New York Giants 34 – Arizona Cardinals 7
by FP in VA
Overview: Whenever the Giants are in need of life, it’s a good thing if the Cardinals are next on the schedule. Arizona came into the game at .500, in second place, and looking to get over the hump. With a defensive line stocked by first-round draft choices, and QB Jake Plummer leading an offense with some weapons, the Cardinals were looking to make a statement. Instead the Giants made a statement. Much-maligned QB Danny Kanell thoroughly out-played Plummer, having the best game of his young career, while the Giants dominated both lines of scrimmage. The Giants much-abused offensive line gave Kanell plenty of time to throw, even in the face of numerous blitzes, and drove the Cardinals’ vaunted DL off the line for Gary Brown’s 100-yard effort. The Giants defensive line showed the Cardinals how a great defensive line PLAYS, rather than just looking great on paper. The Giants DL received help from the banged-up secondary, which still managed to cover the Cardinals’ talented receiving corps.
The win, combined with the Cowboys’ surprising loss to the lowly Bears, leaves the Giants still alive, a mere one game out of first place. The Giants will have a bye, and come out of the bye with a visit to the laughingstock Washington Deadskins. The Giants will have a chance to finish the first half of the season at 4-4. With the recent play of the Packers (losing two straight) and 49’ers (Needing black-striped gifts to beat the Colts in Frisco), the second half of the season looks slightly less imposing.
Quarterback: Danny Kanell clearly played the best game of his NFL career, completing 22 of 36 passes for 259 yards, 3 TDs, and 0 interceptions. Kanell was sacked just once. The yardage and TD totals were career highs for Kanell. Kanell was sharp from the beginning, even though the Giants had to punt on their first series. He threw a screen pass to Charles Way that would have gained yardage had Jimmy Hoffa not reached up from his grave to trip Way, then executed a perfect play-action bomb that the normally-reliable Chris Calloway allowed to slip through his arms. Calloway clearly beat the cornerback and had two steps. Kanell lofted a perfect pass to Calloway that should have gone for a touchdown. On the next play, Arizona had its only sack as Kanell folded in the face of a blitz.
The next two drives saw the Giants drive 66 yards and 79 yards on 11 plays each. Those drives were the Giants’ two longest drives of the season in terms of time of possession. Kanell hit a number of receivers on the drive, including Howard Cross, and a short out to Chris Calloway on an audible when Kanell recognized that Calloway was uncovered. Kanell capped the first drive with a one-yard pass to Charles Way on fourth and goal. The second drive was aided by two questionable calls by the officials, including pass interference on Aeneas Williams on 3rd-and-goal from the 8 that gave the Giants a first-and-goal from the one. Nevertheless, Kanell was sharp on the drives, spreading the ball around the field and benefiting from good yards-after-catch. He was able to find his receivers and deliver accurate passes due to good blocking from the offensive line.
After a couple of bad series’ including a terrible flare pass to Gary Brown, a dropped pass by Tiki Barber, and a missed 34-yard field goal by Brad Daluiso, Kanell engineered a pretty field goal drive in the last 1:02 of the half. First he hit David Patten on a sideline pattern that Patten turned into a 13-yard gain. Then he dumped the ball to Barber for a gain of six, and on second down hit Ike Hilliard for 11 yards and a first down at the Arizona 49. After a time out, he hit Patten for a 13-yard gain, and Patten got out of bounds. On first down, Kanell dumped the ball to Tiki, who rumbled for a 27-yard gain to the Arizona 9 yard line. Daluiso hit a 27-yard field goal at the end of the half for a 17-7 Giants lead.
Kanell was 15 for 24 in the first half for 163 yards and one TD. He was not done, as he led a 9-play, 80-yard TD drive in the third quarter that consumed 4:21, and a 10-play 52-yard TD drive in the fourth quarter that ate up 5:23 of the clock. Kanell capped the third quarter drive with a short pass to Calloway that Cab ran in. The fourth-quarter drive ended with a beautiful floater to Amani Toomer on a post pattern that beat the blitz. Kent Graham took over the next time the Giants received the ball.
Kanell showed what he can do when the line controls the line of scrimmage and the defense loosens up. The line and backs picked up the blitzes, allowing the receivers to come free and Kanell to find them. The deep bombs to Calloway and Patten — though unsuccessful — stretched the field. The short sidelines and the middle were open, and Kanell found receivers. Though he made a few bad passes, Kanell’s decision-making was the best of the season. If the line can continue to play as well as it did today, Kanell should be able to manage the game effectively.
