Aug 312005
 

Television Note: This game will be televised locally in the New York/New Jersey area on WNBC at 8PM on Thursday. It will also be televised nationally on the NFL Channel at midnight on Saturday. Because I will only be able to see the game on the latter channel, my game review will be a bit later than usual.

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at New England Patriots, September 1, 2005: For the starters, this is the least important game of the preseason. The most important thing for them is to get out of the game healthy. The first units will likely not play all that much.

There are some tough roster decisions to make. The final cuts are due on September 4th as the Giants must get down to the mandatory 53-man active roster. The Giants will also likely pick up a player or two from other teams, further endangering job security of those currently on the roster.

Don’t get too wound up if the Giants lose or excited if the Giants win this game. It simply isn’t deemed that important of a game by NFL coaches.

Probably the two most important areas to watch are the play of the backup quarterbacks and the work of the punt returners. Those positions are largely unsettled.

Giants on Offense: Tim Hasselbeck was dreadful last week at quarterback. Jesse Palmer was better, but still made too many mistakes. Hasselbeck will get the start against New England and if he does not markedly improve, then the Giants have a serious issue at backup quarterback. Jared Lorenzen’s best hope is the Practice Squad. One has to think the Giants are watching the waiver wire here.

At halfback, we know Tiki Barber is the starter and Brandon Jacobs will see a lot of playing time this year. Also in the picture are Derrick Ward and Mike Cloud. Can the Giants keep four halfbacks? Personally, I don’t think so. My guess is that Ward makes the team but this game may ultimately determine both players’ fate. Jim Finn will be the starting fullback.

At tight end, Jeremy Shockey is the starter and Visanthe Shiancoe the blocking tight end. Is the third tight end currently on the roster (Chris Luzar, Darius Williams)? If so, Luzar probably has the inside track.

The Giants have tough decisions at wide receiver because they would like to keep a number of players here too based on special teams ability. The “sure things” are Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, David Tyree, and Tim Carter. Some have argued that Jamaar Taylor’s and Willie Ponder’s jobs are in jeopardy; I don’t see this at all. But that’s six receivers. The Giants will likely have to carry a seventh if Mark Jones is the punt returner and that makes the Giants very heavy at this position.

On the offensive line, the question is again numbers. The starters are set. But how many reserves do the Giants keep? Bob Whitfield and Rich Seubert are sure things. Jason Whittle has a big salary but he can play guard, center, and long snap. Wayne Lucier is a decent prospect, but can the Giants keep another OG/OC-type? Is there room on the roster for Brandon Winey?

Who To Watch: I think it is important for Tiki to get a few carries to get more in the groove. Obviously, Hasselbeck is a player to watch. It will be interesting to see how much Jamaar Taylor plays.

Giants on Defense: The defensive line has been the focus of much attention this offseason and it is all about to come to a head. We do know that Michael Strahan will start at left end and Osi Umenyiora will start at right end when the season starts. We also can surmise that William Joseph will start at one defensive tackle spot. But who is the other starter at tackle? Kendrick Clancy, Damane Duckett, Kenderick Allen, Fred Robbins? The Giants have five tackles here (not counting Jonas Seawright who could be Practice Squad bound). Can they keep them all?

Behind Strahan and Umenyiora, Justin Tuck provides excellent depth. But one more player is likely needed. Eric Moore has hardly practiced or played. Do the Giants keep him on the active roster? Or do they go with Adrian Awasom? Or do they not bother with another end and fall back on a tackle to play end if necessary (like Joseph or Robbins)?

Linebacker is a little easier to sort out. The starters will be Reggie Torbor, Antonio Pierce, and Carlos Emmons. Barrett Green (knee) is getting healthier and may see some snaps against New England, but the Giants can’t count on him yet. Whether he starts again ever for the Giants largely depends on the play of Torbor, Emmons, and their health. Nick Greisen is good depth. He has a good preseason and can play all three linebacker spots. In my mind, Kevin Lewis, Jim Maxwell, and T.J. Hollowell are vulnerable. I’d like to see Chase Blackburn make the team. It’s funny, he was a guy who the Giants signed after their original rookie free agent signings and someone who I thought had little chance to make the team. Someone like him always shows up each year and you never know who it will be. It’s often the guy who you least suspected.

Teams need to carry at least five corners and I think the five will be Will Allen, Will Peterson, Corey Webster, Curtis Deloatch, and Frank Walker – no surprises there. Safety is pretty easy to figure out too. Gibril Wilson, Brent Alexander, Shaun Williams, and James Butler are all locks. (Butler was like having an extra draft pick this year). The question here is does Curry Burns make the team?

Who To Watch: Awasom and Blackburn are trying to leave lasting impressions. All of the defensive tackles may still be competiting for starting spots.

Giants on Special Teams: The Giants have very good special teams except for the nagging question at punt returner. The Giants can kickoff, kick, punt, cover punts, and cover kicks with the best of them now. But can they find a punt returner who can secure the football and do some damage with the rock in his hand?

Who To Watch: Anyone returning a punt.

Final Note on Personnel Issues: I’ve given the Giants a lot of grief in the past for their personnel moves. But I’d like to give them credit for the following:

  • Free Agent Moves: For those who read my “2005 Free Agent Preview,” you know that WR Plaxico Burress, RT Kareem McKenzie, and MLB Antonio Pierce were at the top or near the top of my wish lists at each of their respective positions. The fact that the Giants not only signed one of them, but all three, is unprecedented in Giants’ free agent history. All of these guys are still young and getting better too. Having these three is like having three extra high draft picks. In addition, PK Jay Feely is a much better place kicker (and kickoff man) than I realized. He represents a huge upgrade.
  • Castoffs from Other Teams: The Giants have done a good job of spotting players waived by other teams or signed to other teams’ practice squads such as HB Derrick Ward, DT Kenderick Allen, and DT Damane Duckett. S Curry Burns, OT Brandon Winey, and WR/PR Mark Jones are competing for roster spots as well.
  • 2005 NFL Draft: The Giants look like they struck gold with at least three of their four picks in CB Corey Webster, DE Justin Tuck, and HB Brandon Jacobs. Not only do all three look like they will contribute, but all three flash some impact ability. DE Eric Moore was receiving some good praise before he got hurt early in camp. This was a great draft for the Giants.
  • 2005 Rookie Free Agents: The Giants did a nice job of scouting and signing S James Butler, DE Adrian Awasom, and LB Chase Blackburn.
Aug 282005
 
New York Giants 15 – New York Jets 14

Game Overview: Defensively, this game represented a big step forward for the Giants. The G-Men held the Jets to 109 total net yards and only 6 first downs. Four of those occurred on the first Jets’ possession and the Jets only picked up one first down in the entire second half of the game. There were also three turnovers by the Jets’ starters. Most importantly, the Giants’ defense kept the Jets off the scoreboard. Defense is always what inspires me and when the Giants’ defense is playing well, I am a happy camper.

Equally impressive was PK Jay Feely who was 5-for-5 on field goal attempts, including two 50+ yarders.

The bad news for the Giants was that the backup quarterback and punt return situations are – to put it bluntly – a mess. Tim Hasselbeck had a chance to nail down the #2 backup quarterback job, but played terribly. And punt returners Michael Jennings (2 muffs, 1 other bobbled punt) and Ataveus Cash (1 fumble) did not inspire any confidence.

Comments on the Defense: Things did not look good early as the Jets’ easily moved the football down the field on their first drive, picking up four first downs along the way. Part of their success was due to sloppy defense, but it also had to do with the Jets calling the right play at the right time against the Giants’ defense. For example, HB Curtis Martin picked up 8 yards around left end on his first carry. On this play, DE Osi Umenyiora immediately dropped into coverage at the snap of the ball, vacating a gap in the defense where Martin was heading. WLB Carlos Emmons and DT William Joseph were unable to close that gap by themselves. On the very next play, Martin broke off an 18-yard run around right end. There was no linebacker on this side of the field, and when DE Michael Strahan took a hard charge to his right, the only defenders out there to stop the run were CB Curtis Deloatch and FS Brent Alexander. Both took false steps to the inside and that is all Martin needed to turn the corner. Another Martin run picked up 5 yards when Strahan was obviously held (but the penalty was not called).

After the first drive, the defense was superb. It doesn’t get much better than limiting the opposition to two first downs the rest of the game (keep in mind that the Jets’ starters played into the 3rd quarter. So while you may see a number of negative comments below, keep them in perspective. I’m playing the role of perfectionist here, but the overall defense was outstanding.

Defensive Line: The Jets have a physical ground attack and the Giants did a good job of defending the run, other than the first drive of the game. Strahan got easily pinched inside on the aforementioned 18-yard gain – but this was partly self-induced as he took a hard charge to his inside at the snap of the ball. Strahan (ribs) was not supposed to play, but he did and played well, looking like his old self finally. Strahan had a sack, forced fumble, and an interception in the end zone on a play where he looked as natural as a linebacker in perfectly covering the tight end (the only negative here is that he should have stayed in the end zone and not tried to return the ball). He also made a couple of plays against the run, including stuff one Martin run at the point-of-attack and chasing down another from the backside.

Opposite of Strahan, Osi Umenyiora had a quiet game. He wasn’t bad at all against the run, but just didn’t make any plays of note, especially on the pass rush. The Giants do drop him quite a bit into coverage.

A quiet game was also put in by DT Kendrick Clancy. The Jets did not attempt to rush much up the gut when Clancy was in the game with Joseph. That was a bit odd. Like last week, Joseph vacated a gap in the defense by charging hard to his left at the snap of the ball. This allowed Martin to cut back into that gap for 4 yards and a first down on 3rd-and-1. This is a strange defensive tactic in my mind as in both games there has been no one there to cover the gap. Joseph was also blocked out of the way on the 8-yard gain where Umenyiora dropped into coverage (as was Clancy). There was one play where Clancy was knocked to the ground, but Joseph played down the line to get on the tackle. In the second half, Joseph’s quick penetration on one running play led to a 1-yard loss. Joseph also got a good pass rush in the first half where he knocked QB Chad Pennington to the ground.

One thing to note is that the Giants like to stunt their defensive tackles quite a bit. Often times, they will have Joseph take a hard charge and ask Clancy to loop around him. Sometimes this is disruptive, but there are times when it works poorly. And there are times when the opposition catches the Giants in the middle of this stunt when running the ball, making it easier to block the tackles out of the way.

As for the reserve tackles, Damane Duckett was far more active than Kenderick Allen. Allen got knocked to the ground a couple of times that I spotted. I did not think he played a good game. Duckett pursued pretty well and got in a couple of tackles because of this. Duckett also penetrated on one running play, disrupting the play, and stood his ground on another at the point-of-attack. Fred Robbins got some heat on the quarterback and remains the Giants’ most consistent pass rusher at defensive tackle.

Reserve DE Justin Tuck made a big impact. Not only did his back-to-back sacks in the 4th quarter take the Jets out of game-winning field goal position, but he applied quite a bit of legitimate pass pressure earlier in the contest. Once again, the Giants employed Tuck at DT on one passing situation, then stunted him back out to the outside (this was his second sack). His first sack came on an inside move against the out-matched left tackle. Tuck also was not a liability against the run.

DE Adrian Awasom continues to draw praise from Coughlin. He had one good pass rush on play-action boot that did not fool him.

Linebackers: MLB Antonio Pierce played a very strong game. He does a good job of reading draw plays and stopping them in their tracks. Pierce recovered the fumble that Strahan stripped. Pierce pursued the football well, played off blocks, and made sure tackles. Pierce came close to tackling Martin in the end zone for a safety on an outside run that he read and attacked exceptionally well. Two plays later, he forced a fumble near the end of the first half inside the Jets’ 10-yard line, but the Jets recovered. He did give up a 6-yard completion to the tight end.

WLB Carlos Emmons had a decent game. He did get blocked out of the play on the first Jets’ carry of the game. I also find it odd that for the second game in a row the Giants had Emmons attempt to cover the slot receiver. I’m not thrilled about that. However, there was one attempted pass to WR Lavernues Coles on a short crossing pattern that Emmons broke up by hitting Coles just as the ball arrived.

Reggie Torbor was quiet, but that doesn’t mean he played poorly. I would have liked to have seen him make a play on the 9-yard screen pass however.

Nick Greisen continues to play well and looked good in coverage, breaking up three passes with good hits. Jim Maxwell had good coverage on the tight end on one play and dropped him for a 1-yard loss. But Maxwell also missed a tackle on a running play, though he later made a nice play against the run from the backside.

Defensive Backs: QB Chad Pennington was held to 36 yards passing and only completed 5 passes. So the coverage units certainly did a good job, even minus CB Will Peterson (knee).

Will Allen played well. He made a really good hit and sure tackle on a quick pass to Curtis Martin, holding the dangerous running back to a 1-yard gain. Allen’s corner blitz in the second quarter forced a poor pass by Pennington or a first-down completion would have resulted on 3rd-and-6. Allen’s big mistake of the game was his 19-yard pass interference penalty that put the ball on the 1-yard line. Coles had a step on Allen and he mistimed his swat at Coles’ arm.

Curtis Deloatch had a bit of a rough start, but then settled down and played well. Deloatch took a false step to the inside on the 18-yard gain by Curtis Martin and thereby gave up the edge. He was beat by WR Justin McCareins on a smash route (receiver broke the play back outside against man coverage) for a 12-yard gain on 3rd-and-12. Two plays later, he was too far off the receiver and an easy 8-yard completion resulted. Deloatch also got faked out of his jock on an attempted tackle by Coles on a quick pass to the outside. All of this happened on the first drive of the game. But after that Deloatch was solid. There were many plays that I spotted where Deloatch’s man was covered like a blanket.

