Oct 012002
 
Arizona Cardinals 21 – New York Giants 7

Game Overview: For the past few days, I’ve debated in my mind the importance of the interception return for a touchdown right before halftime. It was an unmitigated disaster, but its importance from an unemotional point of view was that it simply tied the game with a half of football left to be played. One could argue – as Head Coach Jim Fassel did this past week – that the Giants should have shown more mental toughness in overcoming this adversity. It’s hard to argue against that point.

However – and this is a big HOWEVER – the magnitude of the play changed the entire psychological dynamic of the game. It not only sapped the morale of the Giants players (who had been dominating the game everywhere but on the scoreboard), but it energized what had been demoralized Arizona team – particularly their defense. I really think the play gave the Cards the only hope they had of winning the game. It’s the duty of a head coach to put his players in the best possible position to win a game. Jim Fassel didn’t do that. You can argue that Offensive Coordinator Sean Payton shouldn’t have called the play (he shouldn’t have) or that QB Kerry Collins certainly shouldn’t have dumped the ball off short (he shouldn’t have), but the final decision rested with Fassel. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think Fassel loses many games because of his decisions. The Giants – who have had average talent from 1997-2001 – usually do play smarter and harder than the opposition. But Fassel did cost the Giants the game on Sunday. Everyone makes mistakes – including the best head coaches. But Fassel is in his sixth year as a head coach, he shouldn’t be making mistakes of that magnitude at this stage of his career. This is the kind of thing that can ruin a season and get a coaching staff fired.

Now, all that being said, there is no excuse for the players to have not re-exerted their control over the game in the second half. The Giants had their chances, but an unbelievable chain of events prevented the Giants from doing so. It was almost as if the Giants were handing the game to the Cardinals on a silver platter. More than any other Giants game I can remember in recent memory, the Giants lost this game more than the opposition won it. Collins’ first interception most likely took points off of the scoreboard, his second interception tied the game. CB Jason Sehorn dropped a sure interception that would have made the game 14-0. HB Tiki Barber fumbled the ball away at the start of the second half. Holding penalties kept stalling promising drives and took a 76-yard touchdown pass off the scoreboard that would have put the Giants up 14-7. Collins overthrew both WR Amani Toomer and Ron Dixon on what should have been long touchdown passes. DE Michael Strahan kept the Cardinals’ game-winning touchdown drive alive with a roughing the passer penalty. It was sickening to watch and I’m still angry about it. Bad football always makes me mad. There is no way the Cardinals should have won this game.

The game was tied 7-7 at halftime. The better team in the second half was going to win the football game. The Giants did not rise to the occasion; the Cardinals did. The Giants had halftime plus two quarters to re-group and take control of the game. Good teams overcome adversity, bad teams make excuses.

Quarterback: Until the interception returned for a touchdown, Kerry Collins (19/36 for 199 yards, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions) was not as sharp against the Cardinals as he was in his first three games of the season, but he certainly wasn’t bad. On the Giants’ first drive of the game, the Giants marched down the field and scored their lone touchdown. I thought Collins did a poor job on his first pass as he bird-dogged HB Tiki Barber immediately after the snap of the ball – leading the defender right to the swing pass. His second effort was excellent. First Collins looked off the safeties and linebackers to the left and then came back to the right to hit WR Amani Toomer for 12 yards and a first down. After a holding penalty on RT Mike Rosenthal, Collins hit TE Jeremy Shockey on a well-designed and well-executed tight end screen pass that picked up 19 yards and a first down. Collins then found Shockey again on 3rd-and-2 a few plays later on another tight end screen for a first down. As much grief as Sean Payton gets, these two plays were excellent – the first being a longer-developing screen with offensive linemen in front and the second being a quick toss with wide receivers serving as the blockers. On the next play, Tiki scored from six yards out.

The next drive started off extremely promising as well. It looked like the Giants were going to put another 7 points on the board and put the game away early. Collins found Shockey over the middle for 23 yards. On the next play, Collins made an excellent slant pass to Ike Hilliard despite quick pressure in his face. Tiki then picked up 13 yards on the ground and the Giants were at the Cards’ 37-yard line. This is where a killer turnover happened. It was a play-action pass and Collins took far too much time to survey the field. LG Rich Seubert lost control of his man and as Collins threw the ball, he was hit and the errant pass was picked off. Now one could blame Seubert here, but my opinion is that Collins took far too long to get rid of the ball.

