December 9, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version
BY SEAN LAHMAN
December 9, 2005
How different might things have been if the Jets had re-signed LaMont Jordan during the off-season? That's what fans will be wondering this weekend when Jordan returns to town with his new team. The 27-year old running back signed with the Raiders as a free agent after spending four seasons as Curtis Martin's backup. The Jets couldn't afford to keep both players, and no doubt Jordan is anxious to show his former team they kept the wrong man. He's gained more yards than Martin this season and also leads his team in receptions despite the presence of Randy Moss.
The Giants, meanwhile, will try to solidify their hold on first place in the NFC East by beating an Eagles team that keeps losing Pro Bowl players. An embarrassing 42-0 loss on Monday night showed just how big of a toll the injuries have taken on what was a 13-3 team a year ago.
Here's a closer look at this weekend's matchups.
GIANTS (8-4) AT PHILADELPHIA (5-7) (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., FOX)
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
For years, the Eagles' defense was the main reason for their presence in the four straight NFC championship games. Injuries and free agent defections have made them more vulnerable this year, especially against the run. When these two teams played three weeks ago, Tiki Barber averaged 5.3 yards per carry.
Where the Eagles really struggled, though, was defending against the Giants' passing attack in the second half. Despite sacking Eli Manning five times, Philadelphia's undersized secondary had fits trying to cover the Giants' tall receivers. Cornerback Sheldon Brown got juked by Plaxico Burress on a hitch-andgo for a 61-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Amani Toomer and tight end Jeremy Shockey, each of whom caught touchdown passes, also wreaked havoc in the Eagles' secondary.
With Pro Bowl cornerback Lito Sheppard out for the year, nickleback Roderick Hood has been forced into starting duty. Look for Manning and the Giants to attack that side of the field until Hood makes them stop.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
With running back Brian Westbrook, quarterback Donovan McNabb, and receiver Terrell Owens all out of the lineup, the defending NFC Champions are simply trying to stay afloat with what can best be described as a patchwork offense. Mike McMahon remains the starter at quarterback despite a horrific outing against Seattle last week. He was benched at halftime of the 42-0 loss after completing just four of 10 passes for 61 yards and throwing two interceptions. McMahon did, however, throw for a career high 298 yards in a 27-17 loss to the Giants three weeks ago.
With Westbrook gone, the running game is in the hands of three unproven players. Lamar Gordon has been a backup with three NFL teams. Reno Mahe has spent most of his NFL career as a special teams player. Rookie Ryan Moats is the third option, and head coach Andy Reid says that he plans to use all three backs on Sunday.
The strength of the Giants' defense is their front seven, which will create all kinds of matchup problems for Philadelphia. Ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora have combined for 20.5 sacks, making them the most productive pass rushing duo in the league. Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce is making a strong case for a Pro Bowl invitation, and his steady presence is the main reason why the Giants are holding opponents to just 3.6 yards per carry.
KEY TO THE GAME The depleted Eagles have lost five of their last six games, with their lone win coming against an even more depleted Green Bay Packers squad. They'll have a hard time scoring points with an offense full of second-teamers. To ensure victory, the Giants need to tighten up their special teams play and, above all, avoid the kind of mental mistakes and turnovers that have cost them games against Minnesota and Seattle.
Lahman's Pick: Giants 24-10
OAKLAND (4-8) AT JETS (7-5) (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS)
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL Injuries have taken their toll, but the anchor that's holding Gang Green's offense down is quarterback Brooks Bollinger. The team is winless in his five starts and has managed just one touchdown in that span. Opposing defenses have responded by stacking the box against the run, and that's made it impossible for Curtis Martin to get going. He's had just one run for more than 10 yards in the last four games.
The Raiders' run defense has been up and down this season, but it held San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson to 86 yards last week and kept him out of the end zone, which few teams are able to do. The key was the staunch play of inside linebackers Danny Clark and Kirk Morrison. Derrick Burgess is tied for the league lead with 11 sacks, but the pass rush has suffered with tackle Warren Sapp sidelined by a shoulder injury.
The silver lining for the Jets is that the Raiders' secondary is horrible. Cornerbacks Fabian Washington and Nnamdi Asomugha have been pressed into duty because of injuries, and both have struggled in coverage. Neither has a single interception this season, and as a team, the Raiders have a league-low three picks.
Herm Edwards believes Bollinger's mobility makes him the best choice to start behind a line ravaged by injuries. Clearly, that mobility isn't helping the Jets put points on the board. How much worse could it be with Kliff Kingsbury?
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
With starter Kerry Collins struggling and the team heading nowhere, Raiders head coach Norv Turner is making a change at quarterback. Collins ranks third in the NFL in passing yards, but has thrown nine interceptions in the last six games. That was enough to prompt Turner to see if backup Marques Tuiasosopo can make things any better. The 26-year old Washington grad has been with the Raiders for five years, and while the coaching staff raves about him, he's spent almost all of that time on the bench.
Beyond Tuiasosopo's inexperience, the Raiders have a plethora of problems on offense. Wide receiver Randy Moss has been slowed by a groin injury since early October, and while he still draws double teams, he hasn't been an effective deep threat. That's allowed defenses to pay more attention to Jerry Porter and Doug Gabriel, each of whom has seen a corresponding drop in his numbers.
It doesn't help that the pass protection has been spotty. Most of the interceptions Collins threw came as he was dodging linebackers, and it's unlikely Tuiasosopo is going to have any easier a time behind the ramshackle offensive line.
The poor play of the line has also hurt the running game. LaMont Jordan has had some dominant moments, but the lack of consistent blocking has held him to an average of 3.6 yards per carry.
The Jets need to put pressure on Tuiasosopo without having to blitz all the time. Shaun Ellis has just 2.5 sacks after registering 11 last year and 12.5 in 2003, and it's time for him to step up. The secondary has also underperformed, and hasn't intercepted a pass in the last three games. The Raiders will test cornerback Justin Miller, and they'll also go after safety Kerry Rhodes when he's matched up with Moss or Porter.
KEY TO THE GAME The Jets must find a way to contain LaMont Jordan. He'd love to have a big day against his former team and show everyone in New York that they made a mistake when they let him go. He'll get a lot of carries in order to take pressure off of Tuiasosopo's shoulders, and he'll also catch 6 or 8 passes out of the backfield. The Jets have to force Oakland's young quarterback to make plays and throw the ball down field.
Lahman's Pick: Raiders 17-10
December 9, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version