Jan 122006
Carolina Panthers 23 – New York Giants 0

Game Overview: BBI poster “Jerry in DC” said it most eloquently – the game was a total suckfest.

I probably should have seen this one coming. It just seemed like the Giants were running out of steam late in the year. Why? That’s a good question. Undoubtedly, injuries were a big factor. I also think the mental and physical strain of a 19-game season (two preseason games, 16 regular season games, and one playoff game) eventually took its toll on a young quarterback who had been previously used to 11-12 game collegiate seasons.

Although I am not happy that the Giants did not make a better showing of it, the loss to the Panthers did not upset me terribly. I think this team went about as far as it could go. The Giants had major talent issues in their back seven on defense. Minus Pierce, Emmons, Torbor, Green, and Blackburn, the Giants have the worst linebacking corps in the NFL. The secondary, given youth (Webster, Deloatch, Wilson) and age (Alexander, Buckley), is not very good either. How was a defense this poor talent-wise expected to go far?

When the Giants were on offense, the Panthers, as expected and as I discussed in my game preview, dared Manning and his supporting cast to beat them through the air. They failed miserably. The Giants only completed 10 passes, allowed four sacks, and turned the ball over four times on 22 passing plays. In other words, one-third of the passing plays resulted in a turnover or sack. The Giants did not match up well with the Panthers – as I covered in my game preview. Manning had one of his down games. There were pass protection issues, especially in the second half. The receivers had problems getting open and sulked. Shockey played hurt and also sulked. “They weren’t doing anything we didn’t expect,” said Burress. “They just stopped the run and forced us to pass, but we couldn’t. We weren’t able to connect on any passes. When it came time for us to pass, they knew what we were going to do. It happens. When they concentrate on the run like that, you hope to be able to get the football. We just weren’t able to do any of that.” That was the problem offensively in a nutshell. There is no big mystery.

The reason why the offensive numbers were so pathetic – especially the on the scoreboard – was that the Giants only ran 35 offensive plays. That’s an absurdly low number. “It was very awkward, I came in at halftime and didn’t even feel like we had played a game, it felt like we had just warmed up,” OC Shaun O’Hara said. Why so few plays? Well obviously, for one, the Giants could not sustain drives. They not only were 1-of-7 on third down, but they also committed four offensive turnovers. Secondly, and almost as importantly, the Giants’ defense could not get the Panthers off the field. The Giants only had three first half possessions. THREE! Let that sink in for a moment. And the team only had four more offensive possessions before their last one with less than three minutes to go in the game. The Panthers played like the 1990 Giants did on offense. They controlled the clock and the tempo of the game. They kept their opponent’s offense off the field and minimized their scoring chances.

Now, one may argue that the Panthers had just as many scoring chances as the Giants. That’s not exactly true and there are other matters to consider. For one, the Panthers had five first half possessions to the Giants’ three (they had the ball first and last in the first half and the muffed punt gave them an extra possession). Secondly, and most importantly, the Giants’ offense wasn’t facing the Giants’ defense. The Panthers are strong across the board on defense with an excellent defensive line, good linebackers, and arguably the best secondary in football. Can you imagine what the Giants could do to the Giants’ linebackers and defensive backs both running and throwing the ball? Thirdly, the Panthers’ defense and special teams (the latter on a fluke play) created points and field position for the Panthers’ offense. Carolina scored 10 of its points off of turnovers. The Giants’ defense did not create one turnover. When a team loses the turnover battle by a minus five differential, they are going to lose.

This was a complete team loss. The offense didn’t help out the defense and the defense didn’t help out the offense. The special teams gave the Panthers an extra possession and did nothing to dramatically alter the course of the game in the Giants’ favor. The Giants were not lucky either. They had a poor punt by the Panthers turn into a killer turnover. The referees gave them a favorable spot on a third down run and should have been punting from deep in their own territory. And there was one key third-down incompletion where Shockey and the linebacker got tangled up and no call was made.

Ultimately, the Giants were not good enough. Their lack of talent on defense and lack of execution on offense cost them the game. The better team won.

But let’s not let all of this negativity erase what was an excellent season for the Giants. The Giants won the NFC East. The Giants finished fourth in the League offensively in terms of yards-per-game (361.7) and third in scoring (26.4). Only the Colts and Seahawks scored more points. Barber has an MVP-type year and broke every meaningful rushing record in the Giants’ history book. The offensive line – as a group – played its first full season together and this unit is locked up through next season. Burress, Shockey, and Toomer (who scored a combined 21 touchdowns in 2005) will put up even bigger numbers next season as their chemistry with Manning improves. Manning threw for more touchdown passes (24) than any Giant since 1967 and had the second-highest number of passing attempts in team history – all of this in just his first full year of starting. Of course, the most dramatic improvement offensively will come from Manning himself, as he will have a better understanding of the mental and physical strains of the game. Defensively, the Giants forced 33 turnovers. They have a wealth of talent at defensive end, have one of the best middle linebackers in the game, and some young guys in the secondary to build around (Webster, Wilson, Butler, Deloatch). But it is defensively where the Giants need to get better, especially in the back seven.

Offense: The play-calling came into question after the game as Tiki Barber asserted the Giants’ were out-coached. I’m not so sure. Everyone who has played the Giants this year has geared up to stop Tiki Barber and the running game (13 rushing attempts), the Panthers were simply more effective at it than anyone the Giants faced this year. As I mentioned in my game preview, I said my strategy would have been to run the football even faced with an eight-man front – so I’m not going to backtrack now. And when the Giants did put the ball up in the air (22 times), they were sacked on four of those occasions and turned the ball over four other times – in other words, something went dreadfully wrong on a third of the pass plays. So neither the run nor the passing game was working – the first and only time that happened to the Giants in the 2005 season. Were the Giants out-coached? Maybe. Were they out-played? Definitely.

Let’s take a closer look at the Giants’ first half possessions. As I said, there were only three:

  1. Shockey could not block DE Julius Peppers on one run and Barber was held to two yards. After two positive plays picked up 17 yards, Shiancoe couldn’t handle DE Mike Rucker and Barber was held to a one-yard gain. On 3rd-and-2, Manning threw in inaccurate pass to Shockey.
  2. After a pass to Shockey picked up 15 yards, Barber was stuffed as Rucker pushed Petitgout into the backfield and the weakside linebacker beat Finn’s lead block. On the very next play, Barber screwed up big time as he failed to pick up the blitzing safety and Manning was sacked. Coughlin says Plaxico was wide open down the field on this play. The 3rd-and-18 screen pass was batted down at the line.
  3. Tiki picks up eight yards on a screen pass despite Diehl missing his downfield block. After the Giants pick up a first down, O’Hara is unable to block the defensive tackle on Tiki’s cutback on what might have been a big run. On 2nd-and-9, Manning and Burress are not on the same page and an incompletion results. On 3rd-and-9, Shockey and the linebacker get tangled up and Shockey falls to the ground. No penalty is called.

