Preview: Injuries knock Giants down to size

The New York Giants won a Super Bowl almost two years ago and locked down the top seed in the NFC last year. This year is a far different story, as injuries have hit the G-men hard and helped knock them out of playoff contention. We take an in-depth, position-by-position look at the Giants and where injuries have stung them hardest.

This would seem to be getting old hat for the Vikings – finishing a regular season at home against the New York Giants. This will be the second straight season that the Vikings and Giants have closed out the season as opponents, but the differences between the games is immense.

For the second straight year, the Vikings have plenty to play for and the Giants don't. Last year, the Vikings needed a win to take down the NFC North Division title, while the Giants had already wrapped up home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs – something that turned out not to be so much of an advantage when the Eagles came to town and bounced them from the playoffs. This time around, the Vikings are still fighting for the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs and a potential first-round bye, while the Giants have been eliminated from the playoffs.

The Giants team the Vikings see Sunday will be a lot like the one it saw last year. It was missing some of its key component parts, but this time it will be due to injury, not because players are being rested for a playoff run. One thing that will remain the same is that Eli Manning will be under center.

Like his older brother Peyton, Eli Manning has become something of an ironman in his own right. He has never missed a start in the NFL since taking over midway through his rookie season six years ago. He has battled a foot injury much of the season, but hasn't missed any time as a result. He has put together some very impressive numbers – throwing for 3,880 yards and 27 touchdowns, while posting a passer rating of 94.2. However, his history against the Vikings has been suspect at best. In three career starts, he has thrown four interceptions in two of the games and, in last year's meeting, went extremely conservative – completing 11 of 19 passes for just 119 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. With his backfield banged up, if the Giants are going to win, it will likely have to be on the back (and arm) of Manning.

The Giants running backs haven't been as dominant lately as in recent years, due in large part to a less-than-expected season from Brandon Jacobs. A big bruiser who was expected to see a larger workload when Derrick Ward signed away as a free agent, that role never materialized. Jacobs was placed on injured reserve earlier this week after rushing 224 times for 835 yards (a 3.7-yard average) and five touchdowns. Backup Ahmad Bradshaw has been much more impressive – rushing 156 times for 765 yards and seven touchdowns – but he is also among the walking wounded. He was very limited in practice this week with foot and ankle problems and is listed as questionable. The only backup help the Giants have comes from third-year man and special teamer D.J. Ware, rookie Gartrell Johnson and fullback Madison Hedgecock. If Bradshaw can't go, the onus of moving the offense will likely fall on the passing game, which is much improved from what the Vikings faced a year ago.

For the last few years, Plaxico Burress was the unquestioned star in the Giants passing game. But, he's serving a prison sentence and the Giants have moved on with a group approach to having a go-to wide receiver that has been nothing short of a rousing success. Leading the group is Steve Smith, who is closing in on 100 receptions – he has 97 catches for 1,163 yards and seven touchdowns. He doesn't have top-end speed, but catches everything thrown his way. Second-year man and former Michigan standout Mario Manningham has taken the next step in his progression as a pro this year, catching 57 passes for 822 yards and five touchdowns. He's banged up and may be a question mark for Sunday, but after a disappointing rookie season he is developing into a consistent big-play threat. The guy to keep an eye on is rookie Hakeem Nicks. A first-round pick with exceptional talent, Nicks has caught 46 passes for 795 yards and six touchdowns. He has become the "new Burress" in terms of being a home run threat. He is averaging 17.3 yards per reception, and when the Giants are looking for a big play he is typically the guy they go with. Domenick Hixon in still in the mix, but his value this season has been much more as a return man than as a receiving threat.

Kevin Boss is the greybeard of the tight end corps and he's only in his third season. He is also a threat over the middle and, despite not having great foot speed, has averaged 13.5 yards per reception and has five touchdowns. Many thought the Giants would suffer without Burress, Amani Toomer or Jeremy Shockey in the lineup anymore, but this group has more than lived up to the high expectations placed in front of them and have excelled by just about any measurable standard.

