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Using Precious Time - Two Keys To Giants Playoff Success

While the majority of playoff teams spent this week preparing for their opponent in the wildcard round of the NFL playoffs, the New York Giants had the luxury of a bye week as the top seeded NFC team. Of the four playoff teams that earned a bye week during the season the Giants arguably needed the week off the most. Beyond the week providing much needed rest after 13 straight weeks of games against the highest level of competition, the bye week also provides the team a chance to reflect on ways it can improve internally. During the average NFL week, there is precious little time for preparation for the next opponent. The vast majority of practice hours are dedicated towards studying and scheming for an opposing teams’ offensive and defensive packages, player strengths and play calling tendencies. This leaves only a few hours to correct execution mistakes and installing slight modifications to play design. This week, with no impending opponent to prepare for the team is taking the opportunity to focus on self improvement and shoring up areas that there normally isn’t time for during a normal game week. Instead of studying hours of game film of their next opponent the players will instead be studying film of themselves, pointing out their own tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. Below is an outline of two areas the Giants will be looking at this week and trying to improve upon for the divisional round. In many aspects, improvement on these areas will be the keys to the Giants playoff run.

Receiver Impact In The Red (Green) Zone
It’s more than well documented on the impact Plaxico Burress’s absence has had on the Giants offense. It’s become obvious how much the team relied on him as not only a deep threat, but more importantly as a red zone target. The teams’ redzone (green zone) scoring percentage is 50% in the last four games, with only one TD pass. Without Burress to force teams to keep a safety over the top, defenses have been able to press and smother the other Giants receivers as there is no true jump ball threat in the group. Hixon, Smith and Moss do not have the size and Amani Toomer no longer posses the athleticism to jump over defenders. The Giants will have to add some wrinkles to the red zone offense that cater to the strengths of their current receiver corps rather than try to force the fade route with Hixon. The key here will be Tight End Kevin Boss, whose size and athleticism make him a prime red zone target. He led the team in TD receptions during the regular season despite a slow start and the team will likely find new ways to get him the ball inside the ten yard line. Darcy Johnson may also figure into the equation as a sleeper target.

D-Line Play Back On Par
While the Giants currently rank a respectable sixth in the league in sacks and fifth in the league at stopping the run, those stats are misleading as they’ve only amassed 6 in the past four games, four of which came in the Dallas game, and they’ve allowed touchdown runs of at least 30 yards in each of those games. It’s no secret that the Giants defense is predicated on stopping the run and getting after the quarterback. The defensive line is key to succeeding in both of those areas as Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo prefers using the front four to get movement along the offensive line, filling gaps and breaking the flow of running plays as well as rushing the quarterback allowing the back seven to focus on chasing down runners and playing tight coverage. While the defense has had the reputation of being an attacking blitzing scheme, in reality the team relied heavily on using only four rushers, through stunts and firezones, to get pressure. With the defense using more blitz packages, it’s left the team open to rushers breaking big plays when they get passed the blitzing defenders and has put more pressure on the secondary in coverage. Fred Robbins coming back healthy and Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka getting some much needed rest will go a long way to getting this units back to playing at a high level as these three are the key players along the defensive line and rarely come out of the game. When they are playing at a high level the Giants defensive playbook becomes wide open and they are able to use a number of different looks to confuse opposing offenses and create havoc in the backfield when Spaguolo does dial up blitzes from the back seven.

Successful NFL teams find ways to adapt to new players, schemes and game situations and in some cases use what is traditionally known as a team weakness to their advantage. The ability of the Giants to overcome their difficulties in the red zone and get more pressure on the quarterback with their front four are will go a long way in determining whether they are able to achieve the rare feat of a consecutive Super Bowl.

- Joseph Raneri

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