Oct 162008
 
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Cleveland Browns 35 – New York Giants 14

By Joey in VA for BigBlueInteractive.com

Summary: If I showed you the box score of the Giants’ first loss of the season and you had just woken up from a 3 day nap, you would swear the teams were reversed and I’d be asking you what you took that knocked you out for 72 hours.  The Browns used a very Giant like approach, holding the ball for nearly 32.5 minutes, committing zero turnovers, giving up zero sacks and rushing for 144 yards while using a balanced run/pass ratio to perfection.

Eli Manning had his first clunker of the year, tossing three interceptions, and in all honesty costing the Giants any chance at winning with the turnovers.  Not that Giants’ defense helped much either, after surrendering a mind boggling 454 yards to a team that committed 10 penalties and continued to shoot itself in the foot.  As others, including our fearless editor Eric have pointed out, this was just a strange game with the Giants rushing for 181 yards and averaging 7.1 yards per carry and losing.  A lot of fingers have been and will be pointed at offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, but the fall guy for this effort should be everybody’s wonder boy, Steve Spagnuolo.

Spagnuolo’s defense has been the talk of the town since the Giants’ playoff run last year, but against a team with a physical offensive line and RBs and homerun ability at WR the Giants looked rather overmatched at times.  Give the Browns credit, they came to play and dominated the line of scrimmage, but they may have also exposed a glaring weakness in this defense: an inability to stand in and stop the run when it’s coming right at you.  Spag’s crew was lit up for 144 yards on 30 carries and allowed the Browns to convert on 9-of-13 3rd downs.

On the re-watch though, despite the defense being carved up, this was a game that hinged on a few big plays: catches of 49 and 70 yards by WR Braylon Edwards, a 94 yard INT return by CB Eric Wright, a 33 yard reverse by Jerome Harrison, and 3 Manning interceptions.  All of the big plays went the Browns’ way and all of the big miscues belonged to the normally mistake proof Giants.  Give the Cleveland Browns credit though, when they had a 20-14 lead midway through the 3rd quarter, they chewed up 87 yards in 14 plays to put the game away at 27-14.

Quarterbacks: Eli Manning had a rough evening, tossing three interceptions and killing the Giants comeback hopes when he coughed up his third to CB Eric Wright as the Giants were driving with a chance to cut the lead to a single score in the 4th quarter.  Overall Eli completed 64% of his passes and managed a TD, but his turnovers were the story of the night.

Early on things looked promising as Eli and the Giants marched 41 yards in 6 plays before Manning’s first uh-oh of the evening.  Manning fired a deep pass to WR Plaxico Burress, but failed to look off safety Brodney Pool, who stepped in easily for the interception down the seam.  Had Manning looked Pool off, or even led Burress a tad more down the post route he was running, the INT could have been avoided.  Just a bad throw by Eli.

Eli did bounce back to give the Giants a brief 7-3 lead, hitting Kevin Boss on a 24 yard seam pass, and Steve Smith on a critical 3rd and 4, as Eli and the gang marched 58 yards in just 6 plays en route to a Brandon Jacobs 7 yard TD run.

On the Giants’ 3rd possession, Manning then under threw Burress yet again on a deep sideline pass that saw Burress open down the left sideline on a 2nd and 16 midway through the 2nd quarter.  Manning bounced back well on the Giants’ final drive of the first half, going 6-8 for 65 yards and a TD, including four straight completions to Steve Smith that racked up 56 yards.  Manning spotted S Brodney Pool lined up on Smith and was able to exploit that matchup in the slot four straight times.  Eli nearly ended the drive with a silly turnover though as DT Corey Williams swatted away the loosely held ball that would have been a turnover were it not for a defensive holding call against the Browns.  Despite that near disaster though, number 10 was once again effective in the 2 minute drill.  Manning was able to make the right reads and make good throws and lead his offense down the field to narrow the Browns’ lead from 10 to 3 as the first half expired.

