November 4, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

California Dreaming
The Giants and Jets

BY SEAN LAHMAN
November 4, 2005
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/22582

When the Giants travel to San Francisco to take on the 49ers this weekend, they'll find an organization in disarray. First-year head coach Mike Nolan has a team ranked dead last in defense and 31st in offense, and despite a spirited win over Tampa Bay last week, there are few signs that the 49ers can be competitive. For the first-place Giants, complacency is the biggest concern.

The Jets face a California team heading in a much different direction. When the Chargers snapped a streak of eight losing seasons with a 12-4 campaign in 2004, it was the Jets who ended the dream with an overtime field goal in the playoffs. How times have changed. Gang Green is struggling in just about every area of the game, but if they can jump start their offense and find a way to defend the run, they just might steal a win at home. Here's a closer look at the matchups this weekend.

GIANTS (5-2) AT SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (2-5)
(Sunday, 4 p.m., FOX)

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL Opposing offenses have had their way with San Francisco this year because the pass coverage has been horrible. Nolan has moved some players around in the secondary, but to no avail. The porous pass defense is the main reason why the Niners have given up more than 30 points in four of their last six games. With cornerback Ahmed Plummer sidelined following ankle surgery, look for the Giants to attack the inexperienced Shawntae Spencer early and often. Defensive end Bryant Young is tied for the NFL lead with eight sacks, but outside linebackers Julian Peterson and Andre Carter have been less than effective in the 49ers' new 3-4 defense.

WHEN THE 49ERS HAVE THE BALL Who is Cody Pickett? He will be San Francisco's fourth different starting quarterback in five games, and that tells you all you need to know about how formidable this offense is. Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd could be one of the league's most dangerous players if the 49ers had anybody who could get him the ball. Kevan Barlow rushed for 101 yards last week, but he's generally struggled behind a mediocre offensive line. Given that they're down to their fourth quarterback, the Niners would like to have a game plan focused on running the ball. Until their defense improves, that's not going to be possible.

KEY TO THE GAME The Giants are clearly the better team. Barring self-destruction, they should win handily. It's not out of the question, though. Last week's emotional roller coaster featured Wellington Mara's funeral on Friday and a huge win over the Redksins on Sunday. The Giants need to refocus themselves come out with the same intensity.

Lahman's Pick: Giants 34-17

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (4-4) AT JETS (2-5)
(Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS)

WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL San Diego's run defense, which is allowing just 74 rushing yards a game, is going to make this a very tough day for the Jets. Nose tackle Jamal Williams creates congestion at the line of scrimmage, and linebacker Donnie Edwards can make plays from sideline to sideline. Rookie Shawne Merriman leads the team with four sacks, but what makes the Chargers pass rush so difficult to stop is the team's willingness to rush players from all over the field. They rank second in the NFL with 24 sacks, and that's going to create all kinds of problems for the Jets, who have a dilapidated offensive line and a stationary quarterback. Of course, cornerback Drayton Florence and strong safety Terrence Kiel are both nursing ankle injuries and may not play, so if the Jets can find a way to give Vinny Testaverde some time to throw, they could find some success through the air.

WHEN THE CHARGERS HAVE THE BALL Like every other team in the league,the Jets will have a hard time slowing down tight end Antonio Gates, who had 10 catches for 145 yards and three touchdowns last week against Kansas City.

The biggest challenge for Gang Green, however, will be stopping the running game. LaDainian Tomlinson has established himself as the NFL's premier running back, and can march his team down the field virtually by himself. Sometimes he has to. Despite Gates's abilities, quarterback Drew Brees has already thrown as many interceptions as he did all of last season. Also, wide receiver Keenan Mc-Cardell has become less of a factor as the season has progressed, and the lack of a second and third wideout has made it hard for Brees to spread the ball around.

KEY TO THE GAME Run and stop the run. That's a strategy as old as the NFL itself, and it's the formula that the Chargers used to reach the playoffs last year. It's also what the Jets need to do in this game and the second half of the season if they want to be competitive. Until they repair their run defense and get Curtis Martin going, the Jets are going to be stuck at the bottom of the AFC East.

Lahman's Pick: Chargers 28-13

November 4, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version