Corey Webster continues to demonstrate a nose for the football and played well. He had perfect coverage on Coles in the end zone on the game’s first drive for the Jets and intercepted the ball for a touchback, saving sure points. There were a couple of negatives. Webster looked a little uncomfortable to me defending deep passes. There was one deep pass to McCareins where Webster did not turn around to play the football. The Giants were very fortunate that pass interference was not called as Webster did hit the receiver before the ball arrived. Webster also got beat for a 24-yard gain in zone coverage in the third quarter. But for the most part, Webster too had his man completely under wraps.

Frank Walker saw some playing time and forced what I thought was a fumble late in the game (the ball was ruled incomplete due to the hit).

Brent Alexander had another quiet game. He, like Deloatch, took a false step on the 18-yard gain by Martin on the Jets’ first drive. Shaun Williams made a couple of decent hits, but missed his chance to make a play on the football and pick off a pass when he decided to go for the hit instead.

The safety who made a great deal of noise, including some with the first unit was S James Butler. Butler picked up two sacks on safety blitzes, including a vicious blindside hit.

Offensive Line: The Jets play physical run defense, but the Giants were not intimidated and gained 133 yards on the ground (though 25 of these came from Tim Hasselbeck scrambles). There were no big gainers, but the Giants consistently picked up 3-4 yard chunks. Pass protection, aside from a couple of breakdowns by the offensive line, was good.

The first unit played well, but was hurt with the early loss of Luke Petitgout to a rib injury. Bob Whitfield replaced him and struggled against the Jets’ starters. Whitfield was flagged with a false start and an offensive holding penalty. He missed a run block on an otherwise well-blocked HB Tiki Barber run and gave up a sack when he was beat to the inside by DE Shaun Ellis. Later in the 3rd quarter, he couldn’t make his block on a HB Derrick Ward carry.

The Giants’ starting guards played very well. David Diehl and Chris Snee are two very good players. Diehl is very consistent in both pass and run blocking. Snee just demolishes people and I love his mean streak. Barring injury, the Giants are set here for a long time.

OC Shaun O’Hara also continues to play well, giving the Giants a very solid interior trio. His only mistake in pass protection was that he failed to spot a blitzing linebacker coming on a delayed dog up the gut (this was the same play RT Kareem McKenzie gave up the sack – see below). He also missed one run block on a HB Mike Cloud run that only picked up 1-yard.

McKenzie made one big mental mistake (not physical). For some reason, he failed to pass block the left end on one play and Hasselbeck was sacked, forcing a fumble. This play was inexcusable, but McKenzie was rock solid otherwise.

The second team line had Whitfield still at left tackle, Rich Seubert at left guard, Jason Whittle at center, Wayne Lucier at right guard, and Brandon Winey at right tackle. It was nice to see Lucier in the line-up. He still is a better run blocker than pass protector. He got some good movement in the ground game, but was a bit shaky on one play in pass protection. Rich Seubert continues to look good, especially when pulling (though he did miss Lance Legree on one pulling effort). Jason Whittle was not as sharp this week and had a couple of negative plays (one pass block, one run block), but was mostly solid. Brandon Winey badly missed two run blocks, causing HB Brandon Jacobs to get hit in the backfield twice.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey’s blocking was inconsistent again, although he continues to draw some tough assignments. On the Giants’ first play of the game, DE Shaun Ellis beat Shockey badly leading to a 1-yard loss by Barber. He later got a good block on a 7-yard gain by Barber. In the second half, Shockey got Hasselbeck clobbered when Ellis beat him in pass protection. Jeremy caught 3 passes for 18 yards. Shockey did save an interception by deliberately interfering with the defender on an errant Tim Hasselbeck pass on the game’s first drive.

Visanthe Shiancoe blocked well. Chris Luzar was the third tight end in the game and did not really stand out.

Wide Receivers: With the quarterbacking being so poor, it was tough to get a read on the receivers. Plaxico Burress caught a couple of short passes early against CB Ty Law for a total of 23 yards. But Hasselbeck also badly missed Burress a couple of times too.

Amani Toomer did not have a catch. He was flagged with an illegal touching penalty that wiped out a nice 12-yard reception on the first drive.

David Tyree (4 catches for 37 yards) continues to make plays. He caught a 9-yard pass from Hasselbeck on 3rd-and-6. Tyree also had a key 8-yard reception from Jesse Palmer on 3rd-and-7 on the game-winning field goal drive.

Tim Carter (2 catches for 22 yards) caught a 14-yard pass on 3rd-and-9 from Palmer on the 3rd quarter field goal drive.

Jamaar Taylor (hip flexor) did not play, but Ataveus Cash had a key 15-yard completion for a first down on the game-winning field goal drive.

Running Backs: The worst part of the game offensively for the Giants, other than the quarterback play, was the botched blitz pickups by the halfbacks. Tiki Barber, Mike Cloud, and Derrick Ward all badly missed blitz pickups. Barber badly whiffed on his blitz pick-up, forcing Hasselbeck to scramble out of the pocket. It was not a great game for Tiki. While he did pick up 47 yards on 13 carries, he fumbled one handoff and dropped a pass that could have been intercepted.

Cloud (3 carries for 8 yards) inexcusably ran the wrong way on running play coming off the goal line. He ran right into Hasselbeck, causing a fumble that was recovered by the Jets for a touchdown. He later caused Hasselbeck to quickly unload the football when he gave a terrible effort on a blitz pickup (interestingly, he was pulled right after this).

I was impressed with Derrick Ward when he carried (9 carries for 41 yards) or caught the football (1 catch for 26 yards). But he also blew a blitz pickup, causing the quarterback to get sacked. And while Jesse Palmer’s pitch was too high and right at his head, it could have been caught (this was the other turnover in the end zone resulting in points for the Jets). But Ward impresses me as a runner. He is a big back with some power. In addition, he is a good cutback runner with active feet for his size. Ward also flashed a stiff arm. Ward looks natural catching the football and had a nice 26 gain by weaving around a defender and breaking a tackle.

Brandon Jacobs (7 carries for 13 yards) only saw time late. He impressed with his strength by running through an attempted tackle behind the scrimmage and still managing to pick up a first down on 3rd-and-1. He also broke off an 11-yard run late by beating the defense to the corner with his speed.

FB Jim Finn blocked decently, but dropped a pass and could handle another tougher effort.

Quarterbacks: Tim Hasselbeck (9-of-17 for 85 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception, 1 fumble) was just dreadful. He started the game out OK by completing passes to Burress for 13 and 10 yards. However, he badly threw behind Shockey on a deep pass where Shockey was forced to come back and interfere with the defender, thus stalling the drive. At the end of this drive, Hasselbeck scrambled out of the pocket when I didn’t think he needed to do so (he did this a few times). I never got the sense he was comfortable in the pocket.

On the next possession, he threw an inaccurate pass in the direction of Burress into double coverage. Later in the 2nd quarter, he threw badly behind an open Burress in the middle of the field. Hasselbeck also threw behind Shockey (who made the catch but couldn’t do so in stride). Hasselbeck then overthrew an open Toomer along the sideline on what should have been a first down. In the 3rd quarter, Hasselbeck’s pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted. His final pass of the night was a badly underthrown ball intended for an open Tyree on 3rd-and-6. Yuck!

The positive side of Hasselbeck was his mobility (25 yards on 5 carries) and scrambling away from pressure.

Jesse Palmer (7-of-12 for 84 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 1 fumble) played better than Hasselbeck but made too many mistakes. On his first play of the game, he audiblized out of a play (which Coughlin said was a mistake) and then pitched the ball right at Ward’s head, resulting in a fumble that was recovered in the end zone. Palmer did lead the Giants on a field goal drive on the next possession with a key pass to Tim Carter for a first down on 3rd-and-9 and then dumped the ball off to Ward for a 26-yard catch-and-run. However, his pass intended for Carter in the end zone was thrown out-of-bounds and his subsequent pass to an open Tyree in the end zone for what should have been a touchdown was thrown too late – nearly resulting in an interception.

On the Giants’ game-winning field goal drive, Carter had a step deep for a touchdown, but Palmer’s pass was thrown too far to the inside. But Palmer did hit Tyree for a first down on 3rd-and-7 and Ataveus Cash for 15 yards on 3rd-and-9.

Special Teams: The story of the special teams was PK Jay Feely. Feely was a perfect 5-for-5 with field goals of 52, 21, 54, 35, and 33 yards. Indeed, he was the difference in the ball game. In addition, his kickoffs remain strong with kicks being fielded one yard deep in the end zone, the 5-yard line, six yards deep in the end zone, the goal line, and three yards deep in the end zone. Feely also kicked a perfect onsides kick at the end of the half that was recovered by David Tyree.

Kickoff coverage was good with Jets’ returns picking up 22 (Chase Blackburn on the tackle), 21 (Feely himself with a strong tackle – Corey Webster and James Butler missed earlier chances), 19 (Ataveus Cash), and 26 yards (Frank Walker).

Jeff Feagles punted four times for a 39.5 yards-per-punt average. Punt returns went for 1 (David Tyree on the tackle), ball downed at the 3-yard line by Willie Ponder, fair catch (Ponder down in a hurry), and 6 yards (big hit by Derrick Ward). The negatives here were that Reggie Torbor was flagged with a false start and Antonio Pierce was flagged with holding.

The Giants were not able to break a good kick return this week. Willie Ponder managed returns of 23 and 18 yards. Mike Cloud return one kickoff for 22 yards.

A nice surprise was that the Giants came very close to blocking two punts, with Raheem Orr and James Butler nearly getting a hand on the football.

The problem in the punt return game was securing the football. Michael Jennings had a disastrous evening with two muffed punts (both recovered) and another one that was bobbled. Ataveus Cash then fumbled away the football after successfully fielding a punt, but being stripped by the tackler. The Giants had better pray Mark Jones gets healthy soon or they find someone on the waiver wire.

(Box Score – New York Jets at New York Giants, August 26, 2005)
Aug 252005
 

Television Note: This game will be televised locally in the New York/New Jersey area on WNBC at 8PM on Friday. It will also be televised nationally on the NFL Channel at 8AM on Sunday. Because I will only be able to see the game on the latter channel, my game review will be a bit later than usual.

Approach to the Game – New York Jets at New York Giants, August 26, 2005: The third preseason game is the most serious as teams usually play their starters into the 3rd quarter. The last preseason game is usually used to make final roster decisions and give some folks some work.

The New York/New Jersey media is going to make a big deal out this game, but it most likely has lost some of its edge because of the absence of QB Eli Manning, DE Michael Strahan (who most likely won’t play), and CB Will Peterson. Those are three big-time starters missing right there.

With Manning out, the Jets should win this game. After all, they almost made it to the AFC Championship Game last year and are a well-rounded team. My focus will be on the following:

Giants on Defense: OK, I’m officially starting to get a bit worried about the defensive tackle position. I realized this as I’ve found myself thinking more and more about defensive tackles in the draft next year. With Fred Robbins likely to start against the Jets, it is interesting that we are now back where many of us thought we would be when camp started: Robbins and William Joseph starting with Kendrick Clancy factoring seriously in the picture. Clancy may end up starting still. We’ll see. This is a big game for Robbins who has gone from first-team defensive tackle to third-team and is now back up to first-team. Joseph needs to play more like he did against the Browns. This is another good test for him because the Jets, like the Panthers, are a physical running team.

What I’m disappointed at is the play of the other tackles. Kenderick Allen (calf) is hurt again and hasn’t really done much on the field. Damane Duckett saw some time with the first unit in camp but was demoted back to second-string. I’ve seen virtually nothing out of him. It looks like Davern Williams is out the door. I expected one of these three to make some noise and they haven’t yet.

At end, I like Strahan and Osi Umenyiora as the starters. It will be real interesting to see what type of year Strahan has as we know he’s up there in age and on the downside. Since he is unlikely to play this week and probably won’t play much next week, he’s going to be thrown in there on opening day. His stamina is going to be tested to the limit as he really has only played a few series this preseason. Justin Tuck seems to be improving more quickly than I expected, but we’ll see where he is this week. He will have to play a lot and may get worn down. It really sucks that Eric Moore missed virtually all of camp. I don’t like the other ends.

At linebacker, the Reggie Torbor at strongside/Carlos Emmons at weakside experiment continues. Nick Greisen played a good game last week. I wonder if Barrett Green will play? Those two provide pretty good depth (assuming Green is ready by the opener). I’ve seen nothing from Kevin Lewis, James Maxwell, and T.J. Hollowell (who probably won’t play). I’d like to see more of Chase Blackburn and Joe Scott.

In the secondary, this will be a great test for Curtis Deloatch at right corner. Corey Webster will probably see some time with the starters too. He needs to dramatically improve his run defense and not play so far off of receivers. Will we see more of Frank Walker? Shaun Williams and Brent Alexander have been virtually invisible this preseason. The Giants need to upgrade at safety next year.

Giants on Offense: The focal point for me will be pass protection, as that obviously was an issue last week against the Panthers. I also want to see the Giants be physical up front with respect to the running game against a physical defense. We know who the starters will be and pretty much know who the back-ups are who will make the team. My only question is does Brandon Winey make it? In my mind, the locks (besides the starters) are Rich Seubert, Bob Whitfield, Jason Whittle, and Wayne Lucier.

One thing that concerns me a little bit is that Tiki Barber really hasn’t touched the ball much at all this preseason. I’d like him to get used to some live action (and protecting the football) before the real bullets start to fly. With Brandon Jacobs a lock, the battle between Derrick Ward and Mike Cloud continues. Can the Giants keep both? My focus with respect to Jacobs will be on his blitz pick-ups.

At the receiver position, we know Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, David Tyree, Tim Carter, Jamaar Taylor, and Willie Ponder are locks. Ponder is a lock because he is the Giants’ kick returner. No one else has been tried there this preseason so that tells us all we have to know. The Giants will likely have to carry a seventh receiver just to return punts (Michael Jennings or Mark Jones).

At tight end, Jeremy Shockey is the starter, Visanthe Shiancoe the second tight end. Is the third tight end currently on the roster?

