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New Giants 27 – Carolina Panthers 13

Game Overview: At least momentarily, the Giants righted what had been a sinking ship. But they are not out of the woods yet. The have two division games remaining. Philly always give the Giants fits and the Giants have not played well in Maryland against the Skins the last couple of years. And everyone saw what the Saints did to the Cowboys on Sunday night.

This was a big win for the Giants against a desperate team that was also vying for a playoff spot in the NFC. The Giants really helped themselves by not turning the football over (though they got lucky on two fumbles) and by being penalized only twice for 10 yards. In other words, for once, they did not shoot themselves in the foot. The special teams played their best game of the season and Eli Manning had another solid showing.

Can the Giants keep it going against the Eagles?

Defensive Overview: The run defense was very good with the running backs being held to 29 yards on 12 carries (QB Chris Weinke chipped in with 16 yards on 3 scrambles).

Weinke did throw for 423 yards, but he also threw the football 61 times (6.9 yards per pass play). 278 of those passing yards came after the Giants had taken a 27-10 lead in the third quarter and Carolina only managed one field goal out of all of that. Indeed, the numbers were really inflated by Carolina’s last two drives in the fourth quarter against soft zone coverage. Still, the Panthers also did drop some passes that they should have caught and the Giants should tighten up that zone a bit.

The thing that bothered me the most? Why the hell was LB Carlos Emmons covering an outside wide receiver (not even a slot receiver) on the Panthers’ second offensive play of the game? The Giants are lucky that this didn’t result in an 86-yard touchdown.

It is interesting to note that there were stretches of the game where the Giants had four rookies on the field: DT Barry Cofield, DE Mathias Kiwanuka, CB Kevin Dockery, and LB Gerris Wilkinson.

Defensive Line: The run defense was pretty sound. There were flashes of pass rush pressure, but not enough, especially given the 61 passing attempts. Osi Umenyiora (2 tackles) looked much, much better this week as he flashed at times on the pass rush with an explosive upfield burst. In the second quarter, he nailed the halfback for a 3-yard loss right after he received the handoff. It looked like he forced a fumble on the play that the Giants recovered, but the officials didn’t rule it that way.

Mathias Kiwanuka (2 tackles, 1 sack) was pretty quiet, but both he and Umenyiora clobbered Weinke on one pass rush that caused an incompletion. His sack was of the good coverage/hustle variety.

Adrian Awasom (1 tackle) played quite a bit as Umenyiora suffered from some cramping during the game. He didn’t really stand out, but he did a nice job of holding one middle screen to a 2-yard gain.

Fred Robbins (3 tackles, 1 pass defense) got one pressure. He did a nice job of tackling the back for a 4-yard gain on one screen pass and deflected another pass. He also nailed the running back for a 2-yard loss on one play and a 4-yard loss on another. However, he was flagged with a defensive holding penalty.

Barry Cofield (no tackles) was pretty quiet. He missed a sack on Weinke on a 3rd-and-10 play that should have forced a punt. Instead, Weinke scrambled for 13 yards and the first down, leading to a successful field goal.

William Joseph (2 tackles, 1 sack) got to Weinke at the end of the third quarter for a 5-yard loss. He also got excellent pressure on Weinke on the 4th-and-2 play at the end of the game that resulted in an incompletion.

Linebackers: Antonio Pierce (11 tackles) had a good game. He was active against the run. And he really showed his smarts on the Panthers’ first possession. In the playoff game last year, the Giants had been burned by draw plays on 3rd-and-long. Pierce, who missed that game, stopped an early 3rd-and-8 draw two yards short of the first-down marker. He did miss one tackle on the back on a play that gained 12 yards.

Brandon Short (1 tackle) and Carlos Emmons (no tackles) were pretty quiet. Part of this had to do with the fact that the Panthers did use a lot of multiple WR-sets. Also, Gerris Wilkinson (1 tackle) saw quite a bit of playing time. He’s a better athlete than Emmons and Short, but he did miss two tackles in the game. In some pass defense sets, the only linebackers on the field were Pierce and Wilkinson.

