Giants coach Tom Coughlin is impressed with the Lions defensive front, which includes Nick Fairley (98). (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
As the Giants prepare for the opener on Monday night against the Lions, there’s an element of the unknown for Tom Coughlin and Co.
The Lions made a coaching overhaul last season, so the Giants will be somewhat in the dark as to the Lions game plan under coach Jim Caldwell and his new coordinators.
Coughlin, however, is looking for a resurgence of its own after finishing 7-9 last season and getting away from what earned the Giants Super Bowl titles in 2008 and 2012: running the ball (ranked 29th, 1,743 yards) and pressuring the quarterback.
“We’ve made strides in the running game from last year,” Coughlin said Wednesday during a conference call. “We didn’t get after the passer quite as much as would have liked to in the preseason, but the potential is there for that. (We) did some good things and did some bad things. This is what we’re trying to iron out.”
The Giants also allowed 40 sacks and ranked last in the NFL with 44 turnovers.
That deficiency could bode well for the Lions, who are depending on their defensive line to be a strength.
“They’re a very good defensive front; they’re aggressive, they’re penetrators and they’re powerful,” Coughlin said. “They cause significant problems as we prepare. We just have to get ourselves ready and get our football team in a position we want to be in.”
As for preparing for the Lions, there isn’t much for the Giants to review to gauge tendencies under new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.
“It’s always going to be an issue when you don’t have a lot to go by,” Coughlin said. “You pick your spots in the preseason games and study when the (starters) are in there or notice anything different or unusual or pressure or coverage or adjustment to a coverage.”
For Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who had 18 passing touchdowns and 27 interceptions last season, a new year brings a clean slate, but facing the adversity helped show the Giants how to emerge from it, as seen in the second half of their season.
“It’s tough not winning as many games as we used to, but I was proud of the way we fought last year,” said Manning, who led the Giants to a 23-20 overtime victory over the Lions in Week 16. “We got off to a terrible start (0-6), but we won seven of our last 10 and found ways to win. It wasn’t always pretty, but sometimes that’s what you have to do in this league — find ways to win games.”
Although the Lions secondary wasn’t tested during the exhibition season, Coughlin respects the unit and plans to attack in the passing game with caution.
“You have to pick your spots and you’re looking for vulnerabilities,” he said. “They’re very sound, good football players and guys that have played together for a while.”
Whether Austin is planning anything special isn’t certain, but just in case, Coughlin and his staff looked to 2010, when Austin was defensive coordinator at Florida — as well as his three years on the defensive staff with the Ravens — to get some ideas.
“There’s value in studying everything,” Coughlin said. “We’ve gone back as far as we can go. ... We’ve looked at a lot of these things even though he may not have been the play-caller then, but he had a lot to do with it as the secondary coach.”
Giants at Lions
Kickoff: 7:10 p.m. Monday, Ford Field, Detroit
Line: Lions by 5½
Records: Season opener
Series: Lions lead 21-20-1 (N.Y. Giants 23-20, OT, Dec. 22, 2013)
Did you know? The Lions have lost the last three meetings to the Giants — 16-10 in 2007, 28-20 in 2010 and 23-20 (OT) last season. The Lions, however, won the only meeting on “Monday Night Football,” 15-9 on Nov. 7, 1983.