Nov 302005
Seattle Seahawks 24 – New York Giants 21 (OT)

Game Overview: The Giants have no one to blame but themselves. What could have turned out to be a potentially outstanding season, with home field in the playoffs, is now slipping away. With the devastating losses to the Vikings and Seahawks, the Giants have lost their room for error. The Giants are now in a dogfight with the Dallas Cowboys for the division title, and if they don’t win the division, there is a good chance they will not make the playoffs. Keep in mind that the Giants have only won one road game this year and that after the Dallas game, three of the last four games are on the road against teams very capable of defeating the Giants.

While PK Jay Feely deserves the bulk of the blame for this loss, there is plenty of responsibility to go around. There were 16 penalties enforced. There were 11 infractions called on offense (nine false start penalties and two holding penalties – one of which was declined) and six infractions on special teams (one of which was declined). That’s simply stupid and undisciplined football. Head Coach Tom Coughlin vowed to clean up the penalties and fix the special teams, but the Giants are now the third-most heavily penalized team in the NFL and they have lost two of their last three games due to special teams play.

The Giants are not smart or disciplined. They have problems winning on the road. And they have a disturbing tendency to lose close football games – something that predates the Coughlin-era, but has continued under his regime. They may have a lot of talent, but they are not playing playoff-caliber football. If they don’t turn it around quickly, they will be sitting at home watching the playoffs on TV while teams with less talent are still playing.

Special Teams: The Giants’ special teams are losing games once again. The Giants have now lost two games this season due to their special teams – that’s 18 percent of the games played thus far. While the 54-yard effort by Feely in overtime was not a high-percentage kick, he should have nailed either the 40- or 45-yarder. Oddly, he hit his more difficult 43-yard field goal that was into a tricky wind. Now the Giants have to worry about a kicker who may wilt in the clutch. That doesn’t bode well with a lot of tough opponents remaining in a tight divisional race. Feely also squibbed two more kickoffs this weekend (both into the wind). (Side note: How about this for a coincidence? The last time the Giants played in Seattle, they lost after PK Brad Daluiso missed a potential game-winning kick after a dramatic comeback led by QB Dave Brown).

Then there are the penalties. Six special teams penalties in the first half! Will Allen, Chase Blackburn, Eric Moore, and Brandon Jacobs were all called for holding on returns. Frank Walker committed two false start penalties out of the punting formation (I honestly could not see any movement from Walker on the second one). The holding calls on Blackburn and Moore were particularly harmful as they erased an 81-yard kickoff return by Chad Morton (who for some reason caused himself to stumble and not reach the end zone). Morton returned four kickoffs for a 25.3 yards-per-return average. He returned six punts for 8.3 yards-per-return average. The Giants did not do a good job of blocking the opposing gunner on a couple of punt returns (with Walker doing a terrible job on one punt, and Will Allen and James Butler being unable to effectively double-team one guy on another).

P Jeff Feagles continues his downward spiral, averaging only 37.3 yards on six punts. Punt and kickoff coverage was outstanding. David Tyree (four tackles) was particularly active. However, Tyree did blow a chance to down a punt inside the 5-yard line.

Offense: Early in the season, the Giants were often getting on top of teams by scoring first. Against the Seahawks, a disturbing trend continued where the Giants were unable to mount a scoring drive until well into the contest (the second quarter). The Giants have not scored a point in the first quarter for three games in a row. One thing I would suggest is that the Giants play more of a spread, hurry-up offense. Not only does Manning seem to do well in this offense, but by splitting out Shockey and/or Barber (plus possibly Tim Carter), most opposing defenses cannot match-up.

One of the big reasons for the offensive woes is the penalties. As Coughlin said, “I start working on these stats and I said, ‘490 yards and 21 points. Wait a minute, what’s this all about? It doesn’t make any sense.’ Well, yeah stick in there that seven of the 15 drives in the regulation and overtime had a penalty and the fact that the offensive teams had a percentage somewhere near 70 to 75 percent don’t overcome penalties within a drive to score points and you see what happened.”

The Giants could not generate any points on their first four possessions of the first half. Negative running plays, penalties, a dropped pass, and the officials were a problem. In the second half, the Giants, the Giants had the ball seven times, but scored only on two possessions (and one of these was set up by a turnover on a “drive” where the Giants did not pick up a single first down). The Giants only had two good drives in the second half, the touchdown drive to tie the game and the drive to set up the attempted game-winning field goal. Negative running plays, penalties drops, inconsistent pass protection, and a turnover were issues.

Side Note on the Officiating: Just terrible. Two of the false start penalties called against the Giants should have in fact been penalties on Seattle as the defensive lineman clearly entered the neutral zone to feign the start of the play (that is a penalty). You also had one ref knocking down a pass intended for Shockey on third down. And then there was the play where the momentum shifted when Toomer was apparently knocked off his route, but the penalty was not called and the pass was intercepted.

By the way, Seattle Coach Holmgren lied about the officials saying they made a mistake on the two Giants’ touchdowns. “The report that the NFL informed the Seahawks of officiating mistakes on two Giants touchdown receptions is inaccurate,” NFL Vice President of Public relations Greg Aiello said. “Our officiating department never discussed with the Seahawks the Amani Toomer touchdown reception, which was properly called. The Jeremy Shockey touchdown catch at the end of the first half was not overturned, because the referee determined that there was insufficient visual evidence to reverse the call.”

Quarterback: What’s great about Eli Manning (29-of-53 for 344 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) is that he clearly has a knack for leading his team from behind late in the game to tie a game or take a lead. This is how legends are made. But Eli needs to get his offense to generate more points earlier in the contest if the Giants are going to make the playoffs down the stretch. On Sunday, Manning demonstrated pretty good pocket presence and improvised a bit such as his unorthodox toss to Barber for nine yards when the pocket was collapsing. He made a number of clutch throws on both touchdown drives. Manning is starting to look off defenders more and use a pump fake to draw the coverage away. The downside is that his deep passes still are off the mark such as his deep shot to Burress near the end of the first quarter. And one of the Giants’ “sacks” occurred when the ball slipped out of Manning’s hand and was fortunately recovered by David Diehl.

A big turning point in the game was his deep pass to Toomer that was nowhere near the receiver and intercepted. The ball was returned from the 4-yard line to the 44-yard line and the Seahawks scored six plays after this, completely shifting the momentum in the game. FOX never showed a replay of what happened downfield, but Coughlin said Toomer was clearly pushed off his route. “What do you want me to say? Nobody called it,” said Coughlin. “If he had fallen down, they probably would have called it. It’s 15 to 20 yards down the field and they’re trying to knock him out of bounds. (As) far as I know, after five (yards), you’re not supposed to touch him.”

However, there was another badly overthrown pass that should have been intercepted, but was dropped. Also, as good as he was late in the fourth quarter and in overtime, he was way high on a pass to Shockey right after Barber’s long 49-yard run on the Giants’ last possession in overtime.

Wide Receivers: A good day for Burress (6 catches for 109 yards) and Toomer (6 catches for 62 yards and a touchdown). However, the untimely drops are still hurting such as when Burress dropped a third-down pass over the middle in the first quarter. And while Burress came up big late in the game and in overtime with catches of 11 and 23 yards – both being huge receptions in terms of significance, he also dropped a slant pass right before Feely’s last miss. Plaxico does a nice job of snagging the ball out of the air on what I believe are intentionally high passes from Manning. Burress was flagged with one of the 11 false start penalties.

Toomer’s touchdown reception was astounding, especially given the situation. Despite being badly interfered with (not called), he somehow managed to catch a pass with a defender draped all over him AND miraculously get both his feet inbounds. Toomer has made some of the best catches of his career this season, and this one was probably the best.

The receivers did a nice job of blocking on running plays.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey (10 catches for 127 yards and a touchdown) clearly was playing hurt and played like a warrior. My only negative comment on him is the same thing I said with respect to the receivers…the untimely drops are hurting. Shockey dropped a 3rd-and-9 pass right after the turnover early in the third quarter and he couldn’t handle a 3rd-and-2 pass from Manning early in the fourth quarter. Shockey came up big on the first touchdown drive when he caught a 10-yard pass on 3rd-and-3; made a twisting, 24-yard reception down to the 7-yard line; and then caught the 7-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-goal. Shockey was an impact player on the Giants’ game-tying drive. He caught a 17-yard pass on 2-and-4, a huge 13-yard pass on 3rd-and-10, and then caught the 2-point conversion to tie the game. On the last drive in regulation, his 8-yard reception moved the Giants closer to field goal range.

Visanthe Shiancoe couldn’t make a block on DE Grant Wistrom on one Barber run that was limited to a 1-yard gain. But I spotted him making good block on another run that picked up seven yards.

Running Backs: Barber (26 carries for 151 yards – a 5.8 yards-per-carry average) out-performed Shaun Alexander, which is saying a lot. What did hurt some of the drives, however, were negative-yardage runs that put the Giants in a hole. In the first half, Barber carried the ball 12 times for 45 yards (a 3.8 yard average). His runs went for 15, 3, -1, 8, 4, -2, 2, 2, 1, 3, 7, and 3 yards. In other words, only four of his 12 runs picked up four yards or more. His 15-yarder was a big run coming off of the goal line. His 8-yarder was a nice cutback run and he followed that up with a tough, 4-yard run for a first down. The bulk of his productivity came in the second half and overtime as he carried the ball 14 times for 106 yards (7.6 average). His runs went for 5, -2, 1, 20, 7, 2, 7, 3, 4, 6, 3, -3, 49, and 4 yards. In other words, eight of his 14 runs picked up four yards or more. Tiki’s back-to-back runs for 27 yards were unfortunately wasted in the third quarter with the interception of Manning’s pass. His 49-yard run on the last possession in overtime should have led to a victory.

Barber was outstanding on his blitz pick-ups. But he did drop one pass in overtime.

Jim Finn really has stepped it up as a lead blocker this year for Tiki. He had a number of excellent, key blocks at the point-of-attack. He also caught two passes for 19 yards, including a 13-yarder that helped to set up a 39-yard field goal.

Offensive Line: The tragedy of this game for the offensive line is that if you take away the penalties, this group played a very strong game. While pass protection was inconsistent at times, the line only gave up one sack (the other was caused by Manning) and Barber was able to gain 151 yards rushing.

But you can’t take away the penalties. Petitgout was called for five false starts; Diehl three. But on one of Petitgout’s false starts and one of Diehl’s, a Seattle defender caused the penalty by moving into the neutral zone (these should have been penalties on Seattle). The net effect of all of this was that Petitgout should have been flagged with four false starts and Diehl two. There is no excuse for this high number of penalties. Yes the crowd was loud, but I have never seen a game where two individuals were called for so many mental mistake penalties. Particularly damning was the false start by Petitgout on the first drive in overtime. Feely’s 54-yard field goal was just short – if that penalty does not occur, the Giants most likely win the game. In addition to the false starts, there was a holding penalty on Diehl. McKenzie was also flagged for holding on a play where he gave up the lone sack and this penalty was declined.

There was too much pressure on Manning at times, but that will happen when you call 56 pass plays (counting the three QB scrambles). O’Hara, who played hurt, gave up a pressure on a stunt that led to an incompletion. He gave up another pressure on the play where Shockey dropped the ball. Snee gave up a couple of pressures, including one on the play where the ball slipped out of Manning’s hand (a nice effort by Diehl to recover the football). But Diehl also gave up a first half pressure on an incomplete pass. Petitgout got beat to the outside by the end on a play where Manning’s arm was hit just as he threw. The worst was the play where Manning was intercepted. A Seattle tackle beat the double-team block by O’Hara and Diehl to nail Manning as he threw, and Snee was also beaten on this play by the other tackle. As mentioned, McKenzie gave up a sack – this was on a defensive tackle stunt. On the game-tying drive, Manning was almost sacked as Petitgout was confused by a stunt and the defensive tackle got to the quarterback.

There were some breakdowns in the running game too. In regulation, Snee missed a block that led to a 2-yard loss as did McKenzie on another play that lost two yards. McKenzie missed his block on an overtime run by Barber that lost three yards.

Defense: Seattle, the #1 ranked offense in terms of yardage coming into the game, had 16 offensive possessions – a huge number. But the Giants forced nine three-and-outs or better (i.e., turnovers). Nevertheless, the four scoring drives were obviously costly: 3 plays, 76 yards for a touchdown; 6 plays, 56 yards for a touchdown; 13 plays, 80 yards, for a touchdown; and 8 plays for 47 yards and the game-winning field goal. To their credit, the defense played well enough in overtime to win the game. And Tim Lewis continued to call a very aggressive game in overtime and not play it safe.

Defensive Line: The defensive line played a very strong game. The star of the group was DE Osi Umenyiora (8 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble). Surprisingly, Umenyiora was a handful for the best left tackle in football, Walter Jones. There were not only the two sacks – one being an outside rush where he caused a fumble, the other a power rush. There were also a number of pressures and Umenyiora caused a costly holding penalty against Jones late in regulation. Umenyiora was very good at the point-of-attack against the run as well. It was a tremendous performance against a top-notch opponent.

While the Seahawks left the left tackle all alone with Umenyiora, Michael Strahan (6 tackles) was seeing regular double- and sometimes triple-team blocking. While he had no sacks, he got a fair amount of pass pressure, did a nice job of staying at home on boots, was aggressive chasing plays down from the backside, and was pretty tough at the point-of-attack. Two of his pass rushes caused holding penalties to be called against the right tackle.

DT Kendrick Clancy (7 tackles) may have played his best game as a Giant. He was very tough against the run in the middle of the line and got in a high number of tackles near or behind the line of scrimmage. The Seahawks had problems moving him out. DT Fred Robbins (1 tackle) was not as active, but he did cause one holding penalty. DT Damane Duckett saw some action for the first time this year.

