New York Giants 26 – Cincinnati Bengals 23 (OT)
Summary: In a see-saw battle at the Meadowlands, it took the Giants an extra stanza to dispatch of the desperate 0-2 Bengals and head into the bye week 3-0. If you’re keeping score at home, after our 0-2 start in 2007, the Giants are 17-4 over their last 21 games. Not a bad record for a bunch of lucky overachievers huh?
Coming into week 3 most Giant fans, I among them, believed the Bengals were going to be drummed out of the Meadowlands by halftime by our rabid defense and earth shaking ground game. I admire the Bengals General Custer like stand, but in the end the more talented and more confident team prevailed thanks to yet another Eli Manning 4th quarter TD drive and a game winning FG drive in overtime. It was not easy and it certainly was not pretty with the Bengals putting the Giants in their first hole of the young season at 3-0 after a solid 12 play 59 yard drive on the games 4th possession. Immediately countering with an 80 yard drive that seemed to restore order at 7-3, the Giants uncharacteristically gave up a 25 yard TD run by Chris Perry that capped an impressive 74 play drive that again put the Bengals ahead at 10-7.
The Giants trailed 13-10 at the half and finally took the lead at 16-13 early in the 4th quarter but as was the norm the Bengals roared right back with another long drive that chewed up 82 yards in just under 7 minutes to put the G-men in a precarious 20-16 hole. Eli saved the day as usual though, leading a TD drive that ended with a bullet to Kevin Boss and covering 62 yards in 1:49 in OT to put K John Carney in position for the win.
Quarterbacks: Eli Manning just wins football games. Put the ball in his hands late in the game or in overtime and Eli finds a way to get it done. The confidence Eli has with the game on the line is bordering on uncanny and the confidence it gives his teammates is a deadly weapon to have in the NFL. It didn’t start well offensively, as Eli and his merry men struggled for 27 yards on the first two drives. The 3rd drive was a charm though as my favorite Manning led his charges on a 9 play 80 yard TD drive in which he was 4 for 5 for 47 yards with his only incompletion being a drop by Plaxico Burress. Eli went 1-3 on his next drive for 26 yards and just missed a TD to Plaxico Burress as Burress’ feet were out by inches in the back right corner of the end zone.
To put Manning’s late game feat into perspective, consider that on the Giants final three drives in the 4th quarter and OT, Eli went 9 for 15 for 116 yards, 1 TD and one game winning FG drive.
Running Backs: Brandon Jacobs had a rough go of it Sunday afternoon, only picking up 35 yards on 14 carries and continually being stuffed on the edge by a surprisingly spry and active Bengals’ defense. Jacobs started ok, picking up a first down right off the bat on 2nd and 1 and 5 yards on the next play to give the Giants a very manageable 2nd and 5. The very job he used to do exclusively though, he failed on during the Giants’ first drive as he was stacked up on a dive play by ex-Giant Dhani Jones. (More on how the Bengals stymied Jacobs in the FRR). Jacobs best runs came when he was patient, waited for the Bengals to penetrate and then chose where to go but it was a constant boxing match all day.
Marvin Lewis and company clearly had every intention of not letting Jacobs get the offense started, as he is prone to do. The Giants’ offense, specifically its OL feeds off of Jacobs’s intensity and once he gets rolling this team is hard to contain on the ground and the air as the threat of play action comes into the picture. With Jacobs struggling, suddenly play action is an afterthought and you’re literally playing man on man football out there with little hope of holding LBs and DBs with the play action.
Luckily for the G-Men, when the Beast can’t find any traction they can turn to Derrick Ward, whose exceptional lateral quickness and fluidity pose a problem for defenders who are digging in to slow down Jacobs. Ward started off with a 22 yard run over right tackle, and proceeded to pound out runs of 9, 8, 9, 14 and 22 yards on a day when Brandon Jacobs longest run WAS a 9 yarder. Overall “Wind”…or “Fire” (the debate rages on but if it was me, I’d pick Fire as no one wants to be Wind. Imagine Bob Papa using the nicknames…”Wind breaks a big one, and no one was anywhere near him, first down New York”…) finished with 80 yards on 9 carries and gave the Giants ground game the spark it desperately needed after Brandon Jacobs found little room to operate.
