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New York Giants 17 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3

Game Overview: This was one of those exceptionally windy affairs in the Meadowlands that oddly we have not seen the last few years. Indeed, there has been so much turnover in personnel on this team since Head Coach Tom Coughlin arrived that this was a new experience for most of the Giants players, including key ones such as QB Eli Manning, WR Plaxico Burress, and PK Jay Feely.

The wind had a dramatic impact on game tactics. Though swirling heavily – and thus very unpredictable – the same old Meadowlands wind strategy of limiting your downfield aggressiveness when facing the wind came into play. The Giants had the wind behind their backs in the first quarter. The Bucs had it in the second and third quarters, but could not take advantage. By the time the Giants got the wind at their backs again in the fourth quarter, they were more concerned with ending the game. Given that scenario, it was absolutely imperative that the Giants took the lead in the first quarter and that’s exactly what they did. Had the Bucs somehow managed to score going into the wind and get the lead heading into the second quarter, it could have proved disastrous. Then Tampa Bay handed the Giants a huge gift with a self-inflicted turnover in their own territory that set up another touchdown in the second quarter when the Buccaneers needed to make hay. Up 14-0, in windy conditions, facing a Bucs’ team that couldn’t run the football and a rookie quarterback, the game was over. One got the sense that the only way Tampa Bay would have a chance was forcing turnovers and the Giants didn’t help them out there. New York did not commit one turnover.

This is a game I’m glad the Giants got past. The letdown factor plus the injury situation, especially at cornerback, scared me. The good news is that not only did the Giants win, but they did so while at the same time giving more time to heal for DE Osi Umenyiora, CB Sam Madison, and DT Justin Tuck.

My harshest comments are directed at the Giants’ home crowd. For a team that is in first place in the NFC East, that was a lame effort. If you won’t want to root for your team loudly when they need you, sell your tickets to other Giants’ fans.

Defensive Overview: Once again, the key was that the opponent simply could not run the football. The Giants’ run defense the past two weeks has been superb. Dallas managed only 69 yards of rushing against the Giants. The run defense was even better against the Bucs as Tampa only accrued 40 yards on the ground. Keep in mind that 18 of those yards came from QB Bruce Gradkowski. Halfbacks Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman will held to a measly 22 yards on 10 carries.

When Tampa Bay did put the ball up – and they put it up a lot with 50 passing attempts (if you count the plays where Gradkowski was sacked), they did not do much damage either. Gradkowski had only 139 passing yards – that’s less than three yards per pass play!!!

The only defensive breakdown that I didn’t like was the play where somehow the Bucs managed to get speedy WR Joey Galloway locked up on MLB Antonio Pierce deep on what could have been a huge play for the Bucs in the second quarter. Luckily for New York, Galloway dropped the ball.

Overall, Tampa Bay managed only 10 first downs. Their first six possessions of the game ended with five three-and-outs and a turnover. And the Bucs were a terrible 2-of-16 on third-down conversion attempts and 0-of-3 on fourth down.

Defensive Line: The defensive line was excellent, despite missing two key components (Umenyiora and Tuck).

Michael Strahan (4 tackles, 1 pass defense) had another good game. He was very tough against the run and active in rushing the passer even though he had no sacks. He got a big hit on Gradkowski on the Bucs’ second possession and knocked away a 3rd-and-4 pass on the ensuing possession on another strong pass rush. On the play where Pierce was matched up on Galloway, Strahan got very good pressure on the quarterback. Strahan also pressured Gradkowski twice on the field goal drive, on the play where LB Reggie Torbor came up with a sack, on a 3rd-and-5 incompletion late in the game, and on the Bucs’ final drive.

Mathias Kiwanuka (6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble) started at right end. He was surprisingly tough against the run, including stuffing Cadillac Williams for a 1-yard loss at the end of the first quarter. On the very next play, on 3rd-and-7, he beat the left tackle with a cross-over step to the inside for a 6-yard sack and forced fumble (which Tampa recovered). On a 3rd-and-10 deep pass in the second quarter, Kiwanuka pressured Gradkowski again. Playing linebacker, he did miss a tackle on the halfback after a short pass was turned into a 14-yard gain. In the second half, Kiwanuka (and Barry Cofield) got suckered on a draw play that picked up 16 yards, but that was a mental mistake, not a physical one. In the fourth quarter, Kiwanuka saw more time at linebacker and helped pressure the quarterback into a sack (by Torbor) and an incompletion on the final drive. (Unfortunately, he was also flagged with an illegal contact penalty when playing linebacker). He also got heat again on the final drive from his traditional down position.

