No Pride and No Fight – Carolina Panthers Annihilate New York Giants 38-0: The Carolina Panthers embarrassed the New York Giants 38-0 on Sunday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. With the loss, the Giants fell to 0-3, their worst start since 1996. The 38-point margin of defeat was the most one-sided loss by the Giants in the Tom Coughlin era. The Giants are now 3-8 in their last 11 regular-season games and 1-5 in their last six regular-season games, including three uncompetitive blowout losses.
“We never gave ourselves a chance, competitively, to be in the game,” said Head Coach Tom Coughlin after the game. “I expect everybody in that room to fight with the same passion I have. And I’ll be looking hard for those who are not.”
For all intents and purposes, the game was over at halftime as the Giants were trounced by an injury-riddled, undermanned, and win-less Carolina team. More disheartening than the score was the lack of fight showed by what should have been a desperate and angry New York team.
The Panthers led 17-0 at halftime as Carolina out-gained New York 13 to 2 in first downs, 163 to 18 in total net yards, 66 to 17 in net yards rushing, and 97 to 1 net yards passing. QB Eli Manning was sacked six times before intermission, with LT Will Beatty giving up three sacks.
“That is not by any means, New York Giants football. I’m embarrassed,” said OC David Baas. “We take a lot of pride in keeping Eli clean. That was definitely not the case today.”
“The NFL season doesn’t wait for anybody,” said OG Kevin Boothe. “Whatever it is we have to fix it. For some reason we’re not playing at a very high level at all.”
After that first-half drubbing, the Giants decided to lay down like dogs and take simply accept another beat down with QB Cam Newton firing three second-half touchdown passes. By the end of the game, the Giants were out-gained 402 to 150 total net yards. The Giants were held to 60 rushing yards (14 by Manning) while the Panthers rushed for 194 yards.
Ex-New York Giants’ linebacker Chase Blackburn said he helped his new team decipher the Giants’ offense.
“I had an idea of what they run and what they like to do in situations,” Blackburn said. “We had a great game plan going in. I’ve been sharing all the information all week. Guys, all of us, linebackers were out there knowing what to do; (defensive backs) knew what kind of routes they were going to get off the route combinations. It makes for a big difference when you can play the game at that speed. We were able to play fast because we were aware of what they were going to do.”
The Panthers’ secondary was riddled with injuries, but Carolina was able to exert tremendous pressure on Manning with just their down four defensive linemen.
“Obviously they didn’t put their secondary out there on an island much and were able to get great pressure with just bringing four guys,” Manning said. “When you can drop seven guys and rush four and get pressure, it’s going to make it hard for any offense to have a successful passing game.”
“Words aren’t going to fix anything,” said Manning. “It’s about us having great practices and going out there and playing better on game day.”
“There’s something missing right now,” said DE Justin Tuck. “Guys need to look at themselves in the mirror, because if it isn’t ugly now, it can get uglier from here.”
Injury Report: FB Henry Hynoski fractured his left shoulder in the game. “I never had a significant shoulder injury, I don’t even know myself the extent of this,” said Hynoski after the game. “We’re going to find out tomorrow, we’re getting more tests done and we’ll go from there. Like I approached my last injury, I’m just going to try and get back at the earliest convenience to be there for my team.”
S Cooper Taylor also injured his shoulder in the game. He needed help getting dressed after the game; there is no word yet on the severity of the injury.
Post-Game Press Conferences: Video highlights from the post-game press conferences with Head Coach Tom Coughlin, QB Eli Manning, and DE Justin Tuck are available at Giants.com.
Post-Game Notes: Inactive for the Giants were QB Ryan Nassib (foot), RB Michael Cox, TE Adrien Robinson (foot), OT David Diehl (thumb), OG Brandon Mosley (back), DT Johnathan Hankins, and CB Corey Webster (hip).
Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Carolina Panthers, September 22, 2013: First off all, hopefully stating the obvious, the sky is not falling. Yet. The New York Giants are 0-2, but the Dallas Cowboys are 1-1, Washington Redskins 0-2, and Philadelphia Eagles 1-2. There are 14 regular-season games left to play. The Giants will have to make up that loss to the Cowboys in the Meadowlands, but despite being winless, they are very much in the chase for the division title.
The immediate goal is to get that first win this weekend against the Carolina Panthers. Get to 1-2. Then get that second win against the Kansas City Chiefs and get to 2-2. Do that and the Giants will have weathered the early storm.
The problem for the G-Men is that their margin for error right now is very slim. The Giants should beat the Panthers, but on any given Sunday in the NFL, a lesser opponent can beat anyone. And an 0-2 New York Giants team had better not be too blase and it had better take care of business or it will be time to panic.
The negative-nellie will point to the fact that the Giants are 3-7 in their last 10 regular-season games. Eli Manning has regressed. The running attack is dead last in the NFL. The Giants have committed 10 turnovers in two games. The offensive line is not playing well. The defense, while improved, is still not dictating to opponents and the Giants only have two sacks.
The fan wearing rose-colored glasses will point to the belief that the Giants still have the best coaching staff, quarterback, and wide receivers in the division. Believe it or not, the defense may also be the best in the division. Barring injury, the offensive line should improve as it gains cohesion and that in turn should help the running game improve as David Wilson is still lightning in a bottle. The secondary and defensive tackles are playing well and the productivity of the defensive ends should pick up.
This game is not so much about who the Giants are playing but about the Giants themselves. The team needs to stop shooting itself in the foot. Cut out the turnovers and the Giants will be OK. “First you have to stop beating yourself before you expect to go out and beat the opponent,” says Head Coach Tom Coughlin.
New York Giants on Offense: The Panthers have been giving up a lot of yards (over 800) but not a lot of points (36). The Giants are facing a defensive opponent that is far stronger in the front seven than it is in the secondary. The problems for Carolina in the defensive backfield have been exacerbated by injuries.
So the Giants are a far more dangerous passing team and Carolina struggles much more defending the pass. What would your game plan be?
The Panthers know this as well. They’ll probably play a lot two-safety high coverage and dare the Giants to beat them on the ground. That’s what I would do. So the big question is do the Giants take advantage of that and try to get untracked running the ball against a good front seven? Or do they attack through air against a defense expecting it?
I would do the latter. I don’t think the Panthers can cover the Giants’ receivers. But if the Giants go with that strategy, the Giants need to keep Eli upright. RT Justin Pugh will face a tough test against against LDE Charles Johnson. RDE Greg Hardy is no slouch rushing the passer either. LDT Dwan Edwards (bothered by a thigh injury) and first-rounder RDT Star Lotulelei man the inside.
The Giants do need to run the ball some too in order to not put too much pressure on the passing game. They also need Eli to rebound from two disappointing performances.
“There is a balance,” says Coughlin. “One of those balances is run it better so we’re not throwing it 49 times a game. Let’s get this thing back into a reasonable number and then let’s run the ball so the play action passes allow us to have more people open. And then we have to take care of the football and realize, again, that patience is a virtue. Sometimes you’re not going to get the big play, you’re going to be able to get five and seven and eight yards and so on and so forth. And that’s fine, that’s what we want to do. We want to stay within ourselves, take what the defense gives us.”
That seems to suggest Coughlin thinks Eli has been forcing things down the field too much.
The Panthers are solid up front. And they are very strong at linebacker, led by impressive MLB Luke Kuechly. Kuechly is the type of linebacker Giants’ fans currently crave. Jon Beason (bothered by a knee injury) and Thomas Davis round out an athletic group that can hit and tackle. It is tough to run against this group.
“It’s shocking to us when we don’t play well,” says OG Kevin Boothe. “You can’t have zero and negative yard rushing plays and expect your offensive coordinator to continue to call running plays. If we can get positive yards (Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride will have) more incentive to call it, will be more likely to call it. We’re anxious to get out there and give it another shot.”
The Panthers are really beat up and undermanned in the secondary, having to rely on some players who were recently signed off of the street. I’d attack early and often through the air, even if there is an early turnover. Take the wind of the 0-2 Panthers, and then come back later in the contest with the ground game.
New York Giants on Defense: Carolina is not scoring a lot of points, but they can run the football.
“Their offensive team is sixth in rushing,” says Coughlin. “They’re fourth in the league on third down. They’re doing an outstanding job of that. Over the past two seasons, they’ve had the most plays in the league over 20 yards, so they do have that capability as well. They do not beat themselves. They only had seven penalties, two fumbles and an interception in their first two games.”
The three keys on defense are (1) stop RB D’Angelo Williams, (2) keep QB Cam Newton from hurting you on the ground, and (3) don’t allow WR Steve Smith to beat you deep.
The other guy to keep an eye on is TE Greg Olsen, who Newton has been looking for early and often through the first two games.
The #1 goal is really to stop the run. The Panthers probably won’t be able to do much damage between the tackles on the Giants, but they surely noticed the two big outside running plays the Giants gave up last week.
“Our defense was playing so well against the run for so long and (then) giving up two really cheap touchdowns outside,” says Coughlin. “Where were we? Where was the leverage? Where was the contain? Where were the people knifing in?”
The ends have to play far tougher at the point-of-attack, the defensive backs need to come up in run support, and the linebackers need to avoid blocks and flow to the ball carrier. Both in terms of run defense and dealing with Olsen in coverage, this is a big game for the linebackers. If Mark Herzlich struggles, I wouldn’t be surprised to see newcomer Allen Bradford replace him soon.
The good news for the Giants is that the Panthers’ offensive line is a bit shaky with additional injury issues and Newton will hold onto the football. So the pass rush should finally emerge this weekend as long as the Giants get the Panthers into obvious passing situations. Given Newton’s mobility, however, the first responsibility is to contain him. LT Jordan Gross is probably the steadiest of the group.
Stop the run. Contain Newton. Don’t let Smith beat you deep.
(Late Note: CB Corey Webster is “doubtful” for the game with a hip flexor injury).
New York Giants on Special Teams: Ted Ginn is a dangerous punt and kickoff returner. Steve Weatherford needs to bounce back from probably his worst performance as a Giant.
Game Review: Zero point zero. If Dean Wormer walked into the Giants meetings this week, he’d likely hand out his lowest of GPA’s, but it wasn’t over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor and it ain’t over now. The Giants were right there, right there, just as they were in Dallas a week ago…within range, a chance to compete and win a football game and they once again imploded when it mattered the most. After a Brandon Jacobs 1 yard plunge in the 3rd quarter that brought the Giants within a single point of their Super Bowl XXI opponent, the Denver Broncos scored 21 unanswered points and sent the Giants home with a lopsided 41-23 drubbing that put the G-men in an 0-2 hole. The pre-season sluggishness this team exhibited on offense has yet to be shaken off, not a very good sign for a team with so much veteran talent at key spots.
