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ZenBuc

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: January 04, 2008, 10:58:40 AM

pretty fair assessment, except the writer got at least one stat wrong...we have the #1, not #2, pass defense ;)

http://www.nfl.com/playoffs/story;jsessionid=841D03D2E3132E585B35F28A0F7E03BF?id=09000d5d805aa0bc&template=with-video&confirm=true

This is a classic matchup of one team (Giants) trying to build momentum off a solid game against the Patriots heading into the playoffs versus another team that rested its starters (Tampa Bay). Last year, the Saints and Bears both lost their regular-season finales while resting starters and still got to the championship game. Who's right? That will be answered on Sunday. Keep in mind, I did not use the Week 17 games in my scouting report, because too many regulars were out -- especially in Tampa.

Tampa is only 2-3 against playoff teams this year but both wins were at home (vs. Washington and Tennessee). The Giants are 1-5 against playoff teams, but they are better on the road than they are at home.

Tampa has bounced from last place to first place in the NFC South for the second time in three years, and Jeff Garcia makes few mistakes -- he's only thrown 4 interceptions and lost 2 fumbles all year. His counterpart, Eli Manning, has thrown 20 interceptions and lost 7 fumbles. The Bucs and Giants have the No. 2 and No. 6 defenses, respectively, so the efficient quarterback wins this game.

Key matchups

1. Giants WR Plaxico Burress vs. Bucs CB Ronde Barber: Barber is one of the best Cover 2 corners to ever play the game and Burress is a mismatch for most corners with his height and long arms. Burress has played through a season of injuries and actually looks better now than he has in weeks. He has the advantage in the red zone but in the open field he will have to work to find the seams in this Tampa coverage scheme. I was watching the Bucs play the Colts earlier in the season, and the Bucs push the running game outside. Burress will struggle to block Barber when he reads run.

2. Giants RB Brandon Jacobs vs. Bucs LB Derrick Brooks: Tampa will play the run with seven in the box if the Giants are in one-back sets. When New York brings fullback Madison Hedge**CENSORED** into the game, the Bucs will drop a safety down vs. the two-back sets. No matter what personnel is in the game, Brooks has to tackle Jacobs. Unlike young linebackers, Brooks has played against big backs before and he will tackle low. Jacobs may struggle until the second half, when his 265 pounds take more of a toll.

3. Giants LT David Diehl vs. Bucs DE Gaines Adams: Adams is getting better every week and is tough to block in pure pass situations. He leads all rookies with 6 sacks. On the other hand, Diehl is a much-underrated blocker and will be able to hold up by himself against Adams. Manning doesn't move around a lot in the pocket and the coverage makes him hold the ball so Adams could get home once or twice. Diehl will win in the run game.

4. Giants LDE Michael Strahan vs. Bucs RT Jeremy Trueblood: Trueblood is a big, physical run blocker who will try to engulf the leaned out pass rushing end. Strahan has lots of tricks when it comes to holding the point of attack in the run game. He prefers to declare what gap he has late and get the tackle to set on him early and then react. If the Giants can get Tampa into a lot of pass situations -- and knowing the left tackle will need help against Osi Umenyiora -- that should set up Strahan for the one-on-one rush that he will win more than he loses. Trueblood will struggle some in space against Strahan.

5. Giants RCB Sam Madison vs. Bucs WR Joey Galloway: Galloway is the big-threat receiver and he has been rested for this game. Madison played last week and injured himself. He will not be 100 percent. Garcia has demonstrated his deep ball is better than advertised and I expect at least a half-dozen shots down the field to Galloway.

6. Giants RDE Osi Umenyiora vs. Bucs LT Donald Penn: You have to admire what Donald Penn has done this year replacing the injured Luke Petitgout. Petitgout went against Umenyiora in practice for years and it would have been fun to watch. I'm sure Petitgout will help Penn get ready for this matchup. Garcia can be flushed from the pocket and the Giants will get some great shots on him. With the Giants ferocious pass rush, the Bucs have to be smart and overload the protections.

When the Bucs have the ball

Tampa wants to run the ball 25-30 times a game and has the offensive line to do it well. The Bucs have gone through Cadillac Williams, Michael Pittman, traded for Michael Bennett and are presently using Earnest Graham. Those four backs have 386 carries between them for 1,582 yards (4.1 yards per carry). As soon as the run is established, the deep ball to Galloway (17.8 yards per reception) and the recent development of a good short tight end passing attack emerges.

Earlier in the year, the tight ends were not much of a threat, but in the last three games Alex Smith, Jerramy Stevens and Anthony Becht have combined for 18 receptions and four touchdowns. We should see somewhere between six and 10 balls headed toward the tight ends, especially Stevens. Tampa has always liked the two-tight end packages and Garcia will read the coverage to see which TE gets the linebacker coverage.

