Aug 311998
 
Baltimore Ravens 14 – New York Giants 6

Editor’s Note: I missed half of the first quarter of the game.

Overview: This is a game that Giants’ fans have to take with a grain of salt. From our vantage point, it looked as if the Giants kept things very vanilla on offense and defense in anticipation of next week’s season opener against the Redskins. We thought the Ravens did the same. So we feel it would be inappropriate to read into too much of what transpired in this contest. Let’s look at some of the individual performances.

Quarterbacks: QB Danny Kanell was not sharp. His best throw of the night was a pretty looking quick slant to WR Chris Calloway at the start the of the second quarter that picked up the Giants’ first first down of the game. However, on his next two passes, Kanell badly overthrew a wide open Ike Hilliard and Chris Calloway — both passes over the middle of the field.

Kent Graham had an up-and-down night. Honestly, we don’t really think he fits this offense very well and we don’t really understand why Fassel was interested in him because of that. Graham’s style of play is reminiscent of Jay Schroeder’s in that the strength of Graham’s game is the deep throw. But when he is called upon to dump the ball off to the backs or show touch with short passes over the middle, he telegraphs his throws and passes with too much velocity. He also continues to hold onto the ball far too long. The responsibility for his sack and turnover deep in Giants’ territory in the fourth quarter was all his — he must learn to realize that he can’t hold onto the ball that long. He missed a wide open Joe Jurevicius earlier in the game, but came back to throw a nice looking deep strike to him that set up the Giants’ second field goal. Though a wobbly pass, his deep sideline pass to Jurevicius was also on the mark. Strangely, for a tall guy, Graham seems to get an inordinate number of passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage.

On a side note, one play that the Giants have run a couple of times this preseason that we don’t like is the short pass to the back in the flat inside the five. Both times the Giants have run this, it has been for minimum gain. We feel it places to much reliance on the ability of the back to break a tackle in a situation where there are a lot of defenders near the line of scrimmage.

Mike Cherry did a nice job on his first pass attempt by looking off the safety and then coming back to Amani Toomer. He wasn’t helped on his first series by bad blocking from RG Bryan Stoltenberg or a dropped pass by HB Gary Brown. On his second and last drive with under 30 seconds left in the game, he hit Bryan Alford on a deep pass, but Alford had stepped out-of-bounds. He then showed good composure throwing a deep strike to Joe Jurevicius over the middle by stepping up in the pocket. After that, his last two plays were a couple of Hail Mary’s.

Wide Receivers: Since the starters were out quickly and Kanell was off most of the night, we didn’t get a real good look at Ike Hilliard or Chris Calloway. Both receivers seemed to get open relatively easily however. We thought the stars of the game were back-ups Joe Jurevicius and Amani Toomer. We have been saying since before the draft that Jurevicius is not another Ed McCaffrey; that he is faster and smoother and could get deep — as evidenced by his superb yards-per-catch figures in college. Well friends, Joe is doing the very same thing in the pros. He lulls defenders to sleep with his deceptively fast long-strides. He ran right by Ravens’ speedster first round draft pick Duane Starks twice on deep passes. He also showed excellent concentration in keeping his feet in bounds on a wobbly Kent Graham pass to the sidelines. Amani not only caught everything thrown his way, but he showed some real nice toughness breaking tackles and run-after-the-catch ability. Though the stats don’t show it due to a penalty, he also came up with a long Hail Mary pass at the end of the game where he outfought several Raven defenders. Head Coach Jim Fassel faces a real dilemma on how to divvy up the playing time between Calloway, Hilliard, Jurevicius, Toomer, and Patten this year. Bryan Alford also made his first catches of the preseason — one a fine looking deep catch that was disallowed because Alford had touched the out-of-bounds line earlier in the route.

Tight Ends: Howard Cross once again looked sharp blocking. On one play, he did a real nice job of handling Peter Boulware on a running play. Andy Haase caught a 19-yard pass on a crossing route and shows real reliable hands. Grant Baynham caught his first pass in a Giants’ jersey. We really don’t like the play called — a one yard pattern to the sidelines. This kind of play is reminiscent of the Reeves’ era.

Halfbacks: Readers know we like Tiki and that we root for Tiki, but Tiki Barber makes us nervous. Almost every time he touches the ball it is an adventure. Coming off the goalline late in the first quarter, the Giants fed the ball to Tiki three times in a row. On the first carry, he did a nice job and picked up five yards. But it seemed as if he almost lost control of the ball. On the next play, he had a nice run to the opposite side where he picked up four yards. On the third play, on 3rd-and-1, Tiki was stuffed by the middle linebacker for no gain — and worse, it looked like he almost was about to fumble the ball. Short yardage is not the strength of Tiki’s game. We hope Fassel is only running him in such situations this preseason in order to throw the Redskins off. In such a situation, only Gary Brown or one of the fullbacks should be touching the ball. Tiki is a fine back, but he is not big or strong enough to consistently break tackles or move the pile in short yardage situations. On another carry later in the ball game, instead of taking what was there and hitting the hole for a minimum gain, Tiki started dancing around in the backfield and took a loss — a big no-no in our book.

Gary Brown was not that impressive. He dropped three balls and only picked up three yards on three carries — though there wasn’t much blocking on those chances either. Really, the guy who we were most impressed with was Tyrone Wheatley (9 carries for 51 yards). Wheatley ran like a man possessed. Tyrone ran with power, aggression, toughness, and attitude. He broke tackles and ran over people. He showed good speed and did a nice job setting up his blocks. Indeed, it may have been the best performance we have ever seen out of him since his Michigan days. Now if he would only play like this in on a consistent basis, Fassel would be forced to play him. He did drop one pass.

Fullbacks: We really are impressed with the blocking of rookie free agent Greg Comella. Coming out of Stanford, Comella did not have the reputation of being a good blocker. But almost every time we keep our eyes on him, he is taking out his man on running plays with conviction. Comella also caught three passes. Charles Way (ankle) didn’t play.

Offensive Line: We thought these guys once again did a decent job in pass protection, although there did seem to be a little more of a push up the middle this week. Greg Bishop was also called for an obvious holding penalty where he grabbed Michael McCreary around the head. But for the most part, these guys remained sure and steady. Run blocking was a mixed bag. We saw some real nice things and also a couple of break-downs.

As for the second unit, we thought this was their best performance of the preseason by far. The acquisition of OG Lonnie Palelei really seemed to settle down the line — though we do think he screwed up royally by pulling on a play where we think he was supposed to block straight ahead on the goalline. But such a mistake can be excused given the fact that he just signed with the team. The weak link to us on the second unit is Bryan Stoltenberg. He had problems in pass protection where he was pushed back into the pocket and he was also flagged for holding. RT Jason Whittle was flagged for a false start and holding on back-to-back plays. LT Toby Myles was up-and-down. A couple of times he allowed his man to hit Graham from the blindside. He has the tools, he just needs better technique and focus.

Defensive Line: The one thing we really noticed about the defense in this game was their overall speed and quickness in comparison with the Ravens. The Giants’ defenders just seemed much faster and quicker. We were also impressed with the gang-tackling. Michael Strahan was in mid-season form against a solid opponent in Orlando Brown. Strahan dominated Brown — both against the run (he made one superb play in the backfield) and against the pass (Orlando was forced to hold Strahan on a number of occasions). We also liked the work Chad Bratzke put in. He cleanly beat All-Pro Jonathan Ogden very badly, nailing Jim Harbaugh just as he threw the ball. The defensive tackles also did a good job and the Ravens’ first unit had problems running the ball.

As for the reserves, it was really an up-and-down night. Either they were making superb plays or getting their butts kicked. There is no better example of this than Bernard Holsey. On a few plays, Holsey was a highly disruptive force, playing both tackle and the left end spot. He not only picked up a sack, but pressured Raven quarterbacks on a number of occasions. His 4th quarter pressure led directly to Percy Ellsworth’s interception. He also made a couple of nice plays against the run. On the other hand, there were too many runs off the left side of the defense where Holsey was controlled — including Errict Rhett’s long touchdown run. The Ravens also picked up good yardage running at Holsey late in the game, when they were able to control the clock and put up the final touchdown. DE Cedric Jones also had an up-and-down night. He picked up his second sack of the preseason — another great looking outside rush — and continued to be more active than we can remember. The best thing we have seen out of him is that he seems to be hustling far more than he ever did — chasing the ball even when the play is run in the other direction. However, Cedric also had his problems with the run at the point of attack. Inside, we thought Christian Peter played a decent game. Though not as spectacular as the others, he was far more consistent. There were a couple of plays against both the pass and run where he got good penetration. However, he was flagged with a couple of costly off-sides penalties — one that gave the Ravens a first down on third down. We also think that George Williams has outplayed Nate Hobgood-Chittick. Though Williams got destroyed on the Ravens’ final touchdown run up the gut and spent a little too much time on the ground in general, his quickness was evident on a number of plays where he disrupted things in the backfield against both the pass and run.