The Giants defense started with a thump and ended flat on its back after watching Eli Manning toss four back breaking interceptions. After a Justin Tuck thumping of RB Knowshon Moreno on the game’s opening play, Peyton Manning and his mates marched easily to the Giants six yard line, until the DL rose up again this time in the form of DT Cullen Jenkins, who knocked the ball free from rookie RB Montee Ball and gave Eli and company a chance to start with some momentum. Right on cue, Eli fed off the turnover and dropped a perfect 51 yard post into the outstretched arms of WR Victor Cruz and the Giants seemed to be shaking off the rust that plagued them a week ago in Big D.
After Jenkins’ strip, the defense found its bearings and had the elder Manning working for every completion, before the wheels came off in the 3rd quarter after more costly Giant turnovers. For most of the afternoon, the Giants were going toe to toe with a Bronco passing attack that had Baltimoreans drowning their sorrows in Natty Bo after a 7 touchdown thrashing on opening night. It wasn’t until a Knowshon Moreno 20 yard run over right end early in the 2nd quarter that the Broncos had their first end zone visit of the day. Red zone frustrations kept the Giants from doing much scoring, but they did manage three Josh Brown field goals in the first half while limiting the Broncos to 10 points and an all too familiar 10-9 halftime score.
After a first half in which each defense dared the other to run, John Fox and the Broncos finally accepted. Nineteen of the Broncos 53 yard scoring drive came on the edges yet again as Giant DEs were victimized on back to back to runs to open the second half. With Giant DBs now inching up to support the run on the outside, Peyton Manning finally found a crack in the armor (I would have said chink if I worked for ESPN but I’m smrt!) (sic). Manning worked the edges of the defense, first running Moreno then passes to WR Eric Decker before Wes Welker was suddenly the forgotten man and was left alone for an easy TD to start the second half.
Eli answered yet again, taking the Giants 81 yards to the end zone in nine plays, capped off by the odd sight of Brandon Jacobs wearing #34 and plunging up the gut for six. Manning took advantage of a very handsy Bronco defense, that was flagged for two pass interference and one defensive holding penalty on the drive. With a slim 17-16 edge, Peyton and company got lucky on a Demarius Thomas fumble that was recovered by Moreno and ended up with a 17 yard gain after Prince Amukamara jarred the ball loose and the Giants had a shot at a turnover. Manning quickly set his team and snapped the ball, giving the Giants no chance to review the play. Seven plays 63 yards later, Moreno found the goal line again, racing around right end for a 25 yard TD and a 24-16 Denver lead that would not be threatened again.
The Giants coughed up the ball on a bad Manning pass that glanced off the foot of WR Rueben Randle, and 5 plays later, Manning hit TE Julius Thomas for an 11 yard TD and a 31-16 lead. With a chance to climb back in it, the Giants offense stalled and was forced to punt to the 5’5” Trindon Holliday, who did his best DeSean Jackson impression and blew right through the Giants coverage team on the way to a 38-16 lead that ended up turning a solidly played three quarters into a 4th quarter disaster and an ominous 0-2 start for the boys in blue.
Quarterbacks: After hitting everybody’s favorite dancer with a 51 yard strike to start the game, Eli Manning had another forgettable afternoon. Manning had a few solid throws in a row as the Giants opened the 2nd quarter but was victimized by Hakeem Nicks and his middle finger on a big 3rd and 6 as the Giants were starting to heat up through the air. Eli contributed to the teams red zone woes by over shooting WR Victor Cruz on a play action pass in the end zone, and #10 then fired over TE Brandon Myers’ finger tips and the Giants were forced to settle for 3 yet again. With just 43 seconds in the first half, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in begging the Giants to sit on the ball at their own 15 yard line and go in down by one. After badly overthrowing Myers in the slot, Eli played Dr. Jekyll to his Mr. Hyde, hitting Hakeem Nicks on another deep in (dig) route for 34 yards. Knowing the Broncos were playing a lot of bump and run and trying to knock the Giants off of their routes, Eli didn’t stop working the ball downfield and it paid off with a 21-yard penalty on the heels of Nicks big gain. Unfortunately Mr. Hyde returned on the very next play and Eli badly overshot Hakeem Nicks and was intercepted by another 3 named Bronco, costing the Giants a chance to take the halftime lead. Never one to get down though, Eli drove the Giants to within a point of the Broncos, orchestrating a solid drive at the outset of the third quarter, taking advantage of a very aggressive and penalty-prone Broncos defensive backfield. Down 24-16 though, the dagger may have been another odd miscue, as Mannings pass for Rueben Randle ricocheted off the WRs shoe into the hands of a Bronco defender. Eli wasn’t awful, but 4 interceptions, despite one being a late first half heave and one flying off of a shoe, is not going to get it done when your team simply cannot run the football or hold on to it. The daring that makes Eli so great when it counts is the same daring that makes him maddening when the game is not on the line. We know what we have here, it’s just a matter of those around him doing more so he can do a little less.
Running Backs: RB David Wilson’s first carry was a solid 5 yard effort on a counter to the left, which was followed up with a 5 yard power by old and new Giant Brandon Jacobs and it looked like the running game may be coming to life. Jacobs displayed solid burst on his initial tote, falling forward for a first down, but followed that up with a ball bouncing off of his hands in the flat for an ugly incompletion that reminded me of oh so many reviews of days past. Idiotic TD dances aside, Jacobs’ return was much of the same before he left, a lot of noise, not much production and the announcers marveling at how tall he looked in practice. Give the big fella a pass this week, his OL did him no favors and he’s been out of the game for about for a year. Before this season ends, I promise you Jacobs does a few things to win a game. It may have been a 2-yard run, but David Wilson’s acrobatic Barry Sanders like hand spin late in the first half was the best 6 feet I’ve seen since the first time I saw a party sized sub. Da’Rel Scott chipped in a garbage time TD, but otherwise not much from the former Terp.
Wide Receivers: WR Victor Cruz opened the Giants afternoon with a 51 yard deep post that was perfectly thrown and ended the day with 8 grabs for 118 yards. Jerrel Jernigan may just never get it. On a 3rd and 13 inside the Giants 10, Manning set up outside and delivered a solid ball to Jernigan, who instead of going for the ball and fighting for what should be his, started to slide towards the ball which gave CB Antonio Rodgers whatever (I’m really sick of all of these stupid names, someone has to take a stand) the space he needed to reach over Jernigan and knock the ball away. Hakeem Nicks dropped a wide open dig route on a 3rd and 6 to kill a promising Giant drive, but a dislocated middle finger on the play gives him an out. Nicks did return and ended up with 83 yards on 4 catches but most of his damage was done underneath in the seam areas. Give the Broncos credit, they kept Nicks in check and in front of them for the most part, but that amount of attention should show anyone watching who teams fear the most, and it is Nicks. WR Rueben Randle appeared to have scored after Myers’ catch and fall, but as is the blue print, if you’re a Giant with the football just give it away somehow. Randle finished with only 3 grabs for 14 yards after posting 101 in the opening loss to Dallas.
Tight Ends: TE Brandon Myers seems to be waking up a bit. After a miserable pre-season, Myers seems to be getting his footing, with 6 grabs for 74 yards and a noticeable improvement in blocking effort. Perhaps footing is a bit generous as Myers took what could have been an easy TD and stumbled forward for a 27 yard gain instead of a TD. TE Larry Donnell finished with 31 yards and 3 grabs, but again, mostly after the game had been decided. Give Donnell credit for an athletic penalty on the Giants onside kick that ultimately failed, #84 looked great doing it, but as with most of the effort in this game, it came up a bit short.
Offensive Line: Twenty-Three Yards. Say that to yourself a few times, let it sink in. Twenty-three yards on the ground with a team that forces its opponent to match up with 3 and 4 WR sets and defend the deep ball to keep WRs Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks from eviscerating their defenses. Look no further than the Giants first play on their second possession in which C David Baas seems to forget that it’s a football game and watches as DT Kevin Vickerson blows past him to drop David Wilson for a 3-yard loss. And in case you’re wondering yes, THAT Kevin Vickerson…you know the guy on his 3rd team in 9 years with a total of 62 games played out of a possible 144. (That would be a .430 batting average, not too shabby). You mean the Kevin Vickerson who once made 14 tackles in a single season for the Tennessee Titans, the same one who returned an interception 4 yards once in 2010? Yeah, try blocking that guy! RT Justin Pugh didn’t fare much better against the unstoppable Robert Ayers, who tossed Pugh aside and dropped Brandon Jacobs for another 3 yard loss on the first play of the Giants 3rd possession. In Pugh’s defense, it’s not fair to ask a rookie 1st rounder to take on another .420+ hitter. In Ayers first four seasons he has ripped off 24 starts in a 64 game stretch….pretty…pretty….pretty good. Against players in their 30s who routinely start 40% of their teams’ games, you can only sit back and hope your OL is alive by night’s end. Perhaps more impressive than Ayers ability to start, was his White Goodman like celebration after dropping Brandon Jacobs like it was the Dodgeball Regional Semifinals. For good measure, Baas let Terrence Knighton throw him aside to make a stuff on David Wilson on the Giants’ first drive of the second half.
Overall, solid pass protection, abysmal run blocking against a cast of veritable super stars that the Broncos line up at DT.
Defensive Line: DL Justin Tuck started week two off by knifing in on the game’s first play from the DT spot and dropping K (no more stupid names just letters from now on) Moreno for a 3 yard loss. Tuck’s pass rush was mostly neutralized by the repeated bear hugs from Denver RT Orlando Franklin, but the vet still finished with 8 stops. I won’t blame Gene Steratore, mostly because I think he may have me whacked, but Franklin was using the Hillbilly Jim bear hug as his go to pass blocking move. On the Broncos first scoring drive, DE Mathias Kiwanuka had a bead on Manning, only to be suplexed out of the way by Franklin as Steratore’s crew stood by presumably oblivious to the Giants frustration and possibly ignoring a foreign object. It must be noted though, that the DL seems content to whine about being held instead of trying to create separation with some hand punch and keeping the OL from getting so far inside. Tuck was absolutely the culprit though on K Moreno’s first TD as he allowed, once again, the OL to get inside his pads and keep him from extending his arms down the line of scrimmage to push the play wide enough for help to arrive. This is fundamentally bad football on that play, Tuck simply has to be more aware of where he is and what his job is as the play side DE and he looked quite frankly bored on the play as Moreno scampered by. Franklin was later seen spooning Tuck on a pass rush as Manning misfired on a 3rd down late in the 2nd half.
Rough game for DE Mathias Kiwanuka who was brushed aside all too easily on Moreno’s 2nd TD of the day and was victimized repeatedly on edge runs right at him. Reportedly Jason Pierre-Paul played, but I saw no signs of it. Give credit again to Giant big men, DT Shaun Rogers, Linval Joseph and Mike Patterson. The big three made it tough sledding inside for the Broncos, forcing the Broncos to go wide if they had any designs on ground yardage. Rogers had a 3 play stint in the 3rd quarter with two QB hurries, two hits and one bear paw swatting of Moreno who fell forward after being pawed by the Sumo sized Rogers. Sumo..that gives me an idea…maybe I’ll bring that up next week but it involves hockey and guaranteed shutouts.
