WHAT: DETROIT LIONS (3-2) vs. NEW YORK GIANTS (4-1)
WHERE: GIANTS STADIUM, EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ
WHEN: 1:00 PM EST SUNDAY
ALL TIME: DETROIT LEADS 19-17-1
LAST MEETING: DETROIT 31 - NEW YORK 21
NOTABLE FACT : Lions quarterback Charlie Batch, who entered the game as the NFC's lowest-rated quarterback, completed 20 of 32 passes for 225 yards and three touchdowns and free safety Kurt Schulz picked off his 7th interception of the season in Detroit's road win over New York.
DETROIT - LB Boss Bailey (knee) is out. FB Cory Schlesinger (hamstring) is doubtful. CB Fernando Bryant (groin), LB Donté Curry (knee), CB André Goodman (hamstring), WR Az-Zahir Hakim (ankle), DT Dan Wilkinson (upper arm) and WR Roy Williams (ankle) are questionable. DT Marcus Bell (shoulder) is probable.
NEW YORK - DT Kenderick Allen (calf) and DT Fred Robbins (shoulder) are questionable.
(ALLEN PARK) - Can you really forget a bad game? The Detroit Lions players believe that they can. To a man, the players in the locker room don't believe there will be any hangover from their 38-10 debacle against the Green Bay Packers.
The Lions were in the game into the second half until, on their first possession after intermission, quarterback Joey Harrington tried to force a ball into double coverage to split end Tai Streets. The miscue resulted in a Darren Sharper interception which he returned for a touchdown. After that, Detroit never challenged.
"I looked at the film and [last week's poor team performance] is behind me," said Lions corner Fernando Bryant. "I don't even care what happened last week."
"We played bad last week," agreed Lions corner Dre' Bly, "but that's not going to determine how well we do this year. We've forgotten about it, now it's time to look forward towards the Giants and try to come back and win. Right now we're 2-and-0 on the road, so hopefully that momentum can swing our way and hopefully we can get our third."
To do that, Detroit will likely have to play their best game of the season. New York presents a host of problems for the Lions offensively. Defensively, end Michael Strahan (three sacks and three fumble recoveries), the NFL's all-time single season sack leader (the stat was not kept when former Lions great Al Bubba Baker recorded 23 in a season) is buoyed by the presence of tackles Norman Hand and former University of Miami standout William Joseph and the play of former Lions linebacker Barrett Green on defense.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL:
The surprising 4-1 start of the Giants is due in large part to the play of veteran "Jekyll-and-Hyde" quarterback Kurt Warner who has beaten out rookie #1 draft pick Eli Manning.
After a slow start in the season opening loss to Philadelphia, Warner began to pick up steam and look like the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback of his early St. Louis Rams days. Warner was sensational in the Giants win over Green Bay completing 70% of his passes en route to a 104. 9 passer rating.
But lately opposing defenses have tried to get the "Mr. Hyde" version of Warner to resurface by sending various blitzes in an attempt to rattle Warner and cause him to make bad decisions with the football.
Lions corner Dre' Bly says that is the book on his former St. Louis Rams teammate. "That seems to be the way that you can beat Kurt," Bly stated. "Starting in 2001 in the Super Bowl with the Patriots, they had an aggressive game plan with blitzing, different coverages and different looks at [him]. So last year when we had the chance to play Kurt when he came into the game for Marc Bulger at the end of the year last season, we threw different blitzes at him and threw different looks at him and it seemed to work."
Defensive end James Hall agrees somewhat, but feels stopping the Giants run game is just as important. "It's always important to generate pass rush no matter who you play," said defensive end James Hall. "First things first, you have to stop the run, they're the #1 rushing team in the league, that's the first priority."
Dallas used an agressive scheme and it slowed the Giants offense somewhat, but prevailed over the Cowboys 26-10. Dallas also came in intent on causing Giants running back Tiki Barber, one of the NFL's premier running backs, to fumble the football.
Barber, who led the Giants in both rushing (1,216) and receiving (69 catches) a season ago, is again the Giants most potent offensive threat. Last week Barber rushed for 122 yards on 23 carries – his fourth 100-yard game of the season – and caught five passes for 76 yards.
He continues his reputation for being the "big play" maker for New York and against Dallas last week his 58-yard run and 55-yard reception set up the touchdowns. The one drawback regarding the former Virginia standout is that, coming into this season, Barber had shown a propensity to fumble the football.
The Lions hope to control Barber with more outstanding play from tackle Shaun Rogers, a pro bowl caliber player and Dan Wilkinson, forcing the Giants to try to beat the Lions defense, led by speedy linebackers Teddy Lehman, Alex Lewis and James Davis, to the corner.
