Dec 241996
 
New England Patriots 23 – New York Giants 22

Overall: This the final game of the season, most resembled the opener against the Bills. The Giants began the game superbly against a clearly favored AFC East opponent, a win seemed in the bag, and of course they blew it. A 22-0 half-time lead seemingly evaporated as the Patriots put together just enough big plays to eke out the game by one point. But folks, I’m going to take a different approach to this game review, putting a spin on it I have yet to hear.

From a Giant fan’s perspective, Saturday was mighty enjoyable. An entertaining afternoon that offered the best of all scenarios. The Giants represented themselves well, played almost all facets of the game with excellence, and still improved their draft position enormously. We watched Brown play his best game yet, the offensive line gel and Strahan and Bratzke dominate as the defense showcased their development. In the end, it was Terry Glenn, the man the Giants should have selected, Parcells, Bledsoe and Meggett who nervously pulled off the sneaky comeback.

There are reasons for optimism, however. George Young has gotten with the program and now has a plan working for this Cap-Agency era. Saturday afternoon shed more light on some of the players and things like potential and quality of character. There are some budding roses on this team, growing together. Reeves admits so much when he said, “this is the hardest working, most enjoyable group I have ever coached”. Hey maybe the psychological tests do have some merit. The current nucleus inspires one to look forward to Fassel era. He will come in here, rearrange some parts and come out with a better whole. Look for a much more cohesive and balanced offense around here, next year. Just as important is for the D to continue it’s progress and takes that “next step”. A couple of propositions I will mention below, are hopefully considered when the new staff assesses the team.

Finally G. Young must reaffirm our faith in the top level of this organization (one only needs to look at the Jets to realize the Young-Boisture and co. structure is solid). George must A) Hire Fassel immediately after a couple of quick interviews, while imparting on him the need to hire a defensive guru who knows what to do with the current components B) Draft an impact player with the #1 and a solid starter with the #2 C)Resign a few restricted Giants and look for a key free agent or two aggressively, hoping you get one.

QB: OK, the restructuring starts with QB and ebbs throughout the entire Giant offensive scheme. Brown will be rejuvenated under any new system, but he will especially benefit from the tutelage of Fassel. Fassel has been a success with QB’s throughout his career coaching. He will get the most from Brown and will be able to best assess his abilities. Kanell will add an interesting dynamic. The coach will assuredly be testing his goods at back-up, looking to evaluate immediately if he’s got a challenger. Surely Fassel will keep a trained eye on Danny.

As Dave showed Saturday, he is capable of delivering a commanding ball with accuracy. He played an awesome first half and his play should have yielded even more points then it did. Brown will capitalize on the semi-west coast style of offense Fassel likes to run. His approach mixes a simpler running attack, with the short passing game – two-step drops and slants – and downfield patterns. He is a believer in making teams pay for keying on the run. Expect more passes to the TE’s and backs and a quicker, multi-dimensional offense. This will put Brown in a position to achieve while still relieving pressure from him.

Backs: Charles led the Way rushing effectively and catching 3 for 50 yards. Next year be prepared to see Way catch three times as many balls. Downs proved he could spell the feature backs, but he does not have the size and moves to be much more than a reserve. I expect Fassel to breathe new life into this group, by changing and adding to their roles.

TE’s: No impact from the TE’s, although Cross made a number of solid blocks during two drives in particular. Pierce will receive a great opportunity next year as the H-back should go the way of the flanker.

Receivers: Lewis was sterling on that 35 yard grab and impressed throughout, displaying oodles of talent and speed. Then to cap off his day, he drops the pass that puts them in position for the winning field goal. Actually look on the bright side, thank you Thomas for helping the Giants move up three or more picks in the draft. Calloway makes a good possession receiver and blocker. The Giants are clearly missing another fast WR. Can you say Rae? Expect vast improvement with the new offensive scheme, as long as they stay healthy and add another threat. Aside from the two mentioned and Toomer, the rest should be gone.

O-Line: High quality output from this unit Saturday. Pass protection was excellent in the first half and better than many said in the second. The run blocks were there, even for Way who didn’t have the luxury of a lead blocker. Although the Giants were unable to push-it in, on the first drive, holes were opened throughout the rest of the game. Brian Williams had a strong performance as did both guards – Stone and Smith. Bishop held his man at bay for most of the contest. Gragg was a bit less effective, specifically in the second half and during the Pats early goal-line stand. Expect an addition or two during the off-season. Then it will be all up to the coaching staff. There is work to be done and decisions need to be made. Oben, Zatechka? Do they just say good-bye to a still effective, inexpensive, classy veteran in Smith? Does Bishop move back to guard if the Giants take a LT? How do they accelerate Gragg’s progress? Questions, questions.

The D as a Unit: The defense as a whole was top-notch and could move into the upper class next year, with some minor tweaks and a big addition. These guys came to play, as did the offense. The difference was that the first half offense surprised us, where the defense just confirmed what they have been demonstrating all along. There are some hard workers on this defense, along with some budding talent. Let’s start with the line.

D-Line: Strahan had one of his best games since the earlier parts of the season. For someone who had only a few assists, Mike made a huge impact, man-handling the double team and helping the rest of his teammates absolutely squash the run. His pressure was the cause of the two sacks. Bratzke was the recipient of one of the sacks, but he certainly earned the tally with a strong but quick outside rush. Chad had another super solid game, and slipped his blocks often to meet opposing rushers. The play of the Ends served to completely eliminate any yardage on the ground. At DT, Harris played quite well and Agnew actually had his best game as a Giant. However, the DT’s were not quite up to the task of sustaining the pressure on Bledsoe during the second half. It will be either at DT or Strongside LB that the Giants must add a complete player.

LB’s: Armstead is the type of player we love. He was competing because there was another team on the field and that is all that mattered. Jessie has been the most consistent performer in the front seven and has become one of the best LB’s in coverage. Consistently he stops guys in front of him on short passing routes. Get ready for him to have a Pro Bowl year, next season. The careers of Armstead, Strahan and Spark’s are entering full bloom. Widmer also continued to improve this season, to the point where he is no longer a weakness in this defense. Miller who has a lot of potential, should be challenged next year by an even more talented guy who possesses the instinct, power and intangibles that just have not surfaced enough with Miller.

Secondary: Alright, you made it this far, now time for my most radical proposal. Bucking the trend, instead of lavishing over the play of Sehorn at corner, my advise is for the next coach to replace Sehorn with Randolph and Hamilton at CB. Hold it, before you question this statement consider the Giants weakest link in the secondary and then look at Sehorn’s size and skill. Sehorn should be moved to safety to supplant Campbell and take advantage of his natural skills. I submit, Sehorn’s best position would be safety. He is smart enough (witness the INT against Glenn), a much better tackler than anyone thought, and would be a terror on the safety blitz. The best unit on this club would get better also because Randolph, Sparks and probably Hamilton are all better covermen. Sehorn has gotten a lot of media play because he is a good tackling, risk-taking corner who gets thrown at a ton. He has had the opportunity to be seen, make plays and also blow some. He is vulnerable to quick receivers get behind him on occasion. As a safety next season, I believe Jason will still have the opportunities, but will be less of a risk and should provide better coverage up the middle than Campbell does. As Terry Glenn learned, it is better to pick apart the Giant zone up the middle or just run past the slower safeties up the seam. Remember though to credit some phenomenal play by Bledsoe and Glenn before blasting Hamilton and Wooten too much. Wooten is just not a good cover guy and neither is Jesse, while Hamilton is not as effective in the zone. With the Corners the Giants have, the secondary is just crying for centerfielders like Percy and Sehorn.

