Oct 312003
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at New York Jets, November 2, 2003: The Giants beat the undefeated Vikings last Sunday after losing three games in a row, and all of the sudden, if you listen to a lot of fans and the press, the Giants have turned the corner. I don’t buy it. Other than the 2000 season and the end of the 2002 regular season, Jim Fassel teams tend lose games you expected them to win – especially after some impressive victory over a quality opponent. And keep this important statistic in mind: the Giants are 9-14-1 in the month of November under Fassel.

Too many Giants’ fans are penciling in this game and the following game against the Falcons as wins. I don’t buy it. The Giants are a losing football team that has lost three games in the Meadowlands already this year. The Giants’ players and coaching staff have to prove me and other doubters that they are made of stronger metal.

Giants on Special Teams: The need here is two-fold: (1) stop the dangerous Jets’ return game, and (2) get the Giants’ own anemic return game going. Santana Moss is a very shifty and fast punt returner who can go the distance. Michael Bates may be nearing the end of his career, but he has proven to be one of the League’s best kick returners. Obviously, the punting of Jeff Feagles and kickoffs of Brett Conway will affect the coverage, but the Giants’ cover teams must also play disciplined football in maintaining their lanes when rushing down the field. Break down properly and make sure tackles.

The poor punt and kick returns by Brian Mitchell are not all his fault as blocking on returns and a lack of opportunity on punts has affected his game. However, Brian certainly hasn’t flashed any great return skills. Worse, he has made some pretty poor decisions the last two games in allowing punts to hit the turf in front of him. Head Coach Jim Fassel said this week that it is possible that Delvin Joyce will replace him. Personally, I would like to see the Giants also give Tim Carter another shot on kick returns. Regardless of the return man, the Giants’ special teams need to do a much better job of providing the offense with better starting field position.

Giants on Defense: The Jets are going nowhere this year and they know it. So this game – against the cross-town team that elicits the most support from the local crowd – will de facto be their Super Bowl. Combine that with the fact that not only will Chad Pennington be starting for the first time this year, but starting against the team that injured him in the first place, then you have the makings of one fired up opponent. Pennington may be rusty, but knowing Giants’ history the way I do, I expect him to look sharp as a razor blade against the G-Men.

As always, the key is to stop the run first and foremost. HB Curtis Martin is still capable of beating you, and despite the fact that he has had a rough start, I’ve always been impressed with reserve HB LaMont Jordan. Martin is the shifty back, Jordan the bull. With DT Cornelius Griffin out, the Jets will test the inside run defense of the Giants against DT Lance Legree and a fading DT Keith Hamilton.

The Giants must also be wary of reverses to WR Santana Moss.

If the Giants are able to put the breaks on the run game, then getting after Pennington is key. That’s tough because he has a quick release and is very accurate on his short throws. The Giants aren’t likely to get much of pass rush from Legree or Hamilton, so the pressure must come from Kenny Holmes (who will be facing LT Jason Fabini) and DE Michael Strahan (who will be facing RT Kareem McKenzie). Contrary to popular belief, the Giants have blitzed quite a bit this year, but the blitzers just are not getting to the quarterback. I don’t know if it is a talent or scheme problem.

The pass coverage match-ups against the accurate Pennington are key. As Pennington is more of a West Coast system quarterback, the undercoverage by the linebackers and strong safety is important. The Jets will throw to their tight ends (Anthony Becht and Chris Baker), fullback (Jerald Sowell), and halfbacks (Martin and Jordan). How the linebacking corps of Brandon Short, Mike Barrow, and Dhani Jones perform in coverage will be crucial.

When the Jets throw down the field, I would expect Will Allen to stay with the speedy Santana Moss. Allen has experience covering Moss not only in the preseason, but also in college (Miami-Syracuse games). Ralph Brown will cover the shifty Wayne Chrebet, who always seems to give the Giants problems. Frank Walker will be challenged by the very experienced Curtis Conway.

Stop the run, cover the short stuff, and make Pennington’s first start uncomfortable by getting hits on him.

Giants on Offense: The temptation for the Giants will be play it more conservative this week by attacking the Jets with the running game. The Jets rank dead last in the NFL in run defense, but lead the League in sacks. With an inexperienced offensive line, Fassel may feel this is a game to force feed the run. He may be right, but I wouldn’t play it like that.

It usually seems when you attack a team that has been terrible at doing something, because they concentrate on it so much in practice, that they quickly improve. I expect the Jets to come out looking for Tiki Barber and gang up on the running game with 8-men in the box. Also, as I’ve harped on for a few weeks now, touchdowns come out of big plays in the passing game. The Giants have not been very good at sustaining long, clock-consuming drives without somewhere along the line shooting themselves in the foot. Go after the Jets aggressively through the air. Get a lead. Then come back and hit them with the running game. That’s what I would do.

The big worrisome match-up for the Giants up front is NFL sack leader DE Shaun Ellis versus RT Ian Allen, who will only be starting his third game. The Giants left Allen alone with rookie DE Kevin Williams of the Vikings for much of the game last week, but I doubt they can do that this week. Another potential problem area is DT Jason Ferguson on rookie LG Wayne Lucier (who has missed most of practice this week with the flu). Ferguson is one of the NFL’s more underrated players. I would think Chris Bober will have to help out again at times. The Giants need RG David Diehl to handle high #1 pick DT DeWayne Robertson and LT Luke Petitgout to handle former first round DE Bryan Thomas. The Giants are fortunate that DE John Abraham is out this week with a groin injury.

The Jets are have a pretty physical linebacking corps, but they are not terribly fast. SLB Mo Lewis may not play due to hamstring/hip problems and rookie Victor Hobson may start in his place. I think the Giants may be able to attack this unit with Barber, the tight ends (Jeremy Shockey and Marcellus Rivers), and FB Jim Finn via the pass.

The Jets’ secondary is also hurting. CB Donnie Abraham and FS Jon McGraw will not play. Look for WR Amani Toomer to present a lot of problems for CB Aaron Beasley. I also think we may see WR Tim Carter continue to be more involved in the downfield passing game. Of course, much of this depends on the pass protection.

Protect Collins, throw deep and get ahead early, then run the ball on the Jets.

Oct 292003
 
New York Giants 29 – Minnesota Vikings 17

Game Overview: Why did the Giants look so much better on Sunday in beating the previously undefeated Minnesota Vikings? The simple answer is that they finally put a decent point total on the scoreboard. The Giants scored 29 points on Sunday – in their three previous losses, they scored an accumulated total of 26 points.

But why did the Giants score more points?

  • The Giants stopped turning the ball over (only one turnover).
  • The Giants made big plays in the passing game
  • The makeshift offensive line played better than expected.
  • The defense forced a turnover deep in Viking territory, providing the offense with an immediate scoring opportunity.

These four points were critical on Sunday and they will be critical to success or failure of the remainder of the Giants’ season.

Giants on Offense: Last week in my game review of the Giants-Philadelphia contest, I pointed out how turning the ball over, not making big plays in the passing game, and an inability in overcoming negative plays on long drives was sabotaging point production. Let’s compare that to what transpired this week. The Giants had four offensive possessions in the first half:

  • 1st Drive: This was a very sharp, very crisp 6-play drive that went 76 yards and resulted in a touchdown. While there were no big pass plays in this drive, the Giants picked up sizeable chunks of yardage (13, 16, 17, and 19 yards on the last four plays) and never faced a third down situation. There were no penalties and no negative yardage plays on the drive.
  • 2nd Drive: This was a 13-play drive similar to recent Giant drives in previous games that stalled. There were two negative yardage plays that the Giants were able to impressively overcome (a holding penalty on Luke Petitgout and a 4-yard loss by Tiki Barber). The Giants drove from their own 19 to the Viking 9-yard line and should have scored an easy touchdown. Kerry Collins had Jeremy Shockey wide open near the goal line but chose to throw the ball back late over the middle of the end zone. The drive ended with an interception.
  • 3rd Drive: This was another sharp looking drive. The Giants moved 54 yards in 7 plays with the big plays being a 21-yard pass to Tiki Barber and a 30-yard strike to Tim Carter. This drive should have also resulted in a touchdown as on 3rd-and-goal, Collins had Shockey again wide open (this time in the back corner of the end zone), but threw behind him. Instead the Giants settled for three points.
  • 4th Drive: This was an 11-play, methodical affair that the Giants somehow managed to squeeze in 1 minute in 35 seconds right before halftime. Most of the pass plays were of the short variety, though there was a 22-yard pass to Amani Toomer. Collins did hit Toomer deep right at the goal line from 38 yards out on the very next play, but Toomer dropped the ball. There was also a terrible non-call by the officials as Tim Carter was mugged near the goal line with 15 seconds left before halftime. This play should have given the Giants the ball on the 1-yard line. Still, the drive was successful as it ended with a field goal.

So in the first half, the Giants were never stopped by the Vikings and never had to punt. If Collins (who otherwise played well) had hit the wide-open Shockey in the red zone twice, the Giants would have led 24-10 at halftime. In addition, if Toomer does not drop the deep pass or the officials do not screw up near the end of the half, the score could have been 28-10. As it was, the Giants led 13-10.

The Giants had seven offensive possessions in the second half:

  • 1st Drive: This was an impressive drive that should have resulted in a touchdown. It started off with a huge pass play: a 51-yard flea flicker from Collins to Toomer. Three plays later on 3rd-and-8, Collins hit Toomer in the end zone from 19 yards out, but Toomer dropped the ball. Giants settle for 3 points and go up 16-10, but they should be leading 35-10 at this point.
  • 2nd Drive: This drive was sabotaged by two penalties on Luke Petitgout. It looked like the Giants were on the move again with a big 27-yard screen pass to Barber. However, Petitgout was flagged with holding on this play. Two plays later, Luke committed a false start infraction and the Giants were facing a 2nd-and-21 at their own 9-yard line instead of having a 1st-and-10 on their own 47. The 2nd down pass was deflected and Tiki dropped a 3rd-and-21 screen pass.
  • 3rd Drive: This drive ended prematurely when Dorsey Levens dropped a 3rd-and-2 pass from Collins.
  • 4th Drive: Giants had two chances to move the ball on this possession due to LB Wes Mallard’s first down carry off the punt block. The Giants went 3-and-out as Collins missed Hilliard, his 2nd down pass was tipped, and a 3rd down deep pass to Toomer was just tipped away at the last moment by the corner. After Mallard’s carry continued the Giants’ possession, the Giants picked up a 1st down on a Barber run. But then Collins was sacked for the only time in the game. On the next two plays, a jumpy Collins was inaccurate on his 2nd- and 3rd-and-long throws.
  • 5th Drive: Excellent 6-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown. The big pass play on the drive was a 46 yard catch-and-run by Jeremy Shockey. The Giants overcame adversity on the next play when an 11-yard touchdown run by Tiki Barber was called back due to a holding penalty on Wayne Lucier. That said, the Giants were lucky that an offsides penalty on the Vikings gave them a second chance at a 3rd down play. Barber scored from two yards out. Giants go for the 2-point conversion, but Collins doesn’t step into his throw and Hilliard can’t hold onto a pass that hits him in the hands. Giants lead 22-17.
  • 6th Drive: The defense finally gives the Giants the ball deep in an opponent’s territory with a turnover. The offense takes advantage on 3rd-and-7 as Collins hits Hilliard from 14 yards out to make the score 29-17 with 3:44 left to play.
  • 7th Drive: Giants are merely trying to run out the clock here. After Tiki picks up one first down, the Giants manage to force the Vikings to use all their timeouts and leave only 28 seconds on the clock.

The Giants had seven drives, but really were only trying to score on six of them. Two of the six resulted in a touchdown. Another resulted in a field goal (and should have resulted in a touchdown had Toomer held onto the ball). The second and third drives of the half were halted not by the Vikings, but by the Giants own mistakes. Had the Giants not blown their three extra touchdown chances in the first half and another in the second half, the Giants would have won this game 49-17. Excellent game play by the Giants, so-so execution by the skill players (most notably Collins and Toomer).

Quarterback: Kerry Collins (23-of-39 for 375 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception) played impressively in the first half except for his two bone-head plays in the redzone on the second and third drives of the game. As previously mentioned, he missed a wide-open Shockey for what should have been an easy touchdown on a rollout to the right, but instead tried to hit Toomer late over the middle. The pass was intercepted. Up to this point, Collins was a perfect 9-for-9 for 113 yards and a touchdown. The second bonehead play was not lofting the ball up into the corner of the end zone to Shockey on 3rd-and-goal at the end of the third drive. For some reason, he threw the pass badly behind Shockey. The Giants should have had 14 more points, but instead settled for 3. Other than that, Collins made smart decisions in the first half and led an offense that moved the ball up and down the field, practically at will.

In the second half, Collins started things off with his 51-yard deep pass to Toomer off a flea flicker despite double-coverage. Three plays later, he threw a perfect pass to Toomer in the end zone, but Toomer dropped the ball. The second drive of the half ended didn’t go anywhere because of mistakes by Petitgout and Barber. The third drive ended prematurely because of a dropped pass by Levens. Collins was at his best and worst on the fourth drive. On 3rd-and-10, Collins was pressured by a free blitzer and forced to scramble to his right. Despite this, he threw up a perfect deep pass to Toomer. Unfortunately, the corner made an excellent play on the ball. The Giants got the ball back on Mallard’s first down run. Collins got sacked, and was far too jumpy in the pocket on his next two pass attempts to Ike Hilliard. He had Hilliard open down the middle on both of these plays, but Collins did not step into his throws. On the next drive, Collins stood in there far tougher on the 46-yard play to Shockey. DT Chris Hovan was coming right at Collins full speed off a stunt, yet Collins stood there, delivered the ball, and took his shot (Hovan was flagged for roughing the passer on the play). After a penalty, Collins’ 19-yard play action pass to Shockey put the ball on the Minnesota 2-yard line. The Giants lucked out when the 3rd-and-2 pass attempt to Shockey fell incomplete as the Vikes were flagged for being offsides. On this play to Shockey, it was either a terrible throw by Collins or miscommunication between Collins and Shockey. Collins made what should have been an easy catch by Hilliard on the 2-point conversion attempt more difficult as he unnecessarily threw off his back foot on the play. Still, the ball hit Hilliard in his hands. Collins finished his day on the next possession as he hit Hilliard from 14-yards out for a touchdown.

Wide Receivers: Everyone contributed for a change and everyone made big plays. Ike Hilliard stood out with his 9-catch, 100-yard, 2-touchdown performance. His first reception was a 19-yard touchdown catch where he caught a short pass off a pick by Marcellus Rivers, made a tackler miss, and then weaved his way to the end zone. Hilliard was instrumental on the field goal drive right before halftime, catching four passes for 33 yards. The biggest being a 3rd-and-4 reception deep in Giants’ territory. Minnesota had just scored to tie the game and if the Giants were forced to punt here with over a minute to play, it may have been the Vikings with the halftime lead instead of the Giants. My only negative on Hilliard was that the 2-point conversion pass – albeit slightly off the mark – hit him in the hands. Hilliard made an excellent adjustment on the ball for a 14-yard touchdown to seal the game with less than 4 minutes to play.

Toomer only caught three passes, but these three went for 23, 22, and 51 yards. The 22-yard play was key on the Giants’ field goal drive right before halftime, as Toomer broke a tackle to pick up extra yardage (though it would have been nice if he could have gotten out of bounds on the play too). However, Toomer dropped two passes that should have resulted in touchdowns. The first came right before halftime as Collins threw a strike from 38-yards out. The ball clearly is dropped by Toomer before the safety comes over to hit Amani hard. There was contact with the cornerback on the play, but this is a catch a receiver of Amani’s ability should have made. Toomer did make a very difficult catch despite double-coverage and contact on the 51-yard flea flicker at the beginning of the 3rd quarter, but then screwed up again when he dropped what should have been an easy 19-yard touchdown three plays later.

Tim Carter is quietly seeing more and more action in his direction and this was the most impact he has made in a game thus far in the season. In the first half, on New York’s second drive, Carter caught a 15-yard pass to get the Giants out of a 2nd-and-14 hole. On the next drive, had made a real nice over-the-shoulder catch on a 30-yard deep fade that moved the ball to the Minnesota 3-yard line. On the next drive (right before halftime), Carter short-armed a ball over the middle as it looked like he was just a tad nervous about getting hit. On the Giants’ last offensive play of this drive, Collins threw deep to Carter. The corner was forced to hit Carter without looking back for the ball. Pass interference should have been called and the Giants awarded the ball at the 1-yard line, but no flag was forthcoming.

Also important to note was that the blocking of the wide receivers was very good in this game. Barber picked up 13 yards on the first drive behind good outside blocks from Hilliard and Toomer. Hilliard also got a good block on an outside run two plays later that picked up 17 yards.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey only caught three passes, but they went for a total of 81 yards. On New York’s first drive, Shockey out-fought the safety in a jump ball situation for an impressive 16-yard reception. Surprisingly, Shockey’s next catch didn’t come until the 4th quarter, but it was a big one. He caught a short pass from Collins and turned it into a 46-yard rumble by breaking two tackles and powering his way to extra yardage. Two plays later, his 19-yard reception off of play-action placed the ball at the Minnesota 2-yard line. Both plays were instrumental in the Giants taking a 22-17 lead with 5 and half minutes left in the game.

Shockey’s blocking was inconsistent this week. He got a good block on the end on Tiki’s 17-yard run on the first drive of the game. But on the next possession, he couldn’t sustain his block on the defensive end and Tiki was stuffed for a 1-yard gain. Two plays later, Shockey got a good block on a 9-yard effort by Barber. But two plays after that, Shockey was shoved back into the backfield by the defensive end and into the pulling guard, leading to a 4-yard loss. In the second half, his blocking deteriorated further. He didn’t sustain his blocks well at all on a Barber run on the second drive of the second half or a Levens run on the third drive. And on the 4th drive, he had two poor back-to-back pass blocking efforts, the first leading to a pressure on Collins and the second contributing to the only sack the Giants gave up. He did have a good run block on an 11-yard run by Barber on the fifth drive.

Marcellus Rivers didn’t catch a pass this week, but he had two nice blocks on key running plays. The first was on Tiki’s 2-yard touchdown run; the second was on Barber’s 12-yard run when the Giants were attempting to run out the clock.

Running Backs: It looked like Tiki Barber (20 carries for 75 yards and a touchdown; 5 catches for 47 yards) was going to have a big day on the ground based on the first series of the game. On this drive, half of the Giants’ six offensive plays were rushing attempts by Barber that picked up 6, 13, and 17 yards. The first came off right guard while the latter two were outside runs to the left. But the blocking was not as good on Tiki’s next three runs near the end of the 1st quarter on New York’s second drive as his attempts went for 1, 9, and -4 yards (with Shockey blowing his blocks on two of these efforts). But Tiki made a big play on this drive by making a 12-yard catch out of the backfield on 3rd-and-10. On the Giants’ next possession, it was becoming increasingly evident that the Minnesota linebackers were having problems covering Tiki as he picked up 21 yards on pass from Collins.

