Nov 281997
 

Approach to the Game – Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants, November 30, 1997: After last week’s tough game against the Washington Redskins, the Giants cannot afford a let down this week against the Bucs. With four games left against quality teams, the Giants must win their remaining two home games, including this Sunday’s contest against Tampa Bay. To make matters worse, these are not the same old Buccaneers. Tampa Bay has a very good front seven that can stop the run and put a lot of heat on the passer. Offensively, the Bucs can run the ball, both with their dangerous, elusive halfback, Warrick Dunn, or their bruising fullback, Mike Alstott. It’s the passing game that has sometimes let the Buccaneers down. Really, there are a lot of similarities between both the Giants and Bucs when you think about it. This should be a close, tough football game with the team making the fewest mistakes and most big plays coming out on top.

Giants on Offense: The Giants’ playoff hopes rest on their shaky passing game. Tampa Bay has a very active and strong run defense and it will be difficult for the Giants to consistently pick up yardage and first downs on the ground. The problem is that the holes in the Giants’ passing game have become glaring against quality defenses. The Giants only have one consistent threat at wide receiver, Chris Calloway, and he’s no threat to break a game open. The other receivers (David Patten, Kevin Alexander, and Amani Toomer) are damn near invisible against quality defensive backs. Opposing defenses are doubling Calloway and watching the flats for passes to the running backs. Why should they do any differently? For whatever reason, the tight ends are not being used (either because they can’t get open or the coaches don’t have faith in them), and the receiver opposite Calloway is not getting the job done. Patten, Alexander, and Toomer seem to have problems running the proper or correct route and do not seem to get any separation from defensive backs. Of the three, Toomer shows the most promise because of his tools. If the Giants have any hope to change the fortunes of their passing offense, those hopes lie squarely on Amani’s shoulders.

That being said, we feel the Giants must start featuring TE’s Aaron Pierce or Howard Cross. Teams are virtually ignoring these two and Head Coach Jim Fassel should take advantage of this. Put Pierce and Cross on the spot. These two men are professionals and are being paid very handsomely. If they can’t get open and make the catch, then the Giants know for sure that they must rebuild this unit completely next offseason.

When it comes down to it, the Giants simply may lack the talent at wide receiver and tight end for the stretch run. Does any team in the NFL have worse receivers than the Giants? Jim Fassel will be hard pressed to use formation, play-design, and motion to create mismatches and allow receivers to get open. There is some hope against Tampa because their secondary is by no means as strong as the Redskins, Eagles, or Cowboys — that’s why this game becomes even more important.

Regardless, Fassel and the Giants simply must stay out of predictable pass rush situations. Tampa Bay has four down lineman who have over six sacks each. Inside, OG Greg Bishop, OC Lance Scott, and OG Ron Stone will have their hands full with DT Warren Sapp, MLB Hardy Nickerson, and DT Brad Culpepper. Fassel tried to keep the Giants out of obvious pass rush situations last week by running the ball early and often. Sometimes this resulted in success, sometimes it did not. Tampa Bay’s front seven on defense is much more talented than the Redskins. Moreover, Tampa will probably follow everyone else’s lead and put an eight man up to stop the Giants’ running game. Because of this, we don’t expect the Giants to be able to run the ball very well in “obvious” running situations. We know Fassel wants to keep things conservative and there is a lot to be said of this approach, but we don’t think the team will be able to generate enough points offensively with this strategy — an approach that puts an awful lot of pressure on the Giants’ defense to stop the Bucs and create scoring opportunities. There are ways to pass on first and second down in a less risky fashion. Remember, Tampa is likely to be playing run on first and second down. The Giants should try to take advantage of this by game-planning “safe” passes to the wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs in these situations. Get Tampa to react to what the Giants are doing, then hit them with the running game. Yes, QB Danny Kanell is inexperienced. Yes, the Giants’ receivers and tight ends scare no one. Yes, the Giants’ running game is the strength of the offensive team. But we really don’t think the Giants can count on using smash mouth football alone. The element of surprise is needed.

Giants on Defense: The Giants’ defense played as well as we’ve ever seen them play last week. However, that was last week, this is this week. We say, “Do it again!” Great defenses CONSISTENTLY dominate games and if the Giants are to make the playoffs this year, their defense must rise to the occasion. Is it fair to place so much responsibility on the defense to carry the team? Certainly not, but that is the situation the Giants find themselves in. The Giants so not have the weapons on offense to expect or hope for otherwise. The defense needs to force three-and-outs, turnovers, and scoring opportunities. If they let up, make mental or physical mistakes, or give up big plays, then the Giants most likely will not be successful over the course of the last quarter of the season.

Against the Bucs, the game plan is simple but difficult to execute: stop the run, put the onus on QB Trent Dilfer to win the game. Tampa Bay has a dangerous running back combo that complement each other exceptionally well. The big, powerful hammer of their offense (their “Charles Way” if you will) is FB Mike Alstott — a bruising back who can pound the ball inside, use his surprising elusiveness and speed to bounce plays outside, and who can catch the ball out of the backfield. Defensively, the Giants need to play strong, tackle well, and gang-tackle when he has the ball. In particular, on pass plays, the defensive backs need to wrap him up low and hold on until help arrives. But he is not the only threat in the Bucs’ backfield. HB Warrick Dunn may be small, but he has been called a “poor man’s Barry Sanders.” Dunn is a lightening quick, elusive back who is equally dangerous running and catching the ball. Dunn has excellent hands and has burned many teams with huge plays on passes out of the backfield — a la David Meggett in his early days. One mistake, be it breakdown in gap responsibility or a missed tackle, could mean six points. Even the speedy Jessie Armstead will have a difficult time keeping pace with Dunn in pass coverage. It won’t be easy, but the Giants’ defense simply must shut down or limit the damage these two can make on Sunday. If not, the Giants will lose the game.

If the Giants can put the Bucs in long yardage situations, they have a chance to force QB Trent Dilfer to make costly mistakes. Dilfer is a lot like QB Dave Brown. He’s a guy with a lot of physical talent, who sometimes lets the pressure of the game or moment get to him. Dilfer does have more weapons to work with than the Giants’ quarterbacks. TE Jackie Harris is a sure-handed security blanket who can stretch defenses down the middle. The Giants’ linebackers and SS Sam Garnes must keep an eye on him. Outside, WR’s Anthony Reidel (a rookie) and Horace Copeland (who is questionable) can stretch defenses deep. But the key is Dilfer. If the Giants can get after him and rattle him, he may turn the ball over and set up the Giants’ offense.

Giants on Special Teams: This unit needs to start making big plays again. Momentum and easy scores can result from quality special teams play. A return, a block, or a forced fumble can mean all the difference in a close contest. Sunday’s contest is likely to be close and a game of field position. The punting and kicking games, as well as the coverage units, will all play an important factor. The Giants will miss coverage man Brandon Sanders, who is listed as doubtful.

Nov 261997
 
New York Giants 7 – Washington Redskins 7

Overview: What a bizarre game! The Giants-Redskins contest in Maryland had more emotional ups and downs than a Greek tragedy. Each team could have won, each team deserved to win, but in the end, neither team could put together enough offense to pull off the victory and the game ended in an unusual 7-7 tie.

We had said in our preview that for the Giants to win, they would have to run the ball, stop the run, commit fewer turnovers, and outplay the Redskins on special teams. Strangely, the Giants did all of those things, yet still could not win. The Giants’ defense was magnificent. For one game, it was as good as it ever was when LT, Harry Carson, and George Martin roamed the field in the 1980’s. Aside from one Terry Allen burst, the Giants completely shut down the vaunted Redskin running game — despite the fact that the Skins had all their linemen and Allen healthy. The Giants’ offense started off running the ball well and continued to outperform the Redskins throughout the contest, but sputtered at key moments. The Redskins turned the ball over four times — the Giants only once (we’re not counting the last second Hail Mary interception). New York kept Brian Mitchell in check on kick and punt returns. So how did the Giants not win?

The answer is simple: the Giants’ passing game just could not get it done on Sunday night. As expected, the Redskins’ secondary took the Giants’ wide receivers out of the game and the Giants’ backs and tight ends could not compensate. Because the Redskins did not fear the Giants’ receivers, they were able to play SS Jesse Campbell close to the line of scrimmage and thus hamper the running game. When QB Danny Kanell tried to get the ball to the receivers, they could not break free and Kanell ended up holding onto the ball longer than he should have. To exacerbate matters, there were plenty of mental and physical mistakes which killed any remaining fleeting hope of moving the ball into scoring position.

But give the Redskins some credit too. Their defense was also magnificent and they played with a great deal of fire and hustle on Sunday night. They were a desperate team who simply could not afford to lose this game. Nevertheless, the Giants blew an excellent opportunity to take command of the division. The Giants’ defense forced three turnovers and stopped the Skins on 4th-and-inches in overtime alone, yet the offense couldn’t get into realistic field goal position. Because the G-Men couldn’t win what ultimately turned out to be a very winnable game, they now find themselves in a dog fight with Washington and Dallas.

