Sep 242003
New York Giants 24 – Washington Redskins 21 (OT)

Game Overview: The Giants came VERY close to possibly becoming an emotional wreck heading into the bye weekend. Losing two back-to-back overtime games to division opponents in disastrous fashion might have become too tough a hurdle to overcome. What’s frustrating is that the Giants had their opportunities to put this game away in the second half of the contest. At the same time, the Giants were fortunate that the Redskins kept shooting themselves in the foot with costly penalties and dropped passes.

The good news is that the offense seems to be rounding into shape as the new offensive line begins to gel. The bad news is that the defense seems at times confused, unconfident, and porous. Special teams have improved, but still needs to get better.

Comment on Jim Fassel and the Offensive Play-Calling: The criticism of Jim Fassel being too conservative in the second half of the game is utter nonsense. The people making these charges are not watching the field. In the second half, the Giants used a lot of 4-WR sets with TE Jeremy Shockey split wide…in effect, an empty backfield look with 5-WR’s. Collins was in the shotgun in these situations, including on first down. That is not conservative. After CB Will Allen’s interception put the ball at the Redskins 38-yard line, Fassel called three consecutive pass plays (that went nowhere). That is not conservative. When the Skins cut the lead to 21-18 and the Giants got the ball back, they passed two of their three plays. That is not conservative. In fact, if you want to criticize Fassel for anything, it might be for not running the ball more in the latter two situations…but don’t say Fassel played “scared”. That’s utter nonsense.

So why didn’t the Giants score in the second half? Too many penalties, lack of execution (i.e., dropped passes or overthrown passes), one breakdown in pass protection (LaVar Arrington’s sack), and better Redskin defense (Champ Bailey played a lot better on Amani Toomer in the second half). Once the Giants stopped shooting themselves in the foot (in overtime), they moved the ball at will. The play calling had not changed, the execution had.

Fassel is also doing a good job of helping out the offensive line by calling a lot of quick, 3-step drop passing plays.

Quarterback: I have DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket. As I surf the other games when the Giants are not playing, one thing is becoming more and more clear to me. Kerry Collins is one of the best and most consistent quarterbacks in the NFL. In fact, given his current age, maturity level, calm personality in the face of adversity, arm strength, and experience, I’m not sure I would trade him for any other quarterback in the League. I mean that. Like Phil Simms, it’s going to take Collins winning a Championship before people give him enough credit. But the guy is a stud quarterback in a League devoid of quarterback talent.

Collins won “NFC Offensive Player of the Week” honors for his performance against Washington (24-of-39 for 276 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions). Was he perfect? By no means. But what quarterbacks are in each and every game? Collins missed on some throws, particularly in the second half of the game. But most of his decisions and accuracy were right on the mark. Collins did not attempt a pass until New York’s second drive – in which he completed 6-of-7 passes for 60 yards. His final pass of that drive was a 5-yarder to Ike Hilliard for the touchdown. Two drives later, Collins threw an excellent deep pass to Amani Toomer for a 54-yard touchdown against CB Champ Bailey. On the next drive, Collins completed 5-of-8 passes en route to another touchdown pass to Ike Hilliard. The key pass on that drive was 6-yard bullet to Ike Hilliard over the middle on 3rd-and-5.

In the second half, Collins tried to get the ball to Toomer a few times in situations where Champ Bailey supplied very good coverage, resulting in incompletions, including a 3rd-and-2 pass on the first drive after the Giants had already picked up a first down. On New York’s second drive of the 3rd quarter, Collins was victimized by two drops (Hilliard and Toomer). His next pass to Jeremy Shockey was overthrown. This was the drive that started on the Skins’ 38-yard line after Allen’s interception. The Giants started to move the ball on the next drive, but two false starts on the OL combined with a breakdown in pass protection (resulting in a sack/fumble) ended that effort. On the next drive, Collins tried to get the ball to Toomer twice, but he was well covered. On the next drive, the Giants moved the ball well. The big play was a superb throw by Collins to Hilliard deep, despite an all-out blitz by Washington. Somehow Collins put the deep pass right on the money even though he was forced to throw the ball while falling off his back foot with rushers in his face. The play resulted in a 26-yard pass interference penalty. After two Barber runs, Collins threw an errant pass out of bounds in the end zone and Bryant missed the 37-yard field goal. Collins’ worst decision in the game was his attempt to force the ball down the middle of the field on the final drive in regulation when the Skins had cut the score to 21-18…that pass was almost intercepted.

In overtime, Collins was as cool as a cucumber despite the fact the Giants were starting on their own 6-yard line and the hostile crowd was in a frenzy. On that game-winning drive, Kerry was 3-of-4 for 50 yards.

Wide Receivers: A decent game for Ike Hilliard (7 catches for 58 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Amani Toomer (4 catches for 81 yards, 1 touchdown). Hilliard came up real big in the red zone with his two touchdowns. Once came against zone coverage, where he is just too nimble to defend in such situations. The other came against man coverage by Champ Bailey. Hilliard put on some real nice moves on his 19-yard reception that helped to set up the first TD. His 3rd-and-5 reception over the middle on the final TD drive was a big play as well. Hilliard did drop a pass immediately after Will Allen’s interception. If he holds onto the ball, the Giants are in field goal range.

Three of Toomer’s four receptions came in the first half. The big one was the 54-yard deep pass against Bailey for a touchdown. Toomer also had an important reception for 13 yards that put the ball at the Washington 5-yard line on the final drive of the first half. However, in the second half of the game, Toomer was shut out by Bailey. It wasn’t until overtime on his 9-yard reception on 2nd-and-5 that Amani was heard from again. This was one of the reasons why the offense struggled in the second half. Toomer let a pass slip right through his hands right after Hilliard’s aforementioned drop.

Tim Carter had one catch for five yards, but saw a lot of action in multiple WR sets.

Running Backs: A huge game for Tiki Barber (28 carries for 126 yards, a 4.5 yards-per-carry average; 4 catches for 18 yards) despite playing on a sore ankle. The only big negatives on Tiki thus far this year have been (1) his fumbling problem (he fumbled again in this game after a short reception), and (2) he’s not getting into the end zone (0 touchdowns on the young season). But Tiki has put together big numbers in two of the Giants’ first three games on the ground. Against Washington, except for one 3rd-and-13 play where LaVar Arrington overpowered him, Barber was excellent on blitz pick-ups. Tiki also did a great job of recovering Collins’ fumble after Arrington’s sack later in the game.

Brian Mitchell (1 catch for 10 yards) also does well on the blitz pick-ups. However, Mitchell made a huge mistake by running out of bounds on pass reception right before the two minute warning. This in effect, gave Washington an extra timeout. Mitchell did a good job on a 3rd-and-19 screen pass that picked up what looked to be a 1st down, but a penalty on Jeremy Shockey brought the play back.

The offseason pick-up of Jim Finn (2 catches for 39 yards) is looking more and more like a good move. Not only did he have the key catch (for 27 yards) in overtime on a rollout pass where he got wide open, but his blocking really isn’t bad at all. While not a powerful player, he is pretty athletic for a fullback and works to get into position and sustain his blocks. I think Finn was missed last week in the Dallas loss.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey played much better this week (5 catches for 65 yards). One thing fans should keep an eye on is that on many of the Giants’ outside running plays, the tight end is called upon to block down on the defensive end while the tackle and guard swing around him to block the pursuing linebackers. Shockey and Visanthe Shiancoe both do a pretty darn good job in this department. A lot of Tiki’s success on Sunday came on plays where Shockey handled the end by himself. One area where I’d like to see Shockey improve his blocking away from the play…he gets a bit lazy there sometimes when the action is going in the other direction. Shockey also needs to wait before blocking down field on a screen passes…he was flagged for that again, bringing back yet another first down effort by Brian Mitchell.

In the passing game, Shockey had a nice 16-yard catch-and-run on a curl pattern that put the ball at the Skins’ 7-yard line, setting up a touchdown. Shockey later made a great one-handed, spinning grab against LaVar Arrington.

I’ve seen some negative reports on Shiancoe’s blocking, but I don’t see it when he lined up in the traditional down position. There was one play where he pushed back a bit, but for such an inexperienced player, I’ve been pleased with his blocking. He got a good block, for example, on the first drive of the game when he handled Bruce Smith.

Offensive Line: This group seems to be coming together. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the penalties, this would have been an outstanding performance. How much of that is due to a poor Skins’ defensive line remains to be seen, but the Skins did blitz a lot, yet the line did hold up for the most part (there was the one blitz where Arrington came clean off the right side of the line for a sack).

Pass protection was very good. Yes, the 3-step drop passes are making things easier for the linemen, but there were also a lot of pass plays on Sunday where the Giants’ went empty backfield and there was no tight end to help block either. The Skins couldn’t get any pressure on Collins without blitzing and there were times when that didn’t help. There were a couple of plays where rookies Wayne Lucier and David Diehl were confused in pass protection and this led to some pressure, but that is happening far less than expected. My biggest complaint? It’s schematic. On late 4th quarter play where Collins’ middle pass was almost intercepted, Collins was under heat. For some reason, the blocking scheme called upon Tiki Barber and a pulling right guard to block LDE Bruce Smith. Petitgout had handled Smith all day so this didn’t make any sense to me.

The run blocking was good too. Predictably, the Giants ran a ton to their left behind Luke Petitgout and Rich Seubert – and did so with very good results. These two gentlemen are VERY good linemen. But it is interesting to note that in overtime, the Giants ran only to their right and did so quite successfully. Overall, throughout the game, Chris Bober did a nice job of run blocking. And David Diehl really looked scary on a couple of his pulls…he really crushed a defensive back on one such effort.

The penalties did hurt and keep my grades lower. False starts: Bober (twice), Diehl, and Petitgout. Holding: Petitgout and Diehl.

Kudos to Rich Seubert for really goading MLB Jeremiah Trotter into a foolish unnecessary roughness penalty. Seubert pressed his luck by aggressively blocking Trotter after the play was over (the refs could have called this). When Trotter responded, Seubert just put his arms up. Without this play, the Giants don’t score their third touchdown. I also liked the way Seubert really worked to sustain his block on a screen pass to Barber in the 4th quarter.

Comment on the Defense: According to the coaching staff, the biggest problem on defense right now is all the mental mistakes. But this shouldn’t be happening. All eleven starters have been with the team for a while now, as has nickel back Ralph Brown. Are the players not concentrating? Are the defensive schemes too complicated? Does the style of defense match up with the players skills? Questions, questions, questions.

I will say this: Some key players on this team are not playing very well right now. I expected more out of Michael Strahan, Cornelius Griffin, Shaun Williams, and Will Peterson in particular. The two rookie defensive linemen are learning on the job. Ralph Brown is having his ups and downs. The pass rush in the last two games has been pathetic and this is really hurt the secondary.

All that being said, this team’s defensive personnel is much better than their 32nd ranking. You can’t tell me the Cardinals, Bengals, Bears, Jets, Browns, Colts, Falcons, Chiefs, Rams, Saints, Packers, Lions, and Jaguars have better personnel. The Giants’ blitzes seem to be very predictable for the opposition. The Giants are blitzing (linebackers and defensive backs); they just are not getting to the quarterback. Some of the big plays the Skins made on Sunday came on plays where the Giants blitzed two players. The Giants’ zone coverage – particularly in the middle of the field – appears to be an open invitation to easy yardage. I don’t think these soft zone coverages suit the ability and temperament of the players the Giants have in the secondary.

Perhaps the zone blitz plays the Giants are using is working on some plays and I just don’t see it because the quarterback is being forced to throw the ball in other direction. However, it does seem that the opposition is picking up some good yardage when they recognize that they have a receiver on a defensive end in coverage. There was one play in the first quarter where Lynn had both Strahan and Holmes drop off into coverage as Barrow and Brown blitzed. I don’t care for that style of defense.

Defensive Line: What the heck is going on with the defensive line? If you ask me, the only guy playing well right now is DT Lance Legree. DE Kenny Holmes (2 tackles, 1.5 sacks; though in my opinion the one full sack shouldn’t have been credited to him but split between Griffin and Legree).

The pass rush on Sunday was a joke. Strahan was dominated by RT Jon Jansen. Strahan has a total of 3 tackles in two games. I don’t know if his toe is still hurt, or the Giants are hiding another injury, or if he is still getting into game shape after missing the entire preseason, or if he is starting to show his age. But he’s being paid as the team’s number one play-maker, yet he is not making plays. On Sunday, Strahan had to resort to pretending that he was held on some plays. Strahan did tip a 3rd-and-5 pass, resulting in an incompletion. He also had a half a sack called back due to a holding penalty on Will Peterson.

It’s tougher for a defensive tackle to make plays that stick out, but I did expect Cornelius Griffin (2 tackles) to be a much bigger factor on the pass rush. The best play by Griffin and Strahan was their goal line penetration on FB Rock Cartwright for a 3-yard loss in the 3rd quarter. Griffin tipped away a 3rd-and-17 pass too. Legree started for Keith Hamilton and actually got a couple of good pressures. He also almost caused a safety in the 3rd quarter when the Skins’ were coming off the goal line. Later in the game, he disrupted a Ladell Betts run for a 2-yard loss.

Misdirection pitch plays to the weakside have been a problem since the preseason. The opposition is faking a run to the strongside, then pitching the ball to the back running to the weakside. This play inevitably fools the weakside end (Holmes or Umenyiora) and the weakside backer (Dhani Jones). The Skins picked up 19 yards on this play on their first drive.

Holmes did cause two holding penalties, including one that brought back a touchdown. He also split a legitimate sack with a blitzing Shaun Williams.

I know fans are impatient about the development of Osi Umenyiora (1 tackle) and William Joseph (0 tackles), but they will improve with time. Joseph caused one holding penalty with a quick inside move. But he was also flagged with roughing the passer for hitting the quarterback in the face. Umenyiora’s biggest problem remains misdirection. For example, he got fooled badly on Laveranues Coles’s reverse. A few plays later, he rushed too aggressively up the field as the halfback ran a draw play past his vacated area. Umenyiora was also flagged for being offsides. To his credit, Osi did a good job of playing off a cut block and tackling Ramsey after he started to scramble.

Keith Washington (1 tackle) played some but wasn’t a factor on the pass rush either.

Linebackers: I don’t think this group played all that well this week. There were too many plays where the Skins’ offensive linemen were able to get a hat on the linebackers and keep them from stopping big gains on the ground. In addition, there were too many plays where backs were left wide open on quick swing passes.

Barrow had some rough moments. At times, Mike Barrow (4 tackles) looked good in coverage, but there were also times when he got exploited. And for some reason, the Giants had Barrow on WR Darnerien McCants twice down on the goal line on their first TD drive of the game, including on the play that resulted in a touchdown. Earlier in the drive, Barrow missed two tackles on Ladell Betts and was beat by TE Robert Royal down the seam (Royal dropped the ball). Betts later faked out Barrow (and others) on his 34-yard catch-and-run.

