By Brady Henderson
Sunday’s game against the Giants has playoff implications for the Seahawks, who can take another step toward securing the NFC’s top seed and home-field advantage.
There’s no such postseason incentive for the Giants, who were eliminated from contention with a loss to San Diego last week. That the playoffs were even a possibility for the Giants constituted a surprise given their 0-6 start to the season, which they followed by winning five of their next six before losing to San Diego.
“They’re a lot better than their record shows,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of the 5-8 Giants.
But what about their motivation?
That was one of the questions I asked Dan Graziano, who covers the team for ESPN.com and was nice enough to help out with this week’s edition of “Double Coverage”.
Henderson: Dan, I’m going to start by asking you to put on your psychologist hat and tell me what your sense is of the Giants’ mentality now that they’ve been eliminated from playoff contention. Does this seem like a team that would noticeably lose motivation now that the postseason carrot is no longer dangling in front of it?
Graziano: The Giants’ locker room seems basically the same as it has all year. Tom Coughlin really preaches the importance of focusing on the current week’s game to the exclusion of all else, and his players buy in. So they’re down about being eliminated, but they’ve really locked in on the challenge of facing the Seahawks. They see it as a big test and a chance to show people they’re not as bad as they have looked for much of this season. Motivation won’t be a problem. This isn’t a team that quits. They stayed up and positive after being 0-6, and it’s a tribute to Coughlin as a coach that their emotions haven’t ebbed all year.
Hakeem Nicks, the Giants’ No. 1 wide receiver, has been held without a touchdown reception this season. (AP)
Henderson: It doesn’t look like much has gone right this season for Eli Manning, who’s tied for the league lead in interceptions. What’s been the biggest issue with Manning? And has he been as bad as his numbers would suggest?
Graziano: I continue to think Manning’s biggest issue is a lack of comfort with his immediate surroundings. Pass protection has been a major problem all year, but it was especially horrendous early on, and I think Manning has struggled to recover from that. Injuries and change on the offensive line are a big part of the problem, as are the blocking downgrades the Giants suffered at running back and tight end with the offseason losses of Ahmad Bradshaw and Martellus Bennett. Add in the fact that top wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has had an unproductive contract year, allowing teams to double Victor Cruz. Add in the fact that tight end Brandon Myers hasn’t been the reliable receiving threat that they signed him to be.
Manning isn’t throwing as well as he used to, and he’d admit he’s a big part of the problem. But it’s been a total system failure on offense, starting with pass protection. Prior to this year, Manning had never been sacked more than 30 times in a season. He’s already at 33 with three games to go.
Henderson: I’m intrigued by the Giants’ pass rush – and not only because “NASCAR Package” is among my favorite terms in the sports lexicon. That’s been an awfully productive group in the past, but I see that New York has the second-fewest sacks of any team this season. What gives there?
Graziano: The Giants don’t have the quality depth they used to have at defensive end, and it shows. Jason Pierre-Paul also hasn’t been himself. He had back surgery in June and missed all of training camp and every preseason game. So it took him half the season to get back to full strength, and then he hurt his shoulder against Oakland in Week 10. He’s missed the past two games and seems almost certain to miss this one, too.
That leaves the pass rush in the hands of veteran Justin Tuck, who’s been hot lately, along with a so-so Mathias Kiwanuka and erratic rookie Damontre Moore. Not enough personnel to generate the front-four pressure on which they’ve relied in their great years.
Henderson: In years past, the narrative leading up to this game would have been how the Seahawks would handle the cross-country trip and the dreaded 10 a.m. local start time. Even though Seattle is coming off a road loss at San Francisco, this team has done enough to bury the storyline about is ability to win away from CenturyLink Field. Combine that with an advantage in talent and depth as well as everything that’s at stake for the Seahawks and I can’t see them losing this game. Seahawks 24, Giants 14.
What say you, Dan?
Graziano: The Giants’ biggest, broadest problem is a lack of quality depth throughout the roster. In come the Seahawks, who look as deep as any team in the league and appear built to wear down much better teams than the Giants. They don’t have the personnel to hang with Seattle. Seahawks 34, Giants 17.
Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson.