New York Giants 34 – San Diego Chargers 16
Overview: The long trip west has not been very profitable in recent years. However, this may have been the best timed road game in sometime. While the city and team of San Diego was distracted with the Ryan Leaf story, the Giant were able to get-away from the scrutiny of two straight losses and concentrate on the “meat and potatoes”, as Fassel put it afterwards. The short work week and simple gameplan also focused the team on important basics like execution, pass protection and fewer mistakes. Fassel and staff did an excellent job of preparation. They communicated to the players a methodical plan on how the offense was going to run. The spotlight was on the offensive as he requested less mistakes and examined team execution. The pressure was put on the O-line to perform but he gave them confidence and balanced that with help from the Tight-ends. The next move on offense was to eliminate the 4 wide-out set and focus on their best and seasoned receivers getting open downfield as opposed to trying a bunch of screen derivatives. Also implemented was the change-of-tempo offense (not to be confused with the no-huddle) which crossed-up the Charger D significantly. At the point in the game when the Giants sped-up the tempo, Fassel exhibited patience with Kanell and was determined to make the passing game work. Most impressively Fassel had a road map on precisely how the backs would be used Sunday. Specifically, he stated to his players that Tiki would be used the first two series and then a motivated Brown would enter for the majority of sequences, while Tiki moved to 3rd down duties. The plan also included more work for Wheatley, but Fassel mentioned after the game that Ty got banged up on specials early, thus he did not want to take a chance. The strategy was well conceived since Jim knew Brown would be pumped and thought he’d be effective sitting out the first couple of series knowing he’d play soon. Next week Jim try the same thing with Wheatley.
The “relaxed” focus paid-off as the Giants went without being penalized until late in the first half. Turnovers and other mistakes were minimized as the Giants let the Chargers put themselves in mistake-prone situations. The game’s beginning was uninspiring as both teams could not gain momentum until Ike Hilliard caught a 3rd down pass well short of the marker, yet proceeded to break a seemingly certain tackle to sprint for the first down. This was a turning point for the Giants who had previously failed to get first downs on other short completions. The series became a controlled drive as the Giants began setting-up quickly. A quick 15 yarder to Calloway (CC), another 5 for Way and then the O surprised the Chargers with a change in tempo. Caught off-guard, a timeout was called. Kanell missed Ike on the next play, but CC caught another that was barely enough for a first down. Just when it looked like Danny was getting a rhythm he overthrew an open Hilliard again, but this would be the last of his inconsistent play. Solid pass-protection persisted as Kanell found Ike for 20 on another big catch. Brown came in plunging for 3 and then 4 yards on a misdirection play into the endzone. The two final runs were good calls accompanied by excellent blocks from Bishop and Oben, even though the announcers credited Scott with the key block. The defense took the field for a third time and continued to pressure Leaf. The two previous possessions led to punts. This time the pressure resulted in an interception by Gray after Hamilton and S. Williams converged on Leaf. Quickly, Kanell countered by throwing a TD strike to CC and the Giants were on their way. With the lead and very few mistakes the Giants never lost their grip.
QB: Kanell (17 of 33, 208 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) started slow but gained confidence throughout the first half. Danny was off target often, early, missing open receivers. Yet, he appeared poised and his play grew sharper as the day wore on. He became downright effective. With the lead, Danny was careful not to force anything even as the Giants were frequently throwing down-field. Hard to say if his one INT was a blown play or his fault, not withstanding he protected the lead well without being too conservative.
OL: Much better then last week and it showed immediately. The group gave Kanell plenty of time. Unlike Monday night, he was protected from the blitz (especially from the inside) very well. Zero sacks. The line did a credible job run blocking against a strong run defense. Nothing spectacular but at least the team broke the 100 yd mark for the first time this year. Bishop looked especially good all day and Stone and Gragg were solid. Oben was very strong on some key plays but took two bad penalties, which were the only flags on the line. Surprisingly Engler shared time with Scott. Both played pretty well although they don’t seem to get as much push as I’d like in the ground game and can be exploited on slow developing plays.
WR: One word: CRISP. The Giants trimmed down their attack, concentrating on letting Ike and CC beat the D-Back’s straight-up. Not much trickery, just hard and precise route running. A tremendous workman-like effort by both, as the Giants shelved the 4 WR set on passing downs in favor of a blocking TE. This alignment provided for a stellar performance with Ike grabbing 5 for 72 (he could have had more) and CC clutching 6 for 94 yards while also seen making two key blocks. It is becoming evident that Hilliard is one awesome football player and that Calloway might be the most quietly productive WR in the NFC. Toomer, used as the #3 wide-out, performed very well catching a big third-down pass up the middle to advance a drive and also dishing out a nice block. The 3 WR’s overall played tough and were not shy about hitting and going over the middle.
TE: Saving the passing plays to Cross for another week, this unit was simply used as if they were additional lineman, as the WR’s took on the secondary by themselves. The strategy worked. Cross blocked well.
