The Giants this week will face an opponent that is both shrouded in mystery and comfortably familiar.
In the Tampa Bay Buccaneers they will host a team on Sunday that has a first-year NFL head coach in Greg Schiano. The Giants extensively studied tape of Schiano's final Rutgers team to learn about the coach's favored schemes.
But they might have discovered almost as much reviewing their own games. Schiano hired two coordinators with Giants ties, Mike Sullivan on offense and Bill Sheridan on defense. Sullivan spent the previous eight years on Tom Coughlin's Giants staff (plus 2002 on Coughlin's last Jacksonville staff), the last two as quarterbacks coach. Sheridan was the Giants' defensive coordinator in 2009 after spending the previous four seasons as the linebackers coach. He spent the 2010-11 seasons with the Miami Dolphins.
"Obviously, he can help them a lot," wide receiver Hakeem Nicks said of Sullivan. "He knows this offense up and down. He's running the same offense over there. It's going to be competitive. I'm sure they're going to be used to seeing some of the things we do, but we have ways to defeat it and do what we do as an offense."
The Giants will have to change some terminology and hand signals because they are facing two coordinators who know them as insiders.
"We're very cognizant of that," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said today. "But all you have to do is fake it one time and have them jump on something and that's the end of them (knowing) your calls. They think you're running a curl, I run a curl, you jump on it and I go 70 yards for a touchdown, that's the end of that one. It's not hard to overcome that."
"That's something we've done in the past under certain circumstances that we've changed signals," quarterback Eli Manning said. "You had to change some verbiage and different things, so that's something we've been prepared for. We've known about this game and coach Sullivan has been there a long time, so having a couple different signals and working those in training camp just so everybody is on the same page, so you can go to different ones whenever you need to."
Sullivan's offense is virtually an exact replica of the Giants' attack, right down to the terminology. That can work to defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's advantage. But he must also be wary of Sullivan's knowledge of the Fewell's schemes and personnel.
"It's a big challenge," Fewell said. "We have a lot of respect for coach Sullivan and his knowledge of the game and his knowledge of our program and what he can expect from us. I'm sure he's firing those guys up down there. He thinks he has some answers from a strategic standpoint. So it will be us going out and really concentrating on us. We have to go out and make football plays and play the game that we know how to play. If we do that, all that other stuff will take care of itself."
But Fewell admits he can't let Sullivan operate in a comfort zone.
"We'll change a few things, definitely," he said. "But, again, our focus is going to be on us and how we perform. You'll change a word here and there. You'll try not to confuse your players because, again, you want to be comfortable in what you do, more so than making them uncomfortable."
Coughlin played it close to the vest when asked if it will help or hurt the Giants having their former coordinators on the other side of the field.
"Well, you can draw your own conclusions on that one," Coughlin said. "They've both been here; they've both been in our system. Mike Sullivan of recent date, obviously. He did an outstanding job for us. Good, sharp, young coach. Bill Sheridan was here with our defensive staff. They both know the way we operate; they both know somewhat of our terminology. We're aware of that."
"We know a lot about their offense as well, so it works both ways," Manning said. "Obviously, he'll have some advice for them, I think. It's still a matter of execution. We've got to block them up. We've got to get open, so he doesn't know what play we're calling at that time. It's always going to come down to execution. Will he give them some advice on a few wrinkles that they're going to try to do? Probably so, but it's still going to be a matter of if they call it at the exact right time that we're in a certain coverage, so we've got to go out there and play our game and play smart."
Schiano, whose team defeated Carolina in the season opener, 16-10, has been mining Sullivan and Sheridan for as much Giants information as possible.
"It's been very helpful," Schaino said. "I can tell you there's a lot of Giant imprint on our program, and a lot of coach Coughlin imprint on our program."
Sullivan was the Giants' wide receivers coach for six years before taking over the quarterbacks in 2010, so few people are more familiar with Manning. Schiano has been picking his brain for information about the quarterback he'll face on Sunday.
"That would be foolish not to," Schaino said. "He's been a big help, but on the flip side, the Giants know what's inside of his brain. It goes both ways. There are a lot of similarities with our offenses, but they're different players that are doing it. Eli is so far along in the process of being in that offense, where (Tampa Bay quarterback) Josh (Freeman) is so new to this offense. So there's a whole bunch of differences, but a bunch of similarities as well."
The team that can best exploit them could well win the game on Sunday.