Sep 242004

Approach to the Game – Cleveland Browns at New York Giants, September 26, 2004: Giants’ fans who are lucky at the Giants-Browns game as an easy win should be aware of one fact: Browns’ fans are looking at the Giants-Browns game as an easy win for their team.

There are no gimme games on the Giants’ schedule. If the Giants do not play emotionally or do not execute on Sunday, they will lose this football game. Giants’ fans should be well aware of the fact that injuries to other teams do not guarantee anything. For Christ’s sake, all you have to do is re-watch the Atlanta game from last year where a beat up Falcons came into the Meadowlands and DESTROYED the Giants. And this Browns’ team handily beat a very tough Ravens’ team on opening day.

After two divisional games, the Jim Fassel-led Giants would have been poised for an emotional letdown in this game. It will be interesting to see how the Giant players react under Tom Coughlin.

This is a big game for the Giants. 2-1 sounds a lot better than 1-2. It’s time to build some momentum and string some wins together.

Giants on Offense: With the super-aggressive defenses of the Eagles and Redskins now in the rear-window until the Giants meet those teams again later in the season, this is a game where the Giants may be able to employ some of their skill position threats farther down the field. In order to do that, the offensive line needs to continue to pass block at a high level, and the line certainly needs to dramatically improve its run block in order to keep Cleveland honest on defense.

The Browns will be missing two big cogs up front in their defense on Sunday. Former high first round draft picks DE Courtney Brown is out for the season with a foot injury. DT Gerard Warren will miss 2-4 weeks with a pectoral injury. With these two losses, the Cleveland defensive line dramatically changes in character. The Giants should be able to win most of the individual match-ups if the offensive linemen play up to their ability. Ebenezer Ekuban (who also has a sore groin) will replace Brown at left defensive end and will face RT David Diehl. Ekuban is not a strong run defender. He flashes at times as an outside, speed pass rusher, but has largely disappointed in that department as well. Another former Dallas Cowboy, Michael Myers, replaces Warren at left defensive tackle, lining up over RG Chris Snee. The Giants should be able to run to their right at these two. The tougher battles come on the left side where LG Jason Whittle matches up with DT Orpheus Roye. Roye is a good run defender and flashes power, something Whittle can have problems with at times. RDE Kenard Lang is a former Redskin who faces LT Luke Petitgout. He’s a decent two-way player who can play the run and has accrued 3 sacks in two games.

The Browns linebackers are average athletes at best. They could struggle in coverage against HB Tiki Barber and TE Jeremy Shockey. Baltimore and Dallas were able to do damage against the Browns with their tight ends the past two weeks.

In the secondary, much depends on whether or not left cornerback Daylon McCutcheon and right cornerback Anthony Henry play. McCutcheon is a good player, but he had surgery on his hand this past week. He would line-up against Ike Hilliard, but if he can’t go, the drop off in talent at corner for the Browns is significant. Amani Toomer would normally face Anthony Henry, who suffered a concussion last week. Toomer should eat up Henry or his replacement, but Toomer and QB Kurt Warner still haven’t gotten in sync with each other. With the Browns’ issues at corner, this may be another game where Tim Carter could have a big impact as the third receiver. Earl Little is a good free safety. SS Robert Griffith has ability, but is slowing down.

This is a game where the offense should be able to move the ball and score some points. BUT, the offensive line needs to continue to improve and not take a step back here. The Giants have to be able to run the ball better, particularly in short-yardage in order to keep drives and scoring opportunities alive. The Giants shouldn’t try to get too cute. They should run the ball to the right, try to get favorable match-ups in the passing game with Barber and Shockey on the linebackers, and the receivers against the weak links in the secondary.

Giants on Defense: Cleveland is hurting here too with injuries, but the Browns have some dangerous weapons still who can put points on the board quickly. HB Lee Suggs was was expected to return from a neck injury this week; however he did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday. Suggs is an excellent running back who has the ability to take over a game. If he can’t play, William Green will start at halfback. He is tough, speedy back who can break tackles, but he isn’t very elusive or instinctive. The Giants’ run defense has not been impressive at the start of the season and I would expect the Browns to try to keep the Giants’ offense off the field as long as possible by grinding the ball with Suggs or Green. To defeat this strategy, the Giants have to limit Suggs to short gains on first and second down. The Giants’ defensive ends – Michael Strahan, Keith Washington, and Osi Umeniora – must play the run better than they have.

For the second week in a row, Strahan will face a back-up right tackle. Ryan Tucker (Cleveland’s best lineman) is out and will be replaced by Joaquin Gonzalez. Gonzalez is smart and tough, but he can be overpowered. However, Strahan did not play particularly well himself last week against a back-up and may be still bothered by the gluteal injury. The other injury concern Cleveland has is that LG Paul Zukauskas has a sprained knee, but he has returned to practice and is now expected to play. He will line up against DT Fred Robbins. Cleveland’s center Jeff Faine is a former #1 pick and one of the best centers in the game.

The other match-ups are Washington/Umenyiora versus LT Ross Verba, a tough player who sometimes struggles against good athletes. Umenyiora could have a good game here in obvious pass rush situations. DT Norman Hand will face RG Kelvin Garmon, a massive, powerful player in his own right (350 pounds+).

The Giants need their defensive linemen to take charge of this game. The Giants’ linebackers are still hurting – Barrett Green with an ankle injury and Carlos Emmons with a groin injury. And the middle linebacker position is still not really settled. The more the defensive line can do to make the linebackers’ jobs easier against Suggs, the better. Browns’ fullback Terrelle Smith is one of the best (if not the best) blocking fullbacks in the game. He will make life tough for the backers. Tackling remains a concern. Everyone needs to tackle crisply.

Defending the passing game will be much easier with rookie TE Kellen Winslow, Jr. (broken leg) out. The back-up tight ends have some ability. Aaron Shea can catch the football and is a decent lead blocker from the H-Back position. So while the linebackers’ jobs may be easier, it will not be a cakewalk.

The two big concerns when Cleveland passes are (1) the scrambling of QB Jeff Garcia (any Giants’ fan who remembers the San Francisco playoff game knows what I’m talking about), and (2) the ability of the Browns’ receivers to make plays down the field. Andre Davis is an excellent deep threat receiver who can score at any point in a game. He has been inconsistent, but he can cause problems for the two Wills. Likewise, Quincy Morgan is another receiver who combines an excellent size-speed package. Morgan can get deep and is dangerous after the catch (again, tackling is an issue here). To make matters worse, third receiver Dennis Northcutt is a quick, elusive receiver who works the middle well. The Browns may be salivating getting him matched up on Terry Cousin.

This will be a very tough game for the secondary because of these three receiving threats. The Giants need to get heat on Garcia, but at the same time, they obviously need to limit his scrambling. The more pressure on Garcia, the easier the defensive backs will have it. But the ability of these receivers to make big plays in the passing game is scary. And Garcia certainly isn’t going to be frightened of a secondary that he torched two years ago.

Giants on Special Teams: Another dangerous return game this week. Dennis Northcutt is exceptional in the open field on punt returns. The Browns waived their kickoff returner this week, but they will likely plug Andre Davis or Quincy Morgan in there and both can do damage as returners given their speed. Kickoff coverage by the Giants was not good last week and poor kickoffs by Steve Christie did not help matters. The return game is one area where Cleveland has a big advantage over New York.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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