New York Giants 37 – Arizona Cardinals 29
Summary: You could see it in Eli Manning’s eyes on Sunday afternoon that calm but deadly stare that he gets when the game is put into his hands. Eli doesn’t look troubled, excited, nervous or anxious he just looks – straight ahead at what he has to face. Manning’s demeanor upon learning that Plaxico Burress would play just a few minutes and the Giants most imposing weapon, Brandon Jacobs would only be clad in streets said just one thing…”I’m your huckleberry”. Just as the legendary Doc Holliday employed an icy cold stare and deadly accuracy to play a pivotal role in the infamous shootout at the O.K. Corral (most appropriately located in Tombstone, AZ), Manning stared down his latest opponent and was again the last man standing. A little too poetic to describe a game marred by egregiously bad officiating and some sloppy play? Perhaps, but Eli came riding in to save the day when his team needed him most.
The upstart Cardinals came in guns blazing, with an unblemished home record, a pinball machine type offense and plenty of confidence that starts with head coach Ken Wisenhunt. A frenzied home crowd, anticipating an upset was buoyed by the Cardinals defense early as the Giants were held to seven plays and two punts on their initial possessions of the game. After a Neil Rackers field goal put the Cards up 3-0, the teams combined for six lead changes in the first half that ended in a 17-12 halftime bulge for the G-Men.
After the break, the Giants roared out to take a 24-12 lead that would prove too difficult to overcome for the high powered but one-dimensional Cardinals. Held to only 23 yards rushing, the Cards had no choice but to rely on the creaky but ever dangerous Kurt Warner and his impressive trio of WRs. The aerial attack gave the Giants fits at times, but for the most part, Warner and company had to earn each score as Steve Spagnuolo and his defense prevented the big play, played bump and run well and harassed Kurt Warner just enough to come away with a win. Spagnuolo’s counterpart Kevin Gildbride, once again had the Giants over 30 points, despite missing his two biggest weapons. Week in and week out now, the Giants continue to just win regardless of who plays or who plays well. What we’ve seen all season is a balanced attack and scary deep roster that is stocked with enough talent to overcome almost any adversity.
Quarterbacks: For weeks now, Eli Manning and the Giants passing attack have been an afterthought as the ground game has throttled opponents into submission with relative ease. Minus the table setter in RB Brandon Jacobs and his most dangerous receiving threat, WR Plaxico Burress, all eyes were again on Eli to lead his team to victory and Easy E did not disappoint. Things didn’t start too rosy for Eli as deep passes on 2nd and 3rd down of the Giants first drive were batted away by rookie CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and the drive stalled in three plays. A sack by DE Bertrand Berry doomed the next drive, as Derrick Ward failed to pick up a 3rd and 12 and the Giants again were forced to punt.
Eli’s Michael Myers (of Halloween fame, not the asexual Austin Powers star) side came out again after his first two drives; just keep hanging around long enough and he’ll eventually hack you to pieces with a blank stare. Eli and the offense finally got on track late in the first quarter, with Manning starting the drive with a perfect strike to Domenik Hixon and finishing 6-6 for 45 yards as the Giants took a 7-3 lead. A near INT almost cost the Giants a shot at points on the Giants’ next possession that started at the Arizona 17, thanks to a Hixon kickoff return. A perfect fade to Hixon glanced off his fingertips and a promising drive was reduced to a chip shot FG. Manning was on target with both of his passes in the red zone though, but his receivers didn’t make the plays. To finish up the first half scoring, Eli only needed to cover 32 yards after a 68 yard return by Domenik Hixon and he responded again going 3-4 for 29 yards and a 12-yard strike to Amani Toomer.
Manning’s nicest toss of the day came early in the 3rd quarter as he lofted a perfect corner route to WR Steve Smith for 30 yards on 3rd and 2. Maybe more impressive than the throw was Manning’s ability to be stand in as LB Chike Okeafor was in his face and introducing him to the turf as he let go of the ball. As has become his habit, Eli put the ball where only his target could make the play and he followed that pass up with a well-executed play action pass to FB Madison Hedgecock for a 24-12 lead. The hot hand continued as #10 went 6-7 for 66 yards and his third TD of the day, a 10 yard toss to TE Kevin Boss that put the Giants up 31-19 and effectively ended the game. On the day, Manning was 26-33 for 240 yards and three TDs and most importantly, did not turn the ball over and got everyone involved in the passing game, hitting seven different receivers.
Running Backs: The absence of Brandon Jacobs was felt in the running game, make no mistake about that. Coming into the game, the Cardinals had been 7th in the league against the run, but the Giants churned up the Ravens to the tune of 207 yards but were held to 87 yards and only 3.2 yards per carry by a less dominant defense. Without Jacobs’s body blows, Derrick Ward’s jabs were less effective to the tune of only 69 yards on a workmanlike 20 carries. Ward scored the Giants’ first TD, ran tough as usual and again had a good day receiving with four catches, but the room he usually operates with was just not there against a Cardinal defense that was determined to stuff the run.
