Sep 301998
 
New York Giants 34 – San Diego Chargers 16

Overview: The long trip west has not been very profitable in recent years. However, this may have been the best timed road game in sometime. While the city and team of San Diego was distracted with the Ryan Leaf story, the Giant were able to get-away from the scrutiny of two straight losses and concentrate on the “meat and potatoes”, as Fassel put it afterwards. The short work week and simple gameplan also focused the team on important basics like execution, pass protection and fewer mistakes. Fassel and staff did an excellent job of preparation. They communicated to the players a methodical plan on how the offense was going to run. The spotlight was on the offensive as he requested less mistakes and examined team execution. The pressure was put on the O-line to perform but he gave them confidence and balanced that with help from the Tight-ends. The next move on offense was to eliminate the 4 wide-out set and focus on their best and seasoned receivers getting open downfield as opposed to trying a bunch of screen derivatives. Also implemented was the change-of-tempo offense (not to be confused with the no-huddle) which crossed-up the Charger D significantly. At the point in the game when the Giants sped-up the tempo, Fassel exhibited patience with Kanell and was determined to make the passing game work. Most impressively Fassel had a road map on precisely how the backs would be used Sunday. Specifically, he stated to his players that Tiki would be used the first two series and then a motivated Brown would enter for the majority of sequences, while Tiki moved to 3rd down duties. The plan also included more work for Wheatley, but Fassel mentioned after the game that Ty got banged up on specials early, thus he did not want to take a chance. The strategy was well conceived since Jim knew Brown would be pumped and thought he’d be effective sitting out the first couple of series knowing he’d play soon. Next week Jim try the same thing with Wheatley.

The “relaxed” focus paid-off as the Giants went without being penalized until late in the first half. Turnovers and other mistakes were minimized as the Giants let the Chargers put themselves in mistake-prone situations. The game’s beginning was uninspiring as both teams could not gain momentum until Ike Hilliard caught a 3rd down pass well short of the marker, yet proceeded to break a seemingly certain tackle to sprint for the first down. This was a turning point for the Giants who had previously failed to get first downs on other short completions. The series became a controlled drive as the Giants began setting-up quickly. A quick 15 yarder to Calloway (CC), another 5 for Way and then the O surprised the Chargers with a change in tempo. Caught off-guard, a timeout was called. Kanell missed Ike on the next play, but CC caught another that was barely enough for a first down. Just when it looked like Danny was getting a rhythm he overthrew an open Hilliard again, but this would be the last of his inconsistent play. Solid pass-protection persisted as Kanell found Ike for 20 on another big catch. Brown came in plunging for 3 and then 4 yards on a misdirection play into the endzone. The two final runs were good calls accompanied by excellent blocks from Bishop and Oben, even though the announcers credited Scott with the key block. The defense took the field for a third time and continued to pressure Leaf. The two previous possessions led to punts. This time the pressure resulted in an interception by Gray after Hamilton and S. Williams converged on Leaf. Quickly, Kanell countered by throwing a TD strike to CC and the Giants were on their way. With the lead and very few mistakes the Giants never lost their grip.

QB: Kanell (17 of 33, 208 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) started slow but gained confidence throughout the first half. Danny was off target often, early, missing open receivers. Yet, he appeared poised and his play grew sharper as the day wore on. He became downright effective. With the lead, Danny was careful not to force anything even as the Giants were frequently throwing down-field. Hard to say if his one INT was a blown play or his fault, not withstanding he protected the lead well without being too conservative.

OL: Much better then last week and it showed immediately. The group gave Kanell plenty of time. Unlike Monday night, he was protected from the blitz (especially from the inside) very well. Zero sacks. The line did a credible job run blocking against a strong run defense. Nothing spectacular but at least the team broke the 100 yd mark for the first time this year. Bishop looked especially good all day and Stone and Gragg were solid. Oben was very strong on some key plays but took two bad penalties, which were the only flags on the line. Surprisingly Engler shared time with Scott. Both played pretty well although they don’t seem to get as much push as I’d like in the ground game and can be exploited on slow developing plays.

WR: One word: CRISP. The Giants trimmed down their attack, concentrating on letting Ike and CC beat the D-Back’s straight-up. Not much trickery, just hard and precise route running. A tremendous workman-like effort by both, as the Giants shelved the 4 WR set on passing downs in favor of a blocking TE. This alignment provided for a stellar performance with Ike grabbing 5 for 72 (he could have had more) and CC clutching 6 for 94 yards while also seen making two key blocks. It is becoming evident that Hilliard is one awesome football player and that Calloway might be the most quietly productive WR in the NFC. Toomer, used as the #3 wide-out, performed very well catching a big third-down pass up the middle to advance a drive and also dishing out a nice block. The 3 WR’s overall played tough and were not shy about hitting and going over the middle.

TE: Saving the passing plays to Cross for another week, this unit was simply used as if they were additional lineman, as the WR’s took on the secondary by themselves. The strategy worked. Cross blocked well.

RB: Nothing flashy at all, yet there were some well conceived runs at key points, made by Brown and Way. Brown carried most of the load gaining 66 yards on 20 runs. Tiki was not effective, getting caught behind the line of scrimmage twice. The Giants did their best running between the tackles, spearheaded by good games from the guards. Wheatley ran exceptionally hard (and smart, staying in-bounds) on the last series with the game in the bag. This bodes well. He seems to be really laying it all out on the field and I’d like him to receive more time in the coming games.

DL: The DL’s performance might go very underrated unless one watched closely. The effort was even more impressive considering that the LB’s were quiet and the DL was primarily responsible for much of the strong play against the run. There was very little help from the blitz as Fox only went with it twice. The safety blitz from Williams who just missed but may have hurried Leaf into the INT and a decent corner blitz later. Strahan was a minor terror in the first half, beating his man consistently even though he did not register as many tackles as he could have. Strahan also provided nice run support when the Chargers ran to the opposite side with some great lateral pursuit. Chad got some pressure in early and helped create Strahan’s first sack. He was top-notch in clogging the running lanes and quickly closed to the gaps. The entire line was extremely strong against the run, only allowing one long scamper by Natrone Means. On the inside, C. Peter started in place of an injured Harris and played well for his first start. Together, he and Hamilton deflected 4 passes, which might have gone unnoticed had not one of Keith’s deflections end up in the hands of Percy Ellsworth. By the third series Leaf began to lose some poise, distracted from the penetration of the line. Hamilton was dominant at times and factored into Gray’s interception as well. Jones and Holsey entered the game late for a tiring Strahan and Peter. Cedric exploded on his first play sacking Craig Whelihan (who replaced an ineffective Leaf) for a 15-yard loss. Jones made another excellent play shortly afterward and may yet provide some quality depth to this already strong unit.

LB: First the good. Ryan Phillips is getting respectable on the strong-side. Now the not so good. Buckley did not play. Galyon did not play either and was missed in the second half. Widmer was rotated out on most passing downs and did not make much of an impact. As for Armstead, he was a shadow of himself, again. He was absent from pursuit and continues to be hampered by his injury. Give him credit for being a gamer and wanting to go all game due to the other injuries, but the Giants really need to start thinking about resting him until he is more fully recovered. His play has been extremely limited.

DB: The defensive backfield came up big throughout and made a huge impact in the turnover department. Carlton Gray was the nickel and played enough, one would have thought he started. Gray provided tight coverage and made a very nice pick (the first of 4 interceptions) as safety S. Williams and Keith Hamilton closed-in to crush Leaf. Carlton shows good technique in coverage. Sparks was fine on his corner, also grabbing one interception. Sparks and Garnes did get beat by Charlie Jones, who got behind both, for a 40 yard TD. However, outside of C. Jones’ TD, only TE Freddie Jones was able to get free a couple of times, the rest were shutdown. Hamilton was picked at early, but he held tough and tightened the coverage as the game progressed. Conrad stays close to his man, runs and tackles well and was involved in numerous plays on the field. Combined the corners totaled 17 tackles, Hamilton had seven.

