GIANTS - LIONS Next up: MINNESOTA VIKINGS
The Giants took a costly win when they lost DE-LB Mathias Kiwanuka (fibula - season) and RB Brandon Jacobs (hamstring). Jacobs is a special blend of size, speed and determination and the Lions quickly realized that if he squares up he'll chew up ground fast but his size may be his undoing since he can't seem to stay healthy.
The Lions have some real issues with their OL that isn't opening holes for the running game and that forces QB Jon Kitna to try and make plays and not always when or where he wants. If this unit doesn't step up then the Lions will be hard pressed to make the playoffs. On the bright side their defense is showing signs of consistency and though the G-Men moved the ball well they didn't show many points for their efforts. WR Plaxico Burress seemed to be moving in slow motion and though he may be playing injured but that presents problems on the horizon with their upcoming game vs. the Vikings.
If both Jacobs and RB Derrick Ward are out that leaves RB Reuben Droughns and untested rookie RB Ahmad Bradshaw to carry the load against a tough Vikings run defense. With Burress at less than full speed the Giants pose little more than a possession passing game against the Vikes who normally can be thrown against. WR Sinorice Moss had a good game against the Lions, running crisper routes and securing 4 catches for 46 yards. He might be well used trying to stretch the field next week otherwise with the powerful Vikings running game and their ability to stop the G-Men second unit runners might make for an unpleasant Sunday.
Jason Tuck had a quiet game against the Lions but he's been performing well and he should get more downs to play with Kiwanuka out. As mentioned last week, Michael Strahan is still a stud and he had 3 sacks against the Lions though several players provided pressure.
JETS-STEELERS Next up: DALLAS COWBOYS
If football games were 30 minutes the Jets would still be a playoff contender. Against the Steelers they had a complete team effort for a full 65 minutes to register their upset. The Steelers seemed more surprise than flat because there was nothing this season to indicate that Gang Green might be able to bring so much pressure so consistently.
So how did the Jets pull it off? First they took a page from their cross-town rivals the Giants by using DE Sean Ellis (2 sacks) at LB and they stacked the line with defensive ends but DT DeWayne Robertson was the man that made the difference because he consistently brought pressure up the middle, collapsing the pocket to prevent Ben Roethlisberger from stepping up to deliver the ball. The Jets (Robertson) ability to flush Roethlisberger laterally out of the pocket took Ben out of his game and often into the waiting arms of other Jets.
A solid underachiever since being the 4th pick in the 2003 draft, Robertson may have played his best game ever. He had one easy sack when he showed cat like quickness to get around Alan Faneca who, in his defense, was left with 2 blocking assignments but it was his consistency in moving back the line of scrimmage that blunted the Steelers offense. To get an idea of the importance of a top DT/NT look at the play of Tennessee's NT Albert Haynesworth (this year) who has always been a stout run defender but has developed into a powerful pocket breaker. With Haynesworth in the lineup the Titans are a hard beat. Nose tackles often take several years to become adept at exerting pressure against the pass and perhaps the Jets yet have reason to be excited about Robertson.
David Harris had another superior game and he looks every bit a stud LB. He blitzed effectively (1 sack - 1 near sack), tackled surely and even when well blocked on screen pass to RB Najeh Davenport he cut off the sideline and turned the play inside for a modest gain.
I found it interesting that the Steelers began to go more with Davenport as the game wore on favoring his size over RB Willie Parker's speed (21 carries for 52 yards) and it seemed to be an effective tactic.
Jet fans shouldn't get too excited over the play of QB Kellen Clemens who was 12-29 for 104 yards and a pick after his first 2 passes (the flea flicker to WR Laverneus Coles and the 1-yd TD to TE Chris Baker). Clemens has arm strength, is athletic and showed some smarts (often choosing to throw the ball out of bounds) but for most of 3 quarters he was ineffective and the Jets offense relied on the solid running of RB Thomas Jones. On the bright side Clemens again showed (as he did vs. the Ravens in week 2) that he can step up his game at crunch time and he made some key throws leading to the tying FG. Jones is the first back in 34 games to gain 100 individual yards vs. the Steelers and though his final numbers yielded an average of only 3.9 yards per carry he was often gutting the tough yards between the tackles and again he ran with courage, heart and determination. Not the play of one of the 10 most disappointing backs in the NFL.
Steelers' fans shouldn't obsess over this loss. They're a good team that makes too many errors to yet be an elite team. As I said last week, they win ugly and when they've played with fewer errors they've won well. The Jets would have beaten a lot of teams today by playing at a level that they've not shown all season.
Without Coles a top defense like the Steelers held WR Jerricho Cotchery to a single catch of 5 yards. It won't get much better against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day if Coles isn't healthy. I see nothing but problems in moving the ball against the ‘Boys who can bring a lot of pressure.
On the downside, OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson continues to struggle. Last year's overall 4th pick doesn't look the part and allows too many sacks, too much pressure and commits too many penalties. Look for the Cowboys to match him up against LB Demarcus Ware and the results may not be pretty for the Jets. Jet first round rookie CB, Darrelle Revis, will be tested by a resurgent WR Terrell Owens who is playing at an elite level again.
The Jets implemented wholesale changes to their defense with the extra time they had in their bye week but they have only 3 days to prepare for the Cowboys. Talk about going from the frying pan into the fire.
BILLS-PATRIOTS Next up: JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
What can be said? The Patriots finally showed some mercy in replacing QB Tom Brady and other starters in the middle of the 4th quarter and still they moved the ball well. The Patriots challenge every team to show up with their A game to even have a chance to be competitive and their level of play has been simply incredible. There's little to add to the superlatives that have been heaped on the Patriots since week 1. Lawrence Maroney was used sparingly and the Pats still bullied the Bills up the middle with FBs Evans and Eckel but the main theater was Brady's laser show, completing 31 passes for 5 TDs.
The Patriots make almost every team look bad, real bad, with the notable exception of the Colts and about 3 quarters against the Cowboys (but these are the best teams in the NFL other than the Patriots), the Bills were just another victim.
QB J.P. Losman made some tough throws but when the football gods are on the side of the opponent it all seems to go wrong as it did when FB Dwayne Wright fumbled on a hard hit at the sideline - right into the hands of a speeding CB Ellis Hobbs (a native of nearby Niagra Falls) for an easy late TD.
The Bills had been getting noticed for their tough and gritty 4 game winning streak but their season will probably get more difficult beginning with the Jaguars next week, a team that they can't out muscle and I don't believe they match up well with. The Bills will need a healthy Marshawn Lynch to be competitive the rest of the way but they have shown some hope for the future this year. I see the Bills finishing 7-9.
Have a great Thanksgiving and a Safe Home to all.