December 16, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

Giants Try To Jump Hurdle, While Jets Try To Be Hurdle
The Jets and Giants

BY SEAN LAHMAN
December 16, 2005
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/24607

Despite their one game lead in the NFC East, the Giants still have some tough challenges to face before they can think about the playoffs. This week they'll face a Kansas City team that leads the league in scoring and is locked in a three-way race for the AFC West crown.

Meanwhile, the Jets head to southern Florida for a tough game against a Dolphins team that has rebounded admirably from a tough start. Here's a closer look at the matchups the Jets and Giants face this weekend.

KANSAS CITY (8-5) AT GIANTS (9-4)
(Saturday, 5 p.m., CBS)

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL

The Giants finished last week's game with both starting tackles sidelined, and it looks like Luke Petitgout and Kareem McKenzie may both be out of action again.That's particularly troubling considering the Chiefs, boast the NFL's sixth-best run defense. In recent years, opponents could run all over the Chiefs, but not anymore. This unit hasn't allowed an opponent to rush for 100 yards in a game this year, and they've surrendered just nine rushing touchdowns in 13 games.

Ultimately, though, the outcome of this game will very likely be decided by Eli Manning, who has struggled in recent weeks with accuracy and decision making. At the midway point of the season, the second-year quarterback was one of the league's best passers, with 14 touchdown passes and five interceptions.In the last five games,however,he's been picked off 10 times and thrown just seven touchdown passes. His poor performance against Minnesota and Seattle cost the Giants wins, and made narrow wins over the Cowboys and Eagles closer than they should have been.

Defensive end Jared Allen leads the team with 10 sacks, but the Chiefs have not been able to generate a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They have a veteran secondary, with cornerbacks Patrick Surtain and Eric Warfield and safeties Sammy Knight and Greg Wesley. All of these guys are big hitters, but they are sometimes over-aggressive, which can lead to big plays.

WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL

Despite losing Priest Holmes to a careerthreatening neck injury early in the season, the Chiefs still have the league's top ranked offense. Part of the reason is one of the league's most potent passing games. Tight end Tony Gonzalez has a combination of size and speed that makes him almost impossible to cover, and he's a deadly weapon over the middle. The emergence of second-year receiver Samie Parker has helped to open things up for Eddie Kennison, who is having the most productive season of his 10-year career and could surpass 1,000 receiving yards on Saturday.

Without question, though, the key to the Chiefs' success has been Larry Johnson, who has flourished since getting his chance to play full time in Holmes's absence. In the six games Johnson has started, he has gained 852 yards and scored 10 touchdowns.

The Giants' run defense has been the team's greatest strength this season, but they'll have a tough time with one of their best run-defenders sidelined. Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce suffered a high-ankle sprain last Sunday and spent the week in a cast.Nick Greisen,who has logged time at all three linebacking positions this season, will move over from his weak-side position to take over in the middle.The Giants will also need a solid effort from linebackers Carlos Emmons and Reggie Torbor to keep Johnson from running them into the ground.

KEY TO THE GAME Manning needs to get back on track and avoid the self-destructive mistakes that have plagued him in the second half of the season.The Giants have a championship-caliber defense and a plethora of offensive weapons,but if Manning keeps throwing more interceptions than touchdowns, they won't even make the playoffs.

Lahman's Pick: Giants 24-21

JETS (3-10) AT MIAMI DOLPHINS (6-7)
(Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS)

WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL

Miami's veteran defense hasn't done a particularly good job against the run this year, and opposing teams have had good success throwing the ball against them. So what are they good at? Rushing the quarterback. A year ago, the Dolphins ranked 19th in sacks, but this season they rank fourth with 38 sacks thanks to Nick Saban's aggressive schemes. The Dolphins apply good pressure with their front four, but their willingness to blitz any defender in any situation is what makes them so hard to defend.

That's when having a mobile quarterback can help a struggling offense. Last week, Brooks Bollinger gave the moribund Jets offense a spark by scrambling for 56 yards, the most ever by a Jets quarterback.

Cedric Houston rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown in his first NFL start, but was held to 2.9 yards per carry and didn't have a run longer than nine yards. If he can't do better this week, the Jets may not be able to get into the end zone.They'll also need Bollinger to make some plays down the field. In eight games this year, he's thrown for 150 yards or more just once.

WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL

After losing six of seven games in October and November, the Dolphins have won three in a row. The backfield tandem of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams is becoming one of the league's best. Brown is a powerful runner with good open field speed. Williams returned from his self-imposed exile 40 pounds lighter, and while he's no longer able to dominate a game, he's still effective in short bursts.

Quarterback Gus Frerotte has been up and down this season, but he's at his best when the running game takes the pressure off of his shoulders. At 34, he still has above average arm strength and can be an accurate passer - provided he has time to throw. When Frerotte gets pressured and tries to do too much, he's horrible.

Unfortunately, the Jets have not done a very good job of getting after opposing quarterbacks. They rank 26th in sacks, and with defensive tackle Dwayne Robertson (thigh) and defensive end Shaun Ellis (hamstring) listed as questionable, things aren't likely to improve.

KEY TO THE GAME A win will get the Dolphins back to .500 and keep their slim playoff hopes alive.But what are the Jets playing for? Can they come out and play with intensity? That's what it will take for them to compete with Miami. The Dolphins play smash-mouth football on both sides of the ball, and the Jets will have to find a way to grind it out.

Lahman's Pick: Dolphins 24-10

December 16, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version