New York Giants 16 – Philadelphia Eagles 15
Overview: What should have been a Giants’ blowout turned into a close, ugly game – as do many Giants-Eagles games. Defensively, offensively, and on special teams, the Giants were superior, but the Giants found themselves trailing in the 4th quarter 15-13. If it were not a for a 4th quarter “drive” that resulted in a field goal, led by back-up QB Kerry Collins, the Giants would have suffered a very embarrassing defeat. The biggest problems on Sunday were turnovers (five of them) and poor quarterbacking. Some inconsistent offensive line play did not help matters either.
Quarterbacks: QB Kent Graham (15-of-29 for 171 yards, 3 interceptions, and 1 touchdown) started the game, but he did not finish it. Graham was pulled after his third interception of the game in the 3rd quarter. Just like last week, things started off well for Kent as he led the Giants on their opening possession to a touchdown. Graham went 4-of-6 for 47 yards on the drive, hitting Amani Toomer for a couple of key completions before finding Ike Hilliard over the middle for a touchdown. But after that, things went quickly down hill for Graham. Kent’s accuracy was off. He threw high, low, and behind his receivers. Graham did not have ideal pass protection, but he also looked a tad jumpy in the pocket. At times, he settled down and threw ropes to his receivers, in particular, Amani Toomer. But those moments were few and far between. Most damaging were his turnovers and almost-turnovers. At the end of the first quarter, Kent didn’t see CB Bobby Taylor (who broke off his coverage on another receiver) and Taylor picked off Kent’s pass and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown. Graham later threw a very high pass to WR Joe Jurevicius that was tipped and also intercepted. Kent sealed his fate with a near-disasterous interception inside the Giants’ own 15 yard line. After that play he was pulled. Graham also fumbled the ball twice, but New York recovered in both cases.
In came Kerry Collins (6-of-12 for 86 yards, 0 interceptions, 0 touchdowns) who clearly was not comfortable. Collins was quite jumpy in the pocket and he was not helped by the pass protection breaking down on his first couple of series. Kerry fumbled the ball away on his second possession, ruining some excellent field position given to the Giants by their defense. Collins started to settle down a bit after that and he led New York on their game-winning field goal drive. First, he hit Ike Hilliard on an out, and Hilliard’s catch-and-run gained 28 yards. Then he hit FB Charles Way on a screen for 16 yards. These two plays got the Giants into field goal range, but Collins was not able to connect with his receivers for the more significant touchdown. Kerry later had a chance to put more points on the board after a 32-yard deep ball to Amani Toomer, but the drive bogged down and was hurt by an intentional grounding pass from Collins.
Offensive Line: Inconsistent effort by this group, particularly on the left side (LT Roman Oben and LG Luke Petitgout). As I expected, the return of HB Gary Brown demonstrated that the run blocking had not been as bad in previous games as it looked. The Giants were able to get their running attack finally going and with Brown carrying the ball, holes “strangely” began to appear. Still, there were too many instances where there was not enough of a push. Oben fell too easily off many of his blocks and Petitgout simply was not able to drive his man out of the way. Luke looks much more comfortable in movement situations than when he is called upon to slug it out in the trenches. He had a real nice block on a screen pass once again. Petitgout was flagged for a holding penalty. The right-side run blocking of RG Ron Stone and RT Scott Gragg was better – but it wasn’t really good either. Gragg was called for a costly leg-whipping penalty. Scott needs to spend less time on the ground and more time punishing his opponent. Stone had a devastating block on a left-side pull on a running play. Still, the strength of Ron’s game is his straight-ahead drive blocking – in movement situations, he still misses his man too much – such as on Way’s screen pass. Pass blocking was solid at times and then terrible at others. The low points were Collins’ first two series. Both Oben and Luke seemed to have trouble with their men.
