Sep 251996
 
New York Giants 13 – New York Jets 6

by Tony in Ninerland

I did not see the game under optimum conditions, so I won’t attempt a full report, but I will share some comments. At least the weather offered an excuse for the conservative game plan. (Did you see the quote in The NY Times? “The Giants’ offense still looks like the playbook was discovered in a sarcophagus buried underneath the sand at Giza.” Ain’t that the truth?) Brown looked in control on the 80 yard touchdown drive. He does well with designed roll outs — which was the call on the Calloway touchdown throw (excellent run by Calloway after the catch). I do believe that Brown is so afraid of mistakes that he is waiting for WRs to be W-I-D-E open before throwing. If that is the case, he’s in trouble. He has to be willing to take reasonable risks form time to time, especially deep. Rodney had a “good game” according to the reports; don’t be fooled. He is getting pathetically slow. With Rodney starting eight yards behind the line of scrimmage, there is no question of the safety having to “cheat” forward against the run — he can wait until the ball is actually handed of because he’s still going to beat Rodney to the line. Another disturbing trend: the Giants seem to abandon plays as soon as it becomes clear they’re working! There was the TD toss to Pierce last week and two nice completion s to Cross early against the Jets, then the play disappears for the rest of the game. Sure, we have so many arrows in out quiver, why go back to something we were having success with? Conrad Hamilton made two nice plays early — he certainly looks like a late round steal (when Willie Beamon dreams, he’s Conrad Hamilton). Strahan is clearly our best defensive player. He had a lot of pressure and a lot of hustle. If Cedric Jones develops as he should (and he will) AND we get Strahan re-signed, we’ve got a lot to look forward to. Watching Strahan play on Sunday brought to mind the ludicrous suggestion in the rapidly deteriorating GIANTS INSIDER that George NOT re-sign Mike so that we can use the money to get Jeff George! Sure, that’s the way forward — let your best play (on either side of the ball so far this year) leave via free agency. Armstead nearly delivered the death blow to the Meadowlands second tenants — he is earning his rep as the “play-maker”. Finally, I hope everyone who thinks Reeves is the answer got a look at the Panthers destroying the Niners. (The glory of sports bars is being able to watch two games at once). This team didn’t exist twenty months ago — yet they are 10 and 4 over their last 14 games. They’ve beaten the Niners twice in that stretch (soundly, by the way) and THEIR PLAYERS MEASURE UP PRETTY EVENLY WITH OUR GUYS. Sure, they’re better in some spots and we are in others, but folks, it comes down to coaching. Capers is my new hero. I’ll keep the Panthers in mind while I “celebrate” our victory over the mighty Jets…Tony in Ninerland.


by Dave B.

Overview: As expected, this was ugly football. It was pouring rain 80% of the time. As such, the both teams were committed to slogging it out on the ground. (Like the Giants need a downpour as an excuse for that).

Offense: The Giants offense was facing a banged-up Jets defense without it’s DL star, Hugh Douglas.

Quarterback: Brown wasn’t asked to throw much. He went 9-13 for 111 yards. No INTs and YES, he threw a TD (savor it, the next one’s due around Nov. 3rd). Seriously, Brown seemed to have more time, and used it pretty well. He was able to check off his 1st and 2nd receivers and find the 3rd guy, as was the case on the TD to Calloway. Of the 4 incompletions, one was a bad throw and at least one was dropped by, guess who, Howard Cross. One thing I keep noticing is that Brown is throwing some of his best and most accurate passes when he rolls out — especially if he has time. I don’t know why this is but I’ve noticed it since preseason. Maybe he’s concentrating too much on getting his mechanics right when he’s in the pocket, and when he rolls out, it just flows automatically. All in all, given the weather and the ground-oriented game plan, Brown had a good day.

Running Backs: You can disagree with me, but I think Rodney Hampton’s days of being an effective featured back FOR THE GIANTS are over. If I check my emotion at the door, I saw a guy who looks like a slow fullback getting very little yards per carry against one of the worst teams in the league, playing without it’s best defensive player. As we keep saying — he has power and skill, but has no explosiveness or speed. You’d THINK that he’d be perfect for punching the ball into the endzone when the ball’s at the 1 yard line, but in 2 if these situations (6 carries I think) he couldn’t get in (AGAIN behind a line that averages 300+ lbs against one of the worst teams in the league without it’s best defensive player). Hampton finished with 27 for 81 for a 3.0 avg. He also caught 3 passes for 12 yards. Hampton also had a fumble — his first in 12 games. If Jimmy Johnson were running this team, either Hampton or Wheatley would be gone — probably Hampton for a bunch of picks. As for Wheatley, he had some nice KRs, but he cannot find his rhythm as a RB when he only gets 3 carries. He’s still too tentative trying to find the hole. As the 3rd down back, he’s still having trouble picking up the blitz, but his size alone makes him a better option than Elias. If he gets the ball 25 times a game, he’s a TD waiting to happen, but he won’t and you can officially put him in the “stunted growth” category. Keith Elias is a good special teams player, but is that reason enough to keep him on the roster? This is probably irrelevant, but in three games with Elias as the 3rd down back, the Giants lost. In one with Wheatley as the 3rd down back we won. Ask yourself this: who would you rather have using that roster spot, Elias or Carl Banks (who could be the desperately-needed leader on defense)? Elias, or a better place kicker (keep Daluiso for kickoffs)? Charles Way had a solid day blocking from what I remember, but gained 0 on his only carry.

Wide Receivers: Another strong outing for Calloway. He caught 3 passes for 53 yards and THE FIRST TD BY A GIANTS WR THIS YEAR. Dawsey caught a nice pass for 21 yards then became the invisible man again. No sign of Lewis, no sign of Toomer except on punts (Toomer returning punts is a mistake — they’re going to get him hurt). Howard Cross actually caught 2 passes, but he dropped a 3rd. Best thing about them was that they weren’t in the red zone. As usual, Cross did some good blocking. Aaron Pierce was invisible.

Offensive line: Dave Brown claims it was “the best performance of the OL since he’s been there.” I have mixed feelings. They protected Brown pretty well — he was sacked only once, which must seem like a vacation to him, but at the risk of whipping the crap out of the dead horse — it was against one of the worst teams in the league without it’s best pass rusher. Furthermore, in two, first-and-goal-from-the-1 situations, the OL was unable to make a hole for a 235lb power runner, nor pull effectively on a sweep.

