Wildcard Sunday: Giants vs. Buccaneers
By Chris Pokorny, PFCritics WriterJanuary 6, 2008
Eli Manning hopes to lead the Giants to a postseason victory for the first time in his career. They'll see a familiar face on the other side of the field, because Jeff Garcia eliminated them from the postseason last year when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles. Today's game could change at the flip of a defensive play from a big-time defensive player. Michael Stahan? Ronde Barber? Who will shine when it matters most?
Eli Manning: 297 of 529 for 3336 yards, 23 touchdowns, 20
interceptions, 27 sacks, 7 fumbles.
Note: How can you diagnose the season that Eli Manning had? He had
some success early on in the season and looked really good last week
against the New England Patriots. Throughout the whole middle of the season
though, his miscues were part of the Giants teetering with the possibility
of "choking" a playoff spot away. After throwing 20 interceptions this
year, he'll have his hands full against Tampa Bay's cover-2 defense which
ranks first in the league against the pass.
Jeff Garcia: 209 of 327 for 2440 yards, 13 touchdowns, 4 interceptions,
19 sacks, 2 fumbles.
Note: With some teams, I question the decision to rest starters. The
Buccaneers took an interesting approach: they basically played their
backups for the final two games of the season, forfeiting the possibility
of them getting the third seed. They settled for only getting one playoff
game in the postseason to rest a guy like Jeff Garcia. Garcia is such a
good fit with veteran experience for what the Buccaneers want to do on
offense that I agree with how they handled the situation. And, if Garcia
gets banged up against the Giants' heavy pass rush, Luke McCown now hands
all the experience he needs.
Note: If the Giants are going to beat the Buccaneers, they're going
to need the support of their running game. Manning works best off of
playaction, and the only way to set that up is if Jacobs and Bradshaw
provide the same type of rushing attack they did in Week 16 against the
Buffalo Bills. Jacobs played very well over the last month of the season
but has been held back at times with injuries.
Note: After the season-ending injury to Carnell Williams, Earnest
Graham fit well in an offense that relies heavily on a manageable player to
work with at each position. Graham's ability to catch the ball suits
Garcia's style as a quarterback as well, much like he had last year with
Brian Westbrook in Philadelphia. Also, they now have veteran Michael
Pittman back. Pittman was with the Buccaneers when they won a Super Bowl
several years ago.
Note: The Giants key to success: Kevin Boss? It may be a little
premature to say something like this, but Boss seemed to have better
chemistry with Manning than Shockey did in the first half of last week's
Patriots game. Still, the Buccaneers' defense is so good at defending the
pass that guys like Burress and Toomer, who are notorious for their drops,
can't afford to play like they have all season.
Note: You wouldn't know it based on his stats, but Galloway was a
key factor in leading the Buccaneers to the playoffs. When Garcia was
playing every week earlier in the season, the chemistry on the deep ball
for touchdowns between the two of them played a major role in victory.
Hilliard had a quiet resurrection of his career this year, while Smith
remained as a low-key, yet reliable tight end in short yardage situations.
Note: The Giants give up a lot of big plays, but they can also wreck
havoc on anyone's quarterback in football. When you have three guys
basically in double digits in sacks (Michael Strahan only had nine), it
changes the way opposing teams call their plays. Garcia is known for
rolling out and evading tacklers, and it's hard to say that he should
try and be a pocket passer this week. However, the Giants have the type of
speed that can force Garcia backwards on a rollout.
Note: This is the type of Buccaneers defense that took them to the
Super Bowl. This is the type of efficient offense that can keep them in
games. Why aren't they being taken more seriously for making the NFC
Championship? They may thrive off the role of the "underdogs" this year.
The Buccaneers don't have a ton of interceptions, but they play physical
enough and have great coverage to prevent teams from moving the ball
Ahman Bradshaw: 24.2 yards per kick return. Lawrence Tynes: 23-of-27 in field goals, with a long of 48 yards.
Note: Tynes was 5-of-8 from 30-39 yards this season, but was a
perfect 8-of-8 from 40-49 yards. There's a chance that Tynes will be relied
on heavily against the Buccaneers, because it's hard to imagine Manning
having success when the Giants get into Buccaneers territory.
Michael Spurlock: 27.8 yards per kick return, 1 touchdown. 7.5 yards
per punt return. Matt Bryant: 28-of-33 in field goals, with a long of 49 yards.
Note: Spurlock had the Buccaneers first kickoff return in history
this season. With that type of rarity for a franchise, the chances of him
returning another kick should be slim.
New York Giants
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Can Eli Manning finally show up in a playoff game? Although all of America
appreciated the effort they gave last week against the New England
Patriots, it cost them on the injury side of the ball. Many of their
defensive players are out or didn't get the rest they were hoping for.
However, perhaps Manning got the confidence that he's been looking for all
season long. If that's the case, then it may have been beneficial to play
throughout all four quarters.
The Buccaneers don't allow opposing teams to score much through the air.
The last time these two teams met was last season when the Giants won 17-3.
In that game, Manning had an average day -- he threw for one touchdown in
the first quarter before sitting on the lead the rest of the game. If the
Giants' defense is hot and able to disrupt Garcia often, that may be the
best route for them to go. With as up-and-down that the Giants have been
this year though, I have to take Garcia to eliminate them in the playoffs
for the second straight year.