Oct 052005
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New York Giants 44 – St. Louis Rams 24

Game Overview: We have officially entered a bizarre time period in Giants’ history. For a franchise long-based on stingy defense and conservative offense, the Giants have become a team with an explosive offense and a porous defense. It’s like watching last year’s Colts or Chiefs.

The good news is that QB Eli Manning is developing rapidly, despite missing valuable practice time in the preseason with an injury to his right throwing elbow. The offensive line – while still experiencing too many breakdowns – is coming along and Manning has a whole host of skill players to work with at running back, wide receiver, and tight end.

The bad news – and this still doesn’t sit well with Giants’ fans – is the defense. Despite the fact that the Giants scored three touchdowns and two field goals in their first five possessions on Sunday, one got the sense that the Giants had not put the game out of reach. And what transpired on the field indeed proved that to be the case. The Rams came dangerously close to cutting what had been a 27-7 lead to a 27-24 lead early in the third quarter. That’s not playoff-winning football.

Quarterback: Eli Manning (19-of-35 for 296 yards, 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) played his best game as a pro. The good news is that it seems like we keep saying that every week now for a very young and inexperienced quarterback who just finished his 11th regular season game. Manning’s effort on Sunday was on par with the best performance of a veteran Pro Bowl quarterback. Probably his biggest stumbling block, surprisingly, remains inconsistent accuracy. When Eli gets his completion percentage around the 60-65 percent area, then we will see even bigger fireworks.

Now to be balanced, the St. Louis secondary is not good. Manning and the Giants’ offense will not enjoy this type of success when they face stingier defenses with outstanding secondaries such as the Eagles or Redskins. But Manning did what he was supposed to do – get the ball to his primary weapons in mismatch situations. And more than that, he made some pretty amazing throws. Manning is drawing defenses offsides with his cadence, reading defenses, and calling audibles like a vet.

The Giants have scored on every opening drive this year (three touchdowns and a field goal). Against the Rams, the Giants drove 75 yards in 5 plays on the opening possession with the big play being the scoring strike from Manning to WR Plaxico Burress for 31 yards and the touchdown. The second touchdown was set up by a 46-yard pass to Plaxico off a play-action boot. The ball was underthrown or Burress would have easily scored from 71 yards out. On the very next play, Manning demonstrated some toughness by making a positional block on a reverse by Tim Carter that picked up 22-yards. Manning used a fantastic play-action fake on first-and-goal, but TE Jeremy Shockey couldn’t make the catch. Manning’s made a risky decision to audible on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line by calling lower-percentage fade pass to WR Amani Toomer, but Manning made an excellent throw and Toomer made an even better catch to give the Giants a 17-7 lead.

Probably the most impressive throw in my mind was his 17-yard scoring toss to Burress on 3rd-and-7 on the next possession. Manning had two defensive linemen in his face, couldn’t step up, and yet he threw a relatively accurate pass to Plaxico for the score. Very impressive!

The down note in the rest of the first half was that Manning did attempt to force some balls into double coverage, including another shot into the end zone to Burress. He also badly overthrew a wide-open Shockey late in the second quarter or the Giants would have had even more points at halftime.

Manning’s favorite targets are obviously Burress (19 throws in his direction, 10 completed) and Shockey (ten throws in his direction, 4 completed). In other words, all but six of Manning’s 35 throws were intended for these two players.

The Giants scored a touchdown on their first offensive possession of the second half. Manning did a good job of avoiding a strong pass rush and finding Toomer for a 10-yard gain on 3rd-and-10. He then hit Shockey for 14 yards. After a holding penalty, Manning threw an absolutely perfect deep pass to Shockey on a seam route for a 31-yard touchdown. On the next possession, Manning again showed excellent pocket presence by scrambling away from heavy pressure, stepping up in the pocket, and delivering a 30-yard strike to a wide open Burress on 3rd-and-13. However, the Giants were forced to settle for a field goal when Manning did not see a wide open Shockey in the back corner of the endzone and his next pass – a fade to Burress – was slightly overthrown.