On the third drive of the first half, Collins threw to Toomer for 11-yards on 2nd-and-9. However, on the next set of downs, Collins was not called upon to pass. Three straight runs could not pick up 10 yards. I’m not sure this was the correct decision by the coaching staff. As I said in my game preview, I would have attacked the Cards early and often with the passing game and then hit them later with the run. I think the Giants switched to the running attack too early.

The Giants’ next possession was their last before the infamous play at the end of the second quarter. Collins overthrew Shockey on the first play and a Ron Dayne run lost two yards on second down. On 3rd-and-12, Collins threw a very nice slant pass to Ike Hilliard for 16 yards and a first down. Collins is one of the better quarterbacks in the league in terms of throwing the slant. After another first down due to a 6-yard run by Barber and a 6-yard pass to Toomer, Collins deeper effort to Ron Dixon was just knocked away by the defender. On 2nd-and-10 from the Cardinal 40, LT Luke Petitgout was flagged with holding. Ensuing 2nd-and-20 and 3rd-and-20 passes fell incomplete and the Giants were forced to punt.

Then came the disaster right before the first half. Payton should never have called the play and Fassel should never have OK’d it. But Kerry Collins should know better than to dump the ball off short in such a situation. If a receiver is not open deeper down the field, the dump off does you no good with only 14 seconds left before the snap of the ball. YOU HAVE TO THROW THE BALL AWAY IN SUCH A SITUATION. Collins doesn’t always come across as the brightest bulb on the tree and this was a stupid, stupid decision on his part.

So intermixed with some nice passing, Collins was guilty of two costly interceptions in the first half – both of which I think you can blame on him. Another drive was hampered by a holding penalty; another by an inability to pick up 10 yards on three straight rushing attempts.

Collins did not help matters at all in the second half. The first drive started off well for him when he hit Hilliard on a 10-yard slant for a first down on 3rd-and-1. Tiki fumbled the ball away on the next play. The next drive was stymied by a clipping penalty on LG Rich Seubert.

On the third drive, Collins threw too low to an open TE Dan Campbell over the middle on 2nd-and-12. On 3rd down, Collins could find no one open down the field, and was sacked as he scrambled to his right (this was a coverage sack). On the next drive, the Giants should have taken a 14-7 lead on a Collins’ 76-yard touchdown pass to Dixon. However, the official called one of the worst holding penalties I’ve ever seen – it was a phantom call and the official most likely changed the outcome of the game. He ought to be fired…there is no excuse for that kind of incompetence. But this is where Collins really started to fall apart. After he dumped the ball off short to Barber to turn a 2nd-and-27 into a 3rd-and-15, Collins badly overthrew a wide open Toomer for what should have been an easy 74-yard touchdown pass (Chris Bober had a role in this play as well – more on that later). Then the Cardinals scored to make the game 14-7 in their favor. Collins started off well with a 22-yard slant pass to Hilliard. But on 3rd-and-5, he badly overthrew a wide-open Ron Dixon for what should have been an easy 62-yard touchdown pass. On the very next play – on 3rd-and-5, he chose to throw to the well-covered HB Ron Dayne instead of the open Shockey. Inexcusable!!! (Also baffling is why Dayne is on the field on 3rd-and-5 instead of Barber and/or Sean Bennett).

The Cards scored on their next possession to put the game away. But Collins’ bad throws didn’t end there. Despite no pass rush in the game’s closing moments, he badly missed Hilliard, Shockey, and Toomer. I’ve said since early in the off-season, as Kerry Collins goes, so goes the Giants. He played well in the first three games of the season. He played poorly against the Cardinals.

Offensive Line/Tight End Blocking: Pass protection in the game was actually pretty solid and the run blocking at times was improved. However, there were some poorly designed and/or poorly executed blocking schemes on a few left-side runs that left me scratching my head. What really hurt were all of the holding penalties (and the one clip).