There were times when the Giants’ linebackers had the draw well defended, but others when they seemed to forget this was a favorite play of the Redskins. The roughing the passer call on Dhani Jones (7 tackles) was a terrible call; it wiped out a sack by Ralph Brown.

Defensive Backs: The Giants’ defensive backs are too good to be playing this poorly. I think part of it is schematic in the sense that if these veterans, who have all been here for a few years, are still be confused about their coverage responsibilities, then there is a problem. At the same time, I don’t think everyone is playing up to their potential.

The guy who impressed me the most in this game was Will Allen. Allen covered Laveranues Coles for much of the game and largely controlled him. Most of Coles’ big yardage plays came against zone coverage where Allen wasn’t on him. For example, there were plays where Coles was being covered by a safety…that should not happen because it is a mismatch. That’s what happened on Coles’ 32-yard reception in the 2nd quarter; Omar Stoutmire was called upon to cover Coles in a zone over the middle. But back to Allen. Allen had a great, diving interception on a deep pass to Coles that he returned for 22 yards. On the next drive, he knocked down another attempt to Coles on 2nd-and-5. Later, he again expertly defended a 3rd-and-5 pass intended for Coles that fell incomplete. His only negative that I saw was giving up the 6-yard touchdown to Gardner. Allen had tight coverage on the play, but the pass was completed.

I have high expectations for Will Peterson so when I see him getting beat, I am disappointed. Rod Gardner is a talented wide receiver, but Peterson should be able to handle him. Gardner beat Peterson deep for a 30-yard touchdown in the first quarter, but luckily a penalty negated the play. In the second quarter, Peterson got away with defensive holding on a deep pass again to Gardner. In the 4th quarter, a defensive holding penalty by Peterson erased a sack by Strahan and Ralph Brown. Gardner beat Peterson on what should have been a big gain later in the 4th quarter, but Gardner dropped the ball. On the very next play, both Johnnie Harris and Peterson missed tackles on Betts run after the catch that turned into a 34-yard gain. A few plays later, Peterson did a good job knocking away a pass intended for Gardner near the goal line, but then he gave up an easy completion on the next play by playing too far off Gardner.

Nickel back Ralph Brown (3 tackles, 1 sack) played better this week, but gave up a couple of key completions. He was beat by McCants on a 3rd-and-10 play on the Skins first drive. Late in the game on the Skins’ final field goal drive, Brown was beaten for 32 yards by McCants despite Brown also committing pass interference on the play. Brown picked up one sack on a blitz and had another wiped out due to a penalty (his sack that counted didn’t amount to much either as Dhani Jones was flagged with a BS roughing the passer call).

Kato Serwanga was beaten pretty badly in man coverage over the middle by Patrick Johnson for 27 yards on 3rd-and-5. This play helped to set up Washington’s first touchdown.

Shaun Williams supplied good coverage on a deep passing attempt to Chad Morton. In the 4th quarter, he knocked away a ball intended for Patrick Johnson on 2nd-and-12. Then on the next drive, he had good deep coverage on McCants on a fly pattern down the left sideline. Late in regulation, he made a big play by sharing a sack with Keith Holmes on a strong safety blitz.

Omar Stoutmire got faked out of his shoes by Coles on his 23-yard reverse. Johnnie Harris almost picked off a deep pass to Gardner in the 4th quarter, but Gardner jarred the ball loose after colliding with Harris. Harris did miss a big tackle on Betts’ aforementioned 34-yard gain.

Special Teams: One of the stars on the Giants right now is P Jeff Feagles. Feagles is a rock of consistency with his punting. On top of that, he not only possibly made a TD saving tackle on Sunday, but he made two very good holds on errant snaps, including on the game winning field goal attempt in overtime. Feagles’ punts went for 37, 53 (touchback – should have been downed inside the 5 but David Tyree messed up again), 51 (downed at 3 yard line by Kato Serwanga), 27 (down at 11 yard line), 44 (fair caught at 18 yard line), 48, and 45 (fair caught). In punt coverage, the big negative was the 28 yard return on the first punt where Feagles had to save the day. On the other punt returned, Marcellus Rivers was flagged with a 15-yard face mask penalty.

PK Matt Bryant kicked the game-winning 29-yard field goal in overtime, but could have cost the Giants the game by missing his 37-yard attempt in the 4th quarter that would have given the Giants a two touchdown lead with 4:15 left to play. Bryant still makes me nervous as hell.

Bryant’s kickoffs were fielded at the 14, 2, end zone (touchback), and 4. The kick coverage unit gave up one big return (27 yards where Bryant was forced to make the tackle). Kick coverage was good on the other two returns: 17 yards (Nick Greisen making the tackle) and 20 yards (Marcellus Rivers).

Through three games, Brian Mitchell simply isn’t getting the opportunity to return many punts. He has only fielded two punts (one of which was fair caught). He had NO chances against Washington.

On kick returns, Mitchell hasn’t really performed as advertised this year. How much of that is due to his return skills and how much due to blocking/schemes? I don’t know. He did have a big return of 42 yards in overtime get called back because of a penalty. Mitchell’s kick returns went for 22, 24, touchback, 25 (brought back due to holding call on Jim Finn), and 42 yards (brought back due to an illegal block penalty on Johnnie Harris). Delvin Joyce had a kick return of 35 yards and looked more explosive than Mitchell.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Washington Redskins, September 21, 2003)
Sep 192003

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Washington Redskins, September 21, 2003: This will be a short preview this week as we lost a couple of days due to a power outage from Hurricane Isabel.

This is a very important game for the Giants in two senses. For one, it is important for the Giants to move past the Monday night disaster of the Cowboys as quickly as possible and focus what this team still may accomplish. Second, the Giants are now 0-1 in the NFC East. Going 0-2 in the division and chasing a 3-0 (1-0 in the division) Washington Redskins team would obviously not be a good thing.

Giants on Offense: The Washington Redskins have some very good players on defense. The Redskins have moved LaVar Arrington his more natural position at weakside linebacker, freeing him up to do what he does best – run, chase, and attack the ball carrier. Thus far, Arrington has really responded and is having the type of season the Redskins hoped when they drafted him so high. Arrington is a very fast player for his size. He is an excellent blitzer and hits like a ton of bricks. But you can run at him some.

CB Champ Bailey is not the greatest tackler in the world, but he is very capable of being a shut-down corner when he is at his best. It will be interesting to see if the Redskins have him follow WR Amani Toomer all day long. Toomer has had some recent success against Bailey, but his has also had his problems with him.

MLB Jeremiah Trotter is coming off a serious knee injury from last year and appears to be playing well again. He is a play-maker who sometimes forgets to play within the discipline of the defense so you can sometimes fool him. But he always played well with the Giants when he was with the Eagles. SLB Jesse Armstead is not real strong at the point-of-attack, but as Giants’ fans well know, he is a guy who can still make a big play or two.

The rest of the Redskins’ defense is not really special. In particular, the Redskins have issues on the defensive line as they lost both their run-stuffing defensive tackles in the offseason. In their place are journeymen Jermaine Haley and Bernard Holsey. LT Luke Petitgout will face future Hall of Famer DE Bruce Smith. How long and how well Luke can play will have a big impact on the Giants’ offense as the Giants don’t want to into a position where rookie Jeff Roehl is forced to play against Smith. The Giants also need Chris Bober, in his second start at right tackle, to play better this week. He faces DE Renaldo Wynn.

In the secondary, Champ Bailey is an excellent player. The other corner, Fred Smoot, has his moments, but he may not play due to a concussion he suffered this week in practice. If Smoot doesn’t play, the nickel back Rashad Bauman will get the start and rookie Ade Jimoh will enter the fray. This are match-ups the Giants MUST take advantage of by playing 3- and 4-WR sets.

The Giants need to be aggressive in this game. Get out on top big early and coast with the running game the rest of the way. I am not impressed with the Redskins’ run defense.

Giants on Defense: The Redskins are far scarier on offense. Patrick Ramsey is playing well at quarterback and he is improving. And he has some dangerous weapons to throw to such as receivers Laverneous Coles, Rod Gardner, and Patrick Johnson. Coles and Johnson have deep speed, but Gardner is a talented guy who keeps the chains moving. The Giants secondary has not played well the past two weeks, especially when facing 3- and 4-wide receiver sets. Look for the Redskins to try to go after nickel back Ralph Brown just like the Cowboys did last week. The Giants need Brown to play well, but they also need their two starting corners to start making big plays. Right now, the two Wills are dramatically over-hyped.

Another area of concern is that Spurrier will use some strange, but innovative plays that are seldom seen in the NFL. Because of their novelty, teams are often surprised by these shenanigans. The Giants need to play smart, disciplined defense and look for trickery.

A big key is making the Redskins one-dimensional by taking away the running game. Surprisingly, Spurrier has indeed called more running plays this year. Trung Canidate is the speedster, but he does poorly in blitz pick-ups and is not the most physical guy in the world. The Giants need to hit him in the mouth a few times. The running back who impresses me much more is Ladell Betts. He is bigger and more physical. The Giants need to make sure that both are not factors in the game running the ball.

Linebacker coverage will be instrumental on these two backs, plus Chad Morton. The Skins will also surprise teams occasionally by throwing to the tight end (Robert Royal).

Where the Giants can really make things easier on themselves is if they can get heat on Patrick Ramsey. Ramsey is not mobile. Bring the blitz from all angles. At the same time, the defensive line needs to play much better than it did last week…especially if DT Keith Hamilton (hamstring) is not playing. Lance Legree and William Joseph will share snaps at his position against former 49er Dave Fiore. DE Kenny Holmes faces Pro Bowl LT Chris Samuels. The two who really need to elevate their game if the Giants are going to slow Washington down are DE Michael Strahan (facing his nemesis RT Jon Jansen) and DT Cornelius Griffin (facing ex-Jet Randy Thomas).

If the Giants don’t get heat on Ramsey, and play soft in the secondary…especially over the middle as they have the past two weeks, the Giants won’t be able to stop the Skins from moving the football.

Giants on Special Teams: The big concern is stopping the explosive Chad Morton as both a punt and kick returner. Morton can break games wide open with his moves and speed.

Sep 182003
Dallas Cowboys 35 – New York Giants 32 (OT)

Game Overview: Before I get into the nitty-gritty of this game, I want to focus attention on the bigger picture in terms of what this loss meant. This was a very important game because it was home game against a divisional opponent. In other words, it was a far more important game than the previous contest against the Rams. The Giants are now 0-1 in the NFC East with five more division games left to play. The Giants can now only afford to lose possibly one more division game. That’s going to be tough considering they still have to play the Cowboys, Redskins, and Eagles all on the road still.

As I sit writing this document, a couple days removed from the loss to the Cowboys, I feel more angry now than I did in the immediate aftermath of the game. I’m angry because I feel cheated as a fan. I feel cheated from the opportunity of a glorious memory – a miraculous 18 point 4th quarter rally against the hated Cowboys with that fat traitor Parcells at the helm. The Giants – for as badly as they played most of the night – had this game won. It was as good as over. King Fatty had blown his 23-7 lead and was about to suffer a humiliating defeat. But then came the three morons:

  • Jim Fassel: I like Jim Fassel. I think he is a good coach and I really, really root hard for him to succeed – just as I have always rooted for every Giants player and coach to succeed. That’s the fan in me. Put on the Blue uniform and I will follow you faithfully. But it’s the God-given right of every Giant fan to bitch and moan when things don’t go well and that’s what I am going to do right now. Excuse my language, but Fassel fucked up royally in this game. We’ve heard his rationale (new center; wet footballs; leave enough time in case of a botched field goal attempt; if Bryant does his job, game over, etc.). But the safe play was to run another play and get the clock down to 7 seconds. That leaves you with enough time to fall on the ball and call time out if the attempted is botched. If everything does go smoothly, the Cowboys are left with 3-4 seconds. Do that, and you take any possible screw ups by Matt Bryant on the ensuing kick-off out of the equation. Yes, you have a rookie center, but you also have a kicker who has already kicked one ball out-of-bounds in the same game. Fassel shouldn’t have assume that Bryant is going to get the job done.
  • Fassel has learned a few lessons the hard way in this League, but this same type of nightmare scenarios keep occurring. The 1997 playoff game against the Vikings, the 2002 game in Arizona, the 2002 playoff game against the 49ers, and now this wretched result. The margin for error in this League is small. This isn’t baseball or basketball with a shitload of regular season games and a series playoff format. Jim has to stop making these egregious game-day decisions, while at the same time not coach scared. Because the latter will lead to the former – as it did in this case. The weird thing is that late in the game and in the overtime, the Giants were very aggressive on offense – taking shots down the field. Fassel was aggressive in that situation, even with the young offensive line.
  • Lastly, I have no problem with squibbing a kick in this situation. I am actually a fan of it. Keep in mind that back in 1999, the Giants almost lost to Dallas on a Monday night when Fassel had Brad Daluiso kick off. Only a forward lateral on the play to Deion Sanders prevented another last-second nightmare. Squib kicks don’t get returned for touchdowns; regular kick-offs do.
  • PK Matt Bryant: I don’t give a shit who told you what, just keep the damn ball in bounds. You already kicked one out of bounds earlier in the game. If you keep the ball in bounds, the Giants win the game.
  • SS Shaun Williams: On the last pass play, the Giants were in a prevent defense coverage. Unlike most people, I have no problem with the prevent defense in the right situation. And this was the right situation. You blitz, and you can get burned more easily than the average fan realizes. The prevent call was the right call in this situation. The problem was Shaun Williams made a moronic decision. For some reason, instead of playing back and helping to guard against the deep sideline completion to WR Antonio Bryant, Williams moved up to cover the flat against the halfback. With 11 seconds left in the game, why in the world would Williams do that? The flat pass doesn’t help the Cowboys at all. I fully realize that football players are not always the brightest guys in the world, but c’mon. Williams had a monster game against the run, but this mistake (along with a costly pass interference penalty) is what most fans remember.

The three I mentioned above are to blame for losing a game that was largely won. But the game never should have been as close as it was, and a miraculous comeback would not have been needed had (1) the defense not played so damn poorly (400 yards of offense by the Cowboys?!?); (2) the offense not taken half the game off (0 points in the first half – gave the Cowboys 7 points); and (3) special teams had not gotten clearly out-played.

This was a team defeat.

Lastly, give credit to the Cowboys. Their offensive line and tight ends dominated the line of scrimmage. Their quarterback played the best game I’ve ever seen him play (there were many times he made clutch throws or runs). And a very mediocre kicker had a career day, somehow managing to kick 7-of-8 field goals in wet conditions. And three of the kicks were long kicks: 37, 49, 42, 21, 36, 52, and 25. HB Troy Hambrick also did a fantastic job on picking up blitzes.