Linebackers: MLB Corey Widmer was back and was sharp against the run and decent in pass coverage. Jessie Armstead looked good on one blitz off the left side where he almost got to the quarterback. Marcus Buckley played well — showing some feistiness we haven’t seen from him before. He played the run well and was very solid in coverage. We thought Scott Galyon had his worst performance of the preseason. He was beat in coverage on one play and called for illegal contact on another play. He also seemed to have problems disengaging from blockers on running plays run right at him (maybe that’s why we don’t see him being considered on the strongside). Doug Colman also got handled too much for our tastes, but was fairly active and did play the run well on a few occasions. He and Ryan Phillips were neutralized on Errict Rhett’s long TD run. Ryan had his problems at the point-of-attack on a few occasions. Phillips was so-so in pass coverage. He was real solid in coverage on two plays, but got beat on two others. Jason Nevadomsky showed some good things at times, like when he stuffed a 3rd-and-1 play for no gain. But there were too many times where he trouble disengaging from the block too. He might be worthy of the practice squad.

Defensive Backs: Conrad Hamilton held up well against a quality opponent, though we don’t think the Ravens really tested him. Conrad did get flagged for pass interference on a quick slant to Michael Jackson, but it was an aggressive play and Conrad only mistimed the hit by a half second. We thought Phillippi Sparks played his best game of the preseason since the opener. SS Sam Garnes was once again very active against the run, showing real speed and instincts on one sweep to the right where he nailed the runner in the backfield. FS Tito Wooten also looked sharp in run support.

As far as we could tell, CB/S Shaun Williams remained the whole night in the slot or at safety. For the most part, it seemed as he played well as the Ravens didn’t throw much in his direction. However, he was beaten pretty badly on one play over the middle. He also was effectively handled on Rhett’s TD run. Other than that play, he was very aggressive in run support — Wooten and Ellsworth could learn a lot by watching how this guy tackles. CB Robert Massey, due to his lack of speed, is forced to play way off the ball and opponents have been taking advantage of this. CB Jeremy Lincoln always seems to get beat and never makes plays. CB Kory Blackwell’s man always seems to have a step on him — though Blackwell did look good coming up to tackle the running back on one short pass. His play on run support was terrible. FS Percy Ellsworth (two interceptions — one on a Hail Mary) just has a nose for the football. Now only if the guy could tackle. We simply don’t understand how someone as big as he is can be such a poor tackler. In the future, he may be better advised to knock Hail Mary passes down rather than go for the interception. S Brandon Sanders was around the ball a lot. He got beat on one play, but also came up with a couple of major league hits.

Special Teams: The best news of the night was that the Giants’ specials played a good game against a team renowned for its solid special teams play. Kick and punt coverage was good with Shaun Williams standing out on both. Scott Galyon made another play as well. On punt returns, Tiki Barber and Amani Toomer didn’t have many chances — being forced to call for fair catches or let the ball go into the endzone on a number of occasions. At least there were no muffs or fumbles. Kick returns were ordinary. The blocking on one Toomer return was excellent and he picked up decent yardage; we thought he could have done even more damage if he hadn’t danced around at the end of his run — he needs to keep in mind that while he can do that on punts, it won’t work on kicks. P Brad Maynard was only OK. He didn’t nail the ball like he has all preseason and did a poor job on one coffin corner punt opportunity. PK Brad Daluiso hit a long field goal and performed much better on his kick-offs than he did last week. However, his one kick-off out-of-bounds was inexcusable.

Aug 261998
 

Approach to the Game – Baltimore Ravens at New York Giants, August 28, 1998: Coaches normally use the third preseason game, not the fourth one, as their dress rehearsal for the regular season. Fassel feels the same way too. Thus, the starters should only see action for about a quarter. The big key is to not get anyone hurt. The Giants have already lost OLB Corey Miller, HB LeShon Johnson, and most regrettably, CB Jason Sehorn for the season. The team can ill-afford any other serious injuries. Of course, the main area of focus will be the cornerbacks, and Conrad Hamilton and Shaun Williams in particular. Overall, this will be a good test for the Giants. The Ravens are undefeated this preseason and have played exceptionally well in all phases of the game.

Giants on Offense: We’re still not real comfortable with the halfback situation and we’d feel better if Al Pupunu was ready to go, but the starting offense looks like it is ready to start the season. To us, QB Danny Kanell shows all the signs of elevating his game this year. Sure we expect the rough moments and bad games here and there, but the way he carries himself and the way the offense responds to his leadership is palpable. What to look for? Once again, accuracy, accuracy, and more accuracy. We know he’s a tough guy — no need to take ANY chances in this one Danny. As the Redskins are coming up in two weeks, look for things to be kept pretty vanilla by Head Coach Jim Fassel. Since Kanell will only play about a quarter, Kent Graham and possibly Mike Cherry will see a lot of work. Kent has not played well this preseason. We want to see him be more comfortable in the pocket, get rid of the ball quicker, and deliver the ball with greater accuracy. He looks too mechanical to us right now and is telegraphing a lot of his throws — particularly to the backs out of the backfield. As for Cherry, ANY playing time will help his cause.

The defense of the Ravens has improved markedly, especially in the front seven — providing great competition to the Giants’ offensive line. Interesting match-ups to watch will be the tackles against Pete Boulware and Michael McCrary. MLB Ray Lewis is VERY active and it will be important for Lance Scott or Charles Way to get a hat on him. Greg Bishop will battle the always tough Tony Siragusa. The offensive line’s pass blocking has been pretty darn good this preseason, but this will be a sterner test. We also want to see the line continue to work on and improve its run blocking. Regardless, we really don’t want to see these guys in there long — the Giants’ depth situation on the line is mediocre right now.

As for that depth, there are a number of guys who are fighting for their jobs right now. The starters are safe. So is Jerry Reynolds and most likely LT Toby Myles and Derek Engler. The Giants recently added veteran OG Lonnie Palelei to the roster, so you would have to think the Giants would like to keep him around too. That’s nine players. Will the Giants keep ten? Rob Zatechka, Jason Whittle, and Bryan Stoltenberg hope so.

At tight end, Howard Cross once again remains firmly entrenched as the starter. It seems to us that Kanell and the Giants have made a deliberate attempt to get the ball in his hands at least once a game. Fassel has already said Al Pupunu is safe, despite not playing a down this preseason. The Giants need him to get healthy soon. Andy Haase and Grant Baynham are battling for a roster spot. The Giants may be looking for more help here too on the waiver wire.

It would be pretty shocking if all six remaining wide receivers didn’t make the team. Ike Hilliard had the type of performance last week that Giants’ fans hope they see week-in and week-out this season. It’s tough to remember that the guy is still green as grass. David Patten has really improved and is bound to see a lot of playing time this year. He’ll probably stay out of the Ravens game due to a hamstring however. Right now, we feel that Amani Toomer is in danger of losing significant playing time to Joe Jurevicius. Amani did not help his cause last week by dropping two passes — Jurevicius did help his cause by catching three, including a deep ball and making a one-handed catch on a deflected pass. We have a VERY STRONG feeling that Jurevicius is going to play a big role much sooner than most Giants fans think. The Ravens have decent cornerbacks with guys like Rod Woodson and first rounder Duane Starks. This game might be the last time we get a chance to see Brian Alford play for an extended time. The talented rookie, who seems to have a very bright future as a possible starter, is caught up in a number’s game right now.

At fullback, Greg Comella has won the back-up job. We’d love to see Way and him in the backfield at the same time, but Fassel is probably saving that for the regular season. Something to keep an eye on is that with the offensive line pass blocking better, the coaching staff seems far more comfortable in sending the fullback, halfback, and tight end ALL out on pass patterns together during a given play — thus giving Kanell many more targets to choose from.

At halfback, all signs point to Tiki Barber starting against the Redskins with Gary Brown also playing a significant role. Tyrone Wheatley has made the team, but once again seems like an afterthought. This is probably his last year with the Giants. Our main focus on offense will remain the play of Barber and Brown. Barber seems to have his explosiveness back; we just want to see him hold onto the ball and catch the ball — no fumbles and no drops.

