Dec 312003
 
Carolina Panthers 37 – New York Giants 24

Game Overview: The Jim Fassel era is over. It’s time to move on and hire a better coaching staff. There is a lot of revisionist history going on right now due to the classy way in which Fassel and the Giants divorced each other. Comments from the media, football analysts, players, and fans saying that the Giants’ coaching staff was a good one are not accurate. Fassel and his staff were average. Don’t forget that Fassel was constantly in crisis mode each of his seven years in New York. Also don’t forget that poor coaching decisions cost the Giants the key games against the Cowboys and Eagles early in the season – games that started the slide from a Super Bowl hopeful to a team that finished tied for the WORST record in the NFL. Injuries were not a big factor on this team until after it hit the 4-5 mark. Defensive Coordinator Johnnie Lynn was over his head. The players were never intimidated by Fassel or his staff, and by the mid-point of the season, many of them were tuning them out. This staff deserved to be fired and needed to be fired.

The problem for the team is that many of the same nitwits who have mismanaged the team for years are still calling the shots. General Manager Ernie Accorsi has proved himself to be mediocre at best. Co-owner Wellington Mara is aging, too loyal, and has poor football instincts. The best hope for the Giants is that Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer John Mara and Vice President-Player Evaluation Chris Mara prove to know what they are doing. The influence of both these gentlemen is on the ascendancy in the organization. Co-owner Bob Tisch is focusing his attention on the financial aspects of the franchise. John and Chris Mara will keep a tighter leash on Accorsi. Of course, that will only be a good thing if John and Chris make good decisions themselves.

There are some huge decisions to be made. For one, who will be the next head coach? Secondly, what to do with the #4 pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. If the Giants screw up this pick, it will have colossal negative ramifications. If the player is a bust, not only will he not help the product on the field, but it will hamper the entire Giants’ cap position for years as this player will be paid a huge salary and signing bonus. That will have a direct impact on free agent possibilities.

What should the Giants do with the #4 pick? They could try to trade up and draft one of the premiere quarterbacks (Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger). If they take that route, then the Giants will most likely be entering a rebuilding mode. However, comments by Accorsi seem to indicate that he doesn’t believe this team needs to be rebuilt. So if the Giants stay at #4, they must draft a player who will become one of the premiere players at his position in the NFL. If they don’t, then the salary cap space and the rare opportunity to select such a player will be wasted. Don’t look at need. What the Giants must do is draft the best player available with this pick, someone who will be a perennial Pro Bowler. Possibilities include WR Larry Fitzgerald (if he enters the draft), WR Roy Williams, WR Reggie Williams, FS Sean Taylor, LT Robert Gallery, RT Shawn Andrews, DT Vince Wilfork, DE Kenechi Udeze, DE Will Smith, HB Steven Jackson, HB Kevin Jones, TE Kellen Winslow, CB Marlin Jackson, CB Chris Gamble, and CB Derrick Strait. The other possibility is to trade down, but the Giants would need to find someone willing to trade up who would also provide them with a fair offer. That’s not always easy.

The Giants also must be proactive in ensuring that their first pick is in camp on time this year. Picking at #4 will mean a huge contract and a pick possibly sandwiched between a big contract quarterback and the always over-paying Redskins (who pick at #5). If the Giants wait to slot this pick, as they have done so in the past, a lengthy holdout may result.

Then there are big worries with the players. There is no guarantee that players such as CB Will Allen (serious foot injury), CB Will Peterson (serious back injury), LT Luke Petitgout (serious back injury), LG Rich Seubert (serious leg injury), and TE Jeremy Shockey (serious knee injury) will return to form. HB Tiki Barber is a year older and has developed a fumbling problem. WR Ike Hilliard and WR Tim Carter simply can’t stay healthy. The entire defensive line and linebacking corps will be revamped. The Giants play in a division that the Eagles have dominated for three years and the Cowboys are up-and-coming. The Giants will not be favored to finish first or second in their own division next season.

This is a key moment in the future of the New York Giants’ franchise. Is team management up to the task?

But since this is a “game review”, let’s look at how the players performed in the finale:

Quarterback: Jesse Palmer (18-of-43 for 110 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions) was terrible. Yes, his pass protection was not sound and yes he made a few nice throws, but for the most part he was terribly inaccurate. For God’s sake, the Giants averaged an atrocious 2.6 yards-per-pass play! If Palmer was not overthrowing his targets, he was underthrowing them. He was particularly guilty of the latter on deep pass attempts to Toomer. Palmer’s first interception was an overthrow intended for Tiki Barber that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Palmer had good protection on this play. His second interception was not his fault as he was hit as he threw the ball. Palmer’s third interception was an underthrown ball on a deep attempt to an open WR Amani Toomer (Palmer had time on this play as well). His last interception was an attempted out pass to Toomer that was thrown too far inside. There were two other passes that were almost picked off and many plays where open receivers did not receive the football. And lack of chemistry is no excuse as Palmer has been working with David Tyree and Willie Ponder since July. Even Palmer’s two TD passes are misleading. On the first, the Panthers left Toomer wide open. On the second, Palmer almost blew the play by waiting too long to deliver the ball to TE Visanthe Shiancoe, who was far more open earlier on in his route.

Wide Receivers: Hard to judge this group given how poor the quarterbacking was. Amani Toomer (4 catches for 47 yards, 1 touchdown) was double-teamed regularly. He got open deep on a few occasions, but Palmer regularly underthrew him. Toomer made a heck of catch with a leaping 26-yard reception against double-coverage on 3rd-and-10 near the end of the 3rd quarter. My one complaint about Toomer was that he never turned around to look for the ball in an obvious blitz situation on 3rd-and-15 in the 1st quarter. Toomer looked like his head wasn’t even in the game on this play. David Tyree (2 catches for 12 yards) dropped what should have been a touchdown reception. Tyree does work hard at his blocks on running plays. Willie Ponder (2 catches for 18 yards) made a key 16-yard reception on 3rd-and-9 in the 3rd quarter.

Running Backs: The Panthers’ front seven so dominated the line of scrimmage that it was somewhat of a miracle that the Giants were even able to produce 76 yards rushing. Tiki Barber (9 carries for 40 yards; 3 catches for –3 yards) broke a couple of decent-sized runs, but most of the time he was running into a brick wall. Tiki’s longest gain of the day was 16 yards on a 1st-and-10 draw play right before halftime. Tiki also broke off an 11-yard run around left end in the 4th quarter. Barber did drop one pass.

Dorsey Levens (7 carries for 17 yards) ran aggressively and made a few plays on the Giants’ first scoring drive of the game: picking up 11 yards on a screen pass, rushing for 14 yards through a small crease between the center and right guard, and picking up 5 yards up the gut. Levens also had a very tough 2-yard run on 3rd-and-1 on the Giants’ last offensive drive of the game.

Brian Mitchell (3 carries for 19 yards) picked up 18 yards on one carry that he almost broke for even bigger yardage. This came on a play where Mitchell was playing quarterback (old single wing formation). After that play, the Panthers were not fooled with his two other rushing attempts at quarterback (though on one of these plays, Mitchell didn’t follow his blocking).

FB Jim Finn caught 2 passes for two yards. He continues to make contact as a lead blocker, but he is not very powerful in moving defenders out of the way.

Tight Ends: Visanthe Shiancoe’s biggest problem was his focus. He was flagged with two false start penalties and one illegal motion penalty. His run blocking remains solid, but he did get beat by DE Julius Peppers in one pass rush situation for what was mostly a coverage sack (why did the Giants leave Shiancoe on Peppers in the first place?). Shiancoe made 2 catches for 7 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown reception.

The additional playing time has helped Darnell Dinkins. He caught his first two passes as a pro (for 16 yards) on Sunday. His blocking has also improved, though there were a couple of instances where Dinkins looked confused as to who he was supposed to block in blitz situations.

Offensive Line: Simply over-matched by arguably the best defensive line in football. Not only did the Giants suffer from inexperience and a lack of cohesion on Sunday, but they were clearly out-muscled by a physical line that made them look like a bunch of powder puffs. It was pure muscle versus finesse and the Giants’ finesse line got mauled. John Fox also confused the hell out of the line, backs, and tight ends by overloading blitzes to one side repeatedly. This led to a number of free shots on Jesse Palmer. The Giants’ protection schemes were exposed by this blitzing.

Let’s look at the Giants’ second offensive possession as an example. On 1st-and-10, a Tiki Barber run lost 1 yard as RG David Diehl couldn’t sustain his block, OC Chris Bober got shoved back into the backfield, and TE Darnell Dinkins was called on to block Julius Peppers. On 2nd-and-11, Barber only gained 1 yard on a play that should have picked up more as LB Greg Favors easily played off an attempted block by LT Ian Allen. After a false start on Shiancoe, a 3rd-and-15 pass by Palmer fell incomplete as he was immediately pressured by an overload blitz. This is pretty much how it went all day. Another bad example was a 3rd-and-1 play on the next drive. Levens was stuffed in the backfield as Bober didn’t block anyone up front and both guards were pushed back into the backfield. FB Jim Finn was also knocked to the ground by the guy he was supposed to block. Embarrassing! The Giants simply are not a physical run blocking team.

As for the players, Scott Peters continues to get shoved into the backfield on most plays (though to be fair, he was facing DT Kris Jenkins on many plays). Peters also missed a blitz pick-up and was flagged with a false start. LT Ian Allen did not shine in the run blocking department this week; he gave up a late sack to DE Al Wallace. RG David Diehl was out-muscled a few times. Diehl also continues to have problems recognizing stunts. RT Jeff Hatch got tossed aside like a rag doll on one running play in his direction. When Hatch left the game due to an injury, his replacement Jeff Roehl struggled as well, giving up pressures and a holding penalty. The Giants were not real sharp on screen passes, with their linemen often not engaging anyone in open space.

Defensive Line: It was a mostly positive performance, though DE Keith Washington (2 tackles, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery) and DT Keith Hamilton (2 tackles) were run at successfully on a few plays. Washington’s sack was a garbage sack as the quarterback tripped over his own lineman. However, he did have a couple of good pass pressures. Hamilton also put some heat on the quarterback on one stunt that drew a key holding penalty. The big mistake by Washington was jumping offsides on the goal line on a play where the Panthers fumbled. Washington did recover one fumble for a touchdown. Hamilton played the run a lot tougher late in the game.

DE Michael Strahan (6 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and DT Cornelius Griffin (7 tackles) were both very active. Strahan not only had the one and a half sacks, but he had numerous pressures. On the downside, Strahan was flagged for being offsides and was burned on a couple of misdirection tosses. Griffin played with a lot of hustle, chasing the ball carrier from sideline-to-sideline as well as getting penetration. He played his ass off.

The reserves made some plays. DT William Joseph (2 tackles) looked good on one running play right at him by standing his ground, shedding the block, and making the tackle. Unfortunately, he left the game early with an ankle injury. DE Osi Umenyiora (4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble) played very well. He played with a lot of hustle and worked hard to defend against the run in direction. He also got a few quality pass pressures, including one sack that caused a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. Umenyiora beat LT Todd Steussie on this play – a solid, experienced veteran.

Linebackers: I was not impressed with Dhani Jones (5 tackles, 1 sack) this week. His one sack was a garbage sack as the quarterback tripped over his own lineman. Jones did make an excellent play in the 4th quarter where he shot the gap and tackled the back for a 6-yard loss. He also tackled the back for a 1-yard loss in the 1st quarter and forced an incompletion with a good hit. But Jones continues to misread running plays or overpursues and is often leaving gaps open on his side of the defense. He also got effectively blocked at the point-of-attack on a few running plays in the direction of Washington and Hamilton.

Mike Barrow (9 tackles, 0.5 sacks) had another strong game. He was active both against the run and the pass, causing a couple of incompletions with solid hits. He also stuffed Stephen Davis down on the goal line on one play and was chiefly responsible for a 15-yard sack that pushed the Panthers out of field goal range. Once again, Defensive Coordinator Johnnie Lynn demonstrated he has no clue by again having Barrow cover the slot wide receiver in the red zone. This is clearly an unfair mismatch and it resulted in a touchdown (this has happened a few times already this year).

Brandon Short (4 tackles) did not stand out. When he left the game, Kevin Lewis played and he did a decent job in one situation covering the back deep down the sideline.

Defensive Backs: Johnnie Harris (6 tackles) had a game to forget. He forced what should have been a fumble and touchdown for the Giants in the 1st quarter, but the refs blew the whistle prematurely. On the next play, he was flagged with a 15-yard face mask penalty that helped put the Panthers in field goal range. In the 2nd quarter, after the Giants had cut the score to 20-10, Harris intercepted a pass on 3rd-and-2, but he had the ball ripped out of his arms and it was recovered by the Panthers for a 1st down. On the very next play, WR Muhsin Muhammad was triple-covered by Harris, Omar Stoutmire, and Ike Charlton, yet he still came up with a 36-yard deep pass that put the ball on the Giants’ 1-yard line. Harris also dropped two passes that hit him in the hands later in the quarter.

Omar Stoutmire had some rough moments too. He could have been a hero had the officials not ruled that fumble caused by Harris dead, as he returned the fumble for what should have been a touchdown. On the play where Harris was flagged for a face mask, Omar missed a tackle on Davis near the line of scrimmage. Stoutmire too dropped an interception; this one right before a successful field goal attempt. Stoutmire got beat on the goal line by Muhammad on 3rd-and-goal for a touchdown. In the 3rd quarter, Stoutmire did knock away a deep sideline pass attempt. On the very next play, he got good pressure on the quarterback with a safety blitz.

CB Frank Walker had a mixed day. He had good coverage on a 2nd-and-10 pass intended for Muhammad that fell incomplete in the 2nd quarter. Walker also broke up a 3rd-and-11 pass intended for WR Steve Smith in the 3rd quarter. But Walker got easily beat for 16 yards on 3rd-and-7 on a drive that resulted in a touchdown. He was later flagged for illegal contact on the same drive on 3rd-and-7.

Nickel back Ryan Clark got beat by Giant-killer Ricky Proehl for 13 yards on 3rd-and-6 on a drive that resulted in a field goal. Clark did come up with sack on 3rd-and-13 early in the 3rd quarter (this was one game where Johnnie Lynn finally used some innovative blitzes). On the play where Walker was flagged for illegal contact, Clark also got beat by Muhammad for a first down on 3rd-and-7.

Ike Charlton got beat badly by Proehl on a crossing pattern that picked up 29 yards with just 27 seconds left before halftime. This play put the Panthers in successful field goal range. Charlton did make an excellent tackle for no gain on a swing pass right before Clark’s sack.

Ray Green gave up a key 13 yard completion on 3rd-and-5 on a drive that resulted in a touchdown (the same drive where Walker and Clark got beat in the 3rd quarter).

Special Teams: God, I hope the new coach hires a real special teams coach who can teach players how to block on kick and punt returns (or fire the players and find ones who can). Not to sound like a broken record, but the Giants’ kick return game was abysmal despite numerous opportunities. Brian Mitchell fielded six kickoffs and the best he could do was a 26-yard gain (he averaged 20.3 yards). Delvin Joyce’s sole return only went for 15 yards. Mitchell actually picked up decent yardage for once on the two punts he returned – one return going for 10 yards and the other for 15 yards. However, Mitchell really made a poor decision to call for a fair catch in the 4th quarter on a play where he had no one around him.

