Aug 291997
 

Approach to the Game – Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, August 31, 1997: The Giants do not match up well with the Eagles both offensively or defensively. Moreover, key players such as OC Brian Williams (eye), CB Phillippi Sparks (hepatitis), CB Conrad Hamilton (knee), and HB Rodney Hampton (knee) will miss the game. Thus, the Giants will need a superb all-around effort from their offense, defense, and special teams on Sunday in order to defeat the Eagles. This is an important game for the Giants, not only in the win-loss column, but for the sake of team confidence and morale. It’s important to begin the Jim Fassel era with a bang. The last thing the Giants need is another close defeat.

Giants on Offense: There are a couple of conflicting strategies the Giants can employ here, both with its own negative. The Giants have formally adopted the “West Coast” offensive philosophy which is primarily based on quick, timing throws to running backs, tight ends, and wide receivers rather than the power running game which the Giants have traditionally employed for most of the past two decades. Pass first, run second. Get the ball to the backs and let them do some damage with the ball after the catch. The onus is the receivers to get open quickly and then for the quarterback to get rid of the ball quickly. Timing is key. If the receivers are well-covered, the whole timing of the play can be thrown off. This is where the problem lies with the Eagles. First, the Eagle defenders are very familiar with defending the West Coast Offense (WCO) because they practice against it everyday against their own offense. Second, the Eagles have excellent cover cornerbacks (Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor) and, most importantly, excellent cover linebackers (Darrin Smith and William Thomas). In fact, there may not be a better cover-linebacking duo in the league. Thus, the Giant receivers, backs, and tight ends will be hard pressed to get open quickly.

Believe it or not, the more prudent strategy for the Giants would probably be to attempt to run the football more. The Eagles are very light on defense and against most teams, they have problems stopping the power running game. However, in the past, the Eagles have loaded up against the run when they played the Giants because they did not fear Dave Brown or his receivers — they probably still don’t. The real key for the Giants on offense may be Brown’s ability to recognize what type of defense the Eagles are in and check off if necessary. In other words, will there be eight men in the box? If not, run; if so, pass. Don’t be surprised to see a lot of audibles.

Of course nothing will matter much if the Giants can’t effectively block Eagle defenders. This is the second year that RT Scott Gragg and RG Ron Stone have played together and they should be better. Fortunately, Gragg will not be facing DE William Fuller (who signed with San Diego), but Stone will have his hands full with DT Andy Harmon — he needs to win that battle for the Giants to succeed on offense. The real sore spots may be center and left tackle. Jerry Reynolds is healthy once again and replaces rookie Derek Engler in the pivot. However, Reynolds has only played center for about three weeks of his entire life and hasn’t had a lot of work next to Stone and Bishop. LT Roman Oben has been progressing nicely in the preseason, but faces a real tough test in Giant-killer Mike Mamula. This game may turn out to be a very rough learning experience for Oben.

As for game tactics, look for the Giants to employ Tiki Barber on screens and draws quite a bit. Charles Way should carry the ball in short yardage situations and is also a dangerous receiver after the catch. Of all the wide receivers, Ike Hilliard matches up with long-striders Vincent and Taylor the best because of his general foot quickness…the Giants should run Hilliard on a lot of routes that require sharp cuts. Is this the game where the Giant tight ends finally come out of the closet? Most importantly, will Dave Brown be able to show the League the progress he has made this summer, or will he revert back to form? There will be a lot of pressure on Brown from the fans on Sunday.

Giants on Defense: The Eagles must be salivating at the thought of playing the Giants right now due to the injuries to Sparks and Hamilton. These injuries have forced the Giants to juggle their line-up and CB Jason Sehorn now finds himself in unfamiliar territory on the left side of the Giants’ defense. Just as importantly, the Eagles like to run multiple WR sets and will undoubtably run even more now with Sparks and Hamilton out. CB Robert Massey was signed this week and he’s a decent player, but there is no way he can learn the Giant system or develop a feel for his teammates in such a short time. If we were the Eagles, we’d run 3-WR or 4-WR sets the entire game.

However, the Giants had better not focus too much on the pass or Ricky Watters will kill them again. Honestly, in order focus on the pass, it may very well first be necessary to shut down Watters. The onus will be on the front seven on defense to do so. The Giants will want to blitz and rush the passer aggressively, but as the Giants found out against the Packers last Friday, WCO’s can easily burn the blitz with timely screen passes and draws — and Philly loves to run both. A more conservative game plan may be more prudent this week, especially with the injuries in the secondary. We’d run more zone coverage than the Giants have been utilizing in the preseason and we wouldn’t blitz more than one linebacker or defensive back at a time. In particular, the Giants need to keep an eye on the explosive tight end, Jason Dunn. Sam Garnes and Corey Miller will most likely have the responsibility to keep him in check. The Eagles will also have a big height advantage when WR Irving Fryar lines up against Thomas Randolph. Fryar is a physical player; Randolph is not. Both the safeties and cornerbacks will need to tackle well — a weak area at times with Sehorn, Randolph, and Wooten. Eagle FB Kevin Turner is a good pass receiver and reserve HB Charlie Gardner can be explosive.

Who really needs to step it up on Sunday will be the front four of Strahan, Harris, Hamilton, and Bratzke. These guys have to shut down the running lanes and get after the passer — the latter has been a real sore spot in the preseason. Eagle RT Richard Cooper is out so Strahan needs to come up with a big game. Unfortunately, OC Steve Everitt is a good one in the middle and Harris and Hamilton may struggle to get past him. Chad Bratzke really must get his butt in gear as well. The Eagles’ situation at left tackle is also very shaky and Chad needs to take advantage of this. QB Ty Detmer just ate the Giants’ coverage up last year — pass defense begins with the pass rush.

Giants on Special Teams: This area may decide the game. First and foremost, the Giants need to do a much, much better job of covering kick-offs and punts. The last thing the Giants need is to give the Eagles an easy score or superb field position. Secondly, Thomas Lewis needs to do a better job of protecting the ball on kick returns and Amani Toomer must be more aggressive in running up the field on punt returns. Third, Brad Daluiso had an excellent preseason, but he still needs to prove he can make the pressure kick when the game counts. If the Giants are to win on Sunday, they must beat the Eagles in the special teams department.

Aug 251997
 
Green Bay Packers 22 – New York Giants 17

Overview: The good news was that the game was a tightly-fought contest and there were no serious injuries. The second team front seven on defense finally came to life and there were some very good individual performances. The bad news is that the Giants found another way lose a ball game and the constant losing of the past few years combined with a 1-3 performance in the preseason must be creating some self-doubt in the ball players. The Giants need to get off to a quick start in 1997 in order to build their own confidence and start some momentum. Right now, we’re not sure these young players actually believe in themselves. Head Coach Jim Fassel and his staff have a difficult road ahead of them.

Quarterbacks: It’s good that Dave Brown didn’t play long because he was not sharp. This had to do in part with the play-calling as Fassel had Brown throw deep three times on the first drive. Brown has improved his deep throwing somewhat this preseason, but it is still a weakness in his game. It’s not that he doesn’t have the arm, but he still lacks accuracy and touch on the deep ball. Dave is getting a little better at disguising the screen (the Giants ran a lot of screen passes against Green Bay — our favorite play) and he did hit a receiver for a clutch third down, but he threw a terrible pass to an open Tiki Barber and just wasn’t as sharp as his previous three games. The good news is that Dave Brown stood tough in the pocket and wasn’t phased by the rush. Brown finished going 3-for-8 for 32 yards with no interceptions and no touchdowns.

Danny Kanell had another disappointing outing. He started off very poorly, but settled down a bit later in the contest and did throw a beauty of a TD pass to Ike Hilliard and a very nice deep ball to Toomer. However, he birddogged his receivers far too much — leading the Packer defensive backs right to the receiver he was throwing to on numerous occasions. He also made some poor decisions by throwing into double (and once triple) coverage. At times, he was jumpy in the pocket, but at other times he stood tall and stepped up into the pocket. He should have had another TD pass to Hilliard, but the ball was thrown slightly too late. Kanell went 15-for-30 with one interception and one touchdown.

Offensive Line: A positive overall performance by the first unit, which didn’t give up any sacks. Granted the Packer first team wasn’t fired up for the ball game, but Scott Gragg did a good job on Reggie White and we even saw Derek Engler handle Gilbert Brown one-on-one on one play. Roman Oben had some problems with outside quickness, but did not give up a sack and is improving. Greg Bishop played the first quarter at left guard and Lance Smith played there in the second quarter. The run blocking was again inconsistent. The Giants are currently struggling to get their outside running game going — something that requires a great deal of coordination and cooperation between the linemen, tight ends, receivers, and running backs. The second team line had Bishop at right tackle, Zatechka at right guard, Reynolds at center, Castro at left guard, and Thorp at left tackle. This group really struggled in run blocking as it was obvious their wasn’t a great deal of familiarity between the players.

Running Backs: Tiki Barber (11 carries for 55 yards, 4 catches for 39 yards) played the first half while Tyrone Wheatley (13 carries for 37 yards) played the second half. Tiki just isn’t big enough to consistently pick up yardage on his own when the blocking isn’t there. However, give him a hole and he can squirt through and pick up decent yardage with his quickness, vision, and moves. Tiki did fumble again and this is becoming a concern. He also dropped another good throw on a short pass. Tyrone Wheatley didn’t have much help from his blockers, especially on outside runs. He did look good in short yardage this week as he easily scored from a couple of yards out on a run right up the middle. Interestingly, the Fassel only had Kanell throw to Wheatley once, but the pass was very poor and well off the mark. Wheatley also had two very nice runs off right tackle, one where he really turned on the jets. Charles Way again didn’t see the ball very much (again, we think this is deliberate).