Offensive Line: Perhaps I should have started with these guys, because that’s where it all starts, but Danny’s best NFL game deserved lead billing. However, these guys are not far behind because they flat-out kicked Cardnial butt all over the field. They played with an attitude, and they were having fun. They picked up the blitzes, shut down the pass rush, and not only opened some holes for the backs but did two other things they have not done all year: got serious push and sealed the pursuit on outside runs. Oh, there were the breakdowns here and there, including Greg Bishop’s 15-yard face mask foul (!) that negated a first down on the Cardinals 15 (the Giants overcame the penalty and scored a TD anyway!), Ron Stone’s false start penalty that killed a third-and-one in the third quarter and resulted in a punt, and a couple plays where Eric Swann beat Stone and Lance Scott. But those were isolated incidents that took nothing away from the domination of the Big Blue offensive line. The Giants were able to run right behind Stone and Scott Gragg, and left behind Bishop and Roman Oben. They run up the middle. The backs usually had two yards before a defender had a chance at them. On passing downs, Oben neutralized Simeon Rice, Gragg shut down Andre Wadsworth, and the inside linemen controlled Swann.
Jim Fassel told the Giants Saturday night to concentrate on having fun, and the O line seemed to take that to heart, as Oben and Gragg auditioned for the part of the Tumbling Tackles. Following the first TD, the two were caught on TV doing tumbles in the end zone. The extent of the offensive line’s dominance is illustrated by the following numbers: 11-66 in 5:08; 11-79 in 4:40; 8-71 in 1:02; 9-80 in 4:21; 10-52 in 5:23; one sack; Gary Brown 24-108.
The Cardinals have all those high first-round draft choices on their defensive line, and they get a lot of press, but they never have shown much against the Giants. The Giants offensive line has dominated the Cardinals. They did again today.
Running Backs: Gary Brown was the first Giant back to run for 100 yards in a game this season, and he did it on a variety of runs. He was able to hit the corner on a number of pitch sweeps to left and right, giving the lie to the myth that he lacks the speed to get outside. He also ran strong between the tackles, using cutbacks to find good running lanes. Brown picked up a one-yard TD run on a sweep left behind great blocks from Way and Cross. In all, Brown racked up 108 yards on 24 carries for a bullish 4.5 ypc average. His running was instrumental in keeping those long drives alive. Brown was a load to drag down, and he appears to have nailed down the feature back role, proving that the key to getting the running game going was for the offensive line to start blocking, not for Savior to be forgiven his transgressions.
Gary could not have done it without Charles Way’s blocking. While Way’s yards-per-carry average of under 3.0 was not impressive, he ran hard and made a couple of nice runs. Charles caught the first touchdown pass on the fourth-down play, but his biggest contribution was in crushing blocks on Arizona linebackers. Way paved the way for Brown’s TD run by demolishing the outside linebacker. He made a habit of blowing away outside linebackers as he led Brown around both corners several times. Way was part of the Giants’ improved blitz pickup.
Tiki Barber was up-and-down, as he dropped two sure first-down passes, but had two nice receptions that led to first downs and eventual scores, and his blitz pickup was much better than it had been. His drop of a pass in the first half killed one drive, and he dropped a perfect flare pass in the second half on third-and-two that would have kept a drive alive in the third quarter. The Giants had to settle for a field goal. However, his 27-yard catch-and-run at the end of the first half set the Giants up for a half-ending field goal, and he gained seven-and-a-half yards on a third-and-8 dumpoff that enabled Charles Way to pick up the first down on a fourth-down call from the Arizona 22. That drive resulted in Toomer’s 18-yard TD catch.
The Savior played on the kickoff return team and canceled a 91-yard TD return by David Patten by holding on the play. Savior then came in during mop-up time and ran twice for 9 yards.
Receivers: Four wideouts and Howard Cross each caught passes from Kanell. Cross actually made a couple nice catches and turned one short pass into a 27-yard gain. Cross made his biggest contribution with his blocking. He was fantastic blocking for Brown on his sweeps, particularly on the touchdown run, when Cross demolished Simeon Rice. Cross also was spotted putting a whupping on the bigger Andre Wadsworth on the other side.
Chris Calloway led the receivers with 6 catches for 97 yards, but dropped a perfect bomb from Kanell on the Giants’ opening drive. He settled down after that, however, and made excellent runs after several catches. The receivers as a whole did an outstanding job of running after the catch. David Patten had a 91-yard kickoff return called back (I said he would break one before the year was out) and caught 3 passes for 32 yards, most of the yards on nifty running. Ike Hilliard was quiet, as he only caught one pass, a slant on the goal line that was stopped two feet short. The Giants would score on fourth down. Amani Toomer caught a TD pass on a nifty slant pattern.