You can often tell how good a team is by how recognizable the names of their offensive linemen are to the casual fan. The Giants O-line has one of the highest Q-ratings around the league for the typically anonymous O-line. Because of their sustained success, most fans are familiar with them – tackles David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie, guards Chris Snee and Rich Seubert and center Shaun O'Hara. But, like so many positions on the Giants this season, they are banged up and will be without at least one starter. McKenzie has already been ruled out for Sunday and will likely be replaced by second-round rookie William Beatty of U-Conn, a 6-6, 307-pound mauler who will line up against Ray Edwards on the right side. Seubert is also a question mark. If he can't go, fourth-year man Kevin Boothe will take his place. This has been a position of strength for the Giants for some time, but with the injuries taking a toll late in the season this is a matchup the Vikings can potentially exploit, especially given the weakened condition of the Giants running game.

While the Giants offense has shown some improvement this year, the defense, which has always been New York's calling card, has taken a step backward. Teams have run for more than 1,600 yards on the Giants and scored 20 rushing touchdowns – unheard of numbers for the G-Men of recent vintage. The Giants have a solid three-man rotation at defensive end with Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka, but Umenyiora made headlines last week by saying he has no idea what his role with the team is and hinted that last week's loss against Carolina might have been his last home game as a member of the Giants. They will likely need him Sunday, since Tuck has been limited in practice with a knee injury all week. Things are even tougher inside, where Chris Canty has been ruled out and former Viking Fred Robbins was limited much of the week as well. Robbins is expected to start, but don't be surprised to see plenty of fourth-year man Barry Cofield and eight-year vet Rocky Bernard in the mix. Last week the Panthers gashed the Giants defense for more than 200 yards rushing, which should give the Vikings hope that they can get Adrian Peterson untracked early and often.

The Giants may not have the big names at linebacker that have been their trademark over the past several years, but they still have a formidable group that is both athletic and effective. Ten-year veteran Danny Clark and free-agent signee Michael Boley man the outside positions with second-year man Jonathan Goff in the middle. Goff replaces team leader Antonio Pierce, who was placed on injured reserve earlier in the season. The backups are young and relatively inexperienced. Zak DeOssie is in just his third season and Bryan Kehl is a second-year player. Both will likely see a lot of action in the base defense, as the Giants use this game in part to get some film on their young players for the future.

Perhaps nowhere has the injury bug hit harder than in the secondary. Both starting cornerbacks – Aaron Ross and Corey Webster – have been ruled out of Sunday's game. Ross was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week and Webster has been unable to practice, opening the door for the backup crew to get into the spotlight – not especially heartening considering they're going up against a Hall of Famer like Brett Favre. The starts Sunday are expected to go to fourth-year man Kevin Dockery and second-year pro Terrell Thomas. Dockery started last season as the nickel back, but was supplanted by Thomas – who leads the Giants with five interceptions this year. Backup help is razor thin with a pair of rookies – Bruce Johnson, an undrafted rookie from Miami, and D.J. Johnson, a street free agent from Jackson State signed earlier this week. The Giants are also young at safety, where a pair of third-year players – Aaron Rouse and Michael Johnson – get the starting assignments. With starter Kenny Phillips also on injured reserve, the Giants will be operating at far less than full strength in the secondary and this could be a mismatch a veteran like Favre takes full advantage of.

More times than not, the difference between the very good teams and the mediocre teams comes down to health. The Giants have a slew of key injuries on both sides of the ball that have contributed to the team losing seven of its last 10 games after a strong start. While they will be playing for pride, they have the look of a team that simply wants the 2009 season to be done. After winning a Super Bowl following the 2007 season and locking down the top seed in the NFC playoffs last year, the 2009 Giants look vulnerable. They have allowed 40 points or more in four of their last 10 games and don't have the swagger of a champion. In a game where the Vikings have a lot to play for and the Giants are merely playing out the string, this has all the makings of a Minnesota advantage against a team that is a shell of what it was when it started the season with a 5-0 record.

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