Cowboys, Giants trying to keep momentum
John Clayton previews Week 6, with a big matchup between the Giants and Cowboys leading the way.
Editor's note: ESPN senior NFL writer John Clayton's weekly "First and 10" column takes you around the league, with a look at the best game of the week, followed by primers for 10 other games. Here's his look at Week 6 of the 2005 season.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys | Scouting report
Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi gambled the future of the Giants by trading for Eli Manning in 2004 and making him the franchise quarterback.
New York Giants
Sunday is one of what could be many big games during the Manning era. The Giants travel to play the Cowboys. To be a playoff team, you have to win key home games, so this is probably even more important for the Cowboys.
While the NFC East and the Giants might be back, let's not go overboard. Winning records in any NFC division have to be put into context. The NFC East has improved as a division thanks to good, aggressive moves in the offseason along with a 5-0 record against the NFC West. Two of the Giants' three wins were home victories over the Cardinals and Rams.
While the Giants have experienced early success, they still have holes to address. Their secondary is shaky. Cornerback Will Peterson has covered more ground traversing the country seeing back specialists than going man-to-man on receivers. He's out indefinitely. Replacement Curtis DeLoatch and Will Allen, the other starting cornerback, are among the two most targeted corners in football.
Defensively, the Giants are giving up 425.3 yards and 24.5 points a game. Through the air, they are surrendering 322 yards, but those numbers are slightly skewed. The Giants had such huge leads in the wins over the Cardinals and Rams that the teams were forced to abandon the run.
Coach Tom Coughlin will tighten that defense, but the excitement is on offense. Manning has been a big-play machine. Even though he's completing just 53.7 percent of his passes, Manning has nine touchdown passes and 985 passing yards in four games. His quarterback rating of 97.8 is higher than his brother's 94.1. For a second-year quarterback, that is nice.
Parcells might have to rely more on Bledsoe because Julius Jones is probably going to miss the game with an ankle injury. The big question is whether they'll turn to undrafted rookie Tyson Thompson. Thompson is quick and Cowboys love his skills, but he's a rookie. Anthony Thomas is a proven veteran who is available. Marion Barber is a big, talented draft choice who is also there.
The decision of who to play at running back could play a large role in determining the Cowboys' chance to win. The NFC East is suddenly fun again. Bledsoe is making the Cowboys legit. Manning is doing the same things for the Giants.
And 10. New England Patriots at Denver Broncos | Scouting report
Finally, the Patriots can sense the bye week is coming. The six-week opening schedule and injury situation have been brutal. They've lost left tackle Matt Light, strong safety Rodney Harrison, halfback Kevin Faulk and defensive end Marquise Hill. They've listed as many as four cornerback during the weekly injury reports. Corner Chad Scott is out for the season. Defensive tackle Richard Seymour missed a game after being used at fullback for a play. Linebacker Willie McGinest has a broken hand, but is expected to play on Sunday. A grand total of 16 players are scattered through this week's injury report and missing portions of practice. Despite the schedule and the injuries, the Patriots still lead the AFC East and could open a bigger lead if they beat the Broncos. The Pats start their AFC East schedule after the bye and the division looks ripe for them to claim and get ready for the playoffs. The Broncos game won't be easy. Coach Mike Shanahan has tinkered with his usual 10-win team and has come up with an improved formula. He's holding back Jake Plummer from being the "Snake." Plummer directs mostly a running offense, rarely getting a chance to pass for more than 200 yards a game. No one is complaining. The Broncos aren't committing turnovers (five) and the team is on a four-game winning streak. The defense has improved with the depth added by the four Browns defensive linemen and Shanahan has gotten his three rookie cornerbacks plenty of experience during this 4-1 start. The Patriots are still at the top of the class in the AFC East. The Broncos need this home victory just to make sure they have a decent chance to win the AFC West and have a chance to get the Patriots in the playoffs.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers | Scouting report
The Steelers aren't ruling Ben Roethlisberger out of Sunday's game against the Jaguars, but more than likely, they will save him for their Oct. 23 game against the Bengals. There is no question that Roethlisberger gives them the best chance to win. It would be silly to risk him to further injury. The Steelers had two scares in two weeks. He almost suffered a left shoulder separation in the Patriots game when he was thrown down in the second quarter. Roethlisberger fought back and didn't miss a play. The knee injury suffered in the final minutes of the Chargers game will be too stiff. If Roethlisberger plays, he will be a little less mobile, which leaves him vulnerable to a few more hits. Plus, it's not out of the question to have him available for backup duty. Charlie Batch has the edge on Tommy Maddox to be the starter but Maddox gets healthier every day. Like the Chargers game, this will be a physical game with lots of hitting. Quarterbacks are going to get crunched. The Jaguars have worries of their own. The Jaguars offensive line has struggled. The Steelers can punish a quarterback playing behind a shaky line and most people think it's going to be hard for Byron Leftwich to survive 16 games with this line. If Roethlisberger does play, Leftwich might be the one more in danger of getting hurt, but I don't expect Roethlisberger to play.