RT Mike Rosenthal was flagged with holding on the Giants’ first drive of the game when the defender started to push past him on his way to Collins – it was a legit call. However, the Giants overcame the holding penalty on the very next play with a well-executed screen pass to Shockey. Petitgout and Seubert demonstrated their athletic ability by quickly getting down the field and making excellent blocks on the play. After a 5-yard pass to Barber, Dayne ran for 3-yards off behind Petitgout, Seubert, and OC Chris Bober (Dan Campbell had a nice block on this play as well). Dayne might have scored on this play if LB Raynoch Thompson didn’t make a great tackle from the backside. On Tiki’s 6-yard touchdown run, Petitgout, Seubert, and Bober again got good blocks (as did Shockey and Campbell). The play almost was stopped however because RG Jason Whittle missed his block on his man (but luckily Barber broke that tackle).

On the Giants’ next possession, as against the 49ers, Bober showed some problems in pass protection with the tackle lined up right over his head (like a nose tackle). Quick pressure on Collins resulted, but the pass was completed. On 2nd-and-2, Barber picked up 13 yards on a run to left behind excellent blocks from Petitgout and Shockey. The play was almost disrupted however as the sluggish Bober collided with Barber in the backfield (the Giants had better recognize that Bober doesn’t have the mobility that Zeigler has – in other words, stop pulling him). The next play was Collins’ first interception. Seubert lost control of his man who crashed into Collins as he threw. But at this point of the game, the line is doing fine and largely controlling the line of scrimmage.

Third possession: After Toomer picked up a first down, the Giants attempted three straight runs. Bober missed his block on the first run and Barber was stuffed. On the next play, Rosenthal and Whittle made excellent blocks that enabled Barber to pick up 9-yards to the right. However, on 3rd-and-1, a sweep to the left just missed picking up a first down. It’s hard to criticize the blocking on the play because there were more defenders than blockers. It seemed to me that the play-design was flawed.

Fourth possession: This is where I started wondering what the hell kind of running schemes the Giants were employing. On 2nd-and-10, Dayne was clobbered in the backfield on an attempted run to the left. What was strange about this play is that the Giants’ blockers looked like they deliberately let the first waive of Cardinal defenders to run past them unmolested – almost as if the Giants were running a screen and the blockers were all trying to get to the second level. The problem with this is that Dayne had to contend with 3-4 unblocked Cardinal defenders. However, the Giants did manage to convert on 3rd-and-12 and keep the drive alive. The drive was then sabotaged by Petitgout’s holding penalty. Two plays later, on 3rd-and-20, the right side of the offensive line did a poor job of picking up a stunt.

At the start of the second half, the Giants picked up 9-yards on the ground on two consecutive Barber runs. Whittle got a good block on the first run and Campbell, Shockey, and Whittle got a good block on the second. After a first down pass, Barber fumbled the ball away. The second drive was sabotaged by a very costly and stupid clipping call on Seubert on a Barber run to the left for 6-yards (incidentally, both of the tight ends got good blocks on this play again). The 3rd down pass didn’t pick up enough yardage for the first down and it wouldn’t have counted had it done so because Mike Rosenthal was flagged for holding again (his second in the game).

On the third drive, the Giants tried to have Shockey block the defensive end one-on-one (what does Payton think? That Shockey is Bavaro in the blocking department?). Predictably, the end pushed Shockey back into the backfield. This partially knocked Whittle off stride on his right-side pull and he couldn’t get a clean shot on the corner who did a nice job of forcing the play. Barber lost two yards. After a bad pass from Collins, the drive ended with a coverage sack.

Fourth drive: Unbelievably, the Giants are called for holding again – this time it is on Petitgout (his second). Barber picks up 3-yards behind good blocks from Bober and Seubert (the Giants’ OL has been getting movement in all four games – the backs have simply been able to break a big run yet). On 2nd-and-17, Rosenthal is called for that atrocious holding call (his third) that wiped out the 76-yard pass. Two plays later, Collins overthrows Toomer on what should have been a touchdown. On this play, Collins was bothered by pressure right up the gut as Bober once again had problems in pass protection with a nose tackle lined right up over his head. This breakdown most likely affected Collins’ throw. The last drive before the Cardinals made it 21-7 was hampered by poor passing from Collins. Barber did pick up 5 yards on this drive behind good blocks from Petitgout and Seubert.

