December 1, 2006 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

At 65, Very Little Room for Error for Giants, Jets
Football

BY SEAN LAHMAN
December 1, 2006
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/44432

A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T

Despite their stunning collapse against the Titans last week, the Giants have a chance to redeem themselves and save their season with a win against the Cowboys on Sunday. A victory would put the Giants into first place, while a loss would leave them battling with seven other teams for the NFC's two Wild Card berths. The Jets are also fighting for a Wild Card in the AFC, but their road is a much less treacherous one, starting with a trip to Green Bay.

DALLAS COWBOYS (7-4) AT GIANTS (6-5)
(Sunday, 4:15 p.m., FOX)

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL

Last week's debacle was remarkable, not just because the Giants lost but because of how they lost. The mental errors were glaring and some players appeared to be giving less than their full effort. More troubling during this three-game losing streak has been the poor play of quarterback Eli Manning, who has an anemic 46.4 passer rating over the stretch with just two touchdown passes to go along with six interceptions.

His struggles extended back much further Manning has been held below 200 passing yards in six of the last seven games but nobody panicked because the rushing game was working so well. Over the last two weeks, defenses have stacked the line of scrimmage and focused on keeping Tiki Barber contained. That strategy has been extremely successful. In the losses to Jacksonville and Tennessee, Barber has averaged just 3.1 yards a carry down from a league-high 5.1 and hasn't had a run longer than nine yards.

The Cowboys rank fourth in run defense and will take the exact same approach, daring the Giants to beat them with their passing game. Dallas has forced 27 turnovers this season, trailing only Chicago (33) and Baltimore (28), and if they can pressure Manning into making mistakes, they should be able to win.

WHEN THE COWBOYS HAVE THE BALL

The last time these two teams met, the Giants sacked quarterback Drew Bledsoe four times in the first half and forced an interception. Cowboys head coach benched Bledsoe at halftime, and everything has been different from that point on. With Tony Romo under center, the Cowboys have won four out of five games, surging into first place with a confidence that had been lacking in the early part of the season. All of the distractions, especially the Terrell Owens soap opera, have fallen completely off the radar as everyone gushes over the transformation that has taken place with Romo as quarterback.

Romo has thrown 13 touchdown passes and just five interceptions, and he ranks first among NFL quarterbacks with a 110.8 passer rating. What's been the difference? First, his mobility has enabled him to avoid the pass rush much better than Bledsoe, who played as if his feet were nailed to the ground. Romo has been sacked once every 23.5 pass plays, compared with once every 11.5 pass plays for Bledsoe. Because of that, he's done a better job getting the ball down the field, particularly into the hands of Owens. With Bledsoe under center, T.O. averaged 55.4 receiving yards a game. With Romo, that number has soared to 91.2.

The Giants will have their hands full, and the news from the trainer's room has been mixed. Three defensive starters returned to practice Wednesday Osi Umenyiora, Brandon Short, and Sam Madison each having missed significant playing time due to injury. While the Giants are hopeful those guys will return to the lineup, they are also concerned about some players whose names have just been added to the injury list. Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce missed practice with swelling in his knee, while safety Gibril Wilson (shoulder), and cornerback Corey Webster (turf-toe) are trying to play through their pain.

KEY TO THE GAME The season hinges on Eli Manning, who must overcome his problems to lead this team out of the hole they've dug. A revitalized passing game will loosen things up for Tiki Barber and take some of the pressure off the injury-ravaged defense. If Manning continues to struggle, it's all over.

Lahman's Pick: Cowboys 2720

JETS (6-5) AT GREEN BAY PACKERS (4-7)
Sunday, 1:00 p.m., FOX)

WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL

Every time you think the Jets have found a running game, it disappears. Gang Green's three halfbacks combined for 35 yards on 24 carries against Houston's mediocre run defense. The Jets overcame that horrible performance thanks to a big day from Chad Pennington, who completed 77.4% of his passes for 286 yards.

Green Bay defensive end Aaron Kampman leads the league with 10 sacks, and the Packers' pass rush is a bright spot for an otherwise lackluster defense. The porous run defense gave up 235 yards on a snowy covered field in Seattle, and the secondary has surrendered seven touchdown passes over their last two games.

WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL

After struggling early in the season, the Jets defense is clicking on all cylinders. Over the last three games they've allowed just 35 points. Last week they held Houston to just 25 rushing yards, the first time in 10 weeks they had kept an opponent below 125. They've also done a better job of getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, with nine sacks over that three-game stretch.

The Packers offense has struggled while their two biggest stars quarterback Bret Favre and running back Ahman Green have battled injuries. Favre made his 232nd consecutive start last week despite suffering a painful elbow injury, but he threw three interceptions in the Packers Monday night loss at Seattle. Green left that game briefly after tweaking his ankle and has been playing on a bad knee. He's been largely ineffective over the last three weeks, averaging 2.6 yards a carry. Without a backup to help lessen his burden, the Packers running game has stalled.

KEY TO THE GAME As always, the Jets need Pennington to avoid interceptions to win, The team is 40 when he isn't picked off, 22 when he throws one interception, and 03 when he throws two or more.

Lahman's Pick: Jets 2417

December 1, 2006 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

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