(Sports Network) – The second week of the 2010 NFL season wasn’t a pleasant experience for either the New York Giants or Tennessee Titans, two teams that will be trying to reclaim their opening-day form in Sunday’s interconference clash from New Meadowlands Stadium.
Both clubs kicked off their respective campaigns in fine fashion, with the Titans running all over the visiting Oakland Raiders in a 38-13 rout during Week 1 and the Giants christening their new home venue with a 31-18 triumph over the mistake-prone Carolina Panthers in their lid-lifter. Each faced considerably tougher challenges last weekend, however, with neither able to successfully handle the step-up in competition.
Turnovers led to Tennessee’s undoing in a frustrating 19-11 loss to a resilient Pittsburgh Steelers squad this past Sunday in Nashville. The Titans committed seven on the afternoon, with quarterback Vince Young responsible for three of those miscues (two interceptions, one fumble) before being yanked in favor of one-time Giant Kerry Collins at the start of the fourth quarter.
Tennessee also had a costly holding penalty that wiped out a would-be 85-yard touchdown scamper by playmaking running back Chris Johnson, who was held to a pedestrian 34 yards on 16 carries by Pittsburgh’s sturdy defense, and gave up a kick-return score on the game’s opening play that proved damaging as well.
All of the Steelers’ points came off takeaways or special teams, spoiling a banner day by a Titans defense that yielded a mere 127 yards and seven first downs for the entire game.
Though Collins was able to deliver a slight spark to the Tennessee offense, throwing for 149 yards and orchestrating the team’s lone touchdown drive in the final minute, head coach Jeff Fisher steadfastly stated afterward that Young will be the starter under center for both Sunday’s tilt and beyond.
New York, which forced five turnovers in its season-opening besting of the Panthers, was simply no match for the high-powered Indianapolis Colts in last Sunday’s tussle with the reigning AFC champions. The Giants were outgained by a decisive 278-69 margin in total yards in falling behind 24-0 at halftime, and went on to lose by a 38-14 count to temper the optimism generated by their Week 1 performance.
The Giants came up well short in the head-to-head battle between sibling quarterbacks as well. While Eli Manning managed a pair of second-half touchdown passes, Big Blue’s triggerman hit on just 13-of-24 throws for 161 yards and was sacked four times under a persistent Indianapolis rush. He was also intercepted once and lost two fumbles, one of which was recovered in the end zone for a Colts score.
Peyton Manning had a far easier outing against New York’s revamped defense, with the four-time league MVP racking up 255 yards and three touchdowns on a sharp 20-of-26 passing.
Sunday’s matchup provides an opportunity for the Giants to atone for last week’s subpar showing, and the game figures to have additional incentive for veteran linebacker Keith Bulluck. The 33-year-old made 130 starts and two All- Pro teams during a decorated 10-year stay with the Titans that ended when the organization elected not to re-sign the New York-area native in the offseason.
The Giants have a 5-4 edge in their all-time series with the Titans, but have lost each of their last four head-to-head meetings with Tennessee. The Titans were 24-21 home winners when the clubs last met, in 2006, and took a 32-29 overtime decision when the two last faced off in North Jersey, in 2002. The G- Men’s most recent win in the series was a 13-10 win in Houston in 1994, which also marked Fisher’s first game as a head coach after taking over 11 games into the season in place of Jack Pardee. The Giants’ last home win in the series was a 24-20 win over the Oilers in 1991.
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is 7-11 in his career against the Titans, including a 33-14 loss for his Jacksonville team in the 1999 AFC Championship. Fisher is 4-1 all-time against the Giants, and is 11-7 head-to-head against Coughlin, including the playoff win.
WHEN THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL
Fisher mentioned after last week’s setback that a more complex game plan may have contributed to Young’s poor play against the Steelers, and hinted at a more back-to-basics approach for Sunday’s test. That should mean plenty of touches for Johnson (176 rushing yards, 2 TD, 9 receptions), who had a streak of 12 consecutive games with over 100 rushing yards come to an end in Week 2. The All-Pro speedster burned the Raiders for 142 yards and two scores on 27 attempts in the opener and also leads the Titans in receptions. Young (220 passing yards, 2 TD, 2 INT) has completed 74 percent of his throws in the early going, though most have been dump-offs to Johnson and safety-valve tight end Bo Scaife (6 receptions, 1 TD), but it’s his mobility and uncanny improvisation skills that make the former University of Texas legend a difficult player to defend. The Giants found that out first-hand four years ago, when Young rushed for 69 yards and a touchdown while engineering a big fourth-quarter comeback against New York as a rookie in 2006. When Tennessee does throw downfield, Young will likely look in the direction of wide receiver Nate Washington (7 receptions), who’s had a touchdown catch in each of the first two games.
