Jaguars-Giants figures to be defensive game
By TOM CANAVAN
AP Sports Writer
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- Looking for one of those old-fashioned games won in the trenches?
Try watching the Jacksonville Jaguars (6-4) and New York Giants (6-4) on Sunday.
As much as coach Tom Coughlin wants his reeling Giants to have a balanced attack this weekend at the New Meadowlands Stadium, that will be hard this weekend. Leading receivers Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks are sidelined with a partial pectoral tear and a leg injury, respectively, and third-year pro Mario Manningham is the team's only wideout who has played all season.
Jacksonville, which is tied for first place in the AFC South with Indianapolis, has its own problems. Its offensive line is banged-up and receiver Mike Sims-Walker has been limited by an ankle injury all week, which might force Jack Del Rio to rely more on running back Maurice Jones-Drew to carry the offense.
Either way, the defenses have to be the leaders Sunday, particularly with the Giants, who are ranked second overall in the league despite giving up 33 and 27 points the past two weeks in losses to Dallas and Philadelphia.
"Talking to a couple of guys we feel for us to make this run and to be a championship team this defense has to put it all on its shoulders for the rest of the season," Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas said. "If we lose, it's all on us. We have to carry the offense, they are banged up. Even when we are healthy, we still have to carry our offense."
The Giants need help right now. Their miscue-induced two-game slide has dropped them out of a playoff spot with six games left.
While they have won three straight and five of seven, the Jaguars can't afford a letdown either. Four teams in the AFC have better records and Kansas City leads its division at 6-4. That means Jacksonville might have to win its division to go to the postseason, and that means finishing ahead of the defending AFC champion Colts.
"This one is huge for both of us," Del Rio said. "You don't discount games. This game is huge."
Derek Hagan, with the Giants in training camp and re-signed last week, probably will start for Nicks, who is going to miss at least three games with swelling in his right leg that required a surgical procedure to relieve.
The other major change will have big Brandon Jacobs returning as the starting halfback for Ahmad Bradshaw, whose six fumbles -- five lost -- tops NFL running backs.
Bradshaw, who has a team-high 867 yards rushing, will still play, but obviously not as much.
Jaguars linebacker Kirk Morrison doesn't expect the Giants to abandon the pass with Eli Manning calling signals.
"The quarterback they have, he's going to find some ways to make some plays in the passing game," Morrison said. "We look for them to utilize the tight end more than in weeks past, and Manningham is still a deep threat for them guys. We know they're just not going to try to run the football, especially the way we've been playing the run the last three or four weeks. Hopefully, we can try to keep them one-dimensional and see what we can do from there and get some pressure on Manning."
With the return of linebacker Justin Durant and the improved play of linemen Jeremy Mincey and Terrance Knighton, Jacksonville has limited its opponents to an average of 73 yards rushing the last three games.
"We're going to try to make sure they don't get on a roll against us," Morrison added. "We know Eli can get hot and we know they can get that ground game going. We just want to make sure we can create some turnovers. That's something we've got to do."
Turnovers have been the Giants' worst enemy. They coughed up the ball five times in the loss to the Eagles and three against Dallas, including one returned 101 yards for a touchdown when the Giants were going in for a go-ahead score early in the second quarter.
The Jaguars found a way to beat Cleveland last weekend despite turning it over six times.
"We can't really go back and say we did this against Cleveland or we did this against Houston," said Jones-Drew, who has rushed for 100 yards in each of the past three games. "The Giants are a totally different team, especially for us as an offense. Their defense with the way they stack the box, the way they fit the running game, the way they cut and jump routes; there are so many different things they do. You have to kind of separate what we did the last week and the week before that and start a whole new chapter."
David Garrard, who leads NFL quarterbacks with a 129.3 fourth-quarter passer rating, said he couldn't worry about the injury to Sims-Walker.
"Everybody around the league has injuries, we're not any different than everybody else," he said. "Guys are banged-up, but everybody's banged up. Were going to have to count on whoever's out there ready to make plays and I'm not going to see anybody any different. If they're open I'm going to throw the ball to them."
Garrard has other targets if Sims-Walker is limited. Leading receiver Mike Thomas has caught a TD in three straight games and Marcedes Lewis has eight TDs receiving, second among NFL tight ends.