New York Giants 41 – St. Louis Rams 13
Summary: For at least 30 minutes on Sunday, it appeared as if the Giants were going to let an inferior opponent hang around. Despite out-gaining the Rams 180-58 in the first half, your New York Giants held a slim 13-6 lead and again looked out of sync on offense when it counted. The determined Rams weathered a 97 yard TD march that put the Giants up by 13, countering with a desperate TD grab by Ram wideout Torry Holt that closed the gap again to a slim touchdown lead.
Just as it looked as if the Giants were going to play down to their opponent’s level, New York unloaded with a 21 point explosion that was a shot across the NFL’s bow. Yes it was the Rams, and yes they slipped past a bumbling Redskins team in week one, but make no mistake about this team: it plays as hard and tough as any Giant team before it and has the ability to stand toe to toe with any team in the league.
Just look at the 4th quarter heroes for the Giants to realize how deep this team truly is. Ahmad Bradshaw, an afterthought in week one played he was like shot out of cannon, scoring on 2 straight offensive possessions and looking like the fastest player on the field. 4th WR Domenik Hixon, who has shown uncanny chemistry with QB Eli Manning, hauled in a 32 yard pass that set up Bradshaw’s 2nd TD of the day. Even Justin Tuck, the now well-known Justin Tuck, was playing at DT on his spectacular TD return because the depth on the Giants DL allows him to do so.
Quarterbacks: Eli Manning is a bottom line QB as I’ve mentioned before and his bottom line was an impressive 20-29 for 260 yards and 3 TDs. Before I get caught up in the euphoria of a 41-13 win and pretty stat line, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how bad he looked on a few first-half throws. Sure it’s nitpicking, but not every team is the Rams and there will come a time when Eli has to hit his open WRs because they simply will not be open as often as they were on Sunday afternoon. The former Ole Miss Rebel, Ole Missed badly on a 3rd and 7 to Amani Toomer on the game’s first drive, which ended with a Jeff Feagles punt. Eli came back strong on the second drive of the game going 3-3 for 50 yards and a TD.
Eli’s next drive was the one that worried me the most. Granted it was a 13 play, 59 yard drive that ended in points but 2 out of 6 and a delay of game penalty just looked like the old inconsistent Eli again. Three of Eli’s misses were to Toomer – one badly overthrown, one badly underthrown and one where he simply did not give Toomer the space to go after the ball and allowed a trailing DB to easily swat the ball away. It could still be some rust from the pre-season so I won’t worry yet, but I’m sure Eli wants all of those passes back from that shaky possession.
The next drive was even uglier, but was the Giants only 3 and out for the game. Manning again overthrew Toomer on the far left sideline, but that could have been a function of Toomer not being on the same page with Eli on deeper passes.
Eli AGAIN overshot Toomer (4 in one half!) deep to open the 5th drive of the half as Toomer had a step on CB Tye Hill on what could have been another big gain. But Eli rebounded by going 4 for his next 4 including a slick left handed shot put to Brandon Jacobs (yes he actually caught it) that prevented a sack which would have knocked the Giants out of field goal range. Eli’s inconsistency again forced the Giants to settle for 3 and a 13-6 halftime lead that could easily have been 21-6. That said, #10 did lead us to points in the final two minutes of a half…again.
The overthrow parade CONTINUED in the second half with yes, you guessed it, an overthrow to…say it with me people AMANI TOOMER. Eli did settle down, hitting Burress and Toomer alternately for on 4 of his next 5 passes and a 10 yard play action pass to Toomer to put the Giants ahead 20-6.
Overthrowapalooza aside, Eli had some beauties and again showed how quickly he can escape danger with a funky left handed toss as the first half was expiring that saved about 10 yards in field position and helped the Giants pad a tight 10-7 lead. Among Eli’s most impressive throws was his picture perfect post to Plaxico Burress that set up the game’s first score. Eli saw Burress running deep toward the corner, noticed that FS O.J. Atogwe was overplaying the corner route and threw to the middle of the end zone where Burress galloped into the picture for a gorgeous TD pass. Manning’s perfectly placed sideline toss to Domenik Hixon for 32 yards down the left sideline was a thing of beauty. And finally, a simple play action pass inside the “green zone” to Amani Toomer was a perfectly thrown spiral that hit Amani between the 8 and the 1 to put the Giants up 20-6.
