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By Paul Dottino
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Talk about a role-reversal. For the first time in recent memory, the Giants (5-2) are going into a game well-rested and with a very short injury report while their opponent’s list of injuries could fill up a phone directory.
Coach Tom Coughlin got most of his bad news out of the way during the bye week, having to put defensive lineman Mathias Kiwanuka (neck) and reserve cornerback Bruce Johnson (knee) on injured reserve. Center Shaun O’Hara has what the doctors are saying is a mild sprain in the middle of his right foot that’s almost certainly to keep him from making Sunday’s trip to Seattle, although he’s refused to rule himself out. Adam Koets did a solid job in his absence earlier this season, helping the Giants prevail in the first two games of their current four-game winning streak.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll? Well, he’s had as many as 10 players missing at practice from his 4-3 club this week and many of them are important pieces to his puzzle. So let’s take a look at our three key matchups:
1. Seahawks QB Charlie Whitehurst vs. Giants’ defense. Whitehurst was given the starting job Thursday after the Seahawks said QB Matt Hasselbeck failed to pass the necessary baseline concussion tests. Before going any further, keep in mind that Giants’ defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has been a master at disguising coverages and creating complex schemes to confuse veteran quarterbacks.
Enter Whitehurst, a fifth-year pro from Clemson who used to be a backup in San Diego. He’s big and strong with a good arm, but thought to be erratic. Thought, you say? Well, that’s because he hasn’t thrown a pass in three career NFL appearances. So the Seahawks have the option of leaning on their subpar running game (30th in the league), but Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett are not likely to do much against the Giants’ stout front seven. Or the Seahawks could come out firing and hope to catch lightning in a bottle – as so many inexperienced quarterbacks have done over the past decade against Big Blue.
Of course, none of those Giants’ defenses were playing as well as this one is playing right now. The other problems with this tact are that Seattle’s offense has done nothing to stretch the field, producing only one play of more than 45 yards this season – rookie WR Golden Tate’s 52-yard catch (and Tate is hobbled by a sprained ankle) – and it’s not likely its patchwork offensive line will hold up, which brings us to …
2. Giants’ front four vs. Seahawks’ makeshift offensive line. Where do we begin? For starters, Seattle allowed eight sacks to Oakland last week in a game that is forcing the team to dig deeper into the depth chart to field its fifth different line combination of the season. This has the makings of a bigger mismatch for the Giants than when they steamrolled through Chicago’s tissue-paper line for 10 sacks in Week 4.
In particular, the right side of the front – DE Osi Umenyiora and DT Chris Canty – ought to be in for a statistical feast against this injury-plagued bunch. The Seahawks may have to start Chester Pitts (who would be making his second appearance in a year, thanks to knee surgery) at left tackle, due to injuries to starter Russell Okung (ankle) and second-stringer Tyler Polumbus (knee).
Mike Gibson is hoping to make his second start of the season at left guard because Ben Hamilton (concussion) has been ruled out for the season. But Gibson may have to slide over to center since Chris Spencer (neck) is hurting, which would prompt Allen Barbre (signed five weeks ago) to play left guard. Barbre allowed seven sacks in seven starts at right tackle for the Packers last season. You get the picture – and it’s not a good one if you’re hoping to set up in the pocket.
3. Seahawks KOR Leon Washington vs. Giants’ coverage teams. The former Jets’ kick returner is off to the best start of his career, averaging an amazing 33.7 yards on 19 kickoff returns (with touchdowns of 101 and 99 yards in the same game to beat San Diego and he’s got two other 40-plus yard returns this season).
In addition, Washington is likely to take over punt return duties from Tate, who’s averaging 11.5 yards. Washington’s got very good balance and can single-handedly turn around a game, although he’s been quick to credit his unit – to the point where he favorably compared it to what he experienced under the Jets’ Mike Westhoff.
The Giants’ coverage units have been sporadic throughout the season, although their work on kickoffs has improved. LB Gerris Wilkinson, who has become one of the team’s most effective players downfield, insists the key to containing Washington is shedding his blockers, who do a very good job of jamming. The Giants probably will ask newcomer Will Blackmon, the former Green Bay defensive back who signed over the bye week, to assist on special teams.
PREDICTION: Giants 31, Seahawks 9
PREDICTION RECORD: 4-3 (2-5 vs. the spread)