New York Giants 24 – Denver Broncos 23
Game Overview: As a fan, the memories from this game are ones that will likely stick with you for a lifetime. Trailing by 13 points in the fourth quarter, the Giants looked pretty much dead. Dramatic comebacks happen for other teams (often against the Giants), but they are certainly something the Giants or their fans are not accustomed to. And how ironic was it that it was WR Amani Toomer to catch the game-winning winning touchdown pass, just like he did against Denver in the Meadowlands seven years before?
This was a big win for the Giants in terms of the evolution of QB Eli Manning and overall team confidence. But it matters less unless the Giants start to string some wins together. They have a far more important game this Sunday against the Redskins.
Offense: The Giants had four offensive possessions in the first half. One ended with a turnover; two ended with points (10 total). The Giants had the ball six times in the second half. There were two three-and-outs, one turnover, and two touchdown drives. The offense was dreadful in the third quarter, only accruing 26 total yards.
The Giants’ inability to run the football except for a couple of drives really hampered the offense on Sunday. Much credit obviously goes to the sturdy Denver run defense, but the Giants’ blockers and HB Tiki Barber need to become more consistently productive.
Pass protection was too shoddy. To Denver’s credit, they blitzed a ton and run some pretty ornate blitzing schemes that other teams besides the Giants have had problems with. But too often, blockers were beaten physically one-on-one. QB Eli Manning took too many hits.
Quarterback: The #1 thing that stood out to me in this performance was how calm “Cool Hand” Eli was down the stretch. This kid – and he really is still just a kid – is unflappable. It’s amazing. I will talk football blasphemy right now and say that this calmness that he exudes could very well make him a better quarterback than his brother. You can fluster Peyton. Eli is as cool as a cucumber. Also keep this in mind, although not sacked, Manning took quite a beating in this game and had a Bronco defender in his face just about every other passing play. Most quarterbacks – including veterans – get more than a tad gun-shy in such a situation. Eli did not.
Manning’s numbers (23-of-42 for 215 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception) are OK, but they don’t look great. As anyone who saw the game will tell you, the magnitude of this performance is based on Eli’s productivity and composure in the fourth quarter of the game (even despite an interception in that quarter).
The Giants had the ball four times in the first half of the game. The first drive ended prematurely with a fumble by HB Tiki Barber. The second drive was an impressive 5-play, 70-yard effort that resulted in a touchdown. On the first play of this drive, Manning did a good job of standing tough in the pocket despite pass pressure and finding Toomer for an 11-yard gain. Manning’s next pass, four plays later, was a well-thrown strike into the left corner of the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown to WR Plaxico Burress. On this play, Manning continued to demonstrate outstanding pocket presence by taking a couple of little steps to his left to avoid a blitzer. The ball was accurately placed high so that only Burress could make a play on the ball.
After a 16-yard gain on pass from Manning to Shockey, the Giants could not move the ball any further on the third drive of the first half. Their final possession was a 10-play, 41-yard affair that stalled at the Denver 34-yard line, resulting in a 52-yard field goal by PK Jay Feely. Manning was afforded inconsistent pass protection on this drive. His first pass was off the mark as Denver brought more rushers than blockers to pick them up and Manning was hit as he threw. Pass pressure two plays later caused Manning to throw an errant pass that was tipped by Burress and intercepted. Thankfully, Denver was flagged with pass interference on the play. Two plays later, Manning perfectly threw a pump-and-go route to Burress that picked up 40 yards, but a penalty on Burress erased the play. Probably Manning’s most inaccurate pass of the day came on the next play when he badly overthrew TE Jeremy Shockey deep over the middle. However, the Giants were able to move into field goal position because of Manning’s strike to Burress for 23 yards on 2nd-and-15. On this play, once again, Manning bought additional time with his pocket awareness and ability to move around in the pocket.