Overall Defense: Don’t lose site of one fact – the Giants defense gave up 28 points, 403 yards of offense, and 24 first downs to an average offensive team. What Dallas did a lot is spread the Giants defense out with a 3-WR look. This put the Giants in their nickel with only two linebackers on the field (Mike Barrow and Dhani Jones). Dallas then ran out of this set as much as they passed. The biggest problem for the Giants’ defense is that the Dallas offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage against the New York defensive line. There was very little pass rush until late in the game, and the defensive line got hung up on their blocks too often against the run.

Two items:

  1. It seems to me there is some philosophically wrong with the Giants’ coverage schemes in that opposing offenses are completing passes too easily over the short and intermediate middle of the defense. It appears that this usually occurs when the Giants are in zone coverage. Perhaps, the lack of pass rush against the Cowboys exacerbated the problem. But there are too many big plays being made in the center of the field.
  2. Those complaining that the Giants didn’t blitz enough against the Cowboys are not looking at what actually transpired on the playing field. The Giants blitzed a lot. I saw all three linebackers blitz (and Barrow and Jones repeatedly), both safeties blitz, and even a corner blitz. The problem was the Giants were not getting to the quarterback because the Dallas offensive line, tight ends, and HB Troy Hambrick did such a great job in picking up the blitzers. Fans always seem to notice the blitz when it works, but they seldom notice it when it doesn’t. The Giants were very aggressive in overtime as well. So in reality, the truth of the matter is that their blockers were better than our rushers on Monday night for whatever reason. The Giants were out-played up front. Dallas certainly was not confused with what the Giants threw at them either – this is where defensive game planning can have some impact. One thing I would consider dropping if I’m Johnnie Lynn is running too many zone-blitz plays…they don’t seem to be working.

Defensive Line: This unit played like crap until very late in the game. Their pass rush was almost non-existent and the run defense was at times downright embarrassing. In particular, DE Michael Strahan (1 tackle) didn’t bother to show up until the 4th quarter. Perhaps he is too busy thinking about renovating his new home. Both him and DT Cornelius Griffin (2 tackles) were easily blocked. There was one 11-yard fullback run in the 1st quarter where Strahan and Griffin looked like they weren’t even trying. These two are two talented to be non-factors in a game this big. Strahan came alive on the pass rush late in the game, but it was a case of too little, too late in my opinion. DE Kenny Holmes (4 tackles, 1 sack) had problems at the point-of-attack defending the run. There was one play where Dan Campbell really man-handled him. DE Osi Umenyiora (0 tackles) really struggled against the run and it was pretty obvious Dallas was running right at him when he was in the game – the run that really killed New York was the 9-yarder on Dallas’ second possession overtime where both Osi and DT Williams Joseph got handled. DT Keith Hamilton (2 tackles) left the game early and Joseph (1 tackle) was far, far too quiet and easily blocked on most plays. In my opinion, the best performance of the group was turned in by DT Lance Legree (1 tackle) in limited playing time. He really stood his ground on running plays, unlike the rest of his defensive line teammates. Legree did get flagged for a tripping penalty however.

Another problem remains defending the mobile quarterback. On Dallas’ first TD drive, Hamilton and Griffin let Quincy Carter scramble right up the middle easily for an 8-yard touchdown. Strahan also left his rush lane on Dallas’ game-winning field goal drive in overtime on the play where Carter picked up 6 yards.

TRUTH OF THE MATTER: The front four of the Giants defense was dominated by the Dallas offensive line and tight ends. This was a HUGE factor in New York losing the football game. No pass rush for most of the game; poor run defense.

Linebackers: There were a few negatives, but for the most part Michael Barrow (19 tackles) and Dhani Jones (15 tackles, 1 sack) played a stellar game. Brandon Short didn’t see the field much as Dallas often played in a 3-WR set. Both Barrow and Griffin were extremely active against the run and made a number of excellent plays at, near, or behind the line of scrimmage. Both also blitzed a lot, although they seldom got there (Jones did get a big sack in the 4th quarter). Pass coverage was mostly decent. Dhani Jones made a great play on a screen pass that lost 4 yards. He also did a good job on a fullback swing pass that only picked up 2 yards. Jones did get fooled on misdirection rollout pass to the tight end for 15 yards however. Barrow read another screen pass well, but missed the tackle. Barrow had very tight coverage on an end zone pass to Dan Campbell; he too nailed the fullback on a swing pass for only a 1-yard gain. TE Jason Witten did beat him on a 1-yard play in overtime on a fantastic throw from Quincy Carter. The few plays Brandon Short played, he did well (except for one off-sides penalty). He didn’t look bad in coverage and was strong against the run. Brandon also got pressure on one blitz. GOOD GAME BY THE LINEBACKERS…especially given how poorly the defensive line played.

Defensive Backs: With very little pass rush and facing a hot quarterback (Quincy Carter was darn accurate and made some clutch throws), the job of the secondary was tough. The big problem it seems to me is that too many times the Dallas receivers were running over the middle unopposed. Why? Did players make mental mistakes (linebackers included)? Are the schemes unsound? Did the players get physically beat? I don’t have the answers. But too many easy completions.

Nickel back Ralph Brown started off the game well when Carter misread the Giants’ zone coverage. Brown intercepted the pass and returned it for a touchdown. Perhaps this play gave the players and coaching staff the belief that they could continue to confuse Carter and force him to make mistakes by switching up their coverages. They didn’t. Too often Carter read the coverages beautifully and made crisp, accurate throws. At the end of many of these completions was Brown. Examples where he got beat: 20 yard completion to Terry Glenn on 2nd-and-14, 8 yard completion to Glenn on 2nd-and-3, 21 yard completion to Joey Galloway on 2nd-and-4, and a 22 yard completion to Antonio Bryant on 3rd-and-3.

The two Wills played mostly well. You didn’t hear much from Will Allen at all, which tells me he was doing a number on his man, especially on deep pass attempts. However, there were two mistakes by Allen in overtime. First he was flagged for defensive holding on the game-winning drive. On the very next play, he could have possibly changed the outcome of the game if he could have managed to intercept the deep pass that landed right in his hands. Excellent coverage, but the true stud corner picks off that pass and makes a difference in the ball game. Allen was beat by Terry Glenn for 27 yards in the 3rd quarter. Kato Serwanga filled in for Allen on one play. He had very tight coverage on Terry Glenn on a HUGE 3rd-and-4 play where Carter was forced to scramble due to pressure from Strahan, but Carter made a simply fantastic throw.

Will Peterson was mostly positive in coverage and run defense, but he had a couple of screw ups. He fell down on a 2nd-and-9 play that was completed to Antonio Bryant for 25 yards that helped to set up Dallas’ first field goal in the second half. The 34-yard pass interference penalty on Peterson on the next drive was bullshit, but Peterson could have helped himself if he had turned around and looked for the ball. In the 4th quarter, Peterson got beat in zone coverage on a Bryant pass over the middle for 22 yards. In overtime, Peterson got beat for 17 yards by Joey Galloway on 3rd-and-7.

Shaun Williams (11 tackles) had a monster game in run support. If it weren’t for him as well as Dhani Jones and Mike Barrow, the defensive stats would have looked far worse. Time after time, Williams was seen making plays at or behind the line of scrimmage against the run. However, Williams made two bad plays in pass defense. On Dallas’ second-to-last field goal drive in regulation, Williams was flagged with an obvious pass interference penalty on 3rd-and-13. That was a killer penalty as it put Dallas in field goal range. And his second mistake was the costliest and simply inexcusable. On Dallas’ last offensive play of regulation, Williams moved up to defend the halfback in the flat instead of helping out Will Peterson deep on Antonio Bryant. With 11 second left in the game, the flat pass meant nothing, but the 26-yard reception to Bryant was everything as it set up the tying field goal. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Omar Stoutmire (9 tackles) was active, but really didn’t stand out except for one play where he strung out the running back on a Troy Hambrick run around right end.

Quarterback: I thought Kerry Collins (21-of-51 for 265 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions) was just way too inconsistent. Yes, his pass protection in the first half and at times in the second half was shoddy. But there were times when he had time to make plays and simply didn’t. The 18-point rally in the 4th quarter was great, but it shouldn’t overshadow some of his earlier mistakes that helped put the Giants in such a big hole. For example, on the Giants’ first drive, Collins stepped up into the pocket to avoid the outside rush and badly overthrew Amani Toomer deep on what may have resulted in a 53-yard touchdown catch-and-run. In the second period, Collins made a horrible decision to force the ball under heavy pressure on 3rd-and-9. The pass was thrown right to a Dallas linebacker who returned it 41 yards for a touchdown. Two plays later, Collins had tried to force the ball to a well-covered Jeremy Shockey. And things continued to be bad for Collins on the next drive. He threw a couple of passes behind intended receivers and threw an inaccurate deep pass to a wide-open Amani Toomer. Toomer caught the ball for 40-yards, but Toomer had not been forced to severely adjust for the ball, a 62-yard touchdown would have resulted. On 3rd-and-20, on the same drive, Collins made a poor decision to try to force a deep pass to Jeremy Shockey. Even if Collins had not been hit on the play, there was no way that intercepted pass would have been completed.

Collins was pretty damn impressive for much of the second half. He threw three touchdown passes…all of them very good throws. But on a late 3rd quarter drive, he missed Toomer again deep. On the next play, he foolishly tried to force the ball into double coverage on a seam pass to Visanthe Shiancoe.

Wide Receivers: Amani Toomer (7 catches for 126 yards and a touchdown) had a big game and would have had monster numbers had Collins been more accurate with a few deep passes. I particularly liked the 40-yard reception he made on a deep Collins pass thrown to the wrong shoulder. Great adjustment. Toomer later scored on a 20-yard reception where Collins this time intentionally put the ball on the other shoulder in order to keep it away from the defender. Toomer had to make a great spinning adjustment to come down with the football. On the negative side, Toomer was flagged for a false start and was lucky that a fumble was erased due to a Dallas penalty.

Ike Hilliard (6 catches for 85 yards and 1 touchdown) had a decent night and it is pretty clear that Hilliard is a favorite of Collins on 3rd down. Hilliard is particularly effective against zone coverage because he can change direction on a dime and get the defensive back leaning in the wrong direction – such as on his 5-yard touchdown reception on 3rd down. Hilliard also had a key deep reception over the middle for 38 yards that helped to set up New York’s final touchdown.

Tim Carter (3 catches for 28 yards) is starting to see the ball come his way. He did drop a 3rd-and-7 pass in the second quarter and he also couldn’t hang on to a deep over-the-shoulder catch in the 4th quarter. Carter appeared to have some problems with his footing on the wet turf.

Halfbacks: Not a good game for HB Tiki Barber (15 carries for 41 yards – a poor 2.7 yards-per-carry average). Barber fumbled the ball away for the second week in a row, setting up an easy 1st quarter field goal for Dallas. What stunk is that this play was exceptionally well-blocked by the offensive line and tight ends. Barber’s fumbling is now becoming a real concern. Barber was not a factor in the passing game (2 catches for 7 yards). I also thought Barber was late on recognizing a CB blitz on a play where Collins missed Toomer deep.

Brian Mitchell (1 catch for 11 yards) actually filled in a fullback for a time in this game and didn’t look bad at all as a lead blocker. He’s an aggressive guy and doesn’t mind get physical despite his lack of ideal size.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey is being hampered by sore ribs and the need for additional blocking assistance by the young offensive line. But he didn’t play very well in the passing game (just 2 catches for 8 yards, 1 touchdown). He dropped two passes – one a 3rd-and-8 deep seam pass where it looked like he was afraid of being hit by the safety; and a very easy end zone pass where he was wide open. Shockey’s run blocking was mostly very positive.

Visanthe Shiancoe continues his development as a blocker. I didn’t think he did bad at all, but the fact that Mitchell saw some time at fullback seems to indicate that Shiancoe must have made some mistakes. Like Dan Campbell before him, I don’t think Shiancoe is very comfortable lead blocking from the fullback spot (though Shiancoe is much more fluid than Campbell in this position). Shiancoe also dropped a pass where he was wide open.

What is strange is some of the blocking schemes the Giants ran against the Cowboys which I think made their pass protection look worse than it should have. For example, there was one play where Shiancoe was called upon to block DE Greg Ellis by himself (on this play Shockey for some reason, chose to help out inside where no help was needed). There was another play where Dallas rushed only their down four defensive linemen, but Shockey was called upon to handle the defensive end all by himself. Why?

Offensive Line: It really was a mixed bag for this group that unbelievably had three rookies starting (Jeff Roehl at left tackle, Wayne Lucier at center, David Diehl at right guard) and a center starting at right tackle for the first time in his career (Chris Bober). But the inexperience WAS a big factor in the Giants losing the football game. There were times, even in the first half, when pass protection was actually very good. But there were also complete breakdowns that helped to stall drives. The most glaring mistakes were made by the two tackles. Both got out-quicked to the outside for sacks and hits on Collins. Roehl also had some problems with power (he needs to get stronger). There was one embarrassing moment when the Dallas 3-man rush pressured Collins into throwing an interception TD when Roehl couldn’t handle his defender (why the hell didn’t Seubert help out here?). There were also some rough spots in run blocking for both as both seemed a bit unsure of themselves. There were some physical breakdowns too. Bober, for example, stumbled on one pull and on another play didn’t sustain his block long enough, allowing his man to make the tackle. Roehl blocked well at times at the point-of-attack when drive blocking, but got overpowered at times when pulling.

I thought Wayne Lucier did a pretty darn good job. He seemed to get movement in his blocks and also seemed to do fairly well moving out to engage defenders at the second level. He did give up a pressure that was a factor on Collins’ second interception.

David Diehl looks like the real deal, but he still makes plenty of mistakes too. For much of the game, he did a fine job. But he also had some rough moments such as his holding call on a screen pass. He also continues to look confused at times on picking up stunts. And he does get beat every now and then in pass protection – though to be fair, he was facing LaRoi Glover by himself at times.

Pass protection really settled down in the second half. Unfortunately, the ugliness reappeared in overtime. Bober gave up two pressures, Rich Seubert gave up one pressure, and Diehl was flagged with a false start on New York’s only offensive possession. The mistakes of these three sabotaged any hopes the Giants had of winning the game on that drive.

For additional information on how the offensive line performed, see Chris Jacobs’ review below.

Special Teams: Brian Mitchell had 8 kick-off returns and did nothing with any of them: returns of 29, 21, 24, 27, 25, 21, 24, and 23 yards. Obviously, blocking on returns remains a problem.

Mitchell was only able to return 1 punt for 9 yards.

Matt Bryant’s kick-offs were fielded at the 10, went out of bounds, 3, 3, 8, out of bounds, and the 8. Terrible.

Kick-off coverage was mostly decent, but the Giants did give up one big return. Dallas returns went for 37 yards (Shaun Williams made the tackle), 25 yards (Wes Mallard), 17 yards (David Tyree and Ryan Clark), 20 yards (David Tyree), and 21 yards (Wes Mallard). The 37-yard return helped to set up Dallas’ only offensive touchdown.

