New York Giants 36 – Philadelphia Eagles 31
Summary: Fresh off of a World Series title run, the city’s first major sports championship since 1980, Philadelphians were revved up and rocking Lincoln Financial Field Sunday night. As The NBC Sunday Night telecast opened, one couldn’t help but hear the roars of approval as the “Rocky” intro and theme song played in the background to the delight of thousands of screaming (I’m assuming intoxicated) Eagles’ fans. Born with an innate dislike for all things Philly with the exceptions of cheese steaks, Rocky Balboa and Chris in, all I could think about was Clubber Lang’s famous prediction from “Rocky III”…
”What’s your prediction for the fight then?”
Pain would rule the night with the more seasoned fighter landing the knockout blow on a 4th and 1 run snuffed out by journeyman LB Chase Blackburn. Trainers and cut men were busy all night, mending to bumps and bruises inflicted by and on both teams for a grueling 60 minutes that seemed like a 12 round slugfest. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why you watch and love football and why this team continues to cement its place in the pantheon of Giant greatness.
The Eagles came out swinging with a batted pass for an interception that turned into a trick play TD by lightning fast WR DeSean Jackson, but the Giants would counter with 17 straight points and a stranglehold on time of possession that feel like countless body blows to the Eagles’ defense. That 10 point lead would shrink to a 3 point 20-17 halftime lead as the Giants’ offense and Eli Manning lost their rhythm in the 2nd quarter. After falling behind 24-20 early in the 2nd half, the Giants rattled off 16 straight points to take what was just too big of a lead at 36-24 for the Eagles to overcome.
Back came Philly though, closing the gap to 36-31 on a 10 play 71 yard drive, and the champs were on the ropes. Not to be outlasted, the Giants once again summoned their 4th quarter resolve and clamped down on the Eagles’ offense, forcing a turnover on downs after only a 31 yard drive. The Giants landed the knockout blows on consecutive and critical 4th down plays, first snuffing out Brian Westbrook on a 4th and 1 and Eli Manning gaining two yards on a 4th and 1 at the Philly 36 to end the game.
Quarterbacks: Eli Manning had one of those games that showcased all of his talents and deficiencies, but it must be said his talents outnumber those negatives by a wide margin. Statistically solid, but unspectacular, Eli completed 17 of 31 for 191 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT which was returned to the Giants’ 9 yard line on the game’s first possession. As is his way, Eli bounced right back on the next drive going 3 for 5 for 43 yards and a terrific TD pass to Plaxico Burress that split the Eagles’ zone right where it was weakest, in the deep in area between the single high safety. Manning changed the protection (I assume) right before the play which kept Derrick Ward in to pick up a blitz. Up 10-7, Eli lead his team to another score going a perfect 6-6 for 59 yards and his 2nd TD pass of the night on a one yard bullet to the diving Kevin Boss. Manning had a pretty play action pass to Amani Toomer that started the drive off well and hit Toomer again for a total of four hook ups on the drive.
Manning’s most memorable play of the night would come in the 3rd quarter with the Giants down by 4. On a 3rd and 10 at the Eagles’ 20, Manning was flagged for crossing the line of scrimmage on a 17 yard pass to Kevin Boss, but he conferred with coach Tom Coughlin who challenged the call and the play was reversed. That reversal and Eli’s ability to keep the play alive and deliver a strike to Boss for a first down is the exact type of thing that makes Eli a truly special QB. It might get ugly at times, but Eli is the definition of a gamer and makes plays when the Giants need them most.
Running Backs: Big Brandon Jacobs had an up and down (mostly up) game, rushing for 126 yards and 2 tough TDs but coughing up one fumble. Jacobs started the night well, ripping off an explosive 20 yard on a counter trey on the Giants’ first scoring drive of the night. After the Giants trailed 24-20, the team turned to Jacobs to set the tone, feeding the Beast three straight times for 21 yards on the Giants’ TD drive that saw them take the lead for good. Overall Jacobs handed the ball 5 times on the drive for 27 yards and a TD. Jacobs did lose a fumble on a huge hit by LB Chris Gocong but it was in midair after a 10 yard run when Jacobs was airborne. Jacobs was hammered again by Nikita Koloff fan Stewart Bradley on a 3rd down run that appeared to fall short were it not for Bradley’s illegal “Russian Sickle” takedown.
