1999 New York Giants Season Review
The Decade of Living Dangerously – Sideline View
by David Oliver
Well, we have entered into the New Millennium still wearing the rose colored glasses of the past decade. To wit, the power struggle between George Young and Bill Parcells has left an ineradicable stain on the Organization, which it refuses to acknowledge to this day. Handley was an accidental coach so I don’t view him as harshly as others. Dan Reeves was desperate for work so he fooled himself into believing things would be different in N.Y. Jim Fassel was hired as the perfect corporate figurehead; a coach who knew Dave Brown, would not rock the front office boat, and who might, just might, get us past 500.
The youngest team in the league has aged, and in the life of pro football players has out lived the playing averages in several key spots. Money was spent freely, and in hindsight, which is always nice, foolishly. Now, we hear corporate tough talk, at the same time, we hear the lullaby strains of “we ain’t got no dough.” Ladies and gentlemen, it doesn’t cut both ways. Either we are a team which was beset by injuries and Y2K, thus we underperformed in 1999 but will be alright in 2000; or we are a shambles, and major retrenching is needed. In neither case is the “tough love” message the right message.
Back in July, I felt we had something special. We had a coach entering his 3rd season who “had realized what it takes.” We had two All-Pro defensive players, a defensive wizard coaching them, and a veteran line, bolstered by a decent linebacking corps and a better than average secondary. On offense, we had a QB who won a bunch of games last year and whom the team loved. We had a new #1 lineman, the return of our war-horse center, and a plethora of running backs and receivers. We also had Pete Mitchell and, of course, Moses Collins arrived on the scene.
The first exhibition game had us ready to start the season in August. Even losing to the Jets was an alarm, because they were allegedly Super Bowl bound. By the time we played the Ravens, with BBI sitting near Heaven, I was having some tremors, or was it sunstroke. The team lacked the killer punch, injuries were already mounting and something was amiss in the spirit of the squad. Tampa was horrible. It was a win, but it appeared as if Michael Strahan were seriously hurting. And the offense was definitely hurting. The play-calling showed lack of confidence, and the performance underscored the play-calling. The rest of the season was like a performance of “Bolero”- the same chords repeated over and over, each time louder until the expectation for something happening burst in a sudden end. And here we are in January again with no football. So with nothing else to do, we will analyze, analyze, analyze, and then pray for an early draft.
THE COACHING STAFF - Unlike most of the press who depend on these guys for a living, we at BBI are beholden to no-one. Hell, no one but us listens to us anyway, so we might as well be honest. I was unimpressed with the coaching from top to bottom, with the exception of Sean Payton. Jim Fassel is a good and decent human being. He did his job under tremendous pressure this year with the illness and loss of his Mom. That does not excuse his analytical approach to the game, evidenced by his refusal to turn over the play-calling until the season was lost. His shabby treatment of QB after QB is also inexcusable. I am led to believe he wants to win at any cost and at the same time appear to be a nice guy. I don’t like corporate – I don’t like arrogant, I don’t like excuses. This head coach knows the game of football; he is a very good offensive coach; but he needs to concentrate on overall strategy, he needs to reach into his players’ souls, he needs to show mental toughness, not spitefulness, if he is to lead this team to victory. The Giants don’t need Dennis the Menace as Coach. Those are the negatives. The positives are that he is showing the capacity for growth. Now, he must turn the corner and make the hard decisions. Allowing The Front Office to convince him to bench Graham, rightly or wrongly, was the turning point of the season. In finding next year’s QB, he lost this year’s team. He must choose his players now and live or die by them next season.
Defensive Coordinator John Fox did what he could to stem the tide, but injuries in his secondary cost him dearly. What those injuries showed was that he is not a miracle worker. He chose to fall off to help his secondary, just at the moment when the Giants faced a slew of precision pocket passers. When we needed pressure, we threw life-savers. Fox learned a lot about this team this year, and his own resiliency. Next year he will lead, and we will see a different Giant defense. Defensive Line Coach Denny Marcin did wonders with his line, considering he had Cedric “no show” Jones on one end, an obviously hurt Michael on the other, missing Harris. He used Christian Peter, Bernard Holsey, George Williams and Ryan Hale wisely. Only Keith Hamilton was consistent all year. Defensive Backs Coach Johnny Lynn did as well as he could. Although he should have known better than sticking with Jeremy Lincoln.