Let’s be brutally honest here. The Giants simply do not have enough talent at wide receiver and tight end to consistently beat teams with good defenses, especially good secondaries. The problem for the Giants is that the final four opponents on their schedule have good defenses, and three of them (Eagles, Redskins, and Dallas) have outstanding secondaries. If the Giants are going to win the division, their defense, special teams, and running game will have to carry them. Will that be enough?

Quarterback: When a team wins, the quarterback receives more of the credit than he deserves and win a team loses, the quarterback receivers more of the blame than he deserves. Kanell’s problem against the Redskins is that he often had nowhere to throw the ball. CB’s Darrell Green and Chris Dishman took the Giants’ receivers out of the game, one-on-one, and allowed the Skins’ linebackers to focus on the backs and tight ends. However, Kanell often made matters worse by not throwing the ball away when nothing was there. The result? Six sacks, a few of which were not the offensive line’s fault. We do not think that Kanell got rattled as some have suggested. Instead, we think he tried to do too much and make plays himself. You could see the frustration building on his face as nothing developed down field for him. Kanell is a young quarterback with limited NFL experience, and that inexperience showed Sunday night.

Wide Receivers: Green and Dishman toyed with the Giants’ receivers all night. The Skins kept Green on Chris Calloway for most of the game, even when Chris moved to the slot — a move which we suggested in our game preview but obviously didn’t work. Calloway is a nice receiver, but he’s not really going to scare a quality cornerback like Green. In fact, we thought Green’s first interference call on Calloway that set up the Giants’ only touchdown was highly questionable. Regardless of the flag, Calloway dropped that pass — a very catchable ball. He also committed a costly holding penalty after a good Ty Wheatley run. Part of Calloway’s problem is that whoever is playing opposite of him is not getting the job done. David Patten was on the field a lot and didn’t make any plays. He doesn’t seem to be in sync with Kanell at all, and when he runs his patterns, there doesn’t ever seem to be any deception to routes. For the second time this season, Fassel admitted to the press that Kevin Alexander ran the wrong route on a play. Luckily, both plays were successful (Kevin’s 40-yard catch against the Bengals and Calloway’s TD catch against the Skins), but we wonder if much of the Giants’ passing woes have to do with receivers constantly being out of position. WR Amani Toomer may have been on the field a lot, but it didn’t seem that way to us. He made a real nice catch in overtime to keep a drive alive. We really would like to see him given more chances than Patten — a guy who has only played one good game all year. A few times during the game, ESPN isolated cameras on the Giants’ wide receivers and this camera work made it quite clear where the problem was with the Giants’ passing game — it wasn’t Kanell, it was the receivers. Somebody other than Calloway MUST step up down the stretch. If they don’t, the Giants are in deep trouble.

Tight Ends: Virtually invisible and we are not sure why. We don’t know if it was the fact that Fassel kept them in to help out on pass protection like earlier in the season, if they couldn’t get off the line of scrimmage, if they couldn’t separate from a defender, or if Kanell couldn’t or wouldn’t get the ball to them? Whatever the reason, the Giants’ lack of production at this position is a joke. Howard Cross remains a top notch blocker and the Giants had great success early in the game running behind Cross, Scott Gragg, and Ron Stone. Aaron Pierce did catch one short pass, but it obviously wasn’t enough.

Running Backs: Inconsistent production, thought much of this had to do with inconsistent run blocking and too many Redskins to block at the line of scrimmage. Tyrone Wheatley started off very strong, faltered, and had some late moments. Indeed, we thought Ty ran exceptionally hard on his inside runs, especially early on the first drive. He got his shoulder pads down, ran with good speed, vision, and power. On one run, he carried a number of tacklers 3-4 yards more in a very Bavaro-like run. Very impressive. Where Wheatley regressed somewhat is in his ball security. He fumbled one ball that the Giants were extremely fortunate to recover and could have been called for a second fumble on the first drive. Wheatley came ever so close to ending the game in overtime. On a right side sweep, with FB Charles Way leading the way, Wheatley displayed his great speed by turning the corner and nearly broke it for a TD down the sideline. If he only was able to keep his balance!!! HB Tiki Barber was very active in the passing game, but was very much limited after suffering a hamstring injury. It was fairly obvious that he couldn’t explode into and out of his cuts or use his speed like he likes to after the injury. In fact, we question keeping him in the game. Way had another impressive game running the ball, but his 3rd-and-1 drop of a Kanell pass late in the game might have cost the Giants their best chance for victory. Way also fumbled the ball, but recovered. Charles continues to amaze with his ability not only to run with power inside, but also outside the tackles. HB Erric Pegram was quiet. In an interesting move, at one point in the game with their backs to their own endzone, Fassel had FB’s Charles Way and Eric Lane both in the backfield together.

Offensive Line: Inconsistent. At times, the line provided the runners with impressive holes and Kanell with plenty of time. At other times, the running backs had nowhere to run and Kanell had no chance. LT Roman Oben had his roughest game of the season. OLB Ken Harvey out-quicked and overpowered Oben for two sacks. The Giants’ interior trio had problems with DT William Gaines, a journeyman, all night. OG Greg Bishop was beaten by Gaines and Wheatley was nailed in the backfield on a critical 3rd-and-1 on the first drive. Gaines also overpowered OC Lance Scott on another play. However, to be fair to the line, the Redskins did commit eight men to stop the run and it is extremely difficult to run the ball in such situations. Also, one of the Redskins’ sacks by Harvey came when their was no back in the backfield to pick up the blitz. The other sacks were the result of receivers not being able to get open and Kanell holding the ball too long. Nevertheless, the Giants were provided with many excellent opportunities to win the game in overtime if only they could have picked up one or two first downs. The offensive line could have made a statement and decided the contest there and then. Instead, the Giants’ ball carriers were often hammered at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Defensive Line: Outstanding. As good as we have ever seen the Giants play. Everyone stood out. Inside, Robert Harris (0.5 sacks) and Keith Hamilton (1.5 sacks) terrorized the Skins’ inside running game. Harris ate up OG Bob Dahl all night and Hamilton played as well as we ever seen anyone play against OG Tre Johnson. DE Michael Strahan picked up his 12th sack of the season and was equally strong against the run. Early on in the contest the Redskins continually ran at DE Cedric Jones and could get nothing going. Jones also looked impressive in the pass rush department on a couple of plays where he buzzed by or hit Frerotte as he threw the ball. Unfortunately, Jones re-injured his left knee and was forced to leave the game. In came DE Bernard Holsey and the Redskins couldn’t run on him either. Holsey was also spotted buzzing the Redskin quarterbacks on a number of occasions. Even DT Ray Agnew got into the act and smashed Terry Allen in the backfield on one play. For all intents and purposes, the Redskins were humiliated up front in a way that we haven’t seen in a long, long time. We just hope these guys keep it going.

Linebackers: Excellent. Weakside backer Jessie Armstead was all over the field making plays, both defending the run and playing the pass. He made a terrific play tacking Allen for a big loss on a right-side sweep and also batted down a ball at the line of scrimmage. MLB Corey Widmer had a big night too. He made a number of sure tackles of Allen and once again looked good in coverage too — a supposed weakness of his. Strongside backer Marcus Buckley looked pretty bad in trying to bring Allen down on Allen’s only big run of the evening, but aside from that play had a good evening. He also tackled Allen in the backfield and made plays in coverage. The Giants did an excellent job of shutting down TE Jamie Asher. The one breakdown in the undercoverage occurred when TE James Jenkins was left all alone for a big play — something we warned against. His catch and run set up the Skins touchdown. Ryan Phillips finally saw some action and didn’t look bad. The Giants had him rushing some from the right side on a few occasions.

Defensive Backs: We thought these guys played a much better game this week. The Skins made some outstanding plays against CB’s Jason Sehorn and Phillippi Sparks — plays that are virtually impossible to defend. For example, on one completion to WR Henry Ellard against Sparks, Sparks was all over the play, but the ball was delivered just as Ellard made his cut. On another play, Sparks was picked by another Giant and WR Michael Westbrook made a big play. Westbrook gave Sehorn some problems on quick slants, but this was more the result of the called coverage, than a physical breakdown. The only problem we had with Sehorn on Sunday night was with his tackling. He forgot to wrap up twice and let his man get away after initial contact. Jason made a terrific play in overtime when he read the Skins’ receiver perfectly and actually cut before the receiver did an picked off the ball. SS Sam Garnes made a nice play colliding with the Skins’ fullback as the ball was delivered — the ensuing ricochet was intercepted by Sparks. Phillippi also made a superb interception in overtime on an Ellard comeback route and also came up with a sack earlier in the game — the first time we can remember the Giants blitzing Sparks this year. Tito Wooten also had a very active game and was regularly around the ball. Percy Ellsworth continues to read quarterbacks well and positions himself for picks, but once again dropped the ball (there was a penalty on the play regardless). CB Conrad Hamilton, who has been unfairly blamed for the TD to Frank Sanders last week (one Giants’ publication has said that Ellsworth blew the play), has had a rough year nevertheless. Hamilton was flagged for two illegal contact penalties on 3rd-and-long situations ON THE SAME DRIVE. Hamilton is a better player than he has been showing of late.