Jeff Feagles punts went for 47, 48, 39, 44, 56, 30 (out of bounds at 9 yard line), and 42 yards.

Punt return coverage was not real good. Dallas punt returns weren’t for 7 yards (Wes Mallard, Dhani Jones), 18 yards (Brian Mitchell), 15 yards (Brian Mitchell), 5 yards (David Tyree), touchback, out of bounds, and fair catch. On the 18 yard return, Tyree pulled up on the returner who he thought was going to call for a fair catch instead of crushing the guy. Tyree also screwed up real bad on the touchback when he was unable to down the punt inside the 5-yard line despite an easy opportunity to do so.

 Offensive Line Review

by BBI Contributor Chris Jacobs

I’m going to give some brief comments on each guy and then breakdown each series and point out the good and the bad.

Bober – His biggest weakness is that he’s susceptible to the outside speed rush; I believe this was our fear when he was being groomed for the RT spot last year. All in all though he didn’t have a bad game.

Diehl – Strong and aggressive, his biggest problem is picking up stunts, and he has to recognize who needs the most help when he has no one to block. There were a few times when Lucier was fine and Bober needed some help. I’m sure that will come with time. He also needs to do a better job getting out on the LB’s on certain running plays; he’s letting the DT tie him up. I like how he gets downfield to try and make a block after the ball is thrown.

Lucier – I would not be uncomfortable with Lucier as the starting center. He was able to make some nice drive blocks in the running game and didn’t give up much pressure in pass protection. It was an all around solid effort by him. There was one draw play where he was bull rushed into Tiki.

Seubert – He had a pretty good game, he was beat inside by a swim move resulting in KC’s arm getting hit while he threw. And there was a running play where he pulled and never made it out of the backfield, I couldn’t tell if he tripped or the DT pulled him down, but if he makes it out there Tiki gets more yards.

Roehl – He’s just not strong enough, that’s really his only downside. He has good feet, he’s quick, and he gets off the ball nicely on drive blocks. His only problem is that he gets tossed around a little bit and he gets bull rushed sometimes. On that one sack where KC fumbles in the first quarter, the DE pulls him down by his shoulders and runs right around him. Besides that, he really didn’t have that bad of a game. There was a blitz pickup here and there it looked like he may have missed, it could have been the backs responsibility but I can’t be sure.

First Quarter

First Series

  1. Run, Roehl Seubert Lucier all fail to sustain their blocks, 2 yd loss
  2. Pass, Good protection, good feet by Bober
  3. Pass, Good blitz pickup by Tiki
  4. Pass, Bobers man gets around him as he fails to ride his man outside and just stands there, KC steps up to avoid the pressure, but it’s a bad throw and he misses a wide open Toomer
  5. KC pressured by Ellis, Shiancoe does a terrible job trying to pass block
  6. Bober beat bad by Ellis outside, his head is down and he’s not moving his feet, Roehl tossed by Ekuban


Second Series

  1. Run, Nice job by Lucier chips DT then gets to LB, Diehl crushes the DT and Bober walls off his man 5yd gain
  2. Roehl out muscled by Ekuban
  3. Good pass protection – pulled the guard to block Ekuban, full back helped


Third Series

  1. Run, everyone makes a great block except Bober who tries to cut the LB who makes the tackle
  2. Pass- Dallas has 6 men on the line, Zone blitz, the DT’s drop into coverage and the LB’s blitz outside no one blocks the LB on the left side resulting in pressure, assignment bust
  3. Pass- 3 man rush, Bober and Roehl alone, the other 3 are blocking one guy….
  4. Good run blocking by everyone drove the entire defense off the ball, fumble by Tiki


Second Quarter

Fourth Series

  1. Pass Quick slant, no one blocks the DE but doesn’t matter ball is away
  2. Run, Sprint Draw, Tiki not running with his head up (possibly gun-shy after fumble) Shiancoe as fullback gets knocked backwards by the LB into Tiki
  3. Pass, Bober bull rushed by DT (pressure) after a twist stunt, good pickup on the stunt by Diehl
  4. Run, great job by Shockey hooking the DE, Diehl pulls and makes a nice block, Seubert pulls but falls and there’s not one to block the backer, 2 yd gain
  5. Run- Draw play, Roehl and Lucierget bull rushed into Tiki who bounces outside and loses 3 yards
  6. Pass- Good blitz pickup by Tiki on Williams, good job by Bober on Ellis out in space (Shockey’s Drop)


Fifth Series

  1. Pass, Ekuban beats Roehl bad on the inside but KC gets the ball to Mitchell in the flat
  2. Run, Not bad upfront, Tiki can bounce it outside but doesn’t see it (possibly fumble still looming)
  3. Pass- Good protection, bad throw to Amani
  4. Pass- 3rd and 7, Good protection, Bober is moving his feet much better, short throw to Carter

Punt (Pass protection is getting better KC’s throws are way off the mark)

Sixth Series

  1. Pass, 3 step drop, good protection, bad throw to Shockey
  2. Run, nice pull/trap by Seubert, if Bober sustains his block it would be a huge gain by Tiki, but the DE sheds him and stops Tiki for a 1yd gain
  3. Pass, 3 man rush, Lucier gets tossed aside by the NG who puts a swim move on Seubert and hits KCs arm resulting in an interception for a TD

Seventh Series

  1. Pass, 7 step drop, Bober gets beat outside and gets away with a hold, Roehl does a good job riding his man outside on a speed rush
  2. Pass, 3 man rush, good protection, bad pass
  3. Pass, 3 man rush, Dallas has 8 guys in coverage, the Giants have 2 backs in to help protect (that’s 7 guys blocking 3, and 8 defenders covering 3 WRs) Toomer puts a great move on Williams and gets behind the defense, a terrible throw results in a big gain that should have been a TD
  4. Pass, good job by line, drop by Shiancoe
  5. Pass, something has to be wrong assignment wise, 4 man rush Diehl pulls and is alone on Ekuban, Shiancoe of all people is alone on Ellis (borderline hold, wasn’t called) Shockey, Lucier, Bober, Roehl and Seubert are all blocking 2 guys. Incomplete pass to Tiki in the flat.
  6. Screen Pass, terrible job by Diehl who only has to occupy his guy for a second, lets him get by then grabs his jersey (holding is called)
  7. Pass, Bober almost gets beat outside with a swim move, Lucier gets beat badly but should get help from Diehl who blocks no one with 6 men rushing on a blitz, Seubert and Tiki pick up blitz nicely but Luciers man hits KCs arm resulting in and Intercepted pass


Second Half

First series

  1. Run- off tackle Tiki, Roehl collapses the entire left side of the D-line, Shockey does a good job on the end, Seubert pulls but can’t get to anyone but it doesn’t matter gain of 9 yards
  2. Run- good job by Roehl and Seubert, Mitchell makes a nice block as FB, Diehl has to fight through to get to the LB
  3. Pass, Tiki can’t cut Ellis who bats the pass down
  4. Pass- 5 step drop, quick slant to Ike, good protection
  5. Pass – the reverse flea flicker, the play was almost blown up because Roehl did not sustain his man
  6. Pass- (the Shockey TD drop) Ellis didn’t fall for the play fake, KC does nice job with pressure
  7. Run- Tiki 3 yd loss, Roehl whiffs completely on the DT who knocks Mitchell into Tiki
  8. Pass, nice protection, good time, Tiki makes a nice chip on the DE that could have blown up the play, TD to Ike


Series Two

  1. Run, Hilliard reverse, if Roehl makes the backside block it goes for 10 more but he misses the DE who makes the play 10 yards downfield
  2. Pass, good pass pro, nice blitz pickup by Tiki
  3. Pass, corner Blitz, Tiki misses causing KC to miss a wide open Toomer
  4. Pass, Bobers technique is much better than earlier, head up, feet moving, Roehl gets bull rushed a little but not bad. Incomplete pass


Fourth Quarter

Series Three

  1. Pass, Bober ok, pressure from Roehl getting bull rushed into KC
  2. Pass, nice pocket, bad throw to Shockey
  3. Pass, Good protection, Toomer fumble (BS, he was down) (offside on defense)
  4. Pass, Roehl is letting his guy get separation. Interference call on Carter
  5. Pass, Roehl does a nice gob getting out on Ekubans speed rush, Bober bull rushed into KC
  6. Pass, good protection, Carter +8
  7. Pass, someone missed the blitz pickup, Seubert pulls and blocks the DE, looks like Roehl should pick up the blitz but he’s helping Lucier. KC gets the ball off, Toomer to 2 yard line.
  8. Pass, nice play fake, Shockey TD


Fourth Series

  1. Pass, Diehls man shed him and hits KC as he throws but he completes it
  2. Pass, Good job by Bober riding his man outside on the speed rush, allowing KC to step up in the pocket. Ike +38
  3. Pass, good protection, Toomer TD


Fifth Series

  1. Pass, Carters review play, Diehl does a good job as his man tries a spin move.
  2. Pass, Bober almost beat outside again
  3. Pass, good job, nice pocket, Toomer first down
  4. Pass, Audible, good protection again, incomplete
  5. Pass, Dallas sends 7, good pickup by Shockey, bad throw incomplete
  6. Pass, 3 & 10, Deihl and Bober get fooled by a twist stunt, both miss causing KC to throw off his back foot into a double covered Ike


Sixth Series

  1. Run, Bober nice kick out on end, Diehl got held up again and can’t get to the backer, but Tiki breaks the tackle +10
  2. Pass, Bober beat outside, KC’s arm gets hit (Bober has to move his feet)
  3. Pass, Tiki goes the wrong way and doesn’t pick up the safety blitz even though everyone in the stadium and watching on TV knows Roy Williams was blitzing, amazingly KC hits Shockey.
  4. Pass, Dallas sends 6 nice pick up by Tiki who cuts the blitzing backer
  5. Pass, again Bober almost beat outside – incomplete
  6. Pass, Diehl beat by swim move, complete to Ike
  7. Run, 3rd & 2, Nice push upfront, Lucier, Deihl and Bober completely collapse the right side of the defense and Tiki cuts back and gets the first down.
  8. Run, nice hole on the right side again, Tiki picks up yards off of Diehl and Bober.

Field Goal

I don’t have the series they ran in overtime because my tape stopped; I didn’t anticipate a 4 ½ hour game….

Even Mike Ditka Needs Levitra

by BBI Reporter/Photographer David Oliver

And he is MAN enough to stand up and say it (for a small fee, of course). So my question for the week is a simple one: when is anyone on this Giants’ Coaching staff going to stand up and say just flat out, “I screwed up”, rather than he screwed up or they screwed up? I ask this question because Monday’s night’s fiasco was, more than anything else, a Coaching catastrophe. That is not to excuse some shoddy play by presumed playmakers, or a brain fart by a kicker who should have been, by all rights, a hero.

I have something unusual this week: a very abbreviated report. I only saw the last few minutes and the overtime (that part I could bear to watch), from a standing position outside a café at the Oakland Airport, as I was waiting to board the ‘red eye’ for my flight home. I can say this; the Giants were not the only frustration of the weekend. I went to San Francisco for the T-Mobile Bicycle Race, the toughest race in America. I went to get some photos of Lance Armstrong, Gilberto Simone, Alexander Vinoukorov and other luminaries who usually do not grace us with their presence. US Postal wore silver instead of blue so we couldn’t tell who was who, Lance was sick and quit early and team Saeco rode team tactics only for a lap at the end, so I shot everybody in red, hoping to get Simone. Not only that but the America’s Cup Champion, Alinghi was racing Oracle in the Bay. No publicity so I’m walking around town on Monday shooting Cable Cars and Harbor Seals while the two greatest racing boats in the world are racing in the Bay. I bump into a Yacht Club member up on Russian Hill where he was watching the start of the second race and he graciously gave me an extra set of binoculars, then drove me down to the Club so I could get a couple of shots. Problem with that was that I only had a wide angle and a super wide angle, having left my long lens in my bag in hotel storage because I am a lazy and stupid bastard. Nevertheless, I got a precious few shots of these magnificent racers as they passed the Club. To top it off, they are racing all week, and I easily could have arranged an extra day or two.

So here I am watching this great comeback, all the while wondering how Dallas got 29 points anyway. I am standing behind a couple of so-so Skins fans, who really are not thrilled with the thought of a Cowboy win, and don’t mind a Giants’ win, so long as the G-Men collapse this week on their annual visit to the Stadium and Parking lots from Hell. We watch the Giants maneuver into position to win the game. I’m thinking to myself, why is Coach diddling here? He could go for a score; he could run another play and exhaust the clock; he could even kneel on the damn ball and go to overtime – bizarre, but not unthinkable for a guy who likes to use the Handley system but doesn’t have the first hand knowledge of the odds to use it with any success. Matt Bryant kicks the FG, and that should be it. But wait – there are 11 seconds left on the clock. I say to my viewing partners, as I am walking away, I cannot bear to watch it; I smell a screw up. They laughed and said to me, “spoken like a long-time observer.” Yep, that’s me. I hear the scream as the ball apparently trickles out of bounds. So like a fool, I stagger back to the monitor. And I see that cursed 3-man line defense, which has not worked yet and will not work. And it did not work. A 26-yard completion with 11 seconds on the clock. If this game is lost on a Hail Mary completion, maybe you could hold the kicker responsible. But to lose on a 26-yard completion, with 8 men dancing the Sugar Plum Fairy routine from the Nutcracker Suite, only one person can be held responsible; only one person should stand up and say, “I am going to see that this never happens again.” Only one person should say, “We either have the worst defensive backfield playing the game today or the worst defensive strategy designed to win a game in the game today.” But he won’t; all we get is finger pointing and huffing. There is not a QB in football today that will not beat the Giants 3-man line defense when the game is on the line because that defense doesn’t work. With 8 men in the secondary, it is inconceivable that anyone can get free for a 26-yard reception; unless you are playing flag football, do not rush the passer rules. Which apparently someone in this organization believes might be the case.

Well, like many of you, I didn’t sleep Monday night, not at all; but then, I hadn’t planned to get any sleep, as I never do on the red eye flights. I thought a little about the game and I thought to myself, no, the Giants weren’t going to win every game. But they needed to start fast before they play the Dolphins and the Bucs and the Saints and the Eagles twice and a resurgent Vikings team in the Dome. I felt that 3-and-0 would show us a contender; 2-and-1 will at least leave hope for a fast December finish; 1-and-2 will give us a pretender, another tease, a possible winning, but going nowhere effort. Forget the breaks, forget the bad officiating, forget the errors; someone on the Giants Coaching Staff needs to acknowledge a certain amount of stupidity, or timidity, or something to show us a little reality. Unless something changes between now and Sunday, they will be having Canonization parties for Coach Spurrier in this town, and we will be sleepless in Giants land once again. Spurrier’s offense will kick the crap out of a 3-man line defense; on the other hand, the Giants front 4, plus a little dog now and then, will deflate the Skins balloon real quick. Of all the million reasons for losing, or winning, it seems to be really simple right now; go with four and prevent the score; stay with three and there’s no victory. Oh, and correct the other million deficiencies everyone has pointed out!!

