EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The return of receivers Bobby Engram and Deion Branch to the Seattle lineup has not caused the New York Giants to reconsider their defensive game plan.
Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense is predicated on stopping the run and that won’t change Sunday with the Seahawks’ top two receivers in the lineup for the first time this season.
“We don’t really worry about what they are going to do,” defensive end Justin Tuck said Thursday after the Giants (3-0) finished practice. “This is just like any game we play. We want to stop the run and get them in third-and-long situations so we can develop our blitzes and get after them.”
Seattle (1-2) seemingly will present the biggest test for the defense this season because it has a two-pronged attack with the receivers back.
The Seahawks have averaged 166.3 yards rushing this season, with Julius Jones coming off consecutive 100-yard performances.
Seattle’s passing game has struggled without Engram and Branch, averaging only 4 more yards than the run game.
However, both veterans are due to make their season debut at Giants Stadium in post bye-week games for both teams.
Branch, who had 49 receptions and four touchdowns in 11 games last season, is coming back from knee surgery. Engram, who had 94 catches for 1,147 yards and six touchdowns, is returning from a shoulder injury.
“They are great guys, great teammates and they are really good players,” Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “So having them back is definitely a boost for just the confidence and a swagger that we have had at times on offense.”
Because Engram and Branch have not played this season, the Giants have been forced to watch old videotapes of them.
“They’re really not going to change their tendencies,” cornerback Aaron Ross said. “They’re pretty stuck on what they do, so it should be pretty much the same.”
The defending Super Bowl champions have been formidable on defense. New York is ranked No. 7 in the NFL against the rush, yielding an average of 84.7 yards. Its pass defense is No. 5 overall, allowing 167.7 yards a game.
While refusing to tip his game plan, Seahawks coach Paul Holmgren would like his offense to be balanced Sunday.
“This is their first game back,” Holmgren said of the receivers. “To think it’s going to be ‘Star Wars’ out there, that’s probably not the way it works. Bless their hearts, they’re coming back, they’ve been hurt, and it’s nice to have them back. It will take them a while to get in form.”
Their return, however, makes the Seahawks a lot more potent on offense. That’s something the Giants know.
“We don’t know exactly what their focus is going to be,” Giants defensive tackle Barry Cofield said of Seattle’s ability to run and pass. “They have the same personnel they have had in the past and the same coach in Coach Holmgren. We don’t think he is going to rewrite his book. We feel they have momentum running the ball, so we would not be surprised if they tried to establish that. If they can’t, they will rely a little more heavily on the pass.”
Giants cornerback Corey Webster said the secondary will be ready either way.
“We’re going to do what we do, try to change up the timing between the receivers and the quarterback,” he said. “That’s been working for us, so we’re going to try to stick to those guns.”