Giants on Defense: The Ravens have a very good offense: very good offensive line, good receivers, veteran quarterback, and solid running backs. Most of the teams they have faced this preseason have had problems stopping them. DT Keith Hamilton is out and Bernard Holsey will get the start — a clear indication that he is still ahead of Christian Peter on the depth chart. Chad Bratzke will battle the tough Jonathan Ogden while Michael Strahan faces the mammoth Orlando Brown. We want to see Robert Harris start elevating his game — he and Hamilton have been hampered all preseason with injuries. The big battle appears to be between DT’s Nate Hobgood-Chittick and George Williams for the final roster spot on the defensive line. We feel that DE Cedric Jones and DT Christian Peter are playing at a much higher level than they did last year and would like to see them continue to improve and make an impact. Both should receive a lot of playing time on Friday.

It seems as if the linebacking corps is set — except it is highly doubtful that Jason Nevadomsky will make the final cut. It will be good to see Corey Widmer back in the lineup, though Doug Colman wasn’t bad at all when he was in there. Jessie Armstead has had a VERY quiet preseason, but the guy who we are really worried about is Marcus Buckley. Buckley still makes us real nervous with his play against the run. He seems to have real problems disengaging from blockers. Meanwhile, Scott Galyon continues to do nothing but shine and make big plays. Ryan Phillips has not come on as hoped. If he wants to see any real playing time early in the regular season, he had better have a good game against the Ravens. The development of Phillips becomes crucial to the Giants if Buckley can’t hack it.

Every Giants fan knows the area to watch will be the secondary. Raven receivers Michael Jackson and Jermaine Lewis are good — real good. The spotlight will be on Conrad Hamilton and Shaun Williams, the latter making the rapid transition to cornerback with the loss of Jason Sehorn. With the Ravens’ solid offensive line, these guys will have to cover their men longer than normal than with most other teams. Williams is still learning the basic fundamentals of the position — we’d hate to see him matched up on a quick guy like Lewis. Phillippi Sparks talked big all week about having a good year — we want to see that translate to plays made on the field. He has been up-and-down this preseason. Depth also remains a big concern and Robert Massey, Kory Blackwell, and Jeremy Lincoln haven’t really impressed us. Massey will probably make the team because of his veteran leadership and presence in the lockerroom. Blackwell and Lincoln may be fighting each other for a roster spot — especially if the Giants pick someone up on waivers. The safeties are set, though we want to see much better tackling from FS’s Tito Wooten and Percy Ellsworth.

Giants on Specials: It seems as if every week Special Teams Coach Larry MacDuff has to plug a new leak in the bursting dam that is the Giants special teams. The blocking on returns improved last week, but the coverage units deteriorated. We think the Giants have some players who can make an impact on coverage: Scott Galyon, Doug Colman, Brandon Sanders, and Shaun Williams. But not enough guys are making plays.

In the return game, with Patten out, Amani Toomer will join fellow Michigan alum Ty Wheatley in returning kicks. It is still not clear to us who will be returning punts on opening day: Tiki Barber or Toomer. Brad Maynard seems to have his head back on straight. We hope Brad Daluiso is about ready to go on one of his hot streaks, as opposed to one of his funks. The Giants need him to play well early in the season. His kick-offs last week were the worst we have ever seen from him. It also looks as if poor Lance Scott will get no relief — he will have to handle the long-snapping duties as well as his regular starting job.

Aug 231998
 
New York Jets 27 – New York Giants 23

Overview: It is tough to get past the fact that this is the game that the Giants lost CB Jason Sehorn for the season, but get past it the coaches and players must. Sehorn tore two ligaments in his right knee on the opening kick off of the game — ironically, on what was to be his only kick return of the entire preseason. This loss overshadowed a contest in which there were a number of very pleasant positives for the Giants — as well as some continued warning signs.

Quarterbacks: Danny Kanell looked poised and sharp for most of the night. Granted his offensive line did a great job of keeping Jets’ pass rushers away from him, but Danny delivered the ball with good accuracy and zip. He was at his best on a number of key third down situations. If Kanell can play as effectively as he did against the Jets for most of this season, the Giants’ quarterback situation is in good hands. What we were also impressed with was his toughness in the pocket. On the few times that he did experience any pressure, he stood tall in the pocket and attempted to deliver the ball even when he was about to get hit — very “Simms-like.” Kanell finished the first quarter 8-of-9 for 73 yards. He cooled off somewhat after that, tossing a couple of errant throws on the Giants’ second possession into the Jets’ redzone at the start of the 2nd quarter. On another second quarter drive, Kanell did a great job finding Chris Calloway for a first down on 3rd-and-7 and Ike Hilliard for 25 yards on 3rd-and-13. But on the same drive, he misfired on another 3rd down play where Calloway was wide open and may have scored. On the Giants’ last offensive scoring drive of the night, late in the second quarter, Kanell did a nice job finding Gary Brown out of the backfield for a first down on 3rd-and-10. But he also didn’t see a wide open Howard Cross in the end zone on 1st-and-goal. Nevertheless, overall it was a very positive performance.

The same can not be said for Kent Graham. Kent did far too much dancing in the pocket for our tastes. His second pass of the game was almost intercepted and returned for a TD, but the defensive back dropped the ball. Kent’s third pass of the game was a horribly overthrown ball. His fourth pass was way off the mark too and hit a Jets’ defender in the hands. On his first drive in the fourth quarter, Graham threw a strike to WR Joe Jurevicius over the middle for good yardage. But on the next play, he almost got Ty Wheatley killed by leading the linebacker right to him before delivering the ball. What really bothered us about his performance is that he took a couple of sacks in situations where we thought he should have gotten rid of the ball sooner or thrown it away. He also threw the ball far too hard to Wheatley on a short pass that Wheatley dropped (he has to show greater touch in such situations). His prettiest pass of the night was his deep sideline throw to Jurevicius which was perfectly thrown.

Wide Receivers: Ike Hilliard (7 catches for 74 yards) had a great game. Kanell looked his way all night. Interestingly, the Giants had him in the slot a number of times — one time putting him in motion on a 3rd-and-2 situation where he picked up the first down on a short pass. Another interesting play was a 3-WR shotgun setup on 1st-and-ten where David Patten got open easily and picked up 11 yards. Patten also picked up big yardage on a deep out on 3rd-and-10. We think he’s going to be a real weapon for Kanell this year. But the story of the night was Hilliard. Again and again, Kanell hit him. Hilliard not only showed an ability to get open, but good quickness and running skills after the catch — something he was famous for in college. Calloway had two catches, including one for 21 yards over the middle. Amani Toomer dropped two balls that hit him right in the bread basket. Joe Jurevicius made three catches, including a one-handed circus catch that was deflected off two Jet defenders and one deep sideline pass.

Tight Ends: Howard Cross, as usual, did an excellent job blocking for the run. He destroyed his man on both the opening offensive play for the Giants — an outside run by Gary Brown that picked up a first down — and Tiki Barber’s goalline TD run on the same drive.

Halfbacks: Gary Brown started and had a so-so performance. He’s more of a plodder than we would like, but he did show enough movement ability to get outside on his two big runs of the night. On the other hand, there was one run on the opening drive where the line had formed a nice hole up the middle for him, but he didn’t find it quickly enough. Overall, he made a favorable impression because he consistently picked up positive yardage. He also showed nice hands catching two passes.

Tiki Barber fumbled the ball twice (recovered one, lost one), could arguably been credited with another fumble on his diving goalline attempt, and muffed a punt (he also recovered). All these sins are inexcusable. However, Tiki finally showed us that spark and quickness that seemed to be missing since the beginning of last year. If he can hold onto the ball (a big if), one can see how explosive he is and how he can make defenders sweat. He was very decisive and quick on his short yardage TD run on the opening drive. We thought he ran with far greater instincts and toughness than he had to-date this preseason. His quicks were very evident on two back-to-back passes to him out of the backfield where he made Jet defenders look like they were standing still. He also showed real good patience, tackle-breaking ability, and acceleration on his long run of the left side in the third quarter.

Wheatley looked good on his one carry, an outside run where he showed patience and aggressiveness.

Fullbacks: Charles Way sprained his ankle on the opening drive and was not a factor in the game. His replacement, Eric Lane, was only so-so in the run blocking department. On the first drive, an inside run block for Gary Brown was not effective. However, on the second drive, he did a nice job opening up a hole for Brown on a kick-out block — a play that picked up five yards. On Gary Brown’s 23-yard run off the left side in the second quarter, Lane absolutely leveled his man, but then came back with a mediocre effort on the cornerback on Tiki’s outside running attempt on 2nd-and-goal late in the second quarter. Nevertheless, Lane showed us some blocking ability that we didn’t think was there. Greg Comella showed real nice second effort on his 2-yard touchdown run right up the gut. The normally sure handed Comella also dropped a pass however. He did a very strong job blocking for the run. On a number of plays, as the lead blocker for the halfback, Comella took his man out of the play. On Tyrone Wheatley’s outside run in the 4th quarter, Comella actually took two defenders out with one block.

