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)
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Eric Kennedy

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

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