In the second half, Barber picked up 27-yards on a screen play that was called back, but I thought Barber should have stayed right behind his two big blockers in front of him instead of taking the ball to the sidelines. In my view, he might have gone all the way had he done that (though the penalty still would have wiped out the play). A few plays later, Tiki dropped a 3rd-and-21 screen pass that might have picked up a sizeable chunk of real estate. Barber made a great run on his 2-yard touchdown effort by stretching out in order to get the ball over the goal line as he was being tackled.

Dorsey Levens (5 carries for 7 yards; 1 catch for 6 yards) was a non-factor this week. His drop of a 3rd-and-2 pass from Collins in the 3rd quarter ended a drive.

As I’ve mentioned previously, FB Jim Finn isn’t a very big or powerful player and he rarely gets movement on his lead blocks. But Finn usually gets good position blocks and this sometimes helps to open things up for Barber. This is what happened on Barber’s first carry of the game, an 11-yard effort by Barber in the 4th quarter, Tiki’s touchdown run that was called back, Tiki’s touchdown run that counted, and Barber’s 12-yard carry when New York was running out the clock.

Offensive Line: The starters from left to right were Luke Petitgout, Wayne Lucier (who played with a 102-103 degree temperature), Chris Bober, David Diehl, and Ian Allen. This is a VERY inexperienced group with Lucier playing at new position, Bober moving back to center, and Ian Allen only receiving his second start in the NFL. Everyone had to get used to new flankmates. The surprise was that this group played extremely well, especially given the situation and the quality of the opponent.

Pass protection, while not perfect, was pretty darn good. The Vikings did blitz quite a bit, but you couldn’t tell by the way the linemen, backs, and tight ends picked it up. Collins was only sacked once and this came on a play where there was confusion between RT Ian Allen and TE Jeremy Shockey (Allen looked like he was expecting help from Shockey, who just stood there). Ian Allen was left one-on-one most of the game with DE Kevin Williams but stymied the impressive rookie. There were a few plays where Allen gave up some pressure, especially on stunts where both Allen and Diehl looked confused. Williams also got close to Collins on Toomer’s 23-yard reception and Barber’s 21-yard reception in the 2nd quarter. But that was about it. Allen also did a decent job on his run blocks the few times the Giants ran in his direction (such as the Giants’ first offensive play).

David Diehl rebounded nicely off an up-and-down performance against Philly’s Corey Simon last week. He got a good run block on the Giants’ first play too. A few plays later, his pulling effort helped to spring Tiki for a 17-yard gain around left end. His pass protection was excellent for the most part as he was also mainly left one-on-one with the tackle over his head. As I mentioned above, he and Allen need to work on picking up stunts as their problems there were more mental than physical. Diehl did give up a pressure on Tiki’s 21-yard reception in the 2nd quarter and a 3rd-and-18 pass attempt to Hilliard in the 4th quarter..

Wayne Lucier played a good game against an outstanding opponent (Chris Hovan), but he received a lot of help from Chris Bober, when possible. Kudos to Lucier for playing sick. My only negatives on Lucier in the first half was his 5-yard false start penalty and giving up a pass pressure on the last drive of the first half on a pass to Toomer that fell incomplete. Lucier did have some problems on the Giants’ 80-yard touchdown drive in the 4th quarter. He missed a block on a Barber run that got stuffed for 1-yard. Hovan came free on a stunt on the 46-yard pass play and I think it was Lucier who should have picked him up (Collins took a big shot on this play). And it was Lucier who was flagged for holding on Tiki’s touchdown run that was called back.

Bober played well with only a couple of negative plays that I saw. He got pushed into the backfield on a Barber run up the gut that lost 2-yards on the first drive of the second half. Bober and Lucier both got beat by Hovan on the short pass completion to Levens in the 3rd quarter.

Petitgout didn’t play one of his better games in pass protection and I wonder if his foot bothered him more than is being let on. While he was steady for the most part against two quality pass rushers (Kenny Mixon and Lance Johnstone), there were times when these two got too darn close or hit Collins (especially on the last drive of the first half). Petitgout was flagged with two holding calls, including a very costly one that brought back a 27-yard screen play to Barber. Two plays later, he was flagged with a false start. Both penalties sabotaged the drive.

My biggest complaint about the line? They had problems creating movement on running plays inside the 5-yard line.

Giants on Defense: Heading into this game, the only really worrisome guy to defend on the Vikings was WR Randy Moss. And it was Moss who presented the Giants with most of their problems on Sunday. In the first half, Moss caught 5 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown. In the second half, the pass defense on Moss tightened up substantially as Moss caught only 2 passes for 4 yards (and a touchdown). Ironically, according to Head Coach Jim Fassel, it was when Moss was double-covered, rather than left all alone with CB Will Allen, that most of the problems resulted.

One thing that didn’t make much sense to me were the zone coverage plays where the linebackers had the responsibility to cover Moss. On Minnesota’s first drive, Moss got open against Dhani Jones for 17 yards on 3rd-and-10. On the Vikings’ next drive, Moss beat Mike Barrow on a crossing pattern for 26 yards on 3rd-and-8. I also didn’t like the way the Giants played Moss on the drive right after the Giants took a 29-17 lead. A form of “prevent” is very appropriate in this situation as the Giants had a 12-point lead with 3:33 left to play. However, when Moss ran a fly pattern on 3rd-and-15, Will Allen was (de facto) the only one covering him because for some reason the Giants had Mike Barrow covering Moss short and FS Omar Stoutmire was late to arrive on the scene. This pass was almost completed and would have made the game uncomfortable. Moss is the only one who can beat the Giants in this situation and the Giants almost let it happen. Then on 4th-and-15, Moss got open in the zone between Allen and Ralph Brown on the sidelines, but the pass was poorly thrown. This play reminded me of the pass completion that set up the field goal that sent the Cowboy game into overtime.

Defensive Line: DE Michael Strahan (6 tackles, 2 sacks) continues to play very well. He now has seven sacks in his last four games. On Minnesota’s second drive, Strahan hit QB Daunte Culpepper just as he threw the ball, resulting in an incompletion. On the Vikings’ first drive in the 3rd quarter, Strahan tackled HB Onterrio Smith for no gain, but on the next play, Smith got around him for 8 yards. Later in the quarter, Strahan got fooled badly on a 5-yard run by Culpepper on 3rd-and-3 when Strahan, for some reason, thought the halfback had the ball and lost contain. It was in the 4th quarter where Strahan really made his presence felt. The Vikings, leading 17-16, had driven to the New York 28 yard line. They were already in long distance field goal range. On 1st-and-10, Strahan pursued the halfback down the line and smacked him from behind on a 2-yard gain.. On 2nd-and-8, Strahan played off a Mike Rosenthal block to sack Culpepper for a 1-yard loss. On 3rd-and-9, Strahan ran over the tight end to sack the quarterback for a 5-yard loss. The Vikings – now at the 32 yard line – punted.

I thought DE Kenny Holmes (2 tackles, 1 sack) played much better this week. On the Vikings’ first possession, his did a great job of playing off a block by the tight end and stuffing HB Moe Williams on a 3rd-and-4 draw play. In the 3rd quarter, Holmes sacked QB Daunte Culpepper for a 4-yard loss while Culpepper was attempting to scramble away from him.

Keith Washington was inactive this week and Osi Umenyiora (3 tackles) played. Osi is learning. If you’ve read my game reviews since the preseason, you know my one nitpick with him was not playing disciplined football on the backside of plays. This left him vulnerable to misdirection such as reverses. Well, on Sunday, Osi expertly sniffed out a reverse to Randy Moss and made a solid, open field tackle for a 12-yard loss. On the very next play, he combined with SS Shaun Williams to clog up a Moe Williams run that went nowhere. However, Umenyiora had some problems with running plays at him on a drive in the 3rd quarter. There were two plays where the Vikings picked up 7 yards on each by running right at Osi.

DT Cornelius (1 tackle) was forced to leave the game in the 2nd quarter with a high ankle sprain injury. DT Lance Legree (3 tackles) played in relief and was awarded a game ball after the contest. Legree made two nice plays on a Viking drive in the 2nd quarter. First he stuffed a run up the middle for no gain. A few plays later, he was the only defensive linemen to read a screen pass and hustled to the sideline to limit the back to an 8-yard gain. In the 3rd quarter, there was one 6-yard run by Williams up the gut on a play where Legree got crushed by the double team.

DT Keith Hamilton (no tackles) didn’t make much noise. It is important to note that he only has 15 tackles and no sacks on the year. Hamilton forced an incompletion on a 3rd-and-6 pass in the 3rd quarter. Hamilton also got a pressure late in the 4th quarter when the Vikings were trailing 29-17. On the drive where Strahan took charge, the Vikes were able to move to the Giants’ 28-yard line because they were able to run right at Keith Hamilton. For some reason, the Giants had flip-flopped Hamilton and Legree. Hamilton got creamed on Moe Williams’ 38-yard run. On the very next play, Hamilton literally got knocked on his ass on a 10-yard run by Williams. Both plays were embarrassing for this once proud warrior. The commentators incorrectly stated that it was Legree who was being run on – it wasn’t – it was Hamilton.

DT William Joseph (no tackles) played a few plays, but did not stand out. He got easily pushed back by blockers on 5-yard run up the middle in the 3rd quarter.

Linebackers: I thought Mike Barrow (9 tackles) played well. He nailed HB Onterrio Smith on a right-side sweep for a 3-yard loss on the game’s second offensive play. In the 2nd quarter, he did a good job of sifting through the traffic to nail Moe Williams in the hole on a 2-yard gain. Barrow had a big hit on Williams in the hole on his 3rd-and-1 carry in the 3rd quarter and Williams barely got the first down. A few plays later, Barrow launched himself at Smith on the goal line, stuffing him for a 1-yard gain.

SLB Brandon Short (6 tackles) did a good job of smacking Smith in the hole and limiting him to a 2-yard gain on the Vikes’ first drive.

Dhani Jones had a quiet 6-tackle performance. He did, however, pick up a sack by knocking the ball out of Culpepper’s hands on one pass rush. A few plays later, he stuffed Williams in the hole on a 1-yard gain. Jones got easily blocked on Williams’ 38-yard gain where Keith Hamilton got crushed. On the following 10-yard run, both Jones and Mike Barrow really misread the direction of the run and were nowhere near the focal point of the play.

Defensive Backs: As I stated in my preview, the Giants left Randy Moss alone with CB Will Allen a great deal in the game. Moss actually did most of his first-half damage when (1) he was covered by a linebacker in a zone, or (2) double-covered by Allen and a safety. When Allen was left alone with Moss, he did alright for the most part (except the second touchdown reception where Allen should have fought better for position in front of Moss).

“I thought Will did a good job,” said Head Coach Jim Fassel on Monday after the game. “Actually, if you want to know the truth – when he was one-on-one with Randy Moss, he played him better than when we had him double-covered. On the (first) touchdown he was supposed to be double-covered and when he was by himself he did a better job than when we called to bracket him or he had help. Even the one that they threw down the middle to him, he should have had help from both safeties and both safeties were way too wide. So when he had him one-on-one by himself, I thought he did a good job.”

Allen did a great job of ripping the ball out of Moss’ hands on a 3rd-and-20 deep throw that was almost completed. On this play, I was disappointed to see that Omar Stoutmire was late to provide help to Allen. Allen was at the center of the action on the Vikings’ sole TD drive in the first half. Allen was beat on a 10-yard out by Moss. Then Allen did a great job of tackling the tight end in the flat for a 1-yard gain. Next came the two big pass plays to Moss. The first was a 35-yard gain down the seam. This is the play Fassel talked about where the safeties were too wide and didn’t help out like they should have. On the next play – the 33-yard touchdown pass, I think Shaun Williams was supposed to help out on Moss (and Omar Stoutmire was late again in getting over). After these plays, Moss was held very quiet. “We didn’t really make any adjustments,” said SS Shaun Williams. “He caught us on a couple big plays, kind of hit us in a weak spot in our coverage a couple of times. Besides that, we just stuck with our game plan, we just executed better in the second half.”

The only play Moss made in the entire second half was the 1-yard touchdown reception where Allen had good coverage, but didn’t position himself in front of Moss in order to make a play on the ball. Allen also got flagged for defensive holding on Moss early in the 3rd quarter. Allen played Moss tightly on the aforementioned 3rd-and-15 deep pass late in the 4th quarter. However, Allen’s swipe at the ball missed; the Giants were fortunate that Moss was distracted by the swipe and dropped it.

Based on my comments above, you can tell that I don’t think the safeties played very well in the first half of the game. Fassel clearly singled them out on the two big pass plays on the Vikings’ touchdown drive in the second quarter. However, they more than likely were part of the Moss solution in the second half, though Stoutmire was inexcusably late on the 3rd-and-15 deep pass to Moss late in the 4th quarter. Both Stoutmire and Williams each made a nice play in run defense in the first half. Stoutmire was flagged with an illegal use of hands penalty in the 3rd quarter. He also took a terrible angle on Moe Williams on the latter’s 38-yard run. Shaun Williams knocked away a pass to Moe Williams late in the game.

CB Ralph Brown kept his man quiet the entire game except for two plays: a 16-yard reception by Nate Burleson in the 2nd quarter and a 32-yard gain by Burleson in the 3rd quarter. The latter play set up the Vikings’ sole score of the second half. On the play, Brown got knocked off balance and fell to the turf when Burleson gave him a shove beyond the 5-yard chuck zone. This type of play happens all of the time, but technically, offensive pass interference should have been called. I would have also liked to have seen Brown pay more attention to Moss on the 4th-and-15 pass that fell incomplete late in the 4th quarter.

Rookie Frank Walker, playing in his first game, made a huge play by jumping on an out pass intended for WR Keenan Howry late in the 4th quarter. This occurred on Minnesota’s first offensive play after the Giants had taken a 22-17 lead. The turnover in this spot led to another touchdown three plays later, sealing the win. Walker also supplied good deep coverage on a 3rd-and-4 pass attempt near the start of the quarter intended for Howry. After the Giants took the 29-17 lead late in the 4th quarter, Walker made a nice sure tackle to keep Howry in bounds and keep the clock moving after a 7-yard reception.

Reserve safety Johnnie Harris made an interception on the Hail Mary at the end of the game.

Special Teams: The big play special teams play of the game was the blocked punt by the Vikings. The Giants were trailing 17-16 near the start of the 4th quarter and Jeff Feagles was punting from the NY 12-yard line. Wes Mallard missed his block on the Viking rusher who got to Feagles. Ironically, however, Mallard showed the presence of mind to pick up the ball and advance it 20 yards for a first down. The Giants did not score on this drive, but the turnaround prevented the Vikings from taking even a bigger lead at a crucial point in the game. But don’t lose sight of the fact that, in reality, it was a bad play by Mallard that created the situation in the first place. Also give credit to rest of the Giants who immediately turned around to block other Vikings for Mallard.

Feagles punted three other times: for 49, 42, and 53 yards. Punt coverage was average. Returns went for 11 yards (Kato Serwanga making the tackle), 0 yards (fair catch), and 7 yards (Kevin Lewis and Serwanga). Brian Mitchell missed a tackle on the 11-yard return. Kato Serwanga was down in a hurry to force the fair catch.

PK Brett Conway was a perfect 3-for-3 on his field goal efforts, connecting from 20, 44, and 37 yards out. His kickoffs were much improved this week, landing at the 7, 4, 3, 7, 15, 8, and 7 yard lines. Kickoff coverage was good. Minnesota returns went for 20 (Nick Greisen making the tackle), 19 (David Tyree and Kato Serwanga), 18 (Johnnie Harris), 0 (returner went out of bounds), 12 (Kevin Lewis), 18 (Wes Mallard), and 23 yards (David Tyree). Tyree did miss two open field tackles this week however.

The punt and kick return games remain a problem. I still remain convinced that more than half the problem is the blocking for the return men. Brian Mitchell looks like he is regressing as a punt returner. In the 1st quarter, he let one punt bounce right in front of him. This rolled for a lot more yardage. Luckily for him, the Vikings were offsides. On his next chance, with little blocking, he only managed a 2-yard return before fumbling the ball (fortunately it bounced out of bounds, but the Vikes had a shot at it). On this play, Serwanga was flagged with an illegal block as well. Two other punts were fair caught; another was a touchback.

Kick returns continue to be disappointing. Delvin Joyce returned two kickoffs – one going for 17 yards and the other for 24 yards. Wes Mallard was flagged with an illegal block on the latter. Brian Mitchell’s sole effort only went for 16 yards.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, October 26, 2003)
Oct 242003
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, October 26, 2003: Six games down, ten to go. The Giants have already played half their home games, meaning that six of the final ten will be on the road. The Giants are 1-2 in the NFC East and in last place in the division. It’s time to panic. The Giants have to start a winning streak right now. The Vikings are undefeated, but they are beatable.

The Giants have been victim of bad luck, poor play and execution, and poor coaching decisions. They must stop being the victim and start imposing their WILL on others. It’s time to start playing some winning football.

Giants on Offense: Stop turning the ball over. Start making some big plays in the passing game. Do those two things and the Giants should start putting more points on the scoreboard.

The big worry right now is the offensive line. It’s too bad because the line was just rounding into form before it lost one of its two best players (Rich Seubert). Now the whole thing will be juggled around causing more growing pains. Plus, another new inexperienced face will be added to the mix – even more growing pains. That’s not a good thing when you consider that the strength of the Minnesota defense is their defensive line.

What we know is this: Luke Petigtout is staying at left tackle and David Diehl is staying at right guard. Chris Bober is shifting back to center. Those positions should be relatively fine although they all will have to get used to new flank-mates (don’t underestimate that problem). It looks like Wayne Lucier will start at left guard and either Jeff Roehl or Ian Allen will start at right tackle. My guess is that it will be Allen since he has experience there and is a stronger player. However, it could be Roehl if the Giants want a more secure pass blocker. There is a real match-up problem on the right side. Rookie 1st round pick DE Kevin Williams is the most impressive defensive lineman to come out of the draft. I doubt Allen or Roehl can handle him by themselves…so look for a tight end to stay in to help out blocking. Lucier doesn’t match-up well either with DT Chris Hovan – perhaps the best defensive tackle in football. In other words, the Giants have their two weakest links lining up over Minnesota’s best players. Ouch! Look for Bober to help out on Hovan. The Vikings will try to take advantage of this situation by blitzing up the middle.

Last week against the Eagles, the offensive line minus Seubert had problems with the strong play of the Philly defensive tackles and I anticipate Hovan and Williams will create similar problems this week on the pass rush. I feel that it is important for the Giants to do their passing on first down and in running situations (i.e., 2nd-and-short). Pass when the Vikings will be looking for the run…and they will be looking run as they will expect the Giants to protect Collins by staying more conservative and using Tiki Barber and Dorsey Levens. I’m not saying don’t run the football. But the Giants need to pass in order to score and the best time to pass is when the opposition isn’t expecting it.

The other match-ups up front are Luke Petitgout versus the platoon of Kenny Mixon/Lance Johnstone. Johnstone is an effective pass rusher who already has 5.5 sacks. Petitgout’s play has not been as sharp this year as it was last year…he needs to step it up. Diehl will play against DT Fred Robbins.

