New York Giants 14 – Houston Texans 10
Game Overview: I know it doesn’t happen much in the NFL given parity, but just once I’d like to see the Giants pretty much knock the other team out of the game by halftime. It seems as it is always a struggle and nail-biting affair for the Giants against supposedly lesser teams and this game was no different. Still, even with the Giants trailing 10-7 in the fourth quarter and missing a bunch of key starters, one got the sense the Giants would pull this one out.
Why was this game so close? Easy. For one, the Giants were missing too many key players (Umenyiora, Strahan, Tuck, Short, Madison, Burress, McKenzie). Secondly, Houston pretty much played mistake-free football until late in the game. Thirdly, I thought Gary Kubiak called a great game. He spread out the Giants and used a quick, short passing game to control the clock and shorten the contest. And Kubiak caught the Giants off guard with some of his tactical play calling (i.e., throwing on 3rd-and-short, designed QB runs, misdirection, etc.). Fourthly, Houston had three long drives in the football game that consumed 20 minutes of the clock. When you combine that with four New York drives that took another 20 minutes off of the clock that left little time for additional possessions. Not counting the eight seconds the Giants had on their last possession before halftime or the last possession of the game when the Giants were merely trying to run out the clock, New York had only six legitimate scoring chances in the game. Six! That’s an incredibly low number. The limited number of possessions in turn led to a reduced number of offensive snaps – the Giants had only 59 snaps instead of the normal 70 or so. The Giants scored touchdowns on two of the six possessions, should have come away with 10 points on two other possessions (they self-destructed at the Houston 9-yard line on one and botched a field goal attempt on another), and were ineffective on the other two. The Giants also handed the Texans four points when a dumb personal foul penalty gave Houston another chance to score a touchdown rather than settle for a field goal. The game really should have ended 24-6, but mistakes made this game far closer than it should have been.
The Giants were talented and deep enough to survive this game. Let’s hope they got that kind of game out of their collective system. Let’s get back to playing quality football!
Giants on Defense: Had it not been for the injury situation, this would have been a different game for the defense. But the Giants were missing three of their four top defensive ends, a starting cornerback, and their starting weakside linebacker. Houston, like most Giants’ opponents this year, simply could not run the football. The Texans’ feature back, Wali Lundy, was held to 43 yards on 20 carries. But the Texans kept drives alive by going with an unusual game plan by spreading the Giants out and using the short-passing game to dink-and-dunk New York to death. With the Giants playing predominantly zone coverage and playing off the receivers for much of the game, QB David Carr was able to play pitch-and-catch with his targets, most notably WR Andre Johnson. There were times when the Giants had linebackers covering receivers, including Johnson, due to the play design. And by getting rid of the ball quickly, the Giants’ pass rush couldn’t get to Carr, even when New York blitzed. Give Houston and Carr credit for sticking with a game plan that was designed to control the clock and keep the Giants’ offense off of the field. The frustrated Giants’ defense, while not giving up any big plays, allowed Houston to hold the football for 5:09 on their first drive of the game, 6:55 on their third drive, and 8:12 on their fifth drive. This limited the Giants own offensive scoring chances in both halves as the Giants had only three legitimate offensive possessions in each half. The Texans also crossed the Giants up at times by throwing on 3rd-and-short, using Carr’s mobility to pick up key yardage, and employing misdirection. It was a well-called game by Gary Kubiak and the Texans played mistake-free football until their last drive of the game.
The good news? Aside from the outstanding run defense, Houston was still held to 10 points and this would have been only six had it not been for a dumb personal foul penalty.
Defensive Line: The run defense remained excellent. The pass rush was lacking this week, but much of that had to do with Texans’ game plan. Houston spread the Giants out with 4- and 5-receiver sets and employed a quick, three-step passing attack against the Giants’ zone coverage. Carr got rid of the ball quickly and even when there was tight coverage, he made some excellent, accurate throws. That said, it was disappointing not to see more immediate heat applied.
