By Curt Macysyn
As revered as New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning is in the Big Apple, he is equally disliked in San Diego. This week Manning gets to face the franchise that he slighted when drafted in 2004 and faces the quarterback, Philip Rivers, who was part of the franchise-altering trade on draft day almost a decade ago.
The New York Football Giants certainly know the feeling of being a team unable to win games due to their own sloppiness. After all, the G-men started the season 0-6 and did not secure their first win until late October. New York’s opponent this week, the San Diego Chargers, were thought to be in a rebuilding mode, but hopes were elevated after a 4-3 start put the team in thick of the AFC playoff race. But after four losses in their past five games, the Bolts are closing in on their fourth straight non-playoff season.
San Diego’s rookie head coach Mike McCoy was thought to be in the running for coach of the year when the Chargers won two straight games in October to move their record to 4-3. Since that time, the Chargers have regressed, losing four of their past five contests. This week’s loss at home to the Cincinnati Bengals, 17-10, became the first locally blacked-out game in the NFL this season. The contest this week with the Giants is not guaranteed to sell-out, as San Diego fans seem to have thrown in the towel on the 2013 season.
Cry Me a Rivers
Even though Eli Manning has won two Super Bowl championships with the New York Giants, the Chargers were certainly not fleeced in the 2004 trade. After 11 games, Philip Rivers has already surpassed his passing yardage from 2012. Rivers has thrown for 3,633 yards, compared to 3,606 yards all of last year. Quietly, the veteran QB from North Carolina State has thrown 23 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. Rivers seems likely to throw for more than 4,000 yards for the fifth time in his career. Conversely, Manning has thrown for 4,000 yards three times and will need to average more than 250 yards per game to surpass 4,000 yards this year. More than anything, Rivers has suffered from a lack of defensive support over his career in southern California.
Running back Ryan Mathews has always been under-appreciated, but the fact that he has never been able to play a full season does cloud his overall production. Mathews has rushed for 782 yards this season with three touchdowns and averages 4.4 yards per carry. The fifth-year running back from Fresno State can be a dangerous receiver out of the backfield, despite the fact he has only 17 catches this year. The Chargers also picked up change-of-pace back Danny Woodhead this off season, who has taken most of Mathews’ targets from the backfield. The diminutive Woodhead has 61 catches this season with five receiving touchdowns. The Giants normally have difficulty covering running backs in the flat, so Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger should see a large dose of Woodhead on Sunday.
Furture Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates leads San Diego with 64 receptions, and he has three touchdown catches this year. Wide receiver Keenan Allen was not even a starter when the season began, but the rookie from Cal leads the Bolts in receiving yards with 843 yards, and he has contributed three touchdowns. Veteran Eddie Royal is Rivers’ go-to guy in the red zone, Royal has an astounding seven touchdown receptions in 2013.
Overall, San Diego ranks fourth in the NFL in total yardage per game and averages 401.6 yards per contest. Look for the Chargers to exploit Woodhead out of the backfield and Gates against New York’s linebacking corps.
While San Diego’s offense contains some well-known names, their defense is quite the opposite. In fact, most football fans may not have even heard of their leading tackler Eric Weddle. Weddle has 90 total tackles this season to go with one sack and one interception. The same could be said for Thomas Keiser, who along with former first round draft pick, Corey Liuget, lead the Chargers in sacks with four. By comparison, the Giants Justin Tuck had four sacks last week against Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins, so New York’s offensive line should be able to give Eli Manning adequate pass protection.
Controversial linebacker Manti Te’o was installed as one of the inside linebackers in San Diego’s base 3-4 defense. Te’o is still suffering growing pains, but he has also accumulated 44 total tackles which ranks fifth on the team.
The San Diego defense ranks 29th overall in the NFL, giving up an average of 386.6 yards per game. New York should have a productive afternoon in southern California, but if we have learned anything this season, when it comes to the Giants never say never.
The Chargers signed sack specialist Dwight Freeney in the off season to bolster their pass rush, but Freeney was lost for the season with a torn quad muscle after only four games. He only had a half sack in those four games. San Diego also lost veteran receiver Malcom Floyd with a neck injury after week four. Floyd played in only two games and had six catches with zero touchdowns.
The Giants were purportedly interested in drafting D.J. Fluker, who San Diego grabbed with the number 11 pick in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. Fluker has been starting at right offensive tackle for the Chargers, while New York’s first round pick, Justin Pugh, has been their starter at right tackle.
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Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past two seasons for Examiner.com. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Curt has followed and covered the New York Metropolitan sports scene for 35 years. He attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, NJ and is a graduate of Rutgers University, New Brunswick. His work can be found on Examiner.com.