At safety, Williams looked good on the blitz, and defended one screen pass beautifully, with some nice assistance from Percy. Garnes play was quiet and misplayed the Jones TD. The real story at safety however, was Percy Ellsworth. As Percy stated in the locker room, “I just want people around the league to notice I’m no backup”. He did say, Tito beat him out in camp 3 years in a row so he hasn’t earned the starter’s position here, but me thinks… doth protest too much. Based on this year’s camp, I’m not so sure, nor should Percy be sure. Ellsworth is clearly the best safety against the pass that the Giants have had, in many years. His alert and opportunistic play was illustrated on his first interception on the deflection. He returned that one 20 yards, it resulted in seven points. His second pick was a thing of beauty as he “hid behind some pick people, watched the QB’s eyes and then took-off toward where the ball was going”. Once he snatched the football he returned it twenty plus yards for the score. His instinctiveness in pass defense is constantly reasserting itself. He read a few other plays Sunday, impeccably. Percy needs to be on the field all the time.

Special Teams: No TV highlights here, yet the performance on all special teams was close to flawless. Sure there were no game breaking plays but perfect execution made Sunday’s efforts on specials about as good as anyone could ask for. Finally the coverage teams did not give up any long returns. Of course a lot of help was provided by the kickers. Daluiso put 5 balls OUT of the endzone, nailed all extra points and two short field goals. Maynard was extraordinary, averaging close to 50 yards per punt while placing 3 inside the 20. He made the Chargers regret accepting an illegal man down field penalty by crushing the re kick for about 70 yards. Aside from that incident there were no penalties either. It is nice to see Toomer running hard and direct on returns. Patten made a super play beating his man and making a sweet tackle on one punt. Simply, if the Giants can continue on this path and prevent special teams debacles like the ones against Dallas and Oakland, they will win more games.

Sep 251998
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at San Diego Chargers, September 27, 1998: This is a “must” game for the Giants. The team simply cannot afford to go 1-3. If it does, then one can kiss off any chance of making the playoffs in 1998. The rest of the season would have to be used in order to get ready for the 1999 season.

The defense is playing well enough to win. It is the offense and the special teams that are letting the Giants down. The offensive line has to get its act together and start firing off the ball. One of the running backs has to start making plays and the coaching staff has to feed that guy the ball. San Diego has a good defense and they will undoubtably attack the Giants the same way the Raiders and Dallas did — by stacking the line of scrimmage against the run and blitzing against the pass. Until the Giants start making other teams pay for these risky tactics, New York will continue to face these types of aggressive defenses. Most importantly, someone has to start making big plays — be it a wide receiver, running back, or tight end.

Giants on Offense: The Giants are caught in a catch-22 right now. Even if the offensive line was playing exceptionally well (which it is not), running the ball would be tough because of the way the opposition is playing the Giants. They are stacking the line daring the Giants to beat them with the passing game. If the Giants run the ball, they are playing right into the defense’s trap. If the Giants pass the ball, they run the risk of becoming one-dimensional — just like last week.

We may receive a lot of grief from contributors this week, especially given the fact that we were heavily critical of Fassel for not running the ball more against Dallas, but we feel strongly that the Giants must come out throwing early and often. In fact, we wouldn’t even bother to try to establish the running game until the second quarter. Why? First, as we already mentioned, why play into the defense’s plans? Secondly, and just as importantly, San Diego is not as tough as Dallas against the pass. And they are very tough against the run…ranking first in the AFC in run defense. We would come out throwing, getting San Diego to back its defenders up some and then switch over to the ground attack.

In the passing game, the offensive line needs to rebound and give QB Danny Kanell some time to make a play down the field. We also hope that the Giants keep a back in the backfield this week in order to pick up the blitz. The Chargers like to blitz. In fact, SS Rodney Harrison is the leading sacker on the team. The Giants need to make the Chargers pay dearly for their aggressiveness. The line has to give Danny time, Danny has to hit his wide receiver in stride, and the Giant receivers have to start making some big plays, especially guys like Ike Hilliard, David Patten, and Joe Jurevicius. Amani Toomer has played well thus far and we hope that continues. He already has two deep touchdowns for the Giants. The Charger secondary is solid, but it certainly is not as tough as the last three secondaries the Giants have faced. LB Junior Seau is also a very good pass defender, but the rest of the Charger linebackers are ordinary in pass defense as well. This might be Tiki Barber’s week to make a big play as a pass receiver.

Giants’ opponents are virtually ignoring the Giants’ tight end in the passing game. It might be wise to let Al Pupunu play some this week. He certainly will have the motivation to play well as it was the Chargers who cut him last year.

But the Giants must get their ground game going in order to win. Like we said, we think the Giants need to back off the Charger defenders first — especially the safeties. Then attack with the running game. The good news is that Fassel has supposedly simplified things this week in practice and the Giants most likely will get back to basics with their blocking schemes. We think this fits the Giants’ line better. But all five starters need to play much, much better for the team to be victorious. A key match-up will be DE William Fuller against RT Scott Gragg. So will the interior battle between DT Reuben Davis, DT John Parrella, and LB Junior Seau on one side and LG Greg Bishop, OC Lance Scott, and RG Ron Stone on the other. FB Charles Way will also be a factor as a lead blocker against linebacker such as Seau and Kurt Gouveia.

As for the ball carrier, we hope Fassel will go with one guy and allow him to get into a rhythm — be it Gary Brown, Tiki Barber, or Tyrone Wheatley. We feel that this constant switching of backs is detrimental to the running game.

Giants on Defense: The defense cannot afford to get too frustrated with the Giants’ offense and start to freelance in an attempt to overcompensate by making big plays. That’s how breakdowns and big plays result. This is likely to be a low scoring game and both teams may have problems moving the ball. The attitude of the Giants defense has to be, “We’re going to outlast and outplay the Charger defense and eventually win in the end.” Key in this effort will be three players: FS Percy Ellsworth (who starts in place of Tito Wooten) and DT’s Bernard Holsey and Christian Peter (who will both be subbing for Robert Harris). The Chargers have a very good running attack, centered around HB Natrone Means, who is averaging more than five yards per carry. The Chargers will undoubtably test Harris’ replacement as well as the Giants’ banged up outside linebackers. Peter and Holsey have to stand their ground. Ellsworth also has to tackle much, much better. The team desperately needs WLB Jessie Armstead to start making plays again too.

As always, the battle at the line of scrimmage will largely determine the success or failure of the Giants’ defense. Keith Hamilton, Michael Strahan, and Chad Bratzke must play tough at the point of attack as well as pressure rookie QB Ryan Leaf. Force Leaf to get rid of the ball quickly and make poor decisions. Gang-tackling against Means will also be important. MLB Corey Widmer will be a key player in run defense. We would be tempted to play Ryan Phillips again on the strongside in order to defend against the power running game of the Chargers — and then bring in Marcus Buckley in more obvious passing downs.

Because Leaf is a rookie, it would be advantageous to try to confuse him as much as possible by switching defensive coverages. Rattling him with the pass rush and timely blitzes would also be a big help. But be careful. Leaf has a rocket for an arm, is a big guy who is difficult to tackle, and can run with the ball when necessary. His most dangerous target is TE Freddie Jones — a superb blocker and receiver. The match-up of SS Sam Garnes and the strongside linebacker on Jones may be the most important of the game. The Giants may even use Shaun Williams some to cover him. As for the other receivers, Bryan Still has some big play potential. The Giants’ secondary should be able to largely control the San Diego receivers if they play anywhere near the top of their game.

Giants on Special Teams: The Giants simply cannot afford to continue to have breakdowns on kick and punt coverage. The good news is that Brandon Sanders will be back this week, but the Giants still miss Scott Galyon here. Amani Toomer performed well last Monday in returning punts, but the kick return game regressed somewhat. Tyrone Wheatley is not as explosive as David Patten when handling the ball. Brad Maynard needs to rebound from an up-and-down night and give his coverage units the time they need to make a play.


Sep 241998
 
Dallas Cowboys 31 – New York Giants 7

Overview: Good teams don’t let division rivals come into their house and embarrass them 31-7 on national television. Make no mistake about it, the Giants do have talent all over their roster. But they are not playing well as a group right now. The problems they are experiencing are the same that has plagued them throughout this season: too many penalties, an inability to convert on third down, poor run blocking and running, and allowing the opposition to make big plays on offense and special teams.Some of these problems may be credited to the Giants’ youth and inexperience. But we are also starting to wonder somewhat about the coaching. Don’t get us wrong — we love this coaching staff. However, many of their game day tactics have left us scratching our heads. Part of the blame for the inordinate number of penalties must also rest with the staff — the Giants are not a very disciplined football team.

