As strange as it may sound, the Giants’ pass defense has to be careful in handling the Lions’ quarterback, Shaun Hill, on Sunday.
Now remember, this Hill is a guy who played in San Francisco only because Alex Smith flopped. After all, in what other circumstances can one count a trade to Detroit as a breath of fresh air?
And yet, that is exactly what it’s been for Hill. Taking over after Matthew Stafford after the starting quarterback injured his shoulder in the opener, Hill has led a passing resurgence that now ranks the Lions’ air game No. 6 in the league.
He hit a high mark in last week’s 44-6 win over the Rams, going 21-of-32 for 227 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions.
“He’s good,” said safety Deon Grant. “They’ve been putting up between 20 and 40 points each game, and not many of those have been running yards. If he didn’t play a lot in San Francisco, well, he’s doing his job here.”
Under Hill, Detroit has averaged 25.2 points per game, the NFL’s sixth-best average. That, by the way, is far better than the Giants’ 21.2-point average. And with targets like Calvin Johnson (four touchdowns), Nate Burleson (just back from injury), tight end Brandon Pettigrew (team-high 26 catches) and running back Jahvid Best to throw to, he has plenty of targets.
All of which means the Giants will be looking to put as much pressure as possible on the Lions’ second-best rusher, Hill.
But then, that’s what the Giants have been all about this year, especially the front four. Even defensive tackle Barry Cofield, more known as a hole-plugger his previous four years, has gotten into the pass-rush act this year with two sacks and five quarterback hits. That also goes along with his six tackles for losses.
To join Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck as the team’s premier pressurers suits Cofield just fine. In fact, he savored the idea of getting a couple of more sacks this week and vying with Umenyiora’s team-high six sacks.
“It’s funny how we’re all so competitive,” Cofield said. “We finally figured out why Osi always strips the ball; it’s so he never has to share a sack. We figured out Osi’s plan, so we have to find out a way to combat that.
“Selfishness is the key.”
Like last week against Houston, the easiest way to beat the passing game may be not to let the ball get in the air in the first place. So expect a good, hard rush from the front four, with expected help from Perry Fewell’s often-used three-safety alignment. All three – Grant, Antrel Rolle, and Kenny Phillips – are capable of walking into the box, either as a straight safety or, in the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Grant’s case, a hybrid linebacker.
Hill may also be hampered by receiver Johnson’s limited effectiveness as he battles a shoulder injury. He was laboring in practice Thursday, and must be considered questionable for Sunday.
That should help shut down Hill, who has thrown seven interceptions along with eight touchdowns. He’s been especially good on third down the past two games against Green Bay, a two-point loss, and the romp over St. Louis, converting 16 of 30 chances.
A 1-4 opponent may not seem dangerous, but the Lions are scrapping to change their culture of losing. Therefore, the Giants are trying hard not to fall into the trap of regarding them as a typical 1-4 doormat. Especially in a game that precedes the division opener against Dallas.
“We think that, too,” Hill said. “We feel that same way. We’ve played well in some games and just haven’t come out of them with wins. We’ve played a very tough schedule to this point and this week is no exception, but we feel like we’re better than a lot of 1-4 teams out there.
“Our record just doesn’t show it, but we’ve got to keep hacking away at it. Sometimes some of those wins are difficult to get, but the more you keep going and keep trying, then those things might start turning for you.”
The Giants, just out of a two-game slump, will turn up the pressure on the quarterback.