Nov 282003

Approach to the Game – Buffalo Bills at New York Giants, November 30, 2003: Screw the opponent – that doesn’t matter any more. Here are 20 things I’d like to see on Sunday:

  1. The offensive line improve and play a more consistent game. By doing so, provide Kerry Collins with some assurance of a viable and consistent pass pocket.
  2. Seeing the amount of penalties significantly reduced, especially the false start and holding penalties by the offensive line.
  3. QB Kerry Collins to stop his downward slide and play like he did earlier this season when he was garnering “Player of the Week” honors. Kerry needs to have some confidence in his line, stop playing so timidly in the pocket, while not being to aggressively reckless with the football when it leaves his hands. It would be nice if he could throw three touchdown passes in a game.
  4. HB Tiki Barber breaking some long runs, including one that results in a touchdown. Of course, holding on to the football would be nice.
  5. WR Amani Toomer making any kind of big play down the field. Catching a short pass and turning it into a long gain. Getting into the end zone.
  6. In summary, any of the above three “blue chip” players for the Giants have a “blue chip” game.
  7. Not seeing long drives bog down due to penalty, dropped pass, sack, or any other kind of mistake that leads to negative yardage plays.
  8. Scoring touchdowns in the red zone.
  9. Preventing touchdowns by the opposition in the red zone.
  10. Winning the turnover battle.
  11. Seeing the defensive line get some consistent heat on the opposing quarterback, especially from a player other than Michael Strahan.
  12. Johnnie Lynn drawing up some blitzing schemes that actually confuse the defense and seeing some linebackers or defensive backs who actually can get to the quarterback.
  13. Not having the Giants get confused when they play zone coverage, leaving someone wide open.
  14. Not having the linebackers and secondary get burned by crossing patterns.
  15. Making some plays on the football in the air.
  16. Breaking a punt or kickoff return.
  17. Blocking a punt or field goal.
  18. The Giants out-coaching the other team.
  19. No new injuries.
  20. A blowout by the home team.

Am I asking too much?

Nov 272003
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19 – New York Giants 13

Game Overview: I admit it. I was wrong. I used to argue that coaching in the NFL was overrated and wasn’t as important as the personnel. And while I still think it is extremely tough to win in this league without quality personnel, good coaching can cover up for a multitude of sins. Look no farther than Bill Parcells or Bill Belichick.

Don’t get me wrong, the Giants have some glaring personnel holes that need to be addressed on defense and on the offensive line. And these holes have been a significant factor in the current 4-7 season. But this is not a 4-7 team personnel-wise. At this moment, only three teams in the NFC have a worse record than the Giants (Cardinals, Bears, and Lions). That’s disgusting!

Why am I so convinced that Fassel and his staff are the problem? Even a blind man can see that this is a sloppy, mistake-ridden team that plays undisciplined football. Love him or hate him, Parcells had it right this week when he said that the secret to success in the NFL is not beating yourself. Make the other team beat you, but don’t beat yourself. Do that, Parcells contends, and you will be a tough team to defeat. Jimmy Johnson basically said the same thing two weeks ago when he said that it was more important in football to find players who don’t make regular mistakes than to find players who make big plays. Parcells and Johnson are two men to be listened to.

The Giants have made stupid mistakes all year…the same mistakes. It’s the fault of the coaches that they haven’t either (1) taught the players to correct these mistakes, or (2) intimidated or benched the offending players. The veterans of this team don’t fear any repercussions for poor play. Worse, as the season has deteriorated, the passion has waned. The Giants are going through the motions and that is another indictment on the staff.

While I was getting my hair cut at the barber this past weekend, I was perusing and old Sports Illustrated from August with a feature story on Parcells. In great detail, the article pointed out how Parcells would focus on some real game situation in each practice and harp on the things NOT TO DO in each given situation. Doing those things was a sure way to get chewed out, benched, or cut. In one situation, coming off your own goal line, he said a successful possession was not driving 95 yards for the score, but picking up two first downs so you could give your punter more room to operate and regain field position. Above all, do not allow a sack, commit a penalty, or turn the ball over. Don’t do the things that make it easier for the other team to beat you. There was a special focus on special teams.

Compare that overall approach with that of the Giants who regularly allow pass pressure, commit killer penalties, and turn the ball over. The defensive schemes are not sound and special teams is still below average. Management deserves a huge share of the blame for the offensive line mess, but the coaching staff bears the largest burden for all of these other errors. Collins throws two stupid interceptions against Tampa? Well, these two interceptions may not have occurred if Collins had been properly coached up (and screamed at) to not throw the ball in those situations. Barber fumbles the ball in a key 3rd-and-1? Well, he may not have done that had he been benched earlier in the season. I could go on and on.

My main message to everyone from this point on is to not over-analyze the personnel on the Giants based on the last 8 games of the season. Some of these players will not be around in 2004, but those who are will respond much differently to good coaching, that is, coaches who are teachers who motivate and instill discipline. Collins, Toomer, Barber, Shockey, Strahan, Griffin, Allen, etc. will be far different performers under different leadership. You may think that is another case of me wearing rose-colored glasses, but in my heart, I know it is the truth.

The key is to find the right coaching staff and the right head man.

Comment on the Officiating: Losers whine about the officiating so I guess I’m a loser. But I am sick and tired of watching a Giants game and see the officiating so one-sided week after week after week. My biggest complaints in Tampa: (1) The face mask penalty on Keith Hamilton was incidental, not a personal foul. The refs handed Tampa Bay 4 points here. (2) The play where Toomer got separated from the ball in the endzone on 3rd down should have been flagged as a personal foul, blow to the head. For God’s sake, his helmet was knocked off on the play. (3) Michael Strahan was mugged on a few plays right in front of the officials and only one of these was flagged. (4) Strahan was falsely flagged for illegal use of the hands. (5) There was not enough evidence to overturn Amani’s 12-yard reception for a 1st down in the 4th quarter, yet the officials overturned the call.

Giants on Offense: If this wasn’t the team I loved, I’d be laughing my ass off. My God, how many times can you possibly keep shooting yourself in the foot? How can you not watch this mess and come to the realization that this team has no direction?

As I mentioned in my game preview, the Tampa defense, which is predicated on rushing the passer gave the Giants’ inexperienced (Allen, Diehl, and Lucier) and banged-up (Petitgout – back injury that apparently has nagged him all year) problems. So what do the Giants do but throw the football 34 times (63 percent of the offensive football plays)? And then the same problems appear: penalties on the offensive line, pass pressure, dropped passes, stupid throws into coverage, and impotence in the red zone. In the first half, the Giants fumbled away one pitch, committed three false starts, had one drive stall at the Tampa 12-yard line, dropped an 80-yard touchdown pass, and fumbled the ball away at the Tampa 17-yard line when Collins got nailed from the blindside. In the second half, the Giants had a drive stall at the 12-yard line again, threw an interception into the end zone, fumbled the ball on 3rd-and-1, threw coverage for an easy interception, and lost 9 yards on the attempted gain-winning drive with two minutes left. The Giants did not pick up one 1st down in the entire 4th quarter! Go back and re-read this paragraph…look at the significance to all these mistakes and keep in mind that this was a 4-point football game in the 4th quarter. The Giants – once again – beat themselves. What did Parcells say?

Quarterback: Collins (18-of-34 for 160 yards, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions) played poorly. Yes, his cause wasn’t helped by two dropped touchdown passes by Amani Toomer (one coming off a huge hit) or sometimes shoddy pass protection. But Collins has to be smarter with the football, especially in tight situations in close football games. He tried to get the ball to Ike Hilliard from 31-yards out after running to his right out of the pocket and throwing on the run. This isn’t conducive to throwing an accurate pass and his throw was intercepted in the end zone. Trailing 17-13 with less than 4 minutes to play, Collins’ first pass of the Giants’ fourth drive of the second half was intercepted and returned to the New York 32-yard line when he threw an ill-advised pass to a well-covered David Tyree. Dumb throw in a crucial situation.

In the 1st quarter, Collins was fortunate that a slant pass to Toomer was not intercepted as Toomer wrestled the ball away from the corner. Two plays later, Collins threw an inaccurate pass as he didn’t set his feet properly in a situation where he wasn’t pressured (when a QB doesn’t set his feet properly, the throw is often inaccurate). These are the type of fundamentals with Collins that have deteriorated as his trust in his offensive line has deteriorated. In other words, Collins is a bit gun shy at times. That said, Collins did make some nice throws on plays where he was under pressure and threw an accurate ball despite not being able to set up properly…and it’s only Collins’ amazing arm strength that allows him to do that. When Collins makes these kind of plays, what often is ignored is that he made a play despite a breakdown in pass protection. But the reverse also happens. Because Collins often is wary of the pass protection, he sometimes doesn’t step up into the pocket and drifts backwards. This puts more pressure on the offensive tackles as they don’t expect Collins to drift that far from the pocket. It’s hard to blame Collins though because the interior pass protection in recent weeks has been very inconsistent and a free man is often coming right up the middle.

In the 2nd quarter, Collins badly missed Toomer on a post route that should have resulted in an 18-yard yard touchdown. Kudos to Collins for showing some savvy and toughness on his 22-yard scramble right before halftime.

Wide Receivers: One of the reasons the Giants are struggling offensively this year is that Amani Toomer (4 catches for a measly 34 yards) is not playing well. Toomer had one touchdown reception knocked out of his hands with a huge hit. He later dropped what would have been an easy 80-yard score down the middle of the defense. This was a game-changing drop and the kind of play that loses you football games. On 3rd-and-1 on the Giants’ first drive when New York was moving the ball, Collins threw deep and Amani cut his route off short. Someone screwed up on the play and it cost the Giants dearly as Toomer was wide open. Good news with Toomer? His run blocking was better this week and he made a hell of a play when he wrestled the ball away from the corner on a slant pass that could have given the Bucs the ball at the Giants’ 10-yard line.

It’s sad to note that the gimpy Ike Hilliard (4 catches for 43 yards) was the Giants’ most productive wide receiver of the night in terms of yardage. I did think Hilliard should have caught Collins’ 2nd-and-11 pass from the Tampa 19 in the 3rd quarter.

David Tyree actually started opposite Toomer. He only caught 3 passes for 23 yards. The good news was that two of the receptions were 3rd-and-6 conversions for first downs.

Running Backs: Fassel only called 13 running plays for Tiki Barber (for 55 yards, 4.2 yards-per-carry average). That’s a bit strange. Tiki had some decent runs when called on to run between the tackles (an outside runs didn’t work against this quick defense as I said in my game preview). Barber had a really sharp 20-yard draw play right before halftime. The problem was that Barber was responsible for two fumbles (one that was lost). He dropped a pitch from Collins on the second drive of the game (when the Giants were moving the ball again) and Tampa recovered. Late in the game, he fumbled the ball on a crucial 3rd-and-1. That fumble was recovered by the Giants, but they failed to pick up the first down. Like Collins and Toomer, Tiki is part of that triumvirate that was supposed to be so deadly this year – yet all three of these players are not performing up to expectations. Part of that is the fault of the offensive line, but these players deserve a big share of the blame as well.

Tiki also had a team-high five catches for 34 yards. His blitz pick-ups were sound.

Dorsey Levens was once again not utilized (1 carry for 2 yards). FB Jim Finn continues to do mostly positive as a lead blocker. He’s almost always in the right position, but sometimes he gets overpowered by linebackers and this gums things up on the inside running game.

Tight Ends: Contrary to popular belief, Marcellus Rivers and Visanthe Shiancoe are doing a reasonable job as blockers for the running game. Marcellus is a good position blocker and Visanthe has some power in his game. Shiancoe, however, was flagged for a legitimate holding penalty. Late in the game, Rivers missed a block on a blitzing Buccaneer on the play where Toomer’s reception was overturned.

While Visanthe did not have a catch, Rivers caught 2 passes for 26 yards (including one pass for 18 yards).

Offensive Line: Readers may often get confused about my game reviews where I critique the offensive line. I often say that the performance was mostly positive, with a few breakdowns by some of the players. However, when you add up all of these individual breakdowns, you can see why the Giants are having trouble sustaining drives. The good news is that many of these young players are really playing better than could be expected given their inexperience. But the expected growing pains are still frustrating. David Diehl looks like he has a bright future in the league. Wayne Lucier is playing well for a 7th rounder and might have a solid future as a starter if he can get a lot stronger in the offseason. Ian Allen has done pretty darn well since his opening day problems against Rams’ DE Leonard Little. But all are still making the kind of mistakes that one would expect in first year starters. Also what is hurting is that LT Luke Petitgout has been apparently playing with a back injury all season. That does not excuse his 13 penalties this year however.

The biggest problem for the Giants was DT Warren Sapp, who was giving the interior trio fits most of the night. For some strange reason, Lucier was often called to block him one-on-one while Bober helped out Diehl with McFarland. Lucier usually got eaten alive in these situations, including on the play where the ball was knocked out of Toomer’s hands in the end zone. Lucier was beaten by Sapp for a sack in the 2nd quarter on a player where Collins fumbled the ball and recovered. In the second half, Diehl had problems with Sapp when Sapp played over Diehl’s head. And in some instances, Sapp got through the double-team support from Bober. This is why Kerry had no confidence in stepping up into the pocket. Diehl got beat on the play where Collins was flushed to his right and threw that ill-advised pass to Hilliard in the end zone.

Ian Allen had a mostly positive game, but he and Diehl still struggle at times with the stunt. That will come with experience. Diehl gave up a pressure on the play where Rivers picked up 18 yards. Petitgout gave up a crucial sack to DE Simeon Rice on the last play of the half where Rice forced a fumble. This play cost the Giants 3 points.

I don’t want to give the impression that it was a jail break. There were many plays where the offensive line did a reasonable job in pass protection against a talented defensive front – especially in the first half.

Penalties remain a problem as Diehl was flagged with two false starts and Petitgout with one. Two of these penalties helped to halt promising drives. Diehl also got beat by Sapp on Tiki’s 3rd-and-1 running play where Tiki fumbled (Sapp caused the fumble).

The nadir for the offensive line came on the last “drive” of the game. With the Giants trailing by 4 points and needing to drive 88 yards in 2 minutes, the offensive line completely fell apart. Petitgout gave up one pressure to Rice on 1st-and-10. On 2nd-and-10, Lucier gave up a quick pressure by McFarland. On 3rd-and-10, Sapp split both Lucier and Bober to sack Collins for a 9-yard loss. Collins never had a chance on these plays.

Giants on Defense: When asked why he didn’t activate DT William Joseph for this football game, Fassel responded, “William has to show me that he can play better, he just hasn’t had the production in the game. When you get done with a game, and you always need to relate it to how many plays; you can’t compare production if one guy played nine plays and the other played 59 plays, but those nine plays you need to do some things; tackles and other than that.”

Fassel is an idiot. He’s got veterans all over this defense constantly making mistakes that are costing football games and players such as DT Keith Hamilton who are playing extremely poorly, yet he deactivates his talented 1st round draft pick in favor of Frank Ferrara, who wasn’t even in football a few days ago? And his explanation isn’t logical. How many defenders on this starting defense make plays despite the fact that they see 55-80 snaps a game? How is Joseph supposed to get better when he only sees a handful of plays or none? What kind of example does it send when you reward players such as Dhani Jones and Shaun Williams (before he got hurt) who are constantly losing football games, yet they continue to remain in the starting line-up? Frank Ferrara? F*ck you Fassel!

Incidentally, the Giants did blitz quite a bit with both linebackers and defensive backs. However, the blitzers are still not getting there.