Garcia gets sacked about once every 18 passes, which is acceptable, but he also takes a lot of hits during the game. No one is tougher than Garcia, but the Giants pass rush could take a toll on the 185-pound QB. Garcia has only played in two of the last five games and will be rested for this game.

I went back and looked at the Bucs' games against Detroit, Jacksonville and Arizona, and the pass rush got to Garcia for eight sacks and close to 10 good hits, but he countered with his feet and ran 17 times for 81 yards. The Giants pass rush will have Garcia running a number of times this weekend. He only has five rushing attempts in the last seven weeks, so he has his legs back under him.

When the Giants have the ball

Tampa makes you go the long way when you are on offense. The Giants have to be patient when they have the ball, and execute without penalties and sacks. Setbacks in drives are the reason teams lose to Tampa.

Tampa's defense is as fast as it gets, and the cutback lanes are there for the taking -- but so many ball carriers work outside to the dip or bounce plays and find themselves tackled for a 2-yard gain on the sideline. Jacobs has to square his shoulders and work behind the flow looking for a gap.

Tampa is an undersized speed defense and the Bucs "fast flow" better than any team I have seen this year. The Colts did a nice job of selling the outside run, getting the fast flow moving and then hitting an inside hole. I'm sure Peyton Manning has a few tips for his brother about being patient. Check to the run when there are two high safeties and throw the ball against single high safeties -- those are the first two pieces of advice. Don't believe Tampa is all Cover 2, because there are a number of plays on film of safety insert.

The key up front for the Giants' offensive line is to understand the Tampa stunt game with its defensive linemen. Tampa loves to "pirate" stunt the front. The defensive tackle and the defensive end on the tackle's side crash down to the inside gap and expect to make penetration. The nose tackle loops around for contain. It is a key to handling the running game with seven in the box. The Giants offensive line has done a good job all year of preventing penetration and not chasing the stunt. It is critical that center Shaun O'Hara is able to play after his knee sprain last week.

I could see the Giants tighten down their line splits and work an inside power running game behind Chris Snee. Snee weighs 320 pounds, Hedge**CENSORED** is 266 pounds and Jacobs weighs 265. The play-action pass off that look could find young tight end Kevin Boss open down the middle. The Giants have to make MLB Barrett Ruud step up and play the run instead of taking his big Tampa-two drop.

Conclusion

The Giants are feeling good about themselves after the Patriots game, but they did incur three injuries, and it remains to be seen what the effects will be from the potential losses. New York does get an extra day of rest and preparation because it played on Saturday last week and play on Sunday this week.

The Bucs defense should do its part and slow down the Giants offense, but the Tampa offense has to deliver like it did against Atlanta (37 points) and New Orleans (27) and not play like it did against San Francisco (19). If the Tampa defense gets points or wins the turnover battle, which is a strong possibility, then it will win this game.

Also, home-field advantage was a factor last year on Wild-Card Weekend when all four home teams won by an average score of 26-16. Not one road team scored more than 20 points. Of course, the year before, three of the four road teams won on Wild-Card Weekend, and Tampa was one of the three losing home teams.


If you like the Giants ...

  " The Giants have won 7 straight road games, averaging 24 points a game.
  " The Giants have the No. 4 rushing attack in the NFL and average 138 yards a game.
  " The Giants are the No. 1 defense in sacks.
  " The Giants have put 73 points on the board in their last two games.
  " The Giants have sacks from 11 different players, so it is hard to isolate any one player.
  " Eli Manning's best two games were against Dallas and New England (50-for-73, 563 yards, 8 TDs, 2 INTs).
  " In the last three weeks, Brandon Jacobs has 73 touches for 422 yards and 3 TDs.

If you like the Buccaneers ...

  " There is a swing of 20 in turnovers to the Bucs. That's better than a plus-1 margin per game.
  " Jeff Garcia only throws an interception once every 87 passes.
  " The Bucs give up 11 points a game at home.
  " Tampa has the 11th-ranked rushing attack and has used four different starting backs.
  " The Giants had three injuries during Week 17 (CB Sam Madison, C Shaun O'Hara and LB Kawika Mitchell).
  " In the last 9 games that Earnest Graham has started, he has averaged 110 yards rushing.
  " Tampa Bay is the No. 2 pass defense and the Giants are the No. 21 pass offense.
  " Tampa Bay gives up the fewest yards per play (4.49) in the NFL.
  " The Giants have more giveaways in the last month (15) than any team in the NFL.
  " Tampa has allowed opponents into the red zone the fewest number of times (32) in the NFL.

Morgan

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#1 : January 04, 2008, 11:30:32 AM



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