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Thursday, December 16, 2010
Updated: December 17, 3:16 AM ET
Big Blue seeking smash-mouth style

By Johnette Howard
ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants won't argue with anyone who says Michael Vick is the most highly evolved combination of foot speed and passing ability at the quarterback position in the NFL right now. But, they also say their goal is to muddy things up and make Sunday's showdown against the Philadelphia Eagles a different style of game.

"Smashmouth football," Giants left tackle David Diehl said Wednesday, repeating the phrase so often that pretty soon he was absentmindedly slapping his right fist into his left palm to demonstrate. He was talking so enthusiastically, he seemed ready to hit someone right then.

And he wasn't alone.

"I am so tired of hearing this," Giants running back Brandon Jacobs said with a weary smile when a third wave of reporters reminded him that Philadelphia has now beaten the Giants five straight games, stretching back to the '08 season.

"We've gotta put an end to it," Jacobs said. "We know we're playing for the division title, for playoff seeding -- to see if we even get in the playoffs. We know what's at stake. There's no need to hype it. Giants-Eagles. That's all you've got to say."

After losing narrowly to Philly four weeks ago in their first meeting, the Giants hope to counter Vick in Sunday's rematch by relying on one of the oldest, most classic approaches in the football playbook. They want to roll out a running game that can pound the ball down the Eagles' throats and chew up the clock, strand the Eagles' big-play offense on the sidelines and keep the Giants' defense fresh enough to not only contain Vick, but smash a few mouths as the game goes on.

It's old-style, no-frills football. The Giants like to think it's Giants football -- part of their trademark.

"Smashmouth," Diehl repeated. "It's becomes even more important in December. This game is going to be won by who's the most physical ... who executes best ... who can sustain it for 60-plus minutes and play mistake-free football."

Being able to run the ball effectively became even more paramount for the Giants after they announced Wednesday that Steve Smith, their former Pro Bowl wide receiver, will miss the rest of the season after tearing knee cartilage in Monday's 21-3 win over the Vikings.

The Giants will have Hakeem Nicks for a second straight week, but their third-best receiver, Mario Manningham, is fighting a hip flexor injury. Waiver-wire pickup Derek Hagan, who had seven catches against the Redskins two weeks ago, will slide back into Smith's slot receiver position. He'll try to give Eli Manning some passing options along with tight end Kevin Boss. The Eagles could have lockdown cornerback Asante Samuels shadow Nicks all over the field.

Samuels is great at getting interceptions. Manning has been throwing a lot of them this season.

But, that's not the only reason the Giants will try to milk the run. The Giants don't want to get into an offensive shootout with Philly. And anyway, their running attack has been the backbone of their three-game winning streak. It's gotten better and better since Giants coach Tom Coughlin made two changes -- using tight end Bear Pascoe to replace injured Madison Hedgecock as the Giants' blocking fullback, and moving Jacobs back into the starting lineup over Ahmad Bradshaw because of Bradshaw's fumbling problems.

Not many teams bring a 1,000-yard rusher like Bradshaw off the bench. He and Jacobs also ran for over 100 yards apiece and each ripped off long runs against Minnesota's defense Monday. Both of them independently said they know they have to do better this Sunday than their combined 65 yards against the Eagles in the first game.

Down at the other end of the locker room, Diehl -- still talking animatedly -- was detailing what it would take for the Giants to run the ball better against the Eagles this time around. He couldn't help smiling as he described it. He expects the Giants' home crowd to be loud, and the weather to be cold and nasty. Both teams will be playing as if their entire season could be at stake. Which it could be.

"This is going to be a four-quarter game, it's going to be exciting, it's going to come down to who's the most physical, the team that sustains the longest," Diehl said. " I think it's going to come down to perseverance too. Regardless of what happens, whether there's an extra [defensive] guy in the box for them, whatever, we're going to do whatever it takes to get it going. The offensive line is going to sell out and we know both our backs, Brandon [Jacobs] and Ahmad [Bradshaw] will do the same.

"We know if we blow open big holes -- smash them in the mouth -- Brandon and Ahmad will take it in there as hard as they can."

Diehl was asked now if he thinks this Giants rushing attack and offensive line are as good as the 2008 Giants team that had two 1,000-yard rushers (Jacobs and Tiki Barber). He thought about it and said, "I think so."

By now someone else had wandered over to Diehl's locker and asked him the same question Jacobs had grown tired of, "Why have the Eagles beaten the Giants five straight times?" Diehl's enthusiasm was momentarily interrupted. He dropped his head and responded, "Aw, I don't know, man. Trying to keep it all positive here. Next question."

"Do you think you guys owe the Eagles?" Diehl was asked.

This time he smiled and answered like any true smashmouth player would.

All he said was, "Oh, yeah."

Johnette Howard is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

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