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: Hooray! The Giants threw to Amani Toomer (5 catches for 77 yards) this week and he didn’t disappoint. Toomer was well covered on a deep fly pattern down the left side line, but a combination of an excellent throw from Danny Kanell (his best of the night) and superb concentration on the part of Toomer, Amani came down with the ball for big yardage. We hope that Fassel doesn’t forget about Toomer — especially on slant patterns and on the deep stuff where he can use his height and leaping ability to a great advantage over shorter CB’s. Both Chris Calloway (3 catches for 27 yards) and Ike Hilliard had solid (2 catches for 45 yards), but unspectacular games. Really, we can’t remember a dropped pass by the wide receivers. Hilliard, in particular, looked good in the red zone as he had one TD and should have had another if the throw was delivered sooner. However, Hilliard was outfought for a ball on one Kanell interception. It was a bad decision by Danny, but we thought Ike could have fought harder for the ball. He’ll learn. Thomas Lewis (1 catch for 14 yards) and Kevin Alexander (1 catch for 5 yards) weren’t thrown to much. The tight end position (no catches on Friday) continues to be invisible in the Giants’ offense. Howard Cross missed a block a run to the outside as well.

Defensive Line: The first team defensive line had some problems with Green Bay this week. Mike Strahan picked up another sack, but he didn’t get much help from his teammates. Robert Harris continues to be a no-show for the most part in the pass rush department (though he did get in there for a pressure on one play we saw). The Packers also picked up good yardage on a run to left in the first half where they successfully neutralized Chad Bratzke and Keith Hamilton. The run defense on the left side of the Giants’ defense was very sound as Michael Strahan, Corey Miller, and Corey Widmer did a good job of jamming things up. Nevertheless, the pass rush continues to be a concern. Strahan needs more assistance from his buddies.

The real pleasant surprise this week was the play of the second team defensive line. Cedric Jones had his best game as a Giant. He still was a half-second late out of his stance on occasions, but he was much, much quicker and actually used some moves! He put on a beauty of a spin move on one play where unfortunately the quarterback was rolling away from him or he would have had a sack. He also forced an incompletion on a play where he hit the quarterback!!! Really, he gave the Packers’ back-up left tackles problems all night. Also playing decently was Bernard Holsey, who played at left end and also got some decent pass pressure (maybe the coaches knew what they were doing by putting Holsey outside). Matt Keneley played a lot and did a nice job. He’s probably practice squad bound, but it was nice to finally see him make some plays. Ray Agnew and Christian Peter also did a decent job in the run defense department. We really thought the second team line were the stars of the game.

Linebackers: Steady but unspectacular. Miller, Widmer, and Armstead didn’t play much. On the second team, Ryan Phillips looked good rushing the passer and surprisingly decent in coverage. Scott Galyon was late getting over to cover the flat on one play and gave up a first down. The whole second-team front seven got burned on back-to-back plays where they blitzed, but the Pack called two perfect counter plays — a quick draw and a screen. These two plays led directly to the Packers first TD, but it was more a question of the Packers calling the perfect play at the right time rather than a physical or mental breakdown on defense.

Secondary: CB’s Conrad Hamilton and Thomas Randolph played the entire game. Hamilton was shaky early but came on strong. He was burned deep on one play where Brett Favre fortunately overthrew his man. Nevertheless, for most of the remainder of the game, he played tight coverage and didn’t allow much to his side. Conrad did a nice job picking up a fumble and returning it to the Packer two yard line. He did miss a tackle on the Packers’ second TD pass however. Randolph had a disappointing game. In fact, it looked like the Green Bay back-up quarterbacks were staying away from Hamilton and picking on Randolph. Thomas should be able to shut-down second-team wide receivers and he didn’t do so. He’s still not playing tightly enough for our liking. Randolph also had a shot at an interception and dropped it.

The star of the game at safety was Rodney Young. Young was strong in run support and picked off a pass in coverage. We’ve always been a fan of his and we hope he makes the team. Believe or not, FS Brandon Sanders saw time with the first unit in nickel situations and he picked off Brett Favre. Sam Garnes wasn’t very noticeable and he was a little late getting over for the Packers’ final TD pass, but overall, one gets the sense that he handled his responsibilities fairly well. Percy Ellsworth had a decent game. He still needs to work on tackling better, but he also had his hands on a ball that he should have picked off. Tito Wooten didn’t play much, but was generally around the ball.

Special Teams: A disaster area which cost the Giants the game. Both kick and punt coverage were atrocious. Charles Way had a horrible night as blocker for the punt team. His first holding call cost the Giants big time on a play where the Giants’ recovered a Green Bay fumble. His second penalty (illegally down field) was even worse as the Packers were given a second chance to return a punt and they returned it all the way to the Giants’s seven yard line (the Pack scored on the next play and this was the go-ahead TD). The Packers also came very close to scoring on a kick-off return — they ended up on the Giants’ side of the field regardless. David Patten doesn’t belong on the team. The coaches may love his speed, quickness, and hands, but he has done nothing as a receiver, returner, or punt/kick coverage guy. Indeed, in coverage, he is so small that the opposition has no trouble knocking him off stride and out of the play. As a returner, he shows poor instincts and goes down as soon as he is touched. Brad Daluiso was perfect on his only chance — another long field goal (53 yards). Both Brad Maynard and Scott Player were impressive in their hang-time, though Brad did shank one punt. Amani Toomer, fielding punts, heads to the sideline on almost every return — for once we’d like to see him take it up the middle of the field. We’ve said it numerous times but we’ll say it again, if the Giants don’t correct their deficiencies on their coverage teams, they are going to lose two games this year that they should win — just like this game.

Aug 201997
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Green Bay Packers, August 22, 1997: This final preseason game will be as about meaningless as you can get and the most important thing for the Giants is to ensure that all of their key personnel get out of this game healthy and ready to play Philadelphia on August 31st. The starters on both offense and defense are expected to play only about a quarter and it would be nice for them to leave the game after making a positive impression — for no other reason than their own self-confidence. However, playing the World Champion Packers on their own turf will be no easy task. As for Head Coach Jim Fassel, he still has several tough roster decisions to make as well as some difficult decisions in terms of starting jobs — most notably at halfback, wide receiver, left guard, center, and strong safety.

Giants on Offense: Great test this week for the slowly improving offensive line: Scott Gragg versus Reggie White, Ron Stone versus Santana Dotson, Derek Engler and Greg Bishop versus Gilbert Brown, and Roman Oben versus Gabe Wilkins. In particular, it will be interesting to see how Gragg responds to a top player. Will he get rattled? Will he be able to hold his own? At the other tackle spot, hopefully Oben will continue to improve after having a mostly up-and-down preseason. In two weeks, it’s for real as Oben faces Eagle DE Mike Mamula. The Packers are tough to run on because of their size up front as well as their active linebackers. The Giants’ run-blocking has been somewhat disappointing this preseason and it isn’t likely to get much better against the Pack. The only real roster question mark here is whether or not the Giants will carry three guards or four. In other words, will Bishop, Smith, or Zatechka be cut? More importantly, Fassel must decide who starts at left guard (Bishop or Smith) and center (Engler or Reynolds).

Wide receiver — who starts on opening day? Ike Hilliard has been impressive, but he still hasn’t moved into the starting lineup. Chris Calloway has had a good camp and preseason. Amani Toomer looked real sharp early at camp, but hasn’t been thrown much to in the preseason. We’d like to see him get a lot of work against the Pack. Despite his bad game last week, Thomas Lewis has made real strides this preseason in terms of his route running. Lewis and Calloway are the current starters. If Ike starts, who does he replace? What role will Toomer play this year? As for roster decisions, Kevin Alexander has clearly outperformed David Patten, but how much will special teams play in this decision. Patten plays on a number of special teams units; Alexander does not.

What kind of role will the tight ends play this season? Based on what we’ve seen in the preseason, it looks like they won’t be much more involved than they were last year. Are the Giants saving something for the regular season or is this a real indication of Fassel’s lack of confidence in the unit? Howard Cross successfully kept his starting job from Aaron Pierce. It would be nice to see Pierce making some plays on Friday. All three tight ends currently on the roster will make the team.

Charles Way is set at fullback, but who will see the bulk of the playing time at halfback on opening day? One gets the sense that Fassel is just looking for a reason to start Tiki Barber — a personal favorite of his. Tyrone Wheatley will finally have a real opportunity here with Hampton out. But he has to prove to Fassel that he can stay healthy, hold onto the ball, and run low and run tough on a consistent basis. Wheatley had better do all of these things against the Packers or Fassel just may start Barber against Philadelphia. Eric Lane, who beat out Matt Calhoun for the back-up job behind Way, should play a lot against Green Bay. Robert Walker may see a lot of action Friday, but he’s not likely to make the team.

