September 23, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

Jets and Giants Take to the Air

September 23, 2005

After strong performances in Week 2, the Jets and Giants each face tough challenges this weekend. The Giants have won their first two games pretty quietly, despite scoring a league-leading 69 points. The Jets, on the other hand, are struggling to get their new offense into gear. Both squads, however, will look to their quarterbacks to expose weak secondaries on Sunday. Here's a look at the matchups each team will face.

JAGUARS (1-1) AT JETS (1-1)
(Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS)

WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL Most of the talk this week has been about Curtis Martin's ailing right knee, which he sprained last week against Miami. The MRI came back negative, and although Martin missed Wednesday's practice, he's expected to play this weekend - not surprising considering he hasn't missed a game since 1998.Still,backup Derrick Blaylock could see more snaps than usual.

The Jets' game plan should focus on taking advantage of Jacksonville's weak secondary with an aggressive air attack. Jags cornerback Kenny Wright has struggled, and he'll mostly be matched up against receiver Justin McCareins, who's averaging 15.8 yards a catch. Also, the absence of Jaguars strong safety Donovan Darius and his torn right ACL will create opportunities for tight end Chris Baker, who is beginning to emerge as a playmaker in Mike Heimerdinger's offense.

WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL Running back Fred Taylor is the Jaguars' primary offensive weapon. His ability to explode through holes and elude tacklers in the open field makes him very dangerous. The problem for the Jaguars is they're often forced to abandon the running game because they fall behind, and they have a hard time winning if they're forced to throw. Quarterback Byron Leftwich can be excellent with time in the pocket, but his suspect offensive line has gotten him sacked nine times in two games. Leftwich hobbled off the field last week with a groin injury, the lingering effects of which could hinder the Jacksonville passing game on Sunday.

KEY TO THE GAME The Jets need to be aggressive early, exploiting the holes in the Jaguars' pass defense to take an early lead. If they get behind, Gang Green will have a tough time stopping Taylor from chewing up yards and melting the clock. The Jaguars don't have the firepower to win a shootout, but they can squeeze hard enough to steal a win in a low scoring game. If the Jets really are playoff contenders, they should be able to take control of this game in the first quarter.

Lahman's Pick: Jets 24-13

(Sunday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN)

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL San Diego's 3-4 defense will create some challenges for the Giants' offensive line. At 6-foot-3 and 350 pounds, nose tackle Jamal Williams has the quickness to create havoc in the middle. By occupying blockers, he creates opportunities in the backfield for linebackers Steve Foley, Donnie Edwards, and Randall Godfrey. The Chargers' secondary, though, is surrendering nearly 350 passing yards per game.

That's why the pressure will be on Eli Manning to take advantage of his big targets - Jeremy Shockey and Plaxico Burress. It's going to be hard to run the ball against the Chargers, so the Giants will need to rely on the passing game to generate points.

WHEN THE CHARGERS HAVE THE BALL LaDainian Tomlinson has been one of the top five running backs since he entered the league in 2001. But what really made a difference in the San Diego offense last year was the ability to spread the ball around and prevent defenders from stacking the line of scrimmage. The emergence of tight end Antonio Gates and the addition of veteran wideout Keenan McCardell made that possible, and helped Drew Brees become a quality starting quarterback.

Fortunately for the Giants, their defense has excelled at stopping the run and putting consistent pressure on the quarterback. In two games, Big Blue has held opponents to 2.4 yards per carry and zero rushing touchdowns, and recorded seven sacks and five interceptions.

KEY TO THE GAME Eli Manning returns to San Diego 17 months after he told them to take a hike, and the fans will be vocal in letting him know how they feel about it. It won't be enough for Manning to merely weather the storm. He'll have to survive the pass rush and throw the ball down field effectively if the Giants hope to win. The Chargers have lost two close games, so they can be expected to play with increased intensity knowing that an 0-3 start may destroy their hopes of returning to the playoffs.

We've seen that Manning can avoid mistakes and guide the Giants to victory against a bad team. Now we'll see if he can win when winning means throwing three touchdown passes. In three starts on the road last year, he didn't throw a single one.

Lahman's Pick: Chargers 24-14

September 23, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version