Running Backs: Gary Brown’s return really helped the ground attack immensely. Indeed, while Brown showed a bit of rust, he was remarkably effective and was able to carry the ball 27 times for 87 yards. That’s a lot of work for someone who just got back into the fold. Brown and Fassel both said he made some mistakes and missed some holes, but he did a fairly good job of following his blocks and cutting back to the open spot – such as his 28 yard run in the second quarter. Most of Brown’s positive work came in the first half when he registered 56 yards on 11 carries. After that, the Eagles started to tighten their run defense again him. There were also times in the second half when Gary didn’t follow his blocks – he took one 3rd quarter run too far outside instead of cutting it up the field sooner. Brown was able to pick up a big first down late in the 4th quarter when the Giants were attempting to run out the clock.
Charles Way looked sharp blocking for Brown on the plays that I kept my eyes on him. He had a decent day carrying the ball (5 carries for 19 yards) and his 16-yard screen pass was a key play in winning the game. Tiki Barber made a great diving catch on short pass from Graham. But his biggest play was his hustle play to recover a Graham fumble that saved 3-points. LeShon Johnson carried the ball once for one yard.
Tight Ends: Pete Mitchell (2 catches for 20 yards) continues to be underutilized – though it seemed that the Eagles were paying far more attention to him than previous opponents. I spotted Mitchell double covered in a few instances and Graham tried to force the ball to him on his final pick. Howard Cross caught one pass for three yards and showed some toughness after the catch. Dan Campbell saw some action as an extra tight end in 3-TE sets.
Wide Receivers: Amani Toomer (8 catches for 123 yards) had a big game, even though he didn’t get into the endzone. Indeed, Toomer might have had even bigger numbers had Graham not thrown two deep passes out of bounds that were intended for Amani. Toomer has very sure hands and is showing more and more confidence with the ball in his hands after the catch. He is looking to make big plays. Ike Hilliard (4 catches for 64 yards) had a solid day’s work. He scored New York’s only touchdown on the first drive of the game and had key receptions (for 21 and 28 yards respectively) on New York’s field goal drives in the second half. Joe Jurevicius had one catch for 26 yards, but didn’t protect the ball well enough and fumbled the ball away when he was tackled from behind. Joe has to keep in mind that he is no speedster and he will be caught from behind by many defensive backs in this league.
Defensive Line: The Eagles totaled just 174 yards on Sunday. It was tough to tell if the the responsibility for such poor numbers rested with good Giants’ defense or poor Eagles’ offense. It was probably a combination of both. DE Michael Strahan finally picked up his first sack of the year. Actually, he picked up three. But in the first half, I spotted Strahan getting faked out of his shoes a couple of times – once missing a tackle on HB Duce Staley in the backfield on 3rd-and-short and another time missing a sack on QB Doug Pederson (Strahan jumped into the air instead of continuing to the quarterback – a big “no-no”). Michael also left the game at one point favoring one of his elbows. But in the second half, Strahan picked up his game and registered all of his sacks in key situations. He also finished the game with 6 tackles.
Overall run defense was solid and much of that responsibility must go to DT Keith Hamilton, who I thought had a whale of a game. The Eagles had a tough time with Hamilton as he disrupted quite a few running plays. Keith also basically caused one of Strahan’s sacks when he chased the Eagles’ quarterback into Mike. Hamilton had a chance to pick up a sack of his own, but once again didn’t break down well enough and allowed Pederson to scramble past him. Keith also batted two passes at the line and finished with seven tackles.
Once again DE Cedric Jones was very solid in run defense. Indeed, thus far, he has been superior to Chad Bratzke in this department. Jones only had three tackles, but he he helped to keep linemen off of Jessie Armstead. However, Cedric needs to get his pass rush going. He flashed every now and then in the game, especially at the end on the Eagles’ final possession, but he has to get to the quarterback and start picking up pelts.
DT Robert Harris was solid (3 tackles), but really didn’t stick out. He showed some nice hustle on a couple of plays where the quarterback was scrambling for his life, but Robert has to make more of an impact in game – like he did in 1997.