This is a big week for the Giants’ coaching staff and the players. The staff needs to get the players’ confidence back up and get them ready to rebound against the Chargers. Fassel and his staff have to quickly get this thing turned around. In fact, this may be one of Fassel’s most important weeks as coach of the Giants. For their part, each player on the team has to make a commitment to himself and the team that he will play better and do what it takes to win. Sunday’s game is critical and it is coming up fast.

Quarterbacks: Danny Kanell (25-45-228, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions) played well, especially given the fact that he had no running game to support him and little time. From the opening play until he was taken out late in the fourth quarter, Kanell was smacked around by the blitz-happy Dallas defenders. But to his credit, Danny stood in the pocket and took his shots while attempting to deliver the ball. He’s a tough guy. He was fairly accurate with the ball except for a few throws. His 36-yard touchdown pass to Amani Toomer may have been the prettiest pass he’s thrown as a Giant. On the downside, he basically threw his deep sideline pass to David Patten up for grabs in the second quarter. He also needs to be more aggressive throwing the ball down field in certain situations and allow his receivers to make a play. We’d also like to see him take charge more in the huddle and rally his teammates. The offense at times looks lost out there — Danny must share some of that responsibility. During his time late in the game, Kent Graham looked as bad as he did all preseason.

Wide Receivers: Again, these guys were a victim of the poor pass protection as they often had little time to run their routes. Surprisingly, the Giants were somewhat successful in not only attacking Kevin Smith, but also Deion Sanders. Chris Calloway (7 catches for 77 yards) and Ike Hilliard (5 catches for 61 yards) continue to make plays in the short- to intermediate-range, but rarely make plays deeper down the field. Calloway had a drop and was lucky another wasn’t called a fumble. Ike Hilliard did a poor job securing the ball late in the game and fumbled the ball away. David Patten dropped a very catchable ball on a play that would have picked up big yardage. Amani Toomer (2-54) played his best game as a Giant. He not only got deep for the 36-yard score, but he looked good making his other catch. He also made a great catch of a ball thrown out-of-bounds despite heavy contact. Once again, Joe Jurevicius was invisible.

Tight Ends: Like we mentioned last week, the Giants can’t run the ball and Howard Cross must share some of that responsibility up front. He had one catch for eight yards. Where is Al Pupunu?

Halfbacks/Fullbacks: It is really, really tough to judge these guys given their lack of carries and the blocking up front. FB Charles Way (9 carries for 26 yards) still doesn’t look 100% to us. But he did look good on his one run up the gut behind reserve FB Greg Comella (1 carry for six yards). Amazingly, he picked up zero yards on five catches. Halfbacks Tiki Barber and Tyrone Wheatley had only three carries a piece and that makes it impossible to fairly judge a back. Tiki looked real good on the swing pass (4 catches for 23 yards) as he showed a nice burst after each catch and did a good job of picking up a couple of first downs. However, his drop of Kanell’s pass over the middle on 3rd-and-4 was huge. The Giants were trailing by 10 at that point and the pass completion would have put the ball deep into Dallas territory. The drop took a lot of wind out of the Giants’ sail.

Offensive Line: Just a horrible performance by all five starting lineman. They not only got beat mentally (two many mistakes, not enough hustle, didn’t pick up stunts and blitzes well at all), but they were beat physically too. LT Roman Oben committed two false start penalties back-to-back. Scott Gragg and Greg Bishop were also flagged with penalties. When your offense is struggling and you are playing a tough defense like Dallas, it is hard enough to convert third downs and sustain drives. But when you are constantly being backed up by silly penalties, a difficult task becomes nearly impossible. As for the physical part of the game, the pass blocking got almost as bad as the run blocking. There is no way that the Dallas front four should give New York as much trouble as it did Monday on the pass rush. Their ends are very ordinary and their tackles were playing hurt. The stunting and blitzes gave the Giants problems, but we were seeing guys get beat on one-on-one match-ups all night. That is inexcusable.

There are two areas where we have problems with the coaching. Firstly, with all the blitzes Dallas used and the line’s inability to pick them up, we would have kept FB Charles Way in the backfield to help out. But play after play, the Giants chose to play with an empty backfield in obvious pass rush situations. Secondly, it seems to us with the line struggling the way it is now in the run blocking department, we would simplify things for at least the time being. To us, it looks like the Giants are trying to get too cute with all the pulling and trapping that they are doing. On one play, Leon Lett had a free run right at Kanell as Lett just shot through the spot vacated by the pulling guard.

Finally, it’s time for these guys to start playing some inspired football. They look too passive and unemotional to us out there. They need to play with an attitude and controlled anger.

Defensive Line: Not a bad game for these guys, but certainly not the one hoped for. The line largely controlled the Dallas running game, but could not exert enough of a pass rush with its down four. The Cowboys only averaged about three yards a carry on the ground and Keith Hamilton, Robert Harris, Michael Strahan, and Chad Bratzke did a good job of occupying blockers and making plays against the run. However, there were no big plays and not enough of an impact was made against a back-up quarterback. Michael Strahan was held very quiet by Erik Williams as was Chad Bratzke against Larry Allen. For all their big talk last week, Hamilton and Harris didn’t really back it up.

Linebackers: Jessie Armstead…where are you? Jessie is as invisible on the field now as Marcus Buckley used to be. We fully realize his ankle is bothering him, but he has to start making some plays. He did an awful lot of talking on the field for someone who made two tackles. MLB Corey Widmer (five tackles) played decently, but was nowhere in sight on Sherman Williams’ touchdown gallop up the middle. SLB Ryan Phillips subbed for Marcus Buckley and played very well, considering it was his first start. He was in on four tackles and did not hurt the team.

One problem we had with the coaching is that the Giants did not seem to blitz very much, even though when they did, it seemed to work very well. We would have come after QB Jason Garrett a little more than the Giants did in an attempt to force him to make a mistake.

Defensive Backs: Everyone played decently for the most part except for FS Tito Wooten who had a terrible game. Wooten’s horrible misplay of Garrett’s 80-yard TD pass to Billy Davis was simply devastating. The Giants had just scored to tie the game; the fans were into the game; and the Cowboys were not able to pick up any yards on their first two plays. Such a misplay is a rookie-like mistake and cannot be defended in any way, shape, or form. Wooten also let Deion Sanders get behind him on Sanders’ 55-yard completion — a big no-no for a free safety. He should have known better as soon as he saw Deion in the line-up. In fact, it was because he got behind Wooten that CB Carlton Gray had to take a deeper angle on the play. Those two plays accounted for 135 yards of Dallas’ 222 yards through the air. Wooten also missed a tackle on Williams’ TD run. We thought Gray played well — especially on one play where he closed on the ball very quickly to hit the receiver. Conrad Hamilton played decently. He got beat on one deep pass, but recovered in time to luckily knock the ball away. The Cowboys were not really able to exploit him. CB Phillippi Sparks also played well. Michael Irvin got behind him on one play (a ball that fell incomplete), but Sparks did a nice job on him most of the night. We would like to see SS Sam Garnes make more plays. He was only in on two tackles while S/CB Shaun Williams was in on eight.

Special Teams: We said all along that the Giants’ special teams were going to cost them at least two games this year. Well, this is game number one. After a good start, P Brad Maynard got off a poor punt that had little hang-time. The Giants’ coverage team, which was missing Brandon Sanders and Scott Galyon, looked comical trying to tackle Deion Sanders on his 59-yard punt return. What’s worse is that we saw Percy Ellsworth really dogging it on the play — totally unacceptable. Sanders later broke another huge return in the game. Teams in the NFL cannot expect to win regularly if they are constantly being out-played and out-coached on special teams.

The good news is that the Giants looked good defending Dallas’ one kick off return (the other kick was downed in the endzone). Amani Toomer also looked sharp returning punts, despite absolutely no blocking help. Heck, on certain returns, we saw both Dallas gunners unblocked and Giant “blockers” standing around watching the play. Such poor special teams play cannot simply be the responsibility of the players, it has to be the coaching too. Special Teams Coach Larry MacDuff doesn’t seem to inspire his players.

