Matthew Postins: Talk about the running game. To me, that's the Giants' offensive strength. Between Brandon Jacobs, Reuben Droughns and the rookie, Ahmad Bradshaw, just how dangerous is this group and what problems do they present to the Buccaneers?
Ken Palmer: To say the Giants don't miss Tiki Barber would be foolish. He's the franchise's all-time leader in rushing. But to say the Giants got along better without Barber than expected is definitely accurate. Brandon Jacobs bulled his way to more than 1,000 yards in basically only 10 games. Reuben Droughns was much more effective as the short-yardage back earlier in the year than of late, but the Giants have benefited greatly from the explosiveness of rookie Ahmad Bradshaw, who busted off an 88-yard TD run in Buffalo. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, and is a tough runner that obviously possesses breakaway speed. For the Giants to win Sunday, they'll definitely need to run the ball early and often.
Matthew Postins: Eli Manning is coming off one of his best performances ever in a losing effort. But he's thrown almost as many interceptions as touchdowns this year. Has Eli turned the corner in any respect this season? I figured between Kevin Gilbride and Chris Palmer that there would be improvement on his end this year. Or are the expectations simply too high?
Ken Palmer: While the expectations are definitely way too high for Eli Manning, it's hard to tell what you're going to get from the former top overall pick on a week-to-week basis. Manning plays awful one week and then terrific, like he did against the Pats, the next. He's at his best when he can run a controlled offense with a lot of play-action passes. Manning is capable of carrying a team to victory, but more often than not, he comes up short in that department. There's no question that anyone that has anything to do with the Giants wishes Manning were more consistent at this point in his career. To be totally honest, anyone that predicts with conviction what type of game Manning will play in Tampa is only fooling themselves.
Matthew Postins: Everyone will talk about Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora all week. Talk to me about Justin Tuck. He's a backup defensive end/tackle and he has 10 sacks. Why has he had such a productive season?
Ken Palmer: Justin Tuck is not far off the Pro Bowl level of starters Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan. He's benefited by being the ‘third' DE behind those two. But he's a very solid defensive end that can rush the passer with a wide assortment of moves and can also play the run very well. Another notch in Tuck's belt is how hard he hits. He doesn't just wrap guys up; he really belts them good, and he's become known for it in and around the Giants locker room. How well he'll hold up as a full-time starter remains to be seen. But, that's a non-factor for Sunday. Tampa's skill guys would be wise to know where number 91 is at all times.
Matthew Postins: Jon Gruden said this Giants team had no resemblance to the Giants team the Bucs faced last year in the Meadowlands, especially on defense. Talk about the overhaul defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has made this season and how that has translated into the team's success?
Ken Palmer: The main reason the Giants came the closest to knocking off mighty New England is because defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo let his troops free. The Giants were blitzing and stunting from multiple directions all evening long. New York has been able to cover up some of its defensive shortcomings, like man-to-man coverage, by disguising its coverages and playing a very aggressive brand of football. Another reason this team – and defense in general – doesn't really resemble last year's version is because this year they're basically healthy. Last year, injuries ravaged the Giants and their chances of playoff success.
Matthew Postins: Is Tom Coughlin getting a bad rap in New York? The Giants have reached the playoffs three straight years and they appear to be making progress overall as a team. What's your opinion of Coughlin? Is he the right guy for this job? Should he stay on beyond this season?
Ken Palmer: Tom Coughlin has clearly earned the extension he's surely to get shortly after the season. He did an excellent job this season of trying to listen to and relate to his players, which was something he didn't exactly make a point of emphasis in the past. Coughlin really won the players' respect when he established a 10-man leadership peer group. Getting to the playoffs three straight years in this league is quite an accomplishment. While some will still criticize Coughlin for not getting more out of this team, I think he's done very well overall and will be around for years to come.