Offensive Line: OG Ron Stone and OT Scott Gragg, combined with TE Howard Cross, is a formidable run blocking unit on the right side. On a number of occasions, they blew away Jet defenders on that side of the field. Pass protection by the first unit was excellent for the second week in a row. For the most part, Kanell had plenty of time to survey the field. Roman Oben was flagged for one false start penalty.

The starting unit did have a couple of breakdowns on their first drive in the third quarter. RG Ron Stone did not sustain long enough on his run block and Brown was tackled in the backfield on 2nd-and-4 — he would have picked up a first down otherwise. On the ensuing play, OC Lance Scott was pushed back into Kent Graham’s face.

As for the reserves, LG Bryan Stoltenberg was beat cleanly on a run block that allowed Tiki to get nailed in the backfield. He also gave up a critical sack on the Giants’ last drive of the game. LT Toby Myles was flagged for holding and a false start.

Defensive Line: The starting group did not have a good night. DE Chad Bratzke made a nice play coming down the line of scrimmage to disrupt a counter trey play to Curtis Martin. However, on HB Curtis Martin’s 14 yard touchdown run in the second quarter, Bratzke was easily handled at the line of scrimmage. Indeed, for the most part, the Jets’ offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage on both running and passing plays. We expect more out of Michael Strahan (who had a rough time with a rookie right tackle), Robert Harris, and Keith Hamilton. Hamilton did pick up a sack from his defensive tackle position, when the Giants ran a zone-blitz, dropping Bratzke into coverage and bringing Buckley on the blitz. Strahan also picked up a sack in the third quarter. But this kind of pressure was rare for most of the contest.

DE Cedric Jones almost got to Testeverde on one pass rush. Cedric also made a great play stuffing a 3rd-and-one play in the 4th quarter. Marcus Buckley and Scott Galyon got credited for the play by the announcers, but it was Cedric who was on the bottom of the pile who mae the play. Christian Peter and Bernard Holsey weren’t bad at playing the run. Holsey, Jones, and MLB Pete Monty stuffed one 3rd-and-1 play in the 4th quarter.

Linebackers: It still looks to us like Marcus Buckley is a liability against the run. Not only does he have trouble disengaging from blocks, but he seems to lack ball awareness — often running himself out of the play. He is also a mediocre tackler and was easily shrugged off by Keyshawn Johnson on one crossing pattern. He was absolutely crushed on Martin’s above mentioned touchdown run too. To be fair, he made very good penetration, and along with DE Michael Strahan, helped to disrupt a 3rd-and-2 running play in the first half. Jessie Armstead was very quiet for the second game in a row.

We thought MLB Doug Colman read the plays well and did a nice job flowing to the ball. Pete Monty made a nice read and hit on a Leon Johnson run, but forgot to wrap him up. Scott Galyon continues to impress — tackling the runner in the backfield on one play and pressuring Testeverde on a blitz.

Defensive Backs: The Giants had problems with crossing patterns over the middle all night and you had better believe that the Redskins and their head coach Norv Turner noticed this too. Indeed, on one play, the Giants’ had Armstead covering WR Wayne Chrebet and the result was a big completion over the middle. In the third quarter, the Giants got burned badly on a play where they ran a zone blitz and Keyshawn Johnson picked up big yardage over the middle.

For the second game in a row, we saw CB Phillippi Sparks playing too far off the ball. On the Jets’ first drive and facing 3rd-and-goal from the three yard line, Sparks played way off Chrebet and all Chrebet had to do was run an uncontested four yard out for an easy touchdown. Later in the second quarter, Phillippi was burned badly by Keyshawn Johnson on a deep out pattern. Sparks was also burned deep by Dedric Ward for what should have been a touchdown, but Ward dropped the ball.

Conrad Hamilton, Sehorn’s replacement had an up-and-down night. On the Jets’ second possession, he was nowhere in the picture on a deep sideline route to Keyshawn Johnson. He also got beat by Dedric Ward late in the second quarter on 3rd-and-13, but Jets’ QB Steve Foley couldn’t get the ball to Ward. Hamilton made a real nice tackle on FB Keith Byars to prevent a 3rd down and settled down noticeably in the second half however. Alex Van Dyke had a step on him in the 4th quarter, but Conrad did a nice job knocking the ball out of his hands. He gave up a nine yard completion to Dedric Ward late in the contest.

CB Robert Massey is the well-liked veteran. Due to his lack of speed, he plays way off the ball and this hurts his game. He is a sure tackler however. S/CB Shaun Williams was beaten pretty badly on Dedric Ward’s 81-yard catch and touchdown run. CB Jeremy Lincoln played too far off the ball giving up an easy completion to Ward, but he did close on the ball well later in the game on a throw near the goalline to knock the ball away.

SS Sam Garnes was a positive presence playing the run for most of the evening. Sam made a nice play on the Jets’ opening running play with a crisp, sure tackle at the line of scrimmage. However, Garnes did take a bad angle on Martin’s TD run. FS Tito Wooten broke up one pass, but was pretty quiet.

When one sees FS Percy Ellsworth in person, one is immediately struck by his size. However, Percy may in fact be the worst tackler on the team. His effort to tackle Keyshawn twice in the game was pathetic. But the one thing he can do is read a quarterback and play in coverage. His interception and TD return was thing of beauty.

Special Teams: The good news on special teams was that the blocking on kick and punt returns was vastly improved. Returners finally had some room to maneuver. Jason Sehorn had a good alley set up right up the middle on his return. David Patten looked sharp on his 35-yard kick return in the 1st quarter. Tiki Barber also had a very nice 22-yard punt return in the 2nd quarter (though he also did muff a punt later in the game (which he recovered). Amani Toomer fumbled a punt , but the Giants luckily recovered. He did show some moves we had never seen from him before on another punt return in the first half. Tyrone Wheatley made a devastating block in the third quarter on a kick return.

Kick and punt coverage continues to be a horror show. Leon Johnson returned a punt for a touchdown that put the Jets back into the game. Kick coverage was not much better. Whatever Special Teams Coach Larry MacDuff is doing, it’s not working. As for specific players, we don’t like the work Percy Ellsworth is doing. Greg Comella also had a rough night. He was flagged with a blatantly stupid block-in-the-back call on a punt return. Comella and David Patten were also faked out badly by Leon Johnson on his punt return for a TD. Comella did make a nice tackle on Will Brice’s next punt, but later whiffed on another open field tackle attempt. Comella does a real nice job getting quickly down the field, but he needs to break down better and tackle his opponent. Making solid tackles on specials in the game were Scott Galyon and Doug Colman — as usual. What the heck ever happened to Brandon Sanders? He’s not making many plays, unlike last year.

For his part, Brad Daluiso was horrible on kickoffs all night — most were either line drives into the endzone (easily returnable) or landed at the ten yard line. Combined with the Giants’ notoriously poor kick-off coverage, that is a recipe for disaster. We also have no idea why Daluiso missed his extra point attempt — the snap and hold were solid.

Brad Maynard had another nice game punting the ball — this time with direction, not only distance. He also showed some pretty good poise on Daluiso’s failed extra point conversion, completing a pass to Howard Cross that almost scored two points. His competition, Will Brice, was horrible. Maynard has easily won the job.

Aug 181998
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at New York Jets, August 20, 1998: This should be a pretty intense preseason game. Not only do both teams play in the same market, but both teams were humiliated last week and will be looking to rebound in a big way. Areas to focus on for Giants’ fans will be the running game, especially the productivity of the halfbacks and the ability of the offensive line to move the defense off the line of scrimmage; the tackling of the first team defense; and the overall play of special teams.

Giants on Offense: The Giants need to get running game turned around — and quickly. It all starts up front. Thankfully, RG Ron Stone returns to the lineup, but the rest of the group has to do a better job of creating running room for the backs. The Jets have a below average defensive line and good linebackers. We’d like to see LG Greg Bishop, OC Lance Scott, and Stone dominate the interior of the defense and for the Giants to run Gary Brown up the middle over and over again behind Charles Way and let him get into a rhythm. Head Coach Jim Fassel has said that Brown will get work with the first team offense — and it is about time. It will also be interesting to see how Tiki Barber responds from Fassel’s challenge of elevating his play. Not only has Tiki dropped more than a few passes this summer, but he is also not running with a lot of decisiveness or instinctiveness. We thought Tyrone Wheatley played decently last week. What does Fassel have in store for him? We would feel a lot better if Jim would pick ONE guy at halfback, stick with him, and allow him to get ready for the Redskins.

