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.