Oct 291997
 
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.

Oct 241997
 

Approach to the Game – Cincinnati Bengals at New York Giants, October 26, 1997: In quite a role reversal, the Giants find themselves as favorites to win this Sunday against the 1-6 Bengals after being viewed as underdogs for most of the season. Going 5-3 and leading your own division will earn you that type of respect. The big question for these Giants, the league’s youngest and most under-appreciated team, is how will they handle this new role? New York has been successful thus far this season because they have talent, but also because of the players’ hard work and focus. The Giants still have too many holes and question marks on offense to afford any letdowns on defense or special teams. The Bengals have been the NFL’s biggest disappointment this year, but they still have some very talented players and if the Giants are not careful, this game might not end well. Most “experts” thought the Bengals would be 5-3, not the Giants.

Giants on Offense: Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau, loves the 3-4 zone-blitz — it’s the same scheme that the Steelers and Panthers run. In this system, pass rush pressure can come from anywhere, including the linebackers and defensive backs. At the same time, it isn’t unusual to see a defensive lineman sometimes drop into coverage. The main focus is to confuse quarterbacks and offensive linemen.

The best way to defeat the zone-blitz is to effectively run the football. The onus will be on the offensive line to not get rattled by all of the perceived threats and to move the Cincinnati defenders off the line of scrimmage. Because Bengal defenders will most likely be attacking from the get-go and attempting to make penetration, it will probably be smarter for New York to keep things fairly basic and pound the ball inside. The Giants’ offensive line has not proven to be particularly adept at the sweep this year, mainly because mobility is not a strong-suit of guards Ron Stone and Greg Bishop. Scott Gragg isn’t very light on his feet either. Smash-mouth, mano-a-mano run blocking should be the order of the day. Because some teams have had success running against LaBeau’s defense this season, he has played more 4-3 sets on first and second down in order to try to stop the run.

The Bengals are somewhat beat up up front. DT Brentson Buckner is out as is back-up DE Ramondo Stallings. The man who plays in front of Stallings, DE John Copeland, is questionable. DE Dan Wilkinson has had a disappointing year thus far, but he is still dangerous when motivated. The right side of the Giants’ line needs keep him disinterested. The Bengals only have seven sacks this year, but they do have some fairly active linebackers in Ricardo McDonald, Steve Tovar, Gerald Dixon, and James Francis. Since any of these guys can be called on to rush the passer in the Bengal defense, Oben, Bishop, Scott, Stone, and Gragg must be aware at all times and maintain their composure. The Lions rattled the Giants with blitzes last week and you had better believe the Bengals have noticed that on game films. In particular, the Giants need to do a better job of adjusting to the inside blitz.

A big question is who will be running the ball for the Giants on Sunday? HB Tyrone Wheatley (shoulder), FB Charles Way (shoulder), and HB Tiki Barber (knee) are all ailing. The advantage New York may have is that they can give the Bengals a variety of different looks. They can run Wheatley behind Way in a two-back set, or they can run Way behind a two-tight end formation, like they did against Detroit. Barber has the type of elusiveness and explosiveness to burn an aggressive defense, but he is still questionable for the game. Much will depend on the health of Wheatley. Erric Pegram may even be called upon more, aside from his 3rd-down work.

Like the Lions, the Bengals will probably play eight men in the box and try to shut down New York’s running game. Fassel may be forced to allow the young and inexperienced Kanell to pass early on first and second down in order to loosen the Bengals up. Aside from his performance in overtime, Kanell was not very sharp last week. Too many of his throws were high — a no-no to coach Fassel who would rather see his quarterback err on the low side in order to prevent interceptions. Surprisingly, Kanell has been far more accurate on his deep stuff this year than shorter patterns. The Bengals have a very average secondary and Danny may be able to do some damage if he can get into a rhythm.

There has been some hints that Amani Toomer might start seeing more action at wide receiver. We believe this is a good thing as Toomer has the size, jumping ability, and speed to present some problems for defensive backs. Where he has had problems is adjusting his routes based on the defensive coverage. In Fassel’s system, the wide receivers must adjust their routes depending on the pre- and post-snap reads of the defense. Chris Calloway had a big week last week, but in previous seasons, he has had a nasty habit of disappearing after big performances. Let’s hope that this is not the case this year. Kevin Alexander has been very quiet since the game against the Saints. He’s a hard worker and has the type of personality you look for, but he needs to make more plays, as does David Patten. Aaron Pierce started to get more looks last week, but didn’t produce. It will be interesting to see if he gets a chance to redeem himself.

Giants on Defense: Another tough test for the defense this week. Cincinnati’s offense may be struggling, but they are loaded at the skill positions. Their biggest problem this year has been up front with the offensive line. To make matters worse for the Bengals, their starting right guard, Ken Blackman is ailing. The Giants’ defensive line should be able do some damage against this group if they maintain their high level of play and sense of urgency. Last year, the defensive line had a tendency to slacken a bit in certain games. Thus far, guys like Strahan, Hamilton, and Harris haven’t done so. Will they continue keep their motors running this week? If they do, they should be able, along with the linebackers, to shut down the run. They also may add to their impressive sack totals.

Corey Widmer has done a steady, albeit an unspectacular, job this in the middle. There have been some “flashy” short-yardage plays from him (i.e., his 4th-and-1 stuff against the Rams), but we’d like to see more sticks at or behind the line of scrimmage from him. HB Ki-Jana Carter can be a problem if he gets on a roll. Widmer and his teammates need to make sure this doesn’t happen. Widmer and OLB Corey Miller must also keep an eye on TE Tony McGee — QB Jeff Blake’s security blanket. The safeties will most likely be more occupied by Cincinnati’s dangerous receivers and the last thing New York needs is for McGee to become a factor. Jessie Armstead has been very solid in coverage as has nickel backer Scott Galyon. They need to keep an eye on Ki-Jana Carter coming out of the backfield.

Another quality receiving corps for the Giants’ secondary to face and another chance to shine for CB’s Phillippi Sparks and Jason Sehorn. Blake may be the best deep-throwing quarterback in the game, and WR’s Carl Pickens and Darney Scott can take the ball to the endzone in a hurry. Both are taller receivers and this is a game where Sehorn’s height should be a good asset. The Giants’ safeties also need to keep a wary eye on the deep ball. The Lions made some plays on Conrad Hamilton last week when they lined Herman Moore up against him in the slot. The Bengals may try to do this too and Conrad needs to rise up to the challenge.

Giants on Special Teams: Right now, the Giants’ kick return game is a mess. They’ve tried David Patten, Kevin Alexander, and Erric Pegram with little success. Amani Toomer made a play by running up the field on a punt return — let’s hope he learned his lesson. Punt coverage remains solid, but kick coverage is still shaky. David Patten’s diving tackle saved a kick return for a touchdown last week. These guys can’t count on PK Brad Daluiso to nail every kick into the endzone. Brad Maynard’s punting has been erratic — sometimes outstanding, sometimes “Horan-like.” He also hasn’t been hitting his coffin corner kicks very well for a few games now. He’s a better punter than that. Daluiso is still trying to get back into our good corner…hitting some more long field goals would do that, especially in pressure situations. Should we even bother to ask for a block?

Oct 221997
 
New York Giants 26 – Detroit Lions 20 (OT)

Game Overview: In a remarkable turnaround after their 1-3 start, the New York Football Giants are in first place in the NFC East at the halfway point of the season. However, before everyone (fans, media, and especially the players and coaches) let this fact go too much to their heads, it is important to keep the win over Detroit in perspective — the Giants were extremely fortunate to win this game. Indeed, for much of the game, the Lions controlled both sides of the line of scrimmage. The Giants’ only offensive touchdown during regulation was set up by a fumble by a defensive back who intercepted a Danny Kanell pass and an ensuing personal foul penalty. The Lions also gave the Giants another gift turnover by fumbling the quarterback-center exchange while they were driving in Giants’ territory. The defense held Barry Sanders largely in check, but had problems with the passing game. The offense had problems moving the ball all day as the offensive line and the running game struggled, particularly in the first half. The Giants are in first place, but if they expect to seriously challenge for a playoff spot, they must play better. The tough part of the schedule is coming up after the bye week and the Giants will be hard-pressed to match their 5-3 record in the second half of the season.

Quarterbacks: QB Danny Kanell didn’t play well, but he got the job done when he needed to. As Kanell was running onto the field to start the Giants’ first possession in overtime, Kanell said to OLB Corey Miller, “Corey, you and the rest of the defense won’t see the field again.” That is Kanell’s biggest asset: his confidence and belief in himself. It’s what makes him a “winner” despite not being blessed with great physical tools. Kanell (17-31 for 220 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception) was largely hampered in the first half by the fact that he was constantly facing 3rd-and-long situations. On some of these instances, Kanell delivered — such as his perfect deep pass to WR Chris Calloway on a corner route in the first quarter. At other times, however, Danny was wild as either his men were covered down field or he had trouble reading the defense. Some shaky pass protection didn’t help matters. Too many times, Kanell was throwing off the back of his feet as Detroit blitzed him heavily. But Danny kept his poise and aside from one poor decision throw into double-coverage on his intercepted pass intended for TE Aaron Pierce, he did not make the kind of mistakes which hurt his own team. His touchdown pass to Howard Cross showed his maturity as Cross was Kanell’s third or fourth option on the play. He didn’t get flustered by the pressure bearing in down on him. His most impressive play came in the second half on a 3rd-down play where he stepped up into the pocket, knowing that he was about to get sandwiched between two Detroit defenders, and hit a tightly-covered WR Amani Toomer for a big first down. The play was very “Simms-like” in terms of the way Danny stepped up. Nevertheless, Danny remained inconsistent in the second half. For instance, he threw too high to a wide-open HB Tyrone Wheatley in the flat. As regulation ended, Kanell had only “amassed” 144 yards of passing. Yet it was in overtime where he really delivered. Facing a loud, hostile crowd and poor field position, Danny demonstrated a calm in overtime usually reserved for experienced veterans. Kanell coolly hit Cross for eight yards. Then after a six yard run by Way, he threw a perfect pass on an out-and-up to Calloway for a 68-yard catch-and-run that won the game. Danny has a long way to go, but if fans keep in mind that he basically is still a rookie and will have some growing pains, he should develop into a fine quarterback.

