NFL Preview - Houston (2-0) at NY Giants (0-2) (ET)
(SportsNetwork.com) - Victor Cruz needs to start catching the ball in order for the New York Giants to achieve success.
When your most talented wide receiver has just seven catches in two games this season, it makes it difficult for any team to win. Cruz and the Giants hope to get off the schneid and avoid a second straight 0-3 start Sunday versus the visiting Houston Texans at MetLife Stadium.
Cruz had two catches for 24 yards in a season-opening loss at Detroit, then caught five passes (10 targets) for 60 yards in last weekend's 25-14 loss to Arizona in the home opener. Cruz, who missed some opportunities to put his team in great position versus the Cardinals, finished two yards shy (998) of his third straight 1,000-yard season in 2013.
"He's an outstanding football player. When the ball came his way, he made some outstanding catches," Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said. "Unfortunately, when we needed that third down before the punt, we didn't get that catch. The other one right at the end right in front of the bench was right at his fingertips, probably a little bit long. When you're not really accomplishing a whole lot, every play is a critical play. That's the only way I can look at it."
The Giants, who opened last season with six straight losses, took a 14-10 lead in the third quarter of SUnday's game, but the Cardinals scored 15 unanswered points. Ted Ginn's 71-yard punt return for a touchdown deflated New York's hope for a victory, and do did a fumble by running back Rashad Jennings in Arizona territory.
New York turned the ball over four times versus the Cardinals and quarterback Eli Manning has thrown two INTs in each of the first two games. Manning talked about the turnovers and how they play crucial roles.
"You've just got to understand you just can't have them," Manning said. "I think we are doing a better job of not turning it over as often. I think some of the ones we had were just some weird plays. A tipped ball on the first one and Rashad Jennings slips, arm hits the ground and the ball pops out. It wasn't like he got hit; he's being conscious of it, just kind of got some bad plays. So I think we have been more conscious of it and we just have to continue to be even better."
Manning has started 153 consecutive games and is 2-0 as a starter against the Texans with four TD passes. The Giants are 2-1 all-time against the Texans and defeated them, 34-10, back on Oct. 10, 2010. Coughlin is 3-1 in games versus the Texans in his coaching career.
The Texans are off to their second straight 2-0 start and last opened a season with three straight wins was 2012 (12-4), when they started 5-0 and made it all the way to the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
But don't let the 2-0 fool you because Houston opened with the same record last season and proceeded to lose 14 straight games. Texans first-year head coach Bill O'Brien will try to make sure history doesn't repeat itself and was asked if Sunday's game in New York will be a trap game.
"A trap game? For the Houston Texans? I certainly hope not. I appreciate the question, but I certainly hope that we don't think about any traps or back doors or I don't even know," O'Brien said. "One thing that's always stood out to me about this league is that every week is a challenge. Like, every week there is a great coaching staff on the other sideline and really, really top level, the best players in the world at what they do. And so if you fall into any type of trap thinking, 'OK, we beat the Oakland Raiders, so naturally we're going to go out there and beat the New York Giants.' That's crazy. That's absolutely crazy. I don't believe that's the case with our guys."
Houston opened the O'Brien era with a home win over Washington and is coming off last Sunday's 30-14 road pounding of Oakland. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a pair of touchdown passes and Arian Foster recorded his second straight 100- yard game with 138 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries.
Foster garnered praise from his coach.
"He's different from any back that I've ever coached. No doubt about it," O'Brien stated. "Every back I've coached has been very unique in his own skill set and what Arian brings to the table is he's got size, he's got really good vision and he's got the ability to make one cut and get north and south quickly, and then make second cut and get north and south again. The thing that really makes him a good back is that he can catch the ball. He's a good receiver out of the backfield. All of those things are what make him a good back. You see that over the last two games, his ability to do that."
Foster is facing a Giants defense that is allowing 100.0 rushing yards per game and gave up 91 yards on 15 carries to Arizona's Andre Ellington. Foster leads the AFC with 5,047 rushing yards since 2010 and owns 1,230 yards from scrimmage in past 10 games versus NFC foes.
The Texans are eighth in the NFL with 151.5 rushing yards per game.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Giants, who have started 0-2 in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1995-96, are searching for their first takeaway of 2014 and have lost their last 12 regular-season games in which they did not force a turnover. The Giants did have four sacks last week of Cardinals QB Drew Stanton. Second-year defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins registered the first sack of his career in the third quarter.
Defensive back Walter Thurmond III is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle and came over from Seattle to play nickel cornerback. Trumaine McBride filled in at the nickel spot and will most likely do so on Sunday. Veteran safety Antrel Rolle said he has "all the confidence in the world" in McBride, while Coughlin was asked if Rolle would see time covering the slot.
"It's always a consideration," Coughlin said. "He's always ready to do that. It may not be preferred, but we'll see."
Linebacker Jon Beason is bothered by a balky foot and left Sunday's game versus Arizona in the second half. It is unknown if Beason will play versus the Texans and he did not suffer a new foot injury. He aggravated an existing issue with the foot.
The Giants, already without rookie linebacker Devon Kennard, recently added Dan Fox to the corps.
An on offensive note, tight end Larry Donnell is the Giants' leading receiver through two games with 12 catches for 137 yards and a touchdown. He also has a team-best 17 targets and 10 receptions for first downs.
Houston will try to disrupt Manning's timing with Donnell and others by unleashing defensive end J.J. Watt. Watt, a former AP Defensive Player of the Year, even caught a touchdown pass last week against the Raiders and has three tackles and one sack. Watt owns 8 1/2 sacks in last nine against the NFC and leads the NFL with 32 since 2012.
The Texans are allowing a league-best 10 points per game.
Meanwhile, Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson may be nearing the twilight of his career, but can still cause problems for opposing defenses. Johnson has 12 catches for 167 yards and is still looking for his first TD of the season. He has 14 receptions for 178 yards in meetings with the Giants.
Johnson (939) needs 13 catches to surpass Art Monk (940), Derrick Mason (943) and Andre Reed (951) for No. 11 all-time.
If the Giants can finally gets some takeaways on defense and limit turnovers on offense, then they'll avoid another 0-3 start. That's easier said than done because Manning has been a turnover machine the past few seasons. NFL history suggests the Giants will have a difficult time making the playoffs at 0-2, but don't tell them that.
"Well, I think when you are 0-2, you want to get a win soon," Manning said. "We've got the Houston Texans coming in, we've got another home game so hopefully ... we've got to get better, but we have to do it soon. We don't have a whole lot of time to keep waiting to get better."
New York must key in on Foster because if they slow him down, they will slow the Texans down. Fitzpatrick doesn't have the moxie to do it on his own at MetLife Stadium even though he can throw it to Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins, who leads the team with two TD catches.
Look for a clean game from Manning and Cruz breaking out the dance moves.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Giants 23, Texans 17