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OPPONENT: New York Giants
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
WHERE THE GIANTS STAND: The Giants are 2-0 and in first place in the NFC East division.
GIANTS HEAD COACH: Tom Coughlin
GIANTS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Kevin Gilbride
GIANTS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Bill Sheridan
GIANTS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Tom Quinn
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE
OVERALL: 4th (402 ypg)
RUSHING: 14th (116 ypg)
PASSING: 6th (286 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE
OVERALL: 31st (450 ypg)
RUSHING: 27th (168 ypg)
PASSING: 27th (282 ypg)
NEW YORK GIANTS OFFENSE
OVERALL: 6th (389 ypg)
RUSHING: 22nd (100 ypg)
PASSING: 5th (289 ypg)
NEW YORK GIANTS DEFENSE
OVERALL: 16th (325 ypg)
RUSHING: 27th (168 ypg)
PASSING: 4th (157 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW …
… the Giants rank tied for second in the NFL with a plus-4 turnover ratio?
SCOUTING THE GIANTS
New York's offense has typically been led by a powerful ground attack, but that hasn't necessarily been the case in 2009. With the Giants' running game struggling, the team has leaned more on QB Eli Manning, and he's delivered.
The former first-round draft pick and Super Bowl winner had completed just 56 percent of his career passes heading in to this season, but he's displayed a much more accurate arm, completing 67.2 percent of his throws for 586 yards while tossing three touchdowns and just one interception. Manning has engineered New York's passing attack, which currently ranks fifth in the NFL.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Manning is a good caretaker, which will make it difficult for the Bucs defense to come up with some much-needed turnovers in this contest, especially if their front four continues to struggle from a pass-rushing standpoint.
Manning is one of the main reasons why the Giants offense is converting 42.9 percent of its third down attempts this season.
The Giants had one of the best ground attacks in the NFL last year, evidenced by the fact that Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward each rushed for over 1,000 yards. However, the running game hasn't been the same without Ward, who is now a Buccaneer.
Jacobs is the biggest running back in the NFL. His 6-foot-4, 264-pound frame will challenge Tampa Bay's toughness and tackling, which was horrific vs. Buffalo last Sunday. The Bucs allowed the Bills to produce 200-plus yards via the ground game and had 24 missed tackles. That simply can't happen in this contest if the Bucs hope to pull off the upset over the Giants.
The good news for the Bucs is Jacobs has struggled out of the gate, rushing for just 104 yards (3.3 avg.) and no touchdowns. However, Jacobs likely will break out of his funk sooner rather than later, evidenced by his two straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons and 19 touchdowns scored from 2007-08.
Ward's replacement, RB Ahmad Bradshaw (5-9, 198), is the team's change-of-pace back. He's quicker than Jacobs and has been more productive on fewer rushing attempts. Through two games, Bradshaw has rushed for 97 yards (4.6 avg.) and no scores.
The wide receiver position was one of the team's concerns heading in to this season, especially with the Giants parting ways with veterans Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer during the offseason.
However, several players have stepped up at the receiver position, which is one of the reasons why Manning has been so successful through two games.
Giants WR Steve Smith (5-11, 195) leads the team in receptions with 16 for 214 yards and one touchdown. Smith poses the biggest threat to catch the ball in the short-to-intermediate part of the field. He averaged just 10.5 yards per reception heading in to this season.
Domenik Hixon (6-2, 182) starts alongside Smith, but he's nursing a knee injury. The Giants have received a much-needed lift from Mario Manningham. The 5-foot-11, 183-pound Manningham has hauled in 13 catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns. He's coming off an impressive outing in a win over the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football.
Smith and Hixon will be covered mostly by Bucs cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib. They will have to excel in man-to-man coverage, especially with the Bucs likely playing this game without starting safety Jermaine Phillips, who suffered a broken thumb vs. Buffalo last week. The Bucs still are without suspended S Tanard Jackson, which means Will Allen would start in Phillips' place.
Allen and Bucs S Sabby Piscitelli, who recorded a fumble recovery and an interception vs. Buffalo, must help Barber and Talib limit New York's big-play production in the passing game. That's an area where the Bucs secondary has struggled through the first two games, allowing five plays of 40-plus yards, four of which have gone for touchdowns.
Should the Giants deploy three-receiver sets, rookies Hakeem Nicks (6-1, 215), a first-round pick, and Ramses Barden (6-6, 227), a third-round selection, likely will see action, which would call for Bucs second-year CB Elbert Mack to enter the game.
In addition to covering New York's receivers, Tampa Bay's defense must also account for Giants tight end Kevin Boss (6-6, 253), who has four catches for 75 yards (18.8 avg.). Boss, who has 46 career catches for 577 yards and eight touchdowns, will be covered by different players depending on the type of coverage, including outside linebackers Geno Hayes and Quincy Black, and the team's safeties.
This is the strength of New York's offense. The Giants offensive line is led by center Shaun O'Hara (6-3, 3030, a 10th-year player and Pro Bowler. The interior part of New York's O-line is solid. O'Hara plays alongside left guard Rich Seubert (6-3, 310) and right guard Chris Snee (6-3, 317), who made his first Pro Bowl in 2008. This trio will go up against Bucs defensive tackles Ryan Sims, Chris Hovan and rookie Roy Miller. This group didn't fare particularly well vs. a young, undersized and experienced Buffalo offensive line last week. The Giants appear to have a favorable and sizeable advantage in the trenches, which would not bode well in Tampa Bay's quest to limit Jacobs and New York's ground attack.