The big concern, of course, is the injury to Michael Strahan, who left the game in the second quarter with a mid-foot sprain (lisfranc injury). Before he departed the game, Strahan was not much of factor on the pass rush, but did make a nice play for a 2-yard loss on a HB Wali Lundy run.
Adrian Awasom (2 tackles) came in for Strahan and did not embarrass himself or his team. In fact, he helped to cause one incompletion by not fooling for bootleg misdirection and then pressuring Carr. And one of the big plays of the game was his quarterback pressure that forced a holding penalty on 2nd-and-9 from the Giants’ 48-yard line near the beginning of the fourth quarter. However, the Texans were able to successfully run at him on 4th-and-1 to pick up a first down. And Awasom got handled on a couple of runs in his direction by the tight end at the point-of-attack, including getting easily knocked to the ground on one play.
Mathias Kiwanuka (7 tackles, 1 sack) played pretty well. Surprisingly, it wasn’t his pass rush that caught my eye but his play against the run. While not a run-stuffing demon by any stretch, this is a guy who is playing tougher at the point-of-attack than he was supposed to be able to do coming out of college. I am also impressed with his hustle, chasing receivers down the field and still getting in on the tackle. His sack was a garbage sack as the quarterback tripped on the play and Kiwanuka merely fell on him. But on the very next snap, playing linebacker, Kiwanuka sniffed out a draw play for a 1-yard loss. I thought the roughing the passer penalty called on him late in the game was touchy.
Fred Robbins (3 tackles) and Barry Cofield (5 tackles) did a nice job again against the run. Cofield made a good play in the second quarter when he penetrated and pursued down the line to nail Lundy for no gain.
William Joseph helped to force an incompletion on 3rd-and-9 with a quality pass rush. Jonas Seawright saw some action. He did a real nice job of submarining his man on a goal line play that went nowhere (Gibril Wilson was also in on this tackle).
Linebackers: Antonio Pierce (4 tackles, 1 pass defense) had a quiet game. I spotted him making a physical tackle on one inside run that was held to two yards. He also knocked away a pass intended for the fullback in the second quarter.
Carlos Emmons (8 tackles) played pretty well. He was physical and aggressive against the run, except for the designed 3rd-and-3 rollout scramble by Carr that picked up a first down. Otherwise, I spotted him making nice stops near the line, including on one draw play that looked set to pick up big yardage. In coverage, I think Emmons failed to spot the motioning tight end coming across his zone for an uncontested 10-yard reception on 3rd-and-2 on the touchdown drive. But he also made a nice tackle in space against the running back to hold one completion to a 1-yard gain.
Gerris Wilkinson (3 tackles, 1 forced fumble) did not make much noise for most of the game. I think he got fooled badly and let his man (the tight end) catch an uncontested 9-yard pass on 2nd-and-12 on Houston’s first drive of the game. And Wilkinson wasn’t real physical or aggressive against the run at the point-of-attack. He did flash on one blitz where he got close to Carr. And Wilkinson made one of the biggest plays of the contest when he forced the fullback to fumble after a short pass reception on Houston’s last drive of the game.
Defensive Backs: Most fans probably came out of this game thinking the defensive backs didn’t play all that well because they gave up too many short passes underneath. That may be true. However, the backs may also have been playing the defense the way they were supposed to have played it. It may very well have been the Giants’ game plan, especially with Sam Madison out, not to give up any big plays down the field. We do know this – the Texans spread the Giants out by going with 4- and 5-receiver sets. We also know that the Giants played predominantly zone coverage. We also know that there were instances where linebackers were locked up on receivers, or receivers had a soft cushion in front of them, making it easier to play pitch-and-catch. Also, give credit to the Texans. They do have good receivers and David Carr did make some very accurate throws.