Defense: The defense gave up 78 yards on the ground and 149 in the air.

Defensive line:Strahan had a good day after a bad one against Washington. Two sacks. Harris had the other sack. Hamilton and Bratzke had quiet days. Jones was in rarely, and a non-factor. Giants Insider recently said about Jones that he’s “on his to becoming the next Kanavis McGhee.” OUCH!

Linebackers: OH Jessie! Almost. Armstead almost broke the game open with a nice pick. On the 23 yard return, he showed tremendous speed (in fact, he looked considerably faster than Hampton) he was headed for the endzone and someone got a hand on his foot. Armstead tripped and fumbled the ball back to the Jets. It was unfortunate, but good teams make those plays. The linebackers were pretty quiet otherwise. Nolan also had several situations where he was playing more DBs than LBs.

Defensive backs: Strong game. I read where the plan was to give the Jets the quick-out, but not to give up the big play, and they did just that. Sparks shut down Keyshawn Johnson completely. Sehorn is still an adventure on every play, Randolph still gives way too much cushion for someone with his speed. Campbell did a bit of what he does best: run support. Read it hear first: CONRAD HAMILTON IS THE GIANTS 2nd BEST DB — Period. He makes plays and is MUCH sounder positionally than everyone other than Sparks. Tito Wooten broke his leg and Ellsworth seemed to be his replacement. I thought in the preseason that Rodney Young looked awful, now it appears that Ellsworth, a walk-on, is ahead of him. (Randolph, Sehorn, and Young represent two #2s and a #3 — to date, there’s not much value here). Maurice Douglass fell on a muffed punt reception which, to date, is the highlight of his career in NY.

Specials: Horan — Currently the team MVP, had a good day considering the weather, 5 for a 44 yard avg and no touchbacks. So did Daluiso — two 20 yard FGs and a PAT. His kick-offs were deep. Wheatley had a 43 and 20 yard KR. Toomer had 3 PRs for 37 yards with one fair catch. He also got lucky on one he let bounce, and the Jets defender slid into the endzone with the ball forcing a touchback.

Coaching: The weather dictated the game plan so I won’t rank on Reeves too much for conservative play calls this week. Other plays and other players might have scored on the two goal-line situations, but the Giants SHOULD HAVE been able to punch it in with Hampton. It’s not Reeves’ fault that they couldn’t.

Summary: A win is a win, but this one would have felt MUCH more satisfying if Hampton could have scored TDs in those two goal-line situations. It would have indicated some progress. Unfortunately there was very little you could call “progress”. Maybe the OL played a little better but it’s hard to say.

Sep 181996
 
Washington Redskins 31 – New York Giants 10

Overview: The Giants are getting better, but they still are not playing good football yet. Their inconsistency on offense, defense, and special teams is killing them. The defense has played fairly well this year, but they need to play well for all four quarters. The offense has been pathetic and just when it looks like they will get something going, a dumb penalty here or some mental lapse there causes a breakdown that will halt a drive. With all the youth on this team, there should be more enthusiasm and hustle, especially on special teams. At 0-3, and their morale just about as low as it can possibly get, this team needs a win, and some confidence, desperately. As one watches the Giants, one gets the feeling it is only a matter of time before they will shoot themselves in the foot and lose yet another game. The players look like they expect the worst to happen. That attitude has got to stop now!

Quarterback: Inconsistency is Dave Brown’s middle name. At the start of the game, he looked nervous to us, like he was trying too hard not to make a mistake instead of going out there and just playing like he can. On his first pass play, he was pressured too quickly and threw what we thought was an ill-advised pass to Hampton on a screen (the pass fell incomplete). He then threw a really nice pass to Aaron Pierce where he stepped up into the pocket (finally!) and threw a bullet right on the money. The Giants came back with another screen that picked up good yardage but a holding penalty brought the play back and once again put the Giants into a long yardage situation. It is almost impossible to develop an offensive rhythm when you’re constantly in 2nd- and 3rd-and-long. Then Brown was pressured by Ken Harvey and threw a horrible pass into coverage which was picked off. When Brown came back into the game on his next possession, he tossed another ball on a slant to Calloway that should have been intercepted. Brown looked jittery to us — like he was feeling pressure that wasn’t there on some plays. We were just about to forever give up on Brown at that point, but what does he do but come back into the game and start moving the team in the second quarter with nice passes to the outside receivers. Indeed, all four top receivers were involved as Brown hit Calloway, Dawsey, and Lewis repeatedly on two back-to-back drives where he led the Giants into Skins territory. He also threw a really nice deep ball to Toomer, but Amani couldn’t make the play. The first drive stalled on Chris Calloway holding penalty, a batted ball on 3rd-and-two, and a missed field goal. Dave was impressive again on his next drive as he was “on” on most of his passes and he ended it by throwing a beauty to Aaron Pierce for a TD right before halftime. In the second half, Brown had a wide open Howard Cross on an intermediate route over the middle, but was hit as he threw and then was sacked on the ensuing play — thus negating excellent field position supplied to the offense by a turnover. Then on their second drive in the 3rd quarter, Brown threw three nice passes, two that were completed to Way and Calloway (the latter being near the goalline) and the third was knocked out of Calloway’s hands by Darrell Green in the endzone. On the 3rd drive, Brown looked sharp hitting Cross and Lewis, once again moving the team down the field, but he then underthrew a wide open Thomas Lewis on a flea flicker and the pass was picked off. Inconsistency! On the fourth drive, Brown tossed a 35-yard beauty to Calloway and then threw a nice out to Lewis. However, after a sack, he threw a terrible pass to Toomer that was picked off again in the endzone. Inconsistency! His final interception (his fourth!) was not his fault — the pass was perfectly thrown to Wheatley, but it bounced right off his hands and into Marvcus Patton’s hands (who Dave Brown had an on-going feud with throughout the game).