QB Danny Kanell has had an up-and-down preseason thus far. Once again, he’s not making a lot of mistakes (i.e., turnovers), but we hoped to see greater accuracy from him by this point. The great level of intensity, the longer amount of playing time for the first unit (they will probably play into the third quarter), and the impending arrival of the opener should all conspire to give us a truer picture of where he is at. It’s also tough to judge him given the fact that Fassel still isn’t game-planning the way he would in the regular season and that the Giants still want to hide their best plays from the Skins. Kent Graham has shown us nothing since returning to the Giants — he looks like a free agent bust to us. How much will Mike Cherry play the rest of the preseason? His time may have passed until the next offseason.

One thing we would like to see the quarterbacks do is get the ball more into the hands of the wide receivers when they do throw the ball. We have seen very little of “the best group of wide receivers the Giants have had in decades.” We also really hope Fassel stops giving playing time to Omar Douglas and Eddie Goines at the expense of Joe Jurevicius and Brian Alford — the latter two are the ones who will make the team, not the former two.

At tight end, we were really hoping that Al Pupunu would make a big impact early on as he has superior receiving skills to Howard Cross — and those skills would be nice in attacking the Skins. However, Pupunu has not practiced in weeks and it is looking less and less likely that he will play much in the opener. Todd Pollack is most likely practice squad bound. Andy Haase and Grant Baynham are still very much on the bubble. When it comes down to it — Howard Cross is the man for the Giants once again. Let’s hope he makes a bigger impact catching the ball this year.

Giants on Defense: Last week, the Giants did not play the run very well, the pass very well, or tackle very well. They should be tested this week by an offense that was under Bill Parcells’ whip most of the week. Up front, it will be interesting to see if DT Robert Harris is back to near 100% after being out for some time with a knee condition. We also want to see DT Keith Hamilton start to elevate his game in anticipation of the regular season. These two guys are the key to the entire defense. They set the tone in run and pass defense. As far as we can tell, it looks as if Bernard Holsey is playing better than Christian Peter at defensive tackle — though Christian has improved. Will the Giants keep another defensive tackle (knowing that Holsey can also play end) or will they keep another end? That answer to that question largely depends on the play of DT Nate Hobgood-Chittick, DT George Williams, and DE Hunter Adams. Outside, Michael Strahan and Chad Bratzke look ready to start the season. It would be nice to see Cedric Jones build upon last week’s success. Parcells likes to run the ball and the pass rush will be critical in making life difficult for Vinnie Testeverde and Glenn Foley.

At linebacker, the area to keep an eye on this week is middle linebacker. Corey Widmer (back) is out. Doug Colman gets the start, but Pete Monty will also play a lot. We may be looking at the future here if the Giants can’t keep Widmer next year. Thus far in the preseason, we have liked what we have seen from Colman and Monty. But don’t underrate Widmer’s absence. He knows the defense very well and makes a ton of the defensive calls. Colman and Monty not only have to play well, but they have to call a smart game. WLB Jessie Armstead did not play well last week; we look for him to rebound. We are still waiting for Marcus Buckley to make a play.

In the secondary, Phillippi Sparks and Jason Sehorn both had poor games last week as did FS Tito Wooten. SS Sam Garnes sees his first action of the preseason. Regardless, we think back-up SS Rodney Young has made the team. The Jets have decent wide receivers and Testeverde can get hot so this may be a good test for the defensive backs. It is pretty apparent that all the safeties on the squad will make the team, but we still have no idea who the fourth cornerback will be (or if he is even on the team yet). This is an important game for Robert Massey, Kory Blackwell, Raphaol Ball, Rashee Johnson, and Jeremy Lincoln — not only for their play in the secondary, but also on special teams.

Giants on Specials: Why is the blocking on special teams so poor? Is it the coaching or the personnel? Do the returners make the blockers look worse than they really are? We just don’t know the answer to these questions. Regardless, this aspect of the team must be turned around quickly. The Giants can ill-afford to start constantly on or near their own 20 yard line on kickoffs. Is this the game where we will see Jason Sehorn return kicks for the first time?

Tiki Barber hasn’t shown us enough to say that he is a better punt returner than Toomer. We don’t like the fact that Toomer always heads for the sidelines, but at least he holds onto the ball. Brad Maynard has won the punting job in our book. Brad Daluiso still makes us nervous.

Last week, the Giants gave up too many big kick and punt returns. This area of the team has to be fixed quickly too. Skins’ returner Brian Mitchell must be drooling.

Aug 171998
 
Jacksonville Jaguars 24 – New York Giants 10

Overview: One has to be careful not to read too much into one preseason game. However, the Giants’ embarrassing 24-10 loss to the Jaguars was filled with some ominous warning signs. Number one among those is the Giants’ continued inability this preseason to get their running game going. Like the broken record of recent seasons, the Giants regularly found themselves facing 3rd-and-long against Jacksonville. The first string offense was so bad that by the end of the first quarter, the Giants had no completed passes (zero yards of passing offense) and had not picked up ONE first down. This against a defense that is not considered one of the better defenses in the league. More warning signs? Kick and punt coverage was terrible and the Giants’ starting defense looked like they forgot to tackle. The best thing about the game? No serious injuries and there were a few positive performances from back-up defensive players. Let’s get to the specifics.

Halfbacks: We are going to start off with this group because it is here where we think the Giants have some real problems. Tiki Barber is just not getting it done. Not only did he drop three passes in the first quarter (two coming on critical third down situations), but he is not running the ball with any decisiveness or instinctiveness either. Indeed, Barber seems to be regressing. He is not the same back we saw in college at Virginia. Tiki has no business being in the starting line-up right now. He needs to get his head straight, start catching the ball, and making big plays. If we were Head Coach Jim Fassel, we would put Tiki in front of the pass catching machine at camp and make him catch at least 100 passes a day either before or after practice. A third down back who isn’t reliable catching the ball is worthless. Tiki did a good job picking up a blitz on one play however.

Speaking of Fassel, we love the guy, but it’s time we start to critique him just like we critiqued his predecessor. After all, we do need to be fair. Firstly, we used to come down hard on Dan Reeves for playing favorites with players who were just not getting the job done (i.e., playing Michael Croel over Jessie Armstead, Arthur Marshall over Thomas Lewis, Michael Brooks over Corey Widmer, etc.). Well, we have the same problem now with Fassel and Tiki Barber. Fassel loves Tiki, but Tiki isn’t getting the job done. It’s time to see Tyrone Wheatley or Gary Brown starting. (Editor’s Note: To Fassel’s credit, see “News and Notes” from 8/17/98 — Barber is now in Fassel’s doghouse). Secondly, we continue to have a MAJOR problem with Jim Fassel’s choice of personnel and play-calling on third-and-short situations. With the Giants finally moving the ball on offense in the second quarter, but facing a key 3rd-and-one, Fassel once again had the Giants run wide. (A) You never run a sweep in short yardage (two much can go wrong with penetration and the Giants don’t pull that well). (B) Tyrone Wheatley has not proven to be a consistently instinctive runner on the sweep. (Editor’s Note: Fassel said after the game that that play was designed to go off of right tackle and the starting unit screwed up the play). The Giants should run up the gut with a backfield combination of Charles Way/Gary Brown or Charles Way/Greg Comella. Period.

As for Tyrone Wheatley, he didn’t get many chances and he didn’t have very good blocking, but we thought he had a decent game. He seemed more instinctive and tougher to us running between the tackles. The one thing that worries us about him is that he seems to have lost the explosiveness he had when he played at Michigan. He’s not hitting the hole very quickly and doesn’t seem to have that extra gear anymore. We just can’t fairly evaluate Gary Brown as he had no chance behind a rag-tag second- and third-team offensive line.

Fullbacks: Charles Way only had one opportunity to carry the ball — on an outside run that had no blocking and he went nowhere. Greg Comella looked real good on screen where he ran tough and broke a tackle. We don’t remember seeing Eric Lane in the game.

Quarterbacks: Except for the Giants’ drive in the second quarter that set up Brad Daluiso’s field goal, Danny Kanell was not sharp. To be fair, his stats (2-for-9) are look far worse than they should as Tiki dropped three of his passes. But he missed a wide open Chris Calloway on the first play of the game off a nice looking play-action pass. His third down throw on the same series was terribly off the mark and travelled out of bounds. What was strange about the play-calling too was that it didn’t seem as if the Giants were trying to get the ball in the hands of their wideouts. The good news is that he threw a very nice deep ball to Ike Hilliard and showed great touch and accuracy on his pass to TE Andy Haase on the same drive. However, he underthrew David Patten in the endzone on the same drive (another problem with Fassel’s choice of personnel — we would have used a taller receiver in that situation on that given play call — either Toomer or Jurevicius).