So if you look at those drives, they are filled with a lack of execution. In the second half, the turnovers ended four of the five drives (and only a bad call by the referees prevented EVERY second-half drive from ending in a turnover).

Quarterback: One of the tapes I have in my old Giants’ video collection is the 1985 playoff game against the 49ers. Before that game, the CBS pre-game show did a piece on Phil Simms, who was then in his SEVENTH season. The New York Giants’ fans interviewed for that piece were uniformly negative. “He’s horrible, he’s terrible, he’s the worst quarterback in the League.” “He can’t win the big game.” “He chokes under the pressure.” “When the game is on the line, he is sure to screw up.” These were the actual comments from New York Giants fans. Now one can legitimately argue that Manning’s surrounding talent is superior (but also keep in mind Simms had Morris, Bavaro, and the Surbanites) and that Phil was hampered by early career injuries, but I think it is absolutely ludicrous for anyone to definitively define Eli Manning one way or the other based on 24 football games. Get real people. He played exactly like you expect a quarterback playing his first full season to play – he was inconsistent, he had his good days and his bad. Why that is shocking to some is beyond my comprehension. If anything, he surpassed expectations. He had 557 passing attempts for 3,762 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions in the regular season. He started 16 regular season games and helped his team go 11-5 and finish in first place in a very competitive division. The Giants’ coaching staff put a lot of responsibility on him in terms of game management, pre-snap reads and calls, audibles, post-snap reads, and game plan execution. The only quarterbacks in the league who had more passing attempts were Brett Favre and Kerry Collins. The Steelers in no way, shape, or form put this amount of mental and physical pressure on Ben Roethlisberger. People need to recognize that.

After two full seasons of starting (32 games), Eli’s brother played his first playoff game. Against the Titans, Peyton was 19-of -42 for 227 yards and no touchdowns, as his divisional champion Colts lost at home. Peyton finished his first full season (16 games) with 28 interceptions and a 56.7 percent completion percentage and his second full season (32 games) with 15 interceptions and a 62.1 percent completion percentage. Both years, Peyton threw 26 touchdown passes. Again, Eli has played 24 games. Also, keep in mind that Peyton did not win his first playoff game until his sixth year in the League (and was 0-3 in his first three playoff games). As late as 2002, Peyton was 14-of-31 for 137 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions in one playoff game.

Will Manning be great? Will he be average? Will he be a bust? Nobody knows. But if he is going to be good or very good, then is developing as expected. Period.

OK, now I’ll get off my high horse and focus on the game in question. Manning was 4-of-8 for 36 yards in the first half. The Giants’ first possession ended when Manning threw an inaccurate pass on a quick slant in the direction of Shockey on 3rd-and-2. On the second possession, he threw a nice sideline pass to Shockey for 15 yards. But on 2nd-and-11, Barber failed to pick up the blitz and a 7-yard sack resulted (the Giants were trying to hit Burress deep on this play and Coughlin said he was open). On 3rd-and-18, Manning’s screen pass was tipped at the line. On the Giants’ final possession of the first half, an 8-yard screen to Barber could have picked up more yardage had the play been better blocked. Manning was quickly forced to unload the ball for a 3-yard gain as the Panthers saw no back in the backfield and sent more rushers than blockers to one side of the formation. On 2nd-and-9, there was miscommunication between Manning and Burress as Manning threw to the sideline and Burress cut inside. On 3rd-and-9, Manning effectively moved around in the pocket and tried to hit Shockey, but Shockey fell down on the play when he got tangled up with the linebacker. The only two negative plays on Manning in the first half were the 3rd-and-2 miss (which was significant) and possibly the miscommunication with Burress (though that could have been Plaxico’s fault).

Manning started the second half with a 25-yard completion to Shockey. But two plays later he never had a chance as Snee failed to pick up a stunt and Manning was sacked. Pass pressure on 3rd-and-15 forced Manning to dump the ball off short quickly.

Manning’s worst moment of the game was his first interception. It was a huge mistake, but the type of mistake a young quarterback will make. Keep in mind the situation. The Giants are trailing 10-0. They have had only four possessions in the game and two of those were stymied by sacks. The Giants flooded the left side of the field with Shockey, Burress, and Toomer to create a match-up problem for the Panthers. However, Petitgout did not pick up a stunt and the defensive tackle forced Manning to scramble away from his receivers. Instead of taking the sack and, in effect, killing the fifth drive, Manning chose to force the ball back to the other side of the field across his body. This is a big no-no in the NFL. But I understand the young quarterback’s frustrated (albeit incorrect) decision. He gambled because he saw yet another possession dying before his eyes and was desperate to make a play. Ultimately, this play really killed any chance the Giants had for a comeback because it turned a 10-0 game into a 17-0 game against an outstanding defensive team.

Everything after this is somewhat moot. Not counting the possession where the Giants got the ball with 2:36 left on the clock, trailing 23-0, the Giants only had the ball TWICE MORE in the game. In fact, as unbelievable as it sounds, aside from this last meaningless possession, the Giants got the ball ONE MORE TIME with five minutes left in the third quarter. Unbelievable. Both of Manning’s last two interceptions came on plays where he was trying to make something happen down field. On these two interceptions, Manning said after the game, “(I) had a poor throw to Shockey where I made the right read and just a bad throw by me that sailed high and was intercepted. On the next one, they had a good plan for one of our plays where they brought a safety from the far side over to rob when our tight end went across. I never saw the guy and I ended up throwing. He came from the back side and I never saw him.”

My final comment on all of this is this – back in July, in my Giants’ preview article, I made the following point: Defenses will to try to confuse the youngster and most young quarterbacks have problems reading coverages, maintaining proper technique when under duress, and remaining poised in pressure-packed situations. Nothing that has happened to Manning this season – both good or bad – is a real surprise. The mistakes were bound to happen.

Wide Receivers: Plaxico Burress had three passes thrown his way during the game and had no catches. Those calling for his head are retarded. Burress was a huge reason why the Giants had one of the best offenses in the NFL this year and he will only get better with more experience with Manning. He is not the problem, he is part of the solution. But he does need to stop sulking when things don’t go his (or his team’s way). Hopefully Coughlin, a former wide receivers coach who understands a wide receiver’s outlook, will impress upon Plaxico the need for greater maturity. My guess is that he will. Plaxico was open down the field on the play where Barber gave up the 7-yard sack. But Plaxico also may have been responsible for a 2nd-and-9 incompletion in the second quarter when he ran to the inside and Manning threw to the outside.