Linebackers: LBs Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams started as the only two backers against the Broncos pass happy attack and in those roles both played well. Paysinger and Williams combined for 14 stops and had decent coverage, keeping TE Julius Thomas in check for the most part with 47 yards and limiting Wes Welker’s damage over the middle to 39 yards on only 3 catches. Williams and Paysinger however both got completely swallowed on both of Moreno’s TD runs and once again, it looked like a glaring lack of effort on their part. Both play well in spurts but those edge runs, all afternoon, just had the Giants defenders looking like they were beaten before the play started, color me confused. Mark Herzlich managed to look like Bambi on a frozen pond as Holliday zoom zoom zoomed (damn you Mazda jingles) right past the former Eagle to pay dirt.
Defensive Backs: The Giant DBs have to get a lot of credit here, they came to play with another big challenge. Miscommunication is simply killing this secondary. On the game’s opening drive, Prince Amukamara seemed to be sinking in a Cover 2, ready to leave the deep half for S Ryan Mundy, who hesitated and jumped inside to follow TE Julius Thomas. The problem was, that WR Andre Caldwell AND Thomas were both open, allowing Caldwell to haul in a 36 yard gain down to the Giants 6 yard line on the game’s opening drive. Essentially Mundy covered no one, Amukamara covered no one and the Broncos were in business as the Giants failed to execute a simple coverage switch. Fortunately for the Giants, Prince was able to knock away a deep pass to WR Eric Decker in one on one coverage on an identical play, the difference is, the Giants blitzed and #20 expected no help, and didn’t need any.
Overall, despite the final score, a workman-like effort by Antrel Rolle, Ryan Mundy and Terrell Thomas, who totaled 19 stops and kept the Broncos trio in front of them for the most of the day.
Special Teams: Trindon Holliday is fast, Josh Brown kicks real good. Give LS Zak DeOssie credit, he must have been praying to…well nothing he’s an atheist, that he’d nab a shoelace on Holliday as the former LSU sprinter was racing to a back breaking TD. Outstanding effort by the Giant long snapper, despite the horrific result.
Cram it in your cramhole award: I mentioned to our fearless Editor Eric Kennedy how often I now have to look up names of the players while I am writing these diatribes. This week’s award was close, I almost gave it to Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie because for farts’ sake, enough with the hyphens and no more Cromarties! The winner though is the heretofore known as Snowshoe Moreno. I have renamed him Snowshoe because every time I typed his name, Microsoft Word squiggly red underlined it and suggested the following words instead: Know Shon, Knows On, Knowhow, Know-how or Snowshoe. I think you’ll agree with my choice.
New York Giants Work Out Kerry Rhodes, Jonathan Goff, and Leroy Hill: According to media reports, the Giants worked out safety Kerry Rhodes (ex-Cardinals) and linebackers Jonathan Goff (ex-Redskins) and Leroy Hill (ex-Seahawks) on Tuesday. Goff was originally drafted by the Giants in the 5th round of the 2008 NFL Draft
Giants on ESPN Radio: Audio clips of Tuesday’s ESPN Radio interviews with the following players are available at ESPN.com:
Jason Pierre-Paul, Henry Hynoski, and Damontre Moore Make Trip to Texas: FB Henry Hynoski (knee), DE Jason Pierre-Paul (back), and DE Damontre Moore (shoulder) all traveled with the team on Saturday to Texas for the Sunday night game against the Dallas Cowboys. All three are officially listed as “questionable” for the game.
The only players to not make the trip – OC David Baas (knee), OT David Diehl (thumb), and TE Adrien Robinson (foot) – have already been ruled out of the game.
CB Prince Amukamara on ESPN Radio: The audio of Friday’s ESPN Radio interview with CB Prince Amukamara is available at ESPN.com.
A fact obscured by history is that the New York Football Giants were anything but the “Big Blue” Giants we root for today. Red was the team’s primary color for the majority of their first 31 years in the NFL, including their entire residence at The Polo Grounds.
When the Giants took the field in Providence to face the Steamrollers, they wore an outfit that looked nothing like the modern uniform system worn by football players today. Most teams in 1925 looked very similar with unadorned brown leather helmets and baggy, tan or beige pants that included hip pads high above the waist. The only distinguishing elements between opponents in this era were the team colors displayed on the jerseys and socks. The Giants wore red bodied jerseys that featured royal blue shoulders and a broad blue band around the body. White block numbers were only on the back of the jersey. The socks were red with the blue band trimmed by white stripes. Midway through the season the helmets changed to white. This uniform set would be the Giants primary look (save for some minor modifications) for the majority of their first eight seasons, including their first NFL Championship in 1927.
A new pair of jerseys were introduced in 1928. One was solid blue, the other solid red. Both featured oval leather patches covering the player’s ribs. The patches on the blue jerseys were plain brown leather, the patches on the red jersey were blue.
The Giants added numbers to the front of the jerseys in 1929.
Through these years the Giants rotated helmet styles, often in mid season. The plain brown helmets and white helmets gave way to a red shelled helmet in 1929 that featured a blue crest and blue cross pattern over the crown. The blue banded red jersey returned in 1930 with a white number half in and half out of the band. This was supplemented in 1932 by a similar one that had a small white number centered in the band and trimmed with white stripes. A new helmet was introduced, which featured a blue shell with eight red stripes covering the crown (sometimes called “spider stripes”).
The Giants won their second NFL Championship in 1934, the season they made their first significant uniform overhaul. The new white helmets featured a blue crest and rear base. The red jerseys had a blue collar with white vertical stripes running the length of the sleeves. The side panels were royal blue, and the small white block numbers had a royal blue outline. The pants no longer had the high hip pads, but did have black stripes down the back of the legs (a feature common to many teams of this era). The red socks had blue and white stripes lower down the calf.
The Giants first white jersey appeared during the 1935 season as an alternate.
After defeating the powerful 13-0 Chicago Bears in the frozen Polo Grounds in the NFL’s second-ever Championship Game, the 1935 Giants supplemented the red jersey with a white one. It was basically a negative of the red version: a white body with red sleeve stripes, blue side panels and red-trimmed blue block numbers. In 1936, this was the Giants full-time jersey, but the new pants, colorful for that season, were royal blue with white and red stripes down the back of the legs, and the socks were white with red and blue stripes.
1937 – 1952: Honing in on an Identity
Following 11 seasons of experimentation and discovery, the Giants began to find what would become their signature look. The helmet was a royal blue shell with a red “Michigan Wing” pattern. The primary jersey was solid red with plain white block numbers. The pants were beige and the socks were solid red. This is what the Giants wore in 1938 when they became the first NFL team to win two Championship Games, defeating the Green Bay Packers in the Polo Grounds, and Center/Linebacker Mel Hein won the NFL’s first MVP Award. A blue alternate jersey and socks were worn occasionally, usually when the Giants opposed a team that also wore red like the Chicago Cardinals or Washington Redskins. This uniform set remained mostly unchanged through the next 15 years, save for a set of grey pants joining the rotation (initially worn with the blue jerseys before becoming full-time), and evolutions in helmet technology.
Blue and red jerseys, along with tan and grey pants, alternated throughout the 1940′s.
In 1948 the “Michigan Wing” was replaced with the Giants final leather helmet. This model featured a more robust base to protect the player for impacts to the side of the head. The base was red, the crown blue with a red cross-pattern. Charley Conerly wore this uniform when he set a rookie record that would last for 50 years: most touchdown passes in a season with 22.
The majority of the NFL changed over to hard, plastic-shelled helmets in 1950. Immediately the Giants found another major component of their appearance: a solid blue shell (navy blue for many decades) with a single, red stripe down the center.
1953 – 1960: The Classic Era
Television began to have an impact on how teams presented themselves on the field so viewership following on black-and-white screens could easily tell the teams apart. More teams instituted the use of a second jersey in their rotation that was white. To accommodate their fans at home, the Giants inverted their primary jersey: red numbers on white with solid red socks. Although the alternate blue jersey would still appear a few times each season, the Giants were primarily a white-at-home team from 1953 through 1956 (including all home games in 1954).
In 1954 the Giants added “Northwestern Stripes” to the sleeves and in 1956 “TV Numbers” to the sleeves and red numbers flanking the red stripe on the back of the helmets. The Giants defeated the Chicago Bears in Yankee Stadium wearing these uniforms, and halfback Frank Gifford was the NFL’s MVP.
The NFL mandated all teams equip their uniform ensemble with two jerseys in 1957: one a primary color and the second white. The Giants took this opportunity to augment their uniforms with more classic features.
The Giants were the first team to prominently display player numbers on the front of the helmet in 1957.
The helmets now featured bold, white player numbers both in front and back, and the grey pants had three thin separated stripes, red – blue – red, down the side. This was also the season the Giants became “Big Blue.” The Giants (like most NFL teams) wore their primary color jerseys at home full-time over the next 10 seasons, including two famous games with Yankee Stadium as their back drop in 1958 that created their now iconic look: Pat Summerall booting his 49-yard in the snow against the rival Cleveland Browns to force a playoff to decide the Eastern Conference Champion. Two weeks later the Giants heroically bowed to Johnny Unitas’ Baltimore Colts in the NFL’s first sudden-death Championship Game.
1961 – 1965: Continuing Refinements
Following on the heels of a growing trend, the Giants introduced their first helmet logo in 1961, the lowercase “ny”. For most of their existence, the Football Giants official logo was a Giants sized football player towering over the Manhattan skyline, while they borrowed the varying uppercase, interlocking “NY” logos of the baseball Giants and Yankees for the players and coaches sideline overcoats. Now they had one of their own. The Giants would win the NFL Eastern Division the first three seasons with this new logo, as Y.A. Tittle set team and NFL records that would last over 20 years. The pants also had a new stripe pattern, two slightly broader red stripes.
Vince Lombardi wearing the Yankees “NY” and Tom Landry wearing the Baseball Giants “NY” in 1958.
In 1962 the pants stripes changed again, three contiguous red-blue-red stripes. The “Northwestern Stripes” were removed from the white jerseys in 1964.
Red remained the prominent accent color on the Giants white uniforms through the 1965 season.
1966 – 1974: Red Takes a Back Seat
The Giants made some significant changes in 1966. The home uniform did not change much. The helmet and blue jersey did not change, but the pants were now white with a reversed blue-red-blue stripe pattern.The away uniform featuredwhite jerseys with blue numbers, the sleeves had a broad blue-red-blue stripe pattern that matched the pants. White socks with that same stripe pattern were worn through 1967, when this was the Giants uniform of choice for home games.
Minor changes for the 1968 season included solid blue socks worn with the white jersey, and the helmet numbers changed to a thinner but much larger font (to the point where the players’ numbers were almost as prominent as the “ny” logo). Along with the rest of the league, the Giants wore “NFL 50” shield patches on their jersey shoulders the shoulders of their jerseys for the 1969 season.
