Before the New York Giants can trot off and enjoy their upcoming bye week, they'd like nothing more than to emerge with a win against a Cincinnati Bengals team that, despite its 3-5 record, is built very much like the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Pittsburgh handed the Giants a 24-20 defeat last week.
"They have a good defense," quarterback Eli Manning said of the Bengals, who are tied with Miami for 10th in the league with 23 sacks.
"They do a good job of getting to the quarterback, getting the pass rush, and they have some good blitzes. They have a bunch of talented guys back in the secondary. Overall, they're a very sound, talented defense."
That's not exactly good news for a Giants passing game that has not only been off balance, but that seems to have no answers of late to counter what opposing defenses have done to them.
One of the biggest factors is that defenses have capitalized on the absence of receiver Hakeem Nicks, who typically draws double coverage. Hicks has been injured all season. Opposing defenses are able to double up against receiver Victor Cruz, which in turn has forced Manning and the Giants to either run the ball or try to connect with other targets, something they've done with less consistency.
"Everybody knows that Hakeem is a big-play guy and he makes plays down the field," said Cruz, who admitted the extra attention he's received has been challenging. "He really stretches the field for us. Once Hakeem gets back healthy, it's going to be a lot more difficult for (defenders) to key in on one guy, and that kind of opens up our game plan a little bit."
With Nicks experiencing swelling in his knee, a return to health doesn't appear to be on the immediate horizon. So what, then, can the Giants do to make sure their offense is productive against the Bengals on Sunday?
For starters, Manning has been in touch with his brother Peyton, whose Broncos beat the Bengals 31-23 last week.
"I talked to him a little bit," Manning said, declining to provide specifics. "I talked to him (Tuesday) about their game. Just seeing if there are any tips on certain things."
The Giants also will try to get receivers into better positions to counter the increased physical play they've faced from defensive backs.
In practice Wednesday, the Giants' quarterbacks threw to the receivers, who ran various patterns against the defensive backs. The objective was for the defenders to simulate as much as possible the type of obstacles opponents have thrown at the receivers, who must find ways to improve their release and get into position to make the reception.
"We kind of threw it in," Cruz said of the drill. "Once the season starts, we normally don't do that as much as training camp, but we threw it in there a little bit just to get some timing against man coverage."
Like his teammates and coaches, Manning is hoping the extra work pays off and that the Giants can somehow shake off their slump against a very good Bengals defense.
"It's just a matter of having the combination of having time to throw and everybody getting open in a timely fashion and we'll be able to make the plays," he said.