New York Giants 26 – St. Louis Rams 21
Game Overview: This was a huge, huge win for the Giants. Not only did it prevent them falling into an 0-2 hole, but just as importantly it proved to the players and coaches that the Giants can indeed compete with the best in the NFC. And finally, finally, finally – the Giants got over the hump of beating the Rams.
But now I will turn negative for a minute. I should preface my remarks by saying that my standards are higher for the Giants than those who felt the Giants would struggle this year. I went into this season convinced the team would win the division if (1) Kerry Collins played well and (2) the team stayed healthy. Nothing I’ve seen thus far tells me my original opinion is false. Because my standards are higher, I’m not merely happy that the Giants won, but I will be critical of what they didn’t do right.
The biggest problem this team right now is that it is still not scoring enough points. The Giants moved the ball up-and-down the field against the Rams. Most impressive was the ability of the Giants to mount a productive drive right after the Rams started to gain momentum a couple of times. But the Giants’ offense only put 19 points up on the board. I’ll said it once, I’ll say it again – this team is too talented on offense not to score 24+ points a game. The Giants came away with field goals in the following situations: 1st-and-goal from the 2 yard line, 1st-and-goal from the 8 yard line, 1st-and-10 from the St. Louis 20 yard line, and 2nd-and-1 from the St. Louis 7 yard line. If the Giants score touchdowns in half of those situations, the walk away with this game easy. As it developed, New York gave the Rams breathing room time after time and were lucky as all hell that the officials said QB Kerry Collins didn’t fumble the ball on what could have been a St. Louis touchdown that put them ahead. That play never should have had the weight it could have had the Giants not squandered their scoring opportunities.
So why are the Giants having problems? Partly due to play-calling at times, partly due a lack of execution at times, and partly due to stingy defense by the opposition. The Giants need to fix points 1 and 2. If they do, they’ll make life a lot easier on themselves – and their fans.
Quarterback: Kerry Collins (22/26 for 307 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception) played a superb game, winning “NFC Offensive Player of the Week” honors. Kerry had four incompletions – four! That’s a completion percentage of nearly 85%. And his completions were not just of the dink and dunk variety, but intermediate to deep throws that picked up big chunks of yardage. (There were passing plays of 38, 28, 23, 23, 30, 32, and 26 yards). Why is Collins so sharp right now? (1) He’s getting good pass protection on most passing plays, (2) he’s reading defenses better, (3) his mechanics are better, (4) his receivers are getting open more often, and (5) related to point 4, the presence of TE Jeremy Shockey is creating more strain of the defensive coverages.
As I mentioned above in my opening remarks, the most impressive thing about the Giants’ offense on Sunday was its ability to respond once momentum was clearing shifting in the direction of St. Louis. And at the heart of these impressive drives, were some critical throws by Collins. After the Rams had cut the score to 17-14 early in the 3rd quarter, Collins led the Giants on two impressive drives that resulted in field goals. The first drive (11 plays, 61 yards) was keyed by back-to-back passes to Amani Toomer (for 18 yard) and Ike Hilliard (for 23 yards). The second drive (12 plays, 66 yards) started off with shorter tosses to Tiki Barber and Jeremy Shockey. When St. Louis then cut the score to 23-21, the Giants and Collins responded again – this time with a 8-play, 72-yard effort that was highlighted by big pass plays to Toomer (for 32 yards) and Hilliard (for 26 yards).
There were some down moments for Kerry. There were a couple of times in the game where he missed wide-open receivers: he had Amani Toomer breaking open late down the field in the second quarter and didn’t see him. He also inexplicably didn’t see the wide open Tiki Barber in the third quarter in the red zone. Both plays should have resulted in touchdowns, but it was the latter that was more troubling because Kerry should have seen before the snap of the ball that Barber was uncovered. On that same very play, Collins fell victim to what will most likely be a lingering issue with him – he fumbled the ball after getting smashed on a blitz. Collins needs to be more aware the potential for immediate pressure in such blitz situations and either (1) throw the ball away, or (2) take the sack while protecting the football. Only by luck did the officials not rule the play a fumble.
