Dec 301997
 
Minnesota Vikings 23 – New York Giants 22

Overview: The Giants did everything they needed to do for 58 minutes to win the football game, but they forgot to remember that a football game is 60 minutes long. Sure, Giants’ fans will point to the inability to score touchdowns intead of field goals and the two costly turnovers that led directly to 10 points for the Vikings. Kanell didn’t play very well and the Giants couldn’t run the football. All that being said, the Giants had a 9 point lead with less than two minutes to play. A good football team HAS to be able to win a game in that situation. Blame? The Giants just didn’t make the plays they needed to make to win the game. Basic plays. You don’t scheme to put a safety man-to-man on one of the best wide receivers in the game when you should be in the “prevent” mode. Jake Reed on any safety is a mismatch. Strike one. Second, you have to recover the onside kick-off. Chris Calloway didn’t. Strike two. Third, as well as the defense played for 58 minutes, they gave up their second scoring drive in the game’s final two minutes by allowing the Vikes an easy field goal to win the game. Strike three and you’re out.

The Giants, the youngest team in the league, learned a valuable lesson. Play hard for 60 minutes and do not take anything for granted. The Giants now have to live with this loss for seven long months until training camp opens in July. Let’s hope the players can take that lesson to heart and rebound even stronger. Now the focus becomes the work of the front office and the coaching staff in the off-season. The Giants must get better if they hope to make the playoffs and win a Superbowl next season. The good news is that they are certainly capable of doing so.

Quarterback: Danny Kanell (16-32 for 199 yards, 1 touchdown, no interceptions) was not sharp for most of the game, but he did not lose the game. No interceptions, no fumbles, and he only took one sack. His accuracy was off for much of the game, but he threw the ball away when he needed to and kept some key scoring drives alive with nice decisions in third down situations. The bad news was that Danny was “off” on many of his tosses. Be it the weather, poor mechanics, nerves, or miscommunication between receivers and quarterback, there were a number of plays where Kanell had a man open, but just couldn’t connect. HB Tiki Barber was wide open in the end zone on one play, but the ball was thrown behind him. Kanell also had another opportunity for a touchdown on a nice pump-and-go route, but underthrew the receiver in the end zone. Two chances for touchdowns, two blown opportunities. Even his touchdown pass to TE Aaron Pierce was a poorly thrown ball. The good news was there were times when Kanell made key plays to keep drives alive. On the second field goal drive, Kanell found Charles Way for 27 yards on 3rd-and-3. On the touchdown drive, he hit Tiki Barber for 11 yards on 3rd-and-4. Kanell was at his sharpest on the Giants’ last scoring drive, when he went 6-for-6 and led the G-Men on a time-consuming 70+ yard march that seemed to put the final nail in the coffin. The drive was all Kanell: 18 yard pass to Patten on 3rd-and-9, 21 yards to Chris Calloway, 4 yard pass to Calloway on 3rd-and-4, and a 16 yard pass to Patten.

Wide Receivers: The receivers, as a group, probably played their strongest game of the season. Both Chris Calloway (6 catches for 53 yards) and David Patten (5 catches for 86) yards played well, though Calloway did drop one very catchable intermediate ball from Kanell on 3rd down. Indeed, if Kanell had been sharper, these two might have even put up bigger numbers. Patten has played better and better in the last half of the season. Amani Toomer and Kevin Alexander had no catches.

Offensive Line: Very good pass blocking, but very poor run blocking. The Giants only gave up one sack, but they also only picked up 76 yards on the ground for the entire game. Folks, you’re not going to win very many playoff games by running for only 76 yards. The Giants couldn’t run inside and they couldn’t run outside. And it didn’t matter who was carrying the ball. Ron Stone had a couple of nice run blocks, but everyone else struggled. Scott Gragg’s whiff led directly to Tiki Barber’s fumble. Greg Bishop, Roman Oben, and Lance Scott didn’t get much movement in their run blocks either. The Vikes dominated the line of scrimmage as evidenced by the Giants’ struggles in short yardage situations throughout the contest. Kudos must go to Oben for his pass blocking on DE John Randle, however.

Tight Ends: Since the Giants could not control the outside corner on the ground game, one must assume that Howard Cross and Aaron Pierce didn’t do a good job of run blocking either. Cross had no catches, but Pierce made a very nice effort on his short TD reception.

Running Backs: These guys didn’t have much of a chance due to the poor blocking. Tiki Barber (17 carries for 29 yards, 3 catches for 31 yards) and Charles Way (10 carries for 28 yards, 1 catch for 27 yards) had their moments, but too often they were both hit in the backfield, well behind the line of scrimmage. Even Rodney Hampton (8 carries for 18 yards) couldn’t get untracked. Barber did look much quicker in this game and made some nice moves in the hole. Way also did an excellent job on his catch — a play that was one ankle tackle away from a score. However, Barber did drop a couple of passes and did fumble. Granted, the pass to him in the end zone was behind him, he had a chance to make the play.

Defensive Line: These guys played a strong game but ran out of gas late in the game. Simply put, the offense let these guys down and they had to spend far too much time on the field in the second half of the game. The Vikings could not run the ball for most of the game, particularly in the first half. Minnesota could not get any movement on Michael Strahan, Robert Harris, Keith Hamilton, and Bernard Holsey. Hamilton, in particular, was once again a disruptive force in the middle. Against the pass, the front four wasn’t as successful without help on the blitz, but Strahan and Hamilton each picked up a sack. Late in the game, however, they couldn’t get enough heat on Randall Cunningham and allowed him to scramble around too much.

Linebackers: Like the line, the linebackers were strong in run defense, but they did not make enough impact plays. Jessie Armstead was fairly quiet. He did knock down a key pass early and the Vikes were never able to involve their backs much in the passing game. MLB Corey Widmer made a couple of nice plays inside against the run, including one tackle near the line of scrimmage that almost went for big yardage. Corey Miller played strong on the tight end and he, Widmer, and Garnes kept the Vikes’ tight ends quiet. Scott Gaylon and Marcus Buckley both played a lot, but didn’t make any big plays. Rushing Buckley is a waste of time as he doesn’t have the strength to disengage from blockers.

Defensive Backs: Very strong for 58 minutes and then terrible. The good news is that CB’s Jason Sehorn and Phillippi Sparks did a wonderful job on two of the best wide receivers in the game for almost the entire game. Sehorn made a terrific, highlight film interception when he out-lept Chris Carter for the pick (he also made a good return on the play). He was lucky that Carter dropped a sure touchdown against him as Sehorn inexplicably let Carter get behind him. He also whiffed badly on his blitz of Cunningham that should have been a sack. But for the most part, you couldn’t ask for more from a starting corner. Sparks played very tough on whoever he lined up on, be it Reed or Carter. Where the corners fell apart somewhat was on the last field goal drive after the on-sides kick. Conrad Hamilton was burned by Carter for a big play on 3rd down (why wasn’t Sehorn or Sparks on Carter?) and Sparks was flagged with a critical pass interference penalty that set the Vikes up in field goal range. Safeties Sam Garnes and Tito Wooten also played fairly well, especially against the run. Wooten, for once, made sure, crisp tackles. Why he was covering Reed man-to-man on Reed’s touchdown reception, we’ll never know.

Special Teams: Oh, Calloway! If you could have only covered the ball! You can’t lay this defeat totally on Chris, but if he recovers the on-sides kick, the Giants win the game. Amani Toomer also picked the worst possible game to make his first fumble on a punt return — a fumble that led directly to 3 points. Brad Daluiso kicked very well and made all five of his field goal attempts in difficult weather conditions, including two long ones. P Brad Maynard did a great job of punting early and was superb at fielding a couple of errant long snaps from Lance Scott, but he didn’t punt well on his two opportunities late in the game. Punt and kick coverage was decent except for David Palmer’s first kick return. Tiki Barber was only ordinary on his kick-off returns. Doug Colman did an excellent job of fielding a poor kick-off when the kicker slipped.

Dec 251997
 

Approach to the Game – Minnesota Vikings at New York Giants, December 27, 1997: The New York Giants, winners of the NFC Eastern Division and the NFL’s youngest team, now enter the post-season in their attempt to reach and win the Superbowl. For there is no other goal once the playoffs start than to win the Championship. True champions are never satisfied with merely making an appearance, and with each win in the post-season, the pressure mounts to not waste an opportunity for greatness.

But it all begins with the first game. Focus completely on the Minnesota Vikings because nothing else matters right now. Win and you advance, lose and you are out — it is as simple as that.