DE Justin Tuck (1 tackle) saw some snaps at end as well as at defensive tackle – the latter being in pass-rushing situations. It was pressure by Tuck that led to the ill-advised throw by Hasselbeck on Brent Alexander’s interception.

Linebackers: This group deserves a lot of credit not only for keeping Shaun Alexander under wraps for much of the game, but also covering Alexander and a quality tight end in the passing game. MLB Antonio Pierce (5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass defense) had the biggest impact. He forced Alexander to fumble early in the first quarter and flashed on the blitz, including picking a huge sack in overtime. Pierce also made a big hit on the fullback late in the first half and knocked away a 3rd-and-3 pass intended for the tight end in the third quarter.

Nick Greisen (2 tackles) and Carlos Emmons (4 tackles) were tough against the run. Emmons in particular held the outside corner on a few runs. However, Emmons did get pinched inside on Alexander’s 20-yard gain in the third quarter on Seattle’s second touchdown drive.

Defensive Backs: If you take away the bad plays on the four scoring drives, this group did great. But you can’t. It was these breakdowns that led to the 24 points that Seattle needed to win the game.

The guy who had the roughest game was CB Corey Webster (10 tackles). Webster got beat for 14 yards on 3rd-an-5 on a non-scoring drive in the first quarter. Then on Seattle’s first touchdown drive, he was beat by WR Joe Jurevicius for an 11-yard gain and, despite having perfect position on the post pattern, out-fought for the ball by Jurevicius for the 35-yard touchdown. “Going up I thought I was going to pick it,” said Webster. “I thought I was in great position to make a play and he just came right over me and got the ball. You hate to give one up like that. That could have been the difference in the game.”

Then Webster held his opponent quiet until very late in the third quarter, when he was flagged with a defensive holding penalty that offset an offensive holding penalty. Two plays later, he made a great tackle in the flat against the fullback to prevent a first down on 3rd-and-5. But Webster had a very bad series on Seattle’s last touchdown drive of the game. He gave up an 11-yard gain to Jurevicius as he allowed the completion and then missed the tackle. Two plays later, Webster was too playing too far off on a 9-yard completion to WR D.J. Hackett. Toward the end of this drive, Seattle was facing a 3rd-and-11 from the Giants’ 14-yard line. Allowing the short completion in front of him, Webster failed to make the tackle five yards short of the first down marker, enabling a 4th-and-inches situation where Seattle scored. And it was Webster who got burned on the 38-yard completion in overtime that set up the winning field goal. “That was just a miscommunication,” Webster said. “We (Webster and Gibril Wilson) were in a zone coverage and we both could have been a little closer.”

CB Curtis Deloatch got beat for a 16-yard touchdown by Jurevicius. “The goal-line play to (Joe) Jurevicius, which is what I call a ‘Q’ route, we’re outside in on a ‘Q’ route, how do you not defend that?” asked Coughlin. Deloatch also allowed a 20-yard completion to Jurevicius on 3rd-and-7 on the Seahawks’ last touchdown drive when he badly missed the tackle along the sidelines.

CB Will Allen (9 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 pass defense) played the best of the corners. He made a big play when he stripped WR Bobby Engram of the football and recovered the fumble. But Allen got caught too far inside on Alexander’s 20-yard run on the second touchdown drive. And Allen gave up a huge 19-yard completion on 3rd-and-7 on the Seahawks’ last touchdown drive. Allen had great deep coverage on Jurevicius on a fly pattern in overtime, but could not come down with the interception. He made a real nice play in run defense in overtime, preventing a potential big gain and holding Alexander to one yard.

CB Frank Walker saw some playing time.

FS Brent Alexander (4 tackles, 1 interception) committed a very costly 25-yard pass interference penalty on Seattle’s first touchdown drive. Alexander set up the Giants’ second field goal of the game when he intercepted Hasselbeck (it’s too bad that Alexander couldn’t have kept his feet here as he had some running room).

SS Gibril Wilson (7 tackles) did well for the most part. He flashed as a run defender and on the blitz. However, he couldn’t wrap up Alexander on 4th-and-inches play where the back scored. And he was late to help out Webster deep on the 38-yard completion in overtime that set up the game-winning field goal.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Seattle Seahawks, November 27, 2005)
Nov 242005

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Seattle Seahawks, November 27, 2005: This is a game that most folks won’t give the Giants much of a chance to win. Until this season, Seattle has been one of those up-and-down teams that frustrate the heck out of their fan base. But they seem to have put it all together this year with solid quarterback play, an excellent running game, and a tough defense.

This is a statement game for the Giants. If they go into Seattle and knock of the Seahawks, they will really start receiving some serious respect. Of course, if they lose, the opposite will happen.

Giants on Offense: A big issue here of course is the health of LT Luke Petitgout (knee) and OC Shaun O’Hara (ankle). Petitgout is expected to play, but the concern is over how effective he will be and how long he will be able to hold up. He draws a very tough assignment this week in DE Grant Wistrom, a good two-way player. O’Hara is an even bigger question mark and there is a chance that Jason Whittle may have to start in his place. The rising star on the defensive line for the Seahawks is RDT Rocky Bernard, who moved into the starting lineup recently. He has 7.5 sacks – a very high number for an interior lineman. LG David Diehl needs to elevate his game against him. The left side of the defensive line is not as strong and I would think the Giants would want to pound the ball in this direction. RG Chris Snee and RT Kareem McKenzie should be able to maul LDT Chuck Darby and LDE Bryce Fisher. Fisher (7.5 sacks) could give McKenzie some problems in pass protection.

The Giants need to get their ground game going in a more consistent fashion. They need to be more physical up front and start generating larger chunks of yardage. I’d like to see Tiki Barber have another impact day like he did against the Redskins.

The linebackers of the Seahawks are very inexperienced with two rookies starting. Cutback runs, screens, and reverses could fool them. In addition, the Giants should really test this group’s coverage ability with passes to TE Jeremy Shockey and Barber.

The Seahawks could also be vulnerable in the secondary as the Giants have a favorable match-ups with Plaxico Burress against CB Marcus Trufant and Amani Toomer against CB Kelly Herndon. Trufant has had problems with bigger wideouts and Herndon likes to play off the line and this style of play suites Toomer well.

Of course, ultimately, the Giants’ performance in this game will depend on how well Eli Manning plays. Like earlier in the season, Manning needs to get his offense to generate drives and points early in the game – and not wait for 4th quarter heroics. Much will depend on the pass protection. Seattle can and will get after the quarterback. They have defensive linemen who can cause problems and they like to blitz on top of that. If the line and backs can give Manning time, he can do some serious damage against this secondary.

Giants on Defense: The game plan is obvious, but it will be difficult to execute – stop HB Shaun Alexander and the running game. The Giants have not done well against the top rushing teams this year (Chargers, Broncos) and this is another top rushing team. Worse, the Giants will be missing DT William Joseph and both strongside linebackers, Carlos Emmons (chest) and Reggie Torbor (hernia), are still nowhere near 100 percent. MLB Antonio Pierce has been a great addition for the Giants, but he is not a big, fill-the-hole kind of guy and will likely have trouble against this power scheme at the point-of-attack. How good is Alexander? He has over 1,200 yards and 19 touchdowns already! Yikes!

The strength of the Seattle line is LT Walter Jones and LG Steve Hutchinson. DE Osi Umenyiora and DT Fred Robbins (as well as Kenderick Allen) will be facing two of the game’s best. The Seahawks will likely try running to their left much of the day. This is where the game may be decided – the ability or inability of the Giants’ weakside run defense to defend the run. Making matters worse for New York is that FB Matt Strong is a very good lead blocker. The linebackers will have to do a good job of avoiding or playing off his lead blocks. The right side of the Seattle offensive line is not as strong, but the Giants really need DE Michael Strahan and DT Kendrick Clancy to play at a high level so the Giants can focus their defensive attention in other areas.

Everyone needs to flow to the football aggressively and make sure, solid tackles. Wrap up and bring some wood with you because Alexander can make you look bad by bouncing off attempted tackles and breaking big runs.

The Seattle receivers are an ordinary group with Bobby Engram and Joe Jurevicius the current starters. Jurevicius creates problems with his height and the Giants may want to move Curtis Deloatch (if he plays) over to cover him. Bobby Engram is a shifty receiver who runs good routes – I like Will Allen on him better than Deloatch too. The guy the Giants have to keep an eye on is TE Jerramy Stevens. He’s a go-to guy in key situations.

Stop the run and the Giants will likely win the game. But that’s a very, very tough thing to do against the Seahawks.

Giants on Special Teams: PK Jay Feely’s kickoffs were dreadful last week and the Giants need him to get back to form. P Jeff Feagles has had two sub-par games in row. Will Willie Ponder return kickoffs this weekend? That remains to be seen. The Giants need a big game out of their special teams if they are going to win.

Nov 232005
New York Giants 27 – Philadelphia Eagles 17

Game Overview: This was a bit of an odd game. Aside from the dramatics of the blocked punt and the ensuing 1-yard drive, the first half was largely a ho-hum affair where neither team executed very well on offense. But in the second half, both teams exchanged body blows and momentum, with the Giants finally pulling away for good with less than six minutes to go in the game.

It was not pretty, but it was absolutely an essential game for the Giants to win.

Quarterback: Eli Manning (17-of-26 for 218 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) played much better this week. There were a few rough moments, but his three touchdown throws (all excellent passes) were decisive. The Giants attempted to take some shots deep in the first half, but the protection did not hold up. Manning’s stats at halftime were not impressive (8-of-13 for 69 yards). There were seven offensive possessions for the Giants in the first half. The first ended prematurely when WR Amani Toomer dropped a 3rd-and-6 pass. The second ended when three straight runs by HB Tiki Barber could not pick up a first down. The third resulted in a short field goal. On this drive, the Giants were fortunate to receive a 47-yard pass interference call against the safety. Three plays later, Manning hit Toomer over the middle for a first down on 3rd-and-14. But Manning messed up two plays later when he attempted to force the ball to WR Plaxico Burress in the end zone despite double coverage. The ball fell incomplete. On this play, Toomer was breaking free for an easy touchdown just to the left of Burress. The fourth drive was a disaster as the Giants quickly found themselves in a 4th-and-42 situation. On the first play, the Giants tried another deep pass, but Manning could find no one open. He danced up into the pocket and was stripped of the football, leading to a 24-yard loss – this was a bad play by Manning as he has to protect the ball better when the play breaks down.

The fifth drive started off with a 15-yard completion to TE Visanthe Shiancoe and a 9-yard pass to Toomer. But Manning was under heavy pressure on the next two incomplete passes and he was responsible for a delay-of-game penalty on 3rd-and-10. His 3rd-and-15 pass was a very nice deep sideline pass that hit Burress right in the hands, but the receiver could not get both of his feet inbounds. After the blocked punt and three straight failed rushing attempts from the 1-yard line, Manning threw a perfect play-action pass to Toomer at the back of the end zone for a 10-0 lead (Manning had the perfect touch and trajectory on this throw). The last drive of the half ended with a sack with less than 10 seconds to go.

In the second half, the passing game was more productive. Not surprisingly, much of this had to do with better pass protection. The Giants had the ball five times in the second half (not counting the final kneel down) and scored on three of these possessions. On the first drive, Manning did a good job of looking off the defense before finding Toomer over the middle for a 17-yard completion. Then Manning did a great job of connecting with Burress despite a blitzing linebacker flying right at him. However, this possession ended prematurely as Burress dropped an intermediate pass over the middle for what should have been a big first down on 3rd-and-5. The second drive resulted in a field goal after a long 55-yard run by Barber. But a 3-yard loss on a running play, a tipped pass, and an 11-yard pass to Toomer on 3rd-and-13 forced the field goal.

The next two drives resulted in touchdowns. Manning threw an excellent pass to Burress for 17 yards on 3rd-and-8. He then found Burress for 14 more yards and scrambled for an additional seven on his own. Manning tried to get the ball to Toomer on 3rd-and-11 from the Philly 19. The ball fell incomplete but the Eagles were flagged with a ticky-tack pass interference call, thus giving the Giants a first down on the Philadelphia 1-yard line. On the very next snap, Manning tossed a perfect low pass to Shockey, who was well-covered by FS Brian Dawkins. Manning put the ball in a spot where only Shockey could make a play on it. Arguably the biggest play in the game came on 3rd-and-2 on the next possession. The Eagles had just cut the score to 20-17 and there was still over five and a half minutes on the clock. Manning made a pump fake in the direction of Burress. The corner bit on the fake, allowing Burress to get separation behind the defender for what became a 61-yard touchdown. It was a great play.

Wide Receivers: As Burress (6 catches for 113 yards, 1 touchdown) and TE Jeremy Shockey continue to draw attention, Toomer (6 catches for 56 yards, 1 touchdown) is seeing more passes thrown his way. Toomer dropped an early 3rd-and-6 pass, forcing the Giants to punt. But he did pick up a key first down on a 3rd-and-14 pass over the middle on the first field goal drive. Of course, Toomer came up huge with his 4th-and-goal reception at the back of the end zone, beating safety Michael Lewis. Toomer had two big pass interference penalties called against him – one leading to a 47-yard gain and a field goal; the other an 18-yard gain and a first down on the 1-yard line on 3rd-and-11 (resulting in a touchdown).

Burress only caught one pass for four yards in the first half. He had a chance to bring down a deep sideline pass on 3rd-and-15, but just missed getting both feet inbounds – it was a good effort. In the second half, things did not start off right as Burress dropped what would have been at least a 22-yard completion down to the Eagle 26-yard line on 3rd-and-5, forcing a punt. But Burress was a big factor on both touchdown drives in the second half. First he caught a 17-yard pass on 3rd-and-8 from Manning to keep one drive alive and had a 14 yard reception two plays later. On the next possession came the 61-yard back-breaker where Burress and Manning combined to fake out the corner. Burress showed surprising speed on this play as he outran the defender to the end zone.

