The Denver Broncos come into today as the clear favorites against the New York Giants, but the Giants should not be counted out in this afternoon game. We already know about the faces on the Broncos offense, so it’s time to take a closer look at the players on defense to watch for. The Giants have a talented running back in David Wilson who should bounce back from last year’s debacle, and Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, and the rest of the Giants passing offense is never easy to stop.
1. DE Shaun Phillips
Shaun Phillips stepped up big time in Week 1 in the absence of Von Miller, and the newly-minted Denver Broncos pass rusher will look to exceed expectations once again and continue harassing the quarterback. Will Beatty struggled last week for the Giants, but the franchise left tackle is never an easy matchup. Phillips recorded three sacks against the Baltimore Ravens, but it’s definitely difficult to envision him having that kind of a day against the Giants. Still, Phillips will be a force against the run, and I think he’ll be able to put some pressure on Manning. Beatty is a top-level tackle, so Phillips is definitely a player on the Broncos defense to watch for closely. Can he replicate last week’s production? The Broncos might need him to, because nobody else really stepped up and brought consistent pressure on the QB (except maybe Robert Ayers).
2. CB Chris Harris Jr.
If you frequent this blog, you will frequently see me singing the praises of Chris Harris Jr., who I view to be one of the most underrated players in the game. Harris was good as a rookie, and he played at an elite level last season. He’s off to a similarly great start this year, as he was absolutely phenomenal against the Ravens. Just because he plays in the slot as a CB doesn’t mean you should overlook him, because that’s becoming an important niche role on defenses. I mean, nobody underrates Antoine Winfield.
Anyway, Harris Jr. is excellent in coverage and does other things pretty well (like rush the passer and play run D), so the New York Giants will definitely have to be aware of his talents. Harris holds a crucial role in this game, because he should be expected to match up against Victor Cruz. Going up against a star talent is nothing new for Harris, and both players are coming into this game hot. Cruz had 118 receiving yards on just seven targets against the Dallas Cowboys, but he won’t have those kinds of numbers against Harris.
3. MLB Wesley Woodyard
Currently listed probable on the injury report but fully expected to play, Wesley Woodyard racked up the tackles last week against the Ravens. He had nine tackles in total, and he was very active in run defense. Heck, he also notched a sack, and it was another solid game for the Denver Broncos starting middle linebacker. He received a whole lot of playing time on Thursday night, and that was definitely a good thing. Why? Because he’s definitely better than Paris Lenon, and it’s best for the Broncos to just hide Lenon on the bench as much as possible. He’s just emergency veteran backup, and the drop-off between Woodyard and Lenon in pass coverage is definitely noticeable. Woodyard isn’t a great player by any measure, but he’s solid and has an important task at hand. Not only will he have to help contain David Wilson, but he’ll also most likely be called upon to cover Brandon Myers, who is a familiar opponent for the Denver Broncos.
4. SS Duke Ihenacho
It looks like the Denver Broncos have a new starting strong safety to replace Mike Adams, as Duke Ihenacho put together a masterpiece of a game against the Ravens. The 2012 undrafted free agent out of San Jose State was all over the place, and he outshined Adams. It was just one game, but Ihenacho’s performance was incredibly encouraging. He was simply a monster stuffing the run, and he eclipsed 11 tackles on the strength of his run D; not because he was sweeping up garbage tackles after allowing catches. Ihenacho will look to prove that Week 1 was no fluke, and he’ll be asked to do more in coverage against a better passing attack.