Nov 212007
 
 November 21, 2007  Posted by  Game Previews and Reviews
New York Giants 16 – Detroit Lions 10

by Damon Micalizzi for BigBlueInteractive.com

In Brief…

It wasn’t pretty, but the Giants got a huge win in Detroit and now sit at 7-3 and very much in the NFC Playoff picture.  This was the type of game the Giants of recent years’ past would have lost. All game you just had that feeling that the Giants were going to give this game to Detroit. First of all, two times they settled for field goals in the red zone. Secondly, they gave up 351 yards through the air. Even worse, Mathais Kiwanuka is gone for the year with a fractured fibula and Brandon Jacobs pulled a hammy.  No idea how long he’ll be out.  Even without Jacobs to pound the ball in the 4th Quarter, the Giants still managed to hold the ball for 11 minutes longer than Detroit for the game. And more importantly, they won the turnover battle.  Still though, the Giants could have easily let this one slip away in the final moments of the game.  They almost did. But they didn’t.

Quarterbacks

The numbers don’t exactly jump off the page at you, but this was probably one of Eli Manning’s best games as a pro.  Against mostly a Tampa 2 Defense that primarily is dedicated to taking away the deep pass, Manning put on a precision passing clinic with quick drops and crisp passes that were right between the numbers more often than not.

For a while now, the whispers about Eli’s mechanical problems have gone away.  We have seen that he can make every throw.  We have seen that he is deadly with time in the pocket, and can still thread the needle while under duress. On 1st and 10 to start the 4th Quarter, Manning stood amidst four Lions’ defenders and just as the hit was about to be administered he delivered a bullet to Reuben Droughns on the check-down. Three more times vs. Detroit, Manning hung in the pocket releasing the ball in the face of a pass rush, where he knew that he was going to get hit and still delivered a dart to the receiver.  Each week Manning grows more adept at keeping the defensive fronts’ timing off.   Four times vs. Detroit, did Manning draw the defense offside using his hard count.

No one receiver was the go-to guy on Sunday as Manning spread the wealth of 283 yards between 9 different targets with the usual suspects dividing the bulk of the catches fairly evenly.  (Shockey 5 catches, Toomer, Burress, Jacobs and Moss, yes Moss, with 4.) The Giants worked all week on their tempo after three delay of game penalties last week, and it showed in Detroit.  Guys were getting back to the huddle quicker and getting to the line with more urgency and instead of snapping the ball with a fraction of a second left on the play clock, the closest they got to a clock infraction was a snap with 02 on the digital readout.

If Manning made a mistake vs. Detroit, it may have been one of the misfires where he didn’t connect with Burress, who is obviously feeling the effects of his bum ankle.  He was never picked off, nor was he ever almost picked. The numbers weren’t gaudy, and if he had thrown another TD he’d probably be getting a lot more love. Manning took what the defense gave him, even if it meant running for a first down.  He is quietly taking his game to the next level.

Running Backs

Just when Brandon Jacobs was on the brink of having that “Monster” game, he pulled his hammy.  I say this under the assumption that he would have accumulated 10 or so more carries in the third and fourth quarters while the Giants were trying to ice this game.  Hopefully, Jacobs will heal fast, and be back in a few weeks, because he was really looking good in this game.  Yes he got stripped and put the ball on the ground. It was the first time in a while that Jacobs didn’t get his pads down and get low while running. The fumble probably served more as a reminder to lock that thing down than anything else as you could see him carry the ball with the vice grip afterwards. Jacobs could be more of a threat catching balls out of the backfield as it can set him up to take on a DB in space. He did have 4 catches, taking one of them for 34 yards and knocking a few defenders silly along the way. I hope that this will serve as your proverbial “blessing in disguise.”  For one, if Jacobs misses any time, he’ll be that much fresher, in December.  Secondly, it may be baptism by fire for Ahmad Bradshaw who is just exciting.

The coaching staff obviously has not lost faith in Bradshaw after his early season fumbles, as he for the second week in a row has been magnificent returning kicks.  Like Jacobs and Droughns and to a lesser extent Derrick Ward, Bradshaw doesn’t shy away from contact, and is very strong for his size.

As winter gets closer and the temperature goes south, running the ball becomes more important.  Can you imagine a running game with Jacobs, Ward and Bradshaw splitting carries and Droughns getting all the touchdowns?  Let’s hope everyone heals up.

Against Detroit, Droughns carried the ball 11 times for only 13 yards.  Reuben also got in on the passing attack catching three passes for 26 yards. However, every time he was handed the ball it was on obvious running situations where the defense was keyed in on him.  He did have one 7-yard run, but remains a specialist in grinding out 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1.  He also looked good as the lead blocker for Bradshaw on kick returns.  He is also probably the best of the Giants HBs at picking up the blitz.

