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New York Giants 13 – Baltimore Ravens 12

by Damon Micalizzi for BigBlueInteractive.com

I can’t remember watching a preseason game and feeling so encouraged, yet so concerned at the same time. One week removed from a rather uninspiring performance against Carolina, where the best news was that we escaped injury free, the Giants appeared to have had a good week of practice and look to have improved on many of the glaring issues from last week.

In spite of a very promising showing by the Giants, where the offense, defense and special teams all shined, against a talented and dirty Baltimore Ravens team, there was an ominous and downright eerie feeling as one by one, player after player limped to the sideline.

Quarterbacks

It was refreshing especially after all that had been said about him to see Eli Manning look so sharp. His footwork and mechanics looked good and he appeared very comfortable in spite of the fact that his protection wasn’t always stellar against a very aggressive Baltimore front seven. Eli finished 10–13, 114 yards, with a TD. No interceptions. The TD pass was an absolute thing of beauty. With a blitzing Terrell Suggs breathing down his neck and delivering a thunderous right hand to Eli’s back as he let the ball go, Eli delivered a perfectly thrown ball between three Ravens defenders to Steve Smith for a ten-yard score. All of Manning’s passes were crisp. In fact, two of his three incompletions were drops that both Amani Toomer and Kevin Boss should have had. He did have a fumble on a snap, but that was really the only blemish on an otherwise very impressive night for the QB.

His ability to run never ceases to amaze me, as a man of his size is not supposed to move that well. However, Jared Lorenzen had a relatively quiet night, only completing four of eight passes for 34 yards. He still showcased his very strong arm and good feet and is without a doubt the number one back up quarterback on this team. He delivers the ball with plenty of zip even when on the move.

Tim Hasselbeck was the third QB in this game and was playing like a guy on the brink of losing his job. Hasselbeck completed only one pass in four attempts for 11 yards, but he showed plenty of grit on a pair of runs where he opted to take on the defender instead of surrendering with a slide. His throws don’t have much on them though, and if Anthony Wright shows us anything next week, Hasselbeck could be unemployed shortly thereafter.

Running Backs

I must admit, I thought I was going to have a heart attack when the cameras showed Brandon Jacobs wincing in pain rubbing his foot on the sideline after J-Load ran into him while trucking out of bounds. Thankfully, that doesn’t appear to be anything to worry about. Nor do we have to worry about his ability to pick up the blitz. It looks like he enjoys standing up a blitzing linebacker almost as much as he enjoys plowing them over. Regardless of how many yards he gets on a run, Brandon continues to carry defenders and push back the first guy on the other team to meet him. Although, after watching Baltimore hit after the whistle and take cheap shots on gang tackles, I wouldn’t be surprised if Coach Coughlin decides to minimize Brandon’s action in the next two games.

Stepping in for a while with the first string O-Line in front of him, Reuben Droughns didn’t do much, however, like Jacobs, it requires more than one defender to take him down. He too picks up the blitz well, and while the stats (11 yards on 6 carries) don’t look too great, the holes just weren’t there against a very good Baltimore D.

Giving Droughns a run for the back-up HB spot is Derrick Ward, who looks quicker and more elusive than Droughns. Ward is more of a cutback runner and although he was playing against the Ravens’ back-ups, he looks to be fully recovered from last season’s foot injury.

It will be hard to keep Ryan Grant on the practice squad as he continues to run around and through people. What I like most about Grant is his vision. He’s not overly shifty but seems to find the hole quickly and shows good burst getting to the LBs and the secondary.

Ahmad Bradshaw is quickly becoming a fan favorite, as he has flashed big play ability for the second straight game with a 43 yard run. Bradshaw is more quick than fast, and has good acceleration. He is also very strong for his size and with a variety of cut back moves, his strength also will help him shed arm tackles.

Wide Receivers

Ol’ reliable, Amani Toomer returned to action, and looked to be on healthy wheels fighting for an extra two or three yards on a 15-yard catch. He also had a drop that hit him in the chest. We’ll chalk that up to rust.

I really think Steve Smith is the real deal. His TD catch in traffic looked easier than it was adding some credence to rumors that he and Eli are quickly developing a rapport. Even more impressive is that he held onto the ball even though he got hit in the head and left the game with a concussion. Thankfully, Smith should be back to action soon… at least during practice.

The same however, cannot be said for the other WR who shined against Baltimore. Mike Jennings looked to be on his way to a roster spot with three impressive grabs. Unfortunately, the last one, a wonderful catch where the speedy receiver layed out to bring in the ball on an out route for a first down, turned out to be Jennings’ last catch of the year. Ruptured Achillies. A sad end to the year for Jennings who was making strides.