Wide Receivers: The Giants are probably one of the few teams in the NFL who have had the same starting quarterback and wide receivers for each of the last three seasons. This familiarity between Collins, Toomer, and Hilliard is paying dividends. Collins trusts both of these receivers. He knows what to expect from them. Both Toomer (4 catches for 92 yards) and Hilliard (4 catches for 97 yards) had a strong game on Sunday. Hilliard started things off well for the Giants with a short 3rd-and-2 catch on a slant route on the first drive of the game. After the catch, Hilliard reversed his field and sprinted down the right sideline. The play picked up 38 yards and set up the first field goal. Hilliard also had a key 23-yard reception on the first field goal drive of the second half and a key 26-yard reception on the last field goal drive.
Toomer caught a critical 12-yard out on 3rd-and-7 on the Giants’ sole offensive touchdown drive. In the 3rd quarter, he caught an 18-yard slant pass against CB Aeneas Williams. Then came a 30-yard reception on a slant-and-go route (a perfectly thrown touch pass from Collins) at the end of the quarter. And it was Toomer’s key 32-yard run-and-catch over the middle that switched momentum back New York’s way after the Rams had cut the lead to 23-21. Toomer also made a number of nice blocks on running plays, though he could have done a better job on a Dayne run to the left early in the game.
Ron Dixon has an important 23-yard reception coming off the Giants’ own goal line late in the second quarter. (By the way, anyone who says Sean Payton is too conservative should note this play…with 1:38 before halftime and at their own 7-yard line, the Giants are passing out of the shot gun).
Tight Ends: The amount of respect Jeremy Shockey (4 catches for 50 yards and a touchdown) is receiving from opposing defenses already is simply amazing. Not only did the Rams double-cover him a lot, but they also put Pro Bowl CB Aeneas Williams on him at times. Shockey may not be lighting up the league with receptions, but he is drawing coverage away from Toomer and Hilliard and thereby opening up the entire passing game. Shockey had two big receptions in the game: his 28-yard slant-and-go route for a touchdown (he was covered by a good coverage linebacker on the play and easily beat him) and his 4-yard 3rd-and-3 reception late in the 3rd quarter for a first down. I liked the play as the Giants had Shockey drag short across the middle, making it difficult for the strong safety to stay with him. I also liked the quick TE out route earlier in the game that picked up 9 yards. I used to hate this route when the Giants had Howard Cross because Cross was never fast or athletic enough to turn it quickly up field. Shockey can do that. This is a nice safe pass for the Giants when they expect quick pressure, as is the quick toss over the middle (this was Shockey’s other reception). Shockey seemed to do a good job in the blocking department when I kept my eye on him – both in the running game and when picking up the blitz.
TE Dan Campbell (2 catches for 5 yards) had a fantastic game as a blocker. On most of the Giants’ longer runs, he seemed to be the one who got the key block at the end of the line of scrimmage from the down position. Indeed, there was one Barber run to the left where Campbell took out two Rams. Campbell is one of the most important players on the Giants; I hope fans recognize that fact. I also think the Giants should try to sneak the ball to him in red zone situations. I doubt he is getting much attention from the defense.
Offensive Line: Editor’s Note: One thing that is really ticking me off are the posts from readers in “The Corner Forum” looking for some scapegoat on the offensive line that “needs to be replaced.” Give me a break. These guys – given their age, level of experience, lack of time spent playing together, collegiate background, etc. – are playing fantastic and will only get better. Just because this guy or that guy struggles on a few plays in a game does not mean the guy is not or will not become a good player. This week there were a lot of posts criticizing Jason Whittle. That’s absurd. Jason Whittle is playing fine.
The pass blocking was pretty darn good. What was encouraging was that the Giants did a much better job this week of picking up blitzes and especially stunts. There were a few occasions where the left defensive end came free untouched as RT Mike Rosenthal blocked a man inside. I don’t know if this is a case of Mike being told to block an inside guy and leave the outside guy free (in other words, the Giants facing more pass rushers than blockers). Also, Mike had some problems with the outside quickness of Leonard Little. That was to be expected as Little is a small, quick pass rusher – just the kind of guy that Rosenthal would have problems with. That said, I was generally pleased with Mike’s play against Little. For the most part, he kept him wide of the pocket and even showed a bit of nastiness in dealing with him. LT Luke Petitgout had a very strong game against the Rams’ best front seven defender – DE Grant Wistrom. Petitgout won this match-up in pass protection and did a real nice job with his run blocking as well.
