ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In the classic Batman film The Dark Knight, district attorney Harvey Dent tries to ease the concerns of Gotham City with his words, “The night is darkest just before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.”
The fans of the New York Giants hope Dent’s words hold true for their team after an abysmal 0-5 start to their season. But before they see the light, they’ll have to encounter the darkest “just before the dawn” part first, which may be Sunday against the 3-1 Denver Broncos.
Just as it's darkest and coldest just before the dawn, the Giants may be in for their worst performance yet.
Not only are the Giants entering Sunday’s contest against the Broncos as one of the league’s three winless teams, they’ve encountered a near-perfect storm which could make Sunday their worst offensive performance yet—which is saying a lot as they only scored three points in Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys.
On the flip side, this means that Denver’s defense could be in for a big, potentially historic, day.
The Giants have the fifth-worst scoring offense in the league, averaging 16.4 points per game and they are coming off a game in which they lost all three starting wide receivers to injury. Not only will they be without their best player on the team, Odell Beckham Jr., they’ll be without starting receiver Brandon Marshall and most likely without their third starting receiver, Sterling Shepard, as it looks unlikely he will return from a sprained ankle in time for the game.
If that wasn’t enough literal insult to injury, they won’t have one of their two backup receivers, Dwayne Harris, who was lost for the season on Sunday, too. Before making personnel moves early in the week, the Giants were down to one receiver on their 53-man roster: Roger Lewis, who has eight catches for 102 yards.
Broncos’ head coach Vance Joseph admitted that he had never seen one position group have so many significant injuries in one game like the Giants had in Week 5, calling it “strange.” Then he added, "Again, that’s their issue, not mine.”
Outside of Lewis, Manning’s leading receivers that will be available on Sunday are tight end Evan Engram (19 catches for 200 yards on the season) and running back Shane Vereen (19 catches for 134 yards). Entering Week 6, Manning had 1,338 passing yards with 719 of those yards, or 53.7 percent, to receivers that won’t be available if Shepard can’t play.
Unfortunately for Manning and his makeshift receiving group, they’ll be going against the Broncos “No Fly Zone”—the league’s best pass defense the last two seasons.
What's worse? The Giants’ prospects for running the ball against the Broncos might be even more daunting than their ability to pass.
Not only are the Giants the third-worst rushing team through the first five weeks of the season, only averaging 77.8 rushing yards per game, they’ll be going up against the league’s best run defense in the Broncos—who are only giving up 50.8 yards per game on the ground.
The Giants’ struggles aren’t a secret, either. In their first five games, they’ve put up offensive performances of 10 and three points.
New York’s 10-point performance against the Lions in Week 2 was half of what the Lions have averaged giving up in their other four games. Even worse was the Giants’ three-point performance in Week 1 against the Cowboys, because not only did New York fail to score more than a single field goal, the Cowboys have given up an average of 31 points in their other four outings.
Denver’s 18.5 points per game allowed is the seventh-best in the league so far. By this fact alone, the Giants will be hard-pressed to tally double-digits on the scoreboard.
On top of the clear on-field advantages that Denver’s defense has over the Giants’ offense, the Broncos are coming off their bye week. Historically Denver, as well as many other teams in the league, has been excellent in the week following a bye—the Broncos are 4-1 in their last five years—but the real advantage for Sunday comes in the team’s extra preparation.
Because of the bye, Joseph was able to fit in two additional practices, which he used to prep for the Giants. To put this into perspective, in a typical week a team usually only gets a total of two full practices to prepare for a team. Joseph also asked his players to prep for the Giants during their time off.
“Spend some time on the Giants for at least an hour a day,” he told his players before they bolted the building for four days off. “Hopefully the guys spend some time on the Giants this week.”
If all of this wasn’t enough, the game will be played in Denver where the Broncos have had a clear home field advantage, going a perfect 3-0 and having their best performances nearly all across the board.
On paper, the game sets up to be a beatdown, specifically for the Broncos’ defense, to say the least, but if Denver wants to make history, it’ll have to be even more than a beatdown.
Since the turn of the century, the Broncos have given up less than 120 yards of total offense twice, both resulting in blowout wins. In 2012, Denver held the Kansas City Chiefs to 119 total of yards of offense, and in 2003 the Broncos held the then-San Diego Chargers to 96 total yards, including 56 through the air and 40 on the ground in a 37-8 victory.
The all-time record for fewest yards in a game will be much, much more difficult as the Los Angeles Rams held the Seattle Seahawks to negative seven yards in 1979 when Seattle’s quarterback Jim Zorn only completed two passes in a shutout defeat.
It won’t be easy, or probable, for Denver’s defense to have a historic game, but if there is ever a time for it to happen, Sunday night on national television against the 0-5 limping Giants may just be it.