Specials: Daluiso ended the second half of the year perfect, though he was not challenged with the short FG’s. His kickoffs were not nearly as long as the last two weeks. He did the job and has a young strong leg. He’ll be back. Horan had a stellar day too, but outkicked the coverage we guess on the Meggett return. Seriously, the coverage team blew the game, giving the Pats the quick break they needed to change the course of the game. It was going to be tough to drive on the D twice more.

Coaching: The game said nothing more about Reeves except to prove he is a good coach, who did not fit into what has been a very effective system. Dan had some interesting things to say during the Monday morning press conference. His comments about a difference in philosophy regarding draft day saying the Giants pass on guys because they don’t do well on the psych. tests was revealing. He also said he wasn’t sure he was ready to continue, but he will keep all ears open to any team in the NFL. Sounded like a guy who is about to make his last go round. We wish him well, he’s a good man.

 

Dec 191996
 

Approach to the Game – New England Patriots at New York Giants, December 21, 1996: The season comes to end on Saturday for the Giants, and then a very interesting offseason begins for one of the league’s flagship franchises. The Giants are currently 6-9, and will probably be 6-10 after the game against the Patriots. Regardless, the Giants will finish last in their own division and will fire their head coach, probably as soon as Monday. But all is not negative. Many will say that only a one game improvement in the win column signifies that the Giants have not improved since last year. They will argue the Giants are mired in mediocrity and it will be a long time before the Giants ever contend for a playoff spot. However, there are real signs of growth on this team. The 1996 Giants are a better and younger team than the 1995 Giants. With added maturity and experience, as well as a strong coaching staff, the Giants may be ready to pull off some miracles in 1997. A playoff appearance may be only two years away.

Giants on Offense: It all begins up front and almost all the Giants’ poor offensive performances this year can be traced back to the poor performance of the offensive line. With the Giants starting a huge youth movement on the line in 1996, ups-and-downs were to be expected and that’s exactly what we got. At times, the line looked good and progress was made (i.e., games against the Lions, Vikings, Panthers, Cowboys, and Dolphins). At other times, the line was a horror show (both Eagles’ games, Saints, Bills). Brian Williams did not have as good a year as he is capable of (much of the time he had to help out with Zatechka and Stone) but he should rebound next year. The right side of the line, tackle Scott Gragg and guard Ron Stone, did not form the imposing combined behemoth as was hoped, but they gained critically important game experience and started to work together more and more as a team as the season progressed. For better or worse, they are the future on the right side. Both are in the 330 pound range and young. And for both, this was the first time they were regular NFL starters and had to play an entire 16 game schedule. They will be better next year. The left side of the line is more unsettled. For all the Greg Bishop-bashing, he has performed an admirable job as a first-time starter at the most difficult position on the line. He has had his rough spots against some talented guys such as Simeon Rice and Mike Mamula, but he has also played some very good games as well. The big question is can he get much better than he already is? If not, the Giants may already have their replacement for him in Roman Oben, a very athletic lineman who the Giant scouting staff was very high on. It looks like there will be a pretty good battle between Bishop and Oben in camp, and the loser should provide good depth. Where the Giants may have problems is at left guard. Lance Smith probably won’t be invited back because of salary cap considerations. That leaves Rob Zatechka (who did not perform well in 1996 and who may not have the quick feet necessary for the position) and Scott Davis (a guy who was the starter going into the 1995 season before he blew out his knee, but who the coaching staff strangely never called upon in 1996). The Giants probably will want to add one more body to the mix here at guard from the Draft (perhaps a very high selection). At tight end, things are pretty simple. With the abandonment of the H-Back system, a head-to-head competition between Aaron Pierce and Howard Cross for the starting tight end position will be expected in camp. Pierce has all the tools to become a consistent pass receiving threat but has never been used in that role on a regular basis. He missed much of this year with a knee injury. Cross is coming off a year where off-the-field problems (divorce) caused him some problems for him on-the-field. He proved against Miami that he can still be a factor in the offense. Brian Saxton should round out the TE corps. The Giants are set a fullback with Charles Way but may want to add some depth. Way blocks like a guard and is a nightmare to tackle in the open field. The Giants must get the ball more into his hands next year. Tyrone Wheatley will be the starting halfback and Rodney Hampton will back him up. Wheatley was once again hampered by injuries, but showed signs of becoming a real force in the league. Most impressive was his work in the Dallas game where he proved he could run with power between the tackles — a supposedly weak area of his game. Hampton has slowed down, but not as much as the media makes out. The poor run blocking contributed significantly to his declining numbers. Adding a credible 3rd-down back is a must. At wide receiver, Thomas Lewis had his most productive year, but still suffers from the injury bug and occasional lapses of concentration. When on his game, he showed fans what he is capable of — he scored a TD in each game during a 4-5 game stretch. Amani Toomer is tall, fast, graceful, and can jump. He needs better work habits and route running discipline, but should become a major factor in the Giants’ passing game next year. Chris Calloway is the epitome of a “clutch,” possession receiver and should be helped by a healthy Lewis and Toomer in the line-up. Kevin Alexander showed brief flashes that he can be an exciting role player. However, the Giants would be wise to add another “fast” receiver, who can also return punts and kicks, to the mix just in case the injury bug hits the receiving corps hard again next year. That brings us to the quarterback position — an area where we hoped to have some more conclusive answers this year. The problem with Dave Brown is that during some games, he is so bad that you are convinced he is not the answer, and then the next game, he will have a very good game. It’s enough to drive you (and the coaches) crazy. First the negative. With his line giving him little protection this year and the offensive game plans often allowing him to pass only in 3rd-and-long situations, Dave often looked like a deer in headlights with respect to the pass rush. We saw traits in him this year that we absolutely hate in a quarterback: focusing in on only the primary wide receiver (“birddogging”), dancing around in the pocket and paying more attention to the rush than the receivers down the field (“happy feet”), and continued inaccuracy. However, when given protection and a decent game plan, Brown was able to move the team and make some clutch throws. Was it the line, the game plans, fate…the excuses are running out and wearing thin. Brown will be challenged next year in camp by Danny Kanell, a rookie who quickly picked up the Giants’ system, has a good field sense, and has a quick release. Stan White is an able back-up. As for the game against the Patriots, don’t expect much. Wheatley and Hampton are hurt — Gary Downs will start. Brown hates Reeves and his system. Reeves knows he’s gone. The Patriots need the game to improve their playoff positioning with respect to Pittsburgh. The Giants just want to go home. The fans are ready to boo at anything. The Giants will be lucky to score ten points against a defense that doesn’t have a lot of big names, but which has a lot of players who do things well. Let’s just hope it doesn’t get as ugly as the San Diego “snowball” game last year.

