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)
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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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