The Giants will look to get back in the win column this weekend when they welcome the Cleveland Browns to MetLife Stadium for a primetime Sunday night showdown.
After winning four consecutive games, the Giants fell to the Arizona Cardinals last week, 26-7. Daniel Jones threw for 127 yards and Colt McCoy added another 18 passing yards, while the two quarterbacks combined to get sacked eight times. On the defensive side of the ball, the Cardinals were able to gain 390 total yards of offense against Patrick Graham's unit.
The Browns are coming off a thrilling yet heartbreaking loss to the Ravens on Monday night, 47-42. Cleveland accumulated nearly 500 yards of offense and scored six touchdowns, but allowed the Baltimore offense to score 10 points in the final two minutes.
Here are five players to keep an eye on during this pivotal Week 15 matchup on Sunday Night Football.
Wayne Gallman's streak of six consecutive games with either a touchdown or 100+ rushing yards came to a halt against the Cardinals last week. Gallman carried the ball just 12 times in Week 14, the lowest number of carries he has registered since Week 8, but was able to gain 57 yards (4.8 avg.). The fourth-year back also caught three of four targets for an additional 16 yards.
Last week's game against Arizona represented the first time the Giants failed to top the 100-yard rushing mark since Week 5. From Weeks 6-13, the rushing attack, led by Gallman and Daniel Jones, averaged nearly 150 rushing yards per game. Despite the limited touches, Gallman's performance earned him a 72.3 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, including a 73.8 run grade.
The Browns have had their ups and downs against the run this season. Cleveland has yielded 114.1 rushing yards per game (16th in the NFL) and 4.4 yards per carry (17th). However, they have been susceptible to touchdowns on the ground, as the opponents' 16 rushing scores is tied for the 7th-most in the league. During last week's loss to Baltimore, the Browns surrendered 231 yards on 32 carries (7.2 avg.) and a whopping five touchdowns, including 124 yards and two touchdowns from Lamar Jackson.
"They play with a good nasty edge," head coach Joe Judge said about the Browns' defensive front on Friday. "I think when you think about their defensive front, a lot of people want to highlight the pass rush they have, which is obviously no secret. But these guys do a tremendous job against the run. Their interior players are very quick and elusive. They play with good penetration and anticipation and get around your blocks. Their edge players are very good at setting the edge and compress it and make sure they bottle up your run game right there."
Darius Slayton is in the midst of a quiet stretch. Over his last five games, the second-year wide receiver has topped three receptions and 35 receiving yards just once. During that same stretch, Slayton has been held without a catch once while registering just one catch in two games. The one outlier among this five-game stretch came in the Week 10 contest against the Eagles, when Slayton had five grabs for 93 yards, his highest yardage total since going for 129 yards against the Cowboys in Week 5.
Going up against Patrick Peterson and the Cardinals defense last week, Slayton was targeted eight times but finished with three receptions for 31 yards. While the targets were his highest since Week 8, the 37.5 catch percentage was his lowest of the year. Slayton has gone seven consecutive games without finding the end zone with just three total scores on the season. Slayton had eight touchdown receptions as a rookie last year.
The pass defense has not been Cleveland's strong suit. Entering Week 15, the Browns rank 20th in the league in passing yards allowed per game (249.0) and are tied for 24th in passing touchdowns (26). Cleveland has done a pretty good job of limiting explosive plays, but it was a big play late in the Baltimore game that may have cost them the win. Facing a fourth down inside the final two minutes, Lamar Jackson connected with Marquise Brown for a 44-yard TD to give Baltimore a 42-35 lead.
Andrew Thomas / Cameron Fleming
The Cardinals were able to get to Daniel Jones throughout the game last Sunday, taking him down six times, three of which resulted in fumbles (one lost). Colt McCoy saw limited action and was taken down an additional two times while also losing a fumble. Hasson Reddick finished with a career-high five sacks in this game. The eight total sacks allowed were three more than the Giants' O-line had given up in any game this year.
While it was a rough outing for the offensive line last Sunday, it came on the heels of several strong performances by tackles Andrew Thomas and Cameron Fleming in a row.
"Protecting the ball and protecting the quarterback is of the utmost of importance for us, as in any offense," said tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens, who will call the offense this weekend as the result of coordinator Jason Garrett being in COVID protocol. "That's where it all starts. A lot of times, those two things go hand in hand. Of course, it's always a priority for us. Cleveland is very good upfront. The better you are upfront, the more difficult that is. We have to do a good job of putting these guys in position to be successful."
Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett comes into this game with 10.5 sacks (third in the NFL) in just 11 games, and has registered at least one in seven contests. His career-high four forced fumbles rank second in the league. The Browns' front also features former Giants edge rusher Olivier Vernon (seven sacks) along with Sheldon Richardson (4.5) and Adrian Clayborn (3.5). The Browns sacked Lamar Jackson four times last week.
