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A Tale of Two Halves
Posted By Eric From BBI On September 9, 2008 @ 6:35 am In | Comments Disabled
Summary: The New York Giants march to another successful season came in like a lion last Thursday night (for one half anyway), as 79,742 erupted at the sight of #92 stepping out of a Giant Lombardi Trophy to introduce his former teammates. Momentum was an early ally for the Giants, as the disrespected champs scored on their first four drives and forced the Redskins to punt on 3 of their first four possessions en route to an early 16-0 lead that would never really be challenged. Total yardage in the first half was a lopsided 241 for the Giants and 51 for the Redskins in a game that was nowhere near as close as the final 16-7 score indicated.
That momentum on both sidelines seemed to disappear in the second half as both squads combined for eight punts and zero points in what can only be described as a dreadful second half of football. What is becoming a Tom Coughlin staple though, is taking what the defense gives you, protecting the ball and essentially trying to play keep away while unleashing a maniacal defense. Indeed the blueprint for success for this franchise was written last year, and it appears to be back in full swing.
Three big things stood out in this game to me: 1) Tom Coughlin wants to play as many people as he can to be prepared as the inevitable war of attrition that is the NFL season plays out. 2) Eli Manning and his WRs need more practice time, period. Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer and Steve Smith missing large portions of the summer hurt the offensive timing, and it will take time to get it working. 3) Steve Spagnuolo will find a way to disrupt offenses without his two top ends from a year ago and Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka will be one hell of a tandem for teams to deal with all year all long.
Quarterbacks: Eli Manning’s night typified the entire game, exciting early and ugly late. The Super Bowl MVP was in lock step with WR Plaxico Burress, completing 3 passes for 60 yards to the angular WR on the game’s first drive but also making a few risky passes as the game wore on. Manning completed two big 3rd down passes, one each to Steve Smith and Plaxico Burress, who found holes in the secondary to exploit on the Giants first drive. Similar to the end of last season, Manning was again throwing with confidence and never looked rattled. The formerly skittish Manning stood in against a well-designed safety blitz, moved up in the pocket and fired a bullet to Burress, that gave the Giants first and goal from the six yard line. Eli also showed off some rarely seen nimble feet, outracing Jason Taylor and juking…yes JUKING LB Rocky McIntosh on the way to the game’s only TD.
Manning’s ability to find the soft spots in the Redskins secondary and exploit them is yet another step in his maturation as a QB. I make the mistake of seeing the Super Bowl MVP and assume he’s done growing as a QB, but Eli continues to progress. Number 10 deftly looked off talented FS LaRon Landry on a deep pass to Burress early in the game and continued to keep Redskin DBs off balance all night with his improving field vision. Eli didn’t look comfortable throwing to Amani Toomer though, the two missing badly on a key red zone pass and a 2nd and 2 inside Redskins territory as the Giants were driving.
Eli did struggle in the second half, rushing a throw to Burress that was nearly picked off by CB Carlos Rogers, then after avoiding the rush, he sailed a ball over the head of FB Madison Hedgecock and followed that up with a stinker of a 3rd and 10 pass that badly missed WR Steve Smith. He finished his iffy stretch with a hurried throw to Kevin Boss that ended being picked off by Fred Smoot but with the exception of a few hurried throws, Eli played a solid game.
Running Backs: Brandon Jacobs, rush chairman, damn glad to meetcha. If anyone in the NFL had a lingering doubt about #27’s ability to take over a game, get to the edge or plant safeties in time for the fall harvest, it was put to rest on opening night. Jacobs shook off a few ugly pre-season drops, fumbles and missed blitz pickups and dominated the smaller Redskins LBs and DBs right off the bat, racking up 116 yards on only 21 carries. Jacobs got his head-shaking play out of the way early, slapping LB Marcus Washington in the face after an incomplete pass that fell at his feet. BJ see pass, BJ drop pass. Jacobs missed yet another nice easy swing pass from Eli on the Giants second drive, which paved the way for Derrick Ward’s first meaningful action since gashing Chicago last season for 154 yards in week 13. Ward carried 9 times for a respectable 39 yards, again showing natural running ability and fluidity that is just a pleasure to behold. Ward’s first tote was a key 3rd down to the right that gained 5 yards and a first down. Right back into the game though was the 265lb hammer who “Jake Rolled” hard hitting, trash talking S LaRon Landry on the way to the most violent 17 yard run you’ll ever see. Landry did learn his lesson though, flying in at Jacobs’ ankles on the the Beast’s 24 yard run in the 2nd quarter that I’m sure had every Redskin fan worried that #27 was running free like the Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull through their secondary.
Jacobs finally did make a grab early in the 2nd half and made S Reed Doughty pay at the end, though it fell just shy of a first down. Jacobs also nearly took a 2nd half counter to the house after cutting inside, juking LaRon Landry in the gap and running for a quick 16 yards before being just tripped up from behind by DE Andre Carter. Mark my words, Jacobs busts a 50+ yard TD run in the next couple of weeks.
