Tom Coughlin had been asked about the significance of his New York Giants re-establishing its dominance at home.
Coughlin stood at the podium and spat out a response that was to the point.
“We need to win a game.”
On Sunday, the Giants (5-4) get a chance to do just that when they host the Falcons at 1 p.m. New York has lost four in a row, is one game back of Dallas by in the NFC East race and trails the Falcons for the final playoff slot in the conference.
The Giants are coming off their bye week. Historically, the Giants have lost 15 of the 20 games following a regular-season bye, including three of five during Coughlin’s tenure as coach.
The 2009 season has been a contradiction. New York ranks 10th in total offense with averages of 25.8 points per game, 377.7 yards per game, 238.8 passing yards per game and 138.9 rushing yards per game. The 2009 edition’s offensive statistics are comparable to last year’s team that finished third in the NFL in total offense (26.7 PPG, 355.9 YPG, 198.6 PYPG, and 157.4 RYPG).
In winning their first five games, the Giants outscored their opponent by an aggregate 151-71 (scoring 30.2 per game) while committing only five turnovers (three fumbles, two interceptions) and totaled 2,087 yards of offense. But during the four-game losing streak, they have averaged 20.3 points per game, have turned the ball over 10 times (four fumbles, six interceptions) and have gained only 1,362 yards.
A glaring issue during the slide has been the play of the offensive line, which has allowed 12 sacks for minus-66 yards. Contrast that to the first five games where they yielded only three sacks for minus-27. Moreover, Eli Manning, never fleet afoot, often had to throw off his wrong foot while backpedaling from pass rushers in losses to New Orleans, Arizona, Philadelphia and San Diego.
Manning, in his midweek meeting with the media, chose to look at the season’s final seven games as an “opportunity.”
“Seven games left. We have to play well, and it starts this week with Atlanta, getting back to winning and having some fun,” Manning said. “It starts this week.”
Left guard Rich Seubert seconded his quarterback.
“We’re worried about this week. The past you can’t change it; just look to improve it,” he said.
The offense is not the only component that has struggled. For a franchise whose DNA is encoded in defense, with the names Andy Robustelli, Sam Huff, Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks and Michael Strahan demanding exalted status in the organization’s lore, the 2009 Giants rank 21st in total defense, allowing 22.7 points per game.
The Giants gave up an average of 33.3 points per game in their past four games. Compare that to the 14.2 per game yielded in the first five games. A close inspection reveals that the Giants have allowed 23 pass completions of more than 20 yards and 24 rushes of more than 10 yards. Of those plays, 16 catches and nine rushes came during the losing streak.
A shorthanded unit for most of the season, the defense should be almost whole Sunday with an increased role for outside linebacker Michael Boley and the possible return of cornerback Aaron Ross.
Boley, a former Falcon, signed a five-year, $25 million free-agent deal with New York in the off-season. Among the league’s best cornerbacks, Ross has not played a down this season while recuperating from a hamstring injury.
Coughlin seemed to hint that Boley will spend Sunday afternoon alternating between pressuring Matt Ryan and covering Tony Gonzalez, saying that “the speed at the position and the ability to adjust,” were among the chief attributes that Boley provides. “The ability to not only cover, but in pressure package he does get the chance to rush.
“He doesn’t just get matched up on the tight end.”
Coughlin would not show his hand regarding Ross’ availability for Sunday. Ross said he is unsure if he’ll start or be used in nickel or dime packages.
“I really have no idea. Right now they are working me in and just trying to see how my leg holds up. I have no idea if I’m going to be a nickel or a dime. I really don’t know. I’m just waiting for them to call No.31 out there,” said Ross.
The cornerback said he was able to use the time away to study potential matchups.
“There were a lot of things I was able to pick up mentally since I wasn’t out there physically,” Ross said.
On Sunday, the Giants, like Ross, hope they can begin to apply those lessons.