It’s also time for the Giants’ “elite” players to start playing the way they were supposed to be playing. Fassel is getting a lot of grief from fans, but let’s be honest, QB Kerry Collins, WR Amani Toomer, TE Jeremy Shockey, and HB Tiki Barber have been disappointing this year. They are not making big plays and they are not getting the ball into the end zone. “Stars” are supposed to make big plays that win football games. Toomer should eat CB Ken Irvin up. Shockey should be able to get away from the Viking linebackers and safeties. Tiki should be able to break off a big run or two. Should, should, should… Enough talk, do it!

And most importantly, Kerry Collins has to make plays in the clutch despite inconsistent pass protection. In my opinion, he played like a wuss last weekend. He was jumpy in the pocket and was scrambling away from pressure that sometimes wasn’t there. If he does that this week, the Giants lose. You’re going to get hit this weekend Kerry – a lot; it will hurt less if you win the football game.

The offensive line needs to be at least respectable. Kerry needs to take some shots down the field – if the coaching staff and offensive line allow him. And Toomer, Shockey, and Barber need to earn their paychecks.

Giants on Defense: My big concern is Ralph Brown. The Eagles should have gone at him more last week deep, but didn’t. I question Ralph’s ability to stay with a fast receiver down the field and I wonder if Frank Walker shouldn’t be playing more outside and Brown inside on the nickel. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw that this week.

The real interesting match-up will be Will Allen, who is playing exceptional football right now, versus All-World Randy Moss. The Giants talk about doubling Moss, but don’t be shocked if they leave Allen all alone with Moss…not all the time, but more than one would expect. If they do decide to double Moss, then the pressure on Brown, Walker, and/or Ryan Clark increases measurably. Brown and Allen will be at a size disadvantage with the 6-2 D’Wayne Bates and 6-4 Moss, respectively. Bates isn’t real fast, but back-up Kelly Campbell is…I bet the Vikings try to get Campbell deep on Brown.

Daunte Culpepper is an up-and-down quarterback. He’s playing good football right now but I think the Giants can frustrate him. The key is when you get to him to tackle him…he’s as big as the Giants’ defensive ends. It’s also important to keep him from scrambling for first downs and touchdowns.

I think it is essential for the Giants to shut down the Minnesota running game. Moe Williams starts and Onterrio Smith is the back-up. They run behind a very big offensive line and H-Back Charles Stackhouse (remember him?). Michael Strahan will face RT Mike Rosenthal. The last time Strahan faced a former Giants’ right tackle was in the playoff game where he got his butt whooped by Scott Gragg. The Giants can not afford a similar effort this time. LT Bryant McKinnie is a monster of a man and DE Kenny Holmes will have to be at his very best. Both guards are over 320 pounds so tackles Keith Hamilton and Cornelius Griffin will have to play a physical game this week

Stop the run and the get the Vikes into a passing mode. I would then play the “Big Nickel” that we heard so much about in the preseason and run blitz packages out of that – especially with Shaun Williams as the blitzer.

Giants on Special Teams: PK Brett Conway needs to get better distance on his kick-offs. P Jeff Feagles needs to bounce back from a sub-par game for him. Obviously, the Giants need more productivity out of Brian Mitchell as both a kick and punt returner…but he also needs help from his blockers. David Tyree is getting closer and closer to blocking a punt.

Oct 222003
 
Philadelphia Eagles 14 – New York Giants 10

Game Overview: The older fans know all too well; the younger ones will learn: despite winning two Super Bowls, being a fan of the New York Football Giants can be a very painful experience. Perhaps this pain is shared by fans of all teams, but since I am personally Giant-centric (as are Giant fans), our pain seems like a special pain.

And this pain is not endemic to Jim Fassel. After the 1956 Championship, the Giants were in five more Championship Games in 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962, and 1963 – they lost them all. In the 1958 game, the officials stole the victory by improperly marking the football on Frank Gifford’s last carry. Had the ball been marked correctly, the Giants would have run out the clock and won their fifth Championship. In 1963, Y.A. Tittle, playing with an injured knee, threw five interceptions in a 14-10 loss. Then came NFL oblivion from 1964 to 1980. There were many terrible seasons – at the top of the list being 1964 (2-10-2), 1966 (1-12-1), 1973 (2-11-1), 1974 (2-12), and 1976 (3-11)…and we all know what happened in 1978…“The Fumble”.

Even after things starting getting good again in 1981, the pain was there. The Giants of 1982 (4-5) and 1983 (3-12-1) were supposed to contend. 1983 was Bill Parcells’ first season as head coach and he barely survived. I become a Giant fanatic at the start of the 1984 season…a reasonably good year for a team predicted to finish last place in its own division. But the heartache I suffered in 1985 from those two dreadful losses to the Cowboys still sticks with me (the botched center exchange between Phil Simms and Bart Oates when the Giants were running out the clock; the TD scored by DE Jim Jeffcoat off a deflected pass when the Giants were looking to put the game away). These losses cost New York the division. Then there were those four games against the Eagles in 1988 and 1989 – strange games where Philly found bizarre and painful ways to win (i.e., Randall Cunningham bouncing off of Carl Banks; the Giants blocking a punt in overtime that Clyde Simmons returned for a touchdown; the officials awarding the Eagles a touchdown despite the fact that the ball was resting on the 3-yard line; and Phil Simms turning the ball over for two defensive touchdowns, and a 92-yard punt by Cunningham).

The post-Superbowl 1987 team finished last in the NFC East (the strike gets too much blame for that year). Also, in 1988, the Giants could have won the division had they simply beat an inferior Jets team in the finale. The Giants trailed all day, took the lead late on perhaps Phil Simms’ greatest 2-minute drive, then the defense let the Jets move right down the field in seconds to score the game-winning touchdown (Al Toon over Tom Flynn). Earlier that year, who could forget another dramatic Simms’ last-minute TD drive wasted when Jerry Rice beat Mark Collins deep with only seconds left for the game winner?

The Giants won the NFC East in 1989 despite the two nightmare games against the Eagles, but let the Wild Card Los Angeles Rams hang around and win in overtime on “Flipper” Anderson’s long touchdown catch.

There is a lot of pain there during the Bill Parcells’ years, but much of that is forgotten because it was superceded by Super Bowl XXI and XXV.

The 1991 and 1992 Giants were coached by someone unmentionable. The 1993 Giants were a much worse team than the Dallas Cowboys, but Dan Reeves had a chance to win the division in the Meadowlands that year had he not played for overtime, instead of ending it all in regulation. 1994 was the transition from Phil Simms to Dave Brown. 1995 was full of heartbreak….the Giants lost seven games that were decided on the final drive of the game…in six of those games, the Giants were either tied or leading at some point in the 4th quarter. All you need to know about 1996 was that the Giants blew a 17-0 lead in the opener and a 22-0 lead in the finale.

Enter Jim Fassel. 1997 was a splendid year. The Giants were supposed to be a bad team that year, but Giants became the first team ever to go undefeated in the NFC East and won their first division title since 1990. Fassel won “Coach of the Year” honors. All this despite the fact that the Giants’ best offensive player was FB Charles Way. Of course, the meltdown against the Vikings ended the season on a down note. The Giants had a 9-point lead with less than two minutes in the game and lost it when Chris Calloway couldn’t field the onsides kick. 1998 and 1999 were mediocre years as the Giants struggled with Danny Kanell and Kent Graham at quarterback, as well as a slew of injuries.

2000 was a Cinderella year for the G-Men. The Redskins were being pencilled in as the NFC Champions, but it was the Giants went 12-4, won home field advantage in the NFC, and won their most lop-sided playoff game in their history in the NFC Championship Game (41-0 over the Vikings). Had the Giants won Super Bowl XXXV, Fassel would have been given the same breathing space as Parcells. But CB Jason Sehorn couldn’t cover Brandon Stokley, the officials called defensive holding on Keith Hamilton to wipe out a TD, and the offensive line couldn’t handle the Ravens’ front seven.

The Giants struggled in 2001 because QB Kerry Collins struggled. And the offensive line got old fast. The 9-11 tragedy affected the Giants and Jets more than anyone. The 1-point losses to the Rams and Eagles hurt early. The defense, under John Fox’s leadership, collapsed in the second game against the Eagles after the Giants looked to have it won.

2002 was a strange year. The team was inconsistent until a December roll put them into the playoffs as a Wild Card. Earlier in the year, there were heartbreaking defeats to the Cardinals (remember the interception for a TD right before halftime?), the Texans, and the late collapse against the Titans. But the offense had turned it around with Fassel taking over play-calling responsibilities. The Giants were on fire heading into San Francisco and took a 38-14 lead. Then came that gut-wrenching 25-point comeback by the 49ers, the botched snap, and second worst playoff collapse in NFL history.

That brings us to 2003. The Giants had question marks on their offensive line, but they looked as strong as anyone in the NFC on paper. The win against the Rams had everyone feeling good. An 18-point comeback on Monday Night Football against Bill Parcells was wasted when PK Matt Bryant kicked the ball out of bounds with 11 seconds left in regulation. The Cowboys tied the game and won in overtime. A devastating loss. The Giants beat the Redskins in Washington, but then lost two games to quality AFC East opponents as the offense turned the ball over a total of 9 times.

Then came last Sunday. The Giants were in a tight game that should not have been tight had the Giants not turned the ball over twice in Eagles’ territory. Still, New York was lead 10-7 with 1:34 remaining and punting from the Eagle-side of the field. Philadelphia had struggled to move the ball all day and was out of time outs. Fearing a block, Feagles was told to get rid of the ball quickly and to kick it high. He didn’t. The punt was only in the air 2.7 seconds. The Giants’ top special teams player, David Tyree, was blocked in the back; others overran the short kick; and the long snapper missed a tackle. 84-yards later, the Eagles have the lead and end up winning the game.

My wife used to think I was crazy when I would say a Giants game wasn’t over until the clock actually reached 0:00. She didn’t see Bart Oates and Phil Simms bobble that center exchange, she missed Jerry Rice’s touchdown reception over Mark Collins, and she didn’t see Al Toon’s catch over Tom Flynn. She certainly wasn’t there with me at a sports bar when Chris Calloway couldn’t field that onsides kicks. But she did witness the blown 24-point lead over the 49ers, Matt Bryant’s kick out of bounds against the Cowboys, and Jeff Feagles’ low, shallow punt against the Eagles. “What the hell is wrong with this team?” she demands to know. I merely respond, “It’s the Giants sweetie. It’s always been like this.”

Sadly, these games don’t upset me as much as they used to. There is too much scar tissue now. Sure I get upset and I am cranky much of the week, but it’s not that “end of the world” feeling that I used to get in the 1980’s. If you’re hurting now, take comfort in the knowledge that with experience the pain becomes less intense. That’s the only relief I can offer you.

Jim Fassel is in trouble. He didn’t win that Super Bowl in 2000. Much was expected from his 2003 team and it is terribly underachieving. Worse, he has been at the helm of some of the most infamous Giants’ collapses in their history…the 1997 playoff game against the Vikings…the 2002 playoff game against the 49ers…and this season’s contests against the Cowboys and Eagles. If it weren’t for the Yankees being in the World Series, the New York press would be relentlessly on Jim’s ass right now. The Giants are a terrible 1-3 at home and 1-2 in the NFC East. Four of their next five games are on the road. CB Will Peterson and LG Rich Seubert are out and they are two of the Giants’ very best players. Things could get ugly fast. If Fassel doesn’t get this team to the playoffs or produce a winning record, the public pressure to replace him may to too great.

Is it unfair? Perhaps. But he is the captain of the ship and EVERYTHING that happens to this team is ultimately his responsibility once the season starts. He’s not only the head coach, but the offensive coordinator. This is as talented an offensive football team the Giants have fielded since 1963, yet the Giants are only averaging 15 points per game (I’m not counting the two defensive scores). Excuses can be made…perhaps quite legitimate. But this is a no-excuse sport.

Giants on Offense: The same problems continue: (1) the Giants are turning the ball over; (2) the Giants are no longer making the big play in the passing game; and (3) not enough points are being scored. Points (1) and (2) combine to add up to point (3). The Giants “only” turned the ball over twice on Sunday, but both hurt. Both came on what looked to be scoring drives, including one at the Philly 5-yard line. And once again, QB Kerry Collins and the Giants’ receivers were unable to make big plays down the field. The longest pass play was 20 yards; the next longest was 14 yards. This is forcing the Giants to attempt to sustain long drives and play error-free football (no turnovers, no minus yardage plays, no penalties)…and the Giants have been unable to do this.

On Sunday, the Giants only scored three points in the first half of the game. THREE!!! And those three points were generated by an offensive “drive” of 8 yards after a Philadelphia turnover. Had it not been for Will Allen’s interception, the Giants would have been shut out in the first half.

The Giants had five offensive possessions before the intermission:

  • 1st Drive: Giants get excellent field position off a Philadelphia turnover…start at the Philly 49 yard line. The Giants pick up a first down, but the drive is sabotaged when Collins is hit as he attempts to hand off to Ike Hilliard on an end around. The resulting fumble loses 20 yards, causing a 2nd-and-30. On 3rd-and-16, Luke Petitgout jumps offsides. 3rd-and-21 is simply too much to overcome. The killer play was the fumble and it was caused by either poor play design or a mental mistake because DT Darwin Walker was not blocked on the play. Seven offensive plays and a punt.
  • 2nd Drive: This drives starts at the Giants’ 23-yard line. The Giants run 11 offensive plays, but are forced to punt upon reaching the Eagles’ 39-yard line. The drive stalls when Shockey drops a pass (commentator also says Shockey misread the coverage on the play), Tiki Barber loses 2-yards on a sweep, and Collins gets happy feet on a 3rd-and-12 pass that is completed for only 3-yards. If a team runs 11 offensive plays in a drive, it should score.
  • 3rd Drive: Giants get great field position again (Eagle 45-yard line) but still can’t manage to score. After picking up a first down, a pass to Toomer falls incomplete, Toomer false starts, Delvin Joyce picks up 3 yards, and a pass to Toomer is thrown too far behind him. Twice the Giants have started in Philly territory and they have NO points to show for it!
  • 4th Drive: This is an impressive-looking 9-play drive that moves the ball from the New York 12-yard line to the Philly 28-yard line. However, the drive ends when Shockey fumbles the ball away. No points.
  • 5th Drive: The defense once again sets up the Giants in Philly territory…this time on the Eagle 29-yard line. The 8-yard “drive” stalls when Collins gets nervous in the pocket again. Brett Conway’s 39-yard field goal barely makes it over the crossbar. Drive resulted in a FIELD GOAL.

Five possessions, three of them starting in Philadelphia territory, result in 3 points. Let’s look at the second half, where the Giants had seven drives:

  • 1st Drive: Giants pick up two first downs, but the drive stalls when Collins is sacked, Tiki Barber drops a pass, and pass pressure forces Collins to dump the ball off short on 3rd-and-17. The problem here was pass protection. Seven offensive plays…no points.
  • 2nd Drive: This is an excellent drive, but it took 12 plays to move 62 yards and score a touchdown…one of the few drives the Giants didn’t shoot themselves in the foot in recent weeks. The longest play on the drive was a 12-yard completion to Marcellus Rivers. Drive resulted in a TOUCHDOWN. This is the last time the Giants would score.
  • 3rd Drive: Giants pick up one first down, but a 3rd-and-3 turns into a 3rd-and-8 because of a false start on RG David Diehl. On 3rd down, Shockey can’t get clear of CB Bobby Taylor. Seven plays and a punt.
  • 4th Drive: Giants really blew it here as they could have put the game away. Giants move from their own 37-yard line to the Eagle 5-yard line in 11 plays. The running of Dorsey Levens is a big factor and Collins and Toomer hook up on a key 3rd-and-11 as Philly brings the kitchen sink on a blitz (great job by line and Levens to pick it up). However, on 3rd-and-goal, Diehl misses the blitzing linebacker who knocks the ball out of Collins’ right hand for a turnover. 12 plays…no points.
  • 5th Drive: With 4:13 left in the game, the Fassel plays it conservatively and calls three runs for Levens that pick up 9 yards total. I don’t like the play-calling at this point. 4:13 is too much time with a 3-point lead. On 3rd-and-3, the Giants should have passed.
  • 6th Drive: With 1:51 left in the game, Fassel calls for Levens three more times. I don’t have a problem with the play-calling here. Fassel is trying to get the Eagles to use their timeouts and a pass incompletion stops the clock. Worse, with the Giants’ shaky pass protection in this game, a turnover was not an unrealistic possibility. Giants punt and the punt is returned for the game-winning touchdown.
  • 7th Drive: This drive really ticked me off. Here the offense could have saved the day. The Giants get good field position on the return and a 20-yard pass play to Toomer (the longest of the day for New York) puts the ball at the Philly 40-yard line with 1:05 left on the clock (plenty of time). But the pass protection really breaks down after that and Collins isn’t accurate at all on three of his next four passes. I really didn’t like the 4th-and-4 formation that had a tight run/pass look to it. Everyone knew the Giants were going to pass here and Collins should have been in the shotgun with his receivers spread out wide. Game over.

So there you have it. The defense handed the special teams three points and the Giants had only one scoring drive in 11 other chances. That’s not going to get it done. Here are some quick positional thoughts:

Offensive Line: The loss of LG Rich Seubert is huge and I really doubt he will ever be the same player again. Pass protection in this game was a real problem as LG Jeff Roehl struggled with DT Darwin Walker and RG David Diehl struggled with DT Corey Simon. And there were times when OC Wayne Lucier got bull-rushed like he was on roller skates by both of these two defensive tackles. LT Luke Petitgout had his rough moments with N.D. Kalu, as did Chris Bober with his opponent in pass protection. Philly accrued 3 sacks and numerous pressures, none bigger than Diehl missing the LB blitz that caused the turnover on the 5-yard line. Run blocking was better as the Giants rushed for 180 yards against the top ranked rush defense in the league. However, there were some mistakes here as well. Despite running for a lot of yardage between the tackles, both guards did have problems with the defensive tackles too when run blocking. There was one pull by Roehl where he made a key block, but there were a few other pulls where Roehl’s pulling efforts were too deep and actually disrupted the rhythm of the play. Penalties were also a problem with Petitgout (false start) and Diehl (false start and holding).

Quarterback: Not a very good game by Collins (22-of-36 for 174 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions). For the first time in a long, long time, Collins looked very uncomfortable in the pocket. It was pretty obvious that he didn’t have a lot of confidence in the blockers in front of him as he was rushing throws and scrambling away from phantom pressure even when the pass protection was acceptable. This affected his accuracy and helped prevent the Giants from making big plays down the field (as did the actual pass pressure and the defensive secondary coverage of the Eagles). And there were passes he just missed such as the 3rd-and-12 throw to Toomer that was well behind the receiver. Collins had Barber deep for what should have been a touchdown on the play preceding the field goal, but Collins threw the ball up lazily off his back foot instead of stepping into the throw more and taking a shot from the oncoming rusher. Even on the TD drive, Collins didn’t see a wide open Toomer over the middle on one play, and then threw behind Toomer on another. Two plays before Collins’ fumble, a quicker throw on a rollout probably would have resulted in a touchdown to a wide open Ike Hilliard. Kerry also deserves blame for two false start penalties. The only throw that I was actually proud of him was his 11-yard strike to Toomer on 3rd-and-10 on the drive that resulted in a turnover at the 5-yard line. Amazingly, Collins’ scrambling was a real asset (4 carries for 28 yards, including a lunging 11-yard effort on 3rd-and-10 that kept the TD scoring drive alive). Kerry and the offense had a chance to be the heros with over a minute left at the Eagle 44-yard line. But the pass protection was shoddy and Collins’ passes were terribly inaccurate.

