Detroit Lions 13 (1-0) – New York Giants 10 (0-1)
Summary: Coming off of their Super Bowl 42 win, one would hope the Giants mistake limiting play and sound fundamentals would now be staples of their play and not a mere aberration that carried Big Blue to an improbable World Championship. After week one in Detroit however, poor tackling, sloppy fundamentals and generally uninspired play were the impressions I came away with after reviewing the Lions 13-10 win at Ford Field.
There were bright spots to be sure, Bryan Kehl, Kenny Phillips, Justin Tuck, Danny Ware, the backup QBs and plenty of others, but the rust on this team was visible. It’s far too early to predict a Super Bowl hangover, but last Thursday night, the Giants resembled the up and down 10-6 bunch much more than the 4-0 postseason road warriors in their first outing of the new season.
Quarterbacks: Being marooned in Virginia, I was forced to TiVo the tape delayed game, and much to my chagrin, Eli Manning was as bad as I thought while I followed along on NFL.COM. Eli and the offense translated their reportedly sloppy practice habits to Ford Field last Thursday Night. Manning’s first pass was a dud that was too high for the 6’4” Brandon Jacobs on a middle screen. When Eli makes a poor pass, go back and watch his feet. I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts (mmmm doughnuts) that his feet a) weren’t set, b) weren’t set or c) weren’t set. In this case, Eli did his best Baryshnikov impression and tippy toed a pass too high for a 6’4” target. The youngest Manning’s next pass on a comeback to Amani Toomer was almost picked as Eli failed to see DE Jared DeVries sink into the hook zone in front of Toomer. The trifecta was reached at 0-3 when Eli lazily bounced another screen pass to Jacobs off of a defender’s finger tips.
Eli improved on his next series, going 2 for 3 with one bad drop by Derrick Ward on the 3rd screen pass in 11 plays, but not a good start for your reigning Super Bowl MVP. It’s too early to call the screens a troubled area, but I’ve never felt good when Eli is short arming the ball and RBs are acting like ping pong paddles. Oh for the days of a back who could catch a screen pass like Tik…hmm the name escapes me. :)
Backup QB Anthony Wright looked MUCH more familiar with the offense than he did a year ago. Wright looked decisive and ready to fight for his job, even changing the play and protection a few times in going 9-13 for 113 yards. Wright’s arm was impressive as was his overall command of the plays he ran.
QB David Carr, trying to resurrect his career as a former #1 pick, was rattled early on, but showed great quickness and a strong arm as the game progressed, accounting for the Giants’ only touchdown on a strike to former Seminole WR Craphonso Thorpe. Carr finished up 10-13 for 104 yards and one touchdown.
Running Backs: Brandon Jacobs was in mid-season form early on, ripping off a 27 yard rumble off tackle in which he made an impressive stutter step to leave Lion CB Brian Kelly crumbled to the ground. Also in mid-season form was Jacobs’ ability to catch on a tipped middle screen, but in his defense Eli put too much air under the ball. Jacobs still doesn’t square his body properly and prepare for the football and still appears to fight it like Brett Favre fights retirement; it just keeps happening and we are sick of watching it. CATCH THE BALL TWO SEVEN!
Not to be outdone, Misters Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw also refused to catch the ball, instead both opting for a game of hot potato on shallow crossing routes. You guys can run, and we all love you for it, but a checkdown who can’t catch is no longer a checkdown worth defending. Worse yet, you become a turnover waiting to happen.
Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride and RB coach Jerald Ingram better get to work diligently to fix this in practice. Any of the Giants top 3 backs in the open field is dangerous weapon, but first they have to learn to catch. Ward did chip in with a nice out route for a first down.
HB Danny Ware showed good power, good pad level and decent burst; keep an eye on him to unseat HB Reuben Droughns if the Giants keep 4 halfbacks. Ware has talent, and if any of the top 3 backs go down with an injury, Ware looks ready for his shot.
FB Madison Hedgecock = sledgehammer, that’s all you need to know.