R.W. McQuarters (5 tackles, 2 pass defenses) was OK. On one of the few times that Houston took a shot down the field, he was very lucky he was not called for pass interference against WR Eric Moulds – McQuarters made contact and did not turn around and play the football. In the second quarter, McQuarters made a nice play by knocking away a short pass intended for Moulds. On the touchdown drive, McQuarters gave up an 11-yard reception to Moulds despite having good coverage.
Corey Webster (4 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) gave up a 22-yard reception (Houston’s longest play of the day) on their first drive of the game. He had very good coverage on WR Andre Johnson on this play over the middle, but it was simply a perfect throw. However, later on in this drive, he was playing far too soft against the halfback split out wide. Not only did a short completion result, but Webster didn’t come up aggressively to make the tackle, leading to a 13-yard gain. There is no reason why Webster should be playing so soft on a running back. On the field goal drive, Webster played soft again, allowing a 7-yard reception on 3rd-and-4 to Moulds. On Houston’s last drive of the game, Webster made a very nice play by knocking away a deeper pass to the tight end and then recovering a fumble that helped seal the deal for the Giants.
Kevin Dockery (6 tackles) had his ups and downs too. Impressively for a rookie, despite the fact that Frank Walker was back, the coaches clearly prefer him on the field over the veteran. Dockery was beat by Johnson for six yards on 3rd-and-1 on the field goal drive. He also gave up a 10-yard completion to Johnson on 3rd-and-5 on the touchdown drive.
Gibril Wilson (8 tackles, 1 pass defense) dropped an interception on a bad overthrow by Carr late in the first quarter. On Houston’s touchdown drive, Wilson made an excellent play on the football in the end zone against Johnson to momentarily prevent a score. Two plays later, he made an aggressive play in run defense on the goal line to tackle the back for no gain.
Will Demps (4 tackles, 1 pass defense) caused an incompletion on the field goal drive with a nice hit on the tight end as the ball arrived.
James Butler (1 tackle) made an incredibly stupid play by hitting an offensive lineman with a cheap shot after the Texans failed to pick up the first down on 3rd-and-10. This allowed Houston to keep alive a drive that two plays later resulted in a touchdown. Butler did make a nice open field tackle after a short pass on Houston’s last drive.
Offensive Overview: As I’ve stated, there were two big problems for the Giants. One, they only had six legitimate scoring chances in the game (three in each half). Secondly, they self-destructed on one of those six chances as they went from 1st-and-5 from the Houston 9-yard line to 4th-and-31 from the Houston 35-yard line. And another opportunity was wasted with a strange running call on 3rd-and-7 then a botched field goal attempt. Had the Giants not screwed up at the end of those two drives, they would have scored 24 points.
The absence of WR Plaxico Burress also altered the game. “I don’t think (Houston) would have played as much cover-one with eight men in the box if I was out there,” Burress said. “Some of the play calls are based on me being out there. We really couldn’t make a lot of those calls today.”
What was encouraging was how well the Giants responded again in the fourth quarter with the game on the line and how well they ran out the clock on their last possession with five minutes still left on the clock and the Giants only sporting a 4-point lead. Houston never got the ball back.
Quarterback: Eli Manning (17-of-28 for 179 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception) played well for the most part. He went 3-for-3 on the opening drive where the Giants scored a touchdown and was 9-of-13 on the Giants first three drives of the game (and one of these incompletions came on a well-thrown ball that almost resulted in a touchdown, but Jeremy Shockey could not hold on; another came as Manning was hit as he threw). So Manning really had only two off passes in his first three drives – a deep shot to Carter where Carter didn’t provide Manning with a lot of space to work with along the sidelines and a low throw to Michael Jennings on neatly designed 3rd-and-3 play that fell incomplete. Late in the half, Manning was sacked on back-to-back plays; on the latter sack, Manning should have thrown the football away. Manning’s worst throw of the half was the ball that was picked off at the very end of the second quarter when the Giants got the ball back with eight seconds left on the clock (this was their fourth and final “possession” of the half).