Ahmad Bradshaw was a non-factor, which was a surprise given Jacobs’ absence, but the second-year back only toted the rock four times for nine yards. Despite his occasional explosive run, it appears the coaches just don’t have the faith in #44 to not cough up the ball or pick up a blocking assignment correctly otherwise there is no way a weapon like that is kept on the sidelines. The things we as fans don’t see, are often the reasons we don’t see players we clamor for. Bradshaw might rip off big runs and excite us with his speed and explosion, but this team is predicated on playing mistake free football and until Bradshaw can do that consistently he’ll be nothing more than the mercurial change of pace he’s been.
Clearly Madison Hedgecock read the review last week and begged his coaches to give him the ball ONE more time so he wouldn’t be lumped in with the linemen. Wish granted Hedgehog, you came up big with not one but TWO…TWO catches. That’s almost as lucky as that time my late uncle who was Nigerian royalty left me $1,000,000 in his will even though he never knew me and THEN I won the Irish National Internet Gambling and Gaming lottery all via email! What will I do with all that money???
Wide Receivers: Domenik Hixon (thanks again Mike Shanahan, you deserve to watch him excel after cutting him) led the way for the Giants as he seems to do anytime he’s called upon. Hixon led all Giant receivers with 57 yards on six catches and even chipped in with 11 yards rushing to go with his 200 yards in the return game. When the Giants needed a lift, Hixon was there like that desperate friend who will do anything to hang out with you. Old man Toomer continued to spit on my early-season wish to relegate him to third WR, pulling in four catches for 30 yards and a pretty 12-yard TD catch and run late in the first half as the Giants trailed 12-10. Steve Smith got most of his 45 yards receiving on a 3rd and 2 sideline pass from Manning but again was there to bail the Giants out on a 3rd down and set up a big score in the 4th quarter on a 3rd and 5 where he picked up 9 yards. Sinorice Moss, as all Giants seem to do, made a play when called upon. Moss pulled in two for 20 yards, and ran an ankle-breaking route on a 12-yarder when the Giants needed it most on a 3rd and 3 at the Cardinals’ 16 as the G-Men drove for their opening score.
Tight Ends: Kevin Boss had another solid outing receiving with four catches for 48 yards and another TD. Boss’ best catch was a 28-yarder from Manning down the left sideline that set the stage for the clinching TD pass that Boss would catch six plays later.
O-Line: 87 yards rushing a week after torching the Ravens for over 200 might be a cause for concern, but the big guys gave up one sack and kept Eli clean for most of the night. Even when the ground game isn’t chewing up opponents, this line can pass block with the best of them and give their QB time to operate. There has been plenty of “best OL in football” talk lately and even though the Giants were held under 100 yard rushing, the line, just like the rest of this team, proved it has more than one trick in its arsenal. Manning was under the gun to deliver the ball a few times but give the Cardinals’ front credit, they kept attacking and might just be the type of DL that could give our guys fits.
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.
Not a statistically pretty performance as the Giants gave up 351 yards in the air and only collected one sack against Kurt Warner and his latest aerial circus. Numbers however, rarely tell the whole story as Warner and his receivers were kept from making the big play most of the night, and despite only being sacked once, Warner was knocked around all afternoon. After a shaky opening drive in which the Cardinals marched 63 yards and were held to 3 points, the defensive game plan came into view – bend but don’t break.
MLB Antonio Pierce led the front 7 with six stops and did an outstanding job again orchestrating the defense on the fly. Pierce had a lock down on the Cardinals’ running game seemingly by himself, anticipating nearly every run and leading the charge to stop it. Flanking him, LBs Chase Blackburn and Danny Clark only combined for five stops but were instrumental in holding the Cardinals’ running game in check all day. Pierce’s head-rattling stop of WR Anquan Boldin on a bubble screen prevented another Cardinal TD, and displayed again that Pierce is truly the heart of this unit. If Pierce is the heart, DEs Mathias Kiwanuka and Justin Tuck are the long-menacing arms. That’s not really a saying, but it should be because that’s what those two are, long-armed menaces! The duo only combined for three tackles, one sack and one forced fumble but they were flying off the edge and up the gut all day long and making Kurt Warner miserable and uncomfortable all day (hmmm new nickname idea for those two – the “In-Laws”! Who else can make you miserable and uncomfortable all day without touching you that much!) Tuck’s sack, forced fumble and Kiwi’s recovery early in the 3rd quarter stopped the Cardinals dead in their tracks, got Eli the ball at the Cards’ 40 yard line and helped the Giants to a 24-12 lead that would stand up all day. I refuse to go into the holding discussion here as this game was tough enough to watch and stomach once from that standpoint. Backup DEs Dave Tollefson and Renaldo Wynn logged more minutes than usual and combined for four stops, but more importantly kept the starters fresh and kept the heat on Warner and the Cardinals’ offense.
