September 28, 2007 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

Jets, Giants Must Keep Momentum Vs. Division Foes
Football

BY SEAN LAHMAN
September 28, 2007
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/63555

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Now that they've each scored their first wins, the Jets and Giants need to follow up with more solid performances to get their seasons back on track. The return of Chad Pennington last week gave the Jets' offense a boost and helped to restore their running game. For the Giants, an impressive goal line stand has their defense feeling rejuvenated. Both teams face divisional opponents this weekend, and have a chance to re-establish themselves as playoff contenders. But while the Jets face a hapless Buffalo team, the Giants face a more sobering test from the resurgent Eagles.

JETS (1-2) at BILLS (0-3)
Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL Quarterback Chad Pennington may not be 100% healthy, but that hasn't hampered his ability to run the Jets offense. Last week he threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, leading his team to a victory over the Dolphins. Pennington moves the ball down the field with quiet efficiency, proving yet again that you don't need to be a gunslinger to be a good NFL quarterback. His 121.4 passer rating is second only to New England's Tom Brady (141.8).

Perhaps the best development last week was the re-emergence of the running game. The Jets' offensive line pulled together, avoiding the mistakes that plagued them in the first two weeks. They wore the Dolphins' defense down, allowing Thomas Jones to run for 92 of his 110 yards in the second half.

The Bills' defense ranks dead last against both the run and the pass, and they suffered a huge blow with a season-ending injury to middle linebacker Paul Posluszny last week. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has been forced to simplify his defensive plays in an effort to get things back on track, and the injuries certainly don't help.

WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL The decision to start the season with just two quarterbacks on the roster is coming back to haunt them. When starter J.P. Losman suffered a sprained knee last week, rookie Trent Edwards was forced into action. The Stanford grad has a strong arm and good pocket presence, but the Bills will have to pare down their playbook with Edwards under center.

The Bills' game plan will have to rely heavily on another rookie, running back Marshawn Lynch. He's a tough runner with the quickness to get outside, and Lynch has accounted for the only two Bills touchdowns so far this season.

The Jets' defense still has recorded just one sack in three games and has forced only one turnover. Look for them to boost each of those totals this weekend against an overmatched Bills' offense.

KEY TO THE GAME Injuries have ravaged the Bills, but frankly, they weren't that good even when they were healthy. To win, the Jets need to control the tempo with their run defense, and not self-destruct with a half-dozen turnovers.

Lahman's Pick: Jets 2410

EAGLES (1-2) at GIANTS (1-2)

Sunday, 8:15 p.m., NBC

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL One of the biggest concerns during the offseason was the Giants offensive line but it has been perhaps their biggest strength so far. Eli Manning has only been sacked four times in three games, and the run blocking has kept the ground attack potent, despite the lack of proven players in the backfield. The Giants rank sixth in the league with a 4.7 yard rushing average.

Derrick Ward has handled the bulk of the rushing duties, but the Giants had great success with Ruben Droughns in goal line situations last week. Brandon Jacobs returned to practice yesterday for the first time since injuring his knee in the opener. It's likely that all three backs could get carries Sunday.

They'll face a formidable challenge from the Eagles' defense this week. Philadelphia ranks fourth against the run after finishing 26th a year ago. The key has been a rebuilt linebacker corps. The Eagles acquired veteran Takeo Spikes in an offseason trade to play the weak side. Second-year man Omar Gaither supplanted Jeremiah Trotter as the middle linebacker, and Chris Gocong has taken over on the strong side after missing his rookie season with a neck injury.

The strong play of the linebackers has allowed defensive coordinator Jim Johnson to return to the aggressive style of play he prefers. As a result, they've been able to create tremendous pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Eagles lead the league with 14 sacks in three games

WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL The Giants' defense was reborn last week with an amazing goal line stand at the end of the game. In stopping the Redskins on four straight plays from the oneyard line, they not only earned their first victory, but also showed a confidence and intensity that had been sorely lacking.

That series of plays capped a great day for Big Blue's defense, which held the Redskins to 81 net yards in the second half.

The Eagles offense also rose from the ashes last week, earning their first win with a 56-point performance. Quarterback Donovan McNabb silenced his critics by throwing for 381 yards and four touchdown passes.

Just because McNabb plays for a division opponent doesn't mean that the Giants' defense is familiar with him. Sunday night will mark just the second time the Eagles quarterback has played against the Giants since the 2004 season.

The key to the Philadelphia offense is running back Brian Westbrook, perhaps the most underrated player in the NFL today. His speed and quickness help generate big plays on the ground, and he's also the Eagles' leading receiver.

KEY TO THE GAME The Giants will need to throw the ball, and that means they need to continue providing great protection for the quarterback. Dave Diehl faces his biggest test so far at left tackle. He'll have to contain defensive end Trent Cole, the NFL's leading pass rusher, and not get worn down by the relentless pressure.

Lahman's Pick: Eagles 2721

September 28, 2007 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version