New York Giants 29 – San Francisco 17
Summary: Scott Linehan, dead….Mike Nolan…dead…..NIEDERMEYER!!!!…dead. Ok, so you play the Giants, you lose a game and you get fired. So in an atypical way these Giants are coach killers, but why losing to the defending champs gets you canned, is a a bit of a mystery. It’s no secret that after losing their 5th game in 7 tries, the 49ers dumped 4th year head man and former Giants defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. What has yet to be revealed though, is that after a 5-1 start, just how good is this Giants team? We will have a better idea after Big Blue pours into Heinz Field in Pittsburgh and takes on the always physical 5-1 Steelers.
What is starting to emerge this year though is that Giants are taking care of business any way they can and this past Sunday was no different. After rolling up nearly 420 yards of offense per game through their first 5 contests, the Giants only mustered 273 total yards against the 49ers, but it was the defense that carried the day. From limiting dynamic running back Frank Gore to 11 yards on 11 carries to gathering 6 sacks, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble and only 20% of third down conversions allowed, the Giants defense stole the show on Sunday.
Overall though, it was a very poorly played game with the teams combining for a coach angering 24 total penalties, 11 drives of 4 plays or less, 6 fumbles and 1 blocked field goal returned for a touchdown. Given the sloppy and almost unwatchable nature of this week’s game, this week’s review will be shorter and just as unreadable as usual.
Quarterbacks: Eli Manning was very meh this week, completing only 51% of his passes for a pedestrian 161 yards, 1 TD and 0 INTs. Eli didn’t do anything particularly troubling, but he was off on his deep passes and just had an uneven game throwing the ball. His first pass doinked off Brandon Jacobs’ mitts and his second was a strike to WR Plaxico Burress on a dig route, which was subsequently dropped by the petulant wideout. Not a good start to a bad game. Eli rebounded on his next drive, a neat 4 play 54 yard TD drive that saw Manning hit WR Amani Toomer for 22 yards on 2 consecutive passes.
The Giants’ next possession was honestly a perfect picture of how this game was played. A Manning incompletion, a Jacobs 3 yard run, then 51 yards in penalties later, the Giants were in business at the 49er 19 yard line. THREE STRAIGHT 49er penalties moved the G-men 51 yards with almost no effort, with Manning going one for two for 8 yards and the Giants putting up 7 when all was said and done. Eli’s next drive started off with a poor overthrow of Burress, but saw Manning go a respectable 4 for 7 for 35 yards, but again it was penalties that derailed the drive, two on Burress this time and the Giants were forced to punt.
Eli and the Giants took the field to start the 2nd half in consecutive weeks and again did nothing with the ball, picking up 15 yards in 4 plays and being forced to punt after the newly dejected Plaxico Burress sat and waited on a 3rd down pass he should have come back to get. Good news those for Eli and the gang, the defense pounced on more sloppy 49er play and gave Eli the ball with 18 yards to go for a score and he and the Giants responded, with Eli hitting Smith, Toomer and Burress on consecutive passes that ended in a six yard scoring strike to Burress. Those wanting to hang Kevin Gilbride…I just said we passed 3 straight times and we scored from the 18. For your consideration, consider the Giants also had the ball at the 49er NINE yard line after an INT and ran twice, passed once and settled for a field goal. Funny how stupid that Gilbride is huh?
Eli’s final drive that mattered came directly after a Nate Clements TD off of a blocked FG, and as per the day he was not particularly sharp, going 2 for 5 for 20 yards as the Giants were able to tack on the 3 points they failed to add on the previous drive and essentially put the game away.
