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OPPONENT: New York Giants
WHERE: Giants Stadium
WHERE THE GIANTS STAND: The Giants are 4-2 and in first place in the NFC East division. GIANTS HEAD COACH: Tom Coughlin
GIANTS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: John Hufnagel
GIANTS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Tim Lewis
GIANTS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Mike Sweatman
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE OVERALL: 29th (267.3 ypg) RUSHING: 27th (92.3. ypg) PASSING: 27th (175.0 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE OVERALL: 27th (354.7 ypg) RUSHING: 30th (152.3 ypg) PASSING: 15th (202.3 ypg)
NEW YORK GIANTS OFFENSE OVERALL: 2nd (389.5 ypg) RUSHING: 2nd (152.3 ypg) PASSING: 7th (237.2 ypg)
NEW YORK GIANTS DEFENSE OVERALL: 21st (330.5 ypg) RUSHING: 15th (106.3 ypg) PASSING: 23rd (224.2 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW … … Tampa Bay’s one and only win on the road vs. the New York Giants came in 1997 when the Bucs downed the Giants, 20-8?
SCOUTING THE GIANTS
Quarterbacks Giants quarterback Eli Manning has come a long way and emerged as an offensive leader since entering the league in 2004 as a first-round draft pick. Manning, who has some mobility but is considered more of a pocket passer, has dramatically improved his accuracy this season, completing nearly 63 percent of his passes while throwing for 1,518 yards and tossing 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. While experience has certainly helped Manning, the playmakers the Giants have surrounded him with on offense have made a big impact as well. Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin will rely on his front four to get pressure on Manning, but don’t be surprised to see him throw some creative blitz packages at the younger brother of Peyton and the son of Archie in an effort to rattle him and create turnovers.
Running Backs One of the main reasons why Manning has made so much progress is because of Giants RB Tiki Barber, who has been one of the league’s best over the past several seasons. Tiki, who is the twin brother of Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber, has rushed for over 1,200 yards in four consecutive seasons, including 1,860 yards in 2005. Barber has rushed for 647 yards (5.0 avg.) this season and needs just 566 more rushing yards to reach 10,000 career rushing yards, which would be a tremendous feat for a 5-foot-10, 215-pound back that most scouts considered a third-down back when he entered the league out of Virginia in 1997. Barber runs with great balance, power and vision, and he’s got soft hands as well, evidenced by his 26 catches for 222 yards this season. The Bucs defense, which has had trouble filling gaps and making tackles on a consistent basis, must return to their 2005 form against Barber, who had five runs of 55 or more yards last season. Barber’s ability to pick up significant yardage on first and second downs is helping the Giants convert 45.3 percent of their third downs this season. The good news for the Bucs and the rest of the NFL is Barber plans to retire at the end of the season. This likely will be Tampa Bay’s last opportunity to defend Barber. The Bucs must make it count if they are to escape New York with a win on Sunday.
Wide Receivers Ronde Barber would love to get his hands on his brother quite often Sunday, especially since it might be their last meeting as players on the football field. However, Barber will have his hands full with Giants WR Plaxico Burress, who has used his 6-foot-5 frame to haul in 24 passes for 424 yards (17.7 avg.) and four touchdowns. Burress has a decisive height advantage over the 5-foot-10 Barber, but Barber has managed to play well vs. taller receivers in the past. Confidence certainly won’t be an issue for Barber, who is coming off a two-interception/two touchdown performance vs. Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. Barber needs just one interception to tie Donnie Abraham’s franchise record for career interceptions (31). He hopes to tie that record against his brother’s team on Sunday. With Brian Kelly going on injured reserve this week, Bucs CB Juran Bolden will go up against Giants WR Amani Toomer, who has hauled in a team-leading 29 passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns this season. Toomer is a solid route runner and is more of a short-to-intermediate threat whereas Burress is Manning’s favorite target on deep passes. Tampa Bay linebackers Derrick Brooks and Ryan Nece, and safety Jermaine Phillips will be asked at different times to help account for New York tight end Jeremy Shockey, who is a solid blocker and pass catcher. Shockey has 20 catches for 225 yards and four touchdowns, and is one of Manning’s favorite targets in the passing game, especially inside the red zone. Tampa Bay’s front seven needs to contain Barber on its own as the Bucs can’t afford to bring Phillips up into the box to help defend the run too often since it could leave Toomer and/or Burress in some favorable one-on-one situations downfield.
Offensive Line New York’s offensive line, which is made up of left tackle Luke Petitgout, left guard David Diehl, center Shaun O’Hara, right guard Chris Snee and right tackle Kareem McKenzie, plays well together as a unit and opens up massive running lanes for Barber. The Giants love to run Barber behind Snee, who is arguably the Giants’ best offensive lineman and will face Bucs under tackle Ellis Wyms. McKenizie will clash with Bucs defensive end Greg Spires and Petitgout will square off against DE Simeon Rice. Both players are consistent in pass protection, but Rice, Spires and Wyms must find a way to put pressure on Manning, who has been sacked 13 times in six games this season, early and often. This game could get out of hand rather quickly for Tampa Bay’s defense if it can’t win the battle in the trenches and contain Barber.