Wide Receivers: Perhaps it is Collins, perhaps it is the pass protection, perhaps it is the play-calling, perhaps the receivers simply are not playing very well and getting open. Maybe it’s a combination of all four possibilities. But for whatever reason, once again, Amani Toomer (4 catches for 54 yards; long of 20), Ike Hilliard (1 catch for 11 yards), and Tim Carter (1 catch for 11 yards) are not making big plays down the field. And, as I have said for two weeks, this is killing the Giants’ offense. Big plays (as Jaws is fond of saying) come out of the passing game and big plays are required to score touchdowns in this league. If you have to drive the length of the field in 10-14 play drives, you are likely to make a mistake that will stall the drive. This is what is happening to the Giants. Toomer was flagged with a false start.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey (5 catches for a paltry 23 yards and 1 touchdown) had problems getting open from CB Bobby Taylor (unfortunately for the Giants, this was Taylor’s first game back from injury). Shockey dropped a pass and also fumbled the ball away on an impressive drive where it looked like the Giants would score a field goal or touchdown.

The tight end who is taking advantage of the fact that opposing defenses are focusing their attention elsewhere is Marcellus Rivers (4 catches for 31 yards). Marcellus had a few key catches including a 2-yard reception on 3rd-and-2 and a 12-yard screen on 2nd-and-10.

Blocking by the tight ends was serviceable though there was one play where Rivers gave up two much penetration and Barber lost two yards and another when Shockey couldn’t sustain his block and Dorsey Levens lost a yard.

Running Backs: Tiki Barber (19 carries for 79 yards; 5 catches for 34 yards) had a decent day, but I thought he had a few runs where he could have made a better decision and been more decisive. For example, two plays before Shockey’s TD reception, Barber for some reason didn’t follow his lead blocker into what developed into a pretty big hole. Instead he cut it back to the left into a morass of blockers and defenders. Tiki also dropped a pass. On the positive side, I liked his effort on a 7-yard catch-and-run on 3rd-and-5 at the start of the second quarter. He also looked sharp on a 14-yard reception later in the quarter when he cut back against the grain of the defense. On the next play, Tiki had his best-looking run where he squeezed through a very small opening and then leaped over a defender for an 11-yard gain.

I thought Dorsey Levens (16 carries for 64 yards) was very impressive. What a damning indictment on Jim Fassel for not getting this guy on the field sooner than the sixth game of the season! Levens is much more a north-south runner than Barber and thus complements him very well. And to be honest, it is a bit refreshing to see a runner on this team be able to run north-south in an aggressive fashion. But Levens does have a little wiggle to his game still and demonstrated that he has enough shakes to make someone miss in the hole. His 17-yard burst up the gut in the 4th quarter really fired up the team. He picked up 8 yards off right tackle in the next play. On the play right after that, he juked a would-be-tackler in the backfield to pick up 4 more yards. Later in the drive, he picked up 12-yards around left end as the Eagles gambled on a blitz up the middle. In all, on what should have been the drive that put the game away, Levens accrued 49 yards on 7 carries (7.0 yards-per-carry). Levens also did a good job of picking up the blitz.

Brian Mitchell played the role of 3rd down back on a few plays, but Collins didn’t throw to him. The Giants should not forget that he is an able receiver out of the backfield.

I didn’t think FB Jim Finn played too well this week in the blocking department. He missed hitting the linebacker at the point-of-attack on two runs, including the 2nd-and-goal run on the play right before Collins’ fumbled. Finn caught two passes for 10 yards.

Defensive Line: Michael Strahan is back. Strahan once again provided problems for his old foe Jon Ruynan. Not only did Strahan accrue 2 sacks and 5 tackles, but he was a disruptive presence on a number of other plays both in terms of pass pressure and penetration into the backfield on running plays. However, there were a couple of successful runs to Strahan’s side in the 1st quarter, including the 6-yard touchdown run. Strahan almost caused an interception right before halftime. On the next play, he sacked the Donovan McNabb and forced a fumble. He also amazingly stuffed a quarterback sneak on 3rd-and-inches. In the 4th quarter, he got a good pass rush on the play where McNabb scrambled out of the pocket and was hit and forced to fumble.

DE Kenny Holmes (4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble) started weak, but finished strong. Much of the Eagles’ early success on the ground was in his direction on plays where he was manhandled. But there were also a few plays where Holmes really stood his ground and there was one play where both he and DT William Joseph did a superb job of maintain disciplined pass rush lanes and prevented McNabb from running on a designed scramble (this play shows that Joseph is learning as Joseph was guilty of leaving his gap in previous games). Holmes got blocked on an 18-yard run in the 2nd quarter. On the Giants’ last defensive series of the game, Holmes’ penetration disrupted a Brian Westbrook run for no gain. On the next play, he sacked McNabb on 3rd-and-10.

The reserve who has not been playing well in recent weeks is Keith Washington. Keith got crushed on two Westbrook runs of 6 and 14 yards in the 2nd quarter.

Most of the Eagle ground success came on the edges, not up the gut (except for Correll Buckhalter’s 11-yard gain on 3rd-and-1). DT Cornelius Griffin (2 tackles) continues to hustle on plays away from him and is starting to see the double-teams that Keith Hamilton received inside. Hamilton (3 tackles) did have one good quarterback pressure that forced an incompletion.

Linebackers: I thought this was Dhani Jones’ worst game of the season thus far. There were quite a few outside Westbrook runs where the end (usually Holmes or Washington) got blocked as did Jones. In fact, it seemed on almost every big run, Jones was one of the blocking victims. TE Chad Lewis also beat Jones on an 8-yard reception. There were some good plays…such was when Jones penetrated into the backfield to disrupt an end around to WR James Thrash, and then made the tackle. In the 3rd quarter, his outside pursuit led to a 3-yard loss on a Westbrook run.

Mike Barrow (6 tackles) forced two fumbles in this game with huge hits…one on Buckhalter, the other on McNabb.

Brandon Short (4 tackles) got beat by TE Lonnie Smith for 25 yards on 2nd-and-18 down to the Giants’ 6-yard line. Two plays later, the Eagles scored their only offensive touchdown of the game. Short did make two nice plays on the following series when he combined with Holmes to stuff one run and then supplied good coverage on HB Duce Staley.

Defensive Backs: It’s tough to tell if the Giants’ coverage was that good, the Eagles’ receivers were that bad, or McNabb’s passing was that off. But the Eagle wide receivers were non-factors in this football game (1 catch for six yards). That’s absolutely incredible and I doubt we’ll ever see anything like that again.

Will Allen dominated a receiver (James Thrash) who historically has given the Giants fits. Thrash didn’t have a catch. Allen picked off one pass and almost picked off another. The former set up a field goal. He closed very quickly on one slant to knock the ball away.

The fear was that Ralph Brown would be victimized all day, but Brown played pretty well. The only thing that makes me a bit nervous about him outside is that he doesn’t seem to be very fast. The Eagles threw at him deep twice, and WR Todd Pinkston had a step on him both times. On the first, Brown bit on an inside fake and was burned for what should have been a long touchdown. However, the ball was underthrown and Brown ran into the receiver for a 41-yard pass interference penalty (yes, this was pass interference…you can’t run into the receiver even if you are looking back for the ball). This was the only big pass play to a wide receiver in the game. On the second deep pass at Brown, Ralph was close to Pinkston, but the receiver still had a step and Brown felt compelled to pull at the receiver’s right arm (he was lucky pass interference wasn’t called here).

My biggest complaint on Allen and Brown was that they didn’t defend the Westbrook TD run very well.

Shaun Williams (3 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) and Omar Stoutmire (6 tackles) deserve credit for the stifling pass coverage too. There were plays where Williams was lined up one-on-one with an Eagles’ wide receiver out of a spread formation, but he stuck to his man like glue. However, there was one errant throw by McNabb that Williams should have picked off had he been playing the ball rather than the receiver. Stoutmire knocked away a 3rd-and-9 pass intended for Westbrook. Stoutmire also had good coverage on a 3-yard pass to FB Jon Ritchie. In the 4th quarter, he combined with Holmes to stuff a Westbrook run for a 1-yard loss.

Special Teams: I hate to say this because I like the guy and he has been playing extremely well for the Giants, but Jeff Feagles lost this game for New York (just like Matt Bryant lost the Dallas game). Regardless of what Feagles is told to do with his punt, he needs to hit it higher (he had a 2.7 yard hang-time) and longer (30 yards – on a bounce no less) than he did on the one that was returned for a touchdown. At the same time, and although I understand the rationale for not angling the kick out of bounds due to the fear of a punt block (and the Eagles had come close a couple of times in the game, including this punt), you kick the ball out of bounds in this situation. Don’t even provide the chance for a fuck up (just like the Giants should have run another play before the field goal in the Dallas game). Before this disaster, Feagles was having an OK day. He only averaged 36 yards on 7 punts, but three of those punts landed inside the 20-yard line. His other punts could have been better. David Tyree continues to be the first guy down on punt coverage (though Kato Serwanga is often not far behind). It’s unfortunate that the officials didn’t call the clip on Tyree on the TD return…it was pretty obvious. Long snapper Carson Dach also missed a tackle on the play.

Brett Conway doesn’t look like he has a strong leg. His 39-yard field goal barely got over the crossbar. His kickoffs weren’t very good: fielded at 16, 20 (squib), and 10. Kickoff coverage was OK with returns of 16 (David Tyree making tackle), 20 (Marcellus Rivers), and 25 yards (Kevin Lewis).

The biggest problem on kick and punt returns for the Giants remains the shoddy blocking. Brian Mitchell isn’t very quick or fast, but when he does return a ball, it always seems as if there is a wall of tacklers in his face. For example on Mitchell’s first kick return, both Wes Mallard and Delvin Joyce let a coverage man run right by them and this was the guy who tackled Mitchell. Disgusting! This return went for 16 yards; the other went for only 9 yards and Mitchell muffed the catch. Delvin Joyce had a return of 17 yards.

The punter for the Eagles was awful and many of his punts landed well in front of Mitchell, but Mitchell (and the coaching staff) have to make sure that Brian fields these as the ensuing bounces lost the Giants valuable field position. Mitchell was able to return 3 punts, but for only 19 yards. Again, the guy needs some room to operate on his returns.

Something to keep looking for guys and gals is that David Tyree is getting damn close to blocking a punt.


He Went Down the Sidelines and That’s All She Wrote

by BBI Reporter/Photographer David Oliver

That’s just one of the headers for Sunday’s story. It could easily have been “It sucked all the wind out of us” (Levens), or “we’re finding a way to lose now instead of a way to win” (Bober), or “It’s disheartening” (Brown). A loss like that is mind numbing for the fans, and it is also for the players. The Coach is going back into his catatonic expressionistic state. He’s not befuddled, he’s transcendental. He has said publicly something to the effect that he has a thick skull (of course, even that is a Berraism), he’s going to fight, yadda, yadda, yadda. In reality, he may just be one of those personalities that perform best under extreme pressure. It seems that every year, he needs a catastrophe or debacle or shameful breakdown to light a fire under his coaching ass, which then somehow transmits itself to his floundering team, which then begins to play up to its potential. Which is what Chris Bober was saying when he said, “We’ve got a lot of football to be played. We’re not giving up.”

I’ve been at wakes that had more life than the Giants’ locker room after the Eagles once again pulled the old hot shoe trick on them. One of the threads over in The Corner Forum was titled THE CURSE OF THE FASSOLINO; it’s not that at all, as this curse predates the Fassel era and any of the players: it is associated with The Fumble. Even EA (Ernie Accorsi) can’t be blamed for the curse. But the collective leadership of this team must bear the responsibility for the up and down, erratic performance that we are witnessing on the field. This is their team. Theirs being the GM, the Coaches, the Director of Player Personnel, the Salary Cap guru, and of course, the ownership. All fingers must point inward. It’s just not excuse, or explanation enough to say the players aren’t performing. The simple reason for this is that they are your players, and, frankly, most of them are playing damn hard, with a lot of emotion. You don’t have Bashir Levingston to kick out the door this year, BUT, I keep hearing about playing with a lack of discipline, repeated mistakes. Quiet talk without names. YOU in the head shed must know who is undisciplined, who keeps making the mistakes. It is time to kick the cows out of the barn and go get some bulls.

It started under Dan Reeves when he booted Pepper Johnson and it continued on through the Kent Graham “malcontent” faction in the locker, on through the sorry treatment of Jessie Armstead. If there is no rah-rah spirit in the locker, blame yourselves because every time someone has the balls to say ‘this sucks’, he’s unceremoniously booted. The result is plain to see – undisciplined play, a team that finds ways to lose instead of ways to win. Now the NY anti-Giant know it alls want to lay the blame at the feet of Michael Strahan and Jeremy Shockey, the last of the leaders on the team. Obviously, there are a number of knowledgeable sports commentators in this town who are more comfortable with the hapless NY Titans, or the the Mets team of the Dr. Strangelove era, or maybe even the Jets of the Richie Kotite era. You can’t make hay out of a team playing well and winning.

I don’t know where to start with a review of the game. In truth, I fully expected another typical Giants-Eagles game, that is 53 minutes of boredom, 6 minutes of excitement and 1 minute of terror. That’s pretty much what it was, except there weren’t quite 6 minutes of excitement. I expected the Giants to win, to find the formula from the Rams game and to go on a streak, BECAUSE they have the talent to do so, because they have inched closer to it every game, because there is no rational explanation for losing the way that they are losing. Unfortunately, they didn’t do it this week. In my view, there are a few simple reasons, and hundreds of complicated reasons. Here are some of them:

  • As the defense has improved, the play-calling has gotten more conservative. I have never been a fan of Head Coaches who are their own offensive coordinators and play callers. Coach Fassel showed us once that he was not very good at all three. He is showing us once again. I cannot understand why the GM is allowing this farce to continue. It is time to bring in an offensive Assistant Head Coach NOW. I don’t believe Tom Coughlin is the right man for the Head Coach position, but he may be the tonic for Assistant Head Coach Offense. Sean Payton was too cerebral for the group assembled in the Meadowlands and they never did go out and get the players to fit his offense. Who do you think is designing the plays for Carter, Glenn and the other speedster? Who do you think designed the offense that JF used so masterfully to close out last season? The difference between a legend and a good Coach is that one has found a way to utilize the strategic genius of Payton and at the same time groom a future head coach in Maurice Carthon, while the other thinks he is all three wrapped in one, NOT. Coach Fassel’s play-calling is predictable; execution is near impossible when the defense knows what is coming – the NFL is too good anymore to fall victim to Vince Lombardi’s Classic Sweep offense.
  • Case in point is the use of Tiki Barber, and now Dorsey Levens. All year, I, along with others have been calling for relief for Tiki. Coach did finally give him some relief last game, at the most critical juncture of the game. This week, Coach has listened to the critics and taken Dorsey Levens out of the cryogenic chamber. Dorsey looked good, as we all expected. But when Dorsey went in, Coach called his number play after play after play. The last 3 times, the Eagles finally had it figured out and didn’t even bother with deep coverage. I noticed a few plays where the Giants wideouts were not even covered until the ball was almost snapped. I walked up the sideline and asked both Eagle and Giants people on the lines, ‘quick, call the next 4 plays’. Then I said, “Levens, Levens, Levens, punt.” And I looked up at the clock. I’ve seen too many of these games not to know what was coming. And so have most of you. And if you didn’t feel it in your bones, you’re kidding yourself. The Giants almost pulled one off with the Lambuth Special and did pull one off when Akers blew a chippie, giving Matt Bryant a chance to boot home a win. The Giants crushed the Eagles’ hopes and hearts the year of the Strahan TD return and the year of Jason Sehorn’s one-man gang show in the playoffs. That’s how it is in these games, and whichever team loses must carry the stigmata for a long time. Had the Giants won Sunday, Andy Reid’s name would have been replacing Jim Fassel’s.
  • Another case in point is Kerry Collins. At the beginning of the year, I really believed that KC had come of age, that he was on the verge of becoming one of the premier quarterbacks in the League. Now he is struggling, he is bird-dogging his receivers again, he is trying to make the impossible throw. The Giants did go for the jugular twice in the second half Sunday. Both times failed miserably. One was a play that also failed in the Miami game. They sent Ike Hilliard on a diagonal slant over the middle – a long slant, which I guess is designed to force linebacker coverage. What I saw in the Miami game was a safety coming over to close on the route, a high, hard pass from KC, and a slight hesitation by Ike. Same play in the Eagles game, same result. KC never took his eyes off the center of the field, the safety saw Ike’s route and closed. It wasn’t even close. It is a pattern which depends on absolutely perfect timing, an absolutely perfect throw, and something to hold the safety. If they ever connect, it will be a TD. They will never connect because there is nothing to take the safety out of the play once KC locks on.
  • The second reason is special teams. Coach Fassel has gone through three special teams coaches, now, and I can’t even estimate how many special teams players. The results are the same. The question is WHY? This year they invested heavily in a snapper, two kickers, and a returner. The snapper and one kicker are on the IR, the returner has returned nothing and the kicker has let down at the most critical juncture of a game – not much different than Matt Allen’s whoopees last year. In the San Franciso game we hear that the special teams coach gave no instructions to his kicking unit before the season ending gaffe. This year we hear that he told the kick-off man to “shade” his squib kick to the left and now we hear that he left the direction of the ultimate punt up to his kicker. OK, Bashir is gone. Next best candidate is Bruce Read. The Giants could have kept Larry MacDuff because the results are the same. There are two 2 ingredients necessary to really be successful on special teams, blockers and tacklers. The Giants appear to have skill players, but somebody is not setting this thing up correctly.

Those are just two of the most obvious areas. The defense appears to be working itself into a pretty solid unit. I have to say once again that I do not like the use of the linebackers. In the KC-Oakland game, I had to laugh when Oakland stacked it’s three linebackers in the middle of the field, deep on a 3rd-and-long for KC, and Priest Holmes just zipped and skipped for 16 yards. This NEW AGE linebacker theory is a joke. LINEBACKER by its very name indicates a player who backs up the defensive line; not a player who runs with a 4.3 gazelle for 30 yards. If the game has changed, change the position, change the name, but don’t try to fit square pegs into round holes. Nevertheless, the Giants defensive unit is now playing the way Coach Lynn designed it. The front four hit Donovan McNabb so hard, so many times on Sunday that I was sore from just watching it. The cover men did the job. I didn’t even notice that many blitzes. One of the reasons for this is the improved play of Kenny Holmes and Cornelius Griffin. They may not be showing up statistically, but they terrorized the Eagles offense. Mike Barrow was laying the Lord’s timber to anyone dumb enough to come into his zone. On one hit, where McNabb was forced to scramble, Barrow hit him so hard that not only did the ball come loose, but one of the Eagles photographers, a friend from car racing venues, showed me his sequence shot in his digital camera. Barrow hit McNabb so hard that he knocked him out of the frame on two of the shots. That my friends is hard hitting.