Defensive Line: The defensive line played their best game in weeks. Michael Strahan (4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 pass defensed, 1 fumble recovery) was the focus of double- and triple-teams early in the game. But he still made a number of plays, especially in run defense. He also got some pass pressure despite some obvious holding. The other end, Keith Washington (4 tackles, 1 sack), played pretty well. He got a couple of good pass pressures and a sack. Washington was pretty stout in run defense.

Inside, Keith Hamilton (6 tackles) played one of his better games of the season. No, he wasn’t stellar, but he looked a bit like the Keith Hamilton of old as he got a couple of pass pressures and made some plays in run defense. What I liked was that Keith was hustling on plays away from him. Hammer was flagged with a 15-yard face mask penalty inside the 5-yard line when it looked like the Giants’ defense had forced Tampa to settle for a field goal. But I thought the penalty was iffy at best and certainly not the 15-yard variety. There were a couple of decent runs by the Bucs in the 2nd quarter where Hamilton was run on, but nothing like horror show of recent weeks.

Speaking of hustle, Cornelius Griffin (6 tackles) is playing at a very high level right now. His pursuit on outside running plays is highly commendable and it is on these plays where Griffin flashes his amazing athleticism. Griffin is also playing pretty strong at the point-of-attack. For example, he is the guy who made the play on the 4th-and-inches effort by Tampa near the end of the game that failed. Griffin also got some key pass pressures including forcing an incompletion on 3rd-and-2 from the Giants’ 3-yard line and beating a double-team on the play where CB Frank Walker scored. Griffin was a big factor in causing this turnover to happen.

As for the reserves, DT Lance Legree (2 tackles) did a decent job and got one good pass pressure. When DE Osi Umenyiora (0 tackles) came into the game, the Bucs ran right at him and Hammer with some success. Osi still needs to be less aggressive moving up the field at times as the opposing offenses simply run in his vacated gap. But Osi did get one very good outside pass rush where he forced an incompletion and a penalty.

And there is the moron Frank Ferrara. He gets in the game and promptly screws the pooch by committing an incredibly stupid roughing the passer penalty on a 3rd-and-1 pass that fell incomplete. That was Frank’s great contribution of the night…geez, I guess Fassel made the right decision to activate him instead of Joseph.

Linebackers: Mike Barrow (12 tackles) had a mostly positive performance. Where Mike flashed to me was the way he constantly made plays against the run on the sideline, demonstrating range that I thought had dissipated. Where Barrow has some problems is on running plays right at him. Barrow did miss one tackle on a short pass to the back, but he also forced an incompletion on the tight end with a big hit.

WLB Dhani Jones (5 tackles) doesn’t make any plays. He needs to go.

SLB Brandon Short (6 tackles) made a nice play early in the game when he came up fast on the back to cause a loss after a reception. He looked good overpowering the back on a blitz in the 1st quarter, but smacked the quarterback in the head for an obvious roughing the passer penalty. On the very next play, he stuffed an inside rushing attempt. Late in the game, Short was flagged with a 5-yard face mask penalty.

Defensive Backs: Will Allen (6 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) did a really nice job on the dangerous Keenan McCardell when left one-on-one with him. McCardell only caught a few short passes on Allen in these situations. Frank Walker also did a fairly good job on Joe Jurevicius, including coming off another receiver to pickoff a pass and return it 53 yards for a touchdown. Walker was not perfect as Jurevicius did catch a couple on him, and Walker missed a tackle on Jurevicius. Walker was also beat by WR Charles Lee for 20 yards and was lucky a deep pass to Lee later in the game was overthrown. But Walker plays with cockiness and has a nose for the football. He almost intercepted another pass intended for Jurevicius earlier in the game.

As for the safeties, FS Omar Stoutmire (6 tackles) played one of his better games. He made a good tackle on the tight end in the open field on Tampa’s first drive to force a punt. In the 2nd quarter, he absolutely crushed McCardell on a post route to force an incompletion. SS/Nickel Back Ryan Clark (5 tackles) got beat on a crossing pattern early in the 2nd quarter for 9 yards on 2nd-and-12. Late in the game, he was lucky that a deep pass to the halfback was ruled out-of-bounds as he was cleanly beaten on the play. S Johnnie Harris (3 tackles, 2 forced fumbles) made a real impact by stripping away two footballs that were recovered by teammates.

The Giants’ biggest problems came in the following three areas:

  1. The Giants’ zone coverage continues to present problems as receivers are getting too wide open in many of these situations For example, the 13-yard reception by McCardell on 3rd-and-9 in the 2nd quarter, the 22-yard reception to Joe Jurevicius in the 3rd quarter on 2nd-and-5, and the 23-yard reception to Michael Pittman on 2nd-and-7 on the same drive.
  2. There were two identical plays where McCardell played outside on the left and Jurevicus played the slot inside of him. At the start of the play, Allen was over McCardell and Clark was over Jurevicius. But as Jurevicius ran down the seam and McCardell cut underneath him, but Allen and Clark went with Jurevicius and left McCardell wide open. I don’t know if the problem was with Allen or Clark, but someone screwed up twice.
  3. The big 53-yard touchdown pass to Charles Lee. Everyone in the secondary screwed up on this play. Frank Walker got beat initially as Lee was his responsibility. As Lee crossed the field after the reception, running away from Walker, Stoutmire missed his diving tackle attempt. Will Allen took the wrong angle on Lee and didn’t break down properly. And Ryan Clark missed his tackle attempt. Bad play all around.

Special Teams: It looks like Fassel finally decided to make a move to Delvin Joyce in the second half of this football game. Way to figure out a personnel move that everyone on the planet knew you should have made weeks ago Jim!

Kick returns: Mitchell returned the opening kick-off 24 yards and returned another 23 yards after it was pitched back to him. On his first return, he mishandled the ball. Delvin Joyce returned a second half kick-off 36 yards.

Punt returns: Mitchell returned one punt 10 yards and Joyce returned one punt 8 yards.

PK Matt Bryant’s kickoffs were better this week but still not good, landing at the 9, 12, 9, and 11. Kick return coverage was respectable – returns went for 18 yards (Wes Mallard making the tackle), 14 yards (Darnell Dinkins), 17 (Nick Greisen and Jim Finn), and 18 (Wes Mallard and Kevin Lewis). Bryant’s onside kick at the end of the game didn’t even go 10 yards.

Jeff Feagles punted 5 times for a 42.2 yards-per-punt average and two punts landed inside the 20-yard line. The Giants gave up one return that was too long (14 yards – tackle by Delvin Joyce and Wes Mallard). The other punt returned only went for 2 yards (tackle by Darnell Dinkins). Kato Serwanga and Delvin Joyce did a good job of getting down the field and forcing fair catches.

Bryant made both of his 30-yard field goals.

Osi Umenyiora came damn close to being the hero of the game when he almost blocked a punt with less than 4 minutes to play and the Giants trailing by 4 points.

It’s Time for All the Clichés

by BBI Reporter/Photographer David Oliver

The fat lady hasn’t hit the high note yet but her tonsils are in full warble. The evening began on an ominous note when I noted one of Coach Fassel’s personal friends and his Priest along the sidelines. It ended when I caught a glance of Coach as he left the locker room after the game.

I have spent a lifetime looking into people’s eyes and assessing their state of mind. When your life, or the life of your friends or your child depends on a quick, accurate assessment, you either become adept at it, you don’t survive or you find something else to do. I have watched Coach since he arrived, just as I did Coach Reeves and some of Coach Handley. The look in Coach’s eyes as he walked out of the locker room told a tale. Although his friend told me he remains positive, there was no optimism in Coach’s eyes. What I saw was disappointment, embarrassment, confusion, and anger. New York has defeated another coach.

There is nothing left here but the final farewell press conference. For me, as a fan, as a Giants’ fan, as a man who has lived a lifetime making emotional investments in this organization, it is another sad day. I cannot gloat over the demise of a man who I willed to succeed. In over 40 years, only two have not been defeated; George Young and Bill Parcells. Even here, in the end, George Young was not the same as at the beginning, weakened by illness and a titanic struggle with Bill Parcells. In the end, the Giants had neither man. Now, as the past is barging over the broken bones it is clear that there will be no more recovery here for this coach. Next year, we will start all over.

It’s hard to report on a losing effort by a losing team; harder still to go into a locker room after such a game. They just want to shower, dress, get on the bus and head for home. I didn’t want to take Tampa Bay shots, I couldn’t find much good to shoot when the Giants were on offense. After the game I went into the Tampa locker room to talk to Lomas Brown, Jason Whittle, and Roman Oben.

As far as the game, there was plenty of emotion on both sides of the ball, but there was a marked difference in bench demeanor between the teams. The Giants coaching staff, for the most part, remains calm, teaching, quietly encouraging their young charges. The Bucs bench is a whirlwind. They are the World Champs. Coaches are shouting instructions, the players are up and jumping, jabbering like escapees from an asylum, having fun. The records were the same at the start of the game, but Chucky patrols his area like Julius Caesar. He is animated, involved, snapping orders in every direction. I listened to him telling Derrick Brooks, “We’re going to blitz here, but don’t let them know it, do it this way, tell everybody.” Warren Sapp is demonstrative, he is in the game, on his feet, his demeanor infectious. Simeon Rice is clowning, sophomoric, as if he is telling GM Accorsi “here is what you could have had.” But there isn’t a scintilla of doubt on this bench. Even with the game close they know they are going to win. The Bucs are the best 4-and-6 team I have ever seen.

The Giants come out ramped up. They played hard. But there is a fragility on this team. They are pressing and pressing badly. Bad things happen to a team the presses. Once again the yellow flags flew nine times for 71 yards. This is Giants’ football from the 1970’s, in the game for 55 minutes, just enough to really break our hearts.

But the most telling difference between these teams is at the quarterback position. In a man-on-man QB challenge, Kerry Collins would probably best Brad Johnson a larger percentage of the time. They are two big, strong quarterbacks, known as pocket passers. On a football field Monday night, one demonstrated that he can be a good passer with an impenetrable cordon around him. One passes from the pocket, the other is a captive of the pocket. Both are clumsy at times, both fumble the ball. But Kerry Collins demonstrated once again that he has no sense of the pocket. His mechanics have gone south again. Johnson fumbles and jumps on the ball; Collins fumbles and has no idea where the ball went. Johnson feels the pressure and gets the ball out; Collins has no idea of the pressure and can’t find a receiver. Three was a telling play reminiscent of the end of Dave Brown’s tenure in New York. Brown had a streaking Thomas Lewis (now there was a combo) wide open. The ball never got there. Thomas Lewis looked down, picked up some grass, threw it, and just kept walking. It was near the end of the game. Monday night, Collins had a streaking Hilliard breaking open. The ball never got there. His shoulders slumped, he looked up, and just kept walking. It was near the end of the half. It was set, game, match.

I have no explanation for Kerry’s regression. It is not totally the fault of the offensive line. They cannot be held responsible for his mechanics or lack of ability to feel pressure. To say he is a pocket passer, well, as the kids say “whatever”. He is not part of the solution. He has become a liability through inconsistency and ritual regression. Sean Payton is gone; Coach Fassel is almost gone. The mechanical arm is just that and little more. Another game with a rating of 43.3. Can anyone say Dave Brown?

Tiki’s body has absorbed too many hits, although he had only 13 touches; Dorsey Levens had one carry; Amani had a pass bounce off his hands as he was running downfield two steps behind the defender and he was stripped in the end zone on a vicious hit – but an All-Pro has to get that TD; Ike had a decent game; Tyree is proving that he is a receiver. There simply is no replacement for Shockey.

The defense held the Tampa runners under 100 yards. Brad Johnson was harried and Strahan and Washington each had a sack. But Johnson’s 91.8 quarterback rating got the job done. McCardell was a workhorse with 9 catches for 83 yards, but the real damage was done by Lee whose 53-yard touchdown catch really hurt. Jurevicius had a big 22 yard grab and Pittman had a 23 yarder. The Giants’ secondary did not shine, even with Walker’s interception and TD return, his score kept the Giants in the game.

Michael Barrow had 12 tackles, several of them hard, big-time plays. Griffin, Short, and Allen had 6 apiece as did Walker and Stoutmire. Ryan Clark and Dhani Jones each had 5; Strahan and Washington 4. The defense played an intense game. In the end, however, Tampa had the ball for an overwhelming 37 minutes. The Giants’ offense flopped. Tampa’s defense is good, but the Giants’ defense matched it. The Giants’ offense flopped. End of story.

Lomas Brown: Wearing his Super Bowl ring, proudly showing it to Pat from Inside Football and me, telling us it took him a long time to get it and he’s wearing it proudly. I’m happy for Lomas – a fine athlete; a decent human being; one of those players I call friend. I teased him about having a lot of love for Tampa and he said, “Oh yeah, they gave me something I had never gotten before. They took me to a place I had never gotten.” I then asked if he had a little love for the Giants and he told me, “Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah. Oh yeah, I’ve got to, you know, the Big Apple, I’ll still got a lot of players over there.” I asked him about the Giants young line and he said, “Well, you know what, they play hard…they play hard because they have a great coach in McNally over there. They’re going to get better, but you know, it’s hard, keep rotating linemen and they have to develop consistency over there.”

Jason Whittle: Jason told me he had a banged up shoulder but it was coming along. I asked him if he talked to Rich Seubert and he laughed because they are friends. I told him Rich was on BBI all of the time and he said, “Oh, I’ll bet he is saying we need Rich Seubert back” (laughing). I asked him for some observations about the game and some of what he said was surprising. He first observed that both teams were similar. “They’ve lost some close ones, we’ve lost some close ones; both of our seasons could have been totally turned around if one or two things had gone differently. To play the way that we did and get the win, it felt good. Obviously it was a must win.” I asked him if he had seen any of the Giants’ offensive line and he said a little bit, but in fairness, when the Giants’ offense is on the field, the opposition is on the bench going over plays with the offensive line coach. I asked him about the defense and he was all praise, especially for the line veterans and noting, “The linebackers are running well…in the secondary, I know there have been a lot of injuries…They’re a good defense. They held us to 17 points.” I asked him if he thought the Giants run a “read and react” defense and he said, “Who, the Giants? No, no, they’re not a ‘read and react’ defense. They brought some heat on us, and we knew they would. We haven’t had a lot of heat since the San Francisco game. We were ready for it.” I asked him if there was any talking going on and he laughed and said, “Oh, a little bit, a little bit.” He said it brought back a lot of memories. I didn’t remember that he and Roman Oben had played together for several years. He told me he and Roman were good buddies and lived near each other and Joe Jurevicius lived pretty close.

Roman Oben: “Cleveland offered me just enough money that I couldn’t turn it donwn. It was for 3 years and we were supposed to be winning after three years. But we lost and the coach got fired. Butch Davis came in and he had his own ideas, his own guys. I never changed the way I was, the way I prepared. I look at guys I came in with…guys who have had the security of playing on the same team for eight years, which is a rarity now in the league. Keith Hamilton is that kind of guy. You kind of miss that. You kind of miss the guys who you were with when you came out of college. Once you leave that team and go to that second and third team, you’re kind of like a veteran who is there to help them win in the short term. Hopefully, after 5, 6, 7 years you develop. Some things you miss, but it’s part of the business and you accept it as reality.”