(Box Score – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, September 15, 2003)
Sep 132003

Approach to the Game – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, September 15, 2003: This game is going to be far tougher than many fans realize. After hearing Bill Parcells yell in their ears all week, the Cowboy players will be extremely motivated. They also know how important this game is to their head coach and that will add to the adrenaline. We all know how much the Giants struggle on Monday night.

But the big worry for me is that I think the Dallas’ defense matches up very well against the Giants’ offense. New York is more of a finesse, passing team. The Giants’ offensive players are athletes who run very well, including on the offensive line. Likewise, this is the type of style Dallas employs on defense. They are not big, but they can run and cover. The Giants’ wide receivers are very good, but the Dallas secondary is likewise strong. The Giants have a dynamic tight end and pass receiving halfback, but the Cowboys have good cover linebackers. Throw in the fact that the Giants’ offensive line has some injury and inexperience concerns, and the Giants’ offense may not be particularly effective in this game.

Defensively, I would expect Defensive Coordinator Johnnie Lynn not to blitz as much as he did in the first game against the Rams. While Kurt Warner is relatively immobile, QB Quincy Carter can hurt you with his feet. And Dallas can hit the big play on you down the field with their fleet set of wide receivers. Look for the Giants to focus more on confusing Carter with complicated coverage schemes that confuse him.

I think this game will go down to the wire, with the team making the bigger mistake late in the contest losing. This is also the kind of game where special teams can win it or lose it. Fans may point to the 37-7 win by the Giants over Dallas late last season, but that Dallas team was basically playing out the string for a coach who they knew was gone. Throw out that game, and look at all the other recent Giants-Cowboys contests – they have all been close and down to the wire.

Giants on Offense: “It’s a big misconception that they’re a young team,” WR Amani Toomer says of Dallas. “They have the same team they had last year – one corner (top draft choice Terence Newman) is different. Both of their safeties and (cornerback) Mario Edwards are the same. I think it’s a big scam that they’re rebuilding. They have a good defense, they have a pretty good offense, and they have a lot of playmakers. We’re not going to buy into it. They’re a good team and we’re going to be ready for them.”

Much depends on (1) if LT Luke Petitgout plays, (2) how long he plays, and (3) how effective he is when he plays. If Luke is OK, the Giants will be able to open things up and put a lot of pressure on the Dallas defense. If he doesn’t, then the Giants will need to keep more weapons (specifically, the tight ends and backs) in to block, as well as calling a more conservative game plan. Dallas RDE Ebenezer Ekuban has never really lived up to his draft status. However, he is talented enough to give Jeff Roehl problems if Roehl is forced to start and doesn’t play well. The bigger match-up concern is on the opposite end where RT Ian Allen, who struggled in pass protection last week, faces Dallas’ best end, Greg Ellis (7.5 sacks and 30 quarterback pressures in 2002). Interestingly, a number of Giants took practice snaps at right tackle this week – just in case Allen has a rough game again. Inside, LG Rich Seubert will face super-quick and super-hardworking DT La’Roi Glover. Glover is a disrupter who can get after the passer as well. RG David Diehl will line up over DT Michael Myers – a smaller, but quick tackle.

Pass protection for the Giants will be everything. Because the Dallas secondary and linebackers can cover, the receivers may need more time to get open. In addition, the offensive line needs to be on its game in the run blocking department as the best strategy may be to run the ball early and often. It’s tough to run wide on this Dallas defense, however, as the Cowboys run to the ball very well. Personally, I would pass more on 1st and 2nd down when the Cowboys are less likely to expect it, and then hit them with some draw plays when they are thinking pass on 3rd down.

Dallas has three good cover linebackers in SLB Al Singleton (formerly of the Super Bowl Champion Bucs), MLB Dat Nguyen, and All-World WLB Dexter Coakley. Coakley in particular is excellent in coverage and could present problems for Tiki Barber getting open on pass routes. He also is one of the few linebackers who may be able to cover Jeremy Shockey. But these three are not the biggest guys in the world and the Giants may be able to run at them some if the offensive line, tight ends, and fullback can get a hat on them.

The strength of the Dallas team is it’s secondary. RCB Mario Edwards is very familiar with Amani Toomer and has done a nice job on him in the past. WR Ike Hilliard will see top draft pick Terence Newman. The safeties, SS Darren Woodson and FS Roy Williams, play more like linebackers than defensive backs. Both hit like a load of bricks. Woodson is starting slowing down, but he still makes plays (10 tackles and 1 sack last week). Williams is a rising star who may be able to handle Shockey. The Cowboys like to use him in a role similar to that of Adam Archuleta of the Rams – he can be a factor on both run and pass blitzes. To me, this might be the game where Tim Carter has a big role to play. Dallas’ third corner is Pete Hunter. I would try to get a favorable match-up on him with Toomer, Hilliard, or Carter.

My prediction is that this will be a frustrating offensive game for Giants’ fans to watch. As I said, Dallas matches up well with the Giants’ skill players and the Giants have some issues on the offensive line.

Giants on Defense: I can hear the complaining now in The Corner Forum if Defensive Coordinator Johnnie Lynn pulls in the reigns some in terms of blitzing this week. However, the Giants must be careful when rushing the passer in this game. The defensive linemen must maintain disciplined rush lanes or Quincy Carter will take advantage of the gaps in the front. Same story with blitzing linebackers and safeties if those blitzes create opens spaces to run to. Carter is a strange quarterback. Every now and then, he can make an incredible throw and looks like the real deal. But he will inter-space those good plays with streaks of inaccuracy and bad decisions. The Giants may look to blitz less and cover more, hoping for turnovers. They also don’t want to allow Carter the opportunity to make easier gains by scrambling for key first downs. I wouldn’t get too conservative on defense as you don’t want Carter to get comfortable back there. But mixing things up would seem to be the order of the day.

“Anytime you have a mobile quarterback, that can be scary,” says CB Will Allen. “If we don’t keep him in the pocket and he’s running around, then he’s buying the receivers time. And you can only cover a guy for so long. When you play a guy like that, you have to worry about staying in coverage a little longer.”

Dallas doesn’t have a real strong running or passing game. But they can score quickly if a defense is not careful. The Cowboy wide receiving corps of Joey Galloway (139 yards receiving last week), Antonio Bryant, and Terry Glenn is filled with big play potential. And the Giants (specifically Will Allen and Will Peterson) have had problems with Galloway and Bryant in the past. Make Dallas drive the field, but don’t give up the cheap touchdown.

Of course, the big defensive key will be shutting down the Dallas running game. Parcells will look to control the clock in order to keep the Giants’ offense off the field and make things easier for his inconsistent quarterback. The more the Giants can keep the Cowboys in 2nd- and 3rd-and-long, the better. The match-ups: DE Michael Strahan versus RT Ryan Young, DT Cornelius Griffin versus RG Andre Gurode, DT Keith Hamilton versus LG Larry Allen, and DE Kenny Holmes versus LT Flozell Adams. Holmes’ ability (and that of Osi Umenyiora) to defend the run against Adams or the Dallas tight ends (Dan Campbell and James Whalen) may be a big subplot in this game. It will be also interesting to see which reserve defensive linemen the Giants deactivate this week (probably Lance Legree or William Joseph) since there is a need to active another offensive linemen this week.

The Giants’ linebackers need to be wary of passes to the tight ends and backs, especially fullback Richie Anderson. They also need to get off their blocks quickly in order to shut down the running game. HB Troy Hambrick is more of a straight-line back who can power his way forward. Reserve Aveion Cason is very fast – he scored on a 63-yard run last week.

Stuff the run, don’t allow Carter to scramble, don’t allow an easy big play. Force some turnovers.

Giants on Special Teams: My gut tells me this game comes down to a field goal one way or the other. This is the kind of game field position can make a big difference so kickoff and punt coverage will be huge, as will the return game. Kick returner Reggie Swinton is extremely dangerous and has a history of taking kickoffs back for touchdowns. Swinton and Galloway also return punts.

Sep 102003
New York Giants 23 – St. Louis Rams 13

Game Overview: I want to take exception to all the national media reports that in effect belittle the Giants’ victory against the Rams by focusing on QB Kurt Warner’s concussion. According to these people, the Giants didn’t beat the Rams, Mike Martz did by not pulling Warner during the game. This is absurd. If Warner was clearly foggy or incapacitated in some fashion, the Rams’ doctors, teammates, and coaches would have noticed. The Rams’ doctors said he was fine at halftime. But the media points to Warner not getting rid of the ball quickly and all the fumbles as proof positive all was not right with Warner. You know what, many of the same people who are making this argument are the ones who picked the Rams to soundly beat the Giants on Sunday.

What REALLY transpired is that the Giants’ defense kicked ass and took no prisoners. It was interesting to see how MSG broke down the play where Warner fumbled the ball away in the endzone. Everywhere Warner looked downfield, Rams’ receivers were covered – both right, middle, and left portions of the field…and even after Warner scrambled. The rush was not a huge factor on that play, it was more of a coverage sack. This is the problem Warner had much of the day…he often didn’t get rid of the ball quickly because his receivers were not open. And there were many times when the Giants’ defensive linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs were breathing down his neck on the pass rush.

What about those who say Martz should have had Marshall Faulk run the ball more. This is undoubtably true. However, at the same time, on almost every single play Faulk carried the ball, he got nothing. The one area where Martz really opened himself up to criticism is not attempting a field goal in the 4th quarter in both situations where the Rams faced 4th-and-long.

So let the national media piss into the wind all they want. The Giants’ defense won this game…with help from the special teams and a good ground game. What was really impressive about the way the defense performed is the way they stood their ground after the three turnovers committed by the Giants’ offense. The Rams only managed two field goals despite the excellent field position St. Louis’ offense received.

SIDENOTE: I just want to get this off my chest as well. I got to tell you I love the look of the new artificial field. I also continue to love how the Giants’ home and away uniforms look. The whole aesthetic of both the field (which looks completely natural) and the simple, but classic uniforms drips with nostalgia. I’m a child of the 1980’s Giants’ teams, but those old uniforms and that field now seem very cheesy to me.

Defensive Line: Let’s start with the defense since this is the unit most responsible for the win. I think THE NUMBER ONE STORY coming out of this game was the fact that the Giants now have EIGHT legitimate defensive linemen to rotate in and out of the game. And the way the Giants rotated was interesting. There were times when two of the reserves would come in and two of the starters would stay (for example, there was a rotation of Strahan, Legree, Hamilton, and Umenyiora during one series and a rotation of Washington, Griffin, Joseph, and Holmes during another series). Then at times, the entire second string defensive line would come in as a unit. Finally, I saw a line-up of the starters except Umenyiora replaced Holmes. Fans may complain about reserves being inserted too early or at critical points of the game, but they are missing the point. The goals are (1) to ensure a quality pass rush in the 4th quarter (the Giants’ nemesis last season), and (2) to ensure a quality pass rush in the last quarter of the season and going into the playoffs. The less Strahan, Griffin, Hamilton, and Holmes play, the fresher they will be and the better the pass rush will be. This is what Dallas did in the 1990’s and the Ravens did during their Super Bowl run. The Buccaneers also like to keep their DL’s fresh. And the Giants really mixed things up too up front. There were stunts, zone blitzes (with the ends dropping into coverage), 4-man rushes with blitzing, 3-man rushes with blitzing, and 4- and 3-man rushes (without blitzes).

The pass rush of the down four was not stellar, but it was steady. What really enhanced the rush was the different kinds of blitzes the Giants threw at Warner and the Rams. The Giants blitzed their linebackers (especially Mike Barrow) and safeties (especially Shaun Williams) quite a bit. And what everyone did a good job of was attacking the football in Warner’s right hand and then finding the loose ball on the turf.

The stats don’t look great, but keep in mind the numbers of players involved and that the defensive line is doing a good job too if (1) it doesn’t get moved off the ball at the point of attack, and (2) it puts heat on the quarterback with the result not necessarily being a sack.

The damage: DE Michael Strahan (5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble); DE Kenny Holmes (3 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 touchdown); DT Cornelius Griffin (2 tackles, 1 key pass defense on 3rd-and-4, and a couple of “almost” sacks); DT Keith Hamilton (1 tackle, 1 key pass defense on 4th-and-8); DE Keith Washington (1 tackle, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery); DE Osi Umenyiora (0 tackles, but he did apply some pressure); DT William Joseph (1 tackle, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble); and DT Lance Legree (1 tackle, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble). When aggregated, that’s a lot of productivity against a good offensive line. Cornelius Griffin and Lance Legree have both really elevated their respective games and the additions of Washington, Joseph, and Umenyiora are really making a difference.

The result? The Giants’ defense dominated the line of scrimmage. Warner was never comfortable in the pocket and Marshall Faulk never could find any room to run the football. What more could you hope for against the Rams?

Linebackers: Not a typical game for the Giants as they were often in nickel and dime coverages so Brandon Short (3 tackles) didn’t see a lot of playing time. But he came clean off the corner on one blitz and got in his fair share of tackles. Dhani Jones (10 tackles) saw more playing time because he is a faster and more agile athlete in coverage. He had a very active game and I particularly liked the way he knifed through the line of scrimmage to nail Faulk in the backfield on one play. Dhani almost sacked Warner for a safety two plays before the defensive touchdown. Mike Barrow (11 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble) had a monster game. He was a major factor on the pass rush and very active on the field. Indeed, Barrow just barely missed making a third sack by not wrapping up on a play and he absolutely clobbered Warner near the end of the first half just as Warner got rid of the ball. Barrow also did a great job of disrupting a couple of middle screen attempts to Faulk in the 4th quarter.

Defensive Backs: The stats (342 passing yards by Kurt Warner) look far worse than the amount of actual damage done. No, coverage wasn’t perfect or even great. There were too many breakdowns in the intermediate middle where receivers were left surprisingly all alone. I don’t know if this was the fault of the defensive backs or the linebackers or a combination of both. Perhaps, the regulars are still getting used to the “Big Dime” (3 corners, 3 safeties) and other new coverages. Crossing patterns were also a sore spot, but the Rams run these better than anyone in the League. All that said, there were many plays where you could see Kurt Warner couldn’t get rid of the ball quickly, but his primary and secondary receiving targets were covered. A good pass rush helps defensive coverage…but good coverage also helps the pass rush.

The star of the game may have been FS Omar Stoutmire (11 tackles, 1 interception). Omar was all over the field both in pass coverage and run defense, let alone his key interception and 34-yard return. Plays that stood out included his big hit on TE Cam Cleeland running down the seam, knocking the ball loose for an incompletion; the way he strung out and tackled Marshall Faulk for no gain on a run around left end (Dhani Jones also was a factor on this play); and his sure open field tackle on TE Brandon Manumaleuna for no gain near the end of the 3rd quarter.