If FB Madison Hedgecock keeps blocking like this, I’m going to start calling him Ivan Drago…”Whatever he heeetz…he destroys”. Hedgecock was again critical in the power running game, leading the way for Jacobs 116 yard effort and routinely clearing the path for Giant runners.
Wide Receivers: It’s amazing what $35 million can do to a man’s ankle and general outlook on life. Plaxico Burress, fresh off of game day contract signing, made the Redskins pay handsomely as well last Thursday. The suddenly pain free and widely grinning Burress hauled in 10 balls for 133 yards after again missing the entire pre-season with a balky ankle. Burress outran Redskin coverages all night, as he and Manning played pitch and catch with an over-matched secondary. If nickel CB Fred Smoot had a nickel for every time Burress abused him, well let’s see 10 x $ .05 is $.50 and with gas prices at $3.50 per gallon, inflation….falling home prices….bear market…hmm. Save your money Fred and just hang on for Plax’s return on November 30th. Nearly every time Burress caught a pass he was running a dig against a soft cover 2 or just outrunning the CB to the sideline in single high coverage. Burress’ comfort level with Eli and this offense is evident, as he and Eli just seem to know what the other is doing at every spot. If Burress is healthy all year and practicing, I have no idea how any DB can keep him down.
Not as comfortable though was Amani Toomer (a quiet 2 catches for 12 yards) who cut off a post pattern that was almost intercepted by Fred Smoot in the end zone. Obviously Eli expected Toomer to keep going across the CBs face, but Toomer pulled up. Chalk that up to plenty of missed practice time for Toomer this summer as well.
Steve Smith should change his name to Chains, because that dude always finds the first down links on 3rd down. Sure only 2 grabs, but both on 3rd down and both for first downs. Not bad for another WR who missed most of his rookie year and most of training camp with nagging leg injuries.
Sinorice Moss is famous for making a big play in the Senior Bowl, so it stands to reason that he should be good for one good play per game in blue. Gimpy Smurf absolutely abused fast talking CB Fred Smoot on a deep out route, and pulled down a 23 yard on another 3rd down throw from Eli Manning. That was it for the 5-8 former Hurricane, as he is only permitted one play per game.
Tight Ends: Zero catches for zero yards for Jeremy Shockey’s replacements. A stat line like that may have sent the former #80 into a petulant frenzy, but current Giant TEs Kevin Boss and Mike Matthews did their jobs blocking and nary a peep was heard. Yes it is a bit sour grapes of me to say, but I miss the big lug and wish things had turned out differently for all involved. (I will now officially move on and put my #80 jersey in a box I like to call, “When Grandpa wasn’t crazy”. I’m assuming I’ll be bat poo crazy by the time I have grandkids and I’ll want them to know I was at one time, not a drooling complaining guy with single malt breath-wait that’s me now.) Matthews lined up at FB on Jacobs earth shattering 17 yard run over of LaRon Landy and did a great job sealing off his side, keeping LB Rocky McIntosh out of Jacob’s running lane. Darcy Johnson had a shot for a big play on the Giants 3rd drive but Manning just overthrew the 3rd stringer on a deep seam pass.
Boss showed some inexperience on a Derrick Ward off tackle run, allowing LB Rocky McIntosh to stay square to the line of the scrimmage and stuff Ward for only a 3 yard gain. Boss is big enough and strong enough to stone a LB, but he seems content to “stalk block” on the edge and hope his RB picks the right hole. Getting the defender who is in the running lane to commit to one side though, is the key to blocking on the edge and Boss has got to learn to keep defenders from staying square where they can move laterally to either side to make a play, and force them to pick a side and block them out of the whole. On the other side of that equation though, is that if Boss is too aggressive in that pursuit, he can lunge and miss badly and allow the defender to penetrate and completely disrupt the play.
O-Line: On the whole a good game from Eli Manning’s favorite quintet, but there was enough pressure from the Redskins in the pass rush department to make things a bit dicey throughout the game on offense. Redskin blitzers came free twice on the first drive of the game, both times though, Manning was able to avoid catastrophe by throwing the ball away and stepping up in the pocket to complete a key 3rd down pass. The running game however was another story, as the Giants front five just dominated the Redskins for most of the night en route to 154 yards on the ground for a healthy 4.8 yard average.
On the Giants fourth drive of the night, the front five put on a clinic for the first 9 plays of the drive (4 carries for 40 yards), but much like the rest of the Giants offense they just couldn’t finish the drive as Jacobs was summarily stuffed on a 3rd and 2 at the Redskin 26 yard line. Redskin DE Jason Taylor may have played hurt, or he may have been auditioning a new dance partner, either way RT Kareem McKenzie just flat out dominated the All Pro end and erstwhile “Dancing with the Stars” contestant.