Tight Ends: I think Shockey’s chest was bothering him. There was one running play where DE Trent Cole just tossed Shockey aside – that’s not like him. Shockey did make a good block on a Barber run that picked up six yards later in the first quarter and has a decent backside block on Barber’s 55-yard run in the second half. Shockey only had one catch on the day for one yard, but it was a big one – a touchdown catch on a deliberately low-thrown ball from Manning.

Visanthe Shiancoe looked good on one 15-yard pass reception where he ran a crossing route from the left tight end position and caught the ball near the right sideline off of a bootleg pass.

Running Backs: It was tough sledding for Barber in the first half as he only gained 33 yards on 11 carries (a 3.0 yards-per-carry average). His carries went for 0, 6, 2, 0, 5, 6, -4, 4, 4, 9, and 1 yard. The Giants tried to burn the Eagles with a couple of third-down draw plays with no success. The 4-yard loss came on a misdirection toss that did not fool the rookie right end. Tiki did have a couple of nice efforts with cutbacks to the middle of the field. Barber started the game off with a nice 15-yard screen pass (with good blocks from Chris Snee and Shaun O’Hara).

In the second half, the highlight was obviously Barber’s 55-yard cutback run. The other nine carries in the second half picked up only 24 yards (2.7 yards per carry) – runs of 1, -3, 2, 7, 4, -1, 6, 0, and 8 yards. The better runs came when running to the right-side of the offensive line.

Both of the times Derrick Ward (2 carries for –4 yards) touched the ball, the blocking disappeared all together.

Brandon Jacobs (3 carries for 0 yards) could not get into the end zone on his three chances from the 1-yard line. He almost made it on his first carry, had little chance on his second, and should have slid to his right and tried to run over the safety on his third carry.

Jim Finn had a couple of nice blocks on runs by Barber, but he also whiffed pretty badly on one blitz pick-up on the deep sideline play where Burress couldn’t get his feet inbounds. I was really impressed with Finn’s effort on his 11-yard reception where he made one Eagle defender miss and ran over a second.

Offensive Line: The run blocking just has not been as good as hoped this year. I expected the Giants to become a more physical offensive line with the addition of Kareem McKenzie next to Chris Snee. But the line still appears to use more of a positional-blocking scheme. The Giants ran for 32 yards on 15 carries in the first half (that’s just a little over two yards a carry). In the second half, the Giants ran for 83 yards, but 55 of those yards came on one play. The Giants were able to run to the right a few times for respectable gains. While reserve LT Bob Whitfield (as did LG David Diehl) made a good block on Barber’s 55-yard run to a defender, he also whiffed on another run by Barber, leading to only a 1-yard gain.

Pass protection was shaky against a quality opponent, especially in the first half. Diehl gave up a pressure on the 3rd-and-6 pass to Toomer that was dropped. Manning took a big hit to the knees when LT Luke Petitgout was beat to the inside on a deep pass effort to Toomer. On the very next snap, McKenzie was beat cleanly to the outside by DE Jevon Kearse for a sack as Manning was stripped of the football. On the next possession, Manning took a coverage sack and was stripped of the football, leading to a 24-yard loss. Two plays later, both Petitgout and O’Hara were beat, leading to a 7-yard sack. On the next drive, Diehl did not pick up the defensive end who slid down the line of scrimmage, leading to another pressure that helped to cause an incompletion. McKenzie did not do a good enough job of holding up Kearse on a screen in Kearse’s direction and the ball was batted away. On the last play before halftime, McKenzie was beaten to the inside by Kearse for another sack.

In the second half, the Giants only gave up one sack (a coverage sack when the Giants were attempting to run out the clock). Whitfield got away with a couple of holds (and needed some help), but he did a decent job in place of Petitgout (still Whitfield does not look all that athletic to me for a left tackle and I worry about Petitgout missing time). Kudos too to Jason Whittle for filling in at center for the injured Shaun O’Hara.

Defensive Line: The defensive line was not as strong this week. There were no sacks and the pass pressure was two infrequent without blitzes. The run defense in the first half was outstanding (25 yards), but the Eagles did manage to pick up 81 additional yards in the second half. Strahan (7 tackles, 1 pass defense, 1 forced fumble) played a good game against the run and had a few pass pressures. One of his biggest plays was knocking away a screen pass that looked poised to pick up big yardage on 3rd-and-9 early in the game. Strahan also almost came up with an interception on a poorly-thrown ball on a zone blitz. Strahan was flagged with an illegal block on Gibril Wilson’s interception return.

Osi Umenyiora (5 tackles) had one of his quietest games in weeks. He got a little bit of pressure late in the game and saw some double-teams, but he really wasn’t much of a factor on the pass rush. Umenyiora was pretty strong at the point-of-attack against the run, but he did get burned for a 16-yard gain on a misdirection toss to his side of the field on 3rd-and-1.

When Strahan was injured, Justin Tuck was forced to play on the strongside. Tuck was effectively blocked at the point-of-attack on HB Brian Westbrook’s 14-yard run down to the Giants’ 1-yard line.

The Giants continue to use more 3-man defensive line formations with Osi playing linebacker in certain situations. On Sunday, Strahan, Kenderick Allen (1 tackle), and Fred Robbins formed the down linemen in these sets. Robbins (3 tackles) was pretty stout against the run (including causing a 1-yard loss on one play) and made some noise early on the pass rush. But he had QB Mike McMahon all but wrapped up on the latter’s 12-yard scamper for a key first down on 3rd-and-8 (Kenderick Allen missed a tackle here too). This was a really bad play as it enabled the Eagles to score a touchdown to cut the lead to three points again. Kendrick Clancy (4 tackles) badly beat the center to nail the running back for a 4-yard loss. Robbins and Clancy did a good job of shutting down a QB draw on 3rd-and-4 late in the game.

Linebackers: SLB Carlos Emmons (4 tackles) looked surprisingly effective, especially early. He stopped a couple of runs in their tracks and flashed on a couple of blitzes.

MLB Antonio Pierce (7 tackles) creamed McMahon early in the game with a big hit on QB scramble. He also disrupted a screen pass and looked sharp on one blitz where he smacked McMahon again. Late in the second half, right before the blocked punt, Pierce made a big, big play when he did not bite on the misdirection end around to WR Greg Lewis, holding the gain to five yards on 3rd-and-11. If Pierce doesn’t make this tackle (and he had to avoid two blockers to do so), the Eagles likely pick up the first down and the blocked punt does not happen. In the second half, Pierce tackled Westbrook for a 1-yard loss, but also got faked out by McMahon on his 12-yard scramble on 3rd-and-8.

Nick Greisen (8 tackles, 1 pass defense) was active. He was involved in a couple of 1-yard losses by Westbrook and a 2-yard loss by HB Lamar Gordon. He also knocked down one pass and got good pressure on one blitz, but also missed a tackle on one play and was effectively blocked on Westbrook’s 14-yard run down to the 1-yard line.

Defensive Backs: It was a tale of two halves as the Giants only gave up 81 yards passing in the first half, but 217 yards in the second half. Some of the latter came when the Giants were playing a loose zone defense late in the game (there were easy completions of 19 and 18 yards on the Eagles’ last drive for example).

In the first half, CB Curtis Deloatch (3 tackles) quickly found out that he was going to be the guy the Eagles were going to target. Keep in mind that this is Deloatch’s first year starting and he is learning on the job. On the second Eagles’ drive of the game, Deloatch had good position on WR Greg Lewis on a sideline route, but he did not make a play on the football and a 25-yard completion was the result on 3rd-and-9. On the next possession, the Eagles went deep on Deloatch, but this time he had good coverage and the pass fell incomplete. But right before halftime, Deloatch got beat by Lewis again on 3rd-and-9. Worse, he didn’t make the tackle and the Eagles picked up 34 yards on the catch-and-run. The second half got worse for Deloatch. He was flagged with two pass interference penalties, the first keeping alive a touchdown-scoring drive on 3rd-and-8. Then he gave up the actual touchdown on a 22-yard pass as he just missed tipping away the ball (Deloatch’s hips got turned on this play). The second interference penalty was called because Deloatch had his left arm wrapped around the receiver. Had Curtis kept this arm off of the receiver, it would have been superb coverage. Deloatch had problems getting off a downfield block on Westbrook’s 14-yard run down to the 1-yard line.

CB Will Allen (5 tackles, 2 pass defenses) played one of his better games. He knocked away a slant pass early in the game and later had a huge breakup on TE L.J. Smith in the end zone on 3rd-and-goal, saving a touchdown. But Allen got abused by a wide receiver blocking him down field on a 19-yard carry on 2nd-and-20 (safety James Butler also badly missed a tackle on this run).

CB Corey Webster got beat badly on a double-move for a 44-yard gain on 3rd-and-12. This was a terrible play on his part.

The safety play was mixed. Gibril Wilson (8 tackles, 1 interception) picked off a badly overthrown ball and looked sharp on the blitz and in run defense. But he got beat pretty badly by Westbrook on a sideline pass for 32 yards on the Eagles’ first touchdown drive of the game. Brent Alexander was late in getting over to help Deloatch on the 22-yard pass to WR Reggie Brown. He also failed to wrap up on his attempted sideline tackle of Brown on the latter’s 44-yard reception. And Alexander was extremely fortunate not to get flagged with an obvious pass interference penalty in the end zone on the tight end. Alexander did have good coverage on the Eagles’ 4th-and-2 play to Greg Lewis that fell incomplete and helped to cause an incompletion late in the game with a big hit along the sideline.

Special Teams: Obviously, David Tyree’s blocked punt was one of the game’s biggest plays, leading to a 10-0 halftime lead. Tyree got such a good jump on his rush that he would have blocked it even if the punter fielded the ball cleanly.

Jeff Feagles did not have a good day, averaging only 39 yards per punt on his six punts. He wasn’t helped by the holding call against Derrick Ward that erased a 46-yard punt that was downed on the 1-yard line by Tyree. The penalty ended up costing the Giants 18 yards in field position. Punt coverage was OK, though the Eagles did return one ball for 12 yards. Brian Westbrook returned two punts and could not break one. Making tackles on punt returns were Ryan Kuehl, Chase Blackburn (3), Curtis Deloatch, and Alonzo Jackson. Blackburn nailed Westbrook for a 2-yard loss on one punt coming off the goal line – this was a big play.

PK Jay Feely hit both his short field goals, but his kickoffs were dreadful. For some reason, he squibbed three of them and another went out of bounds. Is Feely hurt? Eagle returns went for 22 (Will Allen on the tackle), 29 (Blackburn and Jackson), 18 (Blackburn), and 17 yards (Eric Moore).

Chad Morton only managed one punt return of eight yards and only averaged 22 yards on his three kickoff returns. Jackson was flagged with a holding penalty on one kick return. Blackburn made a foolish play by fielding one bad punt instead of letting it continue to bounce back towards the Eagles’ side of the field (and it was a risky decision too as he is not used to handling the football).

Give Blackburn credit however. He was in on five special teams tackles. That is a huge number for one game.

(Box Score – Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, November 20, 2005)
Nov 172005

Approach to the Game – Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, November 20, 2005: Are the Giants good enough to seriously challenge for the NFC East this season? The prevailing opinion coming into 2005 was that the Giants were going to finish third or fourth in the division. A few of us who looked at this roster thought otherwise, that this might be a team to be reckoned with. There were a couple of significant bumps in the road en route to the 6-2 record at the midway point of the season, but the first place standing in the division forced folks to take notice.

Then came the miserable game against the Vikings and now doubt has seeped in. Good football teams should not lose games like that. Let’s also keep in mind that the Giants were only leading the 49ers 10-6 going into the 4th quarter. The Vikings and 49ers are bad football teams. With the extremely difficult schedule remaining, there is a very real possibility that the Giants could slip back to the middle of the pack in an unimpressive NFC. It is even possible that the Giants may not finish the season with a winning record.

On the other hand, the Giants are still tied for first place in the NFC East. They have their own destiny in their control. Their roster is filled with good players and players who should get better with experience. It’s all there in front of them if they make sure another performance like last week does not happen again.

What has to happen in order to make this dream a reality? The defense needs to continue to play at a high level. As the quality of the opponents dramatically increases and injuries begin to mount, the defense can’t keep shutting other teams down. But they need to be able to keep the Giants in games and force turnovers. The special teams also need to rebound from last week’s catastrophic effort and begin winning games again. The offense line needs to continue to gain cohesion, but it also needs to become more physical and cut down penalties.

But the #1 issue is QB Eli Manning and how the coaching staff handles him. Expectation levels were already sky-high with Manning coming into the league given his play in college, his cost, and his family name. His 1-6 start last season tempered that enthusiasm. But games against the Chargers, Rams, and Broncos convinced many, including me, that Manning was way ahead of the learning curve – that he was becoming an impact player earlier than hoped. The last three games proved that he is not at that point, and worse, that his inexperience is costing the Giants football games. For those who understand the big picture, that was the realistic expectation for the Giants in 2005, but it still hurts when the team loses. There is nothing to be done about it. The only way Manning will improve is by playing through his mistakes and learning from them. Whether or not he will become a very good quarterback will depend on his ability to improve his play. He has to do a better job of reading defenses, finding the open receiver, and delivering the ball accurately. Will he be able to do so in a fashion that will elevate him to the status of difference-maker? That remains to be seen. The odds are that it will not happen over the course of the next seven games. The odds are that there will be many critics tearing him apart by the end of 2005 season. These people, as well as his supporters, have no clue to what kind of player he will be. Why? Because we can’t predict the future. We can only watch history as it unfolds.