Detroit's Earl Holmes has been solid patrolling the middle of the field on primarily run downs. Problematic for Detroit is that they may be without the services of starting left corner Bryant, who is still struggling with a sore ankle after injuring it in the loss to Green Bay.
Bryant returned briefly but was replaced by third year corner Chris Cash. Detroit would like to match the fiesty Bryant against Giants split end Ike Hilliard (17 catches for 189 yards, avg 11.1 per catch) while leaving Bly free to tangle with New York's leading receiver, flanker Amani Toomer, the former Michigan standout who has 23 catches for 321 yards this season.
Meanwhile, the Lions Teddy Lehman may find himself in a pitched battle with two-time pro bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey. The 6-foot-5, 252-pound veteran from the University of Miami will be a load for whomever he's matched against. Detroit will have to account for Shockey's presence on the field at all times and may need to roll their coverages to his side to compensate for his great ability to get downfield.
The Lions defense will be facing a multi-facet offense not unlike what the Philadelphia Eagles presented in their earlier matchup. Detroit may decide to go with a nickle passing look for most of the game, using an extra defensive back to roll coverage to Shockey's zone, forcing Warner to look a little longer for an open receiver and hope that the defensive line, led by end James Hall can put pressure on the quarterback and force him into mistakes.
It also wouldn't hurt if Barber reverted to his old fumbling ways. A couple of takeaways early would give Detroit's defense some time to catch its breath in case the Lions offense starts slowly.
WHEN DETROIT HAS THE FOOTBALL
While much of the blame fell on Lions quarterback Joey Harrington for the Lions offensive woes last week against Green Bay, it's hard to hold him solely responsible.
Harrington was without both starting receivers (Charles Rogers, collarbone; Roy Williams, ankle), his starting tight end (Stephen Alexander, ankle) and both starting running backs (Cory Schlesinger hamstring, Kevin Jones, DNP-CD). It's pretty tough to send a cowboy into battle with one bullet in his six shooter.
The Lions need to get their run game into gear, something that has been a great source of great irritation to the offensive line, particularly tackle Jeff Backus.
"We can go out there and execute perfectly, but at the same time, all phases of our offense has to be clicking. If you can't be successful throwing the ball they're going to just stack eight men in the box and say 'we dare you to throw the ball on us' and in the meantime we're going to stop your running attack."
Backus' point is well taken.
Opposing offenses have been crowding the line of scrimmage against the Lions, taking away the short passing lanes and stuffing the run. Detroit was successful when rookie wide receiver Roy Williams was able to stretch the field by running intermediate 10-12 yard routes behind the corners and between the safeties.
Once Williams went down with a sprained ankle in Detroit's win against Atlanta, teams went right back to crowding the line to their advantage and to the Lions fans chagrin.
"That's what Green Bay did to us, " said Backus. "They put eight men in the box most of the day and dared us to throw the ball downfield." Therein lies the problem Detroit faces. Without a healthy Williams and with a gimpy Az-Zahir Hakim(ankle), they have no one who can run those precisions routes in the intermediate zones.
As Hakim and Williams go, so goes Detroit chances of winning this one. It would be great to see rookie Kevin Jones, who has been mildly disappointing thus far, break loose for the 100-yard rushing game the Lions haven't had. Williams says he has a shot to go in this one.
"It's feeling pretty good," Wiliams said about his sprained ankle. "It's been a week now and it's going to get better." Williams said he didn't go last week because he didn't feel he could contribute anything. "I didn't think I was going to help the team win. If I would have went out there, I would have been hobbling."
Detroit has to hope that Williams can be the 80% he says he needs to be to be able to play effectively and that Hakim can get his sore ankle healthy enough to go. If not, it's likely to be a long day.
Look for Detroit to give the New York defense a healthy dose of the run game, even if it isn't successful early, in an attempt to play keep away from Warner and Co. If Williams and/or Hakim are available, Detroit has a real chance to do some damage and keep the ball away from the potent Giants offensive attack
Detroit has to hope that they can get the kind of field position that they received last week from star return man Eddie Drummond. Drummond revealed how he's been so succesful this season. "I give a little cash incentive for every touchdown we get," laughed Drummond. "Everybody that is one the field when we score a touchdown," gets a piece of the incentive pool said Drummond. With the success of the unit, he admitted he may have to institute his own salary cap.
The Lions coaching staff likely wouldn't mind anteing up if Drummond can make a game changing play in the return game. Detroit needs Jason Hanson to return to form. Hanson has missed two attempts this season and if the game is close, he could play a big role in this one. Detroit also has to get back to its formula of winning the turnover battle. Turnovers are a huge factor in games on the road.
Detroit may be 2-0 on the road, but the New York Giants are playing well under new coach Tom Coughlin and have only two players listed on their injury report. Meanwhile the Lions are banged up again and are coming off their worst loss of the season
New York 27 - Detroit 13