Amani Toomer (3 catches for 31 yards) did not do much damage either. When your starting wide receivers combine for three catches and 31 yards, you are in deep, deep trouble. Toomer missed a block on a defensive back who tackled Barber for only a one-yard gain.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey (3 catches for 50 yards) has seven passes thrown in his direction. He too is part of the solution. Shockey is a difference-maker and a tough guy (fractured sternum, dislocated shoulder, high ankle sprain). But like Plaxico, he needs to continue to mature (which he did a great deal of this season) and not sulk when things do not go well. On the Giants’ first offensive play, Shockey was not able to make his block on DE Julius Peppers and Barber was held to a two-yard gain. However, Shockey did get a good block two plays later on a seven-yard carry by Tiki. He also made an effective block on Peppers on Barber’s longest run of the day, a 9-yarder around right end. Shockey caught one pass in the first half, a nice 15-yarder along the left sideline. Shockey later got tangled up with the linebacker on a key 3rd down incompletion where no penalty was called. Jeremy was very lucky early in the third quarter that he was ruled down after his 25-yard completion because he did fumble the ball and Carolina should have been awarded possession.

Visanthe Shiancoe (1 catch for 4 yards) was called upon to block DE Mike Rucker on one running play to the left and couldn’t keep Rucker out of the backfield.

Running Backs: Jim Finn played much of the season with a shoulder injury that will require surgery. Despite that fact, he blocked well most of the year for the record-breaking Barber. Finn got a good lead block on an early seven-yard run by Barber. But he later was beat by the weakside linebacker at the point-of-attack on a run that lost a yard.

Barber could not get it going on Sunday. He was held to a season-low 41 yards on 13 carries (his fewest carries since the opener). Not counting the draw play at the end of the first half, he had seven carries in the first half for 20 yards (2.9 yards per carry). His seven runs picked up 2, 7, 1, 1, -1, 9, and 1 yard. On two of the shorter early runs, the tight ends missed blocks. Petitgout and Finn also could not make their blocks on the one-yard loss. On the last one-yard carry, O’Hara could not make his block. Tiki also made one of the biggest mistakes of the game when he went out on a pass pattern instead of picking up the blitzing safety on a play where Burress was open down the field. There was plenty of responsibility go around. Tiki had only one more carry in the second half before it became a 17-0 game. At that point the running game became moot.

Offensive Line: For their first year together as a unit, the starting five played very well. The Giants only gave up 28 sacks (eight more than the league-leading Colts) despite being near the top of the NFL in pass attempts, and all of these, of course, were not the responsibility of the offensive line (failed blitz pick-ups or free blitzers, quarterback holding the ball too long, etc.). This line also helped Barber to shatter club-rushing marks.

In the first half of the game against the Panthers, the pass protection by the offensive line was fine. The only sack given up was the fault of Barber’s. The blocking for the running game could have been better. David Diehl made a nice block on a pull that helped Barber to pick up seven yards. But Petitgout was not able to handle Rucker on a play that lost a yard. Diehl missed a downfield block on a screen by Tiki that could have picked up more yards had the block been made. Chris Snee made a nice pulling block on the nine-yard run by Barber. But O’Hara could not make his block on the defensive tackle on a cutback run by Barber that might have picked up good yardage.

But there were issues in the second half. Strangely, the offensive line started having problems with stunts. Both McKenzie and Snee allowed their opponents to get close to Manning on Eli’s first completion of the second half – the 25-yarder to Shockey. Two plays later, Snee did not pick up the stunting tackle and a 6-yard sack resulted. On the next play, on 3rd-and-15, outside pressure by Rucker against Petitgout caused Manning to throw quickly to an underneath receiver. Punt. Petitgout really deserves a lot of the blame too on Manning’s killer interception on the next possession. He did not pick up the stunting defensive tackle. This caused Manning to roll to his right and encouraged him to make a poor decision to toss back across his body. On the next interception, McKenzie allowed a pressure that forced Manning to run up into the pocket. The young quarterback did not set his feet and the ball was overthrown. McKenzie was badly beaten to the inside on the next possession by Peppers who sacked Manning for a 9-yard loss. On the last play of the game, a blitzing linebacker got around McKenzie for the final sack (and forced a fumble).

Defense: The strategy was to double WR Steve Smith and hope that the front seven on defense would be able to defend the run against an inconsistent Panthers’ rushing attack. The plan failed miserably as the Giants were simply not talented enough defensively to execute it. Halfbacks DeShaun Foster and Nick Goings gashed the run defense for 214 yards and Smith chipped in another 12 yards on an end around touchdown gallop. The times the Panthers did pass (26 attempts), the pass rush for the Giants was decent (4 sacks), but the coverage was not. The Panthers ran a lot of quick screens and the linebackers and defensive backs did not react quickly enough to these plays. It is also hard to tee up against the quarterback and guard against play-action passes when the other team is running the football so effectively.

The problem late in the first quarter and in the second quarter for the defense was they could not get off the field on third down. The Panthers converted four straight third-down attempts on their first touchdown drive of the game. They also got out of deep trouble in their own end of the field later when the Giants allowed the Panthers to converted on 3rd-and-8 and 3rd-and-11 (though the latter was a bad spot). This was big because not only did the offense not get the ball back around midfield, but the later ensuing punt hit Gibril Wilson in the leg and was recovered by the Panthers at the Giants’ 15-yard line, leading to a cheap field goal and a 10-0 halftime lead.

Also, let’s be frank, Carolina Offensive Coordinator Dan Henning, who has been around this League a long time, called a masterful game. His used short, quick throws to WR Steve Smith to expose the Giants’ linebackers in space. There was one play where Smith went in motion and no defensive back followed him, leaving Smith on a linebacker. The Giants did not account for Goings out of the backfield on a huge 10-yard completion on the aforementioned 3rd-and-8 coming off of the goal line late in the second quarter, burning the Giants’ blitz. And when the Panthers saw Tuck and Joseph with wide defensive tackle splits on 3rd-and-11, they ran a draw play up the gut that picked up another big first down. The Panthers couldn’t have called the end around at a better time. Henning did not seem surprised at all but what the Giants did defensively.

By the second half, the huge discrepancy in time of possession (43 minutes for the Panthers to 17 minutes for the Giants) and the realization that the game was falling fast out of reach took a physical and emotional toll on the undermanned defense. But that does not excuse the poor tackling. It was embarrassing. The worst moment came on the DeShaun Foster run to the left where Jackson, Wilson, and Allen got blocked, and then Lewis, Jackson, Clancy, and Alexander all missed tackles.

Defense wins championships and the sooner the Giants’ front office learns that lesson the better.