Ahmad Bradshaw was again oddly underused, only touching the ball 3 times for 7 yards, but made the most of his only catch. #44 leaped high in the middle on a 1st down pass from Manning to snag the pass and make something out of nothing.
Wide Receivers: Steve Smith started the game strong hauling in Eli’s first two passes, and finished with 7 grabs for 60 yards. More notably though, was that Smith was targeted on four 3rd down plays, converting two and falling short by one yard on the other two. Smith’s consistency on 3rd down and his ability to find soft spots in the defense are making him yet another valuable member of the Giants’ offensive attack and someone defenses are going to have to account for eventually if he keeps getting open on big 3rd downs. Smith’s best play was a 15 yard jaunt on a nifty slip screen he ran, slipping past blocks from Domenik Hixon and Plaxico Burress on a 3rd and 14 that kept the Giants drive alive long enough for John Carney to boot big blue to a 16-13 lead early in the 4th quarter. Amani Toomer appeared to make a bad sight adjustment on the first pass he saw from Eli, but just like the rest of the team, Amani made the plays he had to make in crunch time. Toomer finished with a solid 5 grabs for 64 yards, none more important or impressive than his tip toe job on a 31 yard pass on 3rd and 10 in overtime that put the Giants in position for the win.
Eli’s favorite toy, Plaxico Burress was rudely taken away by the Bengals, presumably because Eli wasn’t sharing again. Burress was held to 3 catches for 45 yards, but like the rest of his teammates he made the play when it mattered hauling in a perfect Manning pass for a 28 yard gain on the 2nd play of the Giants’ game winning drive. Burress did drop a catchable dig on the Giants first scoring drive. Domenik Hixon might be my next man crush, despite appearing to have a mediocre 3 catch 29 yard effort. Hixon fought Mark Ingram style for a first down on his first catch, a 12 yard gain that required #87 to fight through two tackles to make the yard marker.
Tight Ends: Eli, this is Kevin, Kevin, meet Eli. Kevin Boss appeared on the stat sheet finally, hauling in 3 passes for 51 yards and a go ahead TD in the 4th quarter when his team needed him most. Boss’ first real grab of the year was a 21 yard strike that Boss looked in beautifully and held on to. As has been the case since pre-season game 1, Boss’ blocking continues to improve. Boss again had a big gain despite being held by LB Rashan Jeanty on a pretty crossing route that gained 26 yards. Michael Matthews had some issues on the edge early when the Bengals ran some funky fronts but as a lead blocker from H-Back/Full back spot, Matthews continues to pack a wallop.
O-Line: This is where this week’s review gets interesting. Ordinarily I’d look to Eli or the WRs as to why a drive failed, or perhaps a missed blitz pickup by a RB but right out of the gate, the OL failed to pave the way for a 3rd and 1 run on the Giants’ first possession. Upon first glance it appeared that Madison Hedgecock failed to seal off LB Dhani Jones, but even if Hedgecock makes that block, Jacobs has no hole to run through. RG Chris Snee failed to hold his block on DT John Thornton who combined with Jones to snuff out the play. I can’t kill the guys though, they did not give up a sack on the day, but Eli was hurried more than is usual.
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.
The Giants fearsome defensive line started off strong, with the seemingly healthy Mathias Kiwanuka exploding past RT Levi Jones to force QB Carson Palmer up in the pocket and into the chubby waiting arms of DT Fred Robbins. In fact, all four starters landed on Palmer as he came crashing down for the game’s first of six sacks. Robbins notched two sacks for the 2nd consecutive week and was as usual holding the point of attack seemingly by himself. Robbins was held more than a newborn at a Grandma Convention, though and was absolutely mauled on Chris Perry’s bogus 25 yard TD run. I’m not one to complain (yes I am), but Robbins’ facemask was practically ripped off and S Michael Johnson was being held at the POA to the point that he was totally turned around as he tried to pursue Perry downfield. Teams just don’t run on the Giants like that unless someone missed an assignment badly and in this case it was the officials BADLY missing one hands to the face and one blatant hold. (Former offensive lineman and frequent holder turned annoying broadcaster Dan Dierdorf called it “getting caught up in the wash” which must be idiot for “wow did you see that holding?”)