Linebackers: WLB Jessie Armstead played another very good game, finishing with eight tackles and two sacks. Jessie has never been a big force in the pass rush department. His career season high is five from last year. But he already has three in 1999. Armstead and Strahan put the final nails in the Eagle coffin at the end of the game with back-to-back sacks. SLB Ryan Phillips looked better to me this week. I didn’t spot him getting exploited in coverage and he took on blocks better at the point-of-attack. He finished the game with 8 tackles. MLB Corey Widmer is steady (6 tackles), but he’s got to start making more big plays. He also still overruns some plays. Marcus Buckley saw some time in the nickel, but didn’t stick out.
Defensive Backs: The Eagles only picked up 90 yards through the air and it is tough to tell if that is due to their incompetence or Giant defense. The Eagles never tested CB Jason Sehorn. Jason picked off a pass in the first quarter, but made a bonehead play by trying to lateral the ball inside his own five yard line. The ball was fumbled away and only a head’s up bat by SS Sam Garnes and a sure-handed recovery from CB Phillippi Sparks kept the damage to two points (a safety). High school players know not to attempt that kind of crap. Shame on Jason. He had better stop thinking of his commercial career and more on football.
CB Phillippi Sparks was generally solid, but gave up a couple of completions underneath, including a 13-yard completion to Dietrich Jells on 3rd-and-seven. He also was flagged with a 5-yard face mask penalty. FS Percy Ellsworth is tackling much better on running and passing plays. He looks like a different player the last two weeks. He once again was in the right place at the right time on an errant Doug Pederson pass for a pick. SS Sam Garnes stumbled in coverage on one play and a completion resulted. Garnes was very active in run support and finished with 9 tackles. Shaun Williams was not noticed and that is generally a good sign for a defensive back.
Special Teams: Kick and punt coverage continues to be solid. Kick returns were not very productive this week. Tiki Barber had an up-and-down day on punt returns. He made a bone-headed play by not fielding a poor punt and this decision cost big yardage as the ball rolled for about another twenty yards. Tiki also looked very indecisive on another return. On the positive side, Barber had two good returns – one for 18 yards and another for 16. PK Brad Dalusio made all of his field goals and was sharp on his kickoffs (resulting in a couple of touchbacks). P Brad Maynard downed two punts inside the twenty and had a huge kick after the safety.
by David Oliver
This is the fourth game of the year- including exhibitions and training camp, I haven’t spent a weekend home in quite a while. This is the time of the year answering inquiries by telling people I live on the NJ Turnpike. The plusses are that the weather is still beautiful, the leaves are beginning to wear their fall outfits, I can stop at 6 Flags and visit the animals, and—-, well, there’s still hope that the Giants will have a good year. The downsides are that it gets really lonely driving back Sunday night; I have to pass through that pissant excuse of a State named Delaware, with its, $2 dollar toll in each direction and the backup that comes with that little joy, all for a 15 mile excursion; and Philadelphia; tonight, there is monster traffic heading south, as if every remaining sports fan can’t take it anymore, has packed the goods in the car , and is heading for the false Messiah of footballdom, Washington, land of the eternal ‘homer’ and the luckiest team on earth. But it’s also Sunday night and FM 98.1 is playing ‘street corner groups’ music from the 50s and 60s again ( how I love that music), including those homeboys, Danny and the Juniors (Twisting in Italy- how’s that for musical trivia) and the Dovells, from nearby Bristol (everybody should remember the Bristol Stomp). The tunes break the trip for me, I don’t feel compelled to put on talk radio and listen to the Philly mob talk about slashing their own wrists, or the owners or coaches, and it gives me a few minutes to think about how I am going to feel when I plug into BBI and read everyone screaming for Kerry Collins to play and Jim Fassell’s head in the same sentence.
Even the guy giving the halftime scores on the CBS radio game stutters when he gets to the Giants/Eagles and says his mother raised him to believe that if he couldn’t say anything good, to say nothing at all, gives the score and immediately goes on. The Giants offense has become the laughingstock of the league and except for the Eagles offense would be the butt of every joke. The Giants/Eagles are an offensive (double entendre intended) insult to the game, a Stalinesque riddle within an enigma, a strange mixture of desire, apathy and woeful performance. Even when we score 31 points (16 for us, 15 for them), the Giants get no respect. And that egotistical numbskull Norman Chad is right again- the Giants should only be a 9 point favorite if it’s defense is playing it’s offense. But, guys, when all is said and done, the Giants WON this game, and in the words of Steve Owens (paraphrased), its better to win 3 to 2 than to lose 41 to 40. So I’m happy tonight, the defense looked good, and we are better than we have been for the last two weeks.