Wide Receivers: Plaxico Burress (10 catches for 204 yards and 2 touchdowns) was a man among boys on Sunday. The Rams simply could not contend with his combination of size and athleticism. It was one of the most dominating performances by a Giants’ wide receiver in team history. Burress’ first catch was his 31-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown on the first drive of the game. This was a superb effort by Burress as he was fully-extended and used all of his 6’5’’ frame and long arms to snag the football away from the defender and sprint to the end zone. Burress’ 16-yard deep out on the next possession helped to set up a field goal. On the next scoring drive, Burress blew past the corner who looked to be expecting safety support and came down with a 46-yard reception.

On the next touchdown drive, Burress quickly shot up field for a 14-yard gain after a quick pass from Manning. He then caught a 10-yarder on 2nd-and-17 and then finished up the drive with a 17-yard touchdown catch on 3rd-and-7. On this play, Burress got inside position on the corner and extended high for the football – another excellent effort. Plaxico finished the first half with 9 catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns. Burress was flagged with a false start and did drop a pass.

In the second half, Burress was interfered with on a deeper sideline route, leading to a 23-yard gain on the penalty. On the next possession, however, it was Burress flagged for offensive pass interference. Plaxico only had one reception in the second half, but it was a big one – a 30-yarder on 3rd-and-13 that kept alive a field goal scoring drive.

Amani Toomer’s biggest play was his superb, twisting reception of Manning’s 4th-and-goal fade pass for the touchdown. Toomer did an absolutely wonderful job of keeping both his feet in bounds while at the same time maintaining possession of the football. It was an All-Pro catch and a huge play in the football game. Toomer’s other big catch in the game was a 10-yard reception for a first down on 3rd-and-10. This came on the Giants’ opening possession in the third quarter and kept the touchdown scoring drive alive. On this play, Toomer impressively fought off the tackler to pick up the first down. Toomer was flagged for a false start in the game, however.

Tim Carter made a big play with his 22-yard reverse to help set up the second touchdown.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey (4 catches for 57 yards and a touchdown) was a focal point for the Rams’ defense. He made some big plays, but he could have had a bigger day. There was one dropped touchdown pass and he and Manning didn’t seem to be on the same page on a number of incompletions (10 passes were thrown in his direction). In the first half, Shockey made a great play after he caught a short slant pass from Manning. Shockey beat the corner with his size and as he caught the ball, a linebacker came over and smashed Shockey as the two were running right at each other. Shockey bounced off the hit, broke two tackles, and gained 13 yards. 15 more yards were added to the play with a face-mask penalty. Shockey’s big play of the game was his 31-yard touchdown on a seam route on 1st-and-20 in the third quarter. It was a nice catch despite tight coverage and being interfered with earlier on the route.

And for those who haven’t noticed, Shockey is now being split out wide a ton – perhaps even more than when he was as a rookie. Against the Rams, Shockey regularly split out to both the flanker and split end positions, as well as the slot. In fact, the Giants also did this some with Visanthe Shiancoe. This provides the Giants with some nice flexibility. For example, with the same personnel grouping, the Giants can go from a 2-TE, heavy running formation (they did this with Shockey and Shiancoe even lining up next to each on the left side of the formation) to a 4- or 5-wide formation (there was one play when both Shockey and Shiancoe were split out wide). The former lead to a 10-yard gain by Barber while the latter lead to a 14-yard gain for Shockey.

Shiancoe was flagged with a holding penalty in pass protection.

Running Backs: Lost in the Manning-to-Burress fireworks was that Barber had his most productive day of the year with 128 yards on 24 carries (and a touchdown). Barber had a big 13-yard cutback run on the game’s first drive as well as catching a 9-yard swing pass. Barber had a 15-yard run on the next possession, helping the Giants to set up a successful field goal.

Barber finished the first half with 46 yards on 11 carries (4.2 yards per carry). He was more productive in the second half when he picked up 82 yards on 13 carries (6.3 yards per carry). Tiki had a key 12-yard draw on 3rd-and-10 during the Giants’ field goal drive in the fourth quarter. Barber demonstrated nice power and effort on a number of carries on this possession. Tiki’s best run of the day was his 16-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. Barber dragged the defensive back five yards into the end zone for the score.

Barber and FB Jim Finn made superb blitz pick-ups on Shockey’s 31-yard scoring play. Barber did drop a pass in the second half. Finn made a nice block on Tim Carter’s 22-yard reverse and a real good block at the point-of-attack on a Barber run that picked up 7 yards.