Wide Receivers: Chris Calloway had a monster day (5 catches for 145 yards and 1 touchdown). Chris is as slow as they come and he looks downright awkward when running after the catch, but he is currently the Giants’ most consistent receiver as he has a knack for getting open and making clutch catches. The lack of any production from the receiving position opposite Calloway is really hurting the Giants. Kevin Alexander has been invisible for two games in a row. David Patten only had one catch for five yards. Amani Toomer made a nice play (1 catch for 16 yards) on a 3rd down play with the defender draped all over him. The Giants need Alexander, Patten, or Toomer to step it up, or they need Thomas Lewis (toe) to return healthy soon.

Tight Ends: TE Aaron Pierce finally got his big chance, but he blew it. Early in the game, Fassel sent Pierce down the field on an intermediate route but Pierce dropped the ball. Kanell came back to Pierce soon after, but Aaron was well-covered — it was a poor decision by Danny to throw the ball there. To his credit, we spotted Pierce making some nice blocks in the running game. Believe it or not, Howard Cross caught three passes in one game (for 15 yards and a touchdown). At one time a few years ago, Howard was a very effective weapon for the Giants in the redzone and we hope the coaches realize this fact — especially since most defenses probably now ignore him.

Offensive Line: Not that good. Detroit really loaded up to stop the run and the Giants’ line allowed too much penetration and got far too little movement for most of the day. RT Scott Gragg had his problems with DE Robert Porcher against the run and the pass. Indeed, it was Gragg’s whiff on Porcher on 2nd-and-short mid-way through the 4th quarter that kept the Giants’ from moving into field goal territory and putting the game away. Gragg is frustratingly inconsistent. On some plays, he looks like a Pro Bowler, and others you want to kill him. RG Ron Stone is starting catch-up to Gragg on the false-start penalties (he had two). With all of Detroit’s blitzing, Fassel decided to play some two TE alignments which helped out Oben and Gragg some. The line was able to generate some decent-sized holes for FB Charles Way in the second half. The Giants only gave up one sack, but there was too much pass pressure on Kanell throughout the game.

Running Backs: Whether he was still suffering from his shoulder injury or reverting back to his previous form, HB Tyrone Wheatley did not look sharp. Granted the holes were not there from the offensive line, but Wheatley looked far too tentative and indecisive. On one sweep to the left, he ran right into a fallen Lion for a loss instead of avoiding the immobile tackler. There was one inside run where he looked strong and lowered his shoulders, but this was not the norm on Sunday. He only picked up 16 yards on 13 carries. The star of the day was FB Charles Way who gained 90 yards on 13 carries. Way looks like a slow, lumbering back, but for some reason, he consistently picked up good yardage on Detroit — sometimes on slow-developing outside runs. The one thing Way does for a big man, however, is that he has a little quick lateral move in his gait that often causes the first tackler to miss. HB Erric Pegram didn’t look bad in catching the ball out of the backfield (5 catches for 28 yards). He also picked up 15 yards on 3 carries in the running game.

Defensive Line: The defensive line had a decent game as they played more of a contain role this week than their usual attack stance. The tackles were once again strong inside. DT Keith Hamilton was often double-teamed and there were a few plays where we thought he was obviously being held in pass rush situations. DT Robert Harris came up big with a sack-and-half (which now brings his half-season total to an impressive 6-sacks). DE’s Michael Strahan and Chad Bratzke were not as strong against the run as in previous outings, but they weren’t bad either. Strahan was also being held on a lot of plays (with no call), though he did pick one sack (now has seven on the year). Chad just isn’t getting it done in the pass rush department. DE Cedric Jones saw a tiny bit of action and we thought he did well on one pass rush, but for some reason, we didn’t see him in the game after that. DT Ray Agnew continues to do a decent job as a reserve in jamming things up inside. He’s also doing a better job in the pass rush department.

Linebackers: Not a particularly strong effort. OLB Corey Miller remains the weak spot. He kept getting caught too far inside on a play that looked hauntingly similar to the old Redskin counter-trey where the runningback (Sanders) took on step to the left and then followed his pulling linemen to the right. This play picked up significant yardage for the Lions on a number of occasions. Miller did do a nice job in containing the run on one play where he was playing on the right side and he also did a nice job in defending a pass, but the Giants need better play out of him. OLB Jessie Armstead was pretty quiet, though he also made a nice play in pass defense, as did MLB Corey Widmer. Armstead was burned by FB Tommy Vardell on a huge pass play on the Lions’ final drive in regulation. Nickel-backer Scott Galyon continues to impress. He had three tackles and half a sack in limited action.

Defensive Backs: Not a great game for this group either. CB’s Phillippi Sparks and Jason Sehorn had problems with WR’s Herman Moore (7 catches for 88 yards) and Johnnie Morton (five catches for 72 yards) all day. Sparks got beat inside on a slant pass to Moore and Lions kept finding the open zone on the right side of the Giants’ defense against Sehorn throughout the afternoon. SS Sam Garnes looked good in defending the run, but FS Tito Wooten did not. He whiffed on Sanders on Barry’s only big run of the game and he also missed him on Sanders’ touchdown run. Both Wooten and Garnes bit big time on QB Scott Mitchell’s fake handoff to Sanders on the Lions’ scoring play which sent the game into overtime. Reserve CB Conrad Hamilton did decently, especially since he was facing Moore on those times when Moore was placed in the slot. He did get flagged for a costly holding penalty however and did not keep up with Moore on one first-down conversion. FS Percy Ellsworth was quiet.

Special Teams: This was Amani Toomer’s shortest punt return for a touchdown as a Giant, but it was by far his most impressive. Instead of dancing around with the ball, Toomer caught the ball and headed directly up field — something we had been calling for all season. He made a number of superb cuts and received some good blocks and was off to the races for 53 yards and the score. HB Erric Pegram was not impressive returning kick-offs and the blocking on kick returns was pathetic. There were also too many illegal blocking penalties on the Giants. PK Brad Daluiso made both of his kicks, including a very, very impressive 53-yarder. His 47-yarder was a little too close for comfort. P Brad Maynard was horrible early, but impressive late. Although he was able to get the punt off, he can’t afford to drop any more snaps however. Coverage teams were solid except for one kick-off return where Glyn Milburn almost took it all the way. WR David Patten made the game-saving tackle. Scott Galyon and Brandon Sanders also continue to excel in coverage.

Oct 171997
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Detroit Lions, October 19, 1997: As the wins begin to mount for the Giants, so does the pressure. Believe it or not, the Giants are all alone in second place in the NFC East. They have a three game winning streak going and they are 3-0 in the division. The defense is playing very well and the offense is coming off of their best performance all year. However, the Detroit Lions are not the New Orleans Saints or Arizona Cardinals. The Lions have an extremely dangerous offense, a rapidly improving defense, and a good coaching staff. The Lions just may be the Giants’ toughest test to-date. The New York press has been filled with “feel good” articles all week on the Giants, particularly the defense. Well, the defense had better get their heads out of the clouds and stop patting themselves on the back. If they don’t, Barry Sanders, Herman Moore, and Scott Mitchell will have a field day.

Giants on Defense: Every week we start off stating how important it will be to stuff the running game. This week it takes on much, much greater importance. Barry Sanders is the best running back in the game right now and he can absolutely embarrass even a good defensive team (see the Tampa Bay Bucs). The keys to stopping him are: (1) penetration into the backfield, (2) gap control, and (3) solid tackling. Like any running back in the game, Sanders has a difficult time getting started if he has to face his first potential tacklers in the backfield. On the other hand, if our front seven gets blown off the ball by the Detroit offensive line and Barry has room to maneuver, then the Giants are in for a long day. Secondly, Barry can kill defenses that over-pursue and lose gap control or containment because of his superb vision and cutback-ability. Over-pursuit has been somewhat of a problem on this young, aggressive defense. The linebackers in particular must stick with their gap responsibilities because even if Barry is running away from them, there is a decent chance he might be running back that way in a second. Thirdly, tackling is absolutely crucial, especially in the secondary. Despite his size, Sanders is very slippery and difficult to bring down if the defender doesn’t wrap up. The coaches should preach gang-tackling all week in practice. In particular, if a man in the secondary like Jason Sehorn or Tito Wooten misses a tackle, it will be six points.

Up front, DE Chad Bratzke has to step up his game this week and make an impact. He faces Mike Compton, a left guard forced to play left tackle because of the injury to regular starter Ray Roberts. Bratzke has faced a plethora of past, present, and future Pro Bowlers all year, but here is his big chance to be a difference maker. DE Michael Strahan has an opportunity to have another big week — he faces RT Larry Tharpe. Moreover, since Scott Mitchell is a lefty, Strahan should get some chances for blindside hits. Inside, Keith Hamilton will face a second stringer (either Tony Semple or Hessley Hempstead). He needs to keep his motor going 100 percent and get some penetration regularly into the backfield. The Giants’ coaching staff will be counting on him to win this match-up. If Hamilton does cause problems and the Lions’ center (Pro Bowler Kevin Glover) is called upon to help out, then Robert Harris needs to win his one-on-one battles with impressive second-year man Jeff Hartings. Stuff the run, then get after Mitchell must remain the focus all day.

