Sep 082001
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Denver Broncos, September 10, 2001: I’ve got to be honest here. I can’t get a feel for what to expect this year. The negative side to me says that a combination of an extremely tough schedule, injuries, and a post-Super Bowl letdown will result in a disappointing season. That doesn’t mean that the Giants are a bad team or poorly coached – the odds are simply stacked against the G-Men in 2001. The positive side of me says that this is a better team and that there is no proven COMPLETE team in the conference. If the Giants can just manage to keep their heads above water for the first six games or so, they should be alright and be a factor in the playoffs again. Which view is right? Who the hell knows? All I know for sure is that 2001 is bound to be nerve-wracking and gut-wrenching.

As for the Broncos, the NFL could not have picked a tougher match-up for the Giants. The Broncos are a legitimate Super Bowl contender and Denver is one of the toughest, if not the toughest, places to win in the NFL. If that weren’t enough, the Broncos are officially opening their brand new stadium on Monday night football – so you know the team and the fans will be pumped.

Do I need to remind Giants’ fans our Monday Night win-loss record? (15-23-1 if you really want to know). What if DT Cornelius Griffin (ankle) can’t play or is ineffective because of the injury? What about Jason Sehorn (knee)?

But the Giants have one big factor in their favor: they aren’t supposed to win. Everyone in America except for Giants’ fans expects Denver to take it to New York. If you ask me, the pressure is on Denver to perform – not the G-Men. Thus, the Giants should go out there and let it all hang out. Put on a show and shut some of the critics up. This game could end up being a disaster or a very memorable game for Giants’ fans. Whatever transpires, the players, coaches, media, and fans have to remember one important fact – this is an out-of-conference road game. In the grand scheme of things, if the Giants were going to pick one game to lose, this would be one of them.

Giants on Special Teams: I don’t need to lecture fans on how many games are won and lost on special teams. Specials often become the deciding factor in close ball games. That is not a comforting thought. What is comforting however is that the Giants have a veteran placekicker (Morten Anderson) who does well under pressure (knock on wood). It will also be interesting to see if the Giants activate rookie PK Owen Pochman to kickoff or go with Anderson in that department as well. Regardless of who kicks off, the Giants coverage teams need stay in their lanes, get down the field quickly, and make sure tackles. The field position battle will be very important.

That’s why the punting game is critical too. Rodney Williams has a super strong leg, but he needs to be consistent as well. Too many of his booming punts were matched by low, line drives. That could be trouble Deltha O’Neal, Denver’s punt returner. Look for the Broncos to try to rattle Williams by coming after him in attempt to block a punt. At the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Giants run a fake punt in this game if the situation calls for it.

In the punt return game, the big issue with Tiki Barber is ball security. He hasn’t fielded punts in live action all summer. I doubt he will have much room to run unless the Giants do a much, much better job of impeding the gunners on the other team. Kick returner Ron Dixon could make matters a lot easier for his teammates with a great return or two.

Giants on Defense: Denver is probably the most-balanced offense in the league and one of the most difficult to defend. Their offensive line may be the smallest in the league, but it is filled with strong, mobile athletes who play with great leverage and technique. Denver’s run blocking schemes are a bit different. They use a lot of angle blocking and use some questionable tactics at times by blocking low. However, the technique is effective in that it often puts opposing defensive linemen on the ground. What the Giants must do is match their quickness up front at the snap of the football and avoid falling prey to these tactics as much as possible.

The big match-ups up front will be DE Michael Strahan versus RT Matt Lepsis (Strahan is also likely to see double-team resistence from the tight end as well) and DT Keith Hamilton versus LG Lennie Friedman (with OC Tom Nalen – one of the very best in the business – helping out). An absolutely huge question mark for the Giants is the health of DT Cornelius Griffin. If he can’t go or is ineffective, the Giants may be in deep trouble. Behind Griffin are rookie reserves Ross Kolodziej and Lance Legree. Denver’s right guard is Dan Neil. It will also be interesting to see how strong a run defender DE Kenny Holmes is in his battle against LT Trey Teague. Denver is likely to run more to their left than the right against the Giants. Thus, Holmes will be tested as will the linebackers playing to that side (the Giants flop their outside linebackers quite a bit).

Denver has an extremely strong rushing attack, but I think they will come out throwing the football. I think they will want to get on top of New York big early and force the Giants to throw the football more than they want to. They also know the Giant defenders will be geared up to stop the run. So look for a lot of play-action early with quite a few shots in the intermediate to deep range of the field. QB Brian Griese is remarkably poised and accurate for such a young quarterback. The Giants must not get suckered by this play-action, especially the safeties and linebackers. In particular, FS Shaun Williams most not be overly aggressive (his trademark) and SLB Brandon Short is very inexperienced. Look for the Broncos to try to match-up their tight ends or backs on Short. The halfbacks are an option there but so is FB Patrick Hape.

