Oct 182007
 
 October 18, 2007  Posted by  Game Previews and Reviews
New York Giants 31 – Atlanta Falcons 10

by Damon Micalizzi for BigBlueInteractive.com

In Brief…

Don’t look now but the Giants are starting to get noticed for something other than off the field shenanigans.  In what was positively their best overall team effort, the G-Men dominated the Falcons for four quarters on National Television and now sit just one game behind the Cowboys in the NFC East.

How many times in the past few years have we seen this team give up a big play for a score, only to unravel for the rest of the game?  After Atlanta started the game with a drive that ended with an unlikely field goal, and then a 67 yard TD run by Jerious Norwood on their very next possession. I’ll admit, I was sure that once again this team was going to let an inferior team break fans hearts again.  That wasn’t the case.  The Offense kept moving the ball and the Defense stopped the Falcons in their tracks for the rest of the game.  Even the Special Teams unit had a solid showing, sort of.  And just like that, people are starting to pay attention to the Giants.

Quarterbacks

Even with the two interceptions, Eli Manning had a very good showing.  The first INT, with just a few ticks left on the clock before the half, was inexcusable.  I read somewhere that Coughlin took the blame for that.  I will exonerate the head coach.  That one is on Manning. First of all, he had Derrick Ward open in the flat with 8-10 yards of space in front of him. Had he thrown it to Ward the Giants probably get a field goal before the half. But once again, the INT comes from the linebacker Manning doesn’t see dropping back into the zone.  This has haunted him since day one.  Sure, it happens to the best of them, but for two weeks in row he has thrown the same interception.

The second pick could have been averted had Toomer made a play on the ball.  One on one coverage up the sideline, against a much smaller defender, I like the veteran’s chances pulling that one down, or at the very least, making sure that it doesn’t get picked.  Toomer looked like he just lost the ball.

Enough with the negatives, because other than those two throws Manning was very sharp.  The overwhelming majority of his throws were right on the money.  He converted several third and longs and kept the team moving up the field all game long.  He passed for over 300 yards and spread the ball around to seven different receivers at a 69% clip.  He has mastered the play action fake and was looking off coverage while going through his progressions better than any game so far this year.  The thing is, as much as this offense was clicking, you still get the feeling that they can do better.  One thing is clear; Manning is the leader of this offense and this team.

Running Backs

Pick your poison.  Be it Brandon Jacobs, Reuben Droughns or Derrick Ward.  It really doesn’t matter, because all three can get you the tough yard, or bust one up field for 40 or so yards.  The trio split carries to the tune of 188 yards at more than 5 yards a carry.   Whoever is lined up behind the QB has to be accounted for by the defense.

Jacobs was impressive getting yards in chunks, always blowing the first defender he meets backwards for a yard or two.  You get the feeling that it’s just a matter of time before he hits one for 60 something yards as he is so incredibly fast for a guy that big and accelerates quickly after hitting the hole.

Droughns is no piece of cake to tackle either.  He looks to dish out just as much punishment as he receives when running the ball and carries the rock like it’s surgically implanted under his arm.  I think a lot of people were shocked to see Droughns’ break away speed as he took one run off tackle for 45 yards.

Ward, only had just 12 yards on eight carries, but most of them when the Falcons knew they were going to run as the Giants were trying to ice the clock, but did have a pair of 8-yard gains on check-down catches.  Most impressive about the overall running numbers for the night though is this: The bulk of the carries and yards came in the second half, when the Falcons knew the Giants were going to try to run the ball to kill the clock.

All three backs did a nice job of picking up the blitz.

Madison Hedgecock is starting to grow on me a bit.  He caught the only two balls thrown his way and did a nice job of lowering the shoulder to get the extra yard.  As a lead blocker he still has yet to deliver the block that opens that gaping hole but he has been more than serviceable for a Week 2 acquisition.