The loss of Jennings could mean a roster spot forAnthony Mix if he continues to make plays. Mix has shown soft hands, speed and the ability to go over the middle. A big target, Mix was busy against the Ravens with a team leading 5 catches for 43 yards. He also is a pretty good downfield run blocker.

Tight Ends

Jeremy Shockeyonly played briefly (thankfully when you think of how quickly our guys were getting hurt) but had a nice catch and turned it up field for 18 yards. I would not be surprised if he doesn’t play again in the preseason.

I don’t know if Kevin Boss is hearing footsteps, or if he’s just thinking about running before he catches the ball, but for the second game in a row, he had an ugly drop. When you couple that with the fact that he is not much of a blocker, he may end up on the hot seat if he doesn’t show something next week.

If not, Michael Matthews might be moving up the depth chart. Matthews is strong and hits linebackers with a little attitude. Matthews is not only more of a blocker, he had two very nice catches against the Ravens, although one was negated by a penalty.

Rodney Burgess also had a catch for 11 yards but didn’t really do anything to threaten Matthews or Boss for a roster spot.

The Offensive Line

I was pleasantly surprised with how this unit fared. Against a ferocious Ravens front seven, with Rex Ryan calling blitz after blitz, the line held up well. David Diehl did have some trouble with Terrell Suggs on the outside. Few if any left tackles in the league don’t have a tough time with Suggs. Yes, Eli was sacked twice, but for the most part, pass protection was pretty good against a very aggressive defense. The rest of the starting O-Line did a nice job and appear to be on the same page. Richie Seubertis going to be fine back at left guard. When ten guys finally take Brandon down and the eleventh guy jumps on top of the pile, Richie will be there to pull him off.

The second unit O-Line did a pretty good job. Once again, Guy Whimper looks like a possible starter some day. He’s very quick for his size, has good feet and the right attitude. He looks to be playing with better leverage and using his hands better. Zach Piller also did a nice job. Grey Ruegamer was another one of the walking, err, limping wounded with an ankle sprain that will probably keep him out of the rest of the preseason.

The Defensive Line

It’s hard to criticize a Defensive unit that doesn’t allow a touchdown and only gives up 12 points, in a preseason game nonetheless. And while Mike Anderson had a few big runs on the Ravens’ third series, the D stiffened and got the ball back by stifling McNair on a QB sneak on 4th down. What a difference a week makes. I think more than anything it was having Justin Tuck and Fred Robbins back in the starting rotation. Both looked quick and our run defense was much better than last week. Barry Cofield also seemed more comfortable lining up next to Robbins, as he held his gaps better than last week.

Rookie Jay Alford gets a very good push and looked to hold his own at the LOS and show some good speed and agility in catching RB Greg Pruitt from behind.

Somewhere, Rick Flair is smiling. In what was maybe the defensive highlight of the night, newly signed mammoth DT Manny Wright, swam past the O-Lineman, and then executed the most beautiful clothes-line taking the running back down for a 3-yard loss. He is a physical beast and looked to get a good push on most plays occupying two linemen. It’ll be interesting to see if he sticks. Maybe we’ll get a look at how he does against someone other than camp fodder next week against the Jets.

Linebackers

I’m going to go out on a limb here, and call the Mathias Kiwanuka move to LB a good move. It would be a sin not to have this guy on the field on every play. He looked quick, was not caught out of position, made three very nice tackles, looked good in coverage and on one play early in the Ravens’ first series, looked like he had been playing the SAM for years… masterfully shedding a Todd Heap block to wrap up McGahee for a loss.

When watching the starting defense, they just look faster with Kiwanuka and Kawika Mitchell flying around on the outside. Mitchell is faster than advertised and Steve Spagnuolo looks to be playing to these very quick LBs strengths.

Reggie Torbor was in on several plays in the second half and looked like he is adjusting better to the new defense than he has in years past. Though quiet on defense Chase Blackburn and Zak DeOssie are absolute demons on special teams.

Cornerbacks

Again, it’s hard to scrutinize a group that gives up less than 200 yards passing in a preseason game. Besides, Giants fans usually do back flips whenever a cornerback actually holds on to an interception. Maybe this whole playing to your players’ strengths thing is going to work. Or maybe there is some truth to the point that a good pass rush can make any secondary look good. We probably won’t see Sam Madison again this preseason as he tweaked his left hammy. He has looked good so far, so hopefully this injury doesn’t linger. I also think Corey Webster is going to thrive in this new scheme.

R.W. McQuarters started opposite Madison at CB, and although he wasn’t tested I was more puzzled as to why after all the injuries, was the apparent current first-string CB still returning punts in the second half?