Running Backs: I don’t have anymore lame jokes to poke fun at Brandon Jacobs’ habit of dropping any pass that hits his hands. It’s a problem, and it’s STILL not corrected as evidenced by big BJ coughing up the first ball that Eli put on him. It was just a sign of things to come though, because big 27 coughed up the ball on his next touch and so began of day of sloppy football in the Meadowlands by everyone in attendance. Big two seven redeemed himself on the next Giants drive, racing down the right sideline for a 26 yard TD that saw no 49er defender even have a chance to bring down the oversized HB. Jacobs then I suppose was the main cog in the Giants next TD drive, racking up a whopping 17 yards on 5 carries, punctuated by a 2 yard TD run. Overall, a 73 yard drive that contained only 27 yards of actual offense. I told you, awful game!!! More awfulness ensued on the Giants next scoring drive as the G-Men chewed up 6 yards in 3 plays after a Michael Johnson INT at the 49ers, with Jacobs earning all 6 of the yards!! I told you, awful game!!! (yes again).
Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw combined for 47 yards on 12 carries, and as usual both showed good speed and quickness, but only averaged around 3.9 ypc combined. Bradshaw did cough the ball up late in the game after fighting, clawing and scratching for extra yardage, but it didn’t cost the Giants this time.
Wide Receivers: QUIZ TIME!!!!… I just signed a big new deal, I just got suspended for blowing off work, I dropped the first pass I saw on Sunday, and I cussed at my coach and got a few penalties on the way. Who am I? If you guessed Plaxico Burress, you’d be right. We get it, you had a bum ankle and you gutted it out. You signed at a discount. You played hurt. You work hard. Good for you. I go to work every day and bust my butt and so does everyone reading this, it’s not spectacular, it’s expected. I refuse to slobber all over Burress any longer until his play matches his words. 3 catches, 24 yards and a TD, good for you, now shut up and get to work. Burress’ little “I didn’t get a cookie” moment occurred early in the 2nd quarter, as he was flagged, wrongly for a pass interference penalty on a catch he clearly made over CB Nate Clements. Though the Giants were faced with a 4th and 13, Burress’ antics over his bogus call got him a 15 yard penalty and his exit from the field prompted an exchange with head coach Tom Coughlin for everybody at home to witness. Ultimately its not a big deal, it’s two competitive guys being competitive, but the situation bears watching as the season wears on. Burress is a player, no one questions that, but his behavior recently is no cause for celebration, and despite my allusions to it constantly, 2007 is over and it’s time for Plaxico Burress to start earning the money he was just paid and get in line with his teammates. Anything else is unacceptable.
The venerable one, Amani Toomer was his usual reliable self, pulling in 3 catches for 31 yards and not cursing on TV once! Steve Smith was again able to pitch in with 4 catches for 39 yards, 2 of them as usual going for first downs. Smith may not be the game breaker some would like, but he’s quickly becoming Eli’s safety valve on 3rd downs when he needs someone to make a big catch. It started late last season and we all remember his huge 3rd down conversion on the game winning drive in the Super Bowl, and Smith continues to deliver when it matters most.
Tight Ends: Ok look, I like Kevin Boss, he’s growing as a blocker and Mike Matthews is a solid, versatile blocker. At this point they are glorified O-lineman, and until they make some noise, no love. I’ve lauded their blocking all season which has been solid, but this game stunk and I refuse to do that this week. Good blocking, no catches, so boring, like this game.
O-Line: For most teams, 112 yards rushing and a clean QB would be a cause to celebrate, and this week we were no different. Despite the passing game’s erratic play and rushing for nearly 70 yards less than what they had paved the way for in the previous 5 games, the Giants OL was once again steady enough to get the job done. OG Chris Snee had a picture perfect block on Jacobs’ 26 yard TD run, getting to the 2nd level and sealing off (in my opinion) the best LB in football, Patrick Willis. The move em out gang kept Eli out of harms way, and when we needed it, paved the way for points. I know you guys (and gals) feel cheated right now, and I would too? Where’s the analysis, where’s the glibness amid the dissection of play? It’s not here this week, I’m sorry. I’m pulling a Plaxico Burress and doing whatever the f…I want.