So let’s get right to it- is Kerry Collins better than Kent Graham? Statistically, probably not. Did the team play better for Kerry? In his own words, No. Did the fans respond to Kerry? Yes, but what the heck, there are so many Penn State graduates in those seats we might as well bring in JoePa as Fassel’s mentor, hmmm!, I wonder if Ernie is working on that. Is there a QB controversy in NY? Yes, there is for the media, which never did like KG; yes, for Ernie A., who must justify all those dollars; and yes, even here at BBI. How does the team feel about it? Bored- these guys want to play football. They want to win, and most of all, they are tired of everyone asking them if they want “smoother” or “tastes better” as the QB. Kent Graham had a bad day, he threw 3 interceptions, 2 when he was fooled on the same play call; he overthrew some receivers and he didn’t pull the trigger fast enough for others. But he completed 15 of 29 for 171 yards and a TD. Kerry was 6 of 12 for 86 yards and a TD. So there you have it- “smoother” or “tastes better”? Together they were 21 of 41 for 257 yards with 2 TDs. Air Fassel has arrived. For Bob in Newburgh, Amani Toomer has reemerged as the ‘primo’ receiver; he outjumped, outfought and beat the defenders. Ike is quietly working his way to fame. Pete Mitchell is still not being used effectively- mostly as a safety valve and not as a seam receiver dropping in behind the linebackers. Jim Fassel showed a little impatience when asked about Pete’s use. Of course, KG read the press all week about Pete being open and get him the ball, so he tried and he forced a few. The problem was that the Eagles also read the press and neutralized that little offensive ploy. They shifted coverages to disguise the defense and , well, there’s always next week for Pete. JJ keeps making the hard catch, and then puts the ball on the ground- everyone on the offense is pressing right now. David Patten didn’t get a sniff, well he got one but it was defensed.
Gary Brown did pick up the running game. He had one beautiful run around end heading for the Giants bench- he was under full steam and showed no knee trouble. He did tell the media he was knocked on his butt a couple of times and it stung. I guess as John Madden likes to say, one knee equals two cheeks, or some such thing. Well, Gary says he is working hard but must work harder. He wants to carry the offense to take some pressure off the QB. He also said that Charles Way was instrumental to the success of the running game, that he follows CW who usually leads him into the hole. The other part of the running game was KG who gave up his body on a couple of runs, one for a needed first down. He was the second leading rusher with 23 yards.
Is there anything else to say about the offense? Not really. The line is continuing to struggle. A woeful Beagle pass rush looked like Reggie and the gang were still there as it pressured the QBs and stuffed the run. Of more concern is BW. He is putting it all on the line. He gathers the troops before each set and exhorts them to do it this time, he is pressing to regain his old form. There is nothing behind BW so I hope he doesn’t give it all up- we need him for the entire year. He needs the rest of his mates to pick it up. I have no answers here; neither apparently do they. The expression in their eyes leaving the field speaks volumes. The rookie comes off with that hand in the cookie jar look; Oben looks frustrated; Stone looks implacable; Gragg looks belligerent. This group needs to jell, and do it quickly. Coach McNally darts up and down the sidelines, often going up to JF; I wish I knew what he was saying.
The kicking game. Joe D rebounded nicely and won the game. Did you see his kickoff that split the uprights? Maynard had 3 for 104, a 34.7 average, but a nice one inside the 20. The safety kick was a beauty and looked like it traveled 70 yards. Patten had 3 returns for 57 yards with a long of 22- not real good; Tiki returned 5 for 58 yards with a long of 19, not good, not bad. Old friend Landeta can still kick with 7 for 347 yards and a long of 57. Too bad he never learned to kick directionally, ala Dan Reeves.