Special Teams: Surprisingly, the Giants were not outplayed on specials. P Brad Maynard remains inconsistent. Some of his punts were very good, but at other times, they were very mediocre. His biggest problem remains his directional punting on coffin corner punts. He always seems to nail the ball into the endzone or near the 20-yard line, but rarely in between — very strange. However, his superb hangtime and solid punt coverage kept the dangerous Brian Mitchell in check. The Giants also did a great job on Mitchell on his three kick returns. Brandon Sanders and Doug Colman stood out in this department. On the negative side, the blocking on punt and kick returns remains terrible — though the Redskins’ punter deserves much of the credit for keeping Amani Toomer in check. To us, the strangest aspect of the special teams play was Brad Daluiso. For a guy with a strong leg who has kicked a number of 50+ field goal attempts in his career, including one game winner in 1993 which was into a stiff wind, Brad showed absolutely no confidence in himself on Sunday. It has been reported for a number of years that Brad has kicked 60+ yard field goals in practice and Head Coach Jim Fassel wanted to give him a chance at the end of regulation at a 64 yarder, but Daluiso told Fassel he couldn’t make it. Brad also looked unsure of himself on his 54-yard attempt later in overtime that was way left. Granted, that is a tough kick, but clutch players make clutch plays in tight situations. His last attempt (which didn’t count because of a Redskin timeout), another 54-yarder, was blocked…or to be more correct, hit a Giant in the backside. The kick couldn’t have been more than two yards off the ground — a poor effort even if it didn’t count.

Nov 211997
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Washington Redskins, November 23, 1997: Ahh, it seems like old times. Giants versus Redskins. Big game with playoff implications for both teams. And just like those old Giants-Redskins games, this one will come down to: (1) who can run the ball, (2) who can stop the run, (3) which team makes fewer turnovers, and (4) special teams play. While this is a very important game for the Giants, this is an absolute “must” game for the Redskins. Washington cannot afford to fall two games behind the Giants in the divisional race. They will be a desperate team, playing in their own stadium, and will hold nothing back. That makes for a dangerous scenario.

Due to their youth, most of the Giant players have never been in a game like this. The pressure will be intense. Will the players hold up and keep their poise or will they crack when things start to go wrong (and they always go wrong at some point of every contest)? The crowd will be loud and the emotional level will be high. The Giants need to keep their composure and play smart football. No mistakes, no turnovers, no dumb penalties. If they can do that, and force the Redskins to do the opposite, the Giants will win the game.

Giants on Offense: The Giants secret to success all year has been to play it fairly conservative on offense, minimize turnovers, and grind it out with the running game. Injuries, a lack of talent at some key skill positions, and inexperience in the new system has forced Head Coach Jim Fassel to shy away from taking as many chances as he would like. Against a quality opponent, playing on their home turf and in a must-win situation, will Fassel pull out all the stops and open things up? Or will he stick with what has brought him here thus far? A strong case can be made for both and against both approaches. The Redskins will expect the Giants to play it conservatively. They will put eight men up in the box and dare the Giants to pass on early downs. The Skins’ run defense has been shoddy this year and the Redskins must take this approach regardless. If the Giants are not able to move the ball on the ground on early downs, they will then face too many 3rd-and-long situations and this plays right into Washington’s hands. CB’s Darrell Green and Chris Dishman have routinely shut down wide receivers much more talented than Chris Calloway, Kevin Alexander, David Patten, and Amani Toomer all year. It will be very doubtful if ANY Giants’ wide receiver will have a positive impact in this game because of this. Thus, should the Giants try to catch the Skins off guard on first and second down by throwing the ball? The downside to this approach is that it doesn’t play into the Giants’ strength. The Giants’ receivers and tight ends are just not that good. Can scheme and surprise overcome talent?

After much thinking, we think Fassel will keep is conservative. Look for the Giants to run, run, and run and take their chances on 3rd down. That doesn’t mean we won’t see some surprises. For example, we haven’t seen that roll out pass to the fullback in some time. Don’t be surprised to see a trick play or two. But the Giants will most likely keep it on the ground with the running of Tyrone Wheatley, Tiki Barber, and most importantly, Charles Way. These guys absolutely must get 4+ yards on most of their rush attempts or the Giants will be in trouble.

The key to the ground attack, as always, will be the offensive line. This unit has been its own worst enemy this year. Too many holding penalties, too many false starts. These penalties are drive killers. The offensive line has to deal with the crowd noise and their opponents and not hurt their own cause. The Redskins can be run on. But they know the Giants will be bringing it and will be prepared for the best the Giants have to offer. Key guys to neutralize will be DT Marc Boutte, DE Rich Owens (who usually gives the Giants problems), MLB Marvcus Patton (the same guy who Dave Brown fought with last year), and OLB Ken Harvey. A lot of pressure will be on LT Roman Oben and RT Scott Gragg to deal with the crowd noise and keep their poise. Inside, the Giants need LG Greg Bishop to bounce back from a couple of sub-par performances in a row. OC Lance Scott must get out quickly and engage Patton on running plays. Smash-mouth football — just like the old days.

When the Giants run, HB Tyrone Wheatley needs to play his best game of the season. He has to hold onto the ball as Redskin Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan will have his charges trying to rip it out. Bruising fullback Charles Way may be the man of the moment if Fassel decides to get real physical with the Skins. We’d keep things fairly simple and fairly basic when it comes to the running game. The simpler the play, the less likelihood for breakdowns and penalties. Pound the ball at the Skins — make them stop us, but don’t stop ourselves.

When the Giants do put it up, look for Fassel to call upon the running backs big time in the passing game. The Redskins know this too. It will simply come down to talent and who executes better. The Redskins will probably try to take away the flats from the Giants. Hopefully, Fassel’s offensive game plan and options will take this into account. Don’t be surprised to see the running backs in pass patterns further down field. This will be a big game for Tiki Barber. He must get open, catch the ball, and hold onto it. No mental mistakes, no dropped balls, no fumbles. The Redskin outside linebackers are better moving forward than backwards and they have a rookie playing on the strongside.

With the wide receivers likely to be shut down and the Skins focusing on the flats, this will be the most important game the tight ends have played all year. The Giants absolutely need Howard Cross and Aaron Pierce to make some big plays. Cross is one of the few Giants who has been in these wars before, but Pierce has a tendency to choke when things are on the line. We hope he proves us wrong.

One way the Giants may be able to get the ball to their wide receivers is to use formation and motion to create better match-ups. Motioning Chris Calloway to the slot in a 3-WR set might get Calloway on the Skins’ nickel back. Taking advantage of SS Jesse Campbell in coverage is another option. Regardless, someone else besides Calloway needs to step forward — be it Toomer, Patton, or Alexander. Will these guys be heros or goats?

This conservative approach will not generate a lot of points. The Giants will try to control the tempo of the game and the clock with their running game. But the key to the entire game will be the success rate on 3rd down. The line has to block, the receivers have to get open and catch, and Danny Kanell has to deliver the ball. Kanell has a chance to outperform his counterpart Gus Frerotte because of Kanell’s poise and confidence level. However, for this conservative strategy to work, Danny must not force the ball into double coverage and/or turn the ball over. There will be little margin for error.

Lastly, the Giants must be prepared for the unexpected. Nolan used to coach the Giants and he knows both our offensive and defensive personnel. He also would like nothing better than to show the Giants up. The Giants need to be wary of blitzes from any direction. Nolan likes to blitz the linebackers and defensive backs. The line and backs must pick these up, and Kanell and the receivers must adjust the play accordingly.

Giants on Defense: Because the Giants’ offense won’t generate many points, the defense must shut down the Skins. Force three-and-outs. Force turnovers and provide our own offense with excellent field position. These things haven’t been happening much lately for the Giants’ defense. The Skins will be without WR’s Leslie Sheppard and Alvin Harper, but rookie WR Albert Connell was very impressive in the preseason. TE Jamie Asher, the Skins’ leading receiver, is Frerotte’s security blanket — he plays the same role that Jay Novacek played for Norv Turner in Dallas. The Skins have also surprised teams by throwing to TE James Jenkins in key situations. A telling stat — Jenkins only has three catches all year, but he also has three touchdown receptions. WR Henry Ellard is a savvy veteran who runs great routes and gets open. He has given the Giants’ fits in the past. WR Michael Westbrook has it all. When he wants to, he can dominate a game.