On the ring, he told me he was happy to have it, but he talked about progression, about the coaching change from Dan Reeves to Coach Fassel and how Tampa players had been through it, how guys like John Lynch had worn the orange helmets and that the ring meant a lot more to those guys. “It was different for them than for me winning it. You take it as reality and you move from there.” We talked about career longevity and how he was injured in Cleveland. He had the same microfracture surgery as Dusty Zeigler and Jason Sehorn. He is now in his 8th year and he is taking it one year at a time, telling me, “I would like to play as long as Lomas.”

Pat asked him about the surgery and I said he appeared to have come out of it better than the other guys. He told me, “Believe me, my feet and legs are not where they were” and your body has to learn how to adjust. I asked him if it was a mind-over-matter thing and he told me it was, that you just had to learn to play with it.

We discussed home and I told him I lived in Virginia and he reminded me that he was from DC. Of course, I mentioned St. Albans School and quickly reminded me he graduated from Gonzoga – “a good Jesuit education.”

For me, it was great seeing these guys. Lomas, Jason, Roman. Throw in Stoney, Lurch, Mike Rosenthal – that is one hell of a deep line. I ended the evening by telling Chris Bober that I didn’t want to be visiting him in someone else’s locker room next year. As he was heading for the bus, he looked back and he said, “Talk to the General Manager.”

Well, that’s it guys. The more I learn about this game, the less I know. There are a lot of ex-Giants around the league. These are a lot of ex-everyteams around the league. Some of the guys who have departed I never got to know. Those I did, I mostly miss. The mantra on BBI is “Sayonara, don’t let the door hit you in the ass!” I can’t subscribe to that theory, except in the case of the rare player like Dave Brown. I like these guys. They can all play football. In the final analysis it comes down to a combination of talent, coaching, and management. In the final analysis, today’s game is all about “Talk to the General Manager”. Are you listening Mr. Accorsi?

(Box Score – New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, November 24, 2003)
Nov 222003

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, November 24, 2003: I’ve actually seen quite a few prognosticators pick the Giants in this game and for the life of me I can’t figure why. Not only are the Giants absolutely terrible on Monday night, but the head coach of the Buccaneers basically laid down the law this week by, in effect, removing one of his star players from the team. That is the kind of move that will get everyone’s attention in the locker room and help to ensure that they play inspired football. It sends a message that no job is safe, a trick that Head Coach Jim Fassel never seems to have learned. The Bucs are not in turmoil.

On top of that, Tampa’s players know that their head coach will be their head coach next season. The Giants don’t know that at all.

Giants on Offense: If you want to talk X’s and O’s, the strength of the Tampa Bay team is their defensive line. This unit is going to cause all kinds of havoc against the Giants’ inexperienced offensive line that includes three first-year starters. The best way to attack Tampa is run on them, and specifically run north-south, not east-west. But the Giants are a passing team that, when it does run, runs east-west. The quickness of the Tampa Bay front seven will work against the Giants’ outside running game.

The big problems up will be DT Warren Sapp against LG Wayne Lucier. Lucier has struggled the past couple of weeks. LT Luke Petitgout, who probably is still hampered by a back injury that he suffered early in the season, will have his hands full with DE Simeon Rice. The other end, Greg Spires, is no slouch either and RT Ian Allen will be tested.

WLB Derrick Brooks is one of the best cover linebackers in the game. He has the skills to stick with Barber out of the backfield or keep up with TE Jeremy Shockey (if Shockey is foolish enough to play). SS John Lynch is a force in run support and a big hitter and blitzer.

I really think New York’s only shot in this game is if they keep it pretty conservative and attempt to grind the ball out on the ground with Barber and Dorsey Levens. The more the Giants pass, the more QB Kerry Collins will be under the gun and the more likely that sacks, penalties, and turnovers will result.

Giants on Defense: The problem is the Giants can’t win this game unless the defense plays very well. The Giants are not going to be able to put many points up on the Bucs. Unless the Giants’ defenders play with a lot more passion and pride than they have since the 4th quarter of the Jets game, New York really has no shot.

The Bucs don’t really run the ball all that well, but everyone has had success running on the Giants in recent weeks. Keith Washington is likely to start at right end for the Giants, with Osi Umenyiora coming off the bench in passing situations. They will face ex-Giant LT Roman Oben. The Giants need better production out of their right tackle spot where Keith Hamilton has really fallen apart. If he continues to struggle, the Giants need to play Lance Legree or William Joseph in there. DT Cornelius Griffin will face ex-Giant Jason Whittle. DE Michael Strahan battles against the inconsistent RT Kenyatta Walker.

Gruden is no dummy and he has to be licking his chops at getting his quarterbacks to throw against the Giants’ linebacking corps that struggled mightily last week in Philadelphia. Look for passes to the tight ends and backs.

When the Bucs throw the football down the field, WR Keenan McCardell has been playing at an exceptional level. I would expect and hope the Giants keep CB Will Allen on him. Look for ex-Giant WR Joe Jurevicius to have a big day against CB Frank Walker and/or Ike Charlton. For one, this is a favorable match-up. Second, Joe will be motivated to play hard against his former team. Third, you know the football gods are going to conspire against us so there will be 50 “the Giants should never have let Joe Jurevicius go” threads in The Corner Forum on Tuesday.

A change in the secondary this week will be Johnnie Harris or Ryan Clark at strong safety. Harris is not fast, but he has a good nose for the football.

The secret to defending QB Brad Johnson has always been to get heat on him. When Johnson was with Washington, in those games where the Giants pressured him, he played poorly. In those games where they didn’t, he picked them apart. The Giants need to get a good pass rush performance out of their defensive linemen, and they need to come up with some less-than-predictable blitzing schemes.

Giants on Special Teams: The Bucs play special teams as poorly as the Giants do. This is an area where the Giants can out-play Tampa Bay if they are focused enough.

Nov 192003
Philadelphia Eagles 28 – New York Giants 10

Game Overview: I started in 1995 (of course, back then it was the Big Blue Home Page). The 2003 NFL season is now feeling remarkably similar to the 1996 season – the last year of Dan Reeves in New York.

Through 10 games of 1996, Reeves’ Giants were 4-6 and clearly not heading to the playoffs. Fassel’s 2003 Giants are 4-6 and likewise not heading to the playoffs. Both coaches were clearly on their way out the door. The 1996 Giants won two more games and finished 6-10. That’s probably as good a prediction for the 2003 Giants as you will see now. The remaining games won’t be pleasant. The players have started to tune Fassel out and he knows it. They will play hard in spurts because they are professionals and dollars are at stake, but without confidence, intensity, and a sense of urgency, they will fall victims to teams with much more to play for.

As sad as it sounds, I can’t wait for the offseason. The remaining games pretty much are moot except for a few factors: (1) personnel evaluation to determine who has a future with the Giants, (2) development of younger players, (3) hoping no more serious injuries occur, and (4) discovering where the Giants will be picking in the 2004 NFL Draft.

The game against the Eagles? As I said in my preview, unless the Eagles were a bunch of sad saps, they would win this game fairly easily. The last gasps of life were sucked out of the Giants’ season against Atlanta. The Giants could have made things interesting had they scored near the end of the half, but the Giants’ inability to gain 36 inches on four tries was very fitting. After the intermission, the team laid down like a bunch of dogs and took their beating like gentlemen.

I’m going to sound like a broken record, but the same old problems appeared in Philadelphia: too few big plays on offense led to lengthy drives that eventually bogged down due to mistakes, inconsistent offensive line performance, a defense unable to create turnovers or a consistent pass rush, and confused coverage by the linebackers and defensive backs.

In terms of leadership, this team needs a hardass, disciplinarian as a head coach who is able instill fear and respect into his players while at the same time motivate. It also needs some talented assistant coaches who are good teachers. The Giants not only make too many mistakes, but they make the same mistakes over and over again. These players need to be taught that there will be consequences if the botched execution, missed assignments, penalties, and turnovers continue.

Personnel-wise, the Giants’ offense is mostly sound. The offensive line needs to be addressed in a concrete fashion and a quality halfback should be added, but there is talent at most positions. The Giants can win a Championship with Kerry Collins if he is given more protection and the play-calling is more balanced.

It’s defensively where the Giants need to get dramatically better – both in terms of personnel and coaching. Johnnie Lynn and his defensive staff are not good coaches. Most of the players on defense who are playing are players who returned from last season, yet these players still remain confused. Relatively speaking by NFL standards, these are not dumb players. It’s a coach’s job to make it easy for his players to perform. The Giant defenders are thinking too much, rather than dictating to the opposition. It’s classic “read-and-react”. At the same time, much more help is needed in the front seven and at safety. The Giants need to add aggressive, fast, play-makers who can inspire with their play and leadership. It needs some young Jessie Armsteads.

Giants on Offense: Fassel played it conservatively twice and aggressively once, and it is fair to blame him in each of these occasions. The Giants faced 4th-and-an-inch on their first possession after recovering the muffed kickoff. Fassel chose to kick the field goal in this situation. It was a somewhat strange move in the sense that the Giants’ season was at stake and if you don’t get an inch, you don’t deserve to win the game. In the 1st-and-goal situation near the end of the first half, I applaud going for it on 4th down. Yes, the execution was a problem, but also I wasn’t crazy about the plays called. On Levens’ two carries, I’ve never been a big fan of pulling your linemen down on the goal line. I also didn’t think it was smart to run behind Marcellus Rivers and Visanthe Shiancoe. The outside run to Tiki was stupid…everyone knew that play was coming. Lastly, on the Giants’ first drive in the 3rd period, with the score still only 14-3, a drive in which the ball was snapped 19 times was aborted when Fassel chose to punt on 4th-and-11 from the Eagle 31-yard line. Your season is at stake, you are trailing by 11 points with 8 minutes left in the 3rd quarter…go for it!

Quarterback: Collins (25-of-44 for 268 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception) didn’t play particularly poorly, but he didn’t play particularly well either. Not having a healthy Ike Hilliard and Jeremy Shockey out on the field hurt. So did some inconsistent pass protection and losing Tim Carter during the game. Regardless of what Collins says publicly, it is obvious that Kerry doesn’t have a lot of confidence in the protection up front. There are times when he rushes his throws or continues to drift back for fear of pressure that sometimes isn’t there. Fans with short memories are forgetting how good Collins looked early in the season. It’s only lately that some bad habits have re-appeared. It’s frustrating to watch Kerry not trust his offensive line or take some hits in order to allow plays to succeed. For example, on the 2nd-and-goal play at the end of the first half, Collins had Marcellus Rivers open early, but Collins lost time by drifting back into the pocket. He then didn’t see a wide-open Darnell Dinkins to his right. The play should have resulted in an easy touchdown. Collins was wild high on a couple of throws and threw one pass to a defensive back who dropped the ball otherwise he might have scored. Collins did make a heck of a throw on the 48-yard deep pass to David Tyree.

Wide Receivers: The Eagle coverage was obviously focused on Amani Toomer (6 catches for 57 yards) with TE Jeremy Shockey out of the line-up. But Amani also dropped one pass, and I spotted one Tiki Barber run that could have picked up more yardage had Toomer made a decent block on the cornerback. Why do I have the sneaky suspicion that Amani isn’t playing very hard this year? Ike Hilliard (2 catches for 18 yards) was limited with ankle and knee injuries.

Tim Carter (4 catches for 48 yards) did some nice things before he was forced out of the game with his second concussion in two games (shame on the Giants for allowing him back so soon). He was flagged with a false start however.

With Hilliard and Carter ailing, David Tyree (5 catches for 106 yards) and Willie Ponder (2 catches for 3 yards) saw some extended playing time. This will help both in terms of getting ready for next season. Tyree’s receptions were not of the “garbage time” variety but came when the game was undecided. Tyree made an excellent deep catch on 3rd-and-15 for 48 yards despite tight coverage. He later followed that up in the 3rd quarter with a 20 yard reception on 2nd-and-10 when the Giants were still very much in the game. Ponder made an excellent catch on a low-thrown ball for a short completion. He also got open deep on 3rd-and-13 in the 4th quarter; Collins hit him with simply a superb throw, but the Eagle defenders did a good job of knocking the ball out of Ponders’ hands.

Running Backs: Tiki Barber rushed for 111 yards on 19 carries (an average of 5.8 yards-per-carry) and did not fumble. He also caught 3 passes for 20 more yards and a touchdown. Barber looked sharp. He made good yardage on his signature runs where he cuts back against the defense and bounces the play outside. Tiki also made some noise between the tackles. However, I think he made a poor decision to reverse his field on the play in the 3rd quarter that lost 6-yards. He should have kept following his blocks instead of turning what would have been a marginal gain into a big loss. This play helped to stall the Giants’ promising drive in the 3rd quarter. Tiki was so-so on blitz pick-ups.

Dorsey Levens was a non-factor with 4 rushing attempts for a total of 1-yard. Fassel said his first rushing attempt down on the goal line should have been a touchdown had a blocked not been missed against an Eagle linebacker. But Levens should have been able to run over Troy Vincent two plays later. Later in the game, Levens really screwed up when he ran the wrong way on a play where he was supposed to run to the right.

Brian Mitchell saw some time in the backfield in passing situations and did well on blitz pick-ups.

I thought FB Jim Finn blocked well for the most part. Some of Tiki’s better runs had Finn leading on the play. However, Finn was unable to block the Eagle linebacker at the point-of-attack on the 4th-and-goal play.

Tight Ends: With Shockey out, Marcellus Rivers (3 catches for 16 yards) and Visanthe Shiancoe (no catches) attempted to pick up the slack.

In terms of blocking, it was really an up-and-down performance for Rivers. There were some plays where he did a decent job because he effectively took out the defender from the play, both as a down blocker and a move TE or FB. He didn’t move his man off the line in these instances, but he effectively engaged his man and allowed Tiki to run for positive yardage. This included one-on-one situations with defensive ends. However, there were also times where Rivers got pushed back by linebackers or the end. The obvious mistake was that he (and Finn) couldn’t handle the linebacker at the point-of-attack on Tiki’s 4th-and-goal run. (Incidentally, the illegal chop block called on Rivers right after the muffed kickoff was one of the worst calls I’ve ever seen. It was a legal chop block because Rivers hit the guy dead on from the front. The 15-yard penalty killed the Giants).

Some press reports said it was Visanthe Shiancoe who missed his block on the goal line that caused Levens’ first rushing attempt to be stuffed. Shiancoe did miss a linebacker on the play, but it wasn’t that linebacker who made the play in the hole. If you ask me, there were more defenders than blockers on this play…the Giants should have simply run up the gut. Despite Shiancoe’s missed block, I do continue to be impressed by this young man’s strength and tenacity when he does make contact. There was one play where Shiancoe actually pancaked the defensive end.

Offensive Line: The goal line failure was not the fault of the offensive line as the Giants didn’t run behind specific linemen in this situation, but the tight ends and fullback. And other than the goal line situation, the rushing attack was very respectable. In the run game, I saw positive performances by Ian Allen, David Diehl, and Luke Petitgout in particular. LG Wayne Lucier needs to get stronger as he really had problems moving his man off the line at times.

Pass protection was a mixed bag. For the most part, there weren’t obvious physical breakdowns until late in the game except for the fact that Lucier had problems with DT Darwin Walker on a couple of plays. But the Giants made some mental mistakes. For example, picking up stunts for the young guys remains a problem. And there were times when I thought Ian Allen should have picked up the outside rusher and Diehl picked up Allen’s man. I don’t know if the fault lies with the affected players or the line call in this situation, but Eagle blitzers came free a few times. Diehl played much better this time around against Corey Simon. However, he was flagged with two false starts. And Luke Petitgout continues to struggle with penalties…including an illegal use of the hands and a holding penalty on the same drive in the 2nd quarter.

