Sep 302005

Approach to the Game – St. Louis Rams at New York Giants, October 2, 2005: This is a crossroads game for the Giants. It is more about the Giants than their opponent, the Rams. Being 3-1 heading into the bye week is a lot better than going into the off-weekend on a two-game losing streak.

Giants on Defense: The Giants are 31st in overall defense based on yards per game (408.3). Only San Francisco is worse. And the Giants are giving up almost 25 points per game. Let that sink in for a moment. The Giants will be hard-pressed to field a winning team unless those statistics dramatically improve and fast.

My biggest concern heading into game against the Rams is the psychological hangover from last week’s butt-whipping. Don’t underestimate the significance of what the Chargers did to the Giants’ defense and what impact that could have on the mental outlook of that unit. The Giants’ defense did not show a lot of mental toughness last Sunday, raising the obvious question about whether it has the mental toughness to rebound even after a week. There must also be concern about the soundness of the defensive schemes of Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis.

The Giants’ run defense was near the top of the league until the Chargers’ game. But that seems a long time ago since HB LaDainian Tomlinson put up the third largest rushing total against a Giants’ defense in team history. We all know that the Rams are a pass-happy bunch, but the Giants need to immediately shut down any semblance of a running game on Sunday. If they do so early, Rams’ Head Coach Mike Martz will abandon the run. HB Steven Jackson (chest) is “questionable” so we may see more of HB Marshall Faulk this weekend. I don’t need to tell you how dangerous Faulk can be as a runner or a pass receiver. The latter is of particular significance too as the pass coverage by the linebackers and safeties last Sunday was not good.

The front seven of the Giants needs to re-assert itself. DE Osi Umenyiora draws the toughest assignment, facing LT Orlando Pace. DE Michael Strahan will likely face rookie Alex Barron as RT Rex Tucker (calf) is doubtful. Barron is very talented, but he missed much of training camp and this is match-up the Giants need Strahan to dominate. Inside, DT William Joseph will line up over LG Tom Nutten (who may be limited with a toe injury) most of the time as DT Kendrick Clancy battles RG Adam Timmerman. Andy McCollum is a good center.

Jackson is a big, powerful runner. Faulk is an elusive cutback runner with outstanding vision. Both can catch the football out of the backfield. Unlike last Sunday, the Giants need to maintain good gap discipline, especially against Faulk who will cut back if he spots an opening. Linebackers Nick Greisen and Carlos Emmons are physical in coverage, but neither is terribly fast. There could be one-on-one match-up problems for the Giants here when Faulk is sent out as a pass receiver.

WR Isaac Bruce (toe) is unlikely to play, but his back-up, Kevin Curtis, is a good player with excellent speed. He actually may be a better receiver than Bruce now. Last year in the playoffs, Curtis started for Bruce and caught 7 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown. CB Will Allen will draw him. Opposite of Curtis is one of the best receivers in football, Torry Holt, who has excellent acceleration and quickness. CB Will Peterson, who is “questionable” with a back injury, would normally line up over him (Late Update: Peterson has a fractured back and will not play). If he can’t go, Curtis Deloatch would likely draw that tough assignment. The Rams often use 3-WR sets so the Giants will see a lot of Shaun McDonald in the slot. McDonald is smaller, but he is very quick and fast. Bottom line? The Giants will face three quick, fast deep threats on Sunday. Given the fact that the Giants are 30th in pass defense, the QB Marc Bulger and his receivers have to be licking their chops. The Rams’ offensive system can be confusing for young corners, so guys like Deloatch and Corey Webster (if he plays) might have some problems. Deloatch also may lack the quickness to stick with the Rams’ receivers who make very sharp breaks.

Much will depend on the pass rush. Mike Martz is not a big believer in maximizing pass protection. Bulger will be vulnerable if the down four play a good game and the Giants employ a number of well-timed and well-executed blitzes. However, keep in mind, the more you blitz, the more vulnerable you are to the big play down the field. Your coverage will be looser, enabling the Rams wide receivers to run unmolested through much of the secondary. The defense needs to force Bulger to make some ill-advised throws.

Yadda, yadda, yadda. Let’s stop talking X’s and O’s. This game will be about attitude. The Giants’ defense needs to come out and set the tone early with smart, physical play. I want to see some intensity, some hitting, some meanness. But the Giants also need to play smart. The Giants were mentally beaten as much as they were physically beaten against the Chargers. Martz obviously saw that misdirection and trickery fooled the Giants badly. The Giants need to be aggressive, but also be cognizant of their responsibilities. And show some mental toughness please! If the other team scores right off the bat, it is not the end of the world. Giant defenders need to realize that this team’s legacy is built on defense. Being near dead last in defense simply is not acceptable.

Giants on Offense: To win on Sunday, the Giants are most likely going to have to score a lot of points. QB Eli Manning had a breakout game last Sunday, but that does not mean he will not experience setbacks or make mistakes. Indeed, keep in mind that three of Manning’s passes should have been intercepted last week (and two returned for touchdowns). He’s still a very young player who will be starting his eleventh game on Sunday. Still, this is the type of game that the Giants need Manning to play well. The Rams’ defense is ordinary, but like most of the Giants’ opponents, they are likely to gear up to stop HB Tiki Barber and dare Manning to beat them. The Giants may want to open things up early in order to defeat this strategy.

The right cornerback for the Rams is Travis Fisher. He has good speed, but lacks size. This is a good match-up for the Giants and WR Plaxico Burress. Left corner DeJuan Groce is also on the small side. He’s quick, but not terribly fast. This is another good match-up for the Giants with WR Amani Toomer. Both corners know how to play the football so Manning needs to be accurate. The nickel corner is Corey Ivy, a diminutive corner at only 5’8’’. This is a game where I’d like to see Tim Carter play quite a bit, especially given the fact that FS Michael Hawthorne (ankle) is “questionable.” Mike Furrey will start at free safety if Hawthorne can’t go. I’d like to see some post patterns down the field.

An interesting match-up will also be SS Adam Archuleta versus TE Jeremy Shockey who is a hybrid safety/linebacker-type.

Of course, much will depend on the ability of the offensive line to protect Manning. The scariest match-up is left end Leonard Little against RT Kareem McKenzie. Little is an exceptional pass-rusher and his quickness and speed most likely will give McKenzie problems. Since Little is undersized, one of the arguments for sticking to the run early would be to have McKenzie or one of the tight ends maul him for a while. The right end is Anthony Hargrove, an athlete who can rush the passer, but who is still green and can be run on. Inside, former first rounder Jimmy Kenndy will line up over LG David Diehl and former first rounder Ryan Pickett will battle RG Chris Snee. Both tackles can play the run.

The Rams pretty much revamped their linebacking corps in the offseason. Former Cowboy Dexter Coakley is the starter on the weakside. He is good in coverage and provides the Rams with flexibility when addressing Shockey or Barber out of the backfield. However, he can be run on. MLB Chris Claiborne comes over from Minnesota. SLB Pisa Tinoisamoa is a bit of a linebacker/safety hybrid who also will likely help out on Shockey a great deal. But like Coakley, he can have problems at the point-of-attack. The bad news for Tiki and Shockey is that these guys are athletes who can run. Combine them with Archuleta and the Giants’ passing game may have to be directed farther down the field. However, you can run on the Rams if the blocking is solid up front. The big key is getting those two defensive tackles handled. Also, I wouldn’t do a lot of east-west running on the Rams as their quickness and athleticism could prove disruptive. I would run right at them, off-tackle.

Giants on Special Teams: The Giants have to get their kickoff coverage unit sound again.

Like ex-Giant Head Coach Jim Fassel, Mike Martz has long been guilty of fielding teams that lack solid special teams. The Giants can and need to dominate this area of the game on Sunday. However, Chad Morton may be limited with a hamstring injury.

Sep 282005
San Diego Chargers 45 – New York Giants 23

Game Overview: The last thing I expected in this game was the Giants’ defense getting abused. There is absolutely no excuse for giving up 268 yards on the ground (over 8 yards per carry), allowing the opposing quarterback to complete 86 percent of his passes, and surrendering six touchdowns. None. All of the starters played and there were no Jeremy Lincolns on the field. The defense played on its heels all night. They were confused, slow to react, lacked intensity, and unprepared. It was a disgrace to every quality Giants defensive player and coach of the past.

I am trying to guard against over-reacting, but to me, this game raises a major red flag regarding the ability of Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis. Lewis was criticized in Pittsburgh for a defense that was weak against the pass as he had his corners playing too far off the line of scrimmage. Many felt that the criticism was unjustified as the Steelers’ secondary lacked talent at the cornerback position. However, now in New York with better corners, he still has his defensive backs playing soft – including against a San Diego opponent that really does not have a scary deep threat. Also damning for Lewis was that the Chargers’ offensive brain trust clearly out-coached him in terms of play-calling. New York defenders were reacting all night – never dictating. The play-calling of the Chargers had the Giants’ defenders grasping for straws and Lewis never came up with a solution. And even Head Coach Tom Coughlin admitted that the defensive coaches and players were surprised at the up tempo style of the Chargers and that the coaches were slow to get the defensive plays called.

Let’s not totally forgive the rest of the team either. The Giants’ offense only scored 3 second-half points. And the special teams gave up a couple of big kick returns that shortened the field for the Chargers’ offense.

The Giants are at a crossroads here folks. The confidence of the defensive team has to be shaken. Tim Lewis and the defensive players need to rebound in a big way very quickly. If this defensive showing was not an aberration, the Giants are in trouble.

Defense: What really bugs me is that the Giants’ defense never regrouped after halftime. In the first half, the Giants’ defense allowed three back-to-back-to-back touchdown scoring drives: 8 plays, 65 yards; 7 plays, 85 yards, and 6 plays, 62 yards. The game quickly got out of hand and was 21-3 before the midway point in the second quarter. But the Giants’ offense bailed out the defense by cutting the score to 21-20 right before the half ended. With momentum on the Giants’ side and a new chance to redeem itself, the defense continued to, quite frankly, suck. How disheartening was it to watch the Chargers move 70 yards in 4 plays on the first drive of the second half? When San Diego got the ball again, they went 77 yards in 11 plays. On their third possession, they went 39 yards in 6 plays after the special teams gave up a big kickoff return. On their fourth drive of the half, they went 65 yards in 5 plays to set up a successful 44-yard field goal. Four straight possessions, 24 points. Most of the game, the Giants never forced the Chargers into 3rd down situations – that is how bad they played. But the one drive they did – the second Chargers’ possession in the third quarter – the Giants allowed San Diego to convert on 3rd-and-6, 3rd-and-5, 3rd-and-2, 3rd-and-8 (a touchdown called back), and 3rd-and-13 (another touchdown). This was all on ONE drive! Unbelievable! Disgusting! I don’t think I have ever been more ashamed of a Giants’ defensive team as I was in this game.

The Giant defenders were badly fooled by misdirection all evening – like they have never seen it before. For openers, the Chargers were able to run at the right-side of the Giants’ defense, but they also later picked up good yardage by running up the middle and at the left-side of the defense. This only made the play-action by the Chargers that much more effective. And the trick plays were the icing on the cake. One got the sense that the Chargers’ offensive coordinator was simply toying with Tim Lewis and his defenders. It was embarrassing.

Defensive Line: After two strong games, the front seven and the defensive line played a horrendous game. The Giants gave up 268 rushing yards and there was very little pass pressure and no sacks.

After starting off with two pass plays, the Chargers quickly started to attack the weakside of the Giants’ defense by running at DE Osi Umenyiora with great success. On 2nd-and-1, Umenyiora got caught too far inside on an outside pitch to HB LaDainian Tomlinson that picked up 13 yards. A few plays later, on 1st-and-goal from the 8-yard line, Tomlinson picked up 7 yards running right at Umenyiora again. On the ensuing play, Tomlinson scored from 1-yard out as Umenyiora slanted too far inside. On the Chargers’ next possession, once again, Umenyiora caused a vacant gap in the defense by slanting hard inside. Honestly, these hard slants look by design but I don’t understand it. When the weakside end does this, it doesn’t leave a lot of beef or bodies to defend the corner. The linebackers on this play were not protected and easily blocked. On the Chargers’ third touchdown of the first half, Tomlinson was able to score from 3 yards out as the Chargers ran successfully again at Umenyiora. Osi had one good pass rush in the first half and recovered a fumble.

But the abuse continued in the second half for Umenyiora and the Giants. Let me illustrate. On the Chargers’ second offensive play of the third quarter, right before the ball was snapped, Nick Greisen, who was playing on Osi’s side on this particular play, took a couple of steps inside before the ball was snapped. This in effect put Greisen in the middle of the field. When ball was snapped, Umenyiora took another hard charge inside. Combined with Greisen moving inside, this left no one but the corner to cover the entire left-side of the field. What the f*ck? On the Chargers’ third touchdown drive of the second half, Umenyiora was abused. On one play, he gave up a 10-yard gain as he got caught too far inside again. On the very next play, he gave up an 8-yard gain as he charged too far upfield. And the drive was culminated with a 5-yard touchdown run as both Osi and Torbor got blocked at the point-of-attack.

The Chargers stayed away from Strahan (1 tackle) for most of the first half, but their biggest first-half running play came in his direction as Tomlinson broke off a 28-yard run. Strahan did have a couple of good pass rushes in the first half. It got much worse in the second half however. Strahan did make a nice play holding the tight end to a 1-yard gain on a bootleg pass. But he got fooled badly on the 30-yard end-around by WR Eric Parker to start the third quarter. Strahan also left a huge gap in the defense with his inside charge on HB Darren Sproles’ 21-yard run on 3rd-and-2. Strahan was easily blocked on FB Lorenzo Neal’s 9-yard run on 2nd-and-2 on the subsequent drive as well as the 62-yard run by Tomlinson in the fourth quarter.