Lastly, believe it or not, the quarterback spot is one of the more settled positions on the team. When Jim Fassel was named head coach, his first decision was to name Dave Brown his unquestioned starter. In hindsight, that move was clearly the correct decision as Brown outplayed Danny Kanell in camp and in the preseason. Brown has been truly impressive, but he will have to do it on a consistent basis when the games count in order to convince the naysayers. Hopefully, Brown’s outing against the Pack on Friday will not damper his growing confidence.

Giants on Defense: The first team run defense is improving, but the pass defense (both the pass rush and coverage) has been woefully inadequate this preseason. The Giants can’t and shouldn’t live by the blitz in 1997. Michael Strahan, Robert Harris, Keith Hamilton, Chad Bratzke, Jamal Duff, Christian Peter, Peter Holsey, and Cedric Jones need to do a much better job of getting after the quarterback on a consistent basis. Most disappointing this preseason has been the play of Duff, Peter, and Jones; while Harris and Bratzke have been quite ordinary. If these gentlemen don’t start playing better soon, the Giants’ defense will be in trouble. Same story with the secondary. More is expected out of Phillippi Sparks and Jason Sehorn — both of whom have been beaten in man-to-man coverage in the preseason. Thomas Randolph and Conrad Hamilton are excellent back-ups. All four will be tested against Green Bay, especially if the pass rush doesn’t get into gear.

The real battle in Green Bay will be for the starting strong safety job. If rookie Sam Garnes plays well, he may not only cost Maurice Douglass his starting job, but also a spot on the roster. This also may be a big game for Rodney Young. Is his roster status in jeopardy? Tito Wooten has played very well this preseason and successfully staved off any challenge from Percy Ellsworth. Fassel clearly likes FS Brandon Sanders, who is also a good special teams player, but can they find room for him on the roster?

The linebackers have been relatively quiet this preseason and one gets the sense that Defensive Coordinator John Fox is largely responsible for this. He hasn’t blitzed as much as he will in the preseason with this group. Regardless, Corey Miller, Corey Widmer, and Jessie Armstead are very solid and shouldn’t disappoint when the games begin to count. Scott Galyon and Marcus Buckley have looked good on the second unit — unfortunately, they both back-up the same guy (Armstead) and are thus competing against each other. More has been expected from Ryan Phillips, Pete Monty, and Doug Colman — all three have been steady, but not spectacular. The second unit has played with little fire in the three preseason games and the back-up linebackers must share a lot of the responsibility. They all get one more chance on Friday night. All eight of these guys should make the team.

Special Teams: In Brad Daluiso and Brad Maynard, the Giants field two young, strong-legged talents who will only get better. Amani Toomer is a decent punt returner and Tiki Barber is an excellent back-up. Punt coverage has been respectable — in large part because of the excellent hang-time of Maynard (and Scott Player, who will likely be punting with another team soon). Where the Giants have big question marks in the kick return game and kick coverage. It appears as if Thomas Lewis will be the main kick returner, beating out David Patten. Lewis can be explosive returning kicks (he almost scored on one return last week), but he needs to protect the ball better. He also needs better blocking from his teammates. Kick coverage was better against the Jets, but was that an anomaly? If so, opposing kick returns could cost the Giants a couple of games in 1997.

Overview: Get the starters out healthy. Don’t risk important back-ups/future starters such as Hilliard and Barber too much either. The gravy would be if the starters play well before they leave the game — the Giants still need more confidence.

Aug 191997
 
New York Jets 27 – New York Giants 17

Overview: With summer training camp now officially over and three preseason games completed, it is time to take stock of where the Giants are in terms of both their strengths and weaknesses heading into the 1997 season. What does seem clear is that the 1997 Giants will be able to move the ball on offense with Dave Brown as the starting quarterback. Over the previous few seasons, Brown has struggled with his accuracy, his receivers have been unable to get open with any consistency, and his offensive line has been unable to pass block at a competent level. With added experience as well as Jim Fassel’s new system and additional weapons to work with, the Giants finally now field a respectable passing attack. On the downside, while the first team defense has improved its run defense in the last two preseason games, the pass rush is still insufficient and this has caused problems for the secondary which is now learning a new system itself. The deciding factors for the season now appear to be the ability of Defensive Coordinator John Fox to get his defensive unit to play well as well as Jim Fassel’s ability to get his young team to believe in itself. With success comes confidence — and yet more success. Failure (i.e., losses) will only generate doubt. Does this team believe in itself? Do the defenders believe in the new system? Can a pass rush be generated with the players currently on hand? Will the offensive line continue to improve? Can Dave Brown maintain his present momentum and continue to play well when the games count? The answers to these questions will shortly be found.

Quarterbacks: Any quarterback controversy is now officially dead. While Dave Brown played yet another very good game, Danny Kanell had his worst outing in a Giants’ uniform — but more on that in a moment. As for Brown, he took another step forward against the Jets on Saturday night. This is the third game in a row where Brown has clearly demonstrated much improved accuracy. He seems to be picking up the new offense quickly and each time out, he is making more and more plays. Indeed, if it weren’t for six costly dropped passes on Saturday, the Giants might have blown this game open early on. Most impressive has been Dave’s poise on third down in the last two games. In tough situations, he is now making more clutch throws to keep drives alive. Dave also seems to be developing a better touch on his deep throws. In the first quarter, Brown threw deep down the middle of the field and hit Thomas Lewis, who had a step on two defenders, right in the hands, but Lewis dropped it. Later in the quarter, Brown beautifully faked a short out and then threw deep on a pump-and-go. The ball was again wonderfully thrown — a soft arching ball to a wide open Lewis for what would have been a score — yet Lewis dropped the ball once again. Brown did miss a wide open Tiki Barber on one third down play in the first half, but for the most part his passes were right on target. Again, what kept the Giants from putting more points on the board were all the dropped passes. Early in the third quarter, the Giants recovered a fumble on the Jets’ own four-yard line. On first down, a play-action pass to Charles Way was completed in the flat, but Pepper Johnson made a nice play and tackled Way for a short gain. On second and goal, Tiki was nailed in the backfield. At this point, we said to ourselves, “Here we go again — the Giants start a drive on the four yard line and they have to settle for yet another field goal!” Well on third and goal, Brown (given a lot of time by his offensive line) fired an excellent pass to a well-covered Chris Calloway for a TD at the back of the end zone. Success in the red zone against the Jets’ first team defense! A clutch throw in a difficult situation! More progress and more confidence for Dave! Brown was a little more shaky in the third quarter and some of his passes were a little off — but overall, his performance was clearly a strong one. Dave completed 12-of-24 passes for 130 yards and one touchdown, but should have been 18-for-24 (for a 75% completion rate!) and had another touchdown pass. Moreover, many of his passes were the intermediate-to-deep variety — not the dink and dunk type.

At the other end of the spectrum was the play of Danny Kanell. Kanell had his worst performance of the preseason. Indeed, Danny was truly terrible and most of his passes were ugly ducks. Until the game was all but decided, Kanell had problems even getting the second unit to pick up a first down. Danny looked confused and shaken and his poor play (along with the poor play of the second team defense) let a tied game get quickly out-of-hand. On one play, Kanell dropped back, couldn’t spot anyone open, and then rolled to his right. He then threw a very poor, wobbly pass right to a Jets’ defender. Danny wasn’t under heavy pressure on the play and we wondered what Kanell was looking as he never seemed to see the defender. We hope this game against the Jets was an aberration for Danny because he is obviously the #1 back-up on the team and the Giants will undoubtably need him at some point in 1997. Kanell completed 7-of-13 passes for 54 yards — but most of these completions came against the prevent in the waning moments of the game.

Wide Receivers: A very poor game for this unit. First the good news. Despite this game, this is clearly the strongest wide receiving group the Giants have had in recent memory. Their overall athletic ability, combined with a state-of-the-art passing offense, does allow the individual performers to get open with regularity — something that was real problem last year. Indeed, in many instances, one sees the Giants’ receivers wide open in the middle of the defense. The problem on Saturday were all the drops. We counted six drops on six VERY catchable balls: two by Thomas Lewis (both right in his hands and perfectly thrown — one for what should have been a TD), two by Chris Calloway (both right in his hands and perfectly thrown), and two by Ike Hilliard (one of which was slightly thrown behind him, but catchable). Lapses of focus and concentration are common place in the preseason and we’re not overly worried about Hilliard (2 catches for 8 yards) or Calloway (5 catches for 68 yards). However, Thomas Lewis (1 catch for 13 yards) has a real history of choking and dropping easy passes. To his credit, Lewis is finally running sharper routes (an old weakness of his) and does get open — but all this doesn’t count a hill of beans if he doesn’t catch the damn ball. The Giants did throw to Amani Toomer early on in the game in a key third down situation and Amani came through with flying colors as he caught a quick out and kept both his feet in bounds for the first down. However, that was it for Amani as the only other chance he had was a deep pass down the middle where he was well covered. We would have thrown more to Amani on Saturday. We were also disappointed not to see more of Ike early on. Ike didn’t really see much action until late in the second quarter.

Tight Ends: These guys have been strangely quiet during the preseason. On one hand, the West Coast Offense loves to employ the tight end in the passing game. On the other hand, Fassel is well-known for adapting his offensive system to the talent on hand and Fassel may not have the talent he needs at this position. Perhaps, Fassel is “saving” plays to the tight end for the regular season, but we would feel more at ease if Aaron Pierce was more of a factor. Howard Cross did make another nice catch on a play where he was well covered (another good throw from Brown). Nevertheless, if Pierce doesn’t start making plays soon in the regular season, it will look like the Giants once again have overpaid a mediocre performer.