The OL continued to do a solid job in the 3rd period. It wasn’t until the 4th period, when Collins was sacked three times, that there were some physical breakdowns. On the first sack, Lucier had problems picking up the stunting end; this caused Collins to scramble up into the pocket and right into Corey Simon. On the second, Lucier was cleanly beaten by Darwin Walker with a quick move. On the last sack, Diehl was beaten to the inside and this caused Collins to scramble out of the pocket where he was chased down. (Incidentally, the tripping call on Ian Allen in the 4th quarter was another terrible call by the officials).

Giants on Defense: Listen to what Colin of the Great Blue North Draft Report has to say about the Giants’ defense:

We remain thoroughly baffled by the Giants’ philosophy on defense. For starters, the Giants run the most basic, vanilla defense in the entire NFL. Contrast that, for example, with what the Eagles were doing last Sunday; and by extension what the two opposing QBs had to deal with. On the one hand, the Giants line up on over 90% of their defensive snaps with a front-four backed by 3 LBs lined up between the tackles 3-4 yards off the line of scrimmage. That left Eagles’ QB Donovan McNabb with little to worry about except where to find the mismatch in coverage; in contrast, Eagles’ defenders – LBs and safeties – were constantly moving into and out of the gaps on the line of scrimmage with the result that Kerry Collins – and his offensive line – never knew who was coming from where. Of course, the fact that the Eagles actually came, on just about every play, helped to complicate the issue. And this has been the pattern for the better part of the past two seasons, as week in and week out, the Giants have allowed opposing QBs, including some that had no real business even starting an NFL came, to get way too comfortable in the pocket and in many cases pick them apart.

The Giants’ philosophy, of course, is that they want don’t want to give up the big play, but rather want force the other team to drive the length of the field to get their points. Fair enough, but what really drives us crazy is the fact that the Giants stick with that philosophy with an almost religious fervor even when absolutely in need of a stop right here and now to get the ball back to have any chance to get back into a game they are trailing in or need a change of momentum.

At the same time, other than Will Allen, who unfortunately can’t cover everybody, the Giants’ also aren’t very fast in the back seven; they also don’t cover man-to-man very well. Combine that with the generally anemic pass and the Giants’ appear to have the worst of both worlds: no rush and slow guys covering man-to-man on almost every play. And in fact, week in and week out, we see opposing QBs, especially when they need a completion, sitting back in the pocket and finding the mismatch in the Giants’ coverage – usually the guy #22 was trying to cover before he got hurt or more. They also have a penchant for simply running the DBs off and dumping the ball off to whomever that #s 55 or 58 are trying to cover in the middle of the field. As most NFL coaches will tell you, coaching football ain’t rocket science, but it seems to us pretty basic that you have a couple of options in these situations: either give the small, slow cover guys some help by blitzing (and all the time), or, if you don’t want to blitz, then put the coverage guys in a zone and make the opposing QBs at least earn their yardage. What the Giants have been doing is just too easy.

The Giants have personnel and coaching problems. As BBI poster dave in nyc said in The Corner Forum, somewhat out of character, the Giants used a lot of man-to-man coverage with their linebackers in this game and got toasted. The linebackers couldn’t stick with the Eagles’ backs and tight ends. When the Giants did go with their zone coverage, they had problems as well. For example, on the Eagles’ 3rd quarter scoring drive, the Eagles picked up an easy 1st down on 3rd-and-4 when short crossing pattern was left wide open (have we not seen this all year?). On the very next play, WR Freddie Mitchell could not have been more wide open in the Giants’ zone coverage on a 37-yard pass play. This was a SICKENING 8-play, 95-yard drive where it was readily apparent that the defense had given up on the day. On the Eagles’ final scoring drive, WR Todd Pinkston was left all alone on a crossing pattern for 19 yards. Two plays later, no one bothered to cover HB Brian Westbrook out of the backfield – a guy who had been killing the Giants all day with his pass receptions no less!!!

The problem with the Giants’ defense schematically is two-fold:

  1. The zone coverage schemes for the linebackers and secondary appear to be too complicated. Veterans and young players who have been under Lynn for two years continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. It is the job of the coaching staff to make the scheme understandable to the players.
  2. This is a “read-and-react” defense. It doesn’t dictate to the opposing offense, but reacts to what the offense does. Look at Jim Johnson and the Eagles – they are constantly changing things up with different looks, actual and fake blitzes, and sowing the seeds of confusion in their opponents. They play to the strength of their corners by allowing their corners to man-up and then bring the heat. Yes, the Giants need better personnel and this is basically the same system John Fox used in New York, but for some reason Lynn’s version confuses Giants’ defenders. Moreover, it is much too passive and Lynn appears incapable of adjusting. The Giants don’t confuse their opponent and thus they are easy to game plan against.

So let’s be clear about this…the Giants’ defense is the worst of both worlds…it confuses its own players but it doesn’t confuse its opponents.

Also making matters worse right now is that the defense is not play with a lot of intensity or urgency. Why do I think the Giants’ defense is laying down? Because in the first 7 games of the season, the Giants had the NFC’s top rated red zone defense, allowing touchdowns on only 7-of-19 attempts. But in the last three games, opponents are a perfect 9-for-9 against the Giants in the red zone.

Defensive Line: A terrible performance as there was virtually no pass pressure and no sacks (against a team that has allowed the most sacks in the NFL). Donovan McNabb was very comfortable in the pocket and the few times the Eagles did choose to run, they were able to move the ball that way as well (HB Brian Westbrook averaged over 5 yards a carry on only 9 carries). THE STARTING FOUR WERE IN ON 5 TACKLES (3 by Cornelius Griffin). This unit will look completely different in 2004 as Strahan will likely be joined by Cornelius Griffin (if the Giants re-sign him), William Joseph, and Osi Umenyiora up front. More players will need to be added in the draft and free agency.

The only guy who I thought played well was DT Cornelius Griffin (3 tackles) who made a number of fine plays against the run both at the point-of-attack as well as in pursuit. He played hard and was hustling. Lance Legree wasn’t terrible either…he flashed a bit on the pass rush. Michael Strahan (1 tackle!) was frustrated early by the Eagles’ quick 3-step passing attack and never really made his presence felt, except for one 3rd-and-5 pressure in the 4th quarter. He also lost his contain responsibility on the play where McNabb hit HB Duce Staley for a 38-yard pass play.

The Eagles smartly chose to run at DE Osi Umenyiora (1 tackle) and DT Keith Hamilton (ZERO tackles). Umenyiora’s problems are not physical, he still needs to learn how to recognize running plays (the Eagles were doing a great job of mixing things up and not tipping their hand) as at times he was too aggressive running up the field. Hamilton is simply done. It really is embarrassing to watch and it is time to bench him. There were plays where he got taken to his knees by one-on-one blocks. And it is interesting to note that the Eagles chose to run right at him on their 3rd-and-5 draw play on their first scoring drive. William Joseph is still learning and making mistakes (i.e., not always maintaining his gap responsibility), but you can see he has the size and athleticism to be a factor. He got a little push on the pass rush and will only improve with experience.

Let’s be clear about this too…Umenyiora and Joseph may not look very good right now, but they are works in progress. And any playing time that both get between now and the end of the season will only make them better in the future. The fact that Kenny Holmes is on IR right now is actually very good for the Giants’ future as Umenyiora is getting invaluable playing time.

Linebackers: Atrocious. I can’t emphasize enough how bad the linebackers were. To be fair to Brandon Short, he wasn’t on the field much as the Eagles often forced the Giants into their nickel package. But Short did leave the tight end wide open on one play in the 1st quarter.

The real culprits were Dhani Jones and Mike Barrow. Not only could they not cover the backs and tight ends worth a damn in man coverage, but they were also nowhere to be seen on all the big Eagle rushes of the day. Both looked slow and confused. Jones was beat by TE Lonnie Johnson, TE Chad Lewis, and HB Brian Westbrook in coverage – all just in the 1st quarter. Barrow too couldn’t keep up with Westbrook in coverage. Both had problems flowing to the sideline on outside runs (including Westbrook’s TD run) and Jones badly missed Westbrook in the hole on his 23-yard run in the 3rd quarter.

Nick Greisen filled in for Barrow some in the first half when the latter was injured, but Greisen did not look sharp. He missed HB Correll Buckhalter on the goal line on Buckhalter’s TD run. He also missed a tackle on a long gainer by Buckhalter on a pass reception (this should have been a short gain, but Dhani Jones screwed up in coverage again and then missed the first tackle). The big play on the Eagles’ final scoring drive was 23-yard pass interference penalty on Dhani Jones against Westbrook on 3rd-and-1. Jones’ biggest problem on this play is that he had to play catch-up and never turned around to look for the football. Indeed, Jones was so bad on Sunday that this soon-to-be-unrestricted free agent may have played himself off the team.

Defensive Backs: The Giants need to seriously consider getting rid of the expensive Shaun Williams. His play has really deteriorated. Against Atlanta, he couldn’t cover the tight end one-on-one, and against the Eagles, he got beat by the halfback for an easy touchdown down the sideline. If your strong safety can’t cover backs and tight ends, then it is time to get a new strong safety. Westbrook beat him for an easy TD on a pump-and-go route.

Omar Stoutmire actually didn’t look too bad in coverage this week, but his run support was left wanting…especially on Westbrook’s TD run.

The Eagles rarely tested Will Allen and when they did, he was up to the task. CB Frank Walker played too soft on WR James Thrash, allowing easy, short completions. After Walker left with a concussion, the Eagles picked on Kato Serwanga the same way they went after Walker as Serwanga was also playing too soft. Nickel back Ryan Clark got beat twice in the first half.

Special Teams: Jeff Feagles punted 6 times for an average of 38.3 yards-per-punt; three of his efforts landed inside the 20-yard line.

Matt Bryant’s kickoffs were terrible. His 30-yard field goal hit the upright.

Brian Mitchell is obviously not a good kickoff returner (5 returns for a 19.6 yards-per-return average against the Eagles); the blocking isn’t there, but neither is the speed or moves. There is no excuse for not having Tim Carter or Delvin Joyce replace him. David Tyree was flagged with an illegal block on one return.

Mitchell’s attributes are more suited to returning punts, but his glaring lack of production there suggests the need for a change as well. Against the Eagles, Mitchell returned two punts for 2 yards. Delvin Joyce should replace Mitchell. At the same time, the Giants need a quality special teams coach who can teach/motivate his players to block for a return.

Punt coverage was excellent against a dangerous returnman (Westbrook). Delvin Joyce did a good job of hustling down field as a gunner this week. He made one good play when he downed the ball at the 2-yard line; but he also screwed up big-time when he hit Westbrook before the punt arrived. Kato Serwanga also did a good job of hustling down the field on one punt as well. David Tyree was strangely quiet.

Kickoff coverage could have been better, but was hurt by the short kick-offs. Excellent hustle by Darnell Dinkins to get down the field so fast on the first kick-off and an even better job to field the muffed ball.

All We Have Is Us

by BBI Reporter/Photographer David Oliver

Visanthe Shiancoe told me in the locker after the game, in what could easily be translated into Pogo’s famous remark, “we have met the enemy and he is us”. This will be a very short report. Almost 25 years to the day since the Eagles humiliated the Giants on a classic boffo play which turned around a doddering Giants’ management, the Eagles once again allowed the Giants to self-destruct in a most humiliating fashion. Almost everyone who watched the game came away with the feeling that the Giants have simply given up. I do not subscribe to that theory. Let me tell you why.

The statistics once again show a team that can execute on offense, but is impotent in the red zone. And they strikingly show a defensive unit which is reeling. The Giants had time of possession advantage, overwhelming control of the ground, relatively equal performance in the air. But in red zone efficiency, they lost and most telling statistic of all, the penalties; the Giants had 11 penalties for 113 yards. That negates any kind of performance and totally reverses any statistical advantage. Therein lies the tale of a losing effort. In the third quarter alone, the Giants had the ball for over 10 minutes, but stalled on the 31-yard line, and PUNTED. Playing for field position when you are already losing is the hallmark of only a very, very powerful defensive squad. The fact that the once proud and mighty defense has been reduced to something embarrassing is underscored by the defensive stats, which show that 5 defensive backs had more tackles than the first lineman, who was C. Griff. Then it is 3 more positions before the next lineman appears – Legree. Finally, along comes Michael Strahan with 1 tackle. Don’t even look for Hamilton’s name because it isn’t there.

The Giants have been consistently outscored, as you would expect of a losing team, but they have been outscored in three of the four quarters, giving up almost 20 points more than they are scoring in each, holding an edge in only the second quarter. Tiki is nearing another 1,000 yard year and Kerry will most likely throw for 3,000 yards, but there is not much in the red zone to speak of. The offense very much appears to be a reversion to the offense called by HC Fassel prior to appearance of Sean Payton as OC.

The offensive line is responsible for a lot of the penalties. It is a young line. Monday morning QBing is never wrong, but this was pointed out as a possible deficiency as early as minicamp. Yet the experts thought they had it figured out. This, in and of itself, in any business would behoove action by the Board of Directors. It is not lack of effort; it is not even failure of execution. It is inconsistent execution, and I believe it is caused by the unfamiliarity of the players, with each other, with the play-calling, with the way the NFL operates. Chris Bober told me, “We were very physical with them,” and believe me, our young line was physical. It cleared lanes everywhere but in the red zone. On the fateful 1st-and-goal drive, Chris wouldn’t speak to the failure on the first three downs, but was clear as to what happened on the 4th down. He told me the Eagles were in the perfect defense, which he said was “the O stack,” in which the LBs take certain positions allowing them to cover the sweep run. Chris told me, “We knew what it was, we probably should have audibled out, or called a timeout. There was no way we were going to get in there.” Chris is not the brooding type. He told me, “We get the ball down there, wham, wham, wham,” and then the penalties happen. It is something they are continually working on, and he feels that the season isn’t over yet, that even if it is a losing season, “This is what we do” and “we get paid to do the job we do”, so he feels that if anyone needs something else to motivate them, they are in the wrong place. He said that all the linemen are playing hard, want to play hard, but he also said the more you are around the NFL, “You realize you don’t always win.” Without making excuses, Chris told me, “There is no doubt that we are young. We need to go out there and play better.”

It shows on the field. The Giants’ O can still move the ball. It can get the pretty girls to go on a date, sit through dinner and a movie, but when they show up on the doorstep, they get a peck on the cheek, a thank you for a wonderful time, and maybe a call me again. They just aren’t getting invited in. So Gentleman Jim is getting what a whole lot of gentlemen get, a woody and a long ride home.

Eric will give you the details and particulars. I will do the vignettes. Tyree looked good, Ponder has some moves, now must show he can make the difficult catches. If all five of the O-Linemen were healthy, even with the kids it could be a formidable unit. But to get to the playoffs, the team really needed some veteran anchors. Tiki is still the offensive stud. He gets the job done. Kerry may not be a problem for some, but he is for me. Although he has the skills, he is bird-dogging his receivers, not reading the defenses, making his decisions too quickly, and he has lapsed into bad mechanics. We all knew going in that this team would go as far as Kerry could carry it. He hasn’t carried it, and that’s a problem with a lot of QBs in this League. They are now mechanics and not engineers. The OCs are the engineers, except in a very few cases. Kerry is no coward. He is taking hits this year. BUT he has no pocket presence whatsoever. A pocket passer should at least know when there is or is not a pocket.