Giants on Defense: The foundation has been laid here for a very good defense. Up front, the Giants are set at defensive end. No other team in the league has the depth the Giants do at this position with Michael Strahan, Jamal Duff, Cedric Jones, and Chad Bratzke. One of the most important developments was the fact that the Giants learned that Strahan can play the strongside and play it quite well. This will allow Jones, Duff, and Bratzke to compete more for the starting spot on the right side — a position the Giants need to get more sack production out of. Inside is more of a mess. If he can keep his nose clean, the signing of Christian Peter could prove to be huge. Peter was one of the most highly regarded defensive tackle prospects in the country last year. He’s not and will never become a top pass rusher, but he is a 300+ pound wide body who gives his all and who can stuff the run. Robert Harris played the run better as the season progressed but should make more plays based on his athletic tools, especially against the pass. He’s a sure starter next year, as the Giants aren’t likely to be able to re-sign Keith Hamilton due to the salary cap. Hamilton played his best year at tackle this year, but was still an inconsistent competitor. Ray Agnew had a horrible year. He was hurt early and didn’t play well on top of that. He was one of their most consistent performers against the run in 1995, and the Giants need him to rebound in a big way. Bernard Holsey has good quickness for a lineman, but he didn’t make many plays when given a chance in 1996. He will be challenged by Darnell Gilliard, Roman Okoli, and any prospects the Giants sign or draft this offseason. Upgrading the defensive tackle position should be a top priority. Along with Strahan’s ability to play the strongside, the emergence of weakside LB Jessie Armstead and middle LB Corey Widmer was a pleasant development for the Giants this year. Armstead is tough, fast, and instinctive. He can do most things well and is a cornerstone of the defense. Widmer, though not as impressive as Armstead, slowly but steadily got better as the year progressed. The big runs up the middle suffered by the Giants’ defense last year largely became a thing of the past as Widmer did a better job of disengaging from blocks inside than his predecessor Michael Brooks. He also wasn’t terrible in coverage. With added starting experience, Widmer should get better and better. The defense, and the linebacking corps in particular, was supposed to be a weak spot heading into this season. Armstead and Widmer were the reasons it was not. Reserves Scott Galyon and Doug Colman provide good depth behind these two. The weak link in the unit is now Corey Miller, who may play better in the Giants’ new defensive system next year. Miller’s strength has always been stuffing the run and rushing the passer. He didn’t do as well in the former and wasn’t allowed to do the latter (except for the very first game where he had two sacks). Marcus Buckley is a journeyman, so signing/drafting another strongside linebacker is a necessity. The strength of the entire team is the secondary. CB Phillippi Sparks missed two games with an injury and wasn’t as consistent as he was last year, but is still one of the very best at his position. The biggest surprise on the entire team was the fast development of Jason Sehorn. Sehorn is a tall CB who improved his toughness and coverage skills. He matches up well with some of the bigger receivers in the NFC East. Reserves Thomas Randolph and Conrad Hamilton would start for many teams. At safety, Tito Wooten made some of the mental errors that he is infamous for but also showed why the Giants were so high on him in the draft. He’s a tremendous athlete who likes to hit. He made some extremely big plays this season for the Giants and should only get better. Rookie free agent Percy Ellsworth is everything the Giants haven’t had in years at safety: an instinctive, ball-hawking center-fielder. His impressive performance in 1996 may cause the Giants to move Wooten to strong safety and spell the demise of Jesse Campbell, who had yet another solid, but unspectacular season. Campbell is one of the surest tacklers on the team. Reserve Rodney Young, ignored by the coaching staff in 1996, will become much more of a factor in 1997 if Campbell is released. As for the Patriots, they can run and pass the ball and are an extremely dangerous offensive football team if their quarterback Drew Bledsoe is playing well. When the Giants’ defenders have been motivated to play well, they have. However, there isn’t much to play for in this game and things could get ugly, especially if the Giants’ offense struggles once again. Regardless of what happens and how the defense performs in the game, the Giants are only a couple of players away from becoming a VERY good defensive football team.

Giants on Special Teams: Brad Daluiso and Olindo Mare will compete for the starting placekicking job. The Giants will need to come up with another punter and more returners. The Giants can’t afford to have Lewis, Toomer, and Wheatley returning kicks next year.

Outlook: Patriots 24 – Giants 10.

Dec 181996
 
New Orleans Saints 17 – New York Giants 3

Overall: We know the Giant Management usually reserves judgment on personnel issues until the end of the season, but after yesterday, enough data exists to motivate everyone that changes need to be made. First and most obvious is the head coaching situation. Reeves is a goner. The culmination of events leading up to yesterday including the inability for Reeves to get along in what has proved to be a successful organizational structure, combined with the collective performance of this team through 15 of 16 games should seal his fate. The performance against such a poor team this late in the season can not help. The question — Is there anything the Giants can do against New England to change things, receives a resounding NO. If they perform well, it will just illustrate how erratic this team is. This is attributable to good/bad coaching. If they play poorly, that can not help Reeves’ future either. The most damning criticism is that this group has not demonstrated consistent progress and have not put a string of victories together. The last back-to-back win was Arizona, there has not been 3 in a row for I think 2 years.

As mentioned in the past, this is an important off-season for the Giants. Sunday should have lit a fire under GY to begin lining up candidates now, so he can start scheduling interviews the day the season ends. Player personnel also needs to be evaluated with great scrutiny. The timing will coincide with the coaching change, which will inevitably impact talent evaluations. Yesterday’s game epitomized the many weaknesses this team has. The entire offensive scheme is ineffective, predictable, unthreatening and archaic. The current personnel are not even optimized to execute any scheme at all. The O had only 138 total yards and delivered another game without a TD. This is unacceptable, TD’s are the name of the game and a team has to figure out ways to score them. On offense, things need to be improved on a ground floor level. Decisions are everywhere.

QB: It is almost impossible to evaluate this position based on the Saints game. The RB’s were hurt, the blocking and receiving were abysmal. DB played the first half and was the victim of many drops and a thorough beating. This carried over to Kanell, who played the second half. The interception to stop their only drive of the game was underthrown. There was nothing available in the medium range and even if there was, DB had no time. We won’t even address that they did not throw (let alone complete) one pass for more than 20 yards. The passing game as a whole netted 48 yards on 45 attempts. Unreal. Maybe one of the worst performances I’ve seen by the Giants. Suffice it to say that Brown did not look good, but only looked God awful because of the surrounding ineptitude. The same could be said for Kanell. No protection, no running game, the drops continued. The worst part was that everyone was looking forward to at least evaluating how Danny did, but one came away, left with no feeling for a true evaluation. Anyone could have been back there and no one would have known the difference.

Backs: Nothing to evaluate here either. The ground game never got started as both Hampton and Wheatley were injured relatively early. Downs was serviceable but cost the Giants big-time after fumbling a first-down catch on the only sustained (laugh) drive of the half. Way caught one pass for 2 yards and was unable to unleash his blocking skills. No one did anything to talk about, this is no exaggeration.

TE’s: OK, Cross caught 2 passes for a total of 5 yards and Saxton 1 for 3 yards. Absolutely no production from this group. Saxton looked bad. Blocking stunk.

Receivers: Atrocious. The drops are outrageous, the worst I can ever remember. Sherrard never dropped balls like this, neither did B. Johnson, Manuel or even Ernest Gray. On top of it no one could beat their man and nobody can run a deep route. It was clear to the fans in the stands that no receiver was able to break free and get open. A pitiful performance. Even our only reliable possession receiver (C.C.) could not hold on to anything. The patterns are the worst in the league. A new receivers coach is in order! By the way, if anyone needs additional evidence regarding the lack of talent here, consider the respect the wideouts get from the refs. None. We see very few holdings, chucks or pass interference calls. [I think M. Irvin drew two, just yesterday that were somewhat phantom.] A go to guy is clearly missing, so is a fast deep threat. Essentially a #1 receiver.