Offensive Line

Speaking of picking up the blitz, the Giants’ offensive line has for the second consecutive week been less than spectacular.  Manning was sacked just twice, but too many times was he hurried and/or hit.  It wasn’t necessarily guys getting beat by guys that were quicker.  Nor were they getting beat by swim moves or agile linemen using a variety of stunts or twists.  This was the second week in a row, where the line was just out muscled at the line of scrimmage.  When the pressure wasn’t coming from a blitz, it was a collapsing pocket where the O-Line was pushed back on their heels into the quarterback.

On one such occasion Kareem McKenzie had the best block of the year and it went largely unnoticed because the play ended up being nothing more than an incomplete pass.  Just after the half, on a 2nd and 10 pass play, Manning started to feel heat from his blind side coming from Shaun Rogers who went right through Rich Seubert.  As Manning started to move to his right, just as he was about to fire a pass that was just out of the reach of Shockey, McKenzie threw a block on Corey Redding and Redding went flying into Rogers knocking 600 + pounds of defensive lineman to the ground.  Again it was a play that ended with just an incompletion and eventually led to a punt, but if you TiVoed the game, it is worth checking out.

The success Jacobs had running the ball wasn’t because of big gaping holes opened by the O-Line.  When Jacobs’ day was over, the slighter, less quick, Droughns had to fight for his life for every inch of every yard he gained. For one, Shaun O’Hara was not getting out in front of the play the way he should, as he seemed to be getting held up at the line of scrimmage, with LBs able to plug whatever holes there were. Chris Snee seems to be playing without that mean streak that had some considering him for the Pro Bowl earlier in the season.  I just didn’t see him mauling his man much and once again, he was flagged for a false start.  For the game, the unit was not flagged too much, considering they were playing in a loud domed stadium against a pretty aggressive D. I re-watched the play where O’Hara was flagged for holding, and couldn’t see how they would throw that flag on O’Hara or on anyone else in a white jersey.

Still though these guys are going to have to step it up, if the Giants are going to be able to be effective the rest of the way.  This is not the time for this group, which has been quietly the staple of this team’s successes over the past few years, to lose their edge.

Wide Receivers

That balky ankle is starting to cause problems for Plaxico Burress.  He looks a little bit tentative coming off the line of scrimmage and cutting in and out of his routes. The lack of reps in practice is starting to show as well.  As sharp as Manning has been as of late, it doesn’t make sense that his biggest misses the past two weeks have been directed at his favorite target. Their timing is off. Plax had at least two balls go through his hands in Detroit.  There’s no guarantee that time off will do his ankle any good and additional time off will probably only add to the rust.  Still though, as long as he can run, Burress remains a viable target and still caught 4 balls for 47 yards.  He does not however; seem to be the threat after the catch, that he was the first five weeks of the season.

Sinorice Moss does look like a threat to break one for a big play should he continue to get more touches.  He’ll have to learn how to hold on to the ball though as he put it on the ground trying to gain the extra yard.   That fumble didn’t seem to land Moss in the doghouse though, as he remained in the game and caught two more passes along the way.   Moss has very quick feet after the catch and showed good hands catching a very low ball and turning up field taking on three defenders rather than going out of bounds.  He’s been steadfast in his mission to develop a good rapport with Manning and this could be the beginning of that starting to blossom. Another thing I like about Moss is his work ethic. He doesn’t take any plays off.  On at least two of Jacobs’ longer runs to the outside, Sinorice was seen locking up the DB with some very good blocking technique.  That’s heart my friends.  Very refreshing to see coming from a guy whose had an uphill battle just to get on the field.

There is no doubt that Manning and Amani Toomer are on the same page.  Manning is also aware that Toomer has lost a step as he doesn’t look to him as much as he used to.  Toomer also had 4 catches for 39 yards but all of them were perfectly timed routes that were executed flawlessly. On 3rd and 2 with four minutes left in the 1st Quarter, Manning and Toomer hooked up on a quick button hook pattern where Toomer ran the route so well, that the defender bit to the inside and when he turned around the ball was already right where only Toomer could get a hand on it.  It was one of several perfectly placed balls by Manning, but when he and Toomer connect, it just looks effortless. Toomer still runs good routes and has exceptional hands, but he’s not getting open the way he used to.  If Moss continues to gain the confidence of the QB and the coaching staff and Steve Smith ever returns from his injury, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them getting more looks as the season goes on.