The rest of the game would not be as easy as the first drive as the Bengals put together five scoring drives. Early on, aggressiveness was the Giants friend and foe as DE Justin Tuck lost contain on Chris Perry 12 yard run on the Bengals first scoring drive. Tuck played a fairly quiet game by his standards coming up with 4 total tackles and no sacks but he’s becoming a marked man and will have to learn how to deal with that in coming weeks as the competition improves. Carson Palmer took advantage of the Giants man coverage and pass rush, ducking a pressure from Kiwanuka and rambling for a 15 yard gain on 3rd and 10 to give the Bengals a 1st goal at the Giants 6. With tight man coverage, those big holes will appear in the middle of the field if the front four does get to the QB, something to keep in mind when we face more mobile QBs down the road. I’m not thinking of one QB in particular, or even two, but maybe one who likes Chunky Soup, complaining, and tight silver pants or one with a goofy smile, dimwitted girlfriend, and crying WR at his side. No one in particular mind you, just…just thoughts.
Kiwanuka notched his only sack on a big 3rd down play as the first half was winding down, again flying around LT Levi Jones and dropping Carson Palmer.
DE Dave Tollefson did notch a sack but was badly kicked out on Perry’s TD run and too often rushed upfield and flew right past the pocket. I love Tollefson’s hustle, but he needs to play with better leverage and stop thinking he’s Frankie Ferrara II out to “smash puny QBs dead…hmmph!” Tollefson is a solid rotational player but his aggressiveness and inability to anchor against the run will be a liability.
Barry Cofield started to heat up as well, coming up with 4 tackles, a sack, and one batted ball (ouch). Cofield’s sack was an impressive play, chasing down Carson Palmer from behind and just tripping up the Bengal QB as he was running out of the pocket.
MLB Antonio Pierce collected a game high 13 tackles. I say collected because it wasn’t like he was all over the field, I guess he just kind of meandered his way to that many tackles like an old lady picking up change on the street.
Film Room Rewind: Something jumped out at me when the 30th ranked run defense in the NFL suddenly toughened up and stuffed Brandon Jacobs and one of the NFL’s very best running attacks on the Giants’ first drive of the game. More guys than you can block at the POA, pretty simple really. Maybe I don’t notice it in other games, but on the very first series of the game, with the Giants offense facing a very manageable 3rd and 1 against a porous defense, the Bengals broke out the famed “Desert Swarm” front also known as the Double Eagle Flex alignment. There are variations on the front as with any formation, but essentially the idea is to have a nose tackle lined up on the center’s weakside, use two tackles in a “3″ technique, stretch one DE out wide of the formation and have a “Flex” player at or near the line of the scrimmage to act as a 5th down lineman/extra LB. Early on, the Bengals used this front to really confound the Giants’ blocking schemes, and for the first time this season the OL looked a bit confused on who to block.
The “strong side” of the formation where the DE lines up wide seeks to clamp down the edge and force plays back inside where the NT is tying up the center and preventing him from reaching the second level by lining up on his weak shoulder (the non snapping hand generally). Brandon Jacobs tested the strong side on 3rd and 1 on the Giants’ first possession only to find MLB Dhani Jones in his gap as center Shaun O’Hara was unable to make the reach block after being tied up by NT Domata Peko.
The “weak side” of the formation seemingly invites you to run to it, with only one DL playing between the OG and the OT and only two LBs to hold the edge. The problem is that if the DE is able to slip that block and re-route the RB outside where an unblocked SS and LB await your run goes nowhere. This is precisely what happened on the Giants’ second drive when Jacobs was stuffed for a 2 yard gain on 2nd and 9 after DE Robert Geathers knifed between Snee and McKenzie forcing Jacobs wider than he should have gone and he was taken down in the hole by backside pursuit.
Defensive Backs: Statistically speaking a rough day for the usually solid secondary, on the surface anyway. Carson Palmer had by far his best outing of the year, throwing for 286 yards, 1 TD, and no INTs, despite being sacked 6 times. When your top three CBs combine for 22 tackles and 5 of your top 6 tacklers for the game are from the secondary, it really means one thing – your opponent threw the ball all day long. Indeed Palmer and the Bengals did just that, attempting 45 of their 72 plays through the air, clearly indicating an intention to exploit the Giants secondary.
