Thursday, January 05, 2006

PREVIEWING THE NY / CAROLINA GAME

Carolina at NY Giants:
New York:
Giant QB Eli Manning (3,762/24/17) has shown great poise and maturity, but is prone to forcing the ball. In addition, the young Mann’ has a tendency to overthrow his receivers and due to his throwing style, those balls tend to float… right into the arms of waiting Safeties. While Manning’s pluck is admirable… he doesn’t let 1, 2, 3 or even 4 INTs derail his confidence, I believe he requires another year or 2 of seasoning. Eli needs to learn how to “look off” his pass catchers, and he needs to sharpen his rapport with big WR Plaxico Burress.

It’s amazing that when discussions turn to the NFL’s “elite” runners, Barber invariably remains an afterthought. What more does Tike have to do to warrant notice? Rip off 200+ yard games? Okay, Barber’s notched the double-C’ not just once… oh no, not just twice… yeah boy, Barber’s hit 200+ rushing yards THRICE! Does Barber need to demonstrate consistency? Well he’s done that, with 8- 100+ yard games (and a 95 yard game) and 9 ground scores. What about being the hard-to-define “complete back?” If that’s your standard, Tiki Barber is a giant amongst backs. Big Blue’s feature back can pick up the blitz, and with a soft pair of hands, he has racked up 530 receiving yards and 2 TDs on 54 receptions. Nifty in open space and possessing a second-gear as the 95 yard scamper he tore off against the Raiders last week attests, Barber is an “elite,” top-notch back. This is one advantage the G-Men have over the Panthers.
Although rookie runner Brandon “Brahma Bull” Jacobs has been used sparingly, his size (6-4/255) and power could serve the Giants well in short yardage and Goal Line situations. Whether coach Tom Coughlin will take a chance on the back fumbling the ball away in a crucial situation… that remains to be seen. Jacobs MUST learn to run “lower.” He maintains a very “upright stance,” and this affords opposing ‘backers the opportunity to strip him of the ball.

The addition of former Steeler Wideout Plaxico Burress has made a world of difference to NY’s passing game. Through Week 12, the tall receiver (76/1,214/7) was on pace to set career marks in virtually every category until he suffered a quartet of very average games. During that span Plax’ failed to accrue more than 4 grabs or 50 yards receiving in any game, and he certainly didn’t cross the stripe. Nevertheless, the Giants’ go-to pass catcher gives Manning the big Red Zone target he so desperately needed. The attention opposing Secondaries are forced to lavish upon Burress allowed both WR Amani Toomer (60/684/7) and TE Jeremy Shockey (76/1,214/7) to fourish, and both could be integral to a Wild Card win. Shockey, nursing an ankle injury, MUST be on the field to punish the Panthers if they opt to double-up on Burress. It does seem, however, that Shockey is ALWAYS hurt. In recent games, Manning and Toomer have hooked up like teenagers. With RB Tiki Barber forcing foes to respect the run… an above-average pass catching contingent becomes even better.

Ain’t no way around it, the Giant Secondary is the team’s Achilles heel. Due to the 225 passing yards allowed per game, the Big Blue pass D is ranked 27th league-wide. Not surprisingly, the team also allows almost 330 yards of total O per game… and without stout MLB Antonio Pierce manning the middle, the run D (now allowing better than 103 rushing YPG) also becomes a weak link. Negative aside, DEs Osi Umenyiora (14.5 Sacks) and Mike Strahan (11.5 Sacks) are a pass rushing tandem deluxe’, and promise to harry QB Jake Delhomme all day… if given the opportunity. Umenyiora’s emergence has allowed Strahan to see fewer double-teams, thus his numbers are somewhat bloated.

Carolina:
Jake Delhomme (3,421/25/16) gives the suddenly dangerous cats’ a steady-eddie presence over Center. Delhomme isn’t flashy, he doesn’t have a cannon for an arm, and his scrambling abilities aren’t anything to right home about. In fact, his numbers are nearly identical to those of Eli Manning. Much like the Seahawks’ Matt Hasselbeck, Delhomme simply gets the job done. Although the ‘Lina slinger lacks top targets, he seems to excel with Steve Smith on the receiving end of his bombs.

RB DeShaun Foster (879 rushing yards, 372 receiving yards, 3 TDs) has clearly supplanted veteran Stephen Davis (549/12). Foster has the speed to “touch and go,” and he’s an excellent pass catching back as his 34 grabs for 372 yards attest. Foster is, however, a bit of a wildcard. He goes East-West with regularity, and therefore will lose yards with unpleasant regularity. The venerable Stephen Davis, a guy who can lower his head and plow forward, may handle the G-Line totes. Do not look for Davis to be wearing a Panther Uni’ next season though. The future feature is clearly DeShaun Foster… so long as he can remain healthy.

The Wide Receiving corps has been a bit of a disappointment for the Panthers… and that’s saying something. Last season saw 2nd year man Keary Colbert emerge as a credible deep threat… and this season, it would seem as if Colbert went deep again… deep undercover. In ‘04, Colbert hung a promising line of 47/754/5. This year? The guy’s numbers have fallen off a fantasy cliff; 25/282/2. The Panthers’ star receiver and legit’ league MVP AND “Comeback Player of the Year” has been WR Steve Smith. Superman Smith crashed through the century receiving mark with a semi-ridiculous 103 catches for1,563 yards and 12 TDs. If the Giants can’t contain Smith, the game will be lost. Look for the G-Men to bracket Smith with a Safety and a Corner. That will, however, leave savvy vet Ricky Proehl (25/441/4, but 3 of his TDs have come in the last 4 weeks) and RB DeShaun Foster free to snare a few. Foster, in particular, is an excellent pass catcher and is elusive in open space.

The Giants, surging though they may be, will have an uphill battle. Even playing before their Home crowd, ranked 4th against the rush (ceding 91 rushing YPG), 9th against the pass (surrendering slightly more than 190 passing YPG) and 3rd in“Total Yards Allowed” (allowing 282) the Panther D will be a tough nut to crack. The Giant O-Line has, primarily, been thrown together due to injuries and nightmare DE Julius Peppers could tee-OFF on Manning. A NY line that has been called for more false starts” then I can count will be eager to try and get a jump on the cats’ speedy front 4… and that promises to be a bloody, physical “battle in the trenches.”

Significant Injuries: The Panthers will miss LB Dan Morgan, the G-Men will miss his counterpart, Antonio Pierce.

In Conclusion: If NY can’t slow the formidable Carolina pass rush, Manning may rattle. Rest assured, that line WILL have to play impeccable Football against the talented ‘Lina front. If NY can’t contain WR Steve Smith, the entire D may rattle. The key to the game for the Panthers is getting the ball to Steve Smith… which will, in turn, open the running lanes for versatile RB DeShaun Foster. The game-plan for the Giants will be similar. Get Tiki going early, get Eli in a rhythm by having him throw short, quick passes, then have him challenge the ‘cat corners by throwing deep to vertical threat Plaxico Buress.
In what should be a VERY physical and fun game, look for the Giants to escape by the hair on their chinny-chin-chins… that being, of course, a Jay Feeley Field Goal.

NY Giants 24 Carolina Panthers 21

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