Tight Ends

Leading the receiving corps with five grabs was Jeremy Shockey, who, doing his best Mark Bavaro impression, carried what looked like 10 Lions defenders to the two-yard line before going out of bounds on 3rd and Goal from 15 yards out.   A healthy Shockey may be the most important ingredient to sustaining the upcoming schedule should Plaxico miss any time.  He is a warrior and this is the first season I remember that he isn’t playing with some sort of ailment – at least none that we know about. His blocking continues to be overlooked by many and his drops are down from years past.  A few more TD grabs and this could easily end up being Shockey’s best season when it’s all said and done.   Again, providing he stays healthy.  Keep your fingers crossed.

For the second week in a row Kevin Boss caught a pass for a nice gain.  He has to learn to get his pads lower at contact, as running upright is an open invitation to get hit and have the ball stripped.  He should take lessons from Madison Hedgecock on getting his pads down.  Hedgecock moves like he’s running in quick sand, but he runs low and delivers a bit of punishment to defenders trying to tackle him.  Still though, if Boss can become a viable threat from the second TE position and when Shockey needs a breather, that’s just one more weapon for Manning to have at his disposal.

Defensive Line

Often overlooked because of the hype of the “Four Aces” Fred Robbins has had himself a pretty solid season.  His workload just got a lot bigger.  Losing Mathias Kiwanuka for the rest of the year will no doubt be a big void to fill and Robbins should be the beneficiary of a lot of double coverage to his right and to his left.  Robbins had a pretty good game against Detroit.  He only notched one tackle, but he was in John Kitna’s face quite a few times.

So too did Osi Umenyiora who routinely got into the backfield but never was able to get his hands on Kitna.  Facing a double team for most of the game, Osi deferred to Michael Strahan to get the sacks.  Playing against probably the weakest line this side of the Philly game, Strahan looked as good as he has in recent memory, bull-rushing, swimming through and sprinting around George Foster and Blaine Saipaia for five tackles including three sacks.

Another guy who seems to be in the backfield rushing the QB or hot on the trail of the running back almost every time he enters the game is Justin Tuck.  Tuck, like Umenyiora, got plenty of heat on Kitna but never was able to cash in.  Tuck is a beast and how ever they can get him on the field they should, especially with Kiwanuka’s injury signaling the end of the “Four Aces” package that has wreaked havoc on QBs so far this year.    That flag on Tuck for roughing the passer by the way in the 4th Quarter was absolute bullshit. I cannot explain it any other way.

As the season progresses into the winter months, teams tend to run the ball more. The play of Barry Cofield has been very much under the radar this season much ado to the Giants’ great pass rush.  Cofield and Russell Davis both saw the field vs. Detroit and neither made much noise in the pursuit of Jon Kitna as Mike Martz decided to abort the run all together after the Lions first two possessions.  They will no doubt be tested against Minnesota on Sunday.

Linebackers

Mathias Kiwanuka’s afternoon ended on the second play from scrimmage as he and Osi collaborated on their only tackle for the game.   Osi landed on Kiwi’s leg.  It bent in a way that legs shouldn’t bend.  I wish him a quick recovery.  He got better every week and for a guy learning a new position did a great job when you consider how shaky his first two games were.

Reggie Torbor filled in on the strong side in Kiwi’s absence and really didn’t make any glaring mistakes.  Torbor has pretty good speed and exhibited his athleticism in chasing down the ball carrier after disengaging from a blocker for his only tackle of the game. However, with Detroit passing on almost every down and lining up with 3 and 4 receivers most of the way, Torbor didn’t see too much of the field.

Antonio Pierce really had a nice game.  Shaun McDonald caught a deep ball on him over the middle just as the first half expired, but Pierce was with him every step of the way and was able to slap the ball out of his hands and force the fumble.  Pierce was all over the field and ended up with 10 tackles, the forced fumble at the end of the half and he recovered a fumble after Gibril Wilson tried a boneheaded lateral after getting a pick later in the game.

Kawika Mitchell had two tackles, both of them for minimal yardage. But the one thing I noticed about Mitchell against the Lions was he plays through the whistle.  On one play, he was picked up by the TE while on a blitz, had the presence of mind to jump to try to knock down the pass at the line of scrimmage and he missed.  The pass was completed down the field for a 20-yard gain, and while Mitchell didn’t make the tackle, he was right there at the end of the play.  Did he impact the play? Not really.  Almost, maybe, had he knocked down the ball at the LOS. But the fact that the guy was right there at the end of the play was impressive because it all happened so fast and he was so far away.  Mitchell had his growing pains while learning this defense earlier in the year, but he improved each week. And what he lacks in talent he does try to make up for it with heart.  Heart however doesn’t always make plays.

Cornerbacks

Boy did this group get a work out on Sunday.  When you look at the stats at the end of the game it didn’t seem like Detroit had passed for 350+ yards.  Let’s face it. Detroit passes the ball more than anyone the Giants have faced yet this season.  They have four very good receivers… two of them Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson are just amazing.  In this league the best receivers are going to beat the defender more often than not.

