For years, the New York Giants' offense was known for its running game, which was led by Tiki Barber. Although Barber retired during the offseason, New York's running game still is one of the league's best.
The Giants offense ranks 16th in the NFL, but it has the fourth-ranked running game in the league thanks to RB Brandon Jacobs.
Jacobs has rushed 202 times for 1,009 yards (5.0 avg.) and four touchdowns this season. Why have opposing defenses had difficulty stopping him?
While his 6-foot-4, 265-pound frame has had something to do with his success, Tampa Bay's defense feels Jacobs can do much more than just run defenders over.
"He's a big guy, but he's not just a big guy – he's got good feet, too," said Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud. "He can break away. I think people saying he's just a big grinder back there is a little overrated. He's a complete back."
One of the topics of conversation at One Buccaneer Place from a media standpoint this week has been Jacobs' size vs. Tampa Bay's undersized, but fast defense.
Tampa Bay's defense has had mixed results against the running game this year. It currently ranks 17th in the league in that area and is allowing 107.9 yards rushing per game.
Jacobs will be the biggest back Tampa Bay has faced all year. However, Ruud, who led the Bucs in tackles (169) during the regular season, has faced bigger.
"I faced a bigger back in college," said Ruud. "It was a guy from Kansas State, Joe Hall, that was like 310 pounds. I have a picture of him running me over, but that was when I was a freshman, though."
Ruud and the Bucs had success shutting down bigger backs like St. Louis' Steven Jackson, New Orleans' Deuce McAllister and Tennessee's LenDale White earlier in the year. The key to stopping Jacobs, according to the Bucs, is being assignment and tackling sound.
"A good back is a good back," said Ruud. "If you're not in your right gaps and you don't tackle well the big guy might run you over or the little guy might make you miss – one of the two. It's just about being gap-sound and being where you're supposed to be on defense."
Jacobs isn't the only back Tampa Bay's defense must account for. Derrick Ward was one of New York's change-of-pace backs. He carried the ball 125 times for 602 yards (4.8 avg.) and three touchdowns before going on injured reserve earlier in the year.
Giants RB Reuben Droughns is another big back that has rushed for just 275 yards (3.2 avg.), but has scored six touchdowns. Rookie Ahmad Bradshaw, who has replaced Ward as one of the Giants' faster backs, has carried the ball 23 times for 190 yards (8.3 avg.) and one touchdown in a limited amount of action.
Why have so many backs been able to do so much damage for the Giants this season? Tampa Bay attributes a lot of New York's success via the running game to its veteran-laden offensive line.
"Real good. Real solid," Bucs defensive tackle Jovan Haye said when describing the Giants' offensive line. "They come off the ball very powerful. They look real good on offense."
What does Tampa Bay's defensive line need to do in order to free up Ruud and other Bucs defenders to bring down Jacobs and Co.?
"They just need to do exactly what they've been doing because they've played great all year," Ruud said. "Our two interior guys [Haye and nose tackle Chris Hovan] are as good as anybody in terms of filling the right gaps, shedding blockers and making tackles. They just need to do exactly what they've been doing."
The Bucs are most concerned with getting to Jacobs when he has the ball in his hand in a timely manner. Once they put themselves in position to tackle Jacobs or another ball carrier, the Bucs believe they can limit the production that comes from the Giants' ground game.
"Gang tackle. That's been our focus, it's how we dealt with big backs in the past," said Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks. "It is what it is. He's going to get the ball and we're going to have to get two or three guys to the football. It's no difference from the message that we've been preaching all year long. It's probably the biggest back we faced all year long. Again, we just have to get two or three guys to the football and make sure you wrap up when you get there."
By limiting New York's ground game, the Giants would be forced to move the ball through the air, where quarterback Eli Manning has been inconsistent, completing just 56.1 percent of his passes and tossing 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.
Tampa Bay's defense has allowed five different players to rush for more than 100 yards in 16 regular season games this season. The Bucs have posted a 1-4 record in those contests. Their lone win came in Week 3 when the Bucs held Jackson to 115 yards on 30 carries (3.8 avg.) en route to a 24-3 win.
The Bucs expect the Giants to run Jacobs early and often on Sunday. It will take solid execution and a group effort to stop Jacobs and New York's running game on Sunday. Tampa Bay is confident it can get the job done. It will have to in order for the Bucs to defeat New York and advance in the playoffs.
"They're going to run the ball," said Bucs strong safety Jermaine Phillips. "They have the big backs, so we definitely have to stop the run in this game. It's going to be a good one. It's going to be big, physical, hard-hitting playoff game. I think our speed on defense matches up well with what they have on offense.
"Yeah, [Jacobs] can run and he's big and strong, but when it comes down to it it's all about playing fundamental football for us. He might be able to take on one guy, but he can't take on all 11 of us."
Want the inside scoop on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2007 season and 2008 offseason plans? Want to find out who the Bucs are targeting in free agency and the NFL Draft next year? Subscribe to PewterReport.com's Pewter Insider by clicking here.
WATCH Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds and Jim Flynn each Sunday night at 11:30 p.m. on Sports Zone with Al Keck and Tom Korun on ABC Action News in Tampa Bay for Bucs game highlights and the latest Bucs news. And for the best local coverage of Tampa Bay sports and Tampa Bay news, check out ABCActionNews.com.
LISTEN to Pewter Report's Jim Flynn each Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. on the Pewter Pulse with Dan Sileo on WDAE 620 AM The Sports Animal, and catch Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds each Wednesday afternoon at 5:00 p.m. on the PewterReport.com Buccaneer Blitz with Steve Duemig on WDAE 620 AM The Sports Animal.