Not enough of a sample to get a read on Aaron Ross although he did get beat once….or twice. Not bad considering it was his first full speed, full contact action. Gerrick McPhearson and E.J. Underwood might be the two fastest guys back there but don’t seem comfortable yet. The vaunted swivel of the hips in coverage just doesn’t look natural. Still though, no one got burned deep so…

Safeties

Anyone who had high hopes after last week’s game for Will Demps can just settle down. On a bizarre play, Demps goes flying helmet first into the ball carrier and then comes up with a dislocated elbow. Gibril Wilson had two tackles and looks to be embracing the move back to his more natural position of free safety. James Butler made a few tackles looks to be at home with the first team. Aside from Madison’s INT, there wasn’t a lot to see from the secondary. But that may be a good thing. On a positive note, Craig Dahl did not follow up last week’s dubious effort with another. However, he didn’t really do anything to shine either.

Special Teams

In a defensive battle, Jeff Feagles got plenty of chances to shake off last week’s shank and looks to be in midseason form.

Once again, coverage on kickoffs and punts was very good. Zak DeOssie not only does a nice job as a long snapper, but he and Chase Blackburn act like the kick returner is trying to steal their girlfriend.

While some are ready to just hand him the job, I must admit I am one of them, Josh Huston looks to be a gamer. His kickoffs are deeper than any Giant’s in recent memory. Even better, he nailed a 50-yard field goal and didn’t even blink. He later was perfect on a 30-yard field goal.

Overall

This game was won in the trenches. It was a very strong showing by the first and second teams in all three facets. If not for all the injuries I think we’d all be more than pleased. The offense clicked against a very good defense. Baltimore came to play and the Giants punched them in the mouth on both sides of the ball. Now let’s see if they can avoid the infirmary in the Meadowlands next week against the Jets.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Baltimore Ravens, August 19, 2007)

I Hate Pre-Season

by David Oliver for BigBlueInteractive.com

I watched the Giants/Ravens game on August 19, well until the last 3 minutes when I gave up. It was a great effort against a defense many think will take the birds to the SB. So why not babble while in a positive frame of mind. First off, Eli will be just fine. OK, that’s out of the way. Next, the Giants offense is ahead of the defense in development. Then, the defense will be more aggressive, but questions still remain as to just how effective it will be. Overall, this is not a team that will finish with only 4 or 5 wins as some are forecasting. It is capable of at least 8, possibly 9 and maybe even 10 wins if the key players hold up. However, that commercial that Coors keeps running with Denny Green is the real answer. The rules are fair, the regulations are fair, the competitive balance is fair. Is there anything that the Giants can’t win? A SB with TC as the HC. Yes, it’s me again. I didn’t like him before he came, I didn’t like how he came, I don’t like him now, and I probably won’t like him 5 years from now when he retires as HC of the Giants.

I guess I am just in the Tiki Barber camp. Now, I don’t want to steal any of FMIC’s gentlemanly curmudgeon’s jib jab, but I do have a request for all the braying whipper snappers who are dumping all over Tiki right now. Could you please put your age in brackets next to your comments, the years you have been a Giants fan and how many professional football players that you have actually met and with whom you have discussed a Coach, any Coach. Maybe we could even have a separate section, akin to “Viewpoints,” something like Tiki Barber is a jerk. Sort of like a firewall to contain the virus. Tiki has never been anything but a gentleman, so in my book, if Tiki is mouthing off, and Vegas laid out a betting table on his statements, I’d but my money on Tiki’s marker. There are players in the locker room who have used the A word conjoined to the HC, but who would listen to them as they are not SuperStars? Tiki is the greatest RB the Giants have put on a playing field. So what if he’s a little mouthy, particular if he’s right. This ain’t your grandfather’s game and these aren’t your grandfather’s players and several million dollars in the bank can be very liberating. PeeWee League and High School players can be disciplined, College players can be intimidated and Pros up to a certain point can be silenced. But when you are at the end of your career, well, it’s KMA time baby. Maybe Stra is considering retirement because he has been honest in his forthcoming book. Now wouldn’t that be something.