More so than any other game thus far in this season, the performance of the Giant linebackers will be crucial on Sunday. Good reads, gap control, and solid tackling need to be the order of the day. Corey Miller and Corey Widmer are not the most agile guys around and Sanders could make these two look downright silly. Jessie Armstead and his cohorts also must keep an eye on potential screen passes. The Giants may be fortunate and not have to face TE David Sloan, but Pete Metzelaars is a capable veteran replacement. With the secondary focusing more on the wideouts, the linebackers will be called upon to make sure that the underneath stuff to the running backs and tight ends doesn’t become a factor.

In the secondary, the defensive backs face a big, big test this week. WR Herman Moore is as good as it gets. If CB Phillippi Sparks wants to go to the Pro Bowl, controlling a guy like Moore would be a great step in that direction. Undoubtably, the Giants will call upon FS Tito Wooten to help out with Moore. Thus the corner not covering Moore (most likely Jason Sehorn) will be under a lot of pressure to shut down WR Johnnie Morton, a former first rounder. The Lions also like to add Glyn Milburn to the mix on their 3-WR sets. Milburn is a very explosive player and Conrad Hamilton must be very physical with him. SS Sam Garnes needs to make his presence felt as well this week. He was very quiet against the Cards.

This is the Giants’ defense big chance to get some national recognition. But to do so, they must be at the top of their game. No mental breakdowns, solid tackling, and forced turnovers will be crucial. Jim Fassel coached Scott Mitchell for four years in college and he may know some tricks to help fool him, but when it all comes down to it, the defense must do the job themselves. The Lions are 4-3 and need this game to keep pace with the high-flyers in the division. Don’t look for Detroit to roll over like Arizona did.

Giants on Offense: The Giants’ defense will not be able to shut down Detroit’s offense — they are too good. If the Giants are to win on Sunday, their offense must control the clock and put points on the board. Once again, the offensive line is key. Detroit has a very active and well-coached defense, but they can be run on if the offensive line plays a physical game up front. Consistency for this group has been a problem this year, but stringing three solid performances together (including the Dallas and Arizona games) would be impressive. RT Scott Gragg will have a tough match-up in DE Robert Porcher, who leads the team with seven sacks. Porcher is a huge test for Gragg, a guy who has struggled at times this year. Fassel and his staff may once again call upon TE Howard Cross to help out there. LG Greg Bishop also gets a tough assignment in DT Luther Ellis. Bishop has played well the last two weeks, but he will be severely tested on Sunday. The Giants can’t afford any letups from LT Roman Oben either. If the Giants can win these battles, they may be able to get their running game going once again because Detroit is not very big up front, including the linebackers. But they are quick, and can cause pass rush problems.

Surprisingly, the Lions have just as many interceptions as the Giants this year. Rookie CB Bryant Westbrook is a future Pro Bowler. He usually plays on the left side, but it will be interesting to see if the Lions move him over to cover Chris Calloway, our most consistent receiver. Regardless, who ever faces the other corner (Corey Raymond — remember him Giant fans?) must take advantage of this match-up. Kevin Alexander and David Patten will share time at split end. A lot is expected from these two undrafted players. Returning to Michigan, you know WR Amani Toomer would like to make an impact at wide receiver. To do so, he needs to improve his reads. Lion safeties, Van Malone and Mark Carrier, are two physical guys. However, Fassel may want to sneak Aaron Pierce or a running back past Malone a few times on passing plays.

A lot more pressure will be placed on the shoulders of QB Danny Kanell and HB Tyrone Wheatley this week. Both were the beneficiaries of some excellent line play last week. Things will be much more difficult this Sunday. We still haven’t seen many West Coast Offense-type of plays this year since the opener. We also haven’t seen the faster tempo that Fassel would like these guys to play with. Injuries and mental mistakes have been problems with both. The last time the Giants played in a loud dome for an away game (against the Rams), the offensive players lost their composure made far, far too many stupid penalties. Let’s hope they don’t repeat that performance.

Giants on Special Teams: Close ball games are ultimately decided by special teams play. Brad Maynard did not punt particularly well last week. His hangtime is fine, but his distance and placement inside the 20 need improving. Brad Daluiso also needs to regain our support by making all his field goals again. On coverage, Lion punt and kick returner Glyn Milburn is extremely dangerous — he is probably the best returner the Giants have faced all year. Daluiso and Maynard need to boom the ball and coverage has to be superb or the Giants will give away cheap field position and possible scores. For their part, the Giant coaches are still scratching their heads in an attempt to find an adequate kick returner since Thomas Lewis got hurt. David Patten failed, as did Kevin Alexander. The Giants may try HB Erric Pegram this week. And for what has become a weekly unlikely wish of ours, let’s get a blocked kick or punt! Please!

Oct 171997
 
New York Giants Plan: Good Strategy, Poor Implementation

When free agency and the salary cap were first implemented in the NFL, it took many people a long time to understand the strategy of the Giants’ front office. To the fans and the press, the Giants were merely being stingy or old school by not embracing free agency. There seemed to be no plan. One after the other, great names from the 1990 Championship team were departing and were not being replaced adequately by new free agents. However, it is important to understand that the Giants hit free agency with a high-priced, declining team. The “impact players” on the team were nearing the end of the line. Bill Parcells knew what he was doing when he left the Giants. He understood the Giants were on the verge of a big rebuilding program and he didn’t want to be around when it happened.

Stage One: The Giants’ front office allowed free agency to do its dirty work for it by removing the older, declining players from the roster. Incidentally, with a few exceptions, this tactic seems justified by the lack of production from these players once they left the team. The 1990 Giants were also a highly paid team. The only way to shed these high salaries and have some cap flexibility was also to let these older, higher priced players go. The Giants tried to remain competitive, but rebuilding is never easy and often ugly. The losses began to mount.

Stage Two: Meanwhile, the front office began to implement stage two. Stage two involved the drafting of new talent in order to replenish the talent base on the team. Just like the the rebuilding process that General Manager George Young orchestrated between 1979 and 1983, the Giants had to start all over again. Even despite free agency, the draft remained the most important mechanism to acquire talent. Why? Because draft picks are cheaper than free agents and generally of higher quality. NFL teams rarely let their best talent get away. What is left is often not of better quality than one already has, and what’s worse, is far, far more expensive. If there was no salary cap, this would not be an issue, but it is. For example, look at OG Ron Stone, an average player who the coaches feel could become special. However, to pry him away from Dallas, the Giants had to pay him roughly $2 million per year — that’s a big chunk of the cap.

Stage Three: Stage three involved making sure that the quality players drafted by the Giants remained with the team. Instead of spending salary cap room on free agents of average quality, the Giants spent the money on their own good players. This strategy had the added benefit of increasing team chemistry and esprit de corps. If the Giants had spent more freely in the free agent market, they would have been far less likely to be able to keep players such as Way, Sehorn, and Strahan.

What Has Gone Right?: This strategy has partly succeeded. The Giants have indeed acquired a number of young, talented ball players who will only improve as they mature. Just as importantly, the Giants have been successful in re-signing most of these key players to long-term deals. Examples include Charles Way, Brian Williams, Keith Hamilton, Michael Strahan, Jessie Armstead, Phillippi Sparks, and Jason Sehorn. These players form a solid foundation to build around.

What Has Gone Wrong?: The Giants’ front office has failed in three areas: (1) their recent drafting history has been spotty at best, (2) they have misjudged some of the talent on the team and consequently overpaid some players, and (3) the poisonous atmosphere between management and Dan Reeves was allowed to fester too long.

The Draft: Let’s take a look at the Giants’ drafts from 1992 to 1996. Keep in mind that drafting is an art, not a science. One can measure height, weight, strength, and speed, but one cannot always measure heart, potential, and intangibles. One player who was extremely productive in college may fail miserably in the pros and visa versa. Injuries can also become a factor. Below I will list the players selected by the Giants during this time period. I will also provide a very brief status report on that player as well as a listing of the next ten players taken by other teams after the Giants’ first round pick and players who the Giants mistakenly let slip through their fingers.

1992

1. TE Derek Brown – Bust. Could never beat out Howard Cross.
2. CB Phillippi – Sparks First round talent. Potential Pro Bowler.
3. TE Aaron Pierce – Has not been productive. Time is running out.
4. DT Keith Hamilton – First round talent who is finally playing like it.
5. CB Michael Wright – Bust.
6. DT Stacey Dilliard – Journeyman who is still bouncing around the league.
7. LB Corey Widmer – Solid player and good pick for the 7th round.
8. QB Kent Graham – Solid player who now starts for Arizona.
9. S Anthony Prior – Bust.
10. DT George Rooks – Bust.
11. WR Nate Singleton – Journeyman who is still bouncing around the league.
12. WR Charles Swann – Journeyman who bounced around the league for a few years.

Overview: Outstanding picks in rounds 2, 4, and 7. Bad picks in rounds 1, 3, and 5. If Derek Brown had turned out to be the player everyone thought he would become, this would have been a good draft. Only four players from this draft are still with the team.

Next Ten: The next ten players taken after Derek Brown were TE Johnny Mitchell, DT Chester McGlockton, CB Kevin Smith, S Dana Hall, RB Tony Smith, CB Dale Carter, RB Vaughn Dunbar, DE Alonzo Spellman, DL Chris Mims, and MLB Robert Jones.

Hindsight: McGlockton, Smith, Carter, and Spellman would have been good choices. Carl Pickens or Darren Woodson, both taken in round two, would have helped matters. QB Brad Johnson was taken in the 9th round.

