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NFL Preview - N.Y. Giants (2-0) at Tampa Bay (0-2)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Raheem Morris can take solace in the fact that the beginning of his tenure as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is not unique.
No less a Bucs icon than Tony Dungy, the man who built the franchise from a laughingstock into an annual contender, took his early lumps too.
Morris, who will take his third shot at win number one as Tampa Bay head coach when the New York Giants visit Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, will have to get to 0-5 to match the start the Buccaneers got out to during Dungy's rookie season of 1996, though a loss on Sunday would indeed be evocative of the legendary coach's first weeks on the job.
Should the Giants win, Tampa Bay will have suffered its seventh straight loss dating back to last season, which would be the first seven-game skid since Dungy piggy-backed on Sam Wyche's final two losses with five of his own in '96.
The Buccaneers lost their final four games under Jon Gruden a year ago, and the Morris era has begun with double-digit losses to the Cowboys (34-21) and Bills (33-20).
The team attempting to make history repeat itself for the Buccaneers, the Giants, was not so long ago on equal footing with Tampa Bay, as they visited Raymond James for a playoff game early during the calendar year of 2008.
Big Blue's 24-14 win over the Bucs that day launched Tom Coughlin's team toward a Super Bowl title four weeks later, and as the Buccaneers have regressed since that game, the Giants have kept their foot on the gas.
One season after going 12-4 and winning the NFC East title, the Giants have started 2009 at 2-0, notching impressive division wins over the Redskins (23-17) and Cowboys (33-31) to start the campaign.
Last Sunday night, Lawrence Tynes kicked a 37-yard field goal as time expired to ruin Dallas' first meaningful game in its new, $1.1 billion stadium.
The winning kick was preceded by a contest in which quarterback Eli Manning was a sharp 25-of-38 passing for 330 yards, two touchdowns, and no turnovers or sacks absorbed. Wideouts Steve Smith (10 receptions, 134 yards, 1 TD) and Mario Manningham (10 receptions, 150 yards, 1 TD) accounted for 20 of Manning's completions, and combined for 284 of the team's yards through the air.
The Giants defense coaxed Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo into a miserable three-interception night, and the Dallas signal-caller was just 13-of-29 for 127 yards through the air.
The Giants lead the all-time regular season series with the Buccaneers, 10-6, including a 17-3 home victory during the last such meeting, in Week 8 of the 2006 regular season. Tampa Bay won the previous meeting, a 19-13 affair at Raymond James Stadium in 2003.
New York was a 24-14 road winner when the clubs last met, in a 2007 NFC Wild Card matchup. The win, which is the only postseason meeting between the clubs all-time, marked the start of the Giants' march toward a Super Bowl title.
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is 3-1 against the Bucs, including 1-1 during his tenure with Jacksonville (1995-2002). Tampa Bay's Morris will be meeting both Coughlin and the Giants for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
Though the Giants opened eyes around the league last week with their passing attack, injuries among the team's wide receivers could elicit a more run-based approach in Week 3. Manningham (13 receptions, 2 TD) came out of his breakout performance with a shoulder problem that limited him in practice on Wednesday, and fellow wideout Domenik Hixon (knee) and Hakeem Nicks (foot) are still on the shelf as well. That will make things somewhat more difficult for Eli Manning (586 passing yards, 3 TD, 1 INT), who will rely on Smith (16 receptions, 1 TD) and possibly tight end Kevin Boss (4 receptions) a bit more when he drops back to throw. Establishing the run will be about sending burly rusher Brandon Jacobs (104 rushing yards) between the tackles early and often, with the shifty Ahmad Bradshaw (97 rushing yards, 5 receptions) spelling Jacobs and working mainly off the edge. Jacobs and Bradshaw combined for 95 yards against the Cowboys last Sunday night. The Big Blue o-line has allowed just one sack of Manning through two weeks.
