Ex-Patriot Vereen sees no weaknesses in his old team
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — No one on the New York Giants' roster knows the New England Patriots better than running back Shane Vereen.
Vereen was drafted by the Patriots in 2011, learned under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady for four years and won a Super Bowl ring with them last season, catching 11 passes in the championship game.
There is a wealth of knowledge that the Giants (5-4) can harvest heading into Sunday's matchup against the Patriots (8-0) at MetLife Stadium.
The problem is Vereen has looked at his former team and not found much to exploit — on either side of the ball.
"Honestly you could look across the board and try and find a weakness and your guess is as good as mine," Vereen said.
"Defensively, offensively — I'm looking at the defense, they're strong. All the way around, they're strong. So we're going to have to play well."
The Patriots are second in the league in offense and eighth overall on defense. Brady leads the NFL in touchdown passes (22). The defense is among the league leaders with 27 sacks, including 91/2 by Chandler Jones.
This is the first game between the teams since Eli Manning won his second Super Bowl MVP by leading the Giants to a 21-17 win over New England in the Super Bowl in February 2012.
Things have changed, too.
New England has continued to roll. It has made the playoffs six straight seasons and the current 8-0 record marks only the second time in franchise history it has won its first eight.
The Giants are trying to rebound after missing the postseason the past three years. They have a half-game lead in the NFC East, but face a tough final six games. They have a bye next week.
"We're going up against the best team we've played so far this season, obviously undefeated," said Vereen, who signed with the Giants as a free agent in the offseason. "So it's a great test, a great opportunity, I think. Great chance for us to test what we've got up against an undefeated team."
While the Giants have scored 84 points in their past two games, their defense is last in the league. Drew Brees of New Orleans embarrassed the unit, throwing for 505 yards and seven touchdowns on Nov. 1.
"They've always played us pretty tough, so we're expecting their best," Brady said. "They've got some really good players. They're obviously really well-coached, so they're just a tough team. We've always played them, I mean, we've always had very, very close games against them even when we've won. We just haven't won as many of them as I would've liked to have won."
Here are some things to watch on Sunday:
GIANTS PASS RUSH
In beating Brady and the Patriots in the Super Bowls in 2008 and '12, the Giants got to hit him. It's not the same team this season. New York has nine sacks in nine games. It hopes to generate a bigger rush with Jason Pierre-Paul playing his second game after returning from a fireworks accident that took his right index finger. Having JPP and Damontre Moore at the ends with Robert Ayers Jr. at one of the tackle spots, produced some pressure last week.
Tight ends have hurt the Giants and Rob Gronkowski is a matchup nightmare. "Gronk" is second on the team with 44 catches for 693 yards (15.8 yard average) and seven touchdowns. Two weeks ago, Saints tight end Benjamin Watson had nine catches for 147 yards and a touchdown. Dallas' Jason Witten caught two fourth-quarter TDs in the season opener to beat New York.
If the Giants are going to upset the Patriots, they need to run the ball, control the clock and keep Brady off the field. That's something they have not done well this season. New York has rushed for 100 yards as a team twice, in two of the past three games. No individual back has gained more than 63 yards in a game, Rashad Jennings vs. Philadelphia on Oct. 19. It puts pressure on Manning to hit passes.
While the Giants' defense may struggle giving up yards (422.8 per game), it is the NFL's best in forcing turnovers. New York has a plus-12 turnover ratio through nine games. It has intercepted 13 passes and recovered eight fumbles. With Brady throwing only two interceptions this season, coach Tom Coughlin says his defense needs to force fumbles and recover them.
Vereen's view on playing for Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick:
"Similar, I guess they both want to win," he said. "They both put everything aside and do everything that they can to be perfectionists and to be winners. They both compete extremely hard and they're both exceptionally great at what they do."
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