Kent Graham continues to disappoint. Granted he didn’t have great protection, but he generally had enough time. He did too much dancing around (a la Dave Brown). If the receivers aren’t open, then dump the ball off or throw it away. Graham just has never developed his accuracy or touch. His stats for the game are bloated by Toomer’s catch and run — a play that should have been whistled dead after the catch as Amani was touched.

Mike Cherry came in with the game already out of hand — down by 14 with less than eight minutes left to play. He had to pass and the Jags knew it — not a great situation to fairly evaluate a second-year quarterback. Cherry started off by throwing a strike to Joe Jurevicius — showing better decisiveness than Graham did. However, Cherry also threw a terrible interception when he birddogged his back out of the field and led the linebacker right to the play — a pass that never should have been thrown. Another Cherry drive ended when he was hit hard, sacked, and he fumbled the ball away. On his last drive, the pass protection fell completely apart and he was sacked three times in a row.

Wide Receivers: The Giants just didn’t have the ball long enough to get these guys involved in the game much. And when the Giants did throw early on, the ball wasn’t being directed at these guys for some reason. Chris Calloway was wide open on the opening play but Kanell missed him. Ike Hilliard wasn’t able to separate from a Jags’ defender, but showed great concentration on his deep sideline catch from Kanell. Amani Toomer should have been ruled down by contact, but he made a very nice catch of a low Graham pass and showed great presence of mind to get up and run the ball into the endzone after not hearing the whistle blow (smart play from a guy not always known for his smarts). Joe Jurevicius did not see any action until late in the fourth quarter. WHY??? Indeed, another curious personnel move by Fassel when you consider all the playing time Omar Douglas got in the third quarter. Brian Alford and Eddie Goines did not have a catch.

Tight Ends: No catches for Howard Cross. Andy Haase had a couple of catches, but also dropped one that him right in the hands — a rookie free agent has to make the most of his opportunities. The other thing we will say about Haase is that he looks like he needs a lot of work in the weight room to us.

Offensive Line: Ironically, the first team offensive line’s pass blocking seems to be way ahead of its run blocking. Save for one sack where Scott Gragg got beat badly (Oben had trouble with his man on the play too), the first team line did a fine job giving Kanell time to throw the ball. It’s the run blocking (combined with the poor performance of the halfbacks) that has us concerned. The Giants’ passing game may be dramatically improved this year, but the Giants remain a running team first and foremost. Indeed, if the Giants can’t run the ball on a consistent basis, they will be in a lot of trouble. The catch is that the Giants not only still need a lot of work on their running plays, but they still need a lot of work on their passing game. There are only two preseason games left — not a lot of time and/or plays to get things right.

Since we were at a bar and not able to tape the game, evaluating each player is impossible for us. Needless to say, the Giants simply did not get enough movement in their run blocks. There was a noticeable difference in the quality of the line with RG Ron Stone out of the line-up. As for the reserves, LT Toby Myles had an up-and-down night. He still needs a lot of technique work but he does have quick feet and long arms. RT Darryl Gilliam was beaten badly on one sack and almost got Cherry killed. Gilliam has to hope for the practice squad. None of the interior reserves impressed us either — especially after giving up three sacks in a row on the Giants’ last “drive.” Watch out for the “turk” guys, because you won’t be in camp much longer.

Defensive Line: Jacksonville has arguably the best offensive line in the league, and save for a few plays, the Giants did not blitz or stunt much. The defensive ends, Michael Strahan and Chad Bratzke, did not play poorly. Strahan was solid against the run and Bratzke forced Tony Boselli (the best left tackle in the business) to mug him on one play and cause a holding penalty. Inside, Keith Hamilton was very quiet and seemed to have a problem with the Florida heat and humidity. As did Christian Peter. Later in the contest, Peter made a couple of penetrating plays, but for the most part, he was neutralized far too often at the line of scrimmage. On one double-team in particular, he got crushed. Against the pass, throughout the contest, Jaguar quarterbacks had far too much time. However, DT Bernard Holsey had a real nice pass rush where he hit the quarterback just as he threw. The guy who we were most glad for was Cedric Jones however. Early in the game, Jones was tied up at the line of scrimmage but stuck with the play and showed good hustle as the quarterback scrambled and couldn’t find an open receiver. Jones forced Brunell to throw the ball away as he was just about to sack him. The play was caused more by solid coverage, but Jones kept with it. Later in the game, Cedric got his first sack (preseason or regular season) of his career. Indeed, it was a great looking speed rush where Jones beat his opponent to the corner and crunched the quarterback from the blindside. We also saw a couple of good plays from DE Hunter Adams and DT George Bell.

Linebackers: Not a great game for WLB Jessie Armstead. Jessie had a wicked hit in the game, but he missed some tackles and was exposed some in coverage — a rarity for him. His head just didn’t seem to be in the game. Corey Widmer made some good reads against the run, but didn’t finish the play enough times. Marcus Buckley was quiet (what else is new), but didn’t embarrass himself. He also seemed to be the only Giant on the field who remembered how to tackle on James Stewart’s long run in the first quarter. We were more impressed with the second-teamers. We thought MLB Doug Colman, WLB Scott Galyon, and SLB Ryan Phillips played well. Colman showed real good instincts on a number of running plays. Galyon continues to have a nose for the football. Phillips picked up a sack on a good outside rush, almost got there again on the next play, and did a nice job stringing out one outside run. Pete Monty played a lot late in the game and seemed to be around the ball a lot too.

Defensive Backs: Not a good game for CB’s Jason Sehorn and Phillippi Sparks. These two guys have to stop reading their press clippings and play some football. Sehorn’s tackling regressed to his early days with the Giants. Moreover, the Jags seemed to be deliberately throwing a Jason and with some success. He gave up some big yardage on one sideline throw — despite a hurried pass from Brunell that hung up in the air for some time. He also gave up a quick slant for a TD. Sehorn did show excellent concentration and open field running on his pick of a bobbled ball and TD return — but the play was called back when Sparks was flagged for holding. Sparks, for his part, played far too off the ball most of the night. Indeed, on one big 3rd-and-long that was converted to his side, he wasn’t even in the television picture when the receiver caught the ball at the sticks. Besides the costly holding penalty that took a TD off the board, Sparks was also flagged for a personal foul penalty. FS Tito Wooten still has to remember to wrap and tackle, not just hit. The star of the starting unit in our book was SS Rodney Young who had yet another solid game against both the pass and run. Young was around the ball most of the night.

As for the reserves, SS/CB Shaun Williams had a very good game. He stuck to his man like glue and knocked two passes away — one on a deep fly pattern that he was step-for-step with the receiver and one on a crossing pattern that his was step-for-step with his man — very impressive. CB Conrad Hamilton also played well, knocking away a key 3rd-down attempt. CB Jeremy Lincoln was burned badly for a long TD by the Jags’ back-ups. Robert Massey gave up a completion, but did look good in run defense. Raphaol Ball had both a positive and negative play. S Brandon Sanders seemed to be one of the few Giant players fired up for the game. He made a couple of nice sticks.

Special Teams: This part of the team continues to haunt the Giants. The Giants gave up too many big kick and punt returns in the game. Shaun Williams stuck out on coverage making two sure-tackles — he looks like a keeper as a gunner. CB Rashee Johnson also made a nice play — the kind of play that gets you noticed by the coaches. Greg Comella and Corey Widmer also made nice tackles on coverage. Percy Ellsworth got faked out of his shoes by one returner. Brad Daluiso shanked one kick-off that set up a big return. Blocking on returns for the Giants remained pathetic. Brian Alford made particularly weak effort by not blocking anyone on one David Patten return. David Patten showed some better vision as did Wheatley — but Wheatley doesn’t seem to have that extra gear that a good returner needs. Brad Maynard and Will Brice had a mediocre punt each, but aside from that, they both punted well. Brad Daluiso missed yet another field goal in the 40-50 yard range.

Aug 121998
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Jacksonville Jaguars, August 14, 1998: This preseason game will have a little more sense of urgency than the last one. For one, Jacksonville is a very talented, playoff-caliber team and the Giants will want to show well against them. Secondly, Jacksonville has humiliated the Giants the last two times these two teams have played. Thirdly, these two teams don’t like each other much. Lastly, Head Coach Jim Fassel intends to give his starters on offense a long look and play them the entire first half. But regardless, the big hope here is for the Giants to stay healthy. The Giants have already lost OLB Corey Miller and HB LeShon Johnson for the season.

