Warnings about trap games have become so commonplace as to render the concept meaningless. It's hard to get "trapped" by something that everyone's been talking about all week. This makes you wonder if trap games ever existed, or if they're just the product of a good team playing poorly and a bad team playing well. This happens sometimes, after all, and not because the good team takes the bad team lightly.
Bucs Offense vs. Giants Defense
This section boils down to this: The Giants defense is good, but depleted. The Bucs offense is mediocre, and depleted. For all the worrying about the injuries, the Giants still have the advantage in this battle.
First, a word on Kenny Phillips. Everyone's looking for a "SuperSafety" these days -- a guy like Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, or Bob Sanders who makes all kinds of plays all over the field. After last Sunday's game, Giants fans thought they had a budding SuperSafety in Kenny Phillips, who could have teamed with Corey Webster to give the Giants two dynamic defensive backs to compliment their fearsome pass rush. It was an exciting thought, but it's not going to happen, not this year or maybe ever. The reaction in Giants-land might seem out of proportion, considering Phillips, while showing flashes, has basically just been a pretty decent player so far in his short career. It's not as if the Giants are losing that much production or that his loss jeopardizes their chances that much. But the possibility that his star potential has been cut short disturbs Giants fans, who were dreaming big after last week's game.
Phillips' injury is the latest blow to the Giants' depleted secondary and a defense that has already incurred its fair share this year. The situation in the secondary is a bit alarming: Kevin Dockery is listed as questionable and Aaron Ross is out, so there exists the possibility that three of the six active defensive backs -- CC Brown, Bruce Johnson, and newly acquired safety Aaron Rouse -- will only have had a handful of Giants snaps between them.
The probable loss of Justin Tuck -- who hasn't practiced this week -- and the continuing absence of Chris Canty with a lingering calf injury means the Giants will also be depleted on the defensive line on what is supposed to be a muggy, 90-degree day.
So that's the bad news. The good news? Tampa Bay's offense is decidedly below-average, their high-yardage total this year a mirage created by playing from behind. Last year, Tampa Bay ranked 20th in offense, according to FootballOutsiders.com's DVOA metric. Yes, they have made some improvements on offense: Derrick Ward is good, as we know; Byron Leftwich is probably an upgrade over last year's ineffective Jeff Garcia/Brien Griese combo; and Kellen Winslow is effective when healthy. But they come into this game banged up in key spots.
Playmaking receiver Antonio Bryant, one of the best receivers in the league last year and by far the most dangerous Buccaneer, is questionable with a knee injury; Maurice Stovall, who started for Bryant last week, is out. Running backs Cadillac Williams and Earnest Graham are questionable with knee injuries, leaving the running game in the hands of Ward, who is trying to turn around a ground attack that ranked 21st in DVOA last year.
So the skill players, who are nothing to write home about at full-strength, are depleted. The offensive line is healthy, but not especially good. According to FootballOutsiders stats, they ranked 18th in Adjusted Sack Rate, which adjusts sacks to pass attempts and situation. That's good news for the Giants this week because Leftwich is notoriously stationary. Even without Tuck, it's realistic that one of the Giants outstanding pass rushers -- Osi Umenyiora, Matthias Kiwanuka, or maybe even Clint Sintim? -- can keep the streak of big plays on defense alive for another game.
Giants Offense vs. Bucs Defense
The Bucs defense started out strong last year but then collapsed late in the year. First, they incurred a nationally televised beat-down at the hands of Carolina, and then they blew a playoff birth by allowing 17 fourth quarter points against the Raiders, thereby allowing the Eagles to get in. (Thanks, assholes.)
This year, they've allowed 67 points in two games, second most in the NFL. It's hard to pinpoint how the Bucs defense got so bad, so fast, but they can't stop the run or the pass right now.
It will be interesting to see how the recent performance of Eli Manning and the Giants receivers -- notably Mario Manningham and Steve Smith -- alters the conventional wisdom of stacking the box against the Giants. As Plaxico sits in Rikers Island -- an absurdly excessive punishment -- and Amani Toomer sits at home, the young guys have blossomed. And even though Eli will never be the most accurate quarterback, he has completed 67 percent of his passes this year. That's obviously an unsustainable figure, but remember that he completed more than 60 percent last year for the first time in his career. If he can raise that by another couple of points, keep the interceptions low, and maintain his gains in pocket presence, we're talking about a bona fide excellent quarterback, and not just an above-average one who happens to be incredibly clutch.
The one thing the Bucs have going for them is the desperation of being 0-2 -- obviously not the best thing to have going for you. This current Giants team -- we'll call them the post-2007-Week-16 Giants -- have been great at showing up for games like this. As happy as the Giants were after the Dallas game, they know they left unanswered questions about their running game and run defense. Giants 31 - Bucs 17.