Summary: Some of the breakdowns in the rushing game are occurring in my opinion because the plays are poorly designed (i.e., the short-yardage sweeps with not enough blockers, the Dayne run where no one is called upon to block, having Shockey block a defensive end one-on-one, etc.). Some are occurring because I firmly believe the running backs are not playing very well. There are a lot of plays that are just missing and once the Giants start breaking a run or two, you will see a dramatic improvement in their rushing stats. The pass protection was fine on Sunday. The problem was all of the penalties. This is what fans notice the most and which draws the most negative attention.

Running Backs: Things started off well for Tiki Barber (13 carries for 55 yards, 1 touchdown; 6 catches for 48 yards). Barber did an excellent job of breaking a tackle behind the line of scrimmage on his touchdown run and then powering over two defenders. Excellent effort. He also had runs of 13, 9, and 6 yards in the first half – the last being a nice cutback run when he saw the defense had over-pursued. However, Tiki really contributed to the sense of doom-and-gloom with his fumble on the first possession in the second half. It was a strange play. Tiki half-heartedly blocked the onrushing blitzer and let him go by right at Collins. Collins had no choice but to dump the ball off to Tiki who was clobbered in traffic from behind. Tiki’s best runs of the second half were for 7, 6 (called back), and 5 yards.

Ron Dayne only carried the ball 3 times (for 2 yards). His first run picked up 3-yards and he almost punched this one through the line of scrimmage for a possible TD. His second carry picked up 1-yard; I felt if he saw the cutback to the right he might have picked up a nice chunk of real estate on this play. His last carry (all three carries were in the first half) was the jail break blocking scheme that lost 2-yards.

Sean Bennett dropped a pass and caught one for 7-yards. I think the Giants should be taking advantage of him more as a role player.

Wide Receivers/Tight End Receiving: A big problem for the Giants was that after a strong start, they virtually ignored Shockey in the second half of the game. Inexcusable. Shockey was a major factor on the first drive with his two screen passes (one for 19 yards on 2nd-and-18 and the other for 4 yards on 3rd-and-2). My only quibble with Shockey is that on the first play, he should have done a better job of keeping his feet and thereby scoring on the play. Things on the next drive started off well too when Collins found Shockey over the middle. Shockey then broke one tackle and spun away from another defender en route to a 23-yard gain. But that was the last we heard of Shockey until the last Giants’ drive of the game. Why???

Amani Toomer (4 catches for 32 yards) and Ike Hilliard (4 catches for 56 yards) were quiet…too quiet given the caliber of the competition. They deserve much of the blame for the loss if you ask me. Both made some clutch catches in key situations, but more is expected of these two this year. Where are the touchdowns? Though to be fair, Toomer did get behind the secondary for what should have been a 74-yard touchdown pass but Collins missed him.

Ron Dixon had three “almost” big plays in this game. One came in the first half when Dixon made a diving effort over the middle and almost came down with the ball (the defender knocked it out of his hands at the last moment). The second was the 76-yarder wiped out by the holding penalty. The third was a play where he got behind the secondary and a 62-yard touchdown should have resulted but Collins overthrew him. Oh, and by the way Ron, cut the high-stepping crap on your apparent touchdown catch – that’s bush league – and you could have been caught from behind.

Defensive Line: The starting front four – as a group – did a good job and even some of the reserves made some noise. But there were a couple of unexpected individual developments. DE Michael Strahan (4 tackles, 1 sack) did pick up one sack on the first possession of the game, but RT Leonard Davis really manhandled him much of the game – including on the run – which is pretty much unheard of for Strahan. I think that speaks for as much about Davis’ ability than any poor play by Strahan. Davis is simply huge and he mauled Strahan a few times – more than any other player who I can remember. There were too many right-side runs in the second half that picked up good yardage because Strahan was taken out of the play. The huge play that hurt was Strahan’s 15-yard roughing the passer penalty that came after a 3rd-and-10 incompletion. The game was tied 7-7 at the time and Arizona went on to score the game-winning points on this same drive. Strahan was also flagged for being offsides.

