Stand & Deliver: Giants Vs. Jets Has Meaning This Year
What a difference nine months make.
It was late November 2008; families were getting together for a Thanksgiving Day feast, Christmas was on the horizon, and the Jets and Giants were kings of the NFL. After twelve weeks the Jets were in first place at 8-3. Brett Favre had reignited a dead franchise, and it appeared that the Jets would roll to an AFC East title and possibly a bye week after knocking off the once undefeated Tennessee Titans 34-13 in Nashville.
The Giants were 11-1. They were rolling to the NFC's No. 1 seed, and, less than a year separated them from their miraculous Super Bowl XLII victory, looked poised for a possible repeat.
The success of both franchises was so palpable that, indeed, New York and New Jersey fans were talking about the possibility of a Subway Super Bowl. The scenario seemed right. The Jets had Favre. The Giants had the bling, and the Jersey boy himself, Bruce Springsteen, was scheduled to perform at halftime of Super Bowl XLIII. It had to be in the cards, right?
That was then. This is now.
As we all know, the Jets and Favre crashed in the season's final five weeks to finish at 9-7. Eric Mangini was fired, and Brett Favre retired so he could un-retire to destroy the Vikings season this year. The Giants, on the other hand, got blasted 23-11 by rival Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional playoff game, ending their dreams of a repeat.
Since that time, both teams have gone through some vast changes. The Jets are rebuilding for the future with a boisterous and overzealous new head coach in Rex Ryan, and an inexperienced rookie from Hollywood in Mark Sanchez. They have gone from perennial contender to a team hoping for better days in the next decade.
Many Jet fans want to believe that Mark Sanchez can take the Jets to the postseason in his first year the way Joe Flacco did in Baltimore and Matt Ryan did in Atlanta last season. But keep in mind, rookie quarterbacks who have immediate success are freaks of nature. The most common circumstance for a rookie QB is Peyton Manning's first year when he threw 28 interceptions and won a mere three games. If Sanchez's awful performance against the Ravens is any indication, then he is in for a very long season.
On the other hand, the Giants have had a rude awakening to life after the Super Bowl. The man who caught the game winning touchdown in that game, Plaxico Burress, will be serving a two-year jail sentence for shooting himself with an unlicensed gun. This leaves Big Blue desperate to find his replacement among a group of unproven receivers in Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith, and Dominik Hixon.
In recent weeks, the Giants are starting to feel a lot like ... well ... the New York Mets. The Giants have suffered numerous freak injuries to their fantastic defense, leaving it with lingering questions whether the starting group will be ready to go come opening day.
It usually doesn't make sense to say that a preseason game is a must win for both teams, but, considering all of the problems on these two teams, they need to show something this week if either is to move confidently into the regular season.
What the Jets need to prove against the Giants:
The Jets need to prove that their offense is not as bad as many think. With a rookie quarterback and lack of depth at wide receiver, the Jets could easily be one of the worst offenses in the NFL this year. Therefore, continuity will be key for the Jets starting Saturday.
Sanchez has only thrown 12 passes this summer and has not had a chance to play behind the entire Jets pro bowl offensive line, with guard Alan Faneca missing parts of the first two preseason games due to a hand injury. The Jets need to use this game against a beat up Giants defense as an opportunity to give Sanchez 35-40 snaps with the entire first-string offense. Unlike last week in Baltimore, the Jets need positive results from this young group.
They need Sanchez to show some poise in the pocket and actually look off his intended receiver and check down and around to see if anyone else is open downfield or in the flat. If nothing else, it will prevent Sanchez from telegraphing his throws like he did last week when he could have thrown an interception to Ray Lewis.
The Jets can do two things to improve Sanchez's confidence in this game:
They can run the football with Leon Washington, Thomas Jones, and Shonn Green all night long, and even throw to this trio on bubble screens and dump off passes. However, the best way the Jets can get Sanchez ready to play on Sept. 13 is to have Sanchez throw to his receivers outside the numbers.