The OL had trouble picking up the Redskins blitzes early in the second half which forced Eli into some shaky throws and kept this game from being a blowout. LT David Diehl gave up inside pressure to Andre Carter who combined with Landry on a sack, but overall Diehl kept Carter in check and was as usual very good in the running game.
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.
I haven’t figured out how yet, but I want to keep my optimism about LDE Justin Tuck guarded until he’s played a full season as a starter. Let me put it this way, if I was Frodo Baggins, I would want Tuck to be my Sam. In his first real action as the Giants new LDE, Tuck came out swinging, splitting a double team and enveloping jumpy Redskin QB Jason Campbell. Tuck evidently got to RT Stephon Heyer early as Jon Jansen’s replacement gave up a sack and false started on two of his first three snaps as a starter.
Equally as under the microscope is RDE Mathias Kiwanuka who takes over full time for Pro Bowl DE Osi Umenyiora. Right off the bat, Kiwanuka avoided an awkward head slap by Redskin tackle Chris Samuels to drag down RB Clinton Portis on a 3rd down draw. Kiwi’s replacement at SLB, Danny Clark made his presence felt early by alertly staying between Jason Campbell and his RB on a swing pass and batting down the failed throw, and then tripping up Clinton Portis in the hole and putting the Redskins in a 3rd and 12. A second consecutive 3 and out was forfeited on a special teams penalty that gave the Redskins a fresh set of downs at their own 37, but the Giants D again rose to the occasion, stuffing the Redskins on two straight runs with big stops by Mathias Kiwanuka and Michael Johnson. Kiwanuka again displayed his ability to use his long arms to keep blockers off of his feet, keep a low wide base, flatten out and make a play down the line of the scrimmage. Anyone worrying about a drop-off from Osi, can forget that happening in the running game. Kiwanuka may already be #72’s superior in that department. Kiwi came up big again on a 3rd and 1 for the Redskins, knifing in from the backside to drag down Clinton Portis for no gain. The former BC Eagle started the second half in similar fashion, again displaying great technique and hustle in the run game on the way to one of his 6 stops of his night, when he dropped Portis for a 2 yard loss.
DT Jay Alford was mysteriously called for a 15 yard personal foul that put the Skins in striking distance at the end of the first half but aside from that was quiet. DT Fred Robbins again held the middle of the line of the scrimmage and helped keep the Redskins rushing attack in check with only 84 yards on 24 carries. Backup DL Renaldo Wynn continued his strong play from the preseason, stacking up his side against the run and providing the much needed quality depth that makes this DL so good late in games.
Film Room Rewind: After a solid first half, the “Old Eli” resurfaced for a bit on the Giants first drive of the second half and the results were NOT pretty. Despite settling for three field goals in the first half, the offense was moving the ball at will and Manning was in command and in sync. The second half though, was a different story. After a Jacobs run, pass to Jacobs and another Jacobs run to keep the chains moving, the Redskins turned up the pressure and Eli wilted a bit. As is the case with most QBs, when the feet aren’t set, the pass will not go where you want it to. Despite his knowledge of the offense, strong arm, and command of the game, Eli is still prone to rushing his throws when things start to break down around him. On that first drive after a good first half, Eli threw three very bad incompletions in a row, each time drifting back to buy time but also preventing him from stepping into his throws, resulting in a near interception and two badly off target balls.
On the very next series, after the Giants gained 30 yards on two plays, Eli let the pressure get to him on a rollout as DE Andre Carter closed in and caused another errant throw. In an effort to slow down the now blitzing Redskins, Kevin Gilbride made a smart call on a rollout to buy Eli some time, but the veteran DE read it and closed in on Manning forcing him to again throw off balance into the arms of the oft abused Fred Smoot. Eli’s inconsistency can be maddening at times, but it appears that his Achilles heel is pressure in his face. He’s faced it down before as he did against Philly and Denver in his epic early comebacks, and he avoided it well early against the Redskins. Again, it comes back to consistency and Eli’s consistency against pressure is just not there yet. One minute he wings a great pass to David Tyree because he takes time set his feet, square his shoulders and let it fly and in a similar instance he launches a duck to Fred Smoot because he never had the time to set up.
The good news is, it was the aberration in this game, not the norm but expect teams to focus on the rough patch and try to duplicate it.
Defensive Backs: Corey Webster’s personal vendetta against my criticism seems to be paying off for the former LSU Tiger. C-Web swatted away a lazy Jason Campbell pass on 3rd down which would have resulted in another 3 and out if not for a roughing the kicker penalty on new DE Jerome McDougle. Webster very alertly came off his outside WR to the slot to hammer WR Santana Moss to the ground on a 3rd and 8 that again stopped the Redskins short of a first down. S Michael Johnson started his sophomore campaign well, coming up to pop RB Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts on back to back plays and being very active in run support. Aaron Ross again showed off his good blitzing ability, forcing Campbell into an errant 3rd down pass and on his best play of the night, ran step for step with Giant killer Santana Moss and batted away what would have been a TD in years past.