O-Line: Absent describes the blocking best. A travesty that the Saints (with only 28 sacks total) get 8 sacks. The QB’s were pressured and pounded on almost every passing play. Sure the receivers did not get open, but is anyone willing to defend this units performance yesterday? Even worse, Zatechka returned to the lineup and played miserably. Missed assignments were everywhere, as the line was unable to contain the Saints speed. Individual performances were bad all around, do we really need to name them. Guys definitely on vacation included: Gragg, who had trouble all day with a faster opponent; Stone – missed assignments and slow adjustments to stunts and overloads; Bishop, who let guys inside rush him all day and did not drive players back. There were few if any holes created and no protection afforded. The line has not gelled. A devastating leader is needed for cohesiveness. Forget Pace though, he’ll be gone before the third pick.

D-Line: Strahan and Bratzke were very strong on the ends, but the inside rush and run stuffing was noticeably weak. The Giants will have excellent talent and depth at DE next year. Bratzke played well again and has done so in the last third of the season. Duff will be back and Jones can only improve. The tackle position is more problematic. On Sunday Bates rushed for as much yardage as the entire Giant team gained. They weren’t terrible, however there wasn’t any pressure on Everett either. Zero sacks! The Giants should upgrade this position. A lot has already been said on this website about this and I’m sure it will continue.

LB’s: Overall a solid effort. Armstead did his usual and got 10 tackles. Widmer played well for 3 and a half quarters and even Miller made some decent plays. Rudolph was brought in for what seemed to be the only blitz. He was neutralized easily and the Giants were burned on the play. A blitzing strong side LB who can help Widmer stuff the inside rush is needed.

Secondary: Another good performance, this group had nothing to do with the loss. They did show frustration and miss a few tackles in the fourth quarter, but they were also trying to force turnovers. Coverage was good. Sehorn was beat once but the ball was underthrown and intercepted. Jason did not read one of the long runs by the Saints very well, but overall he’s playing well. Hamilton and Randolph are players. They are showing serious talent and skills. Percy made a few decent plays too. No glaring weaknesses in this unit, although another safety to challenge Campbell would be nice.

Specials: Again nothing special. Adequate at best.

Coaching: I will not even comment about this, as it is unnecessary.

Dec 131996
 

Approach to the Game – New Orleans Saints at New York Giants, December 15, 1996: Tick…tick…tick…the season is almost over…the head coach is almost gone. It’s time to start getting an early look at next year’s team. It’s also time to start answering some much needed questions. Hopefully, these next two games will help to provide some answers. Don’t look for the Giants to be active this year in free agency. Most of the front office’s efforts have gone into re-signing the Giants’ own players and there won’t be much room underneath the cap next year to bring aboard fresh faces. The belief is that the Giants can do a better job of building team chemistry by developing their own players. Any major outside help will have to come from the draft. The good news is that the Giants shouldn’t lose any key players this year and are a young, and rapidly improving team.

Note: The salary figures used below are the 1996 cap value (salary plus pro-rated bonus).

Giants on Offense: Who will lead the Giants into the next century at quarterback will not be determined until next year’s training camp. Dave Brown ($2,251,700) isn’t going anywhere. He just signed a big 4-year deal that precludes the Giants from waiving him. He will either be the starter or a very expensive back-up. Brown, when given decent protection and a good game plan, has shown that he can move the team. He’ll never be a “special” player, but he is the kind of guy that could take the Giants to the playoffs. Now whether he can get them to the “Big Dance” is another matter open for debate. These last two games are very important for Dave. His disastrous performance against the Eagles is still fresh in the minds of many. If he can string together three solid performances (including last week’s Miami game), he will do himself a world of good in the minds of the fans, media, and most importantly, the Giants’ next coach. What do we want to see from Dave? An ability to keep drives alive by making clutch throws in difficult situations. We don’t want to see “happy feet,” “birddogging,” or inaccuracy. The Saints have some quality defensive backs (Eric Allen, Mark McMillian, Alex Molden, Greg Jackson) and some quality pass rushers (Wayne Martin, Renaldo Turnbull, Brady Smith) so the Saints won’t be the pushover that most people think they are. As for Danny Kanell ($202,000), he is just itching to get into a game again. His advantage over Brown right now is that he: (1) is a fan favorite, (2) has a quicker release, (3) has better peripheral vision and field sense, and (4) hasn’t taken the physical and mental pounding that Dave has. If Danny gets his chance, Dave may never get his again. The wide receiver spot seems pretty well established for next year. Amani Toomer ($492,000) and Thomas Lewis ($793,000) will provide the outside speed and Chris Calloway ($635,000) will provide the “clutch”, intermediate target. It would be nice to have another quality wideout just in case the injury-bug hits this corps again next year. Arthur Marshall and Omar Douglas ($199,000) have been around long enough to prove that they don’t have it. Lawrence Dawsey ($325,500) hasn’t done much with the opportunities provided to him. Kevin Alexander has shown some “flashes,” but is still a relative unknown. The TE position will be an interesting area of competition next year. For the first time in a long time, Aaron Pierce will go head-to-head against Howard Cross for the starting spot. Throw in Brian Saxton ($141,800), who has good speed and hands, and the Giants may not have to draft a tight end after all. Cross ($1,115,700) and Pierce ($1,283,300) were two of the highest paid players on the team in 1996 — the Giants simply must get more production out of them. The starting running back job will belong to Wheatley ($947,900) next year. Hampton ($1,350,000) can still serve as a valuable reserve, short yardage, and receiving threat, but Wheatley is clearly the more dangerous weapon. Against the Saints, it would be nice to see him carry the ball at least 20 times. Charles Way ($178,400) is set at fullback, but with the H-Back probably gone for good, depth could become a concern. The Giants do have Jeremy Burkett on Injured Reserve and he is a possibility. That now brings us to the biggest question mark on the team for next year — the offensive line. For better or worse, tackle Scott Gragg ($439,800) and guard Ron Stone ($1,661,000) are the future on the right side. Brian Williams ($1,537,500), who should return this week, will be the center. It is the left side where the questions begin. At tackle, will it be Greg Bishop ($716,700) or Roman Oben ($290,000)? At guard, Lance Smith ($686,400) most likely will not be invited back. Thus, the duties at the position will be entrusted to Rob Zatechka ($225,600) or Scott Davis ($545,000). Davis, OC Adam Schreiber ($450,000), and OT Jerry Reynolds ($199,000) will be free agents this offseason and it will be interesting to see how aggressive the Giants are in re-signing them. If the Giants don’t, it will be a pretty clear indication that the Giants will address the offensive line early in the draft. Bishop has played much better since his poor performance against Simeon Rice in the Arizona desert. It is now Scott Gragg who has had a couple of rough performances in a row. It would be nice to see a solid game out of both these guys.