In the end, it comes down to Dorsey Levens’ comment that, “If you don’t win, it doesn’t really matter.” The more I see and hear this guy, the more likeable he becomes. But there is another side of the coin. As Chris Bober said, “We’re a good team. We’re losing by turning the ball over, turning the ball over and giving up the big play. We’re a talented team. We should be winning games; we’re killing ourselves.” Chris mentioned undisciplined play and how that is translating into losses. I asked Ralph Brown what he was thinking as he stood on the sidelines during the runback. Ralph told me, “When I saw him break through that first little hole, I looked up and didn’t see anyone over there. I said please somebody get the guy. He’s fast. He went down the sidelines and that’s all she wrote.” Both Chris and Ralph have no explanation. Both just can’t figure out why the Giants can’t get all three aspects together and finish a game. Maybe its karma, maybe it’s the Meadowlands, but it is always a truism, as Chris Bober said, “We’re finding a way to lose now, instead of finding a way to win. AND THE GOOD TEAMS (my emphasis), the teams that win Championships, find a way to win. We’re not doing that.”

Coach, now is the time to get that Assistant Head Coach for offense; now is the time to go get whatever VETERAN offensive lineman is available – have EA call Glenn Parker’s agent – maybe he’s got a good shelf product; now is the time to get someone in to turn around special teams; and finally, now is the time to turn the offense loose. If you hold a pat hand now Coach, soon it will be, as Andrea Bocelli sings, TIME TO SAY GOODBYE.

(Box Score – Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, October 19, 2003)
Oct 172003
 

Approach to the Game – Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, October 19, 2003: When the Giants win, my week is made. I go to bed, wake up in the morning, go to work for the next five days with a smile on my face. Something bad happens in another aspect of my life? So what…it will pass…the Giants won last Sunday and that’s all that really matters.

But if the Giants lose…especially in a heart-breaking or disappointing style, my week is somber. I am apt to wake up blue and be as cranky as a crocodile. And there is that sense of dread…a returning feeling of impending doom as next Sunday approaches. God, what if they lose again? This isn’t fun…I’m getting no joy out of this. Only a masochist would put himself through this week in and week out. I look at my 4-month old son, resting peacefully in my arms, and think, “God help you if you grow up a Giants’ fan!”

So why do we do it? As I rode to work this week on my morning train, I read the following passage in a book that I just started reading, entitled “A Fan’s Notes” by Frederick Exley and it seemed to me as good an explanation as I can think of:

Cheering is a paltry description. The Giants were my delight, my folly, my anodyne, my intellectual stimulation…Why did football bring me so to life? I can’t say precisely. Part of it was my feeling that football was an island of directness in a world of circumspection. In football a man was asked to a difficult and brutal job, and he either did it or got out. There was nothing rhetorical or vague about it; I chose to believe that it was not unlike the jobs which all men, in some sunnier past, had been called upon to do. It smacked of something old, something traditional, something unclouded by legerdemain and subterfuge. It had that kind of power over me, drawing me back with the force of something known, scarcely remembered, elusive as integrity – perhaps it was not more than the force of a forgotten childhood. Whatever it was, I gave myself up to the Giants utterly. The recompense I gained was the feeling of being alive.

What about this weekend’s game against the Eagles? What about the match-ups? The strategy? The injuries?

It doesn’t matter. All the Giants need to do is go out there and play their game. Stop playing scared, stop making egregious mistakes, and have some fun. The rest will take care of itself. They will either be good enough to win or they won’t. If they don’t win, they have no one else to blame but themselves.

Either do it or go out.

Oct 152003
 
New England Patriots 17 – New York Giants 6

Game Overview: There is a saying that says “statistics are for losers”, but the statistical differential between the Giants and Patriots was so appalling that it is amazing that the Giants found a way to lose this football game. Of course, turnovers (and the Giants had five of them) are the great equalizer. Still look at the following:

  • First Downs: Giants 26 – Patriots 12
  • Total Offensive Plays: Giants 85 – Patriots 54
  • 3rd Down Efficiency: Giants 41% – Patriots 9%
  • Total Net Yards: Giants 381 – Patriots 220
  • Net Yards Passing: Giants 306 – Patriots 91
  • Time of Possession: Giants 35:13 – Patriots 24:47

The Giants’ defense played well enough to win this game. I’m not real happy with the two back-to-back scoring drives the defense gave up at the start of the 3rd quarter, but when a team holds an opponent to 10 offensive points or less, you should win the football game.

The problem in this game was obviously the offense. The team had 13 offensive possessions yet managed to score only six points. There were five turnovers, two missed field goals (long-range attempts in rainy conditions), two field goals made (short efforts that highlighted red zone problems), a failed 4th down conversion attempt, and three punts. This isn’t the Dave Brown-era with “skill” position players such as Howard Cross, Chris Calloway, Arthur Marshall, and Kevin Alexander. This offense has players such as Collins, Barber, Toomer, Hilliard, and Shockey. The offensive line is playing at an acceptable level. What is the problem?

  1. Some of the Giants skill position players are not playing particularly well right now. For two games in a row, wide receivers Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard have been unable to make plays down the field. Neither has gotten into the end zone. More was expected out of Tim Carter as a third receiver. Tiki Barber played one of his worst games as a Giant against the Patriots and has fumbled the ball 4 times in five games. Jeremy Shockey has been slowed by off-the-field distractions and injury problems (ribs, toe). Kerry Collins looked confused against New England.
  2. Turnovers. The average fan knows that there are only so many offensive possessions in a football game, but they never really think about what that truly means. A team can have as few as 3 or 4 offensive possessions in a half. To have 13 in a game is a good number and should provide some excellent scoring opportunities. But when you turn the ball over a lot (i.e., the games against the Dolphins and Patriots), those scoring opportunities dwindle quickly. Worse, you often give the other team excellent field position and emotional momentum. This is going to sound like a cop-out, but a lot of the turnovers have been bad luck. Tiki’s fumbles are legitimate and he needs to protect the ball better, but many of the interceptions have come on plays where the ball has been tipped.
  3. The Giants need to do a better job of coaching. The game plan often seems a bit too rigid in the sense that, other than one game (Dallas), we haven’t seen the Giants adjust very well to what the opposing defense is doing successfully. If an opposing defense is confusing the offensive football players, it is up to the coaching staff to provide the players with viable alternatives. The Giants have too many good offensive players for opposing teams to focus their attention on – they can’t double everyone. The Patriots only managed one first down and no offensive points in the first half. But they made their adjustments at halftime and then picked up 11 first downs and 10 offensive points in the second half. The Giants need to make better adjustments.

As for the Patriot game specifically, there were three obvious offensive problems: (1) the turnovers, (2) Tiki Barber played poorly, and (3) the passing game didn’t get the football down the field. Regarding the latter point, I’m not sure if the problem was with Kerry Collins, the receivers, the play-calling or a combination of all three. But according to coaches and players, the Patriots played a deep zone coverage against the Giants, “forcing” the team to nickel and dime its way down the field. New England Head Coach Bill Belichick most likely was hopeful that the Giants would eventually make a mistake on long offensive drives – and that’s exactly what the Giants did. Look for other teams to follow the Patriots’ formula against the Giants now.

I’m no football expert, but I still think it would possible to make big plays in the passing game against such a deep zone. You might not score a 50-yard touchdown, but this team should be able to complete 20+ yard strikes to Toomer, Hilliard, Shockey, and Carter. Most teams in this league can’t successfully sustain offensive drives without one or two big plays in each drive. Hilliard’s longest completion was 14 yards; Toomer’s was 11 yards. That’s not going to get it done. The Giants moved the ball to the New England 5, 38, 29, 22, 31, 16, 26, 37, and 31 yard lines and only managed six points?!?

Running Backs: I thought this was one of Tiki Barber’s worst games (22 carries for 72 yards; 8 catches for 48 yards) as a pro. He fumbled the ball for the fourth time this season, and this fumble was particularly damaging as it was returned for 38 yards and a touchdown on the Giants’ third offensive play of the game. Yes, Amani Toomer missed the block on the corner, but the hit was not that hard and Tiki saw the defender coming. Hold onto the damn ball Tiki! But the errors continued after that. Tiki was flagged for a false start on the next possession. Later on the drive, the Giants had a 1st-and-goal at the New England 3-yard line. The play called for Tiki to follow the pulling guard to the left, but Tiki ran the play to the right (away from the blocking) and a 2-yard loss resulted. Inexcusable for a veteran back like Barber! Two plays later, Tiki got wide open in the end zone (a very nicely designed offensive play by Jim Fassel), but the pass was thrown behind Tiki and Tiki slipped and fell to the ground. Instead of the game being knotted at 7-7, the Giants were forced to settle for a field goal.

For much of the rest of the game, I didn’t think Barber ran very aggressively or with good vision. To be honest, he looked timid. Perhaps it was the weight of the early fumble that was weighing on his mind. But I saw holes in the line of scrimmage that Tiki normally runs to, yet he didn’t in this game. There was one good series of runs by Tiki near the end of the 1st quarter when he ran for 9, 8, and 5 yards on consecutive plays. He also had a GREAT run on a draw on the last drive before halftime; on this play, he made a couple of really nifty moves including a spin move that left the defender grasping for air. Barber’s biggest snafu in the second half was his dropped pass on 3rd-and-6 with a little over 8 minutes left in the game. The Giants were on the New England 26 yard line, trailing 17-6. The drop set up a 4th-and-6 that the Giants were unable to convert – blowing an excellent scoring opportunity after a promising drive.

One thing I found strange after this game was the complaints of Giants’ fans that Dorsey Levens should have played because of the Giants’ woes in short-yardage. Well, the Giants were 75% successful on 3rd-and-1 with Tiki Barber picking up first downs on 3-of-4 attempts. He also 2-for-2 on 2nd-and-1 attempts. On the one failed 3rd-and-1 attempt, there were two blown blocks up front (Visanthe Shiancoe got beat by the defensive end and Wayne Lucier got beat by DT Ty Warren). But I also didn’t think Barber made the right decision in where to take the ball on this play as there was a bit of a hole to his left, and he tried to take the play over Lucier. On his last 3rd-and-1 attempt, the blocking was not good, but Tiki picked up the 1st down solely on his own ability.

FB Jim Finn caught two passes for 16 yards. The Patriots’ linebackers were very aggressive in attacking his lead blocks and I spotted Finn getting stood up in the hole on one play – and this forced Tiki to bounce the play outside. However, on a 2nd-and-1 play, both Finn and Shockey got good blocks at the point-of-attack.

Quarterback: Collins threw for 314 yards, but that is a bit misleading as he had 59 pass attempts (in other words, the Giants averaged a measly 5.3 yards-per-pass play). There were four interceptions, but the first two interceptions were not his fault at all – indeed it was truly bad luck as DT Richard Seymour deflected both, including on the game’s first offensive play (Seymour was well blocked on this play). Collins seemed to rebound well from this as he threw a really nice 27-yard seam pass to Marcellus Rivers on the Giants’ third drive of the game (unfortunately, this was the Giants longest pass completion of the day). A few plays later he hit Jeremy Shockey with a superbly thrown sideline pass for 23-yards. On 2nd-and-goal from the 5, Collins threw a fade to Toomer in the end zone, but Toomer couldn’t get his feet down. On 3rd down, Collins’ pass to a wide open Barber was thrown behind the halfback. Bad play by Collins in a key situation.

In the 2nd quarter, there was big miscommunication problem with Collins and Toomer on 3rd-and-5 as Toomer ran his route up the field and Collins expected him to run an out. Who was to blame? We’ll never know, but it was yet another mistake in a key situation. It was at this point of the game that a constant theme was becoming clear – Collins was continually throwing everything short. Everything seemed to be a dump-off or quick throw to a receiver. It appeared as if the downfield coverage was confusing Collins. As the game wore on, he looked less comfortable to me, but he really wasn’t getting pressured much. Indeed, there were times when he threw very quickly when he didn’t have to. Kerry’s silliest decision was his scramble on 3rd-and-12 where after picking up 4-yards, he attempted to outrun the defenders by scooting laterally.

I thought Collins’ play continued to deteriorate in the second half. Again, he had protection, but everything was short and he appeared to unnecessarily rush his throws. On New York’s second offensive drive of the half, Collins completed EIGHT passes in a row – but these EIGHT passes amounted to a total of 64 yards (8 yards per pass). The drive stalled when on the New England 11-yard line, Collins held onto the ball too long and was sacked. The next pass was a short pass that fell incomplete (a completion would have accomplished nothing here regardless). Eight straight completions = 3 points? Wow! On the next drive, he missed a wide open Amani Toomer on 2nd-and-6 from the New England 26-yard line, throwing off his back foot (he normally completes these type of passes). Two plays later, he threw into triple coverage and a pass to Shockey was intercepted on 4th-and-6. Terrible decision. On the next drive, another pass intended for Shockey was almost picked off by the linebacker and returned for a touchdown (though Shockey should have come back to Collins on this play). He kept dumping the ball off to Tiki despite the fact that the defense was just waiting to pound Barber after every reception. This drive ended with an incomplete 4th-and-7 pass to Toomer that would not have picked up the first down had the pass been completed (again, another useless short pass). On the Giants’ final drive, Collins last pass was intercepted – there was no Giant in the picture.

Wide Receivers: For the second game in a row, the wide receivers (expensive and well-thought of weapons in the Giants’ arsenal) didn’t make much of an impact. Amani Toomer only caught 4 passes for 40 yards and Hilliard only caught 5 passes for 58 yards. In other words, they didn’t have 100 yards total between them despite the fact that Collins threw for over 300 yards. Amani’s run blocking in this game left much to be desired. He completely whiffed on Tyrone Poole on the sweep in Poole’s direction. Poole is the player who forced the fumble that was returned for a touchdown. I later saw Amani miss another block on a Barber run that went for 8 yards but that could have picked up more; he also missed a block on Delvin Joyce’s sole carry that went nowhere. Worse, is that Poole (an average corner) pretty much shutdown Toomer in the receiving department. Unless Toomer gets his head out of his ass soon, the Giants’ offense isn’t going to resemble anything like it did last season.

Rookie CB Asante Samuel gave Ike Hilliard problems. Hilliard did demonstrate excellent concentration on a 9-yard reception that Samuel got his hands on. But Samuel later expertly defended a deep pass to Hilliard. Tim Carter caught 3 passes for 20 yards.

Tight Ends: Aside from Shiancoe’s aforementioned missed block on the defensive end on 3rd-and-1, I thought all three tight ends did a reasonable job of blocking this week. Interestingly, Marcellus Rivers has moved ahead of Shiancoe on the depth chart, but all three tight ends played quite a bit in this game. There was a 3rd-and-1 play in the 1st quarter, where Barber ran behind good blocks from Shiancoe and Rivers (Rivers being lined up in the backfield) for the first down. Shiancoe, Shockey, and Toomer later got a good block on an 8-yard run by Barber around left end. I also saw Shockey and Rivers get good blocks on a 4-yard run; later in the same drive, Barber ran for 3-yards on 3rd-and-1 behind Shockey and Shiancoe.

In the receiving department, the tight ends were frequent targets: Shockey (8 catches for 80 yards), Rivers (4 catches for 49 yards), and Shiancoe (1 catch for 3 yards). My only beef with Shockey is that there were two incomplete passes (one which was almost intercepted and returned for a TD) where Shockey didn’t help Collins out by running the route correctly. One of these plays came on 3rd-and-9, forcing the Giants to punt.

Offensive Line: Given the fact that the Patriots love to change fronts, run complex blitz packages, and have some very good front seven players, the Giants’ offensive line played a very good game – especially in pass protection. While the game plan often called for Collins to unload the ball quickly (or Collins chose to do so on his own), this wasn’t really necessary. On most plays, Collins had time. David Diehl did get by Richard Seymour for a sack, but Collins held onto the ball too long on this play as well. On the next drive, Collins was pressured again as Diehl wasn’t able to handle DT Dan Klecko, resulting in an incompletion. However, there was only really one play where I was pissed at the offensive line. On the Giants’ second-to-last series of the game, there was one play where the Patriots rushed three against the Giants’ five OL’s. However, on this play, Dan Klecko beat RT Chris Bober, the NT split Lucier and LG Rich Seubert, and the other end beat Petitgout. Disgusting effort…but the only play of its kind in the game. (This was the play where Klecko was flagged for roughing the passer).

The run blocking was unspectacular but sound. While there weren’t big or consistent holes in the ground game, the line didn’t allow much penetration against a very good run defense. OC Wayne Lucier did get beat by DT Ty Warren on one 3rd-and-1 effort (the Giants’ only failed 3rd-and-1). There was also one play where LT Luke Petitgout pulled and wasn’t able to take the cornerback out of the play and Tiki’s run went nowhere (Petitgout has to crush the corner in this situation).

Lucier was flagged with a holding call. Petitgout was flagged with a false start. This hurt because it turned a 44-yard field goal attempt into a 49-yard field goal attempt right before halftime.

Defensive Line: The defense played very well in this ball game except for the two New England drives in the 3rd quarter. The strange thing is that the Patriots had more net yards rushing (129) than passing (91). Like other opponents the Giants have faced, the Patriots were able to move the ball on the ground and with short passes when they moved to a 3-WR set.

One thing that surprisingly stood out to me was I think this may have been the worst game I’ve ever seen DT Keith Hamilton (3 tackles) play. I spotted Hammer getting crushed at least 4-5 times in this game at the point-of-attack…and I do mean crushed. There were a couple of plays where the double-team drove him back more than 5 yards. Hamilton was also flagged for encroachment. Keith had one good play where he nailed RB Larry Centers for a 2-yard loss in the backfield.

DE Kenny Holmes (2 tackles) also had a poor outing in my opinion. He was usually easily controlled at the point-of-attack. A lot of the rushing yardage came at the expense of Hamilton and Holmes. For example, HB Kevin Faulk’s 23-yard run in the 3rd quarter came right at Hamilton and Holmes. Holmes was also flagged with encroachment.

Much stronger games were played by DE Michael Strahan (5 tackles, 2 sacks) and DT Cornelius Griffin (5 tackles). Strahan made a great play when he penetrated quickly on one run to nail HB Mike Cloud for a 6-yard loss. On the next drive, his stoutness at the point-of-attack limited another Cloud run to 3-yards. On the next series, Strahan combined with Holmes to pressure QB Tom Brady into an incompletion. In the second half, Strahan got blocked effectively on one 10-yard run, but later stood his ground and forced Faulk to bounce outside for no gain. On the next series, Strahan sacked Brady for a 10-yard loss. However, Strahan gave up another big run in the 4th quarter when he was easily blocked at the point-of-attack on Faulk run of 18 yards. On the next drive, he sacked Brady a second time.

There was only one play where I saw Griffin get killed at the point of attack. What stood out to me about Griffin again this week was his hustle and chasing the ball carrier on plays to the sideline. Still, I’d like to see more of a pass rush out of him.

DE Keith Washington and Hamilton were run at on Mike Cloud’s 1-yard touchdown. DT William Joseph too aggressively penetrated on one rushing attempt, as he lost gap control and the back rushed through the resulting space on the line for 5 yards.