8. Washington Redskins at Kansas City Chiefs | Scouting report
Coach Dick Vermeil hated losing to the Eagles before the bye week. His team jumped to a big lead over Philly and then blew it. He knew the opening schedule was tough, but everyone was frustrated losing a home game that was winnable. Once again, the concerns of the defense emerged. The offense looked old once it got to the third quarter. Confidence after that loss wasn't strong. Still, the bye week offered some help. Left tackle Willie Roaf is returning after missing three games with a hamstring injury. That will help the offense. On defense, they get Eric Warfield back after his four-game suspension and that gives them an extra coverage player. Of course, the Redskins game isn't one in which they need too many guys to cover receivers. Coach Joe Gibbs is winning even though he's only sending two and three receivers into routes. Santana Moss and David Patten are doing exactly what was expected by hitting routes quicker and getting yards after the catch. Gibbs is keeping in extra blockers to protect Mark Brunell, and that strategy is allowing the offense to move from 20 yard line to 20 yard line with consistency. Brunell isn't turning over the ball, giving the Redskins the chance to play a close game every week. The Chiefs enter this game knowing the Redskins shouldn't put 30 points on them. Vermeil has to make sure his offense can do enough scoring against a well-coached Gregg Williams defense.
7. Miami Dolphins at Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Scouting report
Too bad Cadillac Williams isn't 100 percent healthy. Though he will play, this game is a classic matchup of two Auburn running backs making impacts during their rookie year. Williams beat out Ronnie Brown, now of the Dolphins, ever year to be the starter at Auburn. The Dolphins drafted Brown ahead of Williams because he was bigger and faster. Brown is off to a good start with 321 yards on 74 carries, but Williams has been ahead of him so far in the NFC. Before missing last Sunday's game against the Jets, Williams led the NFC with 447 yards on 99 carries. He has a sore arch and a tight hamstring. Also making this an interesting game is the return of Ricky Williams after his four-game suspension. Dolphins coach Nick Saban has big plans for Williams. He wants to get him carries to energize the offense. He has plays ready to get Ricky in the same backfield as Brown. This game is all about running. Will Brown show up Cadillac? How many carries will Ricky get? How healthy is Cadillac Williams? With so much running on the game plan, this could be a quick game.
Joey Harrington can't catch a break. Last year, he got off to a 4-2 start but lost his starting receivers during that stretch. Before long, the receivers were dropping passes and the Lions went on the long losing streak. Now, Charles Rogers is in the middle of a four-game suspension. Roy Williams has a calf pull and will probably miss this game. That leaves Kevin Johnson and Mike Williams as the starting receivers, hardly the idea of having three former No. 1 picks trying to augment the passing game. Harrington has a 52.7 quarterback rating and an even worse completion percentage of 51.3. He wasn't getting the ball downfield with Rogers and Roy Williams. His yards per attempt number was horrible at 5.19. The Panthers defense isn't as fierce without Kris Jenkins but it is still good. It could be a long day for Harrington.
