Nov 062015
 
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Shane Vereen, New York Giants (November 1, 2015)

Shane Vereen – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, November 8, 2015

THE STORYLINE:
One gets the sense that someone is toying with our emotions with this team. On the negative side, the team has once again been sabotaged by injuries – some bizarre – that have directly contributed to the inconsistent product on the field. Will Beatty tears his pectoral muscle lifting weights in May, JPP blows his hand up in July, the Giants place four safeties on IR before the season even starts, Victor Cruz recovers impressively from his knee injury but is lost for three months due to a “calf strain”, Daniel Fells contracts MRSA, Prince Amukamara injures his pectoral muscle during a critical stretch of games, Odell Beckham and Rueben Randle are hampered by nagging hamstring injuries, and Jon Beason proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is made of glass. Then you throw in three losses where the Giants held the lead by a touchdown or more in the 4th quarter and lost, including two games in painfully bizarre fashion (Eli telling Rashad not to score in Dallas; the series of events leading up to the 50-yard game-winning field goal in New Orleans). It’s like fate is working against the Giants.

But… the NFC East is still a mess and the Giants at .500 still find themselves in first place at the midway point of the season. Despite the morale-sapping setbacks, the team is still competing and has just as good a chance as the Eagles, Redskins, and Cowboys to win the division. Some reinforcements seem about ready to return. The sense is if the Giants can just get to the bye week at 5-5, they can make a run at it.

The loss to New Orleans was bad. Given the prevailing assumption that the team will lose to the Patriots on November 15, the Giants find themselves in another apparent “must-win” situation this weekend. It’s the third time this has already happened this year: 0-2 facing the Redskins, 1-2 in the division and facing the Cowboys, and now this game. If the Giants lose, they will probably be 4-6 at the bye week with almost zero room for error in the final six games. The Giants must win this game to remain relevant.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Rueben Randle (hamstring – questionable)
  • WR Victor Cruz (calf – out)
  • RB Orleans Darkwa (back – probable)
  • TE Larry Donnell (neck – out)
  • RG Geoff Schwartz (ankle – probable)
  • OT Will Beatty (pectoral – on PUP/most likely out)
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (hand – roster exemption/most likely will play)
  • LB Jon Beason (ankle/knee – out)
  • LB J.T. Thomas (ankle – out)
  • LB Uani ‘Unga (neck – questionable)
  • CB Prince Amukamara (pectoral – out)
  • CB Leon McFadden (groin – questionable)
  • S Craig Dahl (neck – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Was the offensive explosion against the Saints more of mirage given the state of New Orleans’ defense or an indication that Eli Manning and the offense is about to reach a new level? Keep in mind that the offense only scored two touchdowns in two games before the contest against the Saints. The Buccaneers are a middle-of-the-pack defense (16th overall, 17th against run, 15th against pass) that had been adept at forcing fumbles (9 fumble recoveries in addition to only 4 interceptions). It’s 4-3 defense, anchored by left defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (4.5 sacks), who unfortunately will be playing against New York’s weak link up front, Geoff Schwartz. But both McCoy (shoulder) and right defensive tackle Tony McDaniel (groin) have been limited this week in practice. Leading sacker, right defensive end Jacquies Smith (5 sacks), has missed practice with an ankle injury (Late Note: Smith has been ruled “out” of the game). Left defensive end William Gholston (knee) has been limited. So the defensive front is a bit beat up.

Typical of a Lovie Smith style of defense, what the Buccaneers do well is run to the ball. “They run very well, they’re very quick, they’re penetrators, the linebacker level is very fast, they do an outstanding job of pressuring the quarterback even with four defenders,” says Head Coach Tom Coughlin.

Linebackers Lavonte David, rookie Kwon Alexander, and Danny Lansanah are undersized, but all are good athletes who make plays. David in particular is a fine all-around play-maker. Alexander is coming off a “NFC Defensive Player of the Week” performance against the Falcons. On the other hand, Tampa Bay’s defensive backs are a pretty non-descript group.

Ben McAdoo knows Lovie Smith well from both of their time in the NFC North. If the Giants can handle McCoy (a big “if”), they should be able to do some damage on the ground as well as deep shots down the field. I would run the ball between the tackles and off tackle against a beat-up defensive line and an undersized linebacking corps – don’t run laterally against their quickness. Passes to the inexperienced tight ends and Shane Vereen could be more problematic this weekend given the athleticism of the linebackers. This is another opponent where Odell Beckham could make a lot of noise against a somewhat shaky secondary.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Tampa Bay may have a rookie quarterback and some injury issues on offense, but they have some dangerous weapons who should be licking their chops against one of the NFL’s all-time worst defenses (at least statistically). Of course, all eyes will be on Jason Pierre-Paul, but he can’t do it alone. The Giants need someone else besides Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to show up and make plays.

The Buccaneers are actually 11th in overall offense – 4th rushing the ball and 23rd passing the ball. As the stats suggest, the absolute defensive emphasis should be on stopping the run and halfback Doug Martin who is averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Martin is the key. He’s a tough, instinctive runner helped by two fine guards in ex-Patriot Logan Mankins and rookie Ali Marpet. The left tackle, Donovan Smith, is also a rookie. It’s a very big line that can punish a defense run blocking.

At the same time, don’t sleep on the passing game. Rookie #1 pick Jameis Winston has been coming on. In the last three games, he has thrown for 683 yards, four touchdowns, 0 interceptions and completed almost 65 percent of his passes. The Buccaneers have completed 25 passes of 20 yards more already this year – it’s a passing offense predicated on the big play.

Second-year wide receiver Mike Evans is a mammoth player for his position who makes plays down the field with his size and overall athleticism. But the Bucs are hurting at the position due to injures to Vincent Jackson (knee – out) and former Giant Louis Murphy (out for the season). The tight ends are Austin Seferian-Jenkins (who has been troubled by a shoulder injury) and former Giant Brandon Myers. Winston will dump the ball off to the backs (Martin and Charles Sims – 34 catches and 3 touchdowns).

Stop the run, roll coverage towards Evans, and don’t let Winston hurt you with his feet. “Because of the strength of their running game, their play action is very good and he has the opportunity to isolate one-on-one with Evans or whoever on the outside,” said Coughlin. “(Winston) throws the go ball, the deep ball, the post ball, all the deep over routes, the (rollout throws), all of those types of routes he does very well. And if you signify by opening the middle of the field up for him, then he’ll run.”

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Tom Coughlin provided a very good scouting report on Tampa Bay’s special teams: “They’re fourth in the league in punt return, second in the league in kickoff return, fifth in the league allowing only 4.7 yards per punt return, opponent punt return. Their outstanding punt returner and kickoff returner is Bobby Rainey. They have speed and quickness in their special teams unit.”

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin on the Tampa Bay offense: “You have to stop the run. Everything, the play action, all of those good things that they do, it’s all based on that. You have to realize, you have the young quarterback, and he’s done an outstanding job. But the running game is preventing a lot of issues. His third downs are less, you have less yardage to accomplish the majority of the time. All those things fit the young quarterback.”

THE FINAL WORD:
This is a must-win game. No excuses. No late-game collapses. No questionable coaching decisions.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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