A GIANTS' DEFENSIVE line that was supposed to put the fear of God into every offensive line and quarterback it faced this season hasn't quite been the Sack Monster many expected it to be.
Through 12 games, the Giants have just 25 sacks, and 11 of those came in a pair of early October games against the Raiders and Chiefs. In seven games since then, the Giants have recorded just 11 sacks, including two in their 40-17 Week 8 loss to the Eagles.
After signing free-agent tackles Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard in the offseason, the Giants not only seemed to have the best defensive line in the league, but also the deepest. But injuries have cut into that depth. Canty missed seven games earlier this season. Bernard has been banged up most of the season. Another defensive tackle, Jay Alford, tore his ACL in the preseason. And still another, Fred Robbins, has struggled after having microfracture surgery on his knee.
Their three top pass-rushers - Osi Umenyiora, Jason Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka - have combined for just 12 1/2 sacks so far.
"It's been different," said Tuck, who had 12 sacks last year, but just 4 1/2 so far this season. "Obviously, we've got some new pieces to the puzzle, and sometimes it takes a little time for things to mesh. And when you've got injuries, that can slow down the process.
"But we're starting to come together a little bit. For us, it's all about consistency. One week we play great and we look like an All-American line. Then the next week we get gashed for big runs and don't get pressure on the quarterback."
Umenyiora, a two-time Pro-Bowler, was benched last week because of his poor play against the run. In last week's 31-24 win over the Cowboys, he was used strictly on passing downs. Robbins also was benched, replaced by Canty.
The Giants held the Cowboys to 45 rushing yards on 23 carries, but only sacked Tony Romo twice and gave him enough time to complete 41 of 55 passes.
"On paper, we've got one of the deepest lines in the league," Tuck said. "But sometimes that doesn't translate to success. For us, man, we have to be more consistent. There have been stretches of plays and games this season where we've been absolutely dominant. But there's been stretches where we've been absolutely atrocious too."
Wars generally turn on a few key battles. That battle Sunday in the Meadowlands very well could be the Giants' defensive line against the Eagles' offensive line. Both units have had their ups and downs this season. Both have dealt with their share of injuries.
"They kind of have been having the same kind of season we've been having on the offensive line," said Eagles left guard Todd Herremans. "Dinged up. Shuffling everybody around. Not getting everybody that they expected to play right away.
"We know what they're going through. I'm sure they have the same mind-set as us. Whoever's going to be able to show up and play has to do the job."
Tebow and the NFL
Even if the Jacksonville Jaguars ignore the advice of Florida governor Charlie Crist and don't draft Tim Tebow in the first round, Mike Mayock is fairly certain that someone else will.
"I believe that the people that like him are going to really like him," the NFL Network draft analyst said. "And it only takes one.
"What Vince Young is doing right now is going to make some teams more open to looking at a quarterback that's not a normal pocket quarterback. I think some people are willing to look outside the box a little bit more than they might've been 2-3 years ago."
Mayock is intrigued by Tebow's athleticism, but has serious concerns about his throwing mechanics.
"When or where he throws, whether it's at the combine or his pro day or both, a lot of [what's going to happen with him in the draft] is going to come down to whether the kid will be willing to change his [throwing] motion, whether he'll be willing to work at it, be cooperative," Mayock said.
"Because he's got a good arm. But the motion, he drops it way down below his hip. You can't wind up like that in the NFL. It's like Byron Leftwich, but even worse. That's where Vince Young and Philip Rivers and guys with different deliveries, at least they get the ball out quick. Even though they push it, they get it out quickly. Right now, it takes him way too long. There also are some accuracy and touch issues.
"Whoever takes him is going to demand that he become a more prototypical quarterback than he is now. Especially regarding his mechanics. But ultimately, if you draft him, I think you have to believe you can accommodate his style in your offense."
No king of the Cassel
Matt Cassel parlayed a pretty good season with the Patriots last year into a 6-year, $63 million contract with the Chiefs that included $28 million in guarantees.
Twelve games into his first season in Kansas City, Cassel has played more like a $63 quarterback than a $63 million one.
Cassel was benched at the end of the third quarter of last week's ugly 44-13 loss to Denver after completing just 10 of 29 passes for 84 yards and throwing two of the worst interceptions this side of Ryan Leaf. It wasn't his first bad-awful day. Cassel is 30th in the league in completion percentage (.539), 30th in yards per attempt (5.38) and 26th in passing (72.3).
Did first-year Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli screw up by giving so much of Clark Hunt's dough to a guy who appears to be a 1-year wonder? A lot of scouts who've watched Cassel play this season sure think so.
"Obviously, the skill level of the people around him isn't near what it was when he was in New England," an AFC pro personnel executive said. "I think he has to be in that type of situation. I don't think he can be a guy that can be, for lack of a better term, a creator. He needs it all in front of him."
"He's a backup at best,'' said another AFC pro scout. "Even though his line has struggled at times, they gave him probably the best protection he's had all year in the Denver game and he still played awful.
"It seems like he's afraid to turn it loose. He holds the ball too long. He's not decisive. When he sees it, he can put it there. But a lot of playing quarterback is anticipation. It just doesn't seem that he has that."
