For the New York Giants (6–4), Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars (6–4) is no longer a trap game, it's a must win.
Coming off two straight losses to divisional rivals, the Giants now have the eighth best record in the NFC (NFC West leader ahead of them). They used to have the best record in the NFC prior to their two-game losing skid, and as far as playoffs go, the G-Men are on the outside looking in.
Stop Turning the Ball Over
A major key to winning this game is eliminating the turnovers. Over the last two weeks, the Giants have turned the ball over eight times. Head coach Tom Coughlin knows that has to change.
He said on www.giants.com, "We're going to remain very positive and if we would stop being our own worst enemy, then we would have a chance to go forward here and win some football games."
At the very least, if the Giants can manage to protect the ball, the defense can stay fresh. Last week against Philly, New York's “D” did an admirable job, with the exception of a 50-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter—the end result of a fatigued unit.
If the Giants can protect the ball and stop putting their defense in bad situations, they should win this game because Jacksonville is a beatable team battling turnover issues of their own.
Last week, the Jags turned the ball over six times and needed a late game interception to beat the Cleveland Browns at home 24–20.
That's not to say the Jaguars are pushovers. Especially for the G-Men—they cannot take any teams lightly these days.
On the legs of running back Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville has a potent running game (ranked sixth in the league with 135.3 yards per game). Against the Browns, Jacksonville gained 371 yards in total offense and ran the ball 28 times for 145 yards, netting over 5 yards per carry.
Jones-Drew, as the fourth best runner in the NFL (878 total yards, 4.2 yards per carry), rushed for 133 yards and 1 touchdown last week. He runs behind a strong offensive line that excels in the run game.
The Jags are also led by an athletic quarterback in David Garrard, currently ranked sixth in the league with a 98.5 rating. Garrard commands an offense that is averaging 22 points a game and 335.6 yards per game. Against the Browns, he led them in three successful scoring appearances in the red zone.
Coughlin knows what Garrard is capable of, having drafted him out of East Carolina in the fourth round of the 2002 NFL Draft while he was head coach of the Jaguars.
Coughlin said, "He's playing within himself. You've seen it—he has a very, very high completion percentage. He still is the same player. He can run the ball; he has a very strong arm. He's done a real good job."
Giants D Can Be the Difference
Should the turnovers start rearing their ugly heads for both teams, the Giants second-ranked defense may become instrumental in their chances of winning, because they could keep the score low enough for Eli and the offense to pull it out.
As powerful as the Jags offense is, the Giants defense is limiting opponents to 282.4 yards per game and is ranked fourth in run defense, allowing an average of 89.5 yards per game. Playing in front of the home crowd, and coming off two embarrassing losses will only add fuel to their fire in this matchup.
But again, they can't be on the field for most of the game as they have been the past two weeks.
When they have the ball, New York's offense will have more to contend with than just their own mistakes. The G-Men's banged up offensive line will have its hands full with Jacksonville's stout front seven.
In last week's loss to Philly, the Giants rushed for only 61 yards and amassed only 208 total yards. No one is comparing the Eagles defense to the Jags', but considering Jacksonville held the Browns power rushing attack to only 88 yards and allowed only 1-of-3 conversions in the red zone, that raises the stakes for Manning and the offense.
The Giants depleted receiving corps got a boost this week following the signing of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers wideout Mike Clayton, a 6-foot-4-inch, 215-pounder with reliable hands. Drafted 15th overall in the 2004 draft, Clayton played six seasons with the Bucs and hauled in 221 catches for 2,936 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Other notable news this week was the reinstating of running back Brandon Jacobs as the team's starter. This move was seen as necessary, following successive fumbles by Ahmad Bradshaw.
While an effective runner, Bradshaw's five fumbles, coupled with Manning's 16 interceptions, proved to be too much for Coughlin to handle lately and changes were needed.
Game time is set for 1 p.m. at the New Meadowlands Stadium.