Approach to the Game – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, December 3, 2006: My heart says “Go Giants!” but my head knows that the Giants are going to get rolled this Sunday. Before folks jump all over me, consider these facts:
- Other than LB/DE Greg Ellis, who is on Injured Reserve, the Cowboys are completely healthy. No one is missing practice and they don’t even have one single player listed on their injury report. Meanwhile, the Giants have significant injuries to seven of the 11 starters on defense. And I’m not even counting LaVar Arrington or Justin Tuck who are in Injured Reserve. Even if some of the injured players play, they won’t be anywhere near 100 percent. And they are just as likely to re-aggravate an injury. In addition, the Giants are missing Luke Petitgout and Amani Toomer on offense.
- Partly due to the injury situation, the Cowboys are simply a better team. They have better receivers, and most importantly, a better defense and a better quarterback.
- LT Bob Whitfield versus LB/DE DeMarcus Ware. ‘Nuff said.
- The Cowboys are extremely confident and have all of the momentum on their side. The Giants’ morale is at an all-time low and the team is reeling under three straight losses, including a cataclysmic fourth-quarter disaster against the Titans last week.
- Even though the Giants are 3-0 in the division and the Cowboys are 1-3 in the division, the Cowboys don’t need to win this game. The Giants do. If the Giants lose, they will be two games out of first place with four to play. And one of Dallas’ remaining games is a home game against the Lions. There are no easy games left on the Giants’ schedule.
- I don’t think there will be much of a home-field advantage in this game. For one, there usually are a ton of Cowboy fans in the stadium for this match-up. Secondly, at the first sign of incompetence, the boo-birds will be out – creating added stress and a disadvantage for the home team. Team and fan morale will diminish even further if some of the returning walking wounded leave the game again due to re-injury.
And the last factor is that this team is simply imploding. Their focus seems to be everywhere except their next opponent. Let’s review some of the highlights:
- Tiki Barber prematurely announces his retirement. He calls some in the media idiots because they questioned if the announcement would be a distraction. He criticized the coaching staff both after the playoff loss against the Panthers last season and after the loss to the Jaguars a couple of weeks ago. He’s got one foot out the door already. His final season with the Giants has been a public relations disaster. And despite doing quite well in terms of his overall productivity (1,080 rushing yards, 341 receiving yards), he has only broken one big play this year and only has one touchdown.
- Plaxico Burress doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut. He likes to insult his opponents off the field such as when he questioned the ability of the Bears’ corners and the Cowboys’ safeties. He also unnecessarily threw some verbal jabs at Terrell Owens. His effort on the playing field has also been questioned.
- Jeremy Shockey publicly criticized his coaching staff after the Seattle loss. He’s also provided the Cowboys with some nice bulletin board material.
- Michael Strahan went off on a reporter who was merely trying to follow up on a story that Strahan himself started when he made comments about Burress quitting on a play against the Titans. Strahan has a history of venting at the media for shit-storms that he himself created. Strahan has suffered two serious injuries in three seasons and is 35 years old.
And all of this is happening despite Tom Coughlin’s repeated efforts to keep things in house. His players are not listening him or not paying attention. As I pointed out in my Titans’ game review yesterday, the Giants are more of a soap opera than a football team (and I wrote that before the latest Strahan incident). The quasi-conspiracy theorists out there are arguing that much of this is orchestrated in order to take the focus off of the struggles of Eli Manning or the current three-game losing streak, but the Giants are not that clever. This is simply the case of a team with questionable leadership – both on the roster and on the coaching staff.
And let’s not forget coaching blunders that obviously have the players questioning their own coaching staff – the 51-yard field goal attempt into the wind against the Bears, the decision to run the ball only 13 times against the Jaguars, and the 2-and-4 shotgun pass against the Titans with a three touchdown lead.
This team is on the verge of a total meltdown. I have the same leery feeling I had in 2003 after the loss to Atlanta. Heading into that game, the 4-4 Giants were very still much alive with only half the season over. But after the game, I wrote the following before the Giants proceeded to lose eight games in a row and Fassel and the Giants decided to part ways:
The Beginning of the End
November 12, 2003
Game Overview: The movie line that came to mind after the Giants’ embarrassing loss to the lowly Atlanta Falcons comes from the film Patton. Towards the conclusion of the movie, there is a scene where Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, staring up at the wartime strategic situation map with the Russians moving into Berlin and the Americans approaching the Elbe River, says “This is the End. The End.”
The Fassel regime has about two more months of life, then it is over. There are no miracles left. There are no excuses. This team that was supposed to contend for the NFC East title is currently residing in the division basement. Injuries are only now mounting, but they weren’t an issue up until this point – so that can’t be used as an excuse. The season was sabotaged by special teams disasters against the Cowboys and Eagles, turnovers and an inability to produce points against the Dolphins and Patriots, and a complete no-show against the Falcons.
