The Chargers are Giants are two talented, flawed, and desperate teams. Both came into the season with Super Bowl aspirations but risk seriously hurting their chances of contention if they lose on Sunday. The winner of this game will be declared "back on track." The loser will be declared "reeling." It's a complete mystery how either team is going to play, because between their nine combined wins, only one came against a team with a winning record (the Giants' win over the Cowboys).
The Giants can't possibly play as poorly as they have the previous three weeks - or can they? After all, this makes the third straight week that we've invoked that logic. As for the Chargers, they seem to be putting it together after two emphatic wins over the Chiefs and the Raiders, the latter of whom they outplayed more than the game's 24-16 score indicates. But as the Giants have shown, big wins against awful teams - particularly these awful teams - mean little as a predictor of success against non-awful teams.
Injury Notes: Boley and Canty have had no setbacks and are expected to play. The Boley part is the bigger piece of good news. Because he's the Giants best coverage linebacker, his return couldn't have come a moment too soon. The Chargers have an excellent passing attack and boast one of the game's best tight ends in Antonio Gates.
As of Friday, Manningham was "on track" to return from a shoulder separation, according to Coughlin. This is very important, as Manningham is the only Giants receiver capable of intimidating defenses with his ability to get deep. Who knows how close to 100% he will be, but just having him on the field is a plus.
Boss, Bradshaw, and Moss are also probable. Hixon is not on the injury report after leaving last week's game with a hip pointer.
For the Chargers, the big injury news is that excellent center Nick Hardwick - whose return from a long-term injury was rumored mid-week - is out with an ankle injury. Nose tackle Ogemdi Nwagbuo and inside linebacker Kevin Burnett, both starters, are questionable.
Chargers Offense vs. Giants Defense:
You hate to pile on Eli after his two worst games this year - Giants fans can be reasonably sure that he's not going to play this bad going forward - but this week's opponent invites the following question: Is there any case to be made that Eli Manning is better than Phillip Rivers?
Their career stats are pretty lopsided in Rivers's favor:
Rating: Rivers: 93.4, Eli 77.1
Yards per Attempt: Rivers: 7.6, Eli: 6.5
Completion Percentage: Rivers: 61.9, Eli: 57.9
TD/INT Ratio: Rivers: 89 to 40, Eli: 111 to 82 (Eli has played 81 games to Rivers' 59)
Percentage of pass attempts on which he was sacked: Rivers: 5.3, Eli: 4.8 (Yes!)
In Eli's defense, he has improved substantially since the beginning of 2008. Last year, his rating was 86.4, the same as this year. But he's not exactly closing the gap. Rivers had his best year last year with a 105.5 rating. This year, his rating is 95.9. Also, Eli started a year and a half earlier when he was a little greener. This has to be factored in somewhat when looking at the pair's stats, but not that much.
There's also the Super Bowl, which was obviously a huge notch in his belt. But a Rivers advocate can counter this argument pretty effectively with two words: 1) "Asante," as in Samuel, who could have very easily clinched the Super Bowl for the Patriots by holding onto an interception; and 2) "ACL," as in the one Rivers tore but played through during the 2007 playoffs.
So Rivers is incontrovertibly better than Eli. But this doesn't mean that Ernie Accorsi's draft day trade was a bad one. Accorsi had a strong feeling about Eli that has proven to be about 75 percent right (particularly in one important respect) and he did what it took to get him. He didn't have the same strong feeling about Rivers or Roethlisberger, so he pulled out the stops for the guy he did have a strong feeling about. I suppose he can be faulted for undervaluing Rivers and Roethlisberger. But given his feelings about Eli, being aggressive was the right thing to do.
This discussion makes a good prologue to our introduction to the Chargers offense, which is dangerous and a poor matchup for us. As discussed above, Rivers is awesome. So too is the Chargers number one receiver, Vincent Jackson, a toolsy 6-foot-5 vertical threat who has come into his own this year and is arguably having the best season of any receiver in the league. (At least according to Football Outsiders's DVOA stat, which puts traditional stats into context based on game situation and opponent.) Another Chargers receiver having a great year is tight end Antonio Gates, who is back to his old form and is on pace for his first 1,000 yard season since 2005.
Overall, the passing game ranks 9th in the league in DVOA, bad news for our Swiss Cheese secondary. This week, Aaron Rouse replaces C.C. Brown as the starting safety, which by default can only be a good thing. Given the problems we are having in the secondary, our pass rush might be their best hope. The Giants rank 9th in the league is Adjusted Sack Rate, another Football Outsiders stat which adjusts sack totals by passing attempts and situation. The Chargers offensive line ranks 15th in this category.
The passing game is great, but the running game is another story, ranking 26th in the league in DVOA this year. LaDanian Tomlinson is averaging 3.4 yards per carry and is clearly not what he once was, but his recovery from an early-season ankle injury makes it premature to write him off. Likewise, Darren Sproles, the Chargers' dangerous change-of-pace back, has only averaged 3.5 yards per carry this year, but it would be also silly to write him off. Playing against a defense that just allowed long touchdown runs to Leonard Weaver and LeSean McCoy might boost his numbers a bit.
Giants Offense vs. Chargers Defense:
The Chargers defense has been one of the league's worst this year, ranking 23rd in DVOA. They rank a decent 14th against the pass, but 29th against the run. Because of this, Sunday's game presents an interesting contrast: The Giants run the ball well (actually, they haven't really this year, but they'd like to think they do), the Chargers can't stop the run. The Chargers pass the ball well, the Giants can't stop the pass.
An X-factor in this game is the Chargers' pass rush, which got off to a slow start but has piled up 10 sacks in the last two weeks. Shawne Merriman, coming off knee surgery that ended his season last year after one game, was shut out in sacks in his first six games. Last week, he had two sacks.
The Chargers really struggled against the pass against the Steelers and Broncos, but came back strong against the Chiefs and Raiders. What that means is anybody's guess.
Prediction: The NFL is all about establishing the run, and the team that can control the line of scrimmage will... Oh, wait, that's not really true. A 65-yard completion to Vincent Jackson is worth more than five Brandon Jacobs nine-yard runs. Unless the Giants completely dominate on the ground and control the clock, they will have a hard time keeping up with the Chargers offense, which will make enough big plays to pull out a quality road win. Chargers 27 - Giants 24.
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