The Giants will face the return of Chad Pennington as the Jets' starting quarterback when they meet their across-the-river rivals Sunday.
But the fact that Pennington returns as a starter for the first time since he suffered a broken wrist on August 23 against the Giants is not their only concern. They must find a way, according to head coach Jim Fassel, to maintain the level they reached last week in Minnesota.
To do that, the offense must continue to function smoothly but this time, as he pointed out, "we also have to put the ball into the end zone," he said. That might be made somewhat easier with the Jets' best defensive end, John Abraham, and their best cornerback, Donnie Abraham, definitely out of the game.
"Yeah, it's the Jets and that should make it somewhat special," Fassel said. "But it's special only to the fans. Once the game starts, we are playing a faceless team."
The other defensive end, however, is Shaun Ellis, and he is not only the team's sack leader but also gets to play against the Giants' most shaky offensive lineman, right tackle Ian Allen.
"We'll have some help for Ian," Fassel said, "but he played pretty well last week (in his first start since the season opener) and I think he will continue to do that."
It is the Giants' offensive line, rebuilt yet again, that is of greatest concern to Fassel. If the unit can protect quarterback Kerry Collins, he can pick apart the Jets' pass defense.
He leads the NFL in attempts and completions and is second only to Tennessee's Steve McNair in yardage gained.
Right now, the line consists of veteran Luke Petitgout and Allen, a second-year free agent, at the tackles; a pair of rookies, David Diehl and Wayne Lucier, at guards; and Chris Bober at center (he just returned from five games at right tackle in order to have Lucier replace the injured Rich Seubert at left guard).
"I won't do any juggling with the line this week," Fassel promised with a smile on his face. "It's enough. I liked the way this unit played last week and I think it's going to play well again this time." The only caution is Lucier, who played in Minneapolis with a 103-degree fever and who missed Monday and Wednesday practices because of the flu.
"He'll be all right by Sunday," Fassel promised.
SERIES HISTORY: This will be the 10th regular season meeting between the cross-river rivals and the Giants hold a slim 5-4 lead. They have won the last two games, played in 1996 and 1999, but lost the two prior to that in 1988 and 1993. Such a short series tends not to produce anything meaningful, but the Jets' 27-21 victory in 1988 kept the Giants out of the playoffs that season. It was the final game of the season, and a five-yard touchdown pass from Ken O'Brien to wide receiver Al Toon (which O'Brien called as an audible on third-and-four) sent the Giants home.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--The loss, for a week or two, of defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin will push Lance Legree into the starting lineup. Griffin suffered a high ankle sprain in the second quarter last Sunday in Minnesota and left, not to return. Legree, a third-year undrafted free agent, filled in and earned a game ball for his efforts.
--Head coach Jim Fassel has established a history of giving the team Mondays off following a victory, and the players relish the idea since it provides them with a two-day hiatus (Tuesdays are always off days). But the team was instructed to come in last Monday despite the upset victory over the Vikings. "It never crossed my mind," Fassel said. "I mean, I'm pleased that we won, but I'm not pleased overall." The victory pushed the Giants to a 3-4 record, which includes two "giveaway" games in the final seconds to Dallas and Philadelphia -- particularly harmful since they are NFC East division rivals.
--RB Tiki Barber already has 811 yards from scrimmage (610 rushing, 201 receiving) and with nine games remaining he has a shot at his own team record for all-purpose yards (2,085 in 2000). This would be the first time he attempts the record without benefit of punt returns or kickoff returns.
--WR Ike Hilliard, on the heels of his nine-catch, 100-yard (and two TD) performance Sunday, has taken over team receiving leadership with 40 for 417 and five TDs. His career-best for TDs in a season is eight.
--TE Jeremy Shockey has 37 catches for 403 yards, Barber 30 for 201 and WR Amani Toomer 27 for 533 (a 19.7 average).
--The Giants rank third in the NFL in total offense, 17th in total defense. The Jets are 25th in total offense, 13th in total defense. DT Keith Hamilton played in his 164th game last week and will move past QB Phil Simms into eighth place on the franchise career list. DE Michael Strahan will play in his 159th game, moving past Doug Van Horne for 13th on the team list. Barber needs 13 receptions and Toomer 14 to move past Joe Morrison for first place on the team's all-time receptions list; Toomer is already the team's leading receiver in point of yards with 5,842. Toomer needs 14 TD receptions to replace Kyle Rote as the Giants' all-time leader in that category.
--Reserve LB Wes Mallard picked up a blocked punt and returned it 20 yards for a first down in the fourth quarter. Jeff Feagles had punted from the Giants' 5-yard line -- and it was Mallard who missed the block on the culprit, safety Jack Brewer. "I kind of figured I had to do something," Mallard smiled. "It was my fault in the first place. I gave up a big play and figured I'd try to make one. I didn't see anybody around so I scooped it up and then everybody got their blocks and we got something going."