In the second half, Carter couldn’t bring get his feet down on a sideline pass. This was another play that should have resulted in a completion. Later on this drive, Manning’s sideline throw to Amani Toomer was a tad late and Toomer drifted out of bounds. Manning’s worst series by far was the three-and-out late in the third quarter where he underthrew Shockey on 2nd-and-19 and overthrew Jennings on 3rd-and-19. On the touchdown drive that put the Giants up for good, Manning was 5-of-7 for 45 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Then Manning was a perfect 2-for-2 on the next and final possession when the Giants were running out the clock, including a very important 6-yard pass to Toomer on 3rd-and-4. On the game-winning touchdown drive, Manning expertly saw a double-blitz from his left and audiblized to a Barber running play to his right on 3rd-and-6. It was a gutty call that worked beautifully. Then he finished the drive with a fantastic play-action fake that fooled practically everyone.
Wide Receivers: The Giants really missed Burress as the wide receivers only managed to catch five balls for 52 yards.
Amani Toomer (2 catches for 16 yards) came into the game with a bum ankle (missing practice on Wednesday) and appeared to tweak it several times during the game. Indeed, I spotted him hopping around on one foot at least twice. Credit Toomer for gutting it out when his team needed him. (Late Update: It is now known that Toomer was playing on a partially torn ACL in his left knee). Also credit him with some excellent run blocks. Toomer’s two catches were important ones: the first being a 10-yard reception down to the Houston 2-yard line on the game-winning drive; the second was his 6-yard reception on 3rd-and-4 when the Giants ran out the clock.
Tim Carter (1 catch for 15 yards) pretty much laid an egg. This was his big chance to make a statement and he only came up with one catch. Manning threw deep to him once, but Carter’s route was too close to the sideline and did not afford Manning much room for error. And Carter was unable to keep his feet inbounds on another sideline effort. I was unimpressed with Carter’s run blocking too. Barber might have broken some bigger runs had Carter kept his man out of the play.
Michael Jennings (2 catches for 21 yards; 1 run for –9 yards) played a lot. Jennings caught a 16-yard pass on the Giants’ first touchdown drive and a 5-yard catch on the game-winning drive.
Running Backs: Tiki Barber (17 carries for 115 yards and a touchdown; 3 receptions for 40 yards) was productive despite suffering from stomach flu. He scored from 16 yards out on the opening drive of the game. He didn’t really get things in gear again until the Giants’ third possession of the half when he carried the ball three times in a row for 31 yards (runs of 9, 9, and 13 yards). This helped the Giants to move the football into scoring position, but the Giants self-destructed after reaching the Houston 9-yard line and were forced to punt. One of the negative plays that hurt them was a sack where Barber failed to pick up a blitzer.
On the Giants’ first possession of the third quarter, Barber carried the ball three times for 17 yards (including a 12-yard run) and caught a 20-yard pass on 3rd-and-6. However, this drive ended with the botched field goal. On the game-winning drive, Barber carried the ball three times for 18 yards, including a critical 7-yard run on 3rd-and-6. He also caught a 13-yard pass. Barber, along with Brandon Jacobs, then did a real nice job of running out the clock on the Giants’ last possession. Tiki had carries of 4, 1, 5, and 14 yards as New York prevent Houston from getting the ball back.
Brandon Jacobs (7 carries for 19 yards; 1 catch for 21 yards) made a big play on the Giants’ first touchdown drive of the game with his 21-yard reception on 1st-and-20. On this play, Jacobs showed good balance at the start of the screen as his feet were tangled with a defender. Jacobs also had a 7-yard run on 3rd-and-1 earlier on this drive. Jacobs had a 9-yard run on the first drive of the second half too. Brandon also had a key 3-yard run on 3rd-and-1 when the Giants were running out the clock.
Jim Finn dropped a pass on the Giants’ opening possession. But he did block well this week, including an excellent block on Barber’s 16-yard touchdown run.
Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey (8 catches for 66 yards and a touchdown) was easily the Giants most productive receiver on the day. Shockey caught a 10-yard pass on 2nd-and-11 on the Giants’ opening touchdown drive. He then threw a good block on the ensuing 3rd-and-1 running play by Jacobs that picked up seven yards. Shockey also made a good block on the 16-yard touchdown run that capped the drive. Near the end of the first quarter, Shockey caught an 11-yard pass on 3rd-and-5 to keep the Giants’ second drive of the game alive. On the third drive of the half, Manning threw deep to Shockey at the goal line. Shockey initially caught the ball despite a vicious hit but the ball came loose after Shockey hit the ground. It was almost a 25-yard touchdown and I’m not completely sure that it wasn’t. On the very next play, Shockey caught another 11-yarder for a first down. On the game-winning drive, Shockey made a 14-yard reception and then scored the touchdown off a play-action fake where he made a nice adjustment to the football. At the end of the game, Barber sealed the deal with a 14-yard run where Shockey made the key block. Shockey did give up one pass pressure when a blitzing linebacker got past him and in Eli’s face.
Offensive Line: The offensive line, minus RT Kareem McKenzie, played well for the most part. But DE Mario Williams did cause some serious havoc for the Giants in the middle of the game.
The run blocking was mostly very solid. LT Luke Petitgout and LG David Diehl had strong games at the point-of-attack. Petitgout made a real nice block on Tiki’s touchdown run. And OC Shaun O’Hara was very good on pulls and blocking at the second level. O’Hara and RG Chris Snee got out nicely on Jacobs’ 21-yard screen pass. On two back-to-back 9-yard pickups by Barber in the second quarter, Petitgout and a pulling O’Hara made the key blocks. Then Diehl and Snee, in textbook fashion, pulled and led Barber on a 13-yard gain around right end. However, this promising drive stalled when OG/TE Rich Seubert was flagged with an obvious holding penalty and then two back-to-back sacks (one where Bob Whitfield was beat and another where Barber failed to pick up the blitz and Manning held the ball too long). On 3rd-and-31, Mario Williams got by Petitgout and blasted Manning as he released the ball.
In the second half, Petitgout and Diehl made nice blocks on a 12-yard gain by Barber on the initial drive of the third quarter. And then Petitgout got a good block on a 9-yard carry by Jacobs. And the offensive line did a real nice job of both run and pass blocking in the fourth quarter when the Giants not only went ahead for good, but ran out the clock. Diehl made a very good block on a pulling effort on a Barber run that picked up 12 yards on the game-winning drive.
Bob Whitfield started for McKenzie at right tackle and played fairly well. But he did erase a 28-yard run by Barber with an obvious holding penalty that really wasn’t needed had he used proper technique. As mentioned, Whitfield also gave up a sack (to Mario Williams) on what looked to be a scoring drive. In the third quarter, Whitfield was flagged with an illegal formation penalty on a 3rd-and-1 play where the Giants picked up the first down. (Fortunately for Whitfield, the Giants still picked up the first on the next play).
Special Teams: The Giants’ special teams continue to play mediocre football. P Jeff Feagles could not handle a field goal snap and this cost the Giants three points. Feagles punted three times with his punts traveling 39 yards (out of bounds at the Houston 10-yard line), 35 yards (a poor effort since it resulted in a touchback), and 36 yards (with a 10-yard return; Derrick Ward made the tackle).
PK Jay Feely kicked off three times with his kickoffs being fielded at the 3, 19, and 3. His second kick was terrible. Returns picked up 23 yards (Jason Bell and Chase Blackburn on the tackle), 17 yards (James Butler and Reggie Torbor), and 27 yards (Brandon Jacobs and Butler).
The Giants kickoff return game remains anemic. Chad Morton’s three returns picked up 16, 23, and 26 yards. David Tyree was flagged with holding on latter return. Morton returned only one punt (he also had one fair catch). On the punt, the Giants did a terrible job of blocking the gunner who tackled Morton just as the ball arrived.