Sep 191998
 

Approach to the Game – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, September 21, 1998: Giants-Cowboys…Monday Night Football…if that isn’t enough to get your juices flowing then consider the fact that the winner of this game will be viewed, temporarily at least, as the front runner in the weak NFC East. The Cowboys will be without star QB Troy Aikman, but don’t expect a cakewalk in the Meadowlands. Despite what many may think, Dallas still a very dangerous, veteran team with plenty of experience playing in the limelight of Monday night. The Giants, for their part, are coming into the game with a banged-up linebacking corps on defense and continued problems moving the ball and generating points on offense. Both teams are trying to rebound from losses.

This is a big game for the Giants. Winning the game will not only elevate their record to 2-1, but give them a 2-0 advantage in the all-important division standings. The Giants need to come into this game fired up, but they also need to be careful to keep their emotions in check and their focus on their individual responsibilities.

Giants on Offense: The Giants’ offense is still stuck in neutral. Mental mistakes, penalties, failed third down conversion attempts, and an anemic running attack are the main culprits. The Giants need to get down to the basics again and that starts with the offensive line, a unit that did not play well against the Raiders. The Cowboys are beat up at defensive tackle and their defensive ends are nothing to write home about. DT’s Leon Lett and Chad Hennings are both nursing injuries; back-up DT Antonio Anderson will not play. LDE Greg Ellis is a promising first round draft pick, but he is still a rookie. RDE Kavika Pittman has been a disappointment. The Giants’ front five have to get mean, nasty, and physical. They need to come off the ball quickly, get their pads down, and drive the Dallas front seven off the ball. We would eschew the outside running game for the most part against Dallas. The Dallas’ linebackers are very quick and fast; the strength of their game is running to the ball. But due to their lack of size, you can run right at them. We would use a power running attack that utilizes backfield combinations of Gary Brown and Charles Way as well as Charles Way and Greg Comella. Power football run right at the defensive tackles and linebackers. Pound the ball, pound the Dallas defenders. The match-up to watch will be LG Greg Bishop against Lett. RG Ron Stone also needs to play well against Hennings.

For their part, Dallas, like the other teams the Giants have faced, will most likely stack the line of scrimmage and dare the Giants to beat them with the pass. Dallas will count on and expect CB’s Deion Sanders and Kevin Smith to shut down WR’s Ike Hilliard and Chris Calloway. Indeed, that is a very tough match-up for the Giants. Sanders is arguably the best cornerback in the game and Smith has always given Calloway problems. The strength of the Dallas defense is undoubtably their pass defense. Not only are Sanders and Smith tough, but Darren Woodson is the best strong safety in the game and the linebackers can cover. So the question is this? Do the Giants attempt to force the ball down the Cowboys’ throats with the running game, knowing Dallas will be stacked against that? Or do the Giants try to cross the Cowboys up and come out throwing on first down?

If the Giants attempt the former, it might be best to bring in an extra wide receiver or two in order to spread Dallas out. Of course, if you take that course, the fullback and/or tight end have to come out of the game and Charles Way and Howard Cross are two of the Giants’ best blockers. But by spreading Dallas out, you force a some of the defenders away from the line of scrimmage. If the Giants take the latter course of action, then bringing in an extra wide receiver or two is most definitely a good option. Dallas is not a strong pass rushing team. The Giants’ coaching staff has to assume that the offensive line can handle the rush by themselves. Plus, the Giants need to attack the weaker links in the Dallas secondary and those weak links are the new free safety, Omar Stoutmire, and the nickel back. It’s time for Head Coach Jim Fassel and QB Danny Kanell to utilize impressive rookie WR Joe Jurevicius more and matching him up on the nickel back would be a very good idea. We’d also like to get the ball more into David Patten’s hands. Denver was able to confuse Dallas last week with multiple WR-sets; the Giants may try to do the same. Sneaking TE Al Pupunu down the seam once or twice might be good idea as well.

What the Giants especially need to do is not to get too excited. The adrenaline will be pumping and QB Danny Kanell can’t afford to come out too excited and overthrow his receivers early in the game as he has been prone to do. The Giants also can’t afford a lot of silly penalties that put them in long yardage situations — like last week. It is also time for HB Tiki Barber to make some plays as a pass receiver out of the backfield. It’s not just enough to catch the ball, but he’s being paid to do something with it after the catch.

Giants on Defense: Some tough questions here in terms of strategy too. With Aikman out and the Dallas offensive line and HB Emmitt Smith playing much better than last year, the Giants will expect Dallas to run the ball early and often. The Dallas coaches know this. Will they attempt to cross the Giants up themselves by throwing instead? They do have a lot of faith in their back-up, Jason Garrett. Dallas head coach Chan Gailey has a bright offensive mind. The New York defenders had better prepare for this contingency.

But regardless, the key to winning any game is to shut down the opposition’s running game first and foremost and make them one-dimensional. As has been harped on all week, the center of the Giants’ defense, namely DT’s Robert Harris and Keith Hamilton, will be key. But so will MLB Corey Widmer. The play of these three will set the tempo, especially with OLB’s Jessie Armstead (ankle) and Marcus Buckley (hip) still ailing. Harris in particular needs to win his match-up against RG Everett McIver. Hamilton will be facing the re-injuvinated LG Nate Newton. SS Sam Garnes also needs to be active and aggressive in run support — well at the same time, keeping an eye on the tight ends. At some point of the game, and maybe from the get-go, Dallas will attempt to smash the ball down New York’s throat. They will attack the outside linebackers and they will go after the right side of the defense in particular where they will count on LT Larry Allen to dominate Chad Bratzke and for Armstead and CB Conrad Hamilton to have problems in run defense. On the left side, Michael Strahan battles his old nemesis RT Erik Williams. When Dallas is in short yardage, they like to bring in mammoth rookie lineman Flozell Adams as an extra “tight end” and power the football.

When Garrett goes to the air, he will use his backs (Smith and Daryl Johnston) and tight ends (David LaFleur and Eric Bjornson) underneath. Conversely, the Giants’ undercoverage (linebackers and strong safety) need to do a good job of keeping an eye on these guys. When Garrett goes deep, his best target is obviously WR Michael Irvin. We wouldn’t be surprised to see the Giants keep CB Phillippi Sparks on Irvin. Sparks has had good success against Irvin in the past due to the physical style of his game.

Like the offense, the defense has to be careful not to become over-excited and too aggressive. Dallas may figure that the Giant defenders will be pumped for the game and try to use their aggressiveness against them with screens, draws, reverses, and misdirection. New York also cannot afford a high number of dumb penalties again.

Giants on Special Teams: The Cowboy special teams are well-coached and playing at a top level. They punt well and kick well, cover well, and return well. If the Giants break even with Dallas in the special teams department, they may win the game. If Dallas dominates this area of the competition, the Giants may be in deep trouble. The main thing is to not let Dallas get a big return. Kevin Mathis is averaging over 30 yards a kick return for Dallas. Deion Sanders is a threat to go all the way on every punt return. Brad Daluiso and Brad Maynard both need to give their kick/punt coverage teams a good chance to control these guys. But the coverage men also have to be at the top of their game, getting down the field in a hurry, keeping to their respective lanes, and making clean, crisp tackles. Dallas may also try to come after Maynard when he punts the ball.

In the Giants’ return game, it would be great if kick returner David Patten and punt returner Amani Toomer continue to play as well as they have been playing as of late. Patten has come close to breaking one all the way on a couple of occasions.

The game may come down to Brad Daluiso’s foot.

Why do the Giants have such a hard time even come close to blocking the oppositions’ field goals and punts?

Sep 161998
 
Oakland Raiders 20 – New York Giants 17

Overview: Ugly game, ugly loss. The Giants committed too many penalties (15 for 90 yards), couldn’t convert on third down (1-for-14), couldn’t establish a running game (71 yards on 23 carries for a 3.1 yard-per-carry average), and experienced too many defensive lapses. That in a nut shell was the ball game. In order to get back on the winning track, the Giants really need to get their running game going and to stop committing so many penalties.