Running Backs: Just as in the first two games, the Giants just could not get their running game going in the first half. When they did get something positive, it seemed like there was a penalty on the play. For example, in the second quarter, Hampton picked up good yardage on a right side sweep, yet a holding call on the Calloway brings the play back. Keith Elias continues to hurt the Giants as he dropped a second quarter pass from Brown that was right on the money. Yet finally, in the second half, the Giants began to move the ball on the ground. On the second drive in the 3rd quarter, both Hampton and Wheatley drove the Giants down near the Skins’ goalline, running the ball both inside and outside the tackles. However, the Giants could only come up with three points on the drive. On the third drive of the half, Wheatley looked good on a right-side sweep. It really began to look like the Giants’ line and running backs were getting into a rhythm. However, the score at that point in the contest dictated that the Giants throw more than run the ball. Regardless, we are encouraged by what we saw in the second half. Wheatley did screw up royally when he dropped a pass from Brown that was picked off late in the game.

H-Backs/Tight Ends: Aaron Pierce made a couple of nice plays in the first half when he caught a big third-down reception from Brown on the Giants’ first drive. He also made a nice catch on Brown’s TD throw right before the half. The Giants tried to get the ball more to Cross in this game, but it only resulted in one reception in the 4th quarter; he was wide open on a play earlier in the 3rd quarter but the ball was batted away.

Wide Receivers: It finally dawned on Calloway that the season started and he made a number of nice catches during the game. However, his holding penalty on Hampton’s sweep really hurt the Giants and stalled their first good drive of the game. In the second quarter, Thomas Lewis made a nice catch-and-run and Dawsey caught a pass from Brown over the middle. Amani Toomer continues to show rookie jitters. Brown’s deep pass to him was right on the money, but he didn’t play the ball correctly or come up with the reception. Calloway made a great block on Hampton’s long run in the 3rd quarter. Quite a few people, including ourselves, have been criticizing Lewis due to his injuries, but he’s one of the very few guys on the team who looks like a dangerous runner after the catch.

Offensive Line: Inconsistency is also their middle name. Like Brown, they did not start well. Williams and Zatechka had problems with Sean Gilbert and Greg Bishop was beaten cleanly by Ken Harvey on Brown’s first interception. In the second quarter, the line played much better and Brown was given decent pass protection. The biggest breakdown in that quarter was DE Dexter Nottage’s play against Gragg on 3rd-and-two where Nottage batted the ball down; Gragg is a big guy, he shouldn’t let a smaller guy push him back into the pocket like that. During the first offensive drive in the third quarter, Gragg was AGAIN pushed back into the pocket by the SMALLER Sterling Palmer; Palmer deflected a pass that would have gone to a wide open Howard Cross. On the next play, Stone was beaten by Dexter Nottage. These guys must play better! However, on the following series, the offensive line drove the Skins off the ball as the running game came alive and Brown had more time to pass the ball. The line did settle down in the second half and the pass protection for the most part was solid, but they did have some breakdowns. Gragg and Stone did not handle a Redskins’ stunt well late in the 4th quarter and Brown was sacked. They are improving, but their mistakes are still hurting the team.

Defensive Line: The defense played well in the first half, but they did not in the second half as the big Redskins line began to dominate and punish them. In the first half, Keith Hamilton was the star of the line as he regularly shut down the inside running game of the Skins and exerted a good pass rush on many downs. Chad Bratzke also played the run surprisingly well. Indeed, it was Robert Harris and Mike Strahan who had more problems on their side. Harris in particular did not have a good game. His absolutely stupid roughing the passer call kept a Skins’ drive alive and was directly responsible for three points. He also did not play the double-team well on running plays. Ray Agnew also continues to disappoint and left the game hurt in the second quarter. In the second half, the Redskins began to dominate the line of scrimmage, and in particular by running counter trey against the left side of the Giants defense. Harris, Strahan, and Widmer couldn’t get off their blocks quickly enough and Terry Allen made the Giants pay. The focal point of the Redskins’ attack was against Harris and he just did not play up to the challenge. The Giants later inserted rookie Bernard Holsey, but he didn’t have any more luck that Harris. To make matters worse, RT Ed Simmons largely controlled Strahan in the second half, though Strahan did pick up a sack in the 4th quarter off Simmons. When he played, we thought Cedric Jones did a better job playing off blockers; he didn’t make any plays, but the Skins usually ran the ball to the other side when he was in there.

Linebackers: Jessie Armstead did not have a good game. He dropped a sure interception and TD in the first quarter — the type of play that if he had made, could have been the momentum changer the Giants needed, and not just for the game, but for the entire season. Moreover, Jessie had trouble covering Brian Mitchell on passing plays and he missed a huge tackle against Terry Allen on Allen’s big run in the first quarter that helped to set up their first TD. On the same drive, Corey Miller couldn’t keep up with TE Jamie Asher and a perfect pass from Gus Frerotte put the Skins in business on the Giants’ five yard line. These two plays were really the only big breakdowns the Giants’ defense suffered in the first half, but they were directly responsible for seven points. Meanwhile, we thought Corey Widmer did a decent job filling gaps and stuffing the running game in the first half, but did not play as well in the second half. Indeed, Widmer misread too many plays where Allen or Stephen Davis cut back against the grain. Against the run, Armstead was blown back on a number of plays and Miller was practically invisible for the entire game.

Defensive Backs: Our biggest problem with the defensive backs is that the safeties never seem to be around the ball or make plays (like Vencie Glenn did last year). Tito Wooten is very fast, but he always appears in the picture too late. Jessie Campbell plays the run very well, but he just doesn’t make any game turning plays. Like Armstead, he had his big chance in the 3rd quarter when he made a great read on a 3rd-and-2 play action pass where he should have intercepted the ball and scored, and brought the Giants within three points, but he dropped the ball. It’s these types of mistakes that are killing the Giants. We thought it was interesting that Percy Ellsworth saw so much playing time in this game. We think this says a lot about what the Giants’ coaches think about Percy; we also think it says a lot about what they think of Wooten, Campbell, and Young. Ellsworth looked good defending one running play, then looked foolish trying to tackle Allen on another. Maurice Douglass looked good on a blitz but whiffed on Frerotte (Hamilton picked up the garbage sack). He also looked silly trying to defend a running play late in the game where he took the wrong angle on the running back. The guy is the most overpaid performer (or should we say non-performer) on the team. Sparks, Sehorn, and Randolph played well most part. Sehorn did look bad missing a tackle on Allen (the same play where Armstead missed him), Randolph was out-muscled by Westbrook on one play, and Sparks was too aggressive and was called for a pass interference penalty on the Skins’ second TD drive. Regardless, the Giants CB’s did not lose this game as the Skins WR’s were not a factor. In fact, Sehorn made what we thought was his best play ever in a Giant uniform early in the 3rd quarter by sticking to Westbrook like glue on an out pattern and intercepting the ball.