DE Kenny Holmes (2 tackles) was also right there on Strahan’s sack and if Strahan didn’t get him, Holmes was going to. Holmes also got good pressure on a 3rd-and-9 pass on Arizona’s next possession that fell incomplete. Holmes left the game with an elbow injury and played sparingly after that. In the third quarter, he got another excellent pass rush on a 3rd-and-10 pass that was completed. Five plays later, Holmes did a superb job of reading a screen pass that he turned into a 3-yard loss.

DT Keith Hamilton (3 tackles) did a decent job, but really hasn’t made many plays of note thus far this year. The Giants need more of an impact from him. He did get a good pass rush on a 2nd-and-11 play on Arizona’s third drive of the game, forcing an incompletion. He also held his ground fairly well, though there were some late runs to the left that picked up big yardage where he did get squeezed inside on.

The big surprise was a very impressive game by DT Cornelius Griffin (4 tackles). At times, Griffin dominated. On the first play of the game, he combined with Strahan and Brandon Short to stuff a right-side run. On the next possession, he really took charge. He pressured Jake Plummer on a pass that picked up 8-yards. After missing the runner on a 2-yard cutback that picked up the first down, Griffen then made up for it by nailing the back for a 1-yard loss and then by putting pressure on Plummer again on the next play. Late in the second quarter, Griffin sacked Plummer on a stunt on 3rd-and-7, but the play was called back due to defensive holding on CB Will Peterson. In the 3rd quarter, Griffin combined with SS Shaun Williams to stuff one run and then batted a ball down at the line of scrimmage. He then left the game due to injury and played sporadically.

The reserves started well, better than I had hoped. DE Frank Ferrara combined with MLB Mike Barrow to stuff Arizona’s 4th-and-2 play in the second quarter. On the next series, Ferrara then stopped another run by combining with Short. In the 4th quarter, Ferrara got a good rush on Plummer and forced a bad throw to WR David Boston. But after that, things started to fall apart for Ferrara. He (along with Brandon Short and Mike Barrow) got handled on HB Marcel Shipp’s 25-yard run on Arizona’s go-ahead drive. On the Cards’ next drive – the one that put the game away – Ferrara stuffed one run with Hamilton. But he then ran himself right out of the play on a 4-yard run. Then Ferrara, Hamilton, and Barrow got blocked on Shipp’s 13-yard run on 3rd-and-6. Things ended badly on the same drive as Ferrara and Short got blocked on Shipp’s 10-yard touchdown run.

DT Lance Legree did a nice job of hustling back from the line of scrimmage to clobber the receiver after a short toss. Two plays later, Legree got an excellent pass rush on Plummer forcing Jake to throw the ball earlier than he wanted to.

DT Matt Mitrione got an excellent pass rush on the play where Griffen sacked Plummer. On the same drive, Mitrione did a good job of reading a screen play and limiting it to 2-yards. Mitrione got a good pass rush on Plummer’s 7-yard touchdown pass, but his failure to bring himself under control as he neared Plummer enabled Jake to sneak around him and buy time to complete the pass. This was a rookie mistake that hurt. On the next drive, Mitrione disrupted a Shipp run for no gain that Legree and Ferrara cleaned up on.

Linebackers: Not a great game for the linebackers. There were flashes, but there were also some costly plays. Dhani Jones (10 tackles) played at the extremes. On Arizona’s second possession, Jones did a great job of beating the block of the tight end and tackling the back for a 1-yard loss. In the second quarter, Jones combined with Will Allen to hold HB Thomas Jones to 2-yards on a right-side run. Jones was victimized by what should have been called an illegal pick by TE Freddie Jones for 10-yards. A few plays later, Dhani missed a tackle on Shipp. In the 3rd quarter, Shipp got between Jones and Short in zone coverage and picked up a first down on 3rd-and-10. On the next play, Jones missed another tackle on Shipp. Three plays later, Dhani made a superb play by reading an end-around and tackling the very fast MarTay Jenkins for a 9-yard loss. However, Jones most costly missed tackle came on Arizona’s last TD drive when he failed to bring down TE Freddie Jones en route to a 23-yard play on 3rd-and-6. This was a very costly mistake by Dhani.

