Approach to the Game – Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants, October 29, 2006: If the Giants want to become one of the better teams in the NFL, they must re-assert control over Giants Stadium. They were on their way to doing that last season with an 8-1 home record during the regular season, but the playoff loss to the Panthers and the season opening loss to the Colts means that the Giants are 1-2 in their last three home games. The Giants never really have had that aura about them that another team can’t beat them in their house. They did go undefeated at home in 1986, but that was about the extent of it. Head Coach Tom Coughlin, his staff, and the players should make an all-out effort to build a tradition that teams can’t expect to come into Giants Stadium and leave with a win. This would have a direct bearing on the current season as six of the last 10 regular season games are home games. Win all six, and the Giants are guaranteed of at least a 10-win season.
The Buccaneers are not as good as the Giants. But they are not as good as the Eagles or Bengals either, and yet they beat both of those teams. Yes, the Giants have them at home, but New York just came through a tough and physical three-game stretch and now has some serious injury concerns (though the Bucs have also come through a tough stretch and have their own injury issues too). Tampa almost beat the 5-1 Saints on the road. New York cannot afford to take Tampa Bay lightly. It would be a damn shame if the Giants diminish or waste what they have accomplished by not coming out and knocking the snot out of the Buccaneers. Don’t blow it Giants…get to 5-2!
Giants on Defense: The Buccaneers are not strong on offense. It’s their defense that keeps them in games. But injuries at defensive end (Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck) and cornerback (Sam Madison, Frank Walker) could cause some problems for the Giants. As always, but especially against this opponent, the key for the Giants will be to shut down the run. The Buccaneers are averaging less than 100 yards rushing per game, but HB Cadillac Williams (last year’s “NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year”) is quite capable of putting up big numbers. The Buccaneers have a very big and physical offensive line, but they are inexperienced. The Bucs are likely to test DE Mathias Kiwanuka in run defense for much of the game. The strength of Kiwanuka’s game is not his play against the run. Moreover, he has not played a full game since college so his endurance will also be tested. He will be matched up against LT Anthony Davis. The good news for New York is that Davis struggles in pass protection at times. The right side is inexperienced with rookies – first-rounder RG Davin Joseph and second-rounder RT Jeremy Trueblood. Trueblood is a tough player, but his is a match-up that should favor the Giants with DE Michael Strahan. If inspired to play well, the Giants should present all kinds of problems for Tampa up front, especially if the bring some blitzes and stunts against the right-side of the offensive line.
With LaVar Arrington out for the season, Carlos Emmons will likely start again at his more natural strongside position. The trio of Emmons, Antonio Pierce, and Brandon Short should be rock-solid against the run, but the opposition might try to exploit this slower group in coverage. The Bucs are a West Coast offense and they will throw to the backs (Williams, Michael Pittman, Mike Alstott) and the tight ends (Anthony Becht – who is “questionable” with a foot injury, Alex Smith, and Doug Jolley).
At receiver, Joey Galloway is still a deep threat. Much depends on if CB Sam Madison (hamstring) plays and how healthy he is. If Madison is still hurt, this could be a bad match-up for the Giants. (Keep in mind that Frank Walker is also ailing with a hamstring). Corey Webster will be familiar with his former college teammate, WR Michael Clayton. Former Giant Ike Hilliard is the third receiver. You know he would like to make an impact against his former team.
The quarterback is rookie Bruce Gradkowski, who has been an improvement over injured Chris Simms. Gradkowski can hurt you with his arm and feet. The Giants obviously need to mix up their coverages to confuse the inexperienced player. By doing this and generating heat on the quarterback, mistakes should result.
Stop the run. Defend the short throws to the backs and tight ends and the deep passes to Galloway. Mix up your coverages and get after Gradkowski.
Giants on Offense: Run, run, run. Tampa Bay, while a quite capable defensive team, has had issues against the run this year. The Giants should hit them with a heavy dose of the ground game. The good news is that RDE Simeon Rice is not a good run defender and the Giants run very well to their left. Rice has also been bothered by a shoulder injury that makes him “questionable” for the game. But New York should test the middle and the right as well. Give them a heavy dose of Tiki Barber and Brandon Jacobs. Don’t get too cute.
The Giants need a good game out of Luke Petitgout against Rice, especially when the Giants do put the ball up. Rice is one of the game’s best pass rushers. The left end is Greg Spires. Reserve defensive end Dewayne White can also rush the passer. Chris Hovan and Ellis Wyms are the tackles. This is a smaller line that tries to rely on their quickness to disrupt running plays. The Giants should play smash-mouth with them and maul them with their bigger offensive line. Wyms has been bothered by an ankle injury and is “questionable” for the game.
The Tampa Bay linebackers are smaller but active. WLB Derrick Brooks has been a good player for a long time. Shelton Quarles is an undersized middle linebacker and Ryan Nece lacks bulk on the strongside too. Don’t try to out-quick these guys – run right at them. Because they are quicker players, they are pretty good in coverage.
Tampa runs a variation of the Cover 2 pass defense that is actually called the Tampa Cover 2. It was pioneered by Tony Dungy. While the normal Cover 2 has each linebacker or cornerback covering about 1/5th the width of the field while the safeties are responsible for each deep half, the Tampa 2 pulls the middle linebacker into deep zone coverage as well, similar to a Cover 3. What this does is allows the safeties to have to cover less ground, so they can cover the traditional soft zone past the corners more effectively. Since the middle linebacker drops into coverage to watch the center of the field, the four men underneath each cover about 25% the width of the field each. Speed at linebacker is so important here because they need to cover more ground than linebackers are normally used to covering. If Jeremy Shockey can wiggle free of the linebackers, he may have some opportunities against this coverage. Same with Tiki Barber.
One of the more interesting match-ups will be WR Plaxico Burress against CB Ronde Barber, who virtually single-handily beat the Eagles last week with two interceptions returned for touchdowns. Barber is not the biggest or fastest player, but he is very smart and savvy and understands his responsibilities in this defense to a tee. He will bait quarterbacks into making bad throws and Eli Manning has to be very wary of this. That said, Burress does have a size-speed advantage over Barber and the Giants should not ignore that. I’d take some deep shots against those safeties.
The Giants may have some opportunities on the other side too. Left corner Brian Kelly was placed on Injured Reserve. His back-up, CB Juran Bolden, is “questionable” with a hip injury. There may be some opportunities for Tim Carter here too with Tampa’s depth in the secondary becoming an issue. When the Bucs play their nickel package, Barber moves inside and Torrie Cox plays outside.
That all said, run, run, run. And protect the football. If the Giants don’t turn the football over, they should win this football game.
Giants on Special Teams: Former Giant PK Matt Bryant just kicked a 62-yarder to beat the Eagles. Former Giant Mark Jones is the punt returner. He is elusive, but small, and he is bothered by a hamstring injury. If he can’t go, Phillip Buchanon will return punts. Michael Pittman is the kick returner. The Giants really need to get their own kickoff return game going.