Then there are the downfield threats. One of the dumbest things Dan Reeves ever did was waive Ed McCaffrey. Now he’ll likely be match-up on Dave Thomas much of the evening. The good news is that Thomas has the size to challenge McCaffrey, but Thomas can have his problems in coverage at times. If Jason Sehorn plays and is effective, I’d like to see the Giants give Thomas some help. That’s the big question because if Sehorn can’t go, the defense may be in dire straights. Then they have to rely on Emmanuel McDaniel (who had a very inconsistent preseason) or one of the rookies (most likely Will Peterson) against the very dangerous Rod Smith. It also mean that defending the third receiver – Eddie Kennison, a big-time speedster with fine size – becomes harder. Indeed, the McDaniel-Kennison match-up may the biggest problem for the Giants.

Ultimately, Denver will want to focus on the ground game. Denver Head Coach Mike Shanahan won’t want to expose Griese (who is coming off of shoulder surgery) to a lot of hits from the potentially dangerous pass rush of the Giants. Plus, running the football is what Denver does best. The Bronco offensive line does such a wonderful job of creating space for the running backs that each of Denver’s halfbacks have had 1,000-yard seasons: Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary and Mike Anderson. The Giants are going to have to play stout up front and be VERY careful of the cutback run. That’s where Denver excels is on the cutback. So New York must be physical and aggressive, but they also must play smart and disciplined. Two players on the spot will be Kenny Holmes on the right side of the defense and Cornelius Griffin (or his replacement) inside. The Broncos will test the ability of these players to defend the run.

Giants on Offense: The Giants are going to have to score more than a few points to win because I doubt the defense is going to be able to shut down Denver. With Ike Hilliard out, there will be tremendous pressure on Joe Jurevicius and Ron Dixon to perform. The Giants also need Kerry Collins to play a consistently accurate ball game and not make killer mistakes. The crowd is going to be loud and the atmosphere unfriendly, but big-time players make plays with the spotlight on them.

If I’m Sean Payton and Jim Fassel, I come out throwing too. Denver’s defense will also be licking its chops to stuff the run against Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne. I play-action early just like the Giants did against Minnesota in the NFC Championship Game with Ron Dayne in the line-up. Amani Toomer will face CB Denard Walker – who is known more his physical bump-and-run coverage than being a real fluid athlete. The Giants absolutely need Toomer to win this match-up and make some big plays. Because Walker is aggressive, Toomer may be able to do some damage deep. The Giants also need Joe Jurevicius to win his match-up against second-year man Deltha O’Neal. Jurevicius is 6-5, O’Neal is 5-10. My gut also tells me that if the Giants are going to win, they need Ron Dixon to make a some big plays in the passing game. The nickel cornerback is veteran Eric Davis, who has been around a long time. He’s very experienced, but he may not be able to keep up with Dixon.

It will be interesting to see if Dan Campbell is employed much in the passing game. The Giants may use him down on the goalline. I tend to believe however that FB Greg Comella is going to be Kerry Collins’ safety valve this year (along with Tiki Barber of course). Don’t be shocked to see Comella see as many as six balls thrown his way.

The wild card in the passing game and running game is Tiki Barber. How rusty will he be? Will the lack of contact all summer lead to fumbles or durability problems? At the same time, the Denver defensive coordinator has to be concerned that he hasn’t seen Barber all summer and has no idea what new plays the Giants may have with him in the line-up. They’ll have to go off of the 2000 game film.

Like Denver, New York will also eventually want to get back to the ground game. How much playing time does Tiki see in these situations vis a vis Ron Dayne. Dayne, as we all know, had a great summer and looks primed for big things. But Tiki is still the break-away back and the Giants may need more fire power against Denver. However, if the Giants are fortunate enough to take lead, Dayne could become the hammer that breaks the backs of the Broncos.

Much of what the Giants can and can’t do will depend on the play of the offensive line, Dan Campbell, Howard Cross, and Greg Comella against the front seven of Denver. LG Glenn Parker will have his hands full with DT Trevor Pryce – a disruptive player who can rush the passer. Glenn may need some help. The Giants need RG Ron Stone to pretty much handle Chester McGlockton and/or Leon Lett on his own. Lett has looked sharp this summer. Lomas Brown and Luke Petitgout should do well against Kavika Pittman and Keith Washington.

The Denver linebackers (the dickhead Bill Romanowski, Al Wilson, and John Mobley) are all good athletes who can move it. Look for Denver to blitz quite a bit in order to shake up Kerry Collins. Blitz pick-ups by the line, tight ends, and backs will be critical. So will the ability of these blockers to get out on the linebackers on the second level and engage them in the running game. Ron Dayne and Tiki Barber will need space to run; penetration into the backfield will kill the ground game.

Series History: Regular Season – Giants lead 4-3; Post-Season – Giants lead 1-0.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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