Finally, the backup quarterback situation. This is a huge game for Hasselbeck. He can firmly nail down the primary backup spot behind Manning. Just as importantly for him, given the fact that he will be a free agent next offseason, he is show-casing himself for the rest of the league. Hasselbeck has limitations. It will be interesting to see how he manages them. The third quarterback is probably not on the roster.

Special Teams: The only big question for me here is who is the punt returner. Mark Jones is still hurt. That’s unfortunate for him because it couldn’t come at a worse time. If Jennings holds onto the football and puts together a good return or two, he may steal a roster spot.

Aug 232005
 
August 23, 2005 New York Giants Training Camp Report (Evening Practice)

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Marty in Albany

The Giants were in full pads this evening and everyone seemed to be in a jovial mood. This including QB Eli Manning who was smiling and joking as he tossed the ball left-handed to CB Will Allen. Perhaps it was the combination of the cool, breezy evening weather and the players’ knowledge that there was only one more “wake-up” before they could leave Albany and go home.

WR-PR Zuriel Smith is number 19. He replaces WR Brandon Smith. If the Giants had given Zuriel number 83 (Brandon Smith’s number), they would not even have to sew new names on the jerseys. As of this evening Zuriel has no name on his jersey. That is not generally a good indication of longevity on the Giants’ roster.

Wayne Lucier is back and is the second team center. As Jesse Palmer and OC Andy Tidwell-Neal combined to fumble a snap, he came back at a good time. Speaking of centers, they were all doing a little long snapping. Ryan Kuehl is indeed the gold standard based on whether or not the punter has to move to catch the snap.

Zuriel Smith and WR Michael Jennings were both catching punt from the ball machine. Michael muffed two of the six or eight balls. That disappointed all of the fans.

Injured DT Kendrick Allen and DE Eric Moore were doing an interesting exercise. There was a large wheeled “gondola” cart that they each would push across the field. Former Giants’ FB Charles Way was on the other side of the cart pushing in the opposite direction.

DE Michael Strahan was not dressed, nor WR Jamaar Taylor. RB Brandon Jacobs saw little if any action this evening.

QB Tim Hasselbeck looked much better throwing the ball than when I saw last week. His throws were much crisper and also more accurate. My favorite completion was a short drop back and an immediate bullet thrown to WR Plaxico Burress who had managed to get about 7-10 yards down field. The throw was made about one second after the snap. Plaxico also caught a deep pass from Hasselbeck when he beat S Curry Burns by about five yards. Tim also found TE Jeremy Shockey on a deep sideline pass when he easily beat S Diamond Ferri. Tim still had a number of miscues, and was forced to make a number of dump-off passes, but he was not nearly as bad as QB Jesse Palmer.

Jesse had interceptions by CB Will Allen and by LB Nick Griesen, who made a fine grab of a pass over the middle. Jesse often had no place to throw the ball and would have been sacked.

Shockey made some excellent catches as did the other tight ends. Visanthe Shiancoe caught a ball running a fly pattern and got a congratulatory pat on the rear from a coach. Wade Fletcher caught at least four deep passes and looked good. In the blocking sled drills with Coach Pope, Shockey was clearly the best blocker, but all of the tight ends looked pretty accomplished. It was good to see everyone healthy. In past years there were plenty of injuries and many of the tight end candidates were obviously inept at hitting the sled.

TE Wade Fletcher and WLB Nick Greisen got into a tussle. I think that Greisen won because Fletcher was on the ground longer. As Nick made an interception and Fletcher had his best day as a receiver, perhaps they should fight more often.

CB Corey Webster continues to get snaps with the first team and seems to be doing well, although when he and WR Zuriel Smith both jumped up for a deep pass from Jesse Palmer, it was Smith who came down with it. DT William Joseph continues to play with the first team.

As this is my final camp report, I am going to add a few thoughts and observations about the team’s progress since last year’s training camp. Last year Coach Coughlin correctly called the Giants “a work in progress.” Although that may be said of every team, every year, to Coughlin’s credit, the Giants have indeed made much progress.

The squad is more talented, healthier, more in tune with what Coughlin and the coaches want from them, and there are fewer obvious holes on the team to fill. Kicking and special teams have improved. There is veteran depth on the offensive line and in other places where it did not exist last year. OG Rich Seubert’s return from oblivion is an act of God, but Coughlin gets the credit for it anyway. We have found out that players will play for Coughlin and that his no nonsense style of coaching does not discourage free agent veterans from signing with the Giants.

Coach Coughlin’s latest adjustment is starting Reggie Torbor at strongside linebacker and switching Carlos Emmons to weakside linebacker. It may or may not work, but it shows that he is not afraid to experiment to improve the team. It tells the players, “Play well and be rewarded. Play poorly and William Joseph or someone else will take your starting slot.”

The rookie players have been impressive so far. There are no guarantees how they will do during the season. It will be tougher for them when they have to play against starters and when other teams have had a chance to probe them for weaknesses in their play. However, the rookies have done nothing to discourage my optimism. Here are my thumbnail impressions of what I have seen in training camp this summer.

The Rookies:

CB Corey Webster: He has “starter” written all over him. Every time he gets into a game, he gets his hands on the ball. He is a play-maker. He has the size, strength, and speed to make him a first class cornerback. He does not have an uncoordinated bone in his body. Just watching him run gives me goose bumps. He claims that the pro game is not too fast for him and that his missing the first five practices has not set him back in his training. Confidence is a good trait in a cornerback.

If he gets to play I predict that he will collect a bunch of interceptions. The interceptions will be partly skill and partly because so many balls will be thrown his way. Any rookie cornerback will have quarterbacks salivating to throw at him to take advantage of his inexperience. I expect Webster to give up a lot of completions due to inexperience. However, if the ball is not perfectly thrown, I expect Webster to recover and make some good plays.

DE Justin Tuck: As advertised, he is quick off the snap and has the ability to rush the passer. That is why he was drafted. He has the skills to help the team on passing downs and on special teams. He may not be as big or strong as some people would like. That could change with time. Nobody expects him to step in and be a full-time starter as a rookie.

RB Brandon Jacobs: It looks like Jacobs will fill the gaping hole the Giants had in short yardage situations (pun not necessarily intended). We have seen how big, fast, and agile he is and how he can pick up big chunks of yardage once clear of the scrimmage line. If the only thing he does this year is pick up the first downs on “third-and-short” he will greatly improve the Giants’ offense. For Brandon to get into the game on a regular basis he needs to learn the playbook, show that he can protect Manning on passing plays, and catch the “outlet pass.” Once that is established, the sky is the limit for him.

Other Players:

WR Plaxico Burress: He is a huge target at 6’5″. He is smooth and quick. Catching the ball comes naturally to him. Have you noticed how wide apart Plaxico’s eyes are set? This can only make it easier for him to judge distances and the location of a passes. He always acts calm and confident. When he is not running for a pass, he always seems to be in the “energy-saver” mode. He does not get angry, he barely celebrates a good play, and he does not hurry. I don’t think that pressure will bother him. I expect him to be a clutch player that Manning goes to when the game is on the line.

QB Tim Hasselbeck: The bad news is that he does not have a very strong or accurate arm. Opponents will not have to respect the deep pass and they will clog the line of scrimmage. That will make running the ball and pass protection a bit harder for the Giants. The good news is that Tim realizes that he does not have a gun for an arm. He will not be tempted to zip a pass into heavy coverage. He will throw the ball away rather than take a sack. Unlike the other Giants QBs he has the ability to scramble. This will cut down on sacks and give him more time to find an open receiver.

MLB Antonio Pierce: Replacing Kevin Lewis at middle linebacker is like adding an extra player to the defense. Linebacker is a tough position to learn. It may take a while for Antonio to get accustomed to the Giants defensive scheme. If he lives up to his large contract, the improvement in our defense should be substantial.

QB Eli Manning: Last year I said that he has the makings of greatness. I have not changed my mind. The good news is that he does not have to be great this year or carry the team on his back. He has excellent wide receivers, a running game to fall back on, good special teams, and (I hope) an adequate defense.

WR Jamaar Taylor and WR Tim Carter: Two very different receivers. Tim Carter is faster, but Jamaar Taylor is the more talented, more natural receiver. When healthy, Taylor caught everything, both long and short. Tim Carter’s speed and strength make him a threat to score on any given play. Jamaar is the more coordinated athlete. He knows how to get open and is more likely to be open than Tim Carter. Carter is a very muscular and no doubt can do some damage in run support. If he runs down the field he can’t be ignored because he has the speed to get behind the defenders. Both receivers could be outstanding if they can stay healthy for an extended length of time. Health is the key to their careers.

WR David Tyree: He has developed into a reliable receiver. He is the classic overachiever. In my opinion, he lives up to his full potential because he is absolutely fearless. He does not worry about being pounded and therefore he does not tighten up or lose his concentration.

TE Jeremy Shockey: We have heard that Shockey is in the “best shape ever” and he has made lot of fine catches in camp. That is NOT the key. In his rookie year, Jeremy had MAGIC. That magic depends on two things: wider receiver speed and cutting ability. As a rookie he got wide open on almost every play. Linebackers were too slow to cover him and defensive backs were too small to stop him. The question: Have nagging injuries and the general wear and tear of playing in the football affected Shockey? Does he still have the blazing foot speed? Can he still make those eye-popping cuts? If the answer is “No,” then the magic will be gone. Don’t get me wrong, Shockey still has the ability to be fine player, even a Pro Bowl player this year, but whether the “magic” is back remains to be proved during actual games.

WR Amani Toomer and HB Tiki Barber: Same fine skills; different year.

TE Visanthe Shiancoe: After Shockey, he is the best blocking TE on the team. He is big, strong, and fast. His receiving skill have improved, but he is still awkward and unnatural catching the ball. I would not throw to him unless he was uncovered, or I was desperate.

DE Michael Strahan: He is still a stud. He can be defeated on a given play, but he can’t be fooled. We are in a situation similar to last year where there is no way to tell if the rest of the defensive line and the linebackers will jell into an effective unit. At least this year we have more talent and more health at linebacker. LB Reggie Torbor could develop into more than a role player and DT William Joseph and Osi Umanyiora look like they are starter material.

CB Curtis Deloatch: He is very big and fast and always had the potential to be a fine defensive back. Last year, I did not think he was very smart or that he would be very good under pressure. It looks like I was very wrong.

CB Frank Walker: He is no longer the heir apparent. He has been overtaken and left in the dust by Curtis Deloatch and by rookie Corey Webster, who is the new heir apparent. Last year, Frank got by on his natural talents – his size, speed, and strength. If he wants to compete for a starting spot he will have to play with more discipline this year- no more foolish mistakes, or risky plays. Whether this means studying the play book or studying films, I don’t know. However, Coach Coughlin knows a great deal about discipline so Frank won’t have to go far to figure out what he needs to do.

LB Carlos Emmons: A veteran player who was injured last year. This year he is healthy so he should play much better than last year. Like Michael Strahan, Emmons can be defeated on a play, but he is not likely to be fooled.

Aug 222005
 
New York Giants 27 – Carolina Panthers 21

Game Overview: It always feels good to win, even in the preseason and especially against one of the better teams in the league. However, this was not a “feel good” win for the Giants or their fans for a couple of obvious reasons.

First, the injuries to QB Eli Manning (sprained right elbow) and CB Will Peterson (sprained MCL) put a damper on things. The inexperienced Manning will now miss valuable practice and preseason reps in anticipation of the upcoming season. And we don’t know if this injury will linger into the 2005 regular season. We also don’t know when Peterson will be back or how hampered he will be.

Second, the first team offensive and defensive lines for Carolina controlled the line of scrimmage. And when you lose the battle on both sides of the ball up front, you usually will lose 9-out-10 times. The reason the Giants did not was because they won the turnover battle (6-to-2).

Still there were a number of positives. There were far fewer penalties (4). The special teams probably played its most complete game in years and was a big factor in the victory. QB Eli Manning showed some resiliency in throwing a long-touchdown throw immediately after his turnover touchdown. The big plays in the passing game were encouraging. Defensively, the turnovers obviously stand out. And a number of the reserves impressed on both sides of the ball.

Offensive Line: It is hard to judge the run blocking of the first-team unit because the Giants only ran the ball seven times in the first half. Seven. Obviously the Giants were more interested in working on the passing game (plus the short possession times on most of the drives did not help). When New York did run those few times, the results were not bad at all: gains of 5, 3, 7, -1, 4, 6, and 7 yards (4.4 yards per run). The Giants got a nice push up front. I think my favorite play was watching RT Kareem McKenzie and RG Chris Snee block at the point-of-attack and then having LG David Diehl pull to his right up into the hole. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this become a bread-and-butter play for the G-Men.

The problem was when the Giants passed the ball. The four times Eli Manning was given time to throw, he was 3-of-4 for 150 yards and two touchdowns. The incomplete pass was dropped. On his other seven pass attempts, he was under pressure (though one of these may have been due to the fact that he drifted too far back out of the pocket). None of these other seven pass attempts were completed. The culprits? On some plays it is hard to say. On the Giants’ first passing play, the Giants faked a run to left while having Eli run a boot to the right. However, the left end on the play (who was actually DT Brentson Buckner) did not bite on the fake and was immediately in Manning’s face. I don’t believe McKenzie was supposed to block Buckner on the play because he ignored him (if he was supposed to, I don’t know what he was thinking). On the second failed pass, Manning was sacked for a 16-loss when Snee badly missed his block on DT Kris Jenkins. Manning had no chance on this play. On the third play, McKenzie failed to pick up the blitzing corner and Manning had to throw prematurely. Two plays later, Shockey could not block DE Julius Peppers one-on-one (for some reason, McKenzie helped Snee block the tackle on this play; was that the protection scheme or the fault of McKenzie?) and LT Luke Petitgout was overpowered by DE Mike Rucker (Petitgout was flagged with illegal hands to the face as well). The result was yet another incompletion. On the fifth failed pass, I think Manning dropped too far back beyond the pocket and created his own pass pressure by doing so. The sixth play was the one were McKenzie got beat to the outside by Peppers. The ball was stripped out of Manning’s hand and returned for a touchdown. Manning was also injured on this play. On the final failed pass attempt, McKenzie once again was unable to pick up a blitz and a bad throw to Shockey resulted. Seven breakdowns in pass protection…one occurred because the Panthers did not bite on the fake, another because the quarterback did not stay in the pocket. McKenzie was responsible for three other pressures (including a sack), Snee a big sack, and Petitgout a pressure. Not good. Kudos to David Diehl for playing a strong game.