Defensive Line: I think the Giants defensive linemen like having a highly-touted defensive line come visit. They thoroughly out-played the $57-million tackles of Washington in the first game, and in this game they showed the Cardinals’ line how to control an offensive line. Michael Strahan, Robert Harris (returning from his injury), and Keith Hamilton were magnificent (with exception of a couple runs where Harris and Hamilton were wiped out). Strahan started it off with a sack, then Hamilton and Harris took over. The tackle duo combined for 4 sacks on the day. Harris clearly reclaimed his starting spot as he provided a degree of quickness that Christian Peter cannot match. Strahan again was a monster against the run as he simply shut down any attempt to run to his side. Chad Bratzke also added a sack and some quality run defense. The linemen combined for 6 of the Giants’ 8 sacks. The eight sacks equaled the season high for the Giants. Arizona only managed 62 yards rushing on 20 carries.
Defensive Backs: The secondary should get credit for some of the sacks, because Plummer had plenty of time to throw on several plays, but had nowhere to throw the ball. The Giants are working wonders with their M*A*S*H corps of a secondary. Jeremy Lincoln is the 87th CB, and he played very well today. Conrad Hamilton continues to lock down his side of the field. C-Rad had a golden opportunity to score a TD as he got the jump on a short out pattern, but he could not pull in the low pass. If Plummer had made a decent throw, C-Rad would have had six points.
Percy Ellsworth pulled in another interception on a terrible pass by Plummer. The Giants blitzed C-Rad from the slot, and Brandon Sanders from the other side. Plummer scrambled and lofted a high floater that Percy reached up to snare. The DBs had little to do in the running game and clearly had everything covered on most plays, as Plummer could do little. Arizona’s lone score came on a coverage breakdown, but given the makeshift nature of the Giants’ secondary, a little confusion now and then is to be expected and forgiven.
Linebackers: This crew was fairly quiet except for a few big plays. Jessie Armstead intercepted a screen pass deep in Arizona territory when Larry Centers fell down. Had the pass been completed, Armstead would have pounded Centers as he read the play perfectly. Unfortunately the Giants wasted the turnover when Daluiso missed a gimme. Scott Galyon stripped Plummer on a sack and recovered the fumble himself to set up the Giants’ last TD. Marcus Buckley had a sack. Widmer did not have one of his better games, as he was wiped out on the few successful Arizona running plays. The Giants’ defensive line pretty much dominated the run, not leaving much for the LBs.
Special Teams: Daluiso was not very good today, missing a gimme FG and being short on most of his kickoffs. The coverage teams were not bad considering, and Ryan Phillips made a gorgeous play on one short kickoff. Eric Metcalf caught the kickoff on the seven yard line, and Phillips nailed him on the TEN for a THREE yard kickoff return. Metcalf didn’t flub the catch or anything. The kickoff was high, and Phillips lasered down the field. The longest kickoff return for Arizona was 27 yards.
Patten had one beautiful kickoff return for 91 yards, but it was called back for holding by Savior. It looked like the hold was not necessary, but it is possible the holdee would have had a play at Patten. Patten’s other kick return was a short one as there was no blocking. Patten will break one before the season is over.
Brad Maynard enjoyed an unusually light day as he only punted the ball THREE times. His first two punts were a 61-yarder returned for 11 yards, and a 63-yarder that was actually a short kick that rolled. His other punt only went 40 yards. Maynard continues to kick very well.
Amani Toomer was not very impressive, as he danced too much and failed to hit the sideline on one return where he had some room.
Conclusion: Well I don’t suppose anyone is forgetting Eric over this review, but there it is. It was a fun game to watch and I’m just glad I got to review THIS one and not one of the other ones — like last week. It was easier to write when just thinking about the game didn’t make me want to cry. The Giants had a lot more spirit and enthusiasm than they have had. It was reported that Fassel’s Saturday night message was “Have fun, don’t worry about the back-to-the-wall nature of the game.” It’s a good approach to take with a struggling team, and it appears to have worked. The offensive line looked downright playful. The offensive game plan was excellent, and the execution was by-and-large crisp. If Fassel is to be blamed for the poor execution of other games, he must get the credit for today’s execution.
So the Giants are still alive. They have a bye week, then travel to Washington D.C. for a tilt with the Deadskins. Hopefully I will have a comp ticket to that game. After that it gets serious.