So what about the game and the players? The first team offense looked good notwithstanding it was not at full strength. The line did a great job against the Ravens defense, actually taking control of the game and frustrating the bully boys. This was not expected. Eli showed poise and accuracy. Of the running backs and the wideouts, there are going to be some difficult choices ahead, even with the unfortunate injury to Jennings who looked pretty good. Smith is definitely a comer and Mix could be a developing player- or he could be a camp and pre season wonder. I’ll defer to Old Timer on the assessment of his development (grin). All of the RBs looked good. How could that be? Brandon Jacobs is the lead horse. But there wasn’t a lot of space among Ward, Droughns, Grant and Bradshaw. Madden said he believes Ward will be #2 RB. I’m not sure. Ward runs hard and he looked good, but he seems to stall out in regular season play when the intensity upticks. Droughns is a proven churner. He is tough inside and quicker than he appears. The youngsters show flashes and one of them is destined for the Practice Squad. My guess is Bradshaw sticks, but it looks like a toss up. At any rate, it is a nice situation for the Giants. Nobody on the squad has Tiki’s versatility. It remains to be seen if any of them possess the vision (cutback ability) or ability to make the screen an every down weapon. Tiki made something out of nothing on a recurrent basis and the new backs will have to show they can do so at least on a regular basis.

The O Line was the biggest surprise. Seubert looks as if he is at full speed. So the guards are solid. The tackles can both be beaten by speed rushers, but that’s what life is like for tackles in the NFL. Only th great ones excel at all phases. On standard one-on-one situations, i.e., the running game and tight blocking, David Diehl is going to be a monster. McKenzie needs to raise his intensity level a little and he can be a dominant RT. O’Hara is O’Hara. On one play he can be pushed into the backfield and on the next he is 6 or 7 yards upfield whacking a LB or safety. All in all, the starting unit looked good. It’s hard to tell what the backups have as they played against other backups. From what I observed I think Madden is wrong about Whimper’s readiness to play a role. He looked a little soft, too upright and confused, but then that is what the Raven’s defense is designed to do against an inexperienced player. I didn’t pick up a lot of names, but it was impressive to see Grant and Bradshaw make positive yardage, so somebody had to be doing something.

Jennings was very impressive until he went down. That is a shame because he looked ready to make a bid for prime time. It was nice to see Amani on the field Smith will be starting very early in his career. It will all depend on how quickly he picks up recognition of the defenses. There is no problem with his ability to make a catch and turn upfield. Mix was productive, but is it enough to stick? Next game should show us a little more. Nothing needs to be said about Shock. The other TE has some wrinkles. I love Davis’ size. He is the only one I have seen up close and he plays tough. But he will have to pick up the intensity to make the squad. Boss is intriguing, but is he fast enough? Same with Matthews. A massive presence, hands look adequate, obviously can block – it comes to speed.

The defense is a work in progress. I was not as impressed as others with the interior tackles. One play here, one there, but the Ravens had no problem running up the middle until the LBs and safeties converged. What was impressive was the play of Kiwi at LB. Osi looks in form and Tuck looks ready to make his presence known. And it appears as if Spags knows how to use them as they were firing off all night. The secondary still plays soft and Ross was badly outmaneuvered on more than one play, although he did show Will Allen hands at least once (again). When the games begin in earnest , the key to this defense will be the interior linemen. With pressure coming from the flanks on every play, the middle is susceptible to the draw and the middle screen. And with the Giants bringing in more beef, even if Madden thinks they aren’t very good, it appears that Spags is well aware of the middle needs. Joseph – well Joseph is Joseph. If he hadn’t been a first rounder, he wouldn’t still be here. I can’t say enough about Kiwi. He is going to be a great player. Of the rotation LBs it looks like Torbor, Blackburn and DeOssie. No one else registered an impact.

Series by series, here is what I saw. On Ravens’ first drive, Kiwi, Tuck and Osi showed up strong. Everyone was flying to the QB and the pressure was good. McNair is a hoss otherwise the giants would have established quick dominance. On Giants first possession, Manning immediately went to Jennings, the O Line picked up the rush. Jacobs showed his stuff up the middle and Feagles showed he is going to be Landeta – kicking until he is 90.

Ravens 2: McNair showed just how much of a hoss he is and the defense shoed some vulnerability against a deep back run. As far as I could tell, the tackles were invisible. Madison looked like a wide out in going for his INT, nice play. Giants 2: The line blocked well, Amani dropped one, Suggs beat Diehl, then a very nice pass from Eli to Amani. Amani was not hugging the sideline, which was very nice to see. The Special Team work on punts and kickoffs, except for the late kickoff return, appeared very solid.

Ravens 3: Giants came with a right side blitz, the run went to the left. Then the Ravens went up the middle and Robbins missed the play. Then Wilson showed his aggressiveness making a nice tackle. There were several pressures, but a few runs as the pressure didn’t get there. With power on power, the Giants defense held solid. Madden was lauding the tackles but it looked to me like it was Pierce and the back guys who made the stop as the V wedge of the Ravens pushed the tackles aside. It was a nice play by the Giants. Giants 3: Eli dropped the ball.

