October 28, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

Calling All Defenders For Division Battle
The Giants

BY SEAN LAHMAN
October 28, 2005
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/22242

For the Giants, Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins is much more than just another contest with their longtime division rival. Sure, the winner will emerge with at least a share of first place in the NFC East, but for Tom Coughlin's team, this game represents a crossroads. It's the first intradivision test Big Blue has faced at home, and their play will mark them either as legitimate playoff contenders or still a work in progress.

The Giants offense has been buoyed by the outstanding play and late-game heroics of quarterback Eli Manning, but some serious questions remain. The running game has been neglected, for one thing. Tiki Barber has had fewer than 20 carries in three of the last four games, partially because the Giants have been behind on the scoreboard, and partially because they've gone with Manning while he's still got a hot hand. With the stretch run approaching however, the Giants need to know if the 30-year-old Barber can still carry a heavy load if the situation dictates it.

Big Blue also needs to know if there's a defense anywhere to be found. The 116 rushing yards per game they're allowing would be considerably worse if teams weren't licking their chops at the prospect of throwing the ball against the Giants' depleted secondary. New York ranks 31st in passing yards allowed, due in part to Will Peterson's season-ending injury and Will Allen's dismal play. One of the best ways to help a mediocre secondary is with a solid pass rush, but the Giants have managed just 11 sacks in six games.

REDSKINS (4-2) AT GIANTS (4-2)
(Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX)

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL If you're wondering when Manning's magic will run out, this may be the week. Washington has not done a great job of putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but they have a solid young secondary that has allowed just four touchdown passes in six games. Cornerbacks Shawn Springs and Walt Harris provide smothering coverage, but the big plays come from safety Sean Taylor.

If the Redskins have a weakness defensively, it's stopping the run. Defensive tackles Cornelius Griffin and Joe Salave'a are both banged up.The Skins have been vulnerable in short yardage situations, and they've also shown a propensity for giving up big plays on the ground.

Tiki Barber rushed for just 80 yards in two games against the Redskins last year. He'll need to at least double that output if the Giants are going to have a chance to win.

Plaxico Burress is listed as questionable with a sore shoulder, suggesting that if he does play,he probably won't be a major factor. That's great news for the Redskins, who can focus their attention on tight end Jeremy Shockey. Strong safety Ryan Clark can't cover Shockey by himself - no safety can - and that might create an opportunity for linebacker LaVar Arrington to get back in the lineup.He's not a good fit for the schemes that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has imple mented, but he's one of the few linebackers who can both run with Shockey and bring him down.

WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL Mark Brunell, who went to three Pro Bowls as a Jaguar but is having his best season at age 35 in Washington, has thrown 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions for an NFC-best 98.3 passer rating. He's been helped by three things he didn't have in his last few years in Jacksonville: solid pass protection, a dominating running game, and a breakaway receiver.

Clinton Portis is one of the game's most dangerous and versatile running backs. He's powerful enough to gain yards running inside,and has the speed to run outside.Portis ran all over the Giants the last time these teams met, steamrolling defenders for 148 yards and two scores in a 31-7 victory.

Brunell has also been helped by the addition of Santana Moss, who leads the league with 743 receiving yards and a mind-numbing 19.6 yards per catch. Offensive coordinator Don Breaux has found effective ways to use Moss's explosive speed and his ability to wreak havoc in the open field. The Giants' depleted secondary will have to slow him down, probably by stuffing him at the line of scrimmage and keeping him from hitting full stride.

KEY TO THE GAME The Giants need to attack Washington with their ground game. Barber proved last year that he can carry the offense against tough opponents, and this is one of the games where he'll need to do that.The Giants cannot allow Washington to control the tempo of the game. The Redskins would love to make it a shootout, matching their veteran quarterback against New York's young passer in a high-scoring aerial battle. That's a game the Giants can't win.

Lahman's Pick: Redskins 24-17

October 28, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version