Defensive Backs: CB Kevin Dockery (8 tackles, 1 interception, 4 pass defenses) had an eventful game. Starting at left corner, he was picked on early and gave up a few big plays. When the Giants moved him back to the slot position, he started making plays to help his team win. Early in the second quarter, he was playing far too soft on an easy pitch-and-catch play to WR Drew Carter for nine yards. Two plays later, he didn’t get a good jam on WR Steve Smith and Smith beat him for 21 yards. On the very next snap, despite tight coverage, Carter beat Dockery for a 36-yard touchdown. Later in the quarter, it was clear that the Panthers were targeting Dockery again as he was burned for 38 yards on 3rd-and-10. On this play, Dockery had decent coverage, but couldn’t make a play on the football.

In the second half, the Panthers continued to try to pick on Dockery, but without the positive results. On the Panthers first drive, Dockery had good coverage on Steve Smith out of the slot on 3rd-and-6 and probably should have come up with interception. Still, this was an impressive play against one of the best in the game. On the next series, Dockery made a nice tackle on the back coming out of the backfield to limit the play to a 1-yard gain. Then on the next series, Dockery had good coverage on 3rd-and-2 – this time against Keyshawn Johnson – to cause an incompletion. He did blow his coverage assignment on the ensuing possession as Carter caught a 26-yard pass against him. In the fourth quarter, Dockery did a nice job of breaking up a deeper pass down the middle intended for Johnson. Then he impressively undercut Johnson to intercept the football on the next possession.

CB Sam Madison (2 tackles), with help, did a real nice job of keeping Steve Smith (5 catches for 67 yards) in check. The only negative I saw on him in coverage was giving up a 22-yard reception on Carolina’s last drive. He was flagged with one defensive holding penalty on Smith (the penalty was declined) and a delay of game penalty for attempting to cause a false start by the Panthers at the end of the game.

CB R.W. McQuarters (5 tackles, 2 pass defenses) played well too. He almost came up with an interception on a 3rd-and-6 play immediately preceding the 37-yard field goal by the Panthers before halftime. He also did a real nice job of saving a touchdown by knocking away an end zone pass intended for Carter near the end of the game.

SS Gibril Wilson (3 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 pass defenses) had his best game of the year because of his two picks. The first was a huge play in the game as Wilson came up with a deflected ball and returned it 25 yards down to the Carolina 14-yard line. Five plays later, the Giants took 17-point lead. Two possessions later, Wilson again picked off Weinke – this one a deep pass that he grabbed at the Giants’ 6-yard line. In the first quarter, he had good coverage on a 3rd-and-3 pass that the tight end dropped. In the second quarter, he smashed Keyshawn Johnson on a pass that fell incomplete. Wilson did miss one tackle on Smith.

FS Will Demps (8 tackles, 1 pass defense) dropped what should have been an easy interception in the second quarter. Later in the game, he did a nice job of breaking up a pass intended for the tight end on 3rd-and-3.

Offensive Overview: Not a particularly stylish offensive display, but good enough against a team with a very dangerous defensive line. Manning’s numbers don’t look good – except for where it matters most – three touchdowns and no interceptions.

For the second week in a row, the Giants have really done a nice job of getting TE Jeremy Shockey more involved and it has paid off.

The running backs accrued 128 yards on 30 carries (a 4.3 yards per rush average).

Of note was there was only one offensive penalty called – a hold on RG Chris Snee that was declined. And the Giants did not turn the football over – though, they got lucky on fumbles by Brandon Jacobs and Manning. When teams don’t turn the football over or commit many penalties, they usually win.

Another week, one more innovative call. Last week we saw the direct snap to Tiki Barber. This week, the Giants tried to hit back-up lineman Grey Ruegamer on a tackle eligible play in the end zone.

