The Talking Plank - Wildcard Round
The Talking Plank -
Giants At Bucs:
With the start of the post season, the Bucs host the Giants in the 1pm Sunday Wildcard contest. The Bucs and Giants both come into the playoffs having lost 2 of their last 3 games. The difference, however, is that the Bucs rested their starters for 1 and a half games, with a few exceptions. As such, the Giants' last two losses involved extensive play by their 1st team units, while the Bucs last 2 losses saw extensive action by the back-ups in an effort to get some players healthy, and keep other ones from getting injured down the stretch. Whether or not it affects the Bucs play is something we will find out tomorrow, but it's a no win for the team either way in the eyes of the media. If they had played their starters and gotten more than June and Sears hurt, they would have been calling the coach out. If they lose tomorrow, they'll say it was because of the rest. Either way, some guys who really needed a break got one, including Graham, Galloway, Hilliard, and Garcia. With Washington having lost, the Bucs are Dallas bound with a win. So let's look at the match-up.
On Offense, the Bucs are ranked 18th in total yards (326/g), 19th in points scored (20.9/g), 16th in passing yards (209/g), and 11th in rushing yards (117/g). The Giants' defense is ranked 7th in yards allowed (305/g), 17th in points allowed (21.9/g), 11th in passing yards allowed (207/g), and 8th against the run (97y/g). The Bucs are +15 while the Giants are -9, which means the Bucs don't give it up often, while getting a lot of turnovers, while the Giants are coughing it up and not getting as many of their own, forcing 25 turnovers (the Bucs have given up 20 TO's while getting 36, and the Giants offense has coughed it up 34 times). So turnovers could be huge in this game. The Bucs should be able to protect the ball. Whether or not they can keep Garcia vertical is another issue. The Giants have posted 53 sacks on the season, putting a lot of pressure, with Strahan, Umenyiora, and Tuck getting 32 of them. Both Strahan and Umenyiora are rather light, using a combination of speed and deceptive power to get past the Tackles. Penn should be able to deal with Umenyiora, as he has handled speed guys most of the year, but it will be his most difficult test. Trueblood may have some issues, though he handled Strahan, shutting him out last year. Whether he can keep Tuck out of the backfield is another issue. The Giants will likely be without CB Sam Madison. CB Kevin Dockery is questionable, and LB Kawika Mitchell is also questionable. The likely result is that the Giants aren't likely to have a whole lot of help in the back 7 to handle the various weapons the Bucs have. Galloway will likely have a field day against the Giants' man coverage. He burned them several times last year, but Gradkowski had problem getting the ball to him. If Garcia has some time to throw, the Bucs should be able to exploit the back 7 and get some big plays. The Tight Ends should be able to abuse the big but slow LB's, and Clayton and Hilliard should both be able to use some good route running to break off the man coverage and give Garcia windows to throw. But one of the keys will be whether or not the Bucs can run against a strong Giants defensive line, and one that gets a lot of blitz help from the LB's. The Giants have a physical D-line, but they aren't especially big, and it's been lines with the 320-330+ pound guys in the middle that have had some success stopping the Bucs' running game. If the Bucs can get a good, physical game out of the offensive line and a fresh Graham, then they should be able to run the ball well enough to slow down the pass rush and allow for play action passing. I can also see the Bucs using Pittman and Bennett on the edges to attack the slow OLB's with that speed. The Bucs have has some success with some edge plays lately, especially with Bennett, and they will likely exploit that weakness of the Giants. If the running game gets going, and it just has to be credible, not great, and the line can keep Garcia from getting hit too much, the Bucs will exploit the Giants defense where they are vulnerable and move the ball quite well. They'll likely get some points on this defense as well. I look for the offense to have moderate success. If the running game gets going big time, I look for the Bucs to really take it to the defense. If not, it could be a long game.