Fumbles, oh, my! 5 fumbles forced by the Beagles- lucky they couldn’t take advantage of them. They recovered 2. But the fumbles were enough to stop us from doing any offensive damage. We actually fumbled 6 times and threw 3 interceptions. A Tale of Two Cities.
The defense looked good against a very bad offense. Garnes, Armstead, Phillips and Hamilton combined for 32 tackles; Garnes had 9. Jessie had 2 sacks and, hello, Michael had 3. From field level, the one who made a lot of it possible was Harris who continually broke free and romped through the Eagle backfield. With the center of the line applying pressure once again, a relieved Strahan got his sacks and was grateful for them and his line help. Even Cedric got close a a couple of times. Strahan laughed about Cedric’s drop, saying he can’t even catch in practice. The secondary did a good job with Jason and Percy getting INTs. Oh, that lateral. Sparks seemed to be playing soft most of the game; normally he makes adjustments and comes up as the game progresses.
Overall, we won possession, keeping the ball over 35 minutes. We could easily have had it over 50 had we been less generous with the ball. There was no way to look good in this game- unless we scored 40 points and held them scoreless we were going to be NFL joke of the week. Keep in mind that this was a Giants/Eagles game, where the bizarro usually becomes routine. There was the Pisarcik/Czonka thing, the LT blocked field goal that went back to them and a TD, there was the 90 yard Randall punt, and the Banks tackle- the curse goes back to the days when Tommy McDonald was an Eagle receiver. This is history; Dallas may kick our butt on Monday nights, the Skins may score 50 or 70 points on us every 20 or so years; but it is the Eagles who are our most dangerous opponent- their uniforms are ugly, their ownership confused, their City can only be called the City of Brotherly Love in the context of Cain and Able, but the Giants get goofy when they come to town. So a win is a win and I’m happy with it.
Before I get to the post game interview, I have to remark about the listless, almost bored, unsupporting crowd which is showing up at the Meadowlands. I’m beginning to wonder if season ticket holders are giving away their seats, because these people don’t support the team on the field- it’s too quiet. Except for the vulgarians who shout every kind of profanity imaginable at the field. I’m no prude, but there are kids at these games and families and this language is not funny. My wife’s grandmother had a saying, “maybe you can’t help being ugly, but you can stay home.” We all love the Giants, we’re all frustrated, but a sports ticket is not a license to abuse everyone within earshot. I’m no prude, but enough is enough. No more moralizing, I feel better now.
Coach Fassel had plenty to say, such as “We win…but I’m not very happy with that performance at all, especially…the offense…mistakes….fortunately we put a few things together and were able to move the ball and get a little field position….but 5 turnovers….our defense played well…we just can’t play football like that…” On KG, KC he said “I’m going to think about it. I’m not going to make any decision right now. I’m just upset with the way we performed.” JF talked about the play-calling “what I get myself into, is I can’t not throw the football because I’m afraid something bad is going to happen…” He took Kent out because “Kent was struggling big time, big time…I’ll do whatever it takes to win THAT game, and I felt like I had to get him out of there.” He felt Strahan played extremely well and said “you’ve got to have your good players rise up and make plays, and he made a number of them.”
On the Sehorn lateral, he drew some laughter when he said “I have said…to the defensive guys that I don’t want the ball lateraled…I told them all, the entire defense, everybody, I never want to see the ball lateraled, ever again…ever, ever, ever…” When asked if there were any positives, he said “we won the football game…When we functioned, we functioned pretty well…it’s so sporadic, we’re just making mistakes…turnovers kill you…take 5 turnovers and holy smokes, I don’t know how many times that would have allowed us to score some points…” In general on the offense, he said he felt ‘frustrated again.’
He was moderately complimentary about KC’s performance. On assessing KG he said he “would have to see what he was trying to do, the high throws and some of those throws like that… I think he’s shuffling too quick in the pocket, he gets his hips in front of him and the ball sails on him. The last interception…was a wrong read…all of that stuff…we have to talk through some things, look at some things, I have to see what he was thinking, where he was going…look at the film, analyze it, talk with him, before I could get a clear picture…I’ve got to analyze all the information right now.”
