New England Patriots 28 – New York Giants 20
INTERIOR GILLETTE STADIUM-NIGHT
A lone hooded man, pantless paces in front of a full length mirror, a single beam of light cascading on his sweating brow.
There seems to be something troubling this man, struggles of years past etched painfully across his countenance. Three new prominent wrinkles, each earned through loss. After a few darting glances, he stops and stares intently into the mirror.
(muttering rapidly) Perfect season…18-0…we were 18-0..Moss..Brady..touchdown yes touchdown..19-0 is next…sack Eli..sack..Eli sit…sit…SIT DAMN YOU…he’s free…can’t be…Harrison..the ball it’s on his helmet!!! Ok still time…Burress..single covered…gimpy knee it’s ok it’s going to be ok…he can’t run…Manningham can’t beat us…won’t…stopped Nicks, stopped Cruz gonna win now……your ring?…Mr. Kraft…where is.your ring? He took THAT TOO??? (ok technically that was Vladimir Putin, just go with it here)…Tebow…I will unleash Tebow and all will be right again. (Screaming) You tell Tom Coughlin I’m coming and Tebow’s coming with me ya hear…TEBOW’S COMING WITH ME!
Ah, Bill Belichick and his seemingly endless supply of pettiness. I would imagine that watching Tim Tebow flail around like Garo Yepremian had the shabbily dressed hall of fame coach fuming, so in true Patriot style little Bill just had to twist the knife a bit. With a one point lead, 9 seconds on the clock and the ball at the New York Giants 9 yard line, Jesus H. Tebow threw hopefully his final NFL pass to stake the New England Patriots to a 28-20 lead which was in no danger of being lost. I suppose you play to the whistle, even in the pre-season, but that TD pass was vintage Belichick, useless, petty and vindictive. Hopefully that pass makes up for losing two Super Bowls to Tom Coughlin and having your owner’s Super Bowl ring purloined by Vladimir Putin over the summer.
Quarterbacks: Eli Manning’s pre-season, aside from a long TD pass to Victor Cruz has been forgettable. On the Giants’ first possession, Manning had two straight bad incompletions, one on a flutter pass to Hakeem Nicks that sailed high and another badly overthrown ball that hinted at miscommunication with either Hakeem Nicks or Brandon Myers. Even on Manning’s longest completion to WR Louis Murphy the ball seemed to flutter down the sideline, but there is no reason to think Manning won’t be ready come week 1.
Running Backs: HB David Wilson picked up 37 yards on 6 carries (6.16 per), including a 16 yard scoot around left end on the Giants first scoring drive. Wilson had a tough 6 yard run in the red zone, getting the Giants in a manageable 3rd and 2 at the Pats three yard line. Wilson is making little improvements weekly, I have no doubt that he’s about to explode onto the NFL scene and take this offense with him. If it wasn’t for bad luck yadda yadda yadda, Andre Brown is cursed. Brown wont’ be confused with Boris the Bullet Dodger anytime soon, because when there’s an injury around, Andre seems to find it. After a string of injuries that have derailed his NFL career, Andre Brown looked poised to be the #2 back in the Giants attack, but a broken bone in his leg will keep that from being a reality until most likely week 10 of the regular season when #35 is eligible to be off of short term IR and the Giants come back from a week 9 bye. Roster long shot Da’Rell Scott had a solid outing, running for 25 hard earned yards and picking up a 6 yard TD pass from fellow roster hopeful QB Curtis Painter. With Brown’s injury, Scott seems to be the next man up, but late word is that the Giants worked out former Cardinal Beanie Wells and ex-Steeler Jonathan Dwyer so Scott’s stay on the 53 may be short lived.
Receivers: After starting slowly, Hakeem Nicks finally found the end zone on a 3 yard slant, but he and Eli had two weird miscues on the Giants opening drive to continue a frustrating pre-season for the Giants offense. Hakeem still looks a bit timid to me out there, not quite favoring anything but not quite going full speed either. My gut keeps telling me that eating pizza is OK and it won’t make me fat, but it also tells me that Hakeem may not be 100% yet. I doubt the former and believe the latter. Louis Murphy got on the scoreboard with an athletic 37 yard leaping grab on a Manning duck in the first quarter, but overall another quiet game for the “knife”.
Tight Ends: TE Brandon Myers finally made his presence felt in the passing game, with 3 catches for 42 yards, including a well-run square in on 3rd and 4 that was good for 10 yards and a first down. Myers had to fight through some traffic and not tip off his route, which he did well by breaking down and selling an out just enough to create separation for him to cut inside and pick up the first down. I have been hard on Myers’ blocking thus far and will continue to be but that play is a great example of why he’s here. Myers simply knows how to get open against tight interior coverage. What Myers still struggles with is in-line blocking, notably on a 1st and 10 from the Pats 11, he allowed LB Dane Fletcher to stand him up and toss him aside, shutting down RB David Wilson before he had a chance. Fletcher is a 245lb journeyman OLB, not a good sign when your starting TE is getting tossed around by middle of the road backups who are similarly sized.
Offensive Line: Author favorite, LG James Brewer got his first start of the pre-season and played very well, albeit against the Patriots second teamers. Brewer’s natural bulk inside is a big asset in pass protection, he is simply a tough guy to get past on sheer size alone. The former Hoosier also displayed solid footwork and hand punch, adeptly shuffling laterally in pass protection against the Pats varied fronts and not getting caught flat footed by any blitzers. One of the biggest mistakes that young interior OL seem to make is to attack blitzers and try to seal them off, which often times leaves a big lane for a looping DL or delayed rusher to get through easily and shut down a play. By sealing off their gap and moving laterally (wide base, parallel to the line of scrimmage) instead of lunging too far forward, pass blockers are able to essentially pass off rushers down the line without allowing gap penetration. That type of cohesion though, takes time and with two new young starters that may be an area of concern early on in the season for Eli and the offense. That said, so far so good. Pugh and Brewer seem to be catching on quickly and I may be a fool for thinking it, but I think this starting 5 gives us our best chance up front to be effective running and passing the ball.
LT Will Beatty did an outstanding job on David Wilson’s 16 yard run late in the first quarter. With LG James Brewer pulling right to misdirect the DL, Beatty feigned a down block to pull the DE inside, who was then chipped by C Kevin Boothe who in essence ran a twist with Brewer. Beatty then turned outside and sealed off the play side LB giving Wilson the edge and the Giants a much needed shot in the arm on their lone first half touchdown.
Defensive Line: DTs Linval Joseph and Cullen Jenkins had little trouble early neutralizing the Pats running game and getting consistent push on the pocket. Unfortunately for Justin Tuck, he was victimized early by an end around that was good for 16 yards. Tuck didn’t bite on the offensive tackle blocking down and was in good position to make a play, but the Pats ran a delayed trap with their FB who was able to create the room WR Josh Boyce needed to get to the edge for a solid gain. As the game wore on and my pre-season patience was spent, DTs Shaun Rogers, Marvin Austin and Mike Patterson played plenty in the second half, presumably auditioning for Tom Coughlin. Unfortunately for Austin, Patterson and Rogers had more impact and won the roster spots, thus spelling doom for the former Tar Heel who spent more time in the training room than in the locker room during his inglorious run in blue.
Linebackers: After playing better last week, the LBs were again maddening. Keith Rivers showed good hustle early clamping down on an outside run, but following it up with getting caught looking inside on Josh Boyce’s end around. This group continues to be victimized by play action and misdirection, something that does not bode well in the NFC East. Mark Herzlich was again active against backups, with a total of 8 stops and an interception.
Defensive Backs: Starting safeties Antrell Rolle and Ryan Mundy both had big hits on the Patriots’ first drive, both down low on swing passes outside. The reason I mention that is two-fold: (1) Rolle seems to be moving without a hitch after his ankle sprain and (2) it appears that we may see more single high safety coverage this year. On back to back plays on the Pats’ opening drive, the duo was lined up in 2-deep coverage, but at the snap the safety who had more eligible receivers on his side slid down to a traditional strong safety alignment and the other bailed out to a cover-3 technique. Thankfully QB Ryan Mallett was off target on a couple of passes, because CB Prince Amukamara was clearly playing cover 2 press and watched as the WR flew past him. LB Jacquian Williams flattened out to the same area which is the indicator that it was in fact cover 3 with the CBs having deep third and the OLBs covering the flats and hook zones. Don’t think teams won’t see that miscue on tape and look to exploit it. The backend communication has to improve or this defense will be on its heels plenty this season, no matter who is back there on deep patrol.
Pre-Season Odds and Ends:
“Forget it Jake (BBI), it’s Chinatown (Pre-Season)” Pre-season does it to me every year. I get unhinged over unacceptable play, despondent over dreadful defense, perturbed at poor passes and I bemoan barely NFL caliber blocking from a chorus line of players who try as they may, just don’t quite have what it takes. Jake Gittes couldn’t change Chinatown and we can’t change the pre-season, no matter how maddening and pointless it seems at times. Consider the casualties: Victor Cruz’s heel, Andre Brown’s leg, Stevie Brown’s ACL, David Baas’ MCL, Andre Robinson’s foot, Aaron Curry’s comeback, Mark Herzlich’s starting job, David Diehl’s thumb, Marvin Austin’s potential and the 3 or 4 minutes each week you lose mucking through this rehash. It’s enough to make you swear off the pre-season. That is until next summer when you’re tired of re-runs, mosquitoes and everyone’s predictable vacation pictures on Facebook (“LOL Little Timmy Luvs the sand just like gammaw! LOL”-kill me) you will hunger for that first game and be right back here 4 weeks later wishing the backups would just go away already.
Running Backs: HB David Wilson is almost ready for prime time. Consider Wilson’s 24 pre-season carries as one game and you see an eye-popping 179 yards and a 7.5 yard average per tote. I can hear the “Take away that 84 yarder and..” crowd now, but even if we do Wilson is good for 23 carries for 95 yards and a solid 4.1 yard average. Make no mistake, Wilson will have defensive coordinators uneasy because of his ability to score any time he has the ball. Couple that with a QB who can threaten teams all over the field with an array of pass catchers and you may have one of the most explosive Giants offenses we have ever seen.
Tight Ends: If I didn’t outright predict it, I meant to. Not in a Dionne Warwick Psychic Friends way either, I honestly thought the Giants would end up carrying 4 TEs when I saw Brandon Myers and Adrien Robinson’s blocking this pre-season. Myers has neither the will or the ability and Robinson simply makes too many mistakes, which leaves us with old reliable Bear Pascoe to be the blocker at TE and the improving Larry Donnell to likely be the second blocker in the mix. Myers should be more Y receiver than TE, and give Eli a great security blanket in the intermediate areas of the field. A reliable target down low like Myers should be a great complement to the field stretching abilities of Cruz, Nicks, Randle, Murphy and Wilson.
Defensive Line: The revamped defensive line seemed to be as advertised, bigger, badder and meaner against the run, and hopefully led by resurgent DE Justin Tuck. After sitting out the opener, Tuck responded with three solid outings and finally displaying the type of solid run technique that vaulted him to elite status in 2010 and 2011. Tuck’s shoulder injuries cannot be understated here. The ability to extend your arms and keep OL from getting inside leverage is D-Line fundamentals 101, but Tuck was unable to do that for the better part of the past 2 seasons (I still blame Fat Flozell Adams for that) and his play and the defense’s suffered as a result. At his best, Tuck anchors the left side against the run, staying parallel to the line of scrimmage, preventing OL from getting to the second level and setting the edge against the outside running game. I watched Tuck very closely this pre-season and his technique is once again rock solid as was his performance. Joining the joyride is veteran DE Mathias Kiwanuka who in the place of the balky Jason Pierre-Paul has been perhaps the best defender on the team this preseason. Kiwi is back at end where he belongs, and has been turning running plays inside with picture perfect technique and leverage. A healthy and energetic #94 will play a big role for this defense as the season unfolds. New DTs Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson and Shaun Rogers (he didn’t play last year so he’s new to me) seemed to be the shot in the arm this interior sorely needed to reclaim the line of scrimmage. Fighting for a career, Patterson responded with a very strong pre-season, adding a 1.5 sack finale against the Patriots to secure his spot among the final 53. Time again that trio was able to maintain their gaps and collapse the pocket when needed, showing the flexibility to stuff the run and harass QBs into hurried throws. DT Linval Joseph won’t be alone this season as he was for most of 2012, with Chris Canty on the PUP for half the year and struggling for the remainder, and young ineffective contributors Markus Kuhn and Marvin Austin not giving him much help. Speaking of Austin, this pre-season marked the end of his frustrating tenure as a Giant. Armed with physical talents that few DTs possess, Austin fell victim to the injury bug for 2 years, and was out of football for nearly 3 when coupled with his suspension while at the University of North Carolina. With a full off season under his belt this was Austin’s last chance to prove he belonged in Blue but his bid fell short as Mike Patterson far outplayed him and rookie DT Johnathan Hankins was likely drafted to take his place.
Offensive Line: The Giants struggled through the preseason offensively and some of that falls at the feet of the now under fire Offensive Line. The original starting five of Beatty, Boothe, Baas, Snee and Diehl has become Beatty, Brewer, Boothe, Snee and Pugh, which may be an upgrade when all is said and done. LT Will Beatty was simply outstanding this preseason, injuries behind him, the former UConn Huskie has cemented himself as the Giants best OL and in my view one of the better LTs in all of football. He’s not at the pinnacle, but he’s not far behind after his strong pre-season showing. Beatty was active against the run, flawless against the pass and at times downright nasty, which is something we have yet to see out of the oft nicked tackle. RT Justin Pugh, the Giants mildly surprising first rounder, acquitted himself well after stepping in for the injured David Diehl and seemingly going from untested to battle hardened in a few snaps. The man Giant fans love to call T-Rex (by fans I mean me, short arm jokes are always funny) is as advertised, a polished technician with a little bit of attitude. Watching Pugh and RG Chris Snee should get fun as the season wears on and the two establish some chemistry up front. LG James Brewer is I admit, a personal favorite and his start against New England in the pre-season finale had me giddy. Giddy you ask? Yes, giddy. My job is stressing me out, families of fruit flies seem to be on every piece of produce that enters my house, I can’t keep basil from dying and I haven’t been on a vacation in 2 years. Watching an erratic but talented backup OL finally get his shot is what I call fun nowadays so quit laughing at my pain and read on. Brewer’s debut at LG was against backups, but I saw solid footwork especially in pass protection, where Brewer has tended to struggle. Brewer was aggressive and displayed the type of power that could get him a permanent gig up front. Having a wide bodied mauler at LG would do wonders for this running game, here’s hoping #73 continues his ascent and becomes a regular fixture on the offensive line.
Defensive Backs: CB Aaron Ross had a rough pre-season, watching an INT turn into a TD against Reggie Wayne, and committing a few dopey penalties along the way. Fellow CB Jayron Hosley had a solid interception return but overall was shaky, giving up a TD pass to T.Y. Hilton and at times looking lost yet again. Losing interception machine Stevie Brown will hurt, someone from the group of Terrell Thomas, Cooper Taylor and Will Hill has to step into the breach and make a contribution or the Giants will be hard pressed to compete for a post season berth.