But let’s get back to the immediate future and the Philadelphia Eagles. If the Eagles were completely healthy and had the services of Terrell Owens, the Giants could beat them. However, the Giants could also very easily lose on Sunday to back-up QB Mike McMahon. The Eagles are going to move the football better than the 49ers and Vikings did and they are going to score more offensive points than those teams did. The Eagles’ defense is going to put a lot of pressure on the Giants’ offense and try to force them to make mistakes. And the special teams needs to regroup with a number of their key components still physically ailing.

What it comes down to is this – are the Giants good enough? Are the Giants good enough to defeat a clipped Eagle? Can the defense make another statement? Can the passing game of the Giants become productive and put points on the board? Can the special teams become that catalyst for victory that Coach Coughlin demands? The answer to the first question will be on the scoreboard late Sunday afternoon.

Giants on Offense: I’ll keep it brief this week. Eagle Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson prefers to play a confusing, heavy-blitzing scheme that puts physical and mental pressure on the offensive blocking schemes. In order to do this, the Eagles will play a lot of man-to-man coverage and take chances in the secondary. The Vikings took the opposite strategy and kept more players in coverage, doubling up Manning’s favorite targets, convinced that he would continue to force the football (which he did).

What matters here is that the Giants adjust quickly to what the Eagles do on defense. If the Eagles crowd the line of scrimmage to defend the run and come after Manning, leaving the secondary in man-to-man, the Giants need to be aggressive and take their shots deep (this is something that Manning likes to do anyway). It’s a low percentage-type of offense, but the rewards are immense. The obvious keys here are pass protection, the receivers’ ability to defeat the man coverage, and Manning’s ability to accurate deliver the ball under pressure. That’s a lot to ask for but this group can get it done. The other option is to become run-centric and simply try to wear down the Eagles up front with Tiki Barber, Derrick Ward, and Brandon Jacobs. That will put less pressure on Manning and may be the safer strategy (especially if he is still struggling). But there may be unblocked defenders to contend with. Tiki is going to have to make some plays on his own.

Now if Jim Johnson adopts more of the Viking strategy, then the Giants should definitely focus on the ground game more. And when the Giants do put the ball up, Manning must survey the field and find where the weakness in the coverage is. Every coverage has a weakness. If they are doubling Shockey and Burress, then Toomer, Barber, Finn, Shiancoe, or the third receiver should be open. Take what the defense gives you.

The big key – other than scoring more points than the opponent – is to protect the football. Don’t give the Eagles cheap field position or points. Manning is going to be under a lot of physical and mental pressure on Sunday – he may not be ready for it.

Giants on Defense: The obvious key here is control the amount of damage that HB Brian Westbrook does. Westbrook is an outstanding runner and receiver. He can do it all. Watch out for draw plays. And in the passing game, isolating him on most linebackers is a complete mismatch. I look for the Eagles not only to use him on screens and swing passes, but also try to sneak him deep down the field.

The other big weapon for the Eagles is TE L.J. Smith. The combination of Westbrook and Smith is going to put a lot of pressure on the linebackers and safeties (being a West Coast Offense, the Eagles often use the short passing game in lieu of the running game). In fact, if I were the Giants, I’d be tempted to play the nickel most of the game (but keep in mind the Eagles ran the ball quite a bit for the first time last week with good success – both Wesbrook and HB Lamar Gordon).

And with so much on the line, the defense must be cognizant of the trick play such as a halfback pass or flea flicker.

Mike McMahon is dangerous because he is more mobile than the injured McNabb and he has nothing to lose. This is his moment in the sun. The Giants need to rattle his cage right away and demoralize him. If the Giants let a quarterback like McMahon beat them in this situation, playing at home, with first place at stake, then they are not good enough.

Giants on Special Teams: PK Jay Feely and P Jeff Feagles need to play a lot better than they did last week. And don’t even get me started about the coverage units. Be smart, be aggressive, be physical, and make things happen. Win the damn football game!

Nov 162005

By David Oliver

There is a certain weltschmertz in sitting down to write about the Giants these days. First the passing of Wellington “Duke” Mara, and now the passing of Preston Robert “Bob” Tisch leave me feeling as if a heavy load has been placed on my all too quickly aging back. There have been so many down happenings in my life since my involuntary departure from the ‘family’ that they underscore my previously expressed feelings that the cycle of my life has moved in tandem with that of the Giants.

But before anything else is said, allow me to express my condolences to the Tisch family and the Giants family in the best way I know, by stating simply, that Bob Tisch was a real Mensch in a world of saccharine personalities. I have lived a long and pretty good life. I have supped with janitors and dined with the politically and financially powerful. Coming from a background of Newark and its working class sentiments, guided and befriended by own brilliant father who, by choice, spent his life as a factory worker, I have come to respect, or not respect men based on how they interact and treat those around them.

Bob Tisch was a caring man, interested in everyone who touched him or came into his sphere of being. Just as Wellington Mara, he knew his place in the world. His expression of joie differed from Wellington, but his curiosity, his respect and his emotions came from the same rootstock. I first met Bob Tisch at a mini-camp, when he walked over to a group of us, writers and photographers, and asked how we thought the team was coming along; asked what we liked or not. There was an embarrassed shuffling and silence as none of us were about to point out to the team owner our opinions on the strength or weakness of his team. Finally, someone said to Mr. Tisch that his coaching staff might be the more appropriate people to answer his question. Mr. Tisch, without missing a beat, told us that he valued our opinion, as we were the guys watching the team go through its workouts, we were the guys who interacted with the players, and that he valued an independent opinion.

That day opened up a whole new appreciation for me of Mr. Tisch, or Mr. T as we called him. Here was a man, who by his own admission did not know all his players when he became an owner. Here was a man who was so self-effacing that he wanted to learn the game and the players, and those who covered the game and its players. And he was the same in every business he owned. He was often on the field, particularly at away games such as Washington. He was joyous when the team won, and crestfallen when it lost. He was expressive in a guarded way with those he knew, not by words, but by body language. We were friendly with his personal assistant and his pilot, and we met employees from his Hotel chain. There was nothing but praise and enthusiasm about the man, so unlike many things those who know them from a subordinate relationship say that about those in power. We would convey our messages of support to him and he would likewise respond through these people.

Bob Tisch was an owner, a businessman, a fan and a Mensch – a Giants’ Mensch. Just ask Cathy from Maine who spent a night discussing the Giants, and other matters, with Mr. Tisch in the lounge of the hotel in Albany. He was one of us, in a way in which few owners of any enterprise are one of the populi. I can tell you of at least one instance when a photographer was faced with a family emergency on the road. There was no way to catch a flight after the game to get home. Mr. Tisch put him on the team plane and got him back that night. When my brother-in-law passed away, I wrote to Mssrs. Mara and Tisch to express my profound gratitude for Michael Strahan’s visits and encouragement to him. I wanted them to know that their feelings about the Giants’ family had filtered down to their players. Both responded, but Bob Tisch did so almost immediately, expressing his own personal condolences and telling me of his own sense of loss over the death of his brother, which had occurred recently. Soon thereafter, it was made public that he, himself, was ill.

The kindness, the generosity, the humanity of Duke Mara and Bob Tisch are reminders of an age past. These were not “me” generation men. These were not men of limp personality. These were genuine men who stood tall and lived with the same passion as we do for this thing we all know as the NY Football Giants.

We are all the lesser for their passing.

Nov 162005
Minnesota Vikings 24 – New York Giants 21

Game Overview: I can’t ever recall watching a Giants’ game where the defense was so dominant, yet the Giants found a way to lose the football game. The Giants defense only allowed three points and 12 yards rushing! How do you lose a football game like that? The answer on Sunday was pretty clear – the Giants’ defense could not overcome the catastrophic play of the special teams and minus four differential on turnovers. There is little wonder why Head Coach Tom Coughlin was so angry after this game. In his inaugural address as the new head coach last year, two of his main points of emphasis were winning the turnover battle and excelling at special teams. The Giants did neither on Sunday and lost a critically important football game (they are all important at this stage of the season).

Special Teams: The Giants were supposed to be beyond this crap. All season, the special teams have played great but on Sunday they were a huge reason why the Giants lost. And missing players on the special teams unit such as David Tyree is not a valid excuse. It is bush league to give up a kick return and a punt return for touchdowns in the same game. If one or both of these returns do not happen, the Giants win the football game.

On the returns in question, as Coughlin said, the kickers deserve much of the blame. PK Jay Feely’s kickoff to start the third quarter was low and short, not giving the coverage team much time to run down the field. At the same time, Koren Robinson didn’t face much opposition en route to his 86-yard return for a touchdown (I am just speculating but it looked to me that Jamaar Taylor got out of his lane). On P Jeff Feagles’ punt that was returned for a 71-yard touchdown, the punt was right down the middle of the field (instead of towards the sidelines). Antonio Pierce overran the returner right at the start of the return; Chase Blackburn had the returner in his arms, but didn’t bring him down; and Sean Berton not only missed him but also took out another potential tackler (Ryan Kuehl). And the effort made by Feagles was a joke.

But that wasn’t it. Feely also inexcusably missed a 28-yard field goal. Feagles also got off a very poor 31-yard punt. Willie Ponder fumbled away the opening kickoff to the Vikings after running into his own man and had another return that only picked up 14 yards. The only good news was the partially blocked field goal by Damane Duckett and Chad Morton’s 55-yard punt return (he got good blocks from Alonzo Jackson and Sean Berton on this return). But Morton also seemed to run out of gas on this return after he cut back to the inside. This hurt because the Giants did not score after the return (Feely missed the field goal).

Quarterback: When your quarterback is playing poorly due to inconsistency, inaccuracy, and turnovers, your offense is not going to have any rhythm. Drives will stall prematurely. Eli Manning did not take what the defense gave him on Sunday. He did not see and did not hit wide-open receivers. Play-calling can not overcome that.

Aside from the special teams, Manning (23-of-48 for 281 yards, 1 touchdown, 4 interceptions, 48 percent completion rate) was the biggest reason why the Giants lost on Sunday. The glaring mistakes were the four interceptions, including one that was returned 92 yards for a touchdown. If this play does not happen, the Giants win the football game. But what bothered me just as much as there were two third-and-short situations in the second quarter where Manning was looking right at a wide-open receiver in the flat, but for some reason did not pull the trigger and the drive stalled. The first occurred on 3rd-and-2 on the Giants’ first field goal drive. FB Jim Finn was wide-open to his right and Manning was looking right at him, but he instead held onto the ball and then decided to throw it away in the vicinity of TE Visanthe Shiancoe (and this was almost intercepted). The Giants had to settle for the 35-yard field goal. Later in the quarter, after the long punt return by Morton, Shiancoe was wide open in the flat and again Manning looked right at him and decided not to release the football. This play came on 3rd-and-3 and the Giants settled for a 28-yard field goal attempt (that was missed). The only reason I can think of why Manning did not throw in these two situations is that he had become gun-shy after the two earlier interceptions. That is somewhat disturbing if true. Pass protection really was not an issue.

Now to be fair to Manning, the fact that the Giants’ passing game was out of sync early on was not all his fault. Manning was not helped by drops by Tim Carter (on 3rd-and-5), Jamaar Taylor (on 3rd-and-4), Shiancoe, and Plaxico Burress (on a 3rd-and-5 play that might have resulted in a touchdown). I also believe that the first interception was somewhat of a fluke play. The ball was tipped at the line and the tip caused the ball to wobble mightily. As both WR Amani Toomer and the defensive back got their hand on the football, it ricocheted right into the arms of FS Darren Sharper who was lying on the ground. But Manning was also inaccurate early, being on the high side with some of his throws. There was one first quarter pass to Burress that was thrown too high for the very tall receiver even to make a play on (and this pass was almost picked off). And he self-admittedly misread the coverage on the play to Burress that was picked off and returned for a touchdown (the slant pass was thrown behind Burress too on this play).

There was more of the same in the second half. The Giants just could not get things going as either Manning was off, there were batted balls at the line of scrimmage (I didn’t see anything strange about Manning’s trajectory on these plays, I think it was just coincidence), the offensive line made a mistake (a couple of these were bad officiating calls), or a receiver dropped a ball. It was if the gods had firmly decided that the Giants were not going to win on this day. After the Vikings returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a touchdown, the Giants quickly moved down field and scored. There was a 40-yard pass interference penalty called against Toomer on a deep pass. Manning then found Toomer for an 11-yard gain on 3rd-and-4. Two plays later, on 3rd-and-5, he hit a wide open Toomer for a 23-yard touchdown. The Giants seemed to be back in business, only trailing by one point with almost two quarters still left to play.

But things then fell apart again. Manning had a ball batted at the line and was very inaccurate on his 3rd-and-10 pass to Toomer. The Vikings returned the ensuing punt for a touchdown to regain an 8-point lead. Manning and the Giants came back on the field, but there was a phantom holding call on RT Kareem McKenzie and Manning’s pass to a wide-open Burress over the middle was too low. On 3rd-and-12, HB Tiki Barber couldn’t make a good block on a blitz pick-up and Manning’s deep throw to Burress was off the mark. The Giants’ defense got the ball back for the offense at the Viking 40-yard line, but then came a sack, another phantom holding penalty, and Manning’s deep pass to Toomer was intercepted as the ball hung a bit and another corner came off his receiver to make a great play. The defense held again and the Giants started to move the ball on their next possession at the start of the fourth quarter. However, Manning tried to force a deep post pattern to Burress in the end zone despite double coverage, Manning was sacked on second down, and then on third-and-long, his pass fell incomplete. Punt.

