New York Giants 29 – Cincinnati Bengals 27
Overview: It wasn’t pretty, but the Giants keep finding a way to win football games, and an ugly win is always better than a pretty loss. Give the Bengals credit. They came into this game fired up and determined to put the upstart Giants back into their place. Breakdowns on defense and special teams cost the Giants dearly in the first half. Trailing 21-10 at halftime, things looked fairly bleak for New York. But solid offense combined with some timely defensive stops turned the game around in the second half and the Giants snatched a victory away from the Bengals. Let’s hope this game was a wake-up call to a Giants’ defense that did not play well on Sunday. If not, wins will prove to be far more difficult to come by after the bye week. One thing the Giants need to get sorted out soon is their propensity for dumb penalties — the Giants must be near the league lead for penalties this year.
Quarterback: Another up-and-down game for Danny Kanell (18-31 for 214 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions). It’s tough to keep in mind that this was only Danny’s third start in the NFL because of his poise. Indeed, it now seems that much is expected by Giants’ fans from this second-year man. The bad news was that Kanell had some accuracy problems against the Bengals. Once again, he was high with many of passes — largely because he was often throwing off his back foot. The Giants’ receivers are mostly short guys to start with and passing high on a regular basis will eventually lead to disaster. Kanell was also throwing behind some of his targets, including an errant pass to WR Chris Calloway that caused the Giants to settle for a field goal after an impressive opening drive. Furthermore, from time to time, Kanell didn’t zip the ball, with the pass sometimes landing at his intended receiver’s feet.
The good news is that Danny is learning and getting better with each game. We know we’ve said this before, but his poise and confidence in his own ability should not be underappreciated or underestimated — especially for someone so young and inexperienced. If Kanell makes a bad play, he does not let it bother him. Instead, he shakes it off and comes back with a good play to keep the drive going. This is a tremendous asset for a quarterback to have. Many of his pass plays were very crisp and accurate, despite his overall inconsistency. We once again spotted Kanell stepping up into the pocket in order to deliver the ball. It’s also nice to see him giving his receivers a chance to make a play. On his deep pass to WR Kevin Alexander, Kevin was well-covered by his man, but in a play that looked hauntingly similar to his old Florida State days, Danny slightly underthrew the ball (we think intentionally) and allowed Kevin to come back and make a play. It was the same type of play that Kanell made to Alexander in the preseason for a touchdown.
Although it appears Chris Calloway has become his favorite receiver, Kanell did spread the ball around nicely to other targets such as Alexander, TE Howard Cross, and the running backs. Even though he didn’t connect, he also looked in the direction of WR Amani Toomer and TE Aaron Pierce. His poorest decisions came on both the Giants’ two-point conversion attempts: the first being his decision to try to run the ball into the end zone himself, and the second, forcing the pass into a triple-covered receiver in the back of the end zone. The Giants were also fortunate on their first TD-scoring drive that the Bengal defensive back was flagged for a questionable pass interference call. Nevertheless, Danny is 3-0 as a starter, and 4-0 in games that he has played. The offensive team is responding to his leadership and he should only get better.
Wide Receivers: Perhaps we underestimated Chris Calloway’s (5 catches for 56 yards) ability, because Chris is making some outstanding plays despite the fact that other teams know he is the Giants’ primary receiving threat. His 4th quarter catch-and-run was a fantastic play that set the Giants up on the Bengals’ 1-yard line. It was obvious that Kanell was looking to him first and foremost all day. Calloway seldom gets deep, but he runs good routes, knows how to work a defensive back, gets open, catches the football, and keeps drives alive. Kevin Alexander had a big day (5 catches for 100 yards), highlighted by his spectacular sideline catch over the shoulder of the man covering him on a deep ball. Kevin also did a nice job “skying” for some of Kanell’s high passes. Amani Toomer seemed to be on the field more than usual this week. He made a big catch, but unfortunately was called for offensive pass interference on the play. The Giants tried to get David Patten deep, but he was well covered. Before anyone gets too excited about the performance of the receivers in this game, keep in mind the Bengals have a poor secondary.
Tight Ends: The tight ends are starting to see more action come their way. Aaron Pierce almost made a grab on a deep pass that might have gone for a touchdown, but the defensive back knocked the ball out of his hands at the last second. Howard Cross (2 catches for 23 yards) made an excellent catch on another high Kanell pass. Surprisingly, Fassel called on Howard’s number on 4th-and-goal from the one and a holding call on Cross gave the Giants a fresh set of downs and an eventual touchdown. Pierce did get flagged for a costly holding penalty.
Offensive Line: The line is quietly getting better and better. For the second week in a row, they did not give up a sack. Granted the Bengals are not a productive sack team, but not giving up a sack is quite a feat — especially given this bunch’s history last year. Kanell often had excellent time to survey the field and the Giants did a nice job of picking up the blitz all day (a lot of credit must also go the running backs here). The run blocking is also getting better and better with the guards, Greg Bishop and Ron Stone, leading the way. The Giants still have trouble trying to run sweeps and we definitely don’t like it when Fassel calls for a sweep down at the goalline. Nevertheless, the Giants’ line took control of the game in the second half and the Giants were able to control both the clock and the tempo of the game. The Giants scored four rushing touchdowns — three coming in the second half — and that is very impressive.