Special Teams: The good news is that Wheatley looked good returning a couple of kick-offs and the Giants largely kept Brian Mitchell in check on kick-off returns. The bad news was just about everything else. The Giants (and Special Teams Coach Joe DeCamillas) were burned badly on a fake field goal; Frerotte, the holder, hit a wide open receiver for a long TD on the play. The “drive” was also set up by a long Brian Mitchell punt return. Brad Daluiso missed a very makeable field goal; he has not played well since the mid-point of last season. Remember, PK Olindo Mare is on the practice squad and we wouldn’t be surprised to see Daluiso waived if he continues to struggle.

Coaching: Again, we had a problem here or there with some of the play-calling, but we don’t blame the play-calling for the loss. The Giants passed on first down, they ran screens, Wheatley saw more playing time, they threw deep, and the Giants ran a flea flicker — this was not the “simple” game plan we (and the press) were led to believe that we would see. Sure Reeves could have run the ball instead of passing it near the goalline, but if the play works, no one would be complaining. That play didn’t cost the Giants the game. The Giants are just not executing well enough on offense and defense. Brown looks great one moment and horrible the next, same with the offensive line. Armstead and Campbell drop sure TD’s — that’s not Reeves’ fault. Reeves has a nightmare situation on his hands now. He has a very young and impressionable team that doesn’t really believe it can win (regardless of what they say to the press). Talent-wise, with respect to the majority of the league, the Giants are not that bad; but if you don’t believe you will win, you won’t. Let’s hope Reeves has some black magic up his sleeve.

Sep 111996
 
Dallas Cowboys 27 – New York Giants 0

Overview: When you win, things are never as good as they seem; when you lose, they are never as bad as they seem. It took us a while, but this is a philosophy that we have learned to believe in that covers both life and the game of football. 27-0 — that score sticks out at you like a sore thumb. You say the Giants looked so good against the Bills last week and Dallas looked so bad. What happened? Did anyone notice that the Skins, who looked pretty bad against the Eagles last week, beat the Bears — the same team that killed the Cowboys last Monday night? The problem for both the Giants and Bears was that they both were facing quality teams on their home turf who were embarrassed the week before. That’s an invitation to disaster — as we predicted it would be. The Giants blew their big chance on opening night. They had the Bills beat, and they let that game slip away. This missed their chance to be 1-1 after playing two Superbowl contenders back-to-back. 27-0 hurts…it’s embarrassing…it leaves you sick to your stomach, but don’t make too much out of this game. It’s the next month of football that really matters in determining the progress of this team.

Quarterback: Embarrassing and awful. Dan Reeves employed the strategy that we had been calling for and Dave Brown made us look like idiots. First play of the game, play-action to Amani Toomer on first down, the very same play we would have called and Dave Brown throws it right to the defender. Second series, the Giants run on first down and then pass on second — again, we liked the playcalling. However, again, Dave Brown throws a bad pass. You can’t blame the coach, you can’t blame the line, you can’t blame the receivers — Dave Brown was just bad. 1993 and 1994 were learning years; we knew they would be rough for Dave Brown and we knew the Giants would struggle because of that. However, this is Dave’s third year as starter. It’s time to step forward. We keep telling ourselves, “patience, the line is young,” “patience, two of the receivers are young,” “patience, these are the Bills and Cowboys after all.” To be honest, our patience is wearing thin. Good players make plays. Period. Yes, a lot of times it’s the quality of the surrounding talent that makes a QB look good, but good quarterbacks also make plays on their own. Dave doesn’t do this. What’s more is that we are starting to get somewhat annoyed at some of the excuses he is making, both on the field (yelling at refs for not calling defensive penalties that are not there) and to the press (saying “if this or this just happened, then…”). He gets ticked off at the pass protection and the play-calling. Not to sound like a commercial, but shut up Dave and just do it! He continues to dance around and he looks confused on too many plays. He did not disguise his screen passes well and we caught him “birddogging” more than a few times. He also takes too much time in the pocket. Make the read and throw the ball Dave! The positives? How many could there be when you’re shut out? We thought he was right on the money with his two deep passes — one intended for Calloway in the first half and one intended for Toomer in the second half. But geez, the Giants had zero net passing yards in the first half and minus six yards after three quarters! This isn’t the 1930’s, it’s the 1990’s guys! As John Madden said, “That’s not NFL-calibre football.” Danny Kanell looms larger and larger.

Running Backs: Rodney Hampton was Rodney Hampton. He is a tough, punishing runner with little-to-no explosiveness. When there is no hole there, he will still pick up 1-3 yards. However, on the other hand, when there is a decent hole there, he will make a 4-8 yard run out of something that might have gone for longer if he just had another gear. He used to have that extra gear, but it’s long gone now. Ty Wheatley played quite a bit, and again, we commend Dan Reeves for his rotation of the running backs. Wheatley made positive yards on almost every play he touched the ball, sometimes even when the blocking wasn’t there, but he still hasn’t broken one like we know he can. Give him time! Keith Elias is officially in our doghouse. On a 3rd-and-4 play in the first half, during one of the few series where the Giants had something going on offense, Elias completely ignored the blitzing linebacker (his PRIMARY responsibility) and ran a safety valve pass pattern instead. Dave never had a chance. This is one of those plays where the media will blame the line or blame Dave, but it was Elias’ mental screw-up that stopped the drive. Charles Way continues to impress at fullback as a lead blocker. We think he may soon become a Pro Bowl candidate if he continues to improve.