Am I alone in thinking Derrick Ward looked like he rushed for WAY more than 53 yards he got? Ward was in the game early against the speedy Eagles’ defense as the Giants sought to spread the field. Ward looked very spry in the cool Philly air, bouncing around for 80 total yards but honestly I was surprised the total was that low. Ward must pile up a lot of lateral yardage on some of the shotgun draws because it looks like he goes for 15 yards on every play but he only ended up with 53 yards on the ground. Ward continued to show great hands and a feel for the passing game, taking a short dump off from Manning and turning it into an impressive 14 yard catch and run. Ahmad Bradshaw made his usual shot of a cannon debut in the 2nd half and responded with the most violent 38 yards you’ll ever see.
FB Madison Hedgecock blocks like a dream and catches like my mother. Honestly, I don’t know if my mother can catch a swing pass in the flat, but I know my pop reads these from time to time; I just want to be sure he’s paying attention and he finally springs for those Nike Wide Receiver’s gloves I told him Mom has been asking for since I was a kid. John Madden said it best during the telecast that Hedgecock has turned into the best blocking FB in the NFL. One small wrinkle I noticed that highlights Hedgecock’s importance to this team was that teams truly keyed on the gap that #39 leads into, which enabled Giants’ ball carriers to slip past those gaps for big gains all night. When a FB like Hedgecock can be deployed as a decoy in the running game, your ground game is nearly unstoppable.
Wide Receivers: Amani Toomer, I am sorry. I mean it; I take back my call to move you to 3rd WR. I admit, I was drunk on Domenik Hixon’s 100+ yard half against Seattle in Plaxico Burress’ absence, and his speed and explosion (it might have been some Johnnie Walker Black too but I can’t recall). Toomer and Manning have again found their groove, and old #81 is working the hook zones, seams and digs to perfection. Missing Jeremy Shockey now? Not so much now that Toomer has been deployed to the areas in which Shockey was so very effective. Toomer finished with 5 catches for 53 yards but seemed to lead the Giants to their second TD all by himself. Plaxico Burress was limited to one catch for 17 yards but it was on a perfectly run dig route for a TD where Burress made an outstanding catch. Burress has been quiet in recent weeks after his epiphany that perhaps he hasn’t done everything he should do in regards to the team. Let’s hope good behavior is not swapped for his big time play. WR Steve Smith was not the 3rd down superman we have seen in recent weeks, dropping a 3rd and 4 pass after being blasted by Joselio Hansen. Mr. 3rd Down did make an appearance midway through the 3rd quarter, running a picture perfect out on 3rd and 4 for a 12 yard gain. Smith’s ability to set up defenders and not tip his route is what is making him so successful so early in his career. Watch a Smith route in slow mo and try to see if you can guess where he’s going (no peeking at the box score or watching the game before hand!).
Tight Ends: Kevin Boss is starting to blossom in this offense in his 2nd year after a slow start early in the season. The big TE hauled in 6 passes for 69 yards and 1 TD, and showed off his athleticism on a catch and hurdle when he leaped over an Eagle defender, kept his feet and kept moving. Boss hauled in an amazing TD catch on the Giants’ second drive on a well executed play action pass where Manning threw to a spot and big Kev split two defenders and dove for the catch. Boss’ blocking continues to come along nicely, evidenced by his stonewalling of DE Victor Abiamari on a waggle that Manning completed to his side over Abiamari’s head. Michael Matthews actually made a pretty nice grab on the waggle, crossing the field to come up with a 13 yard grab.
O-Line: The next time I need to make a flight on time (that would be Tuesday morning!), I’m calling OG Rich Seubert. I’m not sure if I used that line before, but as long as these stinking reviews are, I am bound to have repeats. I’m gonna go get the papers, get the papers. Seubert cleared out three Eagles on a pull on a Jacobs 20 yard run in the first quarter, stoning Chris Gocong, shoving him into Stewart Bradley and being in the way to prevent Omar Gaither from pursuing backside. OG Chris Snee, I love ya pal, but DE Victor Abiamari just flattened you on a bull rush, and on the only sack of the night was a direct result of you getting beaten inside by DT Mike Patterson. All in all though, a fantastic game on the ground by the Giants’ interior trio, including C Shaun O’Hara who is getting to the second level as well as any Giant center in a long long time. LT David Diehl was the stat sheet victim on Trent Cole’s lone sack of the game, but the pressure up the middle from Patterson and Seubert’s missed double team didn’t help. All in all, holding the Eagles to one sack and racking up 219 yards on the ground means any negative I point out…is well the only negative to point out. This group is blocking better than any group in the NFL dating back to the end of last season. They move as a cohesive unit in the running game and communicate well in the passing game to keep Eli Manning relatively clean and able to operate the offense.
