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.