Speaking of the run blocking, this unit, in my view, is taking too much unjust criticism for their performance against the Rams. The Giants actually ran the ball pretty well early in the game (and the Giants did pick 103 yards on the ground). The biggest problem against the Rams was that the strong safety kept shooting into the play unblocked at the last minute to shut things down. Simply put, this was a case of the Rams bringing up more run defenders than there were men to block them. Also, there were a few very well blocked runs that picked up decent yardage, but would have picked up much more had Tiki Barber been full-speed.
Mike Rosenthal is at his best when he blocks down. The Giants need to stop pulling him – he simply isn’t athletic enough. On the other hand, I like the way Jason Whittle engages defenders in space – either on the pull or breaking off to hit a linebacker at the second level. Luke Petitgout and Rich Seubert usually control their men at the point of attack.
The biggest problem against the Rams was the red zone situations. Some of this was the fault of the play-calling…some of it the fault of the running backs…some of it offensive line/tight end execution. Let’s take a quick look:
- First Failed Red Zone Opportunity: 1st-and-goal from the 2 yard line. The left defensive end is allowed to come free for some reason and Campbell (lined up as a fullback) gets caught up with the trash on the left side and can’t hit the linebacker in the hole who makes the play. On 2nd-and-1, Ron Dayne gets stuffed. This wasn’t his fault, the entire Giants’ offensive line didn’t get low enough. 3rd-and-2 – a Dayne sweep to the right – an idiotic call that had Rosenthal pulling to the right. Jim Brown wouldn’t have had a chance on this one. Dumb call against a quick defense.
- Second Failed Red Zone Opportunity: 1st-and-goal from the 8 yard line. Tiki picks up 3 yards on a left side sweep; OC Chris Bober looks painfully slow on the pull – he’s another guy the Giants shouldn’t have moving around too much. Collins can’t find anyone open and dumps the pass off to a well-covered Campbell. On 3rd-down, Collins doesn’t feel the blitz and gets sacked (this is the play where Tiki was uncovered).
- Third Failed Red Zone Opportunity: 1st-and-goal from the 20-yard line. Dayne picks up three yards up the gut. 2nd down – Petitgout jumps offsides (he had two offsides penalties in this game). 2nd-and-12 – Collins hits Barber for 6 yards. 3rd-and-6 – Collins’ pass to Shockey is wide of the mark.
- Fourth Failed Red Zone Opportunity: 2nd-and-1 from the 8 yard line. The call is fine (a Dayne run up the gut) though I like taking a shot on 2nd-and-short. On the play, Whittle doesn’t sustain his block long enough and Ron Dayne isn’t aggressive enough slamming his body into the pile. 3rd-and-1. Quarterback sneak. I love the call…I’m a big proponent of the quarterback sneak in such critical situations. But Rich Seubert falls of his block and Collins gets hit by the defensive tackle just as he is pushing into the hole.
A few other negatives. Whittle did get bull-rushed a couple of times – including on the tipped pass that was intercepted. There were a couple of plays where Bober got beat cleaning on running plays. Rosenthal did give up a sack to Little late in the second quarter and fell off a block on a failed 2nd-and-1 run early in the 4th quarter (the Giants picked up the first down on the very next play on good blocks from Campbell, Petitgout, and Toomer). Rosenthal also had a rough series on the Giants’ last offensive series where New York was attempting to run out the clock…he couldn’t make his run block on 2nd down and got beat on a stunt on 3rd down.
But all in all, it was a very good game against a quality opponent in a loud stadium. The offensive line played well.
Running Backs: Ron Dayne (11 carries for 18 yards) is taking a lot of grief and I will heap some more on him, but not because of his performance against the Rams per se.
Things started off alright for Dayne. He picked up three yards on his first carry up the gut. Two plays later, he followed that up with a nice strong run to the left that picked up 7 yards (if Toomer makes a better block here, Dayne may break this run). The non-productive carries by Dayne down on the goal line on this drive were not his fault – the first play was not well blocked and the second was a stupid call. On the second drive, Dayne was hit in the backfield by the strong safety, but actually did a great job of breaking the tackle and turning a potential loss into a 3-yard gain. On his next run, the strong safety came unblocked again and hit Dayne in the hole – this was a well blocked play otherwise and if Archuleta doesn’t blitz right into it, Dayne may have broken a big run here. On the next carry, Dayne is met by an unblocked linebacker in the hole and only manages 2 yards. Dayne’s last carry in the first half was a toss to the left with no blocking in front. Dayne never had a chance against a fast defense…stupid call.
