Game 3 - Bucs vs. Giants
Mario Manningham & Steve Smith
Ronde Barber & Aqib Talib
The Buccaneer defense has been under heavy fire (and scrutiny) during the first two games of the ’09 season, and it’s with good cause as they currently rank 31st in the league in yards allowed per game with an absurd 450 average. By comparison, the Jets lead the league with 241 yards surrendered per contest after playing Houston and New England, two very potent offenses. Digging a little deeper, what about Tampa Bay’s pass defense?
In the opener, the Cowboys lit up the Buccaneer secondary for big play after big play. Tony Romo threw for 353 yards and 3 TDs on 16-27 passing. Patrick Crayton (135), Roy Williams (86), and Miles Austin (42) totaled 263 of those yards on a mere 8 receptions.
This past Sunday night, those same Cowboys found the going far rougher against the Giants. Romo completed 3 less passes on 2 additional attempts, threw for 226 less yards, 2 fewer TDs, and 3 more INTs. Crayton, Williams, and Austin combined for 3 catches and a whopping 42 yards; the same yardage Austin amassed on the play where he made Elbert Mack and Jermaine Phillips look like clowns.
With the Bills, their passing game comparisons from week 1 to week 2 aren’t terribly different. Trent Edwards passed for 230 yards against the Bucs and 212 vs. the Patriots. Lee Evans and Terrell Owens combined for 4 receptions vs. the Bucs and just one more against the Patriots. Looks good huh? Well, while Fred Jackson was held to 57 yards on 15 carries against New England, he torched the Bucs for 163 yards on 28 carries.
Enter the New York Giants. While the Tom Coughlin’s boys are no doubt going to lean on the run game with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, they are by no means pretenders at throwing the football. Eli Manning is 5th in the league in passing after accumulating 256 yards against the Redskins and 330 against the Cowboys, two secondaries in noticeably better shape than the one in Tampa.
The Giants move their receivers around quite a bit, so both Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib are going to see plenty of both Mario Manningham and Steve Smith. After an invisible rookie season, Manningham is establishing himself as the Giants’ big play threat, and in his 3rd year out of USC, Smith is a textbook possession receiver; running precise routes and showing reliable hands.
Through 2 games, Smith (214) and Manningham (208) are 2nd and 4th in the league in receiving yards. Smith’s 16 receptions have him tied at the top of the list with Randy Moss, and Manningham is 3 catches behind in 9th place. Worried yet?
Even though neither one possesses blazing speed, most of New York’s routes are of the intermediate to deep variety. On top of that, Eli was extremely successful in the shotgun, so I believe you can expect to see him spread the field once again and attempt to have his two new best friends exploit the vulnerable Buccaneer secondary who will now be without Jermaine Phillips for the rest of the year.
Will Ronde continue his strong start? Will Aqib create his first turnover of the season? I worry about Manningham outplaying Ronde and Smith outdisciplining (yes, my word) Aqib. Obviously, the responsibility for minimizing the output of New York’s receivers falls upon the entire secondary, but the starting corners will have a chance at making the biggest impact.
Keep an eye on this matchup and see who emerges victorious.