How Dangerous are the Jaguars?
All of a sudden, this Sunday’s showdown against the Jaguars is an important, and dangerous, game. The Giants are facing a team that is also 6-4, except the Jaguars are now tied for first in their division while riding a three-game winning streak. The Giants, meanwhile, have lost their last two games against division rivals and are in desperate need of a confidence boost.
It’s now or never for the Giants. This is the kind of game that will either give them the momentum they will need to carry them through the rest of the season, or will completely destroy their confidence and begin head coach debates once again.
Despite some bad losses early in the season and close wins in recent games, the Jaguars are a resilient team that cannot be taken lightly. They also recognize the importance of this game. They exist in a division that, until this season, has been dominated by the Colts. Now that it is anyone’s title, the Jaguars will play every team as if it is a playoff game, even an NFC team. Like the Eagles and Cowboys in recent weeks, the Jaguars will come out of the gate and will look to gain momentum on the offense early.
But this is good news for the Giants, because the strongest unit right now is the defense. Last week they had a solid performance against Michael Vick by keeping him contained and uncomfortable. This game plan should be mimicked this week. David Garrard is no Vick, but he still cannot be underestimated. Statistically, he is one of the top quarterbacks in the league right now, especially in the fourth quarter. The defense needs to get in his face early and often and force him to make bad decisions.
The Giants D will have its hands full, though, courtesy of running back Maurice Jones-Drew. It will not be enough to make Garrard win with his arm, because he has a dynamic weapon in Jones-Drew. The defense will need to shut down the running game as well, and will need to do it early. Last week, despite a good game overall, the defense gave up big runs in the fourth quarter to seal the fate of the team. They will need to shut down the offense early and get themselves off the field as quickly as possible to give themselves the stamina they will need late in the game.
On the other side of the ball, the offense simply needs to play better. Despite the injuries, this is still a talented group of players who are underachieving. I am counting on some recent changes to the offense to leave the Jaguars guessing. Jacobs has been named the starter over Bradshaw, and while I do not think Jacobs can be as successful as the starter, it was a good move. If nothing else, it gives Bradshaw time to think about his fumbling problem and motivates him to work harder at fixing it. I do expect Jacobs to come out of the gate strong. Despite his recent comments that he knows this is temporary, the reality is he wants to be the starter and I expect him to do everything he can to take over the job once again.
The loss of Hakeem Nicks is a tough pill to swallow, considering how many receivers are hurt. But Michael Clayton should be a good addition that will keep the Jaguars guessing. They will naturally work to shut down the running game and force Eli to throw the ball. All we can do is hope he and Clayton have developed a good rapport this week. I expect Manningham and the rest of the receivers to step up, but they have to help their quarterback, who has been shaky in the last two games. Holding onto the ball is the first step.
I don’t have the stamina to talk much about special teams, except to say I hope they have had good, productive practices this week.
This is definitely a winnable game, but the Giants need to come out knowing how important it is to play hard and win from the first snap. The defense needs to attack early and often to keep the score down. If they can do this, then the offense can play a bit more conservatively to build confidence and rapport between Eli and his receivers. This Sunday’s performance can make or break the rest of this season, and with the toughest stretch of games looming, it is vital that the Giants find their swagger now.