Playoff football is unlike football in the regular season. Every play is the ball game. The tempo and hitting becomes intense. Most of the players on the current Giants team are unfamiliar with playoff football. However, this team has performed well in pressure situations all year. If they don’t let the hype and hoopla surrounding the playoffs go to their collective heads, if they continue to employ the same winning formula of making fewer mistakes and turnovers than their opponents, and if they make big plays when they have to be made, this team can go far. If…

Most “experts” expect the Giants to make a quick exit. “Too young, not enough talent and play-makers on offense, inexperienced quarterback, not used to the intensity of the post-season” they charge. Indeed, those are all valid criticisms. But the Giants do a couple of things well that all Superbowl winners must do: they play great defense and they can run the football. Is that enough? Probably not. The Giants will also need QB Danny Kanell and his targets, as well as the special teams, to elevate their level of play. Make plays, minimize mistakes.

And one more thing…WANT IT! Play at a greater level of intensity, intelligence, quickness, and strength than your opponent. The Vikings want the Ring as well, they aren’t there to roll over for the G-Men. They have talented players, Pro Bowl players. But attitude counts just as much as talent at this level. To win, the Giants HAVE TO WANT IT MORE than the Vikings.

Giants on Offense: Head Coach Jim Fassel is no dummy. As much as he would like to open things up, he simply doesn’t have the weapons. Not with Kanell still an infant on the learning curve and not without a healthy Ike Hilliard and some other future draft pick/free agent play-makers on the roster. At the same time, if he plays it too close to the vest, the Giants will become easy to defend. Offensive scoring will become difficult and pressure on the defense and special teams will mount severely. Somehow, some way, Fassel must come up with a healthy balance. Stick with the power football, but also take some chances with the passing game when the opposition least expects it.

The Vikings have had a relatively difficult year on defense. Injuries and inconsistency have plagued them especially over the last half of the regular season. They are light but quick in the front seven and only average in the secondary. Their lightness up front could provide opportunities for the Giants’ running game, but their quickness could also present problems in pass rush situations. We would expect Fassel to play smash-mouth, power football in this situation. With HB Tyrone Wheatley still ailing, we also expect HB Rodney Hampton to be the main man.

If the Giants are to win, the offensive line must get the job done up front. Truly, the outcome of this game probably largely rests in their hands. The line has to come off the ball with power and quickness and create room for the running backs to operate. The Vikings’ best player in the front seven is DE/DT John Randle — a cat quick lineman who plays with a lot of emotion. Normally a defensive tackle, the Vikes moved Randle outside a few games ago. We feel that the Giants must prepare for him lining up in both spots. When outside, Randle will face LT Roman Oben and, needless to say, the Giants need a big game from Oben. LG Greg Bishop has a sore ankle, but he has to buck it up. The game plan should be to wear the smaller Vikings down by running the ball straight at them. We would eschew the outside running game for the most part as this plays more into the Vikings’ strength. The quality of the run blocking of the Giants’ tight ends will also be critical. Penalties must be kept to a minimum.

Ironically, the man of the moment may just be Hampton — a man who became largely an after-thought in the regular season due to injury. Tyrone Wheatley is hurt and Tiki Barber is not a powerful inside runner. We wouldn’t be surprised at all to see the Giants employ a lot of 2-TE, one back sets with FB Charles Way, but we also think that Hampton may be better suited in this particular match-up when the Giants operate out of the 2-back set. Don’t forget Hampton has outstanding hands and may make some plays in the passing game.

The Giants need a big game from Barber, both in his third down role as well as running in the more traditional offense. While Barber is not a powerful player, he is very explosive and can make the big play both running and catching the ball. Fassel may be wise to match Tiki up on a linebacker, particularly when Minnesota is expecting run instead of pass. Barber has to step it up in the pass blocking department too.

All this being said, the Giants are not likely to win either unless Danny Kanell, the receivers, and the tight ends are able to make plays DOWN THE FIELD. The Vikings have some decent players in their secondary, but they are not in the same league as the Redskins. As has been the case the whole year, WR Chris Calloway is the Giants’ man main at receiver — however, the Vikes know this as well and will mostly likely double Chris in many situations. Thus, Calloway not only needs to step up his game, but he also needs help from guys like David Patten, Amani Toomer, Kevin Alexander, Howard Cross, and Aaron Pierce. Patten will be key. If he doesn’t play well and make some big plays, the Giants may be in trouble.

As for game passing game tactics, much of that depends on the wind. If the wind is gusting at the Meadowlands, we would keep things short — swing passes to the running backs, short curls to the tight ends, and shallow crossing patterns to the receivers. If the wind is not a factor, the Giants and Kanell can afford to take some shots deep.

Giants on Defense: These guys are the heart of the team and need to set the tempo from the get-go. The type of intensity they showed in the last three regular season games is necessary. Play with fire, make big hits, make sure tackles, gang tackle, force turnovers, and create excellent field position for the offense. Don’t give the Vikings any hope. Respect comes from winning in the playoffs. The Giants have an excellent opportunity to earn some respect on Saturday.

The Vikings have some very, very dangerous weapons on offense. They have two 1,000 yard receivers and one 1,000 yard running back. They have a solid tight end and a decent 3rd-down back. Their offensive line has some injury problems at center, but is a big, powerful unit with quality players at both guard and tackle. Last but not least, they have a very mobile, veteran quarterback who used to haunt even the old great Giants teams. The Giants’ defense faces a tough test.

The key will be the play of DT’s Robert Harris and Keith Hamilton. They need the kind of game like the ones they played against the Eagles, Redskins, and Dallas — not like the ones against the Oilers and Buccaneers. As always, first and foremost, stuff the run. Viking HB Robert Smith is a smooth, fast, injury-prone running back who can blow a game wide open with a big run. The Giants not only need to tackle him, but they need to punish him. Keith Hamilton faces Pro Bowler LG Randall McDaniel. Believe it or not, Hamilton is capable of winning that battle but he needs to play with the type of motor he had last week. LDE Michael Strahan will be severely outsized by RT Korey Stringer, but needs to stand stout against the run. On the right side, DE Bernard Holsey faces another quality tackle in Todd Steussie. The Vikings may feel that they will be able to muscle and maul the Giants up front. For their part, the Giants must not allow this to happen.

With the defensive line having their hands full with the Vikes’ offensive line, as well as having to keep an eye on the scrambling QB Randall Cunningham, the Giants need a big game out of their linebackers. All three starters must be quick to fill the hole, but also be strong in pass coverage as the Vikings can throw the ball to their tight ends and running backs. Both Corey Miller and Jessie Armstead have to help out their mates at the defensive end spot and Widmer needs to help out the tackles. Everyone must keep an eye on Cunningham.

In pass rush situations, the Giants can’t afford to give Randall and the Minnesota receivers too much time. Strahan, Harris, Hamilton, and Holsey must get after the passer, while also keeping some semblance of their pass rush lanes in order to prevent Cunningham from getting loose and picking up key first downs on the ground. Bringing a linebacker or defensive back on the blitz would also help matters. So would keeping a spy on Randall. Nickel LB Scott Galyon could have a huge role in the game on Saturday. If the Giants can get after Randall and keep him in the pocket, he can be prone to making costly mistakes.

The strength of the Vikings’ offense is undoubtably their receivers. The duo of Chris Carter and Jake Reed is as good as it gets. Both are big, have great hands, and can get deep. Cunningham, in particular, looks to Carter in clutch situations. CB’s Jason Sehorn and a gimpy Phillippi Sparks need to play at their finest. If they want to be recognized as great corners, they need to get it done against the best in front of a national television audience. Sehorn and Sparks need to play smart and physical. The safeties also need to do a good job of helping out, though SS Sam Garnes will probably be more pre-occupied with the tight end. When the Vikes go to three 3-WR’s, the play of CB Conrad Hamilton will be key. CB Thomas Randolph may turn out to be the goat or hero if Sparks’ knee prevents him from playing effectively. EVERYONE must tackle well.

Giants on Special Teams: The Giants aren’t good enough to be able to afford any breakdowns on special teams in the playoffs. As always, punt and kick-off coverage will be key. Viking punt and kick returner David Palmer is very dangerous. Brad Daluiso and Brad Maynard need to kick the ball high and deep in order to give their coverage teams a chance, but the coverage guys must also hustle down field and maintain their lanes. Make sure, crisp tackles.

The Giants’ return game will also be important. The special teams can help out their offensive teammates immeasurably by supplying them with good field position. Amani Toomer can play a big role in this game. It will be interesting to see who the Giants have returning kicks as Erric Pegram may not play. David Patten and Tiki Barber are options as is Tyrone Wheatley if he is healthy enough. But the returners will be only as good as their blockers. Each and every blocker must play smart (no penalties guys!) and create some space for the returner. Let’s see if Special Teams Coach Larry MacDuff can come up with some productive return schemes.

In the punting game, Brad Maynard needs to step it up. The Meadowlands can be a nightmare to punt in in December, but Maynard has the leg to cut through the wind if he uses good technique. His blockers must also keep the Viking rushers at bay as opposing teams have gotten too close to Maynard in recent weeks. Maynard also must do better on his coffin corner kicks.