However, the key to the entire game will be the Giants’ ability to shut down HB Terry Allen. Everything the Redskins do revolves around him. He is their emotional leader on offense. Stop him and you put doubt into the rest of their offense. Let him get untracked, and it will be a long night. Allen is a power runner who can also cut back. The Skins are a power offensive line with massive size. Just like the Giants, they will try to run the ball down their opponents’ throats. This is a huge game for everyone in the front seven. DT Robert Harris, DT Keith Hamilton, and MLB Corey Widmer must jam things up in the middle where the Skins are powerful. Washington will undoubtably run left to test DE Cedric Jones and the light OLB Jessie Armstead, and run right to test OLB Marcus Buckley, who historically has been killed by power running teams. Once Turner has the Redskin running game going, he kills opponents with play-action passing. Everything the Giants do must be geared to shutting down the running game. Also, when HB Brian Mitchell comes into the contest, the Giants must do the same. Mitchell is a strong pass receiver too.

Against the pass, CB Jason Sehorn will most likely be matched up against Westbrook. Both are tall and fast. Jason needs to out-hustle Westbrook on jump balls. CB Phillippi Sparks has a chance to redeem himself if he can control Ellard. The Skins will also try to take advantage of nickel back CB Conrad Hamilton who hasn’t played as well as hoped this year. Where the Giants must concentrate a lot of their efforts is on Asher. Sam Garnes and the linebackers need to keep him in check. He’s the guy that keeps their drives alive. We hope all the defensive backs play tighter and more aggressive coverage this week. They made things too easy for Jake Plummer last week. But also watch out for the unexpected. As we mentioned, Turner likes to surprise people with Jenkins, but he also usually has a number of tricks in his bag. He has run the option play with Brian Mitchell in the past. He also likes WR reverses (remember the double-reverse he used on us last year for a TD?) and throwing to the fullback. Don’t be surprised by a flea-flicker!

Much will also depend on the pass rush. It seems like the Skins always have a quality offensive line and this year is no exception. The Giants will make things much easier on themselves if the front four of Michael Strahan, Robert Harris, Keith Hamilton, and Cedric Jones can get to the passer. Unfortunately, our two best pass rushers, Strahan and Hamilton, face their two best linemen, Ed Simmons and Tre Johnson, respectively. Here’s the time to earn some respect guys! Beat a quality opponent on a consistent basis! Gus can be rattled, but you need to get to him first.

Giants on Special Teams: We have a sneaky suspicion that the game comes down to the match-ups here. Brian Mitchell is as good of a returner as you will find in all of football, especially at returning kick-offs. To make matters worse, kick-off coverage has been one of our weak spots all year. The coverage teams can’t rely on Daluiso to nail the ball into the endzone — Mitchell will probably bring it out anyway. Get down the field, maintain proper lanes, and make sure, crisp tackles. P Brad Maynard needs to continue to get good hangtime, but some better directional and coffin-corner punting would help matters. The Giants also need punt returner Amani Toomer to come up big because we know that Erric Pegram won’t on kick returns. Be very careful of fake field goals and punts from the Redskins — Washington killed the Giants in the Meadowlands last year with a fake that went for a touchdown. Lastly, PK Brad Daluiso needs to come through in the clutch. No misses!

Nov 191997
 
New York Giants 19 – Arizona Cardinals 10

Game Overview: At first glance, the Giants look to be in pretty good shape with a 7-4 record, including 4-0 in the NFC East. However, the 19-10 win over the Cardinals exposed a lot of holes and weaknesses in a team that now faces its most difficult stretch of games of the entire season. First and foremost, the secondary, including Jason Sehorn (media love-fest aside), was terrible. We have overestimated the talent of our defensive backs. To allow a rookie quarterback with no running game and constant pass pressure to throw for almost 400 yards in those weather conditions is absolutely inexcusable. No one stood out — they were all bad. Secondly, in a few games this season, Head Coach Jim Fassel’s clock management at the end of halves and games has been pretty poor. However, Sunday he added to that list. His play-calling in short yardage was abysmal. Running wide on 4th-and-goal is a stupid, stupid play — plain and simple. To make matters worse, he did it again the next time the Giants were in short-yardage on the goalline. Jim, in those situations, hand off to FB Charles Way inside! Period. We didn’t even like the call to TE Howard Cross that resulted in a touchdown — too risky. OG Greg Bishop was terrible again (three holding penalties), PK Brad Daluiso missed a critical extra point, TE Aaron Pierce doesn’t know what it means to stay in-bounds, and WR Kevin Alexander pulled yet another disappearing act. If the Giants want to make the playoffs this year, they had better start playing much, much better. Dallas and Washington are breathing right down their necks.

Quarterback: Danny Kanell played well. His accuracy was much improved this week, aside from a few early passes, and he continues to show the ability to make big plays that win ball games. His audible and deep pass to WR Amani Toomer was a thing of beauty. He was also very sharp on four of his five passes to HB Tiki Barber — the fifth was off target, but resulted in a pass interference penalty. His best play of the game was the one he made under a heavy rush from the Cardinals where he stepped up into the pocket and threw a strike to WR David Patten for a 26 yard gain. The Giants had been backed up yet again by another Greg Bishop holding penalty and Kanell’s pass allowed the Giants to keep the drive alive and eventually score the go-ahead touchdown — a touchdown thrown by Danny to TE Howard Cross on 3rd-and-goal from the one yard line. Kanell finished the game 14-21 for 181 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Wide Receivers: The receivers were not given much of an opportunity with the wind shutting the Giants’ passing game down for two quarters and the running game performing so well. Nevertheless, this game could represent WR Amani Toomer’s coming-out party as a legitimate wide receiver for the Giants. Although it looks he got away with a push-off, Amani’s leap and catch of Kanell’s deep pass right before halftime was a huge play for the Giants — the type of big play Fassel wants his players to make. We hope Amani continues to see added playing time down the stretch. Chris Calloway caught 2 passes for 22 yards (one catch picked up no yards) and was generally quiet. Kevin Alexander was damn near invisible, but David Patten had his best game since the last Cardinal game, catching two passes for 35 yards.

Tight Ends: For a few games now, it looks like Fassel is getting the tight ends more and more involved. On a critical third-and-goal, Fassel had Kanell look to Cross for the go-ahead touchdown and Cross delivered. Cross also caught a pass over the middle for decent yardage, but the play was called back due to a penalty. Aaron Pierce caught a four-yard pass, but also inexplicably ran out of the endzone on his scoring opportunity on the goalline.

Running Backs: FB Charles Way had a yet another big game, his best as a Giant. He picked up 114 yards on 14 carries (an 8.1 yard-per-carry average!). What continues to amaze us is Way’s ability to pick up good yardage running outside the tackles despite looking slow as molasses — a testament to his patience and power as a runner as well as the ability of the offensive line to sustain its run blocks. Way’s biggest run of the day was a 42-yard scamper where he broke the tackle of two players and, while the play didn’t result in any points, it got the Giants off of their own goalline while facing the wind in the 3rd quarter. HB Tyrone Wheatley ran well early, but cooled off later in the game. He picked up 48 yards on 17 carries (a 2.8 yard-per-carry average). HB Tiki Barber made a big splash, not only on the ground (7 carries for 42 yards), but in the receiving department (4 for 44 yards). He was sure-handed in catching the ball and made plays in critical situations, including a diving catch. Even HB Erric Pegram got into the act (2 catches for 12 yards).

Offensive Line: Like last week, the line was decent in the running game, but pretty poor in the passing game. The Giants picked up over 200 yards of offense on the ground behind some excellent run blocking all along the front line. The downside was four costly holding penalties (three by Greg Bishop and one by Lance Scott). LT Roman Oben had a lot more difficulty with DE Simeon Rice this time around, but generally did a nice job on him. RT Scott Gragg was beaten badly to the outside and gave up a sack to DE Michael Bankston. On occasion, the interior trio was pushed back into Kanell’s face. For only passing 21 times, Kanell was under a lot of pressure as the Cardinals came with the blitz on many downs. Aside from his three holding calls, Bishop was late getting over to help out on Rice on one play and Kanell was hit just as he released the ball.

Defensive Line: The Giants shut down the Cardinal running game and applied decent pressure on rookie QB Jake Plummer for much of the game, despite being without DE Chad Bratzke and DT Keith Hamilton (who was thrown out of the game early in the contest). The Cardinals continually ran at DE Cedric Jones and he survived the test and made a number of excellent plays — either by making the tackle or forcing the play wide for a teammate to make the tackle. He finished the game with five tackles (one more than his season total coming into the game). DE Michael Strahan picked up 3 sacks and DT Robert Harris picked up another. DT Ray Agnew subbed for Hamilton and played well against the run. Even DE Bernard Holsey looked good on one play rushing the passer.

Linebackers: OLB Jessie Armstead had a big game picking up 11 tackles and 2 sacks. MLB Corey Widmer sacked Plummer on a blitz and nickel-backer Scott Galyon picked up half a sack. Marcus Buckley was very quiet. As mentioned, the Giants stuffed the Cards’ ground game pretty good and the linebackers must accept much of the credit for this. Moreover, FB Larry Centers and TE Chris Gedney were kept quiet much of the contest. We assume the linebacker drops were so short on many occasions in order to keep an eye on these two, as the linebackers were rarely seen on many of the Cardinal short passes to the wide receivers that picked up first downs — at least we hope that is the case.

