Cleveland Browns (1-1) at New York Giants (1-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Sims, Bonnie Bernstein
SERIES: 47th meeting. Browns lead 25-18-2. The Giants beat the Browns 24-3 on Nov. 5, 2000 in Cleveland.
2004 RANKINGS: Browns: offense 29th (18th rush, 32nd pass); defense 23rd (11th rush, 25th pass). Giants: offense 11th (14th rush, 12th pass); defense 28th (24th rush, 29th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: First, the Browns must overcome the emotional toll of losing TE Kellen Winslow for 8-10 weeks and DE Courtney Brown for the season. Winslow's loss is especially devastating as he was already attracting significant attention from defenses and QB Jeff Garcia has yet to get comfortable with his receivers. The Browns are also without RT Rex Tucker, which hurts an already questionable offensive line, but the running game should get a boost from the return of RB Lee Suggs. Giants coach Tom Coughlin has talked all week about improving the running game, which is made easier with Brown and DT Gerard Warren out. Coughlin said the offensive line has been better than most think, and if the running game gets going early QB Kurt Warner can take more shots downfield.
FAST FACTS: Browns: Lead the series 25-18-2. ... K Phil Dawson has converted 16 consecutive field-goal attempts. ... Garcia leads all NFL quarterbacks with eight rushing touchdowns since the start of 2003. Giants: Are tied for the NFL lead with a plus-5 turnover ratio. ... Warner has not thrown an interception in his past 92 attempts and needs 118 passing yards to reach 15,000 for his career.
PREDICTED SCORE: Giants 20, Browns 19
- RCB Daylon McCutcheon was held from practice for the second straight day because of a broken middle finger on his left hand. He still hopes to play against the Giants. Leigh Bodden will start if McCutcheon cannot play.
- LCB Anthony Henry also missed practice for the second straight day. On Wednesday the Browns said Henry sustained a concussion in the Dallas game last Sunday. On Thursday they changed the diagnosis to vertigo. Michael Lehan will start if Henry doesn't play.
- RB Lee Suggs increased his practice load but remains questionable. He has been battling a neck injury since Sept. 1.
- Joaquin Gonzalez will start at RT because Ryan Tucker has a strained quadriceps. There was speculation Gonzalez would move to LT and Ross Verba switch to RT, but Coach Butch Davis says that will not happen.
- Steve Heiden practiced again at TE, but Aaron Shea will start. Heiden sprained his right MCL Aug. 28 and is doubtful for the Giants game. Kellen Winslow Jr. is not starting because he broke his leg last week and will be out at least seven more weeks.
- SLB Carlos Emmons (groin pull) practiced the last two days and seems more than likely to play Sunday vs. Cleveland, which would free rookie (fourth round) Reggie Torbor, who started for him last week, to move into the nickel linebacker and fourth pass-rusher roles as well as special teams.
- QB Eli Manning, the NFL's top draft pick who didn't play at all vs. Washington, explained his mind-set during games: "When Kurt [Warner] gets ready to take the snap, it's like I'm taking it. I want to feel what's going on, what Kurt feels. I think that's one of the best ways to learn."
- TE Jeremy Shockey, who admits confusion at coach Tom Coughlin's new offense, has seven receptions in two games, and three clear-cut drops. One of them, vs. the Eagles, was virtually guaranteed to be a touchdown, and he knows that, too. "I am not playing to make a big play," he said, "I am playing not to make a mistake. I don't feel comfortable with the offense." He is seeing considerable duty as a blocking back, FB and H-back.
- LG Jason Whittle learned that bad news follows you even after a trade. He was flagged for a leg-whip in the first preseason game while with Tampa Bay and last Wednesday saw the NFL-generated fine was deducted from his Giants paycheck. By the way, leg-whips are expensive. The NFL fine is $5,000 for a first offense.
- WR Tim Carter has become Coughlin's speed receiver, the third wideout on the field when that formation is utilized. He has seven catches for 114 yards in the two games, and the team's only touchdown reception.
The Giants rank sixth in total offense and 13th in total defense in the NFC;
their Sunday opponent, Cleveland, is 15th in total offense, 13th in total
defense in the AFC.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
After playing one of the worst games of his career, Browns quarterback Jeff Garcia is eager to redeem himself Sunday in the Meadowlands in a game against the Giants.
"I know come Sunday, I will be prepared as well as possible physically and mentally for the New York Giants and play better football than I played (in Dallas)," Garcia said. "That's just my own passion and belief in myself as to what I bring to this team."
Garcia completed 8 of 27 passes for 71 yards and threw the three interceptions in Dallas last week. Coach Butch Davis said Garcia became 'a little bit nervous' when his protection broke down early. He did not blame Garcia totally and said the problem with the offense is players trying to do too much.
"I want us to become efficient and do what we do best and not try to do things we can't do," Davis said. "Things we can't do today, we might be able to do in two weeks or four weeks or six weeks. We're going to get better.
"Guys have to quit trying to try to score 70-yard touchdowns on one play. You don't eat an elephant in one bite. Sometimes it takes you thousands of bites to eat that elephant. We might have to make it at six or seven yards a whack. Touchdowns will come as a by-product of making first downs."
The bigger problem is Garcia might not fit the offense of coordinator Terry Robiskie. Garcia signed with the Browns as a free agent March 8. He likes to throw from outside the pocket and when he does, he's on his own. Garcia said Robiskie 'is probably still feeling out what kind of player I am as far as how he wants to best utilize me.'
"I have to be very good about evaluating myself as far as 'Do I move too
soon?' 'Am I leaving the pocket too early?' 'Do I have a chance to stay in the
pocket?' Garcia said.
Through all the mess that was the Giants' offensive line, with bodies slipping in and out of the starting lineup faster than scorecards could be printed, one fact seems to have escaped the NFL world in general -- these guys aren't playing badly at all.
When training camp started, the idea was to put UFA signee Barry Stokes at left guard, the position opened by the unfortunate compound fracture of Rich Seubert's right leg last season. But Stokes came up with a herniated disc and was subsequently put on the Preseason Injured Reserve -- out for the year.
So the Giants traded with Tampa Bay to reacquire Jason Whittle, who had waltzed away as an UFA the year before, and plugged him in at left guard even though he had played right guard for the Giants.
Next? Second round rookie draft pick Chris Snee, the Boston College product who also is head coach Tom Coughlin's son-in-law, went to right guard. But wait a minute, wasn't David Diehl at right guard after a spectacular rookie season in 2003? Yes, but he went to right tackle because it was finally decided that Ian Allen couldn't do it.
So Allen was released (only to surface a few weeks later in Philadelphia).
Shaun O'Hara, signed from Cleveland with Stokes as an UFA, held the center position, and still does. You know, that almost makes him a veteran behind left tackle Luke Petitgout, the first round pick way back in 1999.
Got it? Petitgout at LT, Diehl at RT, Whittle at LG, Snee at RG, O'Hara at C. That's the Giants' offensive line and through all the giggling and insulting, the unit has not only held up reasonably well but has shown itself to be improving week by week.
"I have been generally pleased with the line," said the difficult-to-please Coughlin. "I am not happy with blocking at the point of attack on running plays, but we'll work on that. Overall, though, the line is coming together nicely."
Coughlin's favorite phrase is to call the Giants "a work in progress," and nowhere is that more evident than the O-line.