The New England Patriots are all set to take on yet another favorable opponent in the New York Giants, who enter Gillette Stadium with plenty of injuries.
Tonight, New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones is determined to do something that’s never been done before. On 11 separate occasions in history, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has dueled a rookie signal-caller at home during the regular season.
Brady is a perfect 11-0 in all those games.
Jones will seek to buck that trend on Thursday Night Football, and it certainly won’t be easy for him. Apart from Brady being 11-0 against rookie quarterbacks at home, this Patriots team is also 5-0 on the season. While those wins haven’t come against the strongest of competition – Steelers, Dolphins, Jets, Bills, and Redskins – the Giants aren’t really viewed as being any better than many of those teams anyway.
Further complicating matters for New York is the absence of several key players from their lineup… particularly on offense. Saquon Barkley is the biggest name by far, but his inactiveness isn’t really a surprise; he suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 3 versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and hasn’t played since.
At best, Barkley could probably return in a week-and-a-half to play the Arizona Cardinals, but even that is far from a guarantee. As fast as Barkley has progressed in his recovery, high ankle sprains are no laughing matter for running backs (or for anyone really), as the negative effects from the injury have been known to linger much longer than certain other ailments.
Barkley’s backup, Wayne Gallman, is also inactive tonight with a concussion. That thrusts third-stringer Jon Hilliman – an undrafted rookie out of Rutgers – into the spotlight on primetime television. Hilliman will be expected to establish the threat of the run game against one of the best rushing defenses in the NFL… good luck.
It won’t get much easier for the G-Men if they want to move the ball through the air, either. As stout as the Patriots’ frontline has been against the rush, the strength of this No. 1-ranked defense is 100% its secondary and linebacking corps.
The linebackers – recently self-nicknamed “The Boogeymen” – have been terrorizing opposing offenses all season-long, but have become particularly frightening over the past few weeks with the return of Kyle Van Noy. Between him, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, and Ja’Whaun Bentley, it’s actually surprising there haven’t been more injuries suffered by New England’s opponents… these ‘backers are just flattening runners, quarterbacks, and wideouts week-in and week-out.
As for the secondary, it’s been as advertised. Bill Belichick’s back-end defenders were widely perceived to be the crown jewel of this defense entering 2019, and they haven’t disappointed. It’s a testament to the overall depth and quality of this secondary that Stephon Gilmore, who may be its best player on paper, is actually having a quieter season than some of his peers… namely Jason McCourty, Devin McCourty, Jonathan Jones, and J.C. Jackson.
This fearsome Patriots D must be licking its chops as it eyes the beleaguered Giants O. Starting wideout Sterling Shepard is also out of the lineup with a concussion, and Evan Engram – one of the more promising tight ends in the league – will also miss the game tonight as he deals with an MCL sprain in his knee.
For the Patriots offense, New England will look for back-to-back impressive showings from two of its more important cogs on that side of the ball: Tom Brady and Sony Michel. Both players struggled mightily on the road in Week 4 versus the Buffalo Bills, before rebounding well in Week 5 (again on the road) versus Washington.
Michel, in particular, has been a source of frustration in his second season, both for fantasy football enthusiasts who drafted him and for diehard New England Patriots fans, as well. Expected to make the much-ballyhooed “second-year leap” by many analysts and prognosticators in the preseason, Michel has so far disappointed greatly.
He did show some nice moves on several routes he ran last Sunday, and he managed to snag three receptions on three targets for 35 yards. Amazingly, that’s about half the total production he had in the passing game all of last season.
If he’s able to build on that performance, he could help himself massively when he does end up carrying the rock, as defenses will start to relax back from the line of scrimmage and respect him more as a pass-catching threat.
The New England Patriots offense is overall set up nicely this evening against a subpar New York Giants defense. Only the Cincinnati Bengals have given up more yards this season than the Giants, and New York is also allowing an average of 25.0 points per game.
Considering the Patriots are averaging about 31.0 points per game heading into this matchup, that figure for the Giants could climb even higher by the time the final whistle sounds… unless Daniel Jones makes history, of course.