Kiwanuka, the Giants' first-round draft pick (last in the round at 32nd overall) has played well if infrequently, and his sudden ascension to the starting lineup, while far from permanent, indicates that he has pleased head coach Tom Coughlin and defensive coordinator Tim Lewis enough to inspire trust.
The normal starter, Pro Bowler Osi Umenyiora, suffered a strained left hip flexor Monday night in Dallas, and his status, according to Coughlin, is week-to-week. His replacement, Justin Tuck, suffered a foot injury and may or may not be ready Sunday.
Coughlin is picking the "may not" half of that equation.
So that will pair the 23-year-old Kiwanuka, 6-5 and 265 from Boston College, with the Giants' other Pro Bowl end, Michael Strahan, 34.
"I don't like the way this happened," Kiwanuka said. "You don't want to get somebody's job because of an injury. But that's how things are, and I think I'm ready to fill in."
Kiwanuka has a tackle in each of the five games in which he has appeared, along with three quarterback hits. "He has been impressive when he has had the opportunity," Coughlin said. "His experience is not as high as you would like it to be, but rookies start all the time."
This is not the only problem for the Giants defense. Strong-side linebacker LaVar Arrington suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon Monday night and is gone for the season. This will result in veteran Carlos Emmons, who was moved to the weak side but who hasn't played for the past three weeks (strained pectoral) to move back to the strong side, while his weak-side replacement, Brandon Short, stays in place. Short has played exceptionally well and might have won the job anyway.
"I'm not replacing LaVar," Emmons said. "I'm replacing myself. It was my job anyway."
--DT Fred Robbins will be the first replacement at defensive end if Mathias Kiwanuka or Michael Strahan have to come out. Robbins, second on the team with 3.5 sacks, leads in QB hits with five, two passes defensed and, surprisingly, two interceptions.
--RB Tiki Barber hasn't scored a touchdown yet, although he leads the NFL in rushing yardage with 647 and has caught 26 passes for 222 yards. On the other hand, his twin brother, Ronde, a cornerback for Tampa Bay, has two TDs, both coming last week on interception returns of Donovan McNabb passes.
--WR Sinorice Moss, the Giants' second-round draft pick, has caught exactly one pass for 4 yards in the second game of the season and otherwise has been on the team's game inactive list each week with a strained quad. "They are difficult to heal quickly," said coach Tom Coughlin, who didn't speculate on Moss' timetable for seeing any action.
--QB Eli Manning is given the lion's share of credit for the team's success in the red zone this season. There have been 18 opportunities with 17 resultant scores (10 touchdowns, seven field goals) and coach Tom Coughlin says it's Manning's doing. "He has shown so much improvement since last year ... heck, it's week to week ... that the team just has more confidence in him and he can make those split-second decisions," Coughlin said.
--WR Plaxico Burress, asked how he would react if he had a brother playing cornerback and the two were headed for an encounter (which the Barbers may well experience on Sunday), said: "I'd destroy him. This is football, not family."
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