The defense, well, yeah they were out there. When Strahan has 1 tackle, Hammer has none and there are no sacks, nothing much needs to be said. There was no pressure, but, in fairness, McNabb had the best game I’ve seen out of him in a while. He was getting the ball out quickly, and the Giants’ corners were giving a cushion so McNabb looked very effective. A rating of 132.5 indicates just how good his game was. And he only had to scramble four times. The defense has been the most inconsistent unit on an inconsistent team. I just can’t understand how a backer like Short can have double digit tackles one game, then come up with 1 in a game. Barrow was at least active with 6 tackles. Frank Walker had 7 to lead the team, but that’s because they were throwing in front of him.

There’s not much else to say about the game. When you recover a fumble on the first play of the game and get only a FG, when you down a punt inside the 5, but can’t capitalize and turn it into a field position advantage, when you have 1st-and-goal and get shut out, when you have 11 penalties, when your top two defensive players come up with 1 tackle between them, when you march down the field after intermission and punt from the opposition 31, without a gale force wind in your face, then the blame becomes an organizational blame.

I will be happy to answer any questions anyone has about my perspective. I’m leaving for Tampa on Sunday. What looked to be a fun week, as my wife is coming along and we are staying for the week, now could be a real downer. Well, at least I’ll get to say hello to a few former Giants friends, several of whom have gotten a Ring since they left.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, November 16, 2003)
Nov 142003

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, November 16, 2003: A lot of people are expecting Jim Fassel and his team to make another late season run to the playoffs, but I don’t see it folks. You can only live on the brink so long before it catches up to you. Worse, I am hearing from a few sources now that dissention is brewing in the ranks. Players are quietly questioning Fassel’s decisions and motivations. Whether these players are right or wrong is moot; the problem is that the players themselves BELIEVE there is a problem. Just watch…a couple more tough losses and all this dissention will brew out into the open.

Oh, the Giants will tease us in the remaining 7 games, and since the NFC is so poor this year, they will be mathematically alive for probably most of the rest of the season. I expect the Giants to win 3 or 4 more games and finish 7-9 or 8-8. Will one of those 3 or 4 wins be against the Eagles this weekend? Who knows and who really cares? The point of these games is to make the playoffs and get to the Super Bowl. The Giants, like 30 other teams, will be doing neither this season.

The Eagles are not a very good team either and their head coach is also unexceptional. But, unlike the Giants, they are playing hard and playing above their heads right now. They are finding ways to win games as the Giants are finding ways to lose them. The big difference is that the Eagles are playing with more swagger and confidence. They should kick the Giants’ teeth in on Sunday. If they don’t, then it just shows you how sad the NFC East has become except for the Cowboys.

Giants on Offense: I hear the Giants are pushing hard for Shockey to come back early from his partial PCL tear. Shockey, who’s foot problems are already well documented, loves playing so much that he is willing to take unwarranted risks. The last thing the Giants should do is put this talented young man’s entire career at risk in order to save the job of a coach who is already toast (or should be). Christ, all the Giants have to do is look at what happened to Ron Dixon when he attempted to come back too early last season.

Without Shockey, and with WR Ike Hilliard (knee and ankles) limited, the Giants will be much easier to defend for the Eagles. Their game plan should be the same that the Patriots and Falcons used: play an umbrella coverage that forces Kerry Collins to dump the ball off short. Make the Giants drive the length of the field in small chunks because sooner or later the Giants will implode by turning the ball over or committing a drive-halting penalty. If the Eagles guard against the cutback, they can limit the damage Tiki Barber will cause. Plus, they can count on him putting the ball on the turf probably twice. Double-cover Amani Toomer and take him out of the equation. Make Ike Hilliard, Tim Carter, and Marcellus Rivers beat you. The Eagles will blitz some to unnerve Collins who will also throw up two more interceptions this week.

Giants on Defense: Donovan McNabb’s injured thumb is improving so his accuracy and confidence are improving. The Giants will not be able to shut him (and therefore the Eagles’ offense) down like they did earlier in the season. Look for the Eagles to pick on CB Frank Walker and nickelback Ryan Clark. Walker, in particular, will be vulnerable to double-moves since he is so inexperienced and aggressive. I like both Walker and Clark, but they are really both new to this level of competition on game day. In addition, like all other teams, the Eagles will take advantage of confusion in the Giants’ undercoverage with short, crossing patterns.

The most interesting thing about this game to me will be to watch Walker, Clark, and DE Osi Umenyiora play and grow. Umenyiora will be the new starter on the weakside next season. I’d also like to see something from DT William Joseph, but he has been a big disappointment thus far this year. Still, he likely will replace Keith Hamilton in 2004. Walker has a chance to steal Will Peterson’s job next season unless Peterson can prove he can stay healthy. With both starting safeties lacking, Ryan Clark could press for a starting job next year. Brandon Short and Dhani Jones will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season and they are now officially auditioning for future employment in the NFL. Mike Barrow is probably playing his last season in New York.

It will be interesting to see how the Giants’ defense reacts to any Eagle offensive success – either early or late. If the Eagles score first, will the defense lose confidence and stop playing effectively? If the Giants have a late lead and the Eagles begin to drive the field, will the defense collapse again?

Giants on Special Teams: No need to tell Giants’ fans how dangerous Brian Westbrook is on returns. Watch how his blockers give him a chance to make a play. Meanwhile, not only do the Giants’ field a slow, straight-line returner, but they don’t even give the guy a chance to make a move. It’s pathetic that the Giants still can’t figure out how to block for a returner. Can anyone coach special teams on this team?

Nov 122003
Atlanta Falcons 27 – New York Giants 7

Game Overview: The movie line that came to mind after the Giants’ embarrassing loss to the lowly Atlanta Falcons comes from the film Patton. Towards the conclusion of the movie, there is a scene where Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, staring up at the wartime strategic situation map with the Russians moving into Berlin and the Americans approaching the Elbe River, says “This is the End. The End.”

The Fassel regime has about two more months of life, then it is over. There are no miracles left. There are no excuses. This team that was supposed to contend for the NFC East title is currently residing in the division basement. Injuries are only now mounting, but they weren’t an issue up until this point – so that can’t be used as an excuse. The season was sabotaged by special teams disasters against the Cowboys and Eagles, turnovers and an inability to produce points against the Dolphins and Patriots, and a complete no-show against the Falcons.

Despite press stories to the contrary, this isn’t the first time under Fassel that the Giants didn’t come mentally ready to play on game day. The contests against Detroit in 2000, and the Cardinals, Eagles (away game where Philly rushed for 300 yards), and Falcons in 2002 immediately come to mind. But this wasn’t Jim Fassel’s biggest problem. Fassel’s biggest problem was that his Giants’ teams won when they weren’t expected to win, but lost when they were expected to contend. In the six year’s from 1997 to 2002, Fassel’s teams made the playoffs three times, won two division titles, and an NFC Championship. But those successes came in the “rebuilding” years of 1997, 2000, and 2002. The Giants of 1998, 2001, and 2003 were supposed to be good teams. The irony is that if these trends were flip-flopped, the heat would be on General Manager Ernie Accorsi rather than Fassel.

Among a certain group of Giants’ fans, there is a palpable sense of giddiness that Jim Fassel is on his way out. Excuse me for not being one to join in their celebration. What we are watching is the downfall of a GOOD man…a man who lives and breathes New York Giants football. He is part of the Giants’ family and that makes him one of us. But at the same time, we will never understand the tremendous personal sacrifice, heartache, and emotional toll being the head coach of this football team has taken on him. I have bitched and moaned about Fassel in the past, only later to come to his defense once again because I realize that Fassel is a hard-working, intelligent, sensitive man who loves his family and his players. He wanted nothing more than to make the Giants winners. How can you root against a guy like that?

But the bottom line in this sport is winning. Winning is the ultimate denominator, especially when expectations are at their highest. When a team falls short of that goal, it is far easier to fire the coaching staff than it is the players. In addition, at a certain point, how the head coaching situation is addressed becomes a public relations matter. Ownership and management seldom can ignore the outcry of the masses who call for blood.

Why didn’t Fassel’s teams win when the expectations were higher? It’s a good question. For some reason, the team always seemed to lack a sense of urgency until the season was on the brink. There always seemed to some crisis, offensive inconsistency, and special teams problems throughout his regime. As the offense personnel improved, the defensive personnel deteriorated. The 1997 New York Giants was one of the best defensive teams I’ve seen the Giants field; the 2003 New York Giants’ defense is mediocre at best. Fassel also made the mistake of picking Johnnie Lynn to succeed John Fox.

Contrary to the Falcon fiasco, Fassel’s teams usually came to play on game day. The level of coaching was fundamentally sound and the players respected their coach and most of the coaching staff. But one rarely was left with the impression that Fassel and his staff had out-coached their opponent. Put Fassel up against the likes of a Bill Belichick, or Jeff Fisher, and Fassel was left wanting. So were the halftime adjustments. Does that make Fassel a bad coach? Of course not. He is an average coach in an average league.

So at season’s end, General Manager Ernie Accorsi will fire Fassel. Accorsi will pick a new head coach and likely retire after the 2004 season. This will be a mistake. What Accorsi should do is be a man and step down at the same time that he fires Fassel. Let his successor pick his own head coach since this is coach he will have to feel comfortable in working with. George Young made the mistake of leaving the Giants a year too late as well.

In 2004, the Giants will have the offensive personnel to win. But they need to get better defensively. Contrary to what Accorsi believes, defense does win championships. The Giants need better personnel in the front seven and at safety.

As for the Atlanta game, the same old problems this season reared their ugly heads once again: turnovers, red zone mistakes, inconsistent offensive line play, missed opportunities, an inability to force turnovers, and defensive breakdowns. But in the Atlanta game, we saw the Falcons clearly control both lines of scrimmage. We saw the Giants’ two more important offensive players – Kerry Collins and Tiki Barber – make killer mistakes at the worst possible times. And we saw a run defense that was embarrassingly soft. In the end, the defense quit playing altogether. That’s the game in a nutshell.

Giants on Offense: Atlanta basically rushed three down linemen and occasionally blitzed a fourth, while dropping seven or eight into coverage. Their intent was the same as that of the Patriots – to take away the downfield passing game and make the Giants work the field. Where the Falcons probably exceeded even their wildest hopes was the amount of pass pressure the three or four rushers were able to generate on Collins. Kerry was sacked three times, and pressured and hit on many more plays. This pass pressure, combined with so many Falcons playing back in coverage, made it extremely difficult for the Giants to move the ball through the air. This defensive alignment is vulnerable to the run and Tiki Barber did rush for 120 yards on only 16 carries. But he also fumbled twice and Collins threw two interceptions.

These turnovers were disastrous. Barber’s fumbles came at the Atlanta 22- and 5-yard lines. Collins’ first interception was in the end zone with New York at the Atlanta 20-yard line. And Collins’ last interception gave the Falcons the ball on the Giants’ 8-yard line. In other words, the Giants blew three clear scoring opportunities and gave the Falcons a touchdown. Penalties by the offensive line sabotaged another Giants’ drive that had moved the ball to the Falcon 22-yard line.

Quarterback: This was QB Kerry Collins’ worst game of the season (25-of-40 for 202 yards, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions). Collins’ two interceptions were obviously killers. His first was thrown towards a double-covered Tim Carter into the end zone on a play where it looked like he had Jeremy Shockey breaking open for a touchdown. His second was thrown right to a defender as Kerry panicked when a free blitzer was rushing at him. It was also clear that the pass rush was affecting him and the defensive coverage of the Falcons was confusing him. At times, Collins was getting rid of the ball too quickly when he didn’t have to – reminiscent of his play against the Patriots and Eagles earlier in the season. Kerry had another interception wiped out due to a penalty on the Falcons, and Atlanta defenders dropped two more passes that should have been picked off. A bad performance all around.

But let’s make one thing clear. Collins is one of the better quarterbacks in this league. He played a bad game on Sunday, but every quarterback in this league has bad games. The Giants can win a Super Bowl with him at the helm. The same people calling for his head right now probably called for Phil Simms’ head before he won a Super Bowl. Collins has already proven he can win big games in big situations, bring his team from behind to win, and produce in the playoffs.

Offensive Line: Jim McNally may be an outstanding offensive line coach, but he proved once again that he can’t mentally prepare his players well enough to play a 3-4 defense. Worse, there were not only mental breakdowns, but physical ones. It is absolutely unconscionable that the Falcons were able to generate so much pass pressure on Collins by rushing three men against five offensive linemen. In terms of pass protection, the offense line was dominated up front and that is a big reason why the Falcons won the game. I saw breakdowns by everyone across the board with respect to allow pass pressure…everyone was at fault. Ironically, probably the steadiest guy was RT Ian Allen. All three interior guys really struggled. And Luke Petitgout is making far too much money to give up any pressure by a journeyman Atlanta defensive lineman. The line did much better in terms of run blocking with both guards looking sharp on the pull. However, holding penalties by Diehl, Bober, Petitgout, and Lucier, as well as a false start penalty by Petitgout helped to abort drives. Petitgout was also flagged with a tripping penalty on a screen pass.

Running Backs: Tiki Barber had a big day statistically with 120 yards on 16 carries (7.5 yards per carry) plus 10 catches for 38 yards. But the two fumbles completely overshadowed those results. And Tiki’s second fumble, at the Atlanta 5-yard line with the Giants trailing 20-7 with 11 minutes left to play, ended all hopes of a comeback victory. Tiki Barber obviously has a major fumbling problem. This wasn’t the case in 2000, 2001, and most of 2002. But towards the end of 2002, Tiki started to turn the ball over. Hopefully, this is merely a prolonged slump for Barber, but if it isn’t, the Giants need to find a new halfback in the draft in the offseason.

Dorsey Levens carried the ball twice for 1 yard and a touchdown. Delvin Joyce carried the ball once for 3 yards.

Wide Receivers: Nothing more clearly indicates that the Falcons took away the deep passing game than the fact that while Tiki had 10 receptions, Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard only had 6 combined. Toomer had 4 catches for 33 yards and a long reception of only 15 yards. Hilliard caught 2 passes for 18 yards with a long of 9 yards. Toomer dropped what should have been a key 4th-and-2 pass. The Giants picked up the first down due to a Falcon penalty, but had Toomer caught the ball, the Giants would have had the ball inside the 10-yard line right before the half. Hilliard dropped a deep pass on 3rd down in the 3rd quarter.

The good news was that Tim Carter had his most productive day as a Giant with 4 catches for 56 yards. He made an outstanding, leaping 21-yard catch on 3rd-and-16 in the 1st quarter. He also had a key reception to convert a 3rd-and-11 in the 4th quarter.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey (partially torn PCL) is likely done for the season. He had 3 catches for 46 yards with a game-high 28-yard reception for the Giants. This catch was a superb, leaping effort. Shockey did well run blocking this week. However, his holding penalty right after Atlanta had taken a 20-7 lead really hurt.

Marcellus Rivers (2 catches for 11 yards) and Visanthe Shiancoe (1 catch for 7 yards) were not big factors in the passing game after Shockey left the game hurt.