Wide Receivers: With Super Bowl hero and noted Shower Safety Specialist extraordinaire Plaxico Burress sidelined with a Boo-Boo (What up MG?), Domenik Hixon got extended time at the split end spot and looked fairly comfortable on a solid inside release route that netted 11 yards in the first quarter and a quick slant from Wright in the 2nd quarter. Hixon has a ways to go before he’ll really crack the game day rotation, (as evidenced by not dragging his back foot on a sure TD in the 2nd quarter) but he appears to be on the verge of being a legitimate NFL WR.
Much debated WR Sinorice Moss challenged the Lions’ cover 2 zone perfectly on a 46 yard completion from Wright, pushing the corner up the field and settling in before the safety was able to recover. A heady, athletic play by Moss, let’s hope it’s a sign of things to come.
Roster long shot Brandon London did his best to secure a job in New Jersey with two good catches and one spectacular catch and run that set up the Giants only TD.
Tight Ends: Jeremy Who? Old #80’s polar opposite and eventual replacement Kevin Boss looked great in his short time on the field, bouncing off a would be tackler to open the 2nd quarter and looking every bit of his 6’6” plus frame as he bulled forward for a few extra yards. If Boss’ big 4th quarter nab in Super Bowl 42 didn’t convince you he could replace Shockey, that big hit he bounced off of should help his case. As for Boss picking up the blocking load, that remains to be seen, but on the few plays he was in, he kept his shoulders square, kept a wide base and gave maximum effort; not much more a coach or fan could ask for. Strength and experience will cure any blocking deficiency, but so far Boss looks the part. Boss did cut a route too short on a 3rd down in Lions’ territory though, resulting in a missed Lawrence Tynes Field Goal.
O-Line: The starting five looked ok in pass protection, but as has been the case in Tom Coughlin’s time, the physical aspect of their play is not quite there yet as evidenced by 6 of the first 7 running plays gaining 13 yards total. I’m nowhere near worried and no one else should be either, the physical part will catch up to the mental part as the rust gets knocked off in the next few weeks.
Backup OL Guy Whimper looks to be taking his job more seriously, and was fairly effective in both pass protection and run blocking. My only issue with Whimper is that he tends to lunge a bit too much and ends up being a “waist bender” to make contact instead of the knee bending and foot shuffling that will make him a viable starting candidate on the OL.
Backup OL Kevin Boothe looked quick pulling, but needs to be more aggressive finishing his blocks. Digger Bujnoch, you may want your agent to make a few calls on your behalf and convince someone that you’re NFL ready. I had flashbacks to “tough as a boot” Ben Fricke watching Bujnoch get shoved around by anyone with a Lion on his helmet.
Front 7: Author’s Note: Given the varied fronts and personnel packages the Giants use under Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, I’ll be looking at the front 7 as a whole initially rather than separating the D-line and Linebackers. Hybrid roles such as LBs playing in a 3 point stance make analyzing the front 7 as one unit more cohesive. It may change as we move forward or from game to game.
If Tom Brady was watching this game, I’m thinking he flinched a few times early on as the Giants front 7 was its usual active QB harassing self. Again, Coughlin’s no hitting rule probably creates the gap between the near sacks of Jon Kitna and the long completions that helped the Lions march right down the field and score on their first possession. Generally speaking, the DL looked quick and ready to go, just a half step too late, but that timing will improve as the rust wears off. Justin Tuck looked ready to assume Michael Strahan’s mantle as a two-way end on an early stuff of Tatum Bell in which he easily tossed RT George Foster and TE Michael Gaines aside to close down the cutback lane.
DT Jay Alford and Tuck combined to just miss Kitna on a big 3rd down conversion but the real culprit was SS Sammy Knight not sinking in his zone to shrink Kitna’s throwing window to Calvin Johnson. That type of mistake doomed the Giants in their first two games in 2007, let’s hope Knight learns to trust the system sooner rather than later.
