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Thursday, September 30, 2010
Coughlin, Giants look for answers

By Michael C. Wright

LAKE FOREST Ill. -- It’s almost nauseating for Giants coach Tom Coughlin.

At least that’s the impression that comes across when the coach runs down how the Giants turned over the ball 10 times the past three games for a turnover differential of minus-four, not to mention the fact the club is currently tied for 8th in the league in penalty yardage (206).

“Everybody’s trying to find the answers,” Coughlin said. “We talked about better execution last week, and we did achieve a certain level of that [against the Titans]. We made a number of errors, which negated all the good things we did. We’ve got to continue along that path, be very critical of performance and try to get our level of execution at championship quality.”

But first, the Giants (1-2) need to win a game, which might prove difficult Sunday when the undefeated Bears come to New Meadowlands Stadium. While the Giants rank among the worst in the league penalty yardage, the Bears are, at the very least, decent in the category -- ranking 18th in the league.

The teams also sit on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of points allowed, with the Giants giving up an average 28.3 (30th) and the Bears allowing 17 points per game (tied for 10th).

“They’re playing great football; they’re 3-0,” Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. “They’ve beaten some quality teams. A lot of their wins have come in the fourth quarter. When the game’s been close, they’ve found a way to pull it off. They’ve made the plays offensively and defensively to find ways to win. This has a chance to be a tight game, and if it comes to the fourth quarter, we’ve got to know they’re a talented team in the fourth quarter, and we’re gonna have to be able to make some plays to be able to win.”

The Giants need to prevent costly mistakes, too; most of which, have come from Manning. Of the club’s 10 turnovers, eight can be attributed to the quarterback, who has thrown six interceptions in addition to losing two fumbles. Coughlin expressed disgust when describing the club’s penchant for turnovers.

“I don’t have the exact number down, but I can tell you we’ve had more tipped ball than I ever want to see in my life again,” he said. “I mean, it seems like we’ve had tipped balls in every game, and balls that are tipped normally end up going the wrong way.”

Coughlin’s correct, according to research compiled by ESPN Stats and Information. The middle of the field seems to be exactly where the Giants don’t want to go in the passing game. Last season, Manning’s passer rating differed by just four points on throws targeted for inside the numbers and outside the numbers. On such throws three weeks into this season, the difference is 106.4 points.

Manning has completed 31 of 43 of his attempts to targets outside the numbers so far this season for an average of 10.6 yards, a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 5 to 0 and a 144.9 passer rating, which ranks as best in the league for a quarterback with a minimum 20 attempts.

Now, compare that to what Manning has done on throws to the middle of the field, which is linebacker Brian Urlacher’s realm in Chicago’s Tampa 2 scheme. Manning has completed 36 of 59 on throws between the numbers for a 6-yard average, TD-to-INT ratio of 0 to 6 and a passer rating of 38.5, which ranks as worst in the league.

“They had two tough losses there to Indianapolis and Tennessee last week,” Urlacher said. “They moved the ball in both those games. Turnovers killed them. We’d like to get some more. If we can get a takeaway -- three, four, or five a game -- that would be big for us. Takeaways are a huge stat in the NFL. If you’re plus-2 in the takeaway category, you’re probably gonna win the game.”

So to negate such a possibility, it’s a safe bet the Giants will lean on their ground game, led by Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, who average 4.4 yards per carry.

Either way, for the Giants, the matchup with the Bears appears as close a team can come to being in a must-win situation. Former Giants great Tiki Barber said Thursday that Coughlin is “in a crisis” and discussed “the perception that [the coach] is losing his team.”

Coughlin, meanwhile, claims to distance himself from the talk circulating in New York media circles. Still the coach can’t help but notice the potential implications Sunday’s game could have on his career and the team’s immediate future.

“It’s an important game; every game is an important game,” Coughlin said. “It becomes that way even more if you’ve had the frustration of losing a game or a couple of games. It’s an important game, without a doubt.”