The Giants are also solid at the offensive tackles spots. Left tackle David Diehl (6-5, 319) may not look the part, but he's a high-effort player and fairly reliable when it comes to protecting Manning's blind side. Diehl will go up against Bucs defensive end Gaines Adams, who has struggled in new defensive coordinator Jim Bates' system thus far. Adams has been held without a sack this year, and he'll be hard pressed to notch his first quarterback takedown on Sunday, evidenced by the fact that the Giants have allowed just one sack this year and only gave up 28 sacks in 2008.
Giants RT Kareem McKenzie (6-6, 327) is a better run blocker than he is a pass protector. Bucs DE Jimmy Wilkerson, who notched his first sack of the season vs. Buffalo last week, will battle McKenzie in the trenches. Both Adams and Wilkerson will have to be on top of their games vs. the run as well since the Giants like to attack the perimeter with Bradshaw.
Steve Spagnuolo was the mastermind behind New York's defense, which recorded 95 sacks from 2007-08. But Giants have missed Spagnuolo, who is now the St. Louis Rams head coach.
The Giants currently have the 16th-ranked defense in the NFL and have just three sacks through two games. Still, the Giants defensive line is littered with talent and more than capable of getting after the quarterback even though this year's statistics suggest otherwise.
New York has two of the league's best pass-rushing defensive ends in Justin Tuck (6-5, 274) and Osi Umenyiora ((6-3, 261). Tuck has 24.5 career sacks and 1.5 in 2009. He will be matched up with Bucs right tackle Jeremy Trueblood. The good news for Trueblood is Tuck sustained a shoulder injury vs. Dallas last week and may not be 100 percent healthy heading into this contest.
Bucs left tackle Donald Penn is at his best in pass protection, and he'll need to be on top of his game vs. Umenyiora, who has one sack this year, but has 42.5 career quarterback takedowns despite missing all of last season due to injury.
Tampa Bay will be without starting center Jeff Faine again, and it could sorely miss him. Bucs backup C Sean Mahan likely will start in his place. He likely will receive some help from Bucs left guard Jeremy Zuttah. They will attempt to double team Giants nose tackle Barry Coefield (6-4, 306), who is considered a dominant run defender. Bucs right guard Davin Joseph might find himself in some on-on-one situations with DT Fred Robbins (6-4, 317), and he must find a way to win those as he's one of the team's better run blockers.
The Giants have some depth along their defensive line, and likely will work newcomer Chris Canty and DE Mathias Kiwanuka, who has 16.5 career sacks, in to the rotation.
The Giants signed former Falcons outside linebacker Michael Boley with the idea of upgrading this unit, but a hip injury has Boley sidelined for several more weeks, and New York's defense has missed him, especially vs. the run, where the Giants currently rank 27th in the NFL and are allowing teams to average 168 yards rushing per contest.
Boley has been replaced by LB Chase Blackburn (6-3, 247), who currently ranks fourth on the team in tackles, but has been inconsistent vs. the run.
The strength of this unit is Giants middle linebacker Antonio Pierce (6-1, 238), who ranks third on the team in tackles. Tight ends Kellen Winslow and Jerremy Stevens will be called on to make some plays in the passing game like they did vs. Buffalo last week, and they should be able to do that vs. Blackburn and LB Danny Clark, a 10th-year veteran. Neither defender thrives in pass defense.
The Bucs likely will attempt to test New York's run defense early in this contest with Cadillac Williams and Derek Ward, who has some extra motivation facing his former team. The Bucs, who are looking to rebound from a 57-yard rushing performance vs. the Bills last week, might also ask Williams and Ward to help protect quarterback Byron Leftwich in the passing game. Pierce has eight career sacks and is a capable blitzer.
The Giants are allowing opposing offenses to convert 47.8 percent of their third downs, mostly because of New York's difficulty in stopping the run this season.
The Giants have a fairly talented secondary, led by cornerback Corey Webster. The 6-foot, 202-pound corner is considered a consistent playmaker. He has six career interceptions and two sacks.
New York CB Aaron Ross (6-0, 197) also has six career interceptions, but he's not as consistent as Webster. The Bucs, who have the fourth-ranked offense in the NFL, may attempt to target Ross, but may have to do so without starting WR Antonio Bryant, who still is attempting to work his way back from preseason knee surgery. Should Bryant not be able to play for the second straight week, Webster and Ross will be responsible for covering Bucs wide receivers Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall.
Although neither Clayton nor Stovall is considered a deep threat, the Giants will lean on safeties Kenny Phillips (6-2, 210) and Michael Johnson (6-2, 207) to defend the deep part of the field. Phillips has impressive athleticism and leads the team in interceptions with two. Johnson and Phillips lead the Giants defense in tackles through two games, which is never a good thing. It is critical for the Bucs to establish the ground game early in this contest. A successful rushing attack will force Phillips and Johnson to play closer to the line of scrimmage, which could really open up things for Leftwich and Co. in the passing game.
The Giants have a reliable kicker in Lawrence Tynes, who missed most of the 2008 season due to injury. Tynes has drilled 7-of-8 (87.5 percent) of his field goal attempts through two games.
New York punter Jeff Feagles has punted just six times through two games. He's averaging 39 yards per attempt, with three of those tries pinned inside the 20-yard line. Tynes and Feagles will kick to Bucs return specialist Clifton Smith, who made the Pro Bowl in 2008, but hasn't had Pro Bowl-type production through the first two games of the year.
Tampa Bay's coverage teams shouldn't have trouble containing New York's return specialists. Kicker returner Sinorice Moss is averaging 22.5 yards per attempt. Punt returner Domenik Hixon is averaging just 5.3 yards per attempt. Tampa Bay's special teams unit simply can't afford to give New York's offense a short field to work with.
FLYNN'S FORECAST: Giants 34 Buccaneers 24