Defensive Line: The defensive line did not play the run all that well, but they probably were made to look worse than they were by the poor play by the linebackers. Run defense is all about gap responsibility and who is responsible for what gap is tough to tell for the layperson. William Joseph (5 tackles) returned despite not being anywhere near a 100 percent with a high ankle sprain. He had his ups and downs. There were times when he disrupted runs at the point-of-attack and a few times where he got pushed around, usually by a double-team. For instance, there was one play in the second quarter where both Joseph and Kenderick Allen stuff the back at the line for no gain. But then on the very next snap, Joseph and Allen got blocked at the point-of-attack for an 8-yard gain right up the gut. Nevertheless I was left with a mostly positive impression of Joseph and was surprised at how active he was. He had one good pass rush in the first half. Allen (3 tackles) had a couple of plays where he was blocked, such as the 10-yard run on the Panthers’ second snap of the game and the aforementioned 8-yard run. He also missed a tackle in the second half. Allen did make a heck of a play on one carry where the back was stuffed. I thought Kendrick Clancy (2 tackles) had one of his worst performances of the season. He missed a number of tackles, including one in the backfield, and was effectively blocked for most of the game. Clancy did make one nice play, stuffing the back for no gain. Damane Duckett tipped a away a pass in goal line defense.

If the Giants could somehow come up with a huge, athletic defensive tackle to team with Joseph, their defense could become pretty special. But those kind of defensive tackles are about as hard to find as a quarterback.

Michael Strahan (6 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 pass defense) and Osi Umenyiora (6 tackles, 1 sack) have played the run better. Strahan was blocked on one six-yard run in his direction and over-pursued on another play that picked up four yards in his area. Strahan’s biggest mistake was right before the first touchdown when he gambled that the quarterback still had the ball on a handoff and the back picked up the first down on 3rd-and-2 in the direction of Strahan’s gap. Later in the half, Strahan was not fooled on a bootleg pass and picked up an 8-yard sack. After the muffed punt, he helped to hold the Panthers to a field goal by deflecting a pass. In the second half, Strahan missed Foster in the backfield on a 5-yard gain. But this drive ended when Strahan beat the right tackle on an outside move for a 5-yard sack. In the fourth quarter, Strahan couldn’t wrap up Jake Delhomme on another sack opportunity on 3rd-and-5. The Panthers’ drive continued for another six minutes and ended with a short field goal.

Umenyiora got blocked on the 10-yard run on Carolina’s second offensive play of the game. But he helped to end this drive by disrupting a screen pass on 2nd-and-13 and then sacking the quarterback for an 6-yard loss on 3rd-and-13. Umenyiora, along with Clancy and the linebackers, were blocked on a 13-yard gain on the next possession. Osi did make a nice stop on a draw play right before the late second quarter field goal.

There have been a lot of questions from fans why Justin Tuck wasn’t playing linebacker. They got their answer on Sunday when Tuck committed a terribly significant illegal contact penalty on the tight end on a 3rd-and-6 incompletion on the Panthers’ first touchdown drive. The Panthers also caught Tuck (who was playing defensive tackle on this play) and Joseph in wide splits on the 11-yard draw play on 3rd-and-11 late in the second quarter.

Linebackers: The best news I can give you is that the three guys who started this game will likely not be on the roster next year. Now to be fair to Nick Greisen, who had a good year, he was playing with a painful stinger/burner. But Greisen played like shit and MLB Kevin Lewis and SLB Alonzo Jackson played like the third-teamers and emergency stopgaps they are.

The linebackers had three basic problems on Sunday which hurt the overall defense: (1) they did not react well to the quick wide receiver screens, (2) they got blocked or were out of position on too many running plays, and (3) they could not tackle. Besides that, they were fine.(sarcasm off) Greisen (7 tackles) did not play well before or after another stinger/burner temporarily sent him to the bench. Kudos to him for toughing it out, but he was a liability on Sunday both against the run and the pass. His lack of athleticism showed up on those quick wide receiver tosses. The costliest moment was when he could not bring down HB DeShaun Foster short of the first-down marker on 3rd-and-2. He had him dead to rights, but Foster broke away. The Panthers went on to score their first touchdown of the game. There also were some plays, such as Nick Goings’ 18-yard run late in the second quarter, where Greisen was nowhere to be found. On the 3rd-and-11 draw play right before this, Nick was taken completely out of the play by a lineman. In the second half, it got even worse. Greisen did not drop quickly enough in his short zone pass drops. He got caught inside on too many off-tackle running plays. And to be frank, too often there was a play to be made in his gap, and he didn’t make it.

Same story with Kevin Lewis, whose Cinderella story came to a crashing end. While he had 10 tackles on the day, he was effectively blocked at the point of attack on many plays and there were plays to be made in the hole that weren’t – plays that Antonio Pierce would have made. The Panthers broke off a number of big runs right at him or in his gap because he got crushed on run blocks. Both he and Alonzo Jackson missed tackles on the big 31-yard run.

Alonzo Jackson (9 tackles, 1 sack) got wired to blocks too. He looked more comfortable in there this week, but the Giants missed Emmons and Torbor. On the 31-yard run, he not only got blocked at the point-of-attack, but he then missed the tackle down the field. Jay Foreman (2 tackles) saw some action and combined with Lewis for one two-yard loss. But both Foreman and Lewis were late to react to one pass play that sent WR Steve Smith in motion to catch a short pass that picked up 12 yards.

Defensive Backs: Again, the best thing I can say is that many of the culprits won’t be back. Terrell Buckley was a stopgap. Brent Alexander is simply too slow. Will Allen, who played mostly well but did not make an interception all year, will probably depart in free agency.

The problem, again, was the short throws to Smith on wide receiver screens. Like the linebackers, the cornerbacks, including Will Allen and Corey Webster, did not react well to these plays that were well executed (that was a HUGE difference in the game – the Panthers executed extremely well on offense while the Giants did not). Too often, both corners were blocked on these screens. There was one play where Allen played tight and jumped the quick throw, leading to a four-yard loss, but that was it.

Terrell Buckley (3 tackles) actually didn’t do too poorly on Smith. He did get beat on the 22-yard touchdown throw, but not by a lot and Brent Alexander deserves more blame on this play because he was supposed to be helping out Buckley inside on the play. Buckley also gave up a 25-yard sideline pass to WR Keary Colbert, but Colbert pushed off on the play.

Corey Webster did alright in coverage. He just needs to play the short pass and running game more aggressively. He was lucky that a deep shot in the end zone was overthrown as he was beaten on the play (as was Gibril Wilson).