The Giants’ first and third drives of the second half were three-and-outs. Offensive line play was a problem on the first; inaccuracy by Eli was a problem on the latter. On the first possession, on 3rd-and-6, Manning was pressured and tried to force the ball to a double-covered Shockey – this was a risky and ill-advised throw. Sandwiched between these two three-and-outs, the Giants did move the ball a bit on a chaotic drive filled with penalties on both sides. On 3rd-and-15, Manning tossed a very accurate deep pass to a well-covered Toomer, that unfortunately passed through Toomer’s hands.
It was not until the fourth drive of the second half where the Giants put together another touchdown-scoring possession. On this 9-play, 65-yard effort, Manning had key passes of 7 yards to Toomer on 3rd-and-2, 10 yards to Toomer on 2nd-and-7, and 23 yards to Burress on 2nd-and-10. On the latter two passes, Manning delivered the football accurately despite pressure. This drive culminated with Barber’s 4-yard touchdown run that cut the Denver lead to 23-17.
Manning was picked off on the next possession, however, as there was clearly some miscommunication between Manning and Burress on the play (Coughlin later said that Burress thought the pass was intended for Toomer and did not want to deflect the flight of the football). Incidentally, this was a bad read by Manning too as he had Barber all alone in the left flat for substantial yardage.
The real drama started on the sixth and final drive. The Giants trailed by 6 points with 3:29 on the clock and the need to travel 87 yards for the winning score. On this drive, Manning completed 9-of-13 passes (including one drop) for 74 yards. He made three outstanding plays on this drive. The first came on 3rd-and-4 from the Giants’ 23-yard line. Manning looked Fran Tarkenton-like as he first scrambled to his right, then feeling pressure, peeled back to the left, and then threw an accurate pass on the run to Burress for a huge 6-yard completion and a first down. The next big play was his perfectly thrown deep pass to Shockey for 24 yards on 3rd-and-10 from the Denver 32-yard line. Finally, three plays later, on 3rd-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Manning bought time with a free blitzer bearing down on him by drifting backwards and yet still fired an accurate pass to Toomer for the game-winning score with 5 seconds left on the clock. It was a storybook ending.
Wide Receivers: The Broncos decided to keep their best corner, Champ Bailey, on Plaxico Burress. But Burress still had a good day with 6 catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. Burress’ second catch of the game was his 18-yard touchdown reception. On this play, Bailey played tight, bump-and-run coverage against Burress, but Burress was able to fight through this contact and create some separation in the endzone on Bailey with his deceptive gait. Burress used his size to leap over Bailey for the relatively easy score. Later in the half, Burress had a 40-yard reception erased as he unnecessarily reached back to push off of FS John Lynch (who had interfered with him earlier on the route). A few plays later, Burress caught a 23-yarder over the middle for a first down on 2nd-and-15 to set up Feely’s 52-yard effort. Burress did not become a factor in the game again until the fourth quarter when he badly beat Bailey’s bump-and-run coverage at the line of scrimmage and came down with a big 23-yard reception from Manning down to the Denver 4-yard line. On the next play, the Giants scored, cutting the lead to six points. Burress did contribute to Manning’s interception on the next drive by not understanding that the pass was intended for him and attempting to make a play on the football. Burress had two catches for 12 yards on the game-winning drive, including a huge 6-yarder on 3rd-and-2.
Amani Toomer had only 1 reception for 11 yards in the first half, but he was a major component in the victory with his 7-catch, 51-yard second-half performance. This was Amani’s most productive game of the season thus far. What was key was that Manning started to look more often for Toomer, including in clutch situations. In the third quarter of the game, Toomer made an outstanding, one-handed catch of an errant Manning pass for an 11-yard gain on 3rd-and-6. However, this drive ended on 3rd-and-15 as Toomer appeared to lose sight of a well-thrown deep pass by Manning that passed right through his hands (the two defenders most likely shielded the flight of the ball from Toomer on this play). Had Toomer caught this pass, he would have scored from 64 yards out. On the Giants’ first touchdown drive of the fourth quarter, Toomer caught a key 7-yard pass against Bailey on 3rd-and-2 to keep the drive alive. He then caught a short pass from Manning, broke an attempted tackle by FS John Lynch, and picked up 10 yards. On the game-winning drive, Toomer caught four passes for 23 yards. The highlight obviously was his 2-yard touchdown reception on 3rd-and-goal. On this play, Toomer went in motion from left to right before the snap, crossed through the end zone from right to left during his route, and then leapt and aggressively attacked the ball on his game-winning catch.
