November 25, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

Giants Clash With NFC's Strongest Team
The Jets and Giants

November 25, 2005

The first time the New Orleans Saints visited Giants Stadium this season, they were playing their "home opener" against the Giants after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Ten weeks later, they return to the Meadowlands to face the Jets, hoping to overcome a slew of injuries and snap their six-game losing streak in what has turned out to be a nightmare season in every sense. Of course, other than having a stadium to call home, the Jets' season hasn't gone much better, and Sunday's game will be a chance to win a game over the only team who feels worse than they do.

Meanwhile, the Giants head across the country to face the Seahawks, a Jekyll-and-Hyde team that has been mediocre on the road but nearly unbeatable at home. Seattle can clinch the NFC West with a win combined with a Rams loss, while the Giants can claim sole possession of first place in the NFC East.

Here is a closer look at the weekend's games.

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

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL Challenge number one for the Giants will be protecting quarterback Eli Manning. The Seahawks, who lead the league with 34 sacks, generate pressure with their superb defensive line. Tackle Rocky Bernard and end Bryce Fisher have 7.5 sacks apiece, and will be even more disruptive with two of the Giants' starters on the offensive line hobbled by injuries: Center Shaun O'Hara (ankle) and tackle Luke Petitgout (knee) are listed as questionable, and their absence could derail the Giants offense.

The strong Seattle pass rush has helped mask some of the weaknesses in the secondary. Marcus Truffant is emerging as a solid cornerback, but he tends to be over-aggressive and is vulnerable to a good double move. Counterpart Kelly Herndon has struggled in man-to-man situations on the sideline all year. Both have speed and athleticism, but their lack of size has also been a liability at times.

Eli Manning is the only quarterback in the NFL to throw a touchdown pass in all of his team's games this season, and he'll need to keep that streak alive if the Giants want to win this game. Amani Toomer has played a larger role in the passing game in recent weeks, due in part to the fact that opposing defenses have been focusing on Plaxico Burress. That often leaves Toomer one-on-one a scenario the Giants will look to exploit.

WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL Seattle's offense is built around Shaun Alexander, who has scored an incredible 19 touchdowns in 10 games. He is a tough and physical runner who hits the line hard and bursts through holes with unusual quickness for a guy who weighs 225 pounds. Alexander's 123 yards per game are the primary reason for the Seahawks having the league's top-ranked offense.

The Giants' run defense has been steadily improving as the year has progressed, and this will be their biggest challenge of the season. Over the last four weeks, they've held opponents to 2.4 yards per carry, but against the league's elite running backs, Big Blue has struggled mightily: San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson scorched them for 192 yards and Denver's duo of Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell combined for 180.

The task will be all the more difficult with defensive tackle William Joseph on the sidelines with a dislocated elbow. Veteran Fred Robbins will take his place, but the burden of keeping Alexander contained will fall on the linebackers. Antonio Pierce will need to help shore up the middle, while Carlos Emmons and Nick Greisen will need to provide containment on the outside and prevent Alexander from getting through the line and into the open field.

KEY TO THE GAME The Seahawks will try to control the clock with their running game in order the keep the Giants' potent offense off the field. If the Giants can't stop that from happening, they won't be able to keep up. To win, they need to force Seattle to throw the ball and make this an aerial battle.

Lahman's Pick: Seattle 28-24

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

WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL When coach Herman Edwards said this week that the Jets' quarterback situation was in shambles, it was the understatement of the year. Five different passers have been knocked out with injuries, and Brooks Bollinger will start Sunday night despite suffering a concussion against the Broncos last week. The young quarterback was effective in relief of Vinny Testaverde in the Jets' loss to San Diego, but the offense has managed just a pair of field goals in the three games that Bollinger has started.

Injuries to the offensive line have made things difficult, as has Curtis Martin's bum knee. Unless Bollinger has a sudden burst of improvement, the Jets will need to run the ball in order to win games the rest of the way. If they can't do that against the Saints, they won't be able to do it against anyone. The Saints rank 29th in run defense, giving up an average of 138.6 yards per game. Defensive tackle Johnathon Sullivan, the sixth pick in the 2003 draft, has been a huge disappointment and journeymen Brian Young and Ron McKinnon haven't been much help either.

WHEN THE SAINTS HAVE THE BALL Any hope for the Saints to have a respectable season disappeared when running back Deuce McAllister suffered a season-ending knee injury in week five. Journeyman Antowain Smith and scat back Aaron Stecker have taken over, but neither is talented enough to be playing full time.

The absence of a running game has accentuated the liabilities of quarterback Aaron Brooks, whose poor performance this season may end up costing him his starting job. Throughout his career, Brooks has shown a propensity for forcing balls into coverage and holding the ball too long. With the running game in such poor shape, both problems have grown worse. Receiver Joe Horn has also been noticeably slowed. The fourtime Pro Bowler is averaging just three catches per game and has scored only one touchdown.

KEY TO THE GAME A game like this comes down to pride. Neither team has their best horses in the race, so the winner will likely be the team that generates the most intensity. A lot of the players on both sides of the ball are playing for their jobs, and this would be a great opportunity for someone like Bollinger, tight end Doug Jolley, or rookie running back Cedric Houston to step up and show they deserve to come back next year.

Lahman's Pick: Jets 17-10

November 25, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version