New York Giants 37 (1-1) – Cleveland Browns 34 (0-2)
Summary: It’s not usually wise to make too much out of one pre-season game. But on Monday Night Football this week, the Giants took a step toward putting the NFL on notice that last year was no fluke. After a so-so debut in Detroit, and playing without their top 3 WRs, Eli Manning and the Giants exploded for 30 points in just over 15 minutes and knocked Browns’ starter Derek Anderson out of the game with a concussion. If the Giants are going to miss perennial Pro Bowlers Jeremy Shockey and Michael Strahan, it wasn’t evident on Monday night as the Giants front four wreaked havoc on the Browns offense and Eli and company put up two easy scores in a quarter of play. The backups weren’t nearly as sharp as Cleveland fought back from 27 down to make it a 3 point game. A handful of questions were answered, while others remained unsolved just two short weeks away from opening night in the Meadowlands.
Quarterbacks: Eli Manning needed a good start this week with his WR corps ailing, a new stable of TEs and lingering questions over his “arrival” as an upper echelon QB. The first drive was not encouraging as Eli’s first attempt was batted on 3rd and 3 and the Giants were forced to punt. Manning’s next 7 plays however, resulted in 128 yards, and 2 TDs in only 2:39. Eli’s command of this offense and his confidence seem to grow every time he steps on the field. I was critical of his play in Detroit, but Eli was much more focused and played with the same confidence we saw down the stretch of last year. My wife thinks he should shave and cut his hair though, so Eli, get to the bahbah!!!
Anthony Wright and David Carr both played well last week and seemed ready to wage an interesting battle for the #2 job. Wright and Carr continued on that path this week, by both playing uninspired football and completing 50% of their aerials. After looking solid in week on, Anthony Wright handed the Browns a TD late in the first half on an ill advised pass deep in his own territory. Failing to recognize a backside blitz, Wright was popped as he let go of the ball and the Browns were in business. Wright had trouble all night recognizing the blitz, and if he expects to win a backup job he better expect he’ll get blitzed if he’s ever needed in a game. Bad bad bad game for Wright.
Former Texan and Panther David Carr fared better in his time by leading a 10 play 41 yard drive in which he was an efficient 3 for 4 for 25 yards. Nothing spectacular but Carr looked a bit more comfortable in the offense, audibling to a run that gained a first down, and finding Ahmad Bradshaw on a check down that set up a first and goal. Carr looked like he was in good control of the offense but still appears skittish at times in the pocket. As of right now, he has to be the leader in the clubhouse.
Rookie Andre Woodson’s much anticipated debut was …throw one pass, fall incomplete, whoopdy frikkin’ whoo.
Running Backs: Brandon Jacobs’ play continues to oooh and ahhh with thundering runs and violent collisions, but his inability to hold on to the football and make smart decisions is not improving. No one can debate Jacobs’ running or blocking ability, but he has to start playing smarter, keep his mouth closed on the field and hang on to the damn football. It’s the same story every time he fumbles, carries the ball too low and tries to barrel over one more tackler to prove what a tough guy he is. We’re all very impressed Brandon; now take care of the ball. Jacobs carelessly flipped a reverse to Michael Jennings that could have been silly turnover #2 if not for hustle from Jacobs’ teammates.
Ahmad Bradshaw was the subject of some debate on BBI this week. Some including myself, suggesting he didn’t look sharp or particularly quick. Bradshaw made a very good snag on a wobbly pass from Anthony Wright but he just looked off to me initially. After watching the game again though, Bradshaw ran hard, with excellent pad level as usual and showed his usual power, bulling for two first downs and flying into the end zone for a TD. Not sure what I saw initially but Bradshaw looked better upon closer inspection. (Note to self-wine makes guys looks slow in the 3rd quarter). Derrick Ward chipped in with 25 yards on 5 solid carries, as per usual. The star of the backfield was ex Georgia Bulldog Danny Ware who bulled his way to 97 yards on 10 carries and had a tough 59 yard kickoff return. Ware runs a bit high, but has excellent feet, is able to hit the hole quickly and shows very good power.
Wide Receivers: With the Giants top 3 WRs out with various leg ailments, Domenik Hixon (4-63-2TD) took his shot and ran with it. Scoring on two tip toeing, foot dragging TD catches, Hixon clearly learned his lesson after failing to drag his back foot in the end zone last week in Detroit. (Somehow I can’t get the image of Hixon and Toomer alone in the jungle…Amani throwing coconut after coconut at Hixon as his feet are bound with palm leaves and some old burlap as he lands face first in the dirt over and over. “AGAIN….AGAIN…..AGAIN..BOTH FEET Hixon…both feet. I keep throwing coconut until you make catch. Well done Grasshoppah, you now ready for Prime Time.”) Starting opposite Grasshoppah Hixon was Grasshopper sized Sinorice Moss who only managed one catch for 8 yards but set up the Giants first TD when he drew a 53 yard PI penalty. It’s debatable if Moss makes that catch, but his speed is why he was mugged and the end result was a good one. Michael Jennings looked out of sync, dropping a few passes in his brief stint in the game and making two solid grabs. With the competition at WR, Jennings has to make EVERY catch to have any hope of making the roster but the guess here is that #15s days are numbered. Former Seminole Craphonso Thorpe had another solid game, coming up with 4 grabs for 29 yards. As a side note, check out Domenik Hixon blocking downfield next week; he keeps his feet moving, walls off his man well and never gives up on a block.