PK Matt Bryant’s kickoffs were poor, being fielded at the 21, 6, 10, 8, and 14. Kickoff coverage was OK with returns going for 16 (Quincy Monk making the tackle), 25 (Johnnie Harris and Quincy Monk), 24 (Kevin Lewis), 18 (Clarence LeBlanc and Darnell Dinkins), and 20 (Quincy Monk).

Bryant hit his sole field goal attempt – a 28 yarder.

P Jeff Feagles’ punts were so-so. He punted 5 times for a 37.6 yards-per-punt average. His punts were returned for 1 yard (Brian Mitchell forcing the returner out of bounds), 48 yards for a touchdown, out of bounds, out of bounds, and –3 yards (Kevin Lewis). On the 48-yard touchdown return, Brian Mitchell missed a tackle, gunner David Tyree was effectively blocked by two blockers, gunner Delvin Joyce pulled a hamstring, and Kevin Lewis and Brandon Short were clearly illegally blocked in the back.

Darnell Dinkins was flagged with encroachment on one Carolina punt.

Of course, the big story on special teams was DE Osi Umenyiora blocking two punts – both which set up easy touchdowns. Osi won “NFC Special Teams Player of the Week” honors for his effort.

Kudos to Clarence LeBlanc for knocking one of those God damn Giant-hating officials out of the game.

(Box Score – Carolina Panthers at New York Giants, December 28, 2003)
Dec 262003
 

Approach to the Game – Carolina Panthers at New York Giants, December 28, 2003: This preview will be as lame as the Giants’ season. Quite frankly, there is really little to talk about. The Giants will be without Collins, Shockey, Hilliard, Carter, Petitgout, Seubert, and Rivers on offense again and therefore will struggle against one of the NFL’s very best defenses. The only good news is that youngsters such as David Tyree, Willie Ponder, Visanthe Shiancoe, Darnell Dinkins, David Diehl, Ian Allen, Jeff Hatch, Scott Peters, and Jesse Palmer will continue to see much needed game experience. This tape will be used by the new coaching staff to evaluate potential.

Defensively, this is probably DT Keith Hamilton’s last game as he is expected to retire when the season is over. It also might be the last game in a Giants’ uniform for soon-to-be unrestricted free agents Cornelius Griffin, Keith Washington, Brandon Short, Dhani Jones, and Johnnie Harris. I’d love to see William Joseph and Osi Umenyiora get a lot of playing time, but this coaching staff seems reluctant to play the young fellows up front much.

This is actually a game the Giants could win. The players will want to send Jim Fassel out on a high note. Defensively, the Giants’ match-up pretty well against the Panthers. Just as importantly, this game carries no importance to the Carolina Panthers as they are locked in as the #3 seed in the NFC regardless of whether they win or lose. It is certainly possible that they will rest many starters.

The most important thing for the Giants is to get out of this game healthy. Then all the attention will be on the search for the new coaching staff, free agency, and the draft. It’s been a long, ugly season. Let’s get it over with.

Dec 242003
 
Dallas Cowboys 19 – New York Giants 3

Game Overview: I just can’t get over how bad this season has turned out. You wait eight months for football to start and are “rewarded” with this crap?

The Giants’ offense simply could not compete with the Dallas defense. The Giants were without too many key starters such as Collins, Shockey, Hilliard, Carter, Petitgout, Seubert, and Rivers. Moreover, the Dallas defenders were so much quicker and faster than the New York offensive players that it seemed as if the Giants were running in mud.

Defensively, the Giants played reasonable well and at least keep the game respectable (pretty sad when keeping a game respectable is to be lauded as an accomplishment). The front seven did a good job defending the run for the second week in a row and the secondary was not exploited as badly as it was last week.

Like the Saints, the Dallas special teams out-hustled and out-hit the Giants.

On a side note, I’m not sure that picking extremely high in the upcoming draft is going to help the Giants much. Taking a linebacker, safety, offensive lineman, or running back very high (top 7) doesn’t seem appropriate in terms of prospects available, value, and financial considerations. At this early point, it is debatable whether there will be a defensive lineman worthy of such a lofty pick (though that could change as someone like Vince Wilfork or Kenechi Udeze could climb the charts). Right now, I get the feeling that the best available player when the Giants pick may be a wide receiver (there are going to be some really good ones in this draft), quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger), and tight end (Kellen Winslow). It might be best if the Giants trade down.

Quarterback: The good news was that Jesse Palmer (18-of-32 for 190 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) did not hurt his team with dumb mistakes. He managed the game pretty well, did a decent job of getting rid of the ball despite somewhat shaky pass protection, and maintained his confidence despite being victimized by a number of dropped passes. The bad news is that Palmer really didn’t make many plays. Most of his work was on short stuff. When he did throw down the field, his accuracy wasn’t very good. In summary, Palmer didn’t do much to excite or flash any long-term potential.

On New York’s first drive, Palmer missed a great opportunity when he missed Amani Toomer over the middle in a one-on-one situation when Dallas came with a full blitz on 3rd-and-6. If Palmer connects with Toomer here, Amani may score. Palmer also underthrew Toomer twice on deep passes where Toomer had a step on a defender. Even Palmer’s 40-yard completion to Toomer in the 3rd quarter was underthrown.

On a side note, what a stupid call on the quarterback running play to the right on 4th-and-2 from the Dallas 12-yard line in the 3rd quarter. The Giants had run this play successfully earlier in the game, so Dallas was not going to be surprised by it again.

Wide Receivers: Amani Toomer (5 catches for 66 yards) was more involved in the offense this week despite all the attention focused on him by the Cowboys. However, Toomer did drop two passes in the first half. Toomer did a good job of coming up with a 40-yard reception on an underthrown ball despite contact from the defender.

David Tyree (3 catches for 20 yards) also dropped two passes, including a costly one on 3rd-and-1 where he was wide open.

Willie Ponder caught one pass for 4 yards.

Running Backs: Tiki Barber (13 carries for 47 yards) could never really get untracked as Dallas crowded the line of scrimmage and their defenders were often too quick for the Giants’ blockers up front. Barber was more of a factor in the passing game with 5 catches for 55 yards. The good news was that he held onto the ball this week.

Dorsey Levens (6 carries for 4 yards) looked sluggish and wasn’t helped by poor short-yardage blocking.

FB Jim Finn picked up 25 yards after a short pass on New York’s first drive. He gives a good effort when blocking, but he doesn’t play with much power.

Tight Ends: An up-and-down game for Visanthe Shiancoe as both a blocker and pass receiver. Shiancoe did a good job on most of his blocking assignments, but I did see him get thrown aside by the defensive end on one running play that went nowhere. He was also flagged with a false start. In the passing game, Shiancoe continues to see more and more action as Palmer often looks to dump the ball off short. Shiancoe caught 3 passes for 20 yards, but he also dropped a pass. He had a chance to make a huge play deep on a play where Palmer scrambled to his right and Shiancoe got behind the defender, but Visanthe didn’t make a play on the football.

Darnell Dinkins blocked well against the smaller, but quicker Dallas defenders.

Offensive Line: Jeff Hatch had a rough game. He spends too much time on the ground, often (for some reason), trying to take the knees out from a defender instead of blocking him straight-up. In the first half, I saw him give up two hits on Palmer. His play deteriorated in the second half as he gave up one big pressure on an inside move, got beat by a linebacker to the outside for another hit on Palmer, and gave up a sack/forced fumble to DE Greg Ellis. After that play, he was benched in favor of Jeff Roehl.

Roehl was horrible. In his short time at right tackle, I saw him give up two pressures/hits on Palmer plus a sack to end the game.

Ian Allen played reasonably well in the first half and for much of the second half, but fell apart late in the game (this has been an annoying trend on him for 3 weeks now). Late in the game, he allowed a pressure and gave up a sack. Allen also missed a run block in the 3rd quarter, allowing his man to make the tackle at the line of scrimmage.

Chris Bober played fairly well except for one play where he botched the shotgun snap and allowed immediate pressure on Palmer. David Diehl played well in the first half, but struggled quite a bit in the 4th quarter. He missed his run block on a pull, allowed a pressure on Palmer, and also gave up sack to DT La’Roi Glover.

Defensive Line: The star of the game for the Giants was Michael Strahan (4 tackles, 3 sacks). Strahan also provided a number of other pass pressures, leading to key incompletions. His run defense was also excellent. The only real negative I saw was that he lost contain on one scramble by Quincy Carter that picked up a 1st down on his side of the field.

Once again, there wasn’t much pass rush assistance from Cornelius Griffin (3 tackles), Keith Hamilton (4 tackles), and Keith Washington (1 tackle). Griffin was pretty stout in run defense and played hard. Hamilton had his moments in run defense, but also got pushed around some. I noticed Griffin getting more double-team attention than Hamilton on running plays. Both Griffin and Hamilton lost their contain responsibilities on a couple of Carter scrambles up the gut. Hamilton also missed a tackle at the line of scrimmage in the first half.

Washington got one good pass pressure on a stunt, but he got pushed around some against the run. Worse, he missed two tackles early in the game at the line of scrimmage on plays that picked up decent yardage.

Lance Legree looked pretty good in run defense. William Joseph hardly saw any playing time. Neither did Osi Umenyiora, who had a chance to sack Carter, but mistakenly left his feet when Carter faked throwing the football.

Linebackers: Good game by Mike Barrow (9 tackles) and Dhani Jones (11 tackles). Both were very active in run defense, and Jones performed much better in pass coverage this week as well. Both Barrow and Jones were aggressive in taking on blocks and making plays against the running backs at the line of scrimmage. Barrow forced Carter into Strahan’s arms on one sack when Barrow blitzed off the corner.

Early in the 3rd quarter, on the goal line, Barrow was in on all three plays as he stuffed an inside run, combined with Jones to tackle the fullback short of the end zone on a screen pass, and then tackled Carter for a loss on quarterback draw. On the latter play, Barrow expertly avoided the block of the pulling guard. Jones prevented a couple of first downs with aggressive tackles after short passes. Both Barrow and Jones also played hard until the final whistle blew.

Defensive Backs: The Cowboys were not able to take advantage of the Giants’ secondary as much as I thought they were going to be able to do. Things did not look good early as Joey Galloway beat Ike Charlton deep for 64-yard gain on Dallas’ first offensive play (Johnnie Harris was late to help out on this play as well). What was especially damning on this play was that Charlton was playing almost 10 yards off the line of scrimmage and still got beat deep.

But after that, the corners did a reasonable job. Interestingly, the Giants rotated Charlton with Ray Green quite a bit. WR Terry Glenn got wide open against Green on one occasion. Green and FS Omar Stoutmire were also lucky that WR Antonio Bryant dropped a deep fullback option pass, as both were beat on the trick play.

Frank Walker got beat on one slant, but otherwise did a fair job on his opponent. However, Walker really pissed me off by clearly pulling up and avoiding contact with the halfback on a 10-yard run down to the Giants’ 4-yard line early in the 3rd quarter.

Nickel back Ryan Clark had problems covering Glenn at times out of the slot, including allowing two first down completions on 3rd-and-5 in the second half.

Stoutmire made a nice play against TE Jason Witten, causing an incompletion. However, Johnnie Harris was badly beaten by Witten for 36 yards on Dallas’ lone touchdown.

Special Teams: Blocking for punt and kick returns remains pathetic. Giant special teams blockers look disinterested while opponents regularly out-hustle and out-hit them. Once again, Wes Mallard was flagging with an illegal block.

Brian Mitchell not only can’t do it physically, but he is making too many mental mistakes. He made a rookie mistake by fielding punts inside the 10-yard line. He also made a bone-head play by not fielding a short punt and then allowing it to roll for big yardage. Delvin Joyce can’t get it done either with the poor blocking. He should have called for a fair catch on one play where he got hammered.

Jeff Feagles punted well, averaging 43.3 yards on 8 punts, including 4 that landed in side the 20-yard line. Punt coverage was very good except for the killer 46-yard return in the 3rd quarter. Nick Greisen missed a tackle on this return, but to be fair, Dallas should have been flagged for blocking Kevin Lewis in the back right at the point-of-attack. On the other efforts, David Tyree, Darnell Dinkins, and Brian Mitchell were active in coverage.

PK Matt Bryant hit a 45-yarder, but was also very short on his kick-offs. Kick-off coverage was good.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, December 21, 2003)
Dec 192003
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, December 21, 2003: The Giants have absolutely no shot at winning this game. None. Not only is Head Coach Jim Fassel officially “a dead man walking”, but the match-ups for New York in this contest are horrendous:

  • With Will Allen, Will Peterson, Ralph Brown, and Kato Serwanga out, the Giants’ corners in this game will be Frank Walker, Ike Charlton (signed to the team a month ago), Ray Green (signed this week), and Reggie Stephens (signed this week). This group will have to cover Joey Galloway, Terry Glenn, and Antonio Bryant. Oh-oh.
  • The Cowboys love to blitz their safeties and linebackers. They have a very quick and fast defense. The offensive line of Ian Allen, Scott Peters, Chris Bober, David Diehl, and Jeff Hatch will be mentally and physically over-matched.
  • The strength of the Cowboys’ defense is their secondary. Even if Ike Hilliard (knee) does play, he won’t be very effective. The Cowboys will focus their attention on Amani Toomer and the Giants’ passing game will be in deep trouble. This is a game where Jeremy Shockey, Tim Carter, and a healthy Hilliard will be sorely missed.
  • Cowboy LB Dexter Coakley will have no problems covering HB Tiki Barber.
  • Unlike the Giants, the Cowboys take special teams very seriously.
  • Coaching…Bill Parcells versus Jim Fassel? C’mon! Just remember, it was Fassel’s bone-headed decision to leave 14 seconds on the clock at the end of regulation in the first game that was instrumental in New York’s first loss.

This game could get as ugly as the game against the Saints unless the Giants force Quincy Carter to make some stupid mistakes.

Dec 172003
 
New Orleans Saints 45 – New York Giants 7

Game Overview: Two more games and this nightmare season is over.

As John Mara said on Wednesday, “In the second half of the season it became apparent to us that (the players) need to hear a different voice in the locker room.” So what we all knew was coming at the end of the season was announced two games early. Fassel himself was the one to encourage ownership to make the early announcement. The benefit to all was that this break-up took on a more dignified tone than is usual in the NFL. It also allows the Giants to talk to a couple of head coaching candidates early, most notably Tom Coughlin.

But make no mistake. This was a calculated move by Fassel. By making this announcement, not only does he enable other teams to start considering him early for a new job, but he effectively draws attention away from the Giants’ next two games, which are bound to be losses. Future employers won’t dwell as much on the soon-to-be 8-game losing streak as they would have.

Defensive Overview: The Giants’ defense gave up 38 points and only forced New Orleans to punt once. Except for two big runs, the run defense was actually pretty sound and did a reasonable job of containing the talented Deuce McAllister for the most part. The problem was the horrendous pass defense that gave up over 300 yards passing and 5 touchdowns.

The problem with the pass defense was threefold: (1) the depleted secondary consisted of guys such as Frank Walker, Ike Charlton, and Kato Serwanga; (2) the pass rush was non-existent, and (3) the defensive schemes stink.