Then there is Brad Daluiso. Brad will be an unrestricted free agent after this year. Is he the kind of guy the Giants can trust in the post-season? They may soon find out. Successful playoff teams usually need their placekickers to come up big one or two times in the clutch in late December and early January.

Dec 241997
 
New York Giants 20 – Dallas Cowboys 7

Overview: The Giants appear to be peaking at the right time as they prepare to enter the playoffs. Their 20-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys was simply too easy. The Giants roared out to a 20-0 halftime lead and then Head Coach Jim Fassel, as expected, inserted almost all of his back-ups into the lineup. Give the starters a lot of credit. They knew they would be out of the game by halftime and they wanted to make a statement and put the game away early. The players, especially on defense, were fired up and were taking no prisoners. It’s time to get ready for the Minnesota Vikings.

Quarterbacks: Danny Kanell (8-16, 129 yards, 1 touchdown, no interceptions) had another so-so day. The bright spot was that he continues to do a very good job in reading defenses and making the right decisions, especially given his experience level. Against Dallas, he played with a lot of confidence as he regularly took his shots deep and came up with some big plays. On the Giants first scoring drive, Kanell hit David Patten for 33 yards on 3rd-and-11 to pick up the first down. On their second scoring drive, Danny found Chris Calloway wide open deep for 41 yards. He then came back to Calloway on his beautifully thrown 21-yard touchdown pass. The negatives? Even if Patten was not held by the Dallas defender, Kanell’s deep pass on the hitch-and-go pattern was clearly overthrown. He also should have led Amani Toomer farther to the inside on Toomer’s post pattern as that play might have gone for a touchdown as well. One of his out passes, which was completed, hung up too long. The Giants looked terrible on their two attempted screen passes and Kanell must share some of the blame for not selling them well enough to the defense. But as long as Kanell continues to improve, make the right decisions, get rid of the ball quickly, and avoid making mistakes, the Giants may go far with him at the helm in the post season.

Dave Brown (2-9, 14 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions) was terrible. He should have entered this game loose, but looked tight and nervous. He still has that “deer caught in headlights” look — the same look Neil Lomax, Ken O’Brien, and Jay Schroeder had near the end of their respective careers. Once again, Brown’s main problem was his presence in the pocket. As the slightest sign of ANY pressure, he took off and started scrambling around — even when it was not necessary. He fumbled away his first snap, took too long to find a receiver, didn’t throw the ball away, and made poor decisions. Even his completion to Toomer was a dangerous pass as he threw back across his body and late over the middle of the field. His performance probably killed any chance the Giants had in getting a draft pick for him this upcoming offseason.

Offensive Line: The regulars played superbly, especially in pass protection. No one got near Kanell in the first half as he had all day to survey the field in many instances. The run blocking wasn’t as sharp, but it was effective enough. As expected, when the Giants inserted the reserves, the continuity and chemistry of the line was disrupted and Giants’ running backs often didn’t have room to run until the 4th quarter. The back-ups gave up three sacks, but all of these were due to Brown holding onto the ball too long. The reserve line had Oben and Gragg at the tackles, Zatechka and Reynolds at guard, and Stoltenberg at center.

Running Backs: HB Tiki Barber’s numbers (17 carries for 82 yards) don’t look bad, but much of his yardage came in the 4th quarter. He did have a couple of moments in the first half, including a nice looking 13 yard run, but he still doesn’t appear to be in sync with the line. This is why we think Fassel had him playing a lot in the last quarter. HB Rodney Hampton (12 carries for 38 yards) didn’t make any big plays, but like the Hampton of recent years, he keeps plugging and picking up positive yardage in small chunks. We still have more confidence in him in short yardage situations than any other back on the roster. FB Charles Way made some great blocks, but didn’t have a big day with the ball in his hands (7 carries for 15 yards). We thought running Way outside against Dallas’ quick linebackers wasn’t very smart. He also fumbled the ball out of bounds on one play. FB Eric Lane (5 carries for 13 yards) often had no room to run.

Wide Receivers: This group had a good day. Chris Calloway (3 catches for 74 yards and a touchdown) continues to be the go-to man for Kanell. Chris did a nice job of running with the ball after the catch on his 41-yard pass play. He also did an outstanding job with his run blocking. David Patten (2 catches for 47 yards) seems to be coming on. He had a 33 yard reception and was wide open for a touchdown on an errant deep pass from Kanell. Amani Toomer (2 catches for 14 yards) made an excellent catch with a man all over him. He also looked good on his post pattern which resulted in a big pass interference penalty that set up the Giants’ last touchdown. Kevin Alexander dropped two passes — one easy and one difficult.

Tight Ends: Aaron Pierce had 1 catch for 1 yard. Howard Cross had no catches, though Kanell did throw to him. Their run blocking was once again excellent.

Defensive Line: DT Keith Hamilton was unstoppable in the first half. He regularly defeated the double-teaming efforts of the Cowboys and was constantly in QB Troy Aikman’s face and giving HB Emmitt Smith no where to run up the middle. With Hamilton’s help, DT Robert Harris set the tone for the day with his power sack right up the middle on the game’s first play from scrimmage. DE Michael Strahan was mugged all day by Erik Williams and was finally the beneficiary of a couple of holding penalties. DE Bernard Holsey picked up another sack and stood up against the run well. The back-ups had a rough start but settled down. The Cowboys were able run against the weakside (DE Antonio Edwards and DT Ray Agnew) with some success, but DT Christian Peter and DE Robert Holsey shut most things down on the strongside. Peter doesn’t have a lot of moves, but he did push the pocket back on a couple of occasions. Both Edwards and Agnew picked up sacks — Agnew’s coming on a play where he was triple-teamed and still crushed the quarterback.

Linebackers: Because the defensive tackles were really doing a number on the Dallas line, the starting linebackers had a relatively easy day. MLB Corey Widmer looked good on the inside run. Reserve Scott Galyon made 8 tackles, but as mentioned above, Dallas was able to run somewhat in his direction on weakside runs. MLB Doug Colman did a decent job inside. Corey Miller played much of the game but didn’t look too sharp on the pass rush.

Defensive Backs: For the last few weeks, CB Jason Sehorn has played better than we have ever seen him play. Like last week when he took Michael Westbrook out of the game, he completely shut down Michael Irvin this week. He picked off yet another pass on a sideline route. CB Thomas Randolph also had a strong game. He broke up a couple of passes and only got burned once on a crossing pattern where the Giants brought a couple of linebackers on the blitz. CB Conrad Hamilton also played well in coverage although he was flagged for interference on a play. Both starting safeties, SS Sam Garnes and FS Tito Wooten, had relatively quiet days and that is usually good news. SS Rodney Young made seven tackles and was generally around the ball. FS Percy Ellsworth made a great read, but dropped yet another possible interception. The one big weakness was the tackling of the reserves as Randolph, Ellsworth, and Hamilton looked downright silly on a few plays. The Giants can’t afford poor tackling in the playoffs.

Special Teams: P Brad Maynard is just not punting up to his capabilities. We think he won’t be able to straighten things out until the offseason when he has a chance to work on his mechanics. He had another poor day with respect to distance and direction. The coverage teams miss Brandon Sanders as it often seemed the coverage team took too long to get down the field. The Giants did a nice job on kick-off coverage, but were mediocre on punt coverage. PK Brad Maynard missed an easy 32-yarder, but his kick-offs were excellent. Amani Toomer did a decent job on one punt return.

Dec 191997
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, December 21, 1997: If someone had told you at the end of September that the Giants would have nothing to play for in their final game and that many of their reserves would be “getting a look” from the new head coach, you would have assumed the Giants were once again finishing a miserable season. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth. The Giants, having clinched the NFC East and not being able to improve their playoff positioning, now face an unusual situation. They are the division champions, playing a late, largely meaningless game. Head Coach Jim Fassel wants to give his starters enough reps to keep them in sync, but at the same time, he doesn’t want to risk injury. He also wants to give his players a last little break before they head into the playoffs. On the other side of the field, the 6-9 Cowboys are now in the Giants’ old shoes. They just want to get this disastrous season over with and the best they can hope for is a “moral victory” in order to end the season on somewhat of a high note. The game really doesn’t mean that much, but there are a few reasons for the Giants to want to win this game: (1) they want to keep the momentum going after two impressive victories over the Eagles and Redskins, (2) winning breeds more confidence and more winning, (3) 10-5-1 sounds a lot better than 9-6-1, and (4) there is a lot of pride at stake — the Giants will want to get some revenge on a Cowboys’ team that used to regularly kick them in the teeth.