Giants on Offense: QB Danny Kanell looked very poised and comfortable in the pocket last Saturday against the Bengals. He was a little wild on a couple of his throws, but that is to be expected in the first game of the year. We would like to see more of the same on Friday, plus even greater accuracy. We’d also like to see him get the ball more to his wide receivers, particularly Ike Hilliard, David Patten, and Amani Toomer. These three guys have had a very good training camp, but they didn’t do much on the field last week.

Much of our focus will be on the running game and on the halfbacks in particular. All three halfbacks should see some work with the first unit offensive line — though a key cog (Ron Stone) — will be missing. Fassel has singled out Wheatley in particular as a guy who he wants to see playing with the first unit. We don’t want to overstate the importance of one game, but this is probably a VERY critical game for Wheatley in determining his future with the team. The Giants undoubtably will be looking for him to run with good technique (shoulder pads low), power (something he has been inconsistent with), instincts (ditto), and explosiveness (it’s time for Tyrone to break the big one). We also want to see Tiki Barber do a MUCH better job in the receiving game and in terms of holding onto the ball. Round two of the Greg Comella versus Eric Lane battle begins.

On the line, this is Jerry Reynolds’ big chance to impress. He will fill in for the Giants’ best offensive lineman, Ron Stone, at right guard. The first team offensive line played well last week, but Jacksonville is a tougher foe. LT Roman Oben will once again be tested by DE Tony Brackens. The Jaguars also have a very talented linebacking corps with players such as Kevin Hardy, Bryan Schwartz, and Bryce Paup. A good showing by the Giants in terms of running and passing the ball will only help to elevate the line’s confidence. It’s tough to get a good read on the players on the second team line since they have little experience together and therefore continuity. Nevertheless, the Giants need some of these guys to step it up and provide quality depth.

At wide receiver, Ike Hilliard returns to the scene of his season-ending injury last year. It will be interesting to see how he responds. We also would like to see Kent Graham and Mike Cherry get the ball into the hands of WR’s Joe Jurevicius and Brian Alford. With Al Pupunu and Todd Pollack still out with sprained knees, Howard Cross, Andy Haase, and newcomer Grant Baynham will have to carry the load.

Giants on Defense: Jacksonville has as good an offense as there is in the league and quality depth. This game will be a great test for the entire defense — first team and second team. Up front, Jacksonville has a huge and talented offensive line. DE’s Chad Bratzke and Michael Strahan won’t face tackles better than Tony Boselli and Leon Searcy, respectively. Inside, Christian Peter and Bernard Holsey should see a lot of quality playing time with the first unit as Robert Harris (knee) is out this week. Continued focus remains on DE Cedric Jones (will that first sack ever come?), DE Hunter Adams (who had a good game last week), DT Nate Hobgood-Chittick, DT George Williams, and DT Brad Keeney.

The Giants defense against the run will be tested. Along with an outstanding offensive line, HB James Stewart has been playing very well this summer. The Jaguars also invested a very high number one in Fred Taylor. The Giants defensive line and linebackers will have to play physical football. This is an excellent game to get a good read on Marcus Buckley on the strongside.

But make no mistake about it, Jacksonville’s biggest strength is passing the ball. They combine good pass protection with a super quarterback (Mark Brunell) and Pro Bowl-quality receivers (Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith). The Giants need to get a good push up the middle from their inside men and Strahan will have to win his match-up against Searcy — because Bratzke isn’t likely to do it against Boselli. We may see some more blitzing from the Giants because of this — though Defensive Coordinator John Fox still most likely doesn’t want to tip his hand for opening day (see last week’s preview). The individual match-ups in the secondary versus the Jags’ wide outs will be fun to watch. SS Rodney Young also gets another start as Sam Garnes (shoulder) will be held out. Young is fighting for a roster spot, but has a good camp. Ideally, the Giants need to start seeing some good things out of reserve CB Jeremy Lincoln as well.

Giants on Specials: Same story as last week. Need to see the Giants consistently improve themselves in all facets of special teams. P Brad Maynard was outstanding last week — let’s hope that continues as the Giants need him to develop some consistency. Jason Sehorn will not return kicks this week and thus David Patten, Tyrone Wheatley, and Tiki Barber get another chance to prove themselves. Tiki and Amani Toomer will split the punt returns. Keep in mind that when it comes down to the final roster spots, those players who make themselves noticed on specials — not just as returners, but coverage men and blockers — have the advantage.

Aug 111998
 
New York Giants 24 – Cincinnati Bengals 17

by FJ

OL: The first string OL looked EXCELLENT. Oben, Bishop, Scott, Stone and Gragg opened some nice holes for Barber and Way and, even more importantly, protected Kanell so well that he was only touched twice. They played about 1 1/2 quarters before giving way to the backups, who did not fare as well. We’ve been hearing training camp reports about the linemen playing different positions. I guess it really was just for diversity. In the game, Bishop played only LG (not C), Zatechka played RG (not RT), Reynolds played LT (not LG) and Engler played C (not G). The only guy I saw line up at more than one position (besides Zatechka, who was also the 3rd TE a couple times) was Stoltenberg, who played LG with the second team and C with the third. I don’t think Fricke or Myles played at all (I could be wrong).

QB: Even before I saw Fassel’s comments in the paper this morning, I used the same word to describe Kanell. He looked “comfortable”. He threw some nice passes, and had two sure completions dropped (Barber and Cross). He also overthrew a few open receivers. He could have very easily completed 13 out of 15 rather than just 8 out of 13. Graham did not look comfortable. He only threw a few times (the Giants were working on their running game by then), but a couple throws were weak. He also fumbled twice when the second string line couldn’t protect him. Cherry looked good when he first came out, but he got worse as the game went on. He showed off his strong arm on a 60 yard bomb to Jurevicious; unfortunately it was 10 yards beyond JJ’s reach. He underthrew several screen passes, bouncing them in front of the receiver. He scrambled very nicely on one play, picking up about 6 yards.

RB: Barber showed some speed and quick moves, especially on his TD run up the middle, but he also dropped an easy pass. He did not stand out, but the Giants were concentrating on the passing game for the 2/3 of a quarter that he played. Gary Brown played the rest of the first half, and ran hard, but we better not expect many big plays (long runs) out of him. Wheatley played the entire second half behind the second and third string lines. He usually got positive yardage, but didn’t look like he was running that hard most of the time. Instead of hitting the hole quickly, he was staying in the backfield, picking his hole (a la Hampton) then running through it for a 3 or 4 yard gain. Not bad, but not spectacular. At FB, Way looks like he’s in mid-season form. He blocked hard, caught a couple passes, and ran well (picked up about 21 yards on one carry). Eric Lane played alongside Brown, but did not stand out. The second best RB on the field for the Giants, in my opinion, was Comella. He ran well, blocked well, and caught a few passes. He reminded me of Charles Way. I think this kid is a a keeper.

TE: Cross looked fine. He dropped an easy pass, but caught several others, including the TD, and fought for extra yardage. Haase did not impress me very much. We may be keeping only 2 tight ends again.

WR: Hilliard did not catch a pass in the short time he played, but he looked like he was open on almost every play. Same with Calloway. Everybody is talking about Calloway’s demise, but he looks even better to me. He got open quite often, caught about 3 passes, and looks like he is Kanell’s favorite target. Patten came in as the third WR and looked good. He showed his speed and also fought for the ball. This kid is still improving. Don’t be alarmed that Toomer didn’t catch a pass. He got in about 2 plays as the 4th WR, then played on the second string along with Patten, but the Giants didn’t pass much then. Alford played mostly third WR for the 2nd and 3rd strings. JJ did a good job catching a deflected pass from Cherry. Douglas had a pretty catch and run for a TD. He showed good quickness and cutting ability. The Giants unveiled their big lineup for one play, with JJ, AT and BA all on the field together.

DL: The starting 4 looked fine, stopping the run and applying a good pass rush. The second string featured Jones at RDE, Holsey at RDT, Peter at LDT, and Hunter Adams at LDE. All of them looked good, especially the 3 veterans. Adams switched to RDE for the 3rd string, along with a shuffling of other players. DT George Williams looked decent. LDE Estes got upfield a few times. Hobgood-Chittick hardly played. Holsey came back into the game at LDE with 16 second left and easily picked up a sack against the Bengals 3rd string OT.

LB: Widmer, Armstead and Buckley all played fine, but the best LB on the field Saturday night was Galyon. He was all over the field for the second team. Fox has to find more ways to get him on the field. Colman played MLB for the second team, along with Philips at SOLB. He made some nice plays, but got beat almost as often. Monty stood out on the 3rd team.

