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.