Ravens 4: Great Giants’ defense. Pierce and Butler were aggressive. Then there was a blitz up the middle – Mitchell made his second nice play. Robbins actually made a tackle on a pass reception. What was he doing in no man’s land? Giants 4: Both teams got penalties, then a short pass to Jennings and a nice escape by Manning with a completion to Shock. Suggs made a nice stop of Jacobs then Jacobs beat the D on a nice run. Manning to Smith complete, nice block by Jacobs. Snee was knocked on his keister – just an intimidation love tap. Wrong man to try to intimidate in that manner. Then Jacobs went up the middle, a strength-on-strength play and the frustration of the Ravens was palpable. Eli to Jennings, then Eli to Smith out of the bunch formation for a TD.

Ravens 5: Grant hustled downfield to get in on the tackle. Boller now in the game. He was flushed by the pressure and forced out of bounds. Cofield made one of his two nice tackles. Ravens middle screen, Torbor tackle. Here we were told that Jennings was gone for the year, Demps was down and Madison had a hammy. Giants 5: McQuarters stepped out with the punt. Mc did not have a stellar night returning punts. Eli to Mix, Droughns took a couple up the middle. Eli threw low to Boss who couldn’t make the catch. Eli used a rolling pocket, threw a strange pass, but the Ravens were called for PI. Eli to Matthews. Ravens were throwing the kitchen sink at the O but the line was picking it up. Droughns outside, Droughns inside, Eli high pass, Droughns up the middle, Eli blindsided, fumble as McKenzie whiffed on the block. Ray Lewis tackled Droughns on a screen. Punt.

Ravens 6: Complete pass and horsecollar by Pierce. Then a quick pass play. Robbins gets his sack, Cofield had pressure. Then a complete pass and tackle by Ross. Another pass and Ross was beaten badly, then three incompletes with Dockery almost a goat and almost an INT. Giants 6: Ward and Lorenzen. Lorenzen to Mix, a draw. Halftime.

Giants 7: Bradshaw ran back kickoff. Then Bradshaw for 5. Lorenzen sprints for first. Lorenzen to Mix; Lorenzen to Tyree, dropped-behind him. Ward pounded it upfield a couple of times, Lorenzen was sacked. On a Ward run both Lentz and Ruegamer got a flag. Other than that, the protection held up as Lorenzen threw a bullet to Mix. Ravens’ D held. Ravens 7: The D looked good. Joseph and Awasom made tackles, Webster looked good.

Giants 8: Grant made a run. Quick out and punt. Ravens 8: Drew Olsen now in. Madden remarks about his shortness. Hurt my feelings as when I stood next to Olsen in Tampa he was marginally taller than me. Not much happened, so the D did its job.

Giants 9: Grant slipped at the line, tackled. Ruegamer hurt. Incomplete to Tyree, punt. Ravens 9: Big Rush by Awasome, sack. Punt.

Giants 10: Grant had a 19-yard run with a nice block by Matthews. Grant again. Incomplete pass, roughing the QB. Incomplete long to Mix then a complete to Mix. Lorenzen ran for the first. Grant run up the middle. Lorenzen sacked and called for grounding. Josh Huston 50-yard FG. Ravens 10: Poor coverage on the kickoff – worst effort by Giants specials all night. Big runback. Troy Smith in the game. Sacked by Tyson Smith. Joseph looked lost on a run play. Complete pass, Ross in on the tackle. Manny ‘The House’ Wright made a huge clothesline tackle. Incomplete but Michael Johnson was beaten on the play. Then Johnson blitzed but Smith got away.

Giants 11: Grant runback. Hassselback in, complete pass. Then Bradshaw had a nice run. Hass was hit as he threw, incomplete. Bradshaw another run. Hass a run. Bradshaw a run. Incomplete pass. Whimper False start, pressure on a screen, incomplete. Bradshaw stopped. Huston FG. I couldn’t take any more.

All in all, the Giants looked much better than I expected against a stout Ravens team. The G-Men can move the ball, but there was no real big play threat here. Rainy, pre-season, they get a pass. Couldn’t tell if the red zone O had improved. Huston looked good on FGs. Lorenzen looks more than adequate to step in if needed. On Defense, some nice additions, promising upfield pressure. The D showed good play recognition and it doesn’t appear to have much read-and-react. It is more like the Eagles and Ravens dictate D. Secondary remains a puzzlement. The interior D line is going to cost the G Men some games. We need to see how the pressure rotation holds up in the regular season. Just too early for real assessments. This was the first pre-season game I actually paid any attention in at least four years and the first this year that I have watched more than 10 minutes. I feel positive about this team.

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