Quarterbacks: Danny Kanell (23 of 33 for 188 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) didn’t play as well as his stats indicate, but played well enough for the Giants to win the game. As we pointed out last week, what we like best about him at this early stage of his career is the quick decisions he is making — something that obviously helps him also get rid of the ball quickly. And surprisingly, for the most part, he is making good decisions on where to go with the ball. His biggest problem right now remains his accuracy. Not only does he need to do a better job of giving his receivers an opportunity to catch the ball, but he needs to place the ball in a better spot for the receiver to comfortably catch it and do some damage after the catch. We thought one of his best passes was the swing pass to Tiki Barber on the first drive. This pass is a lot harder to throw than most realize and Kanell did a good job of leading Barber with the throw so Tiki was near full speed, moving forward when he caught it. We also like the fact that Danny is a tough guy and will stand in the pocket and take the hit in order to deliver the ball. His touchdown toss to Chris Calloway is evidence of this as he got smashed as he threw the ball. Despite completing 23 passes, Kanell did miss too many open guys, including on key third down plays. He also has to be more aware of the yardage he needs when he does decide to run with the ball — he looked almost lackadaisical on his 3rd down scramble where he ran out of bounds before the yardage marker. And if Danny is ever going to become one of the better quarterbacks in the league, he has to lead his team successfully in the two-minute drill with the game on the line. Kanell had his chance to be the hero and either tie or win the game on the final drive and came up way short.

Wide Receivers: Decent game against two solid cornerbacks, but nothing special. What really surprised us is that the Giants did not take a couple of shots deep down the field. It is obvious that Kanell and Ike Hilliard (8 catches for 78 yards and one touchdown) are becoming more and more comfortable with each other. Hilliard came up big on the Giants’ first drive with two catches, one for 18 yards and one for 10 yards and a touchdown — on the latter, he showed real nice instincts and toughness scrambling into the endzone over the middle. Chris Calloway had a so-so game (4 catches for 43 yards and one touchdown). He made a real nice adjustment on his 20 yard touchdown catch against CB Eric Allen. But although Calloway is super-solid and Ike Hilliard is a big-time playmaker, what is readily apparent is that neither scares opposing defenses deep due to their lack of speed. The Giants need to do a better job of vertically stretching the field with their other receivers such as David Patten, Amani Toomer, and Joe Jurevicius. None of these guys had a catch in the game.

Tight Ends: Howard Cross actually had a good game in the pass receiving department. He made a couple of tough grabs (2 for 15 yards) and had a big catch and run called back. Al Pupunu (1 catch for 2 yards) was practically invisible. Again, the tight ends much share some of the blame for the anemic running attack.

Halfbacks/Fullbacks: What is going wrong with the rushing attack? To be honest, we’re not sure. Is it the offensive line? Is it the backs? Most likely, it’s a combination of both. Tiki Barber (13 for 32 yards and a terrible 2.5 yard-per-carry average) does not seem to be hitting the holes when they are there or running very decisively. Oh sure, he had a couple of decent runs, including a nice looking run to the right in the second half, but the Giants need more than a flash here and there. They need consistent productivity. Granted there are some runs where the blocking is not there and he has no chance, but on a number of others, there seems to be running room and he isn’t taking advantage of his opportunities. We also don’t see that shake-and-bake elusiveness and explosion that we saw in camp last year and early on in the 1997 season. He is getting tackled way too easily. The good news is that he’s getting better as a receiver (5 catches for 34 yards). His big catch-and-run on 3rd-and-long was “Meggett-like” in that he cut back against the grain and showed some real toughness fighting for the necessary yardage.

Gary Brown (3 carries for 0 yardage) hasn’t really been given a chance to get into a rhythm. He had no chance on his 3rd-and-short attempt when he was gang-tackled in the backfield for a loss. We’d still like to see what he can do as a feature guy, but we’re not sure that will ever happen in this offense. FB Charles Way played a bad game. After his 21 yard gain on the first drive, he only picked up seven yards on his next four carries. On one run, he completely missed a nice looking hole the line had formed for him.

Offensive Line: Not a very good game for this group. The Raiders controlled the line of scrimmage, shut down the running game, and got too much pressure on Danny Kanell. Of course, the latter is largely the result of the absence of a running game. Most distressing is the fact that the Giants could not convert on their numerous 3rd-and-short attempts throughout the game. We wonder if the offense is trying to be a little too cute right now with all the pulling up front. Mobility is not a strength of this line. Perhaps the Giants would be better off trying some mano-a-mano stuff up front — straight ahead drive blocking. What we really didn’t like was seeing the guards pull on the above-mentioned Gary Brown short-yardage conversion attempt. Pulling in short yardage invites penetration. In pass protection, we saw LT Roman Oben get cleanly beaten for one of the few times in his young career (by Pat Swilling). RT Scott Gragg also gave up a sack. The interior trio also had some problems with pressure and blitzes up the gut. There were also four costly holding penalties (though we thought the Lance Scott holding call was BS).

Defensive Line: Yes, Michael Strahan (6 tackles) and Chad Bratzke (7 tackles, two assists) each picked up two more sacks this week, but we thought the line only played an average game. Jeff George had far too much time in many obvious passing situations. DT’s Keith Hamilton, Robert Harris, Christian Peter, and Bernard Holsey did not get enough pressure up the middle. Most inexcusable were the four off-sides penalties picked up by Hamilton and Harris. Strahan played the run well, but Bratzke must share some of the responsibility for the soft run defense on the right side. Harris did force a key fumble in the second half. Cedric Jones made a nice play against the run and then followed it up with some decent pressure on George on the very next play.

Linebackers: The Giants’ linebackers are hurting. All three starters were hampered with injuries. Right now, WLB Jessie Armstead is a shell of his former self. It was brutally obvious that his ankle injury was causing him all kinds of problems. Jessie was a real liability in run defense and he and MLB Corey Widmer were successfully neutralized on Napoleon Kaufman’s 80-yard touchdown scamper on the first offensive play of the game. Marcus Buckley (hip) also looked gimpy out there. His poor coverage on TE Rickey Dudley let Dudley pick up 26 yards on 3rd-and-26 late in the game. Marcus was also flagged for being off-sides as was SLB Ryan Phillips. Scott Galyon was forced to leave the game early with an Achilles injury. He did look good on one dog up the middle. Armstead’s best play of the game was on a blitz where he sacked George.

Defensive Backs: This group did not play as badly as the stats would indicate. Tim Brown did pick up over 120 yards, but a couple of big plays to him were simply well-executed throws and catches where the defensive back had little chance to break up the pass. Brown beat CB Conrad Hamilton for a 22-yard touchdown. Brown got a step on Conrad on the play. Brown also beat CB Carlton Gray for a 29 yard gain on 3rd-and-10, but Carlton had Brown extremely well covered — it was an excellent throw from George. The Raiders rarely went after Phillippi Sparks and that speaks volumes about the game he had. Tito Wooten had nine tackles, but dropped an interception that he might have been able to return for a touchdown. He also might have been at least partially responsible for Dudley’s 26-yard completion. The safeties were nowhere in sight on Kaufman’s TD run. CB Shaun Williams was burned badly on one key long completion.

Special Teams: Except for one long kick-off return and one miss from Brad Daluiso, the special teams played well. Brad Daluiso was excellent on his kick-offs, nailing three into the endzone. He made two field goals, but his one miss cost the Giants dearly. Kick off coverage remains a problem. Because of Daluiso’s long kicks, the Raiders were only able to return one kick, but they did so for 42 yards. Brad Maynard punted extremely well and punt coverage was very good. Amani Toomer screwed up on one punt but letting the ball bounce instead of fielding it, but redeemed himself with an excellent punt return later in the game. David Patten looked real sharp returning kicks and the Giants are now doing a nice job of blocking for him.

Sep 111998
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Oakland Raiders, September 13, 1998: Sandwiched between two very important division games, this game has “letdown” written all over it. Besides the difficulties resulting from a cross-country trip, the Giants run the very real risk of taking the Raiders too lightly. Oakland is not as bad as it seemed last Sunday. Moreover, Raider head coach Jon Gruden (former Eagles’ offensive coordinator) knows the Giants’ personnel. Regardless, this is important game for the Giants. The team obviously would like to be 2-0 heading into its Monday night confrontation with Dallas rather than 1-1. If the Giants can keep their focus and intensity, as well as play smart, sound football and come away with a win, we will be VERY impressed.

Giants on Offense: The Raiders have a lot of explosive weapons and can put a lot of points up on the board, so a much better offensive performance this week will most likely be required if the Giants are to win. A ball-control attack that controls the clock and tempo of the game would be ideal. This is the game where we think the Giants might be able to start making some headway with their running game. The Raiders have two very good defensive tackles in Russell Maryland and Darrell Russell, but they are light at the ends and in the linebacking corps. We would run off-tackle on these guys for most of the day.

The key is to get an early lead.