It’s hard for me to be overly harsh on the secondary as these guys are doing the best they can. In fact, even on most of the Saints’ big completions, the coverage was reasonable. But there was confusion due to a lack of experience and cohesiveness. And these guys were receiving no help from the front seven. QB Aaron Brooks had a nice, safe pass pocket all night from which to work. When a quarterback feels safe and secure, his confidence grows and he can make the kind of throws that Brooks did. A secondary’s best ally is a good pass rush, and for the Giants, there was none.

I can’t wait for this entire freaking defensive coaching staff to get canned. You have Mike Barrow covering Pro Bowl WR Joe Horn on one play, and Omar Stoutmire trying to stick with him by himself in some sort of crazy zone? The Giant blitzes fool no one.

Defensive Line: The run defense was mostly acceptable. One of the two big McAllister runs came on a draw play where Strahan and Griffin were stunting and the Saints caught these two in the stunt. The pass rush was extremely disappointing across the board. Only Lance Legree picked up a sack and that was late in the game. Brooks had all day to throw and was rarely pressured. William Joseph and Osi Umenyiora played quite a bit but did nothing.

Linebackers: The Saints took advantage of Mike Barrow and Dhani Jones in pass coverage. Both had problems with McAllister and TE Boo Williams. Jones’ instincts for the game are not very good as he is often in the wrong place (plus, I’m sick to death of his guitar celebration crap). I can’t tell for sure, but it seems to me that many of the breakdowns in coverage are mental mistakes on his part. Barrow missed at least three tackles. Brandon Short was flagged for tripping. No one gets there on the blitz.

Defensive Backs: Don’t get me wrong, most of these corners may not even be in the NFL next season and they certainly did not shine on Sunday night. But I put more of the blame on the non-existent pass rush than these inexperienced players or journeymen. On most of the big completions and touchdown completions, the coverage was decent. The problem was that Brooks was able to make picture-perfect throws because he was so comfortable in the pocket.

The Giants suffered a big loss early when Ralph Brown re-injured his shoulder on the long TD completion to Joe Horn early in the game. It was excellent coverage by Brown, but an even better throw and catch by the Saints. My biggest problem on the play was that Johnnie Harris was running around like headless chicken instead of helping out on the deep pass.

With Brown out, Ike Charlton, Frank Walker, and Kato Serwanga were the main characters at corner. Frank Walker sticks close to his man, but continues to play with poor technique (i.e., not looking back for the football). He got beat for one TD by Horn. Charlton made one play on the ball, but also gave up a couple of key first downs. WR Jerome Pathon scored a TD against an odd defense that had him surrounded (but not tightly covered) by three Giants (Charlton, Serwanga, and Harris). Serwanga made one nice play in coverage, but also gave up a key first down.

I have no idea what kind of defense the Giants were using when Omar Stoutmire was called upon to defend the entire middle of the field by himself against Joe Horn on the latter’s last TD reception.

Offensive Overview: I didn’t care for the play-calling at all. Fassel put far too much stress on his young quarterback and offensive line but continuing to run on first and second down and then passing on 3rd-and-long. The Giants should have passed on first down, when the Saints were looking for Tiki Barber runs.

Quarterback: Not as bad as I expected. Palmer managed the game fairly well and didn’t hurt his team with any costly mistakes or turnovers. A couple of the sacks were his fault as he held onto the ball too long. He kept his composure well on the flea flicker that picked up 39 yards and did a nice job on his 26-yard scramble. But he did get a little sloppy in the 3rd quarter. He missed Tyree deep on one play, almost had one pass picked and returned for a TD, and didn’t set his feet properly on a key 3rd down incompletion where he had time to make a more accurate throw. Palmer didn’t take many chances throwing the football down the field to his receivers.

Wide Receivers: Pretty sad. Toomer had 2 catches for 20 yards, Ponder 2 catches for 10 yards, and Tyree 1 catch for 39 yards. Toomer did make a spectacular catch from his knees.

Tight Ends: The good news is that Visanthe Shiancoe is finally getting involved in the passing game. He caught 3 passes for 19 yards and a touchdown, and looked pretty natural as a receiver for the first time all season. His blocking was mostly positive, though there was one play where the defensive end threw him aside to tackle the back for a loss. Shiancoe got flagged for a costly unsportsmanlike penalty when the Giants were deep in Saints territory.

Halfback: Barber officially fumbled once (Shiancoe recovered) and there was another play where a pass was ruled incomplete that could have been ruled a fumble. Obviously, this fumbling problem has gotten extremely serious and the Giants need to bring another quality back to training camp in case Tiki can’t shake this thing.

It’s tough to judge Tiki’s running ability with the hodge-podge offensive line, but he doesn’t seem as explosive as he has in the past. Is he slowing down a bit? Or is this a result of not been in sync with the blockers up front? Barber did make two super one-handed catches on passes thrown high and behind him. Barber did an excellent job in pass protection on one play where he took out the defensive end, but on another play, he allowed the blitzer to pressure Palmer.

Delvin Joyce fumbled the ball away late in the game. Most of Dorsey Levens’ yardage came when the Giants were attempting to run out the clock in order to prevent an even bigger embarrassment.

Offensive Line: It’s tough to be too harsh on this group. You’ve got a natural right tackle playing out of position at left tackle. You have a natural center (who was picked up off the street) playing out of position at left guard. And you have basically a rookie right tackle making only his second start.

Scott Peters had a rough time at left guard. He isn’t very big or strong and gets pushed around a lot. He got flagged for holding and whiffed on a block on a screen pass. Like last week, Ian Allen played pretty darn well in the first half, but then struggled a bit in the second half. He gave up some pressure, but given the fact that he is playing in the wrong spot, I think he has done an admirable job. His biggest mistake was missing his block on the end around right after the flea flicker. If he makes that block, the Giants may score and cut the Saints’ lead to 17-14. Allen also doesn’t look very athletic when pulling.

As expected, David Diehl and Chris Bober were the best of the group. I like the way Diehl plays in the open field on pulling efforts. I also liked the fact that Diehl and Bober came to the defense of Palmer when Jesse was hit on a play that was blown dead.

Jeff Hatch had his ups and downs. There were times when he looked good in pass protection. But he spent too much time on the ground, got run over on one play, and was confused by stunts. He also gave up a sack by getting cleanly beaten to the outside.

Special Teams: Special teams continues to lose games for the Giants. The blocked field goal was a 10-point swing, making the game 24-7 instead of 17-10. The entire center of the line collapsed on the play.

Brian Mitchell is not only not helping the Giants, but he is now hurting them. He field one punt inside his 10 yard line (a big-time no-no) and fumbled away a kickoff return, setting up another Saints’ TD.

On all kickoff and punt returns by both teams, you could see that it was the Saints who were playing with more emotion and aggressiveness. The Giants were beaten on way too many one-on-one blocking situations as the Saints simply wanted it more.

Wes Mallard was flagged with a dumb personal foul and was also flagged for a block in the back penalty.


Now That the Shoe Has Fallen

by BBI Reporter/Photographer David Oliver

We can begin to put this season to bed and do what we here at BBI do best; we can speculate ad nauseam about who will succeed Coach Fassel, who was really at fault for the Debacle of 2003, what defense have the Giants been playing and what might they play, and, of course, will Big Al and MIS return in 2004, which is a question more fundamentally pertinent to BBI. Although there has been a constant ebb and flow of members and contributors to this site, we have lost far too many valuable contributors as a result of premee rancor, communications failures and just plain ill-manners and tempers. Maybe in 2004, better DISCIPLINE will be exercised among the ranks here, as we are as badly in need of it as are the Giants.

So with this homily, I come not to bury Jim Fassel, but to reminisce over him, and maybe to sprinkle a little praise in with the criticisms. Why? Because he brought us a sense of belonging as no other Coach since Bill Parcells, even in the face of his own impotence in catching the Brass Ring, or is it the ONE RING, the Grail of football, the Lombardi Trophy. Having suffered through so many Coaches, with so many different approaches to the game, from Allie Sherman on up (I never suffered through Jim Lee Howell – who produced rugged teams, Champions or not), Jim Fassel won more than his share of games. First off, let me say that I was not a Fassel man when he was hired – I was and am, a Joe Bugel kind of guy. I thought he looked like Mr. Roberts than, as he does now, and he was associated with the ill-fated regime of Ray Handley, which was an abomination for all Giants’ fans.

For me there are ear-marks defining the bad times. Trading Sam Huff, cutting Pepper Johnson, screwing with Jessie Armistead and Jason Sehorn, these are the hot coals that stigmatize the search, my search, for that same Holy Grail of Championship, even though I don’t get a Ring, or a big salary. So Jim Fassel arrived on the scene, optimistic, almost effusive. He assembled a pretty good coaching staff around him, he befriended his players, and he made something out of nothing. He did it over and over again, even taking what was at the time referred to as the “worst team ever to reach the Super Bowl” to the Super Bowl. He did it by pushing all his chips to the middle of the table, almost by sheer force of his own will and personality. And it was a wonderful ride. For me, I will never forget that late afternoon on the field in the Meadowlands following the blistering of the Minnesota Vikings, when a couple of the younger players that I had befriended during the year came running up to me and threw their arms around my neck and thanked even me. All the days and nights in the cold, the money I had spent, the time away from family, all of these things coalesced in that hug on that field and I actually felt as a part of the Giants family. That was Jim Fassel’s team, and for that I will always remember him.

Of course, it was after the Detroit game that year, the game marked by Jason Sehorn running down the field clutching his slipping pants, the game after which Bashir Levinston was sacrificed on the altar of discipline, the game when both Eric and I suggested that the Giants needed a new Coach, it was after all these things that the Giants went on to the Super Bowl. And much of that encapsulated a darker side to Jim Fassel. He coached a team of peaks and valleys and we could never figure out which team it was. He treated some guys in unbelievably juvenile fashion, ie., Bashir, Joe Montgomery and recently Ron Dayne. It isn’t whether they are or were good players; it was the door or the pine treatment, the coldness which contradicted the otherwise warmth of a player’s Coach. But they are signs only of a growing process, I hope, and not of a flaw which will dog this Coach through the remainder of his career.

I will always remember him with that goofy straw hat at summer camp; his warm nature sitting and chatting when the pressure was off; the joy at finding his son. I will also remember how he didn’t want the photographers anywhere near the sidelines, even at inconsequential camp practices. The photographer part of me cannot understand what it is that grabs these guys the wrong way about a camera, but a pencil seems so central to their image. I will remember the very generous note I received from his wife after I sent her some photos of her Mom and Dad with her on their first visit to the Meadowlands. For a guy who hasn’t made a dime off football in many years, just the thought put the Fassels on a different plane.

It worked for 7 years; he is a multi-millionaire; he has had a good run. So there is no sense in being maudlin, certainly none in being vicious. I will remember Jim Fassel as one of the good guys. I wish him and his family, love, success and joy of being for the rest of their days.

Now, for me, it is also a soul-searching time. At the beginning of this year, I was told that “if we weren’t who we are, you wouldn’t be on the field,” (rough paraphrase). Just as Jim Fassel, I have known from the time I started covering football that this was the case. And I am eternally grateful to the Giants organization for being who they are. After all, if they weren’t, I would probably long ago have become a fan of some other organization. But I can’t tell you that it didn’t hurt, because it damn sure did. Some of you have been on this journey with me since I started here. You have gleaned a sense of who I am and what I did for the better part of my working career. I am a Professional; I have always been a Professional. I comport myself as a Professional and I expect to be recognized and treated as a Professional. That’s it. Nothing more. I am a thin-skinned SOB, who did some time in Thailand, Korea, Columbia, Egypt, the Soviet Union, France and Mexico – and it wasn’t always carrying a pen, or tape recorder, or wearing a suit. When something gets in my craw, it stays there. My wife says I never forget. I have always taken pain, internalized it, metabolized it and made it useful. Jim Fassel has 2 more games and then he moves on. I have one more game and, likewise, I am in serious consideration of moving on. There are, after all, places more rewarding than the sidelines.

The speculation as to who will succeed Jim Fassel is hot and heavy and I would like to throw in my .02 cents. The Giants must move fast to salvage next year. They do not have the luxury of waiting until deep in the playoffs to hire a Head Coach, who will have to assemble a staff, review this year’s coaching staff review of personnel, meet with the scouts and tell them what he needs or wants. I believe this precludes Charlie Weiss and Romeo Crennel. Weiss may be first choice, but timing dictates the Giants go elsewhere. This leaves 3 candidates: Coughlin, Saban and Schottenheimer. Tom Coughlin is available and ready to go. He probably knows who he wants on his staff and he has been looking at the Giants’ roster and tapes. He is a friend of the Maras. Saban has been successful at the College level, has Pro experience and will be done with his team shortly after the New Year. He will need more time to prepare than Coughlin, so he has little flexibility to negotiate. Schott is a personal favorite of EA; he will most likely be available within a week, if at all.

None are perfect. Only Bill Parcells and Dick Vermeil, among current Coaches, have shown an aptitude for winning in any place with any kind of team. Coughlin and Schottenheimer have reputations of being fossils, as opposed to Fassels. My own belief is that their personalities do not suit the modern game. Their past success has been just that, past success. Parcells, like Lombardi, could be a taskmaster and get away with it because there is a love of the game and their players that transcends age and style. Coughlin and Marty are technicians, what we used to refer to as green eye shade men. Either will take the Giants to Ground Zero and start again – too reminiscent of the parade that followed Allie Sherman. Saban is an unknown in this respect. My guess is that Tom Coughlin as next Coach will be as badly a kept secret as JimFassel’s moving on.

Lastly, a little discussion of the defense and what it needs. I have seen the playbook and it is larger than WAR AND PEACE. It is a playbook for a veteran team, a pre free-agency team. Whether it is read-and-react, passive aggressive, overly aggressive, it is a difficult playbook. I do not see a new Coach keeping it intact. It appears to be premised on stopping the big play, playing a very disciplined defense with knowledge of and trust in the performance of every member of the D. It is a defense designed to stop the offenses of the 70s and 80s, with some tweaking to account for the St. Louis Rams. It hasn’t worked. We needn’t concern ourselves as to whether it is read-and-react, or whatever it is called. Many players on other teams have told me it is a very aggressive defense. Many players on the Giants have told me it is a very difficult defense. My eyes tell me it is a defense that doesn’t work. I wish the next Coach luck in destroying the Maginot Manual of the current Giants’ defense.

The offense – well, the offense needs a line, and soon it will need a running back. I will have more to say about that in my finishing remarks after the last game.

For now, I wish you all a Happy and Joyous Holiday Season.

(Box Score – New York Giants at New Orleans Saints, December 14, 2003)
Dec 122003
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at New Orleans Saints, December 14, 2003: The Saints are so pathetic in December when their season is on the line that if the Giants weren’t so beat up, I think they would actually win this game with nothing to play for.

As someone posted in The Corner Forum recently, there was an amazing game played by the Giants in 1988 in New Orleans. It too was a Sunday Night affair on ESPN. Phil Simms and at least another half dozen starters were out of that game due to injury. The Giants won that game (13-12) with two back-up quarterbacks (the young Jeff Hostetler started, the old Jeff Rutledge finished). It was the greatest game Lawrence Taylor ever played as he repeatedly sacked the quarterback and forced fumbles with only one working arm. The Giants won the game with a last second field goal by Paul McFadden.