Tim Carter, who appears to have unseated David Tyree as the #3 receiver, had no catches but did pick up 11 yards on a end around on the Giants’ first touchdown drive of the game. Carter had a chance to be the hero late as he had his hands on Manning’s pass in the end zone from 32 yards out with less than 30 seconds left on the clock. However, Carter could not managed to secure what would have been a great catch.
Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey was surprisingly quiet. He caught two passes on the Giants’ second drive of the game for a total of 20 yards and was not heard from again until the game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. His blocking was inconsistent. At times, he easily handled his man at the end of the line, but I also saw his opponent get free a couple of times to get in on the play. In the fourth quarter, on the Giants’ second touchdown drive of the game, Barber was able to pick up 18 yards on two back-to-back runs by running to the left behind blocks from Shockey and his offensive line mates. But Shockey was also responsible for an illegal formation penalty right before Manning’s interception (this also erased Shockey’s 8-yard reception). Shockey’s biggest play of the game was his 24-yard completion on 3rd-and-10 with 21 seconds left in the game. Shockey badly beat the linebacker on his deep route on this play.
Running Backs: The running game was not very good. If you take away Barber’s 34-yard gain, he rushed for 52 yards on 18 carries (a lowly 2.9 yards-per-rush). The Giants tried to run the ball with more consistency this week, it just wasn’t there. Much of that had to do with tough Denver defense up front, but sometimes I wonder if Barber is too eager to bounce things outside in an effort to make the big play. Bouncing things outside against Denver’s mobile linebacking corps is tough.
Barber obviously cost the Giants with his fumble on the game’s third offensive play. The turnover led directly to points for the Broncos. Barber’s highlight of the game was his very next carry as he broke off a 34-yard run. On this carry, Barber had a nice cutback off a good block from FB Jim Finn, broke a tackle by a defensive lineman, and then broke two more weak, attempted tackles down the field by defensive backs. Barber demonstrated nice acceleration down the sideline too. Two plays later, Barber had a nice, shifty 6-yard run off left tackle. After that, Barber was a non-factor for the remainder of the half as a runner and receiver.
In the second half, Barber was completely shut down until the two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter. The first drive started off with two runs for a total of 18 yards. Barber also had a 3-yard run out of the shotgun on this possession and finished up the drive with a strong, up-the-gut, 4-yard touchdown run. On the final drive of the game, Barber dropped a swing pass from Manning on the first play of the possession. But Barber also had two runs for 9 yards and two catches for 15 yards on this game-winning effort.
Barber did a very good job on blitz pickups.
Offensive Line: I was amazed at how much Denver blitzed and how sophisticated their blitzes were. It was like watching Philadelphia. While the Giants gave up no sacks, there was far too much pass pressure and hits on Manning. Some of this was not the line’s fault as Denver would at times bring more blitzers to one side than there were blockers. But there were also too many one-on-one, physical breakdowns. OC Shaun O’Hara (who has been pretty darn steady this year) played a horrible game in pass protection, as did LG David Diehl (he had problems last week against Dallas too). RT Kareem McKenzie, who was rarely penalized as a Jet, was flagged three times on Sunday.
What is frustrating is that there are times when the offensive line provides picture-perfect pass protection, even in the face of a heavy blitz. But the inconsistency is a problem. Keep in mind, however, that this unit has only played six regular season games together.
RG Chris Snee gave up a pass pressure on the first play of the Giants’ first touchdown drive. On the next possession, LG David Diehl was bull-rushed and Manning’s pass to Shockey on 3rd-and-6 fell incomplete (the receivers did not appear to be open on this play either). There were major issues on the final drive of the first half. Eli got crunched on the first play of the drive, but this was not the line’s fault. Lynch came late on the blitz and there were more rushers than blockers. Two plays later, however, OC Shaun O’Hara gave up a legitimate pressure that caused Manning to throw an errant pass that was picked off (a penalty on Denver erased the play). On this same play, Snee failed to pick up the stunt. McKenzie was flagged with a false start later in the drive. And then the drive stalled when Diehl got beat on one play, causing an incomplete pass to Shockey and O’Hara gave up another pressure on an incomplete pass to Burress.