Shaun Williams (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble) was sent on the blitz a lot. Like Barrow, he missed another sack by not breaking down properly and wrapping up Warner. But the Giants used him like I have been calling for years, that is, having him attack the line of scrimmage…that’s what he is best at. Williams did flash in coverage too. He made a nice play on a sideline pass intended for Bruce near the end of the first half.

I also think CB Ralph Brown (11 tackles) did a very good job in the nickel. He wasn’t always lined up on the Rams’ third best receiver…there were times when he was called upon to cover the better receivers on the Rams. For example, he made a great diving break-up of a pass intended for Bruce in the 2nd quarter. In the 3rd quarter, he also had tight coverage on Bruce again on 2nd-and-10 pass that fell incomplete. On the Rams’ third drive of the game, Ralph Brown stayed at home to limit a double reverse to Faulk to just 5 yards. Two plays later, he had good coverage over the middle on WR Shaun McDonald.

CB Will Allen and CB Will Peterson had a mostly positive game against quality opponents (Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce). However, Holt did blow past Allen midway through the 1st quarter on a play that could have resulted in a TD if Warner doesn’t overthrow his receiver. On the previous drive, however, Allen covered Bruce like a glove on a 3rd-and-6 play where he tipped the ball away (and Johnnie Harris came over to level Bruce). On the downside, Allen was playing far too off his opponent in a few instances where the receiver picked up a sizeable gain in front of him. Peterson kept his opponent quieter, but was victimized for the Rams’ only touchdown on a 37-yard deep pass to Holt that was slightly underthrown. Holt came back for the ball and Peterson didn’t turn his head in time to see that the ball was coming…however, he did have very tight coverage on the play.

Johnnie Harris made a couple of big hits in the open field, including his leveling of Bruce on the 1st quarter play that Allen tipped the ball away. In the 4th quarter, he also smashed McDonald on a slant pass that fell incomplete.

Quarterback: The stats don’t show it, Kerry Collins (14-of-26 for 202 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) played a very good game. Collins’ pass protection was not ideal, yet he stood there tough in the pocket and delivered the ball to his intended target when possible. Most importantly, he didn’t do anything to hurt his teammates by throwing a costly interception under duress (though there was 4th quarter pass that had a chance to be picked off and returned for a TD by a linebacker when the protection broke down). Collins obviously isn’t a scrambler, but his strong arm enables him to make accurate throws even when not stepping into his throws…and this happened a few times against the Rams due to pass pressure. His best plays were his 14-yard 3rd-and-8 toss to TE Jeremy Shockey on the first drive, his 21-yard strike to WR Amani Toomer later in the quarter, his beautifully-thrown 77-yard pump-and-go to Toomer, and his 15-yard pass to Shockey on 3rd-and-13. Collins also made two very good plays on shorter throws where the protection broke down but got the ball off very quickly to the receiver – turning what looked to be a negative play into a positive one.

Wide Receivers: WR Amani Toomer only caught two passes, but both went for significant yardage (21 and 77 yards). WR Ike Hilliard (4 receptions for 32 yards) didn’t have a great game. He not only fumbled away one ball that set up a field goal for the Rams, but I thought he should have come down with a quick end zone slant pass that he dropped upon contact with the defender. Perhaps, I’m being too harsh, but if Ike wants to be considered an outstanding receiver, he has to make those kind of plays. I will give Ike kudos for his blocks on three outside runs by Barber that picked up big yardage.

Halfbacks: Tiki Barber was extremely productive on the ground with 146 yards on 24 carries for a superlative 6.1 yards-per-carry average. He looked very determined and very quick on the field, flashing that cutback style that has made him famous. The big negative on him was ball security. While the first fumble may not have actually been a fumble, it was too darn close to call and a back never wants to have that decision made by some senile official. Secondly, Barber is darn lucky that the quick swing pass to him near the Giants’ own goal line was not ruled a fumble (because it should have been). That would have cut the Giants’ lead to 3-points with a lot of time left to play. Also, on the failed 3rd-and-1 play on the Giants’ first offensive possession, Tiki was the man responsible as he slipped before reaching the line of scrimmage. Still, aside from Collins’ deep pass to Amani Toomer, Tiki WAS the offense and he ground down the Rams’ defense in the second half of the game. He really juked out a Rams’ defensive back on his 15-yard run off left tackle in the 3rd quarter…great run. He immediately followed that up with a 22-yard effort where he finished off his carry nicely by powering over SS Adam Archuleta.

Somewhat surprisingly, Brian Mitchell (2 catches for 17 yards; 1 rush for 1 yard and a touchdown) played quite a bit from the halfback spot. Indeed, he picked up what looked to be a key first down on good looking screen pass, but the play was called back due to a penalty on Shockey. His 1-yard touchdown run was a second effort play as Mitchell had to fight through the tackle of a defender who had gotten away from Shockey’s goal line block.

Delvin Joyce (1 catch for 0 yards) didn’t see the field much at all except for special teams.

Fullback: Jim Finn blocked surprisingly well; better than I thought he did all preseason. While not a big guy, he is pretty agile for a fullback and this agility served him well in attacking the quicker (but smaller) Ram defenders. For example, he got excellent lead blocks on Tiki Barber runs of 10, 6, 15, and 22 yards.

Tight Ends: The stats don’t look great for Jeremy Shockey (3 catches for 36 yards), but each of the catches was significant as each came on 3rd down, and each resulted in a 1st down. Shockey was also called upon to supply more assistance on the blocking front with all of the youth and inexperience on the offensive line – especially when Luke Petitgout left with an injury. Shockey would have had a sure TD on the play right after Toomer’s long catch-and-run if the pass protection had held up as Shockey was wide open near the goal line.

Shockey’s run blocking was mostly excellent. He couldn’t sustain his block on the goal line play to Mitchell and Mitchell had to fight through this defender in order to score. But Jeremy did get good blocks on Barber runs of 6, 15, 22, 11, 17, and 21 yards. Shockey was generally solid in pass protection, though he couldn’t handle the defensive end on one play where Collins was forced to unload the ball very quickly. Shockey also was flagged for offensive pass interference and this wiped out a successful screen pass to Brian Mitchell – and turned a 1st-and-10 into a 3rd-and-20.

Interestingly, while Visanthe Shiancoe was mostly used in a traditional down position, I did spot him lining up at fullback once (very similar to how the Giants used Dan Campbell last year). Shank got a good block on DE Grant Wistrom on a 20-yard run off the left side in the 4th quarter.

Offensive Line: Considering that for three quarters the Giants had Jeff Roehl (undrafted rookie) at left tackle, David Diehl (drafted rookie) at right guard, and Ian Allen (first-year starter) at right tackle, this group did fairly well…especially when you consider the Giants accrued over 140 yards of rushing. However, there were some rough spots, especially in pass protection. For example, on the very first play of the game, the interior linemen failed to pick up Archuleta coming up the gut on an obvious blitz.

RT Ian Allen had a nightmare game. Strangely, he actually started off playing decently given his inexperience and the quality of his opponent (sack master DE Leonard Little). In the 1st quarter, Allen wasn’t great, but he wasn’t terrible. But in the 2nd quarter, things fell apart for Allen in a horrible fashion. On the play right after Toomer’s 77-yard play, Allen badly missed his block on the defensive tackle, leading to immediate pressure on Collins and a bad throw. Shockey was wide open near the goal line and a TD would have resulted had Allen made his block. On the next “drive”, Allen was beat cleanly to the outside by Little and a sack and fumble resulted with the ball being turned over. On the next drive, Allen was beaten again by Little, causing an incompletion. The good news is that Allen settled down a great deal in the second half. There was one play where he and Jeff Roehl got beat cleanly to the outside, leading to an incompletion on 3rd-and-6, but he was far steadier. Allen also made two key run blocks in the 3rd quarter. The first was on Tiki’s 22-yard run that took the ball to the Rams’ 1-yard line. On the very next play, Allen crushed the inside of the Rams’ interior goal line defense, helping Mitchell to score. I still get the sense that Allen is unsure of himself and therefore isn’t playing with a lot of confidence or aggression. He is definitely on the spot right now and his ability to demonstrate mental and physical toughness over the course of the next few games may determine his future as a starter.

David Diehl was OK, but he had some rough moments too in pass protection. Late in the 1st quarter, he gave up a quick pressure that forced Collins to unload the ball more quickly to Ike Hilliard than he wanted to. Ike came up a 1 yard short of the 1st down on this 3rd-and-5 play. In the 3rd quarter, Diehl gave up another pressure that caused Collins to scramble for 3 yards on a 3rd-and-14 play. On the next drive, Diehl missed a blitz pick-up.

The starting left side of Luke Petitgout and Rich Seubert played well when they were together, both run blocking and pass blocking. Both got very good run blocks on Barber runs of 10 and 13 yards on the Giants’ first drive. Seubert was steady for most of the game, and on the one play that he left due to an injury, his replacement Wayne Lucier got a very good block on the linebacker on a 20-yard run by Barber. Seubert pulls very well and is developing a real feel for taking the legs out from underneath the feet of defenders on these assignments. There was one quick pressure Rich did give up on the 3rd-and-2 pass to Shockey in the 3rd quarter.

I thought Chris Bober was OK. He couldn’t control his man on the play where Tiki fumbled. He also got beaten in pass protection on the 77-yard bomb to Toomer (as did Tiki Barber on the blitz pick-up). But Bober did get some good blocks on a number of Barber runs, including the aforementioned 20-yarder when Lucier came into the game.

Jeff Roehl, who really didn’t play well in the preseason, did an admirable job filling in for left tackle Luke Petitgout. While it is true that Roehl was often provided with help, he also was left alone in many instances. All was not perfect, as he did miss his block on the play where Tiki lost 3 yards on New York’s last possession of the first half. On the Giants’ first drive of the 3rd quarter, he was flagged for a real obvious holding penalty on another Barber run to his side that lost 3 yards. But Roehl get a couple of good blocks on Barber runs and was not victimized in pass protection by a very good opponent (Grant Wistrom) – except for one 3rd-and-11 play where he was beaten badly.

Special Teams: Jeff Feagles was very good. His five punts went for 36 (downed by Kato Serwanga at the St. Louis 3 yard line), 53 yards (out of bounds at the 6 yard line), 49 yards, 40 yards (touchback), and 43 yards (this last punt was not a great effort and Feagles was fortunate he got a good roll). Note the two that landed inside the 10 yard line, the latter being a factor in causing the defensive touchdown. Coverage on the two punts that were returned could have been better (returns of 13 and 10 yards). Jim Finn and Delvin Joyce made the tackles.

PK Matt Bryant was 3-for-3 including a 47- and 44-yard field goal. However, he was a bit lucky on the former as it hit the left upright and still bounced inside the post. His kickoffs were mostly good. The first landed at the 12-yard line and bounced to the 5-yard line. The others landed at the 5, end zone, end zone, end zone, and five. The end zone kicks are good, but a bit misleading as Bryant doesn’t always get a lot of hang-time on this kicks. Still, it was a vast improvement for him over last season. Kick coverage was excellent except for one return. Returns went for 18 yards (Jim Finn and Ryan Clark made the tackle), 16 yards (David Tyree), 20 yards (Shaun Williams), 17 yards (Quincy Monk and David Tyree), 41 yards (Wes Mallard made the tackle after David Tyree missed a tackle that would have prevented a big return), and 21 yards (Johnnie Harris).

Kick returns were below average. Brian Mitchell returned the ball for 23, 19, and 16 yards. A bigger problem were the two holding penalties by Visanthe Shiancoe.

Mitchell was only able to return one punt for 4 yards. And on this play, Ryan Clark was flagged for holding. However, Mitchell may have saved the day when he alertly recovered a muffed punt that had hit the back of Omar Stoutmire’s leg.

The biggest negative was allowing a successful fake field goal attempt that picked up 11 yards off a shovel pass.

We Are All Role Players

by David Oliver

The Giants made a lot of interesting moves in the off-season, bringing in a group of players through free agency who might be characterized as role players. It was an interesting move, particularly in light of the trend to look at players who are versatile, who can play more than one position, as for example, Coach McNally’s philosophy in building his offensive line. It reminds me of my start in the Government, as a young lawyer, when a Republican anti-Government Chief Counsel brought me in because I was a generalist in the world of law, and he had been dealt a staff of mostly specialists. He wanted versatility. The old hands patiently explained to me that the Government was a peculiar place, demanding specialists; particularly lawyers, who would become experts in an area, even an arcane area. They needed to know one thing, to do one thing, better than anyone else on earth. It might not be a career filled with excitement, you might not be on the front lines every day, but there would be a time and place when the call would come and your job was to be ready and provide an answer, a solution, to know and do something like no one else in the world.

We had staff limitation, just like the roster limits in the NFL. To those faced with managing a shrinking force, specialists were a luxury that couldn’t always be afforded. But time did reveal to me that in the government, just as for the Giants, as they discovered last year, specialists are a key ingredient in winning. So the Giants went looking for a long-snapper, a punter, a kicker, a blocking FB and a kick returner, and it didn’t matter so much whether they could fill multiple roles; what mattered was that they were the best available in their functions and that when called upon, they would provide a solution; win a game.

The new season would provide some interesting observations along these lines, so it was with a heightened expectation that I rolled out of the driveway at 6 am Sunday. It was still wet with dew and I rolled through a fog bank over the Potomac, looking for the promised sunlight that makes football photography so special at this time of the year. Most of what I could find on the radio to keep me company were various Ministers regaling me with Biblical tales, offering me solace from my worldly troubles, seeking my fellowship, and even occasionally asking me to support the cause. I found an alternative, which although not perfect, struck the eardrum more in a manner of keeping me awake, which right then I needed more than being awakened. I found a rock station and drove north by east, by northeast to the shrill screams of the Stones, the hard pitch of guitars and staccato drumbeat of schizophrenic youth. And I liked it.

An hour and a half into the trip, I came to my personal Rubicon, the Susquehanna River. The Tydings Bridge was enveloped in deep fog and it was like entering that time tunnel, with no vision, only faith that the concrete ribbon continued on the other side of the mist. Sunlight gave the mist a sparkling aura, and as I disappeared from the past part of the trip, I came out into a blaze of glory. There would be no turning back now. Once again, the 95 corridor began working its magic, transforming this aging traveler into a young man, rolling back the years to a time when this trip was always joyous because at the end their was a lot of family, youngsters, good food and talk, home. I could go on forever about the genius of the men who designed these roads, who built them, in a physical sense. I was fortunate to spend a lot of time with them. But what they really did was build a mystical thread, a memory link between past and present, just as much as between places. And it never fails. And it continued at my destination as the Giants provided a special treat by bringing back the old timers before the game. I almost cried as Alex Webster pushed his walker out of the tunnel, as Harlan Svare and Alan Webb and Erich Barnes walked towards me. Brian Kelly looked as if he could still play the game, Billy Taylor, as always gave me a high five, Corey Widmer and Brian Williams represented guys with whom I have spent some good time in the locker conversing on games good and bad. They were as happy to see me, and some other old dogs that work the sideline, as we were to see them. I told Erich Barnes that he was still the hardest hitting Giants D Back ever and his smile and thank you could have swallowed the Stadium. Then he grabbed Alan Webb and said that none would have been possible without him. As I said, pointing to Webb, ‘him, without him, what would there have been’ and they embraced each other, beaming like two Chesire cats, and it felt damned good for all of us. Then I remembered BB56, so I grabbed Harry, thanked him for his wonderful letter and told him BB had personally guaranteed his entry into the Hall. As ever, Harry modestly thanked everyone, but I could see he was thrilled by the recognition, even from our motley crew.