Large helmet numbers, white pants, and the “NFL 50″ shield patch were part of the Giants look in 1969.
In the early 1970’s many NFL teams had two jersey sets of jerseys. One was durene, for cold weather games and the other mesh. Often there were differences between the two. For the Giants, the noticeable difference was the sleeve stripes. The durene jersey was unchanged, 3/4 length sleeves with broad stripes, until it was eventually phased out after the 1972 season. The mesh jersey had thinner blue-red-blue stripes at the bottom of the short sleeve and was a permanent away jersey through 1974.
1975 -1979: Stripes and Logos
The Giants appeared to experience a bit of an identity crisis during the mid to late ‘70’s. To say the uniforms were a drastic departure from the norm is an understatement.
In an attempt to appear more modern, the classic “ny” was replaced with a double-line, uppercase “NY”. White stripes bracketed the helmet’s red center stripe, and the player’s numbers were removed from the front of the helmet.
The uniform overhaul of 1975 was a radical departure from the Giants traditional look.
The blue jersey had a five-stripe pattern, two broad white stripes flanked by three thin red stripes, and the white numbers had red trim. The pants had an extra-wide blue stripe that was bordered by two red stripes. The blue socks had a matching stripe pattern as the sleeves for most of the season, until they were replaced late in the season by a white sock with a somewhat inverted blue-red-blue-red-blue pattern.
The white jerseys were a negative version of the blue, and were the Giants first set of blue pants in 40 years. The white socks worn with the blue pants had a set of stripes that matched the sleeves stripes.
The Giants uniforms of the late ’70′s featured an abundance of stripes.
The “NY” helmet logo was short lived. In 1976, when the team first stepped onto the field at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, they had another new logo, the italicized and underlined “GIANTS”. It was somewhat reminiscent of the simpler “ny” of the Yankee Stadium era, though the rest of the uniform was not. Some refinements and changes occurred with the socks during the next four seasons. Stripe patterns inverted, white socks were interchanged withred ones (worn with the blue pants only), before blue was settled on permanently in 1977. In 1979 the blue pants were gone and the socks were adorned with an 11-stripe white-red-white pattern.
1980 – 1999: Revision and Stability
Simplicity returned in 1980 as the New York Giants uniforms reflected their early 1970’s look but still retained a modern feel. The white stripes were removed from the helmets and the socks were once again solid blue. The blue jerseys had red-white-red piping along their V-necks and sleeve cuffs. The white pants returned to their familiar blue-red-blue pattern. The blue jerseys had a blue-red-blue pattern. This basic uniform, save for minor number font changes and ceremonial patches, would go unchanged for 20 years. The Giants worn white-at-home for the entire 1980 season, before settling on blue for good, andwould wear those blue jerseys as they won Super Bowls XXI and XXV following the 1986 and 1990 seasons.
The Giants first full-season memorial patch was the “Spider 43″ worn during the championship year of1986.
Variations occurred that served as memorials – black shoulder stripe was sewn onto the jerseys in 1983 in honor of late RB Coach Bob Ledbetter, and the “Spider 43” patches worn during Lawrence Taylor’s MVP 1986 season (with a white background on the blue jersey and a blue background on the white jersey), or anniversaries – the Super Bowl XXV patch, the “NFL 75” patch in 1994, and the Giants “75th Silver Anniversary” patch in 1999.
The entire NFL wore throwback uniforms in 1994. The Giants chose replicas of their 1962 season, and they were mostly authentically replicated. White pants were used with the blue jerseys instead of the traditional grey, changed at the last moment at the league’s behest.
2000 – 2013: Echoes of the Past
Similar in theme to the previous uniform overhaul, the Giants looked to the past while still maintaining a current feel. A mostly traditional “ny” logo returned to the helmet (it was slightly larger and bolder than the original), as well as the player numbers (now block style matching the jerseys). The matte, navy blue shell was now a metallic royal blue.
The blue jerseys were free of all striping and the numbers were solid white. Given the trend of constantly shortening sleeves,the “TV numbers” moved up to the shoulders. The pants were grey but kept the blue-red-blue stripe pattern. The white jerseys had red numbers again, but now featured blue trim. Solid red socks were worn with the white jersey through 2001, when the Giants added a white “GBY” patch for the late George Young. The Giants wore an “80th Anniversary” patch on the blue jerseys for the 2004 season, and also the new alternate red jersey they would wear once each season the next four years.
The Giants have featured a classic-but-modern look since 2000.
New retro white jerseys were introduced for the 2005 season. Plain red block numbers were accompanied with “Northwestern Stripes” on the sleeves. Two memorial patches were worn to honor the passing of owners Wellington Mara and Robert Tisch. The grey pants worn with the white jerseys also had the thin, separated red-blue-red stripes last worn in 1960. These are the uniforms the Giants wore when they twice upset the New England Patriots in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI following the 2007 and 2011 seasons.
These pants received a full-time road designation and were also worn with the blue jersey during away games beginning in 2009, before they became the Giants sole pants in 2012. An alternate set of white pants, with an inverted blue-grey-red-grey-blue stripe pattern, will be worn on occasion with the blue jerseys beginning in 2013.
Offseason Breakdown: New York Giants Running Backs
In the long and storied history of the Giants, five of the franchise’s top six all-time rushers have played in the last 30 years. There was the Joe Morris (5,296 yards) era, the Rodney Hampton (6,897) era, the Tiki Barber (10,449) era, and the Brandon Jacobs/Ahmad Bradshaw (9,081) era.
Are David Wilson and Andre Brown mentally and physically prepared to pick up the mantel? Not only were Jacobs and Bradshaw productive running backs, but they provided a lot of emotion and leadership to the team. “We’ve got a tradition of great running backs here that have established themselves as leaders on this team,” said Running Backs Coach Jerald Ingram.
In addition, who else will round out the backfield? There are currently five running backs (not counting fullback Henry Hynoski) vying for three or four roster spots. Let’s look at the candidates:
Andre Brown: Many assume David Wilson will start, but Andre Brown was ahead of him on the depth chart last year and Head Coach Tom Coughlin may feel that Wilson is better suited as a change-of-pace back and someone who should get fewer touches given his size. On the other hand, Coughlin may trust Brown more with blitz pick-ups on third down and thus Brown may be the one coming off of the bench.
After rupturing his Achilles’ tendon with the Giants in 2009, spending time with four different teams in 2010, and spending all of 2011 on the Giants’ practice squad, Brown surprised everyone by winning the Giants’ #2 running back job in 2012. Indeed, at times, Brown seemed more productive running the football than Ahmad Bradshaw. Before Brown broke his leg in November, he had accrued 385 yards and eight touchdowns on 73 carries, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
Brown has a nice combination of size (6’0’’, 227 pounds) and athletic ability. He is no-nonsense, north-south, downhill runner with some power to his game. Brown performed well in short-yardage and goal line situations last season. He has good hands as a receiver. Brown’s biggest issue right now is that he has to prove he can stay healthy.
“Andre is healthy,” said Ingram. “(Vice President of Medical Services) Ronnie Barnes has done a great job with him right now. He’s motivated. It’s an opportunity for him. He’s been waiting a lifetime around here for that. We brought him in here because he can catch the ball, he can run, he can do a lot of things and be a complete running back here and he’s definitely a true every down kind of guy because he’s got size, speed and quickness. We saw some things out of him a year ago, which was great and it’s a great opportunity for him.”
“Andre has continued to grow,” said Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride. “And he has continued to get better (this spring). You feel more and more confident (about him). He has actually gotten to a point where you feel better about third-down. First and second-down is one important step. But the next step is can you be a third-down back because of the complexity of what people are doing with their defensive schemes?”
Brown realizes the tremendous opportunity in front of him. “I still feel like I’ve got a lot to prove and first I just want to have a healthy season and then go out there and just be productive and help this team win games and championships and that’s what it’s all about,” said Brown.
Early in the offseason, Brown stated that he wanted to rush for 1,300 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2013. He has since toned down his remarks. “I ain’t worried about the carries, I’m not worried about yards, or who’s got the most touchdowns,” said Brown. “I’m just worried about both of us (Wilson and Brown) working together and being effective for the team and having a positive running game.”
But Brown still thinks the Giants are capable of having two 1,000-yard rushers on the same team, a feat accomplished by Jacobs and Derrick Ward in 2008. “It ain’t like they haven’t produced two 1,000-yard backs before in the same season,” said Brown. “I believe that we’re capable of doing that.”
Brown also recognizes there is a leadership void that needs to be filled. “The first couple years we had Brandon, we had Ahmad – those guys were more of the vocal leaders in the room,” Brown said. “I’d just sit back and watch and listen. But now it’s like OK, they showed me the way, and now I’ve gotta step up and be more talkative in the room.”
David Wilson: Last season, Wilson did not see double-digit carries until December and finished the season with 358 yards and four touchdowns on 71 carries (5.0 yards per carry). He only caught four passes for 34 yards and a touchdown. Most of Wilson’s damage came on special teams where he set a team record with 1,533 kickoff return yards, averaging 26.9 yards per return.
David Wilson is very young, having just turned 22 in June. Wilson did not play as much as expected his rookie season, but when he did, he flashed great explosive ability. He also demonstrated a more physical running style than you would anticipate from a 5’9’’, 205 pound running back. And that’s the biggest worry with Wilson – is he big enough not only to take the pounding at the pro level as a ball carrier, but is he big and physical enough to take on blitzing linebackers? The coaches also won’t play him a lot until they believe that he is mentally ready to decipher the complicated blitz packages opposing teams will throw at him, especially on third down.
“I have to be really precise in practice and give the coaches confidence,” said Wilson. “Pass blocking…that’s an area that I definitely need to show the coaches that I can handle.”
“You see a guy like David Wilson who started with no clue on who to block, much less how to block, to a pretty good understanding of what it is that he has to do (during spring practices),” said Gilbride. “Now it is a matter of doing it. And it is a matter of getting better at it. He is still not 100%. He still makes mistakes but there has certainly been some significant, some significant growth. Now until you get the pads on – and he has to show that he, as a smaller guy, can do the things necessary that other small backs in this league have done – you are still kind of holding your breath when you see him.
“But his approach has been great; his attitude in terms of trying to work on that aspect of the game. As a running back, what do you want to do? You want to run the ball. That is all you want to do. You don’t want to do anything else. But he realizes that in order to get the playing time that he wants to get that he is going to have to become a pass receiver; he is going to have to become a good pass protector. And he is going to have to do the things that maybe don’t fall into the strict definition of running the football. But the good thing is that he has been working his tail off.”
“I definitely see progress (in his pass protection),” said Ingram. “I think he’s got a clear understanding as far as what our protections are, what is expected of him, but until you actually physically ask that individual to do that full speed and full gear, we’re not exactly doing that right now. But I think when we go to camp, he knows what his goals are right now and what he has to accomplish to be a complete running back and contribute on our team. I think we’ll get that out of him. He’ll be a much improved player from that situation this year.
