New York Giants 20 – Washington Redskins 14
Game Overview: I have mixed emotions about this game. It was great to see the defense take charge of a game and create so many turnovers. Last week, I wrote in my game preview about the absurd inability of this defense to create turnovers. Well turnovers came in an avalanche against the Skins. There were seven in all and the Giants also dropped two more interceptions so they could have had nine. However, the Redskins were able to move the ball on their very first drive of the game as well as a few drives in the second half. Only the turnovers bailed them out.
More distressing was the offense’s inability to generate points or sustain any kind of drive in the entire second half of the football game. The problem was the Giants simply could not run the ball. Halfbacks Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne carried the ball 14 times for 8 yards in the second half! The Giants only picked up four first downs. That’s why the Giants almost handed this game back to the Redskins.
This wasn’t a very good special teams performance by the Giants either. Both kickers struggled somewhat, the Giants gave up two big kick returns, and Willie Ponder fumbled the ball away at a key moment in the game.
Don’t get me wrong. This was a huge win. It helps to build mutual confidence and trust between the players and the new coaching staff. In particular, it should encourage the defensive players to have faith in the new defensive system. But there is a lot of work to be done. The Giants have the ability to become a decent football team, but they are not there yet. And until they get all the various parts functioning at a higher level, they are going to continue to struggle against both good and bad teams.
Offense: The biggest problem the Giants had was their inability to generate a rushing attacking. As you’ve already read, the second half numbers were dismal. The first half was a bit better, but the team only managed 62 yards rushing for the entire game. Things did not start off well either as Kurt Warner was sacked on the first possession by an unblocked cornerback blitz. Warner fumbled and the Giants were fortunate to have not turned the ball over. A sack on the next drive (Warner tripped over his center) led to a failed long field goal attempt after picking up a couple of first downs. The third drive was a promising one that stalled when the Giants could not convert on 3rd-and-2 and 4th-and-1 (a false start penalty did not help matters either). On the next possession, the Giants smartly went for the throat immediately after a turnover, throwing deep successfully to Tim Carter for the touchdown. Another false start (there were four in all) helped to sabotage the fifth drive of the first half. The Giants started the sixth drive at the Washington 26-yard line after a turnover, but could not pick up one first down. However, the field goal attempt was successful. The seventh drive (and final one of the first half) was the Giants’ best offensive possession of the day. The team moved from their own 24-yard line to the Washington 4-yard line, picking up five first downs along the way. The downside was that the Giants were forced to settle for a field goal, rather than a touchdown.
I thought the play-calling in the first half was excellent. The Giants were prepared for the Redskins’ aggressive blitzing schemes and called plays to counter this – i.e., quick passes, screens, etc. Coughlin and Hufnagel changed things up and kept Washington guessing. The drives where the Giants were able to generate even a little bit of a rushing attack, they moved the ball. Where they failed – as is to be expected – is when the running game failed and the team found itself in 3rd-and-long situations (the false start penalties and two sacks did not help here either). The Giants found themselves in 13 third down situations and only converted one of these. Eight of these 13 third down situations were 3rd-and-6 or longer. ONLY ONE of these third down situations was a 3rd-and-short (3rd-and-2 or less) opportunity.
Short yardage woes continue to haunt the Giants. The problem was not with the backs in this game, but with the run blocking. And not just by the offensive line, but the tight ends, fullback, and wide receivers. It’s everyone.
Quarterback: The best part of QB Kurt Warner’s (22-of-33 for 232 yards, 1 touchdown, and 0 interceptions) game against the Redskins was that he did not turn the football over. He came close on the very first possession when he lost control of the football when sacked from the frontside CB blitz. But he was very good about making smart throws and not hurting his own team. Warner was particularly sharp in the first half of the game, completing his first eight passes and finishing the half 14-of-19. He stood in tough against the rush, stepped up into the pocket, made quick decisions, and fired the ball accurately. He did have some misfires in the second half where he and Amani Toomer looked out of sync. His play-action fake on the post route to Carter for the touchdown was excellent. Warner just missed hitting Toomer for a 33-yard score in the 3rd quarter as the pass just grazed off of Toomer’s fingertips. Having the benefit of hindsight, it is obvious that Warner should have scrambled for the first down in that play instead, as he had an open field in front of him on 3rd-and-3. What made matters worse is that Steve Christie missed the 51-yard field goal on the very next snap. His worst pass of the day was a very inaccurate throw to Toomer on 3rd-and-9 late in the 4th quarter.
