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NFL Preview - N.Y. Giants (2-2) at Houston (3-1)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Who'd have guessed it would all happen in Houston?
The dream collision of unstoppable force and immovable object will apparently be occurring this weekend - sometime on Sunday after 12 p.m. CT - at the 70,000-seat Lone Star laboratory known to the non-scientific set as Reliant Stadium.
There, in an admittedly primitive 11-on-11 setting, the blue-clad control group known as the 'New York Giants defense' will be matched up against the white- shirted experimental group labeled as the 'Houston Texans offense' in an intermittent 60-minute clinical trial.
And at the end, either Gary Kubiak or Tom Coughlin becomes a 2011 Nobel Prize front-runner.
Anyone switching to NBC last weekend saw Coughlin's Giants at their havoc- wreaking, ball-stopping best in the swamps of Jersey, battering Jay Cutler and Chicago understudy Todd Collins to the New Meadowlands turf no fewer than 10 times in a 17-3 rout.
Cutler, Collins and the rest of the Bears were snuffed to the tune of just 110 total yards and six first downs overall - including 51 passing yards and only one play beyond 20 yards - as New York leveled its record at 2-2 and remained viable atop a muddled NFC East.
"I have never seen or been a part of anything like this," said Giants linebacker Jonathan Goff, who recorded 10 tackles and a half-sack. "The line did a great job and we all did a great job of playing together. It was scheme and execution and we put it all together. We played as one."
On the other coast, the Texans were making do with replacement parts.
Houston escaped the silver and black hole of Oakland with a 31-24 triumph, in which it got 127 rush yards from Steve Slaton/Derrick Ward and saw six players not named Andre Johnson catch at least one pass from Matt Schaub in the absence of the balky-ankled All-Pro receiver.
Even tardy feature back Arian Foster ended up with 131 yards on the ground and another 56 on three catches after emerging from Kubiak's don't-be-late-for-a- position-meeting-during-the-week doghouse.
He scored twice and joined Emmitt Smith and Billy Sims as the only players in league history to have at least 500 rushing yards and 100 receiving yards through the first four games of a season.
The Texans lead the league in rushing (172.0 yards per game), are second in total offense (415.5 yards per game) and scored 30 or more points in each of their three wins.
Johnson is expected back this weekend but was listed on Wednesday's injury report. He originally hurt the ankle two weekends ago and aggravated it in a loss to Dallas on Sept. 26.
Also back in the fold, albeit on the other side, is reigning AFC defensive rookie of the year Brian Cushing, who returned Monday after an offseason suspension for violation of the league's PED policy.
Houston has been gashed for a league-worst 408 yards per game through four weeks.
"That's a huge boost because he's one of our leaders out there," said Texans rookie Troy Nolan, who started in place of injured safety Eugene Wilson and picked off two Oakland passes. "So when he comes around it's going to be another step up [for us]. It's going to be a boost on our team."
The Texans and Giants have split a pair of meetings all-time, with the Giants taking a 14-10 home decision when the clubs last met, in 2006, and Houston scoring a 16-14 home victory in its inaugural campaign of 2002. The Giants last won in Houston in 1994, when they beat the Oilers in the Astrodome.
Coughlin is 2-1 all-time against Houston, including 1-1 while at the helm of the Jaguars in 2002. Kubiak is 0-1 against both Coughlin and the Giants as a head coach.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
Eli Manning and Co. will be trying to prolong perfection this week, sort of. The former Super Bowl MVP passer is 1-0 in his career against the Texans. He enters the week 351 yards away from 20,000 for his career, which would make him the second Giants QB (Phil Simms) to reach that milestone. NFC Offensive Player of the Week Ahmad Bradshaw had a personal highlight reel away from the defense last week, carrying the ball a career-high 23 times for 129 yards and a touchdown. He's averaging 95.5 yards per game through four weeks. Alongside, recently maligned big man Brandon Jacobs has been a successful horse as well through the years, with his teams going 11-2 in games where he carries at least 21 times. As for the air, wideout Hakeem Nicks had a career-high eight catches for 110 yards against the Bears and is tied for the conference lead with four TDs. Also, Steve Smith has 42 catches in his last six games with AFC foes, while Mario Manningham has gone 20 yards or more on five of six career scoring plays.
