October 6, 2006 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version
BY SEAN LAHMAN
October 6, 2006
As the Giants return from their bye with a chance to show whether they've corrected the glaring deficiencies that made them lose two of their first three games, the Jets travel to Florida to face a tough Jacksonville team that plays smash-mouth football on both sides of the line of scrimmage. It's the third time in four games that the Jets face a team that went to the playoffs last year. A win against the Jaguars would give the team a huge boost as they head into the softer portion of their schedule. The Jets will face Miami (1–3), Detroit (0–4), and Cleveland (1–3) over the next three weeks before reaching the bye.
REDSKINS (2-2) AT GIANTS (2-2)
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL In the fourth quarter of games this season, quarterback Eli Manning has played like Joe Montana, John Elway, and Brett Favre all rolled into one. If you include overtime, he's completed 73% of his passes after the end of third quarter, with five touchdowns in the three games and a passer rating of 116.7. The problem is that before half time, Manning looks more like Ryan Leaf or Akili Smith. He has thrown just two touchdowns and three interceptions before the intermission this season, averaging 95 yards and posting a meager 64.3 passer rating.
One of the ways the Giants might address the issue is to get Tiki Barber more involved early in the game. He's only carried the ball 24 times in the first half of games this season, compared to 44 pass attempts. Barber ran for 1,860 yards last year, and there's no reason to use him so sparingly, especially when the passing game has been so inconsistent.
That might be hard to do, given the temptation to pick on a vulnerable Washington pass defense. Injuries to cornerback Shaun Springs and nickleback Pierson Prioleau haven't helped, but the problems last week were mostly a lack of execution. Sloppy tackling, blown coverages, and miscommunication have all caused the Redskins secondary to give up big plays.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL After registering 41 sacks a year ago, the 2006 Giants have not been able to generate a pass rush. That has put tremendous pressure on what is an already overmatched secondary, and the end result is a Giants defense that ranks 29th against the pass.All three of their previous opponents have come out throwing the ball, which enabled them to jump out to leads of 16–7 (Colts), 17–7 (Eagles), and 35–3 (Seahawks) by halftime.
The Redskins figure to take the same approach this week.Their offense is led by quarterback Mark Brunell, who spent the first eight years of his NFL career playing for Giants coach Tom Coughlin in Jacksonville. After a slow start, Brunell has caught fire, setting an NFL record with 22 consecutive completions two weeks ago in Houston, and scorching the Jaguars for 329 yards and three touchdowns last week. His main target is Santana Moss, whose speed and ability to separate from defenders makes him one of the two or three most dangerous vertical threats in the league.
When they turn to the ground game, the Redskins are even more formidable. Clinton Portis has returned to form after suffering a shoulder injury during the preseason. He rushed for 86 yards on just 16 carries two weeks ago and pounded out 112 yards last week against a very physical Jacksonville defense. Backup Ladell Betts has averaged 11 carries a game and is gaining 4.8 yards a carry.Altogether, the Redskins have the same kind of offense that has been giving the Giants fits this year — a team that can put points on the board with their passing game and then smother you with a grind-it-out running game.
The Giants tried to remake their defense during the off-season, bringing in veterans like linebacker LaVar Arrington and cornerback Sam Madison. Both players have been disappointing, and the defense may have actually regressed. They enter the weekend ranked 27th in yards allowed, and things are going to have to get better quickly for the team to remain in playoff contention.
KEY TO THE GAME The Giants need to pressure Brunell and not allow him the time to get the ball to Moss deep down the field.The Giants cornerbacks doesn't have the speed to keep up with him, but Corey Webster's physical style of play can disrupt Moss's timing and keep him from accelerating off the line of scrimmage.
Lahman's Pick: Giants 24-16
JETS (2-2) AT JAGUARS (2-2)
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL Facing the Colts defense last week and the Jaguars this week provides the biggest contrast in styles that you're going to find in the NFL. Indy relies on speed up front to generate pressure, and they play a cover-two defense premised on keeping plays in front of them. The Jaguars are strong and physical up front, and their players pursue the ball aggressively.
Jacksonville has lost two in a row, surrendering 21 points to the Colts and 36 to the Redskins in an overtime contest a week ago. Injuries up front have been the biggest culprit, with end Reggie Hayward (ruptured Achilles tendon) out for the season and DE Marcellus Wiley (groin) and DT Marcus Stroud (ankle) both listed as doubtful for Sunday.
That's good news for Chad Pennington.The Jets passing game that has been outstanding this season, and the reemergence of Lavernaues Coles as a star receiver has been a major reason.He's tied for the NFL lead with 30 receptions and his 412 receiving yards is just one-yard shy of the league lead.Jerricho Cotchery has become a solid second receiver, helping to draw some of the constant double-coverage away from Coles.
Gang Green still hasn't found a go-to running back, but Cedric Houston and Leon Washington combined for 82 yards last week, and Kevan Barlow pounded out some tough yards while scoring two touchdowns. It isn't pretty, but this backfield by committee might be enough to keep the Jets afloat in the short term.
WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL Like the Colts and the Patriots, Jacksonville has developed a potent one-two combination in their backfield, pairing veteran Fred Taylor and rookie Maurice Jones-Drew. The Jets have struggled in making the adjustment to their new 3–4 defense, but the matchups in this game would seem to favor them, and help them improve on their average of 140.5 rushing yards allowed a game. Jonathon Vilma has had the hardest time adjusting to the new defense, and the Jets desperately need him to become a playmaker again.
Jags' quarterback Byron Leftwich uses his size to help avoid sacks by absorbing blows in the pocket. He's not mobile at all, having shown a preference to throw the ball away rather than scramble.When he does throw the ball, he fires rockets. This masks the fact that he lacks touch on his passes, and that can lead to interceptions. Leftwich has been picked off five times this season, and the Jets defensive backs need to be aggressive when he tries to force the ball into coverage.
KEY TO THE GAME Jacksonville's defensive line is banged up, and the Jets need to take advantage of that.The successful passing attack has helped to compensate for the problems on defense and their inability to run the ball. The teams that have slowed the Jets aerial attack have done it by getting pressure on the quarterback, but as the Jets offensive line continues to improve, that's getting harder to do. If Pennington has time to throw, the Jets will win this game.
Lahman's Pick: Jets 17-14
October 6, 2006 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version