Battle Plan: Giants vs. Vikings
ESPN The Magazine
The Giants offense is tailored to take maximum advantage of their most potent-and multifaceted-weapon: Tiki Barber. Quick swing passes in the flats. Quick openers off-tackle. Quick throws over the middle, where he's too quick for any LB to cover. (Is there an echo in here?) Barber's quickness devastates defenses if he finds a patch of open field. So don't let him get there.
Stopping the Vikings from going deep is like shoveling snow with a rake-something always gets through. If you let Randy Moss and Cris Carter touch the ball often enough, you might as well back up the bus, because you're going home. Problem is, while you're sweating the deep threat, Robert Smith could slip under your radar and into your end zone.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson ranks Barber just below Marshall Faulk, but Eagles LB Jeremiah Trotter sees him as more like Warrick Dunn: "Against guys like them, you can't sit back. You have to attack." And attack. And attack. (There is an echo in here.)
Tampa Bay defensive backs coach Herman Edwards knows Minny's vertical game, but when the Vikings line up in their two-by-two set, it's Smith who gets his attention: "In both run and pass, they put a real burden on you with that look," Edwards says. "You can't allow Moss or Carter to get up the field with a free release, but you have to plug every gap for the run."
To lead that attack, your linebackers and safeties better be exceptional tacklers, and fast enough to get on top of Barber the instant a Kerry Collins flare reaches him in the flat. Your D-line needs to turn the middle into a mosh pit, because if Barber cracks through the first line of defense, he's too quick for LBs and too strong for CBs. Maybe that explains the Titans' success vs. N.Y. in Week 5. On passes, safeties Blaine Bishop and Marcus Robertson banged Barber the second he touched the ball. On runs, Jevon Kearse managed to snuff Barber before he reached open country. Do both and the Giants are DOA.
Play cover two, with the safeties ready to seal the deep seams. That's how the Bucs slowed down Moss and Carter in splitting their two games against the Vikings. But Tampa Bay had Warren Sapp to smash the run. Minus a Sapp, you have to sell out one of your safeties into the tackle box so he's close enough to come on a run blitz, yet deep enough to help the LB deal with Carter. When it works, eight people are in position to support the run, but there's still enough flexibility to cover Moss and Carter in the deep seams. And when it doesn't? Cue the bus.
The Pick: Minnesota