Last week, against a subpar Eagles team, Eli Manning was able to eke out a victory by getting back into rhythm with banged-up wideout Plaxico Burress, who caught seven passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. But because Philadelphia pressured Manning throughout the game, tight end Jeremy Shockey was asked to stay at the line to block. (Shockey ended the game with only one reception for four yards and a few missed red zone attempts, including one sure touchdown catch in single coverage that Manning threw out of his reach.)
As practice begins for a first round matchup against an elite team, both Burress and Shockey must become consistent offensive weapons if the 9-4 Giants are to avoid a first-round exit for the third time in five years.
In fact, the last time these two stars worked well in tandem was Week 3 against the very same Redskins they’re facing this Sunday night. Burress (5 catches for 86 yards and a touchdown) and Shockey (5 for 79) were the top two receivers in a 24-17 victory.
Burress showed why he’s still a force in the Giants offense last week, despite the multiple injuries he’s nursing. When the Eagles brought one-on-one coverage on Burress, he caught passes of 20, 31 and 41 yards that came on slants and quick strikes, allowing him to make extra yardage after each catch. That’s exactly what Burress needs, since he’s unable to make crisp cuts on routes and has lost the ability to use his height and speed on long bombs. Going forward, Manning should follow what he did against Philadelphia with his favorite target.
Shockey, on the other hand, needs to be utilized as more than just a blocker. If both he and Burress are targets, a defense can’t double-team both of them. But Manning must be able to complete more than one of the six looks he gave to Shockey last Sunday, especially when he’s running the same out route in the end zone he’s run throughout his career that utilizes his size advantage on cornerbacks.
Both players may have their opportunities down the middle of the field on Sunday. Especially after the loss of safety Sean Taylor, who was the victim of a murder two weeks ago, Washington’s weakness is against the pass, allowing nearly 242 yards per game through the air, as opposed to 215 ypg when Taylor was on the field this season. The Giants should try to take advantage of second-year safety Reed Doughty’s inexperience at least a few times during the game.
If both Burress and Shockey can turn in solid performances together this week and beyond, they can treat the next two games—on the road against a surprisingly tough Bills team and the finale against the unbeatable Patriots—as preparation for the postseason. Or at least they can rest Burress’s knee and ankle and give Shockey a break from blocking for the entire game.
The goal now is consistency.