The second team offensive line played well and controlled the line of scrimmage. When was the last time you could say that about the back-up offensive line for the Giants in a preseason game? It was the same line-up as last week: RT Brandon Winey, RG Lewis Kelly, OC Jason Whittle, LG Rich Seubert, and LT Bob Whitfield. The only player of this group that I am leery about is Kelly. He did not look good when pulling or blocking for a screen pass. To be fair, he was much improved in pass protection this week. Brandon Winey has played better in pass protection. He failed to spot/pick-up a blitz coming from his side of the field and instead helped out Kelly when he did not have to, resulting in QB Tim Hasselbeck having to scramble out of bounds for a 1-yard loss. Later, Winey helped out Kelly again as the left end sped around TE Chris Luzar. In the 4th quarter, there was clearly miscommunication between Winey and HB Brandon Jacobs as both abandoned an at-first blocked blitzer, leading to a sack. Winey was equally as clueless on the attempted screen pass.

But for the most part, the pass protection was strong when Hasselbeck was in the game and the Giants ran the football pretty effectively. The third teamers saw some action very late, but I don’t think any of these guys has a chance. In addition, with OC/OG Wayne Lucier back at practice now, Kelly is probably very vulnerable.

Tight Ends: In the blocking department, it was a mixed bag for Jeremy Shockey. But he also drew some very tough assignments. On the only running play the Giants ran in the first half that lost yardage, Shockey was manhandled by DE Mike Rucker, disrupting the entire play. But later in the second quarter, Shockey got a good block on a HB Mike Cloud 6-yard gain around left end (Diehl got a good block on this play on a pull too). Shockey was also asked to block Julius Peppers one-on-one on a passing play and was unable to do so. The result was an incompletion. In the passing game, Shockey made an excellent, leaping grab of a high Manning pass for 19-yards and a first down on 2nd-and-15.

We saw some feistiness from Visanthe Shiancoe this week as he got into a shoving match with Rucker after one play. I like that. He also came to Shockey’s aid when Rucker starting jawing at Jeremy on another play. In the second half, on the Giants’ first drive, Shiancoe got a good block on a 7-yard carry off left tackle, but then he was flagged with a dumb holding penalty away from the ball on another running play. Later in the 3rd quarter, he made a good block on a 12-yard gain, but then uncharacteristically missed a block on a run near the start of the 4th quarter. On the very next play, Hasselbeck hooked up with Shank for a 9-yard completion on 3rd-and-8, keeping the touchdown-scoring drive alive. Right after that, Shiancoe got deep down the middle of the field for a big 34-yard completion. This is the most impressive Shiancoe has played as a receiver since he has been a Giant.

Things did not start off well for Chris Luzar again in the blocking department. On the second offensive play of the 3rd quarter, he missed his block on a running play. On a later possession, the defensive end had no problem blowing past him en route to pressuring Hasselbeck into an incompletion. However, I did spot him making two good run blocks after these two snafus.

Quarterback: Manning only completed three passes, but only really had time to throw on four attempts (the one incomplete where he had time was a dropped pass). I’ve seen some criticism of his pocket presence by fans after the game, but it is tough to be comfortable in the pocket if the pocket is consistently crumbling around you and the Giants did not do a good job of protecting him. With time, Manning did a good job of finding WR David Tyree on 3rd-and-5 for the first down (Tyree broke this play for a long touchdown). On the Giants’ next possession, Eli threw a strike to Shockey down the seam that was on the high side, but Shockey was able to come down with the reception. I do think Manning drifted too far back out of the pocket on one play, thus causing his own pass pressure. But two plays later, despite what Manning has since said, I didn’t think there was a pocket to step up into when Peppers stripped him of the ball. Peppers was on him too quickly and Rucker was angling in from the other side.

What impressed me the most about Manning – and to me this the most impressive thing he has done in a Giants’ uniform to date – is his resiliency in coming right back after the turnover touchdown and throwing a perfect deep strike to WR Amani Toomer for the touchdown. That really showed me something.

Tim Hasselbeck played well. He showed some good mobility the few times pass protection broke down, and did a good job of finding the open receiver when given time (though he did try to force one ball into a well-covered Shiancoe on one play). Hasselbeck does not have the arm to throw the deep-out pass consistently well and this will limit his game and make it easier for teams to defend against him. But he did make some nice throws down the field. Hasselbeck found Tyree for 23-yards over the middle on 2nd-and-20. He later just missed Tyree on a fly pattern near the end zone. His most impressive work was on the touchdown drive that put the Giants up 27-14. On 3rd-and-8, he hit Shiancoe for 9 yards and the first down. On the very next play, he threw a perfect strike to Shiancoe down the deep middle of the field for 34 yards. The drive culminated with a Hasselbeck-to-WR Tim Carter touchdown throw in the back of the end zone.

Jared Lorenzen did not get much of a chance to show his wares. His first pass was dropped and he was sacked on his next opportunity. On the next possession, he threw a quick pass to WR Michael Jennings for 4 yards. But on 3rd-and-4, the pass protection completely broke down and he was sacked again.

Wide Receivers: Plaxico Burress did not have a catch and dropped what would have been a first down on 3rd-and-3 late in the first half. Amani Toomer ran a great route and showed good concentration on his 41-yard touchdown reception on a post pattern. It’s nice to see that he can still get deep.

David Tyree may have won the third receiver job with his 2 catch, 113-yard performance. On the Giants’ third offensive play of the game, Tyree turned a short 3rd-and-5 completion into a 90-yard touchdown play by breaking a tackle and running quickly down the right sideline. Indeed, I was taken aback at how fast Tyree looked on the play. In the second half, Tyree made some excellent run-after-the-catch moves on a 23-yard pass completion over the middle on 2nd-and-20. I did spot Tyree blowing one run block however.

Tim Carter caught 3 passes for 32 yards and a touchdown. It was nice to see him get some work. He had a big 19-yard completion on 3rd-and-8 as well as a 6-yard touchdown pass to put the Giants up by 13 points in the 4th quarter.

Willie Ponder (no catches) needs to work on his run blocking. Michael Jennings caught one short pass for 4 yards. Ataveus Cash was flagged with a holding penalty that brought back an impressive 8-yard run by HB Brandon Jacobs.

Running Backs: Not much to write about in the first half. Barber carried the ball twice for eight yards. Mike Cloud carried the ball five times for 23 yards, including a couple of 7-yard draw plays.

Derrick Ward (7 carries for 29 yards) saw extended playing time in the 3rd quarter. This was the first time that Giants’ fans have ever seen Ward carry the football as a halfback as a Giant in a football game. I liked what I saw. Ward is a big back with good speed for his size. He has some cutback ability in his game as well. Ward demonstrated good power on his first carry of the night. His longest carry was a 12-yarder where he cut back against the grain of the defense. He did not get a good enough block on impressive rookie LB/S Thomas Davis of the Panthers on one passing play where Hasselbeck’s arm was hit. Had this been an accurate pass, a touchdown to Visanthe Shiancoe might have resulted.

Brandon Jacobs came into the game after Cloud and Ward. Jacobs (9 carries for 38 yards) is simply a stud. Stealing John Riggins’ old nickname, I’ve started to call him “The Diesel”. There are rookies and then there are the few, rare new entrants to the league who seem like they just belong. Jeremy Shockey was like that. Brandon Jacobs is like that. His first carry was a 3-yard run up the gut on 3rd-and-1. The play was not particularly well-blocked, but “The Diesel” didn’t care. Later in the 4th quarter (his first extended playing time), Jacobs demonstrated his speed by turning the corner on a left-side run that was not well-blocked either. The result was a 14-yard gain. Two plays later, an unblocked corner foolishly tried to bring him down; Jacobs just ran right threw the attempted ankle tackle en route to a 7-yard gain. My favorite run of the night was an 8-yarder that was called back due to a penalty on Cash. Jacobs showed very quick feet in avoiding tackles and bouncing a play to the outside. As he reached the sideline, a Panther tried to make a statement by smashing into Jacobs high. Jacobs just shook off the big hit like the guy was a bug (this run got Rich Seubert really pumped up as he shoved Jacobs hard after the play in celebration). The bad news? Jacobs really needs to work on his pass blocking. This (and Tiki Barber) is what will keep him off the football field. As I mentioned above, Jacobs and Winey miscommunicated on a blitz and left free an at-first blocked linebacker, resulting in a sack of Lorenzen. When Lorenzen was sacked a second time, it was a jail break behind the third-string offensive line, but I also didn’t care for the block Jacobs got on the blitzer. A big guy like Brandon should level a blitzer.

Ryan Grant dropped a pass from Lorenzen.

Comments on the Defense: While the Giants did blitz some in this game, the defense played it mostly straight up on passing downs. The Giants usually only rushed the down four, and later in the second quarter, they actually only rushed three players on a few plays. The defense the Giants will run during the regular season will be different.

Also, the Panthers did a good job of alternating between the short passing game and the run to cross up the Giants. I hate to sound like an excuse-mongering fan, but it appeared to these eyes that the Panthers really did game-plan for this contest. I don’t think the Giants did. Early on in the game, I noticed that when the Panthers went with 3-WR’s and the Giants would counter with the nickel, they would run the ball. When the Giants would not, they would pass. This created some mismatches.

A big problem remains the inability of the Giants to get off the field on 3rd down. The Panthers successfully converted on seven 3rd down attempts in the first half alone.

Defensive Line: The Giants were not real stout against the run and they did not generate much of a pass rush. The Panthers ran almost exclusively to their left in the direction of DE Osi Umenyiora, who had problems at the point-of-attack. Umenyiora also badly missed a tackle on a running play when he dropped back into coverage. In addition, he got suckered on misdirection toss to his side on 3rd-and-3 for a 7-yard gain and a first down (this was the type of play that Osi used to get burned on as a rookie). Umenyiora did make a couple of nice plays against the run (and he certainly hits hard), but it wasn’t enough. In terms of his pass rush, Osi demonstrated an explosive outside rush, but too often he was pushed wide of the pocket. Still, he did generate some heat and right now looks like the Giants most consistent pass rusher. There was also a very interesting formation in the 2nd quarter where the Giants had Umenyiora and DE Justin Tuck line up at tackle, with DT’s William Joseph and Kendrick Clancy at defensive end. Then both the ends and the tackles stunted. The formation was pretty successful as both Umenyiora and Tuck exerted pressure on Jake Delhomme (and Tuck actually hit him pretty hard – no wuss play this week).

DE Michael Strahan only played the first series. He didn’t exert much of a pass rush and the Panthers ran away from his side.

Justin Tuck played a lot and did not seem to wear down at all. Tuck played a lot better this week against the run. A lot better. He still got pushed back some, but he fought hard to get off the block and a few times got past his opponent to get in on the tackle. He’s improving. And although Tuck admittedly was in the wrong place on his interception when dropping into coverage, he certainly looked naturally athletic on the play with quick reaction skills. That’s not a play a normal defensive end makes. Tuck got two good pass rushes in the first half against the starters.

For whatever reason, starting defensive tackles William Joseph and Kendrick Clancy played virtually the entire first half, even after it was clear that they were a bit tired after the long, sustained Panther drives. Perhaps Coughlin was testing their stamina. Still I find it somewhat unusual that Damane Duckett and Kenderick Allen were not rotated into the line-up.

Joseph was not as strong this week. He did not play terribly, but he was not real stout at the point-of-attack (except for one play where he and Clancy really stuffed the back at the line of scrimmage). Part of the problem may have been the scheme – I am not sure. There were a few plays where Joseph would take an immediate hard slant to one side, thereby creating a natural gap in the defense for the back to run through. I am not sure I understand the point of this tactic, especially against a strong running team like the Panthers. Joseph was not much of a factor on the pass rush.

Clancy is not a big guy and can get pushed around some at times, but he doesn’t stay blocked and flows well to the football. He disrupted a running play with quick penetration and stuffed two others (one with Joseph, another with Umenyiora) right at the point-of-attack. Clancy did get two pass pressures that I saw.

In the first half, Duckett and Allen only played very late. Both got controlled easily on one run right up the gut between these two. Allen also missed a tackle on a 3rd-and-1 draw play that picked up 14 yards (as did two other Giants). Allen must have hurt his calf relatively early as he did not play much.

The defensive line that started the second half had Tuck shifted to right end (he played left end in the first half), Fred Robbins at right tackle, Damane Duckett at left tackle, and Adrian Awasom at left end. I was disappointed with Duckett. He appeared to be merely going through the motions. I expected a good game out of him since he was facing his former team. In my mind, he’s been one of the disappointments thus far in the preseason. Against the Panthers, he was effectively blocked on too many plays or he seemed to have problems locating the ball (i.e., running past the ball carrier). His pass rush was non-existent. With Allen injured, Fred Robbins played with the second team and had a decent game. He had three quality pass rushes that I saw, including a sack on 3rd-and-14. But Robbins also gets my “dumb ass” award of the game for attempting to return a fumble instead of just falling on the football and sealing the game very late in the 4th quarter. Robbins managed to pick up the ball, but was stripped of it from behind and the Panthers recovered – giving the Panthers another opportunity to steal a win. Imagine if this had been a regular season game!