Giants on Defense: Interesting match-up — the Giants’ tough secondary versus the Giant-killer himself, QB Jim Everett, who should play this week. Everett just eats the Giants apart in the Meadowlands for some reason. The Giants have outstanding depth in the secondary. At CB, the Giants have Phillippi Sparks ($1,650,000), Jason Sehorn ($420,300), Thomas Randolph ($508,500), and Conrad Hamilton ($144,300). Sehorn will be a restricted free agent and is due for a raise. CB Willie Beamon ($363,900) shouldn’t be back. At safety, the Giants have SS Jesse Campbell ($969,700), SS Rodney Young ($281,600), FS Tito Wooten ($250,300), and FS Percy Ellsworth ($132,000). Both Wooten and Ellsworth will be restricted free agents are due for BIG raises. SS Maurice Douglass ($700,000) probably won’t be back. At LB, Corey Widmer ($778,100) and Jessie Armstead ($920,500) have proven that they can play in this league. The linebacking corps is much better now than it was last year. There is also depth at MLB and WLB with Doug Colman ($150,000) and Scott Galyon ($146,700), respectively. It is at SLB where there are questions. Corey Miller ($1,600,000) started the season with a flash (against the Bills), but ended it with a whimper. If the Giants keep him, it will be interesting to see if the new Giants’ coaching staff uses him more in what he does best (and that is rush the passer). SLB Marcus Buckley ($375,300) and MLB Coleman Rudolph ($491,900) are journeymen, the latter being a free agent as well. Like on offense, it is the line where most of the questions exist. Michael Strahan is set at left defensive end. Jamal Duff ($180,600), Cedric Jones ($1,667,800), and Chad Bratzke ($220,900) will compete for the starting job on the right side. Duff and Bratzke will be restricted free agents and are due for BIG raises. Inside is a mess. The Giants will have to spend most of their free dollars re-signing Wooten, Sehorn, Ellsworth, Duff, and Bratzke (all restricted). Then there is Scott Davis and Adam Schreiber. It looks like the Giants will have to rid themselves of some salary and some of the highest paid guys are now playing defensive tackle. First look for the Giants to rid themselves of salary at some other positions (Rudolph, Horan — $450,000, Douglass, Beamon, Smith, and Dawsey). They will also have tough decisions regarding Jesse Campbell, Corey Miller, Howard Cross, and Rodney Hampton (maybe not waiving, but approaching them about salary cuts — always a sensitive issue). But that may not be enough. Unrestricted free agent Keith Hamilton ($1,536,200) looks like a goner. The problem is that the other two highly-paid DT’s, Ray Agnew ($1,678,100) and Robert Harris ($1,266,700), are signed through to 1999 and 1998, respectively. Cutting them would mean that their remaining signing bonus would have to be paid next year (and this counts against the cap). So look for Agnew and Harris to compete against newcomer Christian Peter, Bernard Holsey ($133,500), Darnell Gilliard ($57,600), and Ramon Okoli ($132,000), and any new draft picks next year. Holsey, Gilliard, and Okoli also need to be re-signed. As for the Saints, they do have trouble running the ball, so the Giants will probably focus more on Everett and his weapons (Michael Haynes, Torrance Small, Lee DeRamus, and Irv Smith). The Giant LB’s should be challenged once again by RB’s catching the ball out of the backfield.

Giants on Special Teams: Mike Horan makes too much money and is at the end of his career. He won’t be back. Brad Daluiso ($466,700) is coming on again. Let’s hope the Giants can keep punt and kick return yardage to a minimum this week.

Outlook: Giants look horrible against the Cards…great against the Cowboys…horrible against Philly…great against Miami. Is there a pattern here? Let’s hope not…Giants 16 – Saints 13.

Dec 111996
 
New York Giants 17 – Miami Dolphins 7

Overall: Another glimmer of hope revealed this team is improving in some aspects of the game. The Giants controlled time of posession and most of the momentum during the game to convincingly beat JJ’s team on a bright and sunny Miami day. Both sides of the ball played consistently well and it made one wonder what the heck was going on in Philly last week. Looking more deeply into the team’s ups and downs, my favorite explanation was best put by one of our contributors. A young team does not consistently make progress, growth comes in a series of peaks and valleys. Sure we also need a couple of leaders and impact players, but some are emerging.

QB: DB had an excellent game even after the crunching his shoulder received. He hit Lewis on a sweet pass for 15 on an excellent call in the second half. He dumped to Way 6 times and Cross half that for good yardage. He even threw the ball away a few times rather than run smack into on-coming linemen. On the fumble, he was still dropping back when the Miami defender dropped back with him. This was forgivable, even though it would have cinched the game. He threw 21 of 28, heck there was only one bad throw, with one TD pass. Brown really showed some skills though, as he picked the spots 12 to 15 yards down field, hit Dawsey more than once, as well as Calloway, Lewis and Saxton. I was looking forward to see how Brown would play in good weather, after last week’s debacle. He reacted by putting together a top-notch game. Now we are looking for some consistency in the next two weeks. If he displays the same type of poise in the next two weeks, (DB didn’t shuffle in the wrong direction much and he/they didn’t let the defense read the plays too early), we’ll all have to admit to some signs of growth. We’ll see.

Backs: Rodney, then Rodney, then Ty, Ty, Rodney and Ty. Each was effective with the bulk of the carries to Hampton. Way opened the way for both by delivering many solid blocks, helping the Giants establish a ground control game. The short passing game balanced the running game (28 tosses and 37 carries – many short yardage). Wheatley seemed off at the start, but then broke one for 40 yards up the sideline and gained some more confidence from there. The two combined for 120 yards. Way caught 6 passes for 56 yards to go with his consistent blocks.

TE’s: Howard Cross had his best game of the year, if you only saw this game you would say he is a sure handed TE. His blocking was there as well. Didn’t hear much from the Saxton, his play was limited except on short yardage and the one fourteen yard catch. If Cross could be this reliable next year, he’d be a big asset.

Receivers: Dawsey had his best game as a Giant, running decent routes and catching three passes. Dawsey showed nice extension and concentration on one grab in particular. Lewis saw limited action but contributed on the nicest pass play of the day, running a quick medium out route and concentrating on bringing the ball in, with defenders ready to pounce. CC was relatively quiet but also caught a first down pass and made a couple of real good blocks as he always seems to do. Got hurt after his second block that opened a hole, but I think he came back to play some more.

O-Line: Run blocking was very good bordering on excellent. Adam S. really powered open holes right up the middle with the help of Stone and Smith and of course Way. Hampton took advantage of the middle most of the first half, helping build confidence. Once Wheatley broke one the line really had a head of steam and knew they could keep the push going against the rotating defensive line. It is not so much that the Giants wore the front seven out, but more that they were very consistent and allowed them to play mistake free. They minimized situations where forces and turnovers happen. Smith got out in front of the first screen nicely and the Giants actually not only called a screen, but had a wedge in place. Gragg got beat a few times in pass protection, fanning twice it seemed on two sacks. One which resulted in a fumble, though it may have been a misassignment on the overload. His run blocking showed some nice potential even though he didn’t dominate every run block. Bishop played well and the Giants need to continue to see him play like this. Most impressive though is the line played like a unit.

D-Line: Strahan was doubled all game. The only time they didn’t was when Armstead blitzed, then Strahan man handled his block and got to Marino for a power sack. He also clogged the run throughout, making two nice solo tackles and occupying two guys all game so Hamilton or others could make the play. Hamilton was motivated by JJ this week and needs to show this kind of fire even when the opposition doesn’t insult him or the Giants. Bratzke had his third or fourth good game in a row and illustrating some spark and only getting blown off the line once. Harris did not impress today. The bench did not make any impact. Agnew should be history with his salary.

LB’s: Armstead was around most of the day again. On a few plays Armstead really showed not only his quickness but a unique ability to avoid blockers who are trying to get a hand on him. No need to shed blocks when you can dodge around them and still persue the ball. Six solos and a killer blitz that freed up Strahan. Widmer got a lucky INT off of Karim, aptly named. Buckley played a little, made one nice tackle and got very excited. Corey did the same. Quiet day overall for LB corps, coverage was decent but Marino was looking down field so the Giants brought in 5 DB’s and sometimes six.