That momentum ended abruptly as Manning ended the Giants’ first drive of the 3rd quarter in just one play.  Manning had Plaxico Burress wide open again on the post, but Manning rushed his throw, threw off his back foot, failed to follow through and the result was a pass that drifted outside and was picked off.  This was simply a matter of rushing the throw and not paying attention to mechanics.  The play was good, the route was good, the protection was good…but Eli flubbed the throw.

Running Backs: Brandon Jacobs came out charging, banging out 18 yards on 3 carries on the Giants’ opening drive before Eli’s turnover killed that effort.  Jacobs banged in a TD from 7 yards out, using S Mike Adams like his own personal welcome mat on his way to the end zone.  Once again Jacobs played well grinding up 67 yards on 14 carries which may seem pedestrian at first glance, but that is still a hearty 4.7 ypc average.  Derrick Ward led the Giants with 101 yards on 10 carries and again showed how explosive he can be out of the spread formation and on inside runs.  Ward immediately came in and banged out a 17 yard run and added runs of 13, 15 and 18 yards in the 4th quarter as the Giants attempted to claw back into the game.

Wide Receivers: If there was a star on the offense in a 21 point defeat, it would be 2nd year WR Steve Smith, who pulled in 9 passes for 94 yards.  Smith came up huge in the Giants final drive of the first half, pulling down four straight grabs for 56 yards and four straight first downs that propelled the Giants to their second and final TD of the evening.  Coming off of his two week hiatus, WR Plaxico Burress pulled down 4 grabs for 58 yards and a late first half TD.  With Amani Toomer lined up wide left and Burress in the slot, Toomer ran a short drag underneath, and Burress popped outside for a 3 yard TD grab.  (Author’s Note no one will believe: Once I saw Burress in the slot, and noticed that LCB Eric Wright followed WR Domenik Hixon when he went in short motion from the top of the formation, I was yelling for Burress to make an out cut from the slot since I knew he then had man coverage on him.  Terry Cousin on Burress = We Win every time).

Domenik Hixon, relegated to the bench upon Burress’ return, was only able to make one catch for six yards and was pretty much a non factor in the game.

Tight Ends: Kevin Boss continued his improving run blocking and ran a terrific seam route for 24 yards on the Giants first TD drive of the night.  Blocking TE Michael Matthews hauled in a 13 yard pass from Manning early and once again blocked like a 3rd OT as the Giants churned out another impressive running performance.

Matthews and Boss both lined up on the left side and both made outstanding blocks on the second level to lead the way for Jacobs’ 7 yard TD run in the 2nd quarter.  Boss made what may be his best block yet when he lined up inside of Matthews and sealed off 325-pound DT Louis Leonard inside, as Matthews kicked out MLB Andra Davis and big #27 just followed the lane to the end zone.  Give credit to TE coach Mike Pope on that play, as both of his big TEs played pivotal roles in getting the Beast into the end zone.

O-Line: While watching the game the first time around, I thought the OL played a sub par game, mostly due to seeing DT Shaun Rogers clobber Manning twice and clearly trying to injure the Giants’ signal caller.  But with emotion removed, it was a different story.  Coming into the game, the Giants had averaged 181.3 yards per game and this night was right on par, as the OL paved the way for 181 yards and a ridiculous 7.1 yard per carry average.  Early on, they paved the way for three straight Derrick Ward runs that netted 23 yards and put the Giants in striking distance of their first TD.  Once again, OGs Chris Snee and Rich Seubert led the way on a beautifully executed 17 yard run by Ward on the Giants first TD drive.

Seubert did however struggle with corpulent DT Shaun Rogers in the passing game, twice giving up big hits on Eli by the rotund Rogers and costing the offense 10 yards on a hold on one of them.  OC Shaun O’Hara also had trouble containing Rogers, and was late to block CB Terry Cousin on a 3rd and 16 pass to Derrick Ward that went nowhere.

Manning did generally have ample time to throw, but was rocked a few times by Rogers.  Other than the few shots Eli took and the one sack given up the OL played a good game as they usually do.  The passing game was just slightly off and the big guys up front kept the Giants offense marching most of the night.

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.

