Commentary

Another NY challenge for Saints

Chargers face must-win game against Broncos. Can Ravens contain Peterson?

Originally Published: October 15, 2009
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Two weeks ago, the New Orleans Saints handled the invasion of a hot New York team and came away with a 24-10 victory over the New York Jets in the Superdome.

On Sunday, the stakes get higher and the New York team is better. The Giants come to town with the league's top-rated defense and New Orleans native Eli Manning at quarterback. The Saints are 4-0. The Giants are 5-0 despite a long weekly injury list that usually has five or six players watching from the sidelines with coach Tom Coughlin.

As tough as the Jets game was for Sean Payton and the Saints, the Giants game will be tougher. The Jets came to New Orleans with the league's most aggressive blitz package, a good running game and a rookie quarterback, Mark Sanchez. The Giants bring the complete package.

The Giants' defense is allowing only 210.6 yards a game. Sure, they have exotic blitzes, but the Giants have enough talent along the defensive line to pressure Drew Brees. Against blitzes, Brees has a 115.5 quarterback rating and has completed 36 passes for 360 yards. Expect the Giants to try to get as much pressure as possible with their four-man defensive front, then go to the blitz when needed.

Timing favors the Saints. They've had a bye week to reflect on the Jets game, rest their bodies and prepare for the Giants. Giving Payton extra time to prepare can be a scary thing. Plus, this is the most loaded the Saints have been on offense in a long time.

Of particular interest will be the play of former Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey. His first season in New Orleans was limited because of injuries. Now, he's healthy and he works downfield games with wide receiver Marques Colston that usually leave one of the two pass-catchers open. After having no touchdown receptions last season, Shockey has two this year and leads the team with 18 catches.

But never underestimate the Giants and Coughlin. He won a Super Bowl against all odds with players who struggled to adjust to his rigid, disciplinary style. The dissenters are gone now, and the players on the roster have bought into his program. The reason for their loyalty is how Coughlin fixes problems and wins.

Now on to the rest of this week's First and 10 …

1. Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers: Offseason chaos has turned into regular-season glee, and now things couldn't be smoother from the Broncos. They are 5-0 and have the league's second-ranked defense. The team looking disheveled this season is the Chargers, who play host to the Broncos in this do-or-die "Monday Night Football" game. Nothing is working on defense for the Chargers. They cut starting safety Clinton Hart on Wednesday and can't seem to get consistent play. General manager A.J. Smith isn't happy. The poor defensive play has put all the pressure on Philip Rivers to pull out high-scoring games. The bye week gave the team a chance to reflect and recharge, but the Chargers' season is on the line Monday night. If they lose, they will be 3½ games behind the Broncos. The Chargers have had the edge in recent history, winning five of the past six against Denver and having the confidence to come back from a 4-8 start last year and catch the Broncos to win the AFC West title.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
Kyle Terada/US PresswireMatt Ryan had his first 300-yard game against the Bears in 2008.

2. Chicago Bears at Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan put his name on the list of elite young quarterbacks last season by bringing the Falcons from behind in Chicago. He had his first 300-yard game in a 22-20 upset of the Bears, and his "Matty Ice" style set up the Falcons for a game-winning 48-yard field goal. That victory was Oct. 12, 2008, and so many positive things have happened for Ryan since. He has established himself as one of the best quarterback finds since Peyton Manning. Roddy White and Michael Jenkins have developed as legitimate star wide receivers, and management went out and got Ryan a new toy in tight end Tony Gonzalez. Ryan's offense is loaded.

The Bears' Jay Cutler has become a master of winning the close game. In 41 career starts, he's 13-7 in games decided by a touchdown or less, and he has had nine victories from fourth-quarter comebacks. The bye week has allowed the Bears' linebacking corps to get a little healthier, although Hunter Hillenmeyer (ribs) might not be able to play.

