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By STEPHEN F. HOLDER, Times Staff Writer
Published January 6, 2008
There will be plenty of matchups and issues that will help decide today's game.
One of the biggest (literally) is Giants receiver Plaxico Burress.
At 6 feet 5 and 232 pounds, Burress looms large and has the big numbers to show for it. Burress led the Giants with 70 receptions for 1,025 yards during the regular season, when he added 12 touchdown receptions.
He, as much as anyone on the Giants roster, has been affected by Eli Manning's ups and downs. But when the quarterback is on, Burress is as dangerous a receiver as there is in the league.
And he's particularly good against zone defenses, which the Bucs will use most of the time today.
"He's really good vs. the zone because he can get real big against certain guys and find different matchups and exploit them," Bucs defensive backs coach Raheem Morris said. "He's good in all situations when used right. When Eli is playing well, (Burress) is tough to deal with."
Another issue that works against the Bucs is size differential (Burress stands 6-5, and three of the Bucs' starting defensive backs are shorter than 6 feet). The Bucs defensive backs could be considered undersized by comparison, but it's not a new issue and not something they have spent considerable time dwelling on.
"Every week, somebody presents a challenge and a problem for you," coach Jon Gruden said. "That's why we have Ronde Barber here and Brian Kelly and Phillip Buchanon. We know they'll have their hands full, but we're confident in our men, too, and it'll be a great battle."
In some respects, that battle started days ago. Barber has spoken out about his belief that Manning "can be had." In a story in Friday's New York Daily News, Burress responded, saying, "I don't think he needs to worry about No. 10 (Manning). He needs to worry about No. 17."
That, of course, would be Burress.
Not to be overlooked is the quarterback play. The Bucs think they can pressure Manning into mistakes, given his 20 interceptions and 73.9 quarterback rating in 2007. With center Shaun O'Hara likely to miss the game, there might be opportunities to exploit a weakness on the offensive line, allowing the Bucs to get pressure up the middle.
When the Giants keep the ball on the ground, tackling running back Brandon Jacobs will become paramount.
Another critical aspect of this game will be the Bucs' performance in the red zone. It has been unimpressive lately, with the Bucs converting just 3 of 10 chances inside the opponents' 20-yard line in the final three weeks of the regular season. For the season, their conversion rate was 41.3 percent.
Meanwhile, the Giants are susceptible to being scored on in the red zone, allowing opponents to convert touchdowns 60 percent of the time.
Bucs: LB Cato June (foot) is doubtful, and G Arron Sears (ankle) is questionable.
Giants: CB Sam Madison (stomach) and C Shaun O'Hara (knee) are doubtful. DE Dave Tollefson (concussion), CB Kevin Dockery CB (hip) and LB Kawika Mitchell (knee) are questionable. RB Ahmad Bradshaw (calf), TE Michael Matthews (illness), WR Sinorice Moss (back) and WR Plaxico Burress (ankle) are probable.
[Last modified January 5, 2008, 18:34:29]