On Defense, the Bucs come in ranked 2nd in yards allowed (278/g), 3rd in points allowed (16.9/g), 1st against the pass (170y/g), and 17th against the run (107y/g). The Giants' offense comes in ranked 16th in total yards (331/g), 14th in points scored (23.3/g), 21st in passing yards (197y/g), and 4th in rushing yards (134y/g). The big key in stopping the Giants' offense is stopping the run. If you force Manning to carry the team, 9 times out of 10 he'll fail to do so. He can be rattled with early pressure or coverage confusion, and is highly prone to turning the ball over (he's thrown 20 picks and fumbled the ball 13 times, losing 7). His completion percentage is around 56% with a QB rating of 73.9 for the season. If he's got a solid running game going, and the pressure isn't getting to him, and he's not getting confused by the coverage, then he can certainly rip a team apart. Unfortunately for him, the Bucs thrive on getting pressure with the front four, and in confusing QB's by switching between Cover 2 and Cover 3, with some other coverages mixed in, while generally always showing a look that shows a different coverage than what they are running. So if the Bucs can force Manning to pass the ball 35+ times in this game (or if the offense keeps the Giants' offense off the field), then the defense should be able to cause some problems and get some turnovers. They've caused a lot of turnovers, even against teams not prone to them, and that trend is likely to continue. The defense has been using a lot more of their back-ups the last two weeks and the pressure has fallen off some, but the rest should allow the main guys to come out and put pressure on Manning, even if they aren't always getting to him. But they must, first and foremost, fill the gaps and try to keep RB Brandon Jacobs off the linebackers. While Ruud and company can handle him for stints, it will be a long tough game if they are constantly having to take him on. The Bucs have had success against bigger backs this year because the DL has gotten a lot more tackles in the running game, and keeping the LB's cleaner, which is why Ruud's tackle numbers have dropped. With June doubtful for this contest, it will be important for his replacement to gang up on the running back and force Manning to throw. Jacobs has had various injuries during the year and is kind of in the same boat as Pittman, missing games off and on. He's also failed to have much success against the better defenses that he's played against. His main backup, Ward, is on IR, and Bradshaw is limping around on a calf injury that, even if seemingly healthy now, is not likely to allow him to cut well or reach full speed. Droughns isn't likely to find much success against the Bucs either. So the key will be stopping Jacobs. I look for Ruud to have a big day and really come in with the intent of laying the wood on the various ball carriers and filling that hole fast. I think the Bucs will limit the Giants' rushing attack to just under 100 yards and force Manning to beat them. If they can do that without committing extra guys up front, then it could be a long day for Eli.
On Special Teams, both units come in with solid kickers and punters. The Bucs return game is getting 23.3 yards per kick and 6.7 yard per punt, while the Giants are allowing 23.1 and 6.2 respectively. Of course, Spurlock, who has been getting the bulk of punt return duties lately, is averaging 27.8 yards per kick and 7.5 yards per punt return. I expect to see him rip off a couple of big returns in this game, and at least set up a couple of short fields for the offense. The more the merrier as it will put additional pressure on the Giants' defense. The Giants are getting 23.9 and 7.4 yards per kick and punt return, while the Bucs are allowing 19.5 and 7.4 respectively. The Bucs, with some guys coming back healthy, should be back to top form and should be able to limit the Giants' return game somewhat. If they can keep forcing the Giants to go the length of the field, it will greatly help the defense. Either team can win this game on a field goal attempt, so field position will be a big key in this game. I expect the Bucs to get decent field position and keep the Giants inside their 30 for most of the game.
This is going to be a fairly interesting game to watch. If both teams play to their character, then the Bucs have a number of killer stats in their favor, especially the turnover margin. I expect the Bucs to come out and play inspired football. If they do that, they will win. If not, it's hard to say, as either team could walk away a winner in this one. In the end, the odds favor the Bucs, and I like them to come out and show the national audience that they are, in fact, for real.
Bucs 24 Giants 23