3. Baltimore Ravens at Minnesota Vikings: In Week 5, the Ravens allowed a gutty Bengals team to hang around for four quarters and beat them on their home turf. You know how Ray Lewis wants to protect his turf. On Friday, he'll probably get a nice fine for decking a defenseless Chad Ochocinco on a last-minute incompletion in which Ochocinco was defenseless. Further angering the Ravens is the 120-yard day of Bengals halfback Cedric Benson, who ended a string of 39 games in which Baltimore hadn't allowed a 100-yard runner. Considering the pride of Lewis and the Ravens' defense, they will put in extra schemes to prevent Adrian Peterson, the game's best runner, from getting 100 yards on the ground. That puts all the pressure on Brett Favre, which is fine for him. The Ravens probably will stack the box, so Favre should get a chance to make more downfield throws against single coverage. Over the past two games, Favre is 5-for-15 for 165 yards and three touchdowns on throws of at least 21 yards.

4. Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks: Matt Hasselbeck used a quick-paced no-huddle to spark the offense to a 41-0 win over the Jaguars last week, but he must be cautious not to do too much too fast against the Cardinals. The Seahawks are down to their fourth-string left tackle, Kyle Williams, and are using a converted center, Steve Vallos, at left guard because of injuries. That side must keep defensive end Darnell Dockett away from Hasselbeck. It's pretty clear Hasselbeck will roll out away from Dockett and make him run, but the Seahawks and Hasselbeck can't afford major breakdowns on the left side of the line if they want to stay in the NFC West playoff race. More pressure will fall on the Seahawks' defense, which has been hitting hard with the addition of Aaron Curry. His play has helped to improve the aggressiveness of the young defensive linemen. The Seahawks also will need a loud effort from the home crowd to disrupt the timing of quarterback Kurt Warner.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesTom Brady is struggling to connect with Randy Moss on long throws.

5. Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots: Can things get any worse for the Titans and Jeff Fisher? They are 0-5, their pass defense ranks 31st at 287.6 yards a game and now they have to travel to Foxborough to face Tom Brady. Things were so bad in the Sunday night loss to the Colts that defensive end Jevon Kearse, upon finding out he was deactivated, decided to leave the stadium and head home. Brady is still trying to smooth out flaws in his passing mechanics. He's missing Randy Moss on the long throws.

6. Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: Poor Browns teams have made this a one-sided affair in recent years. The Steelers have won the past 11 games against Cleveland and now lead the all-time series 57-55. The trade deadline is Tuesday, and several Browns would love to find a way to get out of Cleveland. But if they lay an egg against the Steelers, who's going to be interested in giving up value?

7. Houston Texans at Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals must fear a letdown in this game. In an emotional Week 5 victory over the Ravens, players gave everything for their popular defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer, whose wife died unexpectedly last week. The Texans have a group of talented young players who perform inconsistently. In a Week 5 loss to Arizona, Houston couldn't score on three plays from the Cardinals' 1 in the fourth quarter. Worse, Houston's offensive line is now down two starters because of injuries.

8. Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: With a 1-3 record in a division that includes the Saints and Falcons, Carolina coach John Fox knows the odds are against the Panthers to get back into the race. The Bucs are in rebuilding mode, so he'll try to slip out of Tampa with a victory filled with running plays and a few Jake Delhomme completions.

9. Buffalo Bills at New York Jets: Get the feeling the Bills' offense will start huddling up a little this week? After five weeks of disdaining the huddle and almost getting fired, Dick Jauron must regroup and get something going on offense. Without using a huddle, Buffalo had nine false starts in a Week 5 home loss to Cleveland. Jauron has lost 11 straight games against 3-4 defenses. The Jets, whose defense played terribly Monday night against Miami, run a 3-4. Uh-oh.

10. St. Louis Rams at Jacksonville Jaguars: The one good thing about this game is that it will be blacked out in Jacksonville. It could be ugly. At least the Rams will have Marc Bulger back at quarterback. The Jaguars hope to bounce back from an embarrassing 41-0 Week 5 loss in Seattle.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer