Sep 162009
 
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New York Giants 23 (1-0) – Washington Redskins 17 (0-1)

by The Hack for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Summary: The New York Football Giants opened the 2009 regular season, their final season at the old Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands, in fine fashion against hated division rival Washington for the second straight year.  The game and results were eerily similar to last year, as the Giants jumped on the Redskins early and held them off the rest of the way.  Though the final score seems to indicate that this was a close game, really, it wasn’t.  The Giants completely dominated the Redskins for the first half and should have already put the game out of reach.  Although they let Washington hang around through most of the second half, when they needed it, they got a sustained clock eating drive that resulted in points to put it out of reach for good.

There was a lot to be happy about from the fans perspective.  First and foremost, any win over a division opponent is a huge accomplishment.  Second, many lingering questions from the preseason concerning the passing game, the defensive front, and the changes on the coaching staff were answered, though none emphatically.  Third, and possibly most important, this begins the sense of confidence the Giants will need to develop after losing Plaxico Burress on offense and Steve Spagnoulo as their defensive coordinator.

As in any sport, consistency and confidence are as important as conditioning, preparation, and in some cases talent.  The Giants now know they can defeat a very good defense with the players they have to put on the field.  They also know that they can subdue opponents in the same manner as before.  They will look to build this confidence and much needed momentum next Sunday night against Dallas.

Tale O’ The Tape: The first half numbers were unbelievable.  The Giants held the ball for more than 20 minutes.  They rolled up 213 total yards and 12 first downs on 36 plays.  Eli was 12 – 16 passing.  They clicked on 63% of their third down conversion attempts (5-8).  On defense, they held Washington to just 22 plays on offense, allowing only one 3rd down conversion (out of 4 attempts).  Though the Skins netted 145 total yards and 54 on the ground, 34 of them came on the very first play from scrimmage. Another 77 came in the last two minutes of the half, when the Giants fell victim to the hurry up offense, and to add insult to injury a fake field goal, which kept the game marginally close.  If not for that breakdown, along with the Giants going 0-2 and settling for just 3 points inside the green zone, this game would have been over.

The second half numbers were not as good as the first for the Giants offense, but the team took over again in the fourth quarter.  The Redskins dominated the time of possession and ran 19 plays in the third quarter and the Giants looked ready to swoon when their offense gave the Skins a gift turnover deep in Giants territory.  Just the opposite happened.  The defense took over, holding them to a short field goal, and over the next 17:47 of the game, the Skins had the ball for just 5:19.  Granted, they scored on their final drive, but it was too little too late.  In fact, if you take out the two hurry up drives that ended both halves and the very first play of the game, the Giants defense held the Skins to just 89 total yards over the other 57:45 of the game.  You read that right.  After the first play, which took five seconds or so, the Skins’ only two sustained drives went for a collective 149 yard over a span of 2:10, both during the hurry up and in the last two minutes of the halves.

Offense: The Giants had their entire starting offense on the field at the same time for the first time this year to open the game.  In an unexpected move, the Giants started WR Mario Manningham and not WR Steve Smith.  The conventional wisdom had Smith starting opposite WR Domenik Hixon.

New York mixed it up early, dropping back to throw 17 times in the first half against 19 runs.  In the second half, they dropped back 10 times and rushed the ball on 10 occasions (there were also 3 kneel downs not included in the break down).  It was obvious from the start that they were going to run HB Brandon Jacobs away from mammoth DT Albert Haynesworth, but interestingly enough they went towards him on several runs with HB Ahmad Bradshaw.  Part of the Giants’ third down strategy was scuttled when HB Danny Ware was lost to a dislocated elbow, which he suffered while returning the opening kickoff.

Though the Giants did attempt to get the ball deep on a couple of occasions, they seemed content to attack the Skins in front of the safetys and in over the linebackers for much of the day.  The middle of the field was open often, and the Giants capitalized on it.

The Quarterbacks: By the numbers, QB Eli Manning had a good day.  He finished 20-29 for 256 yards (69% completion rate) 1 TD 1 INT and 2 fumbles (1 lost).  Frankly, the lost fumble was not his fault.  RT Kareem McKenzie completely whiffed on DE Andre Carter who facemasked Eli to the ground, resulting in the fumble.  What should have been a 15 yard penalty and automatic first down around the Washington 15 yard line instead was a turnover charged to Eli.

Manning, despite published reports, did not start out quite as sharply as people believe.  A botched exchange between Manning and center Shaun O’Hara was nearly disastrous on just the second play of the game.  Then following a 3rd down completion on the next play for a first down, he threw into triple coverage and was nearly intercepted.  On the play, the Giants went five wide with Bradshaw split to the top of the formation with Hixon inside.  The Skins dropped everyone into coverage, sending only two men in on Manning.  With no pressure at all, Manning inexplicably threw to Hixon, who ran an out while Bradshaw cut in and under him, but DB Carlos Rogers jumped the route and should have had an easy pick six.  Fortunately for Manning, the ball clanged off his hands and fell just out of the reach of CB Chris Horton.  Following those two early miscues, Manning was nearly perfect for the rest of the half.  He showed poise and confidence in the pocket, and spread the ball all over the field and to seven different receivers.  He checked down to his halfbacks on six occasions, as well, showing that he wasn’t going to force the issue (well, MOST of the time) if he didn’t have to.  On the touchdown play, it’s been reported that Manning checked to a play that was not in the game plan, and that it just popped into his head when he realized the coverage he was facing.

In the second half, Manning threw a very bad interception moving to his right while facing moderate pressure.  The most damning thing about the interception was the fact that it came at a time when the Giants were on their heels and deep in their own territory.  The play was fairly innocuous.  Single back, two wide, 1 slot receiver to the left and one TE to the right.  On the snap and off play action Jacobs released to the left flat.  LT David Diehl immediately lost contain on DT Andre Carter who pressured Eli to his right.  With only one WR in the pattern to that side (the TE stayed in on max protect), Eli should have just sprinted to the sideline and thrown the ball out of bounds.  Instead he threw somewhat across his body on the move and got very little on the ball.  S LaRron Landry closed, tipped the ball away from WR Steve Smith, and it ended up in the waiting arms of CB DeAngelo Hall.  It’s these questionable, and at this stage of his career, inexplicable decisions which drive people batshit crazy when discussing Eli Manning.  This was the only blemish, however, on Manning in the second half.  Check that.  It would not be prudent to leave out the obligatory “Delay of Game” penalty he took on the drive following the interception.  Manning did, however, get the five yards back by inducing Haynesworth to jump offsides later in the drive.  (One of two offsides Eli got the Skins to fall victim of.)  Overall, following the interception, Manning rebounded nicely and led the Giants on two more drives resulting in the winning points.  So Manning was mostly up, with a couple downs.  He looks already to be comfortable with his receiving corps, and he’s showing that he will look for his TE and also check down to his safety valve when necessary.

The Running Backs: The halfback situation was immediately thrown into chaos when HB Danny Ware dislocated his elbow returning the opening kickoff.  The plan was to use Ware in obvious third down passing situations due to his superior ability in blitz pick up and sure hands out of the backfield.  Due to his loss, HB Brandon Jacobs saw more time on third downs than probably expected.  Jacobs carried 16 times for just 46 yards, registering a dismal 2.9 yards per carry.  If you take out his longest run of 15 yards, his average plummets to just 2 ypc.  Part of the problem for Jacobs was he could not find a hole in short yardage situations.  On four different occasions of less than 2 to go for a first down, Jacobs was stopped short.  In fact, he managed to lose 4 yards in the process.  Jacobs was his usual stout self in pass protection.  He also caught 2 passes for 17 yards.

HB Ahmad Bradshaw had one of his best all around games as a New York Giant.  Bradshaw knows that this is his opportunity to prove he’s capable of spelling Jacobs for long stretches at a time.  Other than his seeming timidity at attacking the blitz, he’s got the talent to be an every down back.  On Sunday, Bradshaw led the Giants with 60 yards on 12 carries for a 5 ypc average.  On another note, Bradshaw converted two of his short yardage opportunities and failed on one.  Bradshaw was targeted four times by Manning, catching three passes for 11 yards.  The thing to note about Bradshaw is that his number was called six times in the 4th quarter, three runs and three passes.  There can be no doubt that with the game on the line Bradshaw is trusted by Manning and Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride to carry the ball.  Another note is that Bradshaw was split wide on two occasions when the Giants went with a 5-WR set, and they did attempt a bubble screen that went nowhere with him.  Bradshaw also showed a ton of heart by taking Albert Hanesworth on twice.  The first was a clear loss, but on the second Bradshaw used his unbelievable power and leverage to push the big man for a couple extra yards.

FB Madison Hedgecock had a seemingly off day.  On the first drive, on the 2nd and 2 pitch to the left, Hedgecock chipped the DE, and could not get to the CB who brought Jacobs down for a short gain.  On the next play, a toss to the right, Hedgecock turned up into the gap between the center and right guard while Bradshaw took it outside and got stuffed by Landry.  If Hedgecock leads out and walls off Landry, it’s an easy first down.  It may be that Bradshaw was supposed to read Hedgecock’s lead and follow him, but it looked like Hedgecock shot the wrong gap.  Those two instances notwithstanding, the Giants were essentially unsuccessful all game in short yardage and part of that has to be on the fullback.

The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: Last week we saw the first real glimpses of the makeup of the receivers that the Giants have on their team.  All told, Manning targeted the WRs on 19 of his 29 passes, completing 12 of them and drawing an illegal contact on a 13th that probably would have been a touchdown to Hixon.

In a surprise start, WR Mario Manningham got into the action early and often, catching two balls on the opening drive and of course making the play of the day on his amazing 30 yard TD reception where he turned what was essentially a 2 yard pass into an unbelievable catch and run down the sideline, avoiding three Redskin tacklers to get into the end zone.  Manningham also had a huge 25 yard reception on the opening drive on a 3rd and 7 play.  Also of note was his blocking downfield.  Manningham isn’t afraid to mix it up with cornerbacks in the running game.  This was seen in all the receivers.  These reviews have been touting Manningham pretty regularly since camp, and it would seem that it’s simply a matter of time before he is number 2 on the depth chart, replacing either Hixon or Smith.

WR Steve Smith has already established himself as Manning’s go to guy, finishing with 80 yards on  6 receptions (targeted 8 times).  Smith didn’t start, and he did most of his damage in the slot which really seems to be the best position for him.  He has great vision and finds the open spot in the zone quickly, settling in as a nice target for Manning.  Four times, and three on 3rd down, a Steve Smith reception resulted in a first down.  The most important was a 3rd and 5 in the critical part of the 4th quarter when the Giants offense had been struggling.  His 25 yard catch over CB DeAngelo Hall kept the drive alive in which the Giants scored the 3 points to make it a two-score game.

On the other side of Manningham, WR Domenik Hixon was only targeted three times and caught just one pass.  Hixon did draw an illegal contact penalty on a sluggo route where Eli threw a perfect pass that he still almost came down with.  If Hixon hadn’t been interfered with, that play would have been an easy touchdown.

Rookie WR Hakeem Nicks entered the game for the first time early in the first quarter, catching 2 passes 18 yards. He was targeted four times, one a pass behind him while he was all alone crossing the middle about 15 yards downfield, the other was an overthrow on a long ball where he was open behind the defense but Eli threw under heavy pressure.  Nicks also demonstrated superb blocking skill downfield, and nearly sprung Brandon Jacobs for a big gainer in the 3rd quarter.  Had backup DT Lorenzo Alexander not gotten a hand on Jacobs’ foot, Nicks had his man walled off along the sideline and would have allowed Jacobs another 10 – 20 yards on the play.  Unfortunately, Nicks suffered a sprained foot in the fourth quarter and could not return.  It’s been reported that he will be out for at least two weeks, but it could be longer.

WR Sinorice Moss was not targeted in the game, but he did lift Manningham in celebration following his touchdown.

TE Kevin Boss had a great day in the passing department, catching 3 balls for 62 yards.  Boss’ best play was when he kept flowing with Eli as he was forced out of the pocket and looked like he was about to tuck and run.  Boss got Eli’s attention and the two executed a perfect pitch, catch, and run for 27 yards to set up the final field goal of the day.  Boss and TE Darcy Johnson both were counted on to help the offensive line in the running game and did yeomen’s work at the position.

The Offensive Line: The offensive line is where it all starts and will ultimately end for the New York Giants this year.  After injuries disrupted the continuity of the group during the preseason, the first team once again started and played for predominantly the entire game.  While the Giants enjoyed success up and down the field for most of the first half and the entire fourth quarter, this unit stalled repeatedly on short distance situations.  The Giants ran for more than 100 yards, but managed a paltry 3.3 yards per carry.  That’s not Giants smash mouth football, but frankly they were playing a very stout running defense.

In the passing game, the line kept Eli clean for the most part, allowing only one sack (which should not have been a sack but instead a 15 yard personal foul on DE Andre Carter).

Individually, RT Kareem Mckenzie allowed the pressure that caused the “fumble,” LT David Diehl allowed the pressure that resulted in Eli’s poor decision to throw the pass that was intercepted.  Other than those two plays, the line as a whole was dominant for most of the game in pass protection.  LG Rich Seubert had the awesome assignment to contain Haynesworth, and although he got knocked around a couple of times, he did a terrific job of keeping the big man off Eli and, for the most part, out of the running game.  He got a LOT of help from C Shaun O’Hara who chipped and doubled on Albert a number of times.  RG Chris Snee played a good game as well, pulling and leading Jacobs and Bradshaw on several successful runs.  Rookie LT William Beatty was in on short yardage on the 4th and 1 play in which his assignment was to pull down and double on Haynesworth, but he didn’t get there, leaving Seubert alone on him and Albert made the play.