Secondary: Ok Percy was picked nicely in a well designed play, Sparks was burned by OJ McDuff and Sehorn was beat once and his man made a hell of a catch. Those were the flaws, that’s it. Against Marino that’s pretty darn good. First the tackling, no missed tackles! Sehorn is becoming a solid tackler (8 total) and had a very strong game. His coverage is getting better, even though he didn’t go against a burner this week. He consistently kept his man in front of him and replays isolating the Corners showed just how little Marino had to throw to. Randolph had another quietly solid game and continues to play well fundamentally. His tackling technique is quite good for a smaller guy (4 solo tackles) and they didn’t throw one pass against him, so he came up and knocked one down for Sehorn. Marino also made the mistake of throwing to Hamilton’s side while he was in a zone. He made a perfect read and put himself in the position to make the INT and did. Good alertness. The Giants are merrily stacked at Corner. Percy and Campbell played the whole game at safety combining for six tackles and good run support. Marino picked up some yardage during one drive in Campbell’s area, and as mentioned, Percy was picked off trying to move into position on one long pass. Hey they are not perfect but all the DB’s who played, made many plays and little if any errors. No real mental breakdowns either.

Specials: Average, but we’ll give them a better rating since there were no mistakes. Why wasn’t Conrad running back the kicks though. Deluiso hit one medium range FG. Coverage very good, Hamilton and Randolph were down the field and made plays.

Coaching: Reeves called a nice game, was into it and looked like a coach in control out there. Excellent pass plays with the limited receiving corps. Draws and screens were run, good to see Reeves adding new plays into the gameplan. A flea flicker was good to see even if it fell harmlessly. The gameplan mixed up what appeared to be a fired-up D-line of Miami’s. A few of the calls already mentioned combined with some short stuff to Cross and Way layed the proper groundwork. This brought the LB’s in as Reeves then called for strikes right in front of the secondary. Fourth down calls were good ones, not too risky and worthwhile. Showed confidence. Nolan certainly called a beauty. His blitz call of Armstead worked perfect and was well timed. Playing four DB’s early and then going to five and six was well planned. The D showed a ton of different looks. Guys rotated positions on the line just enough without getting too gimmicky. There were no mental mistakes as the entire team was prepared and finished with only 3 meaningless penalties. Aside from the fumble it was mistake free football.

Sure the Giants got a break with the second INT to stop the driving Dolphins, but they didn’t give them any other chances and that’s good.

Dec 061996
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Miami Dolphins, December 8, 1996: Last week was one of the few games we have seen where the players did not play hard for Dan Reeves. Was it because of his lame duck status or the fact that they had just come off of an emotional win against the Cowboys? It was probably the latter. Whatever the reason, the Giants did not play with very much emotion or intelligence last week aside from a few players (Bratzke and Armstead immediately come to mind). As OLB Corey Miller so accurately put it this week, the Giants are playing for more than merely pride, but many current Giants will be playing for their jobs over the next three weeks. It will be interesting to see how the Giants respond this week. The flu has ravaged the team and Jimmy Johnson’s Dolphins are in the playoff hunt. In fact, Johnson has guaranteed a win over the Giants on Sunday.

Giants on Offense: To play Kanell or to not play Kanell, that is the question. If and when Dave Brown struggles on Sunday, it will be worth the price of admission just to see if (and how quickly) Kanell is inserted into the line-up. Brown is coming off one of his worst performances ever — in fact, it may be his worst in his three year career with the Giants. He just doesn’t seem to be a comfortable or confident figure on the playing field. “Birddogging,” “happy feet,” and inaccuracy were all negative elements in his play last week. He needs a big turn around this week in order to convince fans, the media, and his fellow players that last week was an aberration of his growth process. To be fair, Dave was hampered by a lack of proper support on offense. He should be helped this week by the likely return of WR Thomas Lewis (hamstring) and H-Back Aaron Pierce (knee). The Giants ran more slant patterns last week than they usually do and Reeves actually had his receivers running some crossing routes against Dallas two weeks ago. Regardless of who the Giants’ next coach will be, these type of plays should be part of the bread-and-butter of the Giants offense next year. Now if the Giants would only run some screens and passes to the backs in the flats! The changing of the guard continues at running back as it looks more and more likely that Rodney Hampton will not gain 1,000 yards this year. Can you believe that Hampton hasn’t scored a TD this year? While Hampton has looked sluggish, Wheatley has really impressed us with his tough running inside — something that he was not known for in college. Perhaps some of Hampton’s style has worn off on Wheatley. Ty has come very close to breaking some big runs and it is only a matter of time before he endears himself to Giant fans everywhere with a long run for a TD. Of course, passing and running the ball effectively is only possible if your offensive line is performing well. The line has been up and down for the last few weeks…they played well against the Panthers…poorly against the Cardinals…well against the Cowboys…poorly against the Eagles. When they have played poorly, it seems like it is one of the tackles struggling — Greg Bishop against the Cardinals…Scott Gragg against the Eagles. This is all part of the painful, but necessary growing process, on the offensive line. If the Giants want to significantly reduce their growing pains next year, they would be well-advised to get Rob Zatechka back into the line-up soon. As for the Dolphins, their defense has a smallish, but highly-active MLB (Zach Thomas) who is well-protected by some large DT’s in front of him (Tim Bowens, Daryl Gardener, and Steve Emtman). Because of this, it can be tough to run on the Dolphins at times. One of the key match-ups will be the run blocking of FB Charles Way versus Thomas. Schreiber (it looks like Williams will be out again) and the guards will also have to get some decent movement on the big tackles. The Giants might be better advised to do a lot of their running this week outside, utilizing Wheatley’s great speed in the process. The Dolphins’ secondary and the pass coverage of their linebackers is not strong, so once again, we recommend passing early on first and second down and involving ALL the Giants weapons in the process — slants, crossing routes, deep passes (and not to Calloway and Dawsey, but to Lewis or Alexander), throwing to the TE (Pierce or Saxton) down the seam, screens, passes to the RB’s, etc. In particular, we would really like to see Way and Saxton more involved in the passing offense on intermediate inside stuff.

Giants on Defense: Good match-up this week…the Giants young, but talented, secondary versus the old master himself, Dan Marino, and two talented WR’s in Fred Barnett and O.J. McDuffie. Marino hasn’t played that well lately, but everyone knows what he is capable of. When the Giants play inspired, emotional, and intelligent defense, they are one of the best units in the league, but when they play without passion and without intelligence (see the Cardinal and Eagle games), they can be very poor. We have been advocating using more blitzes all season since the Bills’ game, but this is one of those games where the Giants might be well advised to play more defensive backs than rushers (as they did against Dallas). Marino has a very quick release and can usually avoid the sack. Of course, generating some pass rush from the front four and sending an occasional blitzer (Armstead or Sehorn) wouldn’t hurt. What the Giants must do is not be so predictable. There were some reports in the press this week that stated that opposing offenses knew when the Giants were going to blitz given where certain personnel were lining up on the playing field. Jimmy Johnson loves to run the football and the front seven must step up to the challenge. Bratzke, who has been playing very well the last few weeks, faces a tough opponent in LT Richmond Webb. Michael Strahan needs to get his butt in gear on the other side. We’ve given up on calling for more playing time for Cedric Jones. The good news is that Corey Miller might be back this week, sending Buckley hopefully back to the bench. What the Giants have to be very careful of this week is passes to the RB’s — Jimmy Johnson loves to throw to the RB’s anyways and he is sure to have seen the Giants’ problems against this versus the Eagles. All the LB’s will be in a tough predicament this week — they must be tough against the run, but they also must be alert and aware in pass coverage. A play-action fake could be deadly. The Dolphins also have an athletic, pass receiving talent in the form of TE Troy Drayton.

