Game Day: Licking their chops

<b>PITTSBURGH - </b>Kendrick Clancy played with Eli Manning at Ole Miss, so he hopes to see the golden boy of the New York Giants up close and personal again this afternoon.<br><br> "I pray I do," said Clancy, and it looked like he meant it.

So if the back-up nose tackle of the Steelers (12-1) gets a sack in the 1:30 p.m. game, you know it's going to be another long day for Manning and the Giants (5-8).

Of course, it's been a long four games since Manning took over the quarterback reigns from Kurt Warner a month ago. At the time of the switch, the Giants were coming off their second consecutive loss, their third in four games, this one to the Arizona Cardinals, but the Giants were still in the race at 5-4.

Warner, the improbable hero of the 1999 St. Louis Rams, had bounced back from a dismal year and was playing fairly well. His passer rating was 85.5 when coach Tom Coughlin announced he would start Manning, the No. 1 pick of the 2004 draft by the San Diego Chargers before he was traded to the Giants.

"He is the future of the New York Giants," Coughlin said at the time. "It just starts now."

Since then, the Giants have lost four more games. They've scored 37 points and been outscored on average by 18 points per game. Manning has been sacked 10 times and has a passer rating of 33.8.

Last week against the Baltimore Ravens, Manning passed for 27 yards and had a 0.0 passer rating before he was pulled for Warner in the fourth quarter. Warner led the Giants to a touchdown on one of his two series, but Coughlin has stuck with Manning for today's game.

"You have to get back up on the horse," Coughlin said. "He is our starting quarterback. He will continue to be."

In 44 possessions as the starter, Manning has led the Giants to just one touchdown and three field goals. He possesses the lowest passer rating of any quarterback with at least 100 pass attempts.

Ravens cornerback Deion Sanders felt so sorry for Manning last week he went to the Giants' sideline during a timeout to offer encouragement, and then ripped Coughlin and the Giants after the game.

"The game was just horrendous," Sanders said. "I mean, the play-calling, the offense, is so predictable. Guys are getting battered every day. They're getting fined for wearing a hat to practice. It's just horrible over there, the atmosphere, and you could see it on the field. It was almost like you're playing against a team that couldn't wait until the season was over."

Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi offered similar sentiments when asked later in the week why he traded for Manning instead of drafting Ben Roethlisberger.

"The Pittsburgh guys are competitive," Accorsi told the New York Post. "They come back to the huddle and say, 'Young guy, we got your back.' Eli doesn't have that. They're all going back to the huddle saying, 'When is Christmas?'"

The Steelers, of course, are licking their chops at the prospect of putting their complex and top-ranked defense up against a rookie quarterback who more often resembles a fawn in a headlight.

"We don't mind having him in there as quarterback," said inside linebacker James Farrior. "We know he's a young guy and we're going to try to give him a lot of different looks and try to confuse him. I'm sure Kurt Warner would probably be a better quarterback in that situation since he knows a lot about the game and would be able to read us better."

"We want to try and take Tiki Barber out of the game and try to put the game in Eli's hands and try get him rattled as much as possible," said outside linebacker Joey Porter.

Barber gives the Giants a puncher's chance. He's fifth in the NFL with 1,238 yards rushing. His line can run block but has problems with pass protection. The Steelers don't understand why, but the Giants continue to try to force the ball to a quality receiving corps that includes tight end Jeremy Shockey and veteran wideouts Ike Hilliard and Amani Toomer.

The Giants hope that by simplifying their offense this week, Manning can realize more of his immense potential. Pre-snap reads were his problem against the Ravens.

"You'd like to make things bang-bang," said Coughlin. "It's not always possible."

Porter agreed.

"I feel that we can come after him a little more and rattle his cage a little bit, pick his brain a little bit and make him throw some bad balls," he said, and it looked like he meant it.

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