Defensive Backs: Terrible. Awful. Pathetic. Yes, Jason Sehorn had a big stat day with 10 tackles, a forced fumble (which he also recovered), four pass break-ups, a half-sack, and a key interception, but many of his tackles came as the result of his man catching the pass. Sehorn was very strong in run defense and made some excellent coverage plays, but that doesn’t offset the fact that Jake Plummer passed for almost 400 yards. His interception was a bad pass from Plummer, not a good play on his part. WR Frank Sanders caught 9 passes for 188 yards and WR Rob Moore caught 8 passes for 139 yards and many of these were to Sehorn’s side. CB Phillippi Sparks also stunk and didn’t make any plays. FS Tito Wooten was out-hustled on a jump ball by Sanders and SS Sam Garnes was invisible. FS Percy Ellsworth dropped an easy interception — on a play where he might have scored. The Giants screwed up royally on Sanders’ 70 yard TD catch on 3rd-and-14. There was a breakdown in coverage and it looks as if CB Conrad Hamilton was at fault (though that cannot be determined for sure). At least Wooten put the Cards away for good with his late interception. Regardless, this unit almost cost the Giants the game. They had better stop reading their press clippings, because the rest of the NFC East is licking its chops in anticipation of throwing at these guys. I don’t see any Pro Bowlers here.

Special Teams: PK Brad Daluiso is very fortunate his missed extra point didn’t affect the outcome of this game — inexcusable. He’s also tempting fate with some of his field goals that are coming darn close to the uprights. P Brad Maynard did an OK job facing the infamous Meadowlands’ wind for the first time. Punt returner Amani Toomer continues to run to the sidelines at first chance. The Giants didn’t return a kick-off all day and that is fine with us. Coverage teams did a good job, with Brandon Sanders sticking out again.

Nov 141997
 

Approach to the Game – Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants, November 16, 1997: Last week’s loss to the Oilers hurts because the Giants no longer have any room for error. If they are going to have any credible shot at winning the NFC East, they must beat the Cardinals on Sunday and move to 4-0 in the all important division race. Key to all future wins will be the play of the defense and special teams because the Giants simply lack the offensive firepower right now to get into a scoring match with most teams. The Cardinals are starting a promising young quarterback, but he is a rookie without the advantage of a strong running game to support him. The Giants’ defense needs to take control of this game and set up the offense for some easy scores. Same story with the special teams.

Giants on Defense: The defense must keep the Cardinals one-dimensional and that means taking away whatever threat their running game poses. The two men on the spot when it comes to playing the running game will be new starters OLB Marcus Buckley on the strongside and DE Cedric Jones on the weakside. The Cardinals are likely to test both and try to play a very physical game. To keep pressure on rookie quarterback Jake Plummer, the Giants need to force the Cardinals into long yardage situations on both second and third down. HB’s Leeland McElroy and LeShon Johnson have had big games in the past when allowed to get untracked — the Giants need to close the door on them. They didn’t do that last week against the Oilers and HB Eddie George. In particular, let’s hope the Giants tackling improves this week. It’s also about time the defense start forcing more fumbles with big hits. Inside, DT Keith Hamilton, though double-teamed, has been far too quiet in the last few games. He needs to regain his fire and make an impact again.

Against the passing game, the cornerbacks must start making more plays. Granted a lot of pressure is being placed on CB’s Phillippi Sparks and Jason Sehorn in the new defensive schemes, but if they ever want to be considered the best in the game, they have to make some game-deciding plays in the Giants favor. WR’s Rob Moore and Frank Sanders are capable targets who can make plays when given an opportunity. It will be Sparks’ and Sehorn’s job to make sure they don’t get that opportunity. Of course the best ally for a cornerback is a good pass rush. Cedric Jones is bound to be more than a little rusty after not playing regularly for two years, but he has the tools to be a much stronger pass rushing presence than Chad Bratzke. Inside, Robert Harris has been very active rushing the passer and let’s hope that continues. Like Hamilton, DE Michael Strahan has slipped a little bit in recent weeks. The Giants need both Strahan and Hamilton to apply CONSISTENT pass pressure on Plummer. If they do, they may cause the rookie to throw into coverage. Disguising the coverages would also help and we hope Defensive Coordinator John Fox makes things difficult for their quarterback by giving him different looks.

Most importantly, the Giants’ defense must control the tone of this game. Force three-and-outs and get the Giants’ offense back on the field with good field position. No mistakes, no let-ups — especially after the Giants score. If the Giants turn the ball over, the defense must not allow the Cardinals to score points off the turnover. Beat the Cardinals into the turf and keep them there until the final whistle blows. The time for talking about how good the defense is has long since passed — prove it on the field.

Giants on Special Teams: This is the other area of the team where the Giants need to outplay their opponent. Create good field position for the Giants’ offense while making the Cardinals work the length of the field. Too many costly mistakes were made in the kick return game last week. Erric Pegram can’t let the ball bounce past him or muff it. That has to stop right now. Pegram doesn’t have a lot of speed so he isn’t going to break any big returns, but if the blockers can make some room for him, he can pick up some decent field position if he runs up the football field. On punt returns, Toomer is starting to even get chewed out by his own teammates for running towards the sideline so much (see Jason Sehorn’s reaction last week). Amani! Run up the damn football field. Remember the result against Detroit? Special teams coverage units can also set a tone for the game by being physical and making big hits. But they must also play smart — no breakdowns in coverage! The Cardinals are a desperate team with little to lose so they may try some trick plays — the Giants need to be alert for this as well. P Brad Maynard has been an improvement over Mike Horan, but he’s not playing as well as he is capable of. His hangtime is fine, but he should be getting better distance and his coffin corner punting has been very inconsistent.

Giants on Offense: To play it conservative or open it up? To rely on the running game or use the passing game to put points on the board? That is the big question. The last time the Giants faced the Cardinals, the Giants literally ran the ball up and down the field on them. That isn’t likely to happen again. The Cardinals just have too many good players on defense with too much pride. Nevertheless, the Giants must run the football. The left side of the Giants’ offensive line is coming off of a sub-par performance and they need to regroup, particularly OG Greg Bishop. LT Roman Oben faces the always dangerous Simeon Rice again and RG Ron Stone may face All-World Eric Swann (who is ailing with a hamstring injury). The running game has been picking up steam in recent weeks because the offensive line is starting to come together in the run game. The biggest beneficiaries of this have been HB Ty Wheatley (who played his best game as a Giant last week) and FB Charles Way (who didn’t receive many opportunities last week). Wheatley is starting to make plays for bigger yardage, but we’re still waiting for the big run where he goes the distance. If we were Head Coach Jim Fassel, we wouldn’t pull Wheatley out of an ongoing drive unless the situation called for it (i.e., 3rd-and-long). Tyrone is the type of back who needs to be allowed to get into a rhythm. The dilemma is that Tiki Barber may be the better back. How to get him involved is a key question. Perhaps, Fassel should give Barber every third offensive series and let him work himself back into the flow of things.

You had better believe the Cardinals are coming into this game with one major defensive goal — stop the run. Look for the Cards to play eight men up in the box and dare the Giants to throw the football. We wouldn’t stay conservative — we would accept the challenge by utilizing the backs and tight ends in the passing game. Despite Chris Calloway’s big play against CB Aeneas Williams the last time these two teams met, Williams is talented enough to shut Chris down. At the same time, while the Cards’ linebackers are good run defenders (especially MLB Eric Hill), they aren’t top-notch in the pass defense department. Thus, on first down we would throw to the backs and tight ends. These are short, safe throws that will help to build Kanell’s rhythm and confidence, and help open things up in the running game. The risk is the turnover, sack, or even incompletion. Kanell is still an inexperienced back and the Cardinals know Fassel’s system. However, we’re not sure the Giants can move the ball without taking some chances.

Fassel sent TE Aaron Pierce down the field last week and we hope this continues. On the other hand, we also hope he stops sending Cross and Pierce on those two yard out patterns that generate nothing. This is a big game for WR Kevin Alexander. He will be facing promising rookie CB Tom Knight, but the Giants need Kevin to win this match-up. It looks like WR Amani Toomer is getting more chances and he needs to deliver when the ball comes his way. He has the physical tools to take charge of a game if he can keep his head on straight, run good routes, adjust when necessary, and make the catch. WR David Patten isn’t getting the job done.

As for Danny Kanell, last week was a learning experience for him. The Oilers threw the book at him by running different coverages and blitzing him a lot. Look for the Cards to follow this game plan. Some of Danny’s decisions were questionable and he must be careful not to force the ball into double-coverage. It will be interesting to see how he performs this week after tasting some failure. This will also be a big game for the backs and linemen picking up the blitz. If they can do so, then the Giants just may hit some big plays on the Cards’ defense.