Case in point:  Kevin Dockery had great coverage on the Calvin Johnson TD catch.  Johnson is just bigger and stronger and made a great catch. On two occasions Dockery made open-field tackles taking down bigger receivers before they could move the chains.  R.W. McQuarters had two such tackles as well. And it was McQuarters well timed blitz from covering the slot that put the heat on Kitna forcing the pass to a wide-open Roy Williams to be overthrown.

Sam Madison was a potential goat on that play, although Gibril Wilson should likely be buying R.W. dinner this week. Madison was challenged quite a bit and really held his own against two very big, very fast, very nimble wide outs.  He forced a fumble while wrestling with Shaun McDonald to keep him inbounds late in the game.  The ball rolled out of bounds.  Madison ended up with the pick that sealed the game for good and allowed the Giants to kneel out the clock. Kitna needing a TD, overthrew a wide-open Shaun McDonald sitting in a hole in the zone. McDonald got his fingers on the ball before it landed in Madison’s lap.

Aaron Ross had a very solid game in man coverage, simply because he was not challenged much. Not bad considering the receivers the rookie was going up against all day long.  Ross wasn’t credited with any tackles, but he did force an incomplete pass by nearly getting to Kitna on a blitz.

Safeties

Even a blind squirrel finds a nut.  Actually James Butler had a very solid game.  Even without the interception in the endzone, which was a phenomenal grab, Butler looked to be in better position and take better angles than he has all year.  He ended up with 5 tackles and was able to come up on the ball carrier to make a play short of the first down yardage twice.

Maybe whatever Butler’s ailment from earlier in the year was contagious.  I’ll never know what possessed Gibril Wilson to try to hand the ball to a teammate after getting his 4th INT of the year.  Thankfully Antonio Pierce was there to pounce on it.  Wilson nearly had another pick on an errant Kitna pass that glanced off of a receiver and another defender before Wilson had his chance and failed to bring it in.  I also have no idea what was going through his mind when Wilson’s decision to jump the play to the outside receiver on the near bomb to Williams. That really bothers me.  First of all, there was no need for him to come up on the play. Secondly, I thought he learned this the hard way last week, no one should ever get behind the free safety and certainly not just 8 yards off the line of scrimmage.  That play was almost a disaster. The interception does not erase that.

Special Teams

Jeff Feagles is amazing.  Two of his punts looked like they were going to be blocked and they were two of the most beautiful and longest kicks I’ve seen him make with the Giants.  Zak DeOssie and Chase Blackburn are covering punts like they want TC to put them in at SAM. And it should be noted just how big Fred Robbins blocked field goal was. That play was huge in this game. Jason Hanson is a great kicker, and if Robbins doesn’t get his paw on that ball, Detroit is only a few yards away from giving Hanson a shot at tying the game with less than a minute left.

While we’re on the topic of kickers let’s not get too excited about Lawrence Tynes strong showing on Sunday.  Yes he went 3-for-3.  Even his kickoffs were better.  One even went for a touchback. But one of those field goals was toenail away from being nothing more than an extra point… And he fell down on the one extra point try he had.  Besides, kicking indoors is a lot easier than kicking outside.  Let’s see him have a game like that where there’s some wind and he’s not kicking on a carpet before we stop saying Novenas before every kick.

As I mentioned before Ahmad Bradshaw is electric on kick returns.  Reuben Droughns does a nice job of leading the way for him.  It’s only a matter of time before he takes one to the house.  Maybe he’s making a push in practice to return punts too; because R.W. seemed to have a little hop in his step as he had one of the best punt returns he’s had all year against the Lions.

To Sum It Up…

In Other News…. Much to the chagrin of people living in Philly and D.C., Detroit was named the most dangerous city in the U.S. as far as crime goes this week.  Maybe that’s why Jon Kitna was talking like such a thug after the game?

This was a huge win for the Giants.  A bounce back game after a tough loss, on the road, in a hostile environment against a good team.  They moved the ball.  And in spite of the yards they gave up through the air, they bent but didn’t break, forcing big turnovers at key moments in the game.  This game could have easily ended differently for the Giants and it didn’t.

Now they must figure out how they’re going to move on without a key player on the defense and with the injuries starting to take a toll on offense.  Even still, they look to be in pretty good shape.  As Giants fans it seems we’re always preparing ourselves for the worst.  That’s the way we’ve been trained.  This team though, so far, has been different.   This game believe it or not, was as close to a complete game as they have played all year. A talented but flawed Minnesota team comes to the Meadowlands on Sunday.  Maybe they’ll put it all together against the Vikes and show us all how good they can be.  Just this once… let’s try not to consider the alternative… Maybe they’ll surprise us???

(Box Score – New York Giants at Detroit Lions, November 18, 2007)
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