Giants on Defense: Atlanta had no passing attack to speak of on Sunday as Kurt Kittner only completed 9-of-23 passes for 65 yards. As I said in my game preview, the key for the Giants defensively was to shut down the running game. Instead, the defense decided not to show up and allowed the Falcons to amass an incredible 216 yards rushing. “We got our butts kicked,” said Defensive Coordinator Johnnie Lynn. “We got knocked off the ball.” No kidding. What made matters worse for the defense is that the Giants’ offense basically handed the Falcons 7-points in the 3rd quarter with Collins’ interception that was returned to the 8-yard line. But instead of limiting the damage by holding on 4th-and-goal, the left side of the defense completely collapsed and an easy rushing touchdown resulted. And the defense deserves full blame for Atlanta’s first drives of both halves. The Falcons drove 68 yards in 6 plays in the 1st quarter and 77 yards in 9 plays in the 3rd quarter. After Tiki’s second fumble, the defense packed it in for the day…easily allowing the Falcons to run time off the clock and put another score on the board. Embarrassing!

Defensive Line: No pass rush, no run defense. As bad a performance as I’ve seen with the Giants. DE Michael Strahan in particular, given his lofty “elite” status and pay check, deserves special criticism. Many of the rushing yards came in his direction, including the 4th-and-goal rushing touchdown. DE Kenny Holmes had problems holding his ground at the other end of the line. And all of the tackles disappointed, including DT William Joseph, who has yet to make much of an impression this year. (Incidentally, I thought the two defensive holding calls on Keith Hamilton were absolutely atrocious).

Linebackers: Terrible in run defense as well as they didn’t flow to the ball well, often misread the direction of the back, and allowed cutback lanes. The only good news was that they did a good job of defending an Atlanta bread-and-butter play: the screen pass. Once again, undercoverage was a problem as the fullback wasn’t even covered on his touchdown reception. Dhani Jones did make a couple of plays in the backfield.

Defensive Backs: Allowed only 9 completions and 65 yards passing, but much of that most likely had to do with the quality of the opposing quarterback. However, defensive backs are supposed to play run defense too. FS Omar Stoutmire missed HB Warrick Dunn badly on the latter’s 45-yard touchdown run. To his credit, at least Stoutmire made a play on the ball on a deep pass this week…a play that a free safety should make all the time. He also almost decapitated WR Peerless Price on an amazing reception by the Falcons’ receiver on a key 3rd down situation. SS Shaun Williams’ play has deteriorated so much that he no longer can even cover the tight end. The Falcons’ best pass play was one where they isolated TE Alge Crumpler on Williams one-on-one outside of the formation. Williams couldn’t handle the assignment. And where is Williams against the run? That is supposed to be the strength of his game! CB Ralph Brown dropped an interception that probably would have been returned for a touchdown. He later knocked away a pass in the end zone. The Falcons stayed away from Will Allen until late in the game.

Special Teams: Punt and kickoff coverage was solid against a dangerous opponent. Jeff Feagles punted 5 times for a 34.8 yards-per-punt average. Kick and punt returns remain a problem. The blocking stinks and Brian Mitchell only managed 7 yards on five punt returns and 40 yards on two kickoff returns.

(Box Score – Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants, November 9, 2003)
Nov 072003

Approach to the Game – Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants, November 9, 2003: Anyone who thinks this game will be a cakewalk is fooling themselves. Yes, Atlanta is 1-7 and without QB Michael Vick. But this same team went into Irving, Texas and beat the 6-2 Cowboys at the beginning of the season. Others may point to slew of injuries the Falcons have suffered since that game, but I don’t see a push over. I see a team that can run the football and I see a team that plays a 3-4 defense (and 3-4 defenses have given the Giants problems).

Giants on Defense: Dan Reeves’ strategy will be as predictable as it is sound: pound the football at the Giants with halfbacks Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett. Use a control passing game, especially screens and passes to the tight ends, to keep New York guessing. Shorten the game, keep the Giants’ explosive offense off the field. THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE FALCONS DID LAST YEAR. And it worked perfectly. In that game, the Giants only had SIX offensive possessions!!! Six! And bear in mind that the Falcons must be licking their chops to run on the Giants after watching the terrible run defense by the defensive tackles against the Jets.

If the Giants are to prevent this strategy from working this time around, they MUST first stop the run. Secondly, the undercoverage (linebackers and Shaun Williams) must do a much better job of defending short passes to the backs and tight ends. The defensive line also must be wary of the screen pass. Here is a blurb from my game review from last year:

Atlanta kept running a nifty play to great effect. Whichever linebacker was spying Warrick Dunn out of the backfield, the Falcons assigned an offensive linemen to. Thus when the linebacker went to cover Dunn, the lineman prevented him from doing so and Dunn had a lot of open field to play with.

Do those things and the Giants should control the contest and win the game. Don’t, and the Giants risk Atlanta limiting New York’s offensive possessions (and scoring opportunities). This will keep the game close with the outcome being likely determined by special teams.

The big battles with be the defensive tackles of the Giants versus the interior trio of the Falcon offensive line. DT Cornelius Griffin (ankle) may play this week, but it may be better if he didn’t as this will be a physical, run-game affair. If he doesn’t, the onus will be on Lance Legree, Keith Hamilton, and William Joseph…none of which looked particularly sharp against the run last weekend. LG Travis Claridge (knee) is out and will be replaced by Roberto Garza. Todd McClure is the center and Kynan Forney is the right guard. Forney plays a mean and nasty game; he’s “questionable” with a quad injury. The bad news for the Giants is that RT Todd Weiner has played DE Michael Strahan well in the past. The good news is that LT Bob Whitfield (broken leg) is out and will be replaced by Kevin Shaffer. DE Kenny Holmes and DE Osi Umenyiora must dominate this match-up.

The Atlanta running game can be scary. Dunn is the big play guy who has the speed and moves to go the distance. T.J. Duckett is the bruiser who can run over you. This is the true “Thunder and Lightening” backfield. And Dunn is VERY dangerous as a receiver. “Both of their backs are averaging over 4 yards a carry,” says DE Kenny Holmes. “So you can’t go into this game thinking it’s a gimme or a game you should win. They’ve been running the ball well. They just haven’t been passing the ball well. And we don’t want that to happen this week.”

When the Falcons put the ball in the air, it will be 2nd year QB Kurt Kittner at the helm. But we all know how the Giants have a habit of turning little-known back-ups in heros. Hell, back-up Falcon QB Doug Johnson played like shit against everyone except for the Giants. Aside from Dunn, the receiving target who scares me the most is TE Alge Crumpler. The Falcons’ best wide receiver is Peerless Price. He normally plays in the split end (or “X”) spot, so it will be interesting to see if CB Will Allen follows him around. The other starter is Brian Finneran, a journeyman.

Stop the run, stop the short passing game…don’t let the Falcons dictate the tempo of the contest and keep the Giants’ offense off the field.

Giants on Offense: The Falcons are not a good defensive team. However, the 3-4 defense has given the Giants problems in the past – as has their defensive coordinator (Wade Phillips).

The Giants shouldn’t screw around here at all. Don’t be conservative by running the ball early. This plays right into Atlanta’s hands. Go for the knockout blows in the first and second quarters by passing early and often against a completely re-shuffled secondary. CB Tod McBride will line-up against WR Amani Toomer. CB Juran Bolden will play over WR Ike Hilliard. Long-time vet Ray Buchanon is now the nickel. Bryan Scott is the new strong safety and Cory Hall is the new free safety. Go at this group with Toomer, Hilliard, Shockey, and Carter early and often. Pick up big chunks of yardage and touchdowns. Put the game to bed.

Of course, this strategy depends on the offensive line protecting Collins. The problem with the 3-4 is that the blitz can come from a variety of directions. The Giants’ young offensive line doesn’t see this scheme much so it usually presents them with problems. I guarantee you that the Falcons will test the guys up front by blitzing from all angles. NT Ed Jasper (ribs) will play and line up directly over OC Chris Bober…this will be a big match-up. DT Travis Hall (neck) will not likely play so the Falcons will stay pretty much with the 3-4. The ends are Brady Smith (who will play over Luke Petitgout) and Patrick Kerney (who will play over Ian Allen). Smith is “questionable” with an ankle injury, but will probably play.

The Giants’ guards, fullback, and tight ends need to do a good job of blocking as well, particularly on the linebackers. Pro Bowl ILB Keith Brooking is the team leader on defense and a fine player. Chris Draft is the other inside linebacker. Matt Stewart plays on the strongside; Keith Newman on the weakside. These guys should have problems covering Jeremy Shockey, and possibly Marcellus Rivers.

It’s time for Shockey and HB Tiki Barber to make some big plays and score some touchdowns. Both have been quieter than expected thus far this season.

Giants on Special Teams: The big key is guard against big returns from punt/kick returner Allen Rossum. Rossum is one of the better returners in the League and capable of going the distance. He is first in the NFC with a punt return average of 15.5 yards per return.

Nov 052003
New York Giants 31 – New York Jets 28 (OT)

Game Overview: The Giants never make it easy. This game was the kind of nail-biter I expected. I am still very surprised that many Giants’ fans think that their team will blow out any opponent. For one, most NFL games are close affairs. Secondly, there is nothing in the Giants’ recent history that suggests they are capable of blowing out an opponent.

The Giants may have some marquee names at the skill positions such as Collins, Barber, Toomer, Shockey, and Hilliard, but none of these players are consistently dominant. Moreover, the rest of the team is ordinary. Defensively, the Giants have one Pro Bowler (Michael Strahan). The rest of the defensive line-up, with the exception of Will Allen, is nothing to write home about. The offensive line is inexperienced and doesn’t run block particularly well. The special teams has a piss-poor return game. The coaching staff is average.

Don’t get me wrong. The Giants are a good team in an average league. But they are not so talented or well-coached that they are capable of breezing through any schedule. They are just as likely to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs as they are to lose to the San Diego Chargers. That’s parity.

As for the game against the Jets, it was a hard fought affair against an obviously inspired opponent. The Jet players and fans were fired up from the get-go and credit the Giants for matching their intensity and not panicking after falling behind 7-0 or when the Jets tied the score 28-28. The Giants were not able to run on the previously porous Jets’ run defense (as I expected – see my game preview), but they were able to generate points out of the passing game. The most disconcerting aspects of the game for the Giants were (1) not taking more advantage of the excellent field position provided by the Jet turnovers; and (2) allowing the Jets to tie the game in the 4th quarter, after leading 28-14. But give the Jets credit too…they made plays when they had to. Chad Pennington is an extremely accurate quarterback. The best news for the Giants other than the win? No turnovers and no major injuries. Also, Head Coach Jim Fassel also stayed aggressive offensively both late in the 4th quarter and in overtime.

Quarterback: Kerry Collins (24-of-40 for 303 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) was not particularly sharp early. On the Giants’ second possession of the game, his 3rd-and-7 out pass to a wide open Amani Toomer was too high. On the next possession, he did a good job of hitting Toomer on the sideline for 16 yards on 2nd-and-11, but his next throw to TE Jeremy Shockey on a seam pass, was also too high. His 3rd-and-5 pass to Toomer was knocked away by the corner who had excellent coverage on Toomer. On the 4th possession (the drive that resulted in a field goal after Brandon Short recovered a fumble at the Jets’ 35-yard line), Collins took too long to get rid of the ball on a tight end screen pass to Marcellus Rivers that looked primed for big yardage (Ian Allen also was penalized for running down field too soon). On the next play, Collins hit a well-covered Shockey for 4 yards to his right, but missed seeing a wide open Rivers on his left.

It was on the 5th drive of the first half where Collins got his game together. He first threw a 19-yard strike to Toomer. On the very next play, Kerry threw a beautiful deep ball to Toomer for a 39-yard touchdown – putting the Giants up 10-7. Collins got the team moving again on the next possession, but a holding penalty brought back a 21-yard completion to Toomer on 3rd-and-11 and the Giants were forced to punt.

Collins was very sharp on the Giants’ first possession of the second half – a 12-play, 75 yard drive that regained the lead for the Giants, 20-14. Collins hit Hillard for 18 yards on 3rd-and-12. On the next play, his pass to Shockey picked up 21 yards over the middle. On 3rd-and-10, Kerry threw an absolutely perfect pass to a very well covered Hilliard for 16 yards. After four straight HB Tiki Barber runs, Collins threaded the needle once again on 3rd-and-goal from the six-yard line. Miraculously, he was able to squeeze the ball into a triple-covered Hilliard for the touchdown.

Last season, it was pretty obvious that Collins wasn’t comfortable in the 5-receiver, empty backfield set. There were a lot of options for Kerry to read and it seemed too much for him. But this year, he seems much more comfortable in this set and it is one of the Giants’ most productive formations now.

After the Jets cut the score to 28-21, Fassel and Collins stayed aggressive. The Giants picked up two important first downs through the air during their attempt to run out the clock. Collins found Toomer for 12 yards on 2nd-and-9 and Shockey for 10 yards on 3rd-and-4. On the next play, on 1st-and-10, Fassel went for the knockout with a deep pass to Toomer, but the play was well-covered. On 3rd-and-10, Collins’ sideline pass fell incomplete with a little over three minutes left to play.

In overtime, Collins was able to direct the offense crisply down the field on the Giants’ opening possession. He hit a critical 3rd-and-7 pass for 22 yards to Toomer. He then found Shockey for 10 yards, had a pass to Hilliard dropped, and then completed another to Shockey for 6 yards. However, Conway missed the 39-yard field goal. On the Giants’ next possession, Collins made an excellent play on first down when he stood in there and took the hit from two onrushing defenders to complete a wonderfully-accurate 16-yard pass to Shockey. But his next pass was behind Toomer. On 3rd-and-9, Collins tried to squeeze the ball into a well- and double-covered Ike Hilliard; the ball was knocked away and the Giants were forced to punt. On the Giants’ next – and game-winning drive – Collins hit Toomer for 19 yards and Barber for 12 yards on two back-to-back plays that moved the ball deep into Jets’ territory; thus setting up the winning field goal attempt.

Wide Receivers: Unlike previous teams, the Jets didn’t roll their coverage consistently to WR Amani Toomer’s side. And Toomer made them pay with a 6-catch, 127 yard performance that also included a touchdown – winning “NFC Offensive Player of the Week” honors. I wasn’t happy with Toomer’s terrible run blocking effort on Tiki Barber’s 3rd-and-4 carry at the start of the game. Toomer’s first catch was a 16-yard out on 2nd-and-11 in the 1st quarter. In the 2nd quarter, Collins and Toomer combined on both offensive plays on the Giants’ first touchdown drive. Toomer caught a 19 yard pass and then followed up with a 39-yard reception for a touchdown on a deep pass from Collins. Toomer had a 21-yard reception wiped out on the next possession due to a somewhat questionable holding penalty on RT Ian Allen. Toomer came up big in overtime with key catches on the Giants’ first drive (a 22-yard reception on 3rd-and-7) and the last drive (a 19-yard reception).

WR Ike Hilliard caught 5 passes for 55 yards and a touchdown. Hilliard now has 6 touchdown receptions on the year and continues to be a tremendous asset in the red zone. Strangely, Hilliard first reception didn’t come until right before halftime – his 7-yard reception moving the ball closer for PK Brett Conway’s successful 36-yard attempted that increased the lead to 13-7. The drive where Hilliard really made a huge impact was the 12-play affair that regained the lead. Hilliard made three HUGE catches on the drive: one for 18 yards on 3rd-and-12, one for 16 yards on 3rd-and-10, and one for 6 yards and a touchdown on 3rd-and-goal. The last reception was an amazing piece of work between Hilliard and Collins as Hilliard was triple-covered on the play. The biggest negative on Hilliard was his 2nd-and-9 drop on the first drive in overtime. Two plays later, Conway barely misses the potential game-winning field goal.