Running Backs: With Rodney Hampton (sore knee) and Tyrone Wheatley (sore knee and ankle) both out, HB Tiki Barber (17 carries for 77 yards; 7 catches for 63 yards) played the ENTIRE game at halfback — indeed, Tiki must be quite sore himself. Tiki did look a little bit rusty as he once accidentally knocked the ball out of Dave Brown’s hands on one blitz pick-up and also fumbled a clean exchange from Brown (which was lost). Moreover, because of his lack of size, Tiki will never be a pile-mover. He also showed that he will occasionally drop a pass too — a reputation he had at Virginia, despite being an overall sound receiving threat. For example, on one screen pass in the second half, Tiki dropped a ball on a well-designed play that may have gone for a long touchdown. (It was nice to see, however, Jim Fassel go over and pat Tiki on the back after this play). Later in the game, Tiki caught a screen pass that went for good yardage, but was a little impatient and ran ahead of his blockers — really had Tiki been a little more patient, he might have broken this play too. However, Tiki’s overall performance must be considered impressive. He seems to combine Ty Wheatley’s explosiveness with Rodney Hampton’s instincts. If he only had more size, he might have been the first back taken in the draft. Tiki has the ability to “make himself small” in the hole and cut in tight spaces. His speed and acceleration are very good and he looks like a threat to score any time he touches the ball. We are very excited about both our top draft picks this year. It is interesting to note that the Giants didn’t run or throw much to Charles Way much in this game, especially with Wheatley and Hampton out — and we think purposely so. Fassel knows what he has in Way and wants to surprise some people with him when the games count. Robert Walker didn’t see any action — his days are obviously numbered. FB’s Eric Lane and Matt Calhoun did not play much and made little impact.

Offensive Line: Roman Oben played much better this week. We saw two plays he got burned on, but that was it. His first breakdown occurred on a play where Dave Brown undoubtably held onto the ball longer than he wanted to — Oben didn’t maintain contact long enough on Hugh Douglas as Douglas broke inside of him and chased down the QB. Oben’s second breakdown occurred in the third quarter as the rusher blew past him to the inside and sacked Brown on the five yard line. However, for the most part Oben was very solid and gave Brown plenty of time. Truly, the first unit did a very credible job in pass protection. Granted, most of the Giants’ passing plays are of the quick variety where the quarterback doesn’t hold onto the ball very long, but for all the passing the Giants have done in the preseason, the revamped line seems to be holding its own. Where the unit is still a little shaky is in run blocking. It is understandable that most of the focus by the coaches in camp has been on pass protection, but we hope this doesn’t negatively affect the run blocking too much. Where the Giants are also very shaky is in their depth. Heaven help the Giants if one of their tackles goes down.

Defensive Line: The first team was strong against the run, but weak against the pass. Michael Strahan did pick up another sack, but for the most part that was it. Neil O’Donnell often had way too much time to throw the ball, especially on third down. If the Giants aren’t able to generate more of a pass rush in 1997, either from the front four or from blitz packages, the Giants’ defense will be in BIG trouble. The good news was the run defense — all four starting linemen were very active and aggressive in this department — especially Strahan and Hamilton. Indeed, Hamilton did a nice job all night of getting penetration in the backfield. Even Robert Harris and Chad Bratzke stood their ground on a number of occasions. Where the latter two have been disappointing is in the pass rush department. The Giants need to get more pressure out of both, especially from the right end position. To make matters worse, the second team line of Duff, Peter, Holsey, and Jones was once again very disappointing. Duff did “flash” a little bit and seems to be getting some of that rust off. Holsey also was very active in the sense that he was getting off of his blocks a little quicker and making penetration. However, Peter and Jones still have not lived up to their billings. Jones is just not getting out of his stance quickly enough. Why? Is this related to his eye condition? Do the coaches see this? A defensive lineman in the NFL cannot afford to give his opponent a half second advantage at the snap of the ball. If Jones doesn’t get out of his stance quicker, he will never be anything other than a journeyman. Right now, we just don’t get the sense that Jones wants it badly enough — he is undoubtably the biggest disappointment of the Giants’ preseason.

Linebackers: A very ordinary performance. Corey Miller did a great job of muscling past the offensive guard on a blitz to sack O’Donnell, but the starting unit was quiet for the most part. Miller is a strong blitzer and we hope we see him more in this phase of the game this season. He still has some problems in coverage, especially when he has to get over quickly to cover the flats, but he’s the kind of fiery guy the Giants’ defense needs. On the second unit, Scott Galyon made another wonderful play when he sniffed out a screen pass and nailed the back for a loss. He just may be the most instinctive linebacker on the team. Ryan Phillips made some strong tackles late in the game when the Jets were attempting to run out the clock. Marcus Buckley had a fairly strong game. He missed an easy tackle on one play, but was active and did nail a running back for a loss. He’s playing better with the Giants than we can ever remember.

Secondary: Better than last week, but still somewhat disappointing. Part of the problem was the lack of a pass rush — the defensive backs were forced to cover their men much longer than should have. Part of the problem was the fine play of QB Neil O’Donnell and WR Jeff Graham — both of whom were very sharp. Nevertheless, more is expected of the Giants’ two high-priced starting cornerbacks. Jason Sehorn tackled better this week, but was burned for a long gain on man-to-man coverage. Phillippi Sparks did not give up a big play, but allowed far too many passes to be completed in front of him. Conrad Hamilton was burned deep for the go-ahead TD while he was playing man. Thomas Randolph played well for the most part, but was beaten for what should have been a TD by Keyshawn Johnson but Johnson dropped the ball. Randolph did intercept a deep ball intended for Keyshawn.

The safety play was surprisingly strong this week. First and foremost, Sam Garnes should be starting at strong safety. Garnes was all over the field, especially on run support. While he doesn’t bring as much experience to the table as Maurice Douglass, he is a fiery, instinctive player who makes things happen. Indeed, it is nice to see the Giants have brought in some guys like Ike Hilliard, Tiki Barber, and Sam Garnes who actually get visibly excited after making a big play. Garnes forced a fumble and was generally around the ball the whole night. Rodney Young can hit like a ton of bricks, but he sometimes suffers from mental lapses in coverage. It looked like Rodney blew a play when he failed to pick up a receiver crossing his zone quickly enough. Tito Wooten had a strong game and looks to be assured the starting job on opening day. Aside from his fine fumble recovery and TD return, Tito was solid in coverage and was also strong in run support. A combination of Wooten and Garnes at safety has to be an appealing option for the coaches. Percy Ellsworth had a quiet game. On a negative note, he ran right by the runner on a 3rd down draw play that picked up the first down.

Special Teams: The coverage units were much stronger this week with Pete Monty, Marcus Buckley, and Doug Colman making nice plays. The David Patten experiment seems to be over as Thomas Lewis was given the main returner role. Lewis seems to be a better returner, but carries the ball a little too loosely for our liking. While he was really nailed by James Farrior on one return, Lewis almost broke a kick return for a TD — ironically, it was the kicker (the last man) who forced him out of bounds (Tommy did not have a good night!). Amani Toomer fielded all but one of the punts (Calloway fielded one). Amani is an instinctive return man, but he dances a little too much on almost every return before he heads up field. Also, because he likes to change directions so much, his fellow teammates must be careful not to block in the back. Colman made one such bonehead block on one return. Brad Daluiso nailed yet another field goal right down the middle. Brad Maynard got superb hang time on his punts. Scott Player surprisingly punted quite a bit but wasn’t as impressive as Maynard.

Aug 141997
 

Approach to the Game – New York Jets at New York Giants, August 16, 1997: Coaches usually consider the third preseason game the most important and it seems as this will also be the case with Head Coach Jim Fassel. Fassel has indicated that his starters, including QB Dave Brown, will play into the third quarter. Given the fact that the Jets are not on the Giants’ schedule in the regular season this year, it is also more likely that we’ll see more of the Giants’ regular playbook on both offense and defense. Fassel obviously would like to see fewer turnovers, penalties, and mental mistakes as well as more scoring.

Giants on Offense: The focus of most Giants’ fans will continue to be on Dave Brown, who has played well in his first two preseason games. However, throughout his career, Brown’s major problem has been a lack of consistency. Brown needs to continue to play well and win ball games in order to start turning those fickle New York fans around. In particular for the game against the Jets, fans should focus on (1) Brown’s comfort level and presence in the pocket; (2) the timing between himself and his receivers, particularly the backs; (3) his ability to make clutch throws on 3rd down; and (4) his ability to get his team into the end zone. It will also be interesting to see how he responds to the pressure involved in a Giants-Jets media circus.

It would be prudent for the Giants to begin working on some of those tough timing plays that they will use in the regular season such as slants and screens. As for the receivers, Amani Toomer has been strangely quiet as of late. Fassel should go out of his way to Toomer the ball in order to see him in action and give him some game experience. It is also important for Dave Brown and Ike Hilliard to start playing together more frequently — something Fassel says he will do against the Jets. There’s also a 5th WR spot to be won and with Omar Douglas out of the picture, the battle will come down to Kevin Alexander and David Patten. This is a VERY important game for both of these two players.

