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.