September 16, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

Giants, Jets Rev Up the Running Games

September 16, 2005

Both the Jets and Giants had to be surprised by their performances in week one. The Giants exploded for 42 points - including a kick and a punt return for touchdowns - while their revamped defense made the whole league sit up and take notice. The Jets embarrassed themselves in Kansas City, playing poorly in almost every phase of the game. If Gang Green hopes to put their performance behind them and Big Blue wants to build on their success, both will have to rev up the ground attack. Here's a look at the team's they'll face this weekend.

(Sunday, 4:15 p.m., CBS)

WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL Mike Heimerdinger's offense failed its first test last week in a big way. It didn't help that Laveranues Coles dropped two catchable touchdown passes, or that Chad Pennington fumbled six times. Still, the promise of a more aggressive offense remains unfulfilled.

Getting back on track is going to be a challenge against the Dolphins, who held the Broncos to 3.5 yards per rush last week and forced three turnovers. Five Miami starters have been to a Pro Bowl, and players like linebacker Zach Thomas, defensive end Jason Taylor, and safety Lance Schulters can take control of a game. The Jets need to do a better job of spreading the field and creating lanes for Curtis Martin to run through. Against the Chiefs, Martin was held to two yards or less on half of his carries. Until the Jets can solve that problem, nothing else matters.

WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL Retread Miami quarterback Gus Frerotte still has the arm strength to throw the deep ball, but if he's pressured, he has a tendency to force plays. The mistakes lead to turnovers, and that's the key to beating the Dolphins. The Jets defense has enough speed to exploit Miami's shaky offensive line and create havoc for Frerotte.

Those offensive line problems are also going to make it difficult for the Dolphins to run the ball. That's part of the reason why rookie running back Ronnie Brown had a disappointing debut last week, managing just 57 yards on 22 carries.

JETS PLAYER ON THE SPOT Rookie kicker Mike Nugent missed his only field goal attempt last week when he slipped as he approached what would have been a 28-yard chip shot. The Jets are counting on him to be a major upgrade over Doug Brien after using their top draft pick to select the former Ohio State star. Being merely adequate won't be good enough, and missing 28-yard field goals is a disaster.

KEY TO THE GAME The Jets' offense took the brunt of the criticism for last week's loss in Kansas City, but the defense deserves the lion's share of the blame. By allowing the Chiefs to score on their first three possessions, they dug the offense an awfully deep hole to climb out of.

Clearly, the Jets underestimated the impact of losing nose tackle Jason Ferguson. The run defense, which was a strength last year, was a gaping hole against the Chiefs. The Jets need to make adjustments to their rotation on the line if they're going to prevent the Dolphins from establishing a ground game and put more pressure on the quarterback.

Prediction: Jets 20, Dolphins 10

(MONDAY, 7:30 P.M., ABC)

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL Tackle Kareem McKenzie and tight end Jeremy Shockey each left last week's game with ankle injuries, and are questionable for Monday. Both are key members of the Giants' offense, and if either is sidelined, the pressure will be on Big Blue's running game to pick up the slack.

Tiki Barber had three long runs last week, including a 21-yard touchdown in the third quarter, and rookie Brandon Jacobs was impressive in his pro debut, rushing for 39 yards and a score in relief of Barber. At 6-foot-4 and 256 pounds, Jacobs not only overpowers defenders, but he can wear them down late in the game.

The Saints defense showed a lot of vulnerabilities despite their spirited win at Carolina last week. They gave up an average of 5.6 yards per run, and the secondary couldn't find any way to contain Panthers' receiver Steve Smith. They could have even more trouble this week with Plaxico Burress, who is eight inches taller than Smith. Look for the Giants to test the Saints' secondary early, forcing them to commit extra defenders to pass coverage.

WHEN THE SAINTS HAVE THE BALL In spite of his two touchdowns last week, running back Deuce McAllister was generally ineffective. He was stopped for a loss or held to less than three yards on 19 of his 26 carries. The Saints' offensive success is predicated on the run, so if the Giants' defense can hamper McAllister like this, it's all over.

The Saints do have some good receivers, with Joe Horn, Donte Stallworth, and tight end Ernie Conwell, but quarterback Aaron Brooks's tendency to make mistakes under pressure makes the passing game inconsistent at best.

GIANTS PLAYER ON THE SPOT A win is a win, but Eli Manning had a shaky performance last week, completing just 10 of 22 passes with a pair of interceptions and three sacks. There were moments when he looked like a superstar - as on the 20-yard touchdown pass to Shockey and a 44-yard completion to Burress. But most of the time, he looked like a guy barely keeping his head above water. Manning may have a ton of promise, but he has yet to play better than the men he replaced, Kurt Warner and Kerry Collins.

KEY TO THE GAME The Giants need to maintain the same intensity on defense, but the key will be their ability to keep the running game going. Big Blue probably can't win a high-scoring shootout, so they'll have to control the clock with their ground game and put pressure on Brooks to make plays. The Saints are playing with a lot of heart, but heart can only take you so far. The Giants are the better team, and if they can assert themselves early, they should win this game.

Prediction: Giants 24, Saints 21

September 16, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version