Approach to the Game – Denver Broncos at New York Giants, October 23, 2005: To be honest, I am not exactly sure how I feel about the Giants’ chances in this game. The optimist in me believes that Denver is overrated both on offense and defense. The optimist also says that the offense and defense of the Giants will play at a consistently higher level as inexperienced key performers continue to gain experience. But the pessimist in me is still nagged by those inconsistencies and a growing fear that the Giants’ defensive coaching staff and/or personnel may be overmatched.
This is an important game because being 4-2 is a lot better sounding than being 3-3. But in the grand scheme of things, if the Giants were going to lose another game, this is one of the least important ones, being an AFC opponent. Nevertheless, the Giants need to keep pace with their division rivals in the standings and winning breeds confidence and more winning.
What I think we all want and want to see is a solid, complete game from the Giants’ passing game, running game, run defense, pass defense, and special teams. Let’s put together the complete package for once and kick some butt!
Giants on Defense: My write-up here this week is going to be short-and-sweet. It’s going to sound overly simplistic, but I do think it is entirely accurate:
Stop the run. Make QB Jake Plummer beat you.
As every pro football fan knows, the bread-and-butter of the Denver offense since Mike Shanahan arrived on the scene has been the ground game. The Broncos seem to be able to plug one running back in after another with equal, productive success. Denver basically relies on a tandem of halfbacks in Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell. “I think they are different in style and that is part of the difficulty in preparation,” says Head Coach Tom Coughlin. “Bell is a slasher with speed. Both backs are good, outstanding runners, obviously…Anderson has a 44-yard run and Bell has a 68- and a 55-yarder. So they both are capable of breaking off the long run as well.”
Except for RT George Foster, Denver’s offensive line is not a big group. They are more technicians than maulers. The Broncos uses more of a finesse, zone-blocking scheme that is designed to create a cutback lane for the back by cutting off the defensive pursuit. While physical play is important in defending this run-blocking scheme, the mental aspect may be even more important. Maintaining proper gap responsibility and not over-pursuing the play is absolutely essential. The good news for the Giants’ defense is that aside from the San Diego game, the run defense has been sound.
Denver has a solid offensive line. Both tackles are good players.
What about the passing game? I’m not a big fan of Jake Plummer. I think he can cause you problems if he gets out of the pocket (and he does well on organized rollouts as well as improvised ones), but if you keep him between the tackles and throw from a traditional setup, he is not as effective. To his credit, Plummer has done a better job in terms of ball security this year. Denver has not turned the ball over in four games – all wins. But his effectiveness will dramatically decrease if the Broncos can’t run the football. And Plummer will then also likely be far more vulnerable to making costly mistakes.
Denver will spread the football around to the wide receivers, tight ends, and backs. It’s a diverse offense. WR Rod Smith has been the main target thus far this year. He’s 35 but still playing well. It will be interesting to see if the Giants move Will Allen over to cover him this week like they did with Keyshawn Johnson last week. The speedster is Ashley Lelie. He can make the big play but is inconsistent. I would expect we’ll see the Giants’ corners to continue to play off the line, especially when facing Lelie.
Tight ends Stephen Alexander and Jeb Putzier both see a lot of action in two-TE sets. Putzier, the reserve, actually has twice as many receptions (14) as Alexander. Alexander is the better blocker. The Broncos also throw to the backs quite a bit. Anderson and Bell have 14 receptions between them and the fullback has five. So the undercoverage by the linebackers and safeties will be very important in this contest as well.
All Giants’ fans know that the problem New York has been facing on defense is getting off the field on third down. The Giants are the only team in the league allowing greater than 50 percent conversion success on third down. That’s absurd and has to stop or it’s going to be a long, long season. To their credit, the Giants have been good at prevent the deep pass play. One gets the sense that the Giants don’t have a lot of confidence yet in their young corners and are trying to prevent the cheap, big play. There is logic in that strategy. But at some point, hopefully, the confidence and demonstrated ability of the players in question will encourage the coaching staff to allow the players to play tighter and more aggressively.
Giants on Offense: Denver’s defense played poorly in the opener against Miami, but has played fairly well since. They revamped their defensive line with Cleveland Brown imports in the offseason and have a very good and athletic linebacking corps.
Denver’s defense will give you multiple looks and blitz from all angles. Blitz pick-ups by the backs, tight ends, and offensive line will be crucially important.
I think the interesting subplot to this game is what to expect from the Giants’ running game. Denver is well aware of the fact that Coughlin has been under fire this week for not running the football more. I would think the Broncos are preparing to see a heavier dose of HB Tiki Barber. Do the Giants play into that and simply try to out-execute the Broncos? Or do they try to cross them up by passing the football more once again? The inexperience at cornerback seems to suggest the latter course of action, although Denver’s young corners have held up pretty well thus far. The guy really on the spot is rookie right corner Darrent Williams. At 5’8″, he is more than half a foot shorter than WR Plaxico Burress. Fellow rookie Dominique Foxworth will lineup against Amani Toomer if CB Champ Bailey (hamstring) does not play. However, Bailey has practiced this week and is listed as probable for the game. Would the Broncos move him over to cover Plaxico? The Broncos also have Lenny Walls, the tallest corner in the league at 6’4″. I could see them putting Walls on Shockey or even Burress (Walls has played against Burress before). This could be a game where the Giants really need Eli Manning to look at Amani Toomer and Tim Carter and for these latter two to step up in a big way. If the Broncos keep Bailey on Toomer, Toomer knows Bailey well and has had some good (and some bad) games against him. FS John Lynch is a big hitter, but he is vulnerable against the pass. The strong safety, Nick Ferguson, has been bothered by an ankle injury and his back-up will not play due to a shoulder injury.
Up front, right end Trevor Pryce can present some real problems and LT Luke Petitgout will have his hands full again this week. RT Kareem McKenzie will face left end Courtney Brown. Inside, right defensive tackle Gerard Warren has been disruptive and LG David Diehl will have to play better than he did last week. RG Chris Snee should be able to maul left defensive tackle Michael Myers.
The strength of the Denver defense is their linebacking corps. WLB Ian Gold, MLB Al Wilson, and SLB D.J. Williams can all run and hit. The Giants may be better advised to run between the tackles or off-tackle at this group than trying to run around end.
My game plan for this game would be to adjust to what the Broncos are doing. If the Broncos play the nickel to help defend against Burress and Shockey, I would run the football. If they don’t and gear up against the ground attack, I would pass the football. Pretty simple.
Giants on Special Teams: Punter Todd Sauerbrun is very good and it will be difficult for Chad Morton to break a return in this game. PK Jason Elam is inconsistent at distances of greater than 40 yards, especially outside of Denver.
Rookie Darrent Williams is the primary kickoff and punt returner; he has been more effective on punt returns.