Of course, a good game, good numbers and another uncanny throw under duress, but I want to see Eli consistently hit those deep routes he was missing to Amani Toomer. If those become a weapon in Eli’s arsenal, a consistent weapon, the step up to the next level for this offense will be following right behind.
Running Backs: Brandon Jacobs started a tad shaky as well, getting leveled by undersized LB Pisa Tinoisamoa and gaining 2 yards or less on 8 of his first 10 carries. The Rams came out with the intention to slow down the 265 lb tank, and despite ultimately yielding 93 yards on 15 carries; I have to credit the Rams for really attacking Jacobs and keeping him in check in the first half. Six of Jacob’s first seven carries went left, netting only 16 yards, but clearly offensive signal caller Kevin Gilbride saw something on the left he liked. Credit Gilbride with changing tactics though, as the next four plays called for #27 went right, but still for only 17 yards.
Big Jake or “Earth” if Derrick Ward gets his way, had a paltry 33 yards on 11 carries. True to form though, the Giants kept pounding and the Juggernaut eventually busted a few runs, ripping off a 30 yard rumble off left tackle on the Giants 10 play 97 yard drive that opened the second half. And with the exception of the left-handed toss to Jacobs from Eli, the big half back was not targeted in the passing game. Smart idea if you ask me. Until Jacobs can show the necessary improvement needed as a receiver, there is no need to waste downs.
Derrick Ward provided a great change of pace to Jacob’s early struggles, racking up 58 yards on only 8 carries. Ward’s ability to run inside from spread formations provides a difficult challenge for most defenses who gear up to slow down Jacobs on the edge and hold the point of attack. Once Ward enters the game, the onus is on the LBs to fill inside gaps and prevent Ward from taking off into the second level. Ward’s quickness through the hole seems to cause problems for 2nd level defenders who are gearing up for a bomb from Jacobs, then have to keep on their toes for the slashing Ward. Mixing up the RBs as the Giants have been doing seems akin to following up a pure power pitcher with a crafty lefty reliever and a finishing them off with an explosive closer in Ahmad Bradshaw. Once you catch up to one guy, another style presents itself and you have to adjust how you play your gaps, how quickly you accelerate to a point and how aware you need to be of cutbacks.
Ahmad Bradshaw, welcome to 2008. The mighty mite was unleashed on the Rams in the 4th quarter, to the tune of 5 carries for 52 yards and 1 catch for 18 yards and 2 TDs. Whatever issues Bradshaw had in the preseason appear to be gone as the 2nd year Marshall HB looks as explosive as ever on his 18 yard swing pass that he turned into an easy TD and a 27-13 Giants lead.
Wide Receivers: It was the old vet Amani Toomer who led the Giants in grabs this week, as the Rams predictably doubled his starting counterpart Plaxico Burress. Toomer and Manning failed to connect on some aforementioned deep balls, but did connect for 6 passes for 67 yards and a TD. Toomer still excels on the deep out and crossing routes, but his days as a deep threat may officially be over. Eli’s timing with his faster receivers seems there on the longer throws, but not with Toomer. Stay tuned.
Plaxico Burress (5-81-1TD) absolutely fricasseed, yes I say, I say fricasseed that poor Atogwe kid on his 33 yard TD reception to open the scoring. As Burress raced down the seam, Atogwe bit hard on a corner route fake and Burress just flew by his inside shoulder for an easy TD reception from Manning. Burress pulled a play out of his “How to embarrass Al Harris in 60 Minutes” manual, hauling in a beautifully executed fade stop on the Giants 97 yard marathon that opened the 2nd half. Burress though, did not look nearly as physical run blocking as he has in the past; failing to hold DB Ron Bartell on a 28 yard run by Jacobs that could have gone for more had #17 been a bit more physical.
Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon combined for 5 catches for 79 yards, and both seem to have a great understanding of Manning’s passes and where he is going with the football. Hixon ran a perfect go route down the left sideline that gave Eli just enough room to squeeze the ball in for a 32 yard gain that set up the Giants 2nd TD of the night. Everytime he’s in the game, Hixon makes plays and he is without a doubt developing a chemistry with Eli Manning that should make this offense more dangerous as the year wears on. Hixon even chipped in blocking, throwing his body into a pile on an 11 yard scamper by Bradshaw that helped collapse the edge.
Tight Ends: Kevin Boss and Michael Matthews again failed to register a statistic but were involved early in some early double TE packages that the Giants had trouble moving the ball outside on. Boss did chip much better this week, and made an excellent seal on DE James Hall on one of Jacobs few double digit runs of the day early in the Giants second drive. Boss followed up that block with a key down block on 3rd and one as he collapsed on S Corey Chavous as FB Madison Hedgecock and LG Chris Snee kicked out their men. Granted it was a 200lb safety, but Boss made the block that kept our drive alive. Boss still has to work to do, though as evidenced by his complete ole’ on Eli Manning’s 33 yard TD pass to Burress. Luckily for the Giants, LT David Diehl managed to slide out wide enough to widen the defender’s angle and give Eli an area to step up into.
Boss did suffer the humiliation of being drilled by LB Will Witherspoon on a negated fumble return and had his only grab negated by a Rich Seubert hold. Boss did find a good spot in the Cover-2 zone on the deep left sideline for a near 28 yard gain but #69 did his best to suck the life out of that play with an untimely hold. (I never work blue folks, I just couldn’t help it)
O-Line: Ok Kareem McKenzie, you gave up a sack to a rookie pretty boy from UVa whose dad is a famous pretty boy with an oddly square head. Let that sink in big guy…hurts a little bit eh? I can’t take issue with the rest of the gang who paved the way for 441 total yards, 200 of it on the ground for a ridiculous 6.5 yard per rush average. RG Chris Snee may have cost the Giants a TD on an iffy holding penalty that negated a Derrick Ward run to the goal line near the end of the first half. I’ll let this one go though; it was a typically bad call from a terribly officiated game. Snee more than made up for it with a menacing pull on Jacobs 30 yard rumble in the 3rd quarter. It wasn’t so much Snee’s hitting ability but his speed in getting to the hole and leading Jacobs downfield that was so impressive.
LT David Diehl made an outstanding save on Eli’s first TD pass, sliding out wide to give Eli a pocket to pass from after Boss missed badly on DE James Hall. Not to be outdone, Richie Seubert pulled and shoved Corey Chavous like he wanted his milk money on a Derrick Ward 14 yard scamper in the 3rd quarter. The next time I venture to Rockefeller Center to wade through rubes during Christmas time, I’m going to see if Seubert or Snee can come with me.
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.
DT Barry Cofield made the first stop of the game, flattening out and pursuing well down the LOS to drop Steven Jackson for a 3 yard gain on the game’s first defensive play. Not a significant play, but I thought leading with Justin Tuck again would be too obvious. I may be wordy, verbose and overly loquacious, but I refuse to be obvious. DT Fred Robbins can’t be run on, ok? Stop it, all of you. Don’t make me say it again. Robbins’ bulk belies his ability to explode off the snap, stay low and just wreak havoc on the interior. Robbins notched two sacks from his DT spot and absolutely stymied the Rams interior on running plays.
Justin Tuck IS human, or at least he wants us to THINK he is, but I’m on to him. Tuck turned Marc Bulger’s head around like it was Linda Blair’s vomiting pea soup and cost the Giants a 15 yard face mask penalty that put the Rams in position for an early FG. The dead giveaway? He made LG Adam Goldberg look like Logan Mankins (yes he’s an overrated big mouth and I don’t care for him) as he tossed him aside for a sure sack. My guess, he just felt sorry for the Rams and didn’t want to reveal his true identity as He-Man so he swiped at Bulger to give the Rams a break. Justin Tuck; Bullet Head, Pass Rusher, Humanitarian. My man crush became full blown in the 4th quarter as Tuck, from his nickel pass rushing DT spot, held LG Adam Goldberg up, tipped Bulger’s pass, gathered it and raced 41 yards untouched for a game sealing TD.