“(Wilson) has the talent, has the speed, has a few plays from a year ago underneath his belt. Once we put the pads on, we’ll see who is physical, who’s determined to make plays out there… I think he’s a playmaker… I think we’ll take advantage of his natural ability as much as we can…He’s got to be a guy that Eli can trust in every situation possible and we’ll go from there, but right now I think he’s on track.”
“I’m a lot less nervous, and more comfortable with the offense,” Wilson said. “Going out there now, I can just play football, and run the play that’s called, and not really have to stress as much.”
Speaking of his friendly competition with Brown, Wilson said, “We’re both working hard, and we’re going to play off each other. He’s a bigger back, and I’ve got breakaway speed. We can make things happen.”
Wilson does want to continue to return kicks, but it is unknown whether the Giants will give him that role in 2013. “On kickoff return I definitely want to be a part of that,” said Wilson. “I really enjoy that part of the game and any way I can help the team I’m willing to do it and I definitely want to be back there.”
“(Wilson) would like to (return kicks),” said Special Teams Coordinator Tom Quinn. “He’s done it very well, but we’ll have to see how it all comes down with where he is on the depth chart and what he’s doing on offense… I don’t think it’s too much to do both, but I’m not making all the decisions.”
Da’Rel Scott: Andre Brown and David Wilson are clearly 1a and 1b in terms of the running back pecking order (and it’s not clear who “a” and “b” are at this point). The #3 job is wide open. Da’Rel Scott is the forgotten back on this team, mostly because he has hardly played in the last two seasons since being drafted in the 7th round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Giants. In two years, he has a total of 25 yards on 11 carries. Scott was placed on Injured Reserve in October 2012 after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee.
Scott has adequate size (5’11’’, 210 pounds). He is very fast and is a threat to break a big play every time he touches the ball. However, it still remains to be seen if Scott has the instincts, toughness, elusiveness, and power to succeed at the NFL level on a consistent basis. There simply is not enough to go on yet in order to fully evaluate him.
Coughlin did mention Scott during the June mini-camp. “Da’Rel Scott has had a few good days,” said Coughlin.
Last August, Ingram was asked about Scott. “We saw some things out of Da’Rel (in 2011),” said Ingram. “He’s linear, he can get up field, he’s got good finish speed when he gets going. Where he is right now, he hasn’t been on the field an awful lot. We haven’t played him in a game. Hopefully, we can get him in the game and see what he can do. I want, and we want to see an every down kind of guy, who has some size, who has some quickness, who has some finish speed, who can catch the ball out of the backfield, but can he be a continuous play maker? Can he take care of our quarterback? That’s what we want to see out of him. Until we actually get into these games, who knows?”
Ryan Torain: The Giants signed Ryan Torain in November 2012 as a street free agent. He played in two games but did not touch the football. Torain was originally drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 5th round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Torain was waived by the Broncos in August 2009. He signed with the Washington Redskins in 2010 and spent time on both Washington’s 53-man roster and Practice Squad. The Redskins waived Torain in December 2011. Torain’s best year was in 2010 with the Redskins when he rushed for 742 yards and four touchdowns on 164 carries (4.5 yards per carry) and caught 18 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
Torain is a tough, physical runner with good size (6’0’’, 220 pounds). He lacks ideal speed and elusiveness. Torain also has been somewhat injury prone, something that popped up again in the spring as Torain was sidelined with a hamstring issue.
Michael Cox: Michael Cox was drafted in the 7th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants. He originally played at the University of Michigan before transferring to the University of Massachusetts. Cox is a big (6’0’’, 220 pounds), strong back with decent speed and elusiveness. He catches the ball well.
“He’s a big and powerful elusive guy with speed, so he’s got a lot of things that we like about him,” said General Manager Jerry Reese on the day the Giants drafted Cox.
“Runs hard, he’s got size, he’s got really, really good hands, excellent hands, got a little burst to him,” said Vice President of Player Evaluation Marc Ross. “Real good kid. Our coaches were impressed with him so we were happy we’re getting a big, fast guy who runs hard that late in the draft.”
Cox was regularly mentioned by the Giants’ beat writers as someone who flashed during the spring workouts, showing more nimbleness than anticipated. Coughlin also mentioned him the June mini-camp. “The young kid (Cox) continues to do some good things,” said Coughlin.
Summary: There really are two running back competitions heading into training camp. The first is to determine the “starter” – David Wilson or Andre Brown – though in reality, both will play a lot so the label probably does not mean as much to the team as it does to the fans. The second competition is who will be the #3 back and will someone show enough to convince the Giants to keep four running backs?
Steve Owen: The Rock The New York Giants Were Built On
When Steve Owen, who coached the New York Giants from 1931 through 1953, died of a cerebral hemorrhage at his home in Oneida, New York, I debated for a day whether to make the trip south for the funeral. For a long time I had felt that I owed Owen such homage, and I’d never again be able to pay it… I had wanted to make the pilgrimage because it was Owen, as much as any other, who had brought me round to the Giants and made me a fan. Unable to conceive what my life would have been without football to cushion the knocks, I was sure I owed him sorrow. – Frederick Exley, A Fan’s Notes
Other than Wellington Mara, no other individual in the history of the New York Football Giants has had a bigger impact on the franchise than Stephen Joseph Owen. Yet sadly, Steve Owen is largely unknown and rarely remembered by fans.
Steve Owen was a four-time All-NFL, two-way tackle who played for the Giants from 1926 to 1931. Continuing as a player-coach, Owen became co-head coach with Benny Friedman for the final two games of the 1930 season. In 1931, he assumed sole head-coaching duties of the Giants for the next 23 years until 1953. In 1954 and 1966, Owen served as a scout with the Giants.
Thus for 30 years, during the crucial formative years of the franchise, Owen was the most pivotal figure within the organization not named Mara. As a player, he captained the 1927 team that won the team’s first NFL title and held opposing teams to a single-season, record-low total of 20 points. Then an entire generation of Giants’ fans grew up knowing no other head coach than Steve Owen. The first “golden age” of Giants’ football was not from 1956-63, but from 1933-46 when, during that 14-season time span under Owen, the Giants played in eight NFL Championship games, winning two.
“Steve Owen was really the rock that we built on,” said Wellington Mara. “He was like my second father…I admired him, was greatly attached to him, and respected him. He kind of brought me up in the football business.”
A Wrassler from the Indian Territory
Steve Owen was born on the same day – April 21, 1898 – that President William McKinley asked Congress to declare war on Spain. Owen was born in Cleo Springs in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), where his father had claimed land when the Cherokee Strip was opened to settlers. Owen’s father farmed the land while his mother became the area’s first schoolmarm.
Owen’s high school did not have a football team. “Outside of wrasslin’, we didn’t have any time for sports,” said Owen. “We were too busy with chores and schoolin’ and watchin’ the marshals chase outlaws across the Cimarron River.”
By the time he was 16, Owen already weighed 220 pounds. Apparently, his father was so proud of his strength that he would wake up Steve in the middle of the night to wrestle some stranger he had brought home. “I wasn’t allowed to go back to bed until I whipped the fellow Pop brought home,” said Owen.
In the summer as a high school teenager, Owen would travel to Texas to work the oil fields, making $3 a day for 12 hours of work. Owen wanted to return to Texas after graduating. However, Owen’s mom convinced him to attend Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma where Owen enlisted in the Student Army Training Corps with America’s entry into the First World War. In college, Owen wrestled professionally under the alias “Jack O’Brien” in order to protect his amateur standing.
It was also at college where Owen was introduced to football. His college coach told him, “Son, you now have the secret. It’s a rough game and you’ll get hurt if you let the other fellow hit you harder than you hit him. That’s why football is a good game. It won’t let a man play easy. You’ll learn the rules fast enough. Just remember this: respect every other boy on this squad and work with him. Never lose respect for your opponent or he’ll hit you harder than you hit him.”
A Champion as a Giants Player
In 1924, Owen signed with the Kansas City Blues for $50 per game. He also played for the Cleveland Bulldogs and Kansas City Cowboys in 1925. The Giants were so impressed with Owen that they bought Owen from the Cowboys in 1926 for $500.
“I had seen a lot of fat hogs go for more than they paid for me,” said Owen, “but in those days a fat hog was a lot more valuable than a fat tackle. I was going to New York even if I had to walk there.”
Owen rapidly became one of the best players on the Giants. He played for the Giants from 1926-1931, plus a one-game return in 1933. ”Stout Steve” captained the 1927 Championship team that went 11-1-1. He anchored a defense that incredibly held opposing offenses to 20 points all season. The Giants shutout 10 teams that year and out-scored their opponents 197-20. Owen was named All-NFL four times during an era when tough men played 60 minutes on both offense and defense. Depending on the source, Owen ranged anywhere from 5’10’’ to 6’2’’ and 215 pounds to 260 pounds. (Most sources say 5’10” and around 245 pounds). “Stout Steve” Owen was known as a brutal tackler.
“If a boy isn’t willing to get off the ground and hit back a little harder than he was hit, no coach can help him,” said Owen.
“It was a one-platoon game then,” said Wellington Mara. “As Steve Owen used to say, men were men in those days.”
“Football was a different game then,” said Owen. “The ball was bigger and harder to pass, you couldn’t pass from closer than five yards behind the line of scrimmage, and, in 1927, they moved the goal posts back ten yards from the goal line. But the big difference was the way we played the game. We were pretty much a smash-and-shove gang. We were bone crushers, not fancy Dans.”
A Champion as a Giants Coach
Owen and QB Benny Friedman took over head coaching duties from LeRoy Andrews for the last two games of the 1930 season. In 1931, Owen became the Giants’ sole head coach, despite sometimes still putting on the uniform.
“Steve Owen was the Giants’ head coach when I joined the team in 1931,” said Hall of Fame Giants’ center/linebacker Mel Hein. “It was his first full year as head coach. Actually, Steve was player-coach that year, but he only suited up for about three games. He was about 33 or 34 then. Steve was a very good coach, though, and all the players respected him.”
As a head coach, Owen never signed a contract with the Mara family. At the end of each season, from 1931 to 1953, he coached on a simple handshake agreement.
“Life and football were similar to Owen,” said journalist and author Gerald Eskenazi. “Neither was complicated. Appearances were not deceiving. He judged a man by his actions, and it was as simple as that.”
Owen was the first NFL coach to emphasize defense, and thus, Owen really is the grandfather of the franchise’s defensive tradition. Upsetting fans, Owen would often go for the sure field goal rather than gamble on the touchdown. “Steve was the first to stress the importance of defense and the advantage of settling for field goals instead of touchdowns,” said the Chicago Bears’ legendary George Halas in 1953. “Every team strives today to do what Owen was doing twenty years ago.”