Fred Robbins (1 tackle, 1 fumble recovery) continues to play very well. Robbins got good heat on the quarterback on the play where Kiwanuka came up with the sack. He nailed Williams behind the line of scrimmage for a 1-yard loss in the second quarter. On the ensuing possession, he recovered a fumble after a botched pitch. On the field goal drive, Robbins got heavy pressure on Gradkowski on one play, forcing a holding penalty. He got good pressure on the quarterback again on a play in the third quarter and disrupted a draw play in the fourth quarter. Robbins got a good pass rush on the final drive as well.

Barry Cofield (1 tackle, 1 pass defense) played well too. He combined with SS Gibril Wilson to stuff one early run by Williams. In the second quarter, his pressure on Gradkowski helped to force an incompletion. On one series in the third quarter, Cofield got two back-to-back quality pass pressures on Gradkowski, including one big hit on the quarterback. On an earlier drive, he also tipped away a pass.

William Joseph (1 tackle) played decently in a reserve role. I spotted two quality pass rush efforts from him. He also stuffed one run that only picked up a yard.

Linebackers: With LaVar Arrington lost for the season, Carlos Emmons (3 tackles) started at strongside linebacker. Emmons made a very aggressive play against the run early in the game. He also later made a nice play on the halfback in the flat after a short pass. However, on the very next play, the back made him look silly in the open field as Emmons badly missed his tackle opportunity.

Antonio Pierce (8 tackles, 1 forced fumble) was active. He hit Williams for no gain on the Bucs’ first offensive play and then did a nice job of tackling the running back seven yards short of the first down on 3rd-and-10 after a quick dump-off pass. Pierce did allow the Bucs’ first first down of the game when Williams beat him for a 14-yard reception in the second quarter. But two plays later, he had good coverage on TE Anthony Becht on a 2nd-and-10 incompletion. In the second half, Pierce missed a tackle on the scrambling Gradkowski, leading to a 14-yard gain. He made a huge play on 4th-and-6 when he forced a fumble after an 8-yard completion, causing the ball to be turned over on downs. He then made another big play with CB Corey Webster on 3rd-and-1 on the ensuing drive to stuff that run. The Bucs turned the ball over on downs on the very next snap.

Brandon Short (no tackles) was quiet before being forced to leave the game with a quad injury. He did look good on one blitz where he got close to the quarterback. Rookie Gerris Wilkinson (3 tackles, 1 pass defense, 1 forced fumble) came in the game for Short and played well. He looks a little frail out there and needs work in the weight room, but he is an agile player who appears to have a nose for the football. Wilkinson got good depth on one pass drop and tipped away a pass. He later had excellent coverage in the flat on a tight end, making a tackle for a 1-yard loss. Wilkinson also forced a fumble after another reception by a tight end.

Reggie Torbor (1 tackle, 1 sack) picked up a sack on a play where the quarterback was forced to scramble in his direction by Strahan and Kiwanuka.

Defensive Backs: The absence of Sam Madison and Frank Walker scared me despite the windy conditions and rookie quarterback. But the replacements played well. Holding the opposition to less than three yards per pass play is outstanding!

SS Gibril Wilson (4 tackles) was pretty active. He pressured and hit the quarterback early on one blitz, causing an incompletion. On the ensuing series, he was very good in run support, getting in on two tackles for minimal gains. In the second quarter, Galloway got deep along the right sideline. Wilson did a nice job of getting over quickly and hitting Galloway hard after the ball arrived. Galloway dropped the ball and most likely heard Wilson’s footsteps on the play. In the fourth quarter, he caused two more incompletions on two blitzes.

FS Will Demps (2 tackles) is playing better. He did give up a 25-yard completion to Galloway that was fortunately called back due to offensive pass interference on another part of the field. Demps also should have simply fallen on the loose football on the failed 4th-and-6 attempt instead of trying to pick it up. However, he made an excellent play on the failed 3rd-and-1 conversion attempt right before the Bucs turned the ball over on downs when his penetration caused the back to bounce the play farther outside into the waiting arms of Pierce and Webster. Demps also had a big hit on Ike Hilliard late in the game on 3rd-and-5 that caused an incompletion and subsequent punt.

R.W. McQuarters filled in nicely for the injured Madison at right corner. The Bucs didn’t do much in his direction at all.