All told, the unit played a solid game against a very strong defensive line with very active and physical linebackers.  Rookie OLB Brian Orakpo was a non-factor the entire game on the pass rush.  Again, this is where it all starts.  As this unit goes, so go the Giants.  Kinks on short yardage require straightening out, but most of the other areas seem to be well under control.

The Defense: The Giants were missing three starters for this game: OLB Michael Boley, CB Grandpa Ross, and nickel back Kevin Dockery.  The main concerns on BBI for the week were the depth in the defensive backfield as well as the ability to create a workable rotation along the defensive line.  Even with these concerns, for the vast majority of the game, the Giants defense dominated Jason Campbell and the Washington offense.  As noted earlier, other than the opening play of the game plus two end-of-the-half two-minute drills, they allowed a mere 80 plus yards to the Redskins.  On six drives, the defense held Washington to four plays or less.  The longest drive of the day for the Redskins was nine plays.  Three other drives went for six plays twice and seven plays.  Contrast that with the Giants who had five drives of eight plays or more, and three of 10 or more.  Washington didn’t have a drive over four plays until the final drive of the first half.  And when the game was on the line, up 17 – 7 late in the 3rd quarter and following a turnover deep in their own territory, the defense rose up and stoned the Redskins, allowing only a field goal and then a 3 and out on the next series.  This was critical to the outcome of the game.  The defense put unrelenting pressure on the entire Redskins offense all day, and not just on the QB, forcing 2 turnovers, 3 fumbles, (1 recovered), 3 sacks, and numerous QB hits or hurries.  Another impressive fact:  the Redskins had just four offensive snaps in the first quarter.

Front 7: The only player missing in action this week along the front was OLB Michael Boley, sitting out a 1-game suspension.  All other front-seven personnel (with the exception of the IR’d Jay Alford) were present and accounted for.  For the first time this year we got to see the famed and feared defensive line rotation.  They did not disappoint, as the front held the HB Clinton Portis to just 62 yards on just 16 carries.  Take away the 34 yard run that began the game, and Portis had just 28 yards on 15 carries.  All told, the Skins had a total of 85 yards on the ground, and that includes 8 from their punter and 16 on a scramble by QB Jason Campbell.  Impressive.  Stopping the run is where it all starts on defense, and stopping the run all starts with the defensive line.

DT/DE Justin Tuck led the line with 5 tackles and 1.5 sacks, and took over the game late in the third quarter with the Giants on the ropes.  Following Eli’s interception, Tuck nailed Clinton Portis for a 6 yard loss.  Two plays later, Tuck finished off the hopes of the Redskins by sacking Campbell on 3rd and 6 at the 10 yard line.  Tuck lined up about 55% of the time at DE, the other 45% of the time he was at DT.  The results of his day won him the “NFC Defensive Player of the Week” for Week 1.

Not to be outdone, the return of DE Osi Umenyiora is like getting a free first round draft choice.  Osi ended up with 4 tackles, and got his second Trifecta, as he sacked and stripped Campbell of the football, made the recovery, and ran it in for a touchdown.  Osi hadn’t done too much this preseason as he worked his way back from his reconstructive knee surgery from last year, but he sure showed up on Sunday.  Word has it that it was his mistake which led to the 34 yard run by Portis, but apparently they talked about it and made adjustments to ensure it didn’t happen again.

Third DE Mathias Kiwanuka played primarily on third downs, and was in on two tackles.  DE Dave Tollefson didn’t see a lot of action and made just 1 special teams tackle.

The DT rotation consisted of Barry Cofield, Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard, and Fred Robbins.  All saw significant action, and split the snaps almost equally between them.  Chris Canty lined up nearly exclusively at DT, but was in at DE on at least one occasion.  The interior of the line did a great job of keeping Campbell deep in the pocket and clogging up the running lanes.  The gave the team exactly what they were looking for.

MLB Antonio Pierce had a great game, firing up the team and countering all of Campbell’s calls emphatically and enthusiastically.  It would be interesting to hear from the opponents point of view what it’s like to know that Pierce has diagnosed your play and you know he’s going to unleash something you can’t control.  Pierce was second on the team with 6 tackles.  One thing you can sometimes say about Pierce is that he gets too excited and runs himself out of the play.  For instance, during the first touchdown drive by the Redskins, Campbell fumbled the snap on the opening play of the drive and recovered it rather quickly.  Pierce came in all alone on a blitz and had Campbell lined up for a sure sack but went right by him, missing him almost completely and allowing Campbell to scramble to his left, complete a dump off to Ladell Betts that went for 23 yards and set them up for the drive.  If Pierce had nailed Campbell for a 6 or 8 yard loss, it’s quite probable they don’t score in the first half.