Wide Receivers: The big play of the game offensively was made by Tim Carter (3 catches for 63 yards, 1 touchdown; 1 rush for 8 yards) on his 38-yard post pattern for a touchdown. It was an excellent route as Carter did a great job of faking out the safety by selling the corner route. Carter also had a key 18-yard reception on the Giants’ last scoring drive.
Amani Toomer (6 catches for 54 yards) just missed putting the game away on the aforementioned deep shot by Warner. Toomer’s biggest catch of the game came on 3rd-and-9 with just over 4 minutes left in the game and the Giants holding tenuously to a 20-14 lead (this 11-yard reception was the only 3rd down conversion the Giants had all day). However, Toomer did not have the type of game I expect from him and seems a bit out of sync with Warner still. CB Fred Smoot did a good job on Amani.
Ike Hilliard (4 catches for 37 yards) simply was not productive enough. Worse, his run blocking wasn’t very good. Some of these blocking assignments were tough – for example his was called upon to occupy SLB Marcus Washington on one Dayne run around left end. But on this play, Washington ran right through Hilliard and nailed Dayne for a 2-yard loss. Nevertheless, Hilliard wasn’t very good at blocking defensive backs either.
Willie Ponder got an excellent block on Tim Carter’s 8-yard end around.
Running Backs: Tiki Barber (18 rushes for 42 yards, a 2.3 yards-per-carry average) and Ron Dayne (9 carries for 12 yards, a 1.3 yards-per-carry average) did not have the holes to run through. The run blocking was not good at all. The most productive runs were all in the first half. Barber’s best run of the day occurred late in the second quarter when he broke through an obvious facemask penalty by LaVar Arrington (that wasn’t called) around right end to pick up 11 yards. Two plays later, he gained 8 yards behind good blocks from RT David Diehl and RG Chris Snee.
But most of the time Barber and Dayne had nowhere to run. Dayne in particular was usually greeted by a wall of Burgundy and Gold. On his failed 4th-and-1 run where he lost a yard, I wasn’t crazy about the call as I think you’re asking for trouble when you start pulling people in short yardage. Dayne may have been able to cut the run back up inside, but it was pretty well defended.
Jim Finn (2 catches for 15 yards) was used as an outlet receiver. His lead blocking remains average at best.
The blitz pick-ups were pretty good except for one major snafu by Tiki Barber. Barber apparently was the man who should have picked up the corner who blitzed and sacked Warner on the first possession. Dayne did an excellent job except for one blitz where his man got around him in the 4th quarter.
Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey (5 catches for 36 yards) continues to round himself back into form and is still learning the new offense. Keep in mind that Shockey missed all of the preseason and most of training camp. Classroom learning is vastly different than on-field practice time. Also, fans continue to wonder why Shockey is dropping passes. Shockey has always dropped passes. And he will always drop passes – that’s one of the negative elements to his game. Jeremy does need to continue to work on his blocking. He’s aggressive and makes good initial contact, but he does fall off his blocks too quickly at times and needs to sustain these blocks longer. His biggest mistake all day was his ineffective block on Dayne’s failed 3rd-and-2 run. SLB Marcus Washington was able to penetrate into the backfield and disrupt the whole play. Shockey also did a poor job in pass protection on one play against the right defensive end who came clean to hit Warner from the backside.
The Giants started to feature Shockey on two drives – one late in the 1st quarter and the other in the 3rd quarter. But both possessions stalled when the ground game could not sustain the drives. Shockey dropped a 2nd-and-9 pass in the 4th quarter.