The offensive coaching staff gets better marks. The wide receivers have come into their own. Wide Receivers Coach Jimmy Robinson has helped these guys find the toughness he had as a receiver and the results were impressive. Sean Payton is a valuable QB coach, not only a play caller. The guys love him and respect him; his future is all upside. Offensive Coordinator/Running Backs Coach Jim Skipper remains quiet, loyal to JF, an unknown factor. Offensive Line Coach Jim McNally remains an “incomplete.” He did nothing with Goat (Luke Petitgout) at guard, but he has helped Rosey (Mike Rosenthal) make the conversion. He does not appear to have helped Roman Oben and has had no impact on Brian Williams or Ron Stone. He has helped Scott Gragg with the penalties and has helped his pass blocking attain consistency, but has done nothing for his run blocking. All this leads me to believe that we will continue to have running back problems as our passing game goes over the top. Special Teams Coach Larry MacDuff worked tirelessly. His unit was terrible. Grade F. Either the personnel must be upgraded or the coach must go. Jim Fassel must make his first tough decision here.
OVERALL GRADE FOR THE COACHING STAFF - Well, off a 7-and-9 record, D-. Factor in the injuries, Jim Fassel’s personal hardship, C. Enough to survive, but not enough to get to Grad school.
WIDE RECEIVERS - This unit has gone from being a liability to becoming the shining star of the future. Amani has arrived. Now he must consolidate his gains and go up one more level. His toughness goes without saying, but he must learn how to make the last man miss after he makes the catch. Then he will be complete. Ike is back on track. He realizes his injury has healed, he has no more fear and he is making those marvelous cuts again. With one more good receiver, Ike will become one of the most dangerous and respected receivers in the League. Although Joe Jurevicius was inconsistent, he still has the potential to develop into a big play receiver. David Patten was misused and may be on his way out. Brian Alford should be released. No receiver with the nickname “50-50″ should be anywhere but New Orleans. Grade B+- A-.
TIGHT ENDS - Pete Mitchell is the real deal as a pass catcher. He should catch 10 balls a game. Until his injury, he was the glue holding the thing together. Dan Campbell shows promise. Howard is at the end of his career. The one free agent acquisition which would elevate this group, and all the receivers, would be Shannon Sharpe. Hello this year’s Larry Centers. The G-men must not make this mistake twice. Get the man at all costs. Grade for the unit C-; for Pete Mitchell, a solid B.
RUNNING BACKS - Difficult to grade. As a unit, D. Tiki as a unit player and playmaker A. Joe Montgomery, on effort, C. LeShon Johnson on production, F, but there were extenuating circumstances. Sean Bennett was hurt too much, but for all you unconverted, this kid is the real deal. With Tiki and Bennett in the same backfield, one in the single back set the other in the slot or split out, you can forget 8 in the box. This is the speed game and he is a niche component, big play man. Now, a pick up of Alabama’s Shaun Alexander or Virginia Tech’s Shyrone Stith and we can roll again.
THE LINE - Not good. Only Ron Stone performed as expected. The man was a solid plowhorse. In an undermanned unit, he grades out as an A-. Brian Williams went as far as the aging body would take him. C+, but I believe he has one more year left in him. Without the rust, and recognizing his limitations I hope he comes back because he is at least a B performer. Rosenthal has a future and deserves a B+ for performing under pressure. He made the move from tackle to guard, showed tenacity, belligerence and toughness. Oben at times performed adequately and at times underperformed. He had a mixed year. I am sure he would grade himself higher but I saw enough miscues to rate him a C. He did play next to two rookies and had to adjust to different style QBs, but he is veteran enough now to make those adjustments. Gragg is a better than average pass blocker, no run blocker. That’s how he was drafted, and that’s how he plays. When the Jets were hot for him, we should have taken the second round choice and given up. Now it appears he will be released for “cap” reasons, with no compensation. Guys, he is a damn fine pass blocker. Grade B-. The backups – that’s what they are – Grade C. Unit Grade C+.
THE LINE - Unit Grade D. A very large disappointment. The ends didn’t get any pressure on opposing QBs. Michael Strahan was consistently neutralized, for whatever reason. Maybe it was the loss of Chad Bratzke, maybe Harris, maybe injuries, maybe turning vegetarian, maybe the end of the millennium, maybe, maybe, maybe. Simply put he had no production. I’m sorry, I know he tried, I know it wasn’t lack of effort, but sending him to the Pro Bowl this year is a joke. What scares me is that this may continue. I know someone on the Big Island of Hawaii, who, if the moon is full and the Volcano erupts, will wrap him in pua-pua leaves and chant an ancient prayer. The Giants need Michael back. Michael, put it behind you and get your act together. After all, the 6 Million Dollar Man got better after the investment in him – you may not be bionic, but please don’t get catatonic. Grade C. Cedric, ah Cedric. I know, I know, the BBI faithful saw some progress in Cedric this year. I did not. I keep replaying the tapes of Cedric Jones at Oklahoma and I wonder who that really was – because it is not the Cedric Jones who plays for the Giants. I have seen only flashes of some nice lateral movement, but no agressive moves and no action against the more aggressive blockers in the League. For a #5 OVERALL pick, he plays worse than a fifth round pick Grade F-. Hamilton is a big, angry bear with whom I would share a foxhole anytime. He’s getting older, but he plays with that anger. Move him back to end and we get 12-15 sacks immediately. Grade B+. Harris is our most consistent penetrator. Everywhere I go, I read Harris will be released, no one seems to like him or want him. Get real, the man is a ballplayer. Grade B. Peter of the non-stop motor. He wore down a little at the end, but at least he didn’t hyperventilate – or did he at the Dallas game? Not flashy, but solid. The kind of guy everyone needs. Solid B. Holsey did not perform as I thought he would. He had opportunity everywhere but for some reason did not rise to the occasion – C. Hale got some playing time and shows promise. Must get an “incomplete” because we didn’t see enough of him. Williams is on the bubble. Without a great camp, he will be beaten out by a rookie. This is interesting because the unit grades out lower than the individuals. Must be the Jones factor.