When the Giants got the ball back, there was 7:53 left on the clock. In eight plays, they moved from their own 44-yard line to the Minnesota 5-yard line. On this drive, Manning made an excellent play by avoiding a sack and somehow finding Toomer for a 6-yard completion on 2nd-and-5. Manning badly missed a wide-open Burress over the middle, but on the ensuring play, on 3rd-and-10, he made a great throw to Shockey for a 19-yard gain despite getting hammered by two defenders as he released the football. Eli found Barber over the middle on a screen for a touchdown on the very next play, but RG Chris Snee was flagged for being illegally down field. On the next snap, Manning’s pass to Toomer was thrown slightly behind him. Toomer had his hands on the ball but couldn’t come down with it and the deflection was intercepted. What really hurt on this play was that Tiki was wide open in the left flat for what would have been an easy touchdown.

The defense held again and the Giants got the ball back with 3:17 on the clock. Manning and the Giants drove 67 yards in eight plays (only taking 1:56 off the clock). On this drive, Manning completed five passes for 53 yards. Too little, too late.

Wide Receivers: Giants’ fans have been calling for more action in the direction of Tim Carter and Jamaar Taylor, but both hurt the Giants on Sunday. Carter dropped an early 3rd-and-5 pass that would have picked up the first down. Interestingly, the next time the Giants faced a third-down situation, it was Taylor on the field, not Carter. Taylor got wide open but dropped the well-thrown pass from Manning, forcing a punt.

Plaxico Burress (3 catches for 50 yards) was the focal point of the Vikings’ defense. He was double-covered by CB Brian Williams and FS Darren Sharper for much of the game. Plaxico hurt the team when he dropped a 3rd-and-5 pass in the second quarter. Burress was matched up on a linebacker and had he caught this pass, he may have raced into the end zone from 30 yards out. The pass was thrown slightly behind Burress, but it was very catchable.

Amani Toomer caught six passes for 61 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown reception where his man got picked off the play by Shockey. He was involved in two big plays on the drive prior to this reception: he was interfered with on a 40-yard deep pass and he made an 11-yard catch on 3rd-and-4. But Toomer also could not come down with a Manning pass that was thrown slightly behind him late in the fourth quarter inside the Viking 5-yard line. Toomer got both hands on the ball, but it was deflected and intercepted in the end zone.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey only caught one pass for 12 yards in the first half and finished the game with five catches for 55 yards. The Giants need to find somewhay to get him more involved than that. His biggest play of the game was his 19-yard reception on 3rd-and-10 late in the game that set up the Giants on the Minnesota 11-yard line. Unfortunately, the ensuing touchdown was wiped out due to a penalty and the Giants turned the football over. Shockey did have two catches for 19 yards on the game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter. Earlier in the half, Shockey made a bonehead decision to not pursue the football on a Manning incompletion that was originally ruled a fumble. The Giants were fortunate there.

Shiancoe couldn’t handle one pass that was thrown slightly too far in front of him. But he did do a very good job of blocking in this game in the first half. There was one play where he simply planted the defensive end into the turf. However, in the second half, I saw him fall off at least three blocks. Too inconsistent.

Offensive Line: The pass protection was good and Manning had time to throw for the most part. In the first half, there was one deep pass to Burress where RG Chris Snee was beat and Manning’s arm was knocked as he threw, causing a dangerous flutter ball to come down harmlessly. This was costly as Burress was interfered with on the play, but the ruling was that the ball was uncatchable. In the second half, the pass protection was not quite as sharp, but when a team passes the ball 50 times in a game (taking into account the two Eli scrambles as well), you are going to get some pass pressure. LT Luke Petitgout was beaten to the outside on the play where it was originally ruled that Eli was sacked and fumbled the ball (later reversed to an incomplete pass). This was a bad pass pressure as the man Eli was trying to hit was wide-open on a deep out cut deep in Minnesota territory. On the first drive in the fourth quarter, OC Shaun O’Hara gave up a pressure on the play where Manning tried to hit Burress on the post pattern in the end zone. On the ensuing play, LG David Diehl failed to pick up the stunt in his area and a 10-yard sack resulted, thus stalling what had been a promising drive. Diehl also gave up two more pressures on the next drive (he needs to start playing up to his new contract). McKenzie gave up one late press on a completion to Shockey.

It’s starting to dawn on me that the Giants are not a very physical offensive line and this hurts in the run-blocking department. The Giants had issues with the physical play of the 49er defensive front last week and this week, Minnesota’s two defensive tackles gave the Giants fits.

There was one screen pass to Barber that could have picked up more yardage had Diehl not missed a block, but Diehl and O’Hara got good blocks on Barber’s 48-yard screen pass.

Penalties remain a problem. Petitgout was flagged with a false start right before Manning’s first interception (turning a 3rd-and-9 into a 3rd-and-14). Diehl was flagged with a holding penalty (that was declined) right before Feely’s missed field goal. McKenzie was flagged for an illegal formation penalty on an incomplete pass play. The costliest penalty was on Snee for being illegally downfield on the middle screen where Barber scored. This was an idiotic play by Snee – a real mental lapse. The holding calls on McKenzie and Petitgout in the second half were completely bogus (and Coughlin said the same thing after looking at the film himself). These two phantom calls were a factor in the Giants losing the football game as they helped to end two third quarter drives.

Running Backs: As mentioned, Barber had problems running between the tackles, though he did have one 10-yard carry up the gut late in the second quarter. While he also had runs of 5, 11, 5, 4, and 13 yards, he had runs of 1, -1, 1, 2, 2, and 2 yards in the first half. Derrick Ward faired worse with carries of 1 and –3 yards. I would have attacked the edges more than the Giants chose. Also, a heavier dose of Barber may have been in order with Eli obviously struggling.

One of the few big plays in the game for the Giants was Barber’s 48-yard screen play that set up a field goal. Barber does a nice job on screen plays by being patient and setting up his blockers.

Things started off well for Barber in the second half with runs of 6 and 8. But his next seven runs went for just –3, 0, 3, 5, 1, 0, and 6. Barber also was not able to pick up one blitz that contributed to a 3rd-and-12 incompletion. It wasn’t until the last drive where Barber became a big factor again with three catches for 34 yards and an 11-yard run. Following these four plays, Tiki carried the ball for a 3-yard touchdown run and a 2-point conversion to tie the game.

Brandon Jacobs had one tough run for two yards on a 3rd-and-1 play that was not particularly well blocked.

Defense: The Vikings were held to a net of six yards of offense in the first half. They only had three first downs before halftime and were 0-of-7 on third down (they finished the game with 137 yards of offense, 11 first downs, and were 2-of-14 on third down). Most importantly, the Giants’ defense held the Vikings to only three points. Unfortunately, these three points came very late in the game after the Giants had tied the game 21-21. This is the second time this season that the Giants have given up a late field goal drive to win the game. But give the Vikings credit too. TE Jermaine Wiggins made a fantastic catch to get the Vikings out of deep trouble and QB Brad Johnson stood very tough in the pocket despite a lot of heat by the Giants (Tim Lewis did not play it safe). Regardless, I can’t blame the defense at all for this loss. You can’t ask for much more than what they did on Sunday. Minnesota was held to 12 yards rushing.

One thing to note is that Tim Lewis’ defensive fronts are now very confusing for the opponent. The Giants will use both four- and three-man lines with multiple linebackers and defensive backs feigning a blitz or actually coming. Some of this is very well disguised.

Defensive Line: A superb game by all the defensive line. You can’t ask for anything better than limiting the opponent to 12 yards rushing. The pass rush was solid, both in terms of actual sacks as well as pressure. Osi Umenyiora, who has been playing great the last few weeks, had nine tackles and two sacks (though one of these was a coverage sack and the other came after Brad Johnson tripped over one of his offensive linemen). Umenyiora is also playing smarter. He correctly read one screen pass, helping to cause a 1-yard loss, and was not fooled by an end around for a 4-yard loss. Osi was flagged with encroachment and roughing-the-passer penalties however. Michael Strahan had six tackles and one sack. Strahan made a tackle for a 3-yard loss.

William Joseph (4 tackles) and Kendrick Clancy (3 tackles) were very stout against the run. The unfortunate thing was that Joseph dislocated his elbow very late in the game and will miss at least a month. He tackled HB Michael Bennett for a 5-yard loss on one play. (The roughing-the-passer penalty on Joseph was a ticky-tack call). Clancy has been making more noticeable plays in recent weeks, including holding a Viking screen pass to a 5-yard loss and making a play in the backfield against the run for a 1-yard loss. Both Clancy and Joseph caused another 2-yard loss on another Bennett run. Clancy also forced a fumble that the Giants recovered. Fred Robbins saw a fair amount of action and flashed on the pass rush a few times.

Linebackers: Aside from Umenyiora, Antonio Pierce (10 tackles) has really been coming on in recent weeks. Once again, he was all over the field. He made one play against the run in the backfield for a 6-yard loss, blew up a screen play for a 1-yard loss, and also recovered a fumble. It is interesting to note that the Giants’ defense has been playing better with Reggie Torbor (3 tackles) in the starting lineup. He blew up one screen play for a 5-yard loss. Nick Greisen (2 tackles) gutted out a very painful injury (ribs).

Defensive Backs: The entire unit was outstanding in the first half. Vikings’ wide receivers caught one pass for two yards in the first half. Wow!

The problem in the second half was that the play of CB Curtis Deloatch slipped. Deloatch tipped away three passes in the game (one of these erased due to a roughing-the-pass penalty). He almost came up with a pick and Deloatch made an aggressive play in run defense. But the second half was not kind to him. First he was flagged for a ticky-tack defensive holding penalty. Later on the same drive, he got burned on a double-move by WR Koren Robinson on 3rd-and-12 for a 44-yard gain. To his credit, the Vikings tried a double move against Deloatch a few plays later and he perfectly defended the deep pass. But Deloatch also gave up completions of 11 and 12 yards after that. It was obvious that the Vikings were targeting him. His costliest mistake of the game was playing far too soft on the 1st-and-10 play from the Vikings’ 45 yard line with 46 left in the game. Despite good pressure, Brad Johnson was able to hit a wide open receiver for 11 yards and Deloatch really screwed the pooch by allowing the receiver to get out of bounds. This really made Coughlin upset. Two plays later, Deloatch came darn close to knocking away a 3-yard pass to the tight end (a pass that turned a 51-yard field goal into a 48-yard field goal).

Will Allen (4 tackles, 1 pass defense) has been playing very well in recent weeks. He did a real good job of nailing one swing pass for a 1-yard loss. Gibril Wilson (6 tackles) missed one tackle, but had a monster sack on Johnson. It was one of the best hits I’ve seen a Giant make in years and it was a miracle that Johnson held onto the football. He did get beat deep by WR Travis Taylor on one play, but Taylor dropped the football. FS Brent Alexander (3 tackles) has been playing well of late.

Coaching: I don’t think the coaching lost this game, but there were three decisions that I did not like:

  1. Coughlin told Manning to spike the ball on first-and-goal from the three yard line with 1:27 left in the game. This decision not only wasted a down, but saved time on the clock for the Vikings’ game-winning field goal drive.
  2. The criticism of Tim Lewis’ zone blitzing schemes is a bit harsh given the fact that these very same schemes have prevented the opponent from scoring a touchdown in over three games. However, I felt the risk of having Umenyiora cover a wide receiver on the final drive was too great and, in hindsight, proved to be a bad call, leading to an 11-yard completion.
  3. I don’t care what Coughlin said after the game about the last, desperate attempt to score with 10 seconds left. The Giants had a far higher chance of hitting a deep sideline pass and kicking a field goal than they did with some gadget play. Neither was likely, but the former had a better chance of succeeding.
(Box Score – Minnesota Vikings at New York Giants, November 13, 2005)
Nov 102005

Approach to the Game – Minnesota Vikings at New York Giants, November 13, 2005: The Vikings are an underperforming team in turmoil that does not play well outside and is led by a lame duck head coach. But they do have talented players and their big division win against Detroit last week buoyed their spirits and gave them new life in the weak NFC North.

They should not be taken lightly.

Giants on Offense: After an experiment with the 3-4 defense failed miserably, the Vikings went back to the 4-3 last week with good success. The most imposing element of their defense in their two defensive tackles – Pat Williams and Kevin Williams. Pat Williams is the ex-Bill import who is difficult to move out against the run. Kevin Williams is a disruptive player. The interior trio on the Giants’ offensive line need to be at the top of their game. OC Shaun O’Hara and LG David Diehl in particular need to play better than they have the last few games. Left end Spencer Johnson is doubtful with a knee injury so Darrion Scott will likely start again this week. The Vikings use a platoon system on the right side with rookie first-rounder Erasmus James starting last week and playing fairly well. He can get after the quarterback as can sub Lance Johnstone, who has given the Giants some problems in the past. I would think this would be a good week to attack the edges of the Vikings defense with Tiki Barber, especially with runs to the weakside.

The linebacking corps is big and physical, but for some reason they are not playing up to their potential. MLB Sam Cowart is a solid player, but he slowing down. WLB E.J. Henderson is talented, but has not lived up to his draft hype. He tends to make mental mistakes. Keith Newman starts on the strongside. Reserves Dontarrious Thomas and Napoleon Harris are big and athletic, but lack instincts. I would try to exploit this group with play-action as well as passes to Jeremy Shockey and Barber. Cutback runs by Barber may also be quite effective.

Right corner Fred Smoot is out with a broken collarbone. I assume that Brian Williams will start in his place, but the Vikings could move Antoine Winfield, their best corner, over as well. Williams is an aggressive, physical player so I would think he would be the guy to cover Plaxico. Winfield is very short, but he plays bigger than his size because he is so physical. The nickel back is ex-Giant Ralph Brown. The Giants might want to try to match Tim Carter up on Brown and take some shots deep. FS Darren Sharper makes a lot of plays, but he also gambles a lot too.

The big hope here is that QB Eli Manning starts playing better, particularly in terms of his decision-making and accuracy. He has forced some throws to Plaxico Burress and Shockey the last few weeks and his accuracy has been up and down most of the season.

