EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Detroit Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones, Jr. did not have to catch four touchdown passes last week to get noticed by James Bettcher.
"I think his ability level before that had my attention anyways because I know Jones is a really good player and a really talented receiver," Bettcher, the Giants' defensive coordinator, said this week. "Guys have breakout games like that. They have another good receiver (Kenny Golladay) opposite him, another good one (Danny Amendola) in the slot. We're going to have to do a good job on all of those guys."
That will be one of the most significant challenges for Bettcher's unit when the 2-5 Giants face the 2-3-1 Lions on Sunday in Ford Field. It is exacerbated because the quarterback throwing them the ball, Matthew Stafford, is one of the very best passers in the NFL. Stafford last week surpassed 40,000 career passing yards in a league-record 147th game, four games faster than runner-up Matt Ryan of Atlanta.
"We're definitely going to have our work cut out for us," safety Antoine Bethea said. "Stafford, he can make all of the throws. His arm strength is up there, top three in the league, and he puts the ball on the money. He has a number of threats that he can get the ball to. Even if you have the receivers covered, he's going to throw it up there and give his receivers a chance to make plays on the ball. But for us, we have to look at it where we have ample opportunities to be able to get our hands on the ball and turn the ball over."
"He has a really quick release, and he is not afraid to try to stick it on somebody," Bettcher said. "You can be in really good coverage and you're going to have a really good amount of contested throws in the game, where you're going to have to go compete, high point the ball, or you're going to be on somebody and he's going to try to jam it in there. He's not shy about trying to do that, and he's made a lot of great plays trying to do that."
As the season approaches the midway point, the Lions are ranked sixth in the NFL with an average of 277.2 passing yards a game. Stafford's 8.03 yards per attempt and 101.7 passer rating are both career bests. He has thrown only three interceptions in 218 attempts.
Jones, Golladay, Amendola and tight end T.J. Hockenson, Detroit's first-round draft choice this year, have combined for 95 catches for 1,043 yards and 12 touchdowns. They could become even more important in Detroit's scheme because leading rusher Kerryon Johnson was placed on injured reserve this week after undergoing a procedure on his knee. The Lions hope to get him back in December, but on Sunday J.D. McKissic and rookie Ty Johnson will share the load. Detroit this week signed former Giant Paul Perkins off its practice squad. A fifth-round draft choice in 2016, Perkins was waived on Sept. 16.
The Giants aren't buying the supposition that the Lions might become even more dependent on this pass this week.
"Next man up," safety Jabrill Peppers said. "I know they have Ty. 41 (McKissic) used to be a receiver, so I'm sure we're going to see a lot of him as well. They just activated Paul, who we know very well.
"They're going to try to run the ball," Bettcher said. "I don't see (head coach) Matt Patricia or (offensive coordinator) Darrell (Bevell) changing their offense one bit. They have a system they believe in and that they're going to stay with. They're going to try to run the ball, then they're going to max up, then they're going to take some deep shots. Those are the two things. We have to stop the run on those early downs, and then they're going to mix in their play action shots and push the ball vertically down the field."
No matter how the game unfolds, it's likely at some point the Giants will have to come up with a big stop on a Stafford pass. In four games against the Giants, Stafford has completed 86 of 134 passes (64.2%) for 963 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. He is 2-2 vs. the Giants.
Peppers faced Stafford for the first time as a rookie with Cleveland two years ago. Stafford completed only 17 passes, but three of them went for touchdowns in a 14-point Lions victory.
"He dices up pretty nice," Peppers said. "I know I'm definitely coming into that game with a different mindset because I played against him. His surrounding cast has gotten a lot better. The guys have matured around him. He has some pieces now. The acquisition of the tight end (Hockenson) has helped him a lot. We know we definitely have our work cut out with Matt."
The Giants' goal is to make Stafford's afternoon as unpleasant as they possibly can.
"He has elite arm talent," safety Mike Thomas said. "Every year, he's up there in passing yards. He can make any and every throw. He isn't just throwing the ball, he's throwing deep. This is one of those games where you're going to get opportunities. Don't think it's just going to be a quick game-type game, or we just have to take away the first read and jump routes and stuff like that. No. Play everything true, and when the ball is in the air, go compete. That's it."
Sounds simple. Executing it well enough to win the game is the challenge.
*Wide receiver Sterling Shepard and rookie cornerback Corey Ballentine will not play in Detroit because they remain in the NFL concussion protocol. Shepard will miss his third consecutive game and fourth of the season and Ballentine will be inactive for the second week in a row.
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