Sep 262007
 
 September 26, 2007  Posted by  Game Previews and Reviews
New Giants 24 – Washington Redskins 17

by Damon Micalizzi for BigBlueInteractive.com

In Brief…

For the third time in as many games the Giants Defense was the story. This story however, had a happy ending. While the season is still very young, this was a must win game for the Giants and they showed up to play. The Offense was far from explosive. Special Teams were at times shaky and the Defense gave up a few big plays, but when it was all said and done, it appears at least for now, that the ship is being righted. We hope.

Quarterbacks

In what was far from his finest outing, Eli Manning still was able to lead the team up the field to three second half touchdowns. He didn’t have much help in the first half, with at least 5 dropped passes that probably left points off the board. That coupled with a brutal hit from the blind-side that led to his fumble and a Redskins’ TD two plays later, was a recipe for disaster. Yet, he still seemed to show a bit of a confidence that we might not have seen under similar circumstances in years past.

Just before the half, Manning threw into traffic, trying to thread the needle to Jeremy Shockey between three Redskins defenders. London Fletcher hit Shockey before the ball got there and ended up with the interception. No flag was thrown. Probably because the pass shouldn’t have been thrown in the first place. In the second half, Manning was intercepted again. This time in the face of a pass rush, Eli tried to go deep to Burress. With the defender in his face, Manning was off balance and couldn’t get full extension on his throw and under-threw the ball to Sean Taylor. These were two bad interceptions. However, in both instances Manning was visibly irritated with himself afterwards. It was a mild show of emotion that has been something we haven’t seen much of from the young gunslinger.

In spite of the drops, hits, and interceptions, it was Manning who marched the Giants up field for three TDs, completing a litany of third and long throws to keep the chains moving.

Running Backs

Remember when Tiki Barber would gain 40 or so yards on a drive only to have Brandon Jacobs come in and punch it in the endzone from one or two yards out? That formula seems to be working well in Brandon’s absence as Reuben Droughns did a very nice job on the goal line getting two second half scores lowering the shoulder and plowing through.

It’s becoming very clear that Derrick Ward is a more than capable running back in this league. Ward continues to pick up big yards and move the chains, while getting that extra one or two yards when encountering tacklers in the open field. I love his toughness. Ward seems to have a sense of where the first down marker is and is able to grind out that extra yardage regardless of who is holding on to his legs.

Ward still needs to hone his receiving skills as he dropped a screen pass for the third straight game. He also got stuffed on 3rd and 1 at the end of the first quarter. Makes you wonder if Droughns will get those 3rd and 1 carries in the future so long as Jacobs is out.

Madison Hedgecock did a nice job opening holes for Ward throughout the afternoon. Hedgecock does a good job of keeping his pads low and getting underneath the defender. On 3rd and 5 from the 11 yard line, Hedgecock was key in opening up the hole for Ward on the draw for Ward to pick up seven yards and the first down. He also was the lead blocker on both of Droughns’ TD runs.

Wide Receivers

One of the prime candidates for GOAT, had the Giants lost this game was sure to be Plaxico Burress, who had three passes go through his hands in the first half essentially taking at least 10 points off the board. Any questions as to whether he shouldn’t be playing because of his lingering ankle injury or not having his head in the game were answered emphatically as Burress redeemed himself in the second half, to catch five balls for 86 yards, including what turned out to be the game winner, a 33-yard quick slant of which he grabbed the ball in the face of the defender and averted getting hit, to then jaunt down field for the score.

It was a quiet yet steady afternoon for Amani Toomer. He is still Manning’s safety net with four grabs for only 24 yards. After a false start penalty left the Giants at 1st and Goal from the 11, Toomer’s catch at the one-yard line set up Droughn’s second TD run. It should not go unnoticed though that Toomer’s blocking downfield on Burress’ long catch and on a catch and run by Sinorice Moss was exceptional.

Moss’ one catch of the day was impressive. On an under route, Moss turned a short catch into a 17-yard gain thanks to some quick moves and some good downfield blocking. Even if Moss only gets a few touches a game, plays like that will ensure that defenses make sure he’s accounted for.