Useless, the Giants’ front 7 was completely useless in Cleveland on Monday Night.  Not one player made an impact as the Giants were literally man handled by a 1-3 team that had its season hanging in the balance.  Right off the bat, the Giants gave up a 9 play 69 yard drive that put the Browns up 3-0, a lead that eventually grew to an embarrassing 21 point defeat.  As a fan, you kept waiting and waiting for the Giants’ vaunted DL to wake up and make a play but it just never happened.  No one player was really at fault and it just has to be said – the Browns outhit and out-executed the Giants front 7 all night long.  On the Browns first drive of the night, it was clear they wanted to establish the run, complete short passes and keep the Giants from being able to get into good pass rushing situations.  Luckily for the Giants, the Browns killed themselves with a penalty and a bobbled snap inside the 20 and had to settle for a FG.

On the Browns’ second drive of the night, on a 3rd and 2 near midfield, the Giants had a chance to make a stand and failed miserably as Jamal Lewis easily picked up 3 yards inside, but this was not a player failure, it was a coaching disaster as the A and B gaps on the right side of the Browns formation were totally uncovered, allowing the Browns’ interior lineman to attack the Giants LBs and DBs and easily pick up a key first down.

No pressure was applied yet again on the Browns 3rd possession as Derek Anderson had not only single coverage on Braylon Edwards, but all the time in the world to loft a pass to his favorite target en route to a 70 yard gain.  The pass rush on that play…MIA as the Browns once again outfoxed Steve Spagnuolo and dared his gambling defense to stand up in man to man coverage.

DTs Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins were double-teamed all night long on inside runs and their biggest mistake was not playing sound fundamental football.  It’s an often repeated saying in football, “The low man wins”, and it was as true as it has ever been against the Browns.  Both Robbins and Cofield were doubled at the POA on the Browns opening drive and instead of staying low, anchoring and keeping the blockers occupied, both stood upright and tried to squeeze through the double team, leaving their LBs and DBs hung out to dry.  When guards and centers are getting to the second level consistently, the DTs are just not doing their jobs.  DT Jay Alford made little impact yet again but was able to jump up and knock down a 2nd and 13 throw

DE Justin Tuck led the Giants front 7 with 5 tackles, but was held sackless for the game.

RDE Mathias Kiwanuka faced who is perhaps the best OT in the NFL these days in Joe Thomas and Kiwi was a non factor all night.  Kiwanuka not only got stonewalled by Thomas in the passing game, but was suckered badly when KR Josh Cribbs lined up at QB and dashed over left end for a 12 yard game as Kiwi bit on a terrible dive fake to Jamal Lewis and took himself completely out of the play.  Again misreading a play, Kiwi completely took himself out of the action on a 33 yard reverse early in the 3rd quarter.  It was once again Josh Cribbs in the game that must have flustered Kiwanuka, as Cribbs took an end around and tossed to Harrison, who zipped by the now confused defensive end.

LB Chase Blackburn had to fill in for MLB Antonio Pierce at times and it was not pretty.  Blackburn got eaten alive on a 3rd and 2 on a Jamal Lewis run right at him and on the same drive missed an open field tackle on TE Steve Heiden that could have forced a punt.  Luckily Phil Dawson missed a 51 yard FG on said drive, but Blackburn’s failure was a theme for the entire evening – just a step too late.  Not that Pierce fared much better, as he was victimized by former Giant TE Darnell Dinkins on a 22 yard TD play that put the Browns up 10 in the 2nd quarter.  Once again, the Browns took advantage of a Giants’ weakness – coverage by Pierce.  On this play, the Giants rightly lined up in a Cover 2 to limit any downfied passes into the end zone.  The problem with the Cover 2 down there is that your MLB is responsible for following anyone who releases down the middle of the field and Dinkins was easily able to outrun the injured, aging Pierce for a TD right down the middle.

LB Bryan Kehl took over once Gerris Wilkinson left the game and immediately made two stops on Jamal Lewis on back to back plays as the Browns were driving early in the 3rd quarter.  On one drive, Kehl had the same number of stops that Wilkinson did in the entire first half.  Wilkinson didn’t play all that poorly and was in position on the plays I focused on, but just didn’t finish the plays.  If Wilkinson misses any significant time, I have little doubt that Kehl will be supplanting him permanently and will be a big upgrade by the end of the season.