Visanthe Shiancoe improved in pass protection this week. He started off shaky as he was beaten pretty soundly by Marcus Washington and Warner got drilled in the back on a blitz. But he settled down after that and was an important cog in picking up the Skins’ various pass rush packages. Interestingly, the Giants had him lined up at fullback at one point in the game.
Offensive Line: The pass blocking was very good, the run blocking was not. That’s the review of the offensive line in a nutshell. Let’s emphasize the positive first. This offensive line – who everyone and their mother has trashed for months – has done an excellent job of pass protection against two very aggressive, blitz-happy opponents in back-to-back games. There have been some mental and physical breakdowns, but not many. Some of this is due to the play-calling (short passes, screens, etc.), but there have been more than a few occasions when Warner has dropped back in the pocket to look for a receiver down the field and has had time. The Giants gave up two sacks on Sunday and neither was because of the offensive line. One was a failed blitz pick-up by Tiki Barber; the other occurred when Warner tripped over his center. The problem on Sunday was the run blocking. The Redskins were more physical up front.
In the first half, a pulling RG Chris Snee did not sustain his block long enough on Barber’s second carry of the game. LG Jason Whittle got a very good block on a short pass to Barber that sprung Barber for 16 yards. SLB Marcus Washington (who was a thorn in the Giants’ side all day along with MLB Antonio Pierce) got a clean hit on Warner when either RT David Diehl or RG Chris Snee failed to pick him up (Snee peeled back late, but I’m not sure it was Diehl who messed up). In the second quarter, Barber picked up 11 yards on a screen pass behind excellent downfield blocks from OC Shaun O’Hara and Whittle. On 3rd-and-3 from the Washington 4-yard line, the safety came free to force an incompletion. The announcers blamed Diehl and Snee, but those two were blocking defensive linemen. Since there was no one in the backfield to pick up the blitz, there were more rushers than blockers on this play.
Whittle had problems in short yardage on the Giants’ first possession in the second half. Cornelius Griffin threw him aside twice. Snee and O’Hara also had problems moving people off the line of scrimmage and O’Hara badly missed Griffin on Tiki’s 3rd-and-16 draw play. This was not one of Snee’s better performances. His run blocking, especially for him, was sub-par. He also let the middle linebacker run unopposed to Barber on a screen pass.
Another problem were the four false start penalties (three by Snee, one by LT Luke Petitgout). These penalties hurt because they turn manageable down-and-distance situations into difficult situations – especially against a blitz-happy team that can force the quarterback to make the hot throw quickly short of the first down marker.
Defense: The game certainly did not start off well for the Giants’ defense as the Redskins easily marched 53 yards in 10 plays to score the first touchdown of the game. But after that disappointing initial effort, the Giants defense played well for the most part – accruing 7 turnovers and 4 sacks, scoring one touchdown, and limiting HB Clinton Portis to 69 yards rushing. But make no mistake, the Giants’ defense got lucky too. Redskin receivers dropped some key passes, including a touchdown. The run defense got a little too soft at one point. And, in the second half, not including their touchdown drive, the Redskins were able to drive the football to the Giants 24, 7, and 25 yard line. The turnovers are what made the difference.
So why were the Giants more effective this week on defense? The defensive play-calling looked pretty much the same to me. Those who say Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis called more blitzes this week didn’t really watch the game last week. The Eagles did a far better job of defeating the Giants’ pass rush than the Redskins. That was the primary difference. What was nice to see – that was different from Johnnie Lynn last year – was that Lewis remained aggressive even late in the game. The other big difference is that the secondary covered better – not great – but better.
Defensive Line: Except for the first drive of the game, this was a pretty strong game all around. The nice thing was that the reserves saw a lot of playing time throughout the game as Lewis kept everyone fresh. This was key in the second half of the game as the Giants’ offense was unable to keep their own defense off the field. The run defense was pretty solid although it got a bit soft in the 3rd quarter.
First the negative. On the first Redskin possession, Washington moved the ball at will as the they ran right at DE Michael Strahan on one play, then at defensive ends Keith Washington and Osi Umenyiora on the other side. It was most disheartening, but as I said, the line picked it up after the poor start.