Tim Carter did not catch a pass.

Tight Ends: TE Jeremy Shockey caught 8 passes for 86 yards. Shockey’s blocking was better this week. He did not get a good lead block out of the H-Back position on a Barber run that picked up only 3 yards to start the second possession. But on the next play, he made up for it with an 11-yard reception for a first down. The Giants tried to get Shockey deep down the seam on the next possession, but Collins’ pass was too high – still I liked the call.

In the second half, Shockey was flagged with 10-yard tripping penalty. On the very next play, he dropped a well-thrown deep seam pass from Collins. But three plays after that, he made big play on the Giants’ 12-play scoring drive. He caught a short pass over the middle and turned it into a 21 yard gain by quickly turning up field and plowing over three defenders. Like Toomer, Shockey came up big in overtime. He caught passes of 10 and 6 yards on the first drive that resulted in a field goal miss. On the next drive, Shockey made a 16-yard reception.

One thing Shockey has to be careful with is that when he blocks down on the pursuing linebackers on outside runs in his direction, he can’t wrap up the defender. There were two plays that I spotted where Shockey should have been called for holding.

Rivers was used quite a bit in the passing game, but not thrown to. Interestingly, the Giants did try to set up a screen pass to him. His blocking remains acceptable, though he does have problems with powerful defenders at times.

Running Backs: Tiki Barber found it tough going with 77 yards on 21 carries. The Jets looked far from the worst rush defense in the League. Whether that is a tribute to their improvement in run defense, a game plan specifically designed to stop Barber, or poor run blocking by the Giants is a question open for debate. The Giants tried to burn the Jets twice early with 3rd-and-4 rush attempts to Barber in passing situations. Both attempts failed miserably. Barber also dropped a 2nd-and-4 pass on the first possession that would have resulted in a first down and kept the drive alive. Barber’s longest run of the day (12 yards) came on the Giants’ final drive of the first half, and helped to set the Giants up in field goal range.

Barber had two good back-to-back runs on the Giants’ touchdown drive that regained the lead in the 3rd quarter. The first picked up 6 yards between solid blocks from OC Chris Bober and RG David Diehl. The second picked up 7 yards. There was not great blocking on this play and Tiki did a good job of squeezing through a small crease and running through a tackler. Barber made two big plays in overtime after it looked like he suffered a serious leg injury. On the Giants’ game-winning field goal drive, he caught a 12 yard pass from Collins. A few plays later, he broke off a 10-yard run that put the ball on the Jets’ 11-yard line. Both plays were huge.

HB Dorsey Levens (11 carries for 39 yards and a touchdown) had a mostly positive performance. After SS Shaun Williams’ interception put the ball on the Jets’ 41-yard line, Levens ran the ball on six of the next seven plays. His six runs picked up a total of 28 yards plus 5 yards for a face mask penalty. Levens’ last run on this drive was a 3-yard touchdown run where he expertly cut back off strong blocks from RG David Diehl and RT Ian Allen. However, Levens and the Giants were fortunate that the officials ruled him down on the first play of the Giants’ next possession as Levens clearly did fumble.

FB Jim Finn got a good block on Barber’s 11-yard run in overtime (as did Luke Petitgout). However, he badly whiffed on a lead block on the same play where Shockey was called for tripping.

Offensive Line: Much better pass blocking than run blocking. To their credit, this line only gave up one sack to the NFL’s leading sack team. Pass protection was not perfect and Collins was pressured at times. But there were many plays where Collins had plenty of time to find his open receiver, including in open backfield sets.

Probably the two guys who gave up the most pressure were RT Ian Allen (who was playing against stud DE Shaun Ellis) and LG Wayne Lucier. At the same time, reserve DE Bryan Thomas gave LT Luke Petitgout some problems (I continue to wonder if Petitgout’s injury problems are really affecting his performance this year). Lucier got confused a couple of times when the Jets’ stunted. He and Allen both got beat on the Jets’ sole sack of the day.

Besides the sack, Allen did give up a few pressures to Ellis. Allen got beat badly by Ellis on the Giants’ final offensive play before halftime that resulted in an incomplete pass. Allen got beat to the inside on Shockey’s 23-yard catch-and-run in the 3rd quarter. Ellis got pressure on Collins on the 22-yard play to Toomer in overtime. On the next possession, Allen was beat to the inside on Shockey’s 16-yard reception (and Lucier was bull-rushed on this play).

Lucier had his problems with the bull-rush. I don’t know if it is a strength problem or if is still weak from recovering from the flu. And Lucier got beat badly on the Giants’ 3rd-and-10 pass that fell incomplete with about 3 minutes left in regulation.

In the ground game, there were some positive moments, including some power runs right up the gut. However, this line is not consistently able to generate running room for Tiki Barber. RG David Diehl continues to look deadly on the pull. And LT Luke Petitgout usually acquits himself quite well when run blocking. Tiki’s first 3rd-and-4 carry that failed was due to poor blocks by Toomer and Lucier. Lucier also got overpowered on Tiki’s second 3rd-and-4 attempt. Like his pass blocking, Lucier didn’t look strong enough at times to deal with the big defensive tackles in the Jets and on some plays got stood up. But Lucier can make effective blocks when pulling. I think Ian Allen did a good job with his run blocks at the point-of-attack. Diehl sometimes generates movement; sometimes gets stood up.

OC Chris Bober was steady with both his pass and run blocks, though sometimes he needs to sustain better on the latter. Both Bober and Jeff Roehl (who subbed for the injured Lucier on one play) made excellent blocks on QB Kerry Collins’ 2-point conversion draw.

Petitgout was flagged with another false start this week. Ian Allen got flagged with being ineligibly down field on a TE screen to Rivers. Allen was flagged with holding on Toomer’s 21 yard reception in the 2nd quarter, but I thought this was a bogus call.

Defensive Line: The run defense was poor with Curtis Martin accruing 108 yards on 28 carries. Much of the damage was done in the first half of the game and usually the men most responsible were defensive tackles Lance Legree (1 tackle) and Keith Hamilton (7 tackles), both of whom were pushed around too easily. But the ends were not totally without blame either. On the Jets’ first drive, Kenny Holmes (no tackles) and Michael Strahan (5 tackles, 1 sack) were both effectively blocked on positive runs (though there was also one good play by Strahan where he played off a block by the tight end to make the play).

On the Jets’ second drive, Martin picked up 15 yards on a play where Legree and Hamilton got crushed. But three plays later, the drive ended when Strahan sacked QB Chad Pennington with a 7-yard loss. This was the only sack the defensive line got all day – and the DL’s inability to generate sufficient pressure on Pennington was a problem during the Jets’ comeback.

On the Jets’ third drive, the poor run defense continued as the Jets were able to block Strahan, Legree, and Hamilton. But Brandon Short’s strip of Martin for a turnover saved the day.

On the next drive, the reserves (Keith Washington, Osi Umenyiora, and William Joseph) started to see some quality time. Joseph still isn’t making many plays against the run as he is still learning how to use NFL run defense technique (i.e., the proper use of his hands and arms to shed blockers). He also needs to keep in mind not to be too aggressive as he was vulnerable to a cutback run by Martin on one play. However, he did get an excellent pass rush on the 3rd-and-12 play in the 2nd quarter where CB Frank Walker was flagged for pass interference. Three plays later, both Washington and Umenyiora sandwiched Pennington on the play where he threw the interception to CB Ralph Brown.

On the next series, the Jets continued to run at Strahan, Legree, and Hamilton with some success. But Legree did get some pressure on Pennington on a deep passing effort to WR Santana Moss that fell incomplete. Legree then recovered a fumble resulting from FS Omar Stoutmire’s sack.

In the 3rd quarter, Holmes did a good job of standing his ground on one Martin run in his direction, but five plays later, Holmes and Hamilton did not do a good job of guarding against a Martin cutback that picked up 6 yards. Two plays later, Umenyiora (who played the reverse well last week), got fooled on a double reverse that picked up 10 yards. On the next play, Osi did stand his ground on a run in his direction that picked up 3 yards. On the Jets’ next possession, Hamilton and Holmes were run at again on a 4-yard gain. Two plays later, Strahan combined with Brandon Short to hold Martin to a 1-yard gain. Three plays later, Hamilton stood his ground for one of the few times in the game and stuffed Martin along with Mike Barrow.

The next two Jets’ possessions were the two scoring drives that tied the game 28-28. Umenyiora was able to get pressure on Pennington (one of the very few times) on a 2nd-and-2 pass that fell incomplete. On the next play, on 3rd-and-2, both Keith Washington and Lance Legree got clobbered on a 3-yard run that kept the drive alive. On 3rd-and-7, Hamilton ran himself out of the gap on a Martin draw play that picked up 6 yards (Legree was clearly held on this play – there was no call). On the final drive, Hamilton missed a tackle on a 9-yard run by Martin. Lance Legree, playing in Hamilton’s spot, got good pressure on the Jets’ final touchdown. But the big problem during these two drives is that the down four linemen (and the reserves) simply couldn’t get close to Pennington often enough.

In overtime, Hamilton made a big play by making a sure tackle on Pennington on a scramble on 3rd-and-8. On the next Jets’ drive in the extra period, Umenyiora made a superb play by speeding over to tackle LaMont Jordan on a misdirection toss play for no gain (this is a play that fooled Osi in the preseason; he’s learning). A couple of plays later, Strahan and Legree stuffed Martin for only a 2-yard gain.

Linebackers: Brandon Short (14 tackles, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery) had a huge day. It didn’t start off well, however, as Short was beat in coverage by the fullback for 10 yards and the tight end for 10 yards on the first drive. But near the end of the 1st quarter, Short made his first big play as he stripped Martin of the ball on a 10-yard carry and then recovered the fumble himself. On the next series, Short knocked away a pass intended for WR Wayne Chrebet. On the series after that, he made a great play by shooting a gap in the line to tackle LaMont Jordan for no gain from the backside. On the very next play, he tackled Martin in the flat for a 2-yard loss after a short pass. On the next series, he absolutely clobbered Martin as he shot another gap on the frontside on a 4-yard loss.

In the second half, Short forced a Martin in his direction back inside for only a 2-yard gain. At the start of the 4th quarter, Short beat the left tackle on a blitz and slapped the ball out of Pennington’s hand for a sack and forced fumble (the Jets recovered). I’m not 100 percent positive, but I’m pretty sure that it was Short who screwed up big time on the 4th-and-1 completion to TE Chris Baker that picked up 24 yards. Short was the LB lined up over Baker’s head and Short bit on the play-action. Worse, he got faked out of his shoes by Pennington when he had a chance to sack the quarterback. In overtime, Short tackled Martin for a 1-yard loss on the Jets’ first possession.

Michael Barrow (16 tackles) was very active. He did some good things, some bad. On the Jets’ first drive, he missed a tackle on Curtis Martin on one play, and then wasn’t able to make a play on Martin in open on a 9-yard gain. But he also made an excellent play to stuff Martin for no gain on 2nd-and-1. Barrow also fell victim to the poor run defense by the defensive tackles early on as the linemen were also able to get into his shoulder pads. In the 2nd quarter, Barrow tackled Jordan for a 3-yard loss on a run around left end.

In the second half, Barrow was the closest man in the zone coverage on the 7-yard completion to WR Wayne Chrebet on 3rd-and-6 on the Jets’ opening TD drive of the half. Barrow got pressure on Pennington when the latter threw an interception to SS Shaun Williams. On the Jets’ last TD drive, Barrow made an excellent play by nailing Martin for a 3-yard loss on a draw play. His roughing the pass penalty on the next play was a terrible call by the officials. But on the very next play, Barrow was at fault on an 18-yard gain by the fullback after a short pass from Pennington. Barrow also got beat by the tight end for a 17-yard completion on the Jets’ first offensive play in overtime.

Dhani Jones (6 tackles) overpursued Martin on one 8-yard carry on the Jets’ first drive. He also got effectively blocked on a 7-yard carry on the next series. Jones did make a nice play in the 3rd quarter when he played off a block to tackle Martin for only a 2-yard gain. Jones was also fooled on the double reverse. Late in the 3rd quarter, Jones made a nice open-field tackle on Curtis Conway on a WR-screen. Dhani also made a nice play in the flat after a short pass to the fullback on the Jets’ last TD drive.

Defensive Backs: Chad Pennington completed 27-of-45 passes for 281 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. Some of his success came at the expense of the linebacking corps. There were times when the pass defense was sharp, other times not. The Jets were able to find the soft spots in some of the Giants’ zone coverages too easily on short passes. There were also able to take advantage of some zone-blitz plays.

The first big breakdown came on the 8-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss on the Jets’ first drive of the game. At the start of the play, Ryan Clark was on Moss. To his inside, Wayne Chrebet was being covered by Will Allen. As the play started, Chrebet ran straight up the field in order to “pick” off the corners and S Shaun Williams. Allen stayed with his man like he was playing man-to-man, but Ryan dropped back like he was playing zone. In my opinion, one of these two screwed up on the play. Williams was unable to make a play, because he got picked.

CB Will Allen (2) tackles was effectively blocked on one 7-yard outside run by Martin in the 1st quarter. Allen got beat by Curtis Conway on a 3rd-and-7 play in the 2nd quarter and was forced to face guard Conway on the play. Because he was in catch-up mode, he couldn’t turn around for the ball and was fortunate the pass fell incomplete or pass interference wasn’t called. Later in the quarter, he was beat by Moss on a 16-yard out on 3rd-and-10. Both Allen and FS Omar Stoutmire maintained their defensive responsibilities when they wrecked a reverse to Moss a few plays later. On the very next play, Allen was step-for-step with Moss on a deep pass that was overthrown. In the second half, Allen’s corner blitz on Pennington forced an incompletion when as he smashed into the quarterback. But later on the drive, Allen was badly beaten by Moss on a deep pass for a 25-yard touchdown (for some reason, Allen looked slow in this game). It is also important to note that the Giants blitzed two linebackers and dropped Kenny Holmes into coverage on this play and got burned. On the Jets’ first touchdown drive in the 4th quarter, Allen expertly knocked away a slant pass to Chrebet. On the final TD drive, Allen supplied very tight deep coverage on the Jets’ first play and almost came up with an interception. But he did get beat on a comeback route by Moss on the play where Barrow was flagged for roughing the passer. Allen also got beat badly on an out-and-up that picked up 15 yards on 4th-and-1. In overtime, Allen got beat over the middle on a crossing route by Moss for a 22-yard gain. Needless to say, this was Allen’s worst performance of the season – and perhaps his worst since his rookie year.

CB Ralph Brown played very well in the first half, but was victimized too much in the second half. Brown (5 tackles, 1 interception) made an excellent play in the open field on Moss after a short completion lost one yard in the 1st quarter. In the 2nd quarter, Brown picked off a pass intended for Moss on 3rd-and-8 and returned the ball 22 yards. Things started off well in the 3rd quarter when he knocked down a pass intended for Wayne Chrebet. But on the next play, Chrebet beat Brown on an out for 12 yards on 2nd-and-10. Three plays later, Brown played far too soft on a 3rd-and-4 play where Chrebet picked up an easy first down on a slant. Three plays later, Chrebet beat Brown deep down the seam, but the pass was poorly thrown and fell incomplete; on this play, Brown badly bit on an out fake. Near the end of the 3rd quarter, Brown was beat by Curtis Conway for 10 yards on a 2nd-and-9 slant pass despite tight coverage from Ralph. On the Jets’ first TD drive in the 4th quarter, Brown was playing too far off the ball on a 12-yard completion to Conway. Both Brown and Williams had decent coverage on TE Anthony Becht on the latter’s game-tying TD catch, but Pennington made an amazing throw to squeeze the ball in there.