Is a repeat of history in the offering? Could Jesse Palmer start the game and be replaced by Jason Garrett? Could Michael Strahan put on an LT-like performance? Will Matt Bryant kick the game winner? Probably not, but one can dream.

Thus begins the last three games of the Jim Fassel era. A lot of players currently on the roster will follow him out the door. Those who want to stay had better fight like hell in the last three games.

Player Overview: Let’s look at the status of the roster:

Quarterbacks: Kerry Collins will be the starter in 2004. He will likely have his contract extended in the offseason in order to create more cap room for the team. I’d be shocked if Collins isn’t the quarterback for this team for at least the next 2-3 years. Jesse Palmer will be a restricted free agent. This game and any remaining games that he plays in will be very important for him. He didn’t play very well in the preseason, preferring to dump everything off short and failing to make plays down the field. This is most likely Jason Garrett’s last season with the Giants.

The Giants will need to draft another quarterback if they have no faith in Palmer. Look for a cheap vet to also be added.

Halfback: Tiki Barber will return and serve a prominent role in the offense in 2004. However, the Giants will add another quality back either via the draft or free agency in order to complement him. The new coaching staff will likely reduce Tiki’s carries and feature the new back at times. Ron Dayne may be in camp, but I doubt he survives. Dorsey Levens is marginal and Brian Mitchell is gone. It will be interesting to see what the new staff thinks of Delvin Joyce.

My guess is the Giants draft a halfback somewhere in rounds 2-4.

Fullback: The future of Jim Finn rests entirely with the style of the new coaching staff. If they want more of a physical lead blocker, then Finn may be in trouble.

Wide Receivers: Amani Toomer is having an off year, but he should rebound under a better coaching staff. Ike Hilliard will finished another year banged up. He’s a gamer and moves the chains, but he doesn’t make many plays down the field. It will be interesting to see what the new staff thinks of him. The Giants have some talented youngsters who can fly in Tim Carter and Willie Ponder, but they have to prove they can do it on the field. Unfortunately for Carter and the Giants, repeated concussions may keep him off the field down the stretch. I’d like to see Ponder on the field a lot against the Saints. David Tyree isn’t very fast – he’ll probably be a career 4th or 5th wideout. He will start on Sunday against the Saints; let’s see what he can do. Ron Dixon will be an unrestricted free agent and his career is in jeopardy. Ataveus Cash and Ryan Hoag are on the Practice Squad and I know little about them.

I would not be shocked to see the Giants spend their first pick on a wide receiver who they consider an impact player – especially if the receivers available are rated much higher than any available defensive players.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey is an impact player. Visanthe Shiancoe flashes very good ability as a blocker, but we have yet to see him make any plays in the passing game. Tony McGee could be activated this week; does he have a future with the new coaching staff as a pass receiving tight end? Or will the Giants re-sign Marcellus Rivers (RFA)? Darnell Dinkins may be following Fassel out the door.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Giants add a veteran blocking tight end to team with Shockey and Shiancoe.

Offensive Line: This unit is not in as much of a mess as everyone thinks it is. Of course, much depends on the new coaching staff and their overall philosophy.

Luke Petitgout will be fine at left tackle. His back injury is not career-threatening. Most fans seem to readily forget how damn good Petitgout was at left tackle in 2002 when he was healthy and focused. The guy to cross your fingers on is LG Rich Seubert. He’s coming off a serious leg injury that will take a long time to recover from. When healthy, Seubert is fire plug who plays the game with a chip on his shoulder. The Giants really miss him up front. Chris Bober will be an unrestricted free agent and the Giants should do their best to re-sign him. David Diehl, despite the all the penalties, is going to be fixture on this line for a long time at either guard or right tackle. Ian Allen hasn’t performed poorly at right tackle after a rough start. Wayne Lucier looks like he might have a future as either a starter or quality back-up at both guard and center. On the other hand, guys like Jeff Roehl, Jeff Hatch, Scott Peters, Omar Smith, Dion Meredith, and Sean O’Connor will have to fight like hell to impress the new staff.

One of the Giants’ top priorities in free agency will be to add at least one quality veteran offensive lineman, preferably a right tackle such as John Tait (Chiefs) or Todd Wade (Miami). They also need to think about bringing in a guard in case Seubert is slow to recover or they move Diehl to right tackle. I really doubt Accorsi drafts an offensive lineman in round one, especially as high as the Giants are picking.

Offensive Summary: Giants need to add two offensive linemen, at least one being a quality veteran free agent. Look for the Giants to draft/sign a halfback to complement Tiki Barber. Don’t be shocked if the first player taken by the team in the draft is a wide receiver.

Players on the spot/under focus in the game against the Saints are Jesse Palmer, Jim Finn, Visanthe Shiancoe, Tony McGee, David Tyree, Willie Ponder, Jeff Hatch, and Chris Peters.

Keep in mind that the Giants will be missing 5-of-11 starters on offense for this game (Collins, Shockey, Hilliard, Petitgout, Seubert) and another will be out of position at left tackle (Allen).

Defensive Line: Many changes most likely will be brewing here. Michael Strahan stays. DT Cornelius Griffin will be an unrestricted free agent. He is a good player, but he may want much more than the Giants are willing to pay. If he departs, the Giants will need to add a veteran free agent to replace him (i.e., Robaire Smith of the Titans, Rod Coleman of the Raiders, Bryan Young of the Rams, Warren Sapp of the Bucs). Keith Hamilton makes too much money, is too old, isn’t productive, and has legal problems…he’s gone. Kenny Holmes may be a UFA due to a performance clause and realizes the Giants are trying to replace him…most likely gone. Pencil in William Joseph and Osi Umenyiora as starters. Depth again becomes a concern. Keith Washington is a UFA, Lance Legree a RFA. Frank Ferrara is crap and Radell Lockhart is on the Practice Squad.

How big a splash the Giants make in free agency depends on the Griffin situation. They either have to re-sign him or sign another player. They also need to rebuild depth either in free agency or the draft. If Griffin leaves, using the #1 pick on someone like Vince Wilfork of Miami is a strong possibility. DE Kenechi Udeze of USC is also someone to watch as the Giants must think about the future with Michael Strahan aging.

Linebackers: This area needs to be completely reconstructed. Dhani Jones (UFA) is likely going to be allowed to leave. Mike Barrow makes too much money given his declining mobility. He could possibly take a pay cut, but the Giants may choose to go with Nick Greisen and a new addition instead. Brandon Short is also a UFA, but I’d like to see the Giants re-sign him. He’s not real good in coverage, but he is a very good 2-down linebacker. Much depends on how much money he wants. The back-ups don’t inspire (Wes Mallard, Kevin Lewis, and Quincy Monk). Again, much depends on the new staff.

The Giants will have to sign at least one veteran free agent and probably spend two draft picks on linebackers. Unless the Giants trade down, I don’t see them drafting a linebacker in round one. The prize in free agency will be Julian Peterson (49ers) but it’s unlikely the 49ers let him get away. MLB Al Wilson (Denver) and OLB Carlos Emmons (Eagles) are interesting. I also would love to see the Giants draft MLB/WLB Jonathan Vilma of Miami in the second round.

Defensive Backs: Will Peterson will be RFA but the fact that he is coming off injury should make it easier for the Giants to re-sign him. With him, Will Allen, and Frank Walker, the Giants are in good shape at corner. If they can’t re-sign Ralph Brown (UFA), then they will need to add another corner lower in the draft.

The problems are at safety. I’m not sure the Giants can waive Shaun Williams even if they want to because of the contract he recently signed. Plus, I’m not sure a decision would be made on him until a new coaching staff has a chance to work with him. You can live with Omar Stoutmire and he is under contract for two more years, but he doesn’t make any plays. It will be interesting to see what the new staff thinks of Clarence LeBlanc.

Fortunately for the Giants, this is a good year in the draft for safeties (Sean Taylor of Miami, Stuart Schweigert of Purdue, Jason Shivers of Arizona State, Rashad Washington of Kansas State) and free agency (Greg Wesley of the Chiefs, Lawyer Milloy of the Bills, Jerome Woods of the Chiefs, Reggie Tongue of the Seahawks, Donovin Darius of the Jaguars). If the Giants manage to win one more game and drop a bit in the draft order, Sean Taylor becomes real attractive in round one.

Defensive Summary: Most of the offseason work needs to be done on the defensive side of the ball. The Giants need more depth/competition on the defensive line, they need probably two new starters at linebacker, and they need to upgrade their talent at safety.

Players to focus on against the Saints are Cornelius Griffin, William Joseph, and Osi Umenyiora. I’d love to see Clarence LeBlanc get some playing time.

Against the Saints, keep in mind that the defensive backfield is a mess with three starters missing.

Overall Summary: Keep in mind the Giants will only have seven draft picks to work with, albeit relatively high (and possibly very high) in each round. Trading down for additional picks is always a possibility.

Also, unlike most years, the Giants should have a lot of cap room. Jason Sehorn’s contract will be off the books. More room will be created if Collins’ contract is re-structured. Plus, some high-priced vets will likely be let go such as Keith Hamilton, Mike Barrow, and Kenny Holmes. There are a lot of marginal players too who’s salaries add up quickly such as Jason Garrett, Ron Dayne, Brian Mitchell, Dorsey Levens…these guys won’t be back.

In the past, you’ve heard me say things like, “we can’t sign a bunch of players because we don’t have the cap room”. That won’t be true this year. There won’t be many headliners (perhaps 1 or 2), but there will be a lot of new second-tier guys. The new coaching staff will want their own type of players.

Dec 102003
 
Washington Redskins 20 – New York Giants 7

Game Overview: This season has been mind-blowingly numbing. It’s surreal that a team that was 10-6 last year and seemingly on the rise will now be challenging for perhaps the top pick in the draft. I continue to watch the team play, but I rarely get excited anymore even when there is a good play because I know a screw-up is just around the corner. The Giants drive to the Redskins’ 8-yard line, the drive stalls, and PK Matt Bryant misses the 26-yard field goal. The Giants take a 7-3 lead, then immediately allow a huge kickoff return that sets up Washington with the go-ahead score. The Giants stop the Skins on 3rd-and-8, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty is called. They stop them again on 3rd-and-6, and DT Keith Hamilton commits another dumb roughing the passer penalty.

This season was headed downwards before the injuries hit. The inexcusable special teams gaffes against Dallas and Philadelphia cost the Giants two games and a share of the NFC East lead. Three overtime games in the first half were physically and mentally taxing. There were problems on the offensive line. Luke Petitgout’s back hasn’t been right all year. And the Giants were forced to move Chris Bober to right tackle early on before eventually moving him back to center. Also, on offense, the “star” players often didn’t produce as expected. Tiki Barber fumbled, Amani Toomer disappeared, and Kerry Collins threw too many picks. Defensively, both the personnel and coaching staff were left wanting.

The roots of a terrible season were sown in week two against Dallas and week seven against Philly, but the game that officially signaled the start of the current horror show was the 27-7 loss to Atlanta. The Giants were 4-4 at the time; they haven’t won a game since. The players started to tune the coaching staff out at this point. And the injury situation began to become a real nightmare. Gone from the line-up are TE Jeremy Shockey, LG Rich Seubert, CB Will Peterson, DE Kenny Holmes, SS Shaun Williams, CB Will Allen, and LG Wayne Lucier. Also missing time were CB Ralph Brown, TE Marcellus Rivers, WR Ike Hilliard, and WR Tim Carter. Now add QB Kerry Collins to the list. With these players, the Giants likely finish 8-8; without them, this team will finish 4-12.

Who is to blame? Everyone. This was probably Fassel’s worst coaching job during his tenure. Problems on the offensive line were not recognized early enough in training camp, he made questionable game day decisions (i.e., his decision to leave more time than was necessary on the clock against Dallas at the end of regulation, not ordering Feagles to kick the ball out of bounds against Philly), and there were a bunch of strange personnel moves (i.e., continuing to stick with Brian Mitchell on special teams, refusing to play Dorsey Levens early in the season, activating Frank Ferrara over William Joseph). But just as importantly, Fassel was not able to overcome a weakness that has caused him problems throughout his stay with the Giants: his players were never afraid of the man. There was no fear of reprisal for screw-ups, especially among the established veterans. In short, Fassel is too nice. This issue had been brewing under the surface for years. Events such as “The Guarantee” (2000) and the promotion (1999), then demotion (2002) of Sean Payton only bought time in an effort to distract everyone’s attention from this fact. Each year there was a crisis. Sometimes the Giants made the playoffs in crisis mode (1997, 2000, 2002), sometimes they did not (1998, 1999, 2001). The constant living on the edge took its toll and the players eventually developed Fassel-fatigue. You can only cry wolf only so many times, especially when you are really a softy at heart.

Some of the assistant coaching choices didn’t help matters. Fassel’s worst decision was to promote Johnnie Lynn to defensive coordinator. Lynn’s schemes are too cerebral and passive. They don’t fit the personnel on hand. Plus, he rarely adjusts and this makes it easy to game-plan against New York. And everyone knows the Giants have had one joke of a special teams coach after another ever since Fassel arrived on the scene.

Management deserves a big share of the blame. This was a team that was certainly capable of competing in the moribund NFC. On paper, the Giants’ skill position players looked great: Collins, Barber, Toomer, Shockey, and Hilliard. But General Manager Ernie Accorsi seemed to forget that his Ferrari also needed an engine (i.e., an offensive line). The problem was not penciling in Petitgout, Seubert, Bober, Diehl, and Allen as starters. The problem was not having any veteran depth on the team if something went wrong. And things did go wrong – as they are apt to do. Petitgout got hurt before the season started. Seubert fractured his leg. Allen struggled in the opener. Diehl had to constantly adjust to rookie growing pains and new flankmates. But there were no viable contingency plans. And there was little cap room to spend on upgrading the defense in free agency because of previous questionable free agent decisions (i.e., re-signing Jason Sehorn and Shaun Williams to such huge contracts). If current ownership wants to group think themselves out of the recognition that some terrible personnel decisions contributed as much to the Giants’ current downfall as anything, then this franchise is truly in trouble.

Then there are the players themselves. While they have had their moments, the foundation players of the team have not played as well as they did last year. We’re talking about guys such as Collins, Toomer, Barber, Shockey, and Petitgout on offense. On defense, players such as Keith Hamilton, Shaun Williams, and Dhani Jones struggled. Mike Barrow slowed down. And the two top defensive draft picks did not contribute as much as hoped. On special teams, the kickers cost the Giants two NFC East games. And Brian Mitchell has been an embarrassment.

This is a terrible football team right now, perhaps the worst in the NFL. But it isn’t if everyone is healthy. With a quality new coaching staff, a good draft and free agent period, and some re-dedicated players, this team is capable of making the playoffs in 2004. The danger for most fans is to overanalyze the product on the field right now. There are too many injuries, especially on the offensive line and in the secondary. There is no sense of urgency with the playoffs out of reach. There is no confidence due to all the things that have gone wrong. Honestly, the players are playing out the string. They know the coaching staff is gone and they just want to get the season over.

So I will quickly review what transpired against Washington, but just remember to keep the situation in proper context.

