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3 Key Matchups: Seahawks At Giants

The Seahawks travel to New Jersey this weekend to take on the New York Giants in a building that is familiar to many Seattle players, coaches and fans.

The Seahawks (3-2) are looking to come off of their bye with another road victory, having won in Los Angeles prior to the break, while the Giants (1-5) are looking to build off of the momentum they gained last week in their first victory of the season.

If the Seahawks are going to come out on top to earn their fifth win at MetLife Stadium since 2011 (two over the Giants, one over the Jets and Super Bowl XLVIII), these are three key matchups that could make the difference in Sunday’s game:

1. Giants tight end Evan Engram vs. the Seahawks pass defense.

The Giants lost their two top receivers for the season earlier this month, and with Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall both on injured reserve, New York leaned heavily on its running game last week, but also on rookie tight end Evan Engram.

When Eli Manning did look to throw last week, he almost always looked Engram’s direction, completing five passes for 82 yards and a touchdown. No other Giants pass-catcher had more than two catches or more than 15 receiving yards. Engram, a first-round pick out of Mississippi, ran a blazing 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine while checking in at 6-foot-3, 234 pounds making him a very difficult matchup for any defense. And it won’t just be Engram making things difficult. With the injuries at receiver, the Giants used more two tight-end sets last week, meaning the Seahawks will also see plenty of Rhett Ellison, who played for Pete Carroll at USC.

“Engram is a fantastic prospect and he is leading them in receiving already,” Carroll said. “They have already trusted in him and he does a lot of stuff. There is a variety of things to do. (Tight end) Rhett Ellison is a terrific football player.  We have always admired Rhett’s play because he is tough and does everything: blocks and runs and catches and all that.  So they got a good group and they are loaded.”

And in this game, the tight end matchup could be big for both defenses. Jimmy Graham, who has 10 catches for 98 yards and a touchdown over the past two games, or Luke Willson, who has two touchdowns in the last three games, could be poised for a big day. Through six games, no team has given up more yards (432) or touchdowns (seven) to tight ends than the Giants.

2. DE Jason Pierre-Paul and Giants pass rush vs. Seahawks OL.

The Seahawks will make a change on their offensive line with left guard Luke Joeckel recovering from knee surgery, which makes a tough test against an aggressive pass rush even more difficult for Seattle. Both Mark Glowinski and Ethan Pocic are expected to see playing time at left guard, and whoever is in the game will be challenged by a Steve Spagnuolo-coached defense that is known for bringing pressure.

The Giants haven’t had the pass rush quite where they liked it all season, but they got things going last week with four sacks, three of them by veteran defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.

“They came out of the chutes pretty fast and furious the other night and we have to get ready,” Carroll said. “Because it is not just their front four. It is the scheme that they use and the people that they bring off the edges and all that stuff that add to it. They were particularly on fire the other night.”

Despite the Giants’ struggles this season, they have played pretty well on defense, allowing 22 points per game, and the Seahawks offense knows it will have to be on top of its game—and take care of protection—to come out on top. 

“They have a very good defense,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “They have a lot of great players. They have a lot of star players on their defense and they can do a lot of special things. The key for us is getting the ball out, is being efficient, capitalizing on big plays when we can and just being toughminded. It’s going to be a battle. This team, their record doesn’t show how good they are, in my opinion. They are 1-5, but the reality is, all their games have been super close against some tough teams, against some really good players too. They have been right in pretty much every game and unfortunately for them, they have lost a couple tight ones. We know they are going to be ready to roll and they just came off a big win.”

3. The Giants running game vs. Seahawks front seven.

As mentioned earlier, the Giants are without two of their top weapons, and they responded to that last week by turning to the running game in a way they hadn’t all season, rushing for 148 yards on 32 carries. Manning, who had attempted at least 32 passes in every game prior to Sunday’s win in Denver, had just 19 attempts in that game.

And it wasn’t just that the Giants tried to run the ball, they had success against a very good Broncos defense. Leading the way was Orleans Darkwa, who had 21 carries for 117 yards.

The Seahawks, meanwhile, have had a mixed season defending the run. For the most part they have been good against the run, but in several games, a big play or two, most notably a 75-yard touchdown run in Tennessee and a 61-yarder against the 49ers. On Monday, the defense watched a cutup of all the big plays they have given up, a reminder of what needs to get better the rest of the way.

“It was one or two plays, explosive plays, 75-yarder, a (61)-yarder, then after that it was a bunch of our football, as we know,” defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. “That is what we need. We can’t have the critical errors or the letdowns, in particular situations that are going to allow a quarterback scramble and things of that nature. Yeah, those have the (run defense) numbers off. Other than that, we are going to do what we do. We are going to line up, read our keys, get to the football, and again that is a staple of who we are. We have to stop the run and we know that is a major focus of ours.”

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