CB Frank Walker fell back to earth some this week. He committed a bad pass interference penalty on 3rd-and-12 in the 2nd quarter when he ran through the back of the intended receiver (Wayne Chrebet). On the play where Barrow was flagged for roughing the passer on 3rd-and-13 on the Jets’ final TD drive, the Jets would have picked the first down regardless as Walker was also flagged for defensive holding on the play. Four plays later, Walker was badly faked out by Moss, committed what should have been an illegal contact penalty, and then fell down on a deep ball that Moss couldn’t keep his feet inbounds. In overtime, Walker was called for what could have been a VERY costly pass interference penalty on Moss on 3rd-and-10. However, I thought this call was very ticky-tack by the officials – especially given the situation.

I haven’t been impressed with FS Omar Stoutmire’s support against the deep pass in recent weeks. On the deep pass attempt to Conway in the 2nd quarter that fell incomplete, Stoutmire was very late moving over to help Allen. Later in the half, Stoutmire caused a turnover on a blitz where he forced a fumble that Lance Legree recovered. Stoutmire was nowhere to be seen either on Moss’ 22-yard reception in overtime even though the pass was completed in his area. In the 3rd quarter, Stoutmire did a good job in limiting the double reverse to only a 10-yard gain. Stoutmire made a sure tackle on Chrebet on a 6-yard pass on 3rd-and-7 on the Jets’ final drive of regulation.

Shaun Williams (9 tackles, 1 interception) played poorly. He had some problems in run defense on the Jets’ first drive. He missed a tackle on one play and got blocked at the point-of-attack on another. Later in the game, he didn’t wrap up on Chrebet after a short reception. Like Stoutmire, Williams was very late to help out on deep passes. On Moss’ 25-yard touchdown reception against Will Allen in the 3rd quarter, Williams was very slow to get over to help out his fellow defensive back. Later in the quarter, Williams got beat by the tight end in motion for an 8-yard gain on 3rd-and-1. But five plays later, Williams made a nice play by breaking in front of Curtis Conway to intercept a Pennington pass that set up a touchdown. On Moss’ third touchdown reception of the game, Moss caught the pass in what appeared to be Williams’ zone (though Omar Stoutmire may deserve some of the blame here too). On the last Jets’ TD drive, Shaun was again late to help out deep on the play where Frank Walker fell down. Both Brown and Williams got beat on the final touchdown pass – though to be fair, both had decent coverage on the play. Williams made a nice sure tackle on a short pass to Moss on 3rd-and-8 right before the blocked field goal attempt in overtime.

Special Teams: The Jets have excellent special teams and are well-coached. The Giants basically played them to a draw here on Sunday – so the net effect was that it was a positive performance.

The big play on special teams was CB Will Allen’s blocked field goal in overtime. Allen timed his take off so perfectly that it looked as if he was offsides. But he is moving at the snap of the football. Even if the Jets kicker was ready to make the kick, the field goal would have been blocked (as it was Allen almost ran by the kick).

The big problem remains kick and punt returns. Brian Mitchell continues to receive a lot of grief (and probably deservedly so), but I still wonder how effective anyone would be with the poor blocking Mitchell is receiving. For example, on Mitchell’s first kick return, Johnnie Harris was violently shoved right back into Mitchell’s path, giving Mitchell nowhere to run. On his one punt return, one of the Jets’ gunners wasn’t even blocked. Bruce Read’s biggest failure in my mind is his inability to teach these guys how to properly block on kick and punt returns.

One change I would definitely make is to get Mitchell off the kick return team. He simply doesn’t seem fast or explosive enough. I would prefer to see Tim Carter and/or Delvin Joyce on kick returns.

Mitchell’s kick returns went for 14, 26, 20, 18, 22, and 26 yards. He was only able to return one punt for two yards. The Giants did come close to blocking one punt in the second quarter, but I couldn’t make out who the rusher was.

Punt coverage on the dangerous Santana Moss was very good as Moss only picked up 14 yards on 4 returns. I did think this was one of Jeff Feagles’ weaker efforts, however. Feagles punts went for 38 (7-yard return, tackled by Marcellus Rivers), 49 yards (net of 29 yards as the ball went into the end zone), 19 yards (1-yard return, tackled by Carson Dach), 30 yards (short punt with little hang time, tackled by Dhani Jones for no gain), 33 yards (fair catch), 42 yards (6-yard return, tackled by Kevin Lewis).

Kick coverage on Jonathan Carter (4 returns, 23.8 yards-per-return average) and Michael Bates (2 returns, 27.5 yards-per-return average) was OK. Brett Conway’s 6 kickoffs landed at the 5 (26-yard return, tackled by Marcellus Rivers), 9 (29-yard return, tackled by Kevin Lewis), 4 (holding call brought back 43-yard return), 0 (25-yard return, tackled by Ryan Clark), -1 (22-yard return, tackled by Johnnie Harris), and 6 (27-yard return, tackled by Kato Serwanga and Wes Mallard).

Conway’s missed 39-yard field goal in overtime could have cost the Giants dearly, but he did make his three other attempts from 39, 36, and 29.

by BBI Reporter/Photographer David Oliver

75 Minutes, Give or Take a Few Prior to this season, we used to say that the Giants give you 60 minutes of football, whether you want it or not. This year, it appears that hasn’t been enough and they have gradually lengthened the contest, culminating in the nearly 75 minutes of “I don’t want it, you take it” hijinks with Stadium rivals, J-E-T-S, a team also snake bitten in most extraordinary ways. As Ralph Brown told me, “It was like a heavyweight boxing match. It should never have gotten to that. From a defensive standpoint, we were up by 2 touchdowns, but…” There have been a lot of “buts” this year, enough to give this whole organization a lot to think about in the offseason, particularly if the team doesn’t rally and make the playoffs.

For me, personally, I didn’t find the game exciting. I asked Wes Mallard and Kevin Lewis, as they were leaving the locker room, “How many more ways are you guys going to find to torture us?” and they laughed and agreed. It’s always easier to laugh on Sunday evening when you win. Had they lost, I think I would have stayed out in the tunnel. I was in a mellow mood, probably as a result of the mild weather. Friday and Saturday I had an opportunity to spend some time just sitting in the yard, riding the swing with my feline buddies, Bret and Pavorotti. All my guys are getting old, like me, and it is a joyous day when we can sit together in the sun, feeling warm and happy. As we all get older, each and every hour together is really special. Big ole Bret is getting arthritic and walks with a pronounced limp. He just loves to roll over and get that snow-white belly rubbed, stretching out with eyes closed and kneading the air. I scratch him with one hand and turn the pages of a book with the other. I’ve mixed in a little fiction with current events lately, going through Heller’s PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST AS AN OLD MAN, a little work of genius entitled, BALZAC AND THE CHINESE SEAMSTRESS, and a work of nonfiction which reads almost like fiction, METRO STOP DOSTOEVSKY. Heller was reaching. Having written only one work of note, CATCH-22, this little book chronicles the agonizing search of an author for a topic. It fails as a literary endeavor, but struck a chord for me, as I seem to have exhausted the lines to reach this audience. Maybe it’s the economy, maybe it’s the warm weather, maybe it’s the server problems, maybe it’s the way the Giants are playing, maybe its just me. But it seems as if no one is listening to anything right now, so I’m going to tune it a little lower for the rest of the year, and turn to doing some things I have been missing.

I have taken the plunge and self-published a photo book. As a first endeavor, I only printed 10 copies. It is a book of wildlife photos, entitled NATURALLY WILD. I have 9 copies for sale, and before anyone jumps on me for exploitation, I have priced it so that my total profit on the venture won’t pay for my plane ticket to Tampa. If anyone is interested, e-mail me and I will give you a website where you can preview the book. I will hand number and sign each copy so that you will have something of value when my name signifies artistic success. And succeed I will. I am also doing some work over in my store. I am working on a lesser book of black & white photos, some ornaments and different items for the holiday season.

At any rate, I am in a mellow mood, notwithstanding the reoccurrence of bronchitis, the infection that troubled me through most of last fall and a 4-and-4 record. I have confidence that the team is about to turn it around and as I expressed over in “The Corner Forum” almost a month ago, I do see a potential win streak taking place. Sunday’s game was a Giants “W” long before the game started. As one of the Jets photogs said to me when the Giants went up by 2 TDs, the Jets will come back, go for 2 points and screw it up to lose by 1 point. He was almost right. They botched a potential game winning FG effort in a weird, Giants-like way. As Brett Conway said, “They snapped it too soon.”

Most of you have seen and dissected the game already, but let me add a few observations. First off, Michael Barrow had one of his best games as a Giant. I have read a lot of commentary in “The Corner Forum” about MB losing a step, not covering well, not making tackles at the line of scrimmage (LOS), yadda, yadda, yadda. Well, one of the things we can do on the sidelines is focus on individual players. I watched MB on Sunday. His tackles were at the LOS or in the backfield, he hit with authority, he shed blocks, and he chased down receivers. I have the photos to show it. Unfortunately, this format doesn’t lend itself to what I want to do, which is to use game photos to illustrate plays and to support my analysis. So you will just have to accept my word for it. Go look at the photo site as I have a few photos up showing exactly what I am saying. MB was a STUD on the field. He was joined by Brandon Short, who had his best game as a Giant. Short came with the reputation of being a playmaker and on Sunday he stepped into those boots. Here is a classic example of a player who has been playing in a system and not being allowed to do what he does best. On Sunday the shackles were cut. Either the game planning revealed a weakness in the Jets, or somebody had a brain flash and set let’s cut Brandon loose. I hope they do it again this week.

The secondary is a piece of work. Now, Pennington is a major league QB. Look at some of the photos. Time after time, surrounded by Giants rushers, he calmly focused and released before he was hit. Moss, Conway, and Chrebet are not too shabby either. So the Giants secondary, minus Will Peterson had its work cut out for it. Will Allen did his job, and more, as the Giants’ finally started blitzing him, a move that paid dividends with a blocked kick and a forced hurry. Ralph Brown had another pick and regardless of BBIs feeling that he is just another journeyman, Ralph has the knack to get in the lane where the ball is being thrown. So far, he is getting better with increased playing time. Frank Walker looked very ordinary, fooled on some routes and beaten like a drum on others. He started giving a cushion and he was exploited. Stoutmire and Williams are, well, they are Stoutmire and Williams – neither will be in Hawaii soon. Ryan Clark shows promise and he and I shared a laugh in the locker after the game when I asked him if his entry into the game in the third quarter was a patented thing, referring to his slip and backwards fall, bouncing off his keaster. He laughed and told me, yeah, that he felt “it would distract the other team, draw attention away from the defense and let everyone know he had arrived.” That’s a pretty good sense of humor.

The secondary problems are problems faced throughout the League these days. As Ralph Brown noted, “When teams are trying to come back, you have to respect double moves, you have to respect a lot of things. The two minute offense, honestly, its almost impossible to stop. How many times have you seen teams come back? It’s the two-minute offense. It’s so hard because there are so many things, so many routes, do this, you know, it’s a chess match, it’s a chess match, you go zone, zone blitz, zone, play this, do this, it’s kind of like a guessing game, but a smart guessing game.” I asked him about the receivers faced the last two weeks, and he was fulsome in his praise, mentioning particularly Wayne Chrebet, whom he characterized as a “crafty receiver”. He also told me that Walker and Clark “are stepping up so big this year…filling in like they were starters from the beginning.” He also had some nice things to say about Osi, particularly that Osi “is a great athlete.” Osi is getting recognition among the players and obviously the coaches as his playing time is increasing. It reminded me of our conversation earlier in the year before Osi had played with the starters when everyone was asking him if Michael Strahan was teaching him things. One of the things we discussed was assets, with Michael using his great strength and power. Osi, I said, you have speed. You don’t need to engage and outmuscle tackles. You need to identify the quickest route to the QB and ball carrier and get there. Sunday he showed that he has learned a lot. He showed unbelievable speed in running down the outside move and making a huge tackle on a Jets’ ball carrier, and he was getting closer and closer to Pennington. My take is that he didn’t get a lot of game time earlier because Kenny Holmes has been playing so much better. But now we are in nick and injury time and the loss of Cornelius Griffin has forced the Giants to use the rotation more to preserve their remaining defensive linemen. Osi is going to be a force in the last half of the season. And while on the topic, Kenny Holmes seems to have spent more time in the weight room this year. He is getting that bull neck of a defensive end, and a bigger chest. Maybe it’s helping.

I have been watching the offensive line a lot lately, what with all the new guys and position switches and one thing that I have noticed is that these kids are not finesse players. This is a power blocking line in the works. Most of them just laugh when I use the finesse word and agree wholeheartedly when I talk about a power game. I talked to Lucier on Sunday. He was exhausted but content and acknowledged to me that he was really having fun, even during what he referred to as “a crazy game”. I asked him if it was difficult for him mentally to come in as a center, then move to guard. He told me, “No, its not too bad. When you play center, you have a good idea of what the guards are doing every play, so it’s not really that bad, mentally.” He’s had experience as a guard, playing that position last year, and when I asked him if he had a preference, he said, “Not really. Sometimes I think I’m a little more of a natural center, but I don’t really care where I play, just so I’m playing.” We talked about the finesse/power thing and he told me, “If anything, people might say we’re a little bit smaller than most lines, but we run the ball right at people and that doesn’t change from week to week. We just try to do what we do and I don’t know who’s saying we’re finesse.” I asked him about the communication out there, with all the rookies and moves and he told me that he thought they were doing pretty good, “We’ve obviously had to make some changes and anytime you’re doing that, you’re playing next to different guys, and it does take time, but we’re doing pretty well and we seem to be on the ball as to what’s going on out there. I don’t think we’ve had too many mental mistakes at all.” I asked him about what has been the most difficult adjustment for him so far and he said, “Probably the mental, there’s a lot of stuff going on every week. The pro defenses are definitely much more complicated than what you dealt with in college, nickel packages, blitz schemes that you don’t necessarily see that much in college.” He told me, “I enjoy the run game. I like coming off the ball, I like hard-nosed football, but pass pro is such a big part of the game now that you have to be equally as good at both.” I returned to the makeup of the line and the new hard-nosed approach and asked if they’d like to have that reputation. He told me, “I hope so. You talk to any offensive lineman, anywhere, and you don’t want to sit there in pass pro all day and let the defensive line T-off on you, that’s no fun, so I think if you talk to any offensive lineman, he’ll tell you that running the football is, if anything, a good break from them just teeing off on you all the time. It gives you a chance to come off the ball on them.” I asked him if it was difficult making an adjustment from Tiki to Dorsey and he said, “No, not at all, both guys do a great job; obviously they’re different running backs, with different styles, but we just go out there and do our thing and let those guys handle their business.”

Let me conclude with another offensive lineman. Ritchie Seubert is out there recuperating. He is having good days and some little tweaks here and there, but I am told he is on BBI a lot. So let’s keep Ritchie from getting bored – not only now, but particularly during the offseason. I don’t know if we can get him online in “The Corner Forum” – there are too many distractions over there, but I would think he’d like a little Ritchie Seubert thread every now and then. You guys and gals are the best when it comes to support. Let’s make it our mission to get Ritchie through his rehab and back on the field. Somebody pick up the ball and run with this one.

(Box Score – New York Giants at New York Jets, November 2, 2003)