With Tennessee intent on establishing the run, the Giants defense will need to execute to its Week 1 level to be effective on Sunday. New York limited Carolina’s terrific backfield duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to a combined 84 yards on 21 carries in its season debut, but had greater difficulty stopping the more multi-faceted Colts a week ago. Geared up to slow down Peyton Manning and the passing game, the G-Men let up 161 rushing yards to the Indianapolis tandem of Joseph Addai and Donald Brown. It’ll be up to weakside linebacker Michael Boley (22 tackles), fresh off a 15-tackle effort against the Colts, Bulluck (4 tackles) and standout strong safety Kenny Phillips (10 tackles, 1 INT) to keep Johnson contained, and for linemen Mathias Kiwanuka (7 tackles, 3 sacks), Osi Umenyiora (6 tackles, 1 sack) and Justin Tuck (11 tackles) to apply pressure up front and force Young into quick decisions. The Giants recorded four sacks in the Carolina win, but were able to get to Manning only once last Sunday.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
The Giants have had trouble getting untracked on the offensive side in both of their 2010 games, and while able to overcome those early struggles against the Panthers, the slow start led to disastrous results last week. With New York forced to play from behind from the get-go, the Colts teed off on Eli Manning (424 passing yards, 5 TD, 4 INT) with their disruptive edge rushers and induced three turnovers and a subpar 54 percent completion rate from the franchise signal-caller. If provided adequate time to throw, Manning and a deep group of receivers are fully capable of doing extensive damage on a defense. Pro Bowl participant Steve Smith (9 receptions) is the sure-handed possession member of the pass-catching corps, with youngsters Hakeem Nicks (6 receptions) and Mario Manningham (8 receptions, 160 yards, 1 TD) the big-play threats of the bunch. Nicks tops the league with four touchdown grabs through the initial two weeks, while Manningham’s averaging a healthy 20 yards per catch thus far. The ground attack has been inconsistent, though top ball- carrier Ahmad Bradshaw (165 rushing yards, 1 TD, 2 receptions) was able to grind out 89 yards on 17 totes against Indianapolis. Backfield mate Brandon Jacobs (52 rushing yards, 2 receptions) was hardly a factor last week, instead making unwanted headlines for accidentally tossing his helmet into the stands early in the second half and being benched by Coughlin for the act. Regular tight end Kevin Boss, sidelined in Week 2 with a concussion sustained in the Carolina game, returned to practice Wednesday and is expected to play.
New York will need to shore up its protection schemes for this one, as the Titans have so far shown they can consistently get to the quarterback. Tennessee has amassed four sacks in back-to-back weeks in addition to having surrendered a minuscule 85.5 passing yards per game at the moment, although going up against a punchless Oakland offense and a Pittsburgh team that’s had to play musical quarterbacks is a contributing factor to that low number. Still, feisty cornerback Cortland Finnegan (12 tackles) and free safety Michael Griffin (17 tackles, 2 PD) are both above-average players in the secondary, and the pass rush has certainly been strong. Jason Babin (10 tackles, 2 sacks) and 2010 first-round pick Derrick Morgan (4 tackles, 1.5 sacks) have teamed up for 3 1/2 sacks in a rotation at left end, while tackle Jason Jones (3 tackles) is an excellent penetrator along the interior. Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch (13 tackles) and new weakside starter Will Witherspoon (12 tackles, 2 sacks) head up a run defense that restricted the Steelers’ Rashard Mendenhall to an ordinary 69 yards on 23 attempts in Week 2.
Johnson’s low output from a week ago was more an aberration than a trend, so expect the probable No. 1 or 2 overall pick in most preseason drafts to put up more customary numbers against a defense that is a clear cut below the one he faced last Sunday. He’s the only sure-fire starter among Tennessee’s offensive members, however. Young seldom puts up the prolific yardage totals to be regarded as anything more than a bye-week fill-in at quarterback, while Washington is the lone Titans’ receiver that merits flex consideration. The Giants have two start-worthy wideouts in Nicks and Smith, with Manningham a more risky choice as the third option, and a low-end No. 1 fantasy quarterback in Eli Manning. Bradshaw’s value has been given a boost as well, now that he’s established himself as the unquestioned main man in the New York backfield. With both of these teams having been turnover-prone as of late, either defense seems to be a pretty good play.
The Tennessee defense has looked terrific during the season’s early stages, but it’s still hard to truly measure the unit’s prowess due to the suspect competition it’s faced so far. The Giants should prove to be a sterner test, and it’s a good bet Coughlin’s troops will come out with greater focus and urgency on Sunday after last week’s debacle. New York will win in a walk if its defense can force mistakes like it did in the opener, or if the Titans duplicate their error-laden ways of their last appearance. Tennessee is too well-coached a team to expect such a repeat performance, however, and the odds of Johnson being held down for a second straight week figure to be rather slim as well. The difference could come down to how both teams produce in the red zone. The Giants have had issues in that area in past years, while the Titans have been a stonewall group in defending near the goal line over the first two weeks.