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He Has Giants Covered

NFL PLAYOFFS

Julian Peterson, the 49ers' Pro Bowl linebacker, is full of opinions about playoff opponent, but he could have his hands full with Shockey.

January 05, 2003|Neil Best | Newsday

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Julian Peterson was on a phone 3,000 miles away, but his voice was clear and to the point.

Jeremy Shockey? "He has a lot of confidence in himself, but it can also hurt him," the San Francisco 49er linebacker said this week. "He'll get frustrated and then blow a couple of plays."

Tiki Barber? "I think he has a psyche problem covering the ball. We're going to go ahead and go at the ball a couple of times. He put it on the ground three or four times [against the Eagles]."

Kerry Collins? "When we get him moving side to side is when his accuracy goes down. That is when we capitalize, because we're pretty good at pursuing and chasing after the ball and creating turnovers."

That about covered the New York Giants' top playmakers. Only Amani Toomer escaped, but then, no one thought to ask Peterson about him.

In fairness, Peterson said far more good things than bad about Shockey, Barber and Collins during his conference call with New York-area reporters, using the word "great" to describe all three. But his blunt honesty and confidence highlighted what will be one of the most intriguing matchups in Sunday's wild-card round playoff game.

Peterson, a Pro Bowl player, has emerged in his third season as one of the most athletic, versatile linebackers in the NFL; on Nov. 10 he held the Chiefs' star tight end, Tony Gonzalez, to one reception for six yards. The Giants were high on Peterson out of Michigan State in the 2000 draft but believed they needed help at running back and chose Ron Dayne in the first round instead. Shockey, also a highly confident Pro Bowler, has emerged in his rookie year as one of the most athletic, versatile tight ends in the league, and a huge matchup problem for most linebackers.

Peterson spent much of opening night covering Shockey, who caught three passes for 44 yards. But the Giants have gotten more creative in their use of Shockey, and Shockey has gotten more polished. One of the things he most enjoys, he said, is fooling defenders about what he is about to do on a route.

"He is tremendously better since the first game," Peterson said. "He is doing a great job on getting separation, he is a good run-blocker, very physical and he has a defensive mind on offense."

The Rams believed linebacker Tommy Polley could run with Shockey, who blew by him in Week 2 for a 28-yard scoring pass. The Redskins figured an athletic linebacker such as LaVar Arrington might be a good matchup; Shockey had 16 catches for 200 yards in two games against them.

Most teams now bracket Shockey with a linebacker and safety, but the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Peterson might have the speed to handle him one-on-one at times, and with help at others.

"[The coaches] have enough faith in me where I have the feet to stay with him," Peterson said. "I am going to jam him up a little. I'm going to have some help inside and there will be some plays where other people guard him. We are going to have a good time out there."

Barber said Shockey has "revolutionized" the Giants' offense. His 74 receptions led NFL tight ends and rookies at any position. But only in the second half of the season, as his toe injuries healed and he became more comfortable, did he emerge as a force. In the last seven games, Shockey has 47 receptions for 573 yards -- a full-season pace of 107 catches for 1,310 yards.

Peterson is next. "It's going to be a great matchup," he said. "I am going to have fun."

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