FROM THE LIP:
* "We don't care about December talk. The season will be written when it's over with. No matter what happens in December. Obviously, the next game is a very important game on our schedule. If it was January, it would still be that important. If it was November, it would still be that important. I know that's part of it until we win in December, but I just think this team needs to win and we need to win this upcoming game." - Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo on his team's December woes
* "It's all in my hands. It's my body, it's my brain." - Vikings offensive lineman Anthony Herrera, who may miss his third straight game Sunday with a concussion
* "I'm sure people are saying - and you guys may have already said it - 'Well, here we go. Now it's December. He doesn't throw a pick in November. Wow!' It's a weekly thing. That's the way it is, and I don't pay much attention to it." - Vikings quarterback Brett Favre whose two interceptions in Sunday night's loss to Arizona stirred memories of his jagged finish last season with the Jets
* "I play to have fun. I don't play for the dollar amount. Maybe that's why they take so much money [from me], because they think I play for the money. Maybe they'll get the point [that] I'm here to have fun. Not for the money." - Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, who was fined $30,000 for donning a poncho and sombrero on the sideline during last week's game vs. the Lions
* "He's had a terrible year, his body language stinks, his decision-making stinks. And he has nobody to blame really other than himself." - CBS studio analyst Boomer Esiason on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler
* Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel has been sacked a league-high 84 times in 865 pass attempts the last two seasons, or once every 10.3 attempts. His 47 sacks with the Patriots last season were the most in the NFL. He's second this season to the Packers' Aaron Rodgers with 37 (Rodgers has 45).
* With the Saints already having clinched the NFC South title, this marks the seventh straight year that at least one team has gone from worst to first in their division. Thirty-two teams have done it in league history, including 15 in this decade when the league went to eight four-team divisions.
* The Colts are just the fifth team since 1970 to record six fourth-quarter comebacks in a season. The last team to do it was the '99 Colts.
* The Chargers have won a league-record 15 games in a row in December dating back to the 2006 season. The next longest December winning streak was 15 by the 1968-72 Cowboys.
* This is the first time in league history that there have been two 12-0 teams in the same season. Only five teams ever have made it to 13-0.
* Titans runningback Chris Johnson is only the fifth player in history to rush for 1,500 yards in 12 games. The other four - Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Terrell Davis and O.J. Simpson.
* Randy Moss, who has 1,58 receiving yards, is only the second player in history to record 10 1,000-yard receiving seasons. The other - Jerry Rice.
* The Cowboys are 19-40 after Nov. 30 since 1997.
* Packers cornerback Tramon Williams had three pass-interference penalties last week vs. the Ravens. In the Packers' previous 20 seasons, only one other player was flagged for pass interference three times in the same game - Mike McKenzie vs. the Dolphins in 2000.
Thumb things to ponder
To former Eagles running back Correll Buckhalter, who, at 31, is having the best season of his career with the Broncos. He's third in the league in yards per carry (5.4), behind only the Titans' Chris Johnson (6.2) and the Saints' Pierre Thomas (5.5). With 563 yards on 105 carries, he needs just 24 more yards and 25 more carries to set personal single-season highs. It should be mentioned that the Eagles are rooting as hard as anybody for his continued success this season since it will affect the round and number of compensatory draft picks they get for departed free agents, including he and Broncos teammate Brian Dawkins and Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan.
To the members of the I-hate-Andy-Reid club who think the Eagles coach should've been given a pink slip rather than a 3-year contract extension this week. A pox on the house of the next person who spouts that tired he-can't-win-the-big-one line. Why is it that a college basketball coach who takes his team to the Final Four multiple times is considered a freaking genius, but an NFL coach who has taken his team to the Final Four five times in the last 8 years is an incompetent boob who should be replaced? Yeah, he has his shortcomings, but so does every other coach in the league. The grass isn't always greener elsewhere. Mike Shanahan has two Super Bowl rings. But he got those more than a decade ago. Look at his more recent track record. Missed the playoffs 6 of 10 years and was 1-4 in the postseason since those Super Bowl titles. Same with Jon Gruden. In his last 6 years in Tampa, the Bucs made the playoffs just twice and were one-and-done both times. Yet there are people who would take either one of them in a second over Reid.
1. Colts 12-0
2. Saints 12-0
3. Vikings 10-2
4. Chargers 9-3
5. Packers 8-4
6. Bengals 9-3
7. Eagles 8-4
8. Cardinals 8-4
9. Broncos 8-4
10. Patriots 7-5
11. Giants 7-5
12. Ravens 6-6
13. Cowboys 8-4
14. Titans 5-7
15. Steelers 6-6
16. Dolphins 6-6
17. Jets 6-6
18. Jaguars 7-5
19. Falcons 6-6
20. Texans 5-7
21. Panthers 5-7
22. Niners 5-7
23. Bears 5-7
24. Bills 4-8
25. Redskins 3-9
26. Raiders 4-8
27. Seahawks 5-7
28. Chiefs 3-9
29. Lions 2-10
30. Rams 1-11
31. Bucs 1-11
32. Browns 1-11
(Note: Rankings do not include last night's Steelers-Browns game.)