Corey Webster had a down game. Early in the contest, he almost came up with an interception as he had nice coverage on the halfback out of the backfield. However, Webster got beat deep by Galloway on one play in the first half, but luckily the receiver dropped the football. On the very next possession, Webster got beat deep again, this time by WR Michael Clayton, on what very easily could have been a 25-yard touchdown reception but the receiver couldn’t make a play on the ball either. Webster blitzed on the very next play, causing an incomplete pass. On the failed 3rd-and-1 attempt by the Bucs early in the fourth quarter, Webster got in on the tackle along with Pierce. It was a nice aggressive play for a corner who has been playing the run better the last two weeks. Late in the game, Webster was flagged with a 15-yard face mask penalty.

Kevin Dockery played in the nickel package and had somewhat of an up-and-down game. He was matched up against Galloway on one 3rd-and-11 play, yet expertly knocked away the pass like an experienced veteran. On the field goal drive, however, he missed a tackle on the scrambling quarterback and then got beat by Galloway for nine yards on 3rd-and-7 to keep the drive alive. Dockery was also beat by Clayton for eight yards on the 4th-and-6 play where Pierce fortunately forced a fumble.

Offensive Overview: The very windy conditions allowed the Bucs to crowd the line of scrimmage. For most of the game the Giants were facing eight defenders in the box. This is a difficult front to block and Tiki Barber was held to a paltry 68 yards on 26 carries (2.6 yards per carry). When Manning did put the ball up, it was obvious that the wind was affecting many of his passes too. The 53-yard drive for a touchdown in the first quarter was huge. It took a lot of pressure off the team and placed it squarely on Tampa Bay. Going up 14-0 in the second quarter after the Bucs’ turnover pretty much sealed the deal for New York. At that point, the key was not to turn the football over and the Giants did not do that.

The Giants almost struggled as badly as the Bucs did on third down, going 3-of-14 on third-down conversion attempts (and 0-for-1 on fourth down). I was really disappointed by the performance of the offensive line.

Aside from the field goal drive, the Giants’ offensive performance in the second half of the game was pathetic. They only picked up one first down on each of their first three possessions of that half. And had two more three-and-outs.

Quarterback: As odd as it seems, this was Eli’s first inclement weather game at the Meadowlands despite being the starter during the Fall-Winter months the last two years. Manning completed 16-of-31 passes for 154 yards, 1 touchdown, and no interceptions. His stats would have looked better had it not been for the wind and a number of dropped passes. The most important thing is that he did not turn the football over.

This was a valuable learning experience for Manning in terms of dealing with the wind. He will need quite a few more games like this at least before he understands the Meadowlands like Phil Simms used to do in November and December. Some of his passes were terribly off the mark because he misjudged the wind.

Other than not turning the football over, Manning’s only real contributions to the victory came on the three scoring drives. On the first drive, he completed passes of 13 yards to Burress, 8 yards to FB Jim Finn, 13 yards to TE Visanthe Shiancoe, and 7 yards to Burress for the touchdown. The completion to Finn was a nice play because Manning was under heavy pressure and he turned what looked to be a sack into a positive gain, thus likely saving the drive. The touchdown came on a play where Manning faked the go-screen to Barber and then tossed the ball to a well-covered Burress who made a circus catch. On the second touchdown drive, his 25 yard pump-and-go to Burress moved the ball down to the 3-yard line, but this would have been a touchdown had the wind not held up the football (Manning has to learn he can’t loft the ball like that in the wind at the Meadowlands).

In the second half, there isn’t much to talk about except for the field goal drive where Manning completed all four of his pass attempts for 28 yards.

Wide Receivers: The passing game was pretty much Burress who caught seven passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. Impressive too was that Burress was usually covered by the Bucs’ best corner, Ronde Barber, and Burress abused him at times, such as his 25-yard reception on the second touchdown drive. His 7-yard touchdown reception was a great one-handed grab that was all the more impressive because he made it with his left hand. Burress was well-covered on the play but he simply used his height and wingspan to snatch the overthrown ball away for the score. “He’s tough to deal with, man,” said Ronde after the game. “He’s a big receiver, obviously, he’s got great hands – I mean he caught that (touchdown) left-handed. A one-handed, left-handed grab, you know? There’s not a whole lot I could do.” I also liked the way Burress came back to the football to help out Manning on a couple of his second-half receptions on the field goal drive. Burress did a nice job of blocking for the run.

Amani Toomer had one catch for 12 yards. He did get deep on a 3rd-and-3 pass in the fourth quarter, but the ball just sailed beyond his fingertips. Toomer didn’t do a great job of blocking this week.

Tim Carter did not have a catch and dropped a late, fluttering ball from Manning along the sidelines with the defensive back closing fast.