Yeah, I know, there was a game, but even if there wasn’t, that 10 minutes on the field with these warriors was worth the trip. As you get older, there is nothing to be treasured more than memories; so football feeds not only the atavistic blood call of the evolutionary male, the last habitat of man as man, it also provides the key to those things most important to our humanity, it unlocks the floodgate of experience, of locale, of home and hearth and you young bucks had better get it now, because 25 years from now when I am gone, one of you will be here spinning these tales, and you will remember these times, these games.

The role player theme came to me as I parked in the lot and a wonderful tail-gaiting family, the Finns, filled the spaces behind me. I could tell who they were because of all the numbered white Giants jerseys they were wearing had Finn on the back – I am a very observant correspondent. (grin). Finn, as Oliver, is not an Italian name, but there was an Italian look to some of his family, as there is to JF himself. So I will include them as honorary Italians even if they are not. I mention this because the family atmosphere, the player himself, remind me of the Comellas, and Greg, the last very good FB to play for the Giants. And there is a striking similarity in the players, in demeanor, in discipline, in desire and in recognizing who they are. Jim Finn, just as Greg Comella, will be a success in life and that’s a part of this game that I really enjoy.

As it is the first game, I have a little extra to say, so I am splitting this report into segments. My general observations on the game: it was a good win, although somewhat sloppy at times. The right side will be a problem until Diesel (Diehl) gets some experience under his belt and Allen hopefully develops. Right now, that side is not as good as last year’s right side on its worst day. I know that’s harsh, but Kerry was hit, and hit hard at least 5 times in the first half and the pressure came from the right, except for Roehl’s first play on which his man flew right around him. Kerry stood in the pocket, like a stud, and delivered his throws, but he will not survive the beating he might get if these guys don’t start hitting people. That’s observation #1. Observation #2 is that the defense was AWESOME. Guys were flying all over the place, the linebackers were insane. Dhani Jones had his best game as a Giant. William Joseph is going to be a monster, maybe even more forceful than Hammer as he develops. And both Osi and Kenny Holmes were flying off the end. However, I still have reservations about the “Big Dime”. There were huge gaps on the field when the Giants shifted into it. Could a healthy Warner have exploited them? I believe so and I think, even with the blistering pass rush, the top QBs will make big connections when the Giants are in this formation. Observation #3 is that the Giants D now flows smoothly in and out of multiple packages and will confuse the hell out of the lesser QBs on the schedule. With the way the entire set of D-Backs played the Rams game, there will be many turnovers generated this year. Ralph Brown looks like he’s stepping up. Harris needs to be on the field even more. Sean Williams is hitting as fiercely as ever. And Omar, Will Peterson, and Will Allen are rock steady and that good. Observation #4 is that Tiki is going to get killed if they keep him in the game as much as they did Sunday. Yes, he is a playmaker, yes, he’s is damn good, and yes, he’s a RB who can take a beating. But why get him killed or shorten his career, when there are a LEGION of backs behind him, including what has now become a double deal of disenchantment sitting on the bench? I have more, but I’ll save them for the next piece.

Carson Dach and Jim Finn are two of the new players on the squad, two of the new role players. Carson is a long snapper claimed from the Bears, who apparently don’t need a specialist in the art of long-snapping. Carson told me he has been snapping since 7th grade. He is also a TE, but really hasn’t been used much in that capacity since High School. He was very direct and unequivocal when he told me about long-snapping, saying simply, “I like it.” Heck Carson, at least for now, so do we. I asked him about the new grass and if it mattered to him. He said, “It doesn’t really matter to me. I’ll snap off anything. It doesn’t come into play at all.” Ah, specialists, you just have to love them. We discussed his other assignments and he was a little hesitant to get into specifics, telling me, “There is a guy that I’m assigned to block…today…he was a good athlete.” But he wouldn’t tell me specifically who he blocked, or whether it changed by game and position. Then I got to the guts of the question about working together as a unit with the holder and kicker. I asked him about Matt Bryant and contrary to the litany of BBIers who know every peccadillo Matt has, Carson told me, “He’s easy to work with. He’s easy going. As long as I’m doing what I’m doing and he’s doing what he’s doing, we’re fine.” I also asked him if the heat out there bothered him and he acknowledged it was hot but said, “I’ll take that over a cold day or a wet day.” Carson likes it here and told me the Giants are a top notch organization, “first class all the way,” and that the fans are “crazy, they were part of the game today.” Welcome to the Giants family Carson.

I already told you about Jim Finn’s family so when I talked to him I asked how he liked being home. He’s another kid from the hood and talked about the tradition, the thrill of seeing all those old-timers out on the field, the enthusiasm among the players and the fans and he said, “I’m honored to be part of it.” How often do you here that from today’s athletes, in any sport? I asked him about working with Tiki and he told me, “Tiki makes anybody look good. I don’t do too much for him to be scrambling through and creating big plays. He ran all over them today.” I moved on to touches and were the Giants working on plays for him. He told me, “I’m not worried about touching the ball. All I’m here to do is pave the way and maybe catch a ball or two out of the backfield, but I’m here to block. I accept it.” I asked him about the field and he told me, “I love it. It’s springy and I get a good grip, and it’s not going to get messy as the season goes on.” He told me he was comfortable with the playbook and the scheme as it was worked out in the camps. “Now,” he told me, “it really focuses down on the game plan; now you know inside and out what they’re going to do and what I’m supposed to do as a fullback, so the playbook is not an issue.” I asked him about working with a young line and he told me that they were doing their jobs, that the coaches were really good at plotting out the scheme, so as far as he was concerned, “They’re doing fine.” Welcome home Jim Finn.

I’ll conclude this portion with some observations about the new turf. It feels real springy and soft, which should cut down on turf burns, it doesn’t appear to have ripples or uneven spots and it’s soft. What the softness will do is cut down on bounces and rolls for the punters. For Feagles, this will mean that he should pin a lot of teams inside the 5 as the ball will not carom. It will also emphasize any bad punts as the ball will pretty much stick where it hits. Again, specialists brought in, such as Feagles, Dach and Finn will be a big part of this team. They have a role to play and it is significant.

It’s difficult to do a complete review of all that happens in a first game, in a new season. I was lucky on Sunday to spend a lot of the first half talking to Billy Taylor. BT is an astute observer of the game and brings a ton of experience into his insight. We were talking running backs and got to the unfortunates playing for the Giants, like Joe Montgomery, a back who looked to have it all but couldn’t stay on the field for 2 consecutive plays. Then we got to Ron Dayne and BT said up front, “You know, running backs are flow players.” We discussed RD’s sporadic shots, coupled with his difficulty in spotting the hole quickly, and there you have a Heisman winner riding the pine, a running back who could be very good in the right situation, which isn’t here. BT holds the Giants’ running back coach in high regard, and I got the sense that there is a lot of frustration on this count as there is a feeling RD COULD be something special, but no one knows how to tap into his style.

As we watched the pounding going on out there and the beating Tiki was taking, I asked him if the game was rougher in his era, or today. There was less discipline out there back then and guys could get away with a little more. BT looked at me and said “It isn’t tennis, you know.” In other words, if you aren’t prepared to get hit, find another sport. I was telling a couple of players about this in the locker room and mentioned the game against the Jets where I saw Rodney Hampton get tackled. It was a huge pile and I saw one Jet trying to rip Rodney’s helmet off, another pulling and twisting his leg and a third delivering a punch to the cup. Rich Seubert popped in with, “I got punched out there today.” I said, in mock horror, it wasn’t a teammate was it? He laughed and said, “I won’t lie to you, it was Bober.” We all had a good laugh over that, as Seubert continued on, (Rams player) he was on the ground and I was laying on top of him and he gave me a kidney shot. He’s like, “Get off of me,” and I’m like, “I’ll get off you when the play is over.”

Sunday’s game was a pure physical contest and the Giants just took it to the Rams on both sides of the ball and on specials. I was standing near the bench when Tiki came over with a dislocated finger. I watched him grimace as the “located” it, then wrapped it. He put his helmet on and went back into the game. Back spasms, cramps, devastating hits, these players, on both teams, earned a paycheck Sunday.

BT and I also discussed the defensive sets and on one Ram drive I was questioning the “Big Dime”. BT looked out at the field and said, “Look, 5 receivers in the game, and an empty backfield.” The pass was incomplete, but just barely, as Warner had more than enough time to find and hit a receiver. I told BT, that’s my point. I don’t care how many backs you have out there covering, the better QBs in this League will find one of those 5 guys and get him the ball. You can keep the play in front of you, but you aren’t going to stop it. That’s fine on a 3rd-and-forever, but a 3rd-and-short, the chains will move. I’m a real advocate of the Buddy Ryan defense, either the “Bear” version, or his Eagle version. The nature of defense is to intimidate, not to out-flash the opponent, or drain him in short yardage advances. When you don’t have a good front four, you can finesse all day long. But when you have the horses, charge. Claw, run, push, dog, do whatever it takes to get into the QBs head. Hit him enough and he will become erratic. The Giants’ D, in its standard sets, was awesome. All eight rotational men contributed. When they went 3-man, or into the “Big Dime”, it looked very ordinary; and it won’t stop a scrambling, running QB. This is not a critique of any personnel as the Giants’ covered well. It’s just my observation of the scheme.

The rotation worked well out there because it was hot. Kevin Lewis told me a couple of the guys cramped up early, but they started drinking fluids and got past that problem. Klu told me, “Just getting back into the game; this is the first game of the year, so guys are really amped; in the beginning you use all that adrenalin, getting excited, so you get excited and by the second or third play, you’re like ‘oh, my gosh’, then your second wind kicks in and you mellow out.” I asked him about Dhani’s performance and he said he “was flying around out there and making plays. It’s nice to see. I’m just trying to get in where I fit in.” Then I told him that a BBIer had watched last week’s game with his Mom and Dad. He lit up and almost yelped, “Oh, gosh, my Mom, now that’s my biggest fan right there. My Mom, she’ll talk to you about me all day long. I was raised by 2 great people.”

Brandon Short underscored the excitement and he told me, “The defense was really flying around out there today. I’m proud of what we did. We put pressure on the QB, we tackled well, we played aggressively; but I’m sure when we look at the tape we’re going to find some errors we need to improve. Overall I’m very excited. It was like contagious out there. Guys were making plays and another guy wants to make a play, somebody else steps up and makes a big play; we just have to keep it going.”

That’s pretty accurate and much the way I saw it. The defense was literally flying around out there. Although the front four was setting the pace, and it looks like the addition of Keith Washington and the drafting of Joseph and Osi are just the tonic needed. Kenny Holmes looked healthy and it showed. Michael and Hammer were pushing their guys. And Griffin was all over the lot forcing and assisting on plays. Omar Stoutmire started as fast as he did last year, but the real nice addition is Johnnie Harris who is a playmaker. Will Allen looked mid-season form, but in the “Big Dime”, he was giving some ground. Ralph Brown came to play. That game in Washington, DC last year seems to have given him an injection of confidence.

Don’t underestimate confidence for these young men. I asked Delvin Joyce if Coach Fassel’s pronouncement on him had an effect. Delvin told me, “It’s done a lot. It means a lot when the coaches have confidence in you, and even some of my teammates are coming to me and saying we know you can get it done. My confidence is skyrocketing.” I asked him about the new turf and he told me, “I love it. I feel I can make any kind of cut I want to on it. I can cut on my inside foot and I won’t slip. I think it’s a little bit faster than grass, so I think it’s to my advantage.” Finally, I asked him if Brian Mitchell was teaching him a few things and he smiled and said, “Yes, I’m learning a few things from him, both on and off the field.”

As far as the offense is concerned, it was a little ragged and it was basically Tiki and the left side that saved the day. Considering there were two rookies on the right side, a TE with bad ribs and a center and left tackle rookie for some of the game, one would have to say it was a sterling effort. Rich Seubert was the anchor. But game ball goes to Kerry Collins, who, notwithstanding the numbers, played what I consider his most sterling effort as a Giant. He was unflappable in the face of constant pressure from the right, stayed in the pocket and took some hits early, delivering the ball when the Giants most needed it. He was a big time QB in this game. Tiki ran like a madman, even though he put the ball down. On his one cutback play, he reminded me of Barry Sanders, heading around the right end, which was clogged and sealed by the Rams, then cutting back and going diagonally forward across the entire field and making a nice gain.

The only really negative was the play of Ian Allen, for whom I am rooting as he is a kid from Newark. He not only looked confused, he looked slow. Many times he was left flat-footed behind the play. He simply couldn’t get out to seal off the outside. He just looked outclassed and I don’t think the film review will be kind to him. Here’s hoping he makes a recovery. As Seubert told me, when I asked him about the right side, “They’ll be fine. It takes a while to learn. By week 16, you’re rolling up people.” The only question is can Kerry take that much of a beating?

I told Seubert he was getting a reputation as the Enforcer on the line and he told me, “Gotta be. You know, I’m undersized, so I have to be the fighter, I gotta be. You know, you can’t go relaxed out there because, well, there’s some big guys, look at the average guard, 350lbs, around there. They can take a play off and still block their guy. If I take a play off, I’ll get beat every time, so my motor has to be going full speed ahead. I’ve just got to run around. I got somebody today downfield, I think on Tiki’s long run. I got one and went for another, but I was too late. You never know whether those blocks make a difference.”

I asked him if he talked a lot to Jeff Roehl to help him out there and he told me, “We talk to him all the time. I’m still the most nervous guy out there. On their defense you can read a lot of stuff, so you try to tell him, your guy is pinching, you’re guy is slanting in, your guy is looping out. He did well. I’m proud of him and I’m proud of Wayne. I’m proud of all the guys we got. Until you watch the tape, you don’t know. We won the game. Tiki had plus 100 yards. If we get Tiki 100 yards each week, we’ll probably win that game. It’s always nice to play sloppy and win.”