Giants on Defense: Based on last week’s performance, Brad Johnson is an upgrade over Daunte Culpepper (who is out for the season). Johnson lacks Culpepper’s arm, but he makes good decisions, gets rid of the ball quickly, and is accurate. Last week against the Lions, Johnson threw a lot of quick, short passes outside to the receivers to exploit soft coverage. The Giants defensive backs and linebackers will have to pursue quickly and make sure, open-field tackles. The Vikings have some decent receivers and often employ three WR-sets. The guy who scares me the most is rookie speedster Troy Williamson, who is one of the fastest players in the league. He also has good size. Nate Burleson is capable of making some excellent grabs and ex-Seahawk Koren Robinson has always had the ability to make big plays. Ex-Raven Travis Taylor has 29 receptions.

Johnson is more likely to spread the ball around more to the backs and tight ends. Jermaine Wiggins leads the team in receptions with 36 and while TE/H-Back/FB Jim Kleinsasser is used more as a blocker (and a very good one), he also can catch out of the backfield. All of the Vikings’ halfbacks can catch too and break big runs. Linebacker coverage here will be important. WLB Nick Greisen (ribs) is banged up and has had problems staying with speedier players in the past. The Vikings may try to match up halfbacks Michael Bennett or Mewelde Moore on him or SLB Reggie Torbor.

The first key is to shut down the run and then get after Johnson. The Giants’ front four has played well the past two weeks and let’s hope that continues. Michael Strahan will face ex-Giant RT Mike Rosenthal. Osi Umenyiora will battle huge, but inconsistent LT Bryant McKinnie. The inside of the Minnesota line is a bit of a mess with the loss of Matt Birk at center. The Giants need their defensive tackles to take advantage of this. Both Bennett and Moore are capable of breaking big runs and the Giants need to keep them under control. Last week, the Vikings made a commitment to run the ball and that formula worked for them. They will likely try the same this weekend as well.

Giants on Special Teams: Koren Robinson returns kickoffs and has a 72-yarder on the season. As for their own return game, the Giants need to start giving Chad Morton more room to operate on punt returns so he can do some damage. I get the sense that Willie Ponder is about to break one again.

Nov 092005
New York Giants 24 – San Francisco 49ers 6

Game Overview: Personally, I’m just glad the Giants got past this game with a win. Screw the style points. This game scared the heck out of me as it had “trap game” written all over it. And for three quarters, this contest had the feel of one of those Jim Fassel-coached games that the Giants let slip away.

So the Giants are 6-2 at the mid-way point and all alone in first place in the NFC East. But every team in the division is still within striking distance and the Giants and the tough part of the schedule is approaching. The Giants need to continue to improve, especially at quarterback, if they are going to win the division.

Quarterback: Eli Manning (18-of-33 for 251 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions) managed the game well against a physical and improving defense that publicly stated that its goal was to confuse the young quarterback. But Manning has been in somewhat of a rut the past two games. Manning had good pass protection against the 49ers. But he bird-dogged his two favorite receivers (Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey) to the point where he did not see some wide-open options. In other words, like most young quarterbacks, he is not seeing the whole field. His accuracy was also off. With the meat of the schedule coming up, the Giants need Manning to get out of his funk quickly.

The Giants moved the ball well on their first possession of the game. Manning threw a nice 28-yard seam pass to Shockey to start the drive. There was an 8-yard pass to Burress and a key 8-yard pass to Shockey on 3rd-and-5. However, Manning also missed a wide-open TE Visanthe Shiancoe on a 3rd-and-1, play-action pass for what should have been an easy touchdown from 25 yards out. Moreover, on 3rd-and-goal from the 4-yard line, Manning, who was under some pressure, tried to hit Burress at the back of the end zone when he had a wide-open Amani Toomer in front of Burress near the goal line. Manning had to see Toomer because he was in Manning’s field of vision. The pass to Burress was not accurate and the Giants were forced to settle for a field goal.

The Giants’ next four possessions of the first half went nowhere. First, a holding penalty wiped out a 22-yard pass to Burress on 3rd-and-2. On the next play, Manning’s pass to Shockey was thrown way over his head and the Giants punted. On the next drive, after two runs and a penalty, the Giants faced a 3rd-and-15. Manning tried to hit a well-covered Burress to his left along the sideline (the pass was incomplete), not seeing a wide-open Shockey running down the seam to his right. On the next possession, Manning’s first pass to an open Shockey was too low and incomplete. Manning did find Tim Carter for 12 yards on 3rd-and-5. He also found a wide-open Toomer for a 30-yard gain down to the 49er 14-yard line on 3rd-and-10, but a holding penalty erased this play. After a screen to Barber, the Giants turned the ball over on downs at the 37-yard line. The last of these four drives was also halted when the Giants could not convert on 3rd-and-1.

The Giants finally scored again very late in the second quarter after the 49ers turned the football over. With 52 seconds left before halftime and on the San Francisco 41-yard line, Manning threw to Shockey for a 9-yard gain (incidentally, the Giants should have called a time out here as they had all three timeouts and let too much time run off the clock). On 2nd-and-1, Manning badly missed Shockey and the clock stopped with an incompletion. On 3rd-and-1, Toomer dropped a short pass over the middle. The Giants decided to go for it on 4th-and-1 (the third time they did so in the first half). This time it was a play-action pass. Manning decided to throw to a wide-open Shockey deep. The pass was slightly overthrown, but Shockey saved Manning’s ass by making a great diving reception for the touchdown from 32 yards out.

The Giants had the ball five times in the second half. The first drive was hurt by two more offensive line penalties and the second was predominantly a running drive that could only pick up one first down.

The Giants broke the game open on their next possession with Manning’s 50-yard pass to Burress. While much of the attention has gone to Burress for his one-handed, circus catch, it was also a great play by Manning. Instinctively feeling pressure from a blitzer to his right, Manning took a quick, unbalanced step to his left, reset incredibly quickly, and threw a wonderfully accurate deep ball to Plaxico. A few plays later, the Giants were up 17-6 with 13 minutes left to play.

The Giants really put the final nail in the coffin on the next drive, going 68 yards in 10 plays for 24-6 lead with six minutes to go. However, Manning came very, very close to committing an inexcusable mistake. His 2nd-and-8 sideline throw was behind Amani and should have been picked off and possibly returned for a touchdown. The only way the 49ers were going to get back into the game at this point was with a turnover touchdown and that almost happened had the safety not dropped the easy pick. On the very next play, with pressure in his face, Manning lobbed a beautiful, arching pass to Toomer for a 23-yard gain down to the San Francisco 1-yard line.

Wide Receivers: Manning’s favorite wide receiver continues to be Burress, who caught five passes for 79 yards against the 49ers. Burress’ numbers would have looked even better had he not had a 22-yard reception on 3rd-and-2 erased due to a holding penalty. Burress made one of the great catches in team history with his one-handed, circus catch on a 50-yard bomb from Manning that broke the game open at the end of the third quarter. Burress reached out with his right hand to snag the pass and then pulled it against his helmet to secure the football despite tight coverage.

Toomer caught three passes for 38 yards and one gets the sense that Manning still considers him somewhat of an afterthought. As mentioned above, Toomer was wide open in the end zone on the third-and-goal play on the first drive. But Toomer’s numbers would have also looked better if his 30-yard reception on 3rd-and-10 down to the San Fran 14-yard line was not erased due to another holding penalty. Toomer did drop a 3rd-and-1 pass on the scoring drive right before halftime. Like Burress, Toomer made a great catch in the second half that set up a touchdown. On 3rd-and-8, the Giants faced an all-out blitz from the San Francisco 24-yard line. Manning lobbed the ball to Toomer near the goal line and Amani out-fought the defender for the reception (the defender had his hand on the ball too as it reached Amani’s hands). This play actually should have been ruled a touchdown, but the officials marked it down at the 1-yard line.

Tim Carter only caught one pass for 12 yards (coming on 3rd-and-5). Carter was not able to make an effective block on the strong safety on a 3rd-and-2 run by Barber that lost 2-yards. Jamaar Taylor also saw some snaps, but there were no passes thrown in his direction. There was one interesting formation that had Taylor, Burress, Shockey, Toomer, and Carter all on the field together split out wide. This formation caused the 49ers to spend a timeout. Taylor did whiff on a block on one Tiki Barber run.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey (4 catches for 77 yards, 1 touchdown) was a difference-maker in this game. His superb, diving, 32-yard reception for a touchdown on 4th-and-1 with 13 seconds left before halftime really was a huge play. He also made a superb, twisting reception for 28 yards on the opening field goal drive (this was a seam pass run out of the slot). Later in this drive, Shockey ripped the ball away from SS Tony Parrish for an 8-yard gain on 3rd-and-5.

Incidentally, a plea to Head Coach Tom Coughlin to get Shockey out of the game when the Giants are merely running out the clock. Shockey was slightly injured earlier in the year in such a situation and there is no reason to have him in the game blocking when you have guys like Tiki Barber sitting on the sidelines.

Visanthe Shiancoe was able to get deep for what should have been a 25-yard touchdown pass on 3rd-and-1 on the opening drive, but Manning misfired on the play. Shiancoe got a good lead block on one Barber run when he came in motion behind the line of scrimmage and took out a defensive lineman and did a good job of blocking from the down position.

Sean Berton entered the game in the base offense when Jim Finn was dinged. The Giants used him at fullback. He caught one pass for three yards, but he did not do a very good job on one lead block for Barber.

Offensive Line: The pass protection was excellent against a defense that likes to blitz and confuse its opponents. However, the 49ers were more physical up front on running plays. In addition, on some runs, it seemed as if there were more defenders than blockers as the 49ers were quicker to the punch.

The real issue was the untimely penalties. OC Shaun O’Hara was flagged with a holding call on the second drive of the game that erased a 22-yard completion on 3rd-and-2. The Giants punted shortly thereafter. RG Chris Snee was flagged with a false start on the next possession, turning a 3rd-and-10 into a 3rd-and-15, and leading to another punt. LT Luke Petitgout was then flagged with holding on the following possession, erasing a 30-yard gain on a pass to Toomer down to the San Francisco 14-yard line. Two plays later the Giants turned the ball over on downs. In the second half, the first drive was stalled with another holding penalty on O’Hara and a false start by LG David Diehl.

Diehl did not have a particularly good game. He was pushed backwards a number of times on both passing and running plays. The penetration he allowed on one 3rd-and-1 disrupted a short-yardage carry by HB Brandon Jacobs and caused the Giants to punt. In the second half, Petitgout gave up one pressure that helped to cause an incomplete deep pass to Toomer. And McKenzie gave up one pressure that was a factor on an incomplete pass to Toomer in the end zone.

Snee made one of the big plays of the game when he recovered Jim Finn’s fumble at the Giants’ 15-yard line. It was a darn good effort by a guy not normally used to handling a pigskin. The Giants used Jason Whittle at tight end on the goal line early in the fourth quarter and he got a good block on Brandon Jacobs’ first touchdown run.

Running Backs: As mentioned, the 49ers were more physical up front on running plays. Barber was only able to gain 23 yards on 11 carries in the first half for a measly 2.1 yards-per-carry average. He did do a nice job of picking up 19 yards on a 3rd-and-20 screen pass and had another reception for 13 yards in the first half. Barber was more effective in the second half with 10 carries for 48 yards (4.8 yards-per-carry average). The blocking was better, but Barber also had one excellent run where he avoided a tackler in the backfield with a quick cut and then proceeded to gain 14 yards.

Brandon Jacobs had some weird-looking stats (5 carries for 3 yards, 2 touchdowns). He had three short-yardage runs in the first half and was used as a decoy on two more. On the first drive of the game, facing 3rd-and-1, the Giants used play-action to Jacobs in an attempt to hit Shiancoe deep for the touchdown. The play worked, but Manning overthrew Shiancoe. On this play, Jacobs did a great job of blocking two blitzers. On the very next snap, on 4th-and-1, Jacobs picked up three yards and the first down. However, on the Giants’ next 4th-and-1, in the second quarter, Jacobs had no chance as a number of 49ers penetrated into the backfield and tackled Jacobs for a 2-yard loss. Penetration also disrupted another 3rd-and-1 effort on the next drive. Jacobs barely missed picking up the first down by inches. In the second half, Jacobs had two carries – both resulting in 1-yard touchdown runs. On the first, Jacobs ran over a potential tackler to score. On the second, Brandon made a great cutback to his right and so completely fooled the 49er defense in doing so that he literally waltzed into the end zone.

Derrick Ward carried the ball three times for 22 yards when the Giants were running out the clock. His second run was a tough, power run where he bulled his way through a potential tackler for a 12-yard gain on 3rd-and-11. On the next play, he picked up another 11 yards off a cutback, broke two tackles, and ran through a third. Excellent running.

Jim Finn was very involved. For the second game in a row, I thought his run blocking really stood out. While there was one block where he fell off Julian Peterson late in the game, his blocks were instrumental on Barber’s 3rd-and-1 conversion on the first touchdown drive of the second half as well as Jacobs’ first touchdown. Finn also had another excellent block on Barber’s 3rd-and-1 conversion on the next touchdown drive. Finn made an excellent one-handed catch on a pass thrown behind him and then demonstrated extra effort for diving for a first down on a 2nd-and-7 play. Earlier, he came darn close to coming up with a beautiful, full-extension touchdown reception on a slightly overthrown ball by Manning. Finn did fumble after another short reception on a play that he was hit so hard that it looked like he was knocked out for a moment.

Defense: The defense has another outstanding statistical day. The 49ers were limited to 138 total yards (52 net yards rushing, 86 net yards passing) and nine first downs. They only had 46 offensive snaps (an incredibly low number). And of note, for the second game in a row, the Giants’ third-down defense was outstanding (the 49ers were only 3-of-14 on third down). But everyone knows that these facts and figures come with the important caveat that the 49ers were playing with a very inexperienced quarterback who did not represent much of a threat. Still, these type of backup quarterbacks are the ones who have given the Giants problems in the past.