Coughlin singled out Awasom for having a good camp, but I haven’t seen it on the playing field yet. He fights to get off blocks, but most of the time it is in vain. The Panthers picked up too many yards running in his direction. He flashed a little bit on the pass rush later in the second half, but really wasn’t much of a factor there either. My guess is that he is a Practice Squad candidate.

After the Giants’ took a 27-14 lead, the third teamers came into the game (though the second team was back out on the field after the Panthers cut the score to 27-21). The third team defensive line from left to right was Raheem Orr, Davern Williams, Jonas Seawright, and Brett Eddins. None of these four impressed and I think it is dubious at best that any make the squad (again, perhaps one will make the Practice Squad). The Panthers ran right at both defensive tackles and Eddins. And no one mounted a serious pass rush. That’s why they were pulled late in the game.

Linebackers: It’s a learning process for new starting SLB Reggie Torbor and it showed on Saturday. Very early on, Torbor bit hard on a play-action fake and got burned by the fullback in coverage for an easy completion (at least Torbor made a good hit on the play). Torbor was the linebacker taken off the field when the Giants went to the nickel. As far as taking on blocks, I saw mostly good things out of Torbor. The one play that stood out is where he blew up the blocking scheme to his side on Carolina’s failed 3rd-and-1 effort in the 2nd quarter. SS Gibril Wilson cleaned up on the play, but Torbor is the one who allowed him to do so.

Carlos Emmons was pretty active. He did a good job of fighting through a block on the Panthers’ second play of the game to tackle the back after a 2-yard gain. However, three plays later, he was given the impossible assignment to cover WR Steve Smith in the slot in a 3-WR set on 3rd-and-2. The Giants were still in their base defense. (I think the Giants’ defensive brain trust were gambling that it was a running play and lost). An easy completion resulted. Later in the drive, Emmons forced what I thought was clearly a fumble with a big hit on the tight end (the pass was ruled incomplete thanks to the hit). On Carolina’s next possession, the tight end got open easily in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. I am not sure if this guy was Emmons’ responsibility, but Emmons bit hard on the fake and didn’t stick with the tight end as he reversed his field. Some fans may ask where Emmons was on many of the weakside runs. Well the Panthers schemed Emmons out of the play by often forcing the Giants into their nickel, which put Emmons in more of a middle linebacker position, rather than outside of Umenyiora’s shoulder.

Antonio Pierce was credited with seven tackles, but they were really quiet tackles. He had some problems taking on the power running game at the point-of-attack, but the thing he does is keep fighting to get in on the play. Still, I’d like to see some more flash from him in terms of key tackles at or near the line of scrimmage. On the game’s first play, he over-pursued the ball carrier on a 6-yard cutback run where William Joseph was blocked by a double-team. Later in the drive, he got handled at the point-of-attack on a 5-yard gain on 2nd-and-2 (as did Umenyiora). Carl Banks criticized Pierce for his coverage on the tight end on a 28-yard gain down to the 2-yard line, but I don’t think it was Pierce’s responsibility to stick with the tight end that far down the field (I think Wilson should have picked him up sooner). Pierce did look very quick on a blitz up the gut where he got pressure on Delhomme (this was the play where Corey Webster stripped the receiver of the football).

Nick Greisen saw some decent minutes in the first half and looked good. He got some heat on Delhomme on two blitzes in the second quarter. Greisen also combined with the defensive end to hold one run to a 3-yard gain. In the second half, Greisen shot a gap in an attempt to make a play against the back in the backfield, but overran the play. But I really liked his run-and-hit play in the 4th quarter where he flowed from the middle of the field and launched himself at the back attempting to run around right end. That was fun to watch!

WLB T.J. Hollowell stunk. He was effectively blocked on almost every run in his direction. With him missing so much camp time with injuries, I doubt he makes it. Kevin Lewis simply doesn’t make any plays. He also looks slow. I saw nothing out of Jim Maxwell either except decent coverage on one misdirection pass to the tight end. But Maxwell also got beat in coverage by the back on one play and then missed the tackle on the same play, leading to a 17-yard gain. I would have liked to have seen more of Chase Blackburn. He played late and helped to clean up on the Greisen run-and-hit play I mentioned above. I like the way he plays. I did not see Joe Scott on the field.

Defensive Backs: Things started off on a rough note for Will Allen, but he ended up playing a pretty strong game. On the Panthers’ first drive, Allen had good coverage on WR Keary Colbert, but failed to make play on the football and an 18-yard reception resulted. This was a problem for Allen all of last year. Later in the drive, after Emmons forced what looked like to be a fumble, Allen tried to scoop up the football and score, but he misplayed the ball and Carolina recovered (luckily for him the play was ruled an incomplete pass). Just at this point as I was cursing Allen’s name at the TV screen, Delhomme threw an ill-advised pass that was easily intercepted by Allen (he held on!!!). The only other two negatives in the game is that I thought Allen gave Colbert too big of a cushion on one play that resulted in an easy 5-yard gain. He also got beat on a shallow crossing route across the middle by WR Steve Smith for 12 yards on 3rd-and-7. But Allen was aggressive in run support and his tackling was strong. He did a good job of stripping away one ball, causing an incompletion. Allen also disrupted a hook-and-ladder effort late in the first half by immediately and aggressively knocking into the receiver.

Before he left with an injury, Will Peterson was just OK. He gave up a 6-yard completion to Smith on 3rd-and-2 to start the game. On Carolina’s next possession, he got beat for 21 yards by Colbert.

Curtis Deloatch saw time in the nickel before Peterson got hurt and filled in for him after he was hurt (along with Corey Webster). Deloatch played well. He’s a big guy who can run and you don’t see a lot corners like that in the NFL. The only real negative I saw on him was getting beat to the inside out of the slot by Smith for 8 yards and a first down on 3rd-and-3. Deloatch should have jammed Smith in this situation. In the second half, Deloatch impressed by knocking away two deep passes. Unlike some Giant defensive backs, he plays the football in the air.

Corey Webster made a big splash with two turnovers, but still has a way to go. He played much too far off the football, allowing several easy completions. Someone as athletic and fast as Webster should not be playing so far off the football. It’s as if he was playing scared to get beat deep. The good news is that for much of the first half, he was playing against Steve Smith, so this game was an outstanding learning experience for him. On the 2-yard touchdown pass to the tight end in the first half, Webster was in the picture when the completion was made. Whether this was his man, or Emmons’, or someone else’s, I have no idea. But like Emmons, Webster didn’t see the tight end peeling back to the inside on the play. On the next Carolina drive, Webster was way too off the receiver on 3rd-and-5. Smith caught the football for a first down, but Webster closed in a big hurry and stripped Smith of the football for a big turnover. What started off as a bad play turned into a great one due to his closing speed and aggressiveness. On the next possession, however, Webster was once again a mile off of Smith and an easy 12-yard completion was the result on 2nd-and-10. The same thing happened again later when Webster was beat by Smith for 10 yards on 3rd-and-7. In the second half, Webster got sealed easily on a 16-yard run in his direction. Webster was also very lucky that Carolina’s last pass of the game was well off the mark and intercepted because he was beaten badly for what should have been a first down in scoring range with enough time left on the clock to win the game.

Gibril Wilson played an aggressive game. He made a nice open field tackle on the fullback in the flat, holding the play to a 3-yard gain. Wilson also made a huge tackle for no gain on 3rd-and-1, forcing the Panthers to punt. I do wonder if Wilson was late in getting over to cover the tight end on the 28-yard completion down to the 2-yard line. He rushed over late to make the tackle, and his body language after the play suggested to me that he was mad at himself. But I’m merely speculating here.

Brent Alexander played another quiet game. He badly missed a tackle (along with Shaun Williams) on a 14-yard draw play on 3rd-and-1 late in the first half. Shaun Williams had decent coverage on intermediate sideline route near the end of the first half that fell incomplete. Williams was flagged with a 5-yard face mask penalty in the 3rd quarter.

Reserve corners Antwain Spann (missed tackle leading to a 15-yard gain) and Michael Bragg (beat for a touchdown on a fade pass) did not help themselves. Reserve safety Curry Burns was in the right place at the right time as the Carolina third-team quarterback badly overthrew his intended receiver and Burns intercepted the football late in the game to seal the win.

Special Teams: An outstand all-around game on special teams.

PK Jay Feely hit both his field goals (35 and 28 yards). His kickoffs were very good: two touchbacks, two returns fielded at the goal line, and two fielded at the 2-yard line. Panther kickoff returns only went for 26 (James Butler on the tackle), 22 (Butler again), 18 (bit hit by Chase Blackburn), and 20 yards (Diamond Ferri and Curry Burns). That is very good.

The punting game and punt coverage were excellent. P Jeff Feagles averaged 44.5 yards-per-punt on six punts, and three of those were fielded inside the 20-yard line. Panther punt returns went for no gain (Curtis Deloatch down in a hurry), no gain (David Tyree down in a hurry), fair catch (Deloatch again down in a hurry), down at the 1-yard line (outstanding job by Deloatch to bat the ball backwards before it landed in the end zone), 16-yard return (James Butler and Willie Ponder), and a 7-yard return (Kevin Lewis). The only negative was the 16-yarder, where Ponder and Lewis missed attempted tackles.

Willie Ponder averaged 28.3 yards per kickoff return and his 49-yard return right after the turnover touchdown was a huge momentum shifter in the game.

Michael Jennings fielded four punts (two of which were fair caught). He looked very sure-handed. His two returns went for 10 and 9 yards. On his last return, Jennings demonstrated his speed by sprinting across the field and turning the corner.

(Box Score – Carolina Panthers at New York Giants, August 20, 2005)
Aug 182005
 

Television Note: This game will be televised locally in the New York/New Jersey area on WNBC at 8PM on Saturday. It will also be televised nationally on the NFL Channel at 8PM on Sunday. Because I will only be able to see the game on the latter channel, my game review will be a bit later than usual.

Approach to the Game – Carolina Panthers at New York Giants, August 20, 2005: This game will be a superb test for the Giants. Over the past two seasons, the Giants have been one of the NFL’s worst teams. The Panthers are likely to be a serious Super Bowl contender and are everything the Giants hope to be: well-coached, tough, physical, powerful ground game, sound passing game, a superb defense, and strong special teams. The Panthers play old style NFC football. With the starters for the Giants likely to play well into the second quarter, we will get a much better read on the Giants this week.

Giants on Offense: While much fan attention has been diverted to rising star HB Brandon Jacobs, the diehard fans still realize that QB Eli Manning is the key to the season. Other than his TD throw to WR Plaxico Burress and his bad decision and overthrow to TE Jeremy Shockey last week, all of Manning’s tosses were of the shorter variety. It would be nice to see him make a number of medium- to long-distance throws to his receivers. Amani Toomer did not have a catch last week and Manning did not connect with another receiver other than Burress. The Panthers front four is strong and they can often generate a pass rush without blitzing. But they will blitz too. We’ll get a far better read on how Manning deals with pressure in his face on Saturday night.

Toomer has had a strong camp and I personally would like to see that translate onto the football field. The real question is this – how good is Amani Toomer? Is he someone who still concerns opposing defenses or not? Can he make the big play down the field against quality corners? How comfortable is he at the flanker (or “Z” position)? Toomer will be matched up on Ken Lucas, a good corner. So will Plaxico as he faces RCB Chris Gamble.

The third position right now belongs to David Tyree, who did not make much of an impact last week. Personally, I’d love to see Tim Carter get more opportunities with the first team unit. Jamaar Taylor – also a favorite of mine – remains injury-prone and is unlikely to play on Saturday. Willie Ponder also remains in the mix and will be looking to redeem himself from a horrible outing last week. Michael Jennings and Ataveus Cash will get a chance to return punts against Carolina and could help their respective causes with a strong receiving game as well.

Up front, I can think of few better tests for the starting offensive line than the Carolina Panthers’ defense. RT Kareem McKenzie will really have his hands full with DE Julius Peppers as will LT Luke Petitgout against DE Mike Rucker. Inside, the Panthers are tough. The real big match-up there for the Giants will be LG David Diehl against DT Kris Jenkins. Diehl played just OK in pass protection last week. It will also be fun to watch TE Jeremy Shockey battle against our old friend SLB Brandon Short (Late Update: Brandon Short suffered a serious foot injury last week and will not play against the Giants).

I think it is pretty obvious to all of us that Tiki Barber will be the #1 back and Brandon Jacobs will soon be the #2 back. Who will the #3 back be? Ernie Accorsi talked up Derrick Ward before camp and said that some of the coaches felt they didn’t need to draft Jacobs because of Ward, but Ward has been limited due knee surgery rehab. He hasn’t had an opportunity to impress and time is running out. Meanwhile, Mike Cloud played well last week. I am not a big fan of Cloud’s because I don’t think he can get outside, but he was very tough running between the tackles against the Browns.

As for the backups, it sounds like Jesse Palmer’s days are numbered. Tim Hasselbeck will see the bulk of the remaining playing time. The team needs to see a good performance out of him or the coaches, front office, and fans may start to get really nervous about the backup QB situation. Jared Lorenzen will also likely see some snaps this week as Palmer may not.

Giants on Defense: Again, a great test up front for the Giants who will be facing one of the few true smash-mouth running games in the NFL. The Panthers love to grind the football at you and the Giants’ rush defense is a question mark. The Panthers will try to maul DE Michael Strahan, DT Kendrick Clancy, DT William Joseph, and DE Osi Umenyiora. If these four are not strong, physical, tough, and aggressive enough, we will know pretty quickly. I’d also like to see more of defensive tackles Kenderick Allen and Damane Duckett this week (the latter will be playing against his former team). At end, Justin Tuck will likely have a hard time as he was largely controlled last week on running plays by the Browns. The rest of the ends (other than Eric Moore, who will not play) look like camp fodder. The Giants should start playing some of their tackles at end in order to give them experience.