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.
Just a bit of a shaky start defensively as WR DeSean Jackson wildcatted his way into the end zone on the Eagles’ second play from scrimmage. This is a formation that the Browns had some success with using speedy Josh Cribbs and the Eagles used it right away. Give the Eagles credit on that play, they blocked it perfectly and blocked with that little extra intensity it takes to succeed in the NFL. No sacks for the defense would usually mean bad things but holding Brian Westbrook to two yards per carry and 59 total yards mean they did their job. Antonio Pierce led the D with 8 stops but the best play by a LB was turned in by WLB Chase Blackburn who knifed in on the Eagles’ final drive to drag down Brian Westbrook short on 4th and 1, sealing the Eagles’ fate. DE Mathias Kiwanuka was suckered on all three DeSean Jackson runs by keying on Brian Westbrook and flattening down the line before he made a read on the ball. Kiwi did follow up his miss on Jackson with a great pressure on the very next play, fighting through Tra Thomas. Clearly the Giants’ plan was to attack Westbrook first and stop him and clearly the Eagles were ready for that on a few plays. It was one of those game within the game moments when Jackson had the ball and was able to pick up some yardage that made this game truly fun to watch.
Despite no sacks the front 7 was able to keep McNabb off balance at times; enough so that he rushed some throws and despite tossing 3 TDs was not at his best. Like all QBs, McNabb needs time to get comfortable and when he’s uneasy, it’s easy to see it in his play. DE Justin Tuck was held sackless and was manhandled on a few plays to his side in the running game. At this point, Tuck can rush the passer, Tuck can shed and redirect down the line on plays away from, and Tuck can stack up his side on delayed runs to his side and flatten down the line to allow his teammates to make a play. If Tuck has a weakness in his game (and he does) it’s the inability to take on double teams head on and stand his ground. Tuck takes himself out of plays by lunging too much at where he thinks the play is headed and ends up hanging someone out to dry. It’s a tiny flaw, and one teams can and will exploit until #91 is a bit more seasoned. I’m not bashing everyone’s favorite bullet headed defensive end, just pointing out his Achilles heel.
DT Fred Robbins and DT Barry Cofield will show up on your stat sheet with one tackle, but both pushed the pocket and controlled their gaps to keep the Eagles’ interior run game in check. No sacks from the duo, but they did the dirty work that was required to keep Westbrook in check.
Film Room Rewind: This week, I’m not going to break down any specific play in a ton of detail, but more the evolution of Brandon Jacobs and this team’s running game. Jacobs was ripping off big chunks of yardage all night long (runs of 8, 20, 7, 6, 9, 10, 7, 11, 8 yards) and able to make the one cut runs that made his predecessor an elite back in the NFL. Jacobs’ vision and ability to see a hole, and change directions to explode through creases has really made this running game dangerous, to the point of being unstoppable. There are honestly times when Jacobs looks like the best player and athlete on the field when he is exploding downfield and dragging would be tacklers for routine 7, 8, 9 yard gains. Jacobs’ most impressive run (from my demented point of view anyway) was a 9 yard gain in which he followed FB Madison Hedgecock into the B gap (that’s between LG and LT), stayed on his butt long enough let LG Rich Seubert push his man into that gap, and then made a jump cut to the right to explode for another 6 yards and a Giant first down. It’s that type of vision and patience that is enabling Jacobs to take his game to a near elite level. Now if we can only get him to work on the hands.
Defensive Backs: CB Aaron Ross is having his rough moments, dropping an easy INT and being beating by WR Hank Baskett as the Eagles took their first lead of the game. Ross had good position, but just got out-muscled for the ball. S Kenny Phillips got his first start at Free Safety and immediately made a play, blitzing through the C gap, forcing Donovan McNabb to be way off target on a 3rd down pass to DeSean Jackson. Phillips finished with 5 stops, good for second on the team, but I will say something I thought I’d never say…I missed James Butler. Phillips replaced Butler in the starting 11, but S Michael Johnson was moved to Butler’s strong safety spot and Phillips slid over to Johnson’s free safety spot. Johnson made a bad read on Correll Buckhalter’s 20 yard scamper and badly missed him in the hole. Overall, Johnson was fine, but was not the steady force Butler has been in the running game and keeping everyone on the same page. Old man Sam, Sam Madison got in the game early and was flagged for a so-so personal foul on a late hit, but made up for it with a big INT later in the first half that set up the Giants for another easy FG as the first half ended. CB Terrell Thomas was beaten by Jason Avant for a TD late in the first half, and has generally looked a bit lost out there at times in coverage but Thomas showed off his physical ability fighting through a Hank Baskett block to cut down DeSean Jackson for a 5 yard loss. I can gush about CB Corey Webster, but what’s the point?
