Approach to the Game – New England Patriots at New York Giants, December 29, 2007: All indications are that Head Coach Tom Coughlin and the Giants are going to take their best shot at knocking off the undefeated Patriots on Saturday night. I don’t know if the League is putting pressure on the Giants to do so, but I do think it is the wrong move.
I do have mixed emotions. It’s a very American trait to want to test oneself against the best. And not only does the pride of the players and coaches get involved, but so does that of the fans. And certainly the media has not helped. Everywhere you turn, this game is being talked about on sports television and sports radio. And a simulcast on three networks? Are you kidding me? I can’t recall a more hyped meaningless game, and that doesn’t just include the Giants, but for the Patriots as well. 16-0 in the regular season means nothing. Hoisting up another Lombardi Trophy means everything. If you ask me, Bill Belichick and his team have been tempting fate all season long by playing their top players in games that have turned into blowouts, and now meaningless games. If Tom Brady tears a knee, the Pats’ season is over.
The argument posed by many Giants’ fans is that the Giants are not going to win the Super Bowl so they might as well treat this as their Super Bowl game. What kind of defeatist crap is that? Once you are in the tournament, anything is possible. And there are examples of Wild Card teams making it to the Super Bowl. Plus, we all know the Giants play better on the road than at home. Dallas and Green Bay have proven to be better teams, but they are not invincible.
However, in my opinion, it will be very tough for the Giants to put forth a maximum effort against the Patriots in a game that has a playoff feel to it, then to go on the road three straight times and win. That’s pushing it. Like all teams, the Giants have endured mini-camps, training camp, four preseason games, and 15 regular season games. Guys who are not even on the injury report are beat up and tired. The Buccaneers – the Giants’ first opponent in the playoffs – rested starters last weekend and will do so this weekend. Dallas will be resting guys and they have next week off.
It would certainly feel great if the Giants were to somehow beat the Patriots on Saturday. The players, coaches, fans, and local media would be sky high. But you know what? It reality, it would mean jack squat. Because seven days later the Giants will have to play a well rested and well prepared Buccaneers team playing on their home turf. Why settle for some symbolic victory the Patriots in Week 16? Why not go for broke and try to knock off these very same Patriots in the Super Bowl? Impossible you say? Probably. But that’s what my goal would be. Not to exhaust my battered troops in a meaningless game.
I don’t think the Giants are thinking strategically.
That all said, it looks like the Giants will attempt to knock off the Patriots. If they do manage to do so, the major positive would be surging confidence. It helps to have the Giants gain more experience playing in a game with so much media attention. Also, historically, the Giants don’t tend to be very sharp after a usual bye so maybe this will help them stay on their game. We shall see.
Giants on Offense: The Giants have two major issues on offense right now, and both involve the passing game. The first is the absence of TE Jeremy Shockey. He is one of the players that the Giants could least afford to lose and it showed last week as the Giants’ rookie tight ends were held without a catch. Now without the serious threat of a tight end doing damage in the passing game, teams will surely double-team Plaxico Burress, making it even more difficult for the Giants’ best offensive player to do damage. Someone else has to step up, be it Amani Toomer, Kevin Boss, Steve Smith, or even the backs as receivers. If not, the Giants will be very easy to defend.
Secondly, Eli Manning has to get his shit together and fast. Enough is enough. Last week’s play by him was atrocious. It was his second completely unacceptable game of the season (the Vikings game being the first). Five fumbles and two interceptions? Manning started the season on fire against Dallas, got hurt in that game, played decently for the bulk of the season, but has been deteriorating rapidly. I used to say that you can’t say Manning has a history of falling apart late in the season based on two seasons. But this is the third season in a row where he simply is not improving but getting worse when it matters the most. If he doesn’t get his head out of his ass right now, the Giants will be one and done in the playoffs again.
As for the game against the Patriots, if the Giants are going to win, they can’t just run the football like they did against the Bills. It won’t work. Belichick won’t allow it. The Giants will have to stay balanced against them. That means Eli has to play well. Not just “acceptable” or “manage the game,” but play well. He was drafted and paid to make plays and win games with his head and right arm. If he can’t, then the Giants need to cut ties with him. No more excuses. Get the job done.
The Patriots’ defense hasn’t been as scary this year as its statistics show, but they have been very, very opportunistic and have quite a few defensive scores for touchdowns. Manning will have to be careful. Amani Toomer will face the Pats’ best corner in Asante Samuel. One has to figure that Toomer will thus be taken completely out of this game by Samuel while the Patriots double-team Plaxico Burress with CB Ellis Hobbs and a safety. Either Burress or Toomer are going to have to really play at a top level, or Manning is going to need help from Steve Smith, David Tyree, or Kevin Boss. I’d actually emphasize Boss. Yes, he is a rookie and he is green as grass and will likely be very nervous on this stage, but it will be good preparation for the playoffs (remember, I don’t think this game is all that important). Boss is a huge target with good speed. He can make plays down the field and the Patriots may be surprised by his game. I would also throw the football more to the backs. Hopefully, Ahmad Bradshaw plays. He’s very good at catching passes out of the backfield.
