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Approach to the Game – New York Giants at San Diego Chargers, September 25, 2005: San Diego is a solid football team. They are not as good as their 12-4 record last year and not as bad as their 0-2 record this year. They have an outstanding running back and a dangerous pass-receiving tight end. Defensively, the Chargers play a 3-4 defense and have some stout run defenders on the defensive line. And Darren Sproles is very dangerous on special teams.

But this is another winnable game. The Chargers are good, but the Giants are the better football team. This is going to be a fun game because it is going to have a playoff-like atmosphere to it due to the Eli Manning issue. The playoff-like intensity will be a good experience for the Giants and help them down the stretch in important division games in the second-half of the season.

Giants on Offense: QB Eli Manning will obviously be under the spotlight as the media is going to milk this story for all its worth. Indeed, this is a big game for Manning, but not because of his rebuff of San Diego. Manning played better last week and the hope here is that he continues to improve his decision-making and accuracy. If Manning starts playing well, the Giants are going to put up a lot of points.

As always, the Giants’ offensive line needs to be the great enabler. The front five must keep Manning upright as well as generate movement for the ground attack. The Chargers play a 3-4 defense and the guy who makes the defense tick is NT Jamal Williams inside. OC Shaun O’Hara will likely need help moving him out. The left defensive end is Jacques Cesaire and the right end is Igor Olshansky – both good run defenders who usually give way to back-ups on passing downs. Olshanksy (ankle/knee) is “questionable” for the game but has practiced. Cesaire is “probable” with an elbow injury. The Giants should test their injuries by physically running the football right at these two. 2005 first-rounder Luis Castillo will likely see quite a bit of playing time. Because the Giants are playing a 3-4 defense, on some plays the tackle will block the end; on other plays, the guard.

The point of the 3-4 defense is to have the strong, bulkier defensive linemen tie up the offensive linemen in front of them (2-gap) so the linebackers can make the plays. The more double-team blocking the Giants have to do up front, the easier it will be for the linebackers. That is why the O’Hara-Williams match-up is so important. But the same holds true with the other lineman. Hopefully, Luke Petigtout, David Diehl, Chris Snee, and Kareem McKenzie will be able to handle their opponent one-on-one when called upon to block a defensive end. The real play-maker in the linebacking corps for the Chargers is ILB Donnie Edwards. He is a run-and-chase-type who makes a lot of tackles. He can cover and he can blitz too. However, you can run right at Edwards some. Fellow starter inside Randall Godfrey is nearing the end, but also gets in on a lot of tackles. The pass-rusher of the group is ROLB Steve Foley. LOLB Ben Leber is the blue-collar guy. The big key here is for the Giants’ offensive linemen, tight ends, running backs, and receivers to block the right people. The Giants don’t see a lot of the 3-4 and blocking the 3-4 can be somewhat confusing as you don’t always know what the linebackers will be doing on a specific play. New York must do a good job of getting a hat on every defender so there are no cheap negative plays. Blitz pick-ups will be very important.

The Chargers are aggressive on defense and have been somewhat vulnerable to the cutback. This is the strength of Tiki Barber’s game. The Chargers don’t give up a lot of yardage on the ground, but Tiki might break one or two big ones.

When the Giants put the ball in the air, it is obvious that WR Plaxico Burress and TE Jeremy Shockey are the go-to receivers for Manning now. But the Giants should try to take advantage of all the attention these two are receiving by getting the ball to WR Amani Toomer or one of the other wide receivers more. Left corner Quentin Jammer has not yet lived up to his first round-hype. Physically, he matches up well with Toomer as he is bigger corner who plays a physical game. But he also will get beat on double moves and doesn’t play the ball real well. The right corner, Drayton Florence, is San Diego’s version of Curtis Deloatch – a size/speed corner who is still leaning the game. On opening day, the free safety was journeyman Jerry Wilson. Last week, he was replaced by Bhawoh Jue who has a history of making mistakes in coverage. SS Terrence Kiel is a better run defender than pass defender. The Giants might be able to do some damage over the deep middle of the football field against these safeties.

Giants on Defense: The two keys to beating San Diego are (1) keep All-World HB LaDainian Tomlinson under wraps, and (2) preventing TE Antonio Gates from making big plays. That’s a lot easier said than done. Chargers’ Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer has been under criticism for not getting the ball to Tomlinson enough so expect to see a heavy dose of the running game. This will be another great test for the Giants’ front seven.

The good news for the Giants is that San Diego really misses their offensive line coach from last year, Hudson Houck, who was hired in the offseason by the Dolphins. The San Diego line is not playing as well as last year. Worse, LG Toniu Fonoti, arguably the Chargers’ best offensive lineman, will miss the game against the Giants. That’s good news for DT William Joseph who will face back-up Kris Dielman. The left tackle is our old friend Roman Oben, who will battle DE Osi Umenyiora. Although Oben has turned into a solid technician, Umenyiora’s quickness should give him problems. On the other side, DT Kenderick Clancy will line-up over RG Mike Goff, a powerful player who can be out-quicked. It may be feast or famine for Clancy. DE Michael Strahan faces RT Shane Olivea, a second-year player with good size. The Giants have the talent up front to dominate the line of scrimmage against the Chargers and they will have to do so in order to defend against Tomlinson, a runner with great power, balance, vision, and instincts.

To me, the effectiveness of the Giants’ defense will largely depend on their under-coverage. Tomlinson is a very good receiver out of the backfield. The Giants’ linebackers across the board will be tested here. The Giants must be wary of the screen pass. Making matters worse is the presence of TE Antonio Gates – the San Diego passing game is based completely around him. His size-speed package causes problems. Gibril Wilson is a match for him athletically, but Wilson may be out-muscled. Look for the Giants to double Gates with a linebacker such as Antonio Pierce or Carlos Emmons. Also the Giants MUST watch out for 3rd down back Darren Sproles – a small but exceptionally explosive player.

The San Diego receiving corps is not real strong. WR Keenan McCardell is nearing the end, but he can still make plays. He runs good routes and knows how to get open. The Giants can ill-afford to have to give Will Allen help with McCardell so hopefully Allen will step up his game this week. “Everything he does is smooth,” says Allen of McCardell. “He’s quick. And he’s crafty. He’s a pro at what he does. Guys like Keenan are great receivers because they know how to get open and set up their routes.”

Will Peterson should be able to handle WR Eric Parker with no problem.

Stop the run. Hope that the corners can handle the receivers by themselves, because Gibril Wilson and the linebackers are going to have their hands full with Tomlinson, Sproles, and Gates underneath.

Giants on Special Teams: Darren Sproles returns punts and kickoffs. He is very dangerous.

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Eric Kennedy

Founder and owner of BigBlueInteractive.com, which is now entering its 20th season. Follow Eric on Twitter @BigBlueInteract.

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