Wild Card Weekend 1/6/08: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New York Giants
Defense still formidable after all these years
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New York Giants 1pm FOX
This is a game where something has to give. The G-Men have won 7 straight games on the road, averaging 24 points a game. Despite their sometimes questionable play at quarterback the Giants defense is ranked #6 overall. Buc Ball is alive and well in Tampa Bay, Jon Gruden’s gang has the NFL’s #2 ranked defense. The Bucs pressure will give Eli Manning fits if the backs cannot pick up the blitzes. Quarterback Jeff Garcia will look to go deep to Joey Galloway against a banged up and overall slow Giants secondary.
Once again Eli Manning finds himself in a career-defining game, Manning who has yet to win a playoff game is thrust into the role of possible hero or goat. What Manning needs to do today to be successful is utilize his weapons. The Giants run game is ranked #4 in the NFL averaging 138 yards a game. Brandon Jacobs may not be effective in the early going, but his 264 pound frame will have much more to say in the fourth quarter. He is as important to Manning today as he has been at any point during the season whereas there will be times Jacobs will have to stay back and pick up the blitz. Plaxico Burress has dominated smaller cornerbacks all season because of his length. He faces Ronde Barber who at 5’11″ may not pose a problem but help over the top will make things difficult for Burress – especially if the blitz is effective. Amani Toomer has put up decent numbers this season and has become a favorite of Manning. Expect Toomer and Sinorice Moss to work the middle and outside areas of the field. I don’t expect much from rookie tight end Kevin Boss today – he will be used primarily as an additional blocker, but if he has the opportunity in the red zone, Manning will not hesitate to look in his direction.
If the Giants are going to be a factor in the playoffs, it will be on the back of the front seven. This is the League’s #1 unit in sacks with eleven different players registering takedowns. Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora are the bookends of a unit that get constant pressure on the quarterback. The linebacking unit is just as stout as the front four – Antonio Pierce, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Kawika Mitchell are excellent against the run and in coverage. If the Giants want to get exotic in their packages, Kiwanuka can double as an additional pass rusher.
If the front seven can win it for the Giants – the back four can lose it. I’m not very confident in this unit that has been a weakness in an otherwise strong defense. Sam Madison is battling injuries and is a shell of the shutdown corner he was with the Miami Dolphins. Aaron Ross may be locked up on Joey Galloway today if Madison struggles. Former Giant Ike Hilliard had his best season in several years and is looking to stick it to his former team. Safeties Gibril Wilson and James Butler will be busy with run support trying to slow down Earnest Graham.
Jon Gruden took the liberty of resting his players last week as the Bucs knew that they would be hosting a game. We’ll see the impact of this coaching decision in the first quarter.
Jeff Garcia says he’s over-rested. Could that be mistaken for being overconfident? After all, Garcia has beaten the Giants twice in the playoffs–once engineering a 25-point comeback with the 49′ers and last season with the Eagles. Garcia is fortunate to have Earnest Graham in the backfield. When Carnell Williams went down early in the season, Graham stepped right in and gave the Bucs a finisher. Michael Pittman provides a change of pace and still runs hard in short yardage downs.
The Tampa Bay receivers are good enough to give the Giants problems. Ike Hilliard and Mark Clayton provide depth and great targets for Garcia, but the lynchpin of the bunch is 36 year-old Joey Galloway. Galloway hasn’t lost his desire to go deep–or his speed needed to be effective. Galloway pulled in 57 passes for 1,014 yards, an eye-popping 17.8 yards per catch.
The Buccaneer defense has withstood the test of time and is once again serving notice around the League. Derrick Brooks is the timeless leader of a unit that gives up 11 points per game at home coupled with being +20 in the turnover department. Chris Hovan and Kevin Carter anchor an underrated front four. The linebackers are going to make life difficult for Manning if the Giants cannot run the ball. The secondary is the beneficiary of the vaunted Cover 2 defense. Ronde Barber and Phillip Buchanon are solid and with help from safeties Tarnard Jackson and Jermain Phillips. The Giants may find it hard to go deep.
The defenses are virtually even until you get to the secondaries and in a game like this that will be the deciding factor. The Bucs defense will force Manning into pressure situations and ultimately a pick or two that will seal it for Chucky and Co.
Bucs 35 – Giants 14