Wide Receivers

Maybe Coach Coughlin should just have the guys ride the bike and watch film all week because Plaxico Burress is having the best year of his career playing only on Sundays.  Burress continues to run crisp routes, and catch almost everything thrown his way.  He and Manning are quickly turning into one of the most dangerous QB/WR tandems in the league.  Burress had 6 catches for 97 yards, including the 43-yard TD grab where he burnt Lawyer Milloy.  Three of Burress’ catches were for first downs on third and long. If his ankle is still bothering him, it doesn’t show on game day.

Anyone who says Amani Toomer is not a solid number 2, or that he’s washed up or too slow, needs to re-watch the Falcons game.  Yes it’s just one game, but Toomer is still a threat, evident in his seven catches for 89 yards and the TD catch streaking across the back of the endzone for the Giants’ first score of the game.  Toomer’s grab at the one-yard line was an absolute thing of beauty as he pulled in the ball and with the grace of a ballerina, kept his toes down just inches from the sideline as he fell out of bounds.

We have a Sinorice Moss sighting.  Moss actually had four catches but only for a total of 19 yards.   Moss seems to be a bit hesitant when he gets the ball. It’s almost as if that bad quad is still in the back of his mind.  I am not giving up on the second year player as this was the most action he’s seen in two years, but I am looking forward to the return of Steve Smith.

Tight Ends

It was nice to see Jeremy Shockey get involved earlier in the game.  Shockey had 5 catches for 63 yards including two where he lowered the shoulder and punished the tackler.  Still though I just don’t think he gets his number called enough.  I’m just waiting for the 12 catch 110 yard 2 TD game for Shockey, where he knocks the opposing safety out of the game.  With all of the success the Giants have had I think a dominating game from Shockey would transform this offense into one of the elite in the league.

Offensive Line

It’s no coincidence that almost every halfback to run behind these guys in the past 5 years has had success.  Taking nothing away from Tiki Barber, or the performances of Ward, Jacobs and Droughns thus far, but this is one of the most underrated units in the league and has been for a while now.

With two false starts and a John Abraham sack David Diehl had a few Luke Petitgout moments on Monday night, but otherwise the O-Line as a whole played great. It’s kind of difficult to nitpick a group that only allows one sack and blocks for 491 yards of total offense.  Shaun O’Hara’s Defensive player intros were good.

Defensive Line

If you take away Norwood’s 67 yard run (which I am not blaming on the D-Line) the Giants only gave up 36 yards rushing.  The Giants sacked Joey Harrington 4 times, and almost got there four or five times more in spite of the fact that the Falcons were in “max-protect” virtually the whole game.

This was probably the best showing of the season for our D-Tackles as Fred Robbins had two tackles including a sack and Barry Cofield nearly had one as Harrington fell forward for a one yard gain instead of a sack.  Both Robbins and Cofield held their gaps against the run, allowing the Antonio Pierce to roam freely and make tackles and both of them had a good push against the pass.  With Spagnuolo bringing in Justin Tuck (one more sack for him) and Mathias Kiwanuka to line up in their places on obvious passing downs, Robbins and Cofield can stay fresh later in the game from the reduced snaps.

Osi Umenyiora had another solid game, although the numbers don’t tell the story. Osi had only two tackles, but he had plenty of pressure on the Quarterback, (resulting in sacks for his teammates) in spite of the fact that he was double teamed for much of the game.  After the ball was knocked out of Eli’s hand in the second quarter, leaving the Falcons with a first down from the Giants’ 28 yard line, it was a tackle for a four-yard loss by Osi that put the field goal attempt just out of the range of Morten Anderson.

Add another half-a-sack for Strahan who was also fighting two guys for most of the night.  All in all, it was a fabulous job by the D-Line on Monday night.