Owen believed in solid, physical, fundamental football. He made sure his players knew how to block and tackle. Owen was not splashy and his run-oriented offenses were criticized as being too conservative.
“If it’s new,” wrote a sportswriter, “Close-to-the-Vest Owen won’t try it.”
“Football is a game played down in the dirt and it always will be,” said Owen. “There’s no use getting fancy about it.”
The NFL did not start playing championship games until 1933. Owen’s first two seasons as head coach were underwhelming as New York finished 7-6-1 in 1931 (fifth in the NFL) and 4-6-2 in 1932 (fifth in the NFL).
Everything changed in 1933. The NFL inaugurated the divisional structure combined with the NFL Championship Game. Under Owen, the Giants became perennial contenders and would play in eight of NFL’s first 14 championship games.
In 1933 and 1934, the Giants finished first in the NFL’s new Eastern Division with 11-3 and 8-5 records, respectively. The Giants lost the 1933 Championship to the Chicago Bears in a nail biter 23-21. The following season, New York enacted their revenge on the undefeated 13-0 Chicago Bears by winning 30-13 in the famous “sneakers” 1934 Championship Game. The Giants won the Eastern Division again in 1935 with a 9-3 record, but lost the 1935 Championship Game to the Detroit Lions 26-7.
1934 New York Giants
After a two year hiatus from the playoffs, the Giants won Eastern Division in 1938 (8-2-1) and 1939 (9-1-1). The Giants beat the Packers 23-17 in a thrilling Championship Game in New York in 1938, but lost the 1939 Championship Game in Milwaukee to the Packers 27-0.
In the next seven seasons, the Giants would win the Eastern Division three more times and tie for the division lead in another season. But the Giants would lose all four post-season games, including the three Championship Games and the division tie-breaker. The Bears beat the Giants in the Championship Game in 1941 (39-7) and 1946 (24-14), and the Packers beat the Giants in the 1944 Championship Game (14-7). The Giants also lost the divisional tie-breaker 28-0 to the Redskins in 1943. From 1942-45, many of the Giants’ best players had gone off to fight the Germans and Japanese.
Appearing in eight NFL Championships in 14 years was a remarkable run. However, Owen’s luster began to fade after the 1946 season. The Giants fell to 2-8-2 in 1947, 4-8 in 1948, and 6-6 in 1949.
“I still didn’t know much about football,” said Giants’ owner Tim Mara, “but I knew from what my sons told me that what was happening to us wasn’t the coach’s fault. We just weren’t giving Owen the players to win, and that was our fault, not his.”
Steve Owen (Middle) at 1941 Pro Bowl
Despite the introduction of the powerhouse Cleveland Browns into the Giants’ division, Owen’s Giants rebounded in 1950 (10-2, first-place divisional tie), 1951 (9-2-1, second place), and 1952 (7-5, second place). Nevertheless, when the Giants fell to 3-9 in 1953, the writing was on the wall for Owen and the Giants. It had been seven years since the Giants played in a Championship Game and 15 years without a post-season victory. The game was entering the modern era, with more attention to detail and complex new offensive innovations. It was clear the NFL was changing but Owen wasn’t. It was time to go.
In the waning moments of his last game as head coach of the Giants – a 27-16 loss to the Detroit Lions in December 1953 – television cameras showed Owen standing alone on the sidelines in tears.
Officially, Owen “resigned” but he was forced to do so. Wellington Mara said the decision to let Owen go was extremely difficult. “It was like telling your father you’re putting him out of your home,” said Mara.
“You’ve got a place with the Giants as long as you live, Steve,” said Jack Mara to Owen. “I hope you know that.”
Owen served as a scout with the Giants briefly, but then he moved on. “He was hurt and wanted no part of that,” said Wellington Mara.
Owen was criticized for being unimaginative. But not only is he recognized as the first NFL head coach to focus on defense, Owen is credited with several important innovations.
In the old NFL, player substitution was restricted. If a player left the field, he couldn’t return until the next quarter. There were no separate offensive, defensive, and special teams units. Most teams played their 11 two-way starters until they dropped. By the fourth quarter, the best players were usually hurt or out of gas. In 1937, Owen was the first head coach to develop a two-platoon system by maintaining two relatively equal squads and substituting 10 starters at the end of the first and third quarters. (Because he was so valuable, center/linebacker Mel Hein continued to play a full 60 minutes).
Steve Owen, Ken Strong, and Ward Cuff in 1939
“To start with, (the two-platoon system) lessens the wear and tear on the individual player,” said Owen. “He doesn’t play enough to get tired and therefore is better able to absorb the bumps that go with the play. But more important I think is the effect on team morale. I find that a rivalry has risen between my A and B squads. Each one wants to outdo the other and that’s incentive to keep ‘em driving. So long as I can keep my two squads intact, I’m convinced the Giants will continue to win.”
Owen also devised the A-formation in 1937, which at the time was considered a radical offensive concept. After showing one offensive set, the Giants would then shift into the single wing, double wing, punt formation, or the A-formation. In the A-formation, the Giants would unbalance their line to one side and overbalance the backfield to the other side.
“He split his lineman and placed four on the right side of the center and just an end and tackle on the left,” said Giants’ fullback/safety Hank Soar. “He put the wingback behind the weak side end, the blocker behind the weak side tackle, the tailback four yards behind the center with the quarterback a yard in front of him and to his right.”
The A-formation was difficult to defend because the center could snap the football to one of three players – the quarterback, fullback, or blocking back. And either the quarterback or fullback could throw the football. The Giants were the only team to use the A-formation because it required having a great center, and the Giants were fortunate enough to have the best in the game, Mel Hein.
Steve Owen at the Blackboard in 1939
Owen was at heart a defensive coach and he was not afraid to innovate on defense. Teams traditionally used seven-man defensive lines, but Owen experimented with six- and five-man fronts. In 1937, he moved the Giants to a 5-3-3 defense.
“Even as a player Steve was conscious of the importance of a good defense,” said Soar. “He tried to convince his coach to use such radical departures from the standard defenses as five and six-man lines. When he became coach of the Giants he put his ideas into action. We had stunting linemen, rushing linebackers although we did not call it the blitz, and as the safety man I often performed what is now called the safety blitz. We had a very good pass defense and fellows like (Sammy) Baugh, (Cecil) Isbell, and (Don) Hutson seldom had good days against us.”
In 1950, Owen is also credited with creating the umbrella defense, which was largely designed to stop the dynamic passing attack of QB Otto Graham and the Cleveland Browns. The umbrella employed a 6-1-4 formation that would have the ends drop into coverage, placing the defensive emphasis on coverage rather than the pass rush. It was a novel concept at the time and it worked like a charm against the super-talented Browns for a few years. In fact, Owen’s Giants won four of their six regular-season meetings against the Browns from 1950-52. The 10-2 Giants were the only team to beat the Browns (twice) in 1950, including shutting Cleveland out for the first time ever, but New York lost the divisional playoff to the Cleveland 8-3. This was the start of the great Giants-Browns rivalry of the 1950′s as New York proved to be Cleveland’s greatest nemesis.
Tom Landry was a defensive back in Owen’s umbrella defense, along with Hall of Fame defensive back Emlen Tunnell. A few years later, as Giants’ defensive coordinator, Landry would tweak Owen’s umbrella defense, creating the modern 4-3 defense.
Owen Comes Home
After Owen “resigned,” he remained with the Giants briefly as a scout in 1954. He went on to do some coaching with South Carolina, Baylor, and the Eagles. Owen then served as head coach for the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts (1959), Calgary Stampeders (1960), and Saskatchewan Roughriders (1961-62). Owen was named CFL Coach of the Year in 1962.
Owen suffered a heart attack late in 1962 and he resigned from the Roughriders in January 1963. Unable to stay away from football, Owen became the head coach of the United Football League’s Syracuse Stormers in March 1963. But the Stormers finished the season winless at 0-12.
After coaching the Stormers, Owen came home. “Do you think you could find a job for a broken down old coach?” Owen asked Jack Mara. “I know we can,” said Mara. “We can always make room for another scout.”
Steve Owen died on May 17, 1964 at the age of 66 after suffering a terminal cerebral hemorrhage. He was survived by his second wife Miriam who passed away in 2001 at the age of 90. Both are buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Oneida, New York. (Owen’s first wife Florence passed away in 1933 in Boston, during training camp).
Steve Owen and Miriam Sweeney in 1935
At the time of his death, Arthur Daley of The New York Times wrote, “It was only fitting that stout Steve should have been a member of the Giant organization when he died yesterday…It is quite possible that no professional coach ever inspired more love, devotion, and admiration among his players than did Steve. The only counterpart was Knute Rockne at Notre Dame. A might stout fella was Owen. The Giants and all professional football owe him much for his contributions.”
Owen was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame two years later in 1966. The Hall later named him to the “All-NFL Team of the 1920′s.”
As a player, Steve Owen anchored and captained the Giants’ 1927 Championship team. As head coach for nearly a quarter century, Owen’s Giants accrued a 153-100-17 regular-season record. No other Giants’ head coach comes close to matching Owen’s win total. His Giants won eight division titles and two NFL Championships. He began New York’s storied defensive tradition, and created the two-platoon system, the A-formation, and the umbrella defense.
As a Hall of Fame player and a coach, Steve Owen was a Giant among men.
The linebacker position on the Giants has been unsettled for quite some time. For the older fans, who had the pleasure to watch players such as Sam Huff, Harry Carson, Brad Van Pelt, Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks, and Jessie Armstead, it has been frustrating.
When the Giants shifted from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense in the 1990s, the personnel emphasis naturally shifted from spending premium resources on linebackers to defensive linemen. And that trend has continued under General Manager Jerry Reese.
Since Reese became general manager of the Giants in 2007, in seven drafts, the Giants have drafted seven linebackers, including players in the second, fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds. Only two remain on the roster – sixth-rounders Adrian Tracy and Jacquian Williams. Tracy, a defensive end in college, was drafted as a linebacker and has since been moved back to defensive end. Gone by the wayside are Bryan Kehl, Jonathan Goff, Clint Sintim, Phillip Dillard, and Greg Jones.
In free agency under Reese, the Giants have signed Kawika Mitchell, Danny Clark, Michael Boley, Keith Bulluck, Dan Connor, Aaron Curry, and Kyle Bosworth. The latter three were signed this offseason.
The Giants also traded away their fifth round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft for Keith Rivers.
It’s obviously too early to comment on Connor, Curry, and Bosworth, but of all of the rest, since 2007, only Boley became an established, multi-year starter for the Giants. (After four seasons as a starter, Boley was released this offseason). If we’re being honest, to date, Reese’s track record in addressing the linebacking position has not been good.