DB: Sehorn and Sparks looked AWESOME! Sparks forced a fumble, and picked off a pass. Sehorn was unjustly called for interference on one play (he was in better position to catch the ball that the receiver), then intercepted a pass on the very next play. But it was the way he did it. He flew to the ball, diving in front of the WR, then jumped up, ran across the field and picked up 26 yards. The backup CBs did not impress. Hamilton applied some hard hits, but got beat a few times. Massey and Lincoln were both beat a couple times and, I think, they were both flagged as well. The rookies didn’t stand out. The Safeties all looked pretty good. Wooten and Young played with the first team. Young, paired with Sanders, alternated with Williams and Ellsworth for the rest of the game. I always though Sanders was too small to play safety, but he looked excellent in run support. Williams was a little confused and got beat a few times, but he apllied some nice hard hits. Ellsworth looked like he’s ready to step in and play whenever needed. Young looked a little confused, but looked good when he pursued a running play all the way across the field and ended up picking up a loose ball.

ST: Although Daluiso missed one FG (40+ yards), he nailed all his shorter attempts. And his kickoffs were just like they were 2 years ago. Most of them were 8 yards deep in the end zone or beyond. Maynard looked like what we expected last year. He had two booming punts of 58 and 59 yards. Hopefully, he’ll be more consistent his year. Brice didn’t kick as well, but he spent a lot of time just trying to catch the errant snaps (Stoltenberg was the long snapper). Barber never got a chance to return a punt, but had a fair catch. Toomer let a pair of catchable punts bounce, but looked good on his one return, heading straight upfield for about 11 yards. Patten had a beautiful kickoff return for about 45 yards. He looked really fast. In the second half, C. Hamilton and Alford replaced Wheatly and Patten at KR. A few players made nice tackles on kick coverage, including Buckley, Galyon, and Douglas. Sanders and Hamilton were the gunners on the punt team; Williams played Wing Back. Massey picked up a stupid special team penalty, blocking his man while he was out of bounds (unsportsmanlike conduct).

Aug 061998
 

Approach to the Game – Cincinnati Bengals at New York Giants, August 8, 1998: The biggest key is to pray everyone stays healthy. These games don’t count. Preseason, and the first game in particular, is a time to evaluate the young talent. Don’t expect to see anything flashy and certainly don’t expect to see too many of Head Coach Jim Fassel’s good stuff. The Giants have already started scouting the Redskins and you can bet the house that the Redskins are already scouting the Giants. Expect the Giants to keep things very vanilla on both offense and defense. Also expect the starters to get pulled relatively early.

Giants on Offense: It will be tough for us fans to get a real good read of the offense in the preseason. Fassel undoubtably will use overall strategy and tactics to attack many opponents in 1998 and he is unlikely to show his cards at this early stage. Moreover, since the running game is still largely the bread-and-butter of this offense and since the running game takes the longest to get into sync, look for the Giants to run the ball a lot on Saturday. It may not be exciting, but it is necessary in order for the team to be ready on opening day. The offensive line and running backs need the reps and, like most teams, these guys are not there yet. Basically, what we are trying to say is to not expect any offensive fireworks.

On the line, it will be interesting to see if Greg Bishop remains at left guard or if he is moved to center when the rest of the starting unit is in there. The Giants have used Jerry Reynolds some at left guard and Bishop at center in camp. We also want to see Toby Myles in action, but he still may be ailing from his knee sprain. The Giants have some tough decisions as to whom to keep as back-ups. Guys like Rob Zatechka, Darryl Gilliam, Jason Whittle, Marc Lamb, and Ben Fricke are fighting for roster spots. Unless the Bengals do a lot of blitzing (blitzing in the first game is usually taboo, but we’ve seen some teams do it already), then we hope to see the Giants’ line do a decent job in pass protection. The Bengals are not strong up front.

At halfback, there is a big battle brewing for the starting halfback job. Gary Brown has been impressive in camp, but Tyrone Wheatley has received favorable reports as of late too. Then there is Tiki Barber, a guy who was limited last year due to hamstring and knee injuries. We want to see Tiki do a better job of catching the ball and not fumbling.

Charles Way is the man at fullback, but there is a tight contest for the back-up fullback job between rookie Greg Comella and second-year man Eric Lane. Keep an eye on their blocking as much as their pass receiving and running skills.

At tight end, Al Pupunu has been limited this week due to injury and it is unknown how much he will play. He looks like he will help the offense however. Howard Cross has looked better catching the ball in camp — let’s see if that translates to actions on the playing field. Andy Haase has been provided a wonderful opportunity to win a roster spot, given Todd Pollack’s injury woes (hamstring, knee).

At camp, the Giants look like they really have upgraded themselves at wide receiver. However, this is the first real test in order to determine if that is true. Will camp stars like Amani Toomer and David Patten wilt under the spot light? The Bengals’ secondary isn’t that good. Joe Jurevicius has been impressive, but was limited this week due to a bad bout with the flu. He’s probably not 100 percent yet. Ike Hilliard will face his first real test against guys who will be looking to knock his block off.

Danny Kanell is the man on the hot seat. The Giants need him to take another step forward this year and make some plays. This game will give us more information to go on, but don’t read too much into the results if they are negative. The offense still needs to get in sync, the play-calling will not be sophisticated, and Fassel is likely to have him try some things he didn’t do well at last year in order to see if he has improved (i.e., the deep out). What we’d like to see is some quick decision-making, good technique, and improved accuracy. As for the back-ups, Kent Graham makes his official return to the Meadowlands. We hope to see better and more consistent play from him than we saw at camp. This game will also afford Giants’ fans their first opportunity to see Mike Cherry play for an extended period of time (he was hurt most of last preseason).

Giants on Defense: Same story here — Defensive Coordinator John Fox will most likely keep things very basic. Don’t look for more involved blitzing schemes and coverages the Giants will show the Redskins on opening night. The big thing to key on is the Giants play against the run. Cincinnati has a very good running back and improving offensive line. This will be a good test for new starting strongside linebacker Marcus Buckley

On the defensive line, the interesting battles to watch will be at right defensive end and back-up defensive tackle. We want to watch Chad Bratzke, Cedric Jones, Bernard Holsey, Christian Peter, Nate Hobgood-Chittick, Brad Keeney, and George Williams more closely. Bratzke looks like he has the starting job on the right side, but we are praying to see some life out of Cedric. He’s getting darn close to that “bust” label. The Giants need a back-up defensive tackle to step up and replace Ray Agnew’s presence. Christian has looked good in camp, but we want to see him do it in games. Hobgood-Chittick, Keeney, and Williams are all competing for that final DT spot. Fassel, if you are listening, get Michael Strahan, Keith Hamilton, and Robert Harris out of the game early!

At linebacker, the focus will be on Buckley and Ryan Phillips on the strongside. They need to step it up or the Giants may have some problems. We really hope that Jessie Armstead and Corey Widmer don’t see too much action…no need to risk getting them hurt. The four guys we want to see more of are Phillips, Scott Galyon, Pete Monty, and Doug Colman. Watch Phillips in pass coverage and shedding at the point of attack.

The Bengals have some quality receivers so this will be a good initial test for Jason Sehorn and Phillippi Sparks. But again, we hope Fassel takes them out early. We don’t care if the Giants lose this game — we care if we lose these guys. The players we really want to watch are Shaun Williams, Percy Ellsworth, Rodney Young (who is having a good camp), and Jeremy Lincoln. The strength of Williams’ game is his hitting — something camp did not afford us much of an opportunity to see. Ellsworth is having a great camp, but we want to see if his tackling has improved. Young may end up being caught in a number’s game, but we still like him. Lincoln has a good shot at the 4th cornerback spot behind Sparks, Sehorn, and Conrad Hamilton. Speaking of Hamilton, we hope he sees a lot of playing time. We like him and he will be an important part of the Giants’ depth situation this year.

Giants on Special Teams: This is where we hope to see the Giants make some big strides — not just in the return game, but in coverage. The tough thing about specials in the preseason is that since the coaches are usually experimenting a great deal with young players (on both teams), breakdowns and big plays often result. In the return game, Tiki Barber gets his first chance as the regular punt returner. Successfully catching and holding onto the ball will be our focus. So will be his blocking. In the kick return game, Fassel has said he will not use Jason Sehorn to return kicks in the game. Instead, look for Tyrone Wheatley, Tiki Barber, and David Patten to do so. Has David Patten and Tyrone Wheatley improved as kick returners? Is Tiki well-suited to do so? Has the blocking on returns improved? In coverage, we want to see someone else step forward besides Brandon Sanders. Hopefully, Shaun Williams will be one of those guys. Lastly, we want to see much more consistency and production out of Brad Maynard.