The Patriots’ 3-4 run defense has been decent, but not great this year. The big problem for the Giants in this game is that NT Vince Wilfork will be a nightmare for OC Shaun O’Hara to block. Wilfork is exactly the kind of tackle that gives O’Hara problems (hell, Wilfork gives most centers problems). But it doesn’t stop there for the Patriots, they are loaded up front with RDE Richard Seymour and LDE Ty Warren. I expect the Giants to try to run more off tackle or on stretch plays with Jacobs and possibly Bradshaw. I wouldn’t expect Reuben Droughns to be terribly productive against this type of defense since is an inside runner.
The Giants also have to get those linebackers blocked, with the linemen, tight ends, or backs. Tight ends Michael Matthews and Kevin Boss, as well as FB Madison Hedgecock all need to play well. A 3-4 defense always centers on its linebackers and the Patriots are loaded there too with LOLB Mike Vrabel, LILB Junior Seau, RILB Teddy Bruschi, and ROLB Adalius Thomas. The young tight ends and Hedgecock will have their work cut out for them. The outside guys are very dangerous pass rushers to boot (17 sacks).
The Patriots are tied with the Bucs in scoring defense. They usually don’t allow more than 20 points a game. Eli Manning will have to play one of his best games of the season. The offensive line will have to be physical, but also recognize the various blitzes from the linebackers that Belichick will throw at them. Most importantly, the Giants have to be able to run the football and not turn the football over.
Giants on Defense: The Patriots have played some close games in recent weeks so it is tough to lose sight of these amazing facts:
- The Patriots have scored a record 71 touchdowns.
- The Patriots have scored 551 points and are only six points shy of breaking the scoring record.
- Tom Brady is two touchdown passes shy from breaking Peyton Manning’s record of 49 touchdown passes in a season.
- Randy Moss is two touchdown passes shy from breaking Jerry Rice’s record of 21 scoring catches in a season.
The strange thing is that the Patriots come across as a largely one-dimensional, finesse offense. It obviously is a pass-centric attack that likes to spread the field with multiple wide receiver packages. To me, the team that they most remind me of is the St. Louis Rams “Greatest Show on Turf” team that won the Super Bowl. You usually don’t see such heavy pass-centric teams perform so consistently well, especially one that plays outside in the Northeast.
That said, the Patriots can run the ball and are actually 10th in the NFL in rushing. Nevertheless, contrary to what I say week in and week out in my game previews, this is the one game where I would focus almost exclusively on the pass. I think the Patriots want to get Brady and Moss their records. I also think they can expose the Giants’ secondary. But the Giants do need to be somewhat cautious of the draw plays that the Redskins used so effectively against them two weeks ago. Such draw plays will also have the added benefit of slowing down the Giants’ pass rush.
Ahh, the pass rush. On paper, one of the reasons why the Giants may be able to keep this game close is their pass rush. However, the Giants’ pass rush has an annoying tendency of disappearing against better opponents. The Patriots have a very, very good pass blocking offensive line with three starters going to the Pro Bowl. Most of the time, they provide Brady with perfect pass protection to set up comfortably in the pocket. If Osi Umenyiora wants to truly be considered one of the best, he can’t disappear in this game like he did two weeks ago. The Giants need Michael Strahan – who has not been playing very well in recent weeks – to also elevate his game. I would play Justin Tuck on more snaps than not at defensive tackle this week. The Giants need to get their best pass rushers on the field and get after Tom Brady without having to send blitzes on every play. The more the Giants blitz, the more likely big plays will result in the passing game.
The Giants will miss Kevin Dockery (hip flexor) if he can’t play. Because the Patriots like to spread the field with three and four wide receiver packages, the Giants will be in their nickel and dime packages much of the game. More pressure will now be placed on the likes of Corey Webster and R.W. McQuarters. With the Patriots putting Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth, Wes Welker, and Jabar Gaffney on the field, those are match-ups the Patriots have to be drooling at. Keep in mind that Aaron Ross is still a rookie. And even Sam Madison had problems covering Stallworth when he was with the Eagles last season. The Giants need to get as many defensive backs on the field as possible. We should see less of Reggie Torbor and Kawika Mitchell because of this. This is why the down four MUST get to Brady. If not, look out.
Giants on Special Teams: The Giants don’t catch a break here. Kickoff returner Ellis Hobbs is very dangerous and Wes Welker is very good at returning punts. The Jets were able to get to the punter a couple of weeks ago so the Giants may want to try to go for a block.
Again, the Giants need Bradshaw here. Hopefully he plays as big kick return would help. The Giants also will get David Tyree back after a two-week absence due to the death of his mother.