Giants Need Hakeem Nicks to Maintain Outstanding October Pace

Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw plans to play through a broken bone in his foot, but New York may be without a key offensive contributor this Sunday.

Wide receiver Mario Manningham injured his shoulder in Thursday’s practice and, after sitting out on Friday, the second-year man out of Michigan is a game-time decision against the Eagles. The 23-year-old Manningham has 28 catches for 439 yards and four touchdowns this season, so his absence would be significant.

This NFC East matchup against the Eagles is pivotal for Tom Coughlin’s team, as the G-Men (5-2) currently lead the division by just a half-game over Philly (4-2). The Giants have dropped their last two games — a rout against New Orleans and an upset to Arizona — so they need to get back on track before their Week 10 bye to avoid tumbling down the standings.

To win in Philadelphia, the Giants will have to be able to move the ball through the air. Andy Reid’s defense ranks third in the NFC against the run, holding opposing ground games to just 3.5 yards per carry this season. With Brandon Jacobs still finding his rhythm and Bradshaw not 100 percent, the Giants can’t expect to do much damage without Eli Manning throwing the pigskin.

But Manning has struggled of late, throwing four interceptions and averaging just over six yards per attempt over the last two games, possibly because of plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Missing one of his primary targets certainly won’t help matters for Manning.

If Super Mario can’t go, the Giants will rely more on rookie wideout Hakeem Nicks. The first-round pick out of North Carolina has been excellent in recent weeks, even while the rest of the Giants’ offense has sputtered. He’s scored a touchdown in each of New York’s last four games after returning from an early injury and has reeled in 16 passes for 315 yards this season. For his efforts, Nicks was named the NFL’s Rookie of the Month for October.

As the calendar rolls into November on Sunday, the Giants hope Nicks doesn’t leave his brilliance behind. Just 21, Nicks is already playing like a seasoned NFL veteran, and he ranks second only to Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace in rookie receiving yards. Nicks also is the first freshman NFL receiver to find paydirt in four straight games since Buffalo’s Lee Evans did it in 2004, and is the first Giant to do it in over 60 years.

But all of those accomplishments will mean little to the Giants if they aren’t atop the standings at the end of the season, and Sunday’s bout with the Eagles will be their biggest yet. With Manningham ailing and Steve Smith drawing double coverage the past few games, the spotlight in the critical air attack will be on Hakeem Nicks.

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