Tight Ends: No TEs registered a catch, but the question here isn’t Kevin Boss’ being able to catch it’s being able to block. Boss had a bad backside whiff on a draw away from him on 3rd down, which didn’t hurt the Giants but can’t make TE Mike Pope feel very good. Boss was late off the snap and never slid out wide enough to challenge OLB Kamerion Wimbley. That was really the only bad play I saw in the running game from Boss, who has been the subject of a lot of scrutiny in the wake of Jeremy Shockey’s departure. After Boss’ lone bad play, he set up quickly, got his feet set and walled off Wimbley well. Earlier in the game Boss did a solid job on a few scrape blocks, hitting his man and making it to the second level to seal the lane for a couple of Brandon Jacobs off tackle runs. He’s getting there Giant fans, so do what his predecessor never could and have a little patience.
O-Line: I wish I had something to say about the Giants offensive line, but they are so sound it’s boring. What’s the sound of one hand clapping? That’s right, nothing, just like watching this 5 pieced machine pass and run block. It just does its job over and over. In homage to the Denver Broncos O-lines of the past, I will no longer refer to any member of the line and will discuss them a cohesive 5 fingered hand that smashes opponents with extreme prejudice. Unless someone forks up, then it’s makin’ fun time.
The backup offensive linemen appear to be on track and much like their starting counterparts, play sound solid football. Adam Koets looked small at OT, but also held up fairly well on the edge. Na’Shan Goddard looked rugged in the running game, as did Guy Whimper and Kevin Boothe. When judging the OL, I really try to look at the whole unit and see where any weak links are and right now, those don’t really exist and if they do, it’s not very evident. The backups are giving their QBs ample time to throw (assuming they read the blitz Mr. Wright) and were able to grind out the clock on the ground. 201 yards on the ground and one sack = good game guys.
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.
Generally words tell stories, but here’s all you really need to know about the Giants defense on Monday Night; After giving up a field goal on a 7 play 26 yard drive, the Browns next 6 drives resulted in 5 three and outs for NEGATIVE 15 yards and a two play drive that resulted in a 95 yard TD return. If LDE Justin Tuck’s first two games starting are any indication, this defensive front will be a blast to watch again this year. Tuck’s ability to flatten out and redirect at full speed while attacking the line of scrimmage will cause offenses problems all year long. It’s that type of ability that that enabled the recently retired Michael Strahan to be as dominant against the run as he was rushing the passer (more on Tuck in the film room rewind later). Not to be outdone, RDE Osi Umenyiora flew in and knocked QB Derek Anderson into the Field Turf and out of the game just 2 plays into the 2nd quarter. The always overlooked Fred Robbins almost had a safety late in the first quarter, splitting a gap and almost costing the Browns 2 points. His partner in crime Barry Cofield did more dirty work, looking powerful at the point of attack and driving the pocket. Cofield looks poised for a big year
Backup LDE Renaldo Wynn looks solid and ready to take some snaps; he should be a solid rotational player up front. Wynn shut down his side on the first series for the Giants backups, stuffing a first down run and fighting through a double team to keep Brady Quinn from having any running room down the right sideline on 3rd down. Wynn later got good pressure on Quinn inside forcing him outside. Reserve DT Jay Alford has definitely filled out his frame from a year ago, but other than his new bulk, I didn’t see much from the Super Bowl sacker. He applied ok pressure, but nothing of note to speak of.
**Author’s Note** Despite announcer Mike Tirico’s proclamation that the only starter left on the field in the 2nd quarter was Giants CB Aaron Ross, the entire Browns starting OL stayed in until half time. I noticed it in my first viewing of the game, but it was until I went back and made sure that each and every starter was in for the entire second quarter. Presumably to give Brady Quinn some confidence and get the team some momentum, but nevertheless and interesting tactic from Romeo Crennell against a front 7 made up entirely of backups.
The starting LBs were generally quiet as all of the mayhem came from the front four. Gerris Wilkinson had his usual tease of a play late in the 3rd quarter to drag down Jerome Harrison for a short loss and Chase Blackburn as always looked active.
Film Room Rewind: This week it’s not one play, but one player. Old Bullet Head Justin Tuck was the subject of my TiVo’s rewind button this week. (that button may get me kicked out of my own house). The ability to “flatten out” for a defensive lineman means essentially to move parallel to the line of scrimmage (LOS) without being shoved back, and either keep contain on a QB, stretch out a running play or pursue a RB from the backside of the play. Redirecting when realizing the play is going in a specific direction and you’re not headed in the direction, is part two of this ability to truly play well as a two way DE. Too often a DE will fly upfield and create a running or cutback lane and render himself useless (Hi Simeon, how are you pal?). That same overpursuit can lead to big runs and QBs stepping up in the pocket to make a pass or take off for a first down. Watching Tuck on Monday night, he demonstrated the same fluidity that old #92 did and was consistently flattening down the LOS and pursuing RBs away from his side.
