Inside Slant, Notes, Quotes and Personnel

Inside Slant, Notes, Quotes and Personnel

Seven games into the season, there's no doubting Plaxico Burress is once again an integral part of the 5-2 Giants passing offense. The question is whether he can keep what had been some volatile emotions from interfering with his effectiveness.

So far, he's managed to do that well. He has 31 catches, slightly below the 36 he had at this point last year. But he is catching more important balls as Eli Manning's go-to receiver. A twisting catch in overtime finished the miracle comeback in Philadelphia. A 50-yarder two weeks ago in Dallas gave the Giants an early lead. And last week's power forward style, one-handed grab over Ronde Barber gave the Giants another early lead over Tampa Bay.

All of those, of course, went for touchdowns. He has two others to lead the team with five heading into this week's game against a non-descript Texans secondary. But the biggest asset Burress brings to the table this year is a changed attitude.

He's making every attempt to stay on the good side of his quarterback. Gone is the arm-flapping show of frustration that marked the Giants' 23-0 playoff loss to Carolina. He's eliminated the sulking from his game, and it appears to be paying off. Manning, now on the same page as his receiver, has looked for Burress for virtually every important throw since the bye week. And when those throws sail off-target, but in reach of Burress, the wide receiver has responded with acrobatic catches over bewildered cornerbacks.

He's tied for ninth in scoring among NFC non-kickers, and should be a huge target this week against a Houston team that ranks 26th in pass defense and 28th in overall defense. The Texans have allowed an average of 224.1 passing yards per game and have given up 12 passing touchdowns. They're basically a team of no-names who came into the season with few expectations and have failed to disappoint.

Left cornerback Dunta Robinson and right cornerback Lewis Sanders will get a full diet of Burress. Neither has an interception. In fact, the Texans only have one pick on the season, that by free safety Jason Simmons. So one can easily see how vulnerable the defensive backfield is.

Of course, Manning will need the time to get the ball downfield. Luke Petitgout, who has done a strong job against the pass rush, will have to neutralize the Texans' major pass rush threat in first-round rookie Mario Williams, who has 3 1/2 sacks.

The Giants defense could turn into the story again, however. After a rocky start in the 1-2 pre-bye period, the secondary has tightened its coverage and the pass rush, despite missing LaVar Arrington and Osi Umenyiora to injuries, has generated good pressure with a minimum of blitzing. Tim Lewis brought strong safety Gibril Wilson only a couple of times against Tampa Bay last week, but it was plenty to shake up rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.

The pass rush has generated 18 sacks in the last four games, mostly from the front four. Mathias Kiwanuka, the first-round defensive end, has been impressive of late in filling in while Umenyiora's strained hip flexor heals. He made his first sack against Tampa Bay in his first career start. Better than that, he also played the run well the few times the Bucs did hand off.

That will come in handy when the Texans try to run Wali Lundy, their leading rusher with 226 yards and a touchdown on 54 carries.

The secondary didn't make an interception, but it was playing without starting right cornerback Sam Madison. His sore hamstring might allow him to play this week. It won't be a moment too soon, as the Texans sport Andre Johnson, the league's leading receiver with 56 catches for 669 yards and four touchdowns.

The Giants will have to remain focused if they don't want to fall into this trap. The 7-0 Bears come in next week, but the Giants insist the bad taste of the first three games will only serve to harden their focus on the generally inept Texans.

SERIES HISTORY: 2nd meeting. The Giants have faced the Texans once since Houston came into the league, in the Texans' inaugural season of 2002. The Giants lost that one 16-14 at Reliant Stadium, in their first trip to Houston since they played the Oilers there in 1994. The game was the first of two AFC trap games the Giants lost before resuming their winning ways against Washington in a 10-6 playoff season. The loss dropped them to 6-5 and went as the third of four victories the Texans would notch that season. The Giants had led that game 14-13 in the fourth quarter before Kris Brown's 50-yard field goal with 6:57 remaining gave the Texans the lead. The Giants had a last chance to win it, with 22 seconds left. Despite a throw to Jeremy Shockey for 24 yards that put them close to midfield, there was only time for one more play. A desperation heave by Kerry Collins to the end zone fell incomplete as the clock ran out.