Quarterbacks: QB Kerry Collins (5-of-14 for 62 yards) was not particularly sharp, but the windy conditions were a factor and he was not helped by dropped passes by Tim Carter. On the Giants’ second drive of the game, he made a good throw to Tim Carter for 15 yards on 3rd-and-15. But later in the drive, he badly overthrew Amani Toomer on the sideline and then missed seeing an open receiver in the end zone on 3rd-and-7 from the Washington 8-yard line because he was so focused on getting the ball to Ike Hilliard. The Giants’ third drive of the game – the lone scoring drive – was accomplished all on the ground.

On the 4th drive, Collins tried to hit Ike Hilliard deep on a fly pattern, but the official picked up the flag on what I thought was clearly a pass interference penalty. On 3rd-and-8, Tim Carter dropped a somewhat errant pass that would have picked up the first down. The next drive stalled due to short-yardage problems. On the last drive of the half, he started things off well with completions to Carter (19 yards) and Hilliard (10 yards). On 3rd-and-5, his well-thrown pass to Carter was bobbled by Carter and intercepted.

Collins was knocked out of the game on the Giants’ first drive of the second half. His first pass to Carter, a slant, was also dropped. The officials bear much of the responsibility for getting Collins hurt two plays later. The play should have been whistled dead even before the ball was snapped as the game clock had reached zero. But for some reason, the whistle was not blown until after Collins released the ball (you can hear it on the tape).

Things did not start off well for Jesse Palmer (7-of-11 for 73 yards). On his first pass attempt, he should have gotten rid of the ball in a situation where he was sacked (either thrown to a receiver or thrown the ball away). On the next possession, he double-clutched a slant pass. This led the defensive back right to the play. Only the DB’s drop saved a defensive touchdown. As Jim Fassel said: (Palmer) looked very rusty, misreading things, not seeing things, reacting to some things too quick, reacting to some things too slow.

In the 4th quarter, Palmer started to settle down somewhat and got rid of the ball quickly on two back-to-back plays, including a 3rd-and-1 throw to Tim Carter. His only deep throw of the game was held up badly by a gust of wind and almost picked. His worst decision came on the very next play when instead of getting rid of the ball after finding no one open, he scrambled to his left, holding the ball loosely. Palmer was sacked by Arrington and fumbled the ball away. This was a pure coverage sack as the line had picked up the stunt.

On the Giants’ last drive, Palmer got the ball out nicely to Tiki on a double-screen that picked up 36 yards. He found Tyree twice for short pick-ups, but was then sacked. On 4th-and-10, he threw a real nice pass (his best of the day) to a well-covered Amani Toomer (against Champ Bailey) for a first down. On an ensuing 4th-and-10, however, he missed his hot read as the blitzing defensive back left Shiancoe open for what could have been a first down.

Wide Receivers: The starters were invisible. Amani Toomer caught 2 passes for 30 yards. Ike Hilliard caught 2 passes for 15 yards before a knee injury forced him from the field. The good news was that Toomer and Hilliard both made key blocks on some big runs by Tiki Barber. Toomer’s biggest catch was his16-yard reception against Champ Bailey on 4th-and-10 late in the game.

WR Tim Carter (3 catches for 42 yards), who apparently was playing with yet another concussion, dropped three passes. One would have been a tough, diving catch, but he should have made the play (this ended a drive). Another hit him right in the hands, but he bounced it up into the air and it was picked off. This ended a promising drive near the end of the first half. His other drop was also bounced into the air and almost intercepted. Fassel seemed to indicate that the dropped passes could have been influenced by the concussion, as Carter was also having problems lining up in the right spot. Carter did a good job of getting open against Fred Smoot on 3rd-and-15 and picking up a first down in the 1st quarter. He also picked up a first down with a 7-yard reception on 3rd-and-1.

David Tyree caught 2 passes for 11 yards in the second half of the game. In all, the Giants’ receivers only caught 9 passes for 98 yards. Pretty pathetic.

Running Backs: If it were not for yet another lost fumble, Tiki Barber (16 carries for 99 yards for a 6.2 yards-per-carry average; 3 catches for 47 yards) would have had a good day. But Barber fumbled the ball away on the Giants’ second offensive play of the game. Indeed, it looked like Barber simply dropped the ball (or it was barely touched). This turnover handed the Skins a 3-0 lead. Other than that miscue (which was serious), Barber broke off some sizable runs against Washington, particularly to the left in the first half of the game. On the Giants’ second drive, he picked up 19 yards running off right tackle, 18 yards around left end, and 15 yards off left tackle. On the Giants’ third drive – the scoring drive – Tiki made a great second-effort run for 8 yards after it looked like he would only pick up a couple. Two drives later, he made a great effort on an outside run that was marginally blocked for a 1st down on 3rd-and-4. (By the way, I liked the play design of the following play where the Giants faked an end around to Tim Carter and then handed the ball off underneath to Barber running to the same side).

Barber also rambled for 36 yards on a screen pass that he almost broke for 75-yard touchdown. Barber was bull-rushed by Jessie Armstead on one blitz where Palmer was sacked. On the Giants’ last sack of the game, there were more rushers than blockers, but Tiki could have helped out more by blocking the blitzing linebacker coming from his left than trying to pick up the one coming from his right.

Dorsey Levens carried the ball 7 times for 21 yards (a 3.0 yards-per-carry average), but looked very good on his 5-yard effort on 3rd-and-1 on the Giants’ sole scoring drive. Two plays later, Levens run up the gut for a 5-yard touchdown carry. On this play, Levens carried a number of defenders into the endzone. I thought the officials made another bad call in the 2nd quarter when on 3rd-and-1, Levens was ruled short of the 1st down marker. If you look at the replay, Levens’ knees clearly were not touching the ground as he had Redskin defenders underneath him.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey and Marcellus were missed as Visanthe Shiancoe and Darnell Dinkins had no catches in the game.

However, I continue to take issue with those (both in the press and fans) who say Shiancoe is a liability as a blocker. On most plays, Shiancoe was outstanding as a run blocker. He usually has no problem handling defensive ends by himself from the down position on the Giants’ bread-and-butter off tackle runs. Visanthe made key blocks on Barber runs of 19, 18, 15, and 8 yards in the first half as well as a Levens’ 5-yard effort. (Though on the 15-yard run, Shiancoe was lucky a holding call wasn’t made). There were two plays that I saw where he did not get good run blocks. On the first, the defensive end beat him when he was playing the move-TE (or H-Back) role. (I think Shiancoe is much more comfortable when blocking from the 2-point stance). The other was on a play where he and two linemen got stood up on a Barber run to the right. Shiancoe also had problems with LaVar Arrington on one pass rush where Palmer was sacked by Jesse Armstead.

Darnell Dinkins was up-and-down in the blocking department. He still looks like he needs to get bigger to me to be effective in this area. Dinkins got beat by the defender on a 2nd-and-2 run that only picked up 1 yard on the scoring drive. But on the very next play, Dinkins did get a good block on a 5-yard run that picked up a 1st down on 3rd-and-1.

Offensive Line: Surprisingly, the Giants didn’t simply replace Jeff Roehl with Jeff Hatch. Instead, they moved Ian Allen to left tackle and started Hatch at right tackle. Scott Peters started at left guard. Chris Bober and David Diehl were at their usual spots.

The six sacks giving up are a bit misleading. For most of the first half, this makeshift offensive line actually did a fairly decent job in pass protection – given the circumstances. Collins was not getting pummeled. The only time he was sacked was when the right side of the line (Hatch and Diehl) did not slide over to pick up the blitzing Arrington who came free to nail Collins. That was a mental mistake, not a physical one. Peters got bull-rushed on a play where Collins was forced to get rid of the ball quickly. On the last drive of the half, Arrington beat Allen to the inside and forced Collins out of the pocket.

In the second half, the pass protection was not as sound. On the play where Collins was hurt, Bruce Smith beat Allen to hit the quarterback. On the next drive, Bruce beat Allen again to pressure Palmer. Peters and Allen then had problems picking up a stunt on a play where Palmer was sacked. Palmer was later pressured on a play where Peters had problems picking up a blitzing linebacker. Palmer was then pressured when Allen failed to adjust to a stunt. However, on the very next play, Allen and Peters did a good job picking up the stunt (this is the play where Palmer fumbled).

There was one play where the blocking scheme was screwed up as Tiki Barber was left all alone to block Bruce Smith. Again, some of the breakdowns that were occurring were mental given the inexperience and lack of cohesion of the troops up front. On the Giants’ last drive, Smith sacked Palmer by beating him with an inside move. The last sack occurred when the Skins brought an all-out blitz and there were more rushers than blockers. The short of it was that the left side that played reasonably well in the first half, struggled in the second half. Keep in mind however that Allen was playing a position that he had no experience at playing and is not particularly well-suited.

The running game was also pretty effective in the first half. On the 2nd drive of the game, Barber picked up 19 yards on good blocks from Shiancoe, Hilliard, and a pulling Diehl; 18 yards behind blocks from Shiancoe and a pulling Peters; and 15 yards behind blocks from Allen, Toomer, and Shiancoe. On the next drive, Allen did look a bit cumbersome on a pull to his left where he was unable to effectively engage Arrington. But Tiki picked up 8 yards on the next play behind another good block from Shiancoe and a pulling effort from Peters. Allen got an excellent block on 3rd-and-1 along with Dinkins.

Peters actually looks pretty decent in the open, but he’s another guy who looks like he needs to get stronger. He got overpowered on one Barber run that picked up only 2 yards. He also got overpowered on one pull on a Barber run to the left. Peters worst moment came when he completely whiffed on his man on the failed 3rd-and-1 run by Levens.

The Giants didn’t run the ball much in the second half as they had fallen behind by 10 points and only had four possessions to work with. Also, the Giants did not run much to the right so it was tough to gauge how Jeff Hatch did as run blocker. He did get stood up (along with Shiancoe and a pulling Diehl) on one run to the right in the 3rd quarter; on another play in the 4th quarter, he did a good job of blocking one guy and then coming off to hit another on an inside running play. Chris Bober made a real nice block in the open field on Tiki’s 36-yard screen pass in the 4th quarter.

Defensive Line: DE Michael Strahan played extremely well with a 11-tackle, 2 sack effort. Both his sacks came in clutch situations. The first came when he was not fooled on a QB bootleg on 3rd-and-goal from the 1-yard line early in the game. Strahan probably saved a touchdown here. On the first play of the 2nd quarter, Strahan sacked Hasselbeck again on 1st-and-goal from the 4-yard line. Strahan had a few more good pressures in the game as well that did not result in sacks. Equally impressive was his work against the run. Strahan nailed HB Trung Canidate for a 2-yard loss in the 2nd quarter. Later, he stuffed RB Rock Cartwright for no gain on 3rd-and-1. In the 3rd quarter, he crushed HB Chad Morton for a 1-yard loss. The negatives? There was one 7-yard run to Strahan’s side that was successful because Michael wasn’t ready when the ball was snapped. Also, Strahan missed a tackle on one run to his side two plays before the Skins’ touchdown pass in the 3rd quarter.

The problem for the Giants (once again) was that aside from Strahan, no one up front got a lot of heat on the quarterback.

I thought both Keith Washington (3 tackles) and Osi Umenyiora (2 tackles) should have had more of an impact against a back-up left tackle. Neither really harried the quarterback. Their play against the run was better, but nothing outstanding. The good news about Umenyiora is that he doesn’t get blown off the line of scrimmage. He fights to keep his ground and this helped to gum up some runs, including the 2nd-and-goal effort from the 1-yard line early in the game and a 2nd-and-5 effort in the 3rd quarter. Three snaps after the latter play, Osi made an excellent play from the backside when he combined with Mike Barrow to hold Morton to no gain. Where Umenyiora sometimes struggles is in being too aggressive to run up the field on the pass rush, thus leaving an open gap in his area on what ends up being a running play. This is what happened late in the game when the Skins were running out the clock. With 5 minutes left, facing a 3rd-and-10, Chad Morton rushed for 21 yards through a big gap that Osi vacated. Big mistake.

Washington did make an excellent play in run defense when he nailed Canidate for no gain on Washington’s second drive of the contest. On the very next play, he expertly read a screen pass and helped to foul that up. But Washington also flagged for a costly 5-yard offsides penalty in the red zone on the Skins’ first touchdown drive. Washington also got crushed on a 3rd-and-1 play at the very end of the 2nd quarter. On the very first play of the 3rd quarter, Keith got suckered on a toss play to Canidate that picked up 17 yards. In the 4th quarter, Washington did pressure Hasselbeck on 3rd-and-5 to force an incompletion. With less than 2 minutes left in the game, Rock Cartwright was able to rush for 12 yards to salt the game when Washington got blocked out of his gap on 2nd-and-11.

The usual for the defensive tackles: Cornelius Griffin (3 tackles) did a good job of holding his ground up front while Keith Hamilton (3 tackles) got pushed around and hurt the Giants with a penalty. Griffin started off the goal line stand with his tackle of Canidate on 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line early in the game. The only real negative run play I saw from him was Morton run for 7-yards in the 4th quarter where Griffin got clobbered. Big problem for Griffin this year has not been his run defense, but he’s not getting much of a pass rush. Strange.

On the Skins’ first series of the game, Hamilton was effectively blocked on a 6-yard run. He then left a big gap in the defense on 3rd-and-3 on a 4-yard run for a first down. In the 2nd quarter, he missed a tackle at the line of scrimmage on a Canidate run that picked up 5 yards. Two plays later, he committed an idiotic roughing the passer penalty that gave the Skins a 1st down on 3rd-and-6. Hamilton not only hit the quarterback in the head, but he then threw him to the ground for good measure. The moron then said he would do it again when asked by reporters what he thought of the flag. Late in the quarter, Hamilton got crushed on a 3rd-and-1 play that picked up a 1st down.

William Joseph was activated for the first time in a few weeks. He continues to struggle a bit against the run. At times, he has problems with the double-team. Other times, he holds his ground, but loses his gap responsibility. But you can see that the man is strong as his bull-rush sometimes occupies two blockers.

Based on season-long performance, Lance Legree probably deserves to be starting at right defensive tackle. While he isn’t a pass rusher, he has been for more consistent against the run than Hamilton or Joseph. He stuffed Canidate on a 2-yard run in the 2nd quarter.

Linebackers: A decent game for this group, but nothing special. Mike Barrow, Brandon Short, and Dhani Jones did accrue 25 tackles between each other. Dhani Jones made a nice play on the first defensive series for the Giants when he stopped Canidate for a 1-yard gain, but was left wanting for much of the game. Later in the 1st quarter, he got beat badly by the fullback in coverage for a 19-yard gain. He also got fooled on the pitch to Canidate that picked up 17 yards at the start of the 3rd quarter. Late in the game, he was nowhere to be seen on the play where Morton picked up 21 yards on 3rd-and-7 with 5 minutes left in the game.

Brandon Short combined with Osi Umenyiora to stuff Cartwright on 2nd-and-goal from the 1-yard line. In the 3rd quarter, he stuffed Morton on a 1-yard gain. Later he stopped Cartwright for no gain again. Late in the game, he combined with Johnnie Harris to tackle Cartwright for a 1-yard loss.

Mike Barrow did a good job of reading screen pass and tackling Canidate for a 1-yard loss on 3rd-and-10. But Barrow missed a tackle in the backfield when the Skins successfully ran out the clock at the end of the first half of play. In the 3rd quarter, Barrow combined with Umenyiora to hold Morton to no gain on 2nd-and-6.