The Chargers attacked the edges of the defense more than the middle in the first half. But the middle could have been stouter and there was one play in particular where Tomlinson picked up 9 yards up the gut where DT Kendrick Clancy and DT William Joseph were easily blocked. Joseph was flagged for encroachment. In the second half, the Chargers ran with great success at Clancy on their second drive. There were three rushing plays where I saw Clancy get clobbered or pushed around. However, most damning of all was DT Fred Robbins encroachment penalty on 3rd-and-5 to give the Chargers an automatic first down. Joseph got into position to stop the 30-yard end-around by Parker, but did not make the play.

Justin Tuck saw some snaps late in the game and was one of the few Giants who actually played hard. He saved a touchdown by chasing down Tomlinson on the latter’s 62-yard gallop. It was an unbelievable play for a defensive end.

Linebackers: A terrible game. SLB Reggie Torbor was benched in the first half for Nick Greisen. Torbor poorly defended the 7-yard run by Tomlinson down to the 1-yard line on the Chargers’ first scoring drive. And Torbor was beaten by WR Keenan McCardell for a 15-yard touchdown near the beginning of the second quarter. However, why the f*ck would any sane defensive coordinator have a converted defensive lineman try to cover one of the smoothest and most experienced route runners in the NFL??? You had better look in the mirror first Giants’ coaching staff. Torbor was re-inserted into the game in the fourth quarter and simply looked atrocious. He looked lost out there, not reading the play but tentatively guessing where to go. This was especially noticeable on three occurrences during the Chargers’ last touchdown drive and on the 62-yard run by Tomlinson on the following drive. A terrible performance.

MLB Antonio Pierce (3 tackles) looked worse than Kevin Lewis out there. He repeatedly missed tackles and as the defensive signal-caller, obviously was a big part of the cerebral beating the Giants took on the field. He missed two tackles on the Chargers’ second scoring drive, including the 28-yard gallop by Tomlinson. Pierce later missed another tackle on the following drive as well. He did do a good job of reading a screen play late in the first half. In the second half, Pierce got beat in pass coverage by TE Antonio Gates despite interfering with him on the same play. On the Chargers’ touchdown pass that got called back, Pierce was called upon to cover WR Eric Parker all by himself over the middle of the field. Again, why kind of crazy defensive scheme is this???

WLB Carlos Emmons (8 tackles) played like crap too. He was badly faked out by Gates on the Chargers’ first offensive play of the game – a bootleg pass that picked up 19 yards (Emmons missed the tackle on Gates on this play as well). Two plays later, Emmons misread the 2nd-and-1 pitch to Tomlinson that picked up 13 yards. And Emmons got blocked at the point-of-attack on Tomlinson’s 28-yard scamper on the next drive. On the third touchdown drive, there were two plays where Emmons got taken out of the play by the fullback, including the 3-yard touchdown run by Tomlinson. In the second half, I saw Emmons miss another tackle on Tomlinson and once again easily get blocked out of a play by the fullback.

Nick Greisen (3 tackles) forced a big fumble late in the second quarter that helped to set up the Giants’ second touchdown. However, Greisen was no more able to help defend the running game than Torbor. He seemed easily fooled by misdirection such as the end around to WR Eric Parker at the start of the third quarter. Greisen also overpursued HB Darren Sproles on the latter’s 21-yard run.

Defensive Backs: It’s tough to cover when the opposing team is effectively running the ball because the play-action fake becomes such an effective weapon. It also is tough to cover when you are not putting a lot of pressure on the opposing quarterback. But Brees was able to complete 19-of-22 passes (an 86 percent completion rate). Some of that obviously had to do with poor coverage by the linebackers and/or schemes. On the Chargers’ second offensive play, the Giants’ blitzed two linebackers but Brees calmly hit a wide-open Tomlinson on a swing pass for 9 yards. Later in the drive, facing a key 3rd-and-3 from the Giants’ 17-yard line. The Giants’ defensive “brain trust” had CB Curtis Deloatch line up off his opponent by almost 10 yards. Despite the errant pass, the receiver was able to come down with the quick pass because Deloatch was nowhere in the picture. What kind of crazy scheme calls for the corner to play 10 yards off the receiver on 3rd-and-3 from the 17-yard line???? On the very next play, SS Gibril Wilson missed a tackle on a Tomlinson run down to the 1-yard line. Wilson was later pulled from the game on running downs for his poor play against Tomlinson.

On the Chargers’ second offensive touchdown drive, CB Will Peterson was beat by McCardell for a 12-yard gain off of play-action. Peterson and CB Will Allen then did a nice job of defending a receiver screen, holding it to a 3-yard gain (Allen later did an excellent job defending another screen to Tomlinson). However, Allen did miss a tackle on Tomlinson run and an 8-yard gain resulted. On the third offensive touchdown drive, despite a good chuck by Emmons, TE Antonio Gates was able to beat double coverage by FS Brent Alexander and Allen for 15-yard gain. Two plays later, Peterson missed a tackle on Tomlinson. Then on a key 3rd-and-5, Gates was able to subtly push off of Allen to create separation for a 12-yard gain. On the next play, Peterson had excellent position on McCardell, but the ball just sailed over his out-stretched finger tips and a big 27-yard completion down to the Giants’ 3-yard line was the result.

I believe it was Peterson who was supposed to cover McCardell on the 26-yard halfback option for a touchdown at the beginning of the third quarter. Peterson bit hard on the fake. Deloatch missed a tackle on Gates’ catch-and-run in the third quarter.

It was not a good game for FS Brent Alexander. On San Diego’s second scoring drive of the third quarter, Alexander left Gates all alone on 3rd-and-6 in anticipation of a swing pass to Tomlinson (so did Strahan). Gates was wide open and easily picked up the first down on a 23-yard gain. At the end of this drive, Alexander was beaten badly by Gates for the 14-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-13 as the Giants blitzed and Alexander was left one-on-one.

Gibril Wilson was terrible in run support, simply terrible. I have no idea what he was doing on Tomlinson’s 62-yard touchdown run. Wilson did look good beating the back on a safety blitz on Gates’ 14-yard touchdown.

Quarterback: As a Giants’ fan, I’m very proud of the performance that Eli Manning (24-of-41 for 352 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) put forth in a very difficult and hostile environment. I think I’m going to start calling him “Cool Hand” Eli.

But first, it was not all good so let’s get the negative out of the way. Manning is very lucky that two of his passes were not intercepted and returned for touchdowns. Late in the second quarter, a quick out intended for WR Plaxico Burress was almost picked off by the corner who could have walked into the end zone. In the third quarter, another pass was intercepted and returned for a 30-yard score, but the play was nullified by a somewhat questionable roughing-the-passer penalty. In the third quarter, a slant pass to Burress was almost picked off. Had these picks occurred, fans and the media would all have a different reaction to his performance.

But let’s focus on the positive. Manning was very good on the Giants’ first possession of the game as he led his teammates on a 12-play, 75-yard effort that resulted in a field goal. On this drive, Manning completed 4-of-5 passes, including a big 32-yard to TE Jeremy Shockey and a key 6-yarder to Shockey on 3rd-and-5. The drive only stalled when the Giants were unable to pick up one yard on back-to-back short-yardage efforts (though the ball was poorly spotted on the 3rd-and-1 effort).

On the Giants’ next possession, the refs screwed with the Giants again as WR Tim Carter was clearly interfered with on a deep fly route that should have resulted in a first down deep in Chargers’ territory. After a 5-yard loss on a running play, Manning’s pass to WR Amani Toomer only picked up 10 yards and the Giants were forced to punt. The Giants’ next possession went three-and-out as Manning’s intended pass to WR David Tyree was too long. On 3rd-and-10, Manning was sacked.

At this point, the Giants were trailing 21-3 and the Chargers’ players and fans were looking for blood. But Manning calmly drove his teammates down the field on a 9-play, 65-yard effort that cut the score to 21-10. Manning hit Burress for 5 yards on 3rd-and-4 to keep the drive alive. A few plays later, Manning slightly underthrew WR Tim Carter on a post route, but Carter adjusted to make a huge 44-yard reception on 2nd-and-22. The drive was culminated by a perfectly-thrown fade pass to Burress for a 5-yard touchdown. After a Chargers’ turnover, Manning and the Giants struck quickly again. First came a well-thrown pass to Shockey in double coverage that picked up 30 yards down to the Chargers’ 4-yard line. On the very next play, Manning fired a quick out to Tyree for the score.

The Giants got the ball one more time in the first half. Facing a 1st-and-15 from their own 15-yard line, New York was able to move the ball to the Chargers’ 17-yard line in one minute and 12 seconds before having to settle for a field goal. On this possession, Manning did a great job of scrambling away from pressure and picking up the first down with his feet on 3rd-and-4. Two plays later, Manning did a fantastic job of moving around in the pocket to avoid pressure and deliver a strike to Burress that was unfortunately dropped. Three plays later, he hit Toomer for a 25-yard gain down to the Charger 17-yard line. Manning and the Giants’ offense had cut the Chargers lead to 21-20.

The Giants’ first possession in the second half was hampered by poor special teams and the Giants started at their own 9-yard line. After passes to Shockey and Burress picked up 22 yards, the drive was set back by a fumble by Tyree on an end-around. As mentioned previously, Manning then threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, but the play was erased due to off-setting penalties. The Giants ran a draw and then punted.

The Giants’ second drive of the half was brilliant at times for Manning. He threw a perfect deep pass down the right sideline to Shockey, but Shockey dropped the ball. Facing a 2nd-and-20 situation, Manning found Carter for 9 yards and then made a great play when he stayed patient in the pocket, backpedaled to buy time, and then found Burress breaking over the middle for a 17-yard gain. Manning converted three more third-and-longs on this drive with a 13-yard pass to Burress on 3rd-and-9, a 12-yard scramble on 3rd-and-12, and an 18-yard completion to Tyree on 3rd-and-10. On the pass to Tyree, Manning did a wonderful job of sensing pressure from the backside, scrambling away from it, resetting, and hitting Tyree. However, the drive stalled at the San Diego 10-yard line. On second down, Manning tried to force the ball to Toomer (Manning and Toomer don’t look quite in sync yet). On this play, had Manning waited, Shockey was breaking open over the middle of the endzone.

When the Giants got the ball back for the third time in the second half, the score was 42-23 (what wonderful defense!!!). Manning moved his team again with a long pass of 37 yards to Toomer and passes of 11, 8, and 11 yards to Tyree. However, Tyree fumbled the ball away after the last completion at the San Diego 9-yard line. When the Giants got the ball back, it was 45-23 with 3:48 left in the game.

Wide Receivers: Plaxico Burress (5 catches for 52 yards, 1 touchdown) let his teammates down by forcing the head coach to bench him for two series as part of a discipline action for showing up tardy to two team meetings. He also dropped two passes in the game. But Plaxico made an excellent play by out-jumping and out-fighting the corner for a 5-yard touchdown reception on a 2nd-and-goal fade pass. Burress even made a more exceptional catch on the Giants’ first drive of the second half when he used all of his 6-5 frame and long arms to make a beautiful one-handed catch – it was a Randy Moss-like play. On the Giants’ next possession, Plaxico caught a key 17-yard reception on 3rd-and-11 over the middle and did so again on the same drive with a 13-yard catch on 3rd-and-9. In the fourth quarter, Burress was called with a bogus offensive pass interference penalty.

Amani Toomer (4 catches for 84 yards) finally saw some decent action, but he just doesn’t quite seem in sync with Manning yet. Toomer made a nice block on a 9-yard run by the HB Tiki Barber on the first drive. He also came down with a 12-yard reception to help the Giants move into scoring position. His 25-yard reception from Manning late in the first half helped to set up the 40-yard field goal that cut the lead to 21-20. Manning threw in Toomer’s direction four times on the second-half field goal drive, but none of these four passes were completed. Manning did hit Toomer with a 37-yard pass in the fourth quarter.

David Tyree caught a 4-yard touchdown pass out of the slot late in the second quarter on a quick out. However, things did not go real well for Tyree in the second half. Tyree fumbled an end-round play that looked set up to pick up good yardage (the fumble was officially credited to Manning, but it was Tyree who botched the exchange). Tyree did come up with a key 18-yard reception on 3rd-and-9 on the field goal drive in the second half. But after three straight receptions for 30 yards on the ensuing drive, he fumbled the ball away on the San Diego 9-yard line.

Tim Carter (2 catches for 53 yards) made a fantastic 44-yard catch on an underthrown deep ball. Carter not only adjusted to the football well, but he came down with the tough reception despite a lot of contact by the defensive back. Carter was obviously interfered with earlier in the game on a fly route, but the penalty was not called. He also had a 9-yard reception in the third quarter.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey (6 catches for 101 yards) had the type of big game we have all been expecting for quite some time. The big play on the Giants’ first scoring drive was a 32-yard catch-and-run by Shockey as he was split out wide and beat the safety on a slant. This play was sandwiched by two Barber runs where Shockey made excellent run blocks. Shockey also kept the drive alive with a 6-yard reception on 3rd-and-5. In the second quarter, Shockey was flagged for flagrant pick (offensive pass interference) that erased a 22-yard reception by TE Visanthe Shiancoe. Shockey made an absolutely fantastic catch on his 30-yard reception from Manning against double-coverage late in the second quarter. On this play, Shockey was able to out-jump the defenders and snag the football with the athleticism of a wide receiver. On the next snap, the Giants cut the score to 21-17. In the second half, Shockey was not as much of a factor. He dropped a perfectly-thrown deep pass on a fly route on a play where again he was spread out wide. While Manning threw to Shockey four times in the second half, only one of these passes was completed (for 10 yards).