Even though Sanchez does not have a great arm, he can scramble. Brian Schottenheimer needs to take advantage of this, too, and get Sanchez out of the pocket and to pass to open receivers down the side on Saturday, especially with the Giants missing both Aaron Ross and Kenny Phillips.
Secondly, the Jets must establish their No. 2 receiver. To date the Jets have not made a move to trade for an established wide out, so it is still between David Clowney, Chansi Stuckey, and Brad Smith in the battle for the No. 2 slot.
Clowney is the favorite since he has two touchdown catches in preseason and even caught Sanchez's first NFL pass, but coach Rex Ryan has yet to write Clowney into the starting lineup. Clowney needs to show off his excellent skills set in this game if he wants this starting job.
What the Giants need to prove against the Jets:
This season is getting weird, and it's not even September!
The Giants have terrific talent on the defensive side of the ball, but this summer has been brutal, medically speaking, on the defense. Before the Giants 17-3 loss to Chicago last Saturday, Big Blue was missing nine players from the starting lineup.
Linebacker Antonio Pierce has missed time due to a foot injury, but he is expected back soon; Kenny Phillips had a sore knee but returned to camp this week; linebacker Michael Boley is on the PUP list as he recovers from hip surgery; defensive tackle Rockey Bernard is suffering from a hamstring injury and could conceivably play this week, but who knows for how long.
Then there are the more serious injuries. Jay Alford tore his MCL in the Bears game and will likely be lost for the season. Meanwhile, cornerback Aaron Ross re-injured his torn hamstring in camp this week and it is uncertain when he will return to the Giants this year. And, just recently, defensive end Chris Canty suffered a torn hamstring as well, and it is unknown when Canty will return to the field.
Add those injuries to nagging injuries to Chris Snee and Rich Sheubert of the Giants offensive line, and the G-Men have one large mess on their hands. Things have been so bad that Coughlin criticized the media for pumping up his team's depth.
"I just think that for so long we've ... (read that) ... we've got so much depth. I don't know what you're watching, but the guys that are supposed to be the depth have hardly even practiced," Coughlin said on Sunday. "I think you're talking about something that looks good but hasn't really materialized. Until we get this thing straightened around with everybody on the field, this rotation and this depth that we're talking about really is a non-factor right now."
Coughlin is correct in one assessment. People have lauded the Giants depth on defense too much this summer; therefore, the Giants have to use this game as a moment to iron out their problems on defense and find out who can stand and deliver.
Obviously Ross, Canty, and Boley probably won't be active when the Giants match up against the Redskins come September 13, but the likes of Pierce, Phillips, Snee, Sheubert, and Bernard should be ready to go come opening day. If this group of dependable veterans enjoy a field day against the Jets, then the Giants can take some solace as the calendar approaches September.
However, this will be a huge gut check for back-up corner Terrell Thomas. Thomas had only 45 tackles in his rookie year with the Giants in 2008, and he will need to step it up big time in this game, especially if he wants to instill confidence in his coaches that he can get the job done in place of Ross.
The game should also be an excellent opportunity for the Giants young linebackers. Clint Sintim, Chase Blackburn, and Gerris Wilkinson can show that they can play with the big boys if either Pierce or Boley should miss any more time this season.
Offensively, the Giants are still waiting to find the chemistry between Eli Manning and his receivers. In the Bears game, Manning had a hard time working with this group. There were tons of drops and misreads that night, so much so that the Giants managed only 62 yards through the air.
Expect to see a lot of Hakeem Nicks and Dominik Hixon starting at flanker, with Steve Smith lined up in the slot position. With the Jets still trying to grasp Rex Ryan's complex 46 defense, this might be a good time for the Giants to build some consistency in the passing game. Plus, having Nicks and Hixon square off against pro bowl corners like Darrell Revis and Lito Shepard should be a great test for the Giants young receivers.
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