5. San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders | Scouting report
Like the Patriots, the schedule makers weren't kind to the Chargers. Where the league gave the Patriots an almost impossible opening schedule of non-divisional games against playoff-caliber teams, the Chargers have the challenge of facing extra-prepared teams. They are in the midst of playing four teams (Steelers, Raiders, Eagles and Jets) coming off the bye week in a five-game stretch. That creates two problems. First, the opponent has a chance to get rested and get healthier during that one-week break. Second, they have extra time to prepare for two tough offensive threats, halfback LaDainian Tomlinson and tight end Antonio Gates. The Chargers can't believe they're 2-3. They lost two close home games to the Cowboys and Steelers, making this game critical. The Raiders are rested but this is a team that needed to continue playing. They are still trying to find their identity on defense. They have become a Big Nickel team using a defensive back for a linebacker, and trying Charles Woodson more plays as a roaming safety. The strategy has stopped some of the bleeding on defense. After giving up 53 points in the first two games, the Raiders allowed 36 against the Eagles and Cowboys, which isn't bad. This game is a great rivalry and has great emotion, but the Chargers will challenge the Raiders secondary and see whether the corners and safeties will hold up.
4. New York Jets at Buffalo Bills | Scouting report
The worst kept secret is Kelly Holcomb at quarterback. He did a great job of righting the Bills' sinking offense last week. Sure, it wasn't pretty, but a win is a win, and the Bills managed just enough offense to beat the Dolphins. This will be a similar type of game. Both teams have solid defenses. Neither team is going to wow an opponent with their passing game. The Bills have the edge because they are getting much more out of their running game. Curtis Martin isn't getting any running lanes and teams are stacking the box to stop the run. Still, it's baffling to think Bills coach Mike Mularkey just won't come out and embrace Holcomb as his starter in public. Should he make a switch back to J.P. Losman, he might have a mutiny among his veterans. They want to win and Holcomb gives him the best chance. At some point in the next few weeks, the Bills have the chance to go back to Losman. What they can't afford to do is concede division home games. A win here could put them at 3-3. They have road trips to Oakland and New England before the bye and if the team is 4-4, they have a chance to regroup and rethink their quarterback plans for November and December.
Assistant head coach Joe Vitt couldn't have a tougher task in filling in for Mike Martz. He has to play a Peyton Manning-led offense and he has to do it on Monday Night Football (ABC, 9 ET). Ouch! The Rams have been hurting on defense. They might not have cornerback DeJuan Groce because of a hamstring. They lost cornerback Jerametrius Butler for the season in training camp. The 49ers learned how tough it is to play against Indy down a few cornerbacks last week in a 28-3 loss that could have been worse. Normally, a Rams-Colts game would be high scoring but few teams are getting points on the Colts' defense. Manning wasn't happy about three turnovers against the 49ers last week, so he will be extra cautious and more precise in his decisions. That's even worse news for the Rams.
2. Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans | Scouting report
Chad Johnson took last week's loss to the Jaguars hard. He cried in his locker when confronted by reporters and said a 4-1 record wasn't acceptable. He talks about the new Bengals and how they need to keep winning. A loss to the Titans could make a team cry. The Titans are young and they eventually will be good. They have the league's youngest roster. They have a savvy quarterback in Steve McNair. Young teams struggle on the road, but the Titans are particularly tough at home. The Bengals can't afford to lose this game. Next week, they have their key showdown against the Steelers. They don't want to go into this game with a two-game losing streak. If they do, memories of the old Bengals will resurface. Even still, things seem different in Cincy. Carson Palmer's attempt at a last-minute, game-winning drive was an example of why Cincy is for real. Palmer lost the game when the Jaguars defense made a play and forced a fumble, but he was moving the team to set up the game-tying field goal. Palmer is calm and poised under pressure. There is no need for crying in Cincinnati.
1. Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears | Scouting report
Can the Vikings have any more distractions? The chartered cruise disaster and charges of lewd player behavior is just another problem for Vikings coach Mike Tice. They've had more team meetings than any other team in the NFL. Tice brought in two consultants to help with strategy but the Vikings need to win. This is their first NFC North game of the season and they need to establish themselves as the best team in the division if they have hopes of making the playoffs. The Bears couldn't be more vulnerable. They are starting three rookies on offense -- quarterback Kyle Orton, halfback Cedric Benson and wide receiver Mark Bradley. Benson is starting for Thomas Jones, who is out with a knee injury. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner is trying to give extra protection for Orton, keeping in extra blockers. All the Vikings have to worry about is cover-two receivers going into routes and trying to put pressure on Orton. For the Vikings, this game and next week's against the Packers are vital.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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