In the second half, Manning forced an incomplete pass into double coverage on 3rd-and-6 as Diehl gave up another pressure. The next drive was a real mess. Diehl got away with a hold on another pressure on the 11-yard completion to Toomer on 3rd-and-6 (LT Luke Petitgout also gave up an outside pressure and big hit on Manning on this play). Two plays later, O’Hara and Snee got confused on who was handling a rusher and that led to another pressure and incomplete pass. McKenzie was flagged with an obvious holding penalty in pass protection that ultimately stalled the drive as it erased a 10-yard completion on 2nd-and-6. Two plays later, McKenzie gave up a pressure on Manning’s deep pass to Toomer that went through the latter’s hands.
In the fourth quarter, Diehl had problems picking up a stunt on Manning’s 23-yard pass to Burress down to the 4-yard line. On the next possession, Petitgout failed to anticipate a blitz from his side and Manning was under the gun again on an incomplete pass. On the game-winning drive, O’Hara gave up a pass pressure on the first play of the drive and Diehl gave up another pressure on a 7-yard completion to Toomer.
The running game was not consistent. The Giants’ offensive line was not blown back or anything like that, but there wasn’t a lot of room to run. And McKenzie was flagged with an obvious holding penalty on a Barber run on the first touchdown drive of the game.
Defense: Defensively, this is a strange game for me to write about. I felt much better about the defensive performance than that statistics indicate. Why? The main reason is that I felt the defensive backs played perhaps their best game of the season. However, the amount of rushing yards (191) is obviously disconcerting. I was a bit shocked when I saw that number because the Broncos really only had two good offensive possessions in the game – their first touchdown drive of the first half which was a real battle; and the quick-strike touchdown drive at the beginning of the third quarter.
What was frustrating was to see both Giants’ defensive ends forget to guard against the play-action rollouts by QB Jake Plummer. Virtually the entire Denver passing game is based off of these rollouts.
Defensive Line: The Giants’ defensive line played very well the week before, but were too inconsistent against Denver (though we do have to recognize that Denver has one of the league’s very best rushing attacks). In the first half, there were many plays where the Broncos’ rushers were stuffed at the line of scrimmage. However, the Broncos did nickel-and-dime the Giants. Whereas Denver only picked up one yard rushing on their first possession, Denver was able to rush for 21 yards on five carries on their next possession. Then on their third (and really final) possession of the first half, the Broncos were able to pick up 39 yards on 10 carries. As you can see, there is nothing earth-shattering in these numbers, but the Broncos were able to methodically move the ball. Surprisingly, some of the good runs came in the direction of DE Michael Strahan. And in most games this year, opponents have not been able to run up the gut much against the Giants, but the Broncos were able to do so.
The Denver rushing game in the second half was more productive because Denver was able to break off two big runs: a 23-yarder by HB Mike Anderson and a 37-yarder by Tatum Bell – both in the third quarter.
Osi Umenyiora (7 tackles) had some positive moments early. He did a good job of stuffing Denver’s first carry of the game for a 1-yard gain. And he made a couple of nice plays against the run on Denver’s next possession (along with Strahan). On this drive, Osi did a good job of not biting on one play-action rollout and pressuring QB Jake Plummer and then pressured Plummer again on the very next play. But on Denver’s first touchdown drive, Umenyiora bit on the play-action rollout that led to a 37-yard completion. His offsides penalty then erased a huge 3rd-and-12 sack on the same possession. Denver ultimately converted and scored. Umenyiora helped to stuff a HB Mike Anderson run on this drive, but was blocked on the 2-yard touchdown run. In the second half, Umenyiora had some issues. He got blocked (along with the tackles) on Anderson’s 23-yard run early in the third quarter. He also got blocked on the 37-yarder by Bell on the next possession. After that, we saw more of Justin Tuck, though Osi did also bite badly on the misdirection toss play that picked up 11 yards on 3rd-and-2 on Denver’s last field goal drive.
