Giants, Jaguars must get on track
After watching a lot of film on both the Giants and Jaguars, Gary Horton picks out some key points to watch in Monday night's game.
Watching a lot of film on the Giants and the Jaguars and talking to coaches and scouts, I found some key things to watch in their "Monday Night Football" game (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET).
• Can WR Plaxico Burress dominate his individual battle with Jacksonville CB Rashean Mathis? Mathis leads the NFL with six INTs and is very aggressive. He's not afraid to take chances and will gamble and jump some routes. Burress can dominate any matchup if he's focused, but he can also disappear from a game.
New York Giants
• A big key for the Giants' secondary versus the Jags is the pressure they get up front on David Garrard. This thin group of DBs isn't good enough to hold up in man-to-man coverage if Garrard has time to throw the ball and his receivers can finish their routes. The pass rush by the front four must force quick throws without a lot of blitzing, which would further compromise man-to-man coverages.
• The left tackle position is a huge concern for the Giants right now, with the season-ending injury to Luke Petitgout, and replacement Bob Whitfield really struggling, especially in pass protection. The Giants' don't want to move Shockey to the left side a lot and force him to help Whitfield, losing him as a receiver.
Look for them to use their new two-TE package with backup OG Rich Seubert at TE, while Shockey can move out to the slot and concentrate on the passing game. Seubert can line up next to Whitfield in passing situations and in some running downs, and we may see him line up at fullback as a lead blocker. It's an interesting adjustment to give Whitfield some help.
• A big problem for the Giants' defense is their performance in the red zone. They are dead last in the NFL, giving up 14 TDs in 20 red zone possessions. As the field shrinks, and when their pass rush doesn't get there, this is a secondary that doesn't match up very well in man-to-man situations. The big and physical Jacksonville WRs are a huge matchup problem for the Giants in the red zone in this game.
• The Giants continue to baffle you when you watch them on film, in terms of their mental discipline. They are 31st in the NFL in penalty yards. They already have 63 penalties for 536 yards, and many of them are caused by a lack of concentration. Tom Coughlin preaches mental toughness, so why are his teams so sloppy in this area?
• The Giants must get off the field on third down in this matchup, because they have so many injuries that affect their depth and they just cannot afford to be on the field all night. They are 28th in the NFL in third down efficiency, which doesn't bode well against a Jacksonville offense ranked sixth in the NFL in time of possession.
The Jaguars have two backs, Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, who can pound away at the Giants' defense and wear them down. A ball-control run offense could be the difference in this game for the Jaguars.
• QB Eli Manning seems to be regressing for the second year in a row. His passer rating last week was an embarrassing 28.3 and he is just not making good decisions. He seems to be forcing the ball to Burress. At times, he doesn't look for Shockey enough. He doesn't seem to be reading his progressions well and is throwing too many balls into traffic. He is playing an opportunistic Jacksonville secondary that will make him pay if he gets sloppy.
• The Jags must try to take Shockey out of the flow of the game. He is spending considerable time working out of the slot and when he gets a free release, he's simply too athletic for most LBs and safeties.
Manning loves to look for him on third down and also in the red zone. Look for the Jaguars to take a page out of the Bears' game plan last week. They can walk a LB out with some press coverages and help with a safety over the top. They cannot give Shockey a clean release.
• Jacksonville will likely attack the Giants with a lot of three-WR sets designed to spread them out and take the secondary deeper in their depth than they would like. The Giants' DBs are banged up and the last thing they want to do is play nickel schemes all day with five DBs. The Jags will likely pound the ball with the run game against the softer nickel.
• There are some tense situations simmering in Jacksonville and Jack Del Rio has his work cut out for him to keep this team together. An off-field arrest, a sideline shoving match, a QB controversy and underachieving play has this team maybe on the brink of unraveling a little bit.
• The Jaguars' offense must be aware of their blitz pickup responsibilities in this game. Usually, the Giants are not a real heavy blitz team, but they are so banged up at the DE position they are forced to manufacture pressure by bringing a DB or LB off the edge. The Jags' backs will have to recognize it, and if they do there will be some good single-coverage matchups against the Giants' DBs.
• When you watch the Jaguars on film, they don't impress you as a great pass rush defense, but what does impress you is the pressure they get on opposing QBs. They generate a lot of hits and hurries that don't show up in the stats, but it helps an aggressive secondary jump routes and close on the ball. It also doesn't expose them in lengthy man-to-man coverage situations.
• The Jaguars are losing most of their matchups in the kicking game, which doesn't help a struggling offense in terms of field position. They are in the bottom half of the NFL in punt return differential and kickoff return differential. Their cover teams are usually good, but they are not dominating this year.
• Jacksonville is very effective in its red zone defense because it can play pass coverages and tight man-to-man schemes as the field shrinks. The Jaguars are second in the NFL right now in red zone defense, giving up just six TDs in 19 offensive possessions. Shockey and Burress must work to get a clean release in the red zone because this defense will try to push them out of their routes and ruin their offensive timing with Manning.
Gary Horton, a pro scout for Scouts Inc., has been a football talent evaluator for more than 30 years. He spent 10 years in the NFL and 10 years at the college level before launching a private scouting firm called The War Room.