This is a game they can win. We aren't saying they will win, but they certainly can beat the Bucs. There are a number of matchups that are favorable to the Giants. We will get into those matchups, but the formula for beating the Bucs is quite simple; it starts with controlling Jeff Garcia when the Giants are on defense. The base of the offensive plan is to run early and often. So let's examine both teams and see if we can develop a basic plan to beat the Bucs.
Jeff Garcia vs. the Giants defense – Garcia is a QB who typically gives the Giants trouble. He has had a problem with his back, so we will see if that affects him. He's smart, he's mobile and he's a tough character. He knows how to beat the Giants. He runs his offense well. He is an excellent West Coast QB. He excels in the short passing game. At 37, he has lost something off his fastball. He doesn't have the arm to hurt the Giants with deep passes. Because of that it is imperative for the DBs to keep the Bucs receivers in front of them and not let them get many yards after the catch. They must tackle well. They can't let them turn a short pass into a long gain.
The defensive line has to have a controlled rush, especially the ends. They have to keep Garcia in the pocket. He will hurt the Giants more outside the pocket. The ends have to get up-field in their rush but they need to funnel him back inside where Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield can clean up. It would be great if they can sack Garcia, but the most important thing for them is to get pressure up the gut and control the perimeter. Justin Tuck will play an important role in the pass rush. Because the threat of the deep pass is not severe, it is possible they could move one of their safeties up to mirror Garcia. They can't always do that, but they can assign a LB when they can't use a DB. Playing smart defense will be a major key. They also have to be unselfish. Everyone must do their job. We are comfortable that Steve Spagnuolo will devise a sound plan to counter Garcia.
The Bucs receivers vs. the Giants DBs – They are not a particularly strong group of receivers. Their big star and playmaker is Joey Galloway. Even at 36 he is still a deep threat, but Garcia will have trouble getting the ball deep to him. Galloway will hurt them more on short or intermediate routes where he can catch and run. They put Maurice Stovall on IR with a broken arm so he obviously will be out. That leaves them with old friend Ike Hilliard and Michael Clayton. Both are good receivers, but they should not be feared by the Giants DBs. Ike was slowing down when he left the Giants after the 2004 season. He is still shifty and he can catch the ball, but they should be able to control him. Where he could hurt them is as a possession receiver who can convert third-and-short situations. Clayton is a former first-round pick who has been a major disappointment. Tampa TEs Alex Smith, Anthony Becht and Jerramy Stevens are all short to intermediate receivers. None of them is as dangerous as Jeremy Shockey. As long as they keep these guys in front of them and then tackle consistently they will be fine in this matchup.
The Bucs RBs vs. the Giants front seven – Cadillac Williams went on Injured Reserve in Week 5 and his loss was huge. Mike Alstott, a Giants nemesis, has missed the entire year and his career is most likely over. That leaves them with Earnest Graham, Michael Bennett and Michael Pittman. Graham has been their main runner. He is a decent back, but a bit of a plodder. He will get some tough yards, but he's not a breakaway threat. Bennett has speed, but he's always been one of the most overrated backs in the league. He is only effective running outside. Because he's not a tough runner the Giants can play to take away the outside run. Pittman is a tough back with some moves, but he has been banged up a lot this season and has been limited. The Giants normal run defense should be good enough to control the run game. We would expect them to keep the Bucs backs under 100 yards.
The Bucs OL vs. the Giants front seven – The Bucs OL is composed of one vet, John Wade at center, three second-year players and one rookie. The Giants DL should be able to exploit this young and inexperienced group. Their left tackle, Donald Penn, is an undrafted free agent they signed off the Vikings practice squad. This should be a key matchup, which should strongly favor Osi Umenyiora. If they give Penn help this should open the way for Michael Strahan against right tackle Jeremy Trueblood. It's an encounter Strahan should win. We like the Giants' chances on the perimeter, but as we mentioned earlier, Osi and Strahan must keep Garcia in the pocket. Justin Tuck should benefit by whatever extra effort they utilize to get Osi and Strahan blocked. This is an average at best offensive line without playoff experience.
The Bucs defense vs. the Giants offense – Not too long ago, the Bucs defense was small, quick and very athletic. They were one of the top defenses in the league. For a number of reasons they fell on hard times and for a few years they were not very good. This year they experienced a rebirth of sorts. They are getting better again. They can be tough, but we believe the Giants match up well against them.
The key will be for the Giants to run the ball. They should be able to get that done. A successful running game will take the game out of Eli's hands. Frankly, we don't believe Eli can carry this team so they will go as far as their running game will take them. The Bucs DL is not their strongest unit. The Giants can make plays against left end Kevin Carter. Right end is handled by rookie Gaines Adams. He will, in time, become a good player, but for now he shouldn't be much trouble. Their tackles, Chris Hovan and Jovan Haye are solid, especially Hovan. The Giants need a healthy Brandon Jacobs to pound the ball at the Bucs. They could also use some doses of Ahmad Bradshaw. What they don't need is Rueben Droughns. The game has passed him by. He can no longer make a tackler miss and his speed is poor. He is no longer even a good short-yardage back though they continue to use him in that role. They Giants should be able to run effectively against their DL with Jacobs and Bradshaw. If they can do that they will take the ball out of Eli's hands, which is a good thing right now.
The Bucs LBs are very good. Derrick Brooks is their spiritual leader. He was once an excellent LB. He had speed, quickness and athletic ability, but age has caught up with Brooks. At 34 he is no longer the same player. At the strong side spot, they signed Cato June from the Colts and he is very good. He is active and he can make big plays. Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud has become the best player on their defense. He is unheralded, but he is the guy that makes their run defense work. The key here is to get linemen into the second level to get some blocks on these guys. It is also important for the Giants backs to make these LBs miss. Bradshaw can do that.
The Tampa secondary is one of the better units in the league. They are opportunistic playmakers. They are led by Ronde Barber, who is having another strong season. The other corner spot is manned by Phillip Buchanon and Brian Kelly. Safety Jermaine Phillips is a big hitter. Rookie Tanard Jackson has been a fourth-round steal. While this is a very good group there is a way to beat them. That plan starts with the Giants run game. If the Giants can be successful running the ball early it will bring the DBs up. If the Giants can soften them up with the run it will make the play action effective.
The main thing the Giants must do is avoid putting the game in Eli's hands. If he can work in a few play-action passes, that will be enough. If he has to throw 52 times, like he did against Washington, they are going to lose. The key to victory for New York is to play sound defense and run, run and run some more.
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