one of our secondary coaches, was with him in Detroit and he knows him inside and out. Practiced against him, and he says he's very intelligent, he can make all the throws. And now that he has been in the system there for 2-3 years and he's been a quarterback in this league for (nine), that's an experienced quarterback that knows how to win. He's really dangerous."

A look at the expected starters for the Lions on Monday night

One of Spagnuolo's particular concerns this week is stopping Detroit on third down. The Lions succeeded on eight of 16 conversion attempts against the Cardinals, and seven of 15 vs. the Giants last December. Dallas, meanwhile, converted eight of 15 opportunities last Sunday, a big reason its time of possession was a healthy 34:14.

"We pride ourselves on third down," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "I think we gave up a few too many (against Dallas) and that's definitely a thing we've got to correct."

"My concern is getting better on third down," Spagnuolo said. "That was the message. When I sat down with the team on Monday or Tuesday, you try to figure out what happened. I thought it was a first down issue. Nah, not really. If it was a second down issue, a couple maybe, but not totally. And all I could come up with was third down, and a couple of explosive plays and some leaky yards. What we call leaky yards are some of those six-yard runs to be three-yard runs, because the third downs turned into third-and-two, third-and-four, third-and-five.

"Probably the most disappointing play was we had a third-and-12 and didn't stop them. They would have kicked a field goal anyway, but we played four more plays. Another third-down stop could have been another five plays, and then all of a sudden, you're in the 60-play area (the Cowboys ran 71 plays, to just 53 for the Giants). As defensive players and coaches, we don't blame anybody but ourselves for too many plays. That's just the way we feel."

Their No. 1 goal now is to perform better on Monday night.

*The Giants' longest play in Dallas was nullified by a penalty, which still sits poorly with special teams coordinator Tom Quinn.

After Dallas took a 6-0 lead on Dan Bailey's second field goal, Dwayne Harris returned the kickoff 47 yards to the Giants' 45-yard line. But a 10-yard holding penalty on rookie linebacker Calvin Munson – which was enforced at the spot of the foul, the 21-yard line – sent the Giants all the way back to their own 11. Although they picked up one first down, the Giants punted from the 34.

"It was a hold," Quinn said. "It was on Munson. He had a poor base, poor football position. So, we'll learn from it and move forward, but that was a critical time, 6-0, starting the second quarter and we really hadn't done anything. That would have at least given us a chance to flip the field position and play on their side of the field."

*Tackle Bobby Hart (ankle) and linebacker Keenan Robinson (concussion) returned to practice today on a limited basis. Hart was injured in Dallas and Robinson didn't suit up for the game. Neither of them practiced yesterday. Wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. (ankle) was again limited.

Ben McAdoo was asked about each of the three players after practice:

On Hart: "Bobby Hart was limited and we'll take it day to day."

On Robinson: "Keenan is still in the concussion protocol. He took the next step in the protocol and was out here in a yellow jersey, and had a non-contact practice."

On Beckham: "He responded well to treatment. He responded well to his work yesterday. Got a little bit more today, but he's still limited."

*The Giants' regular-season series with Detroit is tied, 21-21-1.

*The Giants and Lions have met twice on a Monday night, with the Lions winning both times in Detroit, 15-9 on Nov. 7, 1983, and 35-14 on Sept. 8, 2014. The Giants are 24-37-1 on Monday night, including 9-9 at home. Detroit is 14-17-1.

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