When asked about the sequence involving the Eagles’ fumble and the Giants return gift, he said he told the offense on the sidelines ‘he wasn’t real happy.’ He also said that the determining factor about the QBs would be ‘who I think gives us the better chance of winning.’ I asked him about the rest of the offense, what he would do to get it functional. He said, “well, I don’t know…we’re just making mistakes and different things, miscues, but…all that stuff, all that stuff…make no mistake about it…whichever one you are talking about it resulted in points, one way or the other…it either took points off the board or gave them points. 5 turnovers and it could have been a whole different…I think I could have been feeling a lot differently, to be honest with you.”
On KC he said that KC was in a difficult position. JF told him he still wanted to be aggressive, to move the football. JF told KC “let me call to be aggressive, you be smart with the football, don’t throw up any jump balls for them…right now my thought process was and I was going into the game, and it kind of backfired all the way down the line, is don’t give them positive field position because I thought our defense could play with them.” JF told KC “let me call the football game. I don’t want to pull my horns in so far that I can’t give you some…to throw the football..”
On KG, JF said “he’s played solid and QBs so many times have to…you have to play solid, you have to let the game come to you, take advantage of your big plays, if you try to force the big play you could end up having problems and I thought Kent’s always played pretty smart, let the games come to him, take a shot when he had a chance.” On the round robin of QBs in his tenure, he said “let’s go back. Dave Brown got hurt, Danny came in and won 4 or 5 games, last year when I made the switch, I made the switch.” Asked if he was planning to make a switch now he said, “I’m not going to say anything about that. My philosophy has always been the same. I’m going to think about some things right now and see where we are.” On KGs performance, he said “No, I was not happy with Kent’s performance. Kent could have a LOT more help around him, no question about it.”
So there you have it- “Smoother” or “tastes batter”? Kerry and Kent both came in to meet the media, neither seeming quite comfortable. Kerry appears to be always awaiting the hand grenade which will intrude into his football rehab- he seems to disappear as the questioning progresses. Not that I blame him, he’s not running for President, he’s a football player. His exasperation peeps through with the repeat questions as to his nervousness. He says, yes, at first he was a little nervous going in, but then he reminds himself he has over 30 starts as an NFL QB- he is no football virgin, he has been here and he is gently telling the media, get off it guys. Is he ready- well, he’s a professional and he says he’s ready. He was asked if the team played hard for him, or responded to him and he was very quick to point out that this team plays hard for Kent, but he has no problems with response. In other words, it’s Kent’s team and he’s not even going there right now. He doesn’t want to be dragged into a media frenzy and says it’s JF’s decision who starts, he’s ready, but he’ll play any role. KC is very gracious with the media- he loves to talk Xs and Os, he’s obviously tired of the politics of the game.
Kent appeared somewhat sheepish- how else could he look after being publicly spanked in front of 75,000 fans by daddy. But he is a leader, never has ducked a question and even when asked something like how do you assess KC’s performance politely answers “I don’t assess other QBs.” He says he made a number of mistakes, was fooled twice by the Eagles on the same play call. When I expressed the thought that the entire offense was dysfunctional, he animatedly disagreed. He takes the blame for today but defends his guys and believes they made some progress. He refuses to point fingers or criticize the line, the fumbles, the drops and everything else. That’s why the guys love him and will play for him and feel bad because he is taking the hits.
I have been doing some reevaluating myself lately. JF is beginning to open it up; there is a potentially explosive offense here- but potential is just unrealized performance. All the ifs must be answered. If BW holds up, if Luke gets some confidence, if the line comes together, if the running back get and stay healthy, if the receivers get momentum, we will surprise some people this year. But one or two ifs a game will make a frustrating season. Until these ifs filter out, KG should remain the starter. QB controversy, so what; powerhouse offense, not at this time; but there are signs of hope, there always are when Philly leaves town. Until Dallas.