Brandon Jacobs made a great, great run in the second quarter when he picked up 11 yards on 2nd-and-1. Most of the gain came after contact and I counted seven Rams who tried to bring him down as he drove relentlessly for extra yardage. Earlier in the game, the Giants also finally used play-action with Jacobs in the backfield in short-yardage, but Shockey dropped the touchdown pass. Jacobs also had a 5-yard carry on 2nd-and-3 in the fourth quarter.

Offensive Line: When you gain 456 yards on offense (164 rushing and 292 passing) plus score 44 points, your offensive line is controlling the line of scrimmage. For the most part, the offensive line did a good job of protecting Manning and giving Barber room to run. However, it was not a particularly strong performance for LT Luke Petitgout, who gave up one sack and was bull-rushed successfully three other times, in the first half (being flagged with holding on one of these occasions). There were also some breakdowns inside. In the first half, OC Shaun O’Hara was flagged with a holding penalty and both O’Hara and RG Chris Snee allowed pressure on Manning’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Burress. Snee or RT Kareem McKenzie allowed the defensive tackle to come free on the play where Manning was driven into the turf and a roughing-the-passer penalty was called. On the next possession, there was a jailbreak inside on an incomplete pass to Shockey on 3rd-and-10 as LG David Diehl, O’Hara, and Snee all missed blocks on the same play.

In the second half, O’Hara missed a block on the play where Manning completed a 10-yard pass to Toomer on 3rd-and-10. McKenzie was flagged for holding on a running play where he also did not keep his man out of the play. Diehl was beaten badly on the pass rush on the play where Manning completed his 30-yard pass to Burress on 3rd-and-13. But aside from these miscues, the play of the offensive line was outstanding.

Defensive Line: The Rams tried to run the football very early without any success, the Giants took a big early lead, and the Rams’ backs only ended up with 14 rushes and 33 yards on the day (there was a 9-yard scramble by QB Marc Bulger as well). However, the Giants should have been able to put more heat on a quarterback who threw the football 62 times.

DE Osi Umenyiora (no tackles, 1 pass defense) had a few good pressures against LT Orlando Pace in the first quarter, but played a relatively quiet game. I did spot him receiving some double-team attention due to his quick take-off. Umenyiora was used a lot in coverage, where he also deflected one pass.

On a zone-blitz, DE Michael Strahan (4 tackles, 1 sack) went for the interception instead of the sure-tackle on a 3rd-and-4 swing pass to the halfback, resulting in a 13-yard touchdown. Strahan got a few pass pressures in the first half, especially on the Rams’ second touchdown drive. It was on this drive that Strahan picked up his 8-yard sack on a stunt to the inside. However, the drive resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run right at Strahan. Michael got only one good pass rush that I saw in the second half. However, unusually for Strahan, the Giants gave him a significant breather on the sidelines during this time period.

Justin Tuck (2 tackles) saw quite a bit of action and played decently. He lined up at both left and right end. Tuck got one good pressure off of a stunt and was pretty active in run defense the few times the Rams decided to run the football.

The defensive tackles played well against the run, but did not create much of a pass rush. One HB Steven Jackson run got stuffed in the backfield by Strahan when the Rams could not move out William Joseph (1 tackle) and Kendrick Clancy (0 tackles). This happened again when Jackson was tackled in the backfield by Justin Tuck when Joseph and Kenderick Allen (1 tackle) penetrated off of a stunt. However, the Rams did pick up 6 yards down to the 1-yard line when Joseph and Fred Robbins (0 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) were successfully blocked up front. Robbins did get one good pass rush on an incomplete pass very late in the first half. Joseph was also flagged with an encroachment penalty.

In the second half, Joseph was badly held on one strong pass rush but it was not called. He also later had another strong bull-rush, but ran by the quarterback instead of sacking him for some reason. On the 3rd-and-1 run to the fullback, Clancy and Allen strongly held their ground and prevented the first down. This drive ended when Robbins recovered the fumble off of the failed reverse by the Rams deep inside Giants’ territory. Clancy did a good job of reading a screen play late in the game. Robbins also got one more strong inside pass rush on another play.