The ordinary fan will be watching the quarterbacks, wide receivers, and running backs; the real die hards will be watching the offensive line. Thus far, there have been few problems on the right side of the line as Ron Stone has really stepped it up and looks set for a breakout season. Scott Gragg, while still learning and still needing to improve in his pass protection, does look much smoother this year with a third camp under his belt. Center is a mess and while Derek Engler is a nice story, it is very important for Jerry Reynolds to get back next week and get some work in with the starting unit. The left side, as expected, are where most of the question marks remain. Roman Oben played well against the Ravens and had his moments against the Jaguars. However, in far too many plays against Jacksonville, Oben struggled to maintain contact with his man. Oben will receive another tough test this week against DE Hugh Douglas of the Jets. Oben IS the Giants’ future at left tackle and it is good that he is getting tested early and often in the preseason against some quality players. Finally, the Giants’ biggest question mark on the line remains left guard where Greg Bishop (the embattled incumbent), Lance Smith (the aging, savvy veteran), and Rob Zatechka (the longshot) are all competing for the starting position. As a unit, the spotlight will not only remain on their pass blocking, but their ability to effectively run block, especially in short yardage situations — a sore spot since last year.

At running back, an interesting battle is brewing at halfback. Fassel still has not declared a starter. Rodney Hampton missed the game against the Ravens, but looked good against the Jaguars. Tyrone Wheatley looked good against the Ravens, but not sharp against the Jaguars. Tiki Barber looked very good against the Ravens until he was injured and then missed the Jacksonville game. Fassel has promised to give Barber a lot of playing time this week in order to give him more experience in real game situations. Barber is coming off a hamstring injury that he has already re-injured once — let’s hope he doesn’t do it again. Look for Charles Way, arguably the best player on the team, to get more work in short yardage situations. All four of these backs should be involved in the passing game too. Round three of the back-up fullback battle (Eric Lane versus Matt Calhoun) continues.

Tight end — a spot we haven’t talked about much this preseason. Right now, time is rapidly running out on Aaron Pierce if he wants to steal away Howard Cross’ starting job. Cross has had a very solid camp, with Pierce, as he has been throughout his Giant career, remaining frustratingly inconsistent. Pierce needs to start making some plays now.

Giants on Defense: While the offense has progressed from last year, the defense has seemingly regressed. The starting front seven did play well last week. The same can not be said of the secondary and all the back-ups. Phillippi Sparks has played two poor games in a row and needs to get his act together. Jason Sehorn needs to remember how to tackle. Maurice Douglass looks like the journeyman he most likely is at strong safety. Tito Wooten was praised last week by Fassel, but was burned for a long score. Questions are beginning to mount about Defensive Coordinator John Fox’s new schemes. To be fair, things have been kept simple and there is a learning curve involved. Nevertheless, it would be much more reassuring to us fans if the Giants’ defense put in an all-around solid performance this week. As for specific players, it would be nice to see more from Robert Harris, Christian Peter, Bernard Holsey, Jamal Duff, Cedric Jones, and Ryan Phillips — all who have not done much thus far. There also seems to be a real opportunity for either Rodney Young or Sam Garnes to take the starting spot away from Douglass — but one of these two really needs to make a statement starting Saturday. The Jets have some very talented players at the skill positions and have not had problems putting points on the board this preseason. This game should be a good test for everyone on the defense.

Giants on Special Teams: First and foremost, the Giants need to correct their deficiencies covering kick-offs. Secondly, the kick return game is still not clicking and it doesn’t appear as if David Patten is the answer there. Of course, it would help if he actually got some blocking. Tiki Barber will return punts against the Jets, but with Toomer not starting on offense, look for Amani to keep that role for the Giants this year. Would love to see Daluiso be put on the spot to hit a game-winner — he needs more pressure situations.

Outlook: The most important thing is to come out of this game with no injuries. The season starts in two weeks — let’s keep everyone healthy. Other than that, obviously, further progress on offense and dramatic improvement on defense is needed. Anything else will be disappointing. However, keep in mind that Fassel did expect to take two steps forward and one step backward in the preseason and early on in the regular season. This game will be the Giants’ main dress rehearsal going into the season. The starters probably won’t get as much work next week. Will this game be the step backward?

Aug 121997
 
Jacksonville Jaguars 38 – New York Giants 16

Overview: Once again, this was a game of good news and bad news. The good news was the generally solid play of the offense, and Dave Brown in particular. The bad news was the play of the defense. Particularly depressing was the performance put forth by the first team secondary and the lack of fire or spirit showed by the entire second team defense. The Giants got their heads handed to them by Jacksonville, with the game getting out of hand late in the first half after starting QB Mark Brunell was forced to leave the game with a serious knee injury. It will be interesting to see the approach Head Coach Jim Fassel and his staff take this week in practice. The Giants’ overall confidence level must have taken a big blow on Saturday night.

On a side note, the “Virginia Chapter of the BBI Fan Club” had an informal get-together in the basement of the Crystal City Sports Bar to watch the game. In attendance were contributors such as Tim, Steve, Ray, Camillo, Greg, and others. We also were able to let other Giant fans such as Herb know about the BBI’s existence. Hopefully, we found some converts! Indeed, the Crystal City Sports Bar may become a haven for us Giant fans who don’t have DSS. We were all very much relieved when HB Tyrone Wheatley scored on a sweep in the third quarter, as the co-owner of the establishment had promised to pay for a round of drinks if the Giants scored a TD in the game (we were getting worried as the Giants had not done so in the first half!).

Quarterbacks: Another fine game from Dave Brown and this week, he didn’t demonstrate the “happy feet” that he did last week. He still telegraphs his throws too much, but Dave had a fine performance and continues to impressively improve his overall accuracy. His passes seldom seem to flutter anymore and he seems to be taking more chances as his confidence rises. Of particular note was the fact that he made a number of “clutch” throws on 3rd-and-long. On the Giants’ first possession, Brown rifled a very nice looking out pass to Thomas Lewis for a first down. Later on in the same drive, the Giants demonstrated how Fassel’s new offense will cause problems for defenses because of the number of options it provides for the quarterback. On 3rd down, Jacksonville didn’t account for the fullback and a wide open Eric Lane caught Brown’s pass and picked up the first down. Unfortunately, the drive ended with a fine looking deep pass to WR David Patten for what should have been a touchdown, but Patten knocked the ball up in the air and the safety picked off the ball on the rebound. Many “Giant fans” at the game in the Meadowlands, demonstrating their stupidity, booed Dave Brown as he came off the field. It was a perfect pass and should have been a TD, yet Dave gets booed! Unbelievable and totally classless! Brown was once again booed later on in the game when, on 3rd-and-goal, he threw the ball away instead of taking a sack or forcing the ball. It didn’t matter to them that a few plays earlier on 3rd-and-long, Brown had hit Chris Calloway for a first down and that the pass was a perfect toss fired between two defenders. Really, what hampered the Giants from putting more points on the board were penalties, some silly turnovers, and occasional breakdowns on the offensive line (more on that later). Dave played the entire first half. He completed 12 out of 117 passes for 125 yards with one interception and no touchdowns.

Strangely, Fassel put Mike Cherry into the game to start the second half, not Danny Kanell. Cherry was only in the game briefly and was not very impressive. He has fine tools, but he’s very raw and will probably need a couple of years to mature. However, he could have no better teachers than Fassel and QB Coach Rod Dowhower. Kanell had an up-and-down game. At times, he was very sharp and threw a number of good looking passes. However, he was a little jumpy in the pocket (in a humorous moment, the BBI group started yelling “coward” at the sight of this — in reference to our debate on Brown’s nervousness in the pocket last week) and he threw one really poor ball intended for Kevin Alexander that was picked off. He also botched a center snap from Derek Engler that was recovered by Jacksonville. Danny’s biggest problem was that between the turnovers and the poor effort put forth by the Giants’ second team defense, the Giants never seemed to have the ball much in the second half. Kanell completed 10 of 12 passes for 117 yards with one interception and no touchdowns.

Wide Receivers: The star of the show in my book this week was Ike Hilliard (2 catches for 56 yards). This guy can play and he should be starting. It was obvious that Kanell was looking for Hilliard anytime he was in the game and the results were most impressive. On one play, Hilliard left his feet and made a diving catch of an errant Kanell pass. Kanell also hit Hilliard on play where Ike really flashed his great running skills after the catch. He put a move on one defensive back that left the back grasping for air. As BBI contributor Steve shouted after this play, Ike is “money”! Tim and I were also impressed with the game Thomas Lewis (2 catches for 27 yards) put in this week. Lewis showed good hands and concentration (two things he’s usually not known for) picking up two big first downs on passes from Dave Brown. Like last week, Chris Calloway (3 catches for 40 yards) had another solid game and once again flashed some run-after-the-catch ability. Not to sound overly repetitive, but the thing that I really love about this new offense is the fact that the system gets the ball into the hands of the wide receivers WHILE THEY ARE STILL MOVING FORWARD.

Strangely quiet once again was Amani Toomer. I’m not sure if it is a matter of Toomer not getting open or the quarterbacks not throwing to him, but this is the second game in a row where Toomer has made no impact as a wide receiver. The reason why this is so strange is that Toomer has had a superb training camp. It’s early and the Giants are still not running many of what will be their bread-and-butter plays in the regular season, so that may be a factor too. For instance, at camp, the slant pass to Toomer seems to be a favorite. Yet, the Giants haven’t used it that much yet — probably because they are “hiding” it for the regular season. Kevin Alexander also had a quiet game. Omar Douglas (one catch for 13 yards) made a nice play, but he’ll probably have to do more to beat out Kevin. David Patten was extremely disappointing. He looks more like a “good press story” than a prospect. He bobbled a perfect pass from Brown on a deep fly pattern in the first quarter that was picked off. He also seemed to lose sight of the ball on another deep pass from Brown later in the quarter.