Running Backs: It’s been a long time since Barber has received so many carries (26) and done so little with those carries (68 yards) – a 2.6 yards yards-per-carry average. To be fair to Barber, the Bucs’ really crowded the line of scrimmage and the offensive line has had better days in the run blocking department. Barber also caught three passes for 20 yards. Barber’s best run of the day was obviously his 22 yarder at the start of the second half.

Brandon Jacobs had a more productive day with 41 yards on seven carries (almost six yards per carry). He also scored a touchdown from one yard out. In the 4th quarter, Jacobs had three impressive runs on the field goal drive that not only extended the lead to 14 points, but just as importantly took nearly eight minutes off of the clock. Jacobs plowed Ronde Barber back several yards on a 3rd-and-1 run that picked up four yards. He then demonstrated a great combination of speed and power on two runs around left end that picked up a total of 30 yards, breaking tackles along the way. However, he gave 15 of those yards back to Tampa when he was flagged with taunting.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey (3 catches for 15 yards) blocked well, but had a poor day in the pass-receiving department. He had two drops, including one that came on 4th-and-9 from the Bucs’ 28-yard line.

Shiancoe had an important 13-yard catch on the first touchdown drive. I really liked the play design as Shiancoe was in the down position with Shockey split out wide with Burress and Toomer. In such situations, Shiancoe often gets ignored. The Giants should exploit this more.

Offensive Line: Yes, the Bucs crowded the line of scrimmage and had eight men in the box for most of the contest. And yes, in this situation, it is very difficult to run the football. That said, I thought this really was an uninspiring effort by everyone – and I do mean everyone – on the offensive line. Usually consistent performers such as OC Shaun O’Hara and RG Chris Snee did not play well. It looked like the guys up front were playing in a fog and they simply did not match the intensity of their opponent. Guys didn’t get much movement and even whiffed on blocks.

And the problems were not just in the run game. RT Kareem McKenzie give up one early pressure as did Snee. LG David Diehl got beat cleanly by DE Simeon Rice on a stunt where Rice deflected away a 3rd-and-6 pass. And Rice beat LT Luke Petitgout for a second-quarter sack. O’Hara gave up a pressure on an incomplete 3rd-and-7 pass attempt. Snee gave up a third quarter sack. McKenzie’s man tipped a pass away and DE Dewayne White tipped another on 3rd-and-4 when Snee and O’Hara failed to pick up the stunt.

Special Teams: Heavy wind can be a nightmare for special teams. One of the unsung heroes of the game was returner Chad Morton for securely holding onto five punts. Conversely, Ike Hilliard had all kinds of problems with the wind, with two muffs and badly misjudging another punt that he should have fair caught. Morton fair caught one punt and returned four others. His punt returns went for 7, 12, 8, and 1 yard. R.W. McQuarters also had one fair catch.

Kickoff returns continue to remain unproductive with Morton’s two returns picking up 21 and 14 yards.

PK Jay Feely hit his sole field goal attempt – a 31-yard in the fourth quarter to give the Giants a two-touchdown lead with less than four minutes to play. He had two touchbacks on kickoffs. His other two kicks were fielded at the 11- and 40-yard lines. The latter came on a squib kickoff that backfired. Derrick Ward, in his first game of the season, made a nice tackle on the opening kickoff. It is good to see him back.

Jeff Feagles did a decent job of punting in difficult conditions for the most part. He punted nine times for 37.3 yards-per-punt average. His best effort was the 46-yarder into the wind in the second quarter that was downed by David Tyree at the 4-yard line. He also had a 44-yarder in that quarter too. Feagles had a 28-yarder downed at the 5-yard line in the first quarter. He did have one touchback in the third quarter and had some other uninspiring efforts (punts of 32 and 28 yards). However, on the latter punt, the long snap was off the mark and Feagles did not field the ball cleanly and his mechanics were disrupted.

Punt coverage could have been better. Hilliard had returns of 13 (Gerris Wilkinson on the tackle), -5 (Kevin Dockery), 8 (Adrian Awasom made the tackle; Dockery missed a tackle on this play), 16 (Awasom), 4 (Wilkinson and Tyree), and 3 yards (Tyree). The 16-yard return came at a bad time as the Giants only netted 16-yards on that punt and Tampa started the possession at the Giants’ 48-yard line.

David Tyree made an inexcusable mistake with his neutral zone infraction on 4th-and-5 on one Bucs’ punt in the second quarter. This enabled Tampa Bay to keep alive their only scoring drive of the game.

(Box Score – Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants, October 29, 2006)
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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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