1993

1. QB Dave Brown – 1992 Supplemental pick. Has not been productive. Looks like a bust due to wear and tear.
2. DE Michael Strahan – Outstanding selection. Potential Pro Bowler.
3. OLB Marcus Buckley – Has not been productive. Back-up.
4. OT Greg Bishop – Journeyman starting at left guard.
5. LB Tommy Thigpen – Bust.
6. OG Scott Davis – Journeyman now playing in Atlanta.
7. PK Todd Peterson – Decent player who is now playing in Seattle.
8. OLB Jessie Armstead – Outstanding pick. Potential Pro Bowler.

Overview: Great picks in rounds 2 and 8. Very disappointing picks in rounds 1, 3, 4, and 5. Once again, if the first rounder pans out, this turns into a darn good effort because of Strahan and Armstead. Five of the players from this draft are still with the team.

Next Ten: After Dave Brown, the next ten selected were OT Lincoln Kennedy, RB Jerome Bettis, DL Dan Williams, S Patrick Bates, OL Brad Hopkins, OC Steve Everitt, OLB Wayne Simmons, WR Sean Dawkins, CB Tom Carter, and OL Ernest Dye.

Hindsight: Steve Everitt is a good player, but we already had Brian Williams. Aside form Dana Stubblefield, no other player from this draft sticks out in round one. DT Gilbert Brown was taken by the Vikings late in round three and later cut. QB Mark Brunell and HB Adrian Murrell lasted until the 5th round.

1994

1. WR Thomas Lewis – Has not been productive or healthy. Looks like a bust.
2a. CB Thomas Randolph – Decent player. Nothing special.
2b. CB Jason Sehorn – Outstanding pick. Potential Pro Bowler.
3. RB Gary Downs – Journeyman now playing in Atlanta.
4. DT Chris Maumalanga – Bust.
5. DE Chad Bratzke – Solid selection. Starts at right end.
6. OG Jason Winrow – Had promise but forced to retire due to injury.

Overview: Good picks in rounds 2a, 2b, and 5, though one would like more productivity and impact from Randolph. Bad picks in rounds 1, 3, and 4. Once again, the first round pick hurts the Giants in this draft, as does another blown 3rd and 4th rounder. Four players taken in this draft are still with the team.

Next Ten: After Lewis, RB Greg Hill, DL Henry Ford, DB Jeff Burris, FB William Floyd, WR Derrick Alexander, WE Darnay Scott, OG Tre Johnson, OL Eric Mahlum, WR Isaac Bruce, and RB Errict Rhett.

Hindsight: Bruce would have been a great pick. Alexander and Scott have been far more productive than Lewis. Johnson would look good at left guard for us right about now. How about Larry Allen who was taken in the middle of round two?

1995

1. HB Tyrone Wheatley – Has looked good when he has played and stayed healthy.
2. RT Scott Gragg – Developing player who has struggled. How good will he get?
3. SS Rodney Young – Has not been able to crack the lineup, but looked good in the preseason.
4a. FS Tito Wooten – 1994 supplemental pick. Starter who continues to get better.
4b. OG Rob Zatechka – Slow-footed guard may be as good as he gets.
5. CB Roderick Mullen – Decent player who is now playing with Green Bay.
6a. DE Jamal Duff – Decent player who is now playing with Washington.
6b. FB Charles Way – Outstanding selection. Potential Pro Bowler.
7. P Bryne Diehl – Unable to beat out Mike Horan.

Overview: Initially, this looked like a good effort. But now who knows? Wheatley still has a chance as does Gragg, but neither has been particularly productive. Young and Zatechka are back-ups who probably will never start (another 3rd and 4th rounder wasted). Value-wise, Mullen and Duff were good picks but they now play for other teams. Way and Wooten are were good picks, but much depends on Wheatley and Gragg. Six players taken in this draft remain with the team.

Next Ten: After Wheatley, HB Napolean Kaufman, HB James Stewart, DL Luther Elliss, HB Rashaan Salaam, CB Tyrone Poole, CB Ty Law, RT Korey Stringer, OL Billy Milner, DB Devin Bush, and TE Mark Bruener.

Hindsight: Kaufman, Stringer, and Bruener would have helped us if Wheatley doesn’t pan out. Stringer is the guy George Young wanted. Poole is a very good player but we are set at corner. If Gragg doesn’t pan out, the Giants passed on such guys as MLB Ted Johnson and QB Kordell Stewart in round two. Every team really screwed up by passing on HB Curtis Martin (3rd round) and HB Terrell Davis (6th round).

1996

1. DE Cedric Jones – Has not been productive or healthy.
2. WR Amani Toomer  – Has not been productive or hard working at wide receiver.
3. LT Roman Oben – Starting at left tackle in his second year and doing fine.
4. QB Danny Kanell – May now be the Giants’ quarterback of the future. Stay tuned.
6a. MLB Doug Colman  – Solid selection. Good back-up and special teams player.
6b. OLB Scott Galyon – Solid selection. Giants’ nickel backer.
7. CB Conrad Hamilton – Solid selection. Quality back-up cornerback.

Overview: Although it is early, it looks like the Giants made good picks in rounds 3, 4, 5, 6a, 6b, and 7. Even if Kanell isn’t the eventual starter, quality back-up quarterbacks are hard to find. So much depends on Jones and Toomer. Jones has to regain his quick, first step and Toomer needs to understand that football is a profession, not a hobby. All seven picks still remain with the team.

Hindsight: After Jones, HB Lawrence Phillips, WR Terry Glenn, HB Tim Biakabutuka, TE Rickey Dudley, OT Willie Anderson, CB Alex Molden, DE Regan Upshaw, CB Walt Harris, HB Eddie George, and OLB John Mobley.

Hindsight:If Jones doesn’t pan out, the Giants really blew it bigtime here. How good would Glenn, George, or Mobley look in Giant blue? What about WR Eddie Kennison, WR Marvin Harrison, or DE Tony Brackens?

Draft Review: What really stood out while researching these five drafts were two things: (1) almost all teams really wasted a lot of picks, and (2) the Giants were one of those teams. I was actually surprised that I couldn’t find more big names for the hindsight section. A lot of NFL teams, including the “good teams” such as Green Bay, Dallas, and the 49ers, have not been too successful in evaluating collegiate prospects, including in the first round. However, if the Giants expect to become one of the better teams in the league, they must do a better job than the rest of the league in the draft process. It is as simple as that.

Most Giant fans know that the team has not done well in the first round. Derek Brown, Dave Brown, and Thomas Lewis all look like busts. The jury is still out on Tyrone Wheatley and Cedric Jones, but they certainly have not been productive players in the NFL to-date. Sure there may be extenuating circumstances with most of these players, but the simple truth is that the Giants are not getting appropriate value for these selections. First round draft picks are also expensive and take up a lot of salary cap room. Thus, poor first round selections have proven to be a double-edged sword in the era of the salary cap.

However, the Giants’ draft day letdowns are not limited to the first round. While the Giants have pulled out some gems in latter rounds like Jessie Armstead and Charles Way, they have also missed badly in rounds three and four. Roman Oben was a good 3rd round pick, but were Aaron Pierce, Marcus Buckley, Gary Downs, or Rodney Young? Keith Hamilton and Danny Kanell were good 4th round selections, but were Greg Bishop, Chris Maumalanga, or Rob Zatechka? The Giants seem to do quite well in round two (Sparks, Strahan, Sehorn, and Randolph), though the jury is still out on Scott Gragg and Amani Toomer. A team that is building through the draft cannot afford to keep firing blanks in premium rounds such as the first, third, and fourth. This has proven to be the heart of the front office’s shortcomings. Late round “gems” cannot compensate.

Hindsight is fun, but it is not very realistic. The truth of the matter is that every team in the league wishes it could go back in time and re-do almost all of their selections. Nevertheless, instead of Derek Brown, Dave Brown, Thomas Lewis, Tyrone Wheatley, and Cedric Jones, the Giants first round picks of the last five years could have been Darren Woodson, Dana Stubblefield, Larry Allen, Kory Stringer, and Terry Glenn. Throw in Mark Brunell and Terrell Davis or Curtis Martin in later rounds. Hindsight is painful, isn’t it?

Overpayment of Some Players: The salary cap is a beast. It tears good teams apart and prevents bad teams from acquiring better talent. The salary cap disrupts team unity and player loyalty and is thus bad for the game. The Giants have done a good job in recent years of keeping their young and up-and-coming players on the team. The Giants’ roster is filled with some good players who will probably play their whole career with the Giants. That’s practically unheard of in the NFL today. However, re-signing players to longer-term deals also has a downside. If the Giants’ front office and coaching staff misjudge the potential talent of a player, a significant chunk of the salary cap could be wasted. Based on their level of production and/or playing time, the following current Giants must be considered to be overpaid:

  • QB Dave Brown ($2,251,700)
  • OLB Corey Miller ($1,600,000)
  • TE Aaron Pierce ($1,283,300)
  • TE Howard Cross ($1,115,700)
  • HB Rodney Hampton ($1,350,000)
  • DE Cedric Jones ($1,667,800)
  • HB Tyrone Wheatley ($947,000)
  • WR Thomas Lewis ($793,900)
  • OG Greg Bishop ($716,100)
  • WR Amani Toomer ($492,000)
  • OLB Marcus Buckley ($375,300)

Note: Salary figure provided is the player’s 1996 total cap figure — the last, most accurate data available to this writer.

Note: One could also argue that players such as OG Ron Stone and DT Robert Harris are being overpaid, but these two players were protected free agents and the Giants had to spend more money than they would have liked to in order to pry them away from their respective teams. Regardless, the current Giant coaching staff is excited about the potential of both.

