The Toughest Challenge of the Season?: Game Preview against the NY Giants

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Now let’s see how things look when the Jaguars’ defense faces the Giants’ offense. The big news is that along with Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks is now injured as well. Eli Manning’s best options out wide will be Mario Mannigham and Derek Hagan (they signed Michael Clayton and Devin Thomas this week, who will likely be non-factors this game). The problem is, the Jaguars secondary can make any WR look like a Pro Bowler this year. Despite his flaws, Eli Manning is capable of making big plays (he has passed for 21 TD’s already), but has thrown 16 interceptions as well. Eli has a tendency to attempt throws that his big brother Peyton can make most of the time, but he is cannot. The Jaguars secondary (especially Rashean Mathis) have to be opportunistic in this game and make up for the poor coverage and uneventful play of the Jaguars’ first ten games. (Side note: I want to see Sean Considine playing free safety this game, next to Courtney Greene. Sean has made two crucial takeaways in the last 2 games, which I believe has earned him the opportunity. I think a Mathis, Considine, Greene, Cox secondary is the best the Jaguars have. Please put the Don Carey experiment on the hold!)

Another problem the Jaguars will face is additional two tight-ends sets from the Giants, with their top two receiving options sidelined. We all know how that tends to go with the Jaguars – not well to say the least. The Giants have a fantastic all-around TE in Kevin Boss, who is very similar to Marcedes Lewis. He can support the run, block in the passing game, and he can catch the long and short routes. His backup Travis Beckum will also be more involved in the offense. Keep an eye on him.

The Giants’ running game is very interesting. This week, they promoted Brandon Jacobs to become the starter at RB and downgraded Ahmad Bradshaw because of his fumbles (six already this year). It’s good news for the Jaguars, because Bradshaw is much more dangerous making plays on the outside and also catches the ball very well. Jacobs is very similar to the Browns’ Peyton Hillis, who the Jaguars’ bottled up last week. He is a big back and is effective only if he finds a hole in the line. If the Giants use him more than Bradshaw, they’re doing the Jaguars a huge favor. This week will prove if the Jaguars’ newfound success against opponents’ rushing attack is for real. Since Kansas City’s 236 rushing yards on Week 7, things have gone 180 degrees. In the last 3 games, the Jaguars have allowed a total of 219 rushing yards and an average of 3.17 yards a carry – no easy feat against the NFL-leading Arian Foster or dual-threat bruiser Peyton Hillis. If Knighton & Co. can limit Jacobs and Bradshaw that would be a major piece for a Jaguars victory!

The Giants are also dealing with injuries along their offensive line – center Shaun O’Hara and LT David Diehl will most likely not play, and backup LT Shawn Andrews has suffered from back problems for a while and was even hospitalized on Thursday! Even without them, don’t be fooled, they are still a very strong group. Andrews (if active) is playing lights out at LT (last Sunday Eagles DE Trent Cole did practically nothing against) and RG Chris Snee has played at a very high level all year long (he dominated Ndamukong Suh against the Lions a few weeks back). Also, Eli Manning has not been sacked in the last three games, so another sack-less game from the Jaguars’ defense should surprise no one.

The Jaguars’ defense must not only force turnovers (which will happen – New York has turned the ball over 30 times this season, leading the NFL) they must capitalize in a way that we haven’t seen them do for quite some time – scoring defensive TDs. With the aggressiveness of the Giants’ D, the defense has the ability to come right back with a turnover or a three-and-out. When the Jags take the ball away, they have to do everything they can to take it to paydirt!

Here is a stunning statistic: the last time Jaguars’ defense scored a TD was 37 games ago against the Steelers in Week 5 of the 2008 season! Rashean Mathis intercepted Ben Roetlishberger’s pass and ran it back for a touchdown. BUT 37 GAMES! That’s more then two complete season! 

Once again, I really do not like the matchups for this game. The Giants are clearly a better football team when we compare the talent level. They are well coached in offense and defense. The Jaguars do have the advantage of being on the upswing, while the Giants have been on the downswing with a two game losing streak. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that the Giants were the only legit NFC Super Bowl contender. A few weeks later, that is not true anymore. Atlanta, Green Bay, and Philadelphia might be in better shape right now than the Giants. Plus the Giants have had trouble winning games in the second half of the season for a few years now. In ’06, ’08, and ’09 they played very well in the first half of the season, then fallen back in the second half.  Once again, they are in a second half losing streak and their offense is  dealing with major injury problems. Meanwhile, the Jaguars are on a roll and are finding ways to win games. It will be interesting to see if these trends continue or if both teams reverse their fortunes.

I hope this game will be a close one, because another blowout loss would mean many problems on many levels. Despite their issues, I still like the Giants more in this game. However, I have a bold prediction if the Jaguars can pull a major upsetand win on Sunday in New York. If the Jaguars defeat the Giants – they will win the division! None of the remaining five opponents have a better roster then the Giants. The Jags would need only three more victories for a 10-6 record, which might be enough to clinch the division. They have two home games left, plus all three divisional rivals are having major issues right now. So if they can pull an upset in the Big Apple – I think they are for real! 

But I believe the Giants are just a bit too strong for the Jaguars to overcome right now. Even with a loss, I hope the Jaguars can make it a very close game, which would signify a vast improvement from the first half of the season.

Prediction: Giants 28- Jaguars 21 

Zoltan Paksa