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Keys to the Starting Lineup presented by Carmax: Patriots vs. Giants

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The 5-0 Patriots return home after two weeks on the road and will face the 2-3 Giants on Thursday night. New England seemed to find a new gear in the second half against the Redskins and will look to build on the resurgent ground game that finally got going and helped seal a 33-7 victory.

Defensively, the Pats are off to one of the best starts in NFL history, leading the league in every major statistical category, often by a large margin. With an injury-depleted Giants team now coming to town, the Pats will be looking to attack rookie quarterback Daniel Jones and write a sixth chapter of dominance.

After a short turnaround from Sunday to Thursday, the Patriots won’t suit up again until Monday, October 21st against the Jets. That extended mini-bye-week should benefit the team greatly as some bumps and bruises can heal up and the team can re-evaluate what has been working for them and what has not.

But first, here are the Keys to starting 6-0 for fourth time under Bill Belichick.

Clean Football

With rain in the forecast and things already likely to be sloppy given the short turnaround, playing clean football might be the most important key to victory. So far, the Patriots (20th) and Giants (28th) are on the low end of accepted penalties, but it will be ball security under wet conditions that will be paramount.

The Giants are third-worst in the league with six fumbles, and with low-end weaponry slated to play significant roles, there will be an even greater focus on protecting the football for the visitors. The Patriots should be attacking the ball constantly.

Daniel Jones has four touchdowns and three interceptions since taking over for Eli Manning, and all three interceptions have come in the last two games. That’s not a good trend when you’re about to face a defense that leads the league with 11 interceptions.

If anything can turn this game upside down it will be untimely turnovers. If the Patriots just play safe with the ball and get the Giants to cough it up once or twice, this game will be well under control.

Patriots.com's Mike Dussault shares his players to watch during the Patriots Week 6 matchup against the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium on Thursday, October 10, 2019.

Defense, Stay Historic

What 2007 was for the Patriots offense, 2019 has become for the defense. They're simply must-watch football every week. Ever since Super Bowl 53, the Patriots defense has been impenetrable. Teams might get a play or two, but stringing together a long touchdown-scoring drive has been an impossible task.

All season they've allowed just two sustained scoring drives, an 11-play, 69-yard field goal drive against the Steelers, and a 9-play, 75-yard touchdown drive against the Bills. Otherwise teams barely get five plays off before they're punting. Outside of their one 65-yard scoring play, the Redskins had just two drives that lasted six plays and they never ran a snap in the red zone.

Without names like Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard and likely Evan Engram, the Giants don't appear to be the team that will suddenly put a challenge to the Patriots defense. It would take a herculean effort from Jones, Golden Tate and undrafted rookie running back Jon Hilliman.

But the patsies won't last forever, with more proven and dynamic offenses like Baltimore, Philadelphia, Houston and Kansas City on the horizon. We'll have to wait until those game to truly argue this defense's place in history.

But for now, on a short week at home against an undermanned old rival, there's no reason to take their foot off the gas and this should just be more of the same from the Pats D.

Keep on Running

Sony Michel had 12 carries for 81 yards in the second half against the Redskins and who knows what he would've ended up with had the Patriots shown more dedication to the run in the first half. It was the best the Patriots ground game has looked all season, with well-executed blocks and hard running from Michel.

With the Giants coming off a game where they allowed 211 rushing yards there's every reason to think the Pats should continue to build on the ground success they had in Washington. Rainy conditions could force them to anyway so why not pound the rock early and often?

The offense is still developing their rhythm in the passing game, but squaring away Michel and the ground production will be a great aid to making things easier through the air. Jakob Johnson played a close facsimile of the role that James Develin has played so well. Splitting out wide, even catching a pass, and doing far more than just a few short yardage lead blocks. His snap totals since Develin went on IR - two, 18 and 32. If Johnson continues to develop at this light-speed pace, it will be an even bigger aid to Michel.

One other key to monitor - Michel's development in the passing game. He looked comfortable catching three passes on three targets for 32 yards. This could be 2019's secret emerging weapon.

Tight Ends Rising

The team released Ben Watson this week, a show of confidence in new tight ends Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse. The two are coming off their best games as Patriots, with Izzo making two catches, including a 10-yard touchdown. LaCosse played 94 percent of the offensive snaps, demonstrating that he is now ready to be their full-time tight end.

LaCosse did catch just one of his four targets, showing there's still room for him to improve, but his spike in involvement is a positive sign and his blocking in the run game was better than expected. The extended week off should help him get even healthier but Thursday night is a good chance to build on his most solid performance to date.

Izzo and LaCosse aren't Gronk, but together they should be able to get enough production to give this offense a needed boost after a first month where the tight end position was mostly an afterthought.

Prediction

Given all the major elements - the weather, the short week at home, the Giants extensive injury list - it's hard to see anything other than a Patriots steamrolling in this one. The biggest thing is just for the Patriots to not beat themselves or give the Giants any signs of life with sloppy play. If New England comes out and executes their game plan this one will have the feel of the traditional fourth preseason game against the Giants.

Patriots 24, Giants 6

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