By Sam McPherson
The Oakland Raiders don’t have a lot of time this week to recover from their 49-20 shellacking at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles before they get on a plane and fly east to face the New York Giants for Sunday’s game. And with recent developments, perhaps this game doesn’t look as winnable as it did a few weeks ago, either.
In mid-October when the Giants were 0-6, the Raiders were 2-4 with some competitive losses on their slate. Now, Eli Manning and Co. are on a two-game win streak that strangely keeps them in the National Football Conference’s East Division race, and they’re coming off a bye week.
The Raiders? Licking their wounds after losing by 29 to the Eagles at home — the same Philly team the Giants just beat, 15-7, in Week 8.
Momentum shifts quickly in the NFL, of course, and the New York football team is no stranger to sudden turns in their season. These are the same Giants who seemed down and out of the regular season in both 2007 and 2011 before rebounding to make shocking runs to the Super Bowl title.
No team in history has ever recovered from an 0-6 start to make the postseason, but if the Giants can beat the Raiders in Week 10, they’ll believe anything is possible.
New York goes as their mercurial quarterback goes, of course. If Eli is on, the Giants are tough to beat. But this year, the younger Manning brother has been anything but “on.” Eli leads the NFL with 15 interceptions, and even though he hasn’t thrown a pick in the team’s last two games, he’s clearly not having a good year. His overall completion percentage (55.7 percent) is only that high because he’s competed 48-of-78 in the last two contests, both wins.
So forcing Manning into mistakes is how you beat New York. And to do that, the Giants running game has to be removed from the equation. With the injury to starter David Wilson, this hasn’t been too tough for New York opponents in 2013: the Giants are 30th in the NFL in rushing this year, averaging only 69.9 yards per game. Without a running attack to worry about, New York’s opposition has been able to force Eli into numerous errors, although he’s played better in the last two games (wins against Minnesota at home and Philadelphia on the road).
Wilson is not expected back this week to face the Raiders, so the Oakland defense certainly will know what work it has in front of it for Sunday’s game.
Defensively, the Giants have been average this year, almost literally, ranking 15th in total defense league-wide. This is impressive considering all the turnovers their offense has committed, leaving them in very tough spots. That reality has been more accurately reflected on the scoreboard, where New York has given up a whopping 223 point in eight games, for a 27.9 average against (28th in the league) — creating a scoring differential (-82 points) that is the worst in the whole NFL, save for the pitiful Jacksonville Jaguars.
For years, the Giants have tried to start their defensive pressure from their linemen, and that seems to be working well against the run this year. New York is ninth in run defense, giving up 102.3 yards per game. Facing a team like the Raiders with their running abilities from both the QB and RB spots, the Giants will certainly be looking to get bodies into the backfield and force Oakland’s Terrelle Pryor to throw the ball down the field for first downs.
New York’s secondary isn’t the strength of its defense, but the Giants have held their own against opponent’s passing games this year, ranking 16th in the league.
To beat New York on the road, the Raiders will have to stifle whoever the Giants put out there at running back. Right now, that looks like Andre Brown, who broke his leg in the preseason and will be making his season debut. The 26-year-old back from North Carolina State averaged 5.3 yards per carry last season, in ten games, on 73 attempts. If Brown is ineffective, creaky veteran Brandon Jacobs could get some carries, as could retread Peyton Hillis.
Either way, you can bet Eli is watching all the Eagles games tapes he can right now to ensure he can be at least half as effective as Nick Foles was against the Raiders defense this past weekend (that video is surely making the rounds this week across the NFL, for many reasons).
The two teams haven’t faced each other since a Week Five matchup in 2009, when the Giants pounded the Raiders, 44-7, to complete a 5-0 start to that season. It may have been the high point of that season for New York, however, as they lost their next four before finishing 8-8 and out of the playoffs. Oakland fell to 1-4 after that ugly game on their way to an uninteresting 5-11 season.
A previous matchup in Oakland was much closer – in Week 17 of the 2005 season, the Giants beat the Raiders, 30-21, to complete an 11-5 season as NFC East champions.
The last time Oakland beat the New York Giants? Thanksgiving weekend, 2001, in the halcyon Rich Gannon/Jon Gruden years, by the score of 28-10 in New York. Overall, the Raiders are 7-4 against the Giants historically, dating back to their first matchup in 1973, a game Oakland won 42-0 at the Oakland Coliseum.
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Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.