The biggest problem? Too many three-and-outs. There were two in the first half and five after the Giants had taken a 27-10 lead midway through the third quarter. In other words, the Giants never picked up another first down for the last quarter and a half. The inability to run any significant amount of time off of the clock was disturbing.

Quarterback: Eli Manning (17-of-33 for 172 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) had an inconsistent, but mostly positive performance. Like last week against Dallas, his pocket presence was excellent and he made his pass protection look better than it was at times with ability to avoid the rush. In fact, it seemed like on most pass plays, Manning had someone in his face. And most of those plays where the announcers said Manning didn’t see an open receiver or threw an errant pass, the pass rush was a significant factor on that play. Give credit too to Manning for throwing the football away in a few instances where there was too much pressure or the Panthers had correctly read the play (i.e., a couple of screen passes). Two passes were dropped and another was likely incorrectly ruled incomplete. He also had another batted down at the line.

His best plays? Scrambling to his left, away from pressure, on 4th-and-10 and finding WR David Tyree for the first down to set up the first score of the game. His 45-yard deep strike to WR Plaxico Burress on a play where Manning stepped up into the pocket due to pressure and fired a very, very accurate football downfield despite a collapsing pocket. His 28-yard scoring toss to Burress two plays later, despite being under pressure again. His 25-yard strike to TE Jeremy Shockey on 3rd-and-5 late in the first half. And his 3rd-and-goal touchdown throw to Shockey where he scrambled to his left again, squared his shoulders, and fired another very accurate ball under duress. Strangely, Manning has seemed more comfortable scrambling to his left in recent games than to his right.

Good play by Manning to prevent the Panthers from recovering HB Brandon Jacobs’ fumble on the goal line.

The bad? There was one very dangerous pass back across to the field to WR Sinorice Moss. It resulted in a completion, but the safety was lurking in the area and it could have resulted in a defensive score. He also was almost picked off during the late first half drive when the linebacker jumped in front of Shockey. Manning also fumbled the football on a play where David Diehl was shoved back into the quarterback.

On a side note, did you see the gut on back-up QB Jared Lorenzen? It appears like he is not working to keep the weight off.

Wide Receivers: Plaxico Burress (4 catches for 77 yards, 1 touchdown) made some big plays again. His nine touchdown receptions this year are the most by a Giant since Ernest Gray in the early 1980’s. The one thing I didn’t care for was Burress publicly venting his frustration at not getting the football. Burress said earlier in the season that he was going to cut that out, but he didn’t in this game. He should have recognized and appreciated the fact that Manning was under heavy heat much of the game and didn’t have time to accurately deliver the ball to the open man in some instances. His two biggest plays of the game were on the first half touchdown drive where he caught a 45-yard deep pass and then a few plays later caught the 28-yard scoring strike. On the latter play, Burress impressively fought through contact, maintained his concentration, and came down with the football.

Tim Carter had no catches. Manning threw to him deep in the second quarter on a play where he was clearly interfered with, but no penalty was called. Some fans have said that Carter still should have caught the ball, but he corner was holding onto his arm.

Both of David Tyree’s catches were clutch. He impressively fought hard for extra yardage on his 12-yard 4th-and-10 reception in the first quarter. And he caught a touchdown pass on 3rd-and-goal from the 3-yard line in the third quarter. Tyree did drop one pass.

Sinorice Moss caught two passes for 11 yards. He did have a bad drop on a 3rd-and-1 WR-screen in the fourth quarter that should have picked up a first down. They are clearly getting him more involved.

Running Backs: Tiki Barber (20 carries for 112 yards; 1 catch for 6 yards) was productive with a number of decent-sized runs (11, 12, 20, 18, and 20 yards). However, Barber was also held to runs of –1, -3, -3, and 0 yards. So it was pretty much hit-or-miss with the running game. Barber was good on blitz pick-ups although he did get Shaun O’Hara accidentally hurt on one of these.