As one can see, failures in the drafting process have also resulted in failures in the cap arena. As draft picks are “slotted” into particular salary ranges, the Giants were “forced” to pay players such as Cedric Jones, Tyrone Wheatley, and Thomas Lewis big contracts. Now Wheatley and Jones may one day earn their money, but as it stands now, they are dramatically overpaid. The system, as much as the Giants’ front office, is to blame here. Nevertheless, “the system” did not force the Giants to extend the contracts or re-sign such players as Dave Brown, Aaron Pierce, and Greg Bishop. Simply stated, the Giants screwed up. They expected these players to be better than they turned out to be. Not only did the front office misjudge them in the drafting process, but they misjudged them once again after these players had already been with the team for a few years. Much of this undoubtably had to do with the state of conflict and lack of communication between the Dan Reeves’ regime and the Giants’ front office. Hopefully, the much more cooperative relationship with Jim Fassel will help matters here. Needless to say, the money being “wasted” on most of the players mentioned above could best be spent elsewhere.

Management-Coaching Relations: A front office and a coaching staff have to be on the same page. If the personnel department acquires good talent, but that talent doesn’t fit the head coach’s system, then the whole team will suffer. However, what happened under Dan Reeves was even worse. Reeves was so upset about how the Giants’ operation worked that he allowed his anger to affect his on-the-field decisions and off-the-field comments. Before Reeves was hired, the division of labor was explained to him and he said he would accept it: coaches coach, managers manage, and players play. Reeves abided by these rules in 1993, but quickly changed his tune in 1994 after tasting success the year before. He began to openly question personnel moves even though he had much influence in free agency. He also began to publicly humiliate such players as David Brown, Tyrone Wheatley, and Cedric Jones, more for spite than any other reason. The fact of the matter is that Reeves wanted to run the whole show. He wanted to break the contract which was established with the front office.

Where the Giants’ front office was in error is that they allowed this situation to fester too long. Reeves should have be fired after the 1995 season. Reeves wanted to leave but he didn’t want to quit because he would have lost a million dollars in salary. George Young wanted Reeves gone, but it is rumored that co-owner Robert Tisch did not want to pay Reeves if he was fired. (The Giants would have had to honor their contract if they fired him, but not if Reeves quit). You have to blame ownership more than the front office if this is true, but George Young should have threatened to resign if Reeves was not let go. Anyone with any degree of foresight knew that Reeves was a lame duck. By keeping Reeves on, an entire year was wasted. Jim Fassel could have been hired last year and this whole rebuilding process could have been that much more advanced. As already mentioned, the lack of communication and cooperation that existed between the previous coaching staff and management also served to create more of a financial mess with the salary cap as management could not be sure of the quality of the players it had. In any line of work, that’s bad business.

Summary: The good news is that all of these problems are correctable. Jim Fassel seems to have a very good working relationship with the front office. The 1997 draft which produced four rookie starters is a definite improvement over recent efforts. Both sides publicly remarked at how smoothly the process went and it is believed that Fassel had a lot of input into the actual selections. Since Fassel and management do communicate so well and Fassel seems to know exactly what he wants, financial decisions on how much to pay and for how long should be much sounder. Most importantly, the Giants have a direction now. All sides are working together towards the common goal of winning another championship. Nevertheless, for this to happen, the draft record must continue to improve.

Oct 151997
 
New York Giants 27 – Arizona Cardinals 13

Overview: “The running game was unbelievable,” said starting QB Danny Kanell. “If there’s any story to write about this game, it’s the offensive line. They made my job so much easier, and any time you can run the ball, it opens up the passing game.” As Kanell so correctly pointed out, the offensive line was indeed the story of the game. They were magnificent. They dominated an Arizona front seven that included three Pro Bowlers in Eric Swann, Simeon Rice, and Eric Hill. The Giants’ offensive line was responsible for generating 239 yards of rushing and kept opposing pass rushers away from Kanell almost the entire game. By being able to run the ball, the Giants were also able to control the clock for over 35 minutes and keep the defense out of the brutal Arizona heat. For their part, the Giants’ defense picked up five sacks, four interceptions, one fumble recovery, and knocked out the starting Cardinal quarterback. Not a bad day’s work! The New York Football Giants are now 4-3 and 3-0 in the division. They are in the midst of a three game winning streak and their confidence is rapidly climbing. The Giants are becoming a dangerous football team.

Offensive Line: We don’t normally review the offensive line first, but this week is the exception since the game ball undoubtably goes to this unit. Roman Oben, Greg Bishop, Lance Scott, Ron Stone, and Scott Gragg: whatever the team fed these guys before the game they should keep it up because both the run and pass blocking was outstanding. There were no weak spots and very few mistakes. Ron Stone picked up two illegal start penalties and Scott Gragg picked up one as well (for his eighth of the season), but those three penalties were the only negatives from the game. The only sack the Cards picked up was on a play where there were more rushers than blockers. From time to time, the Giants had another player chip Simeon Rice in order to help out Roman Oben, but for the most part, Oben handled Rice all by himself. Ron Stone embarrassed Eric Swann all day. Greg Bishop mauled his opponent for the second week in a row. Scott Gragg kept Michael Bankston quiet and ever since Lance Scott was installed into the line-up, it seems as if Brian Williams is back at center. Don’t be fooled by the Cardinals’ record, they have a very good defense and it was unbelievable that the Giants were able to control the line of scrimmage the way they did in this football game. Even though the game was tied at 6-6 at halftime, the score was no indication of the Giants’ dominance up front. It was only a matter of time before the Cardinal defense cracked and it did so big time in the second half as the Giants’ offense scored three times on drives of 64, 47, and 85 yards.

Running Backs: HB Tyrone Wheatley is running with great speed to the outside and very good toughness inside. He’s running with his pads down and has not fumbled since being given the starting job. Tyrone picked up 103 yards and one touchdown on 22 carries for almost a 4.7 yard per carry average. It was his first 100-yard game of his career and the Giants’ first in 24 games. However, more so than the yards gained, what was most impressive about Wheatley’s performance was the fact that he returned to the game after suffering a painful shoulder injury and continued to run hard between the tackles despite the injury. Tyrone picked up good yardage both on sweeps where he was often able to turn the corner on the defense due to his great speed and between the tackles where he showed good power and leverage. Jim Fassel also called upon FB Charles Way to run the ball more than usual and Way responded with a super 13 carry, 91-yard effort, which included a 37-yard run right up the middle of the Cardinal defense. Even Erric Pegram got into the act with a 10 carry, 47-yard effort that also included an 18-yard TD run. It’s been a long, long time since the Giants ran this well on an opposing defense.

Tight Ends: The tights were once again very quiet in the passing game (no catches), but both Howard Cross and Aaron Pierce must share a lot of the responsibility for the excellent run blocking on Sunday.

Quarterbacks: Danny Kanell made a very bad read and threw a pass right into the hands of Pro Bowl CB Aeneas Williams for a 30-yard TD on the interception return. But aside from that play, Kanell was most impressive in his first start as an NFL quarterback. Of course, a running game that picked up over 230 yards on the ground and often gave Danny all the time in the world helped matters, but Danny looked calm, poised, and in control on the field. His accuracy was excellent and he showed a lot of zip on almost all of his passes, including the deep out. Often times, Danny placed the ball only where the receiver could catch it. Of particular note was the touch and accuracy Kanell displayed on his deep passes. Indeed, his stats (13-28 for 198 yards, 1 TD, and 1 interception) would have looked even more impressive if WR Kevin Alexander was able to hold onto a perfectly thrown deep pass on a fly pattern that would have gone for a TD. Charles Way, uncharacteristically, also dropped two passes. It’s tough to get a good read on Kanell yet because he was the beneficiary of such excellent line play. However, his presence in the pocket and accuracy were better than Dave Brown. When pressured, Danny showed good pocket presence and moved his feet accordingly. It was also a very good sign that he didn’t seem bothered or flustered after his costly interception. He looks like a winner.

Wide Receivers: Because the ground game was performing at such a high level, these guys didn’t have as much of an opportunity to get involved. With CB Aeneas Williams playing WR Chris Calloway very aggressive underneath, Jim Fassel decided to cross him up and called for an out-and-up route that led to a huge 48-yard pass. Amani Toomer looked good running with the ball after the catch on his one opportunity for 24 yards. However, the star of this group this week was none other than WR David Patten who caught 3 passes for 66 yards and one touchdown. Patten cleanly burned the Card defenders on an inside slant for a 9-yard score. He then showed his outstanding speed on an outside pass that picked up big yardage later in the game.

Defensive Line: We bet you the defensive line is extremely thankful that the offense controlled the ball and the clock for most of the game and kept these big guys out of the hot Arizona sun. The defensive line continues to excel as the players continue to respond extremely well to the new freedom and flexibility of Defensive Coordinator John Fox’s system. DE Michael Strahan picked up another sack-and-a-half and impressively shut down the run to his side of the line of scrimmage. Chad Bratzke was not as visible as his counterpart, but flashed from time-to-time. On one play he nearly sacked the quarterback as he basically threw LT Lomas Brown out of his way. But the story of the game on the defensive side of the ball remains the defensive tackles. Robert Harris and Keith Hamilton once again stymied the inside running game of their opponent as the Cards were only able to gain 27 yards on the ground all day. Hamilton often got a good push on the pocket and knocked starting QB Kent Graham out of the game. He also shared half-a-sack with Strahan. Robert Harris picked up a sack and forced a fumble (which Bratzke recovered). Even reserve DT Ray Agnew got into the act. He was very impressive on the pass rush as he picked up one sack and should have had another, but missed the easy tackle. DT Christian Peter and DE Bernard Holsey saw some playing time late in the game in the prevent defense.

Linebackers: OLB’s Jessie Armstead and Scott Galyon continue to make plays. Armstead only had two tackles, but one came on a play where he impressively knifed through a number of blockers to nail the runner on a screen pass before the play even had a chance to get started. Scott Galyon once again showed good instincts and quickness on the blitz as he picked up a sack. MLB Corey Widmer was the leading tackler in this unit with five tackles. Corey Miller (one assist) remains largely invisible. OLB Jason Phillips saw some garbage time at the end of the game, but could not disengage from his opponent fast enough on the pass rush.