The Raiders are most likely expecting the Giants to run the ball. Thus, look for their defensive coordinator to have his players crowd the line of scrimmage and dare the Giants’ wide receivers and QB Danny Kanell to beat them. We would use the passing game early on in the contest to set up the running game. The Raiders have three new starters in the secondary: the super-talented but raw CB Charles Woodson, CB Eric Allen (remember him guys?), and S Anthony Newman. Hopefully, Head Coach Jim Fassel has some tricks up his sleeve to confuse this group that hasn’t played long together. Such a passing attack would not only involve the wide receivers, but TE’s Alfred Pupunu and Howard Cross as well as RB’s Tiki Barber and Charles Way.

The onus will be clearly on the offensive line to successfully block, the receivers to get open, and QB Danny Kanell to deliver the ball accurately. Hurt the Raiders through the air — get them to back off their safeties from the line of scrimmage. Make the linebackers conscious of the backs catching passes. Put some points on the board and then switch to the ground game.

Interesting match-ups to watch will be LG Greg Bishop on DT Russell Maryland and RG Ron Stone (who is coming off a bad week for him) on DT Darrell Russell. If Bishop and Stone can control their opponents, the Raiders will be in a lot of trouble. If the Raiders win these match-ups, the Giants may have trouble moving the ball. It will also be interesting to see the veteran Eric Allen take on the green Ike Hilliard and the green Charles Woodson take on the veteran Chris Calloway. The Raiders will be counting on to win these match-ups. Hilliard and Calloway need to play good games. Also look for the Giants to continue to use multiple-WR formations in order to get Joe Jurevicius, Amani Toomer, and David Patten into the game. We wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Al Pupunu to have a big role either.

Giants on Defense: The way to beat the Raiders on offense is to be VERY physical with them. The Raiders are VERY dangerous offensively. They are loaded at the skill positions. QB Jeff George has a rocket for an arm, has very good accuracy, and a superb quick release. WR Tim Brown is one of the best wide receivers in the game. WR James Jett is a speed demon. TE Rickey Dudley can hurt teams with the big play over the middle. HB Napoleon Kaufman is the most explosive running back in the league. Where the Raiders are weak is in their foundation — the offensive line is not very good. The Giants’ defensive line must, absolutely must, dominate the Raider offensive line or the Giants will not win the game. We are very worried about two things: (1) since the Raider line was horrible last week, the coaches undoubtably have been riding them all week and they are likely to rebound somewhat, and (2) since the Giants’ defensive line was so dominant last week, we’re afraid their play might have gone to their collective heads. It had better not. DE Chad Bratzke and DE Michael Strahan should win their battles against LT Pat Harlow and RT Lincoln Kennedy, respectively. Both are better pass blockers than run blockers. DT Keith Hamilton draws the toughest assignment by facing LG Steve Wisniewski, a very tough, dirty player. It will be important for DT Robert Harris to have a good game against the pass and the run.

As always, the best way to beat a team is to make them one-dimensional. Take away the run and force them to pass. The more they pass, the more likely they are to make mistakes. Don’t let HB’s Napoleon Kaufman and Harvey Williams get going. Control the line of scrimmage. Aside from Wisniewski, the Raiders aren’t very tough up front. We hope the defensive line plays a very physical game. The linebackers also have to be quick to fill the holes inside and outside. If Kaufman gets a crease, he’s gone. Since the Raiders like to run sweeps to Kaufman and throw to him out of the backfield, sure-tackling in the secondary will be critical.

In the passing game, we’d like to keep WLB Jessie Armstead matched-up on Kaufman, but we aren’t sure how mobile Jessie (sprained ankle) will be. That could hurt. SS Sam Garnes and/or SLB Marcus Buckley also need to do a good job on TE Rickey Dudley. Jam him at the line and get into his face. Gruden also has a history of having his quarterbakc throw to the fullback. The Giants had better keep one eye on FB Jon Ritchie or Harvey Williams.

Three years ago, CB Phillippi Sparks played a great game against WR Tim Brown. He did so by being VERY physical with him at the line of scrimmage. We hope Phillippi plays in the same style. Same with Conrad Hamilton. James Jett doesn’t handle the bump-and-run very well. The good news is that Conrad likes to play a physical game. The risk is that Jett has more speed than Conrad and can blow right past him. It will be interesting to see who receives more playing time when the Giants go to their nickel — Shaun Williams or the newly signed Carlton Gray. Gray is very talented, but doesn’t know the defense yet.

Stuff the run. Then jam the receivers (including the tight end) and get after the passer. The best way to defeat a good passer like Jeff George is to get into his face and punish him.

But be careful. Gruden knows that the Giants’ pass rushers will most likely be licking their chops trying to inflate their sack totals against the team. He also knows the Giants run a very aggressive defense. Look out for screens, draws, and misdirection plays. Gruden will use these plays not only to move the ball, but to slow down the pass rush.

Giants on Special Teams: Can’t afford to lose this battle to the Raiders. We need strong kick-off and punt coverage. There were too many big plays given up on returns last week. Desmond Howard will be looking to redeem himself after two costly turnovers against the Chiefs. In the return game, it is interesting to note that Amani Toomer returned all the punts last week. Will the Giants try to cross the Raiders up this week by using Tiki Barber, who has a much different style? The blocking on kick-offs has gotten noticeably better the last couple of weeks. We hope this continues as we think it is only a matter of time before David Patten takes one the distance. The Raiders may try to come after Brad Maynard. There was a breakdown in punt protection against the Skins which the Raiders most likely noticed.

Sep 091998
 
New York Giants 31 – Washington Redskins 24

Overview: This game was huge victory for the Giants. It was a tone-setter and a message to the rest of their divisional opponents. The story of the game was the defense, and the defensive line in particular. They were dominant, sacking Redskin quarterbacks eight times and forcing turnovers that led directly to touchdowns. The offense and special teams were shaky and much improvement is still needed there if the Giants are to successfully defend their crown. The Giants cannot afford to rest on their laurels. They have to keep it going and as they face an obvious letdown game this Sunday against the Raiders.

Quarterbacks: Danny Kanell (15 out of 28 for 159 yards, two touchdowns and one interception) was poised, but did not play particularly well. His accuracy was ordinary at best and he made a couple of potentially very costly decisions in the game. His worst throw came in the redzone when he threw a terrible interception in the endzone with the Giants trailing 10-3 shortly before the end of the first half. Indeed, we are not even sure who the Kanell was throwing to as there was no Giant in the vicinity of his pass. Fortunately for Kanell and the team, the Redskins were flagged for defensive holding on the play and Kanell hit Chris Calloway on the very next play for a touchdown. This might have been his best play of the game, as he showed great patience and anticipation, holding the ball until the very last moment and hitting the well-covered Calloway for the game-tying score. We also liked the fact that Kanell threw to a variety of receivers and did a nice job of making quick reads and getting rid of the ball quickly. He usually made good decisions and seemed confident leading the team. At other times however his receivers were forced to stretch out and make twisting catches or the pass was well off the mark. Indeed, given the fine pass protection he was afforded, we expect much better from him. He missed a great opportunity to hit David Patten deep for a touchdown and he also forced a pass into double coverage — a pass that was intercepted and gave the Redskins another opportunity to get back into the game. Many fans may think we are being overly harsh, but if the Giants are going to win big this year, they need better play from Danny.

Wide Receivers: A much better performance than last year, but this young group has a way to go too. What we liked most was that everyone seemed to be involved. Calloway, Ike Hilliard, Joe Jurevicius, and Amani Toomer all made plays. David Patten beat CB Darryl Pounds deep for what should have been a touchdown if the pass was on the mark. It is interesting to note that Fassel did indeed open things up, often playing 3- and 4-wide receiver formations. Calloway (3 catches for 21 yards) had a decent game against a tough opponent in CB Chris Dishman. His heads up play in the end zone where he faked Dishman out by changing directions and catching the game-tying touchdown was a thing of beauty. Ike Hilliard (2 catches for 50 yards) made some plays and showed some good after-the-catch elusiveness. However, he dropped a well-thrown pass from Kanell on 3rd-and-short. His long catch in the second quarter that set up the first touchdown was a blown coverage by the Skins. Jurevicius (1 catch for 22 yards) looked real sharp catching a well-thrown pass from Kanell on a crossing route and demonstrating a little burst after the catch. Amani Toomer (3 catches for 32 yards) played very well after Ike Hilliard left the game. He did a real nice job coming down with Kanell’s 22-yard touchdown throw late in the third quarter.

