Heading into an important matchup with the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, which player must stand out for the New York Giants?
The New York Giants are riding their best streak in quite some time. Five straight wins have Big Blue set up at 7-3, and in great position to make the postseason as a Wild Card team.
It gets even better, perhaps: New York’s next game is against the winless (and, perhaps, helpless) Cleveland Browns on the road. A victory against Hue Jackson’s men would put the Giants to 8-3, which would at the very least stop their streak of three consecutive losing seasons.
The Browns have been terrible all year on both sides of the ball, which justifies their 0-10 record. Cleveland has used six quarterbacks this season and averages the third fewest points per game in the NFL. Their defense has surrendered the most yards, the second most rushing yards, the fourth most passing yards, and the second most points per game in the NFL.
Simply put, the Browns are a mess on both sides of the ball.
In particular, Cleveland’s defensive deficiencies present a great opportunity for a particular Giant to step up and have a huge day on Sunday.
No, it isn’t Odell Beckham Jr. Despite having another tremendous year, Beckham is going to be matched up with the Browns’ best player, cornerback Joe Haden. According to ESPN, when Haden has been matched up with three top receivers (Antonio Brown, Brandon Marshall, and Dez Bryant), he has allowed 13 catches for 163 yards and no touchdowns. That’s stellar production from a guy who is typically isolated against elite wide receivers. These stats suggest that Beckham could be in for a rough game on “Haden Island.”
The player I am referring to is Rashad Jennings, who could use momentum, Cleveland’s poor run defense, and Beckham’s matchup to his advantage.
For one, he is on a pretty sweet roll right now. The Giants still have the fewest rushing yards of any team in the NFL, but over the past few weeks, Jennings has been rock solid.
In his last two games, Jennings has rushed for 172 yards and a touchdown, averaging 4.9 yards a carry. His usage has also increased — his 15 and 21 carry loads in the last two weeks were the most he has had since Week 1, when he carried the ball 18 times against the Cowboys.
In particular, Jennings played a key role in icing the Bengals on Monday Night Football two weeks ago:
Rashad Jennings had 15 carries for 87 yards, with 38 coming on the final drive. #Giants
— Jordan Raanan (@JordanRaanan) November 15, 2016
The Giants have had issues closing games in recent years, largely due to their inability to run the football down the stretch. Jennings clearly showed signs of changing that trend with his power running late against a playoff caliber team in Cincinnati.
However, the stat that best reflects Jennings’ value to the team is quite simple: in the seven games that he has been active, New York is 7-0. The three games that he has missed? The Giants are 0-3.
Now, I am aware that Jennings’ absence isn’t the only reason the Giants lost against Washington, Minnesota, and Green Bay, but just having a NFL proven guy in the backfield at least makes defenses respect the Giants’ running game.
Going into the game against Cleveland, a team with a very poor run defense, Jennings could have a lot of success. Justin Pugh is still out but, with the weapons New York has in the passing game, it makes sense that Cleveland would focus their defensive attention on Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Victor Cruz.
Beckham might struggle against Joe Haden. Eli Manning might struggle if the Browns drop several defensive backs in coverage. But momentum and a favorable matchup suggest that Sunday could be a career day for No. 23.
If Jennings continues his recent tear, we could be seeing a lot more of this on Sunday:
— NFL (@NFL) November 20, 2016
It is clear that Rashad Jennings’ impact will be instrumental in the Giants extending their win streak to six games.