Tight Ends

With some of the catches Jeremy Shockey makes, you wonder how he could ever drop a pass. Shockey’s catch coming out of the half near the goal line that set up Droughn’s first TD, was a thing of beauty. On 3rd and 8 from the 22 yard line, Manning threw a perfect pass where only Shockey could get it and Shockey slipped in front of the safety, knowing he was going to take a big hit and came down with the ball. In the 4th Quarter though, Shockey dropped a perfectly thrown ball by Eli that might have been a TD had Shockey stayed on his feet. Had the outcome of this game been different that was one of the what if plays we’d be bullet pointing on Monday.

Offensive Line

When Andre Carter was in the backfield before David Diehl was out of his stance, I saw the season flash before my eyes, as Eli took a pretty hard hit from the blind side and a hit to the head from Marcus Washington who came in from the other side. Thankfully Eli was okay. This was really however, the lone glaring blemish for a unit that for the most part kept Eli on his feet (just 2 sacks), and with a reasonable amount of time to throw.

I talked to someone who was at the game who said that they had never heard the place so loud. That probably played a part in Carter’s huge jump on the sack and Chris Snee’s false start penalty. Still though, this unit did a very nice job keeping an aggressive pass rush in check and opening holes for Derrick Ward. Taking nothing away from Ward, it is probably not a coincidence that feature backs running behind this core unit have faired fairly well under the current regime.

Defensive Line

I don’t know how the coaching staff is going to justify bringing Justin Tuck in off the bench, when he seems to make an impact almost every time he enters the game. Case in point: The Redskins’ first drive. After three consecutive big plays, the Skins’ were seemingly on their way to a score as they had marched effortlessly to the Giants 18 yard line. Rotating in at end for Osi Umenyiora, Tuck shot the gap with ease bringing down Ladell Betts for a four-yard loss. Two incompletions later, the Giants had escaped the opening drive unscathed as Shaun Suisham hooked the field goal attempt wide left.

The D-Line is no doubt the strength of this unit and for the first time this season, they were able to keep pressure on the backfield consistently throughout the game. A Quarterback with lesser mobility than Jason Campbell would have been in the grass a half a dozen times at least.

Fred Robbins is quietly having another solid year on the interior, shooting the gaps well and getting into the backfield. On three separate occasions, Robbins was able to get a push and get close to Campbell although Campbell was able to escape. Michael Strahan still seems to be finding his way out there but appears to be getting his stamina back getting his lone stop midway through the 4th Quarter, getting penetration and stopping Clinton Portis after he gained just a half a yard. Strahan looked to get stronger as the game wore on, almost getting to Campbell two times in a row with less than three minutes to play.

Linebackers

Before halftime, I had already planned that this would be a Kawika Mitchell roast piece, calling for Chase Blackburn or Zak DeOssie, or Gerris Wilkinson to start in his place next week. I am still in no way, shape or form, sold on Mitchell. He still continues to be a step too slow, out of position, and missing tackles. However, he did play a part in every aspect of the game winning goal line stand. He did appear to make a play on second and goal on the roll out to Mike Sellers, although I think he got lucky that the pass was low and hit his hand by chance. On third down though, Mitchell shot the gap and stuffed Ladell Betts with a vicious collision. And on 4th and goal Mitchell dove on top of Betts after Aaron Ross made a great tackle. I say this because it appeared that Mitchell was in position to make the play should Ross have not been able to bring down the runner. (Pierce, Umenyiora and Tuck were all there as well.)

The learning curve may be flattening out for Mathias Kiwanuka who maybe had his best day as a pro against the Redskins. Two sacks, three tackles for a loss, eight tackles and when he was in coverage, he was not tested. Steve Spagnuolo, is moving Kiwi all over the field blitzing him off the edge, and lining him up on the line both at tackle and at end. Wherever he lined up on Sunday, Kiwi looked comfortable.

Antonio Pierce was quiet against his old team save for a fumble recovery. His timing was impeccable though as that fumble recovery set up the game winning TD. He only finished with two tackles, but he didn’t have many opportunities in the middle as most of the plays were to the sidelines.