BY THE NUMBERS: 47 -- Highest number of passes in a single game thrown by QB Kerry Collins without an interception. It occurred Dec. 23, 2001 vs. Seattle.
6 -- Number of sacks DE Michael Strahan has piled up in the last three games (he had eight for the season).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just thought it was time to do something more on offense. It was a little boring and I figured we had to change up." -- Giants head coach Jim Fassel (who is also the offensive coordinator) on his more creative pass calling in the 29-17 victory over Minnesota.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
There will be some changes put into effect to help the pass coverage in the secondary, and part of the modifications will include rookie corner Frank Walker, who played in his first game last week and recorded his first interception. It was also the first interception thrown all season by Vikings' QB Daunte Culpepper.
The possibility is that Walker will play an outside nickel position with right corner Ralph Brown remaining as the starter but with a more limited inside set of responsibilities. Brown, replacing Will Peterson (fractured vertebra, out for the season) has been less than efficient. Walker, 5-11 and 200, may move into the starting spot in the next few weeks.
--DT William Joseph, the first round draft choice, is expected to see more action and perhaps even alternate with Lance Legree at left tackle. Legree replaces the starter, Cornelius Griffin (high ankle sprain).
--Rookie Wayne Lucier, who has started at center since Game Two when he replaced Chris Bober (who moved to RT), played LG last week and seems destined to stay there this week and perhaps for the rest of the season. Bober has been moved back to center with Ian Allen, the starter in the opener, promoted back to RT. Lucier has been suffering with the flu and played last Sunday with a 103-degree temperature. He missed Wednesday practice but insists he'll play this week.
--K Matt Bryant is supposed to start "full out kicking" later this week to determine the healing extent of his severely pulled hamstring. In his place, Brett Conway has been successful on six of eight FG attempts and all three PAT tries. His only two missed FGs were his longest attempts, 49 and 47 yards, both against New England.
--QB Kerry Collins leads the NFL in attempts (293) and completions (170) and his 1,882 yards trails only Tennessee's Steve McNair (1,978).
--The Giants already have 24 QB sacks, led by DE Michael Strahan's eight, and all of last season they had 37. The team record is a whopping 68 in 1986.
--MLB Mike Barrow leads the team with 78 tackles and also has 1.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and a defensed pass.
GAME PLAN: The Giants are convinced that their offense will be more than sufficient to provide yards and enough points for a victory, although for most of the season they have had no problem moving the ball but have failed to capitalize on red zone opportunities -- until last weekend in Minnesota.
They scored with five of six red zone possessions -- three TDs and two FGs -- and for the season they now have respectable numbers, 17 scoring plays in 23 attempts (10 TDs, seven FGs). They will attempt to run the ball first, especially since the Jets are 31st (next to last) in the NFL in defense against the run, surrendering almost 160 yards per game on the ground.
Assuming the running game works -- and expect to see more of power back Dorsey Levens in addition to starter Tiki Barber -- the high-powered passing attack of Kerry Collins to wideouts Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard, tight end Jeremy Shockey and Barber should find an easier path to the end zone. Those four account for 137 of Collins' 170 completions.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Giants RG David Diehl, who has started all season after being the team's fifth round pick vs. Jets DLT Dewayne Robertson, their first round pick -- The two met in the preseason clash and Diehl was clearly the winner in that struggle between the rookies. Diehl is 6-5 and 320; Robertson 6-1 and 315.
--Giants DLE Michael Strahan, who has eight sacks on the season and six in the last three games, will go against the Jets RT Kareem McKenzie -- Strahan seems to have fully recovered from the broken little toe on his right foot that kept him out of all four preseason games and limited his effectiveness earlier in the season.
--Giants LT Luke Petitgout was prepared to face Jets RDE John Abraham, but the Pro Bowler will miss this game and set Petitgout up against Bryan Thomas instead. Petitgout had a sub-par game against the Vikings with two holding penalties and a false start. Abraham has six sacks, Thomas one.
--Giants QB Kerry Collins vs. Jets CBs Ray Mickens and Aaron Beasley -- Collins, given enough protection, is one of the most precise passer in the NFL and should be able to feast on the inconsistent Jets' defense. FS Tyrone Carter will be call on to help with the deep routes, while SS Sam Garnes (a former Giant) will have to deal with 6-5, 255-pound TE Jeremy Shockey on his deep downfield routes.
INJURY IMPACT: The only injury that will adversely affect the Giants is the high ankle sprain suffered last week by DT Cornelius Griffin. He is out for this week and possibly next, to be replaced by Lance Legree with help from first round pick William Joseph.
The RCB situation is a little sensitive as well, since Ralph Brown has not played well filling in for the starter, Will Peterson (fractured vertebra, out for the season). It is possible that Brown will get help from rookie Frank Walker, who may ultimately replace him in the starting lineup.
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