Defensive Backs: With Peterson, Allen, and Williams out of the line-up, the makeshift secondary really struggled with Frank Walker (right corner), Ralph Brown (left corner), Johnnie Harris (strong safety), and Ryan Clark (nickelback) playing main roles. One got the sense that if the wind had not been such a factor that the Skins could have passed at will against the Giants. Indeed, I took a deep sigh of relief with each handoff the Skins made.

We’ve seen the good side of Frank Walker, we saw some of the bad side on Sunday. Frank is sometimes overanxious such as on his 15-yard pass interference penalty that put the ball on the Giants’ 1-yard line early in the game. He also demonstrates terrible technique at times as evidenced by the 30-yard completion to Rod Gardner; on this play, Walker never turned back to play the ball. Walker also isn’t the best tackler in the world and needs to improve in that department. His run force needs work as well as he failed to make a play on some outside runs in his direction.

Ralph Brown admirably played with a shoulder injury. He (and Johnnie Harris) got beat deep by Lavernues Coles on what could have been a 80-yard touchdown strike had the ball not been overthrown. Brown also badly misplayed an end around by Coles that should have lost yardage. In the 2nd quarter, he got beat by Coles for 15 yards on 2nd-and-14; he had decent position, but he didn’t look back for the ball. Brown did make a nice, sure tackle on a quick throw to Gardner that lost a yard. In the 4th quarter, Brown had excellent coverage on Pat Johnson on a 3rd-and-6 crossing pattern that fell incomplete. However, later in the 4th quarter, Brown was beat deep by Coles again on what could have been a touchdown, but the ball was overthrown.

Ryan Clark got beat by Darnerien McCants for a touchdown on 2nd-and-goal from the 6-yard line.

Ike Charlton had a couple of rough moments in the 3rd quarter. He got beat on two slant passes: an 11-yarder to Coles on 3rd-and-7 and a 9-yarder to Johnson on 3rd-and-4.

The safety play was not real strong. As I mentioned earlier, Harris was late getting over to help out Brown on a deep pass attempt to Coles that fortunately fell incomplete. On the Redskins’ first touchdown drive, Harris could have forced a field goal attempt had he made a tackle in the backfield on 3rd-and-2 on Canidate. Later in the half, Harris kicked a flag after a 3rd-and-8 incompletion because he thought the refs were calling pass interference against the Giants. The penalty gave the Skins a first down. Late in the game, Harris did combine with Short to tackle the back for a 1-yard loss.

And the strange defense of Johnnie Lynn continues. In the 3rd quarter, McCants was left wide open on a 3rd-and-7 short crossing pattern that picked up 22 yards and kept a TD drive alive. Two plays later, the brain surgeons on the Giants put Harris on Coles in the slot. Talk about a mismatch…the play traveled 24 yards as Harris never turned around to play the ball. Same drive…on 3rd-and-5 from the Giants’ 7-yard line, Harris was called upon to cover Coles again in a short zone. An easy completion and TD resulted. Stupid defensive game design by the coaching staff. Late in the game, again, Harris was called upon to cover the slot receiver and gave up an 8-yard reception on 2nd-and-7.

Omar Stoutmire made one real nice play against the run when he stopped Canidate for a 1-yard gain in the 2nd quarter. But I also saw some tentative play from Stoutmire against the run…he was too easily blocked on a couple of plays. He also badly missed a tackle on Chad Morton.

Special Teams: I’ve had it with Matt Bryant. He’s really not that bad a kicker if you look at his career stats, but he’s been involved in too many screw-ups in his short stay with the Giants. In 2002, he missed costly field goals against the Texans, Eagles, and 49ers. His kick out of bounds on Monday Night against Dallas deprived the Giants of one of their greatest comeback games in history and caused irreparable psychological damage to the team. On Sunday against the Skins, he missed a 26-yarder. Enough!

Jeff Feagles punted very well in difficult (windy) conditions. He punted four times for a 51.5 yards-per-punt average and two of his punts landed inside the 20 (another should have been downed at the 1-yard line). Punt return coverage was good as Washington was limited to returns of 4 yards (David Tyree making the stop), touchback (Tyree should have down the ball), no return (ball downed by Delvin Joyce at 14-yard line), and no return (ball downed by Tyree at 18-yard line).

Kickoff coverage was not good and contributed in a big way to the Redskins regaining momentum after the Giants took the lead 7-3 late in the 1st quarter. A number of Giants missed tackles (Ryan Clark, Kato Serwanga, Carson Dach) on Pat Johnson’s 50-yard return that brought the ball to the New York 34-yard line. Six plays later, the Redskins regained the lead 10-7. Bryant’s kick into the wind was fielded at the 16 on this play. His only other kickoff was a wind-aided touchback.

Why in the world does Fassel continue to use Brian Mitchell as a returner? It’s mind-boggling! Mitchell returned 1 punt for 5 yards. His two kickoff returns went for 21 and 29 yards (however the latter was negated due to a holding penalty on Wes Mallard). Delvin Joyce returned two kickoffs for 11 and 26 yards.

The Giants were very lucky that an offsides penalty by Ralph Brown didn’t hand the Skins 3 points. Brown’s penalty gave the Skins a second chance to make a field goal that had been missed. Fortunately for Brown, the second kick was missed as well.

(Box Score – Washington Redskins at New York Giants, December 7, 2003)
Dec 052003
 
An Early Look at the New York Giants 2004 NFL Draft

By Colin Lindsay, Great Blue North Draft Report

Overview… Obviously the 2004 draft is still a long way off, however, our theory here at the Great Blue North is that it is NEVER, EVER too early to be looking ahead to the next draft. Certainly, its not too early to be looking ahead to which players might be available come next April and how the top prospects match up with what will likely be the Giants’ primary needs at the end of the current season. Of course, much can, and will, happen between now and then. In terms of prospects, for example, some will see their draft chances dramatically altered by injuries, off-years, or off-field problems, while others who are currently barely registering on the draft radar screen will emerge as legitimate prospects as the season progresses. Meanwhile, the Giants’ priorities will also no doubt change, and possibly change often, as the year evolves with certain players slumping or stagnating, while others emerge as quality performers. And, of course, what happens in free agency next winter, both in terms of who comes and who leaves, will also have a major impact on the Giants’ needs for 2004.That said, what the Giants’ scouting staff is currently seeing from the potential 2004 draft class has got to be bringing some early smiles to their faces. For starters, as we noted in our Pre-season College Football Draft Report overview published earlier this month, the 2004 draft that is slowing coming into focus looks like it could be one of the better drafts in recent years. In fact, with the caveat that much still depends on how many of this year’s terrific junior class ultimately jumps to the NFL this off-season, the 2004 could be loaded. Even better for the Giants is the impression that the positions that the team is likely to be looking hard at next April all will be very talented. The following is a brief look at how those areas are currently shaping up for next year’s draft…

1a – Linebacker….
Why the Giants will take a LB…Its hard not to look at the Giants current roster and come to the conclusion that LB is the team’s weakest position in terms of both overall talent and depth. Veteran MLB Mike Barrow is still a force, but is clearly on the back end of his career, while OLBs Brandon Short and Dhani Jones are solid enough players, but neither makes many impact plays. That’s a particular problem with WLB Jones because the Giants’ defensive scheme counts on big plays from the weakside guy. Meanwhile, second-year man Nick Griesen provides the only real depth; he’s also the only young LB on the roster who looks like he could eventually move into a starting role. While tough and instinctive, however, Griesen isn’t very fast. And that pretty much summarizes the Giants’ problems at LB, that is, there just isn’t much team speed at the position.

What should be available at LB in 2004…Fortunately, for the Giants, if they ultimately do want to upgrade at LB this coming draft year, they should be in good shape. Indeed, after being something of an afterthought the past several years, the 2004 draft should feature a very strong field at LB. The Giants will almost certainly end up drafting too late in next April’s first round to have a legitimate shot at either Texas junior Derrick Johnson or Miami’s D.J. Williams, the likely two top-rated OLBs this coming April, however, there should be a number of other quality OLBs still on the board in the lower half of this year’s opening round. Indeed, a couple of schools – Auburn and Florida State – have at least two OLBs who fit that bill all on their own. The Auburn defense, for example, will be lead by veteran OLBs Karlos Dansby (6-5, 235) and Dontarrious Thomas (6-4, 240), both of whom are angular types who can really run; indeed, Dansby has toyed with the idea of shifting to SS. The Florida State pairing of Kendyll Pope and Michael Boulware doesn’t have the size of their Auburn counterparts – they both go about 220 pounds – but both can fly to the ball. In fact, like Auburn’s Dansby, Boulware has flirted with the idea of shifting to safety, while Pope, arguably one the top defenders anywhere in the country, simply plays like an extra DB.  Same story for Oklahoma speedster Ted Lehman, another speedster who was all over the field for the Sooners last fall, making plays at the line of scrimmage (112 tackles including 17 for loss) and in coverage (2 picks, 7 pass breakups). Meanwhile, Eric Pauly of Colorado State hasn’t received the national attention of some of his OLB counterparts from the bigger programs, but is another outstanding two-way prospect in his own right, who would be a superb second-round steal.

There is something of a drop-off at OLB among the second-tier prospects, but Josh Buhl of Kansas State, who was more productive than former teammate Terry Pierce, a 2003 second rounder, speedy Keyaron Fox of Georgia Tech and underrated Maurice Jones of South Florida, among others, all have first-day ability.

What makes the above group particularly for pro scouts is, that unlike just about every other position in the 2004 draft class, is that other than Texas’ Johnson, all the top prospects are already seniors, which means that barring injury, they should all be definitely on the board next April. One other junior who could make things even more interesting, though, is Southern Mississippi junior OLB Michael Boley (6-3, 225), another terrific athlete who registered 142 tackles, including 8 sacks, along with 6 pass break ups last fall.

The MLBs aren’t quite as talented as the OLB field, but are still relatively talented compared to recent years at the position. Heading the list is Lance Mitchell of Oklahoma, who combines with OLB Lehman to anchor the nation’s best defense. Mitchell, who will be looking to break 4.5 seconds for the 40 at pre-draft workouts next winter, has the speed to be an every-down player and should also come into play in the late first round area next April. Mitchell, though, could get some competition for the #1 ranking among MLBs from the likes of Rod Davis of Southern Miss, Daryl Smith of Georgia Tech, and Jonathon Vilma of Miami. However, while each is a talented prospect, each also must deal with some questions before draft day next April. Davis, for example, was the most productive LB in college football last fall, racking up 168 tackles, including 10.5 sacks and 23.5 total tackles for loss, but still has to answer doubts about his overall speed. On the other hand, there is no question about Vilma’s speed. Vilma, in fact, has incredible side-to-sideline quickness, and hits a ton when he gets there, but isn’t very big at barely 220 pounds, if that, and may need to play behind a dominating defensive front capable of keeping blockers off of him at the next level. Meanwhile, the multi-talented Smith has been troubled by a shoulder problem of late.

There is also some solid depth at ILB this year, led by Oregon State’s Richard Seigler, a better prospect than former teammate Nick Barnett, the Packers’ #1 pick at last April’s draft, along with Carl Diggs of Michigan, Duke tackling machine Ryan Fowler, rugged Nick Koutouvides of Purdue, athletic Reed Boyd of Texas, underrated Nick Duffy of Northern Illinois and dependable Courtney Watson of Notre Dame. Meanwhile, Rod Royal of McNeese State, an aggressive 250-pounder, is one of the top non-Division 1-A prospects at any position.

1b – Safety
Why the Giants will take a safety…One factor that could mitigate against the Giants using a high pick in 2004 on a LB or two  – indeed its why at this time we are considering LB-DB as a kind of team entry – is the news from from training camp this summer that the team is reportedly considering revamping the nickle and dime packages, if not the base defense period, by pairing current SS Shaun Williams with Barrow in a two-man LB corps and then adding an extra safety or CB replacing the third LB. If that scenario were indeed to emerge as a reality this year, then the Giants primary need would very likely shift to the safety positions. FS Omar Stoutmire and SS Johnny Harris, who would man the two safety positions, are dependable, veteran journeyman, who won’t beat themselves with mistakes, but don’t make many big plays in their own right. And there’s little proven depth in the deep secondary. Indeed, even if the Giants stick
with their base 4-3 defense into the future, the Giants are still likely to be looking at upgrading the safety positions, especially FS, at the 2004 draft, although they would be more likely to use a late first day pick on the position rather than a #1 selection, unless there was simply a player too good to pass up when they did make their choice.

What should be available at DB in 2004…And that safety ‘just too good to pass up’ could in fact be there in junior FS Sean Taylor of Miami. Taylor, at 6-3, 220, hits like a LB and with reported 4.3 speed covers like a CB. In a normal draft year, Taylor would be a strong top 10 prospect, but in what looks to be a potentially very deep draft class could slip into the latter part of the first round. Another junior, Jason Shivers of Arizona State, isn’t as big as Taylor at 6-1, 190, but flies around the field just the same and could also be worth a late-first round pick. Meanwhile, Purdue’s Stuart Schweigert, Brandon Everage of Oklahoma, Etric Pruitt of Southern Miss and Madieu Williams of Maryland head a very good group of seniors safeties, some of whom could also compete for a spot in the late first round, although they are all more likely to be second rounders next April. As well, there is a deep group of second-tier FSs including underrated Eli Ward of Minnesota, Rashad Baker of Tennessee, Dexter Reid of North Carolina, Keith Lewis of Oregon, J.R. Reed of South Florida, Gerald Jones of San Jose State, Medford Moorer of Colorado and Glenn Earl of Notre Dame, all of whom should get first-day consideration.

Underclassmen are also likely to dominate the SS ranks which should be led by juniors Matt Ware of UCLA, Atari Bigby of Central Florida, Jamaal Brimmer of UNLV and Donte Nicholson of Oklahoma. Ware, for example, is a terrific all-around athlete with CB speed – indeed, he’ll play outside this fall – while Bigby and Brimmer don’t get much national attention, but are big hitters with athleticism. Nicholson, a fast, athletic JC transfer, meanwhile, has the physical skills to be the best of the bunch. There is more of a drop-off to the next group of SSs than at FS, but veterans Maurice Sykes of Miami, Guss Scott of Florida, Rashad Washington of Kansas State and Kentrell Curry of Georgia are all solid. Sykes, in fact, would probably grade out as a late first rounder, but he’s a tad small for a prototype safety prospect, plus he’s been battling a shoulder injury.

2 – Defensive line
Why the Giants will take a defensive lineman…Okay, so the Giants chose defensive linemen with their first and second round picks last April, however, the position was so thin to begin with that it wouldn’t be a shock if the Giants go back in that direction again this coming draft. This year, though, we might expect the Giants to take a DE first, especially if there was a potentially dominating prospect on the board when they made their first-round selection, followed by a DT later in day one.

At the defensive tackle, for example, the addition of DT William Joseph, the team’s #1 pick this past April, gives the Giants a potentially dominating 3-man rotation at the position along with veterans Keith Hamilton and Cornelius Griffin, however, they are still just an injury away from being in a similar situation to last year where in which they would have to use the starters on every play or live with a huge drop off in talent if they brought in any reserves. And, of course, Hamilton is no sure thing after coming back from shoulder and achilles’ injuries that kept him out of the lineup most of the past two seasons. Hamilton, who is entering his 12th NFL season, is also no spring chicken, plus he has those off-field problems hanging over his head.