Defensive Backs: The cornerbacks continue to largely shut down their opponents and the safeties continue to make interceptions. Given the poor Cardinal quarterbacking, CB’s Jason Sehorn and Phillippi Sparks were not seriously tested all day. Sehorn did get beat on a deep pass to Rob Moore off the goalline, but for the most part, that was the extent of the damage. Jason made an interception on a “Hail Mary” pass at the end of the game. FS Tito Wooten picked off another ball (his third in two games) and almost had another. Back-up FS Percy Ellsworth picked off two passes and almost had a third. Reserve CB Conrad Hamilton looked good in the nickel too. SS Sam Garnes had a quiet game.

Special Teams: The one weak spot this week was the play of the special teams. The Cards blocked a punt (which set up their only offensive TD, late in the game) and recovered an onside kick. Both are inexcusable offenses. PK Brad Daluiso bounced back nicely this week, nailing two field goals, including a 48-yarder. However, two of his kickoffs were strangely squibbed for some reason. P Brad Maynard had a very ordinary day. Brad is a much better punter than he has been showing thus far this season. He struggled somewhat at the coffin corner kick and is not getting as much distance as he is capable of. Perhaps we’re expecting too much from the rookie. Amani Toomer made a bone-headed play by fielding a punt inside the ten yard line. Kevin Alexander was not impressive on kick returns. Blocking on both punt and kick returns was terrible. Kick and punt coverage was decent. Reserve MLB Doug Colman once again stood out in this department. David Patten overran the Cardinal returner on one punt.

Oct 101997
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Arizona Cardinals, October 12, 1997: The Giants had better not take Arizona too lightly. The Cardinals have a good team that could easily be 5-0 with a few breaks here and there. They’ve been in every game and nearly beat such teams as Tampa Bay and Washington. They have already beaten Dallas. For their part, the Giants are coming off of a emotional and physical ball game. The must re-group and re-focus on the Cardinals. Last week is history. The Cardinals represent another divisional opponent and thus this is an important game. If the Giants are to truly become a good team, they must start winning games on the road and they must start putting more offensive points on the board.

Giants on Offense: Is this the start of the Danny Kanell era? The ball seems to be in his court. If Danny can provide the impetus that the Giant offense currently lacks and put some points on the scoreboard, then he may not relinquish the job for years to come. Danny is a smart, heady ball player who seems to have a feel for the game. However, questions remain about his arm strength. His lack of experience in the pro game will also be a factor. Look for the Cardinals and Vince Tobin to throw the book at Kanell and try to confuse and rattle him. The rule of thumb in the NFL is come after young quarterbacks and that’s exactly what Arizona will most likely do on Sunday.

Kanell will face a very formidable and well-coached defense. CB Aeneas Williams is one of the best in the business and he finally has a quality corner to play opposite of him in rookie Tom Knight. Williams will most likely be matched up against WR Chris Calloway for most of the afternoon, so the Giants need a big performance out of Kevin Alexander. The good news is that Kanell seems to like to throw Alexander and has a good rapport with him. Danny may also be more willing to get the ball into Amani Toomer’s hands when the Giants go to 3-WR sets. We’d take a couple of shots deep to keep the Cardinals honest, but for the most part, it is probably best to focus on the short- and intermediate passing game over the middle of the field. The Giants shied away from the deep out pass against the Cowboys last week and it will be interesting to see if this pattern returns or not with Kanell in the line-up. If Danny has an inadequate arm, it will show up on this pass.

The topsy-turvy roller coaster performance of the Giants’ offensive line makes another stop this week. Which line will show up? The line which played decently against the Eagles, Ravens, and Cowboys, or the line which played horribly against the Jaguars, Rams, and Saints? Jim Fassel doesn’t seem to have much faith in this group, especially Scott Gragg and Greg Bishop. Fassel has chosen to keep Howard Cross in to help out with the pass blocking assignments and this has hurt the Giants’ options on offense and made them more predictable. The feeling here is that Fassel needs to let guys like Gragg to sink or swim on their own merit, to get Cross and/or Aaron Pierce more involved in the passing game. Up front the Giants probably face their greatest test of the year thus far. Roman Oben faces pass rushing terror DE Simeon Rice and the Giants’ interior trio will have to deal with All-World Eric Swann. DE Michael Bankston (a Giant killer) and DT Bernard Wilson are no slouches either. MLB Eric Hill may be available this week to play. He’s an intimidating presence in the middle of the field and arguably the best middle linebacker in the game. Let’s hope he doesn’t come back this week. Because of the Cardinals’ strength in the middle with Eric Swann, it may be wiser for the Giants to run more outside this week than they did last week. Tyrone Wheatley has the speed to burn defenses to the outside if the Giants’ offensive line can be effective and coordinated enough to run the sweep. Run Wheatley outside, Way to the inside.

Because the Cardinal defense will most likely be coming after Kanell with the blitz, a steady diet of screens, draws, and quick slant patterns wouldn’t hurt matters. However, the Cardinals are very good at disguising their coverages and Kanell needs to do a good job in differentiating between man-to-man and zone coverage. Because the Arizona safeties are ordinary, we would like to get Pierce down the seam or Wheatley down the sidelines for more deep stuff too.

Giants on Defense: These guys need to suck it up and play a great game again. No resting on their laurels — Sunday is another game. Because of the lack of continuity on offense due to all the injuries and the new system, the defense will be counted on again to keep this a low-scoring affair. Arizona has the potential to put a lot of points on the board. The key, once again, is to shut down the run first. The Cardinals are not happy with their running game, but they field the kind of quick, fast players who can pick up big yardage if the Giants let their guard down. The Cardinal line is an ordinary unit and the Giants’ defensive line may be able to make some hay in both the run and pass defense department. But it all depends on attitude. If Michael Strahan, Robert Harris, Keith Hamilton, and Chad Bratzke play with the type of heart and desire they have all season in this game, the Giants will be in good shape. If they let up “because it’s the Cardinals,” the Giants will be in trouble. It is unfortunate that DE Cedric Jones re-injured his knee this week in practice because depth will become a major concern on the defensive line given the desert heat. Consequently, Bernard Holsey, Ray Agnew, and Christian Peter need to play well.

At linebacker, Jessie Armstead is having a great year and we’d have him and/or Scott Galyon keep an eye on FB Larry Centers (if he plays) all day. Centers is the Cardinals’ most dangerous weapon as a pass receiver out of the backfield. Larry can also run the ball. The Cardinals have a much better receiving tight end this year with the acquisition of Chris Gedney from the Bears. The Giants’ defense has been somewhat vulnerable to the tight end and the Giant linebackers and safeties must not let Gedney (or fellow TE Johnny McWilliams) become a factor. OLB Corey Miller played a disappointing game last week and if he doesn’t start making some plays, we would start phasing in Ryan Phillips more. The Cardinals may also attempt to expose Corey Widmer some in coverage and he needs to be quick and active in his zones.

For some reason, the Cardinal passing game has given the Giant defensive backs fits over the course of the past few seasons. Phillippi Sparks and Jason Sehorn have the ability to shut down WR’s Rob Moore and Frank Sanders, but they have historically had problems with these two. The Giant safeties have been a big-play bunch this year. Let’s hope they continue their fine work.

Giants on Special Teams: Arizona PK Kevin Butler has cost the Cardinals more games than Brad Daluiso has cost the Giants this year — let’s hope it stays that way. P Brad Maynard should be able to unload some big punts in the Arizona heat. Kick-off coverage gave up a major return against the Cowboys last week — they can’t and shouldn’t count on Daluiso to nail every kick into the endzone. The Giants haven’t broken a big kick return since Thomas Lewis did it on opening day. David Patten has the speed, but he needs to show more vision and instincts. His fumble last week almost gave the game away too. Amani Toomer has been more productive as a punt returner, but he still dances around too much for our taste. What is it with the Giants that they can never block a kick or punt?

Oct 081997
 
New York Giants 20 – Dallas Cowboys 17

Overview: With the Giants, it’s never easy. Up 20-6 with six minutes left in the game, the Giants almost gave another game away. But give this team some credit. Dallas had all their weapons intact and playing, while the Giants were minus Brian Williams, Ike Hilliard, Tiki Barber, Rodney Hampton, Dave Brown, and Thomas Lewis. That’s five first round draft picks and a second rounder! This was an important win for the Giants because it brings their record to 3-3, and 2-0 in the division. But just as importantly, it is another confidence booster for this young and maturing team. The Giants are starting to believe in themselves. However, the players should not rest on their laurels after this emotionally-draining win. Arizona may be 1-4, but they arguably could be 5-0. Enjoy this win for a day, but get back to work quickly guys!

Quarterbacks: Be it his injury or the fact that he was reverting back to form, Dave Brown was not sharp. Brown still just does not look comfortable on the field. Everything seems to be a struggle for him. If he completes a pass and picks up a first down, Giant fans jump for joy. Such small accomplishments should not be so difficult. Brown took a number of hard shots in the game which seemed to affect his injured chest muscle. His harness also seemed to restrict his movement. It was the better part of valor to sit down and let Danny Kanell take over — which he did in the second quarter.