THE BACKERS - Once the pride and joy of the Giants. On reputation alone a C+ or B-. Jessie until hurt was consistent. He is the best and deserves the Pro Bowl. But consider this – if offered a one-on-one Jessie for Junior trade, who would you take? Or Derrick Brooks? Or the Ravens mavens? Jessie is the best we have but not the best in the game. Still A. Corey Widmer is a stud. Slow and big, but notice how the opposing team yards gained decreases when he is in there and healthy. Still, he has mileage on him, he’s near the end and he plays hurt a lot. Grade this year C+. Ryan Phillips – still a work in progress. We don’t blitz our SAM backer enough and this kid was scouted and drafted as a pass rusher. Marcus Buckley was killed because he was a natural Will playing Sam, Phillips is a ‘tweener who has more adjustment to make in pass coverage if that is going to be our game. Grade C. Pete Monty shows promise, needs more reps. Grade C. Scott Galyon makes plays, when Jessie is hurt, play Galyon. Grade B. Good by, Buck. O.J. Childress, we’ll see you in Europe.
THE CORNERS - Do we have any? This year D. Jason Sehorn never made it all the way back when he went down. Frankly, if Bobby Beatherd has a #1 available, Ernie should make the call. Phillippi Sparks is definitely gone. He only plays 10-12 games a year and has not been the same since the Vikings playoff game. Get Lincoln out quick. Conrad Hamilton is over his snit, but didn’t show a damn thing in the last three games. Emmanuel McDaniel looked decent. I’m not rating them individually, this was the Giants Achilles this year and the team needs to go to the draft or the market for help.
THE SAFETIES - Unit rating B+. Sam Garnes and Percy Ellsworth are solid. Percy was all over the lot this year and he makes plays. He has a colorful personality and talks a lot but he is no fool and I love his play-making ability. Unfortunately, it looks as if he’s gone. Sam is big, quiet and effective as a slammer, but we need a roamer out there to make the interception. Shaun Williams – one notch above Cedric. I can’t forget his first mini-camp, when I was standing there watching Jurevicius turn him in circles and he was talking to himself. For some reason every time I think Williams I see Alan Faneca. Lyle West better have someone else buy his cold medicine.
SPECIAL TEAMS - What, may I ask, was so special about them? Bashir Levingston and Patten are an explosion waiting to happen behind a static wedge. Get someone to make some plays for them. Grade C. Tiki is a very good punt man – grade A. Cary Blanchard was exactly what was expected – good field goal kicker, bad kick-off man. How can you grade him poorly when he was a known quantity. B Maynard is up and down, but when up he is an A++. This year’s inconsistence – B. The rest of the unit ????
So how do we get back to the playoffs? Kerry Collins must play quarterback for one whole season. I don’t know if Coach Fassel can make it through a season with one quarterback, but the team needs it. Also, Kerry cannot designate himself the leader – that comes from the team. His play must improve. He is going into his 6th year and he has got to maintain focus. He has a laser arm, but continues to make boffo plays. He is the cornerstone now and he must act the part.
Sean Payton should be elevated to offensive coordinator. The guys respect him, like his aggressiveness, give him the chance.
Jim Fassel has got to decide, like many before him, if he wants to be his own man and win, or be corporate and hang on.
A special teams guru.
Free agents – one of 2 – TE Shannon Sharpe or DE Tony Brackens. Forget the rest. This is where we need help. These guys can help. The draft – Running back, center, linebacker, corner. However, if WR Plaxico Burress is available, grab him. Also, we need to send some of our guys to Europe – let’s see if fast Frankie Ferrara can make the jump – Ryan Hale can use the playing time, O.J. Childress needs to show his stuff. More will develop as we get into the offseason. But that’s my analysis of where we are.