Cornerbacks

It most definitely had a lot to do with the fact that the front seven got a lot of pressure on the QB, but the secondary looked pretty good on Sunday. Sam Madison really had a helluva game. In the first half, Madison got the Giants off the field by jumping a hook route to almost come down with an interception, (one of three INTs Madison almost had) and had several key tackles. He really appears to be embracing this new system where he’s starting up near the line of scrimmage instead of playing 15 yards off the receiver. Whether he was tackling the receiver before the first down marker, or stopping the running back on the screen pass for a four-yard loss, Madison was everywhere. He also would have had a sack on a perfectly timed blitz where he hit Campbell just as he was letting the ball go. Had Campbell completed the pass, there was a lot of room for Ladell Betts on the right side to get big yards. Instead, the Skins had to punt. He also had pretty good coverage on Santana Moss, when Moss caught that 49-yard bomb that eventually led to Cooley’s TD. However, Madison was counting on help over the top from Corey Webster who continues to be in the vicinity but not where he should be on almost ever play.

Webster’s ineptness may be a blessing in disguise as Aaron Ross was playing opposite Madison in the second quarter and really had a nice game. Ross’ lone blemish on the day was Cooley’s TD, however, Ross really didn’t have a chance as Santana Moss hit him with a perfectly executed pick on the play, screening Ross from covering on the play. Ross continues to tackle well keeping the play in front of him. On 3rd and 6 inside their own 20, Ross made a great tackle on Campbell in space, coming up in coverage to stop the scrambling QB well short of the first down. It should be noted that on 4th and Goal from the two, it was Ross who took out the lead blocker in Sellers, and the ball carrier in Betts to end the game.

His name won’t show up in the stat book, but Kevin Dockery’s coverage on a deep ball that Santana Moss almost caught up to late in the 4th Quarter could have changed the outcome of this game. Moss, pushed off ever so slightly, as a savvy WR would, and just barely came up short, all the while Dockery was stride for stride with one of the speediest receivers in the league. Also telling was that it was Dockery, not Madison, Webster or Ross that was matched up with Moss on the Redskins’ last drive.

Safeties

You didn’t hear their names much, but when this defense is playing well, you shouldn’t. The play of the Safety’s was adequate against the Redskins. Gibril Wilson covered Chris Cooley on a deep crossing route about as good as you can forcing an incompletion and almost picked off a pass intended for Randel El late in the game. Wilson and James Butler both had big tackles as Washington was trying to tie the game late in the 4th Quarter. Butler also saved a TD on Randle El’s catch near the goal line just before the goal line stand. Ross’ just missed tipping that ball by about four inches.

Special Teams

Coverage on kickoffs was pretty bad as Rock Cartwright was able to average 28 yards per return. It didn’t appear that the kickoffs were overly low or short, as opposed to solid blocking and some good seams. Coverage on punts wasn’t much better as Antwan Randle El, almost ran a punt back for a TD to tie the game.

Lawrence Tynes made his only field goal attempt decisively from 34 yards out.

Jeff Feagles punted five times and was unspectacular with only one keeping Washington inside the 20. Both David Tyree and Reggie Torbor came close to blocking punts. Reuben Droughns did a nice job returning kickoffs averaging 25 yards a clip.

To Sum It Up…

Aside from the few big plays given up in the first half, the Defense really played an exceptional four quarters of football. Washington’s first TD, came on a very short field thanks to the fumble recovery. Before this week, 3 and out was a foreign language for this team. Against the Skins they seemed to finally figure out the translation.

On offense, there were just too many dropped passes. I counted seven. All of them were significant in that they were either potential big chunks of yardage, or potential first downs on third down. Still though, 21 points in the second half to an alleged very good defense is nothing to scoff at and in spite of the drops and the turnovers, the offense led by Manning seemed confident throughout the second half.

Emotion goes a long way in the NFL. After losing a trap game last week against the upstart Packers, at halftime this team was staring 0 and 3 in the face. They came out and dominated the second half on both sides of the ball and that goal line stand was about as electrifying a way to end a game as you can get. Let’s hope the momentum carries over to next week’s big rivalry game next week against Philly.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Washington Redskins, September 23, 2007)
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