September 14, 2007 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

Eli or Not, Giant Pass Defense the Biggest Concern
Jets & Giants

BY SEAN LAHMAN
September 14, 2007
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/62661

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After a miserable opening weekend in Dallas, the Giants have to scramble this week to save their season. More injuries and a horrible game by the defense have left fans worrying that the team is heading in the wrong direction. If there's any good news, it's that the Giants get a respite from their NFC East opponents this weekend and face a vulnerable Green Bay Packers team. Here's a look at how the two teams will match up.

PACKERS (10) at GIANTS (01)

Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL Question no. 1 is whether quarterback Eli Manning's bruised shoulder will sideline him on Sunday. The Giants remained noncommittal during the week, but spent there practice time preparing Jared Lorenzen for his first NFL start. At 285-pounds, Lorenzen can hold up to a heavy pass rush and get tough yards on the ground. To succeed, he just needs to be patient, rely on the skills of his veteran receivers, and avoid trying to make big plays by himself.

A knee injury will sideline running back Brandon Jacobs for several weeks, but backup Derrick Ward was impressive last Sunday. He ran for 89 yards against the Cowboys, including a nifty 44-yard run at the end of the third quarter. The Giants grabbed fullback Madison Hedgecock off the waiver wire on Wednesday, signaling that Reuben Droughns will be freed up to get more carries. Droughns was a 1,000-yard runner twice, reaching the mark with the Broncos in 2004 and the Browns in 2005.

Green Bay's defense is built around a solid corps of young linebackers. Nick Barnett mans the middle, with AJ Hawk and Brady Poppinga on the outside. The front seven is strong against the run, and if veteran cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Al Harris can stay healthy, the Packers' pass coverage could be just as tough. The safeties are a big question mark, and they will need help to cover Jeremy Shockey.

WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL The problem for the Packers has been the same for 15 years. When they have a good running game, the offense is balanced and quarterback Brett Favre flourishes. When they can't run, F avre tries to force the ball downfield, usually with limited success. The latter seems to be the case this season. Rookie Brandon Jackson got the start last week and managed just 40 yards on the ground. The only other option is Vernand Morency, who missed last week with a knee injury.

Green Bay's offensive line has struggled with both run blocking and pass protection. Favre has a few reliable targets, including receiver Donald Driver and tight end Donald Lee. Greg Jennings, a promising second year receiver, was inactive last week with a hamstring injury and may not play this weekend, either.

The Giants will attempt to shore up all of their defensive problems, and they'll have to start with their secondary. If Tony Romo picked them apart, what do you think a guy like Favre will do? The Cowboys scorched cornerback Corey Webster and safety Gibril Wilson repeatedly. Linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka also was a liability in pass coverage, letting TE Jason Witten catch six passes for 116 yards.

As bad as the secondary was, the Giants weren't helped by the inability of the front seven to generate any significant pass rush. The long absence of Michael Strahan and the injury to Osi Umenyiora have now added this element of the defense to the list of urgent problems that need to be addressed. That list also includes the run defense. Big Blue's defensive line was pushed around by the Dallas run blockers, and the Giants' linebackers did not do an adequate job of making plays in open space.

KEY TO THE GAME The Giants pass defense. It starts with putting pressure on the quarterback, but the secondary simply has to do a better job in coverage. The Giants can win this game without getting a huge performance from Lorenzen, but they have no chance to win if they let a middling receiver corps make big plays against them all afternoon.

Lahman's Pick: Giants 2014 With Ravens Comes an Unwelcome Sight for Jet Defense

Optimistic Jets fans will say that last week's 3814 loss to New England says less about the weaknesses of their team than it does about the strengths of the Patriots. First on their minds this week has been the injury to quarterback Chad Pennington, and the anxious desire to see Kellen Clemens get a chance to play. But their bigger concerns should be the poor play at most of the other positions last week. Other than Pennington and receiver Laveranues Coles, nearly every player under-performed last week. The quarterback position appears to be the least of their problems heading into a tough game in Baltimore.

JETS (01) at RAVENS (01)

Sunday, 4:15 p.m., CBS

WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL Pennington's ankle injury kept him out of practice this week, and several sources were saying on Thursday that Clemens had been told he would start on Sunday. The second-year quarterback was impressive in the preseason, but that came largely against second- and third-string defenses. In the Ravens, he'll face one of the most physical front sevens in the league. The Ravens are a team that thrives on this ability to confuse opponents by disguising both their coverages and their pass rush schemes. Complicating matters even further is the horrible performance by the Jets' offensive line last week. They allowed five sacks, all of which came with the Patriots rushing just three or four players. The linemen looked confused and out of sync, and they can't afford to play that poorly as a unit again.

The best thing they can do to help their young quarterback is to do a better job of run blocking. This is supposed to be the unit's strength, but they didn't open many holes for Thomas Jones last week. The Ravens' run defense remains one of the league's best, holding the Bengals to 2.4 yards per carry in the opener. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis (triceps), cornerback Samari Rolle (foot), and safety Ed Reed (ankle) left that game with injuries, but all are expected to play this weekend.

WHEN THE RAVENS HAVE THE BALL The Jets face an old adversary this weekend in running back Willis McGahee. The former Buffalo Bill has made five starts against Gang Green and rushed for at least 110 yards each time. He has that rare combination of size and speed that enables him to grind it out between the tackles, and also make explosive runs to the outside. He has been a Jetskiller, and the Ravens' game plan figures to be built around him carrying the ball 25 times.

Ravens' quarterback Steve McNair suffered a groin injury that kept him out of practice this week. At press time, it looked likely that backup Kyle Boller would get the start. Boller has always had a strong arm but has struggled with the underneath throws, a problem that makes him ill suited to the Ravens' typically conservative offense. New offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel would like to open things up, and having Boller in the lineup may allow him to do that. So too will the struggles of the Jets secondary. Rookie Darrelle Revis played well in his NFL debut, but that was due in large part to the Patriots picking on David Barrett and Justin Miller all afternoon. The Jets did not blitz last week, largely in fear of leaving Randy Moss in single coverage. When they did blitz, Tom Brady looked for Moss immediately, and that led to several long plays. Look for the Jets to blitz Boller much more often in an effort to take pressure off of their cornerbacks.

KEY TO THE GAME Clemens can have a great game and the Jets will still lose if they play the same game they did last weekend. To win, they'll have to do something they've never done before: Stop Willis McGahee.

Lahman's Pick: Ravens 2310

September 14, 2007 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version