RB: Nothing flashy at all, yet there were some well conceived runs at key points, made by Brown and Way. Brown carried most of the load gaining 66 yards on 20 runs. Tiki was not effective, getting caught behind the line of scrimmage twice. The Giants did their best running between the tackles, spearheaded by good games from the guards. Wheatley ran exceptionally hard (and smart, staying in-bounds) on the last series with the game in the bag. This bodes well. He seems to be really laying it all out on the field and I’d like him to receive more time in the coming games.
DL: The DL’s performance might go very underrated unless one watched closely. The effort was even more impressive considering that the LB’s were quiet and the DL was primarily responsible for much of the strong play against the run. There was very little help from the blitz as Fox only went with it twice. The safety blitz from Williams who just missed but may have hurried Leaf into the INT and a decent corner blitz later. Strahan was a minor terror in the first half, beating his man consistently even though he did not register as many tackles as he could have. Strahan also provided nice run support when the Chargers ran to the opposite side with some great lateral pursuit. Chad got some pressure in early and helped create Strahan’s first sack. He was top-notch in clogging the running lanes and quickly closed to the gaps. The entire line was extremely strong against the run, only allowing one long scamper by Natrone Means. On the inside, C. Peter started in place of an injured Harris and played well for his first start. Together, he and Hamilton deflected 4 passes, which might have gone unnoticed had not one of Keith’s deflections end up in the hands of Percy Ellsworth. By the third series Leaf began to lose some poise, distracted from the penetration of the line. Hamilton was dominant at times and factored into Gray’s interception as well. Jones and Holsey entered the game late for a tiring Strahan and Peter. Cedric exploded on his first play sacking Craig Whelihan (who replaced an ineffective Leaf) for a 15-yard loss. Jones made another excellent play shortly afterward and may yet provide some quality depth to this already strong unit.
LB: First the good. Ryan Phillips is getting respectable on the strong-side. Now the not so good. Buckley did not play. Galyon did not play either and was missed in the second half. Widmer was rotated out on most passing downs and did not make much of an impact. As for Armstead, he was a shadow of himself, again. He was absent from pursuit and continues to be hampered by his injury. Give him credit for being a gamer and wanting to go all game due to the other injuries, but the Giants really need to start thinking about resting him until he is more fully recovered. His play has been extremely limited.
DB: The defensive backfield came up big throughout and made a huge impact in the turnover department. Carlton Gray was the nickel and played enough, one would have thought he started. Gray provided tight coverage and made a very nice pick (the first of 4 interceptions) as safety S. Williams and Keith Hamilton closed-in to crush Leaf. Carlton shows good technique in coverage. Sparks was fine on his corner, also grabbing one interception. Sparks and Garnes did get beat by Charlie Jones, who got behind both, for a 40 yard TD. However, outside of C. Jones’ TD, only TE Freddie Jones was able to get free a couple of times, the rest were shutdown. Hamilton was picked at early, but he held tough and tightened the coverage as the game progressed. Conrad stays close to his man, runs and tackles well and was involved in numerous plays on the field. Combined the corners totaled 17 tackles, Hamilton had seven.
At safety, Williams looked good on the blitz, and defended one screen pass beautifully, with some nice assistance from Percy. Garnes play was quiet and misplayed the Jones TD. The real story at safety however, was Percy Ellsworth. As Percy stated in the locker room, “I just want people around the league to notice I’m no backup”. He did say, Tito beat him out in camp 3 years in a row so he hasn’t earned the starter’s position here, but me thinks… doth protest too much. Based on this year’s camp, I’m not so sure, nor should Percy be sure. Ellsworth is clearly the best safety against the pass that the Giants have had, in many years. His alert and opportunistic play was illustrated on his first interception on the deflection. He returned that one 20 yards, it resulted in seven points. His second pick was a thing of beauty as he “hid behind some pick people, watched the QB’s eyes and then took-off toward where the ball was going”. Once he snatched the football he returned it twenty plus yards for the score. His instinctiveness in pass defense is constantly reasserting itself. He read a few other plays Sunday, impeccably. Percy needs to be on the field all the time.
Special Teams: No TV highlights here, yet the performance on all special teams was close to flawless. Sure there were no game breaking plays but perfect execution made Sunday’s efforts on specials about as good as anyone could ask for. Finally the coverage teams did not give up any long returns. Of course a lot of help was provided by the kickers. Daluiso put 5 balls OUT of the endzone, nailed all extra points and two short field goals. Maynard was extraordinary, averaging close to 50 yards per punt while placing 3 inside the 20. He made the Chargers regret accepting an illegal man down field penalty by crushing the re kick for about 70 yards. Aside from that incident there were no penalties either. It is nice to see Toomer running hard and direct on returns. Patten made a super play beating his man and making a sweet tackle on one punt. Simply, if the Giants can continue on this path and prevent special teams debacles like the ones against Dallas and Oakland, they will win more games.