Shiancoe looked good on his 22-yard reception that was erased. He later had a 5-yard catch on the same drive. In the second half, Shiancoe made a poor block on a HB Derrick Ward run that only picked up a yard. He also was not able to come up with a tough catch from Manning early in the fourth quarter on 3rd-and-9.

Running Backs: The Giants were forced to abandon the ground game pretty early in this game as the defense let things get out of hand too quickly. Barber only carried the ball 15 times (and hence the criticism that HB Brandon Jacobs should have seen the ball more is silly). The Giants did run the ball pretty well on their first drive as Barber picked up 25 yards on four carries. But Barber was stuffed on 2nd-and-1. On 3rd-and-1, from these eyes, Jacobs clearly picked up the first down, but the refs did not see it that way and the Giants settled for a short-field goal instead of a touchdown.

On the Giants’ next possession, there was one running play to Barber, but it lost five yards due to penetration. The Giants did not run the ball once on their next possession (a three-and-out). When New York got the ball again, the score was 21-3. After the Giants had cut the score to 21-17, Barber was a big factor on the field goal drive right before halftime. He gained 12 yards on one draw play on 1st-and-15. Then five players later, Barber had a huge 27-yard run on 3rd-and-10 that enabled the Giants not only to keep the drive alive, but move into scoring position.

In the second half, Barber carried the ball 4 times for 2 yards as the blocking was simply not there.

Barber was very good on blitz pick-ups. FB Jim Finn made nice blocks on two Barber runs on the first drive of the game, but he made a poor effort on the Ward run where Shiancoe also made a poor block (both players couldn’t keep the linebacker from making the tackle).

Derrick Ward carried the ball 4 times for 13 yards in the second half of the game, but three of these carries came very late in the game when the Giants were merely trying to get the game over.

Offensive Line: For the most part, the offensive line pass blocked pretty well, especially when you consider the fact that the Giants were in obvious passing situations most of the night. Still, there were a few problems. LG David Diehl did not pick up a stunt on Manning’s only incomplete pass of the first drive. LT Luke Petitgout gave up a pressure on the next possession and on the following drive, he got cleanly beat to the outside by blitzing linebacker for a sack on 3rd-and-10 (OC Shaun O’Hara did not pick up a stunt on this same play too). On the Giants’ last scoring drive of the first half, RG Chris Snee gave up a couple of pass pressures.

In the second half, Snee was flagged for holding on the deep pass to Shockey that was dropped. Snee also gave up one pressure on the field goal drive as did RT Kareem McKenzie on the 3rd-and-goal play from the 9-yard line that resulted in an incompletion. On the Giants’ final possession, down 45-23 with less than four minutes to go, Petitgout was flagged with a false start and McKenzie gave up a 9-yard sack on 3rd-and-13. Nevertheless, given the innumerable obvious passing situations, Manning was afforded pretty darn good protection for most of the game.

The Giants’ blocked well for the run on the first drive of the game until they faced the 2nd-and-1 situation near the goal line. On that play, O’Hara got over-powered by the nose tackle. On the next possession, Diehl allowed penetration that caused Barber to get tackled for a 5-yard loss. In the second half, Barber only received four carries, but none of these plays were particularly well-blocked against a very good Chargers’ run defense.

Petitgout was flagged with a false start on the game’s first offensive play. Diehl’s false start late in the first half prevented Coughlin from calling a pass play into the end zone before the 40-yard field goal was kicked.

Special Teams: It was disappointing to see the Giants give up a 32-yard kickoff return after their first score, and worse a 58-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter after their last score. The latter really ended any chance for the Giants to try a miracle comeback. On this return, Tyree overran the play and both Sean Berton and Nick Greisen missed attempted tackles.

Willie Ponder did return a kickoff for 41 yards. His five other returns picked up 23, 13, 22, 27, and 30 yards. Kenderick Allen was flagged for holding on the 23-yard return. The Giants were flagged with a 15-yard face-mask penalty (guilty party not accurately identified) on the 13-yard return. This snafu came at a really bad time as it was the first Giants’ possession of the second half when the team was trailing 28-20 and set the Giants back to the 9-yard line.

PK Jay Feely’s kickoffs were strong and he hit both of his field goals, including a 40-yarder.

P Jeff Feagles averaged 44 yards on four punts and punt coverage was sound with James Butler and David Tyree making tackles.

(Box Score – New York Giants at San Diego Chargers, September 25, 2005)
Sep 222005

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at San Diego Chargers, September 25, 2005: San Diego is a solid football team. They are not as good as their 12-4 record last year and not as bad as their 0-2 record this year. They have an outstanding running back and a dangerous pass-receiving tight end. Defensively, the Chargers play a 3-4 defense and have some stout run defenders on the defensive line. And Darren Sproles is very dangerous on special teams.

But this is another winnable game. The Chargers are good, but the Giants are the better football team. This is going to be a fun game because it is going to have a playoff-like atmosphere to it due to the Eli Manning issue. The playoff-like intensity will be a good experience for the Giants and help them down the stretch in important division games in the second-half of the season.

Giants on Offense: QB Eli Manning will obviously be under the spotlight as the media is going to milk this story for all its worth. Indeed, this is a big game for Manning, but not because of his rebuff of San Diego. Manning played better last week and the hope here is that he continues to improve his decision-making and accuracy. If Manning starts playing well, the Giants are going to put up a lot of points.

As always, the Giants’ offensive line needs to be the great enabler. The front five must keep Manning upright as well as generate movement for the ground attack. The Chargers play a 3-4 defense and the guy who makes the defense tick is NT Jamal Williams inside. OC Shaun O’Hara will likely need help moving him out. The left defensive end is Jacques Cesaire and the right end is Igor Olshansky – both good run defenders who usually give way to back-ups on passing downs. Olshanksy (ankle/knee) is “questionable” for the game but has practiced. Cesaire is “probable” with an elbow injury. The Giants should test their injuries by physically running the football right at these two. 2005 first-rounder Luis Castillo will likely see quite a bit of playing time. Because the Giants are playing a 3-4 defense, on some plays the tackle will block the end; on other plays, the guard.

The point of the 3-4 defense is to have the strong, bulkier defensive linemen tie up the offensive linemen in front of them (2-gap) so the linebackers can make the plays. The more double-team blocking the Giants have to do up front, the easier it will be for the linebackers. That is why the O’Hara-Williams match-up is so important. But the same holds true with the other lineman. Hopefully, Luke Petigtout, David Diehl, Chris Snee, and Kareem McKenzie will be able to handle their opponent one-on-one when called upon to block a defensive end. The real play-maker in the linebacking corps for the Chargers is ILB Donnie Edwards. He is a run-and-chase-type who makes a lot of tackles. He can cover and he can blitz too. However, you can run right at Edwards some. Fellow starter inside Randall Godfrey is nearing the end, but also gets in on a lot of tackles. The pass-rusher of the group is ROLB Steve Foley. LOLB Ben Leber is the blue-collar guy. The big key here is for the Giants’ offensive linemen, tight ends, running backs, and receivers to block the right people. The Giants don’t see a lot of the 3-4 and blocking the 3-4 can be somewhat confusing as you don’t always know what the linebackers will be doing on a specific play. New York must do a good job of getting a hat on every defender so there are no cheap negative plays. Blitz pick-ups will be very important.

The Chargers are aggressive on defense and have been somewhat vulnerable to the cutback. This is the strength of Tiki Barber’s game. The Chargers don’t give up a lot of yardage on the ground, but Tiki might break one or two big ones.

When the Giants put the ball in the air, it is obvious that WR Plaxico Burress and TE Jeremy Shockey are the go-to receivers for Manning now. But the Giants should try to take advantage of all the attention these two are receiving by getting the ball to WR Amani Toomer or one of the other wide receivers more. Left corner Quentin Jammer has not yet lived up to his first round-hype. Physically, he matches up well with Toomer as he is bigger corner who plays a physical game. But he also will get beat on double moves and doesn’t play the ball real well. The right corner, Drayton Florence, is San Diego’s version of Curtis Deloatch – a size/speed corner who is still leaning the game. On opening day, the free safety was journeyman Jerry Wilson. Last week, he was replaced by Bhawoh Jue who has a history of making mistakes in coverage. SS Terrence Kiel is a better run defender than pass defender. The Giants might be able to do some damage over the deep middle of the football field against these safeties.

Giants on Defense: The two keys to beating San Diego are (1) keep All-World HB LaDainian Tomlinson under wraps, and (2) preventing TE Antonio Gates from making big plays. That’s a lot easier said than done. Chargers’ Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer has been under criticism for not getting the ball to Tomlinson enough so expect to see a heavy dose of the running game. This will be another great test for the Giants’ front seven.

The good news for the Giants is that San Diego really misses their offensive line coach from last year, Hudson Houck, who was hired in the offseason by the Dolphins. The San Diego line is not playing as well as last year. Worse, LG Toniu Fonoti, arguably the Chargers’ best offensive lineman, will miss the game against the Giants. That’s good news for DT William Joseph who will face back-up Kris Dielman. The left tackle is our old friend Roman Oben, who will battle DE Osi Umenyiora. Although Oben has turned into a solid technician, Umenyiora’s quickness should give him problems. On the other side, DT Kenderick Clancy will line-up over RG Mike Goff, a powerful player who can be out-quicked. It may be feast or famine for Clancy. DE Michael Strahan faces RT Shane Olivea, a second-year player with good size. The Giants have the talent up front to dominate the line of scrimmage against the Chargers and they will have to do so in order to defend against Tomlinson, a runner with great power, balance, vision, and instincts.

To me, the effectiveness of the Giants’ defense will largely depend on their under-coverage. Tomlinson is a very good receiver out of the backfield. The Giants’ linebackers across the board will be tested here. The Giants must be wary of the screen pass. Making matters worse is the presence of TE Antonio Gates – the San Diego passing game is based completely around him. His size-speed package causes problems. Gibril Wilson is a match for him athletically, but Wilson may be out-muscled. Look for the Giants to double Gates with a linebacker such as Antonio Pierce or Carlos Emmons. Also the Giants MUST watch out for 3rd down back Darren Sproles – a small but exceptionally explosive player.

The San Diego receiving corps is not real strong. WR Keenan McCardell is nearing the end, but he can still make plays. He runs good routes and knows how to get open. The Giants can ill-afford to have to give Will Allen help with McCardell so hopefully Allen will step up his game this week. “Everything he does is smooth,” says Allen of McCardell. “He’s quick. And he’s crafty. He’s a pro at what he does. Guys like Keenan are great receivers because they know how to get open and set up their routes.”

Will Peterson should be able to handle WR Eric Parker with no problem.

Stop the run. Hope that the corners can handle the receivers by themselves, because Gibril Wilson and the linebackers are going to have their hands full with Tomlinson, Sproles, and Gates underneath.

Giants on Special Teams: Darren Sproles returns punts and kickoffs. He is very dangerous.

Sep 222005
New York Giants 27 – New Orleans Saints 10

Game Overview: Folks who have read my articles over the years that I tend to preach that things are not so bad when the Giants lose and not so good when they win. I’m not going to do that this time. This is a good football team and the Giants deserve to be 2-0 and considered one of the better teams in the league right now. Quite frankly, I’ve been shocked by the many negative posts in The Corner Forum this week. It makes me wonder how angry posters would be if the Giants had actually lost a game already. Chill out people! Things are good right now. The Giants clobbered the Cardinals and pretty decisively beat a good and physical New Orleans Saints team.

The confidence of the players is building. It reminds me of the elevator scene in the movie Big Trouble in Little China right after Jack Burton drinks Egg’s magic potion.

Jack Burton: “I feel pretty good; I’m not…I’m not scared at all. I just feel kind of… I feel kind of invincible.”

Wang: “Me too. I’ve got a very positive attitude about this.”

Jack Burton: “Good. Me too. Is it getting hot in here or is it just me?”

Is everything perfect? No. Are the Giants going to lose a game? Yes. But this is a good football team that is not playing scared. Their fans shouldn’t be either. Let the other guys be scared. Keep proving the prognosticators wrong!

Defensive Line: Unlike last week, the Giants were facing a very good offensive line. This was to be the first real test for the run defense, particularly for the tackles. And the players came through with flying colors. HB Deuce McAllister was limited to 47 yards on 15 carries (a 3.1 yards-per-rush average). The Giants did exactly what they had to do: shut down the Saints’ running game and make them one-dimensional on offense.

Leading the way inside were tackles Kendrick Clancy (4 tackles, 1 sack) and William Joseph (1 tackle, 1 fumble recovery). While there were a couple of plays where these two gave ground and a hole opened for McAllister, for the most part, the Saints met a wall inside. Clancy was particularly active as both a run defender and pass rusher. He pursued hard down the line to get on outside running plays. Clancy also penetrated into the backfield right at the point-of-attack on a couple of plays to stuff the running back. (There was one impressive play where simply blew by OC LeCharles Bentley, who is one of the better centers in the league, to hold the back to no gain). Clancy also picked up a sack when DE Michael Strahan forced QB Aaron Brooks to step up into the pocket. Indeed, Clancy flashed a couple of times on the pass rush.

The stats don’t show it, but Joseph was tough inside. And Joseph made a very athletic play for a big man by easily recovering a bouncing ball on Brooks’ fumble in the third quarter. He was flagged with a neutral zone infraction however.