With Boley and free agent departure Chase Blackburn no longer on the roster, and Mathias Kiwanuka moving back to defensive end, the Giants will have three new starters at linebacker in 2013. That’s quite a turnover. And it is conceivable that the three new starters in 2013 will be castoffs Rivers, Connor, and Curry. In fact, if you could turn back the clock and tell a Giants fan in April 2008 that the Rivers, Connor, and Curry would be starting for Big Blue in few years, the response would have been, “How the hell did Reese pull that off?” We’ll have to see if they can turn their careers around and regain former collegiate glory.
The Giants currently have nine linebackers on the roster. They will probably keep seven on the 53-man roster, especially since linebackers usually make good special teams players. But it is possible that they could keep as few as six.
“(Our linebackers) actually had a good spring,” said Head Coach Tom Coughlin at the end of mini-camp. “And the good thing about them, they are very unselfish. They work hard; they study hard. If I called for a one hour meeting, those guys were probably going to meet for an hour and a half to two. It is just the way that group is. They have been good. So we’ll see. I have seen some growth and I have seen a lot of good things happen out here. They are going to have to. It’s going to have to happen.”
Let’s look at each of these nine players:
Dan Connor: A highly-regarded Penn State linebacker coming out of the 2008 NFL Draft, Connor was originally selected in the 3rd round by the Carolina Panthers. He signed with the Cowboys as a free agent in March 2012. Connor was then signed by the Giants in March 2013 after he was released by the Dallas. In five NFL seasons, Connor has played in 56 regular-season games with 27 starts. In 2012, Connor started eight games for the Cowboys and finished the season with 56 tackles and one pass defense. Connor has decent size, but lacks athleticism. He is more of a tough, blue-collar, two-down run defender who sometimes struggles in pass coverage. Connor is not overly physical at the point-of-attack, but he is quick to locate the ball, avoids blocks well, and is a good, solid tackler. He can play inside or outside, but he definitely is more comfortable in a 4-3 scheme. Connor’s biggest problem has been staying healthy.
“I think (middle linebacker is my best) position,” Connor said. “That’s the position where I’m comfortable. I played it in college, I was in the middle of a 4-3 in Carolina. So I feel most comfortable in the middle. But I do have some experience on the outside.”
“It’s all about being technique-perfect and being able to call the defense, make the checks and be spot on,” Connor said. “As a new guy in the locker room, that’s how I’m going to earn respect – by knowing not only my position but everyone else’s position. So studying is big for me right now, being vocal on the field, and basically earn the respect of guys who I met (only recently).”
Connor’s chief competition at middle linebacker, Mark Herzlich, has been impressed by Connor. “Dan is a very intelligent player,” said Herzlich. “He’s very good with his reads and his fits. He’s very precise.”
“Run fits have been a point of emphasis, making sure everyone is in the right place at the right time,” said Connor. “The coaches have done a great job teaching us the mistakes that were made last season.”
“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” said Connor. “We have a lot of young guys. They’re hungry. Each one of us feels like we want to put our name on the map. I really like this defense. It lets you play fast and play aggressive.”
Aaron Curry: In the 2009 NFL Draft, Curry was widely-regarded as one of the best linebacking prospects in years and “the safest pick” in the draft. The Seattle Seahawks made him the fourth player selected overall in that draft, but Curry never lived up to his draft hype and was traded to the Raiders during the 2011 season for a 7th round pick and conditional 5th round pick. Curry played better in Oakland, but he was hampered by chronic knee issues and was cut.
Physically, Curry has excellent size and strength. Although he lacks ideal lateral agility, when healthy, he is a very good athlete who runs well. For some reason, it hasn’t come together for Curry at the pro level. Critics have pointed to the lack of big plays, inconsistency, poor coverage, and too often being out of position.
Curry says his problem in Seattle was that he was not focused on football. “Early in my career, I was just selfish and self-centered,” said Curry. “I was more about me than I was about the Seahawks. It was immaturity, and I’m glad I got past that stage…It was like I knew I could do it and I knew I would do it. I just don’t think at the time I was interested in doing it. I think I was interested in other things and at the time football just wasn’t my top priority, just to be honest…(Now) I approach everything differently. I see details now. Football is important now. It has a priority in my life that I’m willing to do whatever it takes that’s going to help the Giants be successful and I’m not so selfish…Now I’m more about finding a way to just put out a lot of effort and a lot of energy and just cause havoc.”
Curry’s biggest issue now may be the health of his knees. Curry underwent stem-cell therapy on both of his knees during the 2012 offseason. He only played two games before he was cut in November. He then underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in December.
Curry’s former linebacker coach in Seattle, Ken Norton, is still a believer if Curry is healthy. “He was a 4-3 linebacker playing off the ball and you’re not going to get sacks,” Norton said. “He’s probably the best linebacker I’ve ever had to play over the tight end and just dominate him. There were a whole lot of expectations. You don’t see the sack numbers and people say this guy isn’t doing what he’s supposed to be doing. At the end, his legs and knees were hurting a lot and he was unable to stop on a dime. He couldn’t do all the things he was supposed to do.”
“If Aaron’s health isn’t an issue, if he can run and stop and hit, I mean, this kid hasn’t scratched the surface,” Norton said. “He can do a lot of amazing things. He does things that Carl Banks used to do on the tight end. Once he gets his mind set on something, he can do it. The only issue with him has been what’s going on between the ears. If everything is in order and he’s to the point where he has something to prove, the Giants might have caught him at the right time.”
“I hope to be able to offer some positive energy (to the defense),” said Curry. “I just want to run around and hit things that are moving and I want my teammates to get excited. I want the defense to be excited at all times and I hope to be able to just uplift everybody and do what’s asked of me and do it full speed…My job and my only motivation is to go out there, play hard, play fast, be physical and get my teammates to just be fired up with me and just bring a positive energy every day.”
Keith Rivers: If Curry was supposed to be a “sure thing”, then Rivers was pretty damn close. Rivers was the ninth player taken in the 2008 NFL Draft. But the injury-prone linebacker was traded by the Bengals to the Giants in 2012 for a 5th round draft pick.
While Rivers never lived up to his draft hype in Cincinnati, he was a solid player for the Bengals when he played. The problem was that he couldn’t stay healthy and that trend continued with the Giants in 2012. Last season, hamstring and calf injuries caused him to miss five games and limited his playing time and effectiveness. Rivers finished the season with six starts and accrued 44 tackles. In four seasons in Cincinnati, Rivers started 33-of-35 regular-season games he played in. But he missed 29 regular-season games with injuries – including nine games in 2008 with a broken jaw and all of the 2011 season with a wrist injury that required surgery. Rivers also missed time in 2009 with a calf injury and in 2010 with plantar fasciitis. Rivers is an athletic, three-down linebacker. He is more of the run-and-hit type than physical presence at the point-of-attack against the run. Rivers has the overall athletic ability and range to do well in coverage, but he needs to become more consistent in that area of his game. He only has two career sacks.
Interestingly, Giants’ beat reporter Paul Dottino, who also does some work for the Giants, says Rivers was clearly the best linebacker in training camp last year. During spring workouts, Rivers was starting at weakside linebacker in Mathias Kiwanuka’s old position. (Note: In Perry Fewell’s system, the weakside linebacker is called the strongside linebacker).
During OTAs, Coughlin said, “The other day Keith Rivers made a heck of a play.” Rivers has the ability to be a very steady performer for New York if he can just stay on the football field.
Mark Herzlich: Herzlich was regarded as one of the better collegiate linebackers in the country before missing the 2009 season at Boston College with bone cancer. Because of the illness, a titanium rod was inserted into Herzlich’s left femur. Herzlich has very good size, but the key question is whether Herzlich now has the overall athletic ability to excel at the pro level. Last year, it was anticipated that Herzlich would provide more of a serious challenge to Chase Blackburn for the starting middle linebacker position, but Herzlich underwhelmed.
Herzlich has had a very good spring. It was Herzlich, not Dan Connor, who started at middle linebacker during spring workouts and the coaches appear to have come away impressed.
“Very commanding,” said Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell. “He’s taken a leadership role out there and I think he has some good respect from his teammates in some of the things he’s done in the OTAs. Obviously, we want to find out what happens when the pads come on.”
“After the first OTA, (Spencer Paysinger and I) always go and watch the films,” said Herzlich. “Me and Spence were watching film, and we’re like, ‘We’re gonna know this defense better than the coaches.’ So we went to Costco that day, got dry erase boards. I was on the dry erase board all day, just reviewing everything from OTAs, getting ready for mini-camp. That way, when you eliminate the mental mistakes, you can play faster and more physical.”
“As linebackers, you never want to be called ‘soft,’” said Herzlich. “There were some people saying that we were playing soft last year. So we have a mentality to change that this season…We’ve talked about how we couldn’t stop the run when we needed to last season. People say, ‘It’s the defensive line.’ But it starts with the linebackers. We have to fill our gaps and play downhill.”
Connor may overtake Herzlich in training camp and the preseason, but right now, it’s Herzlich’s job to lose.
Spencer Paysinger: Paysinger was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2011 NFL Draft. While serving primarily as one of the Giants’ best special teams players, Paysinger has seen his playing time on the defense increase. He actually started three games in 2012 and finished the season with 39 tackles and one forced fumble. Paysinger has a nice combination of size and athleticism.
Paysinger appears to be flying under the radar scope of many fans. In spring workouts, Paysinger has been starting in Michael Boley’s old strongside linebacker spot. If Paysinger fails, it will not be for lack of hard work. In the offseason, he initiated an intense workout program that not only included weight training, but hot yoga, acupuncture, stretching, and martial arts.
“I came into the league two years ago at 233 pounds and now I’m about 245 pounds and I feel like I haven’t lost a step,” said Paysinger. “When you get heavier, bigger, and bulkier, it’s natural for you to lose a step or two when it comes to agility. By doing yoga and acupuncture and revving up my on-field work, it’s allowed me to counteract any lost steps.”
“(Paysinger) is doing a good job,” said Linebackers Coach Jim Herrmann. “He has a great opportunity to get snaps. And he is competing for the job. He has matured over the last two years. To me, the biggest thing I have seen was his maturity level, because he is comfortable with the formation. Now he is going to go out and take the next step forward because he is anticipating the plays faster and faster. He’s not worried about ‘What do I do in this defense – What do I do in that defense?’ It is, ‘Okay, I know what I am doing – now what is the offense going to do?’ And he is anticipating. And all of those guys have done a much better job of that.”
“Me and Mark (Herzlich), we’ve taken it upon ourselves to learn the defense in and out, studying together,” said Paysinger. “Buying dry erase boards to take home and just draw up plays. Pretty much internalizing the playbook to where it becomes second nature – cause if you know your stuff, you can play that much better.”
“I feel like it’s my time, Mark’s time, even Keith (Rivers’) time to step up and show we can handle this,” said Paysinger.
Jacquian Williams: Williams was drafted in the 6th round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Giants. He was a very raw player coming out of the University of South Florida, having started only one season. Williams lacks bulk, but he is extremely athletic, fast, and quick for the position. However, Williams is not very physical and due to his size, he can get mauled at the point-of-attack against the run. Williams flashes as a blitzer and he could develop into a good coverage linebacker with added experience.