Kenny Phillips showed up on the stat sheet when he made a great break on the ball, cutting down fellow rookie Devin Thomas on 3rd down to stop yet another Redskins drive. Kenny will be “Bud” no more, at least until he deserves it. I think giving him a catchy nickname got to his head and his play has tailed off, so I want to back off the kid a little and let him just play football.
Special Teams: Kickoff coverage was again shaky as Redskin pinball Rock Cartwright rolled to a 29 yard average on returns. Adding insult to injury was ex-Eagle Jerome McDougle committing a roughing the kicker penalty on a 4th and 12 that resulted in a first down for the Redskins. The old guys did what old guys do; they just puttered along doing their thing. K John Carney was 3 for 3 on FGs and finished with 10 points and I never once feared he’d miss. Odd Feeling. P Jeff Feagles, 4 punts, 3 inside the 20 and one returned for negative 2 yards. Not bad old man, not bad at all.
All of the Giants momentum that led to the 16 point lead was almost erased with 2:00 left in the first half when Rock Cartwright raced 50 yards and set up the Skins for their only points of the night. Michael Johnson was in position, but simply outran the kick and failed to break down in time to slow Cartrwright. These are fundamental special teams errors that just simply HAVE to improve. Abysmal kickoff coverage started in the pre-season and has not improved yet.
Coaching: Tom Coughlin found the formula last January, and he’s sticking to the blue print. Run the ball, control the clock, take what the defense gives you and unleash Steve Spagnuolo and his bag of tricks on helpless offenses around the league. I don’t know what image of Steve Spagnuolo I get in my head more often; the mad scientist in a smoky laboratory with assistants Mike Waufle, Bill Sheridan and Peter Giunta playing Igors, carrying beakers and cackling about new blitz ideas…”It’s aliiiivee…IT’S ALLIIIIIVE” or given Spag’s northern roots is he more Arnold Horseshack yelling out…”OOOOHHHOOOHOOOHH MISTA COUGHLIN” ? A question that will haunt me for eternity. The mad scientist was at it again opening night, mixing in dime defenses that confused Jason Campbell and blitzers coming from every angle that frightened him into some truly bad throws. Spags also kept a solid rotation of players and kept everyone fresh, which is a key element to his fast paced pressure scheme.
I’d love to blame Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride for the red zone issues the Giants had, but when Derrick Ward fails to pick up one yard on 3rd down at the 6, Amani Toomer cuts off a route in the end zone and no one sells a screen to Derrick Ward at the 10 yard line…well I start to realize that it’s an execution thing. My only complaint with Gilbride in the red zone is that he seems to grab a play out a bag and call it, but again if he called the same plays inside the 20 I suppose I’d complain about lack of creativity. At some point though Giant fans, it’s on the guy in the game to execute those plays down there with some more precision.
JPog (Joey’s Player of the Game) – I couldn’t decide who should get the JPoG this week so I paid a visit to Redskin Park which happens to be 5 minutes from my office and decided to ask the Redskins who THEY thought it should be. To a man, they all swore it should have been London Fletcher, who had an amazing 17 tackles but this is BBI not Extremeskinrash so I had to pick a Giant…but how? Well I decided the name that I heard the most would be the guy I chose. So as I made my way to the DB meeting room, I saw a young man of about 6-0 and 202 lbs who I swear hailed from Metarie, LA and asked him who he thought the Giants best player was. “Giants…Jacobs…go boom…Jacobs go boom on me…Jacobs go boom…low…get low dey say…lowwww…lowww…Jacobs go boom”. Turns out he meant Brandon Jacobs, and it was LaRon Landry who appeared so shaken. Anyway B-Jac, congratulations on your first ever JPoG (official anyway) and enjoy your size XXXXXXXXXXXL “Hulk Smash” T-shirt with authentic bits of Redskin safety blended right in.
JBog (Joey’s Bum of the Game) – It hurts to do this. I don’t want to do this, we won and I love my team. The integrity of the JBoG is at stake, so I must give it to…Amani Toomer. I know I know he’s old, he’s a veteran, he’s shifty, crafty and wily but he was rusty from missing practice time. Toomer stopped on a crossing route in the end zone that almost resulted in an INT, then he stopped running on a comeback route deep in Redskins territory that was again almost picked. Most bothersome though was to follow up the 2nd and 2 miscue, Toomer completely missed his seal block on LB Marcus Washington and almost tip toed out of the way after missing it, killing yet another drive deep in enemy territory. You’re not a bum Amani, I dig you man but you made some stinkers out there.
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