Both back-up tackles played well too. Fred Robbins got a big pass rush on the Saints’ first possession to force an incompletion on 3rd-and-2. Kenderick Allen played quite a bit and was excellent against the run. This is the best I’ve seen him play all year (including the preseason). He also drew a key holding penalty right before WLB Carlos Emmons’ interception.

Michael Strahan (5 tackles, 1 sack) played well despite his ailing back. Like his compatriots up front, he was tough against the run. Michael made plays against the ground game both at the point-of-attack and from the backside on plays away from him. His 15-yard roughing the passer penalty that helped to set up the Saints’ only touchdown of the night was a bullshit call. Strahan got good pressure on Brooks on the latter’s touchdown pass. Strahan’s outside pressure also enabled Clancy to nail Brooks for a sack on the ensuing drive. Later in the first half, Strahan beat right tackle on an inside move to sack Brooks for a 9-yard loss. One down note was that Strahan did lose contain on a 3rd-and-4 play where Brooks ran around right end for a 9-yard gain on 3rd-and-4.

What has surprised me about Osi Umenyiora (3 tackles, 2 sacks) thus far in the season is his solid run defense at the point-of-attack. The Saints tested him and they did not succeed. The Giants are dropping Umenyiora more and more into a linebacker role and he doesn’t look real natural on these occasions when it is a running play (Umenyiora got faked out by the running back in space a couple of times). Both of Osi’s sacks were unconventional. In the first, Umenyiora dropped back into a “spy” mode on 3rd-and-10 and impressively chased down Brooks when the latter decided to scramble out of the pocket. His second sack came as he was playing linebacker and he blitzed up the middle to sack Brooks for a 9-yard loss. Umenyiora was flagged with an offsides penalty.

Justin Tuck saw some playing time. He impressively penetrated into the backfield on one 2nd-and-1 carry, but missed the tackle.

Linebackers: Another good game for the starting three. WLB Carlos Emmons (5 tackles, 1 interception, 2 passes defensed) made an impact as both a run and pass defender. He is playing much, much better than he did last year when he was still recovering from a broken leg. Emmons’ interception late in the second quarter was a real back-breaker for the Saints and helped to set up the Giants’ final touchdown of the night. Unfortunately, Emmons was flagged for taunting on the play by spiking the ball (a tad questionable – I’ve seen far worse not get called). Emmons got a good pass rush on one blitz in the second half.

MLB Antonio Pierce (9 tackles, 2 pass defenses) led the Giants in tackles again for the second week in a row. Pierce made a great play sniffing out a shovel pass from Brooks to McAllister in the first quarter. Pierce later combined with Emmons to nail TE Ernie Conwell just as the ball was arriving to cause an incompletion. Pierce may have also saved a touchdown by tipping away a 3rd-and-11 pass at the goal line intended for WR Joe Horn.

SLB Reggie Torbor (3 tackles) has been a pleasant surprise. Keep in mind that he is a former collegiate defensive end who did not look all that natural at linebacker last year. He does this year. Torbor has been very strong against the run. He also got some good heat on Brooks on blitz late in the game.

Defensive Backs: This is the one area of the defense that needs to improve pretty dramatically. I am not as concerned about all of the passing yards given up. That is often a misleading stat. When you turn a good offensive football team such as the Saints into a one-dimensional passing attack, the passing figures will get a bit out of whack – especially if that team is trailing by two scores or more (which the Saints were for most of the game). This used to happen all of the time to the Giants back in the 1980’s. What does remain somewhat bothersome are the third down conversions (the Saints were 8-of-15 on third down).

Will Allen (8 tackles) did not play a good game, but he was not as bad as many fans claim either. I think every year the BBI audience has to latch onto one “whipping boy” who it targets as the scapegoat for most of the team’s ills. That player has become Will Allen despite the fact that just about everyone in the secondary gave up some key pass plays against New Orleans. The problem for Allen remains what it was last year – he often is supplying decent coverage, but he simply is not making plays on the football (I’m not talking just about interceptions here but pass defenses). We all know that eventually Corey Webster will take his job. It might happen this year; it might happen next year. Allen will not likely be re-signed because he sees the writing on the wall. Still those calling for Allen to be benched need to keep in mind that Webster still looks a bit confused out there. Allen is the safer choice – for now.

Allen had perfect coverage on a 3rd-and-13 pass on the Saints’ first possession. Allen read the route and quarterback perfectly and jumped in front of the receiver to intercept the football – the only problem was that the football passed right through his hands and was completed for a 24-yard gain. I can think of no better example of Allen’s problems in playing the ball in the air. On the Saints’ next possession (their only touchdown drive), Allen was beat on a slant by WR Joe Horn for a 17-yard gain on 3rd-and-4. In the second quarter, Allen gave up a 14-yard completion to Horn despite very tight coverage. Aside from the missed interception on the first drive, the play that probably sticks out to fans was Allen’s missed tackle on a short completion to McAllister that turned into a 22-yard gain right before halftime. In the third quarter, Allen was beat by WR Dante Stallworth in zone coverage for a 15-yard gain on 2nd-and-11 and by Stallworth again for 18 yards on 2nd-and-10. Where Allen did look very good was in run support.

Will Peterson (4 tackles) was back and played OK. The Saints stayed away from him for the most part but he did give up 12-yard completion to Stallworth in the first quarter. Peterson did have very good coverage on Horn on one deeper pass in the third quarter that fell incomplete. However, Peterson looked terrible on one play later in the drive where he committed an illegal contact penalty, was beaten for the completion, and then missed the tackle – leading to a big 33-yard gain by Stallworth. Interestingly, the Giants blitzed Peterson quite a bit and while he did not pick up a sack, he got at least three quality pressures, including on the 2nd-and-goal play right before halftime that helped to keep the Saints out of the end zone and on the play where Brent Alexander intercepted Brooks.

Curtis Deloatch (2 tackles) played quite a bit. However, he did give up a 21-yard touchdown pass to Joe Horn on 3rd-and-10 (Brent Alexander was late getting over to help on the play as well). Deloatch also gave up a 13-yard completion on 3rd-and-8 in the second quarter (Gibril Wilson was in the area as well). Deloatch was also beaten by Horn on the play where Horn fumbled the ball into the end zone, causing a touchback.

Corey Webster saw quite a bit of action in the fourth quarter and struggled. He was beaten by Horn for a 19-yard gain (Wilson was in the area too) at the very start of the quarter. Webster later got beat for a 21-yard gain by Stallworth in zone coverage (Wilson was in the area on this play as well). On the very next play, Webster was beat for 13-yards on a sideline route. However, a few plays later, Webster almost came down with a one-handed interception in the end zone. On the Saints’ last drive, Webster was beat on a 16-yard crossing pattern over the middle on 3rd-and-10. The pro-Webster crowd needs to recognize that Webster is having his problems still, particularly in zone coverage. He’s still learning the pro game.

As mentioned, FS Brent Alexander (2 tackles, 1 interception, 2 pass defenses) was late getting over to help Deloatch on the 21-yard touchdown pass. Alexander made a real nice play by intercepting a pass that was deflected over the middle and returning it 24 yards to the Saints’ 49-yard line, ending a scoring threat. Alexander almost came up with a second interception late in the game.

SS Gibril Wilson (9 tackles) has played better. He seemed to be in the vicinity of a lot of completed passes in zone coverage. He also got beat by TE Ernie Conwell for what should have been a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but Conwell dropped the ball (Emmons was in the area on this play as well).

Shaun Williams picked off Brooks’ final pass of the night in the end zone.

One of the problems was not just individual match-ups, but the Saints finding dead spots in the Giants’ zone coverage. There were plays where I had no idea who was responsible for covering the receiver as the receiver seemed to be equidistant from a number of defenders (including linebackers). Just because one defender made the tackle on the play does not mean he was the guy who was “at fault”.

Quarterback: QB Eli Manning (13-of-24 for 165 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions) played better this week. He managed the game very well and did not commit any costly mistakes. Had he been able to connect on a couple of deep passes, he really would have had big night. But that will come.

The most impressive Manning was all night was on the Giants’ second drive of the game. Already up 7-0, the Giants moved smartly down field on an 11-play, 76-yard affair that resulted in a 6-yard touchdown pass to HB Tiki Barber on a middle screen. On this drive, Manning completed 6-of-8 passes with key throws to WR Plaxico Burress for 15 yards on 2nd-and-13, TE Jeremy Shockey for 17 yards on 2nd-and-6, Burress for 16 yards on 3rd-and-11, and Burress again for 17 yards on 1st-and-10. Where Manning really improved was that he did a much better job of moving around in the pocket to buy time or create a better passing lane.

After this drive, Manning cooled off in the first half. Some of that had to do with the fact that pass protection was not as strong as it was on the second drive. Manning dangerously threw one pass up for grabs on the game’s third drive when he was under pressure and was lucky it was not picked off. Then on the next drive, Manning missed a wide open Tim Carter deep on what should have been an easy 57-yard touchdown pass. Two plays later, Manning missed Shockey badly over the middle – though this may have been due to the fact that Shockey’s route was cut off by the defender. On the next drive, Manning threw a beautiful touch pass to Shockey right over the safety for a 20-yard gain to help set up New York’s final touchdown of the night.

In the second half, Manning underthrew Toomer deep on what should have been a 41-yard touchdown pass, but on this play, Manning was under intense pressure. A few plays later, Manning’s 15-yard pass to Shockey helped put the Giants back into field goal range as the Giants went up 24-10. On the next possession, Manning dangerously tried to force a screen pass that hit a defensive lineman right in the mid-section. On New York’s final scoring drive, Manning hit WR Amani Toomer for 25 yards on 3rd-and-6 on a nicely thrown sideline route between defenders. Three plays later, Manning threw a very nice pass to Burress between the corner and safety for what should have been a 22-yard touchdown, but the Giants were flagged with an illegal formation penalty. Two plays later, Manning threaded the needle on a slant pass to Burress for 11 yards.

Wide Receivers: Plaxico Burress (5 catches for 64 yards) is obviously Eli’s favorite receiver. Plaxico was virtually unstoppable on the Giants’ second drive of the game as he came up with three catches for 48 yards, including a key 16-yarder on 3rd-and-11. Saints’ CB Jason Craft tried to play physical bump-and-run coverage with Burress, but Burress was simply too strong for him and easily escaped the jam. Burress also is a master of subtly pushing off to create some space for himself. The down note for Burress was his blocking in the back penalty that erased a 28-yard run by Barber (though for the most part I thought Burress blocked very well on running plays). The offensive pass interference call on Burress was a joke – one of the worst calls I’ve ever seen (but Burress did drop the ball on this play as well). Burress got open between the corner and safety for a 22-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter, but the play was erased due to a penalty. He did come up with a nice 11-yard reception in heavy traffic two plays later.

Amani Toomer (2 catches for 31 yards) got open deep for what should have been a 41-yard touchdown, but the ball was underthrown. Toomer made what I think was his finest catch of his career with his 25-yard over-the-head reception along the sideline on 3rd-and-6. On this play, Toomer had to completely extend himself while at the same time being conscious of the fact that he had to drag his feet quickly in order to stay in-bounds. This was a key play in the game as it allowed the Giants to continue a clock-eating drive that ultimately resulted in a field goal. However, the drive would have resulted in a touchdown had Toomer lined up properly on Plaxico’s 22-yard touchdown reception. Toomer’s run blocking was pretty good.

Tim Carter beat his man cleanly on a deep pass that Manning overthrew that should have resulted in a 57-yard touchdown. David Tyree could not come up with the tough catch in the end zone in the 4th quarter. Tyree has yet to catch a pass yet this season despite being the #3 receiver.

Running Backs: HB Tiki Barber (83 yards on 22 carries and one touchdown; 1 catch for 6 yards and a touchdown) had a good night. He had a 28-yard run erased or his stats would have looked even better. What impressed me about Barber in this game was the between-the-tackle power that he was running with. I don’t remember a game where I saw Barber drag more tacklers than this one (perhaps Brandon Jacobs is wearing off on him). Barber did a nice job of weaving his way through traffic on the 6-yard middle screen that resulted in a touchdown. Tiki later scored on a vintage draw play behind some excellent blocking from 12 yards out. Tiki’s fine power running during the 4th quarter field goal drive helped to take almost seven minutes off of the clock.

Jacobs (3 carries for 5 yards and a touchdown) did not see the ball all that much, but he had an impact in a limited role. He scored from one-yard out on the third play of the game. However, on this play, Jacobs had the ball knocked out of his hands right after he crossed the goal line – he has to be more careful with the football. He also ran too high on the play. Jacobs did blow one blitz pick-up on the play that Manning dangerously threw the ball up for grabs in the second quarter. In the fourth quarter, Jacobs powered his way for the first down on 3rd-and-2.

Jim Finn doesn’t play all that much with the Giants using quite a bit of 3-WR or 2-TE sets, but when he does play, he generally does a good job of getting good blocks on the perimeter of the defense.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey (5 catches for 64 yards) had a good night and almost broke his 20-yard reception late in the second quarter into 32-yard touchdown as he was just tripped up. Shockey badly beat the safety on this play. Jeremy also had two important catches for 17 and 9 yards on the second scoring drive of the game. In the third quarter, Shockey’s 15-yard reception helped to set up a field goal. Shockey got a nice block on Tiki’s 12-yard touchdown run.

Visanthe Shiancoe had problems blocking DE Charles Grant on the first running play of the second possession as Barber was tackled for a 3-yard loss (Grant got a great jump on this play). But Shiancoe got a good block on Jacobs’ 3rd-and-2 conversion.