The big star was DT Fred Robbins (3 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 1 interception). I said in last week’s game review that Robbins was a big upgrade over Keith Hamilton in run defense. This week not only was his run defense solid, but he was a major factor on the pass rush with two sacks. His athletic interception of the screen pass was a brilliant play. His first sack caused a turnover and these two plays were the big momentum changers on defense in the game.
DT Norman Hand (1 tackle) was far quieter but he made a big play when he sniffed out a reverse to the speedy Lavernues Coles and tackle the receiver for a 16-yard loss.
Reserve tackles William Joseph (4 tackles, 1 sack) and Lance Legree (4 tackles) played a lot. Joseph was flagged with a 5-yard face mask penalty. But he made two really nice plays against the run. The first occurred in the 2nd quarter when he stood up RG Randy Thomas and tackled the ball carrier with his free left arm (very impressive strength). The second happened in the second half when he held his ground against the guard again, played off the block, and tackled the back. Joseph also had a big sack on the first play of Washington’s last serious drive to win the game. He was playing nose tackle in a 3-man front and overpowered the left guard to make the play. Joseph got pretty decent pressure on a couple of plays after this as well. Legree combined with Strahan and S Gibril Wilson to pressure Patrick Ramsey and force a bad throw that was intercepted by FS Brent Alexander in the 4th quarter.
Strahan (5 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) may have been bothered by his gluteal injury as he didn’t make much noise on the pass rush against a back-up tackle. Strahan did cause Patrick Ramsey to step up into the pocket on Robbins’ second sack. His run defense was pretty solid, including a really nice play from the backside in the 4th quarter that limited a Portis run to a 2-yard gain.
Washington (2 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble) did a great job on the last play of the game. On a 3-man rush, Washington fought through the blocks of the back and tackle to sack the quarterback and force a fumble. Other than that play, LT Chris Samuels did a good job in pass protection against Washington. Washington was pretty solid in run defense, except for on the first Redskin possession of the game.
Umenyiora (1 tackle, 1 fumble recovery) saw action at both defensive end and linebacker. While he didn’t pick up a sack, he did get good pressure on a few plays, including the play where Ramsey was picked off in the endzone by Alexander. He also played pretty well against the run this week (except for the first drive). I spotted him holding his ground well at the point-of-attack on one play in particular. Osi also got very good penetration on the play where he recovered the fumble that CB Will Peterson forced. Osi was flagged with a roughing the passer penalty that was a bit touchy.
Linebackers: A so-so game. The best thing was that Reggie Torbor (2 tackles) didn’t hurt the Giants at strongside linebacker with Carlos Emmons out and Wes Mallard (2 tackles) didn’t really hurt the Giants all that much when Barrett Green was forced to leave the game early in the 3rd quarter.
The best player obviously was Barrett Green (4 tackles, 1 fumble recovery for a touchdown). Before he left the game, Green was pretty disruptive. Things didn’t start out well for Green as he got easily blocked on one 8-yard run by Portis on the Skins’ opening possession. Then I think it was Green who was supposed to cover the tight end on the bootleg pass that picked up 14 yards. Green nailed Portis by diving over the top in goal line defense on 1st-and-goal on the same drive. Green’s blitzes after this drive and before he left the game caused problems for Washington. His blitz was a factor on the play where Robbins stripped Brunell of the football to set up the Giants’ sole offensive touchdown. His penetration on the reverse to Coles helped Norman Hand to make the play for a 16-yard loss. His quick recovery and strong return of Mark Brunell’s fumble put the Giants up 14-7. Green’s pressure was also directly responsible for Brunell’s poor screen pass that was intercepted by Robbins.
Reggie Torbor struggled against the run. He got hung up on blocks too easily as the Skins had little trouble taking him out of running plays.
Mallard got beat by Clinton Portis on 16-yard reception on 3rd-and-8 on the Skins’ first drive of the second half. To be fair to Mallard, Portis gave him a tremendous fake.