Tight Ends: Howard Cross made a few short catches, but wasn’t much of a factor in the passing game (3 catches for 12 yards). The Giants weren’t really able to get their ground game going, even though they attacked the perimeter a great deal. Cross must share some of the blame there.

Halfbacks: Not that great, though there wasn’t much room to run. Tiki Barber and Gary Brown received all of the halfback carries; Ty Wheatley was not even activated for the game. The good news is that Barber (12 carries for 37 yards) didn’t fumble the ball. (The ball did come loose once after he was clearly down — and given the state of the refereeing in the league right now, we hope Tiki holds onto the ball better even after the play should be ruled dead). Tiki ran pretty tough inside for him, but he really wasn’t able to break tackles or a long run. He made a big play in the passing game catching a pass where the Redskins forgot to cover him, but the play was mysteriously brought back due to penalty. Tiki also had a costly drop on a well-thrown ball from Kanell — a play where Tiki might have done some real damage if he held onto the ball. His worst play of the game was not recovering Jesse Campbell’s fumble — a mistake that could have proven very costly. Fall on the ball Tiki; don’t try to run with it!!! Barber did make a real nice block on one Way run. For his part, Brown (7 carries for 21 yards) was so-so. He had a few nice runs in the fourth quarter when the Giants were attempting to run the clock out, but he also misread his blocking on a big 3rd-and-2 late in the fourth. We thought if Brown had taken the play inside instead of continuing outside, he would have easily picked up the first down and the Redskins never would have gotten the ball back.

Fullbacks: As usual, we saw Charles Way make a number of excellent run blocks. But he was never really able to get going as a runner (10 carries for 25 yards) or pass receiver (3 catches for 22 yards). He did show real nice power and second effort on his 2-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

Offensive Line: Just like the preseason — real solid in pass protection, shoddy run blocking. Give the Redskins some credit too — those new defensive tackles did cause some problems and their ends and linebackers played well in run defense. Somewhat surprisingly, Greg Bishop outplayed Ron Stone. Granted Bishop received a lot of help in his match-up against Dana Stubblefield, but he kept his opponent at bay for most of the game. It was Dan Wilkinson who was giving the Giants, and specifically Stone, fits at times. Bishop was flagged with a couple of false start penalties (though one looked like a phantom call). Lance Scott was a little shaky at times inside too. That being said, pass protection was real solid and there were good holes at times in the running game. The biggest problem in the running game right now is that there seems to be a breakdown from one player that disrupts what is otherwise a well-blocked play.

Defensive Line: These guys were dominant and much of the credit for the victory rests with them. DE’s Michael Strahan and Chad Bratzke toyed with their opponents (Shar Pourdanesh and Brad Badger, respectively) all day long. Though he had problems at times with running plays run right at him, Bratzke (2 sacks) looks poised for a break-out year. Strahan picked up two sacks, caused a holding penalty that brought back a Redskin touchdown, and made an incredible athletic play on a zone-blitz where he followed TE Jamie Asher across the formation and intercepted a Gus Frerotte pass that he returned for a touchdown. Bratzke also made an excellent play on a zone-blitz where he sniffed out a screen and tackled Terry Allen for a short gain on a play that might have done a lot of damage. Inside, Keith Hamilton (2 sacks) was a force, both against the pass and the run. Robert Harris picked up a sack and even reserve DT Christian Peter got into the act, making a key momentum changing play with his sack and forced fumble on QB Trent Green.

Linebackers: Decent, but not great game for this bunch. The guys outside stood out more in pass coverage than against the run. From our vantage point, Jessie Armstead and Scott Galyon had as much problems disengaging from blocks as did Marcus Buckley. We’d say the guy who had the best game was Corey Widmer inside. He was exploited somewhat in coverage (once for a short TD to FB Larry Bowie and on a long pass to reserve TE Stephen Alexander), but he was real tough against the run. Ryan Phillips got into the game when Marcus Buckley (hip pointer) was forced to leave and didn’t embarrass himself. Somebody did let Alexander get wide open on his touchdown catch however.

Defensive Backs: Many may disagree, but we really don’t think Conrad Hamilton played that poorly. The touchdown against him in the first quarter was a superbly run route and perfectly thrown ball — Conrad had little chance on the play. It was obvious that the Redskins were going after him all day long and they really didn’t win the battle liked they hoped they would. The Redskins even tried to soften him up with the running game by constantly running at him with a big pulling guard. Conrad did give up a couple of intermediate passes and one deep pass to Sheppard, but for the most part he didn’t hurt his team. Indeed, his diving effort of Phillippi Sparks’ tip of a Gus Frerotte pass turned the game around. He came up and smacked Allen on one short pass, but we’d like to see better run defense from him. There also looked to be a mental mix-up between him and FS Tito Wooten on Michael Westbrook’s deep catch late in the third quarter — Conrad was probably supposed to jam Westbrook and didn’t. Shaun Williams held up well. It didn’t seem that the Skins were able to burn him so we assume he did a decent job in coverage. CB Phillippi Sparks played a very good game against both the pass and the run — though he and FS Percy Ellsworth were burned deep for a touchdown by Michael Westbrook — fortunately the play was called by back because of a holding penalty. Other than that, Sparks mostly shut down his man and the Skins stayed away from him. He did drop what could have been a crucial interception on the Redskins’ last drive. Safeties Tito Wooten and Sam Garnes were active in run support and didn’t seem to be exploited in coverage, aside from the above-mentioned Westbrook play.

Special Teams: Mixed bag here. The good news was the blocking on kick returns. The Giants are vastly improved here and David Patten is developing into a real nice kick returner. He broke off a huge return and almost scored on the play — receiving a great block from Scott Galyon. Brad Daluiso’s kick-offs were solid and he nailed his only field goal attempt. Brad Maynard’s punting was excellent except for one punt. Amani Toomer was sure-handed fielding punts and although the Redskin punter and coverage didn’t give him many return opportunities, he did have one nice return where he headed up the field instead of toward the sidelines like he usually does. The bad news continues to be kick and punt coverage. The Giants gave up a big punt return to Brian Mitchell on a play where Doug Colman missed a tackle and Percy Ellsworth didn’t stick to his lane. The Skins were also picking up way too much yardage on kick returns. Yes, there were a number of excellent tackles for little yardage, but giving up even one big return a game is one too many. Greg Comella did a real poor job of protection on the play where Maynard almost had his punt blocked.

Sep 041998
 

Approach to the Game – Washington Redskins at New York Giants, September 6, 1998: One could argue that the pressure is all on the Giants because this is the home game for them in the home-and-away series. However, we think the pressure falls mostly on the Redskins and head coach Norv Turner. Most “experts” are predicting the Skins to overtake the Giants and win the division because of their improvement at the defensive tackle position. If the Skins lose this game, there will be hell to pay in the Washington, DC area. If the Giants lose? Well, not many are giving them a chance anyway.

And that gets to the heart of the matter — the Giants continue to get NO RESPECT from fans, media, and other teams. Like last year, earning that respect should be the Giants’ battle cry throughout the season. Even those who felt the Giants had a good chance to win the NFC East again are dwindling in number with the loss of CB Jason Sehorn. “No chance,” they say.

Well, the Giants get their chance to make a statement on Sunday — a statement that should be heard loud and clear around the rest of the league.

This game will be a war. Both teams have prepared long and hard for each other since the opening of camp. The Redskins were humiliated in the Meadowlands last year and they want payback. Their tough defense got even tougher in the offseason. They do have weapons on offense. Their special teams are stronger than ours. The game could come down to a turnover or special teams play.

The crowd could also make a difference. A Special Request from the Editor: Be loud and stay loud Giants’ fans. Make life hell for the Redskins’ offense. You can make a difference in this game!

Giants on Offense: Don’t fool yourselves Giants’ fans. The Skins’ defense will be one of the best in the NFL in 1998. Despite a horrible run defense last year, it was extremely tough to pass against the Skins. Giants’ wide receivers had little success beating CB’s Chris Dishman and Darrell Green last year. The Giants really don’t have the kind of tight end they would need to exploit their linebackers in coverage. To make matters worse, the Redskins added two big time studs to the defensive tackle position in Dana Stubblefield and Dan Wilkinson. Now the Skins will be tough to run on and to pass on. Throw in well-respected defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and you have a recipe for trouble for the Giants on Sunday.