In the second half, I began to notice a trend. Whenever the Giants took Shockey out of the game and brought in FB Charles Stackhouse, it was inevitably a Ron Dayne run. If this is accurate, then the Giants are telling the defense what is coming before the play starts. I don’t think the Giants should ever take Shockey out of the game. Dayne’s next runs went for 2 and 3 yards. His last one was the one that he deserved the most criticism…his 2nd-and-1 effort with less than 5 minutes left in the game. There was no hole on the play, but Dayne has to put his shoulders down and hit that pile full speed in such a situation. You can’t tippy-toe it up into the hole.
My biggest complaint with Dayne is this: He and the Giants are a bad mismatch. This is Tiki Barber’s team and will be foreseeable future. Dayne is not the kind of running back who can come into a game cold and be productive. That’s been largely proven. And to the coaching staff’s discredit, they don’t seem to be able to find a way to use Dayne productively…the opposition always seems to know what is coming when Dayne is in the game. In addition, Dayne also isn’t a good short-yardage back.
Running back is one of those positions where you can usually tell if a player has “it” right away. Dayne has never really demonstrated that he is special…he has flashed here and there, but usually he has disappointed. Ideally, what the Giants need is a back who can spell Tiki and be productive in doing so immediately after coming off of the bench (and be good a strong short yardage runner).
Tiki Barber (19 carries for 80 yards, 6 catches for 30 yards) is nowhere near 100 percent and if I’m Jim Fassel, I think very seriously about sitting him down for one or two weeks. As productive as the passing game has been, it still has not reached its peak because Tiki is not able to run patterns full speed. And on Sunday against the Rams, as was the case against the 49ers, there were too many outside runs or cutbacks by Tiki that picked up OK yardage, but would have gone for much more had Tiki been full speed. The Giants need Tiki near 100 percent when the schedule toughens up again. Sit him down Jim. Use Sean Bennett and/or Delvin Joyce in the passing game.
Charles Stackhouse usually makes contact as a lead blocker, but he must get lower on his blocks. He’s still playing too high. Sean Bennett caught a 10-yard pass on 3rd-and-2.
Defensive Linemen: I thought the ends played very well, but the tackles disappointed me. The Giants’ players and coaches (and myself) were wrong about Cornelius Griffen. He will never be a star. He’s not bad, but Griffen hasn’t flashed any special qualities in two years now. Too many times on Sunday, Griffen got shoved too easily inside on plays where Michael Strahan was called to rush up the field. This enabled Marshall Faulk to run underneath Strahan for sizeable yardage (including the 44-yarder that set up the second TD). To be fair, that is a tough play for Griffen to make when he is double-teamed, but he has to prepare for it. But it’s not Griffen’s run defense that has me depressed, it’s his inability to get to the quarterback. He flashed so much as a rookie in this department that I think a lot of us thought the sacks would come in bushels when he became a full-time player. Instead, he rarely gets to the quarterback. Keith Hamilton is not playing well this year either. I’ve seen him get shoved out of the way far too easily on a few plays both against the Rams and 49ers. He had a couple of decent pass rushes against Kurt Warner, but not nearly enough (though one did force an important incompletion on 3rd-and-5 in the 3rd quarter).
Michael Strahan had no sacks, but was the focus of constant double-teams. This in itself makes things much easier for the defense as a whole – although it is making it tough for Michael to accrue sacks. Still, it was Strahan who supplied most of the pass rush on Sunday. He recovered a very important fumble late in the 4th quarter on 4th-and-1; two plays earlier he tipped a pass. DE Kenny Holmes had a good game against a quality opponent (All Pro Orlando Pace). Holmes’ sack actually came against the pulling RG Adam Timmerman (the Rams use that same idiotic pass protection scheme), but there were a couple of plays where I saw Holmes get pressure on Warner when battling Pace. Holmes tipped the pass that Jason Sehorn intercepted and returned for a touchdown.
Some positives for the entire group – Griffen, Hamilton, Strahan, and Holmes each did a good job at different times of the game of sniffing out trick plays such as shovel passes, screens, and draws.
The back-ups – Frank Ferrara, Matt Mitrione, and Lance Legree played quite a bit. The Giants love to substitute all their back-ups at once. I wonder if this is wise…wouldn’t it be better to keep 3/4’s of your starters in there while you give another a breather? Mitrione made one nice play against the run, but got crushed on Faulk’s touchdown run (Ferrara got blocked out on this play too and Legree couldn’t hold onto Faulk).
