Approach to the Game – Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants, November 30, 1997: After last week’s tough game against the Washington Redskins, the Giants cannot afford a let down this week against the Bucs. With four games left against quality teams, the Giants must win their remaining two home games, including this Sunday’s contest against Tampa Bay. To make matters worse, these are not the same old Buccaneers. Tampa Bay has a very good front seven that can stop the run and put a lot of heat on the passer. Offensively, the Bucs can run the ball, both with their dangerous, elusive halfback, Warrick Dunn, or their bruising fullback, Mike Alstott. It’s the passing game that has sometimes let the Buccaneers down. Really, there are a lot of similarities between both the Giants and Bucs when you think about it. This should be a close, tough football game with the team making the fewest mistakes and most big plays coming out on top.
Giants on Offense: The Giants’ playoff hopes rest on their shaky passing game. Tampa Bay has a very active and strong run defense and it will be difficult for the Giants to consistently pick up yardage and first downs on the ground. The problem is that the holes in the Giants’ passing game have become glaring against quality defenses. The Giants only have one consistent threat at wide receiver, Chris Calloway, and he’s no threat to break a game open. The other receivers (David Patten, Kevin Alexander, and Amani Toomer) are damn near invisible against quality defensive backs. Opposing defenses are doubling Calloway and watching the flats for passes to the running backs. Why should they do any differently? For whatever reason, the tight ends are not being used (either because they can’t get open or the coaches don’t have faith in them), and the receiver opposite Calloway is not getting the job done. Patten, Alexander, and Toomer seem to have problems running the proper or correct route and do not seem to get any separation from defensive backs. Of the three, Toomer shows the most promise because of his tools. If the Giants have any hope to change the fortunes of their passing offense, those hopes lie squarely on Amani’s shoulders.
That being said, we feel the Giants must start featuring TE’s Aaron Pierce or Howard Cross. Teams are virtually ignoring these two and Head Coach Jim Fassel should take advantage of this. Put Pierce and Cross on the spot. These two men are professionals and are being paid very handsomely. If they can’t get open and make the catch, then the Giants know for sure that they must rebuild this unit completely next offseason.
When it comes down to it, the Giants simply may lack the talent at wide receiver and tight end for the stretch run. Does any team in the NFL have worse receivers than the Giants? Jim Fassel will be hard pressed to use formation, play-design, and motion to create mismatches and allow receivers to get open. There is some hope against Tampa because their secondary is by no means as strong as the Redskins, Eagles, or Cowboys — that’s why this game becomes even more important.
Regardless, Fassel and the Giants simply must stay out of predictable pass rush situations. Tampa Bay has four down lineman who have over six sacks each. Inside, OG Greg Bishop, OC Lance Scott, and OG Ron Stone will have their hands full with DT Warren Sapp, MLB Hardy Nickerson, and DT Brad Culpepper. Fassel tried to keep the Giants out of obvious pass rush situations last week by running the ball early and often. Sometimes this resulted in success, sometimes it did not. Tampa Bay’s front seven on defense is much more talented than the Redskins. Moreover, Tampa will probably follow everyone else’s lead and put an eight man up to stop the Giants’ running game. Because of this, we don’t expect the Giants to be able to run the ball very well in “obvious” running situations. We know Fassel wants to keep things conservative and there is a lot to be said of this approach, but we don’t think the team will be able to generate enough points offensively with this strategy — an approach that puts an awful lot of pressure on the Giants’ defense to stop the Bucs and create scoring opportunities. There are ways to pass on first and second down in a less risky fashion. Remember, Tampa is likely to be playing run on first and second down. The Giants should try to take advantage of this by game-planning “safe” passes to the wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs in these situations. Get Tampa to react to what the Giants are doing, then hit them with the running game. Yes, QB Danny Kanell is inexperienced. Yes, the Giants’ receivers and tight ends scare no one. Yes, the Giants’ running game is the strength of the offensive team. But we really don’t think the Giants can count on using smash mouth football alone. The element of surprise is needed.
Giants on Defense: The Giants’ defense played as well as we’ve ever seen them play last week. However, that was last week, this is this week. We say, “Do it again!” Great defenses CONSISTENTLY dominate games and if the Giants are to make the playoffs this year, their defense must rise to the occasion. Is it fair to place so much responsibility on the defense to carry the team? Certainly not, but that is the situation the Giants find themselves in. The Giants so not have the weapons on offense to expect or hope for otherwise. The defense needs to force three-and-outs, turnovers, and scoring opportunities. If they let up, make mental or physical mistakes, or give up big plays, then the Giants most likely will not be successful over the course of the last quarter of the season.
Against the Bucs, the game plan is simple but difficult to execute: stop the run, put the onus on QB Trent Dilfer to win the game. Tampa Bay has a dangerous running back combo that complement each other exceptionally well. The big, powerful hammer of their offense (their “Charles Way” if you will) is FB Mike Alstott — a bruising back who can pound the ball inside, use his surprising elusiveness and speed to bounce plays outside, and who can catch the ball out of the backfield. Defensively, the Giants need to play strong, tackle well, and gang-tackle when he has the ball. In particular, on pass plays, the defensive backs need to wrap him up low and hold on until help arrives. But he is not the only threat in the Bucs’ backfield. HB Warrick Dunn may be small, but he has been called a “poor man’s Barry Sanders.” Dunn is a lightening quick, elusive back who is equally dangerous running and catching the ball. Dunn has excellent hands and has burned many teams with huge plays on passes out of the backfield — a la David Meggett in his early days. One mistake, be it breakdown in gap responsibility or a missed tackle, could mean six points. Even the speedy Jessie Armstead will have a difficult time keeping pace with Dunn in pass coverage. It won’t be easy, but the Giants’ defense simply must shut down or limit the damage these two can make on Sunday. If not, the Giants will lose the game.
If the Giants can put the Bucs in long yardage situations, they have a chance to force QB Trent Dilfer to make costly mistakes. Dilfer is a lot like QB Dave Brown. He’s a guy with a lot of physical talent, who sometimes lets the pressure of the game or moment get to him. Dilfer does have more weapons to work with than the Giants’ quarterbacks. TE Jackie Harris is a sure-handed security blanket who can stretch defenses down the middle. The Giants’ linebackers and SS Sam Garnes must keep an eye on him. Outside, WR’s Anthony Reidel (a rookie) and Horace Copeland (who is questionable) can stretch defenses deep. But the key is Dilfer. If the Giants can get after him and rattle him, he may turn the ball over and set up the Giants’ offense.
Giants on Special Teams: This unit needs to start making big plays again. Momentum and easy scores can result from quality special teams play. A return, a block, or a forced fumble can mean all the difference in a close contest. Sunday’s contest is likely to be close and a game of field position. The punting and kicking games, as well as the coverage units, will all play an important factor. The Giants will miss coverage man Brandon Sanders, who is listed as doubtful.