Sean Berton saw much more action this week as both a down tight end and move tight end. There was one play where I spotted him getting brushed aside, but he generally blocked fairly well.

Offensive Line: The Saints have an outstanding defensive line, one of the best in the NFL. And the Giants generally did a decent job up front. But I was not happy with the lack of consistency, especially after the Giants went up 21-7. There were too many breakdowns in pass protection on plays that could have resulted in keeping drives alive and more points. One of the big reasons why the Giants didn’t score more points in the second half was the offensive generally didn’t play that well until the seven minute drive in the fourth quarter.

Things started off well as the Giants managed to put together a 21-7 lead. Tiki Barber was productive on the ground and Manning was comfortably able to complete 6-of-8 passes on the second drive of the game. But there were three pass protection miscues in the second quarter. On the play where Jacobs missed his blitz pick-up, RG Chris Snee was beaten as well. On the next possession, LG David Diehl gave up a pressure as Manning’s pass to Shockey was terribly off-the-mark on 3rd-and-9. On the Giants’ final scoring drive of the game, only an illegal contact penalty on the Saints saved Snee and Diehl again as their poor pass protection allowed Manning to get sacked for an 8-yard loss on 3rd-and-6 (Shaun O’Hara’s man was the man who actually sacked the quarterback, but he was knocked off of his man by the pressure given up by one of the guards).

RT Kareem McKenzie had a good night in the run-blocking department. Snee, Diehl, O’Hara, and Shockey got excellent blocks on Tiki’s 12-yard touchdown run.

The blocking in the third quarter was sub-par and the offense struggled because of it. McKenzie gave up a pressure and Manning’s arm was hit on 3rd-and-5 pass that would have resulted in an easy first down (Burress was wide open on the play). On the following possession, Snee was late getting over to help Shockey who was beaten by the defensive end, and Diehl was beat on the same play, causing Manning’s deep throw to a wide-open Toomer for what should have been a touchdown to be underthrown (Snee and Diehl obviously had a rough night in pass protection). McKenzie then gave up a pressure (and hold) on a 3rd-and-10 play. On the next possession, I thought the holding call on LT Luke Petitgout was bogus (Petitgout, by the way, played a very good game against a very good opponent).

The Giants’ offensive line finally regained control of the line of scrimmage again in the fourth quarter as the Giants were able to grind the ball out with a 14-play, 7-minute drive. The blemishes here however were unnecessary roughness penalties on Diehl and O’Hara. The end of the drive stalled when Petitgout was pushed back on a Barber sweep to his side and Diehl gave up another pressure on the underthrown ball to Tyree in the endzone.

Special Teams: PK Jay Feely played pretty well, especially given the fact that he hurt his back early on in the game. This obviously affected a couple of his kickoffs that were basically line-drives. Still, he was 2-for-2 on field goal attempts (from 39 and 30 yards out).

The big special teams play of the night was the Giants’ coverage on the Saints’ opening kickoff return. The Saints attempted some misdirection by having their returner hand off to another player running in the reverse direction. This did not fool James Butler (who made the initial contact), Chase Blackburn, and Nick Greisen. Indeed, even though Blackburn credited Butler with causing the fumble, I believe it was Greisen’s hit that jarred the ball loose. Blackburn recovered to help set up an easy offensive touchdown. Blackburn also made another big hit on a kickoff return later in the game. Butler was very active with FOUR special teams tackles and the Saints were never able to generate a big kickoff return.

Punt coverage gave up one bigger return for 27 yards, however, as Curtis Deloatch missed a tackle on a punt late in the game (James Butler made a nice saving tackle on the play). Up until that point, punt coverage was outstanding with David Tyree regularly beating double-team blocks to get down to either make the tackle or disrupt the return. Jeff Feagles averaged an outstanding 45.8 yards-per-punt on five punts, including one beautifully targeted out-of-bounds at the Saints’ 5-yard line.

Chad Morton was only able to return one punt for seven yards and Willie Ponder had only one opportunity to return a kickoff (for 10 yards). Brandon Jacobs did run over a potential tackler on a 25-yard return.

The big mistake on special teams was Butler not getting out of the area of a Saints’ punt that hit the ground and eventually bounced into him, thus causing a turnover that led to a New Orleans’ field goal right before halftime.

(Box Score – New Orleans Saints at New York Giants, September 19, 2005)
Sep 162005

Approach to the Game – New Orleans Saints at New York Giants, September 19, 2005: My sympathy for the people of New Orleans and the surrounding Gulf Coast does not extend to the playing field.

To put it another way, if the Giants miss the playoffs by one game, I won’t be sitting on my couch in January saying to myself, “Well geez, at least we made the Saints’ fans feel better in Week Two.”

So screw ‘em. And screw this “America’s Team” crap and screw this whole belief that the Hurricane Katrina disaster has made the Saints a stronger team. Bull! The Saints remain what they are: a solid, physical football team that is capable of looking great in one game and then laying down like dogs in another.

If the Giants take care of business and don’t get caught up in feeling sorry for the Saints, they should win. The key in my mind is to keep mistakes at a minimum. The Saints have a long history of shooting themselves in the foot. Let them lose the game. My biggest worry? Call me a paranoid Giants’ fan, but I am very wary of the officials throwing New Orleans a bone or two.

Giants on Offense: Looking at the bigger picture, the Giants need to find a way to keep winning during the early season time period when QB Eli Manning and the newly revamped offensive line will likely be struggling to gain consistency. In a month, Manning and the line will be playing at a much higher level. But expect the mistakes to continue in the short-term. My strategy would be the same as it was for the Cardinals – run, run, run. The Giants have a very good trio of running backs and they should exploit this. By running the football, the Giants will keep the pressure off of Eli, make things easier for the offensive line, and help to diffuse the Saints’ strong pass rush.

The Saints have a solid defensive line, but like the Giants, they are far stronger at defensive end than they are at defensive tackle. To me, this argues for a heavy dose of the inside running game, and potentially a heavier dose of HB Brandon Jacobs. RG Chris Snee should be able to run roughshod over LDT Brian Young, a blue-collar-type, who is on the small side. LG David Diehl will battle RDT Willie Whitehead, a DT/DE ‘tweener who isn’t real big either. The offensive tackles, on the other hand, face stern tests. Darren Howard and Charles Grant are certainly one of the finest set of defensive ends in the league. Both have good size and quickness and both can rush the passer. Much will depend on whether or not RT Kareem McKenzie (ankle) plays, and if he does, how healthy he will be? LT Luke Petitgout once again has to prove that he can deal with a quality opponent on a consistent basis and keep Manning’s blindside protected.

The Saints’ linebacking corps isn’t real strong. The starters – SLB Sedrick Hodge, MLB Courney Watson, and WLB Colby Bockwoldt – are more back-up-types. Hopefully, TE Jeremy Shockey (ankle) will play and not be limited because he could have a big day as a receiver if Manning and the offensive line do their jobs. There is no Karlos Dansby in this group.

The Saints played better pass defense against the Panthers than I expected. Much of that has to do with the fact that they can exert a pass rush with their down four and keep more people in coverage. The Giants will be in trouble if the offensive line can’t protect Manning against the front four. But if they can, Manning should be able to do some damage. As I mentioned, this is a good match-up game for Shockey vis a vis the linebackers. In addition, SS Jay Bellamy is good in run support, but he lacks the athleticism to excel in coverage.

RCB Fakhir Brown is a very average player. If the Saints keep him on Plaxico Burress, Burress should have a big game. The Saints’ best corner, Mike McKenzie, would normally line up over Amani Toomer unless the Saints choose to keep him on Burress. The nickel back situation for New Orleans is not real strong either and the Giants could do some damage in a three-WR set.

So let’s pray that McKenzie and Shockey play (and that they can play at a high level). To me, this game largely comes down to the Giants’ offensive line. The Saints are a physical football team, but if the Giants can match (or exceed) them in physical play, the Giants should be able to put some points on the board.

Giants on Defense: The Cardinals’ ground game was not much of a threat to the Giants. The Saints, on the other hand, have a very good offensive line and a very good running back. This is the first time this season that the Giants’ rush defense will be significantly tested. If the Giants can stuff the run and make the Saints one-dimensional, New York will win this football game. If the Giants can’t stop the run, it could be a long night.

RT Jammal Brown is a rookie, but his a very talented lineman who did a real nice job on DE Julius Peppers last week. The Giants need a big game once again out of DE Michael Strahan, especially in run defense. LT Wayne Gandy is steady. But if DE Osi Umenyiora is indeed going to become a quality player, this is a match-up that he needs to win. The real test comes inside. The Saints have a very solid interior trio. We will find out this week how good (or bad) the Giants’ defensive tackles are. William Joseph will line up most of the time over LG Kendyl Jacox. Kendrick Clancy faces ex-Eagle Jermane Mayberry. OC LeCharles Bentley is one of the better centers in the league. The Giants should see a heavy dose of HB Deuce McAllister, who can run over or around you. This is truly the key for the defense, stopping McAllister.

This will be a tough game for the Giants’ linebackers too. FB Mike Karney is a good blocker. McAllister is a quality pass receiver out of the backfield. TE Ernie Conwell, who is questionable with a jaw injury but who will most likely play, provides a solid security blanket for QB Aaron Brooks. He also is a good blocker. The linebackers obviously not only have to do a good job of making plays against McAllister against the run, but they have to be careful not to let the backs and tight ends make any plays in the passing game.

Brooks is a coach killer. There are times when he looks brilliant and plays like one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Then there are times where he will make such an incredibly stupid play that you can’t believe it. Stop the run and put the game on his shoulders. If he beats you, then so be it. But don’t make it easy on him. Keep him in long distance situations. Sooner or later he will make that killer mistake.

The Saints have some excellent wide receivers. But WR Joe Horn isn’t playing against Ike Charlton and Kato Serwanga this year, like he did in 2003 when he put up big numbers against the Giants. Will Allen matches up very well with Horn. Donte Stallworth has a nice combination of size and athleticism – but so does Curtis Deloatch, if the latter is forced to play for CB Will Peterson (knee). If Peterson does play, the big questions are how healthy and how rusty will he be? CB Corey Webster (quad) is also “questionable”.

Giants on Special Teams: Teams don’t usually return more than one or two kicks/punts for touchdowns in a year. Have the Giants’ already hit their quota? If they have, the Giants can still make things easier for their offense by providing outstanding field position. The Giants’ special teams are starting to build a special aura around them. It seems like players now want to play on specials and play hard (I’m talking about blockers as well as returners). Other teams may start getting a tad nervous when facing the return game and this could lead to some additional opportunities. Teams that tense up tend to make mistakes.

The Giants did a fine job on punt coverage last week, but they gave up an unacceptably long kick return. During his career, Michael Lewis has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and one punt for a touchdown.

Sep 142005
New York Giants 42 – Arizona Cardinals 19

Game Overview: I didn’t want to jinx things by coming out and saying it, but I pretty much expected the Giants to blow out the Cardinals. However, I have to admit that I was defecating bricks (damn profanity censor) at halftime with the Giants trailing Arizona 13-7. Despite the fact that the Giants took an easy 7-0 lead early in the game, the complete shift in momentum to the Cardinals in the second quarter was palpable. One got the sense that the Giants were once again going to crumble as they have done so often over the course of the past couple of seasons.

But the 2005 New York Giants may indeed be a more resilient bunch (though that will largely be decided against far more difficult opponents). The Giants impressively regained command of the game immediately in the third quarter by scoring two quick touchdowns. And when Arizona once again made things dangerously close, WR/KR Willie Ponder broke the will of the Cardinals with his 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. I would argue this was the most important play of the game.

So the Giants are 1-0. Let’s hope they keep sticking it to the prognosticators.

Special Teams: The special teams get top billing in this game review because, simply put, they deserve it. As I mentioned above, I feel strongly that Ponder’s 95-yard kickoff return (added by a nice positional-block by HB Brandon Jacobs) was the dagger in the heart of the Cardinals. Arizona was regaining momentum again and Ponder’s return took it completely away from them. Let’s also not lose sight of the fact that Ponder also had a 47-yard return in the game and averaged 47.8 yards per return on four returns! Jacobs also contributed with a Bavaro-esque-like 33-yard return. The only down notes here in the kickoff return game were Nick Greisen’s holding penalty on a return that Ponder also originally mishandled.

And if that were not enough, newcomer HB/PR Chad Morton added to the high point total with his late 52-yard punt return for a touchdown. On this return, Morton, flashing very quick feet, made a nice cut back to his left, broke a weak attempted tackle, and out-ran his pursuers to the end zone. (Incidentally, check out TE Sean Berton’s crushing block down field on this return where he knocked the helmet off of his victim). Morton returned 6 punts for a 14.7 yards-per-return average. The Giants were flagged with having 12 men on the field on one punt return however and Jacobs was flagged with a 15-yard face-mask penalty on another.

Jeff Feagles and the punt coverage unit performed extremely well too. Feagles punted 6 times, averaging 42 yards per punt. Four of his punts landed inside the 20-yard line and only one was returned (for a loss of 5 yards). David Tyree did a good job of getting down the field in a hurry as a gunner to down the football or force fair catches.

Kickoff coverage was not as strong. PK Jay Feely’s seven kickoffs were fielded at the 8, 2, -3, 2, 3, 1, and 12 yard lines. Returns went for 16 (Justin Tuck and Nick Greisen on the tackle), 20 (Gresien and Tyree), 27 (James Butler), 59 (Ponder), 20 (big hit by Reggie Torbor), 23 (Torbor), and 15 (Derrick Ward). Ponder was also flagged for being offsides on the last kickoff. The 59-yard return by Reggie Swinton obviously was not good and helped the Cardinals shift momentum back to their side briefly in the third quarter.