Nick Greisen saw more time at middle linebacker this week. Both he and Kevin Lewis (6 tackles) played a lot. In the first half, Greisen overran a Portis run to the outside that picked up four yards when Portis cut it back. Greisen also dropped a sure interception and did not appear real natural or instinctive on the blitz. Both Greisen and Brent Alexander were in the vicinity of Portis on the latter’s 13-yard touchdown reception in the 4th quarter. Greisen did tip away a Ramsey pass on the next drive. Lewis was flagged with a questionable illegal contact penalty on the same drive. On the first drive of the game, Lewis got easily blocked on a Portis carry that picked up 11 yards. A few plays later, Lewis got good penetration on a Portis run that lost two yards. Lewis then made a nice sure tackle for a 1-yard loss on the goal line.
Defensive Backs: The defensive backs played much better this week against a very solid receiving corps. However, they benefited from some timely drops by Redskin receivers too. There is much improvement that still can be made here.
On the first drive of the game, CB Will Peterson (8 tackles, 1 forced fumble) couldn’t play off a receiver’s block on a WR-screen to Lavernues Coles. On the same play, he then missed the tackle on Coles farther down the field (as did FS Brent Alexander). Alexander (3 tackles, 2 interceptions) got burned badly by the TE on 3rd-and-goal when he got completely faked out by Brunell’s play-action and surrendered an easy touchdown. On the next drive, Peterson supplied excellent deep coverage on a bomb down the left sideline to Coles that fell incomplete. On the very next play, CB Will Allen (6 tackles) jumped in front of a Brunell pass intended for Rod Gardner and almost intercepted the ball. S Gibril Wilson missed a tackle on Portis’ 21-yard run on 3rd-and-23 in the second quarter. On the next Skins’ possession, right before Green returned Portis’ fumble for a touchdown, Will Allen made two sure tackles on short passes to far bigger men – Gardner and FB Chris Cooley.
In the second half, the defensive backs started off strong as Peterson and Williams each knocked away passes from Mark Brunell on the Skins’ first possession. Peterson was then flagged with an illegal contact penalty that looked like bullcrap to me as it appeared that Peterson chucked the receiver within the 5-yard limit. Peterson then made an excellent play by punching the ball out of Portis’ hand for a fumble (the only negative on this play is that had Peterson blocked the Redskin in front of him, Umenyiora may have scored on the fumble recovery).
On the next drive, Peterson was lucky that Rod Gardner couldn’t keep his feet in bounds on a deep pass. Peterson had good coverage on the play, but once again did not make a play on the ball when it arrived. Two plays later, S Gibril Wilson was fortunate that Portis dropped a sure first down reception on 3rd-and-12 as he got beat.
On the Skins’ third drive of the second half, Allen got badly beaten deep by Gardner on a double-move for a 51-yard gain. Two plays later, Gardner beat Peterson for what should have been a 7-yard touchdown, but the receiver dropped the football. On the very next play, Alexander picked off Ramsey in the end zone.
On the fourth drive, Allen made a shoe-string tackle on a WR-screen to Coles that only picked up 2 yards. But it was on this drive that Ramsey found Portis in the end zone (I’m not sure if Alexander or Greisen or both got burned). The Redskins immediately got the ball back when Willie Ponder fumbled the kickoff return. Shaun Williams (7 tackles, 1 forced fumble that was returned for a touchdown) had excellent coverage on a deep passing attempt to Gardner down the left sideline. But Allen got beat by Gardner for 12 yards on 3rd-and-9. Two plays later, Ramsey lofted a poor pass that was intercepted by Wilson.
On the Skins’ sixth drive, Coles beat Peterson for 22 yards, but then Ramsey, who was under heavy pressure, threw another bad pass that was intercepted by Alexander. On the Skins’ last serious drive, Coles beat Allen over the middle but Coles dropped the ball. Peterson then gave up a 12-yard reception to Coles on 3rd-and-16. On 4th-and-4, Wilson made an excellent play in the flat to knock the ball away from Portis to preserve the victory.
Nickel back Terry Cousin must have been solid as the Skins never threw in his direction.