Special Teams: Finally something special!! Ahmad Bradshaw knocked the ball out of KR Quintin Demps’ hands on a kickoff immediately following the Giants’ first game tying TD, which set up a short field for an easy 3 points. That special feeling faded quickly two returns later when Demps ripped off a 40 yard return. Overall, Demps averaged 27 yards per return which is again very special but for the Eagles. Domenik Hixon was almost special, taking a punt back 73 yards which was called back for a hold, but it did give the Giants the ball at the Eagles’ 40 yard line which put them in perfect position for the game winning march. Special job guys.
Coaching: Tom Coughlin continues to impress me, running his team to 8-1 on the year after an offseason in he which he lost 5 starters on defense, including his top two pass rushers. What is most impressive now though, is that after emotional wins at Pittsburgh and at home vs. Dallas (Dallas was personal for these players), the team did not let up in traveling to Philly and hanging 36 points on the Eagles. Kevin Gilbride came out with 5 WRs, double TE sets, standard I-formations, single back sets and anything else you can imagine (except for that insipid Wildcat formation which I’m sick of seeing). The result? The Giants’ offense rolled up 36 points, 401 yards and 219 yards on the ground against an Eagles’ defense that had been giving up only 89 yards per game on the ground for the season. It was a back and forth chess match with Jim Johnson all night long, but Gilbride triumphed by committing to a power running game that flows from formations that you won’t normally expect from a traditional power run game.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo did what the Giants have never done; he slowed down Brian Westbrook. Despite giving up 31 points, 14 of which came off of Giant turnovers, Spagnuolo’s charges held the Eagles’ most dangerous weapon down all night long. It was that focus that eliminated Westbrook from the game and kept him from making any back breaking plays as he always seems to do against the men in blue.
JPog (Joey’s Player of the Game) – There just cannot be another choice outside of Brandon Jacobs, but being the Maverick that I am (that’s a negative ghost rider, the pattern is full), I am selecting the entire offensive line as the JPoG. They play as one lean mean 200 yard rushing machine against one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses, and only give up one sack to a unit that usually makes QBs cry. Every single one of our guys up front blocked like it was their last football game ever, and they seem to be doing that week in and week out. And yes, Madison Hedgecock, you get the award too as a member of that bone crunching group. For the record, for all the accolades that Chris Snee and David Diehl seem to be getting recently, the OL playing the best on this team is LG Richie Seubert. For your efforts boys, you all get personally autographed Jeff Hatch, Toby Myles and Ben Fricke jerseys. (Don’t know those names, learn your Giants’ failed draft picks history).
JBog (Joey’s Bum of the Game) – The Giants won…again…yawn…so I won’t use a Giant as the bum per earlier recommendations that I took (see I listen to my readers, all three of you). I have to go with Eagles’ S Brian Dawkins, for one play and one play only. 10:08 left in the game, Giants with the ball, 3rd and 2 at the Eagles’ 9 yard line…Jacobs takes an inside handoff, plows ahead to the 3 yard line, CLEARLY on the ground and what does Senor Steroids do? He pulls a drunken Florida St. frat boy and does a Tomahawk Chop for no apparent reason. Only because the Walrus (or is he the Egg Man, I forget) Andy Reid challenged did NBC show us the close up over and over, but you clearly see “Tomahawk Dawk” just throw a chop at Jacobs’ head. Look, football is a rough sport, I have the fingers to prove it (got stuck in a beer bottle yelling at Jim Fassel’s playoff collapses) and I know players do things outside the rules but in a game that was so well played and so well contested by both sides Dawkins pulls the cheap shot late in the game. I was actually impressed with the level of intensity from both teams mostly because it came with no cheap shots or trash talk, just two teams banging heads and seemingly enjoying it with no animosity. Then Dawkins pulled that crap. Low rent move from a low rent steroid abusing freak that is well past his prime. Enjoy January Brian; you’ll have plenty of time off.