"You can talk about Myles all you want, and this guy is a phenomenal talent," Judge told reporters. "But you can't just look at one player on their team. Their entire front is very, very talented. Whether it's Myles on one side or OV (Olivier Vernon) or (Adrian) Clayborn, you can go ahead and pick one. You've got the d-tackles inside who do a great job with the pass rush and penetrate on the run game. To me, we have to protect against all of these guys up front. We have to handle the movement, we have to handle the blitzes that come off the edge, and these are very fast-flow linebackers. Again, they all tie together. There's a tremendous amount of talent on this team."
Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham's unit ranks seventh in the NFL with 101.5 rushing yards allowed per game. The Giants have only surrendered 3.9 yards per carry (sixth) and 11 rushing touchdowns (tied for 10th), and a big part of that can be attributed to the strong play out of Blake Martinez in his first season with the team.
Martinez has earned a 74.9 run defense grade from PFF through 13 games, and his 118 total tackles is tied for the fourth in the NFL. The 26-year-old has received an overall grade of 76.2, the ninth-best mark among linebackers, aided by his solid performance in coverage (74.9 grade). Martinez registered seven tackles (five solo) while playing 94 percent of the defensive snaps in last week's loss to the Cardinals.
Browns running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt have combined for over 1,600 yards on the ground to go with 14 touchdowns – and Chubb missed a month. Overall, Chubb is averaging nearly 100 rushing yards and a touchdown per game. Hunt has played a big role in the passing game with five TD receptions. The duo have helped Cleveland to the third-most rushing yards in the league (156.2 per game) and the fourth-best average yards per attempt (4.9). Chubb's 84.6 overall grade from Pro Football Focus comes in at No. 4 among running backs, while Hunt's 76.0 ranks 19th.
"You're talking about guys that don't go down on first contact," assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said on Friday about the Browns' backs. "Guys that play tough. (Nick) Chubb to me, I would love to meet this guy postgame or something. I love his demeanor, I love the way he carries himself. It's pretty impressive, him as a player. (Kareem) Hunt's a dynamic player in the run and pass game. They do a good job, it's definitely going to be a (inaudible) to see if we can handle the physicality. We're working towards that challenge today."
There's no denying the Giants' secondary took a bit of a blow on Thursday when it was announced that cover corner James Bradberry would miss this week's game on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Safety Logan Ryan's versatility will undoubtedly be valuable against the Browns.
"Look, it's our job to prepare the players," Judge said. "It's every player's job to be prepared to play when their number is called on. Look, we have guys on the team who have past history at cornerback. Versatility is definitely a cornerstone in how we build our team, especially our defense. That's no different. We work a lot of guys at different positions when we start the weeks of practice. Sometimes that doesn't always show up in games, but we're always thinking ahead and thinking of the 'what if' scenarios. "
Ryan has done a bit of everything for the Big Blue defense. Through 13 games (12 starts), the veteran defensive back has totaled 84 tackles (52 solo), a sack, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, one tackle for loss, four quarterback hits, one interception and nine passes defensed. He has earned an overall grade of 70.7 from PFF, ranking 18th among safeties, while posting a 72.4 run defense grade and 67.8 coverage grade. When talking to the media this week, Ryan acknowledged the defense's need to be even more physical this weekend.
"We want to dictate the game on our terms and the New York Giants with Joe Judge as the coach and the players that we have here this year is a physical team," Ryan said on Wednesday. "I don't think we're a finesse team, I don't think that we try to spread it around and whip the ball around and run a whole bunch of trickery. I think we're built on toughness, I think we're built on being a physical team, I think we're built and we play well when we run the ball, when we stop the run and when we cover kicks. I know Joe Judge stands by that, we're bought into that.
"This will be the most physical game of the year, it has to be, it's Sunday night, it's a big game, don't get that confused, we understand that. Everything we want is in front of us and it starts with a physical opponent, and we've got to go out there and bring it. We have a really good defensive line, we play a prideful, tough defense and we're preparing for the challenge and we'll be ready for the challenge. This is definitely a physical opponent and I think we're a physical defense, and that's strength on strength."
In addition to their stout run game, Cleveland also boasts some talented pass-catchers. Jarvis Landry leads the team with 60 receptions for 728 yards, almost doubling the production of any other receiver on the team. Landry often lines up in the slot. In addition, veteran tight end Austin Hooper (neck) appears to be on track to suit up this week and after catching eight of 11 targets over his previous four games.
View rare photos of the storied history between the Giants and Browns ahead of their preseason matchup.