Thursday, January 03, 2008

NFL WildCard Playoffs Pre-Game Analysis: New York at Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay Do’s and Don’t’s:

Do use your zone scheme to confuse and frustrate Eli Manning. While Plaxico is healthier than ever this season, the Giants lack true downfield speed and – due to the injury to Jeremy Shockey – a threat in the middle of the field. The Bucs D allowed a league low in points per game and have the personnel to both stack the box and drop into zone coverage.

Do balance the offensive attack with a steady diet of play-action. Jeff Garcia (13 TDs, 4 INTs) is as protective of the ball as any quarterback this side of Foxboro. By using Earnest Graham (10 rush TDs) early and often, downfield passing plays can be made to touchdown-threat Joey Galloway.

Don't start slowly. After taking nearly 3 weeks off, the Bucs can’t afford to be too rusty. While the Giants have blown leads before (see Week 17), they have a power running game and a solid pass rush. Those aren’t two things that are easily overcome in the playoffs.

Don't put your tackles out on an island. Use a blocking tight end or leave some in the backfield. While Garcia is plenty nimble, he isn’t going to escape a collapsing pocket more often than not. Allowing Umenyiora and Strahan free cracks at the QB can cost this team the game.

New York Do’s and Don’t’s:

Do get Eli started early. Whether it’s a deep-shot to Burress or quick out-routes to Toomer, Boss, or Smith…Eli has to get an early feel for the game. This doesn’t mean the running game has to be abandoned, but don’t wait until 3rd and long to force Eli to make plays.

Do allow Antonio Pierce and Kavika Mitchell to spy on Garcia. A master of play-action all-season long, Pierce and Mitchell must use their athleticism to prevent dangerous screen passes and potential 1st-down scrambles by Garcia.

Don't lose the special teams battle. Seemingly every week the Giants plug in a new kickoff returner who can take it to the house. While Tampa broke their infamous non-kickoff return TD record this season, don’t allow the floodgates to open. Tynes hasn’t be tested regularly either, so don’t ask him to kick a 50-yarder…good weather or not.

Don't panic. Whether you fall down 14-0 early or need a TD-drive late in the game, the Giants can’t afford to panic. Eli has never been known as a 4th-quarter QB and often gets the shakes when the game is on the line. Value the ball (no drops Amani) and look for plays downfield to Plaxico. If the game is on the line, Eli has the talent to make the necessary plays.

Key Matchups:

When Tampa Bay has the ball
Jeff Garcia vs. Antonio Pierce
While the two offensive tackles against the two defensive ends is a sexier matchup on paper, watching these two savvy veterans is the real eye candy. Pierce will have to disguise blitzes and coverage schemes for Garcia, who can easily play small ball or go deep across both sidelines.

When New York has the ball
Plaxico Burress vs. Ronde Barber
It’s no secret that Burress (12 TDs, 1 for each mention in this post) and Eli Manning have chemistry. Even if they don’t practice together regularly, Plax is the top target (especially in the redzone) for his QB. However, Eli has proven that he isn’t always able to avoid the pick-six. Enter one of the best to ever do it, CB Ronde Barber…and there’s a couple Pro Bowlers just waiting to do battle all game long.


Yep, momentum. An ugly word when it comes to playoff prognosticating. The Bucs clinched the NFC South almost a month ago and haven’t played 100% in 3 weeks. Meanwhile, the Giants played Week 17 as if it were their Super Bowl. After blowing a 3rd quarter lead of 28-16, one wonders if last week took too much out of the Giants OR not enough out of the Bucs.

Homefield Advantage?
The Giants are 7-1 on the road this season (only a Week 1 loss in Dallas) and seem to play better away from the Meadowlands each and every week. The Bucs, meanwhile, have a solid home record; yet lost their last home playoff game (in 2005 to Washington). Many people feel this game would be a different prediction if it were in New York, which is quite interesting considering the typical leverage towards the home team in the wild-card round.

Final Score Prediction:

Tampa Bay wins 23-19.

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