The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have traveled to New York City (or more likely, New Jersey) to face the New York Giants tomorrow, as the Bucs will look to seek to avenge recent losses against New York. History hasn't been favorable to the Bucs in these meetings, as the team's record is just 6-12 against the Giants in the regular season and the postseason. The last time these two met, the Bucs were slaughtered in Raheem Morris' third game in charge, as the Bucs mustered no offense and were obliterated, 0-24.
That last meeting won't be the most infamous result in the mind of Bucs fans, however, as two other games will stand out: the last playoff game Tampa Bay has played, and a 1999 loss. The latter was a typical Buc Ball game, the kind of football Greg Schiano wants to play, but hardly a result to be happy about. The Bucs limited the Giants to 107 yards in 1999, giving quarterback Kent Graham no room whatsoever and limiting their running backs to an amazing 26 yards on 19 carries. The Giants offense managed to produce just three points. That's the kind of defense the Bucs want to see - except they produced no turnovers in that game, while Trent Dilfer threw it to the opposition three times, and the Giants returned a fumble for a touchdown. Yep, it was that kind of day.
The Bucs want to play they played in 1999, but will seek a different result. Most notably, they will want to avoid turning over the ball four times. New head coach and New Jersey native Greg Schiano wants to see stiff run defense and pressure on the quarterback, but he emphasizes ball security and turnover-free offense on the other side of the ball. The Bucs want to win this game by running the ball and playing defense. Patience is key - but can they win that way? These are not your 1999 Giants, and Eli Manning is no Kent Graham.
No, these Giants are more like your 2007 Giants - who also beat the Buccaneers in what turned out to be Jon Gruden's last playoff game. A game in which the defense held up okay, but the offense couldn't get going. Jeff Garcia had a horrible day at the office, while the Bucs had a little success on the ground but went away from it after a fast start. Eli Manning led the Giants back on drive after efficient drive, as he had a little coming out party. Manning had been oft-criticized, but he improved mightily during that playoff series, helped the Giants win a Super Bowl and has since firmly established himself as an elite quarterback. And that all started in Tampa. That can't sit well with the team.
The Bucs won't make the same mistakes this time, however: they'll stick to the run, come hell or high water. And that could be a very smart thing to do, as the Giants gave up a whopping 143 rushing yards on 26 carries to the Dallas Cowboys. The Bucs got the job done on the ground last week, and they'll look to continue that streak. Injuries to left guard Carl Nicks and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood may ruin that party, however - although Nicks looks like he should be ready to go on Sunday. Regardless, Doug Martin will get his carries, and so should Legarrette Blount - provided he doesn't come out of the game with an injury again.
Through the air, though, the Bucs are far from certain to see the same level of success. Josh Freeman was efficient at times last week, but his receivers dropped a few too many passes, and he didn't get the job done down the field. Part of that may have been the gameplan, and part of that his inexperience with the offense - but 138 yards passing won't be enough to win many games in today's NFL, certainly not when facing Eli Manning and his deep receiving corps. If Freeman can't be more productive than he was last week, the Bucs defense will have to pick up the slack. And that means they'll need
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed up ready to play on defense last week, but can they repeat that effort? They were incredibly fast and disruptive against a disjointed Carolina Panthers team that looked sluggish and struggled to handle Tampa Bay's defensive line. Star defensive tackle Gerald McCoy led the charge as the Bucs slashed repeatedly through a week offensive line, and disciplined defense kept a previously strong running game to just 10 yards on the ground.
Holding the Giants down won't be so easy, however. They have two talented backs in Ahmad Bradshaw and David Wilson, although the latter saw very little time on offense after a lost fumble in their first game. The real threat comes from Eli Manning and the New York receivers. The Super Bowl MVP has turned into an elite quarterback, and the Bucs' secondary gave up over 300 yards through the air last week. They had a number of blown coverages, and won't be able to afford those against a more experienced quarterback than Cam Newton, and a team that is likely to convert in the red zone. Here's one troubling, if not too meaningful statistic: Eli Manning has thrown for 500 yards, 5 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in three career games against the Buccaneers.
Last week, the new and improved Tampa Bay Buccaneers managed to grab their first win against a team that looked slow and disjointed. This week, they face the reigning Super Bowl champions and an elite quarterback. Will they manage to add their second win of the season, or will they fall to what on paper should be a better team? Tomorrow we'll see if last week was just a fluke and this is still a work in progress, or whether the Bucs have truly managed to turn a corner.