FOXBORO — The New England Patriots will welcome a depleted New York Giants team to Gillette Stadium for Thursday Night Football.
The Giants will be without their top two running backs in Saquon Barkley (ankle) and Wayne Gallman (concussion), No. 2 receiver Sterling Shepard (concussion) and No. 1 tight end Evan Engram (knee).
It will make a tough task even tougher for rookie quarterback Daniel Jones, who not only goes up against the highest-ranked defense in the NFL, but does so with a great deal of offensive weapons on the sideline.
Making it perhaps more notable is the fact that the Patriots defense has been incredibly sound against rookie quarterbacks. New England is 12-0 at home against rookie quarterbacks during the Bill Belichick era. Notably, the Patriots have not lost to a first-year signal-caller since the Geno Smith-led New York Jets in 2013.
“I mean, for us, it’s the same thing each week — studying our opponent, understanding what we need to do to play well,” safety Devin McCourty said. “Like I always talk about, you talk about playing good situationally and trying to turn the ball over. I think for us as a defense, that’s not going to change, and that’s something we have to stay locked in on. I think the good thing about those guys in the locker room is we’re very resilient. Not much is going to bother us in a good way or a negative way.”
Jones won his first two games as a starter after replacing veteran quarterback Eli Manning for Week Three. He threw for two touchdowns in a 32-31 win over Tampa Bay and completed nearly 75 percent of his passes in a 24-3 win over Washington.
Jones did, however, struggle a bit when going up against a good defense in Minnesota during a 28-10 Week-Five loss. He was sacked four times and threw one interception while completing just 55 percent of his passes.
“He’s very athletic, he’s mobile,” Belichick said of Jones, who had also ran for two touchdowns with an average of six yards per carry. “I wouldn’t say he’s just ‘go back and start running,’ but if he needs to run, if the protection breaks down or if there’s an opening there. If he gets outside of the pocket, he can cause a lot of damage with his speed and his ability to extend plays. But he’s a very accurate quarterback and has good poise. He’s shown good toughness in the pocket. He’s been hit a few times, but he just stands in there and can keeps ripping it. So, he’s been impressive.”
The Patriots defense, however, has seen a similar ability from a quarterback this season. They did not have an issue containing Josh Allen during a 16-10 Week-Four win.
The most notable weapon Jones will have at his disposal is receiver Golden Tate. Tate, who served a four-game suspension to start the year, returned last week to catch three of the six balls thrown his way for 13 yards. The small sample size, however, does not tell Tate’s ability as an offensive threat.
“He’s very dangerous in the return game. Primarily plays in the slot, but not exclusively,” Belichick said. “He’s good with any play where he runs with the ball. So, that could be screens, speed-sweeps, but he’s also obviously a very dangerous receiver. So, put him in the middle of the formation, that gives him the most options to go across, to go vertical, to go back outside. So, he’s good at all of those.”
Of course, it makes it a bit more difficult when going up against a defense that is first in points allowed per game (6.8), first in yards allowed per game (238.4) and first in pass yards allowed (160.4), while third in rushing yards allowed (78.0).