- Gary Horton, Scouts Inc.
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This week's "Monday Night Football" game (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET) features the undefeated Giants on the road versus the Browns. Scouts Inc. has all the story lines to watch in this NFC matchup.
More than just an inside running game
Although we think of the Giants as a powerful, between-the-tackles running team, they are also quite good at running outside. LG Rich Seubert and RG Chris Snee are underrated when they pull or trap. They do an excellent job of leading the way around the corner and kicking out the outside linebacker or defensive end to allow RB Brandon Jacobs to turn up inside or get to the edge -- where he is nearly impossible to bring down.
The Giants' defense will show the Browns a variety of blitzes from inside and out. They will do a lot of twists and stunts with their front four and even have DE Justin Tuck line up inside. They will also show some overload blitzes to the Browns' right side to take advantage of Cleveland's instability at right tackle.
Receivers' height advantage
Look for the Giants to throw a lot of fade routes, especially in the red zone, and high passes from QB Eli Manning to take advantage of his receivers' huge height advantage on the perimeter. WRs Plaxico Burress (6-foot-5), Amani Toomer (6-3) and Domenik Hixon (6-2) are over six feet and good leapers, while the Browns' young starting corners (Eric Wright and Brodney Pool) are both 5-10. This is a bad matchup for Cleveland, especially because the Browns' have a marginal pass rush, which exposes their corners even more and forces them to hold their coverage longer. Manning will torch them on the fade route, which he is very good at.
Better in the red zone
The Giants have worked hard to improve their red zone offense. On paper the Giants look like they would be lethal near the goal line, but they are ranked No. 21 in red zone offense. That should improve this week versus the Browns' No. 27-ranked red zone defense. New York has two excellent ways to attack Cleveland -- throw the fade to Burress or pound the ball inside with Jacobs. Manning has great accuracy in the red zone and he is a master of the play fake, which will freeze the defense and create good matchups.
It all starts up front
The Browns must control Jacobs and the Giants' powerful inside run game. The Giants are second in the NFL in rushing and in time of possession; They simply wear down defenses with their trio of backs -- Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw and Derrick Ward. The Browns seem more comfortable each week with their switch from a 4-3 to 3-4 defensive front, but they must be physical in the middle. It all starts with NT Shaun Rogers, who is big, strong and can eat up blocks, but has suspect conditioning and will likely tire late in this game. DEs Corey Williams and Shaun Smith are solid run stoppers, but the depth behind them is shaky. The game plan for the Giants will be to run early, set up play-action, build a lead and then go back to the run to close out the game. The Browns' defensive line needs a to play a complete game, but they may not have enough bodies to do it.
To press or not to press
Wright and Pool must decide whether to get physical and play some press schemes versus the Giants' receivers or whether to play back in zone. If they are successful pressing, they could disrupt the timing of the Giants' passing game -- but the Giants' physical receivers are likely to beat the press schemes and get open deep. And if the Browns play in man-off coverages, Manning will pick them apart. Wright and Pool need to hope the pass rush gets to Manning, so they aren't stuck in coverage too long. Plus, the Browns' defensive coaches must call a great game to give them any chance to slow down the Giants' offense.
Banged up Browns receivers
There have been so many injuries to this Browns passing game that, in all fairness, they have really struggled to develop chemistry. WR Donte' Stallworth was expected to be the deep threat that prevented defenses from double-covering WR Braylon Edwards, but Stallworth has yet to play due to a quad injury (he may play this week). WR Joe Jurevicius, who is the Browns' most consistent possession receiver, is on the PUP list with a staph infection. Edwards missed a lot of training camp because of a cut on his foot. And now TE Kellen Winslow has been hospitalized with an undisclosed injury and it is uncertain if will play Monday night.
As a result, the Giants will double-cover Edwards and backup TE Steve Heiden (if Winslow is out). However, even with Winslow on the field there hasn't been much of a vertical element or explosiveness to the Browns' passing game: their longest pass play of the season is only 23 yards.
Gary Horton, a pro scout for Scouts Inc., has been a football talent evaluator for more than 30 years. He spent 10 years in the NFL and 10 years at the college level before launching a private scouting firm, The War Room.
Gary Horton knows what to pay attention to in the Giants-Browns MNF game.