Special Teams: Steve Christie was 2-of-4. He hit from 38- and 22-yards out, but missed from 47 and 51 (he contends that one of these longer efforts was tipped). His kickoffs on a windy day landed at the 15, 9, 11, 6, and 10. Not very good.
Kickoff coverage deteriorated. Chad Morton’s returns went for 13 (Wes Mallard on the tackle), 18 (Jim Maxwell), 17 (Marcellus Rivers), 49 (Steve Christie), and 43 yards (David Tyree, Gibril Wilson). A dumb holding call on the Skins brought back the last return, fortunately for the Giants.
Jeff Feagles had one of his poorer days of punting as a Giant. His punts went for 44, 32, 47, 34, 39, and 40 yards – less than a 40 yard average. Punt coverage was OK. Returns by Morton went for 14 (Curtis Deloatch), fair catch, 6 (David Tyree), downed, 6 (Ryan Kuehl), and out of bounds.
Willie Ponder had one excellent return for 34 yards. However, on his other return, he fumbled the ball away and the Giants are lucky that this mistake did not cost them the game.
Mark Jones returned 2 punts for 22 yards.
Concentrating on Getting the Spark
by David Oliver
It’s been a long time since many of us have had to deal with cheering on a team that has lost 9 games in a row. Losing takes a toll, on everyone. In this case it cost almost an entire coaching staff their jobs, a third of the team has turned over, even the media has forgotten how to write about the game and concentrates on the behavior of the Coach. The real warriors dig in and “concentrate on getting the spark”, as LT Luke Pettigout told me following a badly needed, and much appreciated win over the Washington Redskins. The fans showed up en masse and cheered and rooted for the Giants as if this was a playoff game; that is following an abysmal first quarter performance in which boos were heard. The players hear both sides, the boos and the cheers, and as DT Norman Hand told me, “Once you start hearing the boos on the first series, I’m not used to that, so I didn’t want to get booed any more today.” Norm also told me that today was about pride and that, “We just had to make a stand today. We didn’t have a good showing in Philadelphia, but we wanted to have a good showing at home.”
The coaching staff did a good job in getting the team ready for this game. Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis had the defense primed, and cut them loose, in a dazzling display of how to make things happen. It was a cacophonous panoply of plays and players, and it must have driven a rather weak offensive line of the Redskins to distraction. Players shuttled in and out of the game and the formations changed so rapidly that it reminded me of the Third Division’s march on Baghdad. I don’t have all the numbers memorized yet and there were times when I wasn’t sure who was on the field and when I did know who, I couldn’t quite figure out where.
Of course, it started out with HB Clinton Portis chewing the yardage from a Giants’ defense that looked soft and slow. The first quarter gave no indication of what was to come. Then, like flipping a switch, the Giants became aggressive, quick and nasty. Hand and DT Fred Robbins finally started doing what we had believed they would do; the blocked the middle and made plays. They also got penetration. Afterwards, Hand was quick to share the kudos, telling me that the “linebackers did a good job today”. He went on by saying, “We knew we had to stop Portis and we could win the game…that’s what happened and they had to throw the ball the whole second half, instead of running it, which worked to our advantage.”
As an aside, let’s talk about the emotional investment of the coaching staff. A whooping, jumping leader, who had the team fired up from the start, led the team out of the tunnel. This was something I have not seen in the Meadowlands. During warm-ups, Head Coach Tom Coughlin walked up and down the rows of players, reaching down and shaking hands with the players, talking to them, and getting them ready. This was finally an opportunity to see the Head Coach in his game-coaching role, and it is obvious that he is a creature who lives for Sundays. He takes on a different persona, not only in reaching his players on a fundamental human level, but he was also the cheerleader in chief, actually exhorting the fans to make some noise late in the game when the taste of victory was in everyone’s mouth. I cannot remember a Head Coach so effusive along the sidelines. He is into the game, bending, twisting, and shouting, just like us.