RDE Mathias Kiwanuka was clearly hobbled out there, registering no sacks, no tackles…nooo dice! (name the movie, win a prize!). Kiwi will not get dinged in this space, because it was clear he was not himself out there. Filling in often for Kiwi was Renaldo Wynn and at times Jerome McDougle, who combined for 4 tackles and a respectable job in the hobbled Kiwanuka’s place. McDougle made a great read, and most importantly did not lose contain on a shovel, dropping RB Antonio Pittman for a 2 yard loss.
SLB Danny Clark only chipped in with 3 tackles, but he had a yardage saving stop in the open field as he pulled down RB Steven Jackson as the Rams were driving early in the 2nd quarter. So far so good for Clark, who continues to impress despite being new to the defense AND switching sides late in camp. Cranky MLB Antonio Pierce shot inside the A Gap to nab a sack of Marc Bulger and drop the former Mountaineer for a 9 yard loss after a big 3rd down conversion seemed to give the Rams a bit of life. By bit of life, what I of course mean is, they didn’t all look like they wanted to go home and eat hot dogs for about 20 seconds of the first half. WLB Gerris Wilkinson made just one stop.
Film Room Rewind: S James Butler has been beaten up for the better part of a year for being too slow, a poor tackler and weak in coverage, yet all we hear from the coaches is how smart he is. Surely we know more than they do, we are BBI for crying out loud, we INVENTED the 2-9 defense. I’ve been a critic of Butler’s numerous times, but since this pre-season I see a whole new player. Midway through the 3rd quarter, Butler proved just how quick he is to diagnose a play and now that he’s fully healthy, he is showing the speed to make that play.
On a first down at their own 38 yard line, the Rams line up in what appears to be a heavy run set or a very good screen formation. One WR out right, double TEs, a FB as the slot WR on the left and HB Steven Jackson the lone setback (That’s for you Pat Summerall). FB Dan Kreider, then goes in motion to an offset position in front of Jackson right behind the RG, clearly a lead blocker for a run or screen to the right, or so the tricky Rams wanted you to think that. Kreider’s motion forces RCB Aaron Ross to slide in from his RCB slot over to the slot TE on the left just outside of the LT. At the same time LCB Corey Webster backs off knowing he no longer has safety help deep as the FS now has to watch the TE in the slot and the FB out of the backfield. The right side of the defense is left exposed.
At the snap, QB Marc Bulger takes a straight drop back and at the moment Steven Jackson takes his first step, Butler reads it and immediately starts to take an angle to cut down Jackson. As Butler is moving to Jackson, he keeps his eyes on Bulger the whole time and follows the path of the ball right to where Jackson makes the grab, dumping him for a 6 yard loss. Instead of running at Bulger and leaving Jackson free, Butler stayed between the two and forced Bulger to swing the pass out wider than he probably wanted to. In the open field Jackson has a shot to beat Butler and pick up big yardage against a defense that shifted over to guard against the run, but Butler stayed patient at the snap, read Jackson’s route and Bulger’s eyes and made a text book play.
Defensive Backs: Once considered a weakness, this team’s defensive secondary just continues to grow into not only a competent group but a very difficult one to move the football on. S Michael Johnson led the Giants in tackles registering 5 solos and again showing the ability to diagnose a play correctly, take a proper angle and be a force against the run. With DE Mathias Kiwanuka pinned inside, and LB Antonio Pierce taking a bad angle, Rams RB Steven Jackson appeared on his way to nice gain early in the game, but Johnson read the play, came up and leveled Jackson after only a 2 yard gain. My issue with Johnson is plays that come right at him in the open field. He reads the play well, closes with good speed but invariably commits to a side too early instead of breaking down his stride and forcing the runner to pick a side. This little hiccup in Johnson’s game allowed the Rams to convert a 3rd and 16 as Steven Jackson took a checkdown and raced upfield for a first down.