Giants on Offense: One gets the strong sense that the Giants won’t go very far in the playoffs unless their passing game continues to improve, and improves at a quicker rate. A lot of pressure will be placed on QB Danny Kanell as opposing teams will focus on stopping the Giants’ running game and dare Kanell to beat them. The passing game is definitely not a strong point of the Giants right now, not just because of the inexperience of Kanell, but because of the experience level and quality of his targets. Regardless, as the playoffs near, the challenge becomes clear: Kanell, Chris Calloway, David Patten, Amani Toomer, Kevin Alexander, Howard Cross, and Aaron Pierce need to take it up another notch. Since the stakes are low in the Dallas game, we would use this time to work on the passing game. Take some chances. See what works and what doesn’t work. Is that a strategy conducive to winning? Heck no. But the Giants need to add some more spice to their passing attack for the run for the Championship. We would continue to work the tight ends into the offense, after their “breakthrough” six-catch effort last week. We would give a lot of work to the three young wide receivers. We would work on the screen pass — a complicated play that can pay big dividends against an aggressive defense. We would work on the slant pattern — a play that we honestly thought we would have seen more of this year. Fassel doesn’t want to show too much because he doesn’t want to tip off the Giants’ next playoff opponent, but there are things that need to be worked on.

One clear advantage about this game for the Giants is that it will provide an excellent opportunity to clean off some of the rust from HB Rodney Hampton. HB Tyrone Wheatley (ankle) is still ailing and his readiness for the first playoff game must be questioned. HB Tiki Barber (hamstring) still hasn’t returned to his explosive old self. Thus, Rodney may play a huge role for the Giants in what is probably his last season with the team. We hope Tiki continues to get some work in the 3rd down package to keep him in sync, but we also hope Fassel doesn’t play him too much. Hamstring injuries can be re-aggravated very easily.

Up front, OG Greg Bishop and latter OG Rob Zatechka will face a stern task in facing DT Leon Lett. At times, Lett can be almost unstoppable and his legs will be a lot fresher than Bishop’s. RT Scott Gragg will also face his old nemesis DE Tony Tolbert and needs to come up strong. If the Giants are to win this game, they must take control of the game early and put some points up on the board before Fassel starts substituting players. Thus, the line can’t afford to start off slowly as it has the past few weeks. It will be interesting to see how some of the Giants reserves such as Zatechka, Jerry Reynolds, and Bryan Stoltenberg perform.

This game will also be a good opportunity for QB Dave Brown to take some of the rust off, as well as market himself to other teams for next season. Indeed, if he plays well, the organization may benefit as a team may want to trade for Brown this upcoming offseason. One of Brown’s biggest weaknesses is that he often puts too much mental pressure on himself in a game. That shouldn’t happen in Dallas on Sunday as this game doesn’t mean much. We would expect Dave to come out loose and do well.

Giants on Defense: If the Giants’ starters on defense really want to make a statement, they will come out like gangbusters, take any glimmer of hope out of the Dallas offense, and “encourage” Dallas Head Coach Barry Switzer to get some of his gimpy starters such as QB Troy Aikman and HB Emmitt Smith out of the game. Players like OLB Jessie Armstead and DT Keith Hamilton probably won’t play long, so if they want make some plays, they will have to do it early. Hamilton, DT Robert Harris, and DE Michael Strahan will also be looking to pad their sack totals. The good news for Harris is that he won’t be facing Larry Allen anymore — the bad news is that DE Robert Holsey and DE Antonio Edwards will as Allen has been permanently shifted from right guard to left tackle. Strahan will battle Pro Bowler Erik Williams. As always, the key is to stuff the run early and force the Cowboys to become one-dimensional. If the Giants can successfully do that, they then can get after Aikman.

However, if the game remains close when the substitutions are being made, we can’t see a line of Holsey, Christian Peter, Ray Agnew, and Edwards doing much against the big Dallas line unless the Cowboys decide to substitute freely too. Much will come down to attitude and pride. Do the Cowboys have a lot of fight left in them? Do the Giants’ reserves want to let down the regulars? Attitude can often overcome talent deficiencies. For his part, Peter will have a ton of rust. He really hasn’t played since the preseason, after not playing at all last year. We haven’t seen much of Edwards since the Giants picked him up off the street a few weeks ago. Holsey may have to play more on the strongside if the Giants are going to give Strahan a rest.

Some back-ups who we are high on should receive some solid playing time as well. As our long-time readers know, we liked OLB Scott Galyon even before the Giants drafted him. He has really developed into an excellent nickel linebacker, but he will now show what he can do in the base defense. There has been some talk that if he plays well, that the Giants may try him on the strongside next year, despite his size. MLB Doug Colman is another guy who we liked even before the Giants drafted him. It’s really a damn shame that MLB Pete Monty and OLB Ryan Phillips are hurt because they could have used this time too. As for the regulars, they had better not take the Cowboys too lightly. Dallas can still run the ball. Neither team wants to be embarrassed on national television.

In the secondary, with CB Phillippi Sparks out (a guy who always does a great job on Michael Irvin), we would follow the same strategy the Giants employed last week with Redskins’ WR Michael Westbrook, that is, we would have CB Jason Sehorn follow him no matter where he lines up. CB Thomas Randolph, who has quickly slipped from a one-time starter with a bright future to the fourth cornerback on the team and a guy who might not be back next year, will most likely line up against Anthony Miller, Stepfret Williams, or Billy Davis. Randolph is one of the fastest players on the team and generally seems to cover his man fairly tight, but the opposition also always seems to target him successfully. Randolph could be very important to the Giants if Sparks is limited by his knee injury in the playoffs. It is important for him to play at a high level. Same story with CB Conrad Hamilton, who has had an up-and-down year. Reserves who may see some extended work include FS Percy Ellsworth, SS Rodney Young, and CB Robert Massey.

Giants on Specials: Dallas has one of the best, if not the best, special teams coaches in the league. Thus, Dallas is always tough in this department. They like to come after a punter if they think there is a weakness in punt protection and the Giants have come darn close to giving up punt blocks in recent weeks. For his part, P Brad Maynard needs to improve his coffin corner punting and his consistency in general. PK Brad Daluiso kicked well last week and we hope he is on one of his upswings. Coverage will be important as Herschel Walker is a strong kickoff returner. The Giants did a nice job of blocking on one kick return last week, but Erric Pegram did muff two kicks. PR Amani Toomer hasn’t done much in almost two months.

Dec 161997
 
New York Giants 30 – Washington Redskins 10

Overview: The Giants won their most important football game since 1993 by using the same strategy that they have all season: play good defense; run a solid, fundamental offense; and force the other team to make mistakes, while limiting your own. That’s exactly what the Giants did on Saturday as the Redskins committed six turnovers (seven if you count the snafu on the attempted punt) and the Giants scored 20 of their 30 points off those turnovers. It’s hard to get a good read on this Giants’ team right now. They certainly did not dominate the Redskins — it was more a case of the Redskins shooting themselves in the foot time after time. But give this team credit. Most “experts” had them dead after their loss to Tampa Bay. After two very impressive victories over arch-rivals Philadelphia and Washington, the New York Giants have been crowned NFC East Division Champions, an unbelievable accomplishment for a team with a new coaching staff, drastically different offensive and defensive systems, a new quarterback, a second-year left tackle starting for the first time, a changing of the guard at halfback, and a plague of critical injuries (Ike Hilliard, Brian Williams, Chad Bratzke, Cedric Jones, Rodney Hampton, Thomas Lewis, Ryan Phillips, Pete Monty). All a team really wants is a chance to compete in the post-season playoff dance and the Giants now have that opportunity. If they can find a way to increase the productivity of their passing game, this team may still have a few surprises left in it.

Quarterback: QB Danny Kanell (13-25-125 yards, two interceptions, and one touchdown) started off hot and played some outstanding football in the first half of the game. Danny was good because he was making quick decisions and getting rid of the ball quickly — and most of the time, his decisions were the correct ones. On the Giants’ first drive, Kanell threw a nice pass to a well-covered Chris Calloway in the end zone — a ball that only Calloway had a chance at (although he dropped it). On the Giants’ third drive of the game, Kanell led the Giants on an impressive 13-play, 76-yard march that culminated on a wonderfully-thrown slant pass to Calloway for a touchdown. Moreover, Kanell kept that drive alive by hitting TE Howard Cross for 22 yards on 3rd-and-3 and Calloway for 10 yards on 3rd-and-10. Both passes were quick, crisp strikes that kept the chains moving. Danny continued his fine work near the end of the first half as he threw a great pass to Cross in the end zone, but Howard could not hold on. He did make a couple of poor throws in the second quarter — throwing behind Amani Toomer on a third down as well as missing a wide open Tiki Barber on a play that might have gone the distance, but for the most part, he was very sharp.