The big story on defense is the switch of Carlos Emmons to weakside linebacker and making Reggie Torbor the new starting strongside linebacker. Torbor will likely experience growing pains, especially in coverage. That’s why it is important to give him as many reps as possible. This game will be a good test for Antonio Pierce, an intense, cerebral middle linebacker, who is a bit on the light side. The strength of his game is not overpowering big backs in the hole so this will be an interesting match-up to watch.

As for the reserves, the pressure may be mounting on Kevin Lewis and Nick Greisen to perform. Both are veterans who can play all three linebacker spots, so there is a good chance they will be kept. But if one of the young linebackers flashes enough, a job could be at stake. A player to watch is Chase Blackburn, who played well last week. T.J. Hollowell and Jim Maxwell need to step it up soon.

The secondary will be tested by Jake Delhomme, particularly on play-action. Barring injury, we pretty much know who the corners are who will make the team (Will Allen, Will Peterson, Curtis Deloatch, Frank Walker, Corey Webster). At safety, Gibril Wilson is obviously also safe and the favorites to land spots are Brent Alexander, Shaun Williams, and James Butler. Curry Burns and Diamond Ferri need to impress now in order to make it.

Giants on Special Teams: The Giants really miss Mark Jones (foot) at punt returner. Willie Ponder muffed a punt last week and does not look real natural returning punts. It’s now Michael Jenning’s chance to impress this week. Ataveus Cash will likely get an opportunity against the Panthers too. If one of these guys can’t do it, the Giants need to get Jones back fast or bring someone else in.

Kickoff coverage was bit spotty last week.

We still have not seen Jay Feely attempt a field goal as a Giant.

Aug 162005
 
Cleveland Browns 17 – New York Giants 14

Game Overview: All-in-all, it was a mostly positive performance for the Giants. The first team offense and defense played reasonably well and the Giants came out of the game with no major injuries. As always, some players helped themselves; others did not.

The Browns are a rebuilding ball club. Next week’s game against Super Bowl contender Carolina, with the starters playing longer, will be a far more accurate indicator of where the Giants are.

Offensive Note: It was interesting to see that while the Giants started the game with their base offensive set, Head Coach Tom Coughlin was willing to go 5-wide with this formation as TE Jeremy Shockey, HB Tiki Barber, and FB Jim Finn were spread out to WR-positions along with receivers Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer. The fact that Shockey and Barber are such good pass receivers provides the Giants with a lot of flexibility that Coughlin appears prepared to employ.

Quarterbacks: It was a solid game by Eli Manning (6-of-8 for 53 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions), highlighted by his perfectly-thrown 20-yard strike to WR Plaxico Burress to punctuate the successful opening drive. Manning was 5-for-5 on this possession, but the only pass of note was the TD throw. The other four were of the short-variety. That said, Manning continues to demonstrate that he is good at selling play-action. In my mind, the only negative play Manning made was his poor decision and inaccurate throw on his attempt to hit a double-covered TE Jeremy Shockey down the seam on the Giants’ next possession. When the Giants got the ball back, Manning completed another short screen pass to HB Mike Cloud and that was it for the night.

Jesse Palmer (2-of-3 for 20 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception) played with the second unit and really hurt his cause with a terrible decision to force the ball to a double-covered WR Tim Carter near the goal line (the pass was easily intercepted). The play particularly hurt because the Giants were moving the ball and in scoring position and Palmer missed seeing a wide open WR Willie Ponder right in front of him. Palmer’s first pass of the drive was also an inaccurate deep pass to Carter (this play was erased due to a roughing-the-passer penalty). Sandwiched between these two negative plays, Jesse did hit Carter on a 13-yard slant. Palmer only got one more possession with the football and was not helped by some shaky pass protection on two plays, one where he was sacked as the backs failed to pick up the blitz.

Tim Hasselbeck (8-of-15 for 87 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception) played well on his first drive (a scoring drive that tied the game at 14-14) with the second teamers, but struggled mightily with the third teamers as pass protection often broke down. On the TD drive, Hasselbeck completed short passes for 6, 9, 5, 11, and 9 yards (the latter for a touchdown). He also threw a perfectly-thrown deeper, sideline route to WR Willie Ponder that was dropped. Hasselbeck demonstrated his mobility by scrambling for 11 yards on one play for a first down. I liked his well-thrown swing pass that hit Brandon Jacobs in stride as well as his TD throw to WR Ataveus Cash, where he scrambled to his right and threw a low pass that only Cash could have caught. However, as I mentioned, Hasselbeck failed to move the team on his ensuing three possessions. Pass protection by the third teamers was weak and all of these drives were sabotaged by penalties. That said, Hasselbeck threw two very poor passes on the first of these three drives on back-to-back plays. One was almost intercepted as Cash was badly overthrown; the next was intercepted as Hasselbeck tried to force the ball to Cash. On the next possession, Hasselbeck threw too high on a screen pass to HB Ryan Grant. On the last drive, he took a sack when he should have dumped the ball off to Grant on 3rd-and-13.

Wide Receivers: The starters did not see much playing time. The ball was not thrown in the direction of Amani Toomer. Plaxico Burress caught a 4-yard pass on a short crossing route on 3rd-and-3 to keep the opening drive alive. Six plays later, Burress demonstrated why his combination of size and athleticism will be difficult to defend for Giants’ opponents. Facing a solid corner who had a decent cushion, Burress ran by his man and use his height advantage to easily snag the football ball in the endzone for the touchdown against a defender who was overmatched. Plaxico looked smooth in turning his body around and keeping his feet inbounds on the play.

David Tyree was the third receiver in this game. He did not see any action in his direction with the starters, but played with the second teamers as well. He caught a 5-yard pass from Hasselbeck on the second scoring drive. Jamaar Taylor (hip flexor) did not play.

Tim Carter appeared to see most of his playing time when Jesse Palmer was in the game and was the target of three of Palmer’s passes. However, only one was complete as Palmer missed Carter badly on one deep pass and later tried to hit a double-covered Carter on a pass that was intercepted near the goal line. Carter did catch a 13-yard slant pass from Palmer. He has the look of someone who can go the distance every time he touches the football.

Willie Ponder played a lot and had a rough, rough night both as a receiver and special teams player. Ponder was flagged with an offensive holding penalty that erased a 43-yard run by HB Brandon Jacobs. A few plays later, another penalty by Ponder (this time an illegal formation penalty) erased a Jacobs run of 12 yards. In the second half, Ponder was flagged with offensive pass interference on a well-thrown sideline pass by Hasselbeck, and then added insult to injury by dropping the pass. Ponder did make one catch for 9 yards.

Ataveus Cash (2 catches for 20 yards) had a good night. He seemed to be a favorite of Hasselbeck’s and made a very nice, diving catch for a touchdown on 3rd-and-goal from the 6-yard line. On this play, Cash came back to his quarterback to help him out when the latter scrambled to his right.

Brandon Smith made a 27-yard reception on 4th-and-24 very late in the game.

Running Backs: Tiki Barber only played sparingly on the first drive of the game. He carried the ball twice for 8 yards and caught a screen pass for 11 yards. On the latter, Tiki demonstrated his trademark elusiveness.

Mike Cloud (5 carries for 58 yards; 2 catches for 15 yards) benefitted from some excellent run blocking from the first-team offensive line, but he also ran with a lot of toughness between the tackles. Cloud did a nice job of finishing his runs and averaged over 11 yards per carry. He also looked sharp on a 14-yard screen pass where he broke two tackles.

The offensive player who impress me the most was Brandon Jacobs (12 carries for 73 yards; 2 receptions for 13 yards) . The best way I can describe Jacobs for those who haven’t seen him yet is that he reminds me of a bigger, faster, stronger Rodney Hampton. No, not because of his #27 jersey, but because he’s not just a straight-line runner. He’s got some shiftiness to his game and he is very smooth-looking and runs with very little wasted motion. He glides like Hampton did in prime and has Hampton’s vision. Jacobs also has the soft hands Hampton had in catching passes out of the backfield. But as powerful as Hampton was, Jacobs is a more powerful man and faster. On run after run against Cleveland, Jacobs plowed his way forward after being hit by one, two, three Browns’ defenders. Jacobs averaged over 6 yards a carry mostly behind the second-string offensive line and had another 66 yards erased due to penalties on three other carries. Jacobs demonstrated his speed on one of these efforts with a 43-yard gain where he exploded down the sideline. On the run before this (an 11-yard gain), Jacobs made a nice cut back to the inside, broke three tackles, and ran over a fourth tackler for a couple more extra yards. As the game wore on, you could see that the only way defenders were interested in tackling him was by the ankles. One foolish Browns’ defender who tried to take him high after a swing pass paid the price by getting leveled. There was one play where a free blitzer came up the middle and Jacobs took the outside blitzer instead. The result was that Jesse Palmer was sacked on 3rd-and-9. This may have been his fault or the fault of FB Luke Lawton who went out on a pass pattern.

Mike Jemison really hurt any limited chance he had with two poor blitz pick-ups, one leading directly to a sack. Ryan Grant carried the ball twice for -2 yards and caught one pass for 12 yards. He was also flagged with a legitimate illegal chop block.

Fullback Jim Finn blocked well as a lead blocker for Mike Cloud. However, his pass protection was a bit shaky. I was not impressed with Luke Lawton as a blocker and he also dropped a pass.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey only caught one short pass. His run blocking was excellent, but he did give up a sack on a 7-step drop by Manning off of play-action. This is a slow-developing play as it is meant to be a deep pass and it was called at the perfect time with the Giants running the ball down the Browns’ throats. Everyone held up their end of the bargain on the play except for Shockey who let the linebacker get around him.

Visanthe Shiancoe is clearly the second best tight end on this team because he clearly a better blocker than the other contenders. The tape doesn’t lie. If he does not make the team or is demoted, it will because of mental mistakes, but physically, he can block. In two-TE sets with the first team, he effectively blocked his man. Same story in one-TE sets with the second team.

I was not impressed at all with Chris Luzar as a run blocker. Luzar also had problems blocking linebackers in pass protection. Chris did have two nice catches wiped out due to penalties, but if he can’t block, he might have no chance. The guy who I thought did a better job of blocking was Darius Williams, though Williams did miss one block that I saw.

Offensive Line: The Browns were not a very good test, but the first-team offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. Manning had time to throw (for the most part) and there were huge holes to run through for the running backs. As expected, the biggest holes came off the right side, with RG Chris Snee and RT Kareem McKenzie just obliterating people. It also helped that TE Jeremy Shockey and OC Shaun O’Hara were winning their match-ups too (indeed, I was impressed with O’Hara’s play). The only negative notes I made were that Diehl got bull-rushed back into Manning on the first drive. Later, he was called upon to pull across the formation and pass block the left defensive end on Manning’s TD pass. Diehl wasn’t able to make this block and Manning got hit on the play. Also, McKenzie was legitimately flagged for holding on an 11-yard Brandon Jacobs run on 3rd-and-1. This penalty helped to end the drive prematurely. LT Luke Petitgout and Diehl also jumped early, turning a 3rd-and-12 into a 3rd-and-17.

The second team offensive line was manned by LT Bob Whitfield, LG Rich Seubert, OC Jason Whittle, RG Lewis Kelly, and RT Brandon Winey. I was impressed by all except for Kelly, who really struggled in pass protection for most of the game (he also played left guard with the third teamers). The second team had a strong left side of Whitfield and Seubert. I was also very pleased with Whittle’s play at center. He looks bigger and stronger to me this year and his effective run blocks in the pivot helped to spring Jacobs on some big runs (as did Seubert at left guard). Winey looked comfortable at right tackle and had some nice blocks. In pass protection, Lewis got beat one-on-one as well as missing a number of blitz pick-ups. Much of the pass pressure that the backup quarterbacks faced was because of him.

The third team line had Winey at left tackle, Lewis at left guard, Andrew Tidwell-Neal at center, Morgan Pears at right guard, and Jason Hilliard at right tackle. This group was pretty bad. Hilliard and Lewis struggled in pass protection. Winey gave up a pressure from the left tackle spot. Tidwell-Neal was flagged with an illegal block on a running play and a false start. Hilliard was flagged with holding on a play where he allowed his man to also hit Hasselbeck.

Defensive Line: The starting unit (LDE Michael Strahan, DT William Joseph, DT Kendrick Clancy, and RDE Osi Umenyiora) gave the Browns problems. Joseph and Clancy split time at both tackle spots. Most impressive, initially, was Joseph, who was very disruptive. Joseph demonstrated fine quickness at the snap of the ball and this explosive, quick step gave the Cleveland guards trouble on both running and passing plays. Joseph penetrated into the backfield on the first offensive play of the game for the Browns to help hold the ball carrier to a 1-yard gain. A few plays later, he forced a holding penalty on a pass rush that turned what would have been a 1st-and-10 into a 3rd-and-14. Joseph continued to see some time with the second unit with Damane Duckett, but he was not as dynamic as he was with the starters (not bad, just not as good). Kendrick Clancy did not make much noise.

The Browns ran right at Strahan on the Browns’ second offensive play with success, leading to an 8-yard gain. But a few plays later, Strahan combined with SLB Carlos Emmons to sack QB Trent Dilfer for a 3-yard loss. Osi Umenyiora is simply one of the fastest defensive linemen in football. What is making him a more effective pass rusher is that he continues to work on his inside game and now opposing tackles have to deal with that in addition to his outside speed rush. Umeyiora got at least 2-3 quality pass rushes on Dilfer in limited playing time. He also flashed his great speed by closing on Dilfer in a hurry when Dilfer scrambled to his left out of the pocket.