Danny Kanell has a field presence and feel for the game that Brown lacks. The big question regarding Kanell is whether his arm is strong enough — especially on the deep out. If a quarterback can’t throw this type of pass, he will be severely limited in this league and consequently, so will his offense. Smartly, the coaching staff and Kanell decided not to test his arm strength with out patterns against Deion Sanders and Kevin Smith. Most of the passes were of the short-to-intermediate-type over the middle. As soon as Danny came into the game, the whole offense seemed to pick up. Danny dropped back quickly, read the defense, and delivered the ball. His passes were crisp and accurate. On the few screen passes the Giants ran, Kanell did a much better job of “selling” the screen than Brown does. Danny led the Giants on a long, impressive drive right before halftime to cut the lead to 6-3. He could have finished the drive with a TD pass to Chris Calloway, who was wide-open in the endzone, but badly overthrew him (Danny might have been throwing the ball away in that situation). Most importantly, Danny did not make any critical mistakes or turnovers in the game. Kanell’s success continued to start the second half, as he led the Giants on another long-scoring drive, this one ending another 3-points to tie the game. After that, Danny cooled off and the Giants’ offense was lucky that the Giants’ defense was able to barely hang on to the lead and the win. Interestingly, Danny shows more confidence in his receivers’ ability to make a play even when well-defended than Brown does. This confidence resulted in two huge pass interference calls against Dallas and ten points.

Look out, because now it seem like we have another quarterback controversy and quarterback controversies are never good for a team. Danny Kanell has the feel for the game, but does he have the arm? Dave Brown has the arm, but does he have the feel? Should Fassel encourage Brown to sit down one more week so we can get a better feel for Danny? If Danny doesn’t have the tools, does sitting Brown down shatter what little confidence he has left? On the other hand, how many chances do you give to Dave Brown? Look out, because Jim Fassel is about to make the biggest decision of his young head coaching career.

Wide Receivers: Going into the game, most fans didn’t expect Chris Calloway and Kevin Alexander to do much against the superb Dallas secondary — and they didn’t. Both had problems getting open all day. Both receivers made some nice gains after the catch, however. Amani Toomer looked good on one slant pattern, but didn’t pick up enough yards for the first down. Calloway and Alexander are decent receivers, but this offense really misses the kind of talent that Ike Hilliard brought to the table.

Tight Ends: Once again, non-existent. For some reason, the Giants insist on having the tight ends run only short routes, which inevitably pick up only 3-4 yards. Why bother? If Cross doesn’t have the mobility or agility to get down the field, why not play Pierce more? The lack of production at tight end is killing the Giants.

Running Backs: Tyrone Wheatley had an excellent game and looked like one expects a first round draft pick to look like. He ran hard inside the tackles, kept his pads down, and held onto the ball. He was quick to find holes in the defense and exploded through these openings for good gains all day. On two runs in particular, he started inside and then broke to the outside for big gains, coming darn close to breaking them all the way. He also did a nice job in reading his blocks on a screen pass. Indeed, we wondered why Fassel got away from calling Wheatley’s number as the game progressed. If Tyrone continues to play like this, he would provide a nice one-two punch with Tiki Barber.

As for Charles Way, what can one say? The man is a football player. He blocks, he runs, he catches. His 3-yard touchdown run was a wonderfully-designed fake to the halfback and quick hitter to the inside. Erric Pegram saw a limited amount of action; he had one catch.

Offensive Line: This unit has taken a beating from the coaches, fans, and press, but give them some credit this week. All five starters played well and the Giants largely controlled the line of scrimmage against Dallas. In particular, some of the whipping boys had good games. Scott Gragg handled Tony Tolbert. Greg Bishop came to life and mauled his opponent on several plays. Lance Scott was not a liability. Oben kept his man quiet and Ron Stone made some excellent run blocks. Indeed, the run blocking was probably the best we’ve seen all season as Wheatley had some decent-size holes to run through.

Editor’s Comment on the Offense: Most of us understood and realized that it would take time for the Giants to learn the drastically different offense. Injuries to important players haven’t helped matters. Regardless, the offense MUST start putting more points on the board to help the defense out. The return of Brian Williams and Ike Hilliard will help matters next year, but the team needs a tight end, another receiver if Toomer doesn’t step it up, and more help on the offensive line. The good news is that the line did some good things against the Boys as did Tyrone Wheatley. Kevin Alexander is a play-maker and Chris Calloway is a very good complimentary receiver. But what do the Giants do at quarterback? This question MUST be answered by the time this year ends.

Defensive Line: Decent, but not great. Keith Hamilton continues to terrorize offensive linemen, as this week he did more damage against the running game. His pursuit on an outside running play was most impressive. Robert Harris showed persistence and hustle in making a huge play by sacking Troy Aikman in the fourth quarter. The ends were pretty quiet, however. Erik Williams did a nice job on Michael Strahan for most of the game, though Strahan had a few moments. Chad Bratzke was solid in run defense, but didn’t get much pressure. We had heard in the preseason that the Giants would flip-flop Strahan and Bratzke some and they did it A LOT in this game with limited success. Strangely, the Giants also had Bratzke rushing from a two-point stance for much of the game. Because the defense spent so much time on the field, Cedric Jones, Ray Agnew, and Bernard Holsey saw a lot of playing time. While they did not “flash” during the game, all three did a very credible job while they were in there. Jones looks quicker each game out and Agnew is playing far, far better than he did last year.

Linebackers: Jessie Armstead was not as spectacular as he usually is, but was generally around the ball. Corey Widmer had an up-and-down game. At times he over-pursued on running plays while at other times he filled the hole nicely. Corey Miller had a terrible game. He’s not getting the job done and is largely invisible on the playing field. He got caught too far inside on one running play to Emmitt Smith outside. He over-pursued most of the game. And he almost cost the Giants dearly by dropping a gift interception that would have ended the game at 20-9. What really stood out about Miller in this game is that he seemed to have problems finding the ball. We would definitely start phasing Ryan Phillips into the game more and more. Scott Galyon is an instinctive play-maker. He had beat out Marcus Buckley before Marcus got hurt and we’re very glad to see him on the field as much as he is. He plays tight coverage, is a good blitzer, and is a strong tackler.

Secondary: While the stats for Aikman will look good, they were largely bloated by the prevent defense at the end of the game. Make no mistake about it, the secondary played a whale of a game. Tito Wooten — one of our favorites (i.e., Eric’s) — had one of those games again that showed he can be one of the best in the business if he can just keep his focus. Wooten picked off two Aikman passes, the first a beautiful read, catch, and TD run that basically won the game for the Giants. Phillippi Sparks and Jason Sehorn did a great job on Michael Irvin and Anthony Miller until the end of the game. Sehorn made a great play in defending a deep pass in the end zone to Irvin as did Sparks in defending Irvin on a couple of deep fly patterns. Sehorn even had a strong game tackling the runner, including a nice one-on-one tackle to bring down Herschel Walker in the open field. The guy who was victimized the most was another one of our favorites, Conrad Hamilton. Conrad made some nice plays, but for the most part, was the weak link in the secondary on this day. He’s capable of playing much better. Sam Garnes is a hitting machine near the line of scrimmage.

Giants on Special Teams: Brad Dalusio hit both of his field goals, but they were basically long extra points. Brad Maynard was supposedly called upon to punt for hang-time over distance…he had a so-so day. He did have a nice pooch-punt that went out at the ten and positioned his coverage team on two more punts to down the ball inside the five (which they failed to do). Coverage on punts was outstanding, though one must thank Barry Switzer for calling a bone-headed reverse at the end of the game. Instead of keeping the ball in Deion’s hands, Sanders handed it off to a guy who tripped over a laid-out David Patten. Thank you Barry! Doug Colman made a bone-headed block-in-the-back penalty but redeemed himself with two strong special team tackles. Brandon Sanders and Scott Galyon also did a nice job in bringing down Deion Sanders. Daluiso nailed all of his kicks into the endzone, but Herschel Walker brought one out and picked up huge yardage on one kick return. Amani still dances around too much, but for the second week in a row, had a nice punt return for big yardage. David Patten did a nice job on one kick return, but almost cost the Giants the game and us a heart attack by fumbling Dallas’ last kick-off. Tyrone Wheatley saved the day by falling on the ball after a couple of Cowboys had a shot at it (and the game). Maybe Tyrone’s luck is finally changing!(grin)

Oct 031997
 

Approach to the Game – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, October 5, 1997: Make no mistake about — regardless of what the doom-sayers all say, Dallas is still one of the very best teams in the league and a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Right now, they are a much better team than the Giants and the Giants will need some inspirational and intelligent performances from their players, play-calling and game-planning from their coaches, and some luck to win. In particular, the Giants’ defense and special teams need to come up with some big plays.

Giants on Offense: The Giants will have problems moving the ball on Dallas. The strength of the Dallas defense is its secondary. CB’s Deion Sanders and Kevin Smith are as good as it gets and they can easily take Chris Calloway and Kevin Alexander out of the game. Darren Woodson is the best strong safety in the game and a force against both the pass and the run. FS Brock Marion has done a very solid job. Dallas also has two very fast and quick outside linebackers in rookie Dexter Coakley and second-year man Randall Godfrey. These six players make it very tough to pass or run to the outside. Offensively, the Giants simply must run the ball between the tackles. Dallas’ defensive line is not as imposing as it used to be. If the Giants are to put together any sustained scoring drives, Roman Oben, Greg Bishop, Lance Scott, Ron Stone, and Scott Gragg must move the Dallas front seven off the ball and Tyrone Wheatley and Charles Way need to run tough inside. Tyrone needs to keep his pads down and hands on the ball. With the Giants’ problems at center and Wheatley’s speed, Fassel may be tempted to run outside some, but we doubt this will be successful as the Dallas linebackers are just too quick and the Giants’ linemen are still not consistently coordinated enough to run the sweep with any degree of success. Pound the ball inside — just like Parcells and Reeves used to do.