Williams’ 2012 season was sabotaged by a PCL knee injury he suffered in October that caused him to miss six games. He finished the year with just 30 tackles, down from the 78 he accrued in 2011. Though Williams returned to the playing field in December 2012, the PCL injury surprisingly limited him in the spring workouts this year. Hopefully, he will be closer to 100 percent when training camp starts.
Kyle Bosworth: The nephew of former Seahawks’ linebacker Brian Bosworth, Kyle was signed by the Giants as an unrestricted free agent from the Jaguars in May 2013. Eligible to be a restricted free agent, Bosworth was not tendered by Jacksonville. Bosworth was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Jaguars after the 2010 NFL Draft. He spent his rookie season on Injured Reserve with a hamstring injury. He also missed much of 2011 after being placed on Injured Reserve in November with a broken hand. In 2012, Bosworth played in all 16 games. He started five games but was later benched. He finished 2012 with 37 tackles and one interception.
Bosworth is smart, hard-working, and versatile – he can play all three linebacking spots. However, despite having decent size, strength, and some speed, Bosworth is a limited athlete who struggles in space. Bosworth is a very good special teams player and that – combined with his versatility and intelligence – may give him a leg up in the competition for backup spots.
“We felt like he would make a nice fit as a linebacker and a special-teamer,” said Coughlin after Bosworth was signed.
“I can definitely play all the (linebacker) positions,” Bosworth said. “I’ve still got to do a lot of learning in the playbook, but I’m able to fit in with the (weakside, middle, and strongside linebacker). I’m very versatile. I’ve played and started. I’ve been on every single special team, so basically wherever they need me I’ll be able to do it. Whatever they ask and I’ll be ready to go.”
Jake Muasau: Muasau was originally signed by the Giants as a rookie free agent after the May 2012 rookie mini-camp. The Giants waived him in late August, but decided to give him another shot in training camp this year and re-signed him in January 2013. Muasau was voted Georgia State University’s most valuable defensive player by his teammates in 2010 and 2011 when he played the “bandit” DE/LB hybrid position. Muasau has good size and plays with good intensity.
Etienne Sabino: Sabino was signed by the Giants as a rookie free agent after the 2013 NFL Draft. Sabino was a highly-recruited high school linebacker who had a disappointing overall career at Ohio State, but he started to come on as a senior despite breaking his leg. He could project to either middle or outside linebacker. Sabino is a well-built athlete with good agility, quickness, and speed. He flashes ability to run-and-hit as well as take-on-and-shed. There are conflicting scouting reports on his instincts. Sabino should do well on special teams. He supposedly has good intangibles – mature and coachable.
Summary: The starters heading into training camp are Rivers, Herzlich, and Paysinger. But they will be challenged by Curry, Connor, and Williams. It will be interesting to see if there are three viable starters and play-makers within this group, and if the three new starters can integrate themselves with each other and the other eight members of the defense quickly. Not many teams completely revamp their starting linebacking corps in one offseason. For a defense that finished 31st in 2012 and was equally bad against the run and the pass, it is imperative that the linebacking play improve.
Memories are often short for NFL fans. The long offseason, with excitement of numerous roster subtractions and additions, can overshadow recent failure. It’s an exciting time for fans, but it is important to remember that the ultimate goal is not to make noise in the offseason, but to make noise on the playing field when the games count.
Aside from a six-game stretch at the end of the 2011 season, the New York Giants defense has been putrid for the last two seasons. It was 27th in yards allowed in 2011 and 31st in yards allowed in 2012. It has had trouble stopping the run (25th in 2012) and the pass (28th in 2012). Indeed, if it were not for 35 takeaways (2nd in the NFL), the defensive stats, including scoring defense (12th in 2012), would surely have been much worse. Personally, I never think it is wise to count on being a league leader in takeaways. Too much luck is involved.
For better or worse, many of core defensive players are now gone: DE Osi Umenyiora, DT Chris Canty, LB Michael Boley, LB Chase Blackburn, and S Kenny Phillips. DT Rocky Bernard also will not be re-signed.
New faces include veteran free agents DT Cullen Jenkins, DT Mike Patterson, DT Frank Okam, LB Dan Connor, LB Aaron Curry, and S Ryan Mundy – all but Jenkins signed to only 1-year contracts. Also added to the mix were rookie draft picks DT Johnathan Hankins, DE Damontre Moore, and S Cooper Taylor.
There still may be a move or two, but the roster heading into camp is largely set. More tweaking could occur in late August and early September when teams make their final cuts.
Obviously, there has been a lot of change. But will change lead to improved results on the playing field both in the short-term and medium-term? Has the talent actually improved? Moving beyond 2013, key veteran holdovers such as DE Justin Tuck, CB Corey Webster, and S Antrel Rolle are aging and taking up too much salary cap space. DT Linval Joseph will be a free agent and DE Jason Pierre-Paul will want a new contract soon. Who will the front office and coaching staff determine to be the core defensive players to build around on this team moving forward? Who will be the defensive leaders? Can Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell restructure the various moving parts into an effective, cohesive unit in 2013 and beyond? Yes, there is change in every offseason, but there is a pretty significant changing of the guard on defense. Can it all come together quickly?
Defensive Line: Except for Pierre-Paul’s play in 2011 and late season flashes from everyone else that same season, this unit has largely lived off its reputation rather than consistent play on the football field. And because of that, gone are Umenyiora, Canty, and Bernard. Tuck could be next in 2014.
On paper, the defensive line is still the strongest position on defense. There are 16 bodies present and all of them have talent. The Giants will probably keep five defensive ends and the sure bets are Tuck, Pierre-Paul, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Damontre Moore. But Adrian Tracy, Adewale Ojomo, Justin Trattou, and Matt Broha have all flashed as players. Based on early impressions, it appears that Tuck is reinvigorated to have a big season, if for no other reason than his next contract with the Giants or another team. But he has been physically beat-up and quite moody in recent years. JPP also needs to rebound from a sackless second half if he wants a big-money contract. Kiwanuka should move back to his more natural position with something to prove as well. Moore has exciting potential, but he needs a lot of work in the weight room. If the Giants think Tuck is likely to depart in 2014, can they find a way to hold onto six defensive ends this year?
The Giants added a lot of new bodies at defensive tackle. Due to injuries and declining play, this was necessary. Linval Joseph returns. He has a lot of talent but he needs to be more effectively consistent on the playing field. Cullen Jenkins should add veteran leadership and a pass rush presence. Johnathan Hankins is the type of stout, double team-eating nose tackle that this team has lacked. That leaves one or two spots for Mike Patterson, Shaun Rogers, Markus Kuhn, Marvin Austin, and Frank Okam. Austin is the three-technique, pass rusher of the group. Rogers and Okam are huge nose tackle types. Patterson and Kuhn offer flexibility and can play the run. Moving forward past 2013, if the Giants can re-sign Joseph (a big if), then the Giants will be in good shape with him and Hankins. The real wild card is Austin. Is he a bust or can he become the player the Giants hoped he would when they drafted him in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft?
Linebacker: Most Giants’ fans seemed to be more concerned with this position than any other. For quite some time, the Giants have rarely addressed this spot high in the draft (with the exception of Clint Sintim). The team has been more proactive in free agency with additions such as Michael Barrow, Antonio Pierce, and Michael Boley to name a few. The same pattern continued this offseason. The Giants did not draft a linebacker but added Dan Connor and Aaron Curry in free agency. They also re-signed Keith Rivers.
This position is the most unsettled on the team despite the fact there are only eight linebackers on the current roster and it is conceivable that the Giants could only carry six heading into the regular season. There is little stability right now. Not only is there no sure starter at any of the three spots, but five of the eight players will see their contracts expire after the 2013 season. Dan Connor is probably the favorite to start in the middle, but he could be challenged there by Aaron Curry or Mark Herzlich. Curry will also vie for one of the outside spots along with Rivers, Jacquian Williams, and Spencer Paysinger. Long shots include Jake Muasau who was with the Giants in camp last year and rookie free agent Etienne Sabino.
One wonders how much the Giants will actually use three linebackers on the field. Obviously, a three-linebacker set will be their base defense. And one would think that having more linebackers on the field would be a good thing against a run-centric team like the Washington Redskins. But Perry Fewell and many other defensive coordinators are using more nickel-type defenses in today’s passing league, and Fewell, in particular, favors the three-safety look.
Rivers has talent, but he can’t seem to stay healthy. Williams can run like a deer, but is he physical enough? Paysinger has been working like a dog this offseason to get his shot. But both he and Herzlich need to prove they are more than just special teams players. The real wild cards are Connor and Curry – two highly-touted collegiate prospects who have had their ups and downs in the NFL, each with two different teams.
Defensive Back: It’s not the linebacker position that worries me the most, but cornerback. This was the position I was more shocked the Giants did not address in the draft. On paper, the Giants look deep and talented with Corey Webster, Prince Amukamara, Terrell Thomas, Jayron Hosley, and Aaron Ross. But Webster and Ross are over 30 and obviously on the downside of their respective careers. Thomas is coming off his third ACL tear on the same knee. If Webster rebounds from a bad 2012, if Thomas’ knee holds up and his overall athleticism hasn’t suffered, and if Ross can serve as a steady backup, then the Giants should be in good shape. But those are all huge “ifs”. Things could get really ugly if the answers to those questions are negative. Moreover, the Giants need Prince Amukamara to build upon a decent 2012 with a better 2013. And they desperately need Jayron Hosley to improve; he struggled quite a bit as a nickel corner in 2012.
Is there any potential gem in the other unknown cornerback candidates? Terrence Frederick, Laron Scott, Trumaine McBride, Charles James, and Junior Mertile are all vying for a spot on the 53-man roster.
Safety is more settled, but the Giants will be without Kenny Phillips. It’s hard to envision Stevie Brown duplicating his 8-interception season again in 2013, but we shall see. Rolle is steady and athletic, but he does not make many plays on the football and his cap number may become untenable in 2014. Will Hill flashed a great deal of promise and the Giants drafted Cooper Taylor. Ryan Mundy is a veteran free agent addition, but he was often viewed as a liability in coverage in Pittsburgh. Tyler Sash has not demonstrated anything more than special teams ability and may be on the hot seat. Veteran David Cardwell and rookie free agents Alonzo Tweedy and John Stevenson are the long shots.
Summary: So there has been a great deal of change. But will these changes improve their dreadful defensive rankings? There is talent on the defensive line, but it has to stop living off its reputation. Everything seems to be in a state of flux at linebacker. Are there three quality starters in that group? In the secondary, much depends on the questions surrounding the cornerback spot. Can Webster rebound? Can Thomas come back healthy and strong? Will Amukamara prove to be worthy of a #1 pick?
And can Perry Fewell and his defensive staff successfully mold together all of these changing and evolving parts into a cohesive, aggressive, and physical defense?