For all the talk about how the inconsistent Manning figures to be the key to his team's chances of winning Sunday's NFC wild-card game, the man responsible for devising a plan to shut down the fourth-year quarterback thinks the Bucs face an even more imposing challenge.
Stopping Brandon Jacobs.
"They're going to get off the bus running the football," Kiffin, Tampa Bay's long-time defensive coordinator, said. "And if we let them do it, it can be a long day."
At 6-foot-4, 264 pounds, Jacobs not only is one of the biggest running backs in the NFL, he's comparable in size to some of Tampa Bay's defensive linemen. He's strong enough to run over would-be tacklers and elusive enough to run around them.
Taking over for the retired Tiki Barber this season, the third-year pro overcame injuries that sidelined for him five games and part of two others to rush for 1,009 yards and four touchdowns. When the Giants get him going, Manning's job becomes much easier.
"When they're running the football that makes him a very dangerous quarterback," Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks said, adding that Manning has a knack for making plays at the end of games to make up for earlier mistakes.
"Whenever he has time to set his feet and make his throws, he's getting the job done. As the running game goes, so goes their offense."
Manning threw for 3,336 yards with 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions this season. His 73.9 passer rating was 25th in the league, although Kiffin said statistics don't necessarily reflect what type of quarterback he's been.
The Giants are 7-1 on the road, and Manning is coming off a strong performances in a win over Buffalo that clinched a playoff berth and last Saturday's 38-35 loss to unbeaten New England.
"He's had his ups and downs this year, but it looks like he's on track right now," Kiffin said. "We're expecting we're going to get his best shot."
Brooks said the key to containing Jacobs and placing a heavier burden on Manning to carry the Giants' offense will be gang-tackling, hopefully before the big, bruising runner bursts into the secondary, where he's especially difficult to bring down.
"We're going to have to get two or three guys to the football. It's no different than the message we've been preaching all year long," Brooks said.
Manning passed for 251 yards and four touchdowns, and the Giants (10-6) scored more points against new England than any team this season.
Jacobs was productive with five receptions for 44 yards and a TD, as well as 67 yards rushing to go over 1,000 for the first time in his career.
"He makes some of the best 4- and 5-yard runs that you see. ... He is a load," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "He has the perimeter speed to get out on the edges. He has got maneuverability to cut back. He has good vision. And what can I say, he is as big of a back as I have ever seen. He is more than just a big back, he is a quick, elusive one at that."
Jacobs is confident the Giants can move the ball on the ground if they remain committed to the run and avoid turnovers.
The Bucs (9-7) yielded the second-fewest yards in the league overall, but were 17th in run defense.
"You get in and try to stick with it for a little bit, and hopefully they loosen up a little bit, and we will be able to run the ball," and create opportunities for the passing game and receivers Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer, Jacobs said.
"Nothing is going to come easy. We will have to earn everything we get," added Manning, who's 0-2 in the playoffs. "It is just a matter of executing, and not making mistakes, and making the plays when they are there."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.