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 defense came out swinging, clearly embarrassed from handing over 35 points to the fraudulent Cleveland Browns in front of a national audience. Despite the absence of MLB Antonio Pierce, the Giants front 7 played a far better game fundamentally this week. Pierce’s replacement, Chase Blackburn made his presence known right off the bat, knifing into the backfield on the game’s first snap to drop Frank Gore for a 2 yard loss. Blackburn was definitely a bright spot, totaling 10 stops, one sack and a forced fumble and was clearly demonstrative a few times pre-snap, just like his mentor Pierce often is. What he was changing, only he knows, but we laud Pierce for making pre-snap reads and it was evident Blackburn has taken a page from 58 and done the same when given the chance. Blackburn seemed literally to be all over the field, combining with CB Kevin Dockery to bring down WR Josh Morgan 14 yards downfield, then dragging down Frank Gore on a draw after only a 5 yard gain.
Not to be outdone, the defensive line got in on the fun early too with DE Dave Tollefson and DT Fred Robbins combining a 3rd down sack of 49ers QB J.T. O’Sullivan, who was in for a long afternoon of much of the same. It seemed that not only the Giants defense, but the very rules of football confounded the 49ers as play was halted over and over for offensive penalties. Robbins notched a solo sack on the niners 2nd series on a 3rd and 13, as O’Sullivan tried to step up into a rapidly collapsing pocket. Barry Cofield finished with two tackles and a sack and had the day’s worst sack dance, dubbed the “Don’t tase me bro” dance. Those young kids and their sayings, I just can’t keep up anymore.
DE Mathias Kiwanuka was held sackless and didn’t make much noise rushing the passer but did collect 4 stops was able to knife in on the 49ers second series and drag down Frank Gore from behind. Kiwi then chipped in with a nice stop on Gore again, shedding the block of super athlete/subpar football player, TE Vernon Davis. Kiwi again flashed in the running game as the 2nd half opened, holding off a double team and pouncing on a J.T. O’Sullivan/Frank Gore mishandled exchange and setting up the Giants at the 49er 18 yard line.
Yes I will get to Justin Tuck, who ended up with 3 tackles, 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles, but I fawn over him weekly and I figured it was time to pay attention to someone else.
The front 7 as a whole played smart disciplined football, in limiting the 49ers to 253 total yards. Gang tackling was a theme of the day, as evidenced by the half sacks garnered by Tollefson and Robbins early, Kiwanuka and S Michael Johnson combining to shut down Frank Gore and seemingly the entire defense clamping down on Vernon Davis on a TE screen on the 49ers 3rd drive of the game. SAM LB Danny Clark got in on the action briefly, making a great read on a designed counter and stuffing Frank Gore in the cutback lane for a minimal gain. Clark didn’t make much noise, but again, the Giants ability to diagnose the 49ers running game and seal the backside was the key to bottling up Frank Gore and when called upon, Clark did his part. Clark was able to help out again on the 49ers opening 2nd half drive, combining with CB Kevin Dockery to drop Gore after a short 3 yard gain. Rookie WLB Bryan Kehl got the start in place of the yet again knicked up Gerris Wilkinson, and chipped in with 3 stops, but more importantly, got the game reps he needs to gain experience as the games start to mean more and the opponents start to get tougher. Keep in mind, that rookies Aaron Ross, Steve Smith, Jay Alford, Kevin Boss, Michael Johnson and Ahmad Bradshaw all played big roles for the Giants down the stretch and in the playoffs last year. Without those rookies getting playing time early and learning, the Giants don’t win the Super Bowl last year. It appears that the formula that this coaching staff recognizes is that its young players will be called upon at some point when it matters and the more live fire they’ve seen the better off they’ll be. LOTS of Giant fans are lamenting the loss of WILL LB Kawika Mitchell (I am one of them), but I mark this down….by season’s end we will all be singing Kehl’s praises and we’ll know what all the growing pains were for.
Defensive Backs: Overall a solid game by the secondary considering that Mike Martz once again forgot this wasn’t Xbox, and threw the ball 68% of the time behind the arm of J.T. O’Sullivan. I can cite here and give credit all day to the Giants secondary, when your best player on offense (and it’s not even close) touches the ball 14 times, chances are the defense is going to look pretty stout. S James Butler got in on the action early, nearly decapitating Frank Gore on a deep seam route on the 49ers 3rd drive of the game as O’Sullivan was gunning deep for the hole in the Giants’ zone defense. Butler arrived as the ball arrived a bit high, but Butler as usual had an outstanding read and was in ideal position to make a play.