Defensive Line: The defensive line played a very strong game. The Cardinals were limited to 31 yards rushing and a measly 1.5 yards-per-carry. The front four also supplied a fair amount of pass pressure on QB Kurt Warner, albeit added by quite a bit of blitzing.

The Cardinals’ interior offensive line trio is fairly inexperienced and defensive tackles William Joseph, Kendrick Clancy, and Fred Robbins took advantage of that. Joseph really flashed with his quickness. He had a huge 9-yard sack where he simply ran over the center, helping to push the Cardinals out of field goal range near the end of the first half. I spotted three other strong pass rushes and Joseph also tipped a couple of passes at the line. In addition, he did a great job of sniffing out a screen and then tackling the halfback for a 1-yard loss. Joseph did get flagged for one neutral zone infraction.

While there were a couple of plays where Clancy got buried, he was pretty stout and disruptive from his NT position where he is cocked to one side. His penetration on 3rd-and-1 helped to force the Cardinals to settle for a field goal early in the second quarter. In the third quarter, he did a nice job of chasing down a shovel pass from behind, completely blew up a running play in the backfield for an 11-yard loss, and helped to stuff a 1st-and-goal carry with his penetration.

Fred Robbins was used quite a bit to spell Clancy, particularly in pass-rush situations. He looked sharp as a pass rusher with four good pass pressures that I saw. He also blew up a running play for a 5-yard loss at the start of the second quarter. Robbins did a real nice job of playing off a double-team block and holding the back to a 1-yard gain in the third quarter.

Kenderick Allen did not play much. He had one good pass rush late in the game, but he also missed a tackle on a running play.

Michael Strahan had a great game. Not only did he pick up 1.5 sacks, but he was regularly buzzing around Warner. Keep in mind that Strahan is now playing in the 255-260 pound range and he was facing a pretty good right tackle in Oliver Ross (324 pounds). His bull-rush against Ross right into the face of Warner, sacking the former Giant for a big loss, was a thing of beauty (and took the Cardinals out of field goal range). Earlier, he shared another sack with MLB Antonio Pierce. The Cardinals didn’t run in Strahan’s direction much. He made a nice play against the back from the backside on one play and helped to stuff a 3rd-and-1 play in the second quarter. Strahan combined with Torbor to nail the back for a 1-yard loss on a draw play late in the fourth quarter. Strahan did get beat in coverage by the fullback on a zone-blitz play for a 15-yard gain.

Osi Umenyiora faced the Cardinals’ best offensive lineman – the huge LT Leonard Davis (6-6, 366 pounds). Umenyiora got a little bit of heat (a couple of solid pressures), but was not able to supply a consistent pass rush. However, he did help to contribute to the Giants’ stingy run defense.

Justin Tuck saw some playing time late in the game and buzzed around the quarterback a couple of times.

Linebackers: An all-around solid game for the starting trio of WLB Carlos Emmons, MLB Antonio Pierce, and SLB Reggie Torbor. Pierce was very active with 11 tackles, half a sack, and one pass defense. Pierce is good at reading draw plays and he does a good job of running to the football and laying some wood on the ball-carrier. Late in the first quarter, there was one textbook play where he flowed down the line of scrimmage and tackled the ball-carrier right in the hole for no gain. Later, he combined with Strahan and Clancy to stuff a 3rd-and-1 running play. Pierce sacked Warner on a dog up the middle, overrunning the center on the play. Pierce did give up one 10-yard completion to the tight end on 3rd-and-6 and was flagged with pass interference on 3rd-and-5.

Emmons chipped in with 7 tackles and 2 pass defenses. His hit on tight end on the game’s first offensive play helped to force an incompletion. He tipped away another pass in the second quarter that, had the ball been a little lower, he would have intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Emmons stuffed a 2nd-and-goal run from the 1-yard line in the third quarter. Two plays later, his blitz helped to force an incompletion on the two-point conversion attempt by the Cardinals (Emmons looked good on a few blitzes).

Torbor had 5 tackles and 2 pass defenses. He combined with Robbins to tackle the back for a 5-yard loss on one running play and combined with Strahan to tackle the back for a 1-yard loss on another. Torbor looked good defending a pass to the fullback in the flat as well.

Defensive Backs: I think the cornerbacks have received some unduly harsh criticism from the media and fans for their performance against the Cardinals. QB Kurt Warner was incredibly sharp, getting rid of the ball extremely quickly and accurately for most of the game despite good pass pressure right in his face. He did not dance around like he did last year with the Giants. He dropped back, set his feet, and fired – often times with Giants right in his face. Secondly, the Cardinals have a trio of very good receivers and the Giants did a good job on two of the three receivers. Thirdly, the Giants blitzed their safeties a ton, and when you blitz your safeties, your corners have to play off of the receivers in order to prevent the big play deep. So there were quite a few passes where Warner fired a quick and accurate slant pass to Larry Fitzgerald (who had a monster game with 13 catches for 155 yards) or Anquan Bolden (4 catches for 62 yards).

Will Allen (4 tackles, 1 pass defense) slipped on a Fitzgerald catch of 14 yards in the first quarter. Allen was beaten twice on the Cardinals’ second field goal drive – one a 12-yard gain by Fitzgerald and the other a 13-yard gain by Bolden on a slant (despite good coverage). In the third quarter, Allen knocked away a slant pass intended for Bolden. Very late in the game, Allen was beat by Bolden on a 16-yard gain when the Giants were in the prevent mode. Given that tally, I don’t see the “bad game” that Allen played.

Curtis Deloatch really stood out in run defense. He was aggressive and made very forceful tackles. However, Deloatch did struggle a bit in pass coverage. On Arizona’s first field goal drive, Deloatch was beat on a square-in by Bolden for a 24-yard gain and a slant by Bolden for a 9-yard gain. On Arizona’s second field goal drive, Curtis gave up a 15-yard gain to Bryant Johnson on 3rd-and-11. On Arizona’s sole touchdown drive, Deloatch gave up a huge 30-yard completion on 3rd-and-19, giving the Cardinals’ a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. I don’t want to make it sound like it was all bad for Deloatch. After all, the Giants held the Cardinals to 12 offensive points and Deloatch received some valuable experience against some very good opponents. He also did a good job of knocking away a pass intended for Johnson in the fourth quarter.

As for the reserves, Corey Webster played as did Frank Walker. Webster had good coverage on a 3rd-and-11 incompletion to Johnson on the play preceding the Cardinals’ second field goal. But Webster did get beat by Fitzgerald for a 15-yard gain on 2nd-and-8 on Arizona’s lone offensive touchdown drive. On the following possession, I believe Webster was the man responsible for covering Fitzgerald on a successful 17-yard hookup on 2nd-and-10. Frank Walker’s big play was his interception late in the game on an out pattern. Walker returned the football 71 yards but I have no idea why he cut the play into the middle of the field. If he stayed along the sideline, the Walker would have scored.

There were a couple of plays where there did look to be confusion in the secondary, such as the 3rd-and-4 completion to Fitzgerald for 13 yards in the first quarter and the 3rd-and-goal pass to Fitzgerald for the touchdown. I am not sure who was to blame on these plays.

The Giants blitzed Gibril Wilson (5 tackles, 1 pass defense) and Brent Alexander (2 tackles) a bunch, but neither could ever really get there (although they did hurry some throws). Gibril intercepted a badly undethrown ball by Warner early in the third quarter that helped to shift the game back to the Giants. He did miss one tackle in run support however. James Butler saw some action late and looked pretty good in coverage, including on one 4th-and-11 shot into the end zone. The hit of the game was supplied by Shaun Williams on Larry Fitzgerald very late in the contest. The hit was so violent that it snapped Fitzgerald’s helmet off. I haven’t seen a hit like that from Williams in a regular season game since the opener in 2001.

Quarterback: It wasn’t a great game for Eli (10-of-23 for 172 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions), but that was partly expected given the fact that he has only practice four times since August 20th. Things started off fairly well on the Giants’ first drive as Manning completed 3-of-5 passes, including a beautifully-thrown seam pass to TE Jeremy Shockey for a 20-yard touchdown. But Manning only completed two of his next 10 passes for the remainder of the half. There were two interceptions, three sacks, and three drives that did not pick up a single first down in that half. A few of his passes were off the mark (i.e., behind the intended receiver, too low, or two high). His pass intended for WR David Tyree that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown, could have been caught, but it was on the high side. The second pick really was more of a freak play as it was tipped at the line of scrimmage.

In the second half, the big pass of the game by Manning was his 44-yarder to Burress near the start of the third quarter. This big play helped the Giants to regain the lead for good. The only other passes of significance in the second half were his 31-yard screen play to HB Tiki Barber on 3rd-and-14 and his 13-yard touchdown toss to Burress off a boot (but this pass was a bit off the mark as well).

If the Giants are going to be a playoff team this year, Manning needs to play better.

Wide Receivers: Burress (5 catches for 76 yards and a touchdown) was the only receiver of note. Amani Toomer and David Tyree did not catch a pass. Fourth receiver Tim Carter only had one insignificant 7-yard reception. That is not good productivity from the receiving corps, though Manning and the pass protection deserve at least an equal share of the blame here.

Burress had a the big 44-yarder already mentioned, but he also dropped one pass and was not able to come down with another deep ball in a jump-ball situation with a much shorter corner. His 13-yard touchdown reception was excellent as he had to go low for the pass and drag his feet quickly in order to stay inbounds.

The pass to Tyree that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown was a bit on the high side, but it was catchable.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey only had two receptions and both came on the opening drive. He was shut out for the remainder of the game. His 20-yard catch for a touchdown on a seam route was pretty however. Shockey’s blocking was pretty good for the most part, although there was one play where he got shoved backwards. Same story with TE Visanthe Shiancoe.

The big worry here is that Shockey’s ankle injury will be of the nagging variety like the previous foot injuries he has suffered in the past.

Halfbacks: It was too much hit-or-miss with Tiki Barber (13 carries for 62 yards and one touchdown in this game). Barber had big runs of 16, 15, and 21 yards, But the rest of his runs went for 1, -1, 1, 5, -2, 2, 6, 0, -4, and 2 yards. That obviously is not ideal and put the Giants in quite a few longer down-and-distance situations. His 21-yard gallop for a touchdown right up the middle and riding the hip-pocket of pulling LG David Diehl was a highlight reel-type play.

Where Tiki excelled were on two very well executed screen passes that picked up 29 and 31 yards; both ironically coming on 3rd-and-14.

Brandon Jacobs (6 carries for 39 yards and a touchdown) and Derrick Ward (4 carries for 23 yards) were able to adequately spell Barber. Jacobs converted 3-of-4 short-yardage attempts, including a 7-yard run on 3rd-and-1, a 21-yard run on 3rd-and-1, and a 3-yard run on 2nd-and-1. However, he was unable to convert on a 3rd-and-1 attempt later in the game.

I thought Jim Finn blocked well, especially when called upon to block an opponent outside of the offensive tackle.

Offensive Line: There still is a lot of room for improvement here, but that is to be expected given the fact that the starting five are just starting out together. There are times when the run and pass blocking is excellent, and there are times when there are still too many breakdowns. The hit-or-miss running figures by Barber mentioned above have quite a bit to do with the offensive line. What is needed is greater consistency. But this group did enable the Giants to run for 121 total yards and there were some excellent run blocks by both guards in particular, and RT Kareem McKenzie on the first drive of the game. I loved Diehl’s block on Barber’s 21-yard run because he blocked two guys on the play, including pancaking the second man. Petitgout got a nice block on Ward’s 12-yard carry around left end late in the game.

Pass protection was too shaky in the first half. Sometimes this is due to the scheme of the opponent. There will always be a play or two in every NFL game where your opponent is able to overload one side and allow a free blitzer to get a hit on the quarterback. This happened to the Giants on their first drive of the game as Manning was pressured into an incomplete pass. OC Shaun O’Hara allowed a pressure on Manning’s TD pass to Shockey. O’Hara then gave up another pressure and holding penalty on the following drive on the same play. LT Luke Petitgout gave up a pressure on an incomplete 3rd-and-10 pass on this same aborted drive. Later in the second quarter, McKenzie, RG Chris Snee, and O’Hara seemed confused on a jailbreak that led to a 14-yard sack of Manning, killing another possession (Snee was badly beaten on this play). On the following drive, Petitgout was beat to the inside, leading to a 1-yard sack.

Late in the second quarter, McKenzie was forced to leave with an ankle injury. On the first play after that, his replacement, Bob Whitfield, was beaten for a 3-yard sack on 3rd-and-10. However, Whitfield played pretty well for the remainder of the game, including in the run-blocking department. He, along with Snee, O’Hara, and Shiancoe got good blocks on the 6-yard and 5-yard runs by Barber and Jacobs, respectively, on the first drive of the third quarter – the latter resulting in a touchdown.

The offensive line looked sharp on both screen passes that picked up a total of 60 yards.

(Box Score – Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants, September 11, 2005)
Sep 082005

Approach to the Game – Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants, September 11, 2005: Longtime readers of know that I am not a journalist, nor do I pretend to be. I grew up a Giants’ fan and will die a Giants’ fan. The damn disease is in my blood. The disease also affects my judgment at times. Free agency, the draft, training camp, preseason, and the last few hours before the actual season starts is a time of hope, dreams, and lofty expectations. That’s pretty much true of all fans. Go to any sports fan-based website before the actual season starts and excessive optimism is in the air. The only exception to this rule are those older Giants’ fans who were so beaten down by the team’s performance (or lack thereof) in the 1960’s and 1970’s that they found reason to complain even during the Super Bowl years.

