tampabay.com

Bucs scout

By STEPHEN F. HOLDER
Published October 29, 2006


THE BASICS: A week after hosting Philadelphia and the league's top offense, the Bucs catch a break: the league's second-best offense.

New York is averaging 389.5 yards and 27.2 points and doing it in all phases. The passing game has been solid behind Eli Manning, who has spread the wealth among his targets. Four - Amani Toomer, Plaxico Burress, Jeremy Shockey and Tiki Barber - have 200 or more yards.

Burress leads with 424, including a 50-yard touchdown Monday against the Cowboys. His 17.7 yards per catch is evidence he stretches the field with every snap. Toomer, who has five 1,000-yard seasons, isn't exactly second tier, and Shockey is a fearless tight end blocking and receiving.

But the man who really makes this offense go is Barber. Ronde's twin brother leads the league in rushing and is closing in on 10,000 career yards (9,434). He appears headed for a fifth consecutive 1,000-yard season.

Barber, a physical runner, will look to exploit the Bucs' recent tackling woes. He isn't beating opponents with long bursts, either. His longest run of the season is 29 yards, meaning he is doing his work mostly between the tackles. And remember, the Bucs are third worst in the NFL in rushing defense at 152.3 yards per game.

On defense, the Giants have improved vastly during the past few weeks. After beginning the season by allowing 26, 24 and 42 points, New York has limited the Redskins, Falcons and Cowboys to an average of 13.

Credit turnovers and a rabid pass rush (six sacks against Dallas on Monday) for the turnaround.

INJURIES

Bucs: Out - Quarterback Chris Simms (splenectomy). Questionable - Tight end Anthony Becht (foot), cornerback Juran Bolden (hip), receiver Mark Jones (hamstring), linebacker Shelton Quarles (knee), defensive end Simeon Rice (shoulder), receiver Maurice Stovall (back), defensive tackle Ellis Wyms (ankle).

Giants: Out - Linebacker LaVar Arrington (Achilles'); Questionable - Cornerback Sam Madison (hamstring), receiver Sinorice Moss (quad), defensive end Justin Tuck (foot), defensive end Osi Umenyiora (hip flexor), cornerback Frank Walker (hamstring), running back Derrick Ward (foot). Probable - Burress (heel), linebacker Brandon Short (knee), safety Jason Bell (concussion), linebacker Carlos Emmons (pec).

BUC BEATER: In his last game against them in November 2003, defensive end Michael Strahan racked up four tackles, a sack, pass deflection and fumble recovery. Strahan netted five tackles and two sacks in the against the Cowboys on Monday.

SERIES: Giants lead 9-6 with the Bucs winning three of the past four. The teams last met on Nov. 24, 2003, with Tampa Bay winning 19-13 on Monday Night Football. The Giants hold a 5-1 edge at Giants Stadium.

KEEP IN MIND: The Giants defense has been among the most opportunistic in the league. Their nine interceptions are tied for third. New York has scored 39 points off of turnovers, converting 54.6 percent of the time. Among the six turnovers converted to points, five resulted in touchdowns.

KEY MATCHUPS

Ronde Barber vs. Plaxico Burress

The Giants' 6-foot-5 receiver will have a distinct size advantage over the Bucs' 5-10 cornerback. This will be a premier matchup of one of the league's most dangerous receivers and a cornerback coming off a two-touchdown performance.

Derrick Brooks vs. Tiki Barber

The Bucs linebacker had, maybe, his most infamous missed tackle last week against the Eagles' Brian Westbrook. There is little room for similar episodes today against a workhorse such as Barber, who can exploit even a glimmer of daylight. Brooks is looking for redemption. Barber is looking for his fourth straight 100-yard game.

Ryan Nece vs. Jeremy Shockey

Not many tight ends can boast of leading their teams in touchdowns, but Shockey, with four, can. He is dangerous in the red zone, and the Bucs' strongside linebacker will have to account for him on every snap. Shockey's sure hands and speed present a significant challenge.