Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Oakland Raiders, December 31, 2005: It shouldn’t have come to this. If the Giants had taken care of business against the Vikings and the Seahawks, the division would already be theirs. But there is no point in looking back now. Beat the Raiders and win the NFC East. The injury situation at linebacker is a mammoth concern, but the Giants are relatively healthy everywhere else, although Shockey will be limited by his ankle (Update: Friday press reports indicate Shockey will not play). It’s time for everyone on this team to elevate their game and play like champions. Win the division, EARN that home playoff game, and let’s go from there. Get it done! The Raiders are ready for the season to end. Get on top of them quickly and turn this thing into a blowout.
Giants on Offense: This team has too much talent of offense to keep sputtering like this. With Tiki Barber playing the best football of his life, I would keep feeding him the ball. There is too much at stake here. He is the Giants’ best offensive player. Run right, run left, run up the middle. The Raiders are giving up over 120 rushing yards per game. Don’t get cute. Pound the football!
How productive the passing game will be might be determined by the weather. There is a chance it will be raining and windy. If so, again, that points to keeping the football on the ground. But if the conditions are not too bad, this is good opponent to get the passing game going again. Plaxico Burress needs to rebound from a poor game. He is facing rookie right corner Fabian Washington, and Burress has a half-foot height advantage here. The left corner, 2003 first rounder Nnamdi Asomugha, at 6’2′, matches up better physically with Amani Toomer. However, like Curtis Deloatch, Asomugha is a better prospect than player still. The safeties are tough and good hitters, but vulnerable in coverage.
The linebacking corps of the Raiders is a bit of a mess. This is an area the Giants can exploit with the short passing game, especially if Shockey plays and is effective. Short passes to Barber, particularly on screens, might be very effective.
Up front, LT Luke Petitgout faces an outstanding pass rusher in DE Derrick Burgess (15 sacks). He may need help from Shockey or Visanthe Shiancoe. But Burgess can be run on. The other end, Bobby Hamilton, is a decent run player, but nothing special. Hopefully, RT Kareem McKenzie (hamstring) will not be too rusty upon his return to the starting lineup. The toughest player inside is Ted Washington, who can be an immovable force at times. He will likely command double-team support from Shaun O’Hara and Chris Snee. The Giants also need a good game out of LG David Diehl against DT Tommy Kelly, who flashes on the pass rush.
If everyone plays near their capabilities, there is no reason why the Giants cannot cut up this defense and put a fair amount of points on the board. Run the football and use play-action to take a few deep shots. But really go after the linebackers in the passing game with Barber and Shockey.
Giants on Defense: For the life of me, I can’t figure out why the Raiders are struggling as much as they are on offense. This team is loaded with talent and ought to be putting up big numbers. The fact that they have not does not mean they are not capable of doing so. All Giants’ fans know that Kerry Collins, when hot, can torch a secondary. But they also know that he is streaky thrower that is quite capable of making mistakes. The key – as with all quarterbacks – is to get a lot of heat on him. The Giants really need defensive ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora to earn their paychecks this weekend. Strahan will battle against RT Robert Gallery, an imposing figure who hasn’t played as well as hoped early in his young career. Umenyiora will line up against LT Barry Simms, a solid pass blocker. Inside, the Giants will be helped if OC Jake Grove (questionable with a knee injury) does not play. However, back-up OC Adam Treu is experienced and capable. Ex-Giant RG Ron Stone can still run block and the DT Kendrick Clancy will have to use his quickness to avoid his strength at the point-of-attack. It will be interesting to see how much DT William Joseph (ankle) plays and how effective he will be.
While HB LaMont Jordan is out (which is very good news for the Giants), HB Zach Crockett should not be underestimated. While older, he can still be an effective power runner, particularly in short-yardage situations. His average rush per carry is actually higher than Jordan’s. Tom Coughlin has kept it a secret as to who will be starting at linebacker this weekend and where. One would think that Nick Greisen will start on the weakside, newly signed Kevin Lewis will start in the middle, and that either Alonzo Jackson or newly signed Roman Phifer will start on the strongside. But who knows? What matters is that there three stop the run and do an adequate job in pass coverage. TE Courtney Anderson (knee) is not likely to play, but back-up TE Randal Williams is former wide receiver who can cause match-up problems. Crockett can also catch out of the backfield.
The real scary part of the Raiders’ offensive potential is their deep passing game. Randy Moss, Jerry Porter, Doug Gabriel, and Alvis Whitted can all get deep and score. Collins is a very good deep-ball thrower. The Giants need to get a good pass rush, but they also need CB Will Allen to rebound in a big way from last week’s disaster. Do the Giants keep him on Moss, since he has experience in doing so? Or do they put the green rookie Corey Webster on Moss with double-team help? It is interesting that the Giants benched Deloatch for this game as physically he may be better suited to playing Moss. The Giants also need much, much better pass coverage support from their safeties, particularly SS Gibril Wilson.
The defensive scheme is simple. Stop the running game, get after Collins, and don’t give up the deep pass. Easier said than done.
Giants on Special Teams: Shane Lechler may be the best punter in the NFL; he is outstanding. Chris Carr returns both kickoffs (long of 62 yards) and punts (long of 34 yards). The Giants need to keep him under wraps.
Chad Morton looked good returning kickoffs last week and could use more the same or better this weekend.