Football is a game of attrition, and each week the list of injured players grows for the Giants. Last week they lost left tackle Luke Petitgout, who broke his leg in the second quarter of the Bears game. The Giants have lost eight starters over the last four weeks, but they're not the only team struggling to overcome the loss of key players. Their opponent tonight, Jacksonville, placed 24 players on the injury list this week, including most of their key personnel. Both teams will try to find a way to stay on track as they fight through the playoff chase.
GIANTS (63) AT JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (54)
(Tonight, 8:30 p.m., ESPN)
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
Lame duck running back Tiki Barber leads the league in rushing yards, but has scored just one touchdown in nine games. Both of those figures can be chalked up to the emergence of bruising back Brandon Jacobs, who has finally provided a solution to the Giants' short yardage woes. Jacobs has scored six rushing touchdowns, handling the bulk of the carries near the goal line and on third-and-short. His presence has not only helped the team be more productive in those situations, but it has helped Barber to be more productive with fewer carries. Barber's 5.1 yards a carry leads all qualifying running backs.
The pair has helped the Giants to rank third in the NFL in rushing yards, and it's a good thing because once again quarterback Eli Manning has become inconsistent. Even though the team has won five of its last six games, Manning's numbers have been less than impressive. In that stretch, he has seven touchdown passes compared to six interceptions, and has only reached 200 passing yards one time.
Jacksonville's defense is tough and physical, but they've been ravaged by injuries. Defensive end Reggie Hayward is out for the season, and tackles John Henderson and Marcus Stroud are both listed as questionable for tonight's game. The injuries up front have made the Jaguars more vulnerable to the run. They were holding teams to 59 rushing yards a game in September, but are giving up 126 yards a game ever since.
Their pass defense has remained solid, thanks largely to a strong pass rush. Bobby McCray leads the team with six sacks, playing in place of injured starter Marcellus Wiley. Jacksonville has some hard hitters in their secondary, and cornerback Rashean Mathis leads the league with six interceptions. However, the Jags have only forced four fumbles all year the third lowest number in the league.
WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL
With their smash mouth running game, the Jaguars ranked sixth in rushing offense. The backfield combination of Fred Taylor and rookie Maurice Jones-Drew has been overwhelming at times. The veteran Taylor can wear defenses down with his size, while the diminutive Jones-Drew is more of a scatback.
The passing game has been disastrous in Jacksonville. Quarterback Byron Leftwich was benched after bad outings against the Colts and Texans. Head coach Jack Del Rio insisted the move wasn't a demotion, but rather a recognition that Leftwich's ankle injury was keeping him from being effective. After spending three weeks on the sidelines, Leftwich announced this weekend that he'd have season-ending surgery on the ankle this Tuesday.
That leaves the offense in the hands of David Garrard, who led the Jags to victory in his first two starts before a disastrous outing last week against Houston. In that game, Garrard threw four interceptions and showed his major weaknesses. He has a tendency to lock onto on receiver, telegraphing his intentions to the defense. Garrard is durable in the pocket and can scramble when necessary. He has a strong arm but isn't a terribly accurate passer.
The Jaguars like to play a oneback/two-tight end formation, with Kyle Brady and George Wrightser used primarily as blockers. Reggie Williams and Ernest Willford are the starting receivers. Both can use their size to be effective in the red zone, but neither has the speed to be a dangerous deep threat. Matt Jones is cut from the same mold, but has been slowed by a groin injury that may force him to miss tonight's game.
The challenge for the Giants continues to be finding enough healthy bodies to play defense. They'll be without defensive ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, while outside linebackers Brandon Short and Carlos Emmons are both listed as questionable. They'll need solid play from their outside defenders to contain the Jacksonville running attack.
KEY TO THE GAME The Jaguars' passing game is in disarray, and the best way to beat Jacksonville is to force them to throw the ball. That means stopping their running game on first and second down. It also means they need big performances from players like Mathias Kiwanuka and Antonio Pierce. The Giants should be able to run well against the Jaguars' depleted defense, and only a rash of turnovers can keep them from controlling the temp of the game
Lahman's Pick: Giants 2410