Linebackers: The linebackers made an early statement against the run as Reggie Torbor (2 tackles, 1 interception) attacked a sweep aggressively and tackled Jackson for a 4-yard loss on the Rams’ first offensive play of the game. On the next snap, Nick Greisen (9 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) quickly flowed down the line of scrimmage to stop Jackson for no gain. Greisen recovered a fumble in the second quarter after a big hit by SS Gibril Wilson on a wide receiver.

It was a good game for Greisen who was around the ball a lot as his high-tackle total indicates. He had a couple of problems at the point-of-attack on the Rams’ first drive of the second half, including the successful 4th-and-1 conversion that picked up 11 yards. But Greisen stuffed Jackson on the ensuing possession and then did a good job of tackling the elusive HB Marshall Faulk after a short-pass on the same drive.

Antonio Pierce (7 tackles, 1 interception, 4 pass defenses) was active in pass defense. In the first quarter, he did a good job of breaking up a pass intended for the fullback. In the third quarter, he knocked away a pass in the end zone that was intended for WR Torry Holt. Then late in the third quarter/early in the fourth quarter, Pierce made two big plays in pass coverage when he first knocked away a deep 2nd-and-15 pass intended for Holt. Then on 3rd-and-15, Pierce came away with the pick at the Giants’ 18-yard line, returning it 24 yards. Pierce’s range in zone coverage on these plays was impressive. Pierce did miss a tackle on Faulk in the backfield that turned a big loss into a 3-yard gain.

Torbor sealed the game with his interception of Bulger and return of 37 yards with less than three minutes in the game. Torbor made a nice read and break on the ball.

Defensive Backs: This unit continues to struggle. Marc Bulger completed 40 passes for 442 yards. The yardage amounts are disturbing, but the Giants’ coaches are correctly pointing out that these numbers are more than a bit inflated given the game situations (Giants with big leads), opponents (some strong passing attacks), and a desire to prevent big plays (loose zone coverage). Against the Rams, the pass rush – which goes hand in hand with coverage – was also conservative with the Giants often rushing only three men in the second half of the game. Basically, the Giants were playing a form of prevent defense. However, what continues to be very worrisome is the inability to get off the field on third down. The Rams were 7-of-14 on third down (and 2-for-2 on fourth down). In fact, the Giants are currently tied with Cleveland for the worst third-down defense in the NFL (allowing 50 percent conversions).

There were flashes of solid coverage. I spotted Corey Webster (3 tackles) sticking close to one intended target in the first half and Will Allen (5 tackles) as well. Allen also flashed on a cornerback blitz where he nailed Bulger just as he threw the football. Curtis Deloatch (7 tackles, 1 pass defense) knocked away a deep ball into the end zone in a one-on-one match-up with Pro Bowl WR Torry Holt. Deloatch made a sure tackle on a short pass to the tight end and Gibril Wilson (11 tackles) forced a fumble with a big hit.

But there were too many mistakes. Gibril Wilson got beat in the slot by WR Shaun McDonald for 10 yards on 3rd-and-10 in the first quarter. On the very next play, Deloatch was beaten on a crossing pattern for 18 yards by WR Kevin Curtis. Two plays later, Allen had decent coverage on McDonald on another crossing pattern, but he missed the ball and McDonald picked up 31 yards (Deloatch was flagged with defensive holding on this play as well). On the play where Wilson forced the fumble, Deloatch was beaten on an in-cut for 18 yards by Curtis.

In the second quarter, the Giants gave up a couple of completions (for 16 and 6 yards) as the Rams found the soft spots in the Giants’ zone coverage. Bulger also completed an easy short pass to Holt for 8 yards as Deloatch was playing about a mile off the receiver. Corey Webster struggled in this quarter. He got beat by WR Dane Looker for 11 yards on 2nd-and-7 down to the New York 7-yard line. Later, Webster gave up a 21-yard completion on a play where he had good coverage but never turned around to play the football. Late in the quarter, he got beat for 18 yards by Looker again as the Rams were attempting to move into field goal range right before halftime. Two plays later, Wilson got beat on a 13-yard out to set up an attempted 48-yard field goal that thankfully was no good. Earlier in this drive, FS Brent Alexander (4 tackles, 1 pass defense) missed a chance to end the drive by dropping an interception that bounced off of Steve Jackson’s hands.