Running Backs: Rodney Hampton (10 carries for 38 yards) played quite a bit and was impressive. In particular, he showed some wiggle and moves that haven’t been seen from him in quite a while. He’s no longer going to break a big one, but with his instincts, toughness, and moves, he still can be an important factor in the offense this year. Tyrone Wheatley (9 carries for 10 yards) had a very ordinary game and really didn’t stick out this week. When Tyrone faces contact at the line of scrimmage, unlike Hampton, he does not get his shoulders down and finish off his runs. He still looks awkward (1) when the hole he expects to be at the line isn’t there, and (2) near the goalline. It might be more prudent for Fassel to use Hampton in short-yardage situations for now. (On a side note, another example of how wide open this new offense will be — the Giants were in the shotgun with a multiple WR set on 3rd-and-1 at one point in the game!!!). Charles Way, if he stays healthy, is going to have a huge year. Unlike his rookie year, where he occasionally dropped a pass, he is now a sure-handed receiver (4 catches for 18 yards) and a punishing runner. But really sets him apart from other fullbacks in the league is his blocking. He is a dominating run blocker. Way did kill one good looking drive however when he fumbled the ball away on a sweep near mid-field late in the second half. Reserve FB Eric Lane (3 catches for 30 yards) was on the field a lot this week and did some nice things in the receiving department.

Tight Ends: Howard Cross is playing well. On one 25 yard catch-and-run, it looked like Mark Bavaro was back with the team! Cross is never going to burn teams deep and he still has problems catching the ball in stride, but he can hurt teams with intermediate curl patterns over the middle. Both Aaron Pierce (one catch for 11 yards) and Brian Saxton (one catch for 12 yards) finally got more involved in the passing game this week.

Offensive Line: For the most part, the first team line had another decent game. There were many plays where Dave Brown had superb pass protection. However, there were some serious breakdowns on a few occasions too. Roman Oben had an up-and-down game. At times, he looked like he was toying with Tony Brackens. However, on the Giants’ first drive Oben completely whiffed on Brackens and nearly got Brown killed on one play. Oben then regained his composure and played well until later in the second quarter where he completely fell apart on one drive. During this series, Oben whiffed on Brackens again, was beaten outside on another play, and then almost had it happen again on the very next play. However, after this series, Oben once again settled down and played a decent game. He’s learning. Left guard is still somewhat of a sore spot. It looked like Greg Bishop outplayed Lance Smith this week. Smith was shaky in pass protection. Like last week, Rob Zatechka played some at right guard with the second unit — he looks more comfortable to me there than at left guard. Scott Gragg and Ron Stone played well, as did Derek Engler once again (though he was getting double-team support from Bishop on a few occasions). Where the Giants are really hurting right now is in their short-yardage run offense. The line is just not moving the defense off the ball. This has been a problem in camp and the Giants had first-and-goal from the three in the first quarter and could not punch the ball in. They had to settle for three points. Hopefully, this is something the Giants will spend a lot of time on this week in practice.

Defensive Line: The first teamers played better this week, but the second team played very poorly. Chad Bratzke actually played a very strong game against Tony Boselli and burned him badly with an excellent looking spin move — Brunell just got the ball off in time. Keith Hamilton picked up another personal foul this week, but also looked good in sacking Brunell near the goalline in the second quarter. Michael Strahan was solid in run defense, but was quiet rushing the passer this week. Robert Harris did not stand out. The second team unit of Cedric Jones, Bernard Holsey, Christian Peter, and Jamal Duff was, simply put, dominated by Jacksonville’s second team offensive line. Jones is just not getting it done and it especially hurts to see this while Brackens is tearing it up for the Jaguars. Holsey has good quickness, but gets pushed around a lot. Like Amani Toomer, Peter has received great reviews in camp this year, but so far has done nothing in real game situations. He has not been impressive in run defense or rushing the passer. Duff, as expected, looked rusty after playing in a game for the first time since 1995.

Linebackers: Jessie Armstead had a solid game in pass defense and Corey Widmer and Corey Miller were far stronger in run support than they were last week. Widmer, in particular, stood out defending a couple of inside runs. The Giants did blitz more this week, but they still had problems getting to the quarterback quickly enough. The Giants may not be doing a good job in disguising their blitzes as both the Ravens and Jaguars seemed to know when they were coming. Like their counterparts on the defensive line, the second string linebackers were far from impressive. Scott Galyon made another play behind the line of scrimmage this week, but that was about it. Most disappointing was the lack of fire displayed by the reserves. They really never seemed to be “into” the game and Jaguars had no problems moving the ball on them. On one Jaguar TD run, the entire Giants’ defense over-pursued on a run to the right and when the runner cutback, there was nobody there to stop him. On another TD run, nobody touched the runner in short yardage.

Secondary: Second preseason game — second poor outing from Phillippi Sparks and Jason Sehorn. New Defensive Coordinator John Fox’s defense is going to put a ton of pressure on the cornerbacks this year, and thus far Sparks and Sehorn have not responded. Under Mike Nolan, both of these two were often protected deep by the safeties and they could afford to take more chances. This year, they’ll be more on their own. Sparks was burned badly by Jimmy Smith on a 60-yard TD pass from the back-up quarterback. Sparks was also burned last week for a TD — he needs to get his act together and step it up. Sehorn was decent in coverage, but once again, demonstrated his poor tackling skills and technique. Thomas Randolph and Conrad Hamilton played better again this week. Hamilton was burned deep on one incomplete pass, but showed tight, aggressive coverage for the most part. Hamilton is also a sure tackler and did a good job on a CB blitz (where he was unfairly charged with a roughing the quarterback penalty). Right now, he’s outplaying Sparks.

At safety, FS Tito Wooten was beaten badly deep on another TD pass where he had man-to-man coverage responsibility. Defenses will go after Wooten all day if he plays that poorly on a consistent basis in man-to-man. Indeed, the defensive backs do not seem to be responding positively to Fox’s new defensive schemes. It’s early, but there are some real concerns starting to brew here. For the second week in a row, Percy Ellsworth tackled well (except on one long Jacksonville run where he wasn’t aggressive). However, on one sideline play where he had good covergae, he didn’t turn around quickly enough to knock the ball away and the pass was completed. Maurice Douglass and Rodney Young had a quiet game, but Sam Garnes picked off a pass in the endzone on a fine, athletic play. Unfortunately, instead of staying in the end zone, Garnes decided to run the ball out and was stripped from behind and Jacksonville recovered. Ahh, the impetuousness of youth!

Special Teams: Both Brad Daluiso and Brad Maynard played very well. Daluiso is consistently making long field goals thus far this preseason. Maynard really nailed a couple of punts this week. His hamstring may be getting better. Kick returns and kick return coverage continue to be a real problem. David Patten is just not getting it done as a receiver or returner. To be fair, he is also getting no support from his blockers. The Giants had this problem under Reeves, and it is continuing under Fassel. Special Teams Coach Larry MacDuff needs to get his troops better prepared. Once again, kick coverage was a disaster. However, as the game wore on the Giants were doing a better job. Indeed, FS Brandon Sanders did a great job forcing fumble on one return. Amani Toomer dances around a little too much on his punt returns. He needs to make a decision more quickly and go for it. Punt coverage was generally solid. On a side note, I question how wise it is to play Jason Sehorn on the coverage units (especially in the preseason). He’s far to valuable to risk injury and he is a poor tackler.

Aug 071997
 

Approach to the Game – Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants, August 9, 1997: Once again the Giants will be facing a team in the preseason that they will also face early on in the regular season. Thus, don’t expect Head Coach Jim Fassel and his staff to let the Jaguars see too much of the playbook the Giants will use once the games count. Regardless, these games are important for both the players and coaches, as both groups attempt to get a better feel for each other.

Giants on Offense: The offensive line, which played well last week, will face a much sterner test this week. The Jaguars have a number of excellent players in their front seven on defense and the Jaguars like to blitz from all quarters. The focus will be on the tackles (Roman Oben and Scott Gragg) and the left guard position (Greg Bishop, Lance Smith, and Rob Zatechka). Oben played very well last week, but he and Gragg will face such renowned outside pass rushing threats as Jeff Lageman, Clyde Simmons, and Tony Brackens. Inside players such as DT’s Don Davey, John Jurkovic, Kelvin Pritchett, and Renaldo Wynn are no slouches either. Rookie center Derek Engler will be under siege once again — no rest for the weary! The Jaguar linebacking corps (Kevin Hardy, Bryan Schwartz, and Eddie Robinson) is among the best in the business. It will be interesting to see how the Giants’ linemen react to the zone-blitzing schemes the Jaguars run. One gets the sense that Fassel and Offensive Line Coach John Matsko still have not determined who their starting left guard will be on opening day. The job is still Bishop’s — barely. Breathing down his neck are Smith (who was limited last week by an ankle injury) and Zatechka (who has received some mild praise from the coaching staff recently). Equally important in pass protection will be the efforts of the running backs in picking up the blitz. Something that Tyrone Wheatley, Tiki Barber (who won’t play on Saturday — hamstring), and the rookie fullbacks need more experience in doing.

