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New England Patriots 27 – New York Giants 20

by Damon Micalizzi for BigBlueInteractive.com

One thing that has haunted Giants fans for years is the Giants playing to the level of their competition. Against a bunch of New England’s backups, the Giants first string managed to stave off that infection for the better part of the first quarter. But, you know what they say about old habits. Since hindsight is 20/20 and I wasn’t able to write this until after the roster was cut down, I’ll try to ignore some of the guys that are gone. The successes we did see must be taken with a grain of salt though, as most of the guys playing for the other team on Thursday are looking for jobs right now.

Quarterbacks

Eli Manning looks poised to silence a lot of critics. For the fourth straight game, Manning’s footwork was good and his throws were accurate both from the pocket and on the move. Manning only played one series leading the team up the field for a TD and finished 5/8 for 58 yards. Two of his three incompletions were drops. On the other one, he wisely threw the ball away as all the receivers were covered in the endzone.

David Carr had to get a chuckle as Jared Lorenzen was sacked seven times in just about a half a game. The most impressive thing Lorenzen did all night (aside from stay healthy after spending much of the night in the grass) was sprint downfield and block like a tight end on a nice run by Reuben Droughns. Other than that, this was Lorenzen’s night was for the most part uninspiring. The few times that he actually had the time to throw, he was able to deliver the ball with some zip, and he did scamper for 10 yards (and a first down); however, for the most part, Lorenzen was a sitting duck in a pocket that was quick to collapse as Todd Londot and Matt Lentz got blown backwards far too often.

I don’t know if he was that much better than Tim Hasselbeck but Anthony Wright did move the team up the field for a touchdown and that could have been the deal breaker. The bottom line is Wright can run and has a much better arm. Let’s hope we never have to see him take another snap this year.

Running Backs

Any defense in the league will be hard pressed to handle the punishment that comes with tackling Brandon Jacobs for an entire four quarters. Jacobs only played on the Giants’ first drive, and looked quick and powerful, as he should, against a bunch of backups, save for second and third and goal where he got stuffed trying to punch it into the endzone. On fourth down though, Jacobs plowed through some of his own blockers for the score.

Reuben Droughns had a little bit more of a showing this week with the 33-yard run, where he broke tackles and cut back against the grain, all while being escorted by the fleet footed 275 lb quarterback in toe. Much like Jacobs, he refuses to go down and almost invites contact. Derrick Ward runs the same way. That could take its toll on these guys as the season wears on. It does seem though that there is a definite “smash-mouth” characteristic amongst all the backs on the roster. In fact the thing I like most about all of the backs on the depth chart is they know how to “finish” their runs. Even as they are tackled, they keep their feet moving and always seem to get that extra push for a half-yard or so.

Even Ahmad Bradshaw, who’s the most elusive of the backs on the roster with his cutback style, delivers a blow to the defenders who try to wrap him up. This is a strong group who will hopefully be able to wear down opposing defenses in the fourth quarter of games. Bradshaw though, might be special. Considering all the RBs were playing against a back-up defense, once again, he had the best night, running behind a blocking group that for the most part is looking for work now. Droughns, by the way, did a nice job as the lead blocker for Bradshaw in the second half. Bradshaw did have a tough night picking up the blitz on several occasions, although it looked more as if he was confused by the blitz packages more than anything else. Oh those tricky Patriots.

Ryan Grant might be a nice player too. However his career goes it will be nice to know that Jerry Reese got something for a player that was likely to be cut, for nothing more than an abundance of depth at his position.

Wide Receivers

Eli seems to be very comfortable throwing the ball to almost all of his young receivers. Even though Anthony Mix had a drop coming across the middle, he still routinely finds a way to get open and uses his size and athleticism well. I would like to see him catch the ball with his hands more rather than with his body. He could also improve as a blocker. Still though, it is very comforting to see his progress especially when you think of how badly injuries have hurt our receiving corps in the past.

Carl Banks insinuated otherwise, but I was amazed that Sinorice Moss was able to manipulate his body to even get a hand on the ball that was eventually intercepted, let alone two hands. He showed great athleticism and agility in stopping on a dime and stretching back to almost come down with the ball. He has been quiet for the most part in this preseason, but I hope that is because they are just trying to limit any chance of injury because he looks to be an extraordinary athlete.

Steve Smith runs routes like he’s had the playbook for 10 years. He’s also a better blocker than most wideouts in the game. He almost made a one-handed grab in the third quarter while getting hit out of bounds that would have warranted a new nickname.

I really like Brandon London. He has shown good hands and the ability to improvise on his route to help out his quarterback on the run. That catch late in the 4th quarter, where he tipped the ball, came down with it, and then took on three defenders to go down at the goal line showed some heart too.

Tight Ends

In a nice tune up for the regular season, Jeremy Shockey looks to be healthy and in mid-season form. On the opening drive, Eli found Shockey early and often for several first downs. Shockey had four catches from a variety of formations, going across the middle and toeing the sidelines while breaking a few tackles along the way. He looked good blocking (especially on Jacobs TD run) as well.

His protégé, Kevin Boss had maybe his best showing of the preseason with three catches. He did drop a few passes again, gaining the dubious mark of having at least one drop in all four preseason games. Maybe it’s nerves, because his route running seems very smooth. His blocking leaves much to be desired, but I think it can be fixed. He doesn’t really seem to get over powered too much. Instead, he just gets beat by the defender’s first move. If anyone can help him with his technique it’s Tight Ends Coach Mike Pope.

