Approach to the Game – New Orleans Saints at New York Giants, September 28, 1997: Injuries and inconsistent line play have really hampered the Giants’ offense as of late. Regardless, Fassel and the offense must play with the hand that they have been dealt and start once again to put some points on the score board. Much will depend on the play of the offensive line. The defense played very well last week, but must continue to do so if the Giants are going to start stringing some wins together. In particular, the high-priced cornerbacks need to start making some game-turning plays. On specials, the kicking game must get back on track. It would be nice for the Giants to get some of the same type of fan support and noise level the Rams received last week — but don’t count on it. So much for home-field advantage.
Giants on Offense: The Giants desperately need to get their running game going on Sunday. Roman Oben (6-4, 310lbs), Greg Bishop (6-5, 315lbs) , Ron Stone (6-5, 330lbs), and Scott Gragg (6-8, 325lbs) have the size, strength, and athletic-ability to play better than they have been playing and get more movement at the line of scrimmage. It’s just a matter of focusing and getting it done. If Gragg and Derek Engler struggle on Sunday, Fassel and Matsko might be quick to insert Jerry Reynolds and Lance Scott into the line-up — both of whom have received work with the first unit this week at practice. The Saints have a good pass rushing defensive line, led by DT Wayne Martin, who picked up four sacks and was named the NFC’s defensive player of the week for his play last weekend. Last year, Martin did a real number on Rob Zatechka. To keep the Saints from teeing off on Brown like the Rams did, the line must start opening up some holes for Tiki Barber. Barber doesn’t need much room, but he can’t be dodging tacklers in the backfield. Another way to slow down the rush is to run screens and draws.
It also seems like opposing defenses are starting to focus heavily on the backs coming out of the backfield for the Giants — as they should. Fassel should get his tight ends more involved to keep these linebackers and safeties honest. If Howard Cross can’t make plays as a receiving threat, it is time to get Aaron Pierce down the field. Pierce has the athletic-ability to stretch a defense down the middle of the field, but for some reason, Fassel has chosen to stick more with Cross. Until the Giants start hurting teams with the tight end, opposing defenses will focus their attention elsewhere.
The loss of Ike Hilliard has really hurt the Giants as Thomas Lewis and Amani Toomer failed to take advantage of their chances last week. Teams can now afford to focus more on Chris Calloway. Interestingly, Fassel has decided to start Kevin Alexander at split end this week, rather than Amani Toomer. Calloway and Toomer both play flanker and Fassel did not want to move Chris back to split end. When given a chance, Alexander has made plays for the Giants. He’s not a tall guy, but he is fast, quick, and he’s aggressive in going up for the ball. Toomer had better not sulk too much. The Giants play a lot of 3- and 4-WR sets, and if he doesn’t want to fall further down on the depth chart, he had better start sounding like a team player. Make some plays Amani! Everything else will sort itself out. Calloway will be up against the Giants’ old nemesis Eric Allen. Chris was far too quiet himself last week. He’s a better player than that. Alexander will face second-year man Alex Molden.
Finally, yes the line has to block better, but Tiki Barber has to start making some plays. He’s an elusive, explosive back, but Giant fans have only seen a tiny bit of what he can do. Get him out on screens more. Also, when Charles Way has the ball in his hands, good things happen. With the injury to Hilliard, Way should become more of the focal point of this offense. The Saints can be run on — if the blocking is there.
Giants on Defense: We hate to sound like a broken record, but the Giants are playing another young quarterback who can be rattled easily this week and once again, the key is to take his security blanket away: the running game. HB Mario Bates killed the Lions last week. The Giants’ front seven played incredibly well against the Rams, but they can’t let up this week. In particular, Keith Hamilton and Robert Harris must continue their fine work inside. Chad Bratzke’s tour of the best left tackles in the game makes another stop this week with Willie Roaf on the agenda. Bratzke played well in St. Louis, but we’d like to see Cedric Jones continue to see more playing time. His confidence level seems to be growing. At linebacker, Jessie Armstead is a play-making machine, but he needs some help from his fellow linebackers. The two Corey’s always seem to be a step too slow on the blitz. Corey Miller will have the huge task this week of making sure he gets a good jam on dangerous Saint TE Irv Smith. The Giants must be careful to keep an eye on Smith, especially Sam Garnes. Widmer has to do a good job in diagnosing the ground game, getting off his blocks quickly, and shutting down Bates before he gets going. Scott Galyon was instinctive against the Rams, but needs to finish better.
The Saints have the type of wide receiving corps that Jason Sehorn and Phillippi Sparks SHOULD shut down. Both Jason and Phillippi need to start making some interceptions. If the Giants can shut down the run, take away the underneath passes to Irv Smith and the backs, and get after Heath Shuler on the pass rush, they may force him into some bad decisions. Heath is a young quarterback who tends to bird-dog too much and get down on himself when things aren’t going right.
In general, the confidence level of the Giants’ defense is growing as they continue to learn the new system. The Saints are the type of team the Giants’ defense is capable of dominating if they play with the type of intelligence and emotion they played with last week.
Giants on Special Teams: No team in the NFL can afford breakdowns in their special teams. Brad Daluiso needs to get his head straight and fast. Brad Maynard is a far, far better punter than he showed last week, especially when it comes to nailing opponents inside the 10 yard line. David Patten will replace Thomas Lewis in the kick return game. He must show a little more instinctive running and elusiveness than he did in the preseason. If given a crack, he can go all the way. Amani? Run up the field please as soon as you have the ball. Stop dancing around and stop running towards the sideline. How long has it been since the Giants have blocked a kick or punt?