However, things changed markedly in the second half as Kanell made some very poor decisions and was lucky not to allow the Redskins back into the game. Both his interceptions were terrible — the first was way off the mark and the second was severely underthrown. But because the defense was playing well and the Redskins kept turning the ball over themselves, these turnovers did not harm the Giants — this time. Kanell is learning and improving. He’s making quicker and better decisions and he’s starting to use the tight end more. But if the Giants are going to go far in the playoffs, he has to stop making so many mistakes.

Wide Receivers: Once again, a very quiet game for the receivers as the Redskins did a good job on this unit. Chris Calloway (2 catches for 17 yards) almost made a great circus catch for a touchdown early in the game, but did come back and demonstrated great concentration on his touchdown slant pass. On this scoring drive, Calloway made an excellent play by gaining a few yards after the catch on a crossing route that just barely picked up the first down. Fellow starter David Patten (1 catch for 9 yards) was practically shut out. Amani Toomer made a superb catch on 3rd-and-5 for 14 yards on a pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage. He made the catch despite being mauled by the defender and this play helped to set up the Giants’ last field goal.

Tight Ends: Hooray!!! The Giants actually used the tight end as an important element of their game plan and this strategy paid off handsomely. Howard Cross (5 catches for 52 yards) was a major factor in the game. His 22 yard catch-and-run set up the Giants’ for their second touchdown — a huge play. He also looked like Mark Bavaro on another catch-and-run in the third quarter where he broke a number of tackles. His one faux pas was not making what would have been a good catch for a touchdown at the end of the first half. The Giants also got Aaron Pierce (1 catch for 9 yards) involved. Pierce was also open on a deep sideline pattern on Danny’s second interception, but Danny underthrew him. Also, even though Howard Cross often receives a lot of credit for his blocking, the blocking of Pierce on Saturday was masterful. On one run to the left, he not only handled the defensive end on his side, but also came off the block to nail a linebacker. On another play, he completely handled the strongside defensive end all by himself.

Running Backs: There is something very reassuring about seeing HB Rodney Hampton back in the line-up. It took a little time for Rodney (11 carries for 43 yards) to warm up, but once he did, he looked like the Rodney Hampton of old. His very presence certainly helped to spark his teammates and the crowd. His best run was a 22-yard gallop mid-way through the 4th quarter that helped to kill time off the clock. HB Tike Barber (13 carries for 32 yards, 1 catch for 7 yards) didn’t generate much offense. Often times, he didn’t have room to run and still seems to be limited by his hamstring. He did a nice job picking up the blitz on a few occasions however. FB Charles Way (11 carries for 49 yards, 2 catches for 17 yards) set the tone for the day with his bruising 15 yard touchdown run right up the middle of the Skins’ defense. Once again, as always, his run blocking was also excellent.

Offensive Line: Certainly not a bad game, but not a good one either. Every lineman had his rough moments during the game. For example, RT Scott Gragg had problems with Marc Boutte on one rush, RG Ron Stone let his man fly into the backfield too quickly on one play, OC Lance Scott gave up a sack to Chris Mims, LG Greg Bishop whiffed on his man after coming back into the game from his ankle injury, and LT Roman Oben gave up another sack to Ken Harvey. The Redskins played the run tough and the Giants’ offensive line did not do a great job of creating movement or sustaining blocks. However, they did do just enough to help make plays when they needed to be made. OG Rob Zatechka didn’t look bad at all when called upon to play for the injured Bishop on a few plays.

Defensive Line: This group did not dominate the Skins’ offensive line like they did a few weeks ago, but they played very well and helped to limit the Redskins to 45 yards rushing as well as getting a decent pass rush throughout the game. The guy who really stood out was DT Keith Hamilton. Though not credited with a sack, he was a terror on the pass rush all day and DT Robert Harris’ sack is directly attributable to Hamilton’s rush. DE Michael Strahan bull-rushed the always tough Ed Simmons for a sack and DE Robert Holsey also picked up one as well. The Giants had a little difficulty with the run early on, but settled down and took that aspect of the game away from the Skins. The interior linemen did a great job on the 4th-and-1 stand in the 4th quarter.

Linebackers: Kind of a quiet day for this group, though MLB Corey Widmer may have saved the day with his fantastic interception of a pass intended for TE Jeremy Asher. Indeed, the linebackers did a good job on the Redskin tight ends and backs until late in the game. OLB Jessie Armstead had 9 tackles, but didn’t make the game-turning plays we have become accustomed to (I guess we’re a little spoiled — grin). Nickel backer Scott Galyon was strong in coverage all day. He also stopped the scrambling Jeff Hostetler just short of a first down on their second drive of the game — the next play was the bungled punt attempt by Matt Turk.

Defensive Backs: CB Jason Sehorn (2 interceptions) had as good a game as he has had all year. In fact, this may have been his best. He completely shut down the dangerous Michael Westbrook. Westbrook had NO catches on the day — an incredible statistic — and it was Sehorn who followed him all around the field all day. His 35-yard interception return for a touchdown was icing on the cake for a superb effort. CB Phillippi Sparks was also having a strong game before he was sidelined with a knee injury. His replacement, Thomas Randolph, did not have a good day. Hostetler and the Skins threw at Randolph for most of the game with success. We’re not sure what the problem is with Thomas. He always seems to supply tight coverage, but he also always seems to be on the other end of giving up a successful completion. And against the Skins, the receivers who were victimizing him were rookies. If Sparks is out for any significant period of time, Randolph needs to step it up. Nickel cornerback Conrad Hamilton gave up yet another costly pass interference penalty on 3rd down, but aside from that play, had a strong game. He supplied tight coverage on whoever he had and also came up with an interception off of a deflection, which he returned for 18 yards. Safeties Tito Wooten and Sam Garnes gave up a big play on Hostetler’s 41-yard scoring pass to Connell early in the third quarter, but generally played well. Garnes was strong in run support. Tito Wooten did commit a pass interference penalty, but it was an aggressive play on a good read — those things sometimes happen.

Special Teams: PK Brad Daluiso came up big by perfectly nailing his three field goal attempts, including a 41-yarder to start the scoring. P Brad Maynard had a rough start, but his 55-yard punt to PK Brian Mitchell, which he muffed, was a beauty. The Giants do need to do a better job of protecting him as opposing teams have come darn close to blocking his punts in recent weeks. Coverage on kicks and punts was strong. Kudos must be given to Scott Galyon here too. The Giants kept the dangerous Mitchell under wraps all day. Amani Toomer had one decent punt return — not because of the yardage, but because for once he ran up the field with the ball. Erric Pegram and his blockers came up with a nice looking 50 yard kick return, but Erric really hurt the Giants with his two muffed kick return attempts. That’s got to stop right now.

Dec 111997
 

Approach to the Game – Washington Redskins at New York Giants, December 13, 1997: Games rarely get any bigger than this. The NFC East title is on the line and the Washington Redskins intend to come to Giants Stadium and steal the division crown away from New York. The Giants intend to stop them. If that doesn’t get your blood pumping, then you’re not a football fan. We have two simple words for the Men in Blue: Earn it! The Giants are certainly ahead of schedule on their rebuilding effort this year, but now they have positioned themselves for a marvelous opportunity. Yet as Head Coach Jim Fassel pointed out earlier this week, the Giants haven’t been given anything yet. If they want the division title, they will have to earn it on Saturday. The team that plays with the greatest intensity and composure, and that makes the most big plays, will win. The Redskins will certainly come ready to play. For the Giants to win, they will have to play with even greater intensity, while keeping their composure as well. Play physical, play tough, but also play smart. Regardless of the score and who is ahead, don’t let up and keep going for the throat. The same goes for the fans. Start loud and get louder as the game wears on. It doesn’t matter if the Giants are up or down by 14 points — make it tough on the opposition. The fans can be the twelfth man. This is the biggest game the Giants have played since 1993. It’s all on the line. There is only so much the coaches can do — now it’s up to the players. Earn it!

Giants on Special Teams: Special teams first? You betch ya! In a game that is likely to be a closely fought contest, the special teams just may decide the game. The bad news is that the Giants’ special teams have not played particularly well in recent weeks. The Skins have a Pro Bowl punter and one of the best return men in the game in Brian Mitchell. To make matters worse, the Giants’ best coverage man, Brandon Sanders, is out of the game with a groin injury. Regardless, the Giants must overcome all of this and outplay the Skins on specials. It all starts with kick-off and punt coverage. Each and every coverage man must take it upon himself that he could be the difference in the ball game. Get down the field, maintain your lanes, and make the tackle. The Giants need guys like Doug Colman, David Patten, Scott Galyon, Marcus Buckley, and Rodney Young to step up big. So does Brad Daluiso. Kick the damn ball out of the end zone. P Brad Maynard should sacrifice distance for hangtime and direction. Don’t give Mitchell or CB Darrell Green (if the Skins decide to use him there, which they sometimes do in big games like this) a chance on punt returns.

(Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, the rest of this game preview was lost during website upgrades).

Dec 101997
 
New York Giants 31 – Philadelphia Eagles 21

Overview: Don’t underestimate the importance of the Giants’ win in Philadelphia. For one, it rekindled New York’s sagging confidence level after going 1-2-1 over the course of the previous four games. Second, it helped to keep the Giants’ own playoff fate in their own hands. Third, the win helps to convince players and fans that these aren’t “the same old Giants” and that they can win anytime and anywhere, even in stadiums and against teams that have not been very kind to them in the past. Psychologically, this last point is not only important for the remainder of this season, but is important for the growth of this team in seasons to come.

Quarterback: Danny Kanell (14-27-153 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception) had an up-and-down game. The bad news was that he was inconsistent and caused two terrible turnovers that led directly to 14 points for the Eagles. A number of his passes were wild and off-the-mark and he forced some balls under pressure that he was lucky weren’t picked off. His embarrassing fumble and turnover could have destroyed the team’s momentum in the first half as well as his interception returned for a touchdown in the second half. The good news was that Kanell did not allow these unfortunate plays to negatively affect the rest of his game. The ability to put a bad play behind you and just focus on the next is a tremendous asset for a quarterback. Danny seemed to shake off any misfortune and continued to come out swinging. He threw a number of excellent passes to keep drives alive. He threaded the needle to Amani Toomer on his crossing route. He hit David Patten with players in his face. He found the well-covered Chris Calloway when he needed him most. We particularly liked the play where he came back to TE Howard Cross on the other side of the field once he found his primary receivers covered. His two best passes were the touchdown passes to David Patten (a perfectly thrown pass on the post) and to Chris Calloway (a deftly thrown pass to the back corner of the end zone where only Calloway had a shot at the ball — very Montana-like). Head Coach Jim Fassel challenged Kanell the week before the game and threatened his starting job. Playing in the Vet in front of a hostile crowd and against a talented and motivated defense only added to the pressure. Say what you will about Kanell, but his is a mentally tough guy.

Offensive Line: After a rough start, these guys largely controlled the line of scrimmage and allowed the Giants to score enough points to bury the Eagles. Strong performances were turned in by LT Roman Oben (who had problems with Mike Mamula only a couple of times) and RG Ron Stone (who quietly has turned into one of the best guards in the game). OC Lance Scott may get out-muscled from time to time, but he is far more mobile than even Brian Williams used to be and looked good on a number of runs to the outside. RT Scott Gragg gave up a sack to DE Richard Dent on the first drive of the game, but settled down and generally mauled his man in the running game. The weak spot remains OG Greg Bishop who had problems in both pass and run blocking. There is one thing we really like about Bishop however — he stands up for his teammates. When an Eagle defender was stepping all over FB Charles Way late in the game, Bishop ran over and defended his teammate. We love that kind of attitude in our offensive linemen and wish we saw more of it from the Giants’ down five.

Running Backs: HB Tyrone Wheatley (5 carries for 20 yards) started off impressively again, running with power and toughness inside, before a severe ankle injury sidelined him. In his place, HB Tiki Barber (21 carries for 114 yards; 4 catches for 28 yards and one touchdown) performed very well. Tiki doesn’t break tackles, but he is difficult to spot running behind the Giants’ big offensive line. He’s got very good instincts and can be very elusive. However, it is evident that his hamstring is still bothering him. A healthy Tiki Barber would have scored on his long run on the sweep to the left side (where he got a great block from FB Charles Way). For his part, Way continues to impress with his blocking and running (18 carries for 76 yards). As Fassel said a few weeks ago, we wouldn’t trade Charles for ANY fullback in the league.

Wide Receivers: Finally, another wide receiver besides Chris Calloway decided to step up and make some plays. David Patten (3 catches for 54 yards) broke the game open with his well run post pattern for a 40-yard touchdown. Amani Toomer (1 catch for 15 yards) ran a good pattern on his sole catch — but we could have done without his antics after the catch (Amani, that type of crap should be reserved for Michael Irvin). Celebrate touchdowns, not first downs. Kevin Alexander (1 catch for 9 yards) continues to remain invisible since the game against the Bengals. Chris Calloway (4 catches for 38 yards) got away with a push off on his touchdown catch, but so what?

Tight Ends: The Giants just can’t get these guys involved. Dropped passes aren’t helping matters. Howard Cross’ drop provides a clue as to why Danny doesn’t look to him more often. Cross did have one catch for 9 yards. The Giants also tried to get the ball into Pierce’s hands down the field, but the pass was off the mark. At least these two are blocking well.

Defensive Line: The down four played a great game. DT’s Robert Harris and Keith Hamilton gave the Eagles’ interior three fits all day. Hamilton (1 fumble recovery, 1 sack and numerous pressures) had a particularly strong game. On one play, he slammed the Eagle running back in the backfield as soon as he touched the ball. DE Michael Strahan dominated the right tackle all game. Unfortunately, he had a sack wiped out because of a penalty, but he did come up with a huge fumble recovery and pressured QB Bobby Hoying throughout the contest. DE Bernard Holsey had some problems with the running game early in the contest, but came on strong and finished with a sack and a forced fumble. DT Ray Agnew continues to do a solid job as a reserve.

Linebackers: WLB Jessie Armstead (10 tackles, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, and one touchdown) was a man on a mission. Jessie’s interception and touchdown return on the Eagles’ second offensive play set the tone for the day and helped to take the Eagles’ crowd out the game. MLB Corey Widmer did a decent job on inside running plays, but was luckily Hoying missed FB Kevin Turner on a play that might have gone the distance. SLB Corey Miller seems to be getting back in the groove again. He looked good on one blitz where he almost got to Hoying and did a good job of jamming things up on the running game too. Reserve WLB Scott Galyon continues to excel as a nickel linebacker. Galyon (one sack and one forced fumble) can cover and blitz. He did drop an easy interception on the play before the Eagles’ one touchdown pass — got to make that play.

Defensive Backs: Superb job by this unit until late in the game where CB Jason Sehorn and FS Percy Ellsworth gave up a 72-yard touchdown pass. CB Phillippi Sparks had his second big game in a row and seems to be regaining his Pro Bowl form. He practically shut out his man all day and really did a number on WR Irvin Fryar. Sparks’ blitz also forced Hoying to throw his second interception to Armstead. Sehorn, except for his one miscue, also dominated his man. He also made a crushing block on Jessie’s touchdown return. Jason continues to look good on the run blitz as well. FS Tito Wooten had an excellent game too, both deflecting passes and hitting the runner in the backfield. He was around the ball the whole game. SS Sam Garnes was fortunate that Hoying’s pass to HB Charlie Garner was off the mark deep down the left sideline. However, the TE position for the Eagles was invisible and both he and Corey Miller must accept much of the praise for that. FS Percy Ellsworth made a diving interception. Nickel back Conrad Hamilton had an excellent game except for his costly hands to the face penalty that wiped out a 3rd down sack by Strahan. He was solid in coverage even though the Eagles often went at him and he made a great hit on the running back coming out of the backfield. He almost picked off a pass and scored late in the 4th quarter (the Giants need to start holding onto more of these interception opportunities).

Special Teams: Terrible. Granted P Brad Maynard was punting into the wind, but to average 28.2 yards per punt is disgusting. His coffin corner kicking is still a liability rather than an asset. PK Brad Daluiso missed yet another long field goal attempt — even though he had a strong wind at his back. Distance is never a problem with Daluiso, it’s his accuracy. He also inexplicably squibbed one kick with the wind at his back. Erric Pegram continues to look out of place on kick returns. He had one superb return where he received some excellent blocking, but it went all for naught as holding was called. Amani Toomer once again thought the sideline was the end zone. Kick coverage was decent. Punt coverage, on Maynard’s one good punt, was good as well as David Patten hustled down the field.

Dec 051997
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, December 7, 1997: If you listen to the “experts,” the Giants are as good as dead before they even walk onto the playing field at Veteran Stadium in Philadelphia. Hogwash! Yes, Philadelphia has only lost one game at home all season. Yes, they have momentum on their side after going undefeated in the last three games. Yes, they have given the Giants fits since the late 1980’s. But the Giants have a few things on their side as well: a tough defense, a good running game and a big offensive line, and a young quarterback looking to redeem himself. Make no mistake, the game on Sunday will be a war. To win, the Giants will have to out-hustle their opponent and make fewer mistakes. They also need some players who have been visibly absent in recent weeks (or all season) to step up and make a play. Be it a wide receiver, tight end, linebacker, or safety, someone needs to step up and make a statement.