Special Teams: Mike Horan is nearing the end. He may punt well this week in Miami due to the warmer weather, but he seems to have lost it. His directional punting isn’t as sharp as it used to be and his punting distance is average at best. Punt and kick coverage are usually solid for most of each game, but the Giants always seem to give up at least one big return per game. Brad Daluiso kicked a couple of long ones two weeks ago and it will be interesting to see how he performs if given a chance this week to kick another long one. Arthur Marshall is not getting it done returning punts, but Conrad Hamilton has come close to breaking a big one.

Outlook: Once again the Giants face an opponent who is playing for something significant, yet the Giants are only playing for pride. The offense stinks, there is a QB-controversy, the head coach is a lameduck, and to top it all off, a dozen players on the team have the flu. However, here is one of those games that nothing seems to make sense — the Giants will win, and Reeves will be hailed as the greatest coach in the league again by the media. Giants 23 – Dolphins 20.

Dec 041996
 
Philadelphia Eagles 24 – New York Giants 0

Editor’s Note: Since I was only able to catch the first three quarters of the game, my game review will only cover that aspect of the game. Pete will provide a brief overview of the final quarter.

Overview: As well as this team played last week, it played just about as badly as it could play this week. It is a miracle that the score wasn’t far worse. The Giant players were outplayed, the Giant coaches were out-coached, and Philly played with more emotion and intensity. The Giants need a major attitude adjustment, and Dan Reeves, rightly or wrongly, will become the fall guy in a few weeks. That’s not the question. The question is, as it has remained for the last three years, is Dave Brown the quarterback that can lead the Giants to the next level? Patience is one thing, but so is cutting your losses and running.

Giants on Offense: The Giants are an atrocious offensive football team and everyone must accept part of the blame. The Giants are as bad a passing team as we have ever seen, plus they have trouble running the ball. Dave Brown has played decently since the second half of the Redskins’ game, but the mistakes he made against the Eagles on Sunday were mistakes a rookie would make and are inexcusable. With Lewis and Toomer out, the Giants have no outside weapons to scare the opposing defense. To make matters worse, there are no complimentary weapons inside to threaten defenses either underneath. The guards and center are playing capably, but the tackles continue to struggle. And to top it all off the offensive strategic design and tactical play calling is outdated and ineffective. Look at the Eagles on offense…crossing patterns to clear out zones, passes to the running backs in the flats and circling out of the backfield, quick slants, 3-step drop passing patterns, screens, etc. What can the Giants come up with? A vanilla pass play package that allows the defense to easily double-cover the receivers. All you had to do was listen to former head coach and current TV announcer Jerry Glanville on Sunday. He repeatedly would show how the Eagles used offensive game design to create mismatches and open free areas for the receivers. Conversely, he stated that the passing formations that the Giants were using weren’t creating any problems for the Eagle defenders at all. Well enough is enough and some MAJOR changes are in store this offseason. A professional football team simply must be able to pass the ball. One, let alone two, sub 50 yard passing performances in one season is a joke.

Quarterback: Dave Brown played a horrible football game. His first pass to Charles Way down the right sideline (a call which we liked) was underthrown and thrown into double-coverage. Hasn’t Dave learned anything in the last three years? When is he going to stop making these dumb-ass, rookie mistakes? Once he was sacked the first time, he was tentative in the pocket and resorted to his worst tendencies…birddogging his primary receiver, showing nervous feet in the pocket, not stepping up into the pocket, throwing flutter balls, inaccuracy, and taking off and running before he needs to. It is tough to remain patient and clear-headed about Brown when one thought that performances like he showed on Sunday were things of the past. On one play in the first quarter, the line and backs picked up an Eagles blitz beautifully, Chris Calloway got open outside, but Brown threw a high and off-the-mark pass. On another occasion, Brown was pressured somewhat from his right side, but he could have stepped up into the pocket quicker and thrown a strike down the field. Instead, he brought the ball down and started to run with it. This is an example where Brown makes his line look bad. On the other hand, to be fair, the plays handed Brown were amateurish. Against an aggressive defense, even a high school coach knows that slants, screens, and 3-step drops SHOULD be a huge part of the game plan. The weakest part of the Giants’ offensive line is the pass protection of the tackles on 3rd-and-long, but Dan Reeves doesn’t help his line by staying out of those situations with smart play-calling. Pass on first down sometimes…help out the tackles by using a 3-step drop…help the QB build his confidence by throwing an easy pass to the RB in the flats. Game after game, the Giants’ passing offense remains the intermediate out route to the wide receivers and the naked bootleg to the tight end or fullback. Why would Eagle OLB William Thomas expect any other passing play than the bootleg when the Giants were down near the goalline in the first half? The result…an easy sack and fumble. To Reeves’ credit, the Giants attempted to run more slants this week, but they were often in obvious passing situations. In the second quarter, the Giants threw two slants on back-to-back plays. Brown passed way behind Calloway on the first play (to his left), but came right back and threw a nice pass to Alexander (to his right). Brown has to be able to CONSISTENTLY hit wide-open receivers (like Calloway on the first pass). In the 3rd quarter, passing out of the endzone, Bobby Taylor guessed slant and the Giants were lucky that the ball wasn’t returned for a TD — Brown has got to look before throwing. This sounds like a no-brainer, but Brown sometimes forces the ball when he shouldn’t.

Wide Receivers: When a team loses its top two athletic talents at the wide receiving position, it is tough to compete. Chris Calloway is a solid, dependable player, but that’s all he is. He’s not a difference maker. Same story with Lawrence Dawsey. Thomas Lewis has shown flashes this season as did Toomer in training camp, but neither suited up on Sunday. Brown was again victimized on by a couple of drops. On their first drive in the second half, Brown and the Giants executed two of their better looking passing plays, but Calloway dropped the first one and Alexander had the second one bounce off his hands (the pass was picked off). Alexander shows good quickness and speed, but his hands are inconsistent.

Tight Ends/H-Backs: It looked like Howard Cross missed a “chuck” block on William Thomas on his sack and fumble in the first quarter. Where the heck was Brian Saxton?

Running Backs: Rodney Hampton showed some good, solid running early on in the first quarter. Indeed, on one play, we thought we saw a burst of speed. But the running game never got on track as Dave Brown and the passing offense let the rest of the team down. We also don’t think that rotating the running backs is a very good idea. Play Wheatley and allow him get into the flow of the game…or play Hampton…but continuing to switch backs is not a good idea in our opinion. Plus, where the heck is Charles Way? We liked the pass play to Way down the field in the first half, but Way should be used both as a runner and receiver far more. He’s big, powerful, and faster than most people think. Get him in the secondary and watch the defensive backs run for cover. In other teams’ offenses, the fullback is a big part of the game plan, but not for the Giants. Wheatley was responsible for a costly fumble, but once again showed some toughness, power, and acceleration on his inside runs. We’d like to see him play an entire game as the starting halfback.

Offensive Line: Lance Smith, Adam Schreiber, Ron Stone, and Greg Bishop played decently early on, but Scott Gragg had his problems in pass protection. William Fuller used an aggressive cross-over move to beat Gragg for a sack in the first quarter. The problem with Gragg on this play was that he was playing on his heels too much. In the future, he must aggressively get his arms into his man and allow his immense size and strength engulf his opponent. Gragg still plays far too passively. This should change with more experience and an ensuing rise in confidence. Gragg also had problems with DE/OLB Darion Conner on one play. Brown was again sacked by Gragg’s man (DE Greg Jefferson) in the second quarter, but Brown ran right into the tackler rather than stepping up into the pocket. The run blocking was decent in the first half, and the pass blocking (aside from Gragg) was respectable. In the second half, this all changed as the Giants’ line looked like it lost its will to compete. Gragg in particular had his problems again as Dave Brown narrowly avoided a sack after Gragg “whiffed” on Fuller. One play later, the whole line disappeared as Brown was engulfed by Eagle defensive linemen.