The 49ers could not pick up a first down on four of their first five possessions. The defense did start to bend on the last drive of the first half, but a holding penalty and a turnover saved the day. In the third quarter, the 49ers were able to kick two long field goals, but were completely shut down after that.

Defensive Line: The defensive line played very well across the board. The run defense was excellent. Not only did the defensive line make plays, but they kept blockers off of the linebackers enabling them to make a lot of tackles. The pass rush was also strong with good contributions from even the likes of Kendrick Clancy and William Joseph.

Michael Strahan (5 tackles) did not have any sacks, but he was a major factor on the pass rush. Osi Umenyiora (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 pass defense) also exerted good pressure throughout the game. Late in the second quarter, Umenyiora forced a huge holding call by the left tackle that erased a 31-yard pass play down to the Giants’ 2-yard line. He and Strahan also then made the 49er tackles jumpy on back-to-back false start penalties right after that. Pressure on QB Cody Pickett by Umenyiora and Strahan was then a factor on the interception that ended this threat and set up Giants on a touchdown drive of their own. Later in the game, in the fourth quarter, Umenyiora and Strahan caused two more holding penalties.

Umenyiora was not able to make the play to his side on a 3rd-and-4 misdirection toss that picked up 22 yards. Incidentally, the Giants were lucky not to lose Umenyiora with a potentially serious knee injury when one of the 49ers used an illegal crack back block on him – the penalty was not called. There were formations where the Giants had Fred Robbins play right end as well as William Joseph. The Giants also played some 3-man line with Umenyiora playing linebacker (like they have done all season).

Clancy made two plays for negative yardage in the second half, including an excellent swim move against the center to nail the running back for a 3-yard loss. The roughing-the-passer penalty on Clancy was bullcrap. The defensive holding call on Joseph was legitimate.

Linebackers: The three starters played very well and all were productive. Reggie Torbor (7 tackles) probably played his best game as a Giant. He was extremely physical and aggressive against the run. There was one play in particular where he sacrificed his body to take out two blockers and enable another player to clean up. Torbor was also active on the blitz, getting into Pickett’s face a few times, including nailing him on one play where Pickett fumbled the center exchange.

Antonio Pierce (7 tackles, 1 sack) was very sharp as well. He tackled the back for a 1-yard loss on a swing pass early in the game. He later sacked Pickett for a 4-yard loss on a rollout to the left. Pierce was very active defending the run at the line of scrimmage. He did miss one tackle, however, on the play right before the 49ers converted on their 4th-and-2 attempt in the second quarter. Pierce also missed another tackle on a short pass to the back in the fourth quarter.

Nick Greisen (2 tackles) made his presence known in the first half with two sure tackles (one for a 2-yard loss, another for no gain). However, he injured his ribs right before halftime and was not in another tackle after that. In fact, Chase Blackburn (no tackles) replaced him at the start of the third quarter, though Greisen eventually re-entered the game.

Defensive Backs: Cody Pickett was held to 86 net passing yards. The 49ers could not pick up a first down on their first four offensive possessions, but CB Curtis Deloatch (2 tackles, 1 pass defense) was lucky on one play where he was beat deep by the tight end, but the player dropped the football. There was also one breakdown in zone coverage on the right side of the defense as a receiver got wide open along the sideline for a 24-yard gain. I am not sure if Deloatch, Brent Alexander, or someone else made a mistake here.

In the second half, Deloatch was beaten by WR Brandon Lloyd for 13 yards on 3rd-and-6 and then heard an earful from Pierce. WR Arnaz Battle caught a 7-yard slant pass against Deloatch a few plays later despite tight coverage. Deloatch was also flagged for a holding penalty later in the quarter. In the fourth quarter, Deloatch jumped in front of Lloyd and should have picked off the pass, but dropped the ball.

Will Allen played very well. On one play, Brandon Lloyd got open against him for what should have been a 12-yard gain, but Lloyd dropped the ball. Allen was covering Lloyd on his circus catch in the second quarter that was called back, but it looked to me that Allen was playing the flight of the ball (and not expecting such a miracle reception).

Brent Alexander made one of the biggest plays of the game with his exceptionally timely interception of Pickett with less than a minute left in the first half. The pick ended one scoring threat and set up the Giants for their first touchdown. A few plays earlier, Alexander also smacked Pickett pretty hard when the quarterback scrambled for six yards. However, Alexander missed a tackle on HB Frank Gore’s 22-yard run on 3rd-and-4 in the third quarter. The missed tackle turned a 6-yard run into a 22-yard run (16-yard difference) and helped to set up the 49ers first field goal.

Gibril Wilson (5 tackles, 1 sack) picked up his skin on a safety blitz up the middle. He was somewhat fortunate on one deep pattern where there was a lot of bumping with the receiver. Pass interference was originally called, but waived off as Wilson was smart enough to turn back to look for the football. Wilson, along with Umenyiora, got blocked on the successful 4th-and-2 conversion attempt by the 49ers on a quarterback boot to the left. Wilson missed a key tackle on the second 49er drive of the second half on a play that picked up 12 yards on 3rd-and-16, enabling the 49ers to kick their second field goal. Wilson did a nice job of defending a screen pass late in the game.

Special Teams: PK Jay Feely hit his only field goal attempt (from 22 yards). His kickoffs were fielded at the 8 (25-yard return; tackle by Alonzo Jackson), 6 (10-yard return, tackle by Brandon Jacobs), 1 (24-yard return, tackle by Jackson and Derrick Ward), 2 (22-yard return, tackle by Reggie Torbor), and 7 (22-yard return, tackle by Jackson). The 49ers were limited to less than 21 yards per return and that is excellent. Obviously, newcomer Alonzo Jackson was active.

Jeff Feagles punted five times for a 45.8 yards-per-punt average. Returns went for 12 (Nick Greisen on the tackle), 12 (Reggie Torbor on the tackle after Jamaar Taylor missed), fair catch (forced by Jamaar Taylor), 6 (Chase Blackburn), and fair catch (forced by Curtis Deloatch).

Willie Ponder returned three kickoffs with a 27 yards-per-return average (and a long of 35 yards). He did have a 52-yarder called back when Kenderick Allen was called for holding (Coughlin said this was a bad call). Chad Morton returned six punts for 35 yards (a 5.8 yards-per-return average) and a long of 15 yards.

Special tribute goes to the punt return team for reacting well to the 49ers’ fake punt formation and not jumping offsides.

(Box Score – New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers, November 6, 2005)
Nov 032005

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers, November 6, 2005: Unless the other teams in the NFC East begin to unravel, this is a must game for the Giants as the Giants’ schedule becomes incredibly difficult after the next two games. Last week was an emotional time for the Giants, but they have to re-group quickly and realize what is at stake. They have a real chance to make some noise this year if they continue to improve and win games.

Tom Coughlin correctly pointed out this week that San Francisco is a far different team at home than on the road. They have beaten the Rams and the Buccaneers at home and should have beaten the Cowboys. The 49ers have some talented players in the front seven on defense and they can run the football.

All that matters is getting a win, which would be the Giants’ first road victory of the season.

Giants on Offense: The 49ers run a 3-4 defense that has struggled mightily at times this season. However, they played well last week in the huge upset over Tampa Bay. The glaring weakness on the 49ers’ defense is their secondary. Left corner Ahmed Plummer, who Amani Toomer torched regularly three years ago, will likely not play due to an ankle injury. His replacement, Bruce Thorton, was just signed off the practice squad. He was a 4th round 2004 draft pick bust in Dallas. The right corner, Shawntae Spencer, is ordinary at best and susceptible to being beaten deep. This is a match-up that Plaxico Burress should dominate. The free safety, Mike Adams, is a journeyman and the nickel and dimes backs are not very good. Spreading the field with Shockey and Tim Carter split out wide along with Burress and Toomer might be a very good game plan.

The undercover on Shockey should be solid. SS Tony Parrish is a good player and left outside linebacker Julian Peterson is one of the better players in the league at his position. Shockey and Peterson had a pretty good battle three years ago in the playoffs and I would expect that to continue.

The Giants should be able to torch the 49ers secondary IF (1) the offensive line and other blockers give him time, and (2) Eli Manning plays much better than he did last week. The 49ers have a good run defense, only allowing 3.8 yards-per-carry (tied with the Ravens for eighth best in the NFL). Look for the 49ers to focus on stopping HB Tiki Barber and daring the inconsistent Manning to beat them. Really, that is their only hope to win the game.

The 49ers can rush the passer – they have 21 sacks on the season. Left end Bryant Young is playing exceptionally well and already has eight sacks. He really will be a handful for RT Kareem McKenzie and RG Chris Snee. Right end Marques Douglas is a solid player, especially as a run defender. The nose tackle, Anthony Adams, is a hustle-type who lacks size. The linebackers are solid. Peterson can do it all and is a good blitzer. Former defensive end Andre Carter has been shifted the right linebacker, or elephant position, in the 49ers’ scheme. He’s a good pass rusher too. Blitz pick-ups will be crucial.

The game plan is pretty simple. Protect Manning and hope he has one of his better games, torch the 49er secondary, get a big lead, and then wear the 49ers down with the running game. If the pass protection or Manning falter, this game will be closer than it should.

Giants on Defense: Will the real Giants’ defense please stand up? Last week was great and the Giants are unlikely to match that kind of defensive productivity again this season. The 49ers will be starting their fourth quarterback of the season – the very green Cody Pickett. However, Pickett is a big, tough quarterback with a good arm and mobility. Moreover, because the Giants don’t have much tape on him, they really don’t know what his strengths and weaknesses are. Like the first time batters face a new pitcher, this could cause some problems, particularly early in the game.

Obviously, the big key is to make the 49ers one-dimensional and put all of the pressure on Pickett and the passing game. The 49ers have two decent halfbacks in Kevan Barlow and Frank Gore. The 49ers wore down the Buccaneers last week with the running game and will be looking to do the same with the Giants. Barlow runs with good power and Gore has the speed to break bigger plays. The good news is that the 49ers are beat up on the offensive line. LT Jonas Jennings is doubtful with a shoulder injury and OC Jeremy Newberry is questionable with knee and ankle injuries. Osi Umenyiora will face Anthony Clement, a former right tackle for the Cardinals. He’s a big guy who can run block so Umenyiora will have to button down the hatches against the run (particularly with DE Justin Tuck ailing). Umenyiora should create match-up problems on the pass rush however. DE Michael Strahan faces the tougher test against Kwame Harris is big and athletic. LG Justin Smiley and RG/OC Eric Heitmann are solid inside, but if Newberry doesn’t play, that will help the Giants. Newberry is one of the better centers in the game.

The 49ers do not have a lot of talent at the receiving positions. TE Eric Johnson is out for the season. Rookie 7th rounder Billy Bajema is the starter and he only has three receptions. WR Arnaz Battle is questionable with a knee sprain. If Battle does not play, expect to see more of Johnnie Morton, the 12-year veteran who lacks deep speed. He’s similar to Ike Hilliard. Brandon Lloyd, the other starting receiver, will likely be covered by Will Allen. Lloyd is a good athlete who can make plays down the field and over the middle, but he’s not consistent.

Easy game plan. Stop the run. Don’t let the mobile quarterback pick up cheap first downs with his feet. Play tight coverage and get after the young quarterback. While you don’t want to give up the cheap touchdown and give the 49ers hope, you don’t want to play it too safe on defense. Don’t make it easy for Pickett.

Giants on Special Teams: PK Joe Nedney is kicking as well as Jay Feely and is perfect in the 40-49 yard range. Otis Amey (who is questionable with an ankle injury) has a punt return for a touchdown and is averaging 16.5 yards per return. The Giants need to keep him in check if he plays, especially with David Tyree (elbow) still questionable.

The 49ers have done a good job of covering kickoffs (18.8 yards per return) and punts (8 yards per return).

Nov 022005
New York Giants 36 – Washington Redskins 0

Game Overview: Whew! This game had me nervous because I was afraid that the emotional week and the disruption to the routine would have been detrimental to the Giants. But the G-Men went out and provided a fitting good-bye to Wellington Mara by utterly destroying the Redskins. In fact, had QB Eli Manning not played so poorly, the Giants would have easily scored 50 on the Redskins.

The story of this game was the Giants’ defense. The Giants’ defense held the Skins to seven first downs and 125 total yards of offense (two first downs and 34 yards of offense in the first half). Washington didn’t even cross midfield until almost the fourth quarter when the Giants were already up 36-0. And contrary to their previous third-down defensive woes, the Giants held the Redskins’ offense to 2-of-12 on third down for a 17 percent conversion percentage. At the same time, the defense continued to force turnovers (1 interception, 2 fumble recoveries on defense, 1 fumble recovery on special teams).

But let’s not get too excited about this team just yet. The defense has to prove that Sunday was not an aberration.

Quarterback: Eli Manning (12-of-31 for 146 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 1 fumble) played a bad game. His first half was dreadful (8-of-22 for 91 yards). And before I continue, don’t jump on me because I’m the messenger. I am a big fan of Manning’s and expect him to continue to develop into one of the league’s best quarterbacks. But he is still a very young and inexperienced player who will have bad games. That’s part of the learning process. But there is a group of fans out there who get bent all out of shape if one says anything negative about Manning.

As for Manning’s poor performance, some want to blame the wind, others the pass protection. Tom Coughlin does not agree on the latter. “I think our passing game was not very good (against Washington),” said Coughlin. “I think our offensive line performed very well. I think our protection schemes were very good.”