As mentioned, the Broncos were not afraid to run at Strahan and were able to generate some yardage in his direction. Strahan did combined with LB Carlos Emmons to hold a screen pass to two yards on 3rd-and-11 early in the game. He had a couple of good run defenses and a pass pressure on Denver’s first touchdown drive, but he was also flagged with an unsportsmanlike penalty after the 2-yard run by Anderson. In the third quarter, Strahan bit on the play-action fake by Plummer on a play that picked up 16 yards. The holding call caused by Strahan in the fourth quarter pushed Denver back out of field goal range and probably saved the game for the Giants.
Justin Tuck played quite a bit in the second half and looked good. He got badly mauled on one running play, but his penetration on another led to a 4-yard loss. Tuck also flashed in the pass rush department, including a hit on Plummer that was originally ruled as a sack and a fumble.
Inside, this was probably the worst game the defensive tackles have played (most of San Diego’s yardage came on outside runs earlier in the season). There were too many plays where William Joseph (1 tackle) and Kendrick Clancy (1 tackle) were effectively blocked at the point-of-attack on both small and big runs. Joseph was pushed out of the way on the successful 4th-and-2 conversion on the first touchdown drive (Kenderick Allen also failed to keep to his feet on this play). And Anderson’s 23-yard run came at the expense of Joseph and Clancy. Clancy missed a tackle on an 8-yard gain by Anderson later in the game.
Joseph had a couple of good pass rushes and Clancy had one as well, but I expected more of impact from Joseph as a pass rusher this year. Perhaps that will come. Kenderick Allen lost his contain responsibilities on Plummer’s 11-yard run on 3rd-and-7 in the third quarter.
Linebackers: This was somewhat of a disappointing performance this week by this group. MLB Antonio Pierce was credited with a lot of tackles (13), but few were of the impact variety. I often spotted him getting effectively blocked by the quicker, nimbler Denver linemen. Pierce did level a big hit on the tight end after a short completion in the second quarter. (On a side note, on the 4th-and-2 play on this same drive, a Denver linemen dove at the back of Pierce’s leg right in front of the official and it was not called). On the play preceding Anderson’s 2-yard touchdown run, Pierce was flagged with a personal foul for tackling the back by the helmet. Early in the third quarter, Pierce was beat in coverage by the fullback for a 4-yard touchdown reception. He had a couple of nice run stops near the line of scrimmage in the second half. Pierce had a shot at an interception late in the game off a deflection, but could not come down with the tough catch.
SLB Carlos Emmons (5 tackles, 1 pass defense) was forced to leave the game early with a chest injury. He had nice coverage on the tight end to limit one gain to two yards on the Broncos’ first possession. Two plays later, he did not bite on a play-action fake and tipped away a pass. This drive ended when Emmons expertly sniffed out a screen pass and held it to a 2-yard gain on 3rd-and-11. On Denver’s first touchdown drive, Emmons got blocked at the point-of-attack on a 13-yard carry (as did Strahan) and then overpursued on the 4th-and-2 carry by Anderson that picked up the first down. But he also made two solid plays against the run on this drive. Emmons got hurt on the 37-yard run by Bell as he could not bring down the back with his attempted-arm tackle.
WLB Nick Greisen (5 tackles, 1 pass defense) did not stand out like he did the week before. He misread the cutback on an Anderson run early that picked up 9 yards. He did help to stall this field goal drive, with his big hit on the back on 3rd-and-2, forcing an incompletion. Greisen got burned badly by the fullback in coverage on the 33-yard pass play to start the third quarter as he bit hard on the play-action fake. On the very next play, Greisen misread the running play, took a false step, and was a contributor to Anderson’s big, 23-yard run. Later in the half, Anderson overpowered Greisen for an extra four yards on one carry…pretty embarrassing.
Reggie Torbor came into the game for the injured Emmons. He had one good pass rush but did not stand out in run defense.