Assuming that 2003 second rounder Osi Umenyiora can contribute, depth isn’t as much as a concern at DE as at DT, particularly with the addition of veteran free agent DE Keith Washington to support starters Michael Strahan and Kenny Holmes. The greater concern at DE is that Strahan, who like Hamilton is well into his 30s, starts to slip leaving the Giants without a dominating two-way DE. Holmes and Washington are solid enough, but are ultimately more journeyman types, while Umenyoira is still raw and unproven.

What should be available along the DL in 2004…Again, fortunately for the Giants, the 2004 draft looks like it will be another very good year for defensive linemen. That will be old hat for the DTs which have pretty much dominated the past couple of drafts. The top DTs like Miami junior Vince Wilfork and Oklahoma junior Tommie Harris, both of whom are considered to be top 10 prospects, likely will be long gone by the time the Giants make their opening selection next April, however, there should plenty of other big, physical DTs with decent athleticism available this year including Maryland junior Randy Starks, our early choice to be this year’s Dewayne Robertson, along solid veterans Marcus Tubbs of Texas, Darnell Dockett of Florida State, and Jordan Carstens of Iowa State. There’s also a very good group of second-tier DTs like Tim Anderson of Ohio State, Chad Pugh of TCU, Hawaii’s Isaac Soponga, Dwan Edwards of Oregon State, UCLA’s Rodney Leisle and Brandon Kennedy of North Texas State, some of whom are likely to slide into the latter part of the second round and might ultimately be more logical options for the Giants given the fact they may have bigger needs in the opening round.

Meanwhile, the DE class should be strong for 2004 after have played something of a second fiddle to their counterparts at DT over the past few drafts. There is, however, still much sorting out to do between now and next April at the position. In fact, at this point there is no clear leader among the DEs; instead, there is a large number of strong DEs with the potential to go relatively highly including juniors Antwan Odom of Alabama, David Pollock of Georgia, and Bill Swancutt of Oregon State; redshirt sophomore Kenechi Udeze of Southern Cal; and seniors Jason Babin of Western Michigan, Claude Harriott of Pitt, Will Smith of Ohio State, and Dave Ball of UCLA, all of whom have either size, speed or both.

Alabama’s Odom and UGA’s Pollock, for example, are two of the very best players in the tough SEC. Odom is a 6-5 angular edge rusher with speed, who also has the bulk to play the run, while Pollack, the SEC’s Player of the Year last fall after posting 14 sacks, brings new meaning to the term ‘non-stop motor’. Meanwhile, Oregon State’s Swancutt, UCLA’s Ball and USC’s Udeze all tended to get lost last fall in the west coast wake of Arizona State’s Terrell Suggs, the 10th player taken at this year’s draft. Each though, put up great numbers of their own with Swancutt, an explosive 260-pound edge rusher, posting 11.5 sacks and 21.5 total tackles for loss, while Ball had 11 sacks and 15 tackles for loss, and Udeze had 7.5 sacks, 16 tackles for loss, and forced 6 fumbles.

Pitt’s Harriott and WMU’s Babin, currently the leading senior DE prospects, aren’t exactly household names across the country, but each is also a potentially dominant pass rusher. Harriott, for example, posted 9.5 sacks and 21 total tackles for loss last fall, while Babin is coming off a 15-sack, 26-tackle for loss season. Babin has decent size (6-4, 265) for the position at the next level, but excels because of outstanding quickness. Babin is also a good all-around athlete who does some blocking in the WMU power sets. On the other hand, Ohio State’s Smith does have a national reputation, but had a disappointing year last fall; in fact, he was actually outproduced – 8.5 sacks to 5.5 – by teammate Darrion Scott. Smith is also something of a tweener at just 6-3, 250, but has the kind of explosive speed of the snap to be an elite pick if he ratches his game up a notch or two this fall. Same story for UVA junior Chris Canty who has imposing size for a DE, but needs more production after recording just two sacks last fall.

In addition, there are several other DEs that could also jump into the lead group including Bo Schobel of TCU who is coming back from a knee injury, Andrew Shull of Kansas State, and explosive, but undersized, Nathaniel Adibi of Virginia Tech. Meanwhile, Isaac Hilton of Hampton, another explosive edge rusher with reported sub-4.5 speed who had 13 sacks and 31 tackles for loss last fall, and Jared Allen of Idaho State, a full-sized DE with long arms and excellent functional strength and decent speed, are the best pro prospects at any position outside Division 1-A.

3 – Offensive line
Why the Giants will take an offensive lineman…The Giants have been living on the edge with their offensive line the past couple of years. Last season, for example, they came up big winners when first-year starters Rich Seubert, Chris Bober, Mike Rosenthal and Jason Whittle, along with veteran Luke Petitgout (who was playing a new position) came together like some ‘New Age Suburbanites’. RT Rosenthal and RG Whittle, though, headed for greener pastures via fre agency leaving offensive line coach Art McNally to try and pull another rabbit out of the hat on the right side with former undrafted free agent types like Ian Allen and Tam Hopkins and 2003 fifth-round find David Diehl. Meanwhile, 2002 3rd rounder Jeff Hatch has the physical skills to be a player, however, the former Ivy Leaguer still appears to be aways away from being able to contribute, if he ever gets there. If, however, McNally finally runs out of majic this year, especially on the right side, the Giants could very well look hard at what could be a superb offensive line cohort at this year’s draft, although in the end, we would guess that if the Giants wanted to seriously upgrade along the offensive front this coming off-season they would be more likely to try and do so by acquiring a veteran free agent or two.

What should be available along the OL in 2004…The 2004 draft could very well be a bonaza for teams looking to load up at either OT or OG. In fact, OT could be the dominant position at the upcoming draft if a number of outstanding juniors leave school early and enter next April’s draft. Indeed, a case can be made that juniors Shawn Andrews of Arkansas, Nat Dorsey of Georgia Tech and Calvin Armstrong of Washington State would each have been the top offensive lineman selected at the 2003 darft if they had been available, while Wesley Britt of Alabama, Nick Kaczur of Toledo, Rob Petitti of Pittsburgh, Michael Munoz of Tennessee, Khalif Barnes of Washington, C.J. Brooks of Maryland, Mike Kracalik of San Diego State, Jammal Brown of Oklahoma and Texas A&M roadgrader Jami Hightower, if he’s healthy, are all just another step or two behind. Even without the juniors, however, there will be some excellent talent at OT at the 2004 draft. And while none of the available seniors likely will qualify as elite prospects, there are a number who should plenty of consideration in the latter part of the opening round including Robert Gallery of Iowa, Tony Pape of Michigan, Brian Rimpf of East Carolina, Max Starks of Florida, and Vernon Carey of Miami.

The OG class also looks to be potentially considerably more talented than its counterparts in the past 2-3 drafts, again, particulary if a number of huge, athletic juniors enter the upcoming draft such as Elton Brown of Virginia, Chris Kemoeatu of Utah, Justin Smiley of Alabama, David Baas of Michigan, and Eyoseph Efseaff of UCLA. Meanwhile, rugged Stephen Peterman of LSU, already a better all-around prospect than another former Tiger, and current Pittsburgh Pro Bowler Alan Faneca, whom the Giants passed on when they selected SS Shaun Williams in the first round of the 1998 draft, leads a relatively strong contingent of senior OGs that also includes Adrien Clarke of Ohio State, Lamar Bryant of Maryland, Shannon Snell of Florida, Washington’s Nick Newton, and Nick Zuniga of North Texas State. And with the exception of Peterman, and perhaps the 355-pound Clarke if he can get in shape, most of the veteran OGs are likely to slip well into the second round of the draft, simply because there is potentially so much talent at other positions.

4a – Running back
Why the Giants will take a RB…If there is a bit of a surprise pick for the Giants in the opening round of the 2004 draft it could come at RB. On paper, the Giants look solid at the position with Tiki Barber, one of the best backs in the NFL backed up by Dorsey Levens, Ron Dayne and Brian Mitchell. However, both Levens and Mitchell are older players, while Ron Dayne, is, well Ron Dayne!

What should be available at RB in 2004After a couple of down years, the 2004 draft should feature a very good RB class. Greg Jones of Florida State, for example, looked all the part of a top 5 pick heading toward the 2003 draft before his season was ended by a torn ACL. If healthy this year, Jones, a 250-pound piledriver, should be back in mix at the very top of the draft board, although some scouts still question his pure footspeed. Noboby, however, questions the footspeed of Michael Turner of Northern Illinois who hasn’t received much national media attention to date, but should be a household name by next April. The 223-pound Turner, has the power to run over people and the speed – he reportedly runs under 4.5 speed – to run around them. What could make the 2004 RB draft class more than special, however, is a very talented group of juniors. Like FSU’s Jones, Auburn junior RB Carnell Williams is coming back from a season-ending injury – a fractured fibula – but if healthy has the speed and moves to be a legitimate Heisman candidate, as well as possible top 5 pick in either 2004 or 2005. The best overall RB prospect in the country eligible for the 2004 draft, however, may be Oregon State’s Steven Jackson, a powerfully built 235-pounder with speed who like NIU’s Turner has that rare ability to either run over or around people. Meanwhile, fellow juniors Kevin Jones of Virginia Tech, Cedric Benson of Texas and Anthony Davis of Wisconsin also have special talent, although there are some questions just how much Benson, who also has some baseball options ‘wants it’, while Davis is a little on the small side at just 190 pounds. Then there’s Nevada junior Chance Kretchsmer, a 225-pounder with a burst, who led all Division 1-A rushers with over 1,700 yards on the ground in 2001, but then missed much of the 2002 season with a knee injury.

There should also be plenty of depth in this year’s RB corps including Clarence Farmer of Arizona, a 225-pound power back who averaged almost 6 yards a carry in piling up over 1,200 yards in 2001, but then missed much of the past season with a knee injury; if healthy, Farmer has some late first round possibilities. Same for Tulane’s Mewelde Moore, perhaps the best all-around back in college football. Mewelde has put together back-to-back 1,000 yard campaigns, the first for the Green Wave in a half century, but what really has caught scouts’ attention is his pass receiving skills after he hauled in 110 passes the past two seasons. Second-round types that might be better a investment for the Giants include Jason Wright of Northwestern, another versatile all-around back, brusing Jermaine Green of Washington State, Chris Perry of Michigan, underrated 235-pound Brandon Miree of Pittsburgh and Rodney Davis of Fresno State.

4b – Cornerback
Why the Giants will take a CB…The other position in which the Giants could surprise in the opening round of the 2004 draft could be CB. The Giants, of course, have a pair of fine young starting CBs in Will Allen and William Peterson, along with a decent cast of young nickle backs and backups. There is, however, the old adage that ‘you can never have enough good cover corners’ and the Giants could quite conceivably decide that another quality CB wouldn’t be just a luxury, especially if they end up using a 3-CB set as part of their base defense sets.

What should be available at CB in 2004Finding a solid, physical cover corner or two seems to be a priority of almost every team in the NFL heading into each draft year. And, after something of a down year at the position, CB should be a position of choice at the 2004 draft. Juniors DeAngelo Hall of Virginia Tech and Marlin Jackson, for example, have the size, speed and skill to break into the top 10 this year, although Jackson’s immediate draft future has been clouded by a recent conviction on an assault charge. Meanwhile, fellow juniors Chris Gamble of  Ohio State, Keiwan Ratliff of Florida, and Ahmad Carroll of Arkansas should battle returning seniors Derrick Strait of Oklahoma and Nathan Vasher of Texas for a spot in the middle of the opening round. There is also a very deep second-tier group of CBs led by Corey Webster of LSU, Vontez Duff of Notre Dame, Lawrence Richardson of Arkansas, Curome Cox of Maryland and Shawntae Spencer of Pittsburgh, while underrated Arnold Parker of Utan and Kevin Millhouse of Hawaii, a pair of big, physical cover corners could also have an early impact this coming April.

5 – The rest of the field
Why the Giants might take a player at another position…not!…The odds of the Giants taking a player at one of the remaining positions, in effect, one of the remaining skill positions – QB, WR and TE – isn’t very high. The one exception might be if there were a catastrophic injury or slump by a key player such as QB Kerry Collins or WR Amani Toomer. The Giants could also be in the market for a pure blocking TE if the current supporting cast for TE Jeremy Shockey doesn’t pan out in that regard, while they could also look to add some more depth at WR, particularly if either/or Ike Hilliard continues to battle injuries and/or Ron Dixon is sent packing. They could also be looking for a development QB if the team’s offensie braintrust comes to doubt whether current #2 QB Jesse Palmer is the best they can do for a backup at the position.

And for the record, the 2004 draft appears that it will have very talented WR, while the TEs will be solid with Maryland’s Jeff Dugan, a mid-round prospect, perhaps coming the closest to a Dan Campbell clone who can block first, but can also contribute more than just the odd catch. Meanwhile, the QB class won’t be reminding anyone of 1983, but the position is deep with second-tier types.

And for the rest of the year…we’ll be stopping by each week with our college “Game of the Week” previews featuring the players to watch for Giants’ draft fans…In the meantime, check out the Great Blue North Draft Report for the latest in draft news and views…

Dec 052003
 

Approach to the Game – Washington Redskins at New York Giants, December 7, 2003: The suspense isn’t going to be if the Giants lose the remainder of their games…they will. The suspense will be how many games the other lowly teams in the league will win. That is what will determine where the Giants will be picking in the first round. But picking very high might not necessarily be a good thing. The higher the pick, the bigger chunk of salary cap room the rookie will take and the more likely there will be a lengthy hold out. Also, the best player available might not match up nicely with need. And in today’s NFL, need always factors into the draft. General Manager Ernie Accorsi has said that time and time again.

Why won’t the Giants win again this year? In their final four games, they play the Redskins, Saints, Cowboys, and Panthers. The last three teams are vying for playoff spots. This week is the Giants’ last best chance to win a game, but they won’t. The Giants simply do not have the personnel in the secondary to cover wide receivers Laveranues Coles, Rod Gardner, and Darnerien McCants. On offense, the Giants’ offensive line isn’t facing a very tough Redskins’ defensive line, but they will have to contend with the blitzing LaVar Arrington, Jessie Armstead, and Jeremiah Trotter. The Giants will be challenged physically because players such as Jeff Hatch, Scott Peters, and/or Jeff Roehl will be in the line-up. They will be also challenged mentally. As OC Chris Bober says:

I think for a lot of the young guys, their heads are spinning…When you have an experienced group out there, everyone knows what everyone else is doing. Right now, we’re missing the guys that know exactly what the person next to them is going to do. So they only had to worry about what they were going to do. For example, if we have the Mike linebacker and he goes way outside, I know they’re all going to fan to him. We used to just track him and make the play. Now we have to make so many calls, because guys are trying to look at their guy, plus worry about what happens if somebody flashes. The line is one entity. But if we have a crack in there somewhere, it falls on the whole line.

So with a 4-12 season pretty much a foregone conclusion, I would rather spend the time looking at what needs to be done in the upcoming offseason.

Giants on Defense: You may recall the really negative feedback I received on Defensive Coordinator Johnnie Lynn after the playoff game against the 49ers. I providing the damning quote in my review of that game. Well, the same source tells me:

The defensive players can’t stand Lynn and can’t wait for him to get fired. They feel he puts them in defensive schemes that do not play to their strength and, basically, sets them up to fail. In addition, they make little or no changes week to week so they’re easy to figure out. “We make everyone look good.” There is also little confidence in Defensive Backs Coach DeWayne Walker.