The sharpest decline felt for the Buccaneers during the first year of the Morris era has been on defense, where Tampa Bay has allowed a whopping 900 yards in its first two games. The Bucs made a star out of Bills backup rusher Fred Jackson last week, surrendering 163 yards on 28 carries to him in the game. The team must get stronger on the interior line, where Chris Hovan (4 tackles) and Ryan Sims (3 tackles) have been pushed around, and the linebacking corps of Barrett Ruud (18 tackles) in the middle and Quincy Black (13 tackles) and Geno Hayes (16 tackles) on the outside has also been largely ineffective. Starting ends Jimmy Wilkerson (6 tackles, 1 sack) and Gaines Adams (4 tackles) have accounted for just one of Tampa's low total of three sacks. The strength of the Bucs defense is on the back end, where corners Ronde' Barber (11 tackles, 1 sack) and Aqib Talib (10 tackles) will have direct responsibility for containing the Giants receivers, and safeties Sabby Piscitelli (17 tackles, 1 INT) and Will Allen (4 tackles) lend support. Starting free safety Jermaine Phillips was lost for the season with a broken thumb suffered in last week's loss.
WHEN THE BUCCANEERS HAVE THE BALL
Still in search of his first win as the Buccaneers' starting quarterback is Byron Leftwich (572 passing yards, 4 TD, 2 INT), who has been good but not great in his first two outings in a Tampa Bay uniform. The less-than-mobile Leftwich has done a decent job of evading pressure, as he been sacked just twice, but has also helped sink the Bucs with turnovers, including a couple of interceptions last week. Leftwich will be better off if Antonio Bryant (2 receptions) and Maurice Stovall (4 receptions), both of whom are battling knee issues, are able to take the field this week. If not, Leftwich will continue to look primarily to tight ends Kellen Winslow (12 receptions, 2 TD) and Jerramy Stevens (7 receptions, 1 TD) and re-emerging wideout Michael Clayton (7 receptions). After a nice effort in the run in a Week 1 loss to Dallas, the Bucs took a step back in that regard in Buffalo last week. Running backs Cadillac Williams (106 rushing yards, 7 receptions, 2 TD) and Derrick Ward (94 rushing yards, 1 TD) combined for just 41 yards on 16 carries last Sunday, although Williams did add value with seven receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown out of the backfield. Ward played five seasons with the Giants (2004-08) and posted his first career 1,000-yard season for them last year.
The Giants defense did a nice job of forcing mistakes against the Cowboys last week, notching four turnovers in the win, though it has to be somewhat concerning that the Cowboys ran the ball at will (251 ground yards) and put 31 points on the board. The G-Men need a stouter effort from interior line starters Barry Cofield (3 tackles) and Fred Robbins (2 tackles), with linebackers Antonio Pierce (12 tackles) and Michael Boley (7 tackles) making more of a difference behind them. The pass rush will be in some trouble if Pro Bowl end Justin Tuck (6 tackles, 1.5 sacks), who is battling a shoulder problem, is unavailable as expected. Osi Umenyiora (5 tackles, 1 sack) and Mathias Kiwanuka (6 tackles) will have to be more active in pursuit of the quarterback with Tuck out. A playmaking secondary that picked off Romo three times last week is dealing with some injury problems, as strong safety Kenny Phillips (13 tackles, 2 INT) was bothered by a knee injury in practice this week, and cornerback Aaron Ross is still trying to work his way back from a hamstring strain suffered in the preseason. Corey Webster (5 tackles, 1 INT) and Terrell Thomas (8 tackles) could be the starting corners for New York on Sunday.
Fantasy owners are loading up on the likes of Steve Smith, and especially Mario Manningham, after the Giants' offensive performance last week. Expecting 10 catches and 100+ yards out of these guys every week is a huge stretch, especially since Manningham is banged up and the Giants' offensive strength remains running the football, but New York is going to move it well enough to make both receivers (and the quarterback) consistent fantasy producers. The Giants defense is a great play this week against the sitting-duck Leftwich, and Tynes is leading the league in scoring entering Week 3.
On the Buccaneers side, Winslow is the only must-start, and Ward and Williams should be considered as flex plays. Ward will be especially tempting this week against his former team, but remember that the Giants will be just as fired up to stop him as he will be to run all over them.
The Buccaneers will win a few games this year, but this happens to be a poor matchup for them. Even without Tuck, the Giants pass rush will make the immobile Leftwich uncomfortable, and Bryant's probable absence from the lineup isn't helping matters in the passing game. Look for some turnovers there, and look for the Bucs running game to fail to get the necessary traction to keep the pressure off the aerial attack. On the other side of the ball, the Giants passing game will give a depleted Tampa Bay secondary problems, and though New York won't run up and down the field as they did against the Cowboys, they'll score enough to keep the Bucs at arm's length.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 24, Buccaneers 10
09/24 12:15:34 ET
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