I think we have seen the last of Brent Alexander (8 tackles). He missed a tackle early in the game and was completely out of position on the touchdown throw to Smith in the second quarter. Alexander missed a tackle at the end of Foster’s 31-yard run. And Alexander was extremely lucky that the refs did not throw the flag on Carolina’s 3rd-and-26 deep shot into the end zone. Alexander might have finished up his Giant career with an excellent goal line hit on 3rd-and-goal that saved a late touchdown. A few plays before this, I didn’t understand Tim Lewis’ coverage that had Smith covered by Alexander and two slow linebackers on 3rd-and-11. An easy 20-yard reception was the result.

When your strong safety, Gibril Wilson, has 15 tackles, you are in deep trouble. Gibril knocked away an early pass to the tight end on 3rd-and-7, forcing a punt. He was strong in run support most of the game. However, he was the defender responsible for allowing the 12-yard touchdown on the end around to occur. He charged in from the backside too flat and Smith easily got around him. Wilson was also effectively blocked at the point-of-attack on Foster’s 31-yard run (as was Will Allen).

Special Teams: The Giants were not good on Sunday, but they were also not lucky. Only leading by 7-0 very late in the first half, the Panthers got off a horrible punt that unfortunately for the Giants hit Gibril Wilson in the back of the leg. The turnover led to a second score and a 10-0 halftime lead. It was a huge morale-breaker.

Jeff Feagles’ did not punt well. He averaged almost 39 yards on his four punts. His first punt landed inside the 10-yard line, but took a fast bounce right into the endzone for a touchback (David Tyree was not able to bat the ball back in time). He got off a really nice 49-yard punt on his next effort that was not returned. But his next punt was a poor effort that took a nice bounce and was downed at the Carolina seven-yard line. His last punt was a 23-yarder that went off the side of his foot.

Jay Feely kicked off once. The ball was fielded at the seven-yard line and returned 17 yards before Marcus Lawrence and Brandon Jacobs made the tackle. It was good coverage.

Chad Morton had one punt return for five yards. His six kickoff returns picked up 22, 17, 28, 31, and 18 yards. On the 31-yard return, Alonzo Jackson was flagged with a holding penalty that moved the ball back from the 39-yard line to the 14-yard line.

David Tyree came damn close to changing the momentum of the game early in the third quarter when he almost blocked a punt. Instead, two plays later, the Panthers were up 17-0.

(Box Score – Carolina Panthers at New York Giants, January 8, 2006)
Jan 052006

Approach to the Game – Carolina Panthers at New York Giants, January 8, 2006: I think the key to this game is keeping mistakes to a minimum. That includes turnovers, penalties, mental mistakes, dropped passes, etc. The Panthers are the kind of team that thrives off the mistakes of others. In other words, they let their opponent beat themselves. For example, Carolina has only committed 91 penalties on offense (fewest in the NFL) while the Giants have committed 143 penalties on offense (third worst in the NFL). The Giants need to cut down on their own mistakes and hope that the home crowd is noisy enough to cause Carolina to make some uncharacteristic errors.

The is going to be a tough, physical football game. The team that runs the ball better, stops the run better, and controls both lines of scrimmage will have the upper hand. Special teams may decide the game.

Giants on Offense: The Panthers rank third in total defense in the NFL based on yards-per-game. And they only give up 16.2 points per game on average. John Fox knows the strength the Giants’ offense is Tiki Barber and that the strength of Barber’s game is his cutback runs to the weakside. He has undoubtedly preached all week that his weakside run defense needs to maintain their gap responsibilities. Everyone expects the Panthers to gear up against the run and force Eli Manning to beat them. However, that does not mean the Giants should abandon the run. The Cowboys had great success running on Carolina in Week 16. In my opinion, the Giants should go against conventional thinking and run the football against a defense that is geared to stop the run. If Tiki gets 25-30 carries in this football game, the Giants will likely win. My chief concern is that Tom Coughlin and John Hufnagel tend to throw in such situations and get away from the ground game too early. Don’t do it! Be patient!

Of course in order to effectively run the football, the Giants must block a very talented defensive line. The defensive ends are very good and LT Luke Petitgout faces a tough battle against DE Mike Rucker (44 tackles, 7.5 sacks) as does RT Kareem McKenzie against DE Julius Peppers (50 tackles, 10.5 sacks). Peppers gave McKenzie problems in the preseason game – and that’s another reason why I would run the ball more. Back-up DE Al Wallace (25 tackles, 5 sacks) is a quality player. The left defensive tackle is Brentson Buckner, a wide body who plays with good leverage against the run. RG Chris Snee needs to do a good job on him. LG David Diehl will line up over DT Jordan Carstens, a second-year player. Back-up DT Kindal Moorehead (23 tackles, 5 sacks) provides relief.

Unlike the Giants, it looks like the Panthers will have their leader in the middle of the defense back this week as MLB Dan Morgan (75 tackles, 3 sacks) has practiced despite a shoulder injury. Morgan has good range, is a sure tackler, and can cover. Ex-Giant SLB Brandon Short (60 tackles) is solid against the run, but struggles somewhat in space. He has a knee injury, but should play. Will Witherspoon (81 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 interceptions) is the weakside linebacker. Witherspoon is good in space and can blitz, but you can run on him.

A big question mark for the Giants is how effective Jeremy Shockey (high ankle sprain) will be. The Giants need Shockey not only in terms of the passing game, but also being able to handle defenders, including those defensive ends, in one-on-one run blocking situations. Shockey’s blocking is very important to the Giants’ running attack. How strongly can he push off on that ankle? When going out on pass routes, how fast will he be able to run and how sharp will his cuts be? Shockey can present a wide-range of match-up problems for the defense if he is healthy enough. However, the Panthers may be able counter Shockey with S/LB hybrid Thomas Davis, their first-round pick.

What makes the Panthers so tough is not only their front seven, but their secondary. Unfortunately for New York, right corner Ken Lucas (6 interceptions) matches up very well with Plaxico Burress. He’s a big, athletic corner who plays a physical game – the very type of player that gives Burress problems. However, Burress may be able to do some damage deep on Lucas as he is not an overly fast or quick player. The left corner, Chris Gamble (7 interceptions), is also very good. He is a superior athlete with very good size, speed, and quickness. Amani Toomer will need all his veteran savvy to make plays against him. You’ve got to figure that Carolina will count on Gamble to shut down Toomer. The nickel corner, Ricky Manning, Jr. (2 interceptions), is also very good. FS Mike Minter lacks size, but he is a tough, instinctive playmaker. Marlon McCree is the strong safety. This arguably the best secondary the Giants will face all year. In order for the Giants to make plays down the field, Burress, Toomer, and Tim Carter/David Tyree will have to elevate their games and play at an exceptionally high level. (Carter is questionable with a hip pointer).

If the receivers cannot get open, Manning may be forced to dump the ball off short to Barber and a gimpy Shockey. Jim Finn and Visanthe Shiancoe may become a bigger part of the game plan. The one thing Manning does need to do is keep mistakes to a minimum. If there is no one open, throw the ball away. Don’t force the football.

