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Giants at Buccaneers 2015, Week 9: When Tampa Bay has the ball

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The Giants might actually get a bit healthier this week. How will that effect their matchups against the Buccaneers' offense?

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There have been two Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season. The first, the team that gives the ball away like Oprah gives away free gifts. The other team, the team that we have seen the last three weeks, is efficient and doesn't give the ball away.

The difference in the two teams is the number of passes Jameis Winston has thrown. In the Bucs first four games, Winston averaged 33 passing attempts per game. In the three games since his four-interception performance against the Carolina Panthers, Winston has averaged 25 attempts per game.

At the same time, Doug Martin has seen his carries per game rise from 16 per game to 22.

Tampa has clearly made the commitment to taking pressure off their young franchise quarterback, and it has paid off.

The Giants need to put that pressure back on him.

Part of that will be on the offense to build off their performance in New Orleans and turn their 49-point explosion into a sustained output. But the other part will be for the Giants to continue to return to form as an elite run defense, try to figure out some way to pressure Winston, and then continue to be the most opportunistic defense in the league.

Stats At A Glance

Total Yards Rushing Yards Passing Yards Points
Giants' Defense 427.5 (32nd) 112.1 (19th) 315.4 (32nd) 26.0 (24th)
Buccaneers' Offense 353.3 (11th) 131.3 (4th) 222.0 (23rd) 23.3 (16th)

Defensive Line

The Giants have personnel questions at each level of their defense. However unlike the last .. Two years, this week the questions are "Who will play?" and not "Who won't play?"

After returning to Giants Land last week, Jason Pierre-Paul has impressed the coaching staff with his conditioning as he transitions to more of a speed rusher following his accident. While the original target date for his return was Week 10 against the Patriots, his conditioning has opened the door for a return this week -- depending on how this week goes, of course.

With the Giants' pass rush needing about six months of steak and gym time just to get to "anemic", the return of JPP, even if it is only for 10-15 plays, could provide a much-needed spark.

That being said, the Giants need to put the ball in Winston's hands to have the opportunity to attempt to rush him. Against the Atlanta Falcons, the Bucc's pounded the interior of their offensive line, so the match-up to watch will be John Hankins, Cullen Jenkins, Markus Kuhn, and Jay Bromley against Ali Marpet, Logan Mankins, and Joe Hawley.

Of the group, Hankins is undoubtedly the best player and Bromley is an ascending tackle. If the Giants play with urgency the Bucs should find tougher sledding between the tackles than they did against the Falcons.

Linebackers

At this level, the Giants could be getting Jon Beason back from an ankle injury suffered when it was rolled up on against the Dallas Cowboys. Beason, though, did not practice on Wednesday.

More than his play as a linebacker, the Giants sorely missed Beason's mind against the Saints. Against a savvy veteran QB and beguiling play-calling, the communication breakdowns helped to expose the Giants' defense.

While Winston has been seeing the field well lately, he is far from the field general that Drew Brees is. If Beason is able to return to the field, his ability to relay the play calls, read offenses, and communicate the defensive adjustments are key to the Giants' defense as a whole.

The most important receiving matchups of the game could be at the second level of the defense. While sophomore receiver Mike Evans is the Bucs leading receiver, roughly one-third of the team's receptions are by running backs (Doug Martin and Charles Sims) and tight ends (Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Brandon Meyers). If J.T. Thomas can't return to the field, the Giants will likely continue to be hard-pressed to defend against these players. And if Vincent Jackson continues to be out, these are the secondary receivers that Winston will likely target most often.

The Giants will also need all three of their best linebackers available to slow down the 5-foot-9, 220-pound Martin.

Defensive Backs

Finally, the Giants could get Prince Amukamara back from his partially torn pectoral this week. Reportedly his MRI was "encouraging", but like JPP and Beason, Prince's presence on game day will depend on how he responds after practice this week.

But the Giants can use him. While Jayron Hosley has been much better than anticipated as the third corner -- though he does get turned around at times in coverage -- if Jackson is active for Sunday's game, Tampa will have two receivers who have roughly seven inches in height and 50 pounds in weight on Hosley.

Despite his speed, quickness, and scrappiness, that is a bad matchup for the fourth year corner.

Likewise, the Giants sorely miss Prince's physical presence on the outside in run defense. Again, despite his willingness as a tackler, barely-adequate form and his small size show up when teams run to Hosley's size. Prince is roughly 30 pounds heavier and one of best tackling defensive backs in the NFL.

Final Thoughts

This is a matchup the Giants probably would have expected to win about three or four weeks ago. Stop the run, pick off a turnover-prone rookie QB? Right in the Giants' wheelhouse in Week 4.

Now? Who knows which Giants team is even going to show up. One week the offense is completely mute, while the defense and special teams win the game. The next week the offense absolutely explodes, the special teams are strong for 59:35 of game time, and the defense got left in New York like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone (with all the cruelty but none of the laughs).

If the Giants can catch a couple breaks and have some defensive players get healthy and return to the field, and start playing like they did to start the season, then -- aside from the size of the Tampa receivers -- this is a pretty good matchup. The Giants should be able to slow down the Buccaneers' running game and take advantage of the opportunities that Winston gives them.

They should, but it's anyone's guess whether or not they will.