As for the reserves, I saw both good and bad from DE Justin Tuck. The good was that Tuck flashed a few times on the pass rush, showing a nice combination of quickness and agility. He played left defensive end for one snap on the first defensive series of the game and forced a holding penalty that erased a 13-yard screen pass and made it 3rd-and-24 (remember, this was a quality pass rush against a starting right tackle). On the third defensive series of the game, the second teamers came in. On the first play, now playing right defensive end, Tuck penetrated into the backfield to help stuff a HB William Green run. On the very next play, he got a good pass rush. Later in the drive, on 3rd-and-7, Tuck read the screen pass from the opposite side of the field, ran across the field to make the play, but missed the tackle. Had he made the tackle, this would have been an astounding play. As it was, the drive stayed alive and Cleveland scored a touchdown. Three plays later, Tuck got to the quarterback on 3rd-and-goal, but bounced off the QB instead of wrapping him up and bringing him down. Again, the problem was the inability to finish. However, to me, Tuck demonstrated the athletic ability and instincts to become at least a solid pass rusher in this league. He’s a bit of a DE/LB hybrid at this point and needs to get stronger as he was wired to a number of blocks at the point-of-attack on running plays.

The second team defensive tackles were at first Joseph and Duckett, then Duckett and Kenderick Allen. When these three were in the game with the rest of the second team, they did not make much noise in the pass rush department and were just OK against the run (it’s important to note that they were still facing Cleveland’s first-team offensive line). Everyone looks the part – big, strong, athletic – they just need to make more plays. Where I do see improvement from Joseph is his ability to read the play, play off the block, and make the tackle (he had problems doing all of this in the past). Duckett is a powerful man, but he needs to play lower. He was also flagged with a costly encroachment penalty on 3rd-and-1. That said, you see flashes of his ability as when he simply refused to be moved on the aforementioned William Green run that Tuck helped to stuff. Kenderick Allen knocked away a pass at the line of scrimmage. I would have liked to have seen Duckett and Allen play more than they did.

The Fred Robbins saga is a strange one. I originally thought his demotion to third team defense was merely a ploy to provide more practice snaps to the younger defensive tackles. However, although Robbins made a couple of nice run defenses against Cleveland reserves, he did not flash as much as I expected from a man whose pride you would assume is injured. Robbins left the game with what looked to be a shoulder injury of some sort, but later Coughlin said he was not hurt. In any event, Robbins does look more sluggish than the young, more athletic tackles now on the roster. The problem is the Giants signed Fred to a pretty hefty contract last year.

I was not impressed with the other reserve defensive ends although Bret Eddins made a couple of nice plays (stuffed one run, had one good pass rush). Raheem Orr was wired to blocks and did not flash any of Tuck’s athleticism. He got killed on running plays. And, like Tuck, he had the quarterback for a sack but could not bring him down (Orr was unblocked on this play). Adrian Awasom, who played second team LDE, did not impress me with his run defense or pass rush. I spotted him getting easily blocked on one pass rush by a thin-looking tight end.

DT Davern Williams played with the third team and made one nice run defense where he penetrated into the backfield and caused a 2-yard loss. DT Jonas Seawright saw some action late. He’s a big man who kind of lumbers, but he had one decent pass rush. Seawright also did a good job of defending a draw play. However, he was also flagged with a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty that helped to set up the game-winning field goal. DT Ahmad Childress tipped away one pass at the line of scrimmage very late in the game.

Linebackers: I think the most important item to note is that Reggie Torbor out-played Kevin Lewis. Last year, Torbor looked lost at linebacker as teams were often able to run right at him. In the game against the Browns, Torbor did a good job of holding the point-of-attack, playing off blocks, and getting in on the play. Kevin Lewis, once again, was invisible. Torbor has probably moved ahead of Lewis on the depth chart and may now have designs on the starting weakside linebacker spot.

SLB Carlos Emmons really should have been credited with at least a half sack on the play where Strahan got to Dilfer as it was Emmons who forced Dilfer to step up into the pocket and then Emmons clobbered him from behind. However, Emmons did get run at on the same play where Strahan was also controlled at the point-of-attack.

I actually wasn’t real impressed with Antonio Pierce in his first outing. He had one hard hit on a draw play, but he also badly missed a tackle. I know the Giants’ starters didn’t play much, but he did not make as much noise as I expected.

One other negative note is that the Browns were able to too easily complete short passes against the Giants’ first-team linebackers in zone coverage.

Of the reserves, aside from Torbor, the only other guy who stood out to me was MLB Chase Blackburn. I did not expect him to look as fast as he did. Blackburn showed good sideline-to-sideline range and was around the football quite a bit in run defense. I liked the way he hustled and he also recovered a fumble. Blackburn flashed on one blitz opportunity too.

Jim Maxwell had a couple of nice plays, but the Browns were also able to run on him quite a bit. He needs to get tougher at the point-of-attack.

Defensive Backs: The Browns did not test the Giants much down the field. So either that was part of their game plan, or their receivers were having a hard time getting open against the Giants secondary. It would be nice to think that it is the latter. Will Allen and Will Peterson were not tested at all. William Peterson impressively overpowered the back on a corner blitz, causing a holding penalty and helping to force an incompletion on 3rd-and-18.

SS Gibril Wilson looked very aggressive in run support early, including on the game’s first play. FS Brent Alexander bit on a 3rd-and-1 play-action pass and was beat easily by the fullback for a first down (Alexander looked slow on this play). SS Shaun Williams, who played in the nickel and/or dime, dropped a sure interception that hit him right in the hands. He looks slow to me too.

The second-team corners were Frank Walker and Curtis Deloatch. Walker got flagged with an extremely costly defensive holding penalty on 3rd-and-8 that helped to turn what should have been a 3-and-out into a 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. However, from the TV angle, it did look like the call was a bit touchy. Later in the drive, Deloatch was easily beat for a 20-yard gain on 3rd-and-2. This was the only play where the Browns successfully passed the ball down the field all night.

CB/S Michael Bragg made a couple of nice plays – one in run defense, the other in pass defense where he stayed with the receiver across the field and knocked the ball away. Bragg showed some good closing speed on this play. However, later in the game, he allowed an easy 7-yard completion by playing too far off the receiver.

The Browns only completed a short 9-yard pass against against CB Corey Webster – unless he is the one who made the mistake in coverage against the TE on the 19-yard scoring pass in the 3rd quarter. However, I think it was S Curry Burns who screwed up on the play. On the previous play, Webster almost came up with an interception in the endzone, but he was not able to get his second foot inbounds. Later in the 4th quarter, Webster had good coverage on a receiver down the seam and should have come up with the pick. Webster’s big problem in the game was his poor run defense. Webster was too easily blocked on outside runs in his direction, except for one effort late in the game. Webster did make a nice sure tackle in the flat, holding the back to a 1-yard gain.

FS James Butler was more aggressive than I expected as a tackler. Diamond Ferri had one good run defense where he chased the ball carrier down from behind on the backside of the play.

Special Teams: One of the plays that really hurt the Giants in the game was the muffed punt by Willie Ponder. Ponder, who looks natural returning kickoffs, does not look natural at all fielding and returning punts. I don’t believe he is the answer there. Ponder returned two punts for 6 yards in the game. The only other punt return was by Michael Jennings who showed some shiftiness on a 6-yard return.

Ponder had two nice returns of 24 and 29 yards, but he also made a poor decision to field a bouncing ball that reached the end zone and was tackled at the 16-yard line. Jennings returned one kickoff for 28 yards.

I thought Jeff Feagles had a so-so night punting the football (4 punts for a 45.3 yard average). His first punt only went 37 yards and his second was hit far too hard and resulted in a touchback. Reggie Torbor was laying some wood in punt coverage and Curtis Deloatch also got in a good smack. Mike Cloud was responsible for having a quality punt brought back due to a holding penalty in punt protection.

Jay Feely’s kickoffs were good, landing at the 3, 1, and a touchback. Kickoff coverage was inconsistent. James Butler nailed one returner after a 23-yard gain. But another kickoff was returned 35 yards.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Cleveland Browns, August 13, 2005)
Aug 152005
 
August 15, 2005 New York Giants Training Camp Report (Afternoon Practice)

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Marty in Albany

The players were in uppers: helmets, shoulderpads and shorts. It was nice to see that the bicycle squad has been reduced to six players, with DT Damane Duckett and WLB Barrett Green practicing.

The most interesting thing about today’s practice was the scuffle between TE Visanthe Shiancoe and (I think) SS Gibril Wilson. It was in the 11-on-11 drill down at the other end of the field. There were a whole bunch of players involved and it stopped very quickly, but Gibril was clearly shaken up afterwards to the point where he asked some assistants come over and look at him. At long range it looked like his wrist was injured.

Five minutes later Gibril was fine. Then TE Jeremy Shockey attempted a look-in pass over the middle and was belted onto his rear end with the pass going incomplete. I could not tell if the hit was made before the ball arrived. I believe that Gibril picked up the ball and tossed it back to the coaches.

On the very next play Shockey caught a pretty slant pass from Manning in full stride and appeared pleased that he had redeemed himself with the good catch. As he trotted back to the huddle, he gave Gibril a mighty shove that sent Gibril flying for a yard or two. It then became clear who had knocked Shockey down on the prior play. Then it was all over and forgotten. No hard feelings.

QB Eli Manning looked good throwing the ball even though not at the top of his game. He got about 70 percent of the snaps with QB Tim Hasselbeck getting about 20 percent and Jesse Palmer about 10 percent. Hasselbeck hit WR Tim Carter on two passes. Carter did not get many throws today. Other than that, Hasselbeck did not look like he could hit the side of a barn if he were inside. He even missed players during the warm-ups when the quarterbacks were just playing catch with the receivers and no one was covering the WRs or pressuring the QBs.

DTs William Joseph an Kendrick Clancy continued to play with the first team while DT Fred Robbins continued to play with the third team. Although WLB Barrett Green practiced, he played with the second team and LB Reggie Torbor played on the first team. Rookie CB Corey Webster played with the second team and was taken to school on one play when WR Plaxico Burress caught a pass in front of him and then was ten yards away by the time Webster reacted to the catch.

Plaxico looked smooth and comfortable catching the ball. He tends to be nonchalant, but he appears to have gotten accustomed to the practice routine. He looks so cool. I just wish he would show some anger or even mild irritation when he misses a pass.

DE Adrian Awasom, who saw a lot of action on Saturday against Cleveland, was escorted off the field in the middle of practice. He looked like his legs were a bit wobbly. At first I thought he was limping, but it is possible that he was just shaken up or dehydrated. Towards the end of the practice, rookie RB Brandon Jacobs was sitting on the ground with four or five assistants looking at him. It took them all to help him stand up. I assumed it was some sort of abdominal injury as he was walking (waddling really) with his feet about 18 apart. He stayed on the field and watched and looked to be in less discomfort after about 15 minutes. He watched the rest of the practice. (Editors Note: Jacobs was hit in the groin.)

The second team defense has corners Frank Walker and Curtis Deloatch; safties James Butler and Shaun Williams; linebackers Nick Greisen, and Kevin Lewis and Barrett Green. It was nice to see both Greisen and T.J. Hollowell both practicing.

In PR Mark Jones’ absense WR Willie Ponder and others were catching punts. WR Michael Jenning fair-caught one punt. The first fair catch I’ve seen in camp. None were muffed. P Jeff Feagles might have kicked one punt that wasn’t excellent. Feagles also continued to warm up the receivers throwing them 10 – 15 yard passes as they ran at him, away from him and across from him. All of his throws were tight spirals that were right on the money. Unfortunately for the Giants, Feagles’ arm is only slightly stronger than Tim Hasselbeck’s, so I don’t see him competing for the QB position.

While Feagles was throwing to the receivers, the QBs were practicing handoffs. The goal was to use the same motion on both fake handoffs as on real handoffs. Clearly, a convincing fake handoff is a tremendous asset on a play-action pass. It never occurred to me until today that a real handoff that the defense thinks is fake, will freeze the defense and help the runner advance. The art of handing the ball off and making the defense think that it is really a pass play is light-years beyond anything that was in Kerry Collins’ repertoire.

It looks like the main drill that the team was practicing at the beginning of the afternoon was short passes to receivers, tight ends, and backs. This culminated in a practice-ending three minute drill with Eli Manning marching the team the length of the field in five yard passing and running increments. If they did not “score” they got very close.

There were four field goal tries. Jay Feely kicked his through the uprights. David Kimbal missed on both of his attempts.

Tiki Barber looks like he has added it least an inch to his biceps and he really protects the ball when running through traffic where he would find little holes, duck his head and run through. Running backs Ryan Grant, Mike Jemison, and Mike Cloud all made short catches over the middle. RB Brandon Jacobs continued to look fast and athletic until sidelined with a groin injury.

CB William Peterson continues to look the best on pass coverage. He broke up several Manning passes. On a completion from Tim Hasselbeck to WR Michael Jennings, CB Curtis Deloatch had a coach screaming at him, “What the hell were you doing?” Michael Jennings’ ability to get open in my opinion offsets his lack of height. Unfortunately if camp were to end today, he would have little chance of making the team.

There was a pass from Manning to Plaxico Burress, who was covered by CB Will Allen. It was about 12 yards, I think. Eli dropped back and threw the ball in rhythm to Burress, who was exactly in the right position to catch the ball and run with it. The timing and the execution was perfect. Burress caught the ball with complete ease and was gone. It would not have mattered who was covering Burress. That is exactly the type of pass that I want to see them do again and again this season. If the quarterback and the receiver are in synch, that pass is easy to complete and virtually impossible to cover. Plaxico caught a pass from Manning where he circled over the middle and caught the ball. Will Allen then pushed him after the catch. Plaxico did a somersault, but still hung onto the ball. Plaxico had a much better day than WR David Tyree who dropped two or three passes.

The funniest moment of the practice was during the three minute drill when water boys were running and pulling cooler chests on wheel out onto the field. The chests overturned and dumped their contents onto the grass. By the time the boys put the drinks back in the chests, it was time to take them off the field.