Defensive Line New York’s defensive line features some of the league’s best pass rushers, particularly left end Michael Strahan and right end Osi Umenylora, who have recorded three and five sacks, respectively. In fact, the Giants have notched 13 sacks over their past two regular season games. Bucs rookie right tackle Jeremy Trueblood will go up against Strahan, who owns the NFL single-season sack record, and you can bet Bucs head coach Jon Gruden will leave an extra tight end and chip blocker in to help keep Strahan out of Tampa Bay’s offensive backfield. Although the Bucs could feature plenty of two-tight end sets with Alex Smith and Anthony Becht, Bucs left tackle Anthony Davis could find himself in some one-on-one situations with Umenylora, and he’ll have to hold up as he’s protecting rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski’s blindside. The good news for Davis is Umenylora is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game with a hip flexor injury. The Giants are getting pressure from their interior linemen as well. Under tackle Barry Coefield has recorded 1.5 sacks while nose tackle Fred Robbins has notched 2.5 quarterback takedowns. But if this unit has a weakness, its run defense is it. The Giants are surrendering 107 yards rushing per game. Bucs left guards Dan Buenning and Sean Mahan, and center John Wade will be charged with holding off Robbins and opening up holes in the running game for Cadillac Williams. Rookie right guard Davin Joseph, who could get some help from Wade, will clash with Coefield in the trenches. Joseph must step up and deliver in the running game as the Bucs have been running more to the right side of the line of scrimmage in recent weeks.
Linebackers This unit is banged up heading into Sunday’s game vs. Tampa Bay. Starting outside linebackers LaVar Arrington and Carlos Emmons are injured. In fact, Arrington, who tore his Achilles tendon on Monday night vs. Dallas, is out for the season. Emmons is questionable with a pec injury. Look for the Bucs to attempt to exploit these weaknesses by running Williams often and throwing short to the tight ends. Reggie Torbor will start in place of Arrington and Brandon Short will get the nod if Emmons is unable to go Sunday. Although their two starting outside linebackers could miss Sunday’s game, Giants middle linebacker Antonio Pierce is healthy and has been productive. He leads the team in tackles and has recorded one interception.
Secondary New York’s secondary is suspect, and the Bucs could come out throwing even though the young and inexperienced Gradkowski hasn’t been the most accurate passer over the past two weeks. Bucs wide receiver Joey Galloway was held without a catch last week by the Eagles, and the Giants would love nothing more than to keep that streak going. However, holding Galloway without a catch will be difficult to do, especially if the Giants are without CB Sam Madison, who is questionable for Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury. Madison has notched a team-leading two interceptions and seven passes defensed this season. If he can’t play, R.W. McQuarters likely will take Madison’s place and will attempt to contain the speedy Galloway. While Galloway likely will get open, Gradkowski must do a better job of connecting with him, especially on deep passes. Bucs WR Michael Clayton will be matched up with Giants CB Corey Webster, who has one interception but has struggled in coverage. Former Giants WR Ike Hilliard will make his return to New York as a Buc. He probably won’t get on the field too often, but when he does he’ll likely face Frank Walker, who is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury. If neither Madison nor Walker can play, look for the Bucs to feature Hilliard more in the passing game. If the Bucs can get their running game going early, Giants safeties Gibril Wilson and Will Demps may be forced to play near or inside the box, which could really open things up for Tampa Bay’s passing attack. The Bucs should have opportunities to move the ball through the air against a Giants defense that is allowing opposing offenses to convert a whopping 51.8 percent of their third down tries. However, the Bucs’ success rate through the air will rely heavily on whether Gradkowski can deliver the ball to open receivers.
Special Teams Kicking inside Giants Stadium is no picnic, but New York kicker Jay Feely has done a decent job this season, drilling 10-of-12 field goals. Of course, Bucs K Matt Bryant, who is a former Giant, is coming off an impressive week where he made three field goals, including the game-winning 62-yard attempt as time expired against the Eagles. The winds can be quite active and difficult in Giants Stadium, but the good news for the Bucs is Bryant is familiar with those conditions from his playing days in New York. Giants punter Jeff Feagles is averaging 43.1 yards per attempt and has a net of 39.6. With Mark Jones still ailing from a hamstring injury, the Bucs could have cornerback Phillip Buchanon and/or Ike Hilliard returning punts on Sunday. Bucs P Josh Bidwell will have to be careful when punting to Giants PR Chad Morton. Although he’s averaging just 6.4 yards per attempt, Morton is a dangerous return specialist, evidenced by his four career touchdowns in that department. Three of those touchdowns have come off of kickoffs. Morton is averaging 21.9 yards per kickoff return attempt this year. Establishing good starting field position will be key for the Buccaneers, which means kickoff returner Michael Pittman must have a big game Sunday. FLYNN’S FORECAST: Giants 20 Buccaneers 10