Dec 212000
 

Approach to the Game – Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants, December 23, 2000: All the talk this week in the press and with the fans has been under the assumption that the Giants will win on Saturday against the Jaguars and be awarded home field advantage throughout the playoffs. In my mind, this is foolish talk. The Jaguars are not the Browns. In fact, I would argue that the Jaguars are the most talented team that the Giants have faced this year with the exception of the Titans and Rams – despite their record. Jacksonville has a great deal of talent on offense and defense and is well-coached. They are also playing well right now – winning five of their last seven games. If the Jaguars come prepared to play, this is going to be a dog-fight. The Giants had better play well from the opening gun – unlike last week – or they may let a great opportunity slip away.

Giants on Offense: The big key here is for QB Kerry Collins to rebound from what was his worst performance of the season. Frankly, he was terrible last week. Collins has to do a better job of standing tough in the pocket and delivering the ball in a consistently accurate fashion. He did this two weeks ago against the Steelers – let’s see if he can regain that form. The Giants need Kerry at the top of his game as they approach the playoffs.

An interesting battle to watch will be how Jaguar Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers game plans for Collins. Don’t forget that Capers was the head coach in Carolina who cut Collins after he said Kerry “quit” on his teammates. Capers obviously doesn’t have much respect for Collins so this will be a fascinating aspect of the game to watch. I would expect Capers to blitz the Giants heavily in order to shake the quarterback. This also has the added benefit of possibly disrupting the ground game. Because of this Collins will be provided with opportunities to hit the long ball against Jacksonville and the team will need him to do so in order to get the Jaguars to back off. Collins has had some success against aggressive defenses (Eagles and Steelers for example).

The Jaguars have some good talent in the secondary. WR Amani Toomer will be matched up on CB Aaron Beasley, while WR Ike Hilliard faces former first round CB Fernando Bryant (the guy the Jags drafted to replace Dave Thomas). Rayna Stewart is the free safety. SS Donovin Darius is one of the best strong safeties in the league. He is a big time hitter and an instinctive playmaker. He will be a factor against both the run and the pass. It would be nice if the Giants could get some production this week out of their third wideout – Ron Dixon. With Joe Jureivicus (knee) still out, Ron must start making some plays. Same story with TE Pete Mitchell.

The other worrisome aspect of the Giants’ offense right now is the non-production emanating from Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne. Granted the run blocking has not been stellar in recent weeks, but Dayne needs to do a little less hesitating and more attacking. He’s hopping around too much at the point of attack and not running with good body lean (he’s got his head down once he initiates contact). Ron also has to do a better job of breaking low tackles. If this is a case of Dayne losing steam (as many rookies are apt to do at the end of their first NFL season), then the Giants are going to have to consider giving the ball more to Tiki Barber or at least consider giving Joe Montgomery a few carries. But let’s hope Dayne can come out of his slump – he’d be a great asset in the cold weather games to come.

Of course, Ron needs some better blocking up front. There’s a good chance that LG Glenn Parker (knee) will miss this game. Thus, reserve Jason Whittle most likely gets the start again. He’ll be up against DT Seth Payne. Ron Stone will face DT Gary Walker. LT Lomas Brown has a big match-up with DE Tony Brackens, a very good pass rusher (8 sacks). RT Luke Petitgout will battle it out against DE Renaldo Wynn. WLB Kevin Hardy is a good one, but injuries have hit the rest of the linebacking corps and because of this, Jacksonville will often play their nickel defense and blitz a lot. In fact, Capers is a strong advocate of the zone blitz. Thus, the Giants’ blockers (line, tight ends, backs) must be aware of the fact that pressure can come from almost anywhere on the defense. However, if Dayne or HB Tiki Barber can squirt through the first line of defenders, big plays may result in the running game. Likewise, if the blockers can give Collins time, he may hit some big ones too.

Giants on Defense: The Giants will be tested on defense this week. Everyone has been jumping on the defensive bandwagon of the Giants (except for Jaguar HB Fred Taylor), but keep in mind that the Giants have not played a strong passing team since they last lost to the Rams. Thus, the weaker part of the Giants’ defense – its pass defense – has not been severely tested during this winning streak. Unfortunately, the Jaguars have the weapons to attack the Giants through the air, especially if WR Keenan McKardell (knee) plays. Fortunately, there is a chance that Keenan may miss the game. First rounder R.J. Soward is definitely out after failing his second drug test. Look for the Jaguars to employ quite a bit of 3- and 4-WR sets with Reggie Barlow and Alvis Whitted. Whitted is very inconsistent, but he can be an explosive player; Barlow is more sure and steady. The key guys, however, will be WR Jimmy Smith and McKardell – one of the very best receiving duos in the game. Smith is the deep threat (along with Whitted). This will be a big test for CB Jason Sehorn and CB David Thomas. The Jaguars were not interested in re-signing Thomas after last season because they felt he was a liability in coverage. You can bet that QB Mark Brunell will know where he is on every passing play. The Giants also need nickel back Emmanuel McDaniel to play another strong game if the Jags do play a lot of multiple receiver sets. Safeties Sam Garnes and Shaun Williams can help their teammates by coming to their aid as well as delivering some crunching hits to those venturing over the middle. I doubt that Defensive Coordinator John Fox will be able to use Williams in the strength of his game – attacking the line of scrimmage. Shaun will be needed to provide deep help to the corners – something that he’s still not real comfortable at.

The secondary’s job will be made easier if the Giants can mount a pass rush without blitzing as much. The bad news is that DE Cedric Jones will be completely taken out of the game by All-World Tony Boselli. The good news is that the rest of the line is a bit of a mess. Jacksonville lost Pro Bowl RT Leon Searcy before the season started and the middle of their line has never been terribly imposing. The Giants absolutely need DT Keith Hamilton and DE Michael Strahan to win their battles against rookie LG Brad Meester and RT Todd Fordham, respectively. Remember that Brunell is a left hander so Strahan will be coming from the blind-side this week. DT Christian Peter and DT Cornelius Griffin will see a lot of RG Brendan Stai (though Griffin also has been spelling Jones at defensive end on occasion). Timely blitzes from the linebackers and defensive backs will help the pass rush, but the Giants don’t want to do too much of this against Brunell and his receivers – unless the defensive backs really step it up. The Giants’ defenders must also keep in mind that Brunell can run – he’s not an immobile statue back there.

As for the intermediate coverage, TE Kyle Brady (60 catches) and HB Fred Taylor (35 catches) are big factors in the passing game. The linebackers and SS Sam Garnes need to do a good job in taking away the short game from Brunell.

Much will depend on how well the Giants can control HB Fred Taylor. Taylor ignited some fires this week criticizing the quality of the athletes on the Giants’ defense. Hopefully, the defense will use this as fuel to turn up the heat. But keep in mind that Taylor is one of the very best backs in the league. He has a rare combination of speed and power; and the Giants can’t afford to load up against him as they have done with other backs in recent weeks (i.e., Jerome Bettis, Emmitt Smith, Stephen Davis). The Jags’ passing game is too dangerous. Thus, don’t expect Taylor to be shut down – he will do his damage. Taylor has run for over 100 yards in each of the past ten games – a truly impressive feat.

Giants on Specials: Coverage on kicks and punts, as always, is key in terms of limiting good field position for the other team. P Brad Maynard must rebound from a terrible effort last week. The Giants did a nice job (for once) of setting up a wall for Tiki to return a punt last week. It’s way past time for Ron Dixon to break one.

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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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