OLBs Chase Blackburn and Danny Clark also played very well.  Due to the lack of speed at the position, it was expected they’d be exploited by TE Chris Cooley in the middle and they were…a bit.  Blackburn was in on 5 tackles, 1 for a loss, and also was credited with a QB hit.  Blackburn is playing like a man on a mission.  He’s like Frankie Ferrara…great motor, but he’s got some skills, too.  OLBs Bryan Kehl, Jonathan Goff, and Gerris Wilkinson played on specials.

Defensive Backs: With CBs Aaron Ross and Kevin Dockery out, Terrell Thomas and Corey Webster were the starters with CB Bruce Johnson coming in for the nickel and dime packages.  All three played extremely well, with Webster continuing to define himself as a shut down corner.  He got into a scrap, started by Santana Moss, and frankly kicked his ass.  Later, Webster victimized Moss by jumping a route he had no business jumping and making a spectacular interception that will be talked about for years.  While Johnson was singled out by Head Coach Tom Coughlin after the game for his contributions, his play did not stand out on the field.  That’s actually a positive.  Not seeing or hearing his name means he was doing his job.  On the scoresheet, he was credited with 3 tackles.

As for the safeties, SS Kenny Phillips was active and around the ball often, both in the running game and in the secondary.  He recorded 6 tackles, and no deep passes were attempted anywhere near him.  Welcome back, FS Michael Johnson!  It looked as though MJ had taken a step back from last season, but it appears he was just biding his time until the season started.  In on 8 tackles (leading the team), Johnson was a force in the running game as well as on the TE in the middle of the field.  His best play was blowing up a WR screen to Santana Moss that he sniffed out and buried for a 2 yard loss.  It appeared that he missed only one tackle on the day.  S C.C. Brown also played a hell of a lot better than he showed in the last couple of preseason games, saving a touchdown (temporarily) by making a lunging tackle of WR Randel El at the 8 yard line.

Special Teams: P Jeff Feagles only had one punt which went for 48 yards and got another 10 tacked on because gunner Derek Hagan drew an illegal block in the back penalty.

K Lawrence Tynes was a bit of an enigma on Sunday.  Apparently, he’s got a hook to his FGs now, as all three appeared to be going wide but drew back in and ended up good.  He ended up hitting from 28, 45 and 28.  Then there were the kickoffs, which I don’t quite understand.  Of the 6, he reached the end zone on three occasions, one resulting in a touchback.  The problem was that four of them were line drives that hardly got more than 15 yards off the ground.  Was this by design?  Despite this, the kickoffs were relatively successful, as the coverage team didn’t allow a return beyond the 30 yard line except for one time.

The kickoff return team took a severe blow when HB Danny Ware (paired with Ahmad Bradshaw at the goal line) dislocated his elbow on the opening kickoff.  For the rest of the returns Sinorice Moss, Hakeem Nicks and Madison Hedgecock were all back to take kicks.  None did anything spectacular.  In the punt return game, Domenik Hixon returned one punt for no yards and made three fair catches.  Rumor has it he was told not to take any chances with the loss of return man Danny Ware and WR Hakeem Nicks.

Coaching: While you can’t argue with the results of the game, there were several head scratchers when it came to the coaching staff this week.  First, why did the Giants have an all out field goal block on when they were up by 17 just before the half?  It was a short FG attempt, why not just concede the 3 points, go in up 14, and work from there?  Another questionable call was the 2nd and 1 long ball shortly into the 3rd quarter.  Why do you do that when you already know you haven’t converted a short third down all game?

Congratulations to Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan for his first win in his new position.  It was good to see Osi involved in his Gatorade bath!

Offensive Player of the Game: This week’s player of the week goes to Mario Manningham for stepping up and seizing his role as a primary WR on this team.  Manningham’s touchdown run was nearly completely an individual effort, with an assist from WR Steve Smith at the end with a nice block.

Defensive Player of the Game: This one was not easy, but it has to be Defensive Player of the Week, Justin Tuck.  Tuck beat out Trifecta Man Osi Umenyiora and the Amazing Corey Webster.  If not for Tuck’s great individual efforts on the drive following Eli’s interception, this would have gone to Webster for totally shutting down star receiver Santana Moss and his incredible interception.

(Box Score - Washington Redskins at New York Giants, September 13, 2009)
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