The Giants scored 19 points in the first half. And none of this had to do with Manning. In fact the Giants would have blown the Skins out in the first half had Manning completed half of his passes (he only completed one-third of them). The proof is in the pudding – Manning was 0-1 on the first field goal drive; 1-of-3 (for eight yards) on the second field goal drive; 0-of-0 on the touchdown drive; 0-for-2 on the third field goal drive; and 1-of-1 (for four yards) on the fourth field goal drive.

On the first drive of the game, Manning overthrew WR Plaxico Burress on a fade pass into the end zone. Plaxico was open and made the catch, but he couldn’t keep his feet in bounds despite the great effort. On the next possession, Manning threw behind WR Amani Toomer on a short pass on 2nd-and-5. A few plays later, he made a terrible decision by throwing to TE Jeremy Shockey deep despite triple coverage (he was lucky the ball was not intercepted). But Manning did toss a ball up for grabs a few plays after this that was intercepted in the end zone, causing the Giants to come away with no points despite reaching the Redskins’ 11-yard line. On the next drive, the Giants were forced to settle for a 50-yard field goal when Manning’s intended pass to Burress was way off the mark.

Manning’s problems continued in the second quarter. After the Giants went up 13-0 after an all-rushing drive, Manning did connect with Burress for a 20-yard gain on the next possession. But then he badly overthrew Toomer on a deep shot into the end zone. Then on 3rd-and-10, his intended pass to a wide-open WR Tim Carter was way too high. Offsetting penalties gave Eli another chance, but he threw the ball away when he could find no one open. The Giants went three-and-out on their next possession (and Manning went 0-for-2). Then after a Redskins’ turnover and four straight running plays, Manning’s sideline pass to Burress was dropped and he threw away his 3rd-and-10 pass. On the Giants’ final drive of the first half, Manning threw an ill-advised pass in the end zone to a double-covered Toomer that fell incomplete.

The good news? Manning threw the ball away a few times when he saw no one open. He also made a real nice play by getting rid of the ball very quickly on a screen pass to Ward that picked up eight yards despite heavy immediate pressure. Manning also did a good job of spinning away from a free blitzer, thus avoiding a big sack.

In the second half, Manning only threw nine passes, completing four of them. He connected with Shockey for 10 yards and a touchdown after the Redskins fumbled the kickoff. After two three-and-outs, the Giants got into field goal range after a 26-yard catch-and-run by Toomer. But the drive stalled when Manning’s ill-advised, deep pass to a double-covered Shockey was off the mark and then Toomer dropped a 3rd-and-7 pass. On the Giants’ last scoring drive of the game, Manning did connect with Shockey for 12 yards on 3rd-and-5 (Manning’s first clutch throw of the game). I thought his best play of the game was his audible at the line of scrimmage three plays later on 3rd-and-goal from the 4-yard line. This play was exactly like the game-winning audible by Manning in the season-finale against Dallas. Manning correctly read the defense’s weakness and Barber scored from four yards out.

Wide Receivers: Not a productive day because Manning was so far off the mark. Plaxico Burress finished the game with four catches for 42 yards; Amani Toomer had two catches for 46 yards, and Tim Carter caught one pass for 19 yards. Burress almost came down with a circus catch on a fade pass into the end zone that was overthrown. Burress did drop one pass in the first half. Toomer’s best play of the game was turning a 13-yard out into a 26-yard gain by dragging a tackler 13 extra yards. Toomer was flagged with a false start and also dropped a pass on 3rd-and-7 in the third quarter. Tim Carter was flagged with a holding penalty in the fourth quarter that erased a 15-yard run by Derrick Ward.

Where the receivers – particularly Burress – stood out was in the run-blocking department. Burress had a key block on Barber’s first run of the game – a 57-yarder down the left sideline. Interestingly, the Giants often employed Toomer in an H-Back role in this game, in motion behind the offense line, and asked him to block outside of the tight end or tackle. At times, he was over-matched, but he also made some good blocks.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey did not play well in the first half. He had no catches (though Manning was not “on”) and his blocking was subpar for him (he didn’t sustain a couple of blocks that I spotted). As Shockey said after the game, “I might as well have sat in (the locker room) until halftime then went out and played. I didn’t really do much until the second half.” In the second half, Shockey scored a touchdown from 10 yards out as he beat LB Lavar Arrington in coverage and than ran over two tacklers. Shockey got wide open for a 12-yard gain on a key 3rd-and-5 play on the last touchdown-scoring drive of the game.

Running Backs: FB Jim Finn blocked exceptionally well for Tiki Barber and Derrick Ward. Finn had crucial blocks on a number of runs including the 57-yarder to start the game.

Barber had his personal best career-rushing performance with 206 yards on 24 carries (averaging 8.6 yards-per-carry) and a touchdown. He finally broke off some big runs (two 50+ yarders) and was consistently productive throughout the game. On the Giants’ first play from scrimmage, he received some outstanding blocking up front and raced down the left sideline for a 57-yard gain. Early in the second quarter, Barber made a very sharp cutback to the left on a play where the Washington defense over-pursued and he broke off a 59-yard run down to the 1-yard line. Barber had another nifty run for just seven yards when he cut back to the right against the grain of the defense. I also liked his 14-yard draw play late in the second quarter where he cut to the outside and broke two attempted tackles. In the second half, Barber almost broke an 18-yard run for a 23-yard score, just getting tripped up. Barber’s day ended late in the third quarter with his 4-yard touchdown run on a 3rd-and-goal draw play.

Barber’s blitz pick-ups were very good at times and not so good at others. He missed a blitzer on the play on the first drive where Manning was sacked and fumbled. Tiki’s man also got to Manning on the play where Eli’s pass was intercepted in the end zone. In the third quarter, Manning’s arm was hit when Barber’s man got past him and caused Manning’s pass to fall incomplete on 3rd-and-1. Barber also dropped a pass in the second half.

Derrick Ward played well in relief of Barber with 42 yards on 13 carries. He had a nice 7-yard run on the Giants’ first drive of the game right after Tiki’s long run. Ward, along with Brandon Jacobs, helped to run a lot of time off the clock in the fourth quarter on one drive where Ward carried the ball nine times (with the first run of 15 yards being wiped out due to a holding penalty).

Brandon Jacobs carried the ball 8 times for 14 yards and a touchdown. On his 3-yard touchdown run, he made three unblocked Redskins’ miss with a cut to the inside and ran over a potential tackler at the goal line for the score. Jacobs later converted a 3rd-and-1 attempt with a 3-yard gain, but he was also stuffed for no gain on a 3rd-and-2 attempt late in the first half and the Giants were forced to settle for the field goal. Jacobs also was a factor in running time of the clock late in the game, especially with his 7-yard run on 3rd-and-7 (Jacobs was given a generous spot on this run).

Offensive Line: The run blocking was obviously superb given the 262 yards of rushing. It doesn’t get much better than that. Most of the big runs went to the left and LT Luke Petitgout made a number of key blocks as did LG David Diehl and OC Shaun O’Hara.

I think my favorite play in terms of blocking came early in the third quarter. Shockey’s block on the left side sealed off the defensive end and a perfect alley was formed with a good lead block by Jim Finn and two excellent pulling blocks by Diehl and O’Hara. Barber ran for 18 yards on this play and almost broke it to the end zone.

Kudos too to the offensive line for being a big factor in controlling the clock in the fourth quarter when Ward and Jacobs were running the football.

Pass protection by the offensive line was good against a very difficult blitzing scheme. Some of the pressure came from Barber not being able to pick up three blitzes, but RT Kareem McKenzie also looked confused on the play where Barber was beat and Manning sacked on the first drive. O’Hara also gave up one pressure when he appeared to think someone else was going to pick up a stunting lineman. Late in the first half, RG Chris Snee gave up a pressure (and an illegal hands to the face penalty) on an incomplete pass to Toomer in the end zone. There was one sack given up in the second half as McKenzie gave up a quick outside pressure and Manning was sacked as he stepped up into the pocket as Snee was beat by his man. O’Hara gave up a pressure on the 26-yard catch-and-run by Toomer. But as you can see, the breakdowns were few.

McKenzie was flagged with a false start. Diehl and Snee with a holding penalties.

Defense: I am a little wary yet of saying the defense has turned the corner despite the outstanding defensive results. Unlike the Redskins’ defense, the Redskins’ offense seemed to lose their fight fairly quickly and was flustered. The Giants were aided by a number of dropped passes (though most of these were on short routes). Basically, I am not sure if the Giants’ defense was that good or the Redskins’ offense was that bad.

Defensive Line: It does not get much better than holding the other team to 38 yards rushing and 87 yards passing. Clinton Portis was held to nine yards rushing…NINE!!! And 21 of the 38 rushing yards came on two runs by HB Rock Cartwright late in the game when the Giants were in the prevent mode. There were five sacks and numerous pass pressures. The Redskins did not cross midfield until almost the fourth quarter and only had seven first downs in the game (two in the first half). When the score was 36-0 late in the third quarter, the Redskins had 54 yards of total offense. This was all done without the Giants blitzing all that much.

It is interesting to note that although the Redskins ran only 52 offensive plays, back-ups such as Kenderick Allen, Fred Robbins, and Justin Tuck played a lot (even very early in the game). In fact, Allen may have received more defensive snaps than starter Kendrick Clancy.

The star up front was DE Osi Umenyiora (4 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 pass defense, and 1 fumble recovery). While the sacks came late in the game, he was constantly buzzing around QB Mark Brunell for much of the game. Michael Strahan (4 tackles, 1 sack) also had a good game. His sack came against a double-team. Strahan also pressured Brunell quite a bit.

The defensive tackles also played very well. William Joseph had 2 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 pass defense. He also got a number of good pass pressures. Allen (1 tackle and 1 sack) played a lot and helped to gum things up inside. Clancy recovered a fumble. Robbins’ immediate pass pressure on Brunell caused a 13-yard intentional grounding penalty on 3rd-and-10.

Justin Tuck (1 tackle) caused a holding penalty that erased one 8-yard run. Late in the game, when Tuck was sidelined with an ankle injury, newcomer Alonzo Jackson saw some snaps at right end.

Linebackers: Despite the absence of Carlos Emmons, this unit played great and deserves a lot of the credit for the defensive performance too. MLB Antonio Pierce not only helped the Giants’ figure out their opponent, but he had 11 tackles. This is an astronomical number when you consider the Redskins had 52 snaps (basically Pierce was in on 21 percent of all the tackles). He also had a key interception that set up a field goal near the end of the second quarter and knocked away QB Patrick Ramsey’s 4th-and-goal pass to the tight end in the fourth quarter. Pierce blew up a screen pass to Portis for a four-yard loss.

Nick Greisen accrued four tackles and forced a fumble that set up the Giants’ final touchdown. Reggie Torbor (1 tackle) was not a liability as a run or pass defender. He did a good job of staying at home on Brunell’s play-action rollouts.

Defensive Backs: Outstanding. And outstanding across the board. Yes, the defensive line got good pressure on a number of plays, but Brunell was also forced to hold the ball longer than he wanted to as he could not spot an open receiver. Indeed, a lot of the pass pressure was caused by the coverage. Everyone played extremely well…FS Brent Alexander (3 tackles, 1 pass defense), SS Gibril Wilson (2 tackles), CB Curtis Deloatch (3 tackles, 1 pass defense), CB Will Allen (2 tackles), and CB Corey Webster (1 tackle, 1 forced fumble). When Shaun Williams was lost early, James Butler came into the game and saw a lot of action as well and was not a liability.

Will Allen did a very good job on Santana Moss. And the Giants played the nickel or dime and Allen moved to cover the slot receiver, the other corners did a good job on him as well. Deloatch completely shut down whoever he was covering.

Alexander was very aggressive, causing one incompletion with a hard hit and filling the hole quickly on a 1-yard run by Portis. Alexander also knocked Portis woozy on another run that was called back.

There were few negative plays. Wilson was beat on a 14-yard reception by Portis late in the second quarter. Webster was lucky that a 3rd-and-7 pass in the third quarter was dropped by Moss as Webster was beaten on the play. The only other miscues came on the Redskins’ only scoring threat in the late third/early fourth quarters. Allen had excellent position on a seam pass to WR James Thrash but was unable to make a play on the football and a 28-yard completion was the result. Two plays later, Allen was beat for a 24-yard gain by WR Taylor Jacobs. Two plays after that, Deloatch was flagged with an illegal hands to the face penalty. But that was it…those were all the negative plays!

Special Teams: Jay Feely did a great job on his six field goal attempts, hitting kicks of 39, 50, 33, 39, and 44. His miss from 51 yards out just hit the upright (it had plenty of distance).

Feely’s kickoffs were fielded at the 6, 7, touchback, 13, 24 (squib), -2, 0, touchback, and touchback. Returns went for 27 (Jamaar Taylor and Shaun Williams on the tackle), 23 (Chase Blackburn), 9 (James Butler and Alonzo Jackson), 0 (Blackburn – on the squib), 25 (Reggie Torbor), and 21 (Blackburn) yards. Torbor forced a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half that was recovered by Willie Ponder. Torbor was also flagged for a ticky-tack personal foul penalty when the Redskins’ returner made a late decision to down the ball in the end zone. Blackburn was very active.

Feagles punted four times for a 43 yards per punt average. Redskin returns went for 5 yards (James Butler on the tackle), fair catch, punt out of bounds, and 8 yards (Torbor).

Willie Ponder only had one chance to return a kickoff since the Redskins never scored. That return went for 24 yards. Chad Morton returned six punts for 42 yards (a 7-yard average). He did have a good return of 19 yards, but he misplayed the football early on this return. He was also extremely fortunate that the ball bounced right back to him on another return where he fumbled. Gibril Wilson was flagged with a holding penalty on one return and Sean Berton was flagged with an illegal block on another.

(Box Score – Washington Redskins at New York Giants, October 30, 2005)