Much has been made of the “military” bent of TC, and his disciplinary bias. As I have said before, I could care less about these foibles; my concern with the Coach is strictly about the winning. But there are a lot that concerns about style that apparently weigh heavily on some people. As I have also said, I don’t talk to the players about their reaction to discipline, rules, style. I do hear about it from others, some related to the team, such as relatives, close friends and the like. So there is some talk about it, particularly as regards veteran players, free agency, and the business side of the equation. Last week I mentioned General Tommy Franks and some of his views on leadership. This week, I will throw out a little message from General John J. Pershing, who opined that “a competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops.” There was an article in the papers last week about Coach Gibbs and how he had apologized to his players for becoming the story, which he felt was distracting people from the football. He pledged to do better at not being the story. Style is important. Coach Gibbs is as tough a coach as there is. His humility comes close to mirroring the General Pershing statement above. The Giants’ Head Coach has said that he learned a few things in his stay out of football. It’s time to focus on the football. Winning goes a long way towards making leaders competent. Concentrating on only the football side of the equation, this entire coaching staff appears to be very capable of dealing with a winning hand. Let’s hope it continues, but realistically, I believe this team will now settle into finding itself and playing an enthusiastic brand of ball, but not necessarily a winning brand of ball. We can expect anywhere between 5 and 9 wins, and we should be elated if we get the 9.
The Redskins were as perfect for the home opener as the Eagles were disastrous for the season opener. Despite the presence of their Hall of Fame Coach and an all-star line up of assistant coaches, the personnel on the team are about evenly matched with the Giants. The offensive line is a work in progress; the QBs are a sage veteran playing near the end of a career and a young QB promising stardom. The Giants hold an edge here. The strength of the Redskins lies on the defensive side of the ball, with a very strong linebacker unit and a decent secondary. LT Chris Samuels was a monster throughout the game and he led the way for Portis throughout the first quarter. But he had little help from his cohorts. The Giants adjusted and just disrupted the interior of the Redskins offense. But the ‘Skins had good field position throughout the second half, and they just kept coming. Both QBs were erratic and the defensive schemes of the Giants obviously confused them as most of the interceptions were thrown directly to Giants’ defenders standing almost stationary in lanes.
Communication along the offensive line is really important, and as RT David Diehl told me, the Giants were communicating during the game, and if it continues, he said, “I feel we can do a good job.” But he also acknowledged that, “We understand that we have to take some of the burden off the defense.” Frankly, the Giants’ offense in the second half didn’t look all that effective. Both Tiki and Dayne were shut down. The defense provided the relief and Diehl told me that everyone was excited about the defense, which, he told me, “They sold out today and brought everything to the table.” I asked him to sum up the day for me, and he said it was “a sigh of relief; we haven’t had this feeling in a long time. We want to continue to feel this way.”
The back seven of the Giants’ defense showed up today. Actually, at times it seemed as if there were at least 11 men behind the line. MLB Kevin Lewis told me that it felt great to play well as a unit and get so many turnovers and that coming out with a win “is the most important thing; that’s what we set out to do; we got it done.” I discussed full-time play with him and asked him if he felt different, but he told me, “It’s the SAME for me because I went out there with the same intensity that I had when I went in there to relieve guys; now that I’m out there full time, it’s like, now I’ll make a play, now I’ll make sure I belong out there.” He told me he is having a ball out there, “Play after play, my teammates having a blast, everybody making plays out there, running around and being excited about it; the fans behind you the entire game – I haven’t heard a crowd like that in a while.”
Excitement is the key word for this game, both for the players and for the fans. There is a bond here, a bond between the fans and the players, surrounded by an aura of winning. The game is fun because it becomes “excitement” – it is an adrenalin rush, a community of the senses, a fulfillment of what we are, in play and in work, one mass dedicated to accomplishing a goal. Damn, I love this sport.