Defensive Backs: I thought this was the best game of the year thus far for the secondary. Denver’s wide receivers only caught 8 passes for 115 yards. It looked like the corners were being allowed to play more aggressively.
Will Allen (5 tackles, 2 pass defenses) only gave up one pass in the first half as he got beaten for 11 yards and a first down on 3rd-and-7. Allen made a great tackle on HB Tatum Bell to hold the back two yards short of the first down on a 3rd-and-7 carry. In the second half, it was a mixed bag for Allen. WR Rod Smith was able to get separation on Allen on a deep pass, but the ball was overthrown. Allen was allowed to press Smith at the line, but bit on a stop-and-go fake. On Denver’s next possession, Allen knocked away a slant pass intended for the tight end on 3rd-and-8. In the fourth quarter, Allen was beaten badly by WR Ashley Lelie as Lelie faked Allen out of his shoes on an inside move across the field en route to a 28-yard gain. On the very next play, Lelie beat Allen to the inside again for an 11-yard gain. But Allen did expertly knock-away a huge 3rd-and-5 pass on Denver’s last offensive possession when the Broncos were trying to run out the clock.
CB Curtis Deloatch (3 tackles) was often called to cover WR Rod Smith and I thought he did well. He did give up an easy 8-yard completion early when he gave Smith a big cushion. But later in this drive, he expertly broke on the ball on a sideline pass to speedster Ashley Lelie and should have come up with the interception (the ball bounced off his hands and was completed for a short gain – Will Allen’s disease may be spreading). Had Deloatch cleanly caught the ball, he might have scored. Deloatch did get “beat” on Denver’s longest pass play of the day, a perfectly-thrown 37-yarder by Plummer to Smith, but Deloatch had good position on the play (Deloatch could have done a better job of jamming the wily Smith at the line however). Deloatch was rock solid in the second half. Lelie did catch a 16-yarder at his expense, but it was a perfect throw by Plummer against very tight coverage by Deloatch. Two plays later, the Broncos tried to burn Deloatch deep, but he had good coverage on the tight end and the pass fell incomplete.
SS Gibril Wilson (7 tackles) got picked (perhaps illegally) on a 10-yard reception that picked up a first down on 3rd-and-7 in the first quarter. Wilson’s man, the tight end, was able to get wide open as another receiver crossed right across his path. Wilson got blocked at the point-of-attack on Bell’s 37-yard run. In the fourth quarter, Gibril missed a tackle on Lelie’s 28-yard catch-and-run. He also should have intercepted Plummer’s pass on 2nd-and-15 a few players later.
FS Brent Alexander (9 tackles) had his most active game of the year. He made a nice play on the back for a 1-yard loss on Denver’s first possession of the game. Alexander also saved a touchdown on Bell’s 37-yard run by pushing the back out of bounds down the sideline. A few plays later, his coverage on Lelie on a deep post pattern caused an incompletion.
Special Teams: PK Jay Feely remains perfect on his field goal attempts and hit a 52-yarder right down the middle.
Willie Ponder had a decent day with his kickoff returns with returns of 36, 32, 25, and 31 yards. Chad Morton returned one punt for no gain (two others were fair caught). Shaun Williams could have cost the Giants the game with his personal foul penalty on Denver’s last punt. The Giants not only lost penalty yardage from the offsetting penalty, but Denver netted an additional 10 yards on the re-kick.
Kickoffs and kickoff coverage have been better. Feely’s kickoffs were fielded at 12 (a short and low kick), touchback, 10, 25, and 18. Making tackles were Derrick Ward (after a 19-yard gain), Gibril Wilson (after a 30-yard gain), and James Butler (after an 8-yard gain). Butler also recovered a lateral on Denver’s last return of the game for a turnover.
Jeff Feagles was very good in punting four times for a 46 yards-per-punt average (including two inside the 20-yard line). Deloatch did a great job of getting down the field quickly as a gunner and making a tackle after a 2-yard gain and forcing a fair catch on another. David Tyree did the same holding another return to no gain. However, the Giants did give up a 16-yard punt return that helped to set up Denver’s final field goal of the day (Deloatch and Reggie Torbor made the stop).