Film Room Rewind: Given that watching this game once made me want to puke and watching it again made me want to puke again, I wanted to get the FRR out of the way early.

On the Browns’ second drive of the night, on a 3rd and 2, Steve Spagnuolo gave his defense almost no chance to succeed.  His best run stopping DE, Justin Tuck, lined up at RDT which ordinarily gives offenses fits but this was a short yardage conversion not a pass rushing situation, so the defensive call was just mind boggling.  At Tuck’s spot at LDE was Jerome McDougle, who is nowhere near Tuck’s equal, especially when it comes to collapsing down the LOS and making a stop in the running game.

If the formation below makes ANY sense with my crude attempt at illustrating, you can see that in a short yardage situation, the Giants used 6 DBs, 1 LB and 4 DL to try and stop a 230lb HB on 3rd and 2.  At the snap, LB Chase Blackburn (57) and S Michael Johnson (20) were in great position to make a play, lined up in both “A” gaps, as was S Kenny Phillips (21) (who ended up making the stop).  The problem though, is that both were 1-2 yards off the ball and were just blasted out of the hole by C Hank Fraley and RG Rex Hadnot as Phillips dove in and tried to stop HB Jamal Lewis.  In my humble opinion, this is an example of Spagnuolo over-thinking the situation instead of trying to stuff the run with his players best suited to do so.  Where was DT Barry Cofield?  Why was Tuck not in at LDE to anchor his side of the line?  Why are Chase Blackburn, Michael Johnson and Kenny Phillips expected to take on interior OL, defeat their blocks and bring down Jamal Lewis in short yardage?

In theory, this formation should be able to stop a short run and defend against the pass, but this is an example of just over-thinking and trying to be too cute on defense.  I get the reasoning behind it, it was a 3 WR set with no FB and the Browns had been using short passes, but you simply cannot just allow a team to shove you around on the ground and pick up easy first downs.  This was a situation that called for man on man, trench warfare and Spagnuolo blew it having his best run stoppers either out of position or off the field entirely.

Defensive Backs: CB Aaron Ross had the worst game of his young career, watching helplessly as WR Braylon Edwards easily flew past him for his best game of the season.  Right off the bat, Edwards hauled in a slant when the Giants rushed 7 men on 3rd and 4 and raced out of Ross’ grasp for a 49 yard gain.  Luckily for the Giants, S James Butler read the slant from the opposite side of the field and was able to track Edwards down and prevent a score.  Ross did have air tight coverage on WR Donte’ Stallworth on a 3rd and 13 that forced the Browns to attempt a FG early in the first half.  Ross was then torched by Edwards again on a 70 yard bomb on the Browns 1st TD drive of the game.  Edwards gave Ross a slight out move, and then raced past him inside for a play the Giants usually just don’t give up.  Ross then got juked again by WR Syndric Steptoe one play before the Browns took a 17-7 lead and fell once again on Braylon Edwards’ TD grab that wrapped up the Browns’ offensive scoring.

Butler may save more big gains then any player on this team.  He chased down Edwards on his 49 yard catch and run and flew in to stop Jamal Lewis who had plenty of daylight ahead of him on a 3 yard run in the 2nd quarter.  Butler then saved Ross’ bacon again on a 20 yard pass to Syndric Steptoe that would have been a TD if not for Butler’s tackle.  Butler did bite badly on the Josh Cribbs to Jerome Harrison reverse, losing any outside contain en route to Harrison’s 33 yard romp down the left sideline.  S Kenny Phillips continues to see more time, and makes a few nice stops per game.  As with Kehl, I suspect #21 will be more effective as the season wears on and he really learns his role in the defense.