DTs Fred Robbins, Jay Alford and Barry Cofield did the dirty work again but just like the running game, the heart of the DL didn’t play the starring role on Sunday.
Defensive Backs: Before we get into specifics, CB Aaron Ross was jobbed by the officials about as badly as anyone I have ever seen. From his first ticky-tack interference call against the almighty Larry Fitzgerald, to his phantom holding call to his ridiculous interference call in the end zone, Ross was treated like public enemy #1 by Pete Morelli and his one-sided officiating crew. It was a busy day finally for the boys in the back, and again despite the gaudy yardage totals, a solid effort for the secondary. The plan to limit yards after the catch was evident all day. Giant defenders played tight bump and run coverage from the opening bell to slow down the precision timing routes of the Cardinal receivers. Leading the way for the secondary was rookie FS Kenny Phillips who led the team with seven stops. Phillips’ 1st quarter blitz on 3rd down put a halt to Warner’s second drive and for the first time this season we saw legitimate heat up the A gap from a safety which has been a Brian Dawkins/Jim Johnson specialty I’ve been yearning for since Spags’ arrival. Phillips displayed his uncanny ball awareness and made his most important play of the game on a one-handed jab on the football that stole a TD from All-Pro WR Larry Fitzgerald. James Butler also had a great outing on Sunday, racking up six stops and seemingly being everywhere on short passes and in the run game. Rookie CB Terrell Thomas, who continues to come on strong finished with six stops and an outstanding INT that again gave the G-Men great field position for an easy 3 points and a 34-19 lead.
More than any individual though, the DBs all played as cohesive unit, gang tackling in the running game, on screens and on the crossing and movement routes that make this Cardinal offense so deadly. Most would look at 351 yards passing and think it was a bad game, but this group did a great job limiting big plays, preventing yards after the catch and frustrating Boldin, Fitzgerald and Breaston all day long. I have not seen this team gang tackle with as much intensity, fluidity and awareness of the play calls in perhaps forever. Great great job by ALL of the DBs and especially to their play caller, Steve Spagnuolo who had them in the right spots all day long.
Special Teams: Domenik Hixon was the star of the game for the Giants, racking up 269 all purpose yards, 200 of it coming on kick and punt returns. Most importantly, Hixon set the Giants up with a short field twice in the first half that led to 10 easy points in a game that would demand the Giants keep up in the scoring department. Hixon put the Giants at the opponents 17 and 32 yard lines on back-to-back kick returns and made the offense’s job that much easier.
Coaching: I’ve said all I need to about the intelligent game plan employed by Steve Spagnuolo, to limit the big play, gang tackle and throw off the timing of the Cardinals’ offense. Giant defenders were at the right spots all game long, a clear indication of tireless film study and the ability to translate that on the practice field. Offensive play caller Kevin Gilbride couldn’t rely on his hammer or his deep threat, so he made do with 37 points, three passing TDs and spreading the ball to seven different receivers. Take something away, and Gilbride will beat you some other way. He has the weapons and he knows how to use them. (That sound like a Wrangler commercial to anyone else?)
Colonel Tom Coughlin again had his troops ready for a shootout and they came out and withstood a hostile crowd and a lively Cardinals team and eventually settled into an 8-point road victory. Coughlin has the pulse of his team, and gets them ready to respond every week.
JPog (Joey’s Player of the Game) – Domenik Hixon, no contest. Two kick returns to give the Giants an easy 10 points, 57 yards receiving to lead the team and 200 yards in the return game. No matter what Hixon is asked to do, he excels at it and most enjoyably he does it with the same intensity every time. An assist has to go to Jerry Reese for signing Hixon after the Broncos deemed him expendable and not quite ready to contribute. For your fantastic return efforts Dom, you get a two-sided jersey, with Phil McConkey’s #80 on the front and Dave Meggett’s #30 on the back. You’re as tough as McConkey and as dangerous as Meggett. Let’s just hope you don’t grow a big stupid mustache and start waving towels on the bench.
JBog (Joey’s Bum of the Game) – You know what you did Pete Morelli. Watching the game, I was beside myself (Hi self, how are you? Oh I’m good, say you’re quite handsome where do you get your good looks? Oh stop it you!) for most of the game with non holding calls but it wasn’t until the 3rd quarter when you helped march the Cardinals down for a 90-yard drive to pull within 24-19. Yes you Pete, not Kurt Warner, but you. 3rd and 5, Giants get a stop you make up a call on Aaron Ross – 1st down Cardinals. There was no penalty, there was no contact but you took it upon yourself to assist in the outcome of the game. You prize is having to live with the fact that you called a one-sided game and the Giants still couldn’t be stopped. You stink, I hate you and I hope your Thanksgiving turkey gives you gas.
Author’s Note – It’s been a pleasure providing my sometimes long-winded and always goofy insight for you guys over the course of this season so far. I hope you’re having as much fun reading as I am writing. God Bless you all during the holidays and have a wonderful Thanksgiving! – Joey