Bu…I mean S Kenny Phillips flashed in the first half, tripping up Steven Jackson as he was racing for a first down late in the first half. Had Phillips not made that tackle, Jackson has plenty of room on the edge. S James Butler chipped in with 4 tackles, none prettier than his drop of Steven Jackson on a swing pass the Butler read PERFECTLY from the snap, dropping Jackson for a 6 yard loss. The play everyone will remember was the TD given up by Phillips when Torry Holt may or may not have pulled down a 45 yard TD over the rookie’s outstretched arms. What you should come away with from that play, is that it’s the EXACT same play Burress roasted Atogwe on. The difference is that Phillips had the speed to recover and be in position to make a play unlike his Ram counterpart who was nowhere near the play. That is scary range my friends.
CB Kevin Dockery (now known in my house as “Hickory Dickory Dockery?” as Mrs. Joey peeked over her Mac Book to dryly toss that one out as she pretended to NOT watch the champs play) flashed early, jumping an out route on 3rd down to swat away a pass and force a punt on the Rams first of many futile possessions. Dockery did however jump the same route in the 3rd quarter, only to watch Ram WR Dane Looker zip past him for a 20 yard gain. Dockery then committed an iffy (in my opinion) pass interference penalty on a 3rd and 11 that would have all but ended the game. Dockery, as most Giant CB these days, read the play right and closed in a flash but was deemed a bit early. CB Aaron Ross gave up a few quick slants to Torry Holt, but more importantly, Ross was right on top of Holt and limited his YAC. Ross continues to be in great position to make plays on nearly every throw that comes his way. If he and Corey Webster continue this ascent, they’ll have to settle the “Who’s Better?” debate the old fashioned way…that’s right…whoever says “I’m Better infinity times infinity” first gets the title of best CB.
Webster once again flew in to bat away a pass on a 2nd and 19 to put the Rams in an insurmountable 3rd and 19 late in the 2nd quarter. Webster is seeing the field as well as any CB in the league and after two games you’d be hard pressed to find one playing as well against the run and the pass as Webster. A legitimate shut down corner could be in the making.
Meh (formerly Special) Teams: I’d like to rename these to Meh Teams, because right now there is nothing special about our coverage or return units. I watch our kickoff returns and just assume there is a quarter glued to the 20 yard line that Ahmad Bradshaw can’t wait to investigate. Domenik Hixon did rip off a 50 yard return but that was ALL Hixon effort and all Ram quit. On the plus side, the return yardage was minimal but that’s a function of the Rams using the way back machine and using Dante Hall on kick and punt returns. Who is next, Brian Mitchell, maybe Mel Gray is free these days?
Coaching: Tom Coughlin’s team played hard from whistle to whistle. Most importantly the Giants were able to avoid any type of letdown against what had been touted and subsequently proven to be a very poor Rams team. Credit Coughlin for keeping this team focused and not getting too full of itself. Defensive signal caller Steve Spagnuolo again dialed up the right blitzes and personnel packages holding the Rams to 201 net yards and racking up 6 sacks. Good job as well by OC Kevin Gilbride, who mixed his running backs perfectly and kept the Rams on their heels for four quarters.
JPog (Joey’s Player of the Game) – Conventional wisdom says Justin Tuck, he of the 3 solo tackles, 2 sacks and ridiculous TD in the 4th quarter. I’m not sure I can just hand it to Tuck after seeing Bradshaw ice the game, then Tuck ice the game then Bradshaw ice the game again. That’s thrice ice if you’re counting at home. Ok, it has to be Tuck, who dominated the line of scrimmage for four quarters and made the game’s most athletic play but I want to give the runner up to Bradshaw. It was like Arnold and Danny DeVito in “Twins” in my mind, but Tuck gets the nod. Justin, enjoy your He-Man Iron On t-shirt AND George Martin throwback jersey for your efforts. For Ahmad, I’ll toss in a “Twins” Iron On t-shirt and a “Taxi” lunchbox.
JBog (Joey’s Bum of the Game) – Nope, not this week, at least not a Giant. I have to hand it to Rams coach Scott Linehan, who was a terrible offensive coordinator turned terrible head coach. How on Earth does this man have a job? His team quit on him and never really looked interested on the field. Scott, you have your choice of a Rich Kotite bobble head doll, Ray Handley stop watch or a Bobby Petrino promise ring. You stink.