The weakest spots on the Skins’ defense is at both defensive end spots and at strong safety. Their linebackers are also not strong in coverage, save for rookie OLB Shawn Barber (he doesn’t start, but he’s a guy who has Jessie Armstead-like coverage ability and the Skins could use him in the nickel). There is also a noticeable drop off in talent after the two starting corners so the Skins’ nickel package might be somewhat vulnerable. These are the areas we would attack the Skins.

Last year in the Meadowlands, Fassel ran outside at the ends, and we see little reason why he would change this strategy other than the fact that the Redskins will expect this. The key will be the performance of the offensive line. Greg Bishop is going to have his hands full with Dana Stubblefield and he will probably need help from OC Lance Scott. That makes it critical for Ron Stone to win his match-up against Wilkinson and for Roman Oben and Scott Gragg to not have too many problems against Kelvin Kinney and Kenard Lang/Jamal Duff respectively. The Giants have a big and physical line that has now played together for a couple of years. If the offensive line can’t control the line of scrimmage for the most part, then the Giants will have an extremely difficult time winning the game.

It looks like Tiki Barber has won the starting halfback job. He could be the difference in the game. Tiki is an explosive back who can go the distance. He could also be a nightmare for the linebackers or SS Jesse Campbell to cover. However, he could also cost the Giants the game with his fumbling. We hate to sound melodramatic, but this game could be a key crossroads in Tiki’s career in terms of his coach’s (and the fans’) faith in his ability. We still wouldn’t use him heavily. We’d pick our spots — mainly using him as a target in the passing game. The guy who we would feature is FB Charles Way — not only in a one-back role, but also in a two-back role with rookie free agent Greg Comella playing the blocking back. We know the season opener against a hated division rival is a tough place to play a rookie, but we really think the Giants can smash the football at the Skins with these two in the backfield. In short yardage situations, get Tiki out of the game. The only backs who should get the short yardage carries are Gary Brown or Charles Way.

Going into the preseason, we thought that Fassel would open things up against the Skins by spreading out the formation on first down and throwing the ball. He still may do that. However, the fact that the Giants ran this type of offense a lot against the Jets in the season dress rehearsal has us wondering. Why would Fassel show it if he is going to use it? Be that as it may, we still think this might be a good idea. Chris Calloway isn’t likely to do much damage against the Skins’ cornerbacks. Chris Dishman pretty much easily controlled him last year. The key to the passing game will probably be the green-as-grass Ike Hilliard versus the old savvy Darrell Green. That’s a lot to put on Hilliard’s shoulders. That’s why we would go three-wide and pass quite a bit to David Patten, Joe Jurevicius, or Amani Toomer against Skins’ nickel back Darryl Pounds. Whoever of these guys is lined up against Pounds, it is crucial for them to beat him. If they do so, then QB Danny Kanell should have two decent options to throw to. What we do firmly believe is that the Giants won’t make a living throwing the ball only on third down. The need to come out passing on first down on some plays and they must successfully execute these plays.

What hurts the Giants a great deal is that Al Pupunu (strained knee) isn’t ready. He would have been ideal to attack the Skins’ linebackers in coverage. Howard Cross will have to keep them honest. We also anticipate QB Danny Kanell throwing a great deal to Way and Barber. The Giants didn’t throw much to Way in the preseason — we think they were hiding it. Blitz pick-ups by the backs will be very important too.

So the line has to block against the pass and the run; the runners have to pick up yardage on the ground and through the air; and the receivers need to get open and make plays after the catch. But what much also comes down to is Kanell standing tough in the pocket, accurately delivering the ball, not making mistakes, and making an occasional big play. Kanell believes he can become one of the best quarterbacks in the game. This is his first chance to prove it in 1998.

Giants on Defense: Norv Turner and the Redskins believe they can run on the Giants — especially with Marcus Buckley playing the strongside linebacking spot. They also think they can take advantage of CB Conrad Hamilton, who is starting in place of Jason Sehorn.

The key for the Giants defense will be to shut down the running game. If the Redskins are able to run the ball, this will take a huge amount of pressure off of QB Gus Frerotte and he will be able to use play action passes to burn the Giants. The run defense starts all up front with Chad Bratzke, Keith Hamilton, Robert Harris, and Michael Strahan. These four must have a good game or the Giants will be in deep trouble. The Redskins have a revamped offensive line. Their best player is OG Tre Johnson. He has been bothered by a shoulder condition, but he will play. Hamilton and Harris need to dominate the interior trio of Johnson, OC Cory Raymer, and OG Joe Patton. Outside, Bratzke and Strahan should do well against tackles Brad Badger and Shar Pourdanesh, respectively. The Giants very much need to win these match-ups.

The Skins will most likely test Marcus Buckley a great deal on the strongside. But Bratzke and WLB Jessie Armstead are light too. Buckley and Armstead need to play stout and tough against the run. The Giants also need a good effort from MLB Corey Widmer. Thankfully, run defense is the strength of his game, but the Giants need him at his very best on Sunday. He has to disengage from blocks quickly and forcefully and flow to wherever the ball carrier is. The last line of defense in run defense is the secondary. CB’s Phillippi Sparks and Conrad Hamilton as well as S’s Sam Garnes and Tito Wooten will have to be aggressive against the run and make sure tackles. The bad news is that the safeties will have to be more conservative than normal because of Conrad Hamilton’s inexperience at corner. They won’t be able to cheat up as much as they did last year. Garnes’ run defense may very well be the key to the game. Also be careful of the wide receiver reverse! The Skins like to use this play in big games and WR Leslie Sheppard has great speed. Norv Turner may try the reverse early in order to take some of the steam out of the aggressive and young defense.

Against the pass, much will depend on the pressure the front four bring. If the defensive line can not get consistent pressure on its own, then Defensive Coordinator John Fox may be forced to blitz more than he would like given Conrad Hamilton’s inexperience. Regardless, we do look for Fox to blitz — but how much depends on the front four. If the Giants can get into Gus Frerotte’s face, they can disrupt his timing with his receivers and cause him to throw before he is ready. But give Gus and the Skins’ wide receivers too much time, and the Skins will have little trouble moving the ball.

The linebackers will play a key role in pass defense as well. The Skins like to throw to FB Larry Bowie and TE Jamie Asher. They also may try to get their new receiving tight end, Stephen Alexander, in the game. The good news is that Buckley is a better pass defender than Corey Miller. Nickel backer Scott Galyon should have a huge role too. Look for the Skins to try to isolate Corey Widmer on one of the tight ends or backs — that could be trouble.

As for the wide receivers versus the defensive backs, keep in mind that the Redskins were without Leslie Sheppard last year when we faced them. He’s a vital deep threat in their system. They may try to isolate him against CB Shaun Williams. Michael Westbrook is an enigma, but he torched the Giants in the first game in DC when he was matched up against Phillippi Sparks. When he’s on his game, he is a difference maker. His size alone will present problems for Sparks and Hamilton. When the Skins go to three wides, impressive looking second-year man Albert Connell can make plays as can James Thrash. Norv Turner will try to isolate his best players on those perceived weak spots in the Giants defense. He may use the backs and tight ends to prevent the safeties from helping out outside. The chess match between Turner and Fox will be something to watch.

Giants on Special Teams: Close games are decided by special teams play. In punt and kick returner Brian Mitchell, the Skins have one of the best in the business. Unfortunately, it looks like the Giants will be without their best special teams player, S Brandon Sanders. The Giants need someone else besides Shaun Williams, Scott Galyon, and Doug Colman to make plays in punt and kick coverage. Field position will be absolutely critical in this game. That’s also why the Giants need P Brad Maynard to play like he did in the first three preseason games, and not the last game.

When the Skins are punting or attempting a field goal — watch out for the fake!!! The Skins tried this two years ago in the Meadowlands and they scored a touchdown on the play. In the punt return game, the Giants need Tiki Barber (or Amani Toomer) to field the ball cleanly and hold onto it first and foremost. Turnovers could prove very costly. After that, the Giants need to block well for the punt returner in order to give him a chance. Same story on kick-offs where David Patten may prove to be a difference maker. Michigan alums Tyrone Wheatley and Amani Toomer could have a role here too.

Then there is Brad Daluiso. It may all come down to him. The Giants can’t afford any misses from him. This game is too important.