CB Corey Webster, who I thought should have been on Braylon Edwards, once again played a solid game.  Webster read a bubble screen to Josh Cribbs on the Browns’ 2nd possession and swatted the ball away before the speedy Cribbs could get his hands on the ball.  Webster was also beaten by Edwards on a slant, but the difference was that Webster trailed his man and held him to a 10 yard gain instead of a 49 yarder that Ross gave up.  Even when he gives up a catch, Webster limits the yards after it.

Special Teams:  John Carney hit both of his extra points, Jeff Feagles punted twice, and the Giants coverage units held Josh Cribbs to 22 yards on one KOR and 3 yards on one punt return.  Again, not very special and not very exciting.  This section may go the way of the do-do if someone doesn’t block something or run something back soon.

Coaching:  Steve Spagnuolo’s defense got carved up to the tune of 454 yards and 28 offensive points, forced no punts and had no sacks.  What made the Browns’ offense so successful was their ability to negate the Giants’ pass rush with quick throws, and running right at the exotic fronts Spags trots out in short yardage.  This was a simple case of the Browns playing power football up front, getting rid of the ball quickly in the passing game and the Giants having no answer for either.  I was also bothered by seeing the smaller, faster CB Aaron Ross covering physical WR Braylon Edwards far too often.  Edwards was the Browns’ only true weapon with Kellen Winslow out, and should have had Corey Webster stick to him all game long.  Spagnuolo also inexplicably had hobbled MLB Antonio Pierce playing in a cover 2 formation at the Giants’ 22 yard line, and he was embarrassingly beaten by TE Darnell “Yummy” Dinkins (That’s for you HopeJ!!).  Pierce had no business covering the deep middle on a bad wheel, much less when he’s at 100%.

I really cannot and will not blame Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride.  His team ran for 181 yards, and had Manning been on target we might be talking about another huge game for this offense.  Manning badly missed Burress deep on post routes twice, but those plays were open and probably scores or big gains if Manning is on target.  Instead both get intercepted.

The Giants again were able to drive down for a TD as the first half expired and drove inside the Browns 10 yard line twice in the 4th quarter, both times the drives ending in Manning’s hands.  For those harping on Gilbride for this, how many times has Eli MADE those plays late in games?  Why is Gilbride on the hot seat for putting the ball in his best player’s hands late in the half and late in the game?  Eli has done it time and time again, this time he just failed with the ball in his hands.  That is on Eli Manning and his execution, not on the offensive coordinator.  Three, count em three drives died inside the Browns 10 yard line on nothing but poor throws by Manning.  I can hear the complaints from here…”But if we kept running, he wouldn’t have thrown those picks.”  And if we had kept running and been stuffed, we would have called for Gilbride’s head for not mixing it up enough too.  I would be more upset if Gilbride got scared and went into a shell and stopped taking shots to move the ball.  The man knows how to call a game, anyone who fails to see that at this point is just hanging on to some bad first impressions made years ago while he was in Houston.

JPog (Joey’s Player of the Game) – I’m going to go ahead and give this award to myself.  I watched this nightmare and listened to Tony Kornheiser annoy me not once, but TWICE and I have a nasty cold too which prevented me from tapping my muse (aka vino).  It’s a wonder I was able to gut it out and rewatch this debacle while doped up on cold medicine as my brain screamed out for alcohol.  It’s just not writing if you’re not drinking as this shoddy review has proven.  For my effort this week, I am awarding myself a big cup of Nyquil.

JBog (Joey’s Bum of the Game) – Eli Manning, welcome to Ouchville, Population: You.  Manning may have been suffering from a chest bruise most of the night as Superfat DT Shaun Rogers used him as a trampoline in the 2nd quarter, but nonetheless, Eli tossed 3 INTs and was just off most of the night.  His timing was bad, his passes were short and he lacked some zip on the ball.  I suppose Eli was due for a clunker, as his last 4 games were near perfect and he’s coming off of a Super Bowl MVP performance from last year.  Let’s just hope this game is an aberration, and not a sign of what’s to come.  For your unusual performance Eli, I have shipped off a Kent Graham jersey for you to enjoy, complete with autographed photo of his famous “smirk.”  Enjoy!

(Box Score – New York Giants at Cleveland Browns, October 13, 2008)
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