If you read the national and local prognostications, the Giants are expected to be anywhere from a 6-10 to 8-8 team. Perhaps they are right. But I feel strongly in my heart that this team is better than that. I’ve been wrong before. I thought the 1995 Giants were going to seriously compete with the Dallas Cowboys for the NFC East (boy did I blow that one). Why am I optimistic? Because I think the Giants have a lot of talent on offense surrounding QB Eli Manning. I think the defense – while still needing an infusion of talent – has some very good players and is well-coached. I think the special teams are capable of being one of the best in the league. I think Head Coach Tom Coughlin has a winning plan: play physical football, be mentally tough, don’t beat yourself, win the war in the trenches, out-play your opponent on special teams. I think the NFL is filled with teams that don’t do these things and if the Giants are able to follow Coughlin’s plan, they will be sitting pretty.

Of course solid coaching and a smart battle plan will only take you so far if you don’t have the troops. Do the Giants? That’s what we will find out. There are still questions at quarterback, left tackle, defensive tackle, and safety. How long will it take for Manning to mature? How long will it take for the offensive line to come together as a unit? Will the run defense improve?

But let’s focus on the Cardinals. Many think the Cardinals are the better team. I don’t see it. It’s not that the Cardinals don’t have talent, I just think the Giants are a better team almost across the board. In fact, the only way that I see the Cardinals keeping this game close or winning is if the Giants make the following mistakes:

  1. Hurt themselves with penalties.
  2. Lose the turnover battle. (Keep in mind that HB Tiki Barber is only a year removed from his fumblitis and QB Eli Manning will likely be rusty).
  3. Experience mental or physical breakdowns in the back seven that lead to big plays. (CB Will Peterson is not 100 percent and will likely be rusty).

If the Giants don’t beat themselves, they will win. If the Giants playmakers on offense, defense, and special teams make the plays they are capable of making, the Giants will win big.

Giants on Offense: The major worries for me here are not turning the ball over and QB Eli Manning’s likely rustiness. The Giants need to protect the football and not give the Cardinals any cheap scoring opportunities. And Manning has only had four practices since August 20th. He still has not built a strong rapport with his receivers, including TE Jeremy Shockey and his running backs. Will Manning be slightly off target on that crucial 3rd-and-5 throw? Will he and his intended receiver not be on the same page and an interception results?

We do know one thing – the Cardinals will come after Manning. First of all, no quarterback in the league does well when he is being sacked or hit on a regular basis. But the Cardinals also want to test that injured right elbow. They also want to test the Giants’ pass blocking by the offensive line and running backs that was not always all that great in the preseason. Will RT Kareem McKenzie make another mental lapse in pass protection? Will Tiki Barber, Derrick Ward, Brandon Jacobs, and Jim Finn successfully pick up the blitz? Can LT Luke Petitgout handle DE Bertrand Berry this year?

My strategy? Run, run, run. The Cardinals have some very good pass rushers, but they are on the light side. And the best way you can frustrate strong pass rushers is to run the freaking football right down their throats. It’s power-football time folks…old-style Giants’ football. The young fans out there won’t likely appreciate it, but kicking the snot out of the opposing team’s front seven is one of the surest ways to win a game. For this strategy to work, obviously the Giants need to win the individual match-ups up front. They also need their running backs to hold onto the football and make some exceptional plays. Just as importantly, no penalties. Nothing kills a conservative, ground-attack strategy like a stupid false start or holding penalty.

It’s time to unleash the power tandem of RT Kareem McKenzie and RG Chris Snee on an unsuspecting league. Throw in a short pull by LG David Diehl for added muscle. The targets should be LDE Chike Okeafor and NT Russell Davis. Okeafor is a good pass rusher and could give McKenzie problems in that area. So bruise him up first by having McKenzie drive him into the turf (we may even see Shockey on Okeafor at times). Russell Davis is a good run defender, but Snee is an outstanding drive blocker. The Giants should also be able to run left. Berry is outstanding pass rusher who gave Petitgout fits last year, but he is light and can be moved out by Petitgout, who is a good run-blocking left tackle. LG David Diehl could have problems with UT Darnell Dockett’s quickness on the pass rush, but Dockett is also a bit vulnerable against the run. Diehl’s biggest challenge will be dealing with his initial quickness (penetration will kill a running play).

Obviously, we will see a heavy dose of Barber. Barber did not see a lot action in the preseason and has to be careful with the football. When he is spelled, we really don’t know yet if we will see more of Derrick Ward or Brandon Jacobs. Obviously, we’ll see Jacobs almost exclusively in short-yardage (and a play-action pass with Jacobs in the backfield could really be deadly if the pass protection holds up and properly executed). The running style of Ward and Jacobs – more downhill and physical than Tiki – make actually be a better fit for attacking the Cardinals. But Tiki is still the big play-maker. Don’t be surprised to see the Giants sneak Jacobs out into a pass pattern. His has very good hands. Another thing to look for is a reverse to WR Tim Carter. Coughlin loves to run at least one reverse per game.

The conservative running strategy does come with a risk. You can run, run, run, and put together a 12-play drive and still only come away with a field goal because the drive got bogged down because of a penalty, lack of execution, good defensive play or call, or just bad luck. Still, I think this is the smart strategy given the Giants’ inherent physical advantage as a run-blocking team against the Arizona front seven, the strength of the Cardinals’ pass rush, and the inexperience and rustiness of Manning. Still, the Giants are obviously going to need some big pass plays to win. When I say “big,” it doesn’t necessarily mean that I am talking about a bomb. A big pass play can be a 12-yard completion on 3rd-and-10 that keeps a scoring drive alive. That said, if the Giants do get their running game going, the play-action pass deep to anyone of the wide receivers or TE Jeremy Shockey could prove to be the nail in the coffin.

Shockey will likely be covered by impressive second-year SLB Carlos Dansby, who is athletic enough to stick with the tight end. Dansby is also a good blitzer. Hopefully, this year the offensive line and backs will be able to handle the blitz and allow Shockey to go out into pass patterns more frequently. It is also time for Shockey to make some big plays, particularly, game-winning plays. Indeed, for all the talk this offseason about the talents of Shockey, Burress, Toomer, etc., what really matters is what these guys do on the playing field. Very good players make plays that shatter the other team’s morale and win football games.

Burress will be covered by RCB David Macklin. Macklin is a decent player, but he is 5-10. Burress is 6-5. Toomer will be covered by rookie LCB Antrel Rolle. Rolle is a physical bump-and-run player who still has a lot to learn about zone coverage. Toomer needs to get off the line quickly and make some plays in order to take heat off of Shockey and Burress (as the latter two will likely see more double-coverage). It will also be interesting to see if and how WR David Tyree and/or WR Tim Carter are used.

As I’ve preached all offseason, much will come down to Manning. The situation is not ideal. He probably is still not 100 percent. And he has hardly practiced the past few weeks. For a veteran, that may not be a problem, but for an inexperienced second-year guy, it usually is. The most important thing Manning can do is to play smart. Take what the defense gives him. Allow his play-makers to make plays for him. Most importantly, don’t turn the ball over. The fireworks can come later in his career.

Giants on Defense: The Giants’ big defensive weaknesses have been stopping the run and getting off the field on 3rd down. This has got to stop if Tim Lewis’ defense is going to become one of the better units in the league. Winning defense is pretty simple – stop the run, force your opponent to become one-dimensional, and then force mistakes in the passing game.

The Cardinals did not run the football very well in the preseason. Part of that had to do with a lot of injuries they experienced on the offensive line, especially at center. But they do have some decent tailbacks. Rookie J.J. Arrington is the elusive, big-play guy and veteran Marcel Shipp is the more physical, north-south runner. It’s a nice one-two combination. The Cardinals will likely run a lot of 3-WR sets, spread the Giants out defensively, and then try to take advantage of the fact that the Giants will have one less linebacker in the game. Thus, the defensive backs, particularly the safeties, will have to play a strong game in run defense. At the same time, they need to be cognizant of play-action, especially the youthful SS Gibril Wilson. This will also be a big test for new MLB Antonio Pierce as he will have to cover a lot of ground while avoiding the blocks of much bigger offensive lineman.

The defensive backs and linebackers will obviously do better if the defensive line keeps the opposing offensive line busy. RDE Osi Umenyiora will face a very difficult test in facing off against the huge, run-block mauling Leonard Davis at left tackle. But Umenyiora may be able to out-quick Davis on passing plays. Still, Osi is going to have to buckle down his chin strap for this contest. DT William Joseph will face LG Reggie Wells, who has a nice combination of size and quickness. The Cardinals will likely attempt to run in this direction almost exclusively. DT Kendrick Clancy will battle RG Elton Brown, a good run-blocking rookie. RT Oliver Ross was acquired from Pittsburgh, but he has missed a lot of time due to injury. He can run block as well and it will be interesting to see how the slimmed-down DE Michael Strahan fares. The Cardinals have had one injury nightmare after another at center. Whether one of their two top centers will play is still unknown. Regardless, the Giants can take advantage of this by blitzing and stunting in the middle of the defense. Keep in mind that both guards are also inexperienced.

I wouldn’t be as concerned about the wide receiver versus defensive back match-ups if I knew if CB Will Peterson were playing and if I knew he would be at or near 100 percent. Yes, the Cardinals have a very good receiving corps, but when Peterson is healthy, the Giants have a very good secondary as well. If Peterson can’t go, Curtis Deloatch would start at right corner. The right corner – be it Peterson or Deloatch – will face WR Anquan Boldin in 2-WR sets. CB Will Allen will line-up against WR Larry Fitzgerald. However, the Cardinals run a lot of 3-WR sets and we would likely see different receivers in the slot, such as Boldin. It will be interesting to see who the nickel corner will be and where that nickel corner lines up (i.e., in the slot or outside). The speed receiver on the Cardinals is WR Bryant Johnson.

In more traditional 2-WR sets, SLB Reggie Torbor needs to do a good job in pass coverage. The Cardinals are weak at tight end, but Torbor does not have a lot of experience in covering tight ends or running backs.

One thing we can expect to see is a lot of blitzing from Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis, especially given the inexperience in the middle of the Cardinal offensive line. But if you blitz, you had better get there because the Cardinals have a quarterback and wide receivers who can make you pay. The one thing that scares me in this contest is giving up the cheap, big play in the passing game (not just deep, but with a short throw and a big run-after-the-catch).

It will be interesting to see if the corners continue to play off the receivers by a mile, like they did in the preseason. If the Giants continue to back off, the Cardinals will likely use a lot of quick, short-tosses to the receivers on slants. Boldin and Fitzgerald are big, physical receivers who would do well in this situation as would QB Kurt Warner. LB coverage on the short throws will also be important, especially from WLB Carlos Emmons and Pierce. Emmons and Pierce need to come up and make the receivers pay dearly.

Another reason to blitz is Warner. As Giants’ fans know, Warner is not always great at getting rid of the football. In addition, he is not good at protecting it. Warner fumbled 12 times last year in 9 starts for the Giants. The Giants need to get in his face immediately and make contact. Do that and good things will happen.

Giants on Special Teams: The Cardinals have good special teams, so the Giants will need to continue to play as strongly here as they did in the preseason. PK Neil Rackers is very good on kickoffs so KR Willie Ponder may not get a lot of chances to return kicks. Scott Player is one of the more consistent punters in the league. He usually gets excellent hang-time so Chad Morton may have the same problem. The new kick and punt returner for the Cardinals is Reggie Swinton, who has made big plays in both phases of the game for the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions. He has two career touchdowns on punt returns and two career touchdowns on kickoff returns.

Sep 042005
New York Giants 27 – New England Patriots 3

Game Overview: The game was little more than a glorified scrimmage as the Patriots did not play their starters and the Giants’ regulars only played 2-3 series. The most important thing was the Giants came out of the preseason mostly healthy, other than the elbow injury to QB Eli Manning and the knee injury to CB Will Peterson. But both of those players are expected to play against the Cardinals on Sunday.

Quarterbacks: Tim Hasselbeck (5-of-9 for 60 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) was not terrible, but he certainly was not good. There were a couple of plays where Hasselbeck had time to throw the football, but one got the sense that he was almost afraid to pull the trigger. On the Giants’ third offensive play of the game, Hasselbeck had an eternity in the pocket, but could find no one open and threw the ball away. On the very next play, on 3rd-and-4, he missed WR Amani Toomer on a deeper sideline route for what would have been a first down. On his second series, Hasselbeck helped the Giants overcome a 1st-and-26, but finding TE Jeremy Shockey for 18 yards. However, the drive later bogged down again with Hasselbeck not getting rid of the ball quickly and a sack resulted.

Hasselbeck did do a very good job with his play fakes, one leading to a 21-yard pass to Shockey on the third possession. But that drive ended premature with poor pass protection (not Hasselbeck’s fault this time). On Hasselbeck’s final series, he looked sharp on another play fake. Then he stood in tough in the pocket with defenders pressing in on him to complete an 8-yard pass on 3rd-and-7. Three plays later, he found WR Willie Ponder for a first down on 3rd-and-5. However, this drive ended when the Patriots blitzed their right corner and Hasselbeck did not spot the wide-open Tim Carter to his left, resulting in another sack.