Allen committed a dumb personal foul penalty by driving his forearm into the throat of the running back after he was on the ground.

In the second half, Allen had a chance to pick off an errant throw but could not make the tough catch. On this same drive – the first of the second half – the Rams were starting to find more soft spots in the Giants’ zone coverage. In such situations, it is tough to determine whether a player got “beat” or if the Rams simply exposed the coverage by executing properly such as their 8-yard completion on 3rd-and-7 on a short-crossing route to Kevin Curtis. However, on the Rams’ second possession of the second half, Webster did get beat on a 19-yard gain to McDonald. Bulger then completed another 19-yarder to Holt when Deloatch fell down off the break. On the next play, Gibril Wilson had excellent coverage on Looker on a deep post route to the end zone, causing an incompletion.

After the Giants went up 37-17, their coverages seemed to be mostly zone and all loose. There were easy completions to McDonald for 12 (Allen and Deloatch were near the area), to Looker for 23 (Deloatch and Williams in the area), and to Curtis for 14 yards (Deloatch and Williams in the area again). The big mistake here was Deloatch getting beat deep in the end zone by Holt for a 22-yard score with 5:39 left in the game.

Shaun Williams (7 tackles, 1 sack) picked off a pass late during garbage time. He continues to see a decent amount of playing time.

My overall impressions of the secondary? There is no one scapegoat here. No one is playing very well yet. The steadiest corner on Sunday was probably Will Allen. Gibril Wilson was around the ball a lot with good hits and tackles. This was his best game thus far, but he is not playing as well as expected. Curtis Deloatch is learning on the job as is Corey Webster. Both are being exposed. For as much passing that is occurring against the Giants, it is amazing that Brent Alexander’s tackle total is so low. He’s not making any plays against the run or pass. The Giants need to start thinking about possibly getting James Butler or Williams in there more instead of Alexander. But that one switch won’t fix the problem. Deloatch, Webster, Wilson, and Allen have to all play better too.

Special Teams: A somewhat disturbing trend is that the Giants are beginning to allow big kick returns again. The Rams’ kick returner was able to break off returns of 39 and 48 yards – PK Jay Feely was forced to make the tackle in both instances. There were times when kickoff coverage was quite good. James Butler made a strong tackle after only a 13-yard gain. Justin Tuck made a huge hit to limit another return to a 15-yard gain. Indeed, it was an amazing play when you think that Tuck – a defensive end – was the first one down the field. However, Tuck needs to remember to wrap-up. Nick Greisen also kept one return to 16 yards and David Tyree another to 15 yards.

Jeff Feagles only punted twice – a 47-yarder and a 42-yarder (the latter resulting in a touchback). The Rams only had a 5-yard return with Antonio Pierce making the tackle.

Blocking for Willie Ponder on the Giants’ kick returns was not good. There were a couple of times in the first half when Ponder was hit pretty quickly by an unblocked man. Ponder only managed returns of 23, 22, and 20 yards. Chad Morton had a nice 11 yard return. David Tyree was flagged for being offsides on one Rams’ punt.

Tyree did a good job of successfully recovering an onside kick.

Feely nailed all three of his field goal attempts from 38, 32, and 23 yards.

Officiating: Simply horrifying and almost bad enough to affect the outcome of the game:

  • Officials did not call the obvious strong blow to the head to QB Eli Manning.
  • Shockey was regularly mugged by Rams’ defenders but the infractions were not called, except for the one on his touchdown reception.
  • The Rams were allowed to get back in the game by a simply atrocious spot by the officials on what should have been a failed 4th-and-7 conversion attempt in the second quarter. The Rams trailed 27-7 at this point and had the spot been made correctly, the Giants would have received the ball at their own 34-yard line and the Rams would have been completely demoralized. What made matters worse was that the first official on the spot marked the ball correctly and then a second official inexplicably moved the football forward one yard. The Rams went on to score a touchdown on this drive and cut the lead to 27-14.
  • Bulger’s 9-yard scramble on 3rd-and-9 on the Rams’ first possession of the second half was not properly marked. Bulger began his slide well before the first down marker. This enable St. Louis to continue a drive that came dangerous close to cutting the Giants’ lead to three points.
(Box Score – St. Louis Rams at New York Giants, October 2, 2005)
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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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