Nov 121997
 

Defining the West Coast Offense (WCO) is a difficult task. The WCO is not merely a certain type of plays being run, but a total commitment to a different kind of offensive philosophy. Its roots go back to Bill Walsh who really first started to implement this attack when he was an assistant with the Cincinnati Bengals. Walsh later refined his system as head coach of Stanford University and the San Francisco 49ers (hence the catch-phrase “West Coast Offense”). Walsh’s “WCO disciples” now populate many coaching spots throughout the league — men such as Packer Head Coach Mike Holmgren, Viking Head Coach Dennis Green, Bronco Head Coach Mike Shanahan, Eagles Head Coach Ray Rhodes, and of course, Giants Head Coach Jim Fassel.

Traditional NFL dogma says that championships are won by teams who run the ball well and play very good defense. “Passing teams” are not likely to compete successfully at the next level because of the risks inherent in that type of offense. Unquestionably, passing is far riskier than running the ball. Not only is there a greater chance of turnovers, but a passing team runs the great risk of losing the battle for field position. Not to sound cliche, but football basically is a game of field position. A ten yard holding penalty or sack is not only a drive killer, but it costs valuable territory in the field position war. Moreover, incompletions can be just as deadly. An offense facing a 2nd-and-6 or 3rd-and-2 is far less predictable than one facing a 2nd-and-10 or 3rd-and-7. Most traditionalists thus argue that the key to offensive success is to run the football and stay out of those predictable situations and, at the same time, don’t lose the game of field position. They also argue that strong rushing attacks are not vulnerable like passing attacks to changes in weather conditions. This is the heart of the offensive philosophy that former Giants’ coaches such as Bill Parcells and Dan Reeves subscribe to.

However, to implement such a traditional strategy and win a championship, a team must be fortunate enough to put together a dominant offensive line (like the one the Cowboys assembled in the early 90’s), have an outstanding running back, and play great defense. Most teams are not that fortunate. Average NFL rushing attacks can be stopped by good defenses. Teams without more sophisticated passing attacks are too one-dimensional unless they are truly dominant in the ground game. In addition, without an outstanding defense, this type of offensive philosophy rarely succeeds at the next level because it cannot generate enough points on the scoreboard.

Bill Walsh said that there is another option. Traditional passing attacks focus more on getting the ball to the wide receivers down the field — to vertically stretch the field. This is the style of attack that the Oakland Raiders became famous for in the 1970’s. Walsh’s approach — the West Coast Offense — says there are other ways to attack a defense through the air that are far less risky than the traditional passing game. This approach is less risky BECAUSE it is less likely to cause turnovers, lose the time of possession battle (from three-and-out series), and lose the field position battle (from sacks and holding penalties) than a traditional passing offense. Walsh’s attack:

  • Stretches a defense horizontally as well as vertically. A vertical passing attack stretches a defense down the field and attempts to expose deep coverage (the cornerbacks and safeties). A horizontal passing attack stretches the field from sideline-to-sideline and attempts to expose the underneath coverage (the linebackers and sometimes the strong safety). This is done primarily by using the running backs and tight ends in the passing offense. In the WCO, the running back and tight end position is not an afterthought. In the WCO, the running back and tight end are FEATURED receivers. Passes to running backs and tight ends are usually short, safe, quick throws for the quarterback. They are designed to take advantage of linebackers who in many cases are not strong in coverage. Now many NFL offenses pass to running backs and tight ends, but how many FEATURE the running back or tight end? An easy clue to find out if you are looking at a WCO is to look at the reception leaders for a ball club in terms of position. Are the running backs near the top of the list? The combination of a vertical and horizontal attack spreads the field out and makes defense difficult.
  • Attempts to create mismatches or confusion on the defense. This can be done in a number of ways. First, a team can vary its offensive formation and present the defense with a wide variety of looks: 4 WR sets, 3 WR sets, 2 TE sets, etc. Secondly, an offense can attack a defense with more receivers than it is prepared to cover. A defense may not be ready for a pass to a halfback or fullback in certain situations, for instance. In the 2-WR, 2-RB, 1-TE base set, any of these five players can be THE PRIMARY receiver at any given time. Third, by using motion, an offense can force a defense to change in ways it doesn’t want to. For example, by putting a wide receiver in motion, a team can force a strong safety to cover rather than play the run and force a free safety to play the run rather than cover. By moving a running back out wide, a team can force a strong run defending linebacker away from the line of scrimmage. Varying formation and using motion can also isolate a particular defensive player on an offensive player. Do you remember the 1986 Giants-49ers playoff game and the play where WR Jerry Rice was running for a touchdown but fumbled the ball? How did Rice get so open on the play? Well, the 49ers used motion and formation to force the Giants to cover Rice with FS Herb Welch. That was clearly a mismatch and confused the defense.
  • Throws the football on any down or distance. Passing becomes much easier when teams expect you to run in a certain situation. Play-action pass on 2nd-and-short can be deadly. This is how the Giants beat the Lions in overtime this year. On paper, running seems like the safer bet in this situation, but if the defense is loaded up to stop the run, a game winning play can result.
  • Keeps possession of the ball by using the short and intermediate pass just like a team would do so by running the ball. Ball control offense can be obtained by passing the ball as well as running it. Again, short passes to the backs and tight ends are key. Intermediate passes to receivers are also important. Varying formations and routes help to confuse the defense. Shallow crossing routes, slants, and quick outs are common receiver routes in the WCO. So are screen and swing passes to the running backs.
  • Attempts to maximize personnel strengths and minimize personnel weaknesses. Regardless of position, the best offensive weapon on the team often becomes the centerpiece of the offense. In SF, it is has been WR Jerry Rice, in Philadelphia, it is RB Ricky Watters, in Denver, it is TE Shannon Sharpe, in AZ under Jim Fassel, it was FB Larry Centers. On the Giants, Fassel had envisioned Hilliard and Barber, but injuries to those players has had him using Charles Way.

By doing all of these things, a passing attack become multidimensional and is therefore difficult to defend. By spreading out and confusing the defense, running the football also becomes much easier. Throwing short to running backs and tight ends may not at first result in big yardage, but by forcing a defense to play back on its heels and to react to what you are doing on offense, big gains will result from breakdowns in coverage and poor tackling.

Tempo and timing are very much part of the WCO. Since an offense wants to dictate to a defense, rather than the other way around, an offensive team can disrupt and confuse its opponent by working at a faster tempo. Call the play, get to the line of scrimmage quickly, snap the ball quickly, hurry back to the huddle. Don’t allow the defense time enough to think or catch its breath. Eventually you will see elements of the no-huddle in the Giants’ playbook.

Timing is vitally important. Since the WCO attempts to be a low-risk offense, the quarterback is most often called upon to get rid of the ball quickly so sacks and holding penalties don’t result. It is not unusual to see the quarterback take a quick 3-step drop and fire the football. The quarterback and the receivers must have their timing down. If the quarterback isn’t ready to throw or the receiver isn’t ready to catch at the proper moment, the play may break down. The system is very cerebral. Not just for the quarterback, but for everyone on offense. There are pre-and post-snap reads for everyone to make, including the wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends. Solid pass protection is a must, though once the system is in place and working well, the quickness of the offense generally works to the advantage of the offensive linemen who, don’t have to hold blocks as long, and not always in obvious passing or obvious running situations.

The nice thing about the offense however is that (1) on any given pass play, a quarterback will have a variety of options, especially on the side of the field that the play is designed to go, and (2) because of this, a receiver is usually open. For example, on a pass play to the strongside, the flanker may be called to run deep down the field, the tight end may be called to run an intermediate out route, and the fullback may be called to run a swing pass. If the flanker and tight end are covered, the quarterback should be able to dump the ball off to the back. Do you wonder why the Giants sometimes pass to a back who isn’t past the first down marker on a 3rd down play? This is why. The other options are covered. Remember, football is a game of field position. At worst, the back picks up a few yards and the Giants punt. There is no incompletion, no sack, no interception. Positive yards are gained in the field position war (remember this is the same strategy a traditional running attack tries to accomplish). At best, the back breaks a tackle and picks up the first down. Don’t force the issue, don’t make mistakes. This is supposed to be a low risk offense. A complimentary benefit is that completions will raise a quarterback’s confidence level.

Because all five receivers (flanker, split end, halfback, fullback, tight end) are involved in the offense, a defense is less likely to be able to concentrate on any one threat. By utilizing the backs in pass patterns, the Giants can help prevent the undercoverage (linebackers and strong safety) from helping out on the flanker and split end. Using our example in the paragraph above, such a play not only stretches the offense vertically (the route of the flanker), but forces the undercoverage to focus on the tight end and fullback. Remember, this play is going to the right. Say furthermore, that the situation is 2nd-and-4 and the Giants pull their guards to the left and QB Danny Kanell fakes a hand-off to HB Tyrone Wheatley who is also running left. Defenders, especially linebackers, are often taught to follow the guards. If the strongside linebacker AND/OR the strong safety bite on the play-action, an easy completion should result to the fullback or tight end. At the same time, what if the play wasn’t a fake and Kanell did hand off to Wheatley? The linebacker and safety may hesitate to come up and help defend the run (knowing that they are facing a WCO). See how difficult the WCO can be to defend?