As I pointed out in my review of the second Giants-Eagles game, the Giants don’t confuse anyone but themselves on defense. The players know this, don’t believe in the system, and can’t wait for this group of defensive coaches to be shown the door. Wonder why the Giants aren’t playing inspired football??? There is your answer.

Defensive Line: The only sure thing is that DE Michael Strahan will be here next season. DT Cornelius Griffin is the next best defensive lineman, but he will be an unrestricted free agent. I think he is the Giants’ most important UFA. No, Griffin doesn’t have the sacks, but he has played the run very well this year and he has the ability to rush the passer. After perusing the dearth of quality defensive tackles in the upcoming free agency period, I’ve got to think that Griffin is going to be pretty popular if he hits the open market. According to Ourlads, DE Kenny Holmes has a performance clause in his contract that most likely enables him to become an unrestricted free agent. If true, he knows the writing is on the wall with respect to his future with the Giants and he is probably heading elsewhere. DT Keith Hamilton is near the end of the line, is a Fassel-supporter who will carry no weight with the new coaching staff, and actually may be in jail next year. It’s time to sever the ties.

The word on DT William Joseph, who I very much wanted the Giants to draft and still have high hopes for, is that he is “a very, very soft player with no emotion or motor. He needs a coach that will light a fire under his ass.” I am giving Joseph the benefit of the doubt here as when he has played, I have not seen him play any “softer” than starter Keith Hamilton. The fact that the coaching staff doesn’t give him much playing time may contribute to his negative attitude. It’s absolutely unconscionable that the Giants are playing Frank Ferrara over Joseph. Joseph has the tools…he’s big, strong, and athletic. I’ve seen him push the pocket and chase after the ball carrier. I still think he will be the opening day starter next season. I really like what I’ve seen from Osi Umenyiora. He has the look of a natural pass rusher…something that Kenny Holmes doesn’t. He’s got great size for a weakside end and has a big upside.

DE Keith Washington will be unrestricted and it’s anyone’s guess whether he will be back or not. DT Lance Legree will be a restricted free agent with no attached compensation since he was not drafted. As I said before the 2003 NFL Draft, the Giants will have to spend draft picks again in the 2004 draft on defensive linemen. In fact, I would not be upset at all if the very first pick in the draft was a defensive end or defensive tackle. A 4-3 defense depends on a dominating defensive line. Re-sign Griffin and draft another end and tackle. If Griffin departs, a couple of names to consider are Rod Coleman of the Raiders, Robaire Smith of the Titans, and Warren Sapp of the Buccaneers (yes, I am serious with the latter).

Linebackers: This is an area in the need of a complete overhaul. The problem is that even if the Giants spend a lot of draft picks in this area (and keep in mind the Giants will only have 7 draft picks total), teams can’t rely on rookies to start and/or play well. With respect to linebackers, it’s not so much as problems making plays moving forward, but learning the complex pro pass coverage schemes and techniques. So I think the Giants need to look at picking up at least one veteran free agent here, maybe two plus the draft.

Dhani Jones and Brandon Short will be unrestricted free agents. I think Dhani Jones is gone. He isn’t very fast, doesn’t make many plays, and if the Giants hire Tom Coughlin, I can’t see Coughlin wanting a free spirit like Jones (the first thing he would do would be to order him to shave and cut his hair). I’d like to see the Giants bring back Brandon Short. He’s a good two-down linebacker and the Giants need some continuity at this position.

There is a good chance that Mike Barrow will be let go. He really struggles in coverage now and is making a lot of money. Can Nick Greisen fill in and do an acceptable job? The Giants had better bring in some competition just in case.

Kevin Lewis, Wes Mallard, and Quincy Monk haven’t done anything to excite in the previous two preseasons.

So the Giants probably need to sign/draft at least two starters here and find some competitive back-ups. There isn’t a lot out there in free agency. The dream pick-up would be 49er LB Julian Peterson, but he will likely be off the market. Perhaps a guy like Al Wilson of the Broncos or Carlos Emmons of the Eagles might be an attractive option.

Defensive Backs: If Will Allen (foot) and Will Peterson (back) come back close to 100 percent, this could be a team strength with them, and Frank Walker. Ralph Brown will be unrestricted and if he departs, the Giants need to find a viable 4th cornerback – most likely lower in the draft. Will Peterson will be a restricted free agent, but the Giants can tender him at the 1st round level and his injury problems will most likely scare teams away.

The big question is what to do at safety. SS Shaun Williams had a horrible year. Is that because of the defensive system or has Williams simply become a bad player? The problem is I don’t think you can cut Williams as he signed a 7-year, $24.5 million deal that included a $6.5 million signing bonus in 2002. That’s a pretty big cap hit if that bonus money gets accelerated. Unlike most drafts, there appear to be quite a few interesting prospects at free safety. Some even consider University of Miami FS Sean Taylor the best defensive player in the country. There are some interesting veterans out there too such as Greg Wesley and Jerome Woods of Kansas City, Lawyer Milloy of Buffalo, Donovin Darious of Jacksonville, and Antwan Harris of New England.

Defensive Summary: In my opinion, most of the team’s needs are defensive. They need more help on the defensive line, they need to overhaul the linebacking corps, and they need to upgrade at safety. But there is talent to work with on the defensive line and at corner…the foundation of a 4-3 defense.

Giants on Offense: Kerry Collins will be the Giants starting quarterback in 2004, and most likely in 2005 and 2006. Ernie Accorsi isn’t looking to replace him. You’d have to be blind not to know that Collins is at his best when he is given solid pass protection. (What quarterback isn’t?) The Giants have the talent to be an extremely dangerous offensive team if they simply can get their offensive line in order. The new coaching staff will most likely also have a better feel for the running game than the previous administration.

Quarterback: Even if you don’t agree with me that Collins isn’t part of the problem, the only opinion that matters is that Accorsi feels the same way. At the same time, Accorsi has said a number of times that you don’t pass on a great quarterback. What if Eli Manning is available when the Giants pick? Can this team – which has the ability to turn things around quickly and become competitive once again in 2004 – afford the “luxury” of drafting a player who most likely won’t play for 2-3 seasons? On the other hand, would the Giants be haunted down the road if they didn’t take him? That said, Manning is no sure thing and there are dozens of examples of quarterbacks taken in the top 10 who were supposed to be “sure fire stars” who ended up being terrible busts. One option to consider in such a scenario is trading down and picking up additional premium picks.

Regardless, the Giants do need to replace Jesse Palmer (restricted free agent) and Jason Garrett, unless the new coaching staff thinks they can work with Palmer. If both are gone, look for a lower draft pick plus a cheap veteran to be signed.

Running Backs: Tiki Barber will return as the starter, but the new coaching staff won’t put up with the fumbles. So there is a greater chance that Tiki will see far fewer carries. Tiki needs someone to complement him – a big back who does well in short yardage, but who can also be a feature back when and if necessary. Other than the offensive line, I see this as the biggest need on offense.

As for fullback, the League seems to be de-emphasizing them. Still, a guy like Dan Kreider of the Steelers or Terrelle Smith of the Saints would interest me in free agency.

Tight End: Jeremy Shockey is an impact player. Visanthe Shiancoe flashes very good ability as an in-line blocker. He has the size, strength, and temperament to do well there. Marcellus Rivers and Darnell Dinkins are still in the picture. A new coach may look to add a cheap veteran who can help out as a blocker.

Wide Receiver: The Giants can win with Amani Toomer, Ike Hilliard, Tim Carter, Willie Ponder, and David Tyree. However, what if Roy Williams (Texas) or Reggie Williams (Washington) are available when the Giants pick? It’s hard to pass on impact skill position players.

Offensive Line: To me, there are three big questions: (1) Is management willing to draft a left tackle high (i.e., Shawn Andrews of Arkansas or Robert Gallery of Iowa) and move Luke Petitgout back to right tackle? (2) What is the prognosis for OG Rich Seubert’s recovery from a severely broken leg? (3) What kind of philosophy will the offensive line coach next year subscribe to? With respect to the first question, keep in mind that as much as we don’t want to think about it, financial slotting of players occurs in this league. Most teams can’t afford to pay two tackles “left tackle money” and Luke just signed a huge 6-year, $30 million contract that included nearly a $10 million signing bonus. An offensive line of Gallery-Seubert-Bober-Diehl-Petitgout would be appealing, but is it realistic financially?

Another key question is can the Giants re-sign Chris Bober (unrestricted free agent)? Bober is a decent player, but not special. However, the Giants got burned last season by letting decent, but not special players get away. If they lose Bober, is Wayne Lucier a viable replacement? He could be.

Ian Allen has not played poorly at right tackle, but the Giants will need to bring in another quality body to compete just in case. They also need insurance in case Seubert can’t come back near 100 percent. The word on Jeff Hatch is that he is a soft player.

On the free agent market, some players to watch would be OC Damien Woody (Patriots), RT John Tait (Chiefs), OG Matt O’Dwyer (Bengals), OG Travis Claridge (Falcons), and OG Chris Villarrial (Bears).

Special Teams: The Giants will bring in new linebackers and safeties and this should help to continue to upgrade the personnel. The biggest need here is to hire one of the better special teams coaches in the league. Jeff Feagles should be still around, but I’m not so sure about Mike Hollis or Matt Bryant.

Dec 032003
 
Buffalo Bills 24 – New York Giants 7

Game Overview: Last week, I took my shots at Head Coach Jim Fassel. This week I’m taking my shots at ownership and management.

You’re a fool if you think the only problems with this team rest with the coaching staff. And the 87-year old Wellington Mara, his son John, and Preston Robert Tisch are fools because they are only going to rid themselves of half of the problem by firing the coaching staff. The other major move the Giants need to do is fire General Manager Ernie Accorsi, but they won’t do it. We’re talking about an ownership so loyal to those who work for it that you’ve got guys like the 76-year old Harry Hulmes and the 71-year old Rosie Brown still employed in the player personnel department.

Last week I said average coaching will provide you with average results. So will average management. And Accorsi has been nothing but average. Let’s look at some FACTS:

Accorsi took over for George Young in 1998 and has overseen six drafts. There is only one player from the 1998 draft still on the roster (Shaun Williams). There is only one player from the 1999 draft on the roster (Luke Petitgout). There are only two players from the 2001 draft on the roster (Will Allen and Will Peterson). In other words, three of Accorsi’s six drafts have only produced four players that still are playing in the New York Giants uniform.

And there have been many high draft pick busts:

  • The Giants spent a #3 and a #4 on WR Brian Alford in 1998.
  • The Giants drafted HB Joe Montgomery (#2) and HB Sean Bennett (#4) in 1999. The fact that neither panned out also caused the Giants to spend their #1 the following year on a halfback, who also turned out to be a bust.
  • The Giants drafted HB Ron Dayne with their first pick in 2000.
  • The Giants spent a #4 on DE Cedric Scott in 2001 and drafted a kicker in the fifth round who they never even scouted.
  • The Giants spent a #3 in 2002 on an Ivy League offensive lineman (Jeff Hatch) who remains benched while rookie and street free agents start over him.
  • The #4 pick in 2003 (Rod Babers) didn’t make it out of training camp.

Then there is free agency. In his six years, Accorsi has only signed three free agents who have made a positive impact for more than one year: QB Kerry Collins, MLB Mike Barrow, and OC Dusty Zeigler. DE Kenny Holmes has started for multiple years, but he never played up to expectations. The rest have been short-term solutions who faded quickly or didn’t play well at all.

So where did all the cap room go? Much of it was spent on inflated contracts for marginal players such as LB Corey Widmer, RT Scott Gragg, FS Tito Wooten, CB Jason Sehorn, and SS Shaun Williams. He also let players go such as DE Chad Bratzke, OG Ron Stone, and PK Morten Andersen. The Giants have never really replaced Bratzke, having to spend big bucks (Holmes) and draft picks in an attempt to do so.

And perhaps the most damning indictment is that Accorsi did not supply the team with proven veteran offensive linemen to replace Jason Whittle and Mike Rosenthal on the right side of the offensive line. It was risky enough to pencil Ian Allen and Tam Hopkins in as starters, but borderline incompetent not to provide veteran competition. The rookies the Giants kept on the roster may end up being very good players, but Super Bowl caliber teams don’t rely on first year starters. You say Offensive Line Coach Jim McNally said he didn’t want vets? Well guess what, Accorsi is the one who is supposed to call the personnel shots, not the assistant coaches.

“They’re our customers and when they leave, that’s just the same as the guy calling up or writing a letter and saying, ‘You’re not doing what I want you to do. I’m very dissatisfied,'” said Wellington Mara after the game. “It’s a message that comes loud and clear. It tells me we’ve got to improve our product. How we do it is something we’ll discuss.”

Well Mr. Mara, you can only fix half the problem by getting rid of the coaching staff. Without better personnel decisions, this team will remain average.

Overall Performance: For once, Jim Fassel said it best in a self-damning evaluation of his team: “We do not play the game of football very well, we cannot block people, we don’t tackle people, we don’t cover people, we don’t catch the ball in critical situations. I have never seen it and never in my seven years here have we ever played football the way we are playing right now. Honestly, I am at a loss for words.”

Beautiful Jim! That makes us feel so much better.

Giants on Offense: The short of it was that the offensive line of LT Jeff Roehl, LG Wayne Lucier (later Scott Peters), OC Chris Bober, RG David Diehl, and RT Ian Allen was so poor that almost nothing could get done by the skill position players. There were no holes to run the football (24 yards rushing) and QB Kerry Collins had almost no time to throw the football. On almost every passing play, Collins was getting sacked (6 times), hit, or under immediate pressure. Aside from the 77-yard touchdown strike to WR Amani Toomer, the Giants only managed 156 yards passing. For the entire game, the Giants only accrued 10 first downs. There were seven 3-and-out possessions by New York. The Giants only had the ball for 20 minutes.

“There was a time when Coach Fassel didn’t know what to call,” HB Tiki Barber said. “We’d call a run to the left and their safety would be up on that side. We’d check off to the other side – and the other safety also would be up. They knew they could bring those guys up because they would be able to pressure Kerry if he tried to pass.”

Giants on Defense: They played hard for a while, then gave up. There must have been at least 20 mistackles. All three linebackers were big time culprits as I saw Brandon Short, Dhani Jones, and Michael Barrow repeatedly let ball carriers run through their arms. The tackling in the secondary wasn’t real good either as the Bills picked up a bunch of yards after the catch with Will Allen, Frank Walker, and Johnnie Harris missing a number of tackles.

The Giants allowed what had been a dismal offense to rush for 151 yards and pass for 275 yards – for over 400 yards of total offense. Prior to this game, the Bills had not scored a touchdown on the road since September 14th at Jacksonville, a span of 18 quarters.

The Giants did not force on turnover – the third time that has happened this year.

Giants on Special Teams: Jeff Feagles punted poorly, and he almost whiffed one kick. His nine punts only averaged 36.8 yards.

Punt and kickoff coverage was good.

The return game remains anemic. Brian Mitchell returned two punts for 16 yards. Delvin Joyce averaged 15 yards a kick return; Mitchell 20.

(Box Score – Buffalo Bills at New York Giants, November 30, 2003)