Giants on Offense: Boo hoo. The Giants have lost Ike Hilliard, Thomas Lewis, Brian Williams, Derek Engler, and Rodney Hampton for most of the season. Boo hoo. Who gives a crap? Make a play — the NFC East is on the line! Play with passion, intelligence, and composure. Where it all starts is with the offensive line. LT Roman Oben (6-4, 310lbs), LG Greg Bishop (6-5, 315lbs), OC Lance Scott (6-3, 290lbs), RG Ron Stone (6-5, 330lbs), and RT Scott Gragg (6-8, 325lbs) have the size and strength to muscle and maul their Eagle opponents. The Eagles are quick, but not big in the front seven. They can be run on if everyone executes like he should. Eagles’ defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas, one of the best in the business, knows the Giants have to run the ball. Like the Redskins and the Buccaneers, he will have his troops playing run and probably have his strong safety move up to the line of scrimmage. So what? Blow them off the ball. By playing so many people up at the line, the Eagles also risk a big run from HB Tyrone Wheatley, HB Tiki Barber, or FB Charles Way if and when they break through the initial contact. We would be very tempted to run a 2-TE offense and pound the ball at the Eagles. If running the ball doesn’t meet with initial success and the Eagles take an early lead, don’t give up. Keep pounding the ball. Each and every Giant offensive lineman must take it upon himself to defeat his man. Play physical, sustain the blocks, and hustle. Nothing takes the life out of defense and a hostile home crowd like a dominating running game. It’s time for the Giants to get back to the basics. It’s not exciting and it often isn’t pretty, but it is effective.

Because of the Eagles’ quickness, we strongly recommend largely abandoning the outside running game, especially in short yardage. The down five need to come off the ball quickly. Even though the Giants will be running the ball, we also think they can afford to do so with an upbeat tempo. Get in and out of the huddle quickly, get to the line, snap the ball, and get after it. The Eagles had problems with the Bengals’ upbeat style last week. Often times they barely got down into their stance before the ball was snapped. The Eagles may be quicker athletes, but the Giants can out-pace them.

FB Charles Way, a native Philadelphian, could have a big day, both in the running and receiving department. But the two men on the spot will be HB’s Tyrone Wheatley and Tiki Barber. Wheatley has been impressive in recent weeks, but it is time for him to take another step forward and dominate a game. He certainly is capable of it. But to do so, he needs to run with the type of leverage and power that he has been in recent weeks. Head Coach Jim Fassel also has to give him a chance to make an impact. Let Tyrone get into a rhythm. Don’t pull him in the middle of a drive, especially after a good run. Most fans don’t realize it until they see Tyrone in person, but he is a big, big man. He’s bigger than even Rodney Hampton. He can play a physical game when he sets his mind to it and the Giants need him to do so Sunday.

As for Barber, the time has also come for him to make the type of plays that win ball games. Time is running out on this season. Tiki has the explosiveness and quickness to break a game open, but hasn’t done so all year. It’s time. Tiki and his fellow backs will have problems eluding the coverage of the quick Eagle linebackers, especially OLB William Thomas, but they have to do so. Emmitt Thomas knows that Fassel likes to throw to his backs. Heck, the Eagles run the West Coast Offense themselves. Thus, the Eagles will be prepared for what the Giants are going to bring at them — what Tiki must do is to out-execute his opponents. The question will come down to who wants it more?

Much of what we are asking is for these young players to start growing up quickly. At no other place is this more needed than the wide receiving corps. These guys have talent. Kevin Alexander is not big, but he has good speed and quickness. He also has shown an aggressiveness to go up and outfight the defensive back for the ball. More of this is needed. David Patten is small, but he is exceptionally fast and has decent hands. It’s time for him to use his speed better by knowing when and how to switch gears at the appropriate moment. Amani Toomer has the most potential of all. He’s tall, strong, speedy, and he can jump like a deer. Prime time players want to make plays when the pressure is at its greatest. Toomer has a chance to be a quality receiver, but he has to want it badly enough. We know it may not be fair, but we also want to see Chris Calloway to take his game up another notch. He doesn’t have the great tools to work with, but he knows how to play the game and gets by with his savvy. He needs to make more plays like he did in Detroit in overtime. What we are asking for is not only for the receivers to get open and make the catch, but also to make the big play. Secure the ball, but then try to do something with it after the catch. The offensive coaches, for their part, must game plan in such a way to allow the receivers to make a play.

Aside from William Thomas, the Eagles have a lot of inexperience in their linebacking corps. They are good athletes, but they also may be prone to mental mistakes. This bodes well for the running backs on passing plays, but there is also an opportunity here for Howard Cross and Aaron Pierce if they, the coaches, and Kanell decide to do so. First and foremost, these guys have to want it. Giants-Eagles…at the Vet…first place on the line…what more could get your juices flowing? True competitors rise to this type of challenge. Cross is the senior veteran on offense. He’s a good blocker and the Giants will need him to block like a tackle on Sunday. But they also need him to make plays in the receiving department. And we’re not talking about one 2-3 yard completion. He and the coaches must get him deeper down the field. Same with Aaron Pierce. Block well, but also be a factor in the passing game. He has the speed to stretch defenses deeper than even Cross, but he has not delivered when called upon this year. Now is as good a time as any to change that. We hope Fassel and company try to get the ball into the tight ends’ hands at least eight times on Sunday. This will help take pressure off of the backs and receivers.

Again, as in the running game, the Giants can outperform the Eagles in the passing game by operating at a higher tempo. Danny Kanell must orchestrate this higher tempo by getting his troops to move quickly. Danny has to get rid of the ball quicker, but the line also has to do a better job in pass blocking. Get to the line, snap the ball, make a quick read, and get rid of it. Don’t hesitate and don’t force the issue. No turnovers, no sacks, but make plays down the field. The Giants can open up the running game by hurting the Eagles with the passing game. We’d take some shots deep just to loosen things up. Eagle CB’s Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent are big and physical, but WR’s David Patten and Kevin Alexander may be able to out-quick them. For his part, Kanell has to regain some of that old swagger and confidence. Be aggressive, step up into the pocket, and deliver the ball accurately. The coaches can help here too. Give Danny some plays to work with. Surprise the Eagles by bucking tendencies. Hit them where they least expect it and get out of the Vet with a win.

Giants on Special Teams: The Giants must, absolutely must, outplay the Eagles in this department. This starts with coverage on their punts and returns and blocking on our punts and returns. Play physical, play with passion, play with intelligence (no penalties). Don’t give the Eagles good field position and create good field position for your own team. Someone other than Brandon Sanders (groin injury) needs to step up on coverage. On returns, the Giants’ blockers must give their return men some room to operate. Erric Pegram and Amani Toomer must not hesitate and run north-south with the ball. The Eagles have been playing better on special teams in recent weeks, but they can be burned in this aspect of the game. When given an opportunity, PK Brad Daluiso also needs to deliver. It doesn’t matter if it is a 30 yarder or a 47 yarder — the division is at stake. Good players make plays when needed the most.

Giants on Defense: These guys were flat last week. They were physically and emotionally outplayed. That crap has to stop here and now. Great defenses dictate to opposing offenses, play physically, intimidate, create mayhem, and force turnovers. The Eagles have a promising young quarterback, but he is still a rookie. Their offensive line can be controlled. But to force the rookie to make mistakes and control the line of scrimmage, the Giant defenders have to play the type of physical and emotional football that they played against the Redskins two weeks ago.

As with the offense, it all starts up front with the Giants on defense. DE Michael Strahan, DT Robert Harris, DT Keith Hamilton, and DE Bernard Holsey must dominate the line of scrimmage. First and foremost, as always, make the opposition one dimensional by taking away the running game. The Bucs ran left and up the middle against the Giants with great success last week and look for the Eagles to attempt to do the same. Hamilton, Harris, and Holsey (the three “H’s”) must play run defense much better against Ricky Watters, Charlie Garner, and Kevin Turner. Play stout, hit them hard, and wrap up. You can force Watters to fumble. When it comes to the pass rush, the down four simply have to get the job done. The Giants can’t afford to send too many blitzers at once because the Eagles run the West Coast Offense and can send out the backs and tight ends, as well as the receivers. The Giants need Michael Strahan to win his match-up with the Eagles right tackle and they need a regular and consistent push from the defensive tackles.

That being said, the Giants should be aggressive and come after QB Bobby Hoying more than a few times with a blitzer. However, we would vary these charges. On one play, send a linebacker, on another, send a cornerback. Keep Hoying and the Eagle backs guessing. This is a big game for the Giants’ linebackers. They must also be stout against the run, but must also be strong in pass coverage. Jam the tight end at the line of scrimmage — throw his rhythm off. Watch Watters, Garner, and especially Turner coming out of the backfield. The Giants not only need big games from Jessie Armstead and Corey Miller, but also Corey Widmer, Scott Galyon, and Marcus Buckley in coverage. Widmer has to take charge of the middle of the field and stop the inside running game.