Brandon Jacobs (16 yards on 10 carries) had a rough game. His fumble on the goal line that Shockey recovered could have been a killer. He was also stuffed on 3rd-and-1, 3rd-and-2, 2nd-and-goal (from the 1-yard line), 3rd-and-1, and 2nd-and-2. To be fair to Jacobs, the run blocking wasn’t really there and the Panthers really sold out against the run when he was in the game.

FB Jim Finn blocked well. And his recovery of QB Eli Manning’s fumble at the Giants’ 8-yard line in the third quarter may have been the biggest play of the game.

Tight Ends: For the third game in a row, Shockey was one of Manning’s top targets in the football game. That’s a good thing. He finished the game with six catches for 49 yards and a touchdown. His two biggest catches came on the scoring drive right before halftime. He caught a 25-yard pass on 3rd-and-5 that gave the Giants a first down at the Carolina 10-yard line. Two plays later, he recovered Brandon Jacobs’ fumble on the goal line and then, on the very next snap, he caught a 2-yard touchdown pass that gave New York the lead for good. His run blocking was excellent and he was even called upon to block DE Julius Peppers one-on-one.

Visanthe Shiancoe caught a rare red zone throw in his direction for nine yards down to the 1-yard line.

Offensive Line: The line deserves a lot of credit for surviving against a top-notch front four (plus their reserves) despite suffering injuries to starters RT Kareem McKenzie and OC Shaun O’Hara. Rich Seubert played at both center and later left guard (as well as his usual tight end position). LG David Diehl was forced to shift over to right tackle, facing the ever-dangerous DE Julius Peppers. However, although Giants’ running backs rushed for 128 yards, there were problems in short-yardage. In addition, though the Giants officially only gave up one sack, Manning was under quite a bit of heat. McKenzie gave up quite a few pressures before he left the game. Peppers beat him on both inside and outside moves. The Giants ended up having to give him help with Barber. RG Chris Snee has played better, both in the pass-protection and run-blocking departments. He was shoved into the backfield on two of Jacobs’ failed short-yardage efforts (as did Seubert at left guard on another failed Jacobs’ carry). Both Diehl and LT Bob Whitfield allowed some pressure as well, with Diehl giving up a sack on the play where the ball was knocked out of Manning’s hand near the Giants’ own goal line. One of Barber’s 3-yard losses came on a play where Whitfield blew his assignment.

Special Teams: This was probably the Giants’ best game this season on special teams. P Jeff Feagles (41 yards per punt average) was outstanding and punt coverage was solid. Of his nine punts, six were downed inside the 20-yard line (at the 12, 19, 8, 18, 15, and 8). Only three were returned and the ever-dangerous Steve Smith only accrued 11 yards on those three returns. In on tackles were Adrian Awasom, Reggie Torbor, Mathias Kiwanuka, James Butler, and Chase Blackburn.

Kickoff coverage was aided by PK Jay Feely’s best day kicking off in quite some time, despite the fact that Feely played with a broken bone in his foot. Four of his six kickoffs reached the end zone. Two of those resulted in touchbacks. The other two kickoffs were fielded at the 6- and 7-yard lines. The longest kick return by the Panthers was for only 21 yards. Active in coverage were David Tyree, James Butler, Gerris Wilkinson, and Chad Morton.

Feely hit his two field goal attempts – from 32 and 29 yards out.

Chad Morton returned four punts and fair caught two others. He averaged a very good 12.5 yards per return and his 22-yard return early in the third quarter helped to start off one scoring drive in Carolina territory. However, he did fumble the football on that return and was lucky that the ball squirted out-of-bounds.

Kickoff returns continue to be pretty bad. Derrick Ward returned two kickoffs – one for 18 yards and the other for 21 yards. Brandon Jacobs had one return for 16 yards.

The Giants got pretty good heat on the punter in the game, coming close to a couple of blocks.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Carolina Panthers, December 10, 2006)
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Eric Kennedy

Founder and owner of BigBlueInteractive.com, which is now entering its 20th season. Follow Eric on Twitter @BigBlueInteract.

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