Linebackers

A quiet game for Mathias Kiwanuka, who only had two tackles, but wasn’t caught glaringly out of position either.  Aside from the 67-yard run, where he was blocked handedly by the Algae Crumpler, he had a very unassumingly solid game.  I say this because once again, aside from that one TD run, Atlanta seemed to run away from Kiwi most of the game.  It may be a little premature to say that teams are game-planning around Kiwanuka but it sure looked that way.

He was only credited with two tackles, but Kawika Mitchell was around the ball a lot on Monday night.  More importantly, it’s been a while since I’ve wanted him cut for blatantly being out of position.  He definitely appears to be growing more comfortable in this Defense.

Once again, Antonio Pierce had a very nice game.  Pierce is playing more like the player we signed away from Washington, flashing smarts and speed on the way to a team leading seven tackles, one sack, and a pass defended for Pierce who was good against the run, good in coverage and his sack was good for a ten-yard loss.

Cornerbacks

I haven’t been this excited about our cornerbacks in a long time.  Aaron Ross is going to be a great one.  Before you crucify me, I know he was not going up against the most savvy route runners in the NFL.  And no it wasn’t Tom Brady or Peyton Manning throwing the ball.  And yes he did indeed get juked out of his shoes on Norwood’s 67-yard TD run.  But I watched him in coverage.  There’s a reason he didn’t have but one tackle and one pass defended.  Harrington simply wasn’t interested in throwing at him.  His INT was on a poorly thrown Hail Mary.  I remember Will Allen dropping at least 4 of those in his tenure in New York.  Ross looked like a veteran on his (.5) sack too.  The kid’s a playmaker. And yes I know he’s 26 but right now he’s making a bid for “Defensive Rookie of the Year”.  When was the last time Giants fans could talk about that?

Sam Madison was Sam Madison, good coverage for the most part; quick to tackle when he gives up a catch underneath.   Most of that though came with a cushion after the game was long out of reach.

Kevin Dockery had a pretty nice game covering the slot.  Dockery had four tackles, blasted a punt returner and broke up a pass in what was probably his most field action this season.

Safeties

Okay, back to the 67-yard TD run.  On that play, (Michael Strahan was chipped on the way to being tackled) it was James Butler, who over-pursued and took himself out of the play.  I’ve seen enough of Butler.   As the Defense has improved every week it has been Butler who has been the constant malingerer, out of position, a step slow or easily beaten.

I’m pretty sure we would see Gibril Wilson play a better game if Butler wasn’t constantly getting beat.  Bring in Johnson, give Dahl a shot.  Get Butler out of the game.  I’m not 100 % sure because I was not able to record the first three minutes of the game, but Butler should have made a play on the pass to Roddy White on the Falcons opening drive.   I’m not a should of, could have, would have guy, but if Butler makes those two plays, the D pitches a shutout.

Special Teams

When Jeff Feagles went down, (on what was an absolutely beautiful kick considering it was almost blocked) I thought, there it goes.  Thankfully Ol’ Reliable is okay.  What a kick and what a hit by Dockery.

Pick up a kicker. Please pick up a kicker who can kick the ball past the 10 yard line on kickoffs.  Coverage was decent but these low liners and squibs are a recipe for disaster.

Maybe it has something to do with “Mc’s” fielding punts, but R.W. McQuarters continues to be Phil McConkey and fair catch everything that comes his way.  He does catch the ball though and that’s important.

To Sum It Up…

It was probably their best overall performance of the season and yet I still believe they can be so much more impressive.  The media is starting to take notice too labeling them contenders in the NFC.  Let’s just hope they don’t start to believe the hype.  The under-appreciated under the radar approach is working.

After the game, Pierce said there are still a lot of things we can do better.  I thought that was nice to hear coming on the heels of a fourth straight very dominating defensive performance, from a guy who has had foot in mouth disease in the past.   Let’s hope the rest of the team keeps focused as they get ready to face a tough and very opportunistic 49er Defense in their last game before heading to Wembley. But they shouldn’t be looking that far ahead.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Atlanta Falcons, October 15, 2007)
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