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Safety first

Giants know Skins will target suspect secondary




In between Jeremy Shockey's drops, Tiki Barber's fumble, Matt Bryant's squib, the offensive line's gaffes and Jim Fassel's red face Monday night, another large wart appeared on the pretty picture that had been the Giants' preseason outlook.

Bill Parcells will always attack you at your weakest point, and in the case of highly touted Giants defense, that spot was up the middle in the secondary. Knowing the Giants would dominate if they stayed in their regular defense, the Cowboys spread things out. Quincy Carter looked like Joe Montana as his receivers ran a variety of 10- to 15-yard crossing routes away from the fast Giant corners.

Today at FedEx Field, the Giants run into a Redskins offense that, with a speedy Laveranues Coles and a maturing Patrick Ramsey, is quite capable of exploiting the same advantage. Steve Spurrier's whole approach probes for matchup advantages against defensive backs.

The Giants safeties, Shaun Williams and Omar Stoutmire, are known more for their big hits than their coverage. Until they prove otherwise, they will be tested. Unless the Giants make some adjustments or put some heat on the quarterback, this thing could get out of hand.

"Yeah," Fassel said this week, acknowledging how offenses are going after his secondary. "But it is not equated to the middle of our coverage (being) bad, that is not true. Sometimes they are in zone, sometimes they are in man, sometimes they are in different things and sometimes it is one guy or another guy. It is not one thing and we have ways to deal with that."

In a way, the Giants have an Alfred E. Neuman mentality. What, them worry? They mostly feel they will be able to clean up the problem before it becomes a scourge, although they acknowledge the Redskins will be coming after them the same way.

"It's a copycat league but we'll adjust," Giants secondary coach DeWayne Walker said.

"To be honest, I'm not concerned about anything because everything's correctable," cornerback Will Allen said. "It's not anything where we don't match up well against that kind of stuff. It's just that we can do better at it.

"Guys took a look at some of the things we had to do and we've just got to go ahead and correct it because you best believe that the Redskins have seen that same tape."

Coles, who Michael Strahan says is "everything the Jets hoped he wouldn't be," is the NFC's leading receiver with 16 catches for 286 yards. His counterpart, Rod Gardner, is a big receiver who can go over the middle and take punishment. They'll run a lot of pick plays with Coles and Gardner side by side, forcing man coverage.

So how do the Giants adjust? Perhaps they will drop a linebacker deeper into coverage. Perhaps they will play more zone. Williams, the Giants free safety, seemed to be lobbying for it.

"Better coverage. That'll work," Williams suggested, taking some offense to the suggestion that teams were beginning to target the Giant safeties. "Maybe some more zone coverages. We run a lot of man-to-man and that's what beats man-to-man, period, whether it's targeted or not."

Added corner back Will Peterson: "We play a lot of man-to-man and a lot of those underneath routes are pick routes, where they're leaving one guy outside and another guy inside. You had one guy trailing and coming across, then catching it. Usually, they're going to make that catch. It's a matter of making that tackle."

Defensive coordinator Johnnie Lynn didn't necessarily agree that zone is the answer.

"Sometimes, you play zone and you give up yardage across the zone," he said. "I don't know. The Cowboys hit some things off the zone blitzes. One of the negatives about zone blitzes is that if the quarterback has time, you've got crossing routes.

"It's a game of cat and mouse."

It's a game within today's game. Winner could get the cheese.


THE LINE: Redskins by 2 1/2

TV: Ch. 5 (Dick Stockton, Daryl Johnston)

RADIO: WFAN-660 AM (Bob Papa, Dick Lynch, Dave Jennings)

FORECAST: Partly cloudy; High of 78

Injury Report

Redskins CB Fred Smoot was knocked out cold in practice Thursday and is questionable after a "mild" concussion. His would-be replacement, Rashad Bauman, is battling a strained hamstring. QB Patrick Ramsey strained his non-throwing shoulder Sunday but will start. A decision on Giants DT Keith Hamilton (hamstring) will be made before the game. Lance Legree backs him up. Luke Petitgout (back spasms) returns to LT.

Featured Matchups

DE Michael Strahan vs. OT Jon Jansen: Familiar foes duke it out with pressure on Ramsey an absolute necessity this week. Jansen can win the battles of strength and leverage, Strahan gets him with outside speed and footwork. Strahan was double-teamed constantly last week and rendered a non-factor, with no one else filling the void.

TE Jeremy Shockey vs. SS Matt Bowen: Shockey caught 16 passes in the two games a year ago but was less of a monster in the rematch when the Skins used combo coverages, including LB LaVar Arrington. The Giants have to get him involved more but that's not always possible in max protect situations.

Scouts Say

"Kerry Collins can attack the weakened secondary if he has the time to throw. George Edwards hasn't been shy about blitzing, although Cowboys were able to get to the QB with their front four. Laveranues Coles is going to get his catches. Ramsey was impressive in the quick decisions he made to beat Atlanta's blitz. But he is a little beat up and Spurrier would like to protect him by running the football. After what Dallas did, I'd be wary of Chad Morton in the return game."


You get the sense the Redskins are slightly ****y over their 2-0 start. They'll have a stoked-up home crowd in their favor, adding more uncertainty to calls by the Giants' troublesome O-line. Giants say they have put their inexplicable loss to the Cowboys behind them.


Giants, 24-21. It's the NFC East, where you can throw trends out the window. The Giants are the tougher team and should find a way to pull one out on the road.

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