In a WCO, a

  • quarterback must be a poised leader who manages a team well. He should be accurate and be able to throw all the different types of passes. He needs to quickly read defenses and get rid of the ball quickly. Because of the deception involved in the WCO, a good ball handler is a big plus. Most importantly, a quarterback’s teammates must believe in him.
  • wide receivers must be good (precise) route runners. They need to be able to read defenses and adjust their routes during the play based on the coverage as it develops. They should have good hands, be quick in and out of their cuts (to separate from defenders), and be good runners after the catch (the WCO depends on yards after the catch).
  • tight ends must be able to read defenses, get open, and make the clutch catch over the middle of the defense. Getting off the line of scrimmage quickly is critical.
  • running backs must be good receivers, have good hands and be able to pick up the blitz. Elusiveness is also a big plus since the running back will be able to pick up big yardage after the catch if he can make one or two defenders miss.

All these players must be performers who make plays in key situations. They must be bright, competitive, hard working, and confident. These intangibles are difficult to measure, but they are often far more important to the success of the offensive football team than pure athletic ability. Key building blocks of Walsh’s offense: Joe Montana, Dwight Clark, and Jerry Rice, were NOT best available athlete-types. Montana was an averaged-sized guy with an average arm strength. Rice and Clark did not time well, but had what Walsh called great 30-60 yard speed and tremendous football smarts. Neither guy could break a 4.4 forty, but they knew how to create separation, get open, and once they saw daylight, they were seldom caught from behind. The Giants hope they have such a WR in Ike Hilliard.

When the various parts are all in place and healthy, the WCO operates like a well-oiled machine and the offense is virtually impossible to defend. Nevertheless, a team still needs a solid offensive line and running game. Jim Fassel has said that he intends to keep the Giants’ power running game and augment it with the WCO. There will be some limitations in doing so. For one, the Giants’ offensive linemen aren’t very mobile. Running sweeps and screens may prove difficult. But recent 49er history has proven that a team without a solid offensive line and running game will not be able to implement the WCO very effectively.

Because the system is so complicated and the options virtually limitless, it will take a few years for the Giant players to completely understand the system. Eventually, it will become second nature and new Giants will be weaned on it soon after they are drafted or signed. The WCO is constantly evolving as well as defenses in the league try to disrupt or defeat the system. Regardless, Giant fans should get ready for some truly exciting offensive football.

Sources/Recommended Reading:

  • Football’s West Coast Offense. Frank Henderson and Mel Olson. 1997. ISBN 0-88011-662-5.

  • Building a Champion. Bill Walsh and Glenn Dickey. 1992. ISBN 0-31292-579-4.
Nov 121997
 
Tennessee Oilers 10 – New York Giants 6

Overview: The rested Giants came prepared and fought tough, but met a hard-nosed gritty team ready to slug it out for all four quarters. The hitting was intense. Several injuries resulted on both sides. Various Giants were battered and bruised, and worse Bratzke was lost for the season with torn ligaments while Miller will be out indefinitely because of a severely sprained ankle. On the other side, at least 4 to 5 Oilers left the field with minor injuries sustained from collisions. Both teams Quarterbacks and lead runners played hard and received their share of punishing hits. The difference turned out to be Tennessee’s ability to put together one sustained drive and punch the ball into the endzone. Conversely, the Giants did not put together enough plays to see a drive to a successful conclusion. Penalties once again proved an obstacle. A couple of false starts, combined with a delay of game and an illegal use of hands helped stall New York drives. The flag that really hurt though, was the one thrown for a facemask. The infraction occurred after a pass interference caused an interception. The offsetting penalties nullified a first down from the one-yard line.

The lack of homefield meant the Giants were not going to get many calls, and they didn’t. The refs seemed to overlook the liberal use of hands by the Oiler O-line on a few occasions. However, that is life on the road in the NFL, against improving or good teams. The Giants must be accountable for not putting any TD’s on the board and taking unnecessary penalties. The offense was not threatening enough and didn’t get the job done even though the effort was there. Much of the credit goes to the Oilers who grinded out points when the opportunity arose in the first half. Their moose-like offensive line was determined and physical. Their defense attacked the entire game and came up big to end drives. That assessment obviously includes the interception in the final series to thwart the last comeback attempt, sealing the game. The Oilers earned this victory. They are now a 500 team with a brighter than 500 future.

Offense: Not enough weapons to keep the Oilers from blitzing often and pounding the men in Blue consistently. The Giants never put together a complete drive. They showed glimpses and gained yards in chunks as the game wore on, but could never bring their efforts to fruition. Some penalties, some drops, some missed blocks and some misfires broke up any momentum the offense managed to generate. The Oiler D made no mental mistakes in their implementation of a very aggressive gameplan and never let the Giants get behind them in the passing game. The Giant’s didn’t light anybody up and the Oiler defense deserves credit for playing situationally perfect. The offense saw a bit of the old 46 defense and was unable to expose it’s true vulnerabilities. Although there were some nice successes on the run, the Giants did not force the DB’s to play the medium to deep passes, thus closing in the field on them.

QB: No longer can anyone say Kanell hasn’t taken a pounding. Danny stood up to the pressure admirably, unfortunately his performance didn’t match his fortitude. Kanell was sacked three times and hurried on numerous passes. His stats of 15 of 28 for 133 yards fairly represents the kind of game he had. Most air yardage was either hard-fought up the middle or gained on short passes and dump-offs. Long strikes were shutdown by an effective rush and good coverage. On one long throw off a flea flicker, just after the George fumble, Bishop was called for a facemask which offset the pass interference call in the endzone. A few plays later in Oiler territory, Kanell missed an open Kevin Alexander and the Giants punted again. On the following series Alexander returned the favor dropping a first down pass and the Giants punted again. Danny later placed what could have been touchdown passes to both Alexander and Toomer, who successively dropped catchable TD’s. Kanell also managed to make some key throws to Calloway for a few first downs, but no more than field goals could be mustered. Unfortunately Kanell threw one too many short or behind the receiver. The last one was not only underthrown but hung enough for the safety to make a read, cross the field and end the game with an interception. Kanell must bear the responsibility of a critical mistake made unnecessarily on first down.

RB: Tyrone Wheatley was back in form, running for 94 yards on 13 carries, including a run for over 30 yards. Again the Giants couldn’t convert the opportunity in 7 points. Ty took some hits and seemed to ask for a breather after his long run. If the Giants had run more plays overall they might have been able to get Ty more carries. The other backs certainly didn’t get his share. Tiki only had two carries, Pegram one and Way finished with four. The Giants need to run more than twenty times to win in most cases. It’s obvious the Oilers frequent 3rd down conversions (7 of 14), created a 12 minute time-of-possession advantage, resulting in too few touches for the Giant offense. Way was relegated to lead blocking duties and was unable to accumulate any meaningful yardage on his few touches. His blocking was solid. The backs did not break anything from the passes over the center or in the flat.

WR: Calloway again was determined, rugged and clutch. He had four nice grabs, all over the middle. His routes were tight and always for the necessary yardage. He took a number of hard blows and held onto to everything except one impossible catch in which he was pummeled. Calloway also dished some out, blocking for Wheatley on a few runs. The rest of the receivers did not perform as well, and as a group they did not cause any problems for the Oiler secondary. Toomer and Alexander each failed to make the clutch catch in the endzone. Patten did not get open in his limited chances. No one really got behind the corners. Amani did make a clutch play on fourth down to continue the comeback drive, but immediately gave it all back when Kanell floated a long sideline pass short and Toomer failed to play defensive back and knockdown the leather. Pierce caught one over the top pass and quickly rumbled for 14 yards. Otherwise the TE’s were quiet.

OL: There were really not many breakdowns due to scheme, as the blitz was handled admirably. Bishop, Oben, Stone and Gragg exhibited several strong run blocks. Oben was very impressive in his footwork and positioning on a few running plays, as he totally neutralized his man. The problems really occurred on some one-on-one plays where guys just got beat by their opponent. Holmes showed some great rushes when he man-handled Bishop twice to get two sacks. Oben was beat diving at the legs of his man resulting in a sack. Bishop and Scott also had a tough time with the straight rush, which caused a few hurries and knockdowns of Kanell. Overall, the play was sometimes good other times bad; end result was inconsistent.

Defense: McNair will be the cause of a lot of concern around the AFC. The defense was not able to contain him to the necessary extent as he continuously rolled out of the pocket to buy time and find a open receiver. Many of these came on third and long, helping the Oilers to a 50% third down conversion rating for the game. The lanes were not closed well-enough either as he ran for over 33 yards in some key situations. Overall the defense played well if you look at the score, but not quite as well if you consider that they only forced two punts, did not give the offense a lot of touches, nor did they help win the field position battle.