It’s going to be interesting to see how Manning responds to playoff pressure. His brother did not enjoy much playoff success early in his career. The Panthers play very good team defense. Barber is not likely to put up big numbers and the Giants will need Manning to make plays for them while at the same time not taking too many dangerous risks.

Giants on Defense: The Giants’ problems here are two-fold: (1) coming up with a scheme that they can execute properly to somehow keep WR Steve Smith under control, and (2) somehow getting their patch-work linebacking corps to play another good game.

Let’s deal with the second issue first. While much of the attention has been on the absence of Antonio Pierce at middle linebacker, the Giants continue to be also hampered by the situation at strongside linebacker. Carlos Emmons is gone for the year and Reggie Torbor (hamstring) looks like he may be out again. Journeyman Kevin Lewis and Alonzo Jackson will be forced to start again. They not only have to do well against the run, but also perform well in coverage. The starting trio of Nick Greisen, Lewis, and Jackson is unathletic and slow. Look for the Panthers to try to exploit this with passes to HB DeShaun Foster (34 catches – second leading receiver on the team), FB Brad Hoover (14 catches), and TE’s Michael Gaines and Kris Mangum (35 combined catches and 4 touchdowns). The Panthers don’t throw much to their tight ends or fullback, but this is a game where that may change.

As Coughlin preaches, the first priority is to stop the run. Foster is an inconsistent back who is a bit hampered by a toe injury. At times, he looks great and he is certainly capable of breaking the big run. At other times, he looks very ordinary. The Giants must keep him under wraps or it will be a long day. New York absolutely needs their down four defensive linemen (and reserves) to play well against both the run and the pass. Osi Umenyiora will face LT Travelle Wharton. Wharton lacks ideal tools and this is a match-up that favors the Giants if Umenyiora plays well. The right tackle is Jordan Gross, a better pass blocker than run blocker. The Giants need Michael Strahan to cause problems here as well. RG Tuten Reyes is questionable with a toe injury, but will likely play. He will face DT Kendrick Clancy. With Fred Robbins (hamstring) likely out, look for Kenderick Allen and William Joseph (high ankle sprain) to split time against LG Mike Wahle, a very good player signed from the Packers in the offseason.

A strong case can be made for Smith being the League MVP. Without him, the Panthers would have been dreadful on offense this year. Every team he faces game plans for him and double teams him, yet he still has 103 catches for 1,563 yards and 12 touchdowns on the year. Smith lacks size, but he has an outstanding combination of speed, quickness, agility, hands, and route-running ability. He is also very dangerous after the catch. “They’re going to get the ball to him,” says CB Will Allen. “But when they get the ball to him, we have to make sure he doesn’t get those yards after the catch. That’s where he makes a lot of his big plays, catching the ball and turning them into big gains.”

Will the Giants keep Allen on Smith? Allen got roasted by a similar player in Redskins’ WR Santana Moss in Week 16 for three touchdowns. Or will they play it straight up and allow Corey Webster to also handle him? Webster was beaten badly by Oakland WR Randy Moss and WR Doug Gabriel for three touchdowns last week. One thing is for sure, the more the Giants blitz, the greater the chance that Smith will make a big play. The best pass defense is a good pass rush, but the Panthers like to max-protect and give QB Jake Delhomme time. Do you try to beat those max protection schemes by sending more players (and thereby putting more stress on an inconsistent secondary) or play it safe and rush only four and occasionally five?

I think I would choose the latter course and put the onus on Umenyiora, Strahan, Clancy, Joseph, Allen, and Justin Tuck to get to the passer. In obvious passing situations, Strahan, Umenyiora, and Tuck should all be on the field and attacking the quarterback. If they can get heat on Delhomme, he does have a tendency to fumble on contact. It’s probably asking for too much, but it would be nice if the defensive backs could make an interception or two. Allen and Webster have no picks on the year and SS Gibril Wilson only has two. With the pass rush the Giants have, that’s not right.

The other starting wide receiver, Keary Colbert, only has 25 receptions. He has some skill, but has been inconsistent. The third receiver, Ricky Proehl (25 catches, 4 touchdowns), has a history of causing the Giants problems. The Giants need to shut these two down, especially Proehl in third-down situations. WR Drew Carter has also made a few big plays late in the season.

Ultimately, what the Giants’ defense needs to do is be more physical and tougher than the Panthers. Play smart, but beat up on Carolina. Hit Foster and Smith…hard. And hit them repeatedly. Gang-tackle and punish the opposition.

Giants on Special Teams: Steve Smith is the primary punt returner and has the skills to break a big one. Smith has also been used on kick returns. Rod Smart and Jamal Robertson have split the regular kick return duties. The Giants need a good game from their kickers with good hang-time in order for coverage to get down the field. Coverage men need to stay in their lanes and make hard, sure tackles.

Both Carolina kickers are outstanding. PK John Kasay has not missed from inside the 40-yard line all year. P Jason Baker led the NFC in net punting average.

This game will likely be tight so PK Jay Feely will be on the spot. The team also needs a strong performance out of returner Chad Morton and his blockers.

Jan 032006
New York Giants 30 – Oakland Raiders 21

Game Overview: It’s been a strange football season. A little more than four months ago, most prognosticators had the Eagles easily winning the NFC East again with the Dallas Cowboys being the second likely playoff team coming out of the division. Instead the Eagles imploded, going 0-6 in the division, and the Cowboys got swept by their arch-rival Redskins, costing them a playoff spot and helping Washington get back into the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

The Giants finished 11-5 (4-2 in the division) and never lost two games in a row (but never won more than three games in a row). There was the idiotic controversy about the Giants playing an extra home game against New Orleans (the Saints were dreadful this year no matter where they played); the bush-league, Charger-orchestrated Eli hate-campaign in Week Three; the death of both owners three weeks apart; a defeat to the Vikings in a game where Minnesota rushed for 12 yards and did not score an offensive touchdown; and two tough overtime losses, including a devastating game against Seattle where PK Jay Feely missed three game-winning field goal attempts. The Giants survived a big injury scare to QB Eli Manning in the preseason, but lost the services of CB Will Peterson and LB Barrett Green early. The injury bug then disappeared until the last quarter of the season when the linebacking corps got ravaged. Manning has been inconsistent. The defense has looked great against the pass and the run at times, but rarely in the same game, and has also looked awful against in both phases. The special teams have been mostly positive, but have also cost the Giants two games (against the Vikings and Seahawks). The Giants also finished with a franchise-record 143 penalties.