As much as the focus has been on the passing game lately, the Giants also need to work more intensively on their run blocking and running game in general. It looks like the sweep will become an important element in Fassel’s offense; a play that requires a lot of coordination and cooperation among the linemen and running backs. Yet hopefully Fassel and his staff will not forget about working on the inside running game as well. Tyrone Wheatley should receive the bulk of the playing time once again. He looked very good at times last week; he just needs to concentrate more and be more consistent. FB’s Matt Calhoun and Eric Lane continue to battle for one roster spot.

QB’s Dave Brown and Danny Kanell both made overall favorable impressions last week. Brown’s accuracy was improved and he looks like he is making good progress in picking up Fassel’s short-passing game offense. Where Brown needs more improvement is looking off defenders as well as maintaining his concentration on his receivers when pressure on the pass pocket intensifies. The Jaguars can rush the passer — Brown will have to stand tough and make some plays if he is to impress. Now that opponents have been given a taste of the type of offense the Giants are going to run this year, it will be interesting to see how Jacksonville prepares for the Giants and how the Giants react. Again, a mental chess match will be ongoing since both coaching staffs don’t want to reveal too much, but will want to give each other something to think about for week two in the regular season.

At wide receiver, it was hoped that Amani Toomer and Thomas Lewis would make more of an impact than they did last week. Let’s see if they can redeem themselves against Jacksonville. Ike Hilliard already looks like starting material and Chris Calloway is his old reliable self. Kevin Alexander had a great game last week — he’ll need to continue to impress as David Patton has a special teams portfolio (kick returner, punt coverage). This may be the last chance for receivers Omar Douglas and Alfonzo Browning to be noticed. The tight ends also need to get more involved, especially Aaron Pierce.

Giants on Defense: Once again the Giants face a big, talented offensive line. In fact, this line is even better. Poor Chad Bratzke! Last week he faced Jonathan Odgen and this week he gets Tony Boselli. Ben Coleman, Dave Widell, Brian DeMarco, and Leon Searcy round out a superb unit. The Giants’ front seven, with the exception of DE Michael Strahan, did not play particularly well last week. The focus this week will be on DT’s Robert Harris, Keith Hamilton, Christian Peter, and Bernard Holsey. These four must make more of an impact in a ball game than they did last week if the Giants’ defense is stand out this year. Time is rapidly running out on Matt Keneley, Darnell Gilliard, Roman Okoli, and Harold Gragg. Also under the spotlight will be reserve DE’s Jamal Duff — who will be playing in his first game since 1995 — and Cedric Jones, who has remained frustratingly quiet thus far in 1997.

The Giants may attempt to employ some more of their blitz packages this week — mainly for the work. They don’t want to show Jacksonville too much. The Giants also need to regroup from their poor rush defense performance against Baltimore. LB’s Jessie Armstead, Corey Widmer, and Corey Miller were far too quiet last week. They will have to step it up against the run. They also may be tested more in coverage by the RB’s and TE’s.

Mark Brunell is a heck of a quarterback who can hurt a team by his passing and running. Phillippi Sparks had a very ordinary game against the Ravens in terms of his pass defense as did Jason Sehorn in terms of his tackling. It seemed as if reserves Conrad Hamilton and Thomas Randolph outplayed the first teamers. A real battle seems to be brewing at free safety (Tito Wooten versus Percy Ellsworth) and at strong safety (Maurice Douglass verus Rodney Young verus Sam Garnes). Time is running out on Kory Blackwell, Marc Williams, James Johnson, Picasso Nelson, and Brandon Sanders — they need to make some plays now!

Special Teams: The Giants MUST, simply must, improve their kick coverage unit or it will cost the Giants at least two games this year. Punt coverage was decent, but Brad Maynard was not overly impressive. He has the tools, but it would be nice to see more hangtime, distance, and direction — he is advertized as being able to do all three. With Tiki Barber on the shelf, it looks like Amani Toomer has won the punt return job by default. However, the Giants don’t seem to have settled on a kick returner. Thomas Lewis and David Patton received all of the chances last week, and neither stood out.

Outlook: The most important thing is to hope that no one gets hurt. Under the spotlight will be Oben, Bishop, Gragg, Wheatley, Brown, Toomer, Lewis, and Pierce on offense; and Harris, Hamilton, Peter, Holsey, Jones, and Duff on defense.

Aug 051997
 
New York Giants 21 – Baltimore Ravens 20

Overview: As is normally the case in the preseason, there were a number of positive developments to report on in the Giants’ 21-20 victory over the Ravens, as well as a number of areas of concern. The “stars” of the game were the Giants’ offensive line, DE Michael Strahan, WR’s Ike Hilliard and Kevin Alexander, OLB Scott Galyon, and PK Brad Daluiso. Areas of disappointment were QB Dave Brown’s courage in the pocket, the run defense, the kick coverage team, a pass rush that was at times lackluster, and the number of dumb penalties committed. Granted the Giants were saved by a botched hold of an attempted game-winning field goal by the Ravens, but a win is a win…even in the preseason. And in Head Coach Jim Fassel’s effort to build the confidence of this team, each win and positive development is important.

Quarterbacks: Dave Brown played for the entire first half; Danny Kanell played for the entire second half. As for Brown, the positive news was his overall accuracy. Dave was fairly sharp, including a couple of major league throws: a bullet to TE Howard Cross over the middle and a beautiful deep corner pass to WR Ike Hilliard that couldn’t have been thrown any better. Brown did a nice job leading his running backs on passes out of the backfield and showed some spirit and command on the field when he lit into HB Tyrone Wheatley for failing to turn around quickly enough on a pass intended for him. He is also very adept at the play action pass (and the Giants’ used a lot of play action on Saturday night). Overall, Dave looked remarkably at ease in his first real test in a brand new offense. The beauty of this new offense is that there is a number of different options for the quarterback on each play, and when the Ravens blitzed, Dave was able to check off to a back out of the backfield. In the past, Brown would have normally been sacked on such plays because there was no safety valve. Moreover, the offense is very quick and on a number of occasions the Ravens looked surprised at the Giants’ tempo — Giants’ fans will be too when they first see it!

The bad news? First and foremost, Dave still does not look comfortable in the pocket and, like last year, no longer stands tough in the pocket. On at least four occasions, Brown took his eyes off of the downfield receivers and started scrambling around the pocket when he didn’t have to. On two of these occasions he was sacked (not the line’s fault) and on the other two, he tried to pick up a first down on third down by running for it and was cut down short both times. If Dave is ever to really succeed in the NFL, he must regain his courage and stop paying attention to the pass rush. For whatever reason, Brown looks panicky on 3rd-and-long. The great players look forward to these tight situations; the mediocre ones wilt in the spotlight. Whether Dave get rid of his “happy feet” is unknown.

The other holes in Brown’s game can be fixed. On his short passes to the backs out of the backfield, he was telegraphing his throws too quickly. He’s got to stop leading defenders to where he is throwing the ball. However, this is a somewhat understandable failing given the newness of the offense. Brown also MUST learn to throw the ball away when he is in trouble. He made a very poor decision when he took a sack that almost put the Giants out of field goal range (Brown was only saved by Daluiso’s clutch 54 yarder). Brown finished the game completing 11 passes out of 17 attempts for 119 yards with no interceptions and no touchdowns.

Danny Kanell wasn’t as sharp as Brown in terms of his accuracy, but he was far tougher in the pocket, showed a nice feel for the short and intermediate game, and did a better job than Brown in looking off the defense on the shorter passes to the backs. Where Danny has problems is throwing deep. He was terribly off on one deep throw and even on his 42-yard TD bomb to Kevin Alexander, Alexander made a great adjustment on the throw. Nevertheless, Danny looked good moving the team, making tough throws in critical situations and bringing the Giants from behind to win the game. In fact, only a number of drops by his receivers kept him from putting more points on the board. Dave has more tools to work with and more experience, but RIGHT NOW Danny is tougher, less mechanical, and seems to have a better feel for the position. Who gives the Giants a better chance to win on Sunday is a matter open to debate. Danny finished 9-15 for 115 yards with 1 touchdown and no interceptions. (On a side note, if anyone questions how open this new offense is going to be, after a goalline stand in the 4th quarter, Fassel had Kanell throwing deep to Toomer on first-and-ten from the Giants’ own three yard line!!!)

Running Backs: An up-and-down night for HB Tyrone Wheatley who made a number of mental mistakes, but once again flashed the talent of a first round draft pick. On the Giants’ first offensive play of the game, Wheatley fumbled the exchange from QB Dave Brown and the Ravens recovered, giving Baltimore superb field position. Really, the entire start of the game was a disaster for the Giants as WR Thomas Lewis fumbled away the opening kick-off and then Wheatley, as mentioned, fumbled away the ball on the Giants’ next possession — both turnovers giving the Ravens 10 easy points. Then on the Giants’ next drive, Brown fumbled, but HB Tiki Barber alertly fell on the ball. Three possessions, three turnovers, from three former first round picks — not an auspicious debut for Jim Fassel! Wheatley also made a bone-head play by not turning around quickly enough for a pass from Dave Brown (an excusable offense in a new offense based on timing) and also dropped a key 3rd down pass from Kanell late in the game (an inexcusable offense). The positives? Everytime Wheatley kept his hands on the ball. Wheatley ran as tough as he ever has with the Giants, at times punishing tacklers. His speed to the outside is very impressive and it looks like the sweep will be a bread-and-butter running play in the Fassel’s offense. On one sweep the outside, Wheatley was just barely tackled by the last man or it would have been off to the races! Except for the one big drop, Wheatley did a nice job catching the ball out of the backfield too. Wheatley picked up 49 yards on 11 carries and caught 3 passes for 9 yards.