DL: The defensive line had their hands full with a talented and physical Oiler line. The Giants shifted some to try and line-up in the gaps, but they were still stuck with some tough mano-a-mano matchups. Robert Harris was particularly effective and created the most penetration. Hamilton however, had his least effective game of the year. In fact, Hopkins, Matthews and Stepnoski really got the better of most of the Giant lineman. Strahan played tough and hard, getting some pressure on McNair, but he easily escaped too often to uncovered areas of the backfield. Agnew helped the Giants rest Harris and Hamilton each for one series. He did OK. Chad was hurt (out for the season) and was replaced by Jones who fared OK. Jones will have his chance now to prove his worth, as he is the starter for the remainder of the year.

LB: Eddie George and the Oilers were determined to run on the Giants and it showed. They worked hard and got their blockers to engage the linebackers frequently. Miller was hurt and replaced by Marcus Buckley (Ryan Phillips was inactive) who is not a strongside player. He did not do poorly, but it is tough to take on the tackle or tight end with his size and style. George rumbled into the Giant secondary too often, sometimes because the tackles were just not made after contact. Armstead looked good in pursuit but did not dominate completely. He also managed to bounce George wide on the touchdown run, but Widmer missed his assignment and didn’t get to the outside. Widmer played well on most plays. He came through with a nice interception, held George so Tito could recover a fumble and helped Armstead stop two 3rd and ones, yet he was taken out of too many plays because he was either too slow off the snap, slow to read the run direction or he did not shed his block. Galyon was fine in his limited time. This group must play the lanes better and be quicker against a power running attack. Especially when the opposition has guys who are able to cut back.

DB: The secondary was average at best. Sparks was burned on a number of occasions (one he got away with) and Sehorn was also burned once or twice early on. To be fair, aside from one play, Sehorn was pretty tight on his man and was victimized by several good catches by Sanders. Sparks should have done better against mediocre receivers. Garnes played up on the run for most of the game and made a few tackles, as did Wooten. Tito was also very alert in picking up the fumble by George. The coverages were good, but McNair bought enough time by scrambling and rolling that the passing game could not be shutdown. The unit improved as the game wore on. Conrad Hamilton was excellent covering the slants and quick routes.

Specials: Pegram scares no one on kick returns and also misplayed one pinning the Giants in on their own seven. Amani didn’t do much on punts. Maynard’s kicks were inconsistent and his coffin corners were angled out of bounds way to early. He may have overcompensated because Gray is a top return man. Brad Daluiso was the one really bright spot of the game. His confidence is back. He kicked field goals of 42 and 40, the second one he had to make twice because of a illegal hands to the face penalty.

Coaching: Fassel can not receive many accolades for the job done in Tennessee. He questioned himself as well, stating that he should have gotten the ball more to Tiki and Way. He said their preparation involved a lot of lead blocking by Way, which might have obscured him from using Way as a weapon more. Jim did not want to take the play away from the players, so his gameplan was more conservative than usual, with the exception of the flea-flicker. The Giants must still cut down on the penalties and the coach must bear some responsibility for this. It was not for a lack of effort though, since he did have refs attend practice during the bye-week to bring attention to the penalties. He did have the Giants fired-up and ready to slug it out, and they did. Unfortunately the Oilers were not laying down and the Giants did not do anything to prevent the Oilers from sitting on it’s lead. Jim ended his radio show calling next week’s game against the Cards a “must win”. He quickly amended his statement to “we are not in the playoffs if we win and we are not out if we lose but this is a critical game for us. Look for some variations in the gameplan next week.

Nov 071997
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Tennessee Oilers, November 9, 1997: The New York Giants are about to play their most important stretch of football games since the Fall of 1993. Playoff caliber teams must play their best football in the months of November and December. The Giants lead the NFC East at 6-3, but it is an uneasy 6-3 due to question marks that remain on offense. Will Danny Kanell continue to improve at quarterback? Can the Giants find a consistent threat at halfback? Do the receivers have the ability to make plays against good cornerbacks? Where is the tight end? The Tennessee Oilers, despite their record, are a very talented team. They are well coached on defense and have an excellent offensive line and some outstanding young talent at the skill positions on offense. It will be interesting to see if the Giants can maintain their positive momentum after the bye week. Regardless, it is important to cut down the number of penalties and fix some of the problems on special teams.

Giants on Defense: The Oilers can score points. The heart of their offensive team is a big, powerful back in Eddie George running behind a veteran and talented offensive line. To make matters worse, QB Steve McNair can hurt teams with throwing or running ability. In fact, he has more yards on the ground than any Giant running back. The basic strategy must to be shut down George first and foremost. The Giants’ defensive line and linebackers must play stout this week. This will be a big week for DT Robert Harris, DT Keith Hamilton, and MLB Corey Widmer. These three must jam things up in the middle of the line. Outside, Corey Miller must do a better job in containment. The Oilers may also try to take advantage of OLB Jessie Armstead’s and DE Chad Bratzke’s lack of size on the weakside. Run support from the defensive backs will be important too. Guys like FS Tito Wooten and CB Jason Sehorn had better remember to wrap up or George will embarrass them.

In the passing game, the Giants’ pass rush will be hurt by the fact that the defensive line will have to maintain disciplined rush lanes because of McNair’s scrambling ability. Nevertheless, the down four had better play this game with more urgency and aggressiveness than they did against the Bengals or this game could get ugly. On passing downs, it may pay off to keep a spy on McNair. Perhaps somebody like nickel backer Scott Galyon would be a good choice. So would Jessie Armstead, but the Giants might not want to take away their best underneath coverage guy, particularly with TE Frank Wycheck being a productive security blanket for McNair. If the Giants can do a good job on George and Wycheck, and keep McNair from scrambling for too much yardage, the Giants should be in good shape.

Because the Giants will be playing the run, it is critically important for the secondary to play well. A lot of pressure will probably be placed on the shoulders of the cornerbacks to shut down the Oiler wide receivers one-on-one. Because McNair is still learning the game, the Giants will most likely disguise their coverages and try to confuse him. One thing we’d like to see more of is forced turnovers — this would help the Giants’ offense play with a shorter field.

Giants on Special Teams: We normally do our write-up on specials last, but this often ignored aspect of the team almost cost the Giants dearly last week. New York simply must get their kick coverage team in order. We get the impression that the coverage team lets up with Daluiso kicking the ball. Opposing teams are showing so much disrespect for the coverage team that they are now running the ball deep out of the end zone and STILL picking up good yardage. This has got to stop. To make matters worse, the Giants face one of the top returners in NFL history this week: Mel Gray. Coverage men need to maintain their lanes, fight off blocks quickly, and make sure, crisp tackles. P Brad Maynard had his best game as a Giant last week and hopefully his impressive punting will continue. Because he gets so much hangtime on his punts, punt coverage has not been a big problem thus far. Erric Pegram did a much better job of returning kicks last week, but he’s not really going to burn most teams because of his lack of speed and quickness.

Giants on Offense: The Oilers, like the Giants, will attempt to stop the running game first and foremost. If Head Coach Jim Fassel really wants to cross the Oilers up, he should pass on first and second down in order to open up the running game. Jeff Fisher is a proponent of the type of aggressive defense that Buddy Ryan used to run. The best way to beat this defense is to pass to the running backs (especially screens), pass quickly to the receivers on slants, run draws, and run quick hitters inside. Fassel said he will run his halfbacks by committee, but we think this game is best for someone like Tiki Barber because of his quick feet and elusiveness on screens and draws. Nevertheless, if Fassel plays his running backs as he has publicly stated he would, look for Tyrone Wheatley in the two-back set, Barber in the 3-WR set, and Way in the 2-TE set. Wheatley has had two disappointing outings in a row. We know he is hurting, but he needs to run more instinctively and not be brought down so easily. For his part, Barber must hold onto the ball.

Up front, the offensive line continues to improve but they will face a tougher test than they did last week. The Oilers aren’t very big up front, but they are quick and aggressive. If the line can control these two aspects of their game, our power running may wear them down some. Every lineman and the running backs must be aware of potential blitzers as Fisher likes to bring it. The line also needs to cut down on foolish penalties that have killed too many drives this year.

Huge questions still remain with the Giants’ passing game. Will Danny Kanell continue to improve or will he regress as defensive coordinators get a better feel for him? Kanell is a poised leader, but winning has helped to deflect some serious holes in his game. His accuracy has not been impressive and the strength of his arm is still in doubt. Kevin Alexander had a big week last week, but can he continue to be productive or was last week a fluke? Chris Calloway is painfully slow, but he does make plays. To take some pressure off these guys, it would be nice for the tight end to make some plays DOWN the field. Amani Toomer has been seeing more playing time and we hope this continues. But to do so, he must improve his route running and pre/post-snap reads of the coverage. He is the kind of guy you want running slant patterns, however.