Despite press stories to the contrary, this isn’t the first time under Fassel that the Giants didn’t come mentally ready to play on game day. The contests against Detroit in 2000, and the Cardinals, Eagles (away game where Philly rushed for 300 yards), and Falcons in 2002 immediately come to mind. But this wasn’t Jim Fassel’s biggest problem. Fassel’s biggest problem was that his Giants’ teams won when they weren’t expected to win, but lost when they were expected to contend. In the six year’s from 1997 to 2002, Fassel’s teams made the playoffs three times, won two division titles, and an NFC Championship. But those successes came in the “rebuilding” years of 1997, 2000, and 2002. The Giants of 1998, 2001, and 2003 were supposed to be good teams. The irony is that if these trends were flip-flopped, the heat would be on General Manager Ernie Accorsi rather than Fassel.
Among a certain group of Giants’ fans, there is a palpable sense of giddiness that Jim Fassel is on his way out. Excuse me for not being one to join in their celebration. What we are watching is the downfall of a GOOD man…a man who lives and breathes New York Giants football. He is part of the Giants’ family and that makes him one of us. But at the same time, we will never understand the tremendous personal sacrifice, heartache, and emotional toll being the head coach of this football team has taken on him. I have bitched and moaned about Fassel in the past, only later to come to his defense once again because I realize that Fassel is a hard-working, intelligent, sensitive man who loves his family and his players. He wanted nothing more than to make the Giants winners. How can you root against a guy like that?
But the bottom line in this sport is winning. Winning is the ultimate denominator, especially when expectations are at their highest. When a team falls short of that goal, it is far easier to fire the coaching staff than it is the players. In addition, at a certain point, how the head coaching situation is addressed becomes a public relations matter. Ownership and management seldom can ignore the outcry of the masses who call for blood.
Why didn’t Fassel’s teams win when the expectations were higher? It’s a good question. For some reason, the team always seemed to lack a sense of urgency until the season was on the brink. There always seemed to some crisis, offensive inconsistency, and special teams problems throughout his regime. As the offense personnel improved, the defensive personnel deteriorated. The 1997 New York Giants was one of the best defensive teams I’ve seen the Giants field; the 2003 New York Giants’ defense is mediocre at best. Fassel also made the mistake of picking Johnnie Lynn to succeed John Fox.
Contrary to the Falcon fiasco, Fassel’s teams usually came to play on game day. The level of coaching was fundamentally sound and the players respected their coach and most of the coaching staff. But one rarely was left with the impression that Fassel and his staff had out-coached their opponent. Put Fassel up against the likes of a Bill Belichick, or Jeff Fisher, and Fassel was left wanting. So were the halftime adjustments. Does that make Fassel a bad coach? Of course not. He is an average coach in an average league.
So at season’s end, General Manager Ernie Accorsi will fire Fassel. Accorsi will pick a new head coach and likely retire after the 2004 season. This will be a mistake. What Accorsi should do is be a man and step down at the same time that he fires Fassel. Let his successor pick his own head coach since this is coach he will have to feel comfortable in working with. George Young made the mistake of leaving the Giants a year too late as well.
I get the same bad feeling about this situation. If the Giants lose to Dallas – and lose badly – it is quite possible that the wheels will come off and the Giants may not win another game in 2006. If so, it will be their third season with an eight-game losing streak in four years. Coughlin – despite his connection to the Maras – may not survive. Wellington and Bob have passed on and Accorsi is retiring. Without Wellington’s shadow, and with a new head coach and general manager, not only will this be Tiki’s last season with the Giants, it could be the end for Strahan and Toomer. Those three have been the face of the Giants for a decade. It might all be over soon. We might see another massive roster shake-up.
That all said, the Giants do have a chance to win on Sunday, albeit a slim one. They can still save their season, their coaches, and their own jobs. In my opinion, the key to this game will be staying in the game early. The Giants not only need to keep the fans in the game and on their side, but they also need to do well for their own self-confidence. Parcells knows this. Look for him to go for the throat early with a bomb to Terrell Owens. I think the Giants have to use a ball-control game on offense – a lot of runs and short passes – in order to keep the pressure (both mental and physical) off of Eli as well as keep the potentially explosive Dallas offense off the field. The Giants also MUST get some turnovers on defense and play well on special teams. That’s a lot to ask for. Dallas QB Tony Romo has been as accurate a quarterback the last two games as I’ve ever seen in the NFL. He’s not making mistakes.
Say a prayer for the G-Men…they are going to need it.