When you consider that 62.5% of the time the Bengals were airing it out and they only gained 5.4 yards per pass (6.7 for Eli and Company), the secondary actually did its job fairly well. CB Corey Webster flew in on an early blitz to kill the Bengals first drive, and finished with 8 tackles, a sack and one forced fumble. CB Aaron Ross was busy with 5 tackles and he combined with S Michael Johnson on a key 3rd down stop inside the 5 to topple TE Reggie Kelly and force the Bengals to settle for a FG. CB Kevin Dockery had a tough time containing WR Antonio Chatman and the entire secondary had trouble with Houshma…zadamama…adaeh. Why can’t that idiot change his name, NOO, it’s the guy named Johnson who pulls that, not the guy with 47 letters in his surname. Dockery did make a TD saving play by ripping the ball out of TE Daniel Coates’ hands and as always played well in the running game, coming up on two great stops, dumping Chris Perry and DeDe Dorsey on a point-less drive late in the 3rd quarter. Even old man Sam Madison made a play when he had to, as he swatted away a 3rd and 8 pass from Palmer in OT that forced the Bengals to punt tripping up Chris Perry on a 2nd and 14.
S James Butler went 1 for 2 against talented WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (the TV is paused and his name is on the screen otherwise I’d have called him #84 or awful hair), knocking away one end zone pass and just missing another on the Bengals go ahead drive in the 4th quarter. S Kenny Phillips had a great strip of Chad Ocho Stupido to keep the Bengals at bay late in the first half.
The Bengals seemed content to throw short and let their WRs do the damage, but once the Giants DBs caught on, the RAC yards were limited and all in all the Giants DBs did a a solid job considering that they were targeted over 60% of the game.
Special Teams: The coverage units weren’t awful, holding KR Glenn Holt to a 19 yard average on kick returns, but the kudos go to K John Carney, who just seems automatic on field goals, going 4 for 4 with the overtime winner. On the season, Carney is 9 for 9 on field goals and I pray seriously making Tom Coughlin think first about cutting him for the rapidly healing Lawrence Tynes.
Coaching: Tom Coughlin won’t hear any mess about his team coming out flat, but if the Giants were a chick, they’d have been k.d. Lang on Sunday: Flat, boring, and incredibly hard to look at for very long. In my experience though, that’s not on the coaches, it’s merely the up and down mental aspect of football. Some games you just cannot get into the game as you usually do, no matter who yells, screams or tries to inspire. The team wasn’t ill prepared, they just didn’t bring their A game, and that will happen. The key though, is that when the game was on the line, Kevin Gilbride put the keys in Eli’s hands and he delivered the game winner. Steve Spagnuolo’s defense did get beaten at times to the tune of a season high 347 yards, but again when it mattered most his unit (teehee) did its job, holding the Bengals to a critical 3 and out in OT.
Despite the win though, I thought Gilbride was a bit too reliant on Brandon Jacobs early, though in his defense that patience eventually paid off last week vs. the Rams after Jacobs started very slowly. Derrick Ward was by far more effective against the 8 and 9 man fronts than Jacobs was and I would have liked to see Ahmad Bradshaw get his crack a bit earlier to expose the Bengals lack of speed on defense.
JPog (Joey’s Player of the Game) - It has to be Easy E, no one else really stood out in this game and when we had to have a score, Eli finds a way. Ernie Accorsi may have done some silly things in his time, and sure no one needs to hear another Bert Jones or John Elway story but the “magic” he saw Eli is real. It’s not that cheap pull my finger type of magic that I dazzle my nieces and nephews with either, it’s an intangible quality that after watching Eli play, you just start to see. For his efforts, Eli will be given an Ernie Accorsi replica hairpiece (yeah I’ve heard it’s real I don’t buy it though).
JBog (Joey’s Bum of the Game) - It’s not as easy to be mean as you guys think it is. At heart, I’m a super terrific happy fun guy, but I suppose it must be done. Brandon Jacobs, come on down and receive your JBoG. You did nothing wrong pal, the Bengals just game planned for you but you netted 35 yards on 14 carries for a 2.5 ypc average AND you let another pass bounce off of your hands. Sure you scored a TD and for that I will give you credit but you were shut down completely and didn’t seem to be the usual exuberant super terrific happy fun back that you normally are. Your punishment this week, is to wear an “I’m no Christian Okoye” T-Shirt.