Linebackers: I thought Mike Barrow (10 tackles) played very well in the first half, but then faded in the second. On the first New England drive, Barrow nailed Cloud on a left end run for 1 yard. The drive ended on 3rd-and-20 when Barrow provided excellent coverage on the tight end, causing an incompletion. This was important as Vinatieri missed the ensuing 42-yard field goal. Later in the quarter, Barrow demonstrated excellent pursuit on another Cloud run to the left; on the very next play, he tackled Cloud for a 1 yard gain. Late in the 2nd quarter, Barrow nailed Faulk on a draw play that went nowhere.

In the second half, however, Barrow got blocked on the 10-yard run that Strahan also got blocked on. Barrow was also handled on the 23-yard run that Hamilton and Holmes got blocked on. Barrow did a good job of reading screen on Strahan’s first sack. A few plays later he expertly defended an end around by WR Troy Brown, limiting him to a 1-yard gain.

Brandon Short (3 tackles) was quiet. He didn’t play much in the second half when the Patriots’ adjusted offensively and came out with a 3-WR set.

Dhani Jones (10 tackles) was active and did a decent job in pass coverage against a team that likes to throw to the backs and tight ends. There was one 3rd-and-7 pass attempt to Larry Centers that fell incomplete due to his solid coverage; however, there was a play later in the game where Center had Jones beat, but luckily the ball hit the official. There was also one play where WR Bethel Johnson got wide open on a short crossing pattern for 15-yards down to the Giants’ 1-yard line. After the play, Shaun Williams seemed to be having words with Jones so Jones may have been at fault here.

Defensive Backs: Tom Brady only completed 8-of-21 passes for 112 yards (91 net yards). So overall, the pass defense did a good job. However, there were some sore spots. There were a couple of instances where the middle of the field was wide open again. On these plays, it is very difficult to tell if the fault lies with a defensive back or linebacker. Also, Will Peterson (who played the game with a stress fracture in his back) had some problems. When he played tight to the line of scrimmage, the Patriots challenged him deep (with some success). When he played off, the Patriots made easy completions in front of him. On New England’s second drive, Peterson was beat for a first down on 3rd-and-6, but luckily a penalty on the Patriots wiped out the play. On the next drive, Peterson had solid coverage on WR Bethel Johnson, causing an incompletion. In the 2nd quarter, the Patriots tried to get deep on Peterson with Johnson, but Peterson was up to the task. In the 3rd quarter, the Patriots started to work on him some more however. David Patten got open on Peterson on a 10-yard slant. Later in the quarter, on the Pats’ touchdown drive, Peterson got beat on another slant by Patten. Then Patten caught a big 39-yard deep pass on Peterson despite solid coverage. In the 4th quarter, Peterson finally played Patten tight on a slant for an incompletion. On the next play, however, Patten got deep on Peterson, but luckily the pass was thrown out of bounds.

Will Allen played a strong game and was rarely challenged. He caused an incompletion on a short pass on 3rd-and-16 early in the game. Allen was flagged with a 5-yard pass interference penalty in the 3rd quarter.

Nickel back Ralph Brown got beat by WR David Givens for 21 yards on the 3rd-and-16 play on New England’s sole offensive touchdown drive of the game. This was the only 3rd down conversion the Patriots made all day. Brown was also beat deep on 3rd-and-18 for 35-yards, but fortunately for Brown, the play was called back due to a penalty on an offensive lineman.

Very quiet games for Shaun Williams (3 tackles) and Omar Stoutmire (5 tackles). They deserve credit for limiting the Pats to 8 completions, but one would expect to hear more noise out of one’s starting safeties. Stoutmire took the wrong angle on Faulk’s 23-yard run in the 3rd quarter. Omar did force an incompletion on his safety blitz in the 4th quarter.

Special Teams: I think it is tough to be too harsh on Brett Conway (2-of-4 on field goals) given the terrible playing conditions. He made his two “gimmees” – kicks of 22 and 34 yards. He missed two long-range efforts of 47 and 49 yards. His kick-offs were very poor; landing at the 14, 15, and 21. However, All-World New England PK Adam Vinatieri was also having problems with his kickoffs in the foul weather. Kickoff coverage was solid with returns going for 20 (Will Allen making the tackle), 15 (Wes Mallard and Kevin Lewis), and 20 (Marcellus Rivers and Kevin Lewis).

Jeff Feagles punted three times for a 34.3 average (with two kicks landing inside the 20). His punts went for 39 yards (David Tyree forcing a fair catch), 28 (David Tyree down in a hurry again; fair catch), and 36 yards (out of bounds). Marcellus Rivers was flagged with a false start on one punt.

Brian Mitchell finally got a chance to return some punts (6 chances) and did nothing with it (28 yards total for a 4.7 yards-per-return average). Worse, Mitchell muffed one punt (that he recovered). Mitchell’s returns went for 8, 0 (muff), 5, 3 (two different Giant blockers missed one Patriots gunner – disgusting), 1, and 11 yards.

The good news was that David Tyree came damn close to blocking two punts. The Giants also did a superb job of defending against a fake punt on a 4th-and-1 from the Pats’ own 34-yard line; however, since the Pats jumped, the play was ruled dead before it started. A very bad break for the Giants despite an excellent special teams play.

Brian Mitchell had four kick returns for an average of only 21.3 yards per return. The returns went for 26, 19 (another muff), 23 (returned to the 38), and 17 (returned to the 38). On the last return, Wes Mallard was flagged for holding.


Time for Tension

by BBI Reporter/Photographer David Oliver

No, this is not a thought piece about Iraq, or the race of the 9 + (one), but it is about the current state of football, baseball and even basketball, if you are a Kobe Bryant fan. With the race for the World Series in full stroke, baseball actually surpassed the Monday Night Follies in the ratings game. Now someone will not only get to paint the ‘face’ of the week on the side of the horse trailer, but also sweep up the crap in the trailer’s wake. I’m not much of a baseball fan any more as it has become like golf, too damn long and frustrating. Since Cal Ripken retired there are no more heroes, just a bunch of carpet-baggers playing for money. But I do hold a residual love for the Yankees, even without a Yogi Berra, a Moose Skowron, a Mickey Mantle; there is always at least ONE homegrown Pinstriper, currently a spot held by Derek Jeter. Funny thing is that on my weekend off, my wife bought me a Dept 56 (I think) façade sculpture of the old Yankee Stadium. She hates the Yankees, but she knows that deep down I am almost as much a Yankee fan as I am a Giants fan, well, not quite, but the Yankees are my second favorite sports team. This is my third version of Yankee Stadium, the centerpiece being the Stadium with the signed Joe D faceplate. Incidentally, for you collectors out there, I’d like to thank the poster who alerted us to the Fleer Collectors Club special edition trailers. I was too late to get Shockey #1, but I did get Shockey #2 and Pennington #1.

The sports pages aren’t a lot of fun these days, what with hockey players in the dock for driving team mates to death, basketball stars accused of rape (Heaven forbid!), race car drivers seriously injured and the Giants mired in a two game losing streak. Its kind of like reality sports programming. Maybe it’s time to ban all professional sports, that is, except for football, which transcends sports for most of us. Poor BB56 sounds as if he’s had it this time, and even Rocky T has come out of retirement to start his “Jim must go” crusade (grin). I am a little more sanguine these days, actually, a lot more as I believe that the Giants are about to spring on a winning spree. Or maybe I just can’t face the thought of a losing season, or even worse, a mediocre winning season.

At any rate, I see a team playing hard, very hard, but stumbling and bumbling it’s way through a couple of games. We have a myriad of causes from which to choose, but none satisfies the need to feel cheated as a result of the pre-season hype. The rebuilt offensive line has not performed as badly as I thought it might, although it had to be some sort of specious reasoning in the head shed that thought Allen and Hopkins would successfully man the right side of the line. An early, and elementary analysis of performance gave cause for alarm and should have set off some sort of Delphi process in the front office. It didn’t. But luckily, the Giants did grab a couple of players in the draft and have the services of a guy who was developing into a special player at center. I’m still not sure if the message has gotten through that Tiki has some miles on him, is hurt often and really needs a rest, as in playing another back for considerable stretches. Lord knows, the Giants bench is packed with high-priced talent – and no, I don’t mean the multitude of quality control, clock manager and assistant coach guys. The latest film up for the Monday award will be the Kerry Collins three-step drop mistake. Now, Monsieur Collins is a large QB; he can see over a lot of linemen, or through lanes with ease. But he has a penchant for firing a bazooka. On his normal 7-step drop, his arm swing generates enough of an arc as to clear onrushing linemen, but frankly, proximity to the line does not exactly portend success in firing bullets to short or medium spaced receivers running through traffic. So if any adjustments must be made, don’t mess with the mechanics. Try a play action pass once in a while or that little Amani toss. Put something into the offensive playbook to hold the backers in place and allow the line to bump and grab the defense. Ok, that’s it for my criticism and analysis of the current failed revision. Statistically, things appear to be working out, except for the final score. Ironing out the wrinkles will lead to the explosion we are all awaiting.

I have a few interviews from a couple of games ago which I didn’t have time or space to get into print, so I’ll use this time for catch-up. One of the things that has puzzled me since I started on the field is the wide variations in viewpoint from what can be seen on the sidelines, in the stands, on television, and what the players and coaches see during their film review. Many of us spend a lot of time ‘reviewing the tape’, which is reviewing what the TV cameras show us. I can assure you that we see much more standing along the sideline, if we happen to be in position. Likewise, sitting in the stands, anywhere up to the mezzanine, and with a good pair of binoculars, even more can be seen, of that small slice in the lens. I have been in the Press Box at the Meadowlands, and frankly, you need an epic magnifier to make sense out of what is happening on the field. The television camera is good for a sound analysis of about 10 plays a game. On those 10 plays, nothing is better because of the quality of the lenses and the availability of review from different angles. So I asked Kevin Lewis (Klu) a few questions about the process of film review for the players.

I asked him what the players and coaches were looking at or for when they were sitting in the unit discussions and reviewing film. What did they have that was different than the rest of us? He told me that the team had cut-ups, which were actual game film taken by NFL or team cameras at the game. For the defense, they will have offensive plays, etc. He told me, “You just look at players for steps, you look at how they line up, their stance; you look at what kinds of routes they run, how they like to release off the line; for the backs, what kinds of steps, how they step on a draw, or how they step on a pass play; you look at individual nuances of individual players.” I asked him to compare that with the focus of the TV cameras and he said, “A lot of times when you watch a game on TV, they’ll focus in on something like that, but we do it all the time…for example, if the play is your play to make, or coming to you and you have to do a certain thing, then we’ll talk about it, like, when this guy pulls, you’re going to have to split it or turn it back, Michael or Dhani, you’ve got to get over the top, different things like that.” He told me, “We’ll normally watch tape after a game and go over what we did wrong, what we did right. We’ll fix it, then, normally, Wednesday, we forget about it (the last game).”

I asked him about special teams performance and he told me, “We started off pretty slow (Miami). They had a good kickoff return and a good punt return, then we basically shut them down. But on special teams its one guy here, a guy held here or a guy got pushed a little out of his lane. On the first runback, he came up the middle and we had him shut down, he bounces out, someone is not in their lane, and it looks bad.” I asked him to compare this unit with last year, and he told me, “We made a bunch of improvements (last year). This year we’re building off of that. You’ve got a lot of guys out there that are hungry and trying to be that guy. In the past, some of the guys were worried about staying in lane, should I do this or that, but now it’s almost like ‘hey, I better make that play before Wesley makes it.’ We’re all trying to get there and that’s a fun feeling when guys are out there flying around. You don’t even worry about almost making the tackle; you’re trying to get there first; it’s a different mentality out there.”

I also talked to Chris Bober about the move to tackle and he told me (after Miami), “I felt a lot better today, very much, very much so. I think I did well. There are definitely areas that I need to improve, because its new…I do like it. What can you do? It is different, but its different in a good way because it shows my versatility, later on down the line, this team here, or a team somewhere else, I sit at the table and they say ‘hey, he can play multiple positions.’ Its different, but its worth it.”

I discussed the problem with the end around move and some of the difficulty he appeared to have with it. He told me, “Just watching film last week, I was playing a little too much center technique at tackle; I fixed that. I just have to react differently to an outside rush. When you’re a center and a guy rushes outside, you just put your hands on him and push him to the sidelines. At tackle, you have to keep going because that’s what they want to do, to get around the corner, but at center you just plug up a guy.” On the transition to tackle, Chris told me, “It’s a different position , it requires different reactions. That’s what I worked on this week, and what I’ll continue to work on. To play in this offense, you have to be smart, I don’t care what position you play.” Then we discussed helping Lucier and Chris told me, “We all in our own way tell Wayne what’s going on if we see something, but definitely at tackle you have to have smarts, that’s the way it works in this offense.” I asked him about playing next to Diesel Diehl and he responded, “He’s good, he’s going to be a good player. He’s a big boy. I like playing next to him and he’s going to develop into a good player. Hopefully, we can develop into a team that plays next to each other for a long time.”

Well, I’m going to go for a walk, then settle in and wait for the Yankees game. It sure would be nice to dispose of those PITA Sox and get on with the baseball fish. I broke down and bought myself another digital camera, a baby Canon with the ability to use my real lenses. Now, if it’s as effective as it was inexpensive, I can move towards fully digital operations. Enjoy baseball, look for a battering of the hated Eagles, and if you are any kind of auto racing fan, Saturday is the Petit LeMans – a 12 hour race, and SPEED is covering 7 hours.

(Box Score – New York Giants at New England Patriots, October 12, 2003)
Oct 102003
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at New England Patriots, October 12, 2003: Since I have been swamped for the past week with a big project at work, I can’t spend as much time on this piece as I normally do. But I do want to share a few quick thoughts.

Obviously, the coaching advantage in this game goes to New England. Bill Belichick (who Bill Parcells screwed the Giants out of due to his late retirement decision back in 1991) is widely considered one of the very best head coaches and defensive minds in the game. Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weiss is very good as well. When you consider that they will be matching wits with Jim Fassel and Johnnie Lynn, it would seem that New York will be at a significant disadvantage.

So it will be up the Giant players on offense, defense, and special teams to out-perform their New England counterparts. To win, the Giants will have to do something this weekend that they have been unable to do all year: put a complete game together.

Based on recent history, the odds are stacked against the Giants.

Giants on Offense: Bill Belichick will look to shut down Tiki Barber first and foremost, then get immediate pressure on Kerry Collins. He will also try to confuse the Giants by continually switching fronts (4-3 to the 3-4) and coverages. At one point, look for the Patriots to blitz; other times, play more men in coverage.

If I’m Fassel, I come out throwing on first down, put some points on the board, then come back to the ground game. I think the likelihood of making big plays in the passing game is greater with throws on first down, rather than third down, against the Patriots.

Up front, New England will look to confuse the Giants’ offensive line (especially Lucier, Diehl, and Bober) with different looks and different blitzes. It will be a real challenge for the offensive line, the tight ends, and the backs to pick up the correct defenders. New Englands’ best defensive lineman is DT Richard Seymour, who will normally line-up over LG Rich Seubert’s head. First round DT Ty Warren comes off the bench and Giants’ fans will remember how much trouble DL/LB Dan Klecko caused in the preseason game.

The Patriot linebacking corps has been hit hard with injuries, but New England will still field some experienced vets such as Tedy Bruschi, Roman Phifer, and Willie McGinest. Strong safety Rodney Harrison is a big hitter, but is slipping in terms of his coverage ability. This is a group the Giants should go after in pass coverage with TE Jeremy Shockey and HB Tiki Barber.

The Giants need Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard to play better than they did last week against the Dolphins. It will be interesting to see if New England keeps LCB Ty Law on Ike Hilliard or has him follow Amani Toomer. The right corner, Ty Poole, is not as good and is much shorter than Toomer. The nickel is a rookie (Asante Samuel), as is the free safety (Eugene Wilson). Samuel has looked sharp to me when I have watched him play.

Giants on Defense: The biggest worry to me is that the Patriots love to use the screen pass – something they execute extremely well. The entire defense needs to be conscious of this. QB Tom Brady is also very good at play-action. New England has a solid set of tight ends (Christian Fauria, Daniel Graham, and Fred Baxter) so linebacker/strong safety coverage on this group will be key – especially in multiple-TE sets.

It’s time for the Giants’ highly-regarded secondary to make some plays. The New England receivers (Troy Brown, Deion Branch, David Patten, Bethel Johnson) are solid, but not scary. Since Brown is usually the guy Brady looks to, CB Will Peterson will be on the spot. Let’s hope he has a breakout game this week. You know Weiss will test nickel back Ralph Brown as well as the entire secondary on crossing patterns over the middle.

The Patriot ground game is not overly impressive, although Mike Cloud performed well last week. The Giants need to completely shut down the New England ground attack. The Pats love to throw to the backs (not just on screens). Kevin Faulk (if he plays) is dangerous out of the backfield as is Larry Centers.

DE Kenny Holmes will battle LT Matt Light, who sometimes has problems in pass protection. DE Michael Strahan will most likely play against reserve Tom Ashworth, who did a respectable job against Jevon Kearse last week. Like the Giants, the Patriots have a rookie center (Dan Koppen). Inside, Keith Hamilton and Cornelius Griffin face blue-collar guards Damien Woody and Joe Andruzzi. Woody is very good.

Giants on Special Teams: PK Adam Vinatieri may be the best place kicker in all of football. He’s a real weapon, including on long-range attempts. The New England return game with Troy Brown and Bethel Johnson is extremely dangerous.

Oct 082003
 
Miami Dolphins 23 – New York Giants 10

Game Overview: This was a very easy game to analyze. Why did the Giants lose? Why did the Giants only score 10 points?

  1. The Giants turned the ball over four times; three times in the first half. New York had eight offensive possessions in the first half of the game, and the turnovers ended three of those drives. Two of the eight drives resulted in points (a touchdown and a field goal). Three resulted in punts. That all said, the score was only 13-10 at halftime…very winnable. At this point, except for breakdowns on two plays, the Giants’ defense was playing extremely well.
  2. After three Miami drives and two New York drives in the second half, the Dolphins added another 10 points to the scoreboard while the Giants couldn’t put another point up. Worse, after these five possessions by both teams, there was less than 7 minutes left in the game. The slow down in the tempo of the game suited Miami’s game plan perfectly – which was to control the clock and shorten the game. The Giants’ offense deserves blame for not putting points on the board, but the Giants were also hurt by the injury to Matt Bryant which cost them three points. The defense deserves blame for not getting Miami off the field quickly. In two drives, the Dolphins managed to covert on SIX 3rd down attempts.

I give the Dolphins’ defense a lot of credit. They played much better than I expected to them to play against the pass. The Giants ground game in the first half was solid. Tiki Barber rushed for 59 yards and a touchdown on 15 first half carries. Surprising to me is that much of this yardage came right up the middle against the Dolphins’ two big defensive tackles. Pass protection was mostly solid though Kerry Collins was forced to unload the ball quickly in some instances. TE Jeremy Shockey had a big game receiving (but not blocking). And I don’t think Kerry’s first two interceptions were his fault at all. Penalties were not a problem on offense. The biggest problem was that the Miami defensive backs out-played the Giants’ wide receivers.

