October 21, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

Autumn Winds Carry Changing Fortunes
The Jets and Giants

BY SEAN LAHMAN
October 21, 2005
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/21863

What a difference a year makes. Last November, the Jets werewell on their way to the playoffs as one of the AFC's strongest teams. The Giants were in freefall, ravaged by injuries and saddled with aging players at key positions. Eleven months later, the Jets find themselves struggling with injuries at key offensive positions and a once- dominant defense that can no longer stop the run. The Giants approach November looking like playoff contenders, sporting a rejuvenated defense and a second-year quarterback who is beginning to show signs of stardom. Both teams face tough opponents this weekend. Here is a look at the challenges they'll encounter.

BRONCOS (5-1) AT GIANTS (3-2)
(Sunday, 4:15 p.m., CBS)

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL Quarterback Eli Manning will have a chance to rebound from a poor outing last week when he faces a vulnerable Denver defense.The Broncos revamped defensive line has been formidable against the run, but has struggled to muster any kind of pass rush. When you combine that shortcoming with an injury ravaged secondary, it's easy to see why the Giants' game plan will focus on throwing the ball downfield. Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey is expected to play despite a bad hamstring, but strong safety Nick Ferguson (ankle) is questionable and his backup,Sam Brandon (shoulder), is out. It's always a challenge for opposing defenses to cover Jeremy Shockey, but it's going to be particularly hard for the Broncos with those two players out.

WHEN THE BRONCOS HAVE THE BALL The Broncos rank third in rushing offense, thanks to a two-back tandem that has averaged 163 yards over the past four games. Veteran Mike Anderson is a powerful runner, while Tatum Bell relies on his quick burst and elusive speed. Their production has taken the pressure off quarterback Jake Plummer, enabling him to play a more conservative passing game and avoid the mistakes that have plagued him throughout his career.

KEY TO THE GAME The Broncos simply don't have the personnel to matchup with Shockey or wideout Plaxico Burress; In a low-scoring, ball-control game, the Broncos running game and their stout run defense give them a huge advantage.The Giants can neutralize that by putting points on the board early and forcing the Broncos to take to the air. With Michael Strahan in his face all day, Plummer will likely make poor decisions and self destruct.

Lahman's Pick: Giants 27-20

JETS (2-4) AT FALCONS (4-2)
(Monday, 9 p.m., ABC)

WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL The season-ending injury to center Kevin Mawae creates all kinds of new headaches for offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger. The lack of a running game, the poor pass protection, the bobbled snaps - all of those things will be exacerbated by the loss of a six-time Pro-Bowler. The best thing the Jets have going for them is Curtis Martin,who finally broke out with 148 yards last week.Defenses are beginning to play eight men in the box,knowing that the New York passing attack can't hurt them.

Vinny Testaverde has been able to get the offense moving at times, but with seven sacks and three interceptions in two games, he's hurting the team as much as he's helping.

WHEN THE FALCONS HAVE THE BALL Two numbers that spell trouble for the Jets: one and 27. The first is where the Falcons rushing offense ranks in yards per game.The second is where the Jets' run defense ranks in the same category. The principle weapon in the Falcons' ground attack is Warrick Dunn, an explosive runner who bursts through the cutback lanes created by his offensive line. The Jets will have to slow him down if they want to win.

Michael Vick hasn't been the same player since he broke his ankle during a preseason game in 2003. The Falcons' quarterback is still dangerous when he scrambles, but he's not an effective passer.Vick has thrown for less than 200 yards in 22 of the 25 games since returning from that injury.It doesn't help that he's stuck with a mediocre receiving crew; Brian Finneran is an unspectacular possession receiver, and Michael Jenkins is an extremely raw second-year player.Tight end Alge Crumpler is Vick's best option. He has good hands and is very tough to bring down, but he's not a deep threat.

KEY TO THE GAME The Jets need to be able to throw the ball and put pressure on the Falcons to do the same.The Jets believe that their run defense is better than their numbers indicate, but the common thread in all of their losses has been a big day by the opposing rushers.If they can't stop Dunn and Vick from running wild, it will be a long night.

Lahman's Pick: Falcons 23-17

October 21, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version