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.