NOTES, QUOTES

--MLB Antonio Pierce facetiously credited the area media for the Giants' four-game resurgence following a 1-2 start. "I'd like to thank the New York media for calling us the most horrible team in the world," Pierce said. "Now, don't you all jump on our bandwagon. Not yet. I'll tell you when."

--WR Plaxico Burress, whose one-handed touchdown grab over Ronde Barber marked his team-high fifth scoring catch of the year, on how he manages to execute those acrobatics. "Honestly, some of the things I do, I can't believe I did them," Burress said. "It's not me. It's my God-given ability. It feels good to make plays like that, but I don't even know what I'm doing until I come down with the football."

--LB Chris Claiborne, who was signed Monday in the wake of another injury to the linebacking corps, was out of football this year while rehabbing patellar tendon surgery. Though Gerris Wilkinson is slated to start Sunday in place of injured linebacker Brandon Short, coach Tom Coughlin expects that Claiborne would be able to step in immediately if needed. He has experience in all the linebacking spots, though he is most noted as a middle linebacker.

--The six combined points the Giants defense has allowed in their last two home games against Washington and Tampa Bay were the fewest in consecutive home games since Nov. 1 and 8, 1959, against Green Bay and the Chicago Cardinals.

--With Eli Manning's win over Tampa Bay, he now has a 17-13 record over his first 30 starts. That's better than how brother Peyton (15-15) and father Archie (7-20-3) started their careers.

--Jeff Feagles' 336 punting yards against Tampa Bay increased his career total to 61,115, making him the first player in history to exceed 61,000 punting yards.

--The Giants rank ninth in the league in Red Zone offense, having scored 12 touchdowns and eight field goals in 21 possessions. Oddly, Tiki Barber has none of those, though he did get to the 1-inch line last week before being removed for Brandon Jacobs. "Maybe I'll lead the league in rushing without a touchdown," said Barber, who indeed leads the league with 715 rushing yards.

BY THE NUMBERS: 11 -- The number of consecutive games in which Eli Manning has thrown a touchdown pass.

295 -- The number of games played by punter Jeff Feagles, tying him with Washington CB Darrell Green for sixth on the all-time list. He will tie Bruce Matthew for fifth place with his 296th game played. His 295 games have come consecutively, a league record.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We read the papers. We know what's said about us. It motivates us. We're a team that likes motivation, likes playing against the grind. So we don't want to be riding a high horse right now." -- MLB Antonio Pierce recognizing that there are still people who doubt the Giants are for real, which is fine with him.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Sensing a growing need for depth in an injury-depleted linebacking corps, the Giants brought in former Detroit first-round pick Chris Claiborne. With Brandon Short iffy for Sunday with strained quads, Claiborne could become useful immediately.

The eighth-year veteran, at 6-3, 259, was mainly a middle linebacker with the Lions. But he can easily shift over to the weak side if Short can't make it and Tom Coughlin chooses not to stake the Texans game on third-round rookie Gerris Wilkinson or second-year reserve Chase Blackburn. Wilkinson did do a good job in replacing Short last week against Tampa Bay, however, making three tackles, knocking down a pass, and forcing a fumble. And he started the week's preparation as the starting weak-side linebacker.

Claiborne was out of the league since St. Louis cut him in March. He spent the offseason and training camp period rehabbing patellar tendon surgery and considered it a blessing of sorts that nobody invited him to camp.

He will work on special teams, and will also take reps on the weak side to start out. If nothing else, Claiborne offers extensive starting experience those behind the starting three don't have. Claiborne has 13 career sacks and eight career interceptions, two of which he brought back for touchdowns.