SLB Reggie Torbor was excited. He had his first real game taste and contributed with a tackle and an assist. He told me that life in the NFL has been for him “a total learning experience; switching positions, there was almost nothing that I could carry over from college. I’m learning new tempo; I’m learning new coaching styles; I’m learning how to interact with the players; I’m going from being on the top to being on the bottom, from being more of a leader to more of a follower.” As Reggie said, it’s a lot of learning. That is why he had so much fun today, as he got to put these things together in a package, to do what a player wants to do, get on the field. As he told me, “I played and tried not to let my team down. It means a lot to a player when your team can count on you. You never want to be that guy that everybody is looking at wondering if you’re going to mess up…” I asked him about playing against Portis and he told me that Portis was fast, but that the defensive line did a great job as “he never got his shoulders north and south; he was going east and west and it’s a lot easier to tackle somebody fast when he’s going like that.” We talked a little about schemes, about being aggressive as a defense. He told me that Coach Lewis coached that way, all the time. He said that Lewis talks them through it, repeats, does repetition after repetition, and that “it gets us through, it starts at the top, the old guys step in and younger guys follow.” He told me they were working him in gradually, that “I do some dogs, do some drops” and that today he actually felt more comfortable than he has been thus far. He enjoyed the game contact and told me, “It seems kind of funny, but it helps to know that they’re human too (the opposition). Once you get in there, it makes it a lot easier.”
S Gibril Wilson was finishing dressing as we talked. He’s a sharp, well-groomed dresser with a matter of fact attitude. He told me that life in the NFL was “exactly what I expected” and that he felt good about being here. He really didn’t notice any surprises and he told me he was going to spend a little time thinking about this win and then move on and get ready for Cleveland. He looked good in his first outing, and like MLB Nick Greisen, he could easily have added an interception. Two would have been a nice way to start before the home crowd.
It will be very interesting to see what the offense looks like when QB Kurt Warner gets his timing down with his receivers, if WR Tim Carter can stay healthy and if TE Jeremy Shockey is now well enough to go into the seams. This is a very different offense than the past several years and how they use Shockey is intriguing. He is a bona fide offensive weapon, if they can keep from falling into the trap of using him as a standard TE or H-Back. The pre-injury Shockey went downfield, got into the seams, got his mismatches and ran wild in the secondary. Keeping him on a shorter route will expose him to harder hits by the linebackers. Tim Carter, on the other hand, appears to be developing a rapport with Warner. If they both stay healthy, the Giants may just have a big play offense. Although WR Amani Toomer had the most catches, and remains the go-to guy, there wasn’t much of consequence in this game. The timing between he and Warner is not there yet.
I asked a couple of veterans about the quarterbacks, and LG Jason Whittle, who is thrilled to be back as his wife told me, said that they are both great to work with and that they are both great guys off the field. He noted that, “Eli is going to be an outstanding QB.” LT Luke Petitgout didn’t directly talk to the QBs, but in discussing the success of the line two years ago in protecting the QB, Luke told me that Kerry Collins was responsible for a lot of that success because he got the ball out so quickly. I talked to Luke about the blocking assignments and he told me there weren’t any wholesale changes, as “(Tight Ends Coach) Mike Pope is still here; there is a little more play action, a little more moving the QB around.” Whittle echoed this as he told me that being away last year felt like taking a vacation. He felt that he there were a few things he needed to be quicker on, but that for the most part he was comfortable coming back to the team and working into the system. He and OC Shaun O’Hara have lockers next to each other and appear to have developed a nice personal relationship as well as professional. I really believe that this present line can develop into a real strength of the team.
The nice thing about it is that everyone realizes that this game was a relief game, but that the team is not yet where it needs to be. This game was a test and it was a win. I finished up with Luke and asked him about his weight. He told me he had added some weight during the offseason, but he was now pretty close to his weight of last year. The main thing for him is getting his back stronger and getting himself back both physically and mentally to a winning position. Luke acknowledged that the last six weeks of last season “put a dent in me physically, and mentally.” It really did that to us all. The win over the Redskins was the first hammer blow in getting that dent smoothed out. Keep in mind that this is a work in progress. Don’t get too high, don’t give up. Focus on the new players, the offensive line, the defensive schemes, and, of course, the QBs. Finally, focus on the celebratory dances of the defensive players. I teased Norman Hand about the dancing and he was quick to point out that, yes, William Joseph had to work on his dance. I was just as quick to point out to him that when did his dance, as he twisted his neck, his whole body vibrated and the ground on the sidelines started to shake. It was a good feeling.