Linebackers: The linebackers have been taking a lot of grief in “The Corner Forum” this week too. As was the case against the 49ers, the linebackers were called upon to drop into coverage more this week. If a player is doing his job in coverage, the ball normally doesn’t get thrown in his direction. Thus, when Dhani Jones, Mike Barrow, or Brandon Short are dropping into coverage and not heard from, that generally means they are doing a good job.
I really like Dhani Jones’ speed and his instincts. He reads plays well and gets there in a hurry. As I’ve said since the preseason, his biggest problem is finishing. He needs to become a much more physical tackler. The biggest mistake I saw him make in the game is that he didn’t fill the hole with any authority on Faulk’s touchdown run despite being unblocked. Jones did a nice job of defending a sweep to the left in the 4th quarter.
Mike Barrow was responsible for Marshall Faulk on many plays and did a decent job against arguably the best player in the league. For the most part, Barrow read the Rams’ confusing offense well and made sure tackles when needed. However, there were a couple of spots where he got confused and it hurt (i.e., on Faulk’s 44-yard run and on the short TD throw to Ricky Proehl).
As the Rams’ almost always ran multiple receiver sets, the Giants usually countered with only two linebackers (hence some of the success of the Rams’ ground game – the Giants played pass first and foremost – the correct strategy). Brandon Short didn’t see a lot of action. However, he did make his impact felt. He recovered a fumble off a bobbled quarterback-center exchange, chased down WR Torry Holt from behind, and was a big factor in blowing up the 4th-and-inches play late in the 4th quarter where Marshall Faulk fumbled. Short also got to Warner on a blitz on the preceding play.
Defensive Backs: A great game by the secondary…especially when you consider the fact that Kurt Warner had much more time to throw the ball then he did when he faced the Giants last year. Will Allen was usually matched up on Isaac Bruce and Will Peterson on Torry Holt. Peterson has gotten a lot of raves from the media and fans for his performance, but I saw just as equally a strong performance from Allen. Both Peterson and Allen gave up some short throws, but prevented any deep damage for the most part. The sole exception was Allen just missed tipping away a pass to Holt on a crossing route that went for 34-yards and set up the final touchdown (SS Shaun Williams took the wrong angle on this play and should have made the tackle). Both supplied tight coverage throughout and frustrated the Rams’ passing attack against very dangerous receivers.
Jason Sehorn was solid in the nickel for the most part, but like Allen and Peterson, did get beat a few times underneath. Ralph Brown got burned on a deep out for 25 yards by Ricky Proehl on 3rd-and-8…this kept alive the drive that resulted in the Rams’ first touchdown.
The safeties – Shaun Williams and Omar Stoutmire – were strangely quiet. You can read that either of two ways. The negative way would be to say that they should have made some plays on the ball; the positive way would be to say that since their coverage was so solid, Warner looked elsewhere. It was probably a combination of both. Williams did make a nice open field tackle of Faulk in the open field on his 44-yard run. Two plays earlier, he stuffed Faulk for no gain on a left side run.
Special Teams: Matt Bryant hasn’t really been tested yet, but the good news is that he hit all four of his short field goals (20, 32, 34, and 25 yards). His kick-offs were good for the most part with good height and distance (landing at the 2, endzone, endzone for touchback, 1, 6, endzone, and 1). Ironically, the touchback kick was the bad kickoff – a grounder that went through the endzone. Kick coverage was ordinary at best, but at least they didn’t give up a big return. Return yardage went for 24, 27, 33, 26, 31, and 30 yards – not ideal. Making tackles were Kevin Lewis, DeWayne Patmon, Ralph Brown, Ryan Clark, and Charles Stackhouse.
The punting was much improved. Matt Allen had one kick go off the side of his foot – a pooch punt that actually ended up being a good punt. The height on the other punts was solid and went for 39, 43, and 51 yards. Punt coverage was solid except for one time. Ram returns went for 6, fair catch, 20, and a touchback. Damon Washington made one tackle on a punt, but also missed a golden opportunity to pin the Rams’ back when he could not down a punt inside the five yard line.
Daryl Jones never had a chance to return a punt. He did make a bone-headed rookie mistake by fair catching a punt inside the 10-yard line. Damon Washington looked good on his one kick return for 30 yards. Daryl Jones had returns of 17 and 28 yards. I like how both of these guys attacked up the field with the ball.