Over the years I have learned a few things about the usefulness of camp reports. Here are a few rules that you may or may not find helpful.

Using and Misusing Camp Reports

Camp reports describe the present. If you attempt to use them to describe the future you will most likely be disappointed. Oh sure, if a player is the starter for the entire camp, you may safely predict that he will start on opening day and continue to start until he is injured or plays so horribly that he is demoted. You can predict that a player who is small and slow will continue to be small and slow when the season starts. You CANNOT predict that a player who catches a million balls in practice will catch any passes during the season.

Camp reports can compare one player at camp to another player at camp, but can’t compare a player to players on other teams. Throughout camp Shaun O’Hara has been the starting center. Based on his starting status, it is safe to assume that the coaches think that Shaun is the best center on the Giants. However, you still don’t know if Shaun is the best or the worst center in the League. All you know is that (according to the coaches) Shaun is the best center on the Giants.

Camp reports can describe a play as a success or a failure, but can’t make conclusions about the intentions behind a play. If you see the ball hit Chris Luzar in the numbers and it bounces off, it is safe to assume that Chris botched the play. If passes continue to bounce off Chris, it may be safe to conclude that he is a clutz. However, in most cases, you don’t know if a pass is incomplete because Toomer was out of position, or Manning threw it to the wrong place, or threw it poorly, or if the offensive line missed a block and didn’t give Manning enough time, and on and on and on. A great play may result from the confluence of talent, execution, and design or it may just be the result of dumb luck.

Camp reports can tell you who looks good in camp, but cannot tell you how successful a player will be during the season. (This rule is really important.) There is no question that Brandon Jacobs is very big, very fast, very strong, and has been very successful is college and in camp. I can tell you that he catches the ball very well and has big hands. He is agile and graceful after the catch. I have not seen him block. So far as I know, he has no weaknesses. Most likely, the Giants don’t know if he has any weaknesses, either. Here is the point: Most players DO have weaknesses. A player can get through College without his weakness being exposed, but in the pros, EVERY player is tested by EVERY opponent to find his weaknesses.

If Brandon has a weakness, the Eagles, Cowboys, and Redskins, will find it. When, not if, they discover a weakness, they will exploit it until that weakness is corrected. If Brandon can’t correct it, he could become the next Sean Bennett. If he does correct it, then the teams will search for a new weakness.

NFL play is a crucible in which every player is severely tested. Teams will test Strahan’s pecs, they will test Gibril’s savvy, and they will test Eli’s nerve. The regular season is unlike college play or pre-season play. NOBODY, can predict how successful Brandon Jacobs will be, because right now, NOBODY is sure what Brandon’s weaknesses are. It may take one game or it may take the full season to find out.

One more rule. Although rookies often get better as time goes by, and sometimes veteran players look bad because they are taking it easy during the preseason, players who do poorly in camp generally do poorly during the season, assuming that they even make the squad.

Aug 112005
 

Television Note: This game will be televised locally in the New York/New Jersey area on WNBC at 8PM on Saturday. It will also be televised nationally on the NFL Channel at 11PM on Sunday. Because I will only be able to see the game on the latter channel, my game review will be a bit later than usual.

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Cleveland Browns, August 13, 2005: The Giants have provided us with two absolutely miserable seasons the past two years. It’s time to end that crap right now. If this team is going to be a playoff contender, it has to become mentally and physically tougher, more physical, and more aggressive in all three aspects of the game. The tougher, more physical, more aggressive teams usually prevail in the NFL. The Giants have not been that in a long, long time.

The Browns are not a very good football team. Yes, the first game is usually little more than a scrimmage, and it usually is a sloppy affair. However, it is important for this team to set a positive tone by playing well. Unfortunately, the starters will only see about 12-15 snaps before sitting down for the reserves. So it is unlikely the key players will develop much of a feel for the flow of the game. They will have to strike quickly on offense and defense in order to make a statement.

Giants on Offense: You’ll hear the same message from me all year – how good this offense becomes will depend on QB Eli Manning. When things go poorly, fans love to blame the play-calling, but that usually is not the case. It most often is the talent. This year, Manning will have a good offensive line, good receivers, and a good running game. He is surrounded by players who will hopefully accelerate his development. Manning is still a very young and inexperienced quarterback. He will be a far better player a few years from now than he is today. That all said, Manning was drafted to be an IMPACT football player – one of the best at his position in the entire NFL. Being average or good is not good enough. He has to become special. It won’t happen against Cleveland and there is a good chance it won’t happen this year. But it would make all of us feel a lot better if we saw flashes of that potential greatness sooner than later. The game against Cleveland represents his first stepping stone in the 2005 season. It is important for him to start developing a feel for his key receivers such as Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, Jeremy Shockey, and Tiki Barber. It is important for him to recognize what defenses are doing and make the correct decision as to where to throw the football. It is important for him to be accurate. It is important for him to generate points.

There is a good battle going on for the primary backup position at quarterback. Who does better in the preseason games – Tim Hasselbeck or Jesse Palmer – will largely determine the victor. Palmer will have the advantage of working with the second team. Jared Lorenzen is unlikely to play.

The other key area is the offensive line. The Giants have some really good players on this unit and excellent depth. However, the cohesion and chemistry is not there yet. And because defenses focus so much on confusing pass protection schemes, this group needs to come together quickly in order to pick up complicated blitzes and stunts. I am not worried about physical breakdowns; I am worried about mental ones. LT Luke Petitgout had an up-and-down year last season and the Giants need more positive consistency out of him. I’m dying to see the smash-mouth right side of Chris Snee and Kareem McKenzie (knee tendonitis could limit him) in action, blowing holes open for Tiki Barber and impressive rookie HB Brandon Jacobs. The second unit will be a bit weakened this week with OC/OG Wayne Lucier (calf) out.

At tight end, Shockey is the man. But can the man stay healthy? Who will be his primary backup? Visanthe Shiancoe, Chris Luzar? The determining factor will likely be the ability to block. Luzar has impressed as a receiver, but can he block? Can Shiancoe cut down on the mental mistakes?

At receiver, Burress and Toomer are the starters. But the third receiving position is wide open. Tim Carter (both hamstrings) and Jamaar Taylor (hip flexor) have impressed at camp, when healthy. But can’t seem to stay on the playing field and Taylor may not play against the Browns. Willie Ponder, David Tyree, and Mark Jones have all made noise too, but Jones is out with a foot injury.

At halfback, Barber and Jacobs have roster spots locked up. Jacobs looks like he will be a big-time player for the Giants but he needs to continue to work at keeping his pad level down. He’s a big target and can get tripped up around the ankles if he doesn’t. To me, there is a real interesting battle for roster spots behind these two. Derrick Ward (knee) has been limited to one practice per day and won’t play against the Browns. He’s a good special teams player and the Giants have said they like his ability. But Ryan Grant has also impressed at camp.

Giants on Defense: The primary area of interest here is the defensive tackle position. It looks like Kendrick Clancy and William Joseph will start. Are these two good enough to form the heart of Tim Lewis’ defense? Or will they be pushed by Fred Robbins, Damane Duckett, and Kenderick Allen? If the Giants are not stout in the middle, it will be difficult to put together a very good defense.

At end, it will be interesting to see if Michael Strahan has rebounded from his serious injury that ended his season last year. Osi Umenyiora has had an impressive camp and we get to see if that will translate to games. Justin Tuck has been somewhat disappointing in camp, but it is early still. This will be a good opportunity for him to impress. Eric Moore (knee) will not play.

The Giants are solid at two spots with Antonio Pierce in the middle and Carlos Emmons on the strongside. But there is a big question mark at weakside linebacker. Barrett Green (knee) is still only practicing once per day and will not make the trip to Cleveland. Nick Greisen has been hampered by hamstring issues again and is not the most athletic guy in the world. He also will not play. Neither will T.J. Hollowell (high ankle sprain). With Pierce and Emmons set to leave the game early and three other linebackers out, Reggie Torbor, Kevin Lewis, Jim Maxwell, and Chase Blackburn had better be in shape. There isn’t anyone else other than just-signed Russ Rabe.

The starters at corner will be Will Peterson and Will Allen again. Curtis Deloatch, not Corey Webster, has had the more impressive camp thus far. Frank Walker is also in the mix as all five of these guys are sure to make the final roster – barring injury.

Inside, Gibril Wilson and Brent Alexander will start. Shaun Williams and James Butler are probably the next two guys in line. I am curious to see Butler in action.

Giants on Special Teams: The Giants really don’t have a competition at kicker or punter. Willie Ponder is likely to be the featured kick returner again this year. Mark Jones has been the most consistent punt returner in camp, but he has a foot injury. That’s unfortunate as he is the steadiest in terms of ball security. Willie Ponder, Curtis Deloatch, and Michael Jennings will all likely get their shot to return punts in Cleveland. My focus, as usual, will be to see how well the kick and punt coverage units do. Those two units decide field position and are critical to winning football games.

Aug 112005
 
August 11, 2005 New York Giants Training Camp Report (Afternoon Practice)

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor DefenseWinsGMEN

Punt Return Drills: I saw Corey Webster, Michael Jennings, Curtis Deloatch fielding punts early (no returns) and Jennings was at it again with Willie Ponder later in the session. Again, full returns were not made, but they caught every punt that I saw, no fumbles.

Miscellaneous Defensive Observations:

  • Linebacker Pick Drill: Not a major event, Kevin Lewis and James Maxwell each dropped one but made up for it on their next attempt.
  • Defensive Back Sled: Deloatch and Webster stood out to me as the most physical, clearly putting in the most effort.
  • Worked a bit on zone blitz schemes, with DE Osi Umenyiora dropping back in coverage.
  • Observed First String DT’s: William Joesph, Kendrick Clancy. Second String DT’s: Damane Duckett, Kendrick Allen

Miscellaneous Offensive Observations:

  • Wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Jamaar Taylor were both MIA, watching from the sideline. Amani Toomer, Tim Carter and David Tyree were the primary receivers, with Tyree working from the slot. Other than one drop, Toomer looked good – has noticeably slimmed down, seems to have regained some speed when compared to last year. On one sideline play late in the practice he abused Corey Webster for a nice reception.
  • HB Mike Cloud got some work with the second team (splitting time with Brandon Jacobs), but didn’t look good. He lacks speed and it showed on a sweep right where he couldn’t get to the corner. Brandon Jacobs flashed his speed on a nice sideline run late in the practice, but was stuffed at the line on a few occasions early. He redeemed himself for that in the goal-line work, pounding through the left side for a touchdown. Two running backs fumbled today – both forced by defensive swats at the ball, not careless handling of the rock. Ryan Grant was guilty the first time around, and a few plays later it was Mike Jemison, the latter forced by S James Butler. Tiki got a few carries and ran well. He looks to have bulked up a bit in his upper body from last season.
  • TE Chris Luzar was open over the middle and dropped a pass – I place the blame on both him and the QB (I think it was Jesse Palmer, not sure) as the throw was wobbling, but it did get to him. Tim Carter flashed his speed on the sideline late in the session. He isn’t 100 percent, but he looked like he was turning up the jets without ill effects.
  • Coughlin was very frustrated with the first team offense late in the practice. He blew the whistle and screamed to re-huddle not once but twice in three plays before the ball was even snapped.

Quarterback Notes:

  • Jared Lorenzen: He got some snaps today, and did not look good at all. I was very disappointed with what I saw from him, to be honest. Lorenzen did not make his decisions anywhere near fast enough on where to go with the ball. On multiple occasions, he just grounded it behind the line – 15 yard penalty in the game big guy. He also threw the only interception of the practice, reeled in by CB Will Allen, of all the unlikely candidates.
  • Jesse Palmer: I didn’t see him getting much work. He was splitting time with Tim Hasselbeck, running the second unit. Palmer nearly threw an interception (LB Reggie Torbor missed on a ball that hit him right in the hands). Michael Jennings did make a nice catch on that play off the carom, drawing ooh’s from the crowd. In the red zone drill he had a nice pass to WR Ataveus Cash, but it was dropped.
  • Tim Hasselbeck: He had an up-and-down practice, but definitely showed more polish than either of the previous two quarterbacks. He struggled early, with a few weak throws, and one that was badly behind David Tyree. But Hasselbeck seemed to get into a rhythm late. In the red zone drills, Hasselbeck excelled with the second unit, tossing a score to Jeremy Shockey and a pair of TD’s to the left corner to WR Michael Jennings, both over Frank Walker. He also made a nice throw (with an equally good catch by Willie Ponder) in a short no huddle drill, which was a nice recovery from a near pick by Curtis Deloatch. Deloatch had the ball in his hands (he jumped the route of TE Darius Williams) but Williams laid him out, jarring the ball loose. That was the only real hit I saw the whole day. Hasselbeck also seemed to have very good huddle command – the team moved smoothly when he was in there, quick to the line, good set and go, no problems.
  • Eli Manning: Manning had a decent day, but it wasn’t a spotless performance. His throws were on target (those that I saw, the early offensive drills were on the far side), and he had good zip on the ball. The biggest issue was the huddle command – the first unit seemed to be slow to set up, and they were making mistakes (Coughlin note earlier). While that isn’t all Eli’s fault, it does come down on his shoulders in the end as the starting QB. He did have a nice throw across the middle to Shockey near the end of the session, it was good to see those two connect, hit him right in stride.

Who Looked Good: Curtis Deloatch is continuing to have a great camp; he caught my eye numerous times today. Brandon Jennings as well, he came up big in the red zone work and made a nice heads up play on the tipped ball where Torbor missed the pick.

Who Didn’t: Jared Lorenzen, his performance was flat out ugly.

Injuries: Did not see any players go down, so no bad news to report there. Burress and Taylor didn’t practice, same for Kareem McKenzie – minor injury, just a precaution. Barrett Green was in pads and on the field working, as were Tim Carter and Will Allen, each of them looking fine.