Tight Ends/H-Backs: Since so many of our readers have been knocking Howard Cross a lot recently, we decided to watch him closely while he was blocking and try to determine whether or not we were overrating his run blocking. Well, our convictions were confirmed in our minds in that Cross often destroyed his man when run blocking. The Giants ran an interesting play in the first half where they tried to get Way deep down the sideline, but because he was well covered, Brown passed to Cross in the flat. We don’t remember the Giants using Cross as a safety valve in the flat before. Once again, Aaron Pierce did not run his route deep enough in a critical situation and the Giants turned the ball over on downs in the 4th quarter even though he caught the ball.

Wide Receivers: Not good at all. A WR didn’t catch a ball in the first half! Thomas Lewis wasn’t activated for the game due to back and hamstring injuries and Amani Toomer got the start. We are rapidly losing patience with Lewis and his injuries. Yes, he may be better than Mike Sherrard, but if he doesn’t play, what difference does it make? Amani didn’t look good to us running his routes. He wasn’t crisp in his patterns (a criticism he carried with him coming out of college) and we blame him for the fumble on the reverse to Wheatley (the ball was there). He also dropped a very catchable deep ball. We’re not too worried because, after all, he is a rookie and this was his first start. We thought Chris Calloway should have caught the deep ball from Brown on 3rd-and-26 — it was right in his hands. Again, good players make good plays. Calloway didn’t. Lawrence Dawsey was not a factor and only had one pass thrown in his direction.

Offensive Line: Their play in the first half was much improved over their performance against the Bills. The run blocking was much better than we expected it was going to be. Ohh, there were some breakdowns and some blocks should have been sustained longer, but we were pleasantly surprised at some of the holes opened against a defense that was often playing the run. The pass blocking was also improved. In the second half, Brian Williams allowed DT Chad Henning to get too much penetration on 3rd-and-two running play. LT Greg Bishop somehow forgot to account for DE Charles Haley on Haley’s sack and forced fumble. How does that happen? Scott Gragg gave up a sack to DE Tony Tolbert

Defensive Line: Very strong against the run in the first half, they did start to wear down in the heat and the fact that they were once again on the field too long. We like having Keith Hamilton and Robert Harris starting in the middle — it gives the Giants a couple of 300 pounders to help clog up the middle. Thus far early in this season, we have been impressed with the way these two are playing. No, they shouldn’t be confused with DT’s like the ones the 49ers have, but they aren’t that bad. Emmitt Smith was not much of a factor in the game. Harris also supplied a couple of good pass rushes on Aikman. We saw DT Bernard Holsey get good penetration on his first play from scrimmage and disrupt a Smith run — he’s improving as well. Strahan played decently against a great player in Erik Williams, disrupting a number of runs, but he and his defensive line companions rarely pressured Aikman on passing plays. Chad Bratzke was only so-so. With the score out of hand early, quite a few back-ups on defense saw a decent amount of playing time. Cedric Jones continues to look confused and Ray Agnew continues to make few plays.

Linebackers: The biggest surprise to us so far this year is the play of the linebackers. Jessie Armstead didn’t do much in the preseason, but he looks like he is becoming a playmaker and a leader on the defense. We were really impressed with his aggressive penetration that disrupted a number of running plays. Corey Widmer was much stronger weaving through the trash this week and made a number of solid tackles. Corey Miller was burned on Smith’s TD catch, but we thought he had good coverage — it was a perfect pass. In the second half, on Smith’s longest run of the game, MLB Coleman Rudolph ran himself right out of the play. Then he looked foolish trying to cover TE Eric Bjornson. He can’t play the run or the pass — he’s a waste of a roster spot. Scott Galyon made a nice tackle on Emmitt Smith to force the Cowboys to kick a field goal on 3rd-and-1. Marcus Buckley looked good on one play, playing off the block and stuffing the running back.

Defensive Backs: Live by the blitz, die by the blitz. For the most part, we didn’t think the coverage of starters Phillippi Sparks and Jason Sehorn was that bad in the first half, Aikman was just amazingly accurate on his deep throws. Yes, Sanders and Williams had a step on Sehorn and Sparks, respectively, on their TD catches, but we thought both plays were relatively well covered. Sehorn was burned very badly late in the first half by Kelvin Martin down the middle — a play that set up the Cowboys’ final TD. However, the guy who played extremely poorly was Thomas Randolph, the guy who we had been pushing over Sehorn. For some reason, the Cowboys bring out the worst in Randolph, and Kevin Williams in particular eats him alive. It was very obvious that Aikman looked in Randolph’s direction every time and Randolph did not make Aikman pay. In the first quarter, with the game still tied at zero, the Giants had forced the Cowboys into a 3rd-and-a-mile, yet Randolph’s pass interference penalty gave the Cowboys a first down deep in Giants’ territory. It was a stupid play because (1) Randolph never should have let Williams get behind him in that situation, and (2) he never looked back for the ball, thus drawing the pass interference penalty. On other plays, Randolph was playing off the ball far too much for someone with the kind of speed he has. With his speed, he should play much more aggressively than he does. FS Tito Wooten and SS Jesse Campbell never seem to be around the ball and Wooten still is not getting over fast enough on the deep passes. Maurice Douglass played extremely well on the goalline stand early in the first quarter after the Giants’ turnover. Indeed, the entire defense during this series played inspired football.

Special Teams: The kick and punt coverage continues to be solid, but the blocking on kick and punt returns also continues to be atrocious. Wheatley and Toomer never have a chance. Mike Horan punted exceptionally well this week. Brad Daluiso was never called upon; the Giants never got in field goal range — that’s how bad the Giants’ offense was on Sunday.

Coaching: We have no problem with Dan Reeves this week. We liked the playcalling in the first half — Dave Brown and others such as Amani Toomer just did not execute. The offensive line is improving and the defense is playing extremely well. Too conservative you say in the second half? The game was over at halftime, and there is no sense in demoralizing your quarterback and offensive line anymore than you have to. The Giants offensive line needs to practice its run blocking and we liked the fact that the Giants didn’t abandon their game plan. We also like the fact that many of the back-ups got some playing time on defense. If we had any pet peeve, it’s playing Rudolph and Elias as much as they do.

Sep 091996
 
New York Giants: There is a Plan!

The Giants are a rebuilding ball club and it is important for their fans to understand the strategy being employed by General Manager George Young and the Giants’ front office. Yes, despite what you may hear on the radio or read in the newspaper, the Giants do indeed have a long-term plan. Simply put, it is to build through the draft, re-sign up-and-coming young ball players, and then only use free agency to fill glaring holes or weaknesses on the team. Now many argue that such a strategy is archaic, that free agency and the salary cap have left George Young and the front office confused and largely reactive, rather than proactive. We couldn’t disagree more.