The name Josh Morgan will echo through CB Aaron Ross’ mind this week as undoubtedly he had nightmares about Braylon Edwards last week. Ross was beaten badly on a 30 yard TD pass on a little hitch and go early in the 2nd quarter. Keep in mind folks, that Ross is a 2nd year CB who played a big role as a rookie in a Super Bowl season and he’s seen his ups and downs already. All CBs get beaten, and right now Ross is struggling with double moves, but he has the speed, athleticism, and drive to identify and correct these errors. Perhaps most importantly, he has CB Corey Webster who went from bust to Pro Bowl caliber in the course of a season, to help keep his head on straight. Ross’ problem on the play was simple, he was too busy hand fighting for inside position with Morgan to run and read his man when the ball came. From where I sit, (and I watched the play numerous times), Ross looked scared to lose his man and kept hand checking to keep him close and when the ball came he just was not reading the receiver’s body to judge when the ball was released.
S Michael Johnson had perhaps his best game as a pro from a pass defense standpoint. Johnson ended a 49ers drive in one play late in the 2nd quarter, coming over the top of an errant O’Sullivan pass and racing 18 yards to put the Giants in great position for a late first half score. The 49ers were again able to march down the field late in the first half, moving 54 yards in 4 plays before Johnson again picked off O’Sullivan, this time in the end zone.
Special Teams: I just can’t do it. I refuse to watch specials over and over. It’s not special. I will say that Zak DeOssie is quickly becoming the Giants best coverage guy on specials. The FG team was victimized by a blocked FG that Nate Clements returned 74 yards for a TD when the Giants were up 24-10 and ready to put the game away. I’d blame someone, but 49er LB Manny Lawson, all 6’6″ of him just took off vertically and knocked the ball down and Clements raced to paydirt.
Coaching: It was not the prettiest game, but Coughlin’s boys came to play after the Cleveland debacle and it showed, at least on defense. The offense was still unsettled and the passing game was off target, but the offensive line kept Eli spotless, the running game was good enough and the defense made plays when it had to. Steve Spagnuolo clearly took my criticism to heart last week and used more 4 and 5 man rush packages and let his players play, and I was happy to see that because of course we as fans know WAY more than those professionals! In all seriousness though, a great job by Spags, he eliminated what the 49ers do best, and that’s give it to Frank Gore and he dared J.T. O’Sullivan and ego maniac Mike Martz to beat them and since we’re not in St. Louis circa 1998, it did not happen.
JPog (Joey’s Player of the Game) – I have to give the nod to Chase Blackburn this week who filled in well for Antonio Pierce with 10 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble. Most importantly, Blackburn was the captain out there and in the heart of the defense had held Frank Gore to his worst rushing performance of the season and one of the worst any RB can ever have. Blackburn was everywhere, and while he may not be the tactician that Pierce is, he’s more athletic and certainly appears more on film than Pierce usually does. For your effort Chase, I am hand stitching a Gary Reasons throwback jersey for you, which does NOT entitle you to handle a fake punt despite what Reasons may tell you.
JBog (Joey’s Bum of the Game) - Mike Martz, come on down. You used your best player (Frank Gore) like he was your worst and your worst (J.T. “Butterfingers” O’Sullivan) like he was Kurt Warner circa 1998. Guess what, you don’t have Warner, Bruce, Holt, Hakim, Pace and Faulk. You can’t just draw up whatever you want and watch superior athletes dominate despite your half baked game plans. In short, you’ve been awful since 1999 and like so many guys in this league you’re playing on borrowed time. Have fun with your NFL Alumni T-Shirt hand signed by Ray Handley, Rich Kotite, Mouse Davis, Scott Linehan and now Mike Nolan.