December 30, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

Giants Looking for Rhythm, Jets Looking for the Exit

BY SEAN LAHMAN
December 30, 2005
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/25154

So we arrive at Week 17, the season finale for one local team, but not the other. One year ago, it was the Jets who were looking ahead to a playoff run and the Giants who were playing out the last throes of a dismal season.

A year later, the end can't come quickly enough for Gang Green, who will finish with their worst record in a decade. For Big Blue, the finale is more of a mixed bag. Head coach Tom Coughlin has the team back in the playoffs in his second season at the helm, but most agree his team has underachieved. No matter - a win in Oakland will secure an NFC East championship and some momentum heading into January. The Giants face little challenge this weekend from a Raiders squad that has lost seven of their last eight games.

N.Y. GIANTS (10-5) AT OAKLAND RAIDERS (4-11)
(Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN)

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL

After jumping out to a 6-2 start, the Giants have limped toward the finish line. Their 4-3 record since November 13 has coincided with the late-season struggles of Eli Manning, who has thrown nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions in his last seven games after opening the season with 14 touchdowns and five picks in his first eight games. Instead, the Giants have been treading water on the back of Tiki Barber. The 30-year old running back has averaged 128 rushing yards and 45 receiving yards per game during the same stretch.

With a playoff spot locked up, the Giants just need Manning to find some rhythm, and Raiders provide a perfect opportunity. Their secondary has been ravaged by injuries, leaving a pair of overmatched cornerbacks - Fabian Washington and Nnamdi Asomugha - trying to keep quarterbacks in check. Defensive end Derrick Burgess leads the league with 15 sacks, but he has been the lone bright spot in an otherwise ineffective defense.

Teams have had considerable success running the ball against the Raiders, especially since defensive tackle Warren Sapp went on injured reserve. There's no reason to think the same won't hold true for Barber and the Giants.

WHEN OAKLAND HAS THE BALL

Oakland's off-season acquisition of Randy Moss hasn't given them the explosive passing game they hoped for. The veteran wide receiver has just six touchdowns and hasn't recorded a 100-yard receiving game since Week 4.The addition of running back LaMont Jordan has yielded similarly lackluster results. He's rushed for 1,025 yards and enjoyed three 100-yard games, but he's also grumbled about a lack of carries.

A toe injury will probably keep Jordan out of action for the season finale, so look for veteran Zack Crockett to get the bulk of the carries. This will also likely be the final start in an Oakland uniform for quarterback Kerry Collins. While he still has great arm strength, his penchant for interceptions has rendered him largely ineffective. In two seasons as the Raiders' starting quarterback, he has managed just seven wins.

KEY TO THE GAME Winning this game shouldn't be a huge challenge for the Giants, but considering how poorly they've played during the last six weeks, this will be the final opportunity to restore some balance to the offensive attack and give their young quarterback a boost of confidence before his first career playoff game. They can't afford to squeak by with another lackluster performance.

Lahman's Pick: Giants 24-10

BUFFALO BILLS (5-10) AT N.Y. JETS (3-12)
(Sunday, 4 p.m., FOX)
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL

Gang Green's offense barely got on the field in Monday night's loss to the New England, which is part of the reason why it's hard to know what to expect from this group in the season finale.

With half the starting offense on injured reserve, it's difficult to be too critical of a unit that has been overmatched almost every week. Quarterback Brooks Bollinger and running back Cedric Houston are nice players who probably don't have enough talent to start in the league. Tight end Doug Jolley has been a huge disappointment. And a makeshift offensive line has made it near impossible for anybody to do anything.

The Jets rank 31st in rushing offense and the Bills rank dead last in run defense.

The off-season loss of defensive tackle Pat Williams and the season-ending injury to linebacker Takeo Spikes torpedoed a Buffalo unit that ranked seventh in run defense last year. The Bills are allowing 142 rushing yards per game, but the Jets, who rank 31st in rushing offense, seem utterly incapable of taking advantage of that weakness.

Buffalo can put good pressure on the quarterback without having to blitz all the time. Defensive end Aaron Schobel leads the team with 12 sacks, and the productive pass rush allows the Bills secondary to be more aggressive. This is not good news for Bollinger.

WHEN BUFFALO HAS THE BALL After struggling all year, Buffalo's offense sprang to life last week in an upset of the Bengals in Cincinnati. Leading an aggressive passing game that said "we've got nothing to lose," quarterback Kelly Holcomb did what J.P. Losman could not: remain poised in the pocket and make plays down the field. The Bills have a trio of dangerous receivers in Eric Moulds, Josh Reed, and Lee Evans, and Holcomb spread the ball around well.

Since declaring himself the league's best runner in October, Buffalo's Willis McGahee has averaged just 3.2 yards per carry and scored just one touchdown. Maybe he is a great ballplayer, but a lousy offensive line makes it hard for him to prove it, and more often than not, a mediocre defense has forced the Bills to abandon the run by halftime.

The Jets secondary has been solid despite a lackluster pass rush, and they rank near the middle in yards per rush. Where they have struggled most is in stopping long drives and getting teams off the field. Opponents are converting 40.6% of third down opportunities, which ranks fifth in the league. That puts too much pressure on an offense that has been rendered mostly impotent.

KEY TO THE GAME If the Jets can find a way to run the ball they can win. The return of Derrick Blaylock might make that possible, and maybe Houston or B.J. Askew can find lightning in a bottle. If they can't get a ground game going, then it will be just one more long afternoon for Jets fans.

Lahman's Pick: Bills 21-17

December 30, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version