The top two teams in the NFL since 1992 have been the 49ers and the Cowboys. These two teams were not built through free agency, but through the draft. They also had the critical advantage of having their corps of “star” players signed and entering their prime during the advent of free agency and the salary cap. Thus, they were given a 3-4 year “grace period” that other teams did not enjoy. The Giants’ problem? The 1990 World Champion Giants were not only an aging team, but even worse, the Giants’ “star” players were in the twilight of their careers. To make matters worse, after having a superb draft in 1989, the Giants entered a period (1990-1992) where the front office drafted poorly. Proof? Halfback Rodney Hampton is the only player from the 1990 draft on the current roster. Outside linebacker Corey Miller is the only player remaining from the 1991 draft. The Giants did better in 1992 (cornerback Phillippi Sparks, H-Back Aaron Pierce, defensive tackle Keith Hamilton, and middle linebacker Corey Widmer), but it was also the year where they drafted tight end Derek Brown in the first round.

The Giants have drafted much better since then and have acquired talented, youthful players at a number of key positions: offensive line, wide receiver, running back, defensive end, and the secondary. The current plan is to keep these young players on the team, in order to maintain continuity and build chemistry. Football, after all, is the ultimate team sport. Most importantly, the Giants hope these young players will grow and improve together. If the Giants are successful, they will have a great advantage over other teams in that they will have the “luxury” of having a roster filled with improving players who are both comfortable and familiar with each other, while other teams will struggle to maintain chemistry and continuity. The key for this strategy to work is for the Giants’ front office to correctly determine which players on the current roster will become good players AND to keep them on the roster. The book is still out on whether or not the Giants have picked the right players. Will Dave Brown become one of the top quarterbacks in the league? Will the huge, young players on the offensive line form one of the best offensive lines in Giants’ history? Is defensive end Cedric Jones an impact player? Can the Giants win with the current linebacking corps? All these questions remain to be answered.

Regardless, the Giants have done a fine job locking up their “up-and-coming” players. Most of the players the Giants have lost through free agency over the last few years were on the downside of their career or overrated by the fans and media. All eleven current starters on offense are already under contract for next year. Moreover, with the Giants recently extending the contracts of middle linebacker Corey Widmer and outside linebacker Jessie Armstead, the Giants now have seven of their eleven current starters on defense also under contract already for next season. Three of the five defensive free agents next year (defensive end Chad Bratzke, cornerback Jason Sehorn, and free safety Tito Wooten) will be restricted free agents, which means they are not likely to be able leave. That leaves defensive end Michael Strahan and defensive tackle Keith Hamilton as the sole starters left to be signed. The Giants have made a big push to extend Strahan’s contract. He is one of their best players, but if he does leave, it will be a big blow to the future of the franchise. His re-signing is more important than the Giants win-loss record this year.

The Giants are one of the youngest teams in the NFL. The average age of the players is under 26; the average age of the offensive and defensive starters is also under 26. If the Giants can keep this nucleus together for the next 3-5 years, and these players start playing like the Giants expect them to play (a big if), then the Giants should be once again in Superbowl contention in the not-too-distant future.

If you accept this “world view” of the Giants future, then what should Giants’ fans expect this year? The answer is as simple as it is brutal — not much. The Giants are too young, too inexperienced, and lack too much leadership to seriously contend for even a wild card spot this year. Ohh, they will tease, just like they did on opening night against the Bills, but 1996 should be considered a growing year for the team — a very long preseason if you will. The defense has been a pleasant surprise, but they are still one or two drafts away from becoming a top unit. Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan has installed an aggressive, blitzing defense that we (and the players) love. Quarterbacks like Troy Aikman may make the Giants pay for this strategy like he did in week two, but most will not. We hope the Giants do not abandon this more aggressive philosophy. The offense, on the other hand, has been absolutely dreadful so far this year. This is not totally unexpected. It all starts up front, and even though the Giants’ offensive line should become one of the best in the league, it will take them 1-2 years to really become a force. Until they do, the offense will struggle. Dave Brown must also step forward. He has been unfairly criticized by some and treated with kid gloves by others — the truth, as it usually does, lies somewhere in the middle. Yes, the offensive line has not protected him well and the play-calling has been conservative, but he has also not played well this year. With each poor or mediocre performance on the part of Dave Brown, rookie quarterback Danny Kanell, who was impressive in camp this year, looms larger and larger in the picture.

Sep 041996
 
Buffalo Bills 23 – New York Giants 20 (OT)

Overview: So close! A break here or there and the Giants come away from a win. Examples? The Giants forced three fumbles (two on sacks and one on special teams), but couldn’t come up with the ball; Howard Cross dropped a sure TD pass; Rodney Hampton was one ankle tackle from scoring on a long TD run on the first drive; Thomas Lewis drops what could have been a dramatic, last minute TD bomb from Dave Brown; if Thomas Randolph doesn’t jump and instead runs right at Jim Kelly and sacks him during his pass rush on 3rd-and-long in the 4th quarter, the Bills don’t tie the game; if the offensive line gives Brown just a little more time in the second half…if, if, if…the truth of the matter is that the Giants’ offense let the rest of the team down. The defense was magnificent, and the Giants outplayed the Bills on special teams. Just as important, Dan Reeves and Mike Nolan clearly out-coached Marv Levy and his staff. What a wonderful game plan on both sides of the ball! This loss hurts, and we are not really sure how this young team will react…the coaching staff probably doesn’t either. Close doesn’t cut it and no matter what kind of face you put on this game, the Giants are still 0-1 and have to play the World Champions on their home field next week. But if the Giants give this kind of effort week-in-and-week-out and Reeves and his staff continue to come up with game plan masterpieces like in this game, then the Giants will not be as bad as predicted this year.