Defensively, the Giants really did a number on Ricky Williams, limiting him to 39 yards on 22 carries (1.8 yards per rush). The reverse hurt in the first half, but it was not decisive. What killed the Giants was that they could not get the Dolphins off the field on those two time-consuming scoring possessions in the second half. Half a game doesn’t cut it.

The officiating was also a factor. Whether or not you agree with the flag on Jeremy Shockey for taunting (I don’t), the fact is that a Miami defender punched Brian Mitchell right in front of another official, who then threw a second flag. But for some reason, the officials didn’t call this. Secondly, on Miami’s first clock-consuming drive of the second half, facing 3rd-and-7, the Dolphins ran a screen pass to Ricky Williams that picked up the first down. However, on this play, two Miami offensive linemen were clearly illegally down field before the pass was thrown. Thirdly, the two defensive holding calls on Keith Hamilton were bogus. In both instances, Hamilton was being double-teamed and being shoved back.

Quarterback: Kerry Collins was 31-of-43 for 276 yards, 0 touchdowns, 3 interceptions. However, I don’t think the two first half interceptions were his fault. On the first, the ball was thrown before WR Amani Toomer made his break – the Dolphin CB simply made an amazing play by sticking to Toomer like glue on the play and tipping the ball for a teammate to make a diving interception. On the second interception, Collins threw a bullet to Toomer, who tipped the ball up into the air. The third interception was bit a of gamble by Collins. Trailing 23-10 with about 2 and a half minutes left in the game, Collins tried to whiz the ball by the corner who he hoped wouldn’t turn around in time to see the ball. The corner did and easily intercepted the pass. That said, the intended receiver (Tim Carter) made things worse for Collins on this play by not coming back to help his quarterback out when Collins was forced to scramble out of the pocket.

The most glaring stat to me besides the three interceptions was that Collins’ longest pass completion was 22 yards – and that came very late in the game. Nothing better indicates the futility of the Giants’ downfield passing attack than that fact. Part of that has to do with the fact that the Giants were employing quick, 3-step passing plays. That’s because Fassel is still looking to protect Collins from his young and inexperienced offensive line. But I feel strongly that the reason Collins didn’t have a great day because Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard couldn’t get open.

Aside from the last interception, Collins threw a bad pass on a 2nd quarter 3rd-and-4 play where Amani Toomer did get open over the middle of the field. I also didn’t like his decision on the 3rd-and-3 play early in the 4th quarter to come off the slant pass to Toomer and try to hit Joyce out of the backfield. I thought there was a window there to get the ball to Toomer; Joyce was covered by two Miami defenders.

I liked Collins’ 21-yard sideline pass to Toomer despite tight coverage on the field goal drive. I was also impressed by his patience on his 3rd-and-4 rollout pass to Toomer for a first down in the 3rd quarter.

Wide Receivers: Amani Toomer (3 catches for 38 yards) was a non-factor. Ike Hilliard’s numbers (8 catches for 73 yards) are inflated due to some late game reception when the Dolphins were in “prevent” mode. Tim Carter only had 1 catch for 8 yards. Want to know why the Giants didn’t put more points up on the board? Look no farther than this performance by this group. On the first interception, Toomer could not create any separation from the cornerback on his break inside. On the second interception, the ball was thrown right to Toomer who batted it up in the air. You could see Collins looking for Toomer repeatedly, but he couldn’t get open. Same story with Ike Hilliard. Worse, Hilliard fumbled the ball away after one reception and dropped another pass late in the game that would have picked up a sizable chunk of yardage.

Running Backs: The Giants did a relatively good job in the ground game in the first half as Barber picked up 59 yards on 15 carries (and a touchdown) in the game’s first two quarters. Surprisingly, a lot of his yardage came against the middle of the stout Miami defense. Barber would have had even better numbers on a few plays that were well-blocked except for one breakdown (more on that below). Barber found things much tougher on the Giants’ first possession in the second half as he only managed 12 yards on 5 carries before Delvin Joyce came into the game. By the time Barber got back in the game, it was 23-10 and the Giants were strictly in a passing mode. With the receivers covered so thoroughly, I would have liked to have seen more pass plays to Barber out of the backfield (4 catches for 28 yards).

Delvin Joyce got his first extended action at running back (3 carries for 6 yards, 1 catch for 5 yards). Unlike a lot of people, I have no problem with Joyce playing ahead of Dorsey Levens. I think Levens has his role on this team, but Joyce is very similar in style to Tiki Barber and fits the offensive system quite well.

Jim Finn caught three passes for 14 yards and did a good job when called upon to lead block. However, Finn was flagged with a false start.

Tight Ends: This was Jeremy Shockey’s best game of the year receiving (11 catches for 110 yards), but I thought it was one of his worst as a Giant as a blocker (and I’m a guy who has been touting Shockey’s blocking skills since last season). There were a few plays where Barber could have made more yardage had Shockey not missed his block. In addition, on the one play where Giants’ fans condemned Visanthe Shiancoe for whiffing on Pro Bowl DE Jason Taylor, Shockey for some reason decided to let Taylor run right by him. So instead of helping Visanthe out to the inside, Shockey just stood there blocking no one. Other than that play, I thought Shiancoe performed reasonably well as a blocker, including sometimes as a lead blocker from the fullback spot.

In the receiving game, Shockey was one of the few offensive bright spots. He finally looked like his old self, catching passes over the middle, quickly turning up field, and breaking/running over defenders. He had a number of longer plays, but I really liked his diving 5-yard catch on 3rd-and-2 on the Giants’ long drive in the 3rd quarter.

Marcellus Rivers caught a 6-yard pass, but a penalty on Miami erased the reception.

Offensive Line: This unit is still being partially protected by the Giants’ quick, 3-step passing attack and Kerry Collins’ quick release. That said, the Giants are running more and more empty backfield sets, which demonstrates the coaching staff’s growing confidence in this unit. I was particularly impressed with the work of LG Rich Seubert, OC Wayne Lucier, and RG David Diehl in creating movement inside for Tiki Barber against two big defensive tackles. Lucier is a real find. He looks so natural out there both blocking at the point-of-attack and at the second level that you would never know he is a rookie. His pass protection has been solid too (though he did miss a blitzer the incomplete pass play two plays before Feagles’ field goal attempt).

Diehl got beat by Jason Taylor on a 3rd-and-4 Barber run in the 1st quarter, but I blame the scheme…it’s tough for the strongside guard to pull and block a guy like Jason Taylor on such a quick draw play. Tiki picked up some good yardage in this game between the two rookies, Lucier and Diehl. Seubert did a nice job on his pulling effort on the goal line on Tiki’s touchdown run.

LT Luke Petitgout didn’t have one of his better pass blocking games. To be fair, it’s important to keep in mind the quality of his opponent (Jason Taylor) and the fact that he was often blocking him one-on-one. While not giving up a sack to Taylor, the defensive end was still able to put heat on Collins and force quicker-than-wanted throws. Petitgout also got stood up by Taylor on a 2nd-and-13 draw play that lost 2 yards.

RT Chris Bober also played fairly well in pass protection, especially when you consider that this is his third game at right tackle and his opponent (DE Adewale Ogunleye) is a quality pass rusher. But he also had some rough moments. Bober did get confused on a stunt where Collins was sacked (a Miami penalty erased the play). There was also one cutback run by Barber that should have picked up good yardage, but Bober missed his block on the frontside of the play. On the 3rd down play in the red zone right before Feagles’ field goal attempt, Bober gave up a pressure that caused the ball to be tipped when leaving Collins’ right hand. In the 4th quarter, Bober missed his block on a Joyce carry up the middle. He also got beat inside on the pass rush on the play where Collins threw his third interception. All of this sounds very negative, but I actually came away from the game feeling that Bober is continuing to get more and more comfortable with his new position.

Defensive Line: The defensive line played fairly well. The guy who stood out to me was DT Cornelius Griffin (7 tackles, 1 fumble recovery). Griffin was very disruptive against the power running attack of Ricky Williams and the Dolphins. He got good penetration on quite a few plays where Williams went nowhere. DT Keith Hamilton (4 tackles) also played what I thought was his best game since suffering his Achilles injury. I thought the two defensive holding penalties on Hamilton were bad calls (heck, he was getting double-teamed on both of these plays). He was stout up front against Williams and actually got a couple of good pass rushes on Fielder. My biggest complaint? The complete lack of hustle by Hammer on FB Rob Konrad’s 25-yard screen pass. At the same time, special kudos to Griffin for demonstrating a lot of heart and hustle on the same play as he made the tackle.

The ends played mostly well. DE Michael Strahan (9 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble) was active and back to his old stout self on the strongside. Strahan also played a disciplined game and guarded against cutback runs and rollouts in his direction by Fielder. The Giants got some heat in this game with their four down linemen, and a few of those plays were due to Strahan’s pass rush. I also liked the way Strahan hustled down the field to tackle Williams after an 11-yard screen pass (the one the penalty for being illegally down field should have been called on). Strahan’s worst play? According to press reports, he was the guy who was supposed to cover TE Randy McMichael on the 24-yard pass play on 3rd-and-9 that really killed the Giants. After that play, which put the Dolphins in field goal range with less than 7 minutes left to play (already up 16-10), a lot of life went out of the team. Strahan didn’t stay in the flat, but followed a receiver running over the middle. All of his, of course, begs the question…should Strahan be called upon to cover a tight end the caliber of McMichael in the first place?

DE Kenny Holmes (6 tackles, 1 sack) was surprisingly stout at the point-of-attack until late in the game. Miami was not able to make many yards in his direction and he picked up a sack on a stunt. In the 4th quarter, Holmes’ run defense softened somewhat. DE Keith Washington (2 tackles) played quite a bit at both ends. He nailed Williams from the backside and on the following play was right with Strahan on the latter’s sack. However, Washington got fooled completely on the 68-yard end around…it was his job to contain that play from the backside.

DT William Joseph (1 tackle) hasn’t made much noise since the opener against the Rams. He over-pursued (along with Dhani Jones) on Konrad’s 11-yard gain up the gut on the TD drive that put the game away.

Linebackers: The linebackers also did a good job against Ricky Williams. However, their aggressiveness sometimes cost them. There were two big pass plays given up where I think Dhani Jones (4 tackles) missed his assignment. The first came on McMichael’s 33-yard reception in the 1st quarter. The second came on Konrad’s 25-yard screen pass. Again, I’m not sure if it was Dhani’s responsibility in both situations, but it looked like it to me. Other than that, Dhani was pretty sharp in both run and pass defense. He knocked the ball out of the hands of intended receivers twice that I saw. Same story with Brandon Short (5 tackles), although the run defense of Short (like Holmes) softened a bit late in the game. Mike Barrow (5 tackles) had one good hit in the hole, but was pretty quiet.

Defensive Backs: The Dolphins didn’t hurt the Giants with their passing game to the wide receivers and when CBS showed the secondary coverage, it was generally pretty tight. My biggest complaint is that CB Will Peterson is still playing far too soft. For some one of his ability, he should be playing receivers tighter and not allowing easy completions in front of him. This happened three times in the game, including one very costly 3rd-and-7 play on Miami’s field goal drive in the second half. The 8-yard completion on the second play of the second half touchdown drive didn’t help matters either. People think I like to bash Peterson. I don’t. I like him a lot. But I don’t understand why he is playing so soft…it’s like he is afraid to get beat deep. When facing a 3rd-and-7, the corner should NOT be 12 yards off the ball. Peterson did have excellent coverage on an end zone pass that fell incomplete. His run defense was also very good.

Will Allen only gave up one 16-yard completion on a crossing route. However, his “attempted” tackle on the 68-yard end around was downright ugly. He also missed a tackle on McMichael’s crucial 24-yard gain in the 4th quarter.

Nickel back Ralph Brown was very sound in coverage this week. In fact, I don’t remember seeing him giving up a completion. However, he dropped a VERY easy interception in the end zone that would have prevented a field goal. He also missed a tackle on McMichael’s 24-yard gain.

The other costly dropped interception was by Omar Stoutmire who made a nice play getting into position to have the opportunity to make the grab. This drop also came on a drive where Miami kicked a field goal. Shaun Williams got caught too far inside on the 68-yard end around. He had one very good series in the 2nd quarter where he strung out a Ricky Williams run, supplied airtight coverage on TE Randy McMichael on a bootleg pass, and knocked a ball away from WR Chris Chambers.

Special Teams: The injury to Matt Bryant was a huge factor in this football game. It came on his perfect 43-yard field goal that closed the score to 13-10 at the end of halftime. However, with him unable to play in the second half, the opening kickoff in the second half by Jeff Feagles was poor (to the 20 yard line – Kato Serwanga and Nick Greisen making the tackle after a 19 yard return put the ball on the 39). Worse, Feagles was unable to connect on his 29-yard effort after the Giants 18-play, 9-minute marathon in the 3rd quarter. Emotionally, this was a turning point in the game. Bryant’s sole kickoff landed at the 6 yard line with David Tyree and Greisen doing a good job holding the return to 15 yards.

Jeff Feagles averaged 39.5 yards on four punts: 36 yards (fair caught at Miami 13 yard line – David Tyree down in a hurry), 45 yards (returned 33 yards with Feagles making the tackle), 37 yards (fair caught at Miami 24), and 40 yards (returned only 3 yards – excellent coverage by Brian Mitchell and Kato Serwanga). Obviously, the 33-yard return was the sore spot as the right side of the punt coverage team lost contain.

I hear a lot of criticism of Brian Mitchell as a returner, but the criticism of him on punt returns makes absolutely no sense. In four games, Mitchell has only been able to return 3 punts. That’s astounding and it isn’t his fault. Many of the opposition’ punts have been poor short efforts, out-of-bounds, or fair catches were forced. The one opportunity Mitchell had on Sunday was a respectable 12-yard return where he had no blocking in front of him along the sideline.

Where Mitchell has not flashed is kickoff returns. Mitchell returned 3 kickoffs on Sunday for an average of 21.3 yards per return. His numbers were brought down by the fact that he couldn’t cleanly field a bad kickoff and was limited to an 11-yard return. Nick Greisen returned a short kick-off 13 yards to the 33-yard line. Tim Carter tried to make a big play by reversing his field on a kickoff, but the Dolphins were ready and he was only able to manage 9 yards. Worse, Wes Mallard was flagged with an illegal block on the play.

Wes Mallard did partially block a punt that still managed to travel 38 yards due to a good roll.


Truisms For Giants’ Fans

by BBI Reporter/Photographer David Oliver

For all the many ways a football can bounce, there are only a few absolutes for Giants’ fans. The first, and foremost, is that between Jim Lee Howell and Bill Parcells, the coaching sucked; and between Bill Parcells and (fill in the blank for an unnamed future choice???), the coaching sucked. It may be simplistic, it may be like Ben Gay, merely a mask providing temporary relief for a deeper pain, but it does seem to allow us to continue to enjoy the game. I have always thought that to be a true Giants’ fan, one must be an Existentialist; lately, however, I am beginning to think that our love of this team is really rooted either in an absolute Zen discipline, maybe Shao Lin, rooted in subjection to pain creating an inner force which becomes impervious to pain, which, in fact, brings about a clarity of vision. Nah, spend a Sunday at the Meadowlands listening to 80,000 fans imploring their champions with the refrain “dee-fense, dee-fense, dee-fense”, and it comes down to a Samuel Beckett sort of surrealism, much as the cry of the unnamable voice in his work, THE UNNAMEABLE, “I must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” And so we do.

The membership over in The Corner Forum has already battered this thing in every possible way. Time of Possession – Giants; First Downs – Giants; Net Yards – Giants; Offensive Plays -Giants; Average Gain per Play – Giants; Net Yards Passing – Giants; Pass Attempts & Completions – Giants. But there are a few others: Final Score – Dolphins; Red Zone Efficiency – Dolphins; TDs- Dolphins; Net Yards Rushing – Dolphins. It’s kind of hard to make sense of these stats. Usually, TOP advantage indicates a strong ground game, something which winning coaches value highly. In this case, the Giants had TOP, but did it with an air assault. It is a little reminiscent of the military strategists’ debate over the use of air power and ground forces. In a crude form, the argument boils down to whether you believe you can win a war on air power alone, or whether you need ground forces to do the heavy lifting. The Giants used air power on Sunday, but the ground forces were deployed somewhere else. Which leads to another observation. The Giants have replaced two decent pass blocking linemen with two decent pass blocking linemen. Which, at this point of the season leads to a net gain of zero. But it also means that there hasn’t been any net loss either. So those who want a bruising running game are destined to be angry most of this season. On the other hand, those who think 14-and-2 is a pretty good record, well, they still have another week, at least, of hope. End result – the stats don’t tell us much.

I have a couple of observations to make in this respect. It is a Lewis Carroll world when Jay Fiedler has a QB rating of 73.7 and Kerry Collins checks in with a 59.8. This Giants team should never lose to a team led by Jay Fiedler. Never. Yes, KC threw 3 interceptions. But one was a really bad throw, low and into a sort of double coverage. The ball bounced this way and that and a Miami back showed what good hands can mean in a secondary. The second was the old bounce in the air ball – classic rubric – a ball that bounces in the air will be trouble; and yet, how many times do we see a player try to make a play, only to have the ball bounce in the air? The third cannot be faulted entirely to KC. He made a very nice escape from a sack rush, unfortunately rolled to his right and threw on the run, to an unobstructed view of a wideout, Tim Carter, who was running a route contrary to everything taught to wideouts of things to do when your QB is in trouble. TC just kept hoofing into the corner of the end zone, rather than coming back to help his QB. Carter allowed the defender between himself and his QB – only an absolute miracle would have gotten there. I think it was a 3rd down play, which is probably why KC didn’t just throw it away. At any rate, it may have been a poor decision throw (but I think it was reasonable), but the receiver didn’t help. Which then leads to the question of why, in a tight game, did the coach suddenly decide that now was the time to try out his inexperienced wideout, and his backup running back? Kind of reminds me of my cats who will suddenly decide they need to be in another place and get up and bolt for absolutely no fathomable reason to another room.

For the Giants, the creation of the bye week may just be the worst innovation in the last decade. How can this team not be ready to play after a week’s rest? How can this defense make changes and then be beaten by an offense with Jay Fiedler as a QB? How can a defense completely shut down a running back like Ricky Williams and be beaten by a reverse and a couple of screens? Not one screen, two. Forget the talent level; there is a lot of talent on the Giants’ defensive side of the ball. Shutting down a back like Ricky Williams tells you that there is talent. The system is deficient. The worst part is the misuse of the linebackers – and don’t ever say that Giants’ fans don’t know linebackers because we damn sure do. We have seen good linebackers on good teams, good linebackers on bad teams and great linebackers on Super Bowl teams. And we have seen linebackers revolt against a system which forces them into an Einsteinian analysis of an offense. I don’t care what name you give it; linebackers who move AWAY from the line of scrimmage become a liability. They become susceptible to motion and guile; they become square pegs in round holes. I can remember only one team, long ago in a galaxy far away, which won with this system. And that team had extraordinary players, quite a few who now reside in the Hall of Fame, an extraordinary Head Coach, and it played in a different structure. This system cannot, and will not dominate in a fashion to which Giants’ fans have become accustomed. Take away the reverse, with its out of position, poor tackling follies and the vaunted Miami ground game gained a meager 72 yards. Stop Norv Turner’s running game, and you beat his offense. Six receivers caught passes in a Miami passing offense which strikes fear in the heart of no one. But an average gain of about 12 yards replaces a ground game. Take away Konrad’s 25 yard gain, and it might come down to the two dropped interceptions. It might. So statistically, even this system, which should work against a Dolphin type attack, if against any attack, might have done the job- in any week except the week following the bye. If Michael Vick comes back in time for the Giants’ game, the Giants won’t be facing any more Jay Fiedler offenses for a while. Screens and reverses just might become the play de jour against this defense. At any rate, it will put to rest the argument about talent and the argument about the system. If these players can win in this system, they will have to be very talented, indeed.