The way to beat the West Coast Offense is to disrupt the timing and rhythm between the quarterback and the receivers. Much of this is the pass rush, but coverage is equally important. We hope Defensive Coordinator John Fox varies his coverages to keep Hoying confused. We also hope he has his cornerbacks chuck the receivers at the line of scrimmage. Don’t allow a free release to the inside as the Eagles love to run the slant. The safeties also need to step up and read the quarterback’s eyes and make a play. If Hoying stares down one receiver, an interception and easy score may result. The key for the Giants here is aggressive, physical corner play combined with smart reads from the safeties.

Dec 031997
 
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20 – New York Giants 8

Overview: The Giants’ ship is quickly running out of steam. Poor offense combined with improved competition has lead to a 1-2-1 mark over the last four games. Against the Bucs, the Giants were outplayed on both lines of scrimmage and QB Danny Kanell experienced his worst day at quarterback. Indeed, the Giants’ offense seems to be regressing. Too many mistakes are being made by players who aren’t that good to begin with. The Giants have a playoff-calibre defense, but injuries to the defensive line are starting to take their toll. The special teams are only average. The running game is a strength, but with no passing offense to speak of, opposing defenses are loading up to stop the run.

The Giants came out flat against the Bucs and never seemed to be emotionally into the game. Regardless of how poor the offense performs, the Giants cannot afford to have their defense “give up” during a ball game. Remarkably, the Giants’ fate remains in their hands. However, the road is a tough one: three games against top division rivals with outstanding secondaries. Two of those games are on the road in Dallas and in Philadelphia — two places where the Giants don’t have a lot of success. But playoff teams win big games in difficult situations. If the Giants don’t win two of the last three games, then they don’t deserve to make the playoffs.

Quarterback: Yes Danny Kanell has poor targets to throw to, but against Tampa Bay, Kanell (14-31-117 yards and 2 interceptions) must share much of the blame for the Giants’ passing woes. To be blunt, he was awful. Danny was inaccurate, “birddogged” his receivers, and forced plays that weren’t there. The remarkable poise he displayed only a couple of games ago is now lacking. Though he didn’t connect, Kanell still shows nice touch and general accuracy on his deep balls. He just missed a number of big plays including a touchdown pass to Amani Toomer. He also threw a couple of nice inside passes — one to David Patten and another to Chris Calloway. But there were also times when the receivers were open, but Kanell just flat out missed them. Like most young quarterbacks who begin to press, Kanell is starting to stare down his intended receiver too much, especially Chris Calloway. Against the Bucs, it seemed as if he had already made up his mind where he was going to throw the ball before he surveyed the field. What Danny needs to do is regain some of the rhythm he had earlier in the year. Drop back, make your read, if the play isn’t there, dump the ball to the back. Don’t dance around too much and don’t force the ball. Head Coach Jim Fassel could also help out Kanell by giving him more low risk, high completion percentage plays (i.e., passes to the backs on first down) in order to build his confidence. If the Giants don’t get their passing offense mended quickly, they will not win again in 1997.

Wide Receivers: The joke isn’t funny anymore. These guys absolutely stink. Chris Calloway (3 catches for 56 yards) is a decent player, but he can’t do it by himself. Broken record time: David Patten (1 catch for 10 yard), Kevin Alexander (2 catches for 6 yards), and Amani Toomer (no catches) are not getting the job done. They have trouble reading coverage, run poor routes, and cannot separate from defenders. You would think that one of these guys would take the bull by the horns and take advantage of the wonderful opportunity they have been provided. Toomer complained early on in the season that he wasn’t getting enough chances to show what he can do. Well, he’s getting those chances now and is not delivering. The fact that Alexander and Patten are playing so much indicates that he is still having problems with the mental aspect of the game. Jim Fassel needs to get into these guys faces and challenge them to make a play. The “help wanted” sign is out here bigtime.

Tight Ends: Without being able to tape the game, it is difficult to determine what the problem is here. Honestly, as we’ve said a number of times, we are not sure if the tight ends are not getting any chances or if they just plain stink too. Perhaps, the tight ends are being called upon to remain in pass protection more. Perhaps Kanell is not looking their way. Whatever the reason, the only hope the Giants have to get their passing game going down the stretch is to get their tight ends involved and in a big way. The Giants should force the issue and try to get the ball into Cross and/or Pierce’s hands at least eight times next week.

Running Backs: Fassel should can the running back rotation for a while. It is obvious that HB Tiki Barber (3 carries for 4 yards) has simply missed too much time due to injury and is just not in sync with the line. We would continue to use him as the primary third down back and long-yardage back. His hamstring injury seems to be affecting his quickness and speed as well. What we would do is ride the Tyrone Wheatley (9 carries for 64 yards) and Charles Way (7 carries for 28 yards, 4 catches for 29 yards) bus until it drops. Stop taking Tyrone out of the game after a big run. Tyrone is the type of back who gets better with more carries. Let him get into a rhythm. He has been playing very well for the last few weeks and has come darn close to scoring on long touchdown runs in each of the last few games. Wheatley is also running with more authority and power on his off-tackle runs. We don’t blame him for being stuffed on 4th-and-1, but we wouldn’t use him in short yardage — he still runs too high and offers too much of a good target. FB Charles Way had a quiet game for him. He didn’t seem to run with the same power and mobility of his previous games. After a fast start, Erric Pegram has slowed and has not impressed as of late.

Offensive Line: This unit did not play well, but they didn’t play as poorly as some have said. The Giants had trouble with DT Warren Sapp all day, but who doesn’t? The interior trio was outplayed far too much, but the problems were also a case of numbers — there were often too many people to block at the line of scrimmage. LT Roman Oben played decently, but was flagged for a costly false start penalty. Greg Bishop had another rough game and was embarrassed on a number of inside charges. The inside players did not get the job done on the 4th-and-1 play — the running back never had a chance. RT Scott Gragg has quietly been improving as the season has progressed, but also had his rough moments in pass protection against the Bucs.

Defensive Line: This group did not come ready to play on Sunday. They were flat and listless. DT’s Keith Hamilton and Robert Harris were dominated and the Bucs regularly ran for good yardage up the middle. The Bucs double-teamed Hamilton, blocked out on DE Brian Holsey and ran to the left with good success as well. DE Michael Strahan should have won his match-up with the Bucs’ right tackle, but was handled for most of the game. No sacks, poor run defense — the Giants have no chance when this group doesn’t play motivated.

Linebackers: Jessie Armstead came to play. He made a number of superb plays, including sniffing out a screen pass and nailing the receiver for a big loss. However, Jessie was also mauled a number of times on running plays. MLB Corey Widmer made a couple of nice plays. He did a nice job stuffing some inside runs, but more often than not, he was pushed around too easily on the Bucs’ inside runs. Corey Miller didn’t stand out. Scott Galyon made a first-down saving tackle on another Tampa Bay screen. MLB Doug Colman looked good on the goalline.

Defensive Backs: CB Phillippi Sparks played a marvelous game. Not only did he pick off two passes, almost returning one for a touchdown. But he was put in the unenviable position of often covering his man deep all alone across the field on a number of occasions. Twice Sparks covered his man like a blanket on post patterns and knocked the ball away. We can’t stress enough how difficult a play this is to defend for a CB with no deep help. The costly pass interference call on Phillippi that basically cost the Giants the game was a phantom call — probably to make up for the one the refs blew on FS Tito Wooten’s phantom interception in the first half. CB Jason Sehorn played a very good game — except for one play. His push off on Reidel Anthony was a stupid play because Jason probably would have intercepted the ball anyway. Sehorn also still needs to wrap up, but he did look good coming on run blitzes once again. SS Sam Garnes made a number of big hits. FS Percy Ellsworth and CB Conrad Hamilton were quiet.

Special Teams: Poor. Punt and kick coverage was terrible. The guys did a good job getting down on the kicks, but they then forgot to tackle. Only Brandon Sanders, who was playing hurt, stood out. P Brad Maynard played well. PK Brad Daluiso made two kicks, but missed another kick over 40 yards (more on that in a moment). Having Erric Pegram return kicks is a joke — he hesitates too much, and has no speed or explosion. Opposing punters and coverage continue to do a good job of keeping Amani Toomer under wraps.

Coaching: We normally don’t talk too much about coaching, but we have to question some of the decisions made on Sunday. First of all, we have no problem with trying to pull the Bucs offside on 4th-and-short, but you MUST call time out if it looks like it won’t work. The five yard penalty probably cost the Giants the first three points of the game. Secondly, on HB Warrick Dunn’s long catch-and-run on 3rd-and-long, someone may have blew the play, but why in God’s name do you have Michael Strahan, your best pass rusher, dropping back into zone-blitz coverage in that situation? Dumb! Lastly, this running back by committee strategy is not working. Fassel should admit to that and keep going with whoever has the hot hand. Right now, Tiki Barber is not hot.