Quarterback: Simply put, Dave was mediocre. At times, he looked pretty darn good, such as his early slant to Lawrence Dawsey on the opening drive, his 3rd-and-2 pass to Howard Cross, and his short passes to FB Charles Way with rushers in his face. His ball handling was again excellent and he didn’t make any ill-advised throws. He also wasn’t helped by two HUGE drops by Howard Cross and Thomas Lewis — both which would have been for scores and both would have effectively won the game for the Giants. However, Dave was off a few of passes to receivers. He threw behind Cross and Lewis on a couple of throws. Plus, as the game wore on, Brown looked less and less comfortable in the pocket and more and more gun-shy. Now it’s true that the offensive line didn’t give him much time, especially in the second half, but Brown held onto the ball longer than he should of on a number of occasions. He’s got to drop back, make a quick read, and get rid of the ball. He can’t dance around back there and take a big loss. He made a horrible throw on 3rd-and-long when he could have ran for the first down. The defense time and time again halted the Bills and gave the Giants’ offense excellent field position, but Brown and his offensive teammates couldn’t do anything with the ball. What’s worse, too often in the second half, it was three-and-out for the offense…an offense that only generated 3 points in the second half…3 points that were basically handed to them by Phillippi Sparks’ interception deep in Bills territory. The Giants only managed 89 yards and five first downs after halftime. Dave has to do better.

Wide Receivers: Disappointing. Granted, the offensive game plan with its emphasis on the running game and short passes to Charles Way and the tight ends did not provide a lot of opportunities for the receivers, but when given a chance, the receivers didn’t come up big. Thomas Lewis made a couple of nice grabs, one a deep out on play action and one intermediate route over the middle, but his drop of a very good deep Dave Brown pass late in the 4th quarter probably cost the Giants the game. He’s a former first round draft pick and a starting WR in the NFL, he’s got to make that play. Aside from his one reception early in the game, Dawsey was not heard from again and Chris Calloway was invisible (his streak of 41 games with a catch was broken). Toomer looked like he had a step on a Bills’ defender deep on one play, but Brown was unfortunately hit as he was getting rid of the ball. On more than a few occasions, Brown held onto the ball too long in the pocket and was sacked or forced to throw the ball away…much of this we blame on Brown, but we also have a feeling that the WR’s didn’t do a very good job of getting open on some of these plays.

Halfbacks: Hampton wasn’t helped very much by the offensive line or play calling. His best run of the night was a cutback, left-side run on the first drive, where he came so close to scoring. He had a couple of other nice inside runs, but for the most part, he was bottled up pretty effectively by the Bills, and particularly ILB Chris Spielman. We appreciate the dilemma Reeves was in…if he ran on first down, he was playing right into the Bills’ defensive strategy of playing the run on first down…however, if he passed on first down, he would have exposed his young offensive tackles to two of the premiere pass rushers in the game. That being said, we would have liked to see Reeves to take a few more chances, especially in the first half when the Giants were provided with excellent field position. On every possession in the first half, except for one, the Giants ran the ball on first down — for no or little gain each time. The one time the Giants ran play-action on first down, the pass was easily completed (a 6-yard pass to Aaron Pierce). The Bills merely focused on stuffing Hampton on first down and this strategy largely succeeded for them — there were just too many guys to block on many occasions. Ty Wheatley had a very nice inside run for decent yardage in the second quarter, but his outside runs were snuffed out by the Bills’ defense for losses. He also missed Bryce Paup on a blitz — he has to make that block. Keith Elias continues to flop as a 3rd down back and did nothing to help the offense.

Tight Ends/Fullbacks: Charles Way is a player! Last year, he showed that he was a monster lead blocker and late in the year against San Diego, he proved that he could become an effective weapon catching the ball out of the backfield. Against the Bills, he was the Giants’ best offensive weapon as he caught a number of short swing passes for good yardage — one an outstanding 37 yard catch and run for the Giants’ only offensive TD of the night. Way is so big and powerful that small defensive backs are afraid to tackle him. He has soft hands, a little wiggle, and most importantly, he doesn’t fool around and heads right for the endzone. Howard Cross blocked pretty well as usual and made a nice catch on a big 3rd-and-2 pass from Dave Brown, but he dropped a sure TD pass. Cross has always been a superior blocker with questionable hands — but as a starting TE in the NFL, he has to make that catch. On another pass intended for him, he didn’t even look like he expected the ball to be thrown to him…another “no, no.” Aaron Pierce wasn’t involved much in the offense, but did make one catch for six yards.

Offensive Line: Not a good opening debut for this group at all. We expected the line to have problems with the very talented front seven of the Bills and this in fact proved to be the case. In the first half, the conservative play-calling kept the line off of Dave Brown, but the Bills effectively shut down the Giants running game on first down, and did exert just enough pass pressure to throw off the passing game. On almost every 3rd down, there was a Bills’ pass rusher right in Dave Brown’s face. In the second half, the Bills gained complete control of the line of scrimmage and the Giants’ passing and running game never had a chance. Greg Bishop and Rob Zatechka kept Bruce Smith quiet in the first half, but Bruce dominated these two in the second half. Smith’s sack of Brown (against Zatechka) and forced fumble set up the Bills’ winning score in overtime. And no one could keep ILB Chris Spielman under control. If one player continually frustrated the Giants running game all night, it was Spielman. This will become a very good offensive line, but until they mature, the Giants’ offense is bound for some rough moments in 1996.

Defensive Linemen: Wow! Did the defense come ready to play or what! Mike Nolan called a wonderful game, but we’ll get to that when we cover the linebackers and defensive backs. Up front, LDE Michael Strahan, LDT Robert Harris, RDT Keith Hamilton, and RDE Chad Bratzke controlled the line of scrimmage against the run and were in Jim Kelly’s face all night. On the second play from scrimmage, Strahan and Bratzke sandwiched Kelly for a sack. On the third play, Strahan and Harris ran a great stunt and clobbered Kelly inside the five yard line and forced a fumble (which the Bills unfortunately recovered). All four players had their pass rush moments in the game and Strahan and Hamilton did an excellent job against the running game all night. Bratzke got good penetration and nailed Kelly a couple of times as he got rid of the ball. He also did a great job of nailing a WR reverse in the backfield. Hamilton was a disruptive force in the middle — he just has to tackle better. In the second half, Hamilton sacked Kelly on a first-and-goal play that helped to prevent a TD. Unfortunately, after the Giants went up 17-0 in the second quarter, Nolan brought in Ray Agnew, Bernard Holsey, and Cedric Jones and the Bills promptly marched down the field and scored a TD. Agnew seems to be regressing to us. He’s the Giants’ worst pass rusher on the line and we don’t understand bringing him into the game when it was clear when the Bills would be going up top right before half to try to come up with at least one TD. Holsey and Jones are two rookies who just don’t have a clue yet. Jones is known for his quickness, but he seemed to be half second late out of his stance on every play. The Giants need Cedric to play well, but so far he’s been a big bust. He needs to stop thinking and reacting so much, and just attack the line of scrimmage like he did at Oklahoma. Finally, please, please, please…we hope Strahan accepts the Giants’ new contract offer!