But despite all of this, the Giants persevered and won the NFC East. Head Coach Tom Coughlin put a plan in place and his players listened to him. The Giants scored 422 points, the second most in franchise history. HB Tiki Barber had an MVP-type season with 2,390 total yards. QB Eli Manning threw 24 touchdown passes, the most by a Giant in 38 years. WR Plaxico Burress stretched defenses deep, TE Jeremy Shockey burned them underneath, and WR Amani Toomer made a number of spectacular catches. There was a three-game stretch where the Giants did not allow an offensive touchdown. Defensive ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora combined for 26 sacks and both made the Pro Bowl. MLB Antonio Pierce, before he was lost due to a high ankle sprain, became the new leader of the defense. Other than the Seattle debacle, Feely had a great year, kicking 35 field goals. Jeff Feagles was rock solid again punting the football. There was a kick and a punt returned for touchdowns, a blocked punt, and usually solid punt and kick coverage.

To secure the NFC East, the Giants had to win in Oakland, despite missing a number of key contributors such as Pierce, Shockey, William Joseph, Carlos Emmons, and Reggie Torbor. The game, in a nutshell, came down to three big plays by the Giants (a 95-yard touchdown run, a 78-yard touchdown pass, and a 58-yard punt return) and an impressive goal line stand late in the contest.

How far will the Giants go in the playoffs? Who knows? But what we do know is that the New York Football Giants are your 2005 NFC East Division Champions.

Offense: The offense was very productive in the first half, scoring on four of the five offensive possessions. Had the Giants executed better at the end of the two drives that resulted in field goals, the Giants would have blown the game open early. It was a different story in the second half. Despite having the ball eight times, both Giants’ scoring drives were set up by returns by Chad Morton. The stats for this game are strange. The Giants managed only 13 first downs and Manning only completed 12 passes, but the Giants scored 30 points and put up 402 yards of offense.

Quarterback: Inconsistent, as usual, but mostly positive. Manning finished the game 12-of-24 for 204 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions. His completion percentage was hurt by three drops and a couple of pass pressures that affected the flight of the football. On the Giants’ first field goal drive of the game, Manning made a very nice sideline throw to Burress for 20 yards on 3rd-and-2 to keep the drive alive. However, two plays later, had he thrown a better pass to TE Visanthe Shiancoe, a touchdown would have likely resulted (the ball was high and behind Shiancoe). On the following drive, Manning badly missed Burress who was wide-open over the middle. Manning had perfect pass protection on this play, but threw the ball into the dirt. However, on the very next snap, despite getting clobbered as he released the ball, Manning threw a perfect pass to Burress on similar route, hitting Burress in stride, and a 78-yard touchdown was the result. On the next possession, Manning did a good job of checking down to Barber, including a 28-yard pass play on 2nd-and-16. This play and three other completions allowed the Giants to get into field goal range.

In the second half, Manning overthrew Burress on a play where it did not seem that Manning and Burress were on the same page. On the next drive, Manning had no chance as he was sacked on 3rd-and-3. On the last field goal drive of the game, the Giants impressively overcame another sack when Manning hit Burress for 17 yards on 3rd-and-8. However, a corner blitz nailed Manning just as he was releasing the ball on 3rd-and-6 and the Giants had to settle for the long field goal. On the next possession, Manning misfired on a deep pass to Burress that should have resulted in a 68-yard touchdown. On Manning’s final pass, Manning hit Shiancoe for what should have been a huge gain on 3rd-and-2, but Shiancoe dropped the ball.

Overall, the performance was good enough to win and Manning managed the game well and did not commit a costly mistake. Eleven of his 12 passes went to Burress and Barber.

Wide Receivers: Plaxico Burress (5 catches for 128 yards and 1 touchdown) and Amani Toomer (no catches) continue to do an outstanding job in the run-blocking department. Both of these receivers formed an impressive escort on Barber’s 95-yard touchdown run, with Plaxico making two key blocks.

Burress’ big play was obviously the 78-yard touchdown catch-and-run. What is impressive about Plaxico is that he can run away from defenders when he doesn’t even look like his running all that fast or even trying to run that fast. It is those long, loping strides of his that chew up the yards. Burress dropped two passes (though one looked like a catch to me). He had a key 20-yard reception on a 3rd-and-2 play on the first field goal drive. Plax also made a very important 17-yard reception on 3rd-and-8 on the last field goal drive.

Toomer was flagged with an offensive pass interference penalty. David Tyree was the third receiver, but was a non-factor.

Tight Ends: With Jeremy Shockey out, Visanthe Shiancoe started. Shiancoe did a nice job of run blocking. However, he was flagged with two false starts. And while he made a nice play early as a pass receiver with a 16-yard gain, he was not much of a factor in the passing game. Worse, he dropped a 3rd-and-2 pass late in the game when the Giants were trying to run out the clock before the Raiders’ last scoring threat. Had he caught this pass, he would have picked up a huge amount of yardage.

Running Backs: Every time you think you’ve seen the best from Tiki this year, he does something else that just makes you say, “Wow!” Barber was magnificent again with his third 200-yard rushing effort of the season (203 yards on 28 carries). In addition, he was the leading Giants’ receiver in the game with six catches (for 60 yards). His 95-yard touchdown run was his signature cutback, avoiding one potential tackler, and demonstrating patience in setting up his blocks down the field. The run was the longest in franchise history. Is there any other franchise rushing record left to be broken?

Barber was a big factor out of the backfield on the second field goal drive, catching one pass for 28 yards on 2nd-and-16 and another for 16 yards on 3rd-and-14.

The only negative play I saw from his was his poor decision on a 3rd-and-goal draw play from the 7-yard line to cutback away from his blocking. Had he stayed with the play, he would have likely scored as the blocking was there.

Brandon Jacobs (3 carries for 10 yards) looked good in short yardage, including on his 1-yard touchdown run. Mike Cloud (1 carry for 0 yards) should not be taking carries away from him in my opinion.

FB Jim Finn continues to block very well.

Offensive Line: Aside from a few miscues, the offensive line blocked extremely well for the running game. RT Kareem McKenzie returned to the starting line up and I thought he played one of his best games as a Giant. He was overpowering as a run blocker. Really, everyone blocked well for the run for the most part. LT Luke Petitgout made a number of nice run blocks, but he did get pushed backwards on Cloud’s one carry and he missed his block on Tiki’s 3rd-and-2 carry right before the 25-yard field goal. OC Shaun O’Hara got a nice block on Tiki’s 95-yard run and later on his 16-yard screen pass. LG David Diehl allowed his man to get into the backfield too quickly on another screen pass that was tipped away.

Pass protection was very good in the first half. RG Chris Snee did give up one pressure on the 78-yard touchdown pass. In the second half, Snee gave up one sack on 3rd-and-3 as his man cleanly beat him. McKenzie also got beat by DE Derrick Burgess on a play where Manning was sacked and fumbled (Diehl did a nice job recovering the ball).