The defensive stats are significant. Although Michael Strahan appeared to have a quiet game, punctuated by Ricky Williams tackles, he did have 9 tackles (6 and 3). Shaun Williams had 7 (6 and 1), including a couple of very nice hits. I continue to believe that Williams should be moved to LB in this system. Peterson had 7 (6 and 1) but was soft in coverage too much. He did have very good coverage on the pass into the end zone which was incomplete. Cornelius Griffin had a good game, his best of the year, with 7 tackles (4 and 3) and Kenny Holmes had 6 (3 and 3), but sat a lot in favor of Keith Washington who only had 2 (1 and 1). Brandon Short and Mike Barrow chipped in with 5 each, but both played quietly and Keith Hamilton had a surprising 4 (3 and 1). Lance Legree saw limited action and that’s too bad as to date he has been getting the most effective pressure of the defensive linemen. From the standpoint of stopping the run, the defensive line had a pretty solid game, and as Ricky Williams acknowledged they ‘were hitting hard.’ Everybody played hard. The cracking was good. I walked in at halftime next to RW and he wasn’t moving like a man who was having a whole lot of fun on the day. The Dolphins’ line has some pretty good size, but I don’t know that they are better than the Rams. The Giants D hasn’t come back to the form they showed in that game, but the D-Line has turned it up a notch. The key to pressure is Michael Strahan. When he gets a step or two into the backfield, it collapses the opposition blocking schemes. The most impressive defensive player on the field yesterday was Junior Seau. Whatever ‘it’ is, he still has it. The real problem with the D, scheming and execution, was in the fourth quarter. The Dolphins had the ball for a whopping 10+ minutes. The missed FG led to an air of desperation. A beautiful drive wasted resulted in a change of Ole Mo and there went the win. Darnell Dinkins summed it up best as he told me, “It was tough, watching us lose like that.” It’s pretty much the way we all feel.

I talked to Nick Greisen about his kick off return. I started by telling him he looked ready for the possibility and he told me, “Yeah, because they had done it the last time (short kick), so I asked Brian Mitchell, ‘If they kick it short do you want me to pitch it back?’ and he said, ‘No, just grab it and see what you can get out of it.’” I asked him if coach had said anything to him and he told me, “When I was coming off, he said ‘make sure you put two hands on it’ and I said ‘Coach, don’t worry about it, I’m a running back,’ (High School), laughing. The next play, they put Delvin in for me, in case they did it again.” We talked about Olindo Mare’s last couple of kicks and how the Giants didn’t have a chance to return anything, but he felt that the return team “was continuing to get better every week, and we’re going to break one sooner or later.” Of side interest, I was talking to one of the Miami photographers on the sideline and he told me Mare was not kicking like that last year.

I talked a little to Delvin Joyce who was happy to get some game time but would have preferred to do it when the Giants “were on the winning end.” He said, “It felt good to be in there and work with them (first team)”, so I teased him about the one solid hit the Dolphins got on him. He said, “It wasn’t that bad, if they look bad, then they’re not bad.” He did know who hit him, telling me he believed it was Zach (Thomas). I asked him about Junior (Seau) and he told me “he’s a tough guy” and when I made mention of his critics saying he was spent, Delvin said, “Oh, no, he’s a tough guy, he runs around and makes plays.” We talked about what might lie in the future and Delvin felt that things worked out pretty good, and that they “were going to evaluate it and see how much of a break Tiki actually needs, and just go from there.” Delvin’s performance was not bad. He runs hard, he challenges the middle and he moves forward. The missed catch was not a good throw, high and behind him, and had he caught it, the play would have lost yardage. I was standing right there and the Dolphins had it well covered. Frankly, neither Ron Dayne nor Dorsey Levens would have been more effective in that situation. The Dolphins were plugging the gaps. RD wouldn’t have gotten to the line and Dorsey would have had about the same success as Delvin. Levens has always been a gap runner in his career. The present Giants’ O is not designed for a runner like these two in a come from behind situation. I applaud Coach Fassel’s realization that Tiki will get killed through overuse; I question the timing of implementing the “rest” period. Tiki should have been supplemented earlier in the game, or on the third period drive where Shockey became the focal point. I don’t know if Tiki was hurt, but if you have a ‘go to’ guy, you go to him in the critical stretch. If Tiki was hurt, maybe it will snap some reality into the coach’s planning and he will get Tiki more and earlier rest. Not having Tiki at this critical time, along with not having Bryant, certainly didn’t help the comeback effort.

Cornelius Griffin played his best game of the season. He discussed with me a common thread among the Giants’ players these days and told me, “You have to be smart and play disciplined and keep fighting to get better each week.” Every single player to whom I speak tells me that you have to be ‘smart’ to play in the Giants’ system. (This speaks volumes to me. It emphasizes that the system is a coaches system, a cerebral construct, sort of like taking geometry and overlaying quantum physics. For me, good football players all must have an intuitive grasp of geometry, of axioms, and maybe even trigonometry, with a feel for angles and cosines. But quantum physics does not appear to me to be intuitive; it is metaphysical. I can see such a system presenting difficulties for football players. “Smart” is one of those buzzwords which has always signaled trouble for me. People who speak in such terms remind me of an Administrator I once worked with who classified people as ‘smart’, or otherwise. Every once in a while, someone would get a special accolade and when questioned about his classification of ‘smart’, this Administrator would say, “Yes, but he (she) is REAL smart.” I’m just wondering if the Giants’ system requires not only ‘smart’ players, but ‘real smart’ players. Tom Landry designed a system for smart players, but it was always said that Tom was smart, and I never remember it being said that his system needed smart players. Vince Lombardi designed a system which required discipline and hard work. It was said that Vince was a genius, not that his players had to be. Buddy Ryan and smart will never be used in the same sentence, except here. His players terrorized the league, on defense, for a couple of teams. I never heard smart and talented used in connection with this scheme. Now, Ray Handley was a genius – he was also a disaster. Somewhere along the way, the Giants have gotten too much into this ‘smart’ thing. I’m not sure if its good or bad, but I’m getting weary of hearing it, especially after an L is posted.

So Grif continued on and told me, “While we are getting better, we need to get a win in the process.” We talked about effort and Grif told me, “Every time we get on the field, we have to make a play, to get our offense back on the field, score, we just have to make plays.” I asked him if the defensive line rotation was working out and he told me it was “fine, working out great, I can go sell out on the field and if I need a blow, my guy Lance comes in, and Lance is doing good right now, so he can come in and give me a blow.”

Ralph Brown told me he was getting more playing time and that every week. “I’m learning a lot. There are always different scenarios that I go through that I have to learn from, but I have to remember to carry it on to the next week, I can’t just say, oh yeah, I learned from that and then be faced with the same position and not correct it. When the football is coming my way, I have to focus on it, catch it. The week we played Dallas, I caught the ball; if I dropped that, people are going to say I have bad hands, if I catch this one this week, they say Ralph has good hands.” We talked about the defense and how Giants fans are used to solid defense. I asked him if there was something in the scheme that was difficult, or was it just things happening. He told me, “It’s just mistakes…we have to make our plays on defense. We have so much talent out there that, sometimes, it’s scary, and for us to not be playing as we should be, or making the plays that we should be, it’s like, how can this be happening? Our stats were lower today but we didn’t win the game. There were a couple of plays on third down in the fourth quarter that we didn’t make, that we should have.” We talked about the talent level and the expectations, and believe me, these guys have the same expectations that we do. Ralph told me “once we get this thing going, we got our stats down this week, but there was one thing missing, we didn’t make the plays on third down in the fourth quarter; once we get that corrected, everything will start clicking. The good thing is that we have 12 games left and it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

Darnell Dinkins (DD) expressed the frustration to me when he told me, “You want to be out there helping the team more than you know what you are doing; you want to be more than just a practice player. Right now, it’s just tough. It’s just a matter of time right now, but it’s always tough just having to watch, to see your team fight just as hard as they can.” We talked about the Shockey call and DD also felt it was just a bad call, as he said, “I don’t know what the officials see sometimes.” I asked him what he says to himself, what he does, to stay focused as a practice team member. He said, “What I do is focus on knowing that it takes each and every day to get better, and I just focus on making the best of it, like I was just telling the scout team guys, the practice team guys, just don’t look at this like Miami’s defense or New England’s defense, Miami’s offense or New England’s offense, look at it as you getting yourself better; it’s all the same, if you run the corner route or the out route, you’re blocking down on the defensive end, it’s the same thing, it’s just different names for the plays. I just focus on getting better each and every play, so when I go back out there with this team, I’ll be able to give my best effort to help us win. That’s what I motivate myself to do. I still come in early and prepare for the game as if I was going to be out there on Sunday, so if anything happens I won’t be out of the loop because I was down or feeling sorry for myself. I’ve got too much pride about myself to let a situation or a circumstance stop me from working hard, and that’s what I do when I go out there. You can look at tape, I just go out there; the defensive ends, they’ll tell you I’m still working hard, I’m making them work.” I asked if can pick out tendencies or moves or tricks of the trade. DD told me, “Actually, I just ask them what things could I have done better or how it came off, pretty much it’s about the fight; they love to fight that I give them; I’m not going to let anybody just beat me down, so when you line up against me, you’re going to get a fight, you’d better be prepared. That’s what I look for; I generally look at tape to see how I’m stepping because a lot of things depend on footwork and leverage. I try to make sure I’m doing the things that I can to be a better football player.”

That’s pretty much it for this week. To sum up, what I saw from the sideline was a team that fought hard, with plenty of cracking along both lines. The Miami offense line coach would get his guys together every time they came off the field. He was part screaming, part teaching, part wetting his pants. They had their hands full. There wasn’t much action until late in the game when Ricky Williams actually gained a few tough yards, then they were up and yelling encouragement. Coach Wannstedt looks as if he has a very light hand in the offense. Most of the time he looks to be just another huddle member, although he listens to Norv all the time. The Miami offense was unimpressive against the Giants D and the Miami D was led by Junior and Zach. Luke Pettigout pretty much neutralized Jason Taylor, on one play just reaching out and arm clubbing Jason as he began his outside move. Chris Bober looked to be pretty hurt at one time, hanging his right arm at his side; it may have been a stinger or something he shrugged as he didn’t come out of the game. Amani had some trouble getting free this game, but Miami’s secondary is pretty good. Carter was a nonfactor. Once Shockey got angry, he was a force and Ike would make two catches, then make a bad play, on one play coming on a slant across the field and actually looking as if he was pulling up rather than be hit by Marion. Then he makes a spectacular grab look easy.

It was a tough, but relatively boring game, ending up in the L column. I will be back for the Eagles game.

(Box Score – Miami Dolphins at New York Giants, October 5, 2003)
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Approach to the Game – Miami Dolphins at New York Giants, October 5, 2003: The Dolphins are a good, solid football team because they can run the football and they play good defense. In fact, they are more like the old Giants than the current Giants are. But this team doesn’t scare me and it shouldn’t scare the Giants. If New York is able to control Ricky Williams and put some points on the board early, this is the type of game that I think the Giants can win handily.

Giants on Defense: If the Giants are really going to take charge of this game and finally bury an opponent, the defense needs to play well – and particularly against the run. What the Dolphins will try to do is control the clock, keep the Giants’ offense off the field, and wear down the defense. In order to prevent that, the Giants must play very stout up front against the run. Listen to some of the Giants’ commentary about HB Ricky Williams:

  • Jim Fassel: “He’s a big, heavy, meaty running back. He’s a hard guy to bring down, because you’ve got to get a square hit on him. Yet he’s elusive. He’s not just a power runner inside. I think he can run it inside and be a power runner, but he can make you miss and step to the outside…He is a patient runner. If he goes up into the hole and doesn’t see a clear lane, he will hesitate just a little bit ’til something does, or he’ll bounce it on outside. The problem is that with a back like that, you are not going to hold him down by one-on-one tackling all day long. He is powerful, he will run over people and he will bounce off people. So now you get everybody hustling to the ball, but if you over-hustle and you plug it, he will just bounce it outside on you and that is where I think he is really top drawer. What we have to have is people going to the ball, but you’ve got to keep the containment on the perimeter so that if he bounces it, you have the support coming up.”
  • MLB Mike Barrow: “He’s going to get the ball. Like Michael Jordan when he was in his prime – you knew he was going to get the ball. But you have to try to stop him. To stop him we’re going to try to blitz him and stop him in the backfield, or go with the eight-man box. On offense, they don’t try to trick you too much. They line up and play good smash-mouth football and dare you to stop them.”
  • DE Michael Strahan: “He gets stronger as the game goes on. He’s faster than you think and probably more powerful than you think. He does everything well. He’s catching the ball out of the back field so he’s one of those running backs that is the total package. One of those guys that you can’t take a play off on. If you do, he’s going to beat you.”

That’s the key to the entire game defensively. Keep Williams under wraps. Not just when the Dolphins run straight ahead with power, but also on draw plays and on passes out of the backfield. Because Williams is a bigger back, it is imperative that the Giants gang tackle…don’t assume he is down until you hear the whistle blow. Gang tackling has another advantage in that Williams will fumble the football. Get some hats on him and knock the ball out of there. Above all else, play solid run defense for the entire game. Don’t let up because that is when he will burn you.

To me, this is the type of game where SLB Brandon Short can have a real impact. It’s why he is on the roster. Short has been pretty much invisible the first three weeks as the Giants have faced three teams in a row that put extra wide receivers on the field and forced the Giants into their nickel and dime packages. Unlike those other games, Short will see a lot of playing time and this is the type of opponent he should do well against. I look for him to have a big day.

That said, all of the linebackers need to be very aggressive and physical in playing the run. In particular, Dhani Jones needs to wrap up aggressively and make sure tackles. However, the linebackers must be VERY wary of play action passes to TE Randy McMichael, one of the most dangerous tight ends in all of football. McMichael will be looking to steal the media limelight from Jeremy Shockey since he and his Dolphin teammates consider McMichael the better player. The backers also must look for pass to Ricky Williams and FB Ron Konrad out of the backfield. In fact, the Dolphins may initiate their ball control attack with these kind of short passes first, then hit the Giants with the run. If the linebackers are TOO aggressive, then the defense will get burned.

To help out the linebackers, the defensive linemen must win their individual battles up front. This is a decent offensive line, but nothing special. LT Mark Dixon, who has not played this year, experienced another setback in practice this week and will not play. That means rookie Wade Smith will start on the left side against DE Kenny Holmes. This is an opponent who Kenny could cause problems for. At the same time, Holmes had better batten down the hatches because most likely the Dolphins will throw a steady diet of Ricky Williams in his direction. When Holmes comes out of the game, rookie DE Osi Umenyiora needs to play the run far better than he has the first three games of the regular season. The opposition has picked up good yardage at the expense of Umenyiora in recent weeks. In fact, if the Giants choose to deactivate one of their eight defensive linemen this week, I would pick Umenyiora over Keith Washington – given the style of the opponent they face.

The platoon of DE Michael Strahan and DE Keith Washington will battle RT Todd Wade, a very solid and dependable right tackle. Miami probably won’t be as afraid as other teams in challenging Strahan.

Inside, OC Tim Ruddy (knee) will be replaced by Sean McKinney. The platoon of Keith Hamilton and William Joseph will face LG Jamie Nails – a huge player (6-6, 335lbs) who lacks athleticism. DT Cornelius Griffin and Lance Legree will battle solid RG Todd Perry. These are all match-ups New York can win if they play physical, disciplined football with the proper leverage and technique.

Miami’s quarterback Jay Fiedler doesn’t really impress me as a pure passer. But he can hurt you with his feet both by scrambling for key yardage as well as buying time in the pocket. And we all know how many problems the Giants have had recently with mobile quarterbacks. It’s time to put an end to that crap. Stuff the run, keep Fiedler in the pocket, and make the Dolphins beat you with Fiedler’s arm.

The best wide receiver on the Dolphins is Chris Chambers…a physical player who plays much bigger than his listed size. He can get deep and out-jump people for the football. Will Allen will likely cover him on most plays since Chambers normally lines up at the flanker spot. Allen has the speed to stay with Chambers, but may have to play a more physical game this week. The other wide receiver is Derrius Thompson, who the Giants are familiar with as he played with the Redskins last season. James McKnight is the third receiver – he has good moments, then bad.

Giants on Offense: The Dolphins have a good defense with some very good players. Remarkably, they have not allowed a touchdown in the red zone once this year. But in my opinion, this is a defense the Giants can beat and put some points up against.

The Dolphins have two undersized defensive ends who can rush the passer: weakside end Jason Taylor and strongside end Adewale Ogunleye. Inside, they are far more stout against the run as they have two big tackles (Tim Bowens and Larry Chester). But the Giants like to run wide and they like to run misdirection and I think the Giants’ running attack suits this opponent well. I look for the Giants to run those outside plays where the tight end blocks down on the end and the tackle and guard pull around the tight end to clobber the pursuing linebackers and defensive backs. That means Jeremy Shockey and Vishante Shiancoe may have critical roles in this game as point-of-attack blockers on the ends. If Shiancoe isn’t in the game, then Jim Finn will be on the spot. Personally, I think the Giants can run at Taylor and WLB Morlon Greenwood all day.

When the Giants put the ball up in the air, I would attack the linebackers in coverage with passes to the backs (Tiki Barber, Jim Finn) and the tight ends (Shockey, Shiancoe). MLB Zach Thomas is a warrior, but is not very athletic. SLB Junior Seau is slowing down and doesn’t play very disciplined football. You can pass on Greenwood.

Miami has a good secondary, but the Giants have a very good wide receiving corps and I would challenge this group as well. Patrick Surtain is their best corner and he will face Ike Hilliard. Amani Toomer will line-up against Sam Madison on most plays. Terrell Buckley is the nickel back. He has a history of making plays on the ball, but he also has a history of getting beat by being too aggressive.

I honestly think the Giants can come out either passing or running against the Dolphins and most likely will mix it up. The key is to play smart football, limit the penalties, and not turn the football over. The Giants have the players to score in the red zone. My prediction? The Giants put 30 points up on the Dolphins this week.

Giants on Special Teams: Olindo Mare is the place kicker the Giants should never have let get away. Other than that, the Dolphins’ special teams are mediocre. This is an area the Giants dominate this week. Look for David Tyree to block a kick and for Brian Mitchell to finally make a big return.