Linebackers: Masterful! Someone must have kidnapped the real Mike Nolan and Giants’ LB’s and replaced them with impostors. Nolan ran just about every blitz in the book and on just about every down…he brought the outside linebackers, he brought the middle linebackers, he brought the corners, he brought just about everything except the kitchen sink and it worked great. We’d rather get burned for a 60-yard TD (which the Giants did) and play an aggressive, attack-style of defense, than get slowly bled to death with a conservative bend-but-don’t-break defense any day. In the former, the defense builds its confidence and develops an attitude. In the latter, you lose field position and the players develop non-aggressive attitude. Jessie Armstead and Corey Miller played their best games as pros. Armstead (14 tackles) was all over the field. He tipped one Kelly pass on a blitz and sacked him on 3rd down on another. He sniffed out a screen pass to Thomas and nailed him as he was trying to catch the ball and almost came up with an interception on the play. He was a hitting and tacking machine all night as he punished receivers. His pass coverage was excellent. Thank God the Giants just signed him to a contract extension. Nolan let Miller do what Miller does best and that is rush the passer. In the first half, he stuffed Thomas on the first play of the game and forced a bad throw from Kelly on a screen. In the second half, he really exploded as he came up with two sacks. Inside Corey Widmer played a solid, but not great game. He still has some problem navigating through traffic and disengaging from interior linemen inside, but the Bills’ running game wasn’t much of a factor on Sunday night. In pass coverage, Widmer was usually near his man. Against both the run and the pass, he tackled well. If we had one problem with Nolan’s game plan, it was keeping Widmer in on pass coverage on 3rd-and-long late in the game. Ever hear of situational substitution?

Defensive Backs: When you live by the blitz, you sometimes die by the blitz and the Giants’ DB’s had an up-and-down game. To be fair, a ton of pressure was exerted upon them by the fact that they were left back there by themselves as Nolan sent blitz after blitz after Kelly. The Giants played more man-to-man than we can ever remember and the DB’s youth and aggressiveness which served them well, was also their achilles heel. In the first half, Sparks (once) and Sehorn (three times) were beaten deep, but only one of the passes was completed. Sehorn played well at times. He had great coverage on an out pattern to Tasker and absolutely crushed Kelly on a blitz where Kelly fumbled (unfortunately the Bills recovered again). However, in the first half he was beaten deep three times — one pass was overthrown; and one he made a great, last second dive to tip the ball away; yet the other one was completed and set up a Thomas TD run. We still don’t think he is the answer, but at least he made some plays. In the second half, both Sparks and Sehorn were beaten deep on back-to-back plays for big yardage, setting up a field goal. Later in the 4th quarter, both were beaten again, but both balls were overthrown by Kelly. When Sparks first came into the league, he couldn’t tackle anyone. However, he’s become one of the Giants’ most aggressive and sure tacklers. He nailed Bills’ runners and receivers all night with solid, aggressive tackles and largely shut down his man in pass coverage. In the second half, he made an incredible interception and came one tackle away from almost scoring on the play (an another “what if”). Thomas Randolph played well when he played and almost came up with an interception in the first half. His biggest faux pas was leaving his feet as he was blitzing Kelly on a 3rd-and-long play. If he didn’t go for the pump fake and just went for the sack, he probably would have sacked Kelly and the Bills may have never tied the game. Tito Wooten played aggressively but didn’t make much of an impact. Jesse Campbell made a couple of solid tackles and nailed the TE on one play, but took the wrong angle on Reed’s long TD catch and run.

Special Teams: Remarkably, the Giants outplayed the Bills on special teams. Amani Toomer scored on the longest punt return in Giants’ history (87 yards) even though he received absolutely no blocking on the play. DeCamillas has to get his troops to block better on punt and kick returns. Toomer and Wheatley had no chance on kick returns. Toomer also made a big mistake in calling for a fair catch and fielding a punt inside the five yard line late in the 4th quarter. The Giants’ kick and punt return coverage units played well. Daluiso nailed many of his kicks into the endzone and when they were returned, the Giants were down in a hurry (Marcus Buckley and Rodney Young in particular on one return). His one kick out of bounds was a big “No, No” and gave the Bills excellent field position on one of their TD-scoring drives. Rodney also forced a fumble on one punt return in the 4th quarter, but the Giants again could not come up with the ball. Corey Widmer did recover one Bills “fumble” on specials when a bad Horan punt touched one of the Bills’ players. Daluiso also made both of his field go chances. Mike Horan did a superb job kicking the ball inside the 20, but also had a couple of awful punts.

Coaching: We would have preferred to see play-action from the Giants on first down in the first half of the game, especially given the field position the Giants were given through the half. However, it is tough to criticize the game plan put in by Reeves and Nolan. Reeves’ use of Way really surprised the Bills and the Giants also ran a very nicely designed reverse to Calloway that was well defended, but looked like a good play. The Giants also used a lot of deception by pulling their linemen in one direction, then throwing to the other side. We also credit Reeves with becoming more aggressive once the game was tied late in the 4th quarter and in overtime, allowing Brown to start throwing deep. As for Nolan, we hope he doesn’t put away his defensive game plan and go back to his old conservative self. When you blitz as often as the Giants did, you will get burned and you will lose games, but you will also force turnovers and create good field position for your offense — we believe this style wins more games than it loses. Most importantly, we believe it creates an air of confidence and an “attitude” with the defensive players. For all the coaches, it will be critical for them to positively reinforce the players after this game and help them keep their heads up. Close doesn’t count for much in this league, but they did almost beat what we consider the best team in the NFL.