Now to keep Dallas off balance, the Giants can not merely run the ball on every down — especially with Dallas expecting run on first down. Passing to the receivers will be difficult. We’d try to take advantage of the relative lack of experience at outside linebacker and get the backs and tight ends more involved. We’d also run more 3- and 4-WR sets as Dallas does not have much depth in their secondary. For these sets to work, Amani Toomer and David Patten will have to step up big. Don’t even try to run any deep stuff on Dallas — it won’t work. The Giants will have to use execution and well-designed schemes to get open. Flood zones with receivers, drag a receiver across the field to clear out the area for another receiver. Run crossing patterns, slants, and screens. We saw a lot of this at training camp, but not as much during the regular season except for the Philly game. The Giants will have to pass when Dallas expects them to run and visa versa because the Giants simply do not have the talent right now on offense to beat the Cowboys straight-up.

This game will probably come down to how well the Giants’ offensive line plays against the Dallas defensive line. Scott Gragg versus Tony Tolbert will be key. Both the guards must win their battles regularly against the Dallas DT’s (Casillas, Hennings, Anderson, Benson).

The Giants also need a big game from Dave Brown. It would be nice to see the Giants win BECAUSE of Dave Brown, instead of DESPITE of him. Of course Brown needs help from his offensive teammates, but he also needs to make something happen on his own from time to time. Leadership in the huddle will be necessary to make sure everyone keeps their heads about them and their concentration. A timely and well-executed audible may prove decisive.

Giants on Defense: Dallas is a team ready to explode offensively. The key for the Giants is to make sure it doesn’t happen this week. Opposing teams keep hurting Dallas with the blitz and thus far, Dallas has not compensated. It will only be a matter of time since the Cowboys are spending much of their practice time on this. We actually might be more wary of blitzing this week because Dallas has game-planned so much for it and has seen the Giants do so much of it in other games. It’s a tough call because Troy Aikman really doesn’t like to get hit too much (who does?). However, Aikman is still the most accurate quarterback in the league and Michael Irvin is back to his old form. The Giants are paying Phillippi Sparks and Jason Sehorn the big money to take out receivers like this. It’s showtime for them. Anthony Miller can be dangerous deep, but the guy that makes us nervous is Billy Davis who had an impressive preseason. Because Aikman likes to throw short too, the Giants’ underneath coverage (Garnes and the linebackers) need to have a big game against the tight ends (Eric Bjornson and David LaFleur) as well as Daryl Johnston and Emmitt Smith.

The Cowboys most likely will really try to force the issue by getting their running game going. Smith has been largely bottled up this season so far. The Dallas offensive line isn’t as strong as it has been in the past, but the Cowboys do have better blocking from the tight end position now — especially from LaFleur. If Emmitt Smith and/or Sherman Williams get untracked, forget it. For all the attention Aikman and Irvin get, Dallas has always been a run-oriented team. Shut down the run and you force them to pass more than they would like to. The Giant fans, press, and players have been touting the play of the defense this week. Sunday, they get a real test. Any let up by the front seven in run defense will cost the Giants the game.

Giants on Special Teams: The Cowboys have the best-coached special teams in the league. Dallas often wins games because of their special team play — returns, coverage, blocks, field goal kicking, etc. To have a chance in the game, the Giants must at least perform as well as Dallas on Sunday on special teams — no easy feat. Brad Daluiso needs to rebound. Failed field goals not only take points off the board, but they are momentum changers and the youthful Giants still have a vulnerable psyche. Coverage needs to remain strong and blocking on returns needs to continue to improve. Forcing some sort of turnover could prove to be huge.

Oct 011997
 
New York Giants 14 – New Orleans Saints 9

The Defense was not quite as dominating as it was last week, but it was still tough enough to deny the Saints any touchdowns and was largely responsible for the 14 – 9 win. After the Saints took possession of the ball at the Giants 35 with more than 5 minutes to play, the defense stood firm again by attacking the Saints from every direction, determined not allow the game to slip away. Unlike last week where Strahan, K. Hamilton and Armstead had monumental efforts, this time the D had a well-rounded and balanced effort that was ready to hold a second half lead. The offense played decent and the special teams were solid except for a 46yd FG miss. What counted most is that the Giants won at home in a game they needed, to keep the season meaningful and allow some positive progress

Defense – As a tribute the defense should be addressed first. Enough can not be said about the way they emasculated the Rams last week given the great field position throughout all four quarters. Despite endless stabs at the endzone the Rams only crossed the line at the end of the game. This week, the offense at least gave the team a chance to win the game and zero TD’s was the result. All of the starters plus the guys in the nickel contributed nicely and played like a unit exhibiting sustained progress.

DL – The line although not as terrifying as previous weeks still forced matters. Hamilton again was a man to be reckoned with as he consistently jammed the middle. Besides an alert fumble recovery, he was responsible for 4 tackles directly and as many indirectly. Keith played hard throughout (as did most all of the D) and made some very impressive moves to shed his man on a few of his takedowns. Strahan has been the other dominating force on the line. He too would have a tough time matching previous efforts this year (he was an absolute phenomenon against the Rams), especially since the Saints stayed away from him as much as possible. Michael still punched-in with another strong performance forcing Shuler to unload or leave the pocket early. Strahan totaled 3 tackles and held like a pillar against the run allowing others to make plays. Chad played a tough low profile game even though he was tied up a bit and got blown back on one run play in particular. Excellent run defense has become his forte and has raised expectation levels considerably. The Giants did go on to stop a Saint team that wanted to run and Bratzke was in part responsible. He has become an important component to this team. Harris played OK. No real weak moments and they did not slow up late in the game.

LB’s – Armstead led the LB’s again, but the group played well as a whole. Miller was free to roam partly due to the strong play of the DL, while Widmer had his best game of the season, showing how he can be a better than average MLB. Widmer played with intelligent aggression made plays early and late. Effective blitzes during critical times in the contest was nice to see. Jessie caused some havoc on both run and pass blitzes, but Widmer’s 4rth quarter rush was perfectly executed. Miller made a nice open field tackle and another while ducking his blocker. He did show his amazing lack of speed when he dropped back in pass coverage. He was beat a couple of times, was caught flailing at his man after a catch, and missed a key tackle in a long-gainer. Aside from a couple of mistakes which were quickly covered up, the LB’s performed admirably.

Secondary – The corners had a stellar game throughout. Early in the game Sehorn looked really bad as he missed a relatively easy tackle on a wide run that let Bates get good yardage. Was it an Omen. No way, Sehorn turned things around quickly. First by employing an extremely smart and effective coverage strategy which meant giving his man some room for 2 to 3 yards while squaring up his target and closing quickly for the wrap-up. This served Jason well as he stuffed pass plays for short gains and prevented getting turned around because of committing to soon against a quick receiver. His contributions did not stop there because he was able to impact the running game with excellent reads and sure tackling. One play had Sehorn dodging one blocker and shaking free a tight block to make a terrific tackle. Jason’s name was called by the announcer twelve times but it was not from getting burnt. Sparks supported the run with focus as well. He did not pay a penalty for it either since in pass coverage his man was not open. His best outing of the year. Randolph was back in the nickel for 15 or so plays and was flawless. Thomas showed sharp concentration on his interception in the first half, zeroing in on the deflected pass and leveraging his forward motion to quickly wrestle the football from another potential receiver, to his gut. He made a nice tackle, was not thrown at, and provided close coverage. Hamilton was caught on a pass interference but also made a nice play along with two tackles. The nickel defense was tough in general. Percy did not play more than 12 plays but made two nice plays on key third downs. Tito played a lot and came up big when he torpedoed the ball on the Saints last offensive play. Sometimes head tackles work. Tito clearly missed two tackles because he sometimes refuses to use his arms with the most blatant violation on a running play up the middle! However, they are easily overlooked because of his overall aggressive performance combined with some nice stops and a couple of clutch, third down plays. Tito and Garnes were both responsible for a few blown coverages against the TE. First they let him get underneath for some long catch and carries, and then they let him behind them twice only to get lucky as Heath left the pocket and missed how open he was. Garnes supported the run also and got a few breathers on some passing downs. Possibly because the TE was playing like a WR. This was a team effort on defense.

Offense – The O came through with enough offense to win although they almost blew it late in the game. Once they got it back, they finally showed some smashmouth of old by literally running the clock out.

QB – Brown looked sharp at times, especially on his TD pass to Alexander. A few crisp passes to CC, including one that was incorrectly ruled out-of-bounds were impressive. He hit Tiki on two short passes and his accuracy and reads were good. Calloway made an adjustment on the other TD pass, but the ball was close enough. Alexander pulled off his route which might have prevented DB’s only interception.

Backs – Charles Way opened up lanes with devastating or persistent lead blocks. Fassel made some real smart play calls, specifically the two swing passes to Way who plowed for additional yards. Tiki caught two passes that he turned into nice gains and caused a few misses, with his jukes in the middle on some runs. He and Ty combined to gain over a 100 yards on the ground. Wheatley had a strong 4rth quarter helping the team run down the clock after he replaced an injured Barber. He was “credited” with not picking up Moten on the key late blitz.

TE’s and WR’s – CC was Mr. Consistent grabbing four passes and getting robbed on another. Crisp routes and nice adjustment turning around for the TD pass. Alexander in his first start, worked hard and was effective. He beat a fine CB a couple of times, fighting for the ball and showing good WR instinct. He should not have pulled up on the INT. The TE’s made no noise. Need more production here.

OLine – Engler was hurt and replace by Scott who did alright. Gragg was guilty of two false starts but there were no holding calls. Stone had trouble with Martin who is tough athlete. He was able to fend him off enough to not cause total breakdowns. Oben was pretty tough and Bishop had a decent game. The line real showed a burst of energy as they opened up some holes for Wheatley in the final period.

Specials – Brad’s kickoffs were good, but he missed another 46 yard FG. His accuracy is off and it is time he fixed it. Maynard must work on his pooch. Coverage teams were real good. Toomer had a few nice, straight-ahead punt-returns.