Then came the fun part. I mentioned the site and he asked which web site. I told him BBI and he shouted, “I love that website, because it gets me fired up for games when they talk **** about me. Rosie loved that website too.” He had a few more comments, but, well, I’ll save them for another day. It was all in good fun and we shared a laugh. We’re in the game. As a compatriot once said to me, “If you want to be in the game, you have to be prepared to take the blame.” BBI is in the game. I asked him about Rosie and Whittle and he told me, “They were no different than the rest of us.” He and Whittle are friends and he discussed how similar their styles are, down to the stance. He’s talked to Rosie and hopes to talk to Whittle before they play. They all understand it’s a business.

So the season has started. And it started with a W. It was closer than the score indicates. The offensive line is already banged up, but held up. The defense at times was old time Giants D at others it was questionable. But it was good to watch.

(Box Score – St. Louis Rams at New York Giants, September 7, 2003)
Sep 052003
2003 New York Giants Preview: When the Weather’s Hot and Sticky

by David Oliver

That’s no time to dip your wickie; when the frost is on the pumpkin, that’s the time for wickie dunkin; and football. Velvet on antlers, testosterone rising in men, a sniff of something feral in the breeze and a symbolic pawing at the earth grip the intestines of the fast and the furious. No more prelude, no more theory; it’s run Sammy, run, time. Living in the shadow of a legend is not easy; living in the shadow of the Big Apple less so. Coach Fassel has pushed his chips to the center of the table, has shed the team of malcontents and locker revelers, has brought in his men, his coaches, and now his play book. Another year without a Super Bowl Championship and he risks being ‘Dungyzed’, as in sent off to some Midwestern hinterland to ply his craft, which, in fact, has been somewhat stellar in terms of Giants coaches since the 60s, with the exception of the brooding omnipresence of Coach Parcells, hanging over the Meadowlands, even overshadowing the ghost of Jimmy Hoffa.

It hasn’t been an easy summer, not for guys with names like Stackhouse, Ferrara and Babers. Not for me either. Frankie Ferrara was a kid from the hood living out our collective dream. He was earnest, lunch pail solid and never gave up or in. He didn’t possess the greatest talent, but he had the greatest hunger and it kept him in the game for longer than some with more obvious skills. My gut tells me he will be back, even as my intellect says here’s Auld Lang Syne for you Frankie.

The sports editor of a local newspaper recently traded jobs and took over as the weekend editor. In his farewell sports column he wrote of his apprenticeship with the Washington Capitals and how one day at lunch one of the team execs asked him why he wanted a career in sports. He told the exec he wanted to do something he loved. The exec didn’t say anything for a few minutes then advised him ‘to be careful, because when you are doing something you love, it becomes too much like work.’ There is a deep truth in those words. I love the Giants; I love football. I have been presented with the opportunity, both by serendipity and by the sufferance of someone in a position to make it happen, to be close to both the Giants and football. But it is in danger of becoming work, and with work comes bullshit, and I have a very low tolerance for that, notwithstanding lasting 30 years in a government career. Each year I tell myself it is the last; each year my wife calls me on it; each year I climb from the despair of weariness, lack of recognition, sufferance at the hands of others, and I return. It won’t happen much longer, so I am going to enjoy this ride. Unlike the guys who get paid to do what they love, I am not going to be ‘Dungyzed’, and I’m not going to lose my love for the Giants or football. I am going to move on before that happens.

It has been a close thing this year, going down to Wednesday. I just happened to wear out on the day and turned on the TV for a few minutes to catch up on the news. What I caught was THE PLAYMAKERS, which repeated the first 2 episodes, I think. And it reached out and grabbed me by the throat. Yes, it is a stylized rendition of what people who throw pencils think it must be like to throw footballs. But there was an underlying chill, a surreal feel to it. The locker scenes were riveting. I have known linebackers like the central figure, and running backs, and linemen. I have sat with guys who were minutes from being cut. I have felt the pain of the ebbing of the dream, the despair from never ending injury, the temptations that come with celebrity. My stomach seized up in agony and I felt it all; the terror of Bashir Livingston, the resignation of Adriano Belli, the dejection in the locker room of a certain XFL team, knowing that this was it, that the ‘milktrain doesn’t stop here anymore.’ I have also felt the whimsy in talking to a certain super star with movie actor looks who would endure any physical pain inflicted on a football field but who wouldn’t pull a toenail off because ‘it wouldn’t look good with sandals.’ And I enjoyed discussing the Beat Generation, particularly Charlie Bukowski with a member of the coaching staff who apparently was much better in the classroom than on the field.

During every College season, there is one game which brings in the Alumni, calls for great partying, signals that fall and football are really here. That game at the Pro level, comes next week for us. Unfortunately, I will miss ‘homocoming’ because of an obligation on the Left Coast, where I will cover the only North American Bicycle Race this year in which Lance Armstrong will compete. The man has just won the Tour ‘dee’ France, he will be sponsoring a Ride Across America for Cancer fund support, and he will be competing in San Francisco against the best on this continent. Right in the middle of all this, news comes of his pending divorce. He and his wife were unable to work out their differences this summer. Even athletes face the constant barrage of ‘despair and nothingness’ that the rest of us face, but for them it is played out on a world stage. Mostly, I am struck by how young these people are, how life has already shown them the ebb and flow of reality and of the rubric ‘that all that glitters is not gold.’

Last night’s extravaganza struck me once again with the thought that the great anti-God Mammon walks the earth. Those who have nothing want that which those who have possess. Those who have want more. And everyone thinks they are morally pure. Reminds me of the old story about the three ants riding a turd and singing ‘when the log rolls over, we’re all going to drown.” Dan Snyder sure isn’t one of those ants. He has spent outrageously in an attempt to buy himself a Championship ring. Will it work? Maybe not this year, but one of these days he will get it. And for all the drama of the four Jetskins, the game still came down to the perfidy of an offense Coach who really doesn’t understand the game of football, just the X and O’s part of the equation, and of a defensive Coach who refused to use his greatest assets, 2 stellar ends, at the most critical time of the game.

So how will it play out for the Giants? Potentially, theoretically, the Giants are loaded. The offensive skill set is powerful, with Kerry Collins, Tiki Barber, Amani Toomer, Ike Hilliard and Jeremy Shockey, complemented by a good left side of the line. The Giants can live through the loss of one, maybe 2 wide receivers. They could even survive without the Superstar TE, particularly if Visanthe Shiancoe comes to form early. They cannot survive the loss of Kerry Collins, or probably of their left tackle or guard. Potential is that fragile. On the defensive side of the ball, they have not yet shown the ability to game plan for scrambling QBs. Anthony Wright made their second/third unit look woeful, just as Donovan McNabb made their first unit look awful last year. Having said that, the front four should be much better. William Joseph just has to play well enough to spell the starters for 15 plays a game and Osi will be a force. If Strahan is ready, it could be a big sack year for Giants ends and blitz men. I am not optimistic about the secondary, as a ‘pick’ unit, and they will give up yardage. But they should present well. I really haven’t seen enough of Kato Serwanga and Ray Green to understand why they merit a slot at the expense of another defensive lineman or TE.

The biggest concern I have right now is the right side of the line. Notwithstanding the canonization of the Mouse, Coach McNally has been dealt a bad hand by the constant shuffle on the right side. Just think, Lurch and Stone, Whittle and Rosie. All were better than Giants’ fans like to admit. Diesel Diehl will be a Prime Time player; that’s not the issue. The issue is that he is a rookie, playing next to a virtual rookie, sandwiched between a couple of very young, albeit talented fellow linesmen. Somewhere along the line, probably in November, that might spell trouble.

The opposition will be primed and ready. The Redskins are game, and could hurt some people, as The Jets have already discovered. DO NOT write off the Cowboys under Coach Parcells. Maybe 8 and 8 this year; a contender for sure, next year. And the Eagles are quietly sitting there, licking their wounds, memories of last year’s Vet plastering of the Giants swirling through their pea brains. The Rams are a good test. With Warner, they are still an offensive power. Their defense is improving each year. And they always embarrass the Giants. The Rams, the Cowboys and the Redskins. A break, and we all know how the Giants play following a break, then some tough teams, before the schedule levels off. If the Giants are a Super Bowl contender, nothing less than a 3-0 start will do. Anything else will signal that once again we will have to see if Coach Fassel still has his December magic.

Under any circumstances, the season depends on two men. Kerry Collins and Coach Jim Fassel. Both must be on the top of their game if the Giants are to play Championship football. Let the games begin.

Sep 052003

Approach to the Game – St. Louis Rams at New York Giants, September 7, 2003: Of the first three games the Giants play, this is the least important because the next two are against divisional opponents. But the Giants can make a League-wide statement by soundly defeating the Rams on Sunday, as well as elevate their own confidence level. However, beating St. Louis will not be easy. The Rams are loaded at the skill positions on offense and fortified their offensive line in the offseason. They have issues in the defensive backfield, but look for the Rams to attack QB Kerry Collins early in often in order to prevent him from taking advantage of those weaknesses.

Giants on Defense: What the Giants aspire to be offensively is where the Rams have already been. They are an extremely dangerous team with top players at quarterback (Kurt Warner), halfback (Marshall Faulk), and wide receiver (Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt). It doesn’t get much better than that. The offensive potential of the Rams last year was sabotaged due to injuries and a deterioration of the offensive line. However, St. Louis beefed up their line with offseason acquisitions RT Kyle Turley and OC Dave Wohlabaugh.

As always, the key to defeating the Rams is to get a lot of heat on Warner with the pass rush, as well as not letting Marshall Faulk get going on the ground. A huge match-up will be DE Michael Strahan versus Turley. The good news is that Strahan has played well against Turley in the past, but the bad news is that Strahan has not played in a single game all preseason. He must be rusty and how rusty he will be most likely will be a key factor in the game. DT Keith Hamilton will most likely see many double-teams from Wohlabaugh and LG Andy McCollum. If so, it is very important for DT Cornelius Griffin to have a big game against Pro Bowl RG Adam Timmerman. All-World LT Orlando Pace missed much of camp due to a holdout. DE Kenny Holmes has played well at times against him in the past. Obviously, the Giants need another solid effort. Expect to see DE Keith Washington, DE Osi Umenyiora, and DT William Joseph rotated into the line-up, especially if the Rams put together some long drives.

There were articles in the press this summer that the Giants would implement a new “Big Dime” defense that would put SS Shaun Williams at linebacker, along with MLB Mike Barrow. These two would be the only “linebackers” in the game. In the secondary, the team would have two safeties (Omar Stoutmire and Johnnie Harris) and three corners (Will Allen, Will Peterson, and Ralph Brown). The Rams would seem to be a perfect opponent for the “Big Dime”. However, for this defense to work, the Giants MUST be able to stop Faulk on the ground armed with only two linebackers. What’s also a little scary is that, due to injuries to safeties Williams and Harris, the Giants were never able to practice the “Big Dime” during the preseason.

Rams’ Head Coach Mike Martz will most likely try to attack and exploit nickel back Ralph Brown and the Giants’ linebackers in coverage. Opposing teams did not game-plan against Brown in the preseason. Now, were going to see just how good (or bad) Brown is. If I’m Giants’ Defensive Coordinator Johnnie Lynn, I try like hell to scheme for Will Peterson and Will Allen to cover Bruce and Holt. But at some point in the game, Brown is most likely going to have to cover one or both of these guys. Getting Faulk matched up a linebacker could also be a problem. Mike Barrow has done well against Faulk in the past, but he is getting older. Brandon Short doesn’t have the agility to stay with Faulk in my opinion. This is why the “Big Dime” would be attractive against the Rams.

The Rams are obviously a big play offense. Don’t let Faulk get going on the ground. Get pressure on Warner. Tackle well as the Rams’ receivers make a lot of their yardage after the catch. The Giants have to be a bit wary of blitzing too much up the middle as an outside pitch play or pass to Faulk could prove deadly.

Giants on Offense: The Rams’ offense gets all the limelight. This would be a wonderful opportunity for the Giants’ play-makers to upstage them if they can produce on the field. The key is not just piling up yardage, but finishing drives off by getting into the end zone.

The big concern is the offensive line. RG David Diehl looks to be an upgrade over Jason Whittle and RT Ian Allen is a more athletic player than Mike Rosenthal. However, both are very inexperienced and both have hardly played together. The Rams are sure to test these two with some complex blitzing schemes. To make matters worse, Allen faces the Rams’ best pass rusher – the very quick DE Leonard Little, who accrued 12 sacks last season. Allen is still gaining confidence so he can be tentative at times in pass protection. This tentativeness could hurt him as Little not only could blow past him on his outside shoulder, but he could set him up for inside move. The more the Giants have to help out Diehl, the less effective their offense will be.

It appears the Giants will spread things out this year offensively. Look for 3-WR sets (Amani Toomer, Ike Hilliard, Jeremy Shockey) and 4-WR sets (Toomer, Hilliard, Shockey, and Tim Carter). I also wouldn’t be surprised to see 2-WR, 2-TE sets that involve Visanthe Shiancoe. The more receivers put out in pass patterns, the more pressure there will be on the offensive line and blitz pick-ups of the backs (Tiki Barber, Jim Finn) and the tight ends (Shockey and Shiancoe). Spreading things out will allow Tiki Barber and Delvin Joyce to pick their holes in the ground game and the defenders ought to be more spread out as well.

But EVERYTHING depends on giving QB Kerry Collins time to operate. If the line, backs, and tight ends can’t give him time, then all these fancy offensive weapons will be moot. LT Luke Petitgout faces a quality, athletic opponent in DE Grant Wistrom. 1st round defensive tackles, Damione Lewis, Ryan Pickett, and Jimmy Kennedy will battle the interior trio of LG Rich Seubert, OC Chris Bober, and RG David Diehl. Pickett may be hampered by an ankle injury.

The St. Louis linebackers are all athletes who are a bit undersized. But all can run to the football. Robert Thomas is a former first rounder who is questionable with an abdomen injury. They like Pisa Tinoisamoa a lot, but he is a rookie. Tommy Polley rounds out the group. They have the athletic ability to be a factor in coverage against Tiki Barber, Jeremy Shockey, Visanthe Shiancoe, and Jim Finn.

In the secondary, the Rams are hurting. The left corner, Jerametrius Butler, will see a lot of Ike Hilliard. This will be Butler’s first start in the NFL. Second-year right corner Travis Fisher will match-up against Amani Toomer. On paper, the Giants should be able to do some damage here if Collins is giving time and his passes are accurate. Fred Weary, who was cut by the 49ers last week, is the nickel corner. Hilliard could also be a factor against him if Ike is moved to the slot when Tim Carter comes into the game. The safety position is more settled with super SS Adam Archuleta and coverted corner Aeneas Williams at free safety. Archuleta is the Rams’ play-maker. They like to blitz him a lot and he is usually a factor in defending the run. It will be interesting to see if the Rams leave him on Shockey.

Giants on Special Teams: The Giants now have the players and coaches to actually have special teams decide some games in their favor. Let’s hope PK Matt Bryant and rookie long-snapper Carson Dach are both in for solid seasons.

Rookie Arlen Harris is the Rams’ kick and punt returner.