PLAYER NOTES

--LB Brandon Short, who strained his quads midway through the first quarter and did not return, underwent tests that revealed nothing more than the original diagnosis. He did not practice Wednesday and probably won't practice this week. He was replaced by third-round rookie Gerris Wilkinson on the weak side, but the Giants signed eighth-year veteran Chris Claiborne.

--RB Brandon Jacobs, who hyperextended his knee in the third quarter and sat out the rest of the game, was walking well after the game. He did not miss any practice time.

--DE Osi Umenyiora, who strained his hip flexor in the previous game against Dallas, missed the Tampa Bay game and could be out several more weeks, though Tom Coughlin continued to list him as questionable on the injury report. Mathias Kiwanuka took over at right defensive end and did a credible job, getting his first sack and helping to shut down the Bucs' run game.

--CB Sam Madison, who strained his hamstring against Dallas, missed the Tampa Bay game and was replaced at right cornerback by R.W. McQuarters. He did not practice Wednesday, and is day-to-day the rest of the week.

--DE Justin Tuck, whose right foot swelled up during the Dallas game, missed the Tampa Bay game and will probably miss Houston, as he is listed as doubtful. Adrian Awasom took his place as the reserve defensive end on both sides.

--WR Sinorice Moss, whose strained quads have kept him out since Game 2 against Philadelphia, remains unable to go through significant practice drills and is doubtful for Houston. He probably won't make it the next several weeks, at least.

GAME PLAN: The weather forecast looks to be calmer than it was last week, which means Eli Manning will probably have an excellent chance to exploit the 26th-worst pass defense in the league. It won't help that Houston finds itself amidst a stretch that has them on the road for five of six games.

The Texans did limit Tennessee to 29 passing yards in the first half in last week's loss. But the Titans don't have the running game the Giants can generate behind Tiki Barber (68 yards last week) and Brandon Jacobs (41 yards and a touchdown). That should continue to open things up for the passing game, with Plaxico Burress going against a non-descript secondary. The only thing Manning really has to fear is top overall pick Mario Williams, who has played a key role in each of the Texans' wins. He leads the Texans with 3 1/2 sacks.

Defensively, it would be a feather in their collective cap if they could drive eminently-sackable running quarterback David Carr out of a game for the second straight week. Michael Strahan is still looking for his team-record breaking sack, and could get it early on. The Giants pressured Tampa Bay quarterback Bruce Gradkowski almost exclusively with the front four, bringing only safety Gibril Wilson on a few occasions. It would not be surprising to see them try the same thing against Carr, who has nine touchdown passes against five interceptions.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Giants LT Luke Petitgout, who leads the offensive line along with LG David Diehl with three false starts, against Texans DE Mario Williams, who leads his team with 3 1/2 sacks. Petitgout has done a solid job in pass protection this year, and should have an experience advantage over the 2006 top overall pick Williams. But the 6-foot-7, 295-pound Williams is developing fast, and took a direct hand in both the Texans' wins this year. He had 1 1/2 sacks against Miami and a sack against Jacksonville.

--Texans WR Andre Johnson, who leads his team with four touchdown catches, against Giants RCB R.W. McQuarters, who has two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown in Seattle. Johnson has become one of the elite wide receivers in the league with 56 catches for 669 yards. He's David Carr's go-to guy, and has turned in four 100-yard receiving performances this year. He has 31 catches for first downs, ranking him third league wide. McQuarters, stepping in for Sam Madison, is a hit-or-miss coverage guy and tackler. McQuarters will have to be sure of his tackling technique this week, because nearly a third of Johnson's yards have come after the catch.

INJURY IMPACT: WR David Tyree, who missed practice Wednesday with an ankle sprain, is questionable for Houston but will probably play.

--FB Jim Finn did not practice with an ankle sprain Wednesday, but is probable for Sunday.

--CB Frank Walker, who missed the Tampa Bay game with a hamstring injury, did not practice Wednesday but is probable. He would replace Kevin Dockery in the nickel.

--CB Corey Webster, who missed practice Wednesday with a back strain, is probable for Sunday.

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