Running Backs: Aside from his two touchdown runs and a couple of other inside plays, HB Tyrone Wheatley (16 carries for 39 yards) looked tentative once again — he has since the game against the Cardinals. In fact, the last two games Wheatley hasn’t looked very explosive or instinctive. He’s not playing off blocks very well and shows a tendency to run into the tackler instead of avoiding the man. Wheatley also tries to get a little too cute in one-on-one situations. All his dancing around only allows pursuit to catch up with him. He needs to follow his blocks, spot the hole, and explode up into the crease. He’s not doing that right now. To his credit, Wheatley looked pretty sharp on a screen pass that picked up big yardage in the 4th quarter. Unfortunately, the play was called back because of holding. FB Charles Way (20 carries for 75 yards and 2 touchdowns) has officially become the main man on offense. In contrast to Wheatley, Way does a good job of following his blocks, spotting the hole, and taking the ball up field. He also is a very patient runner, often allowing the play to develop in front of him before committing himself. That’s why some of his runs look painfully slow to the casual observer, yet have us all scratching our heads when he picks up good yardage. It also shows that the offensive line is doing a much better job this year in sustaining its blocks. On the down side, Way’s run blocking wasn’t as sharp this week and he did fumble. HB Erric Pegram made a hell of a play catching a 3rd down pass from Kanell and selling out in his attempt to pick up the first down. He came up inches short, but his effort allowed the Giants to pick up the first down on their ensuing 4th down conversion attempt.
Defensive Line: Not a very good game. As we feared, the line didn’t show the intensity they had all season thus far. In fact, a very ordinary Bengal line largely man-handled the Giants up front, more so on passing downs. The Giants’ biggest problem on running plays was their tackling wasn’t very sharp. Time after time, the Giants were in position to make the play, but the Bengal running back eluded the Giant defenders to pick up decent yardage. Against the pass, LT Kevin Sargent just ate up DE Chad Bratzke. We’re sorry, but Bratzke is not getting the job done when it comes to rushing the passer. It’s time to get Cedric Jones on the field more to find out if he can get the job done. To his credit, Bratzke did have one very nice rush, where along with DT Keith Hamilton, he got to the passer. But aside from this play, Bratzke was nowhere to be seen on passing downs. DE Michael Strahan picked up a critical sack on 4th-and-8, but RT Willie Anderson did a good job on him most of the day. Inside, DT Robert Harris seemed to play with a lot of intensity, but was largely invisible. Keith Hamilton continues to get double-teamed. He had his moments, but was too quiet — especially given the level of competition. We saw DE Bernard Holsey and DT Ray Agnew on the field quite a bit, but they didn’t do much. QB Jeff Blake had far, far too much time all game. Let’s hope this bunch re-groups and re-gains its old intensity level after the bye.
Linebackers: So you say, if the Giants front four couldn’t get to the passer, why didn’t the Giants blitz more? Well, they did, but time and time again, the Bengals picked it up. They picked up Corey Miller, they picked up Corey Widmer, they picked up Jessie Armstead — they even picked up the blitzing cornerbacks. Weakside backer Armstead (7 solo tackles, 2 assists) made the defensive play of the game by chasing down the Bengal running back short of the first down on a 4th down conversion attempt. Jessie also forced a fumble on a Jeff Blake scramble that helped to start turn things around in the second half. We like Corey Widmer (6 solo tackles, two assists) because he is a consistent presence in the middle of the defense, but he has to start making more big hits IN THE HOLE. He makes too many of his tackles in “wimpy” fashion once the back has run through the line. Corey Miller is doing nothing but hurting this team. Perhaps we underestimate his leadership on and off the field and his role in team chemistry, but he is just not making any plays. Once again, he got caught too far inside on a huge Bengal run coming off the goalline. He also got flagged for being offsides. To be honest, we can’t remember the last time he made a play. It’s time to get Phillips into the game. From what we saw in the preseason, Phillips wasn’t THAT bad in pass coverage and he definitely had a nose for the football. We’ve been pretty high on the defensive board of strategy this year, but someone has to explain to us why Miller is in on passing downs? On the HUGE play right before halftime where the Bengals scored on 4th-and-5, Miller was in the game IN COVERAGE! The only linebackers on the Giants’ squad who should be in coverage in this situation are Armstead, Scott Galyon, and maybe Marcus Buckley. Dumb!
Defensive Backs: CB Jason Sehorn played a very good game, largely shutting down anyone he was facing. His interception on the Bengals’ two-point conversion attempt saved the game. He also made a great play in run defense chasing the ball carrier down behind the line of scrimmage. Phillippi Sparks had an up-and-down game (mostly down). He closed very well on the ball to come up with a big interception, but was also got burned pretty badly on a number of other big plays. Darney Scott blew past him off the goalline and Sparks was forced to give up a huge pass interference penalty that moved the ball near mid-field. Sparks should have figured that Blake, the game’s best deep passer, could take a shot there on first down. Sparks was also beaten on a number of other occasions on plays that picked up first downs (though the refs completely ignored a blatant push off on one of these plays). FS Tito Wooten screwed up royally on the Bengals’ TD pass right before halftime. He was slow to read the play and then took a very poor angle of pursuit that cost the Giants dearly. He also got flagged with a pass interference call on the Bengals’ last scoring drive. SS Sam Garnes made some big hits, but made a bone-headed personal foul penalty on Jeff Blake. Percy Ellsworth recovered the fumble that Armstead forced and picked up decent yardage on the return.
Special Teams: We’ve been warning since the preseason that the Giants’ kick-off coverage was a weak spot and it finally caught up to the team against the Bengals. Eric Bieniemy returned a kick 102 yards for a touchdown — an inexcusable play. To make matters worse, Bieniemy was hardly touched on the return. Brad Daluiso’s “attempted” tackle was simply a disgusting effort. This area of the team MUST be turned around quickly — the next time the Giants won’t be so fortunate to win the game. P Brad Maynard had his best game of the season thus far. Maynard got distance, height, and nailed a perfect coffin corner punt that went out at the 1 yard line. Erric Pegram didn’t look bad at all returning kicks this week, but Amani Toomer was back to his old self dancing around on punt returns.