Steady though unspectacular, Mike Matthews seems to be the choice right now as the lead blocker. Split out wide on one play, Matthews’ nearly came down with a beautiful pass thrown by Manning only where Matthews could have caught it. Matthews has a mean streak though when getting out in front of a runner.

Offensive Line

The first unit did a very nice job on the opening drive, even though it took four tries to get Jacobs in the endzone. On Jacobs’ run, Guy Whimper came in to play TE, (ala Seubert from last year) and opened the hole with Shockey for the TD. The rest of the way Whimper did a decent job. Though Lorenzen went down far too many times, the pressure most often came through the middle and from the other side. Whimper did get confused once on who to pick up and that resulted in a sack. However, his technique seems to have improved.

Defensive Line

The starting defensive unit looked good against the Patriots on their first possession. Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora both look explosive off the snap. After that first series, however, the defense as a whole looked somewhat soft against a bunch of backups watching the Pats move the ball up the field to the 20 for a field goal.

Fred Robbins, for the third straight game, has looked like last season was not a fluke. He is able to get a good push and against New England he was able to get into the backfield on more than a few occasions. Manny Wright is very strong and very fast for a man of his size. He can and did get into the backfield a few times against the Pats but he does seem to have trouble with stout blockers who get under his pads. Rookie Jay Alford continues to be neutralized once engaged with the blocker.

Linebackers

Although he wasn’t in long enough to see too much Antonio Pierce is every bit the leader of this defense. On two plays in particular he looked very good in coverage breaking up passes. As the signal caller for the front seven, Pierce will be instrumental in helping Mathias Kiwanuka transition to Linebacker. Against New England, Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo had Kiwanuka lining up all over the field and with his speed and athleticism it will force opposing offenses to know where he is on every play. Against New England, Kiwi had a little trouble with slot receivers.

Chase Blackburn and Zak DeOssie are both very athletic and get in on every play on special teams. DeOssie though, has exceptional speed and is a sure-handed tackler chasing Patriot RBs from behind and wrapping them up. Blackburn is relentless and tough to boot. On one play, where I sort of cringed as he looked to get pushed backwards while flying in, head first on a tackle, I was worried that he could have tweaked his neck injury from two years ago (maybe the injury bug this team has had has tainted me but the first thing I thought was “Oh no, his neck!”). Instead, Blackburn came out with the ball.

Cornerbacks

With each game in the new defensive system, the Corey Webster looks more and more comfortable. Keeping in mind that they weren’t matched up against the Patriots’ top receivers, Webster and R.W. McQuarters had very good coverage and tackled in the open field well. Webster looked extremely good on play in particular where he had his receiver blanketed and immediately changed directions to make bring down the receiver who caught the ball out of the backfield.

Though he got picked on quite a bit in the second half, Aaron Ross is a pretty good tackler. He made two tackles against New England stopping the runner before the first down marker. He is no doubt still getting acclimated to the speed of the NFL game, but his footwork is very good, he moves his hips well and has good closing speed.

Safeties

This unit concerns me. Both Gibril Wilson and James Butler have done well coming up to stop the run. Against the pass though, they always seem to be always just a shade too deep. Time and time again passes were completed over the middle to the slot WR and Tight Ends. In fact, Marcellus Rivers looked better on Thursday than he did in four years with the Giants.

He never stops hustling and seemingly redeemed himself for a very shaky game one. Craig Dahl plays with heart and reckless abandon. Moreover he was on the right end of a big play swooping in for an interception ending Vinny Testeverde’s comeback stint. (Maybe Vinny could come and back up Eli?) He still got beat on a few plays but his motor never quits.

It was still disheartening that while many of our first string defenders had to play the bulk of the first half, New England’s scrubs were still able to move the ball on us.

Is Belichick that good that with a bunch of backups and practice squad players he can orchestrate an offense that will move the ball against a starting line NFL D? Or, are his backups and practice squad guys just better than most because of Patriots’ Vice President of Player Personnel Scott Pioli and the rest of the New England Brain Trust? Or, did we yet again, see our Giants succumb to the fact that they were playing against a group of backups and practice squad players and stoop to their level? I don’t know. Or was the coaching staff just trying new things in a meaningless exhibition just to experiment and put guys in certain situations to see how they do? I hope the latter is the case, but I’m relatively sure that it’s a bit of all of the above.

Special Teams

Jeff Feagles was back and looked like Jeff Feagles. Zak DeOssie is doing a nice job so far as a long snapper, although he did snap low on one punt, he is still usually the first or second guy down field in coverage. Coverage for the most part on kicks and punts was decent. The question mark remains at the place kicker position. Josh Huston undoubtedly has the better leg. Still though, Lawrence Tynes appears to have the job. His kickoffs have been tolerable but I am hopeful that our kicker is not yet on the roster. McQuarters and Bradshaw look to be handling the return duties.

All in all, we begin the season with a liability at kicker and a lot to be determined in the secondary. Thankfully, the starting offense looks to be dangerous with a bunch of weapons at receiver and a stable of capable runners. The starting front seven on D looks to be ready to wreak havoc rushing the passer and has looked good against the run. The secondary, as mentioned, is a work in progress. They will hopefully get a lot of help from the fact that opposing QBs should be running for their lives. It will be interesting to see what moves are made before Sunday night.

(Box Score – New York Giants at New England Patriots, August 30, 2007)
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