Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Jacksonville Jaguars, November 20, 2006: I’ve learned my lesson. Last week I mocked the Football Injury Gods and those Gods responded by burning my team with lightening bolts. “So you don’t think we can sink your boat?” laughed the Gods, “Let’s see how you respond when we break Luke Petitgout’s fibula, aggravate Sam Madison’s hamstring, injure Tiki Barber’s thumb, and force season-ending surgery on Justin Tuck!”

OK, OK, OK…you win. We Giants’ fans tremble at your mightiness and now beg you to leave our team alone. Whatever we’ve done to tick you off, we sincerely apologize for. We are truly penitent. If you could move along and bother some other team, we would be eternally grateful.

Giants on Offense: The Giants’ offense is supposedly the strength of the team. It has to start playing like it. In the last three weeks, the offense has scored 17, 14, and 20 points. More productivity across the board is needed. The time is now. The Eagles and Cowboys are only one game back.

This is a big game for Eli Manning for a few reasons. The Jaguars are a very good defensive football team who are quite capable of causing problems for the Giants’ ground attack. Jacksonville is likely to stack the line and dare Eli to beat them. Secondly, with injuries continuing to be a factor on defense and offense, Eli’s team needs him to perform at a higher level more now than ever before. While he will be a better quarterback in future seasons with added experience, he has played in enough games now to expect him to play like the first player taken in the 2004 NFL Draft. Thirdly, a significant portion of the team’s fan base is starting to turn on him. Phil Simms experienced the same thing. And the only way Phil silenced most of those detractors was going out and winning a World Championship.

Defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson are the strength of the Jaguars’ defense. Stroud is “questionable” with an ankle injury while Henderson is “questionable” with a hamstring injury. Both players are big and disruptive. Stroud normally will line up over the right guard (Chris Snee) while Henderson usually plays over the left guard (David Diehl). Of course, the issue outside is LT Bob Whitfield against the quick outside rushers. Losing DE Reggie Hayward for the year was a blow to the Jaguars, but reserve Bobby McCray (6 sacks) can rush the passer. He can play both end spots so both RT Kareem McKenzie and Whitfield may have to deal with him (though he mostly has played over the right tackle in place of Hayward). Paul Spicer is the other end. He’s a bigger player and not as strong at rushing the passer.

The linebacking corps, due to the absence of Mike Peterson, who is on Injured Reserve, is an ordinary group. Ex-Giant Nick Greisen and Clint Ingram start outside and Daryl Smith is the middle linebacker. He’s their best linebacker and leading tackler. The Jaguars do blitz a lot so blitz pick-ups by the offensive line, backs, and tight ends will be critical. The thumb injury to Barber could be an issue here.

Personally, I think it’s time to take some of the heat off of Manning and Whitfield and focus on what the Giants do best and that is run the football. If Barber’s hand is an issue, Brandon Jacobs is quite capable of carrying the load and serving as a spark for this team. I would run, run, run. Pound the football and wear down Jacksonville. Coughlin had Manning throw too much last season (third-highest in the league in terms of passing attempts) and I think they are over-emphasizing him now this year too. Run the damn football!

When the Giants do put the football in the air, it won’t be easy. Jacksonville is only given up about 180 passing yards per game (fifth best in the NFL). Manning and the coaching staff have to do a better job of getting the ball to Shockey. I’ve talked about this all season, but it’s crunch time. Barber is the offense’s engine, but Shockey is the spark plug. Get him involved. It will fire up the entire offense. I also would start passing to Barber more. I have no idea why the Giants don’t use him more on underneath routes anymore. Snap the ball, drop back quickly, and get the ball to Shockey and Barber. Everything doesn’t have to be a down-the-field effort in the passing game.

Plaxico Burress will face RCB Brian Williams, who is a bigger, more physical corner and thus, matches up fairly well with Burress. However, Williams doesn’t always make plays on the football and Burress should be able to adjust and out-fight him for the football. Plaxico also needs to step up now. The other corner, Rashean Mathis, has six interceptions. He had five last year so the guy has a history of making plays on the football. He’s a big, fast, athletic corner who shouldn’t have many problems with Tim Carter (who does?). We may see a lot of passes thrown to David Tyree again this week against the nickel corner. SS Donovan Darious, an outstanding run defender, has been bothered by a knee injury. Ex-Panther Deon Grant is the free safety.

Giants on Defense: Jacksonville made a quarterback switch to David Garrard three weeks ago. The Jaguars didn’t ask him to do much passing in their two wins against the Eagles (17 attempts) and Titans (22 attempts), but last week Jacksonville got behind the Texans. Garrard threw the football 34 times and he was intercepted four times (though two of these interceptions were deflections off of a receiver’s hands). Garrard is a big (but not tall), powerful quarterback with a very strong arm. He is mobile and can hurt a defense with his scrambling. However, he is not terribly accurate. The key for the Giants’ defense is to stop Jacksonville’s power running game (sixth best rushing attack in the NFL) and prevent Garrard for hurting the Giants with his feet. If they do those two things, they will be in good shape.

Khalif Barnes is the left tackle. He was inactive last week after been arrested for DUI, but he will return this week. He will face Mathias Kiwanuka and that should be a fun match-up to watch. The guards – LG Vince Manuwai and Chris Naeole – are inconsistent players. Brad Meester is a good center. RT Maurice Williams is a quality right tackle. I would think the Giants would want William Joseph to start at left end again since the Giants are facing another running team. It would be nice if Carlos Emmons would return (he practiced on Thursday). It would be great if Brandon Short did as well (he did not practice on Thursday).

The feature running back is Fred Taylor, a very good cutback runner with a nice combination of power and quickness. He’s averaging an impressive 4.7 yards per run on a team that doesn’t throw the football well. Maurice Jones-Drew is a short, but stocky fireplug who is averaging 4.5 yards per carry. The Jaguars will throw to both out of the backfield (a total of 44 catches) so linebacker coverage will be very important. The Giants also need to keep an eye on H-Back George Wrighster (22 catches).

The Giants will miss Sam Madison. The man under fire for his poor performance last week is Corey Webster, who will mainly face WR Reggie Williams. Williams is Jacksonville’s leading receiver with only 27 catches. But he’s a big target (6-4, 223 pounds). He doesn’t get deep much so Webster needs to play him tighter to the line of scrimmage than he did Muhsin Muhammad last week. R.W. McQuarters will line up over Matt Jones, another huge receiver who has been somewhat disappointing for the Jaguars. In fact, there is talk that Jones may lose some playing time. Still, Jones is a HUGE receiver (6-6, 240 pounds) and his size can cause problems. The Jaguars can also create some big mismatches (pun intended) when 6-4, 223 pound Ernest Wilford is on the field against the 5-8 nickel back Kevin Dockery.

Giants on Special Teams: Alvin Pearman is averaging a very respectable 10.6 yards per punt return. Maurice Jones-Drew is averaging almost 24 yards per kickoff return. P Chris Hanson is bothered by a hamstring injury and the Giants might be able to take advantage of that.

Chad Morton broke off his first big punt return of the season last week. Derrick Ward was slightly better on kickoff returns, but he did fumble one kickoff. Jay Feely needs to nail every field goal under 40 yards – he missed a 33-yarder against the Bears.