That ability will close down cutback lanes and allow the defense to gang tackle on running plays by cutting off the backside. By flattening down, Tuck can also be ready for a cutback run, reverse or rollout because his body is parallel to the LOS. I’m not calling Tuck perfect, nor am I saying he won’t or can’t be suckered but he is demonstrating the ability very early on as a full time DE to never be out of position to make an impact on a play. Tuck rarely loses sight of the play and that combined with his athletic ability, and desire will make him a very capable replacement for the best Giants DL of all time.
Defensive Backs: The starters were once again quiet as the front four made them almost irrelevant. Aaron Ross did have a nice diving stop on a quick out to Donte Stallworth to snuff out a drive early in the first quarter. James Butler alertly picked up a fumble on the Giants 5 yard line and rumbled 95 yards for a score. Terrell Thomas, welcome to Slumpville, population you. After his TD saving special teams tackle, Terrell Thomas had the drive from Hell. On first down, Thomas made a bad read on a route in which he only had one WR on his side. With no TE or RB, the CB has to sink in his zone to close the gap between himself and his deep help but Thomas hesitated and Quinn was able to lob in a pass right over his head for a 26 yard gain. Thomas then missed a tackle in the backfield badly that resulted in a 23 yard run by Jerome Harrison. Later in the same drive, the rookie from USC took a terrible angle on WR Syndric Steptoe’s TD run and failed to stop him from getting into the end zone. Thomas was blocked out of the play initially (that’s bad) but recovered (that’s good!) and made a bad attempt to tackle (that’s bad!).
Kevin Dockery had great position and a near interception, but Syndric Steptoe stayed with the ball and came down with a great TD catch. Dockery HAS to learn to finish plays like that, but excellent coverage as usual by Dockery.
Uh Bud (Kenny Phillips), I didn’t notice much from you save a nice stop at the line of scrimmage on a running play. Next game, can you please separate someone from their helmet? Thanks, your pal Joey.
Special Teams: Ugh, 39.5 yards per kickoff return? Browns return man Josh Cribbs is good but he’s not THAT good. Coverage units will be an issue with so many new players covering kicks this year, until those players get in and take their lumps. Most egregious to me was Bryan Kehl committing the cardinal sin of kick coverage-he turned his back on the return man. Five Three turned his back to the play as he was trying to get back into his lane and was of course dumped on his head as Cribbs flew by. Shoulders square, and NEVER lose sight of the ball Bryan. Kenny Phillips actually made me miss Gibril Wilson on that same return, by flying past the hole instead of breaking down and closing down the return man’s gap. Kids….what are you gonna do? The punt coverage team also got in on the scoring, netting a safety on a blocked punt in the Browns end zone. Domenik Hixon took the ensuing free kick and raced 87 yards for a score, providing yet another weapon this team has in its arsenal. Terrell Thomas gets a nod for his all out effort to make a TD saving tackle on a kick return.
Coaching: Man, we talkin’ bout pre-season…not a game…not a game…pre-season. If it was a game and I missed it, yeah that would be bad, but we talkin bout pre-season. Coach Coughlin had his troops ready to play, as evidenced by the 30-3 face slap issued to the Browns in one quarter, but again, strategy isn’t a big part of these games. Kevin Gilbride’s hair still creeps me out for some reason. It’s like a change purse with fur on it.
JPog (Joey’s Player of the Game) – He’s #87 in your program and #1 in your hearts. Ok it may really depend on how much you like him if he’s #1 in your hearts, he may very well be 2 or 3 if you’re a Tuck guy or a Jacobs lover, maybe even an Eli supporter or two. That’s right folks Domenik Hixon wins it this week going away with 2 spectacular TD grabs where he Toomered his feet perfectly each time and capped off his 3 TD night with an 87 yard kickoff return for a TD. All summer we’ve heard about Hixon’s progress and he has not disappointed so far. At 6-2 Hixon is a big target, and as he showed Monday Night, a fluid target that can cut at full speed and make some damn nice grabs out there. Domenik, your replica Moses Regular jersey is on the way as your prize for winning the JPoG. Wear it with pride.
JBog (Joey’s Bum of the Game) – Rich, Phil, Stan and anyone “in LA” or who pulls for USC (I won’t name names but his handle rhymes with Won See) won’t be happy with me in a moment. Terrell Thomas was just dreadful out there in week 2. Everyone can recall his TD saving pull down on a kickoff return which undoubtedly was an outstanding and athletic play. I just cannot forget that drive in which he gave up 2 big plays and could have stopped a TD. It just hangs in my mind like Dave Brown bowling over Deion Sanders, or Flipper Anderson running…I can’t even type it. Anyway, take heart Thomas fans, the kid is big, fast and physical, he just had a bad night out there. And Terrell, your Carlton Gray replica will be sent to you as punishment.