Giants on Defense: Out-muscled, out-hustled, outplayed, and out-coached. The Giants’ defense did not play with emotion or intelligence. For example, Eagle TE Jason Dunn scored an easy TD when there was a mental breakdown in coverage (Buckley). To exacerbate matters, the defensive game plan stunk. The Giants’ CB’s strength is their ability to play tight, man-to-man defense, yet Nolan and Yaralian had their defenders playing off the ball in zone coverage. The Eagles then used crossing routes to clear the zones for Ricky Watters and Jason Dunn. Over and over again, Corey Widmer was mismatched against Dunn or Watters. The Eagles also used Dunn to occupy the safeties and help out their receivers…this is how an NFL offense should operate! The heart of the matter is that the Eagle offense was dictating to the Giant defense, rather than visa versa. The key to disrupting the “West Coast” offense is disrupting the rhythm between the quarterback and receivers. Play tight coverage and blitz the QB. What the Giants did was play loose zone coverage and mostly come at Detmer with a 4-man rush. Detmer had too much time and his receivers got off the line of scrimmage far too easily. Speaking of getting off the line too easily, the Giants learned nothing from the Panthers game — the coaches should have had Buckley jam Dunn at the line. They weren’t physical enough with him.

Defensive Line: The Eagles ran at the left side of the Giants’ defense with great success. Strahan, Harris, Buckley, and Widmer were out-muscled and slow to disengage from blocks. It also looked to us that the Eagles’ offensive players were playing with far more emotion. Up front, the defensive tackles are decent, but they do not provide opposing offenses with any special problems. Hamilton and Harris are respectable, not great, against the run and both do not rush the passer consistently well. From time to time, Keith Hamilton and Robert Harris decide to play hard and they did make their presences felt on occasion against the Eagles. Harris even picked up a sack in the 3rd quarter. Ever since he signed his new contract, Strahan has not played as well as he is capable of. Coincidence? Chad Bratzke pushed his man repeatedly back into the pocket on a number of occasions on the pass rush. He looked like one of the few Giant defenders playing hard. He picked up a good looking sack in the first half with his own cross over move and also nailed Watters in the backfield for a loss on a running play. Bratzke and MLB Doug Colman also saved a TD on 4th-and-goal early in the 3rd quarter

Linebackers: Jessie Armstead is a player and the Giants can “get by” with Corey Widmer, but Buckley isn’t ever going to be more than a journeyman. Buckley looked horrible taking on Eagle FB Kevin Turner’s lead block on a couple of running plays. Armstead does have trouble disengaging from run blocks at times due to his lack of overall size, but when he reads the play quickly and can get a running start, his can be disruptive against the running game. We would have kept him on Watters all day in pass coverage. To their credit, the Eagles did a good job of attacking the Giants’ biggest weakness and that is the coverage-ability of their middle and strongside linebackers. However, facing a “West Coast” offense, the Giants’ coaching staff should have done a better job of anticipating that and prepared accordingly. Last year, the Giants used Tito Wooten quite successfully as a LB in playing this type of offense and we would have liked to seen some of that on Sunday.

Defensive Backs: Not one of their better efforts. Jason Sehorn seemed to have trouble with the wet turf and was step too late on a couple of Detmer passes to Irving Fryar, including one for a TD. The tackling wasn’t sharp and their were mental breakdowns on top of that. The Eagle coaches used offensive game design to create confusion among the young defensive backs. Thomas Randolph had an excellent opportunity to sack Detmer on one of the Giants’ few blitzes, but rushed in out-of-control and “overran” the QB. Ellsworth was burned for a TD on a crossing route, but this play is almost impossible to defend when the defense is playing zone so close to the goalline. Jesse Campbell once again played the run well.

Special Teams: We like the way Conrad Hamilton returns kick-offs. He doesn’t dance around or shy away from contact, but runs right up the field. The blocking on punt returns was horrible once again as Arthur Marshall was nailed on one punt return as soon as he caught the ball. Mike Horan punted poorly, especially out of the end zone.

Pete’s Wrap-Up: Well Eric and anyone else who missed the fourth quarter, you did not miss much. In fact, had you tuned out at halftime you saw everything you needed to. The only interesting aspect about the fourth quarter was the insertion and play of Danny Kanell. It was fun watching and evaluating him. Kanell gets some extra leniency and rightly so because he has played so little in the NFL. My comments are forthcoming but first a quick take on the game.

Although Dave Brown has shown potential and some improved skills this year, there are some glaring problems he has not corrected. His footwork and ability to handle the rush is poor. He shows a lack of peripheral vision like on the play he decided to run rather than step up into the pocket where he would have had oodles of time to throw a first down pass. At the slightest sign of trouble Dave rarely gets to the opening to reset (or throw on the run) to a secondary receiver. Another example of the “vision problem” is his force to the sidelines on third down when Calloway was streaking wide-open up the middle in first down territory. In defense of Brown, Eagle defender William Thomas noted “it’s not like they are a wide open offense”. The receivers currently are extremely unthreatening and depleted. Plus CC and Cross each dropped well thrown passes that would have been first downs.

Even though Dave has improved his accuracy he is still making critical mistakes. Mistakes in judgment, such as the first pass of the game. Way was so well covered that nothing good was possible. I liked the call, but not the decision Dave made to throw it. The Eagles also commented how the Giants/Brown telegraph the area they are going to. This needs to be fixed. Brown needs to get QB coaching and take something more from watching the films, like how to react and position himself (and feet) in the pocket.

The Giants came out poorly and it was never a game. Turnovers turned the game into a wipeout. After the first throw, the Giants ran on 8 consecutive first downs. They only converted on one third down all game. The line was below average. Next year Dawsey should not be resigned and Pierce needs to be a full-time TE with Cross relegated to short yardage blocking duties. Can the Giants even afford to keep Cross if he is only a role-player?

The defense was outplayed and outcoached. Short dumps up the middle and on the strongside were successful all day. Detmer threw strikes to Fryar when he had to. Credit the Eagles here, there were some very nicely executed pass plays at opportune times. Watters killed the front seven. Where was the DL on the run defense, nothing like last week. The lack of a pass rush is killing this team. Absent is a blitzing LB from the strongside or up the middle. This has become a fatal weakness. We could blitz Armstead and be successful, but he is needed in coverage. There is talent gap in the front 7. Much harm was done by the Eagles short passing game, not to mention the running game.

I had to chuckle when thinking about a letter last week that compared the 96 team to the 84 Giants. The 84 group was a playoff team and decent contender. There was impact talent with growing experience. They played a whole different style. It was unlikely that they would ever give-up 100 yard rushing games to a single back. There is no comparison.

Finally there was Danny Kanell. It was a good time to put him in there. Danny has something that makes me think he can be a special QB. Yesterday he looked the opposite of Brown with regard to footwork and poise in the pocket. He is tall, alert and more mobile. His sideline pass across the field to his left was a perfectly thrown pass – and completion had CC stayed inbounds. Great throw. Some of his others were not as sharp, sort of wobbly but the conditions were very wet. Kanell demonstrates a soft touch, but he did not show more than one or two sharply thrown spirals. More time is needed to see if that is a weakness. This is something that can be worked on and improved. I still believe Brown can be a good QB if he improves in certain critical areas, but Kanell may have qualities that place him beyond the average starter. His career will be interesting to watch.