DT Barry Cofield stood out in his few plays, flashing great quickness to knife in and stop a stretch play from the backside, which is simply one hell of a stop for a DT on the backside of a zone blocked stretch play. DT Fred Robbins had a nice stop on a “screw down”, taking down the OL and keeping him off of his LBs. Dirty work like that is rarely noticed but it is textbook run stopping technique and fun to watch (if you’re a nutjob like me). Robbins and the DL looked a step slow, but well coached and ready to go. Justin Tuck in particular, Giants fans…..is ready to rock and roll.
Film Room Rewind: Despite missing a tackle on Roy Williams’ TD catch, LB Mathias Kiwanuka did make the right read (or so it appeared) when the TE broke for the seam and he let him run to the deep safety. Kiwi had to change direction, flatten out and cover the flats, ultimately missing the tackle on Williams’ TD run. The issue? #97 didn’t stay square to the line of the scrimmage and got turned completely around; costing himself the half step he would have needed to bring Williams down before he scored. Had he stayed squarer, Kiwanuka would have been able to plant, pivot and keep running to close the gap on Williams, but instead he had to do a complete 180 to get to his spot. Chalk that up to technique, not recognition. Despite knocks on his coverage ability, Kiwanuka made a great read, but fell short on the technique.
Kiwanuka knifed into the backfield to stop Tatum Bell for no gain, as did new WILL LB Danny Clark, showing great quickness, anticipation and penetration.
DE Dave Tollefson continued his strong play from last year, looking stout against the run and active while pass rushing. Tollesfon plays with outstanding leverage and great anticipation; he should be fun to watch when he gets in the game.
On his first few plays LB Bryan Kehl looked a bit tentative and seemed to be playing in reverse a bit too much. Initially, Kehl appeared to be reading a bit too much but on a big 3rd down, Kehl knifed into the backfield and snuffed out the Lions drive. The new #53 has the size, speed and quickness to make an impact on this defense in the not too distant future.
Can LB Chase Blackburn do anymore to make a statement? Dude is all over the field every time I see him play.
What did concern me a bit was how caught off guard by some waggles, the Giants DL and LBs were. Aggressive defense is fun to watch (isn’t it Tampa, Dallas and Green Bay?), but they had better learn to slow down a bit and read their keys on those types of plays or all that aggression will work against them come live action that counts. The bet here is that Coach Spags already has it fixed and the players knew it when it happened.
Defensive Backs: Starting CBs Corey Webster and Aaron Ross were both fairly quiet which is ideal for a defensive back and relieving once I watched the game given how easily the Lions appeared to score while watching the game tracker. Webster did get lucky on an iffy pass from Kitna to Roy Williams on a 3rd down, but #23 had great position.
Nickel CB Kevin Dockery always looks like a player when I see him, and has kept up his aggressive play, making two great stops in the open field.
SS Sammy Knight looked flat out slow to me out there. Someone on The Corner Forum is saying, “I told you so” right about now. I’ll give Sammy the benefit of the doubt until the bullets are live.
“His name is Kenny, but I call him Bud”- Rudy Huxtable. I couldn’t wait to see Bud don the #21 jersey after all the camp accolades he has gotten and holy Heathcliff did Mr. Phillips deliver. FS Kenny Phillips burst onto the scene with a TFL (tackle for loss) on a reverse, showing patience, a great closing burst and great open field tackling ability. Where there is a play, Bud will make it!
Special Teams: Can we just tell Lawrence Tynes that it’s overtime in Lambeau every time he kicks?
Coaching: It’s the preseason, coaching does not exist in this dojo does it? NO SENSAI!
JPog (Joey’s Player of The Game) – If I don’t say Kenny Phillips, I fear BBI would show up at my house and burn me at the stake. Or at the very least make me listen to margi shill for Bob Papa until my ears bleed. The new #21 was in on 8 stops in one half and was easily the most active defender in the game. Down in the box or sitting back in cover 3, Phillips seems to be a player the offense had better identify early.
JBog (Joey’s Bum of The Game) – It’s early I know but I was really disappointed in Eli Manning’s brief appearance. The old hang dog look returned and Eli really didn’t seem to have “it”. Given his up and down play during the regular season, I was really hoping Eli had turned the corner and finally become the consistent, productive franchise passer we all envisioned. Again it’s early but he seemed very…meh to me.