Looking very sharp and impressive was FB Charles Way before he had to leave the game with an ankle sprain. Way looked good catching the ball out of the backfield and then showing a little wiggle to consistently beat the first tackler. Indeed, if Way stays healthy, it is clear that he will be a huge factor in this offense catching the ball out of the backfield. For a 250lb man, Way moves very well and is a scary guy for any defensive back to tackle. Way caught 3 balls for 25 yards and carried it twice for 7 yards.

Also very impressive was HB Tiki Barber, who unfortunately re-injured a hamstring that could prove to be nuisance throughout the season. Barber is an explosive, north-south runner with moves who looks like a threat to score any time he touches the ball. He did drop an important pass, but he made an outstanding run for long yardage, that also unfortunately, was called back because of a holding penalty. Where Barber surprised was his nice work in short yardage situations where he kept drives alive. Barber is going to quickly become a fan favorite and is going to have a much larger role in this offense than just 3rd down back if he can stay healthy. Barber carried the ball 6 times for 33 yards and caught an additional 2 passes for 18 yards.

FB Matt Calhoun played a lot after Way left the game and served mostly in a blocking role, as did Eric Lane. Calhoun seems to have the lead in the fullback battle right now. With injuries to Hampton (who did not play) and Barber, HB Robert Walker played a lot and did not impress.

Wide Receivers: Strange game for the wide receivers. WR Amani Toomer was largely invisible, though the Giants did try to get the ball deep to him on a couple of occasions and a slant pass (all three passes were well off the mark). Thomas Lewis fumbled the opening kick-off when he was stripped of a ball that he was loosely carrying (inexcusable). However, he and Brown hooked up on a nice looking pass play for a first down on the Giants’ second offensive drive. Jim Fassel freely rotated his receivers throughout the game, with back-ups often playing with the first unit and starters playing with the second team. Very impressive were WR’s Ike Hilliard and Kevin Alexander. Hilliard, who actually dropped his first pass (a nice touch pass from Brown over a defender), is a silky smooth receiver who seems to have no problems getting open. His clutch catch of a Kanell pass on a deep throw over the middle set up Brad Daluiso’s game-winning field goal. Hilliard also showed good hands and side-line awareness in catching Brown’s 28-yard beauty on a corner route. What’s equally nice to see is that Hilliard is an excitable young man who seems to thrive in making big plays and showing some emotion on the field. Hilliard caught 4 passes for 70 yards.

Rivaling Hilliard was Kevin Alexander. Alexander’s leaping 42-yard touchdown catch-and-run over the back of a Raven defender was the play of the game, but Kevin also looked sharp on two other catches (Alexander finished the game with 3 catches for 66 yards) that kept the chains moving. Right now, it looks like Alexander is clearly ahead of David Patton for the 5th WR spot. Believe or not, WR Chris Calloway looked good running with the ball after the catch. Brown hit Calloway on a couple of very short passes and Chris did a good job turning up field and picking up additional yardage. The key in these plays was that Fassel’s offense gets the ball to the receivers while they are still moving forward. The other receivers were very quiet.

Tight Ends: Howard Cross outplayed Aaron Pierce. Cross remains the superior blocker and did a good job of catching a Brown bullet for an 18 yard catch-and-run (yes run!). Pierce, for his part, looks much more athletic, but dropped his only real chance — though he did sell out in attempting to make a diving grab of another pass.

Offensive Line: The most pleasant surprise of the game was the play of the offensive line. Granted, Baltimore is not known for it’s defense, but the Giants had Roman Oben starting for the first time at left tackle and rookie free agent Derek Engler starting at center. For the most part, the line gave Brown and Kanell plenty of time to throw the ball and while the Giants still need more work on their run blocking, the sweeps were remarkably well coordinated for being so early in the preseason. Even Rob Zatechka looked good pulling on one play. The entire starting line was very solid, including Oben and Engler. Baltimore picked up three sacks, but two were largely the fault of Brown, not the line. Engler did have some rough moments in the middle, but he was remarkably composed. In fact, if back-up OC Adam Schreiber doesn’t get into camp soon, he may lose his roster spot to Engler. Derek played the entire game as Oben played most of it.

Defensive Line: There is just something about the Baltimore Ravens that gives the Giants’ defense problems. Last year in the preseason, the Giants’ defense was absolutely embarrassed by a Baltimore team that ran up over 500 yards of offense and almost 30 first downs. While it was not anywhere near that bad on Saturday, and Defensive Coordinator John Fox undoubtably kept things very vanilla for this preseason match-up, the Giants’ run defense was shaky. The only real standout on the defensive line was DE Michael Strahan who picked up two sacks, had another called back due to a penalty, and was credited with dumping Testeverde in the endzone for a safety (intentional grounding was called). Strahan looks like he’s ready to start the season. As expected, DE Chad Bratzke had problems with LT Jonathan Ogden. DT’s Keith Hamilton, Robert Harris, Christian Peter, and Bernard Holsey were also fairly quiet. Hamilton looked pumped up, but made too many dumb plays (one roughing the passer penalty as well as being offsides on another). At times, the line and linebackers did a good job of shutting down the run, including in short yardage, but for the most part Raven RB’s picked up good yardage running between the tackles. DE Cedric Jones had a quiet night except for his big play near the end zone where he forced the Ravens’ running back to fumble (Sam Garnes recovered). The play came midway through the 4th quarter and effectively “saved” the game for the Giants. The Giants still need to get a better pass rush from their defensive tackles and the right defensive end position.

Linebackers: The “star” of the game here was undoubtably reserve OLB Scott Galyon. Scott was all over the field making big play after big play, with a number of his run stuffing tackles coming behind the line of scrimmage. Scott is an instinctive player, and while not big, seems to have a good feel for blocking patterns. The starting unit of Jessie Armstead, Corey Widmer, and Corey Miller didn’t really stick out. As mentioned above, the Ravens picked up good yardage on running plays, and on the rare times the Giants did blitz (again, Fox kept things mostly vanilla), the Ravens seemed to know it was coming and reacted accordingly. Indeed, QB Vinnie Testeverde was on fire as he regularly threaded the needle to keep drives alive. OLB Marcus Buckley was the victim of a couple of fine Testeverde throws as Marcus had good coverage, but the execution was just too good. Pete Monty also looked good in coverage on one play, covering his man one-on-one on an important third down play. Ryan Phillips flashed big time ability on one rushing play, nailing a sweep to his side. Overall, it is clear that the Giants have some fine depth at linebacker this year.

Secondary: Not a great game for this unit. CB Phillippi Sparks was strong in run defense, but was cleanly burned to WR Derek Alexander for a 21-yard touchdown. CB Jason Sehorn is fine coverage man, but he still needs a lot of work when it comes to his tackling technique. He was faked out badly on one play when a receiver caught a pass in front of him. Strangely for a man of his size and hitting ability, Jason is often too passive in such situations. CB’s Conrad Hamilton and Thomas Randolph had decent games. Hamilton is an aggressive performer and usually a sure tackler. He did get faked out by WR Jermaine Lewis on one play, but for the most part, he brought his man down cleanly. Randolph played tighter to the line of scrimmage and this more aggressive approach seemed to pay off for him, though he did give up the inside position on one deep pass (which fortunately he was able to knock away). At safety, the good news was the tackling. Tito Wooten, Percy Ellsworth, Rodney Young, and Sam Garnes all did a decent job in this department. While all four love to hit, they just need to remember to wrap up. Rodney Young came up with a bigtime hit to force a fumble (which Conrad Hamilton recovered) and Ellsworth threw his body around the field all night, though he did get burned by the TE on a seam pass. Tito was strong in run support, though he did make a stupid play by hitting a man late after the play. SS Maurice Douglass was late in getting over to defend a deep seam pass too down the middle of the field early in the game. Sam Garnes did a good job recovering a fumble on the goalline.

Special Teams: The Giants continue to have a real problem in their kick-off coverage unit. Granted it is the preseason and the Giants are playing a lot of rookies on specials, but the Ravens continually picked up good yardage on kick returns — even when Daluiso nailed the kicks. The big return after Daluiso’s game-winning field goal almost cost the Giants the game. Punt coverage was stronger, but still could also use some improvement. Scott Galyon made an excellent play nailing the returner after one punt. Brad Maynard did an OK job, but his hang-time was very ordinary and he hit too many “line-drives.” Brad Daluiso had a tremendous game as he nailed field goals of 47, 54, and 29 yards. Indeed, the 47 and 54 yarders were perfect, though the 29 yarder was too close for our likening. In the kick return game, Thomas Lewis did a very poor job covering the ball once he was in traffic. David Patton looks more explosive than Lewis in this area. Returning punts was Amani Toomer and he did an excellent job reversing his field on one punt return where he picked up good yardage and almost broke it.