Jared Lorenzen (5-of-13 for 54 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception) played quite a bit (6 series). His first pass of the game was a well-thrown deep strike to Carter, but Carter dropped the ball. Lorenzen really flashed his arm strength on this play. Then on 3rd-and-9, Jared showed an ability to move for someone so large by scrambling for the first down right up the middle. Lorenzen hit Carter for 8 yards and then found him again for 7 yards on 3rd-and-7 despite being under pressure. He threw to TE Visanthe Shiancoe for 7 yards, but then badly overthrew WR David Tyree on 2nd-and-8. On the following play, Lorenzen had a lot of time in the pocket, but he stared down Shiancoe (and double-clutched the football), leading the defensive back right to the play where he almost made an interception. The issue with Lorenzen is his elongated delivery. If he is ever going to succeed in the NFL, he has to shorten his windup.

Lorenzen saw the ball on five more series in the second half, but really was only successful on one of these drives. After the Patriots turned the ball over, Lorenzen hit WR Jamaar Taylor for a 26-yard touchdown on a play where the Patriots had a breakdown in their defensive backfield. When Lorenzen got the ball again on the next series, his long windup led to two passes getting batted down at the line of scrimmage on two back-to-back plays where he had a hot read with a free linebacker in his face. On the next possession, he attempted to hit Taylor deep, but badly underthrew him and the pass was intercepted.

Jesse Palmer played for two series but only made one throw – a perfectly thrown deep toss to Taylor on a post pattern off of play-action. The play covered 46 yards and set the Giants up at the Patriots’ 1-yard line. It was the best pass of the night.

Wide Receivers: Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer did not play much and neither caught a pass. Toomer was flagged with offensive pass interference on a screen pass to FB Jim Finn.

Tim Carter caught three passes for 23 yards, including clutch catches for 8 yards on 3rd-and-7 and 7 yards on 3rd-and-7. However, Carter also failed to make an over-the-shoulder catch on a well-thrown deep ball by Lorenzen.

Willie Ponder caught a 5-yard pass in the first half on 3rd-and-5 for a first down. David Tyree did not have a reception and was flagged with a false start.

The big performance on the night was by Jamaar Taylor who caught two passes for 72 yards and one touchdown. The first was a 26-yarder for a score as there was confusion in the Patriots backfield (Taylor also bobbled the ball). The second was a well-run post route with a nice fake and nice over-the-shoulder catch. The down note on Taylor was the long ball pass intended for him from Lorenzen that was badly underthrown. Taylor seemed to lose track of the ball in flight and did not slow down to try to make a play on the football or knock it away from the defensive back who intercepted it.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey had a productive night in limited action with two receptions for 39 yards. Visanthe Shiancoe caught 3 passes for 21 yards. Both blocked well.

Darius Williams had problems as both a run and pass blocker, including one play where he was blown up in the backfield as fullback on a running play.

Running Backs: Tiki Barber (2 carries for 23 yards) looked sharp. His first carry was his signature cutback run to the left for 17 yards.

I really like the way Derrick Ward (9 carries for 40 yards) runs. As I said last week, he has quick feet for a big back. He takes quick steps, but seems to glide. He also makes sharp cuts. However, he still needs to improve his blitz pick-ups. While I did spot him making a couple of decent efforts, too often he likes to take out the blitzer with a low block that is easier to avoid. As a big back, Ward doesn’t need to do this. He should hit his man straight up. One of these weak efforts did help contribute to a sack of Hasselbeck. There was another play where I thought he should have picked up the blitzer instead of going out for the safety valve pass. Later, there was a play where I felt he simply missed his man.

Brandon Jacobs (9 carries for 40 yards) saw most of his action in the second half. He didn’t seem as dynamic as in earlier games, but continued to flash his immense power. He had two nice powerful runs right up the gut on the final TD drive, including a 1-yard touchdown run where the Patriots couldn’t knock him off his feet.

Mike Cloud (23 yards on nine carries) saw late action when the Giants were running out the clock. He had one really impressive run off right guard where he broke two tackles and squirted ahead for 7 yards. He later reversed his field for a 5-yard gain when the blocking broke down on the left side.

I thought FB Jim Finn blocked very well with the starters but regressed as the second teamers entered the game. Interestingly, the Giants have been using him not only from the traditional fullback, but also as an H-Back in motion behind the line of scrimmage. Both of Tiki’s early runs that picked up 23 combined yards had Finn making good blocks in the area where Barber ran the ball. However, Barber had another 6-yard run called back when Finn was called with holding (though I thought this was a ticky-tack call). Finn’s strong blocking continued on the third series of the game with good blocks on Ward carries of 11 and 8 yards, as well as a Jacobs run of 11 yards. However, in the second quarter, Finn did not play well. He got blown up in the backfield by a linebacker and this disrupted the entire running play. Later, he got stood up at the point-of-attack and Ward was stuffed for a 1-yard gain. On the very next play, he gave a weak effort on an attempted blitz pick-up.

Offensive Line: RT Kareem McKenzie (calf) did not play. Bob Whitfield started in his place and did not play very well. The rest of the starters were fine. LT Luke Petitgout had a very strong game run blocking in limited action. He made at least four key blocks that I spotted. So did LG David Diehl, who stood out on one play where he blocked two Patriot defenders on a 9-yard draw play to Ward on 2nd-and-8. However, there was some confusion on the left side on a Patriots’ stunt where Hasselbeck was forced to unload the ball quickly on 3rd-and-11. On another play, there was simply no one to pick up the blitzing linebacker from the left (everyone was already engaged).

The problem was Whitfield. His pass protection was not real solid. Sometimes Whitfield doesn’t seem to keep his feet moving and gives up on his block too soon. Penalties were also an issue with Whitfield being flagged with a holding penalty and a personal foul penalty. He allowed one sack and a couple of pressures in the first half.

In this game, the second team line had Jason Whittle at right guard and Wayne Lucier at center (the roles had been reversed last week – though they switched again late in the game). Brandon Winey played at left tackle and Whitfield stayed at right tackle (again, roles reversed). Rich Seubert stayed at left guard. I thought Winey outplayed Whitfield and did so at a harder position to play.

Lucier did not look very good. To be honest, he looked out-of-shape, slow, and he did not create much movement at all as a run blocker. There was one running play where Lucier got stood up and then allowed his man to make the tackle. I also thought this was Jason Whittle’s weakest game of the preseason. He missed a block on a pull to the left in the third quarter and missed another block from center late in the game. The only play I didn’t care for from Winey was that he missed spotting a blitz from his side and the result was that Lorenzen was sacked for a 10-yard loss. I love Rich Seubert’s feistiness (he goes after defenders until the whistle – and sometimes after). However, Seubert was flagged with a false start.

Defensive Line: The starters did not play much. Two or three series at the most. The Patriots went three-and-out their first two series. The Giants gave up a lengthy drive on the third series, but that possession ended in a turnover. Michael Strahan saw limited action and did not make any plays. Osi Umenyiora made a real nice play in run defense where held his ground and stuffed the runner for a 1-yard loss. On the next drive, Umenyiora got immediate pressure on QB Doug Flutie as he beat the left tackle to the inside. But on the third series, Umenyiora did get pinched inside on one outside run.

Starting defensive tackles William Joseph and Kenderick Clancy did not play long, but both looked quick and active. Joseph really looks the part – now if he can only deliver when it counts. Clancy got excellent penetration on a 3rd-and-1 running play that barely picked up the first down. Interestingly, Fred Robbins came on the field on the first series on 3rd-and-3 and immediately got pressure on Flutie, forcing an incompletion. However, later in the second half, there was one running play where Robbins got easily pushed off the line of scrimmage (though there was another running play that he helped to stuff). In the second half, Robbins appeared to be going through the motions and did not impress.

The Patriots were able to generate some yardage in the direction of Justin Tuck, but the one thing you notice about Tuck is that he doesn’t stay blocked for very long. He disengages well and still gets in on the tackle. Tuck got good pressure on Flutie on a 2nd-and-8 pass in the second quarter. Tuck also got a good rush on QB Matt Cassel in the third quarter. Adrian Awasom had some issues at the point-of-attack on strongside running plays. Too often, he was effectively blocked or knocked backwards. He did have one nice pass rush against a double-team on the play where CB Frank Walker sacked the quarterback and forced a fumble (Awasom recovered the football).

Reserve tackles Damane Duckett and Kenderick Allen played a little in the first half and seemed to hold their ground pretty well. However, I was really unimpressed with their play in the second half. Both seemed to be merely going through the motions. To be honest, I really expected more of Duckett and Allen this preseason and haven’t seen it. Neither gets much of pass rush and neither really made many plays in the preseason against the run that caught your eye.

Jonas Seawright probably played his best game thus far. He was pretty stout at the point-of-attack and hit the quarterback hard on one pass rush just as he was releasing the ball.

Linebackers: Reggie Torbor combined with Umenyiora on the Patriots’ first possession to stuff a run for 1-yard loss. It was the type of aggressive play that you love to see from a linebacker at the line of scrimmage. Torbor was in the area of a 12-yard completion near the start of the second quarter in zone coverage.

Carlos Emmons did not play much and was quiet. Antonio Pierce flashed an aggressive, hard-charging style for the second game in a row during the limited snaps that he received.

I think one of the stars of the preseason has been Nick Greisen. Greisen has been very physical and aggressive this preseason and has improved his overall game against both the run and the pass. However, he did give up a key 14-yard completion to the tight end on 3rd-and-10 in the third quarter. It was good to see Barrett Green back on the field and he flashed a couple of times on the blitz where he got good pressure on Flutie, including helping to cause an errant pass that was intercepted in the end zone.

Kevin Lewis gave up a short completion on 3rd-and-1 in the second quarter. But on the very next play, he made a nice play by aggressively tackling a big back in the hole for a minimal gain. But Lewis played quite a bit in the second half and was invisible. He really isn’t very athletic.

Jim Maxwell had a decent game and was pretty active against the run. He also batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage. T.J. Hollowell stood out in pass coverage on a couple of plays, including one play where he made an excellent break on the football, picked it off, and returned it for a 22-yard score. He also made a nice play against a run up the gut where he limited the gain to 2 yards. Hollowell flashed on one blitz too.

Chase Blackburn made one nice play in the fourth quarter where he played off the block and stopped the running back. However, a few plays later, he missed a tackle.

Defensive Backs: Like most of the Giants’ corners this preseason, Will Allen played a little too soft to open the game and allowed an easy 8-yard completion. The same thing happened later in the game on a quick slant pass to WR David Terrell that Terrell almost broke. But three plays later, Allen made a major hit on the running back on a 3-yard gain to his side of the field.

Curtis Deloatch only gave up one reception, a 14-yarder to the running back in the second quarter. Deloatch saved a touchdown with excellent coverage on a slant pass near the goal line in the third quarter.

As for the starting safeties, Brent Alexander cut in front of a receiver and almost came up with an interception in the first quarter. On the very next play, Gibril Wilson flashed in run support by stringing out an outside run for no gain.

As for the reserves, CB Corey Webster played too soft again this week, giving up a couple of easy completions in front of him (plus another that should have been completed). I really don’t understand why he is playing so far off of the receiver. Webster did have excellent coverage on a deep pass to one of the Patriots’ speed receivers, proving that he can run with the faster players.

Frank Walker made a big play by flashing his very good speed on a corner blitz. He nailed the quarterback from the blindside with a big hit, forcing a fumble and a turnover.

S Shaun Williams played a strong game. He did give up a 13-yard completion on a play that Flutie originally fell down on, but later on the same drive, he intercepted Flutie in the end zone on 2nd-and-8 from the Giants’ 12-yard line. On the next series, he forced an intentional grounding penalty with his blitz. Williams played a lot in the second half and was very aggressive in run defense. He made one big-time hit on a back and was like an extra linebacker on a few running plays.

James Butler continued to shine in blitzing situations. He did a great job of throwing aside the tight end and chasing down Flutie for a 5-yard sack on 3rd-and-16. In the second half, he made a nice play in pass defense, knocking away a pass.

Curry Burns flashed late in the game with a nice hit on the intended receiver running a fly pattern deep down the field. The contact helped to prevent a completion. A couple of plays later, he tipped away a 3rd-and-10 pass near the line of scrimmage. On the Patriots’ next possession, it was his penetration into the backfield that helped to stuff the back for no gain on 4th-and-1 (Ataveus Cash, playing corner at this point of the game, cleaned up on the play).

Special Teams: I thought Mark Jones did well enough to earn a roster spot by securing 6 punts and returning them for a total of 63 yards, including a long of 18 yards and an overall average of 10.5 yards per return. T.J. Hollowell made a nice block on the 18-yard return. Will Allen was erroneously flagged for a block in the back penalty that really should have been called on James Butler.

Raheem Orr came close to blocking a punt for the second week in a row.

Willie Ponder helped to set up the game’s first points with his 48-yard kickoff return to start the game (with some nice blocking from Brandon Jacobs on the play). He has another kickoff for 31 yards, but a penalty on TE Chris Luzar negated much of that return.

PK Jay Feely continues to shine with field goals of 48 and 47 yards. His six kickoffs were fielded at the 3, 6, -1, -2, 1, and 9 yard lines. Returns went for 20 (Nick Greisen and Shaun Williams on the tackle), 20 (Kevin Lewis and Adrian Awasom), 24 (returner ran out of bounds), 34 (Jamaar Taylor), 22 (James Maxwell and Taylor), and 19 yards (Curry Burns and Maxwell). The only poor coverage was obviously the 34 yarder (Mike Cloud and T.J. Hollowell missed tackles on this return).

Jeff Feagles punted 6 times, averaging 40.3 yards per punt, and had three punts inside the 20. Patriot returns went for 9 (Reggie Torbor on the tackle), 2 (Shaun Williams), and 4 yards (James Butler and Chase Blackburn). Two punts went out of bounds and another was fair caught (Blackburn down in a hurry).

(Box Score – New York Giants at New England Patriots, September 1, 2005)