Brandon Short (5 tackles) did a real nice job on Arizona’s first two rushing attempts to start the game. In the second quarter, he and Ferrara held Jones to a 1-yard run off left tackle. However, in the second half of the game, Short was blocked too easily on a number of Arizona runs, including runs for 7, 25, and the 10-yard touchdown run.

Mike Barrow (7 tackles) was inconsistent. At times, he gummed things up against the run. At other times, he got caught up in the trash – most notably those Shipp runs in the 4th quarter. In the second quarter, he got pressure on Plummer on the play where Will Allen was flagged for pass interference. Two plays later, he did a great job of reading a draw play, playing off the block, and limiting the damage to 4-yards. Barrow then combined with Ferrara to hold Shipp short of the first down marker on 4th-and-2. However, like Short, Barrow had his problems in the 4th quarter. He got caught inside on Shipp’s 25-yarder, Shipp’s 13-yarder on 3rd-and-6, and on the 10-yard touchdown run.

Kevin Lewis made a head’s up play by recovering a fumble from Plummer.

Defensive Backs: Will Peterson (2 tackles) and Will Allen (7 tackles) continue to do a great job in shutting down opposing receivers. All-World WR David Boston only had two catches for 18 yards – that’s amazing. Allen was called for a bogus 23-yard pass interference penalty. Not only was the ball uncatchable (out of bounds), but there was no interference on the play. Allen was a second late in reading a slant pass to WR Bryan Gilmore in the 4th quarter. This occurred on Arizona’s go-ahead drive. If Allen had just been a second sooner, he may have picked off the pass and scored – putting the Giants up 14-7. Peterson was flagged for a costly defensive holding penalty that wiped away a Griffen 3rd-and-7 sack.

Jason Sehorn (4 tackles) also did well in coverage, but his drop of a ball intended for Boston late in the second quarter cost the Giants 14 points (Sehorn would have scored and the Giants would never have faced the incident at the end of the half). In the 3rd quarter, Sehorn had excellent coverage on Frank Sanders on a 3rd-and-10 pass that fell incomplete. However, Sehorn and Shaun Williams got beat over the middle by Sanders on a key 3rd-and-7 on Arizona’s last scoring drive. If Sehorn makes the play, the Giants get the ball back, down by only 7 points, with 7 minutes left to play.

SS Shaun Williams (9 tackles) was active in run defense. He also made a nice sure tackle the speedy Jenkins over the middle, holding the receiver short of the first down marker on 3rd-and-11 in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Williams timed his run blitz just right and nailed Jones in the backfield for a 1-yard loss. In the 3rd quarter, Williams combined with Griffen to hold Jones to no gain on first down. On the next drive, Shaun did a nice job in coverage on Freddie Jones and held him to a 2-yard gain.

Special Teams: Matt Bryant did not attempt a field goal. His kick-offs landed at the 5 and 3 yard lines. However, the latter kick was a weak one that dribbled back to the returner. Kick-off coverage was very good with the very dangerous MarTay Jenkins only picking up 20 and 22 yards on his returns. Kevin Lewis and Marcellus Rivers made the tackles. Nice job.

Matt Allen was very inconsistent. His punts went for 52, 34, 65, 39, and 16. In other words, he was all over the place with both a superb and terrible punt at the extremes. This is what got Rodney Williams waived. Moreover, his decision to try to run for the first down on 4th-and-15 was dumb. He could have moved and then punted. Also, the snap from Bob Jones was terrible on this play. The punt coverage unit gave up returns of 0 (downed), 3 (Rivers making the tackle), 5 (Omar Stoutmire), and 3 (Rivers). In other words, also excellent. Note Marcellus Rivers making 3 special teams tackles – this should not go unnoticed. However, Rivers did get flagged with an obvious block-in-the-back penalty on a Daryl Jones punt return.

Daryl Jones continues to struggle as a returner. The good news is that he did a good job on his 31-yard kick return and really fought for extra yardage on his 8-yard punt return. But he also fielded another punt inside the 10 (ironically this ended up being a good play as Jones returned the ball 17-yards and a personal foul penalty was tacked on at the end of the run). His other returns were quite average and he called for one fair catch in a situation where he had plenty of running room.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Arizona Cardinals, September 29, 2002)
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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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