Petitgout was flagged with a false start. Snee was flagged for holding.

Defense: The Giants absolutely shut down the Raiders’ running game, holding Oakland to 25 yards on 17 carries (1.5 yards per rush). The defensive strategy against the pass was obviously to play soft, not allowed the explosive Raider receivers to get deep, and force Oakland to sustain drives by not making mistakes. Unfortunately, Kerry Collins played well enough (26-of-48 for 331, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) to almost defeat this game plan. The defense did not do its job when it allowed the Raiders to regain momentum late in the first half and then again late in the third quarter when it appeared that the Giants had taken control of the game. The highlight defensively was obviously the late goal line stand.

Defensive Line: You can’t get much better than holding another team to 25 yards rushing. I thought DE Michael Strahan (5 tackles) and DT Kendrick Clancy (4 tackles, 1 sack) were particularly stout against the run. DT Fred Robbins also looked good early before he was forced to leave with a hamstring injury. DT Kenderick Allen (3 tackles) looked good in relief and was one of the big reasons why Collins was stuffed on 4th-and-goal late in the game.

The Giants did not generate as much pass pressure on Collins as hoped, especially given his 48 passing attempts. Strahan was double-teamed most of the game and did not create much pressure. But DE Osi Umenyiora (5 tackles) did pick up two more sacks (and forced two fumbles – though he was only officially credited with one). Clancy picked up one sack and forced an incompletion with another pressure. Allen got a couple of late game pass pressures. DE Justin Tuck (2 tackles) flashed on the pass rush when Strahan left with an eye injury. He also made an excellent play on the goal line stand by penetrating and disrupting the first rushing attempt. Tuck also was a key reason why Collins was stuffed on 4th-and-goal.

Umenyiora did get flagged for jumping offsides. Strahan was flagged with a costly 15-yard face mask penalty on the touchdown drive right before halftime.

Linebackers: Good job all around for a unit decimated by injuries. Nick Greisen (8 tackles) was the only regular starting and played a great game. MLB Kevin Lewis (4 tackles) and SLB Alonzo Jackson (4 tackles) did not hurt their team and helped to hold the Raiders to 25 rushing yards.

Greisen was very strong against the run. He made a number of plays against the run in the hole with forceful tackles, including two back-to-back tackles on the goal line stand (and this after suffering a painful stinger). Greisen also held HB Zach Crockett to a 1-yard gain on 3rd-and-2 earlier in the game. Nick looked good on a few blitzes as well. However, Greisen did look vulnerable in space in pass coverage. He got beat for what should have been a touchdown by the tight end on the play before Collins’ touchdown pass to WR Doug Gabriel.

Lewis missed a tackle on WR Jerry Porter early in the game, but exacted his revenge later on Porter with a huge hit. Lewis did a fine job against the run (and sniffing out a screen pass early in the game) despite only being signed days earlier and not playing a down of football since training camp.

Jackson also did well sniffing out the aforementioned screen. He nailed Collins on one blitz, but like Gresien, didn’t look particularly athletic in coverage (though he almost did tip away one sideline pass to Moss).

Defensive Backs: Not very good. The defensive backs played very soft for much of the game (probably intentionally so) and it was an easy pitch-and-catch, including on third down, for a Raiders’ offense that executed properly for once.

CB Corey Webster (4 tackles, 1 pass defense) was given the very tough assignment of covering WR Randy Moss in his first start of the season. Webster was on the wrong end of all three touchdown passes (two to Moss and the other to WR Doug Gabriel). Webster also gave up a few easy completions underneath. The good news is that Webster played better in the second half except for that one deep 44-yarder to Moss for the score.

CB Will Allen (3 tackles, 1 pass defense) played decently after a bit of a rough start. He gave up a 13-yard completion early in the game on 3rd-and-3, when the Giants were in a soft zone. He then did not prevent Gabriel from picking up a first down on 3rd-and-10 on a short crossing pattern. However, later in the second quarter, Allen almost came down with an interception on a deep pass down the middle as he impressively jumped and fought for the ball. Allen had good coverage on Porter in the third quarter on another incompletion. Later in the quarter, right before the 44-yard touchdown pass, Porter did get between Allen and SS Gibril Wilson for a 20-yard completion. In the fourth quarter, Allen had good coverage, causing incompletions, on passes to Moss, TE Randal Williams, and Moss again.

CB Curtis Deloatch (3 tackles) gave up one 11-yard completion early as he too was playing far off the ball. He did not give up another completion until late in the first half when Gabriel beat him for a 24-yard gain despite tight coverage (it was a perfect throw). Curtis then gave up a 8-yard completion on the ensuing play as he was playing soft again. In the fourth quarter, Deloatch got beat on an 8-yard out by Moss on 3rd-and-2. Overall, he played a decent game.

CB Terrell Buckley (no tackles) did not look sharp. He fell down on one deep pass to Gabriel that was luckily overthrown. He also was flagged for a 17-yard pass interference penalty late in the game that gave the Raiders a 1st-and-goal situation from the 1-yard line.

Wilson (4 tackles) was aggressive against the run. He got beat for a 16-yard gain on 3rd-and-5 by Porter despite excellent coverage (it was a perfect pass) right before the Raiders’ first touchdown pass. Wilson really clobbered Collins on one blitz.

FS Brent Alexander (no tackles) was strangely invisible. He did get some good heat on one blitz.

James Butler (1 tackle, 1 pass defense) almost came down with an interception on a deep pass over the middle. He also had good coverage on Porter late in the game on an incompletion.

Special Teams: PK Jay Feely looked sharp on his three field goal attempts, hitting from 25, 38, and 46 yards in difficult field conditions. His kickoffs, like those of his counterpart on the Raiders, were often low and short. Footing was likely a problem.

Kickoff coverage was decent. Raider returns went for 30, 22, 19, 12, 23, 24, and 24 yards. Obviously the 30-yarder was not ideal. And Mike Cloud cost the Giants 20 yards in field position when he was offsides on one kickoff, forcing a re-kick.

Jeff Feagles punted six times for a 39 yard-per-punt average (and two punts downed inside the 20). Punt coverage was good, allowing only nine yards on three returns.

One of the biggest plays of the game was Chad Morton’s 58-yard punt return. On this return, like a few of his returns on the night, Morton made the first man miss. He then received excellent blocks from DE Adrian Awasom and HB Brandon Jacobs. Morton also had a very important 34 yard kickoff return that gave the Giants the ball at their own 49-yard line and helped to set up the final field goal. However, the rest of his kickoff returns only picked up 13, 13, and 15 yards.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Oakland Raiders, December 31, 2005)