As for Houston on defense, the good news is there are few places to go but up. As mentioned, the Texans enter the week last among 32 teams in yards allowed and are an only slightly less unseemly 26th of 32 in points allowed - having given up 24, 27, 27 and 24 in four games. Still, the 102 points have translated into three wins and a first-place perch upon the return of Cushing, who forced two fumbles, intercepted four passes and made 86 tackles in his initial 16 games as a pro last season. Playing the role of impact rookie this season is the aforementioned Nolan, who stepped in for the gimpy Wilson and grabbed two passes. He could be called on to reprise that role with Wilson still listed as questionable on the mid-week report. Among the healthy holdovers, former No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams has five sacks in his last five home games and 44.5 in 68 career games. Also, fellow end Antonio Smith tied a career-high with two sacks against Oakland.
WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL
The Texans will be looking to build on recent success, as a win over New York would get Houston to 4-1 for the first time in its now nine-season history, in which the team has surpassed eight wins just once (last year). The Texans have won four of their last five against the NFC and feature an emerging star in Schaub, who's completed 71.2 percent of his passes for 4,090 yards, 22 TDs and a 107.2 passer rating against the NFC since 2007. It's his initial career start against the Giants. On the ground, Foster has gone for 100 or more yards in four of his last five games dating back to last season, while backfield mate Ward was a Giant for five seasons between 2004-08 and scored his first touchdown with Houston last week. He averaged 6.7 yards per carry on 12 attempts against the Raiders. Presuming full health, Johnson is an elite pass- catcher and has seven career games with 10 receptions/100 receiving yards against NFC foes. He caught nine passes for 83 yards in one matchup with the Giants.
No question, Schaub will be public enemy No. 1 for a once-again frothing 'Big Blue' defense. The nine sacks of Cutler in the first half were an NFL record, with ends Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora accounting for three apiece against the Bears. Not to mention Umenyiora's two forced fumbles and Tuck's one. Including playoff games, the Giants have won 13 straight games in which Tuck has registered at least one sack - he has 22 sacks in those games. Joining the Sunday night party, tackle Barry Cofield tied a career-best with 1.5 sacks against Chicago. As a unit, the Giants are now third in the league in total yards allowed per game, but have nonetheless allowed enough points - 18, 38, 29, 3 - in four weeks to be near the bottom of the barrel in that category. In other numbers, Umenyiora is tops among the healthy with four sacks and is equaled only by Mathias Kiwanuka, who'll miss the game with a neck injury. Elsewhere, Tuck has a team-best 26 tackles to safety Antrel Rolle's 25.
The Giants provide a host of go-to options. Manning and his receiving corps - primarily Smith and Nicks - are good picks through the air, while the emerging Bradshaw figures to succeed on the ground against a defense that remains iffy even with Cushing's return. And the New York defense is a must-play after a 10- sack week. For the Texans, Schaub's value will hinge largely on the status of Johnson. If the latter is healthy, both are solid calls. And Foster is the league's best fantasy back so far ... a no-brainer starter.
And so, another great scientific debate rages. Chicken or egg. Rock or hard place. Immovable or unstoppable. Of course, none of those questions had the inherent tie-breaking edge of home field. The Texans have that this week along with the emotional and tactical boost of Johnson's return. That said, the Giants are probably the more stable team across the O and D fronts ... with a serviceable offense complementing an at-times-dominant defense. It's that mixture that'll carry the day - and the debate - come Science Sunday.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 20, Texans 17
10/07 12:39:09 ET