Oct 301998

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Washington Redskins, November 1, 1998: This is a critical game for the Giants. The team cannot afford to take the Redskins lightly. Yes, Washington is 0-7 and the team seems resigned to the fact that Norv Turner will not be coaching the team in 1999. But there are a few warning signs heading into this one. First, the Redskins are overdue for a win. NFL teams simply do not go winless. Secondly, the Redskin players probably feel that they can beat the Giants. Whether accurate or not, the Redskins do not equate the Giants with teams like the Broncos, Vikings, and 49ers. Since much of the game is mental, this belief will undoubtably help their confidence. These are the type of games that good teams hate to play — because they are fraught with peril. But good teams win the games they are supposed to win.

Giants on Offense: The Giants’ offense was very impressive in their last performance. But one game does not mean a damn thing. If the Giants’ offense is to prove that they have turned the corner, it must do so on a regular basis. The best scenario for the Giants is to march down the field on their first or second drive and put up a quick seven points. Take away any remaining confidence from the other team and get the Redskin fans booing their own team. If the offense can’t put together some impressive drives and the Redskins hang in the game, then the Giants will most likely be involved in a 60-minute dogfight similar to the game the Redskins played against the Eagles a few weeks back.

So how should the Giants attack the Skins? Well, the Redskin run defense has remained porous this year. On top of that, DT Dana Stubblefield will be out with a knee injury. The bad news is that his replacement, Marc Boutte (who is also ailing with a sprained ankle), has historically played well against the Giants. Regardless, we would use the same strategy that the Giants employed against the Cardinals — a steady diet of Gary Brown running behind a big offensive line and FB Charles Way. Obviously much depends on the line. They need to come off the ball as quickly and aggressively as they did against Arizona. Key match-ups will be RG Ron Stone against DT Dan Wilkinson (Wilkinson gave Stone some problems in the opener) and LG Greg Bishop against Boutte. It will be important for the tackles to handle their respective foes.

When the Giants put the ball in the air, I would go after their nickel back Darryl Pounds. Isolating HB Tiki Barber on a linebacker would be good too — IF Tiki can hold onto the ball and show that little extra burst that has so far been missing this year. Aside from Tiki, the other way to attack the linebackers in coverage is to use the tight end. Al Pupunu is supposedly the healthiest he has been all year. Howard Cross played well two weeks ago and was a big factor in against the Skins in the Meadowlands last year. CB Chris Dishman is having a down year, but he can still rise to the occasion. Still, we would take some shots in his direction. This might be a big game for WR Amani Toomer.

Much attention will remain on Danny Kanell, who will be coming off surgery to remove a benign tumor and who is also recovering from a stomach virus. Danny played well against Arizona when he had the benefit of a strong running game. Good quarterbacks play well in a consistent manner. Let’s hope Danny doesn’t revert back to his play against Tampa and Atlanta.

Giants on Defense: These guys need to set the tempo from the get go. They cannot afford to let the Redskins’ offense gain a rhythm or any kind of confidence. No mistakes. Play punishing football and force turnovers. In other words, play Giants football.

The guys who can dominate the game if their minds are right are the defensive line. The Skins’ offensive line has struggled much of the season. If the Giants play inspired football and don’t take anything for granted, this battle could be decisive. LDE Michael Strahan versus RT Shar Pourdanesh and RDE Chad Bratzke versus LT Brad Badger are very important battles. The Giants have to count on Strahan and Bratzke winning these match-ups. Since Washington will try to establish the running game, the play of DT’s Keith Hamilton and Robert Harris will be critical. Most importantly, the entire line (and the linebackers) have to keep QB Trent Green from beating the Giants with his feet. Green is a tough, dangerous scrambler.

Speaking of the linebackers, this will be a big game for them. The Redskins ran at Bratzke and the outside linebackers (Jessie Armstead in particular) in the season opener. Look for the Skins to run left at these two again. I hope MLB Corey Widmer steps it up as he will be a big factor here too. He needs to flow to the ball quickly and watch for the cut back run. The Skins also like to run reverses to WR Leslie Sheppard. When HB Brian Mitchell is in the game, a trick play is always possible (i.e., a halfback pass, the option, etc.). The linebackers must play with discipline and read their keys properly.

When the ball is put up in the air, the Redskins may use their tight ends quite a bit. Look for the Redskins to try to force Widmer to cover Jamie Asher or Stephen Alexander. Marcus Buckley and Scott Galyon need to play well in coverage too. The Skins also feel that Michael Westbrook playing against Phillippi Sparks or Conrad Hamilton is a mismatch. They may be right. Sparks had all kinds of problems with Westbrook in DC last year and Hamilton had a rough outing against both Skins’ receivers in the opening (though he has vastly improved his game). It will be important for FS Tito Wooten to not get suckered by play fakes like he has much of this season.

Giants on Special Teams: Brian Mitchell can do a lot of damage returning kicks and punts. Let’s pray the Giants’ coverage teams are at the top of their game for the entire game. Guys like Shaun Williams, Scott Galyon, Doug Colman, and Brandon Sanders can have an impact here. KR David Patten broke one two weeks ago, but a holding penalty nullified a touchdown. Let’s see if the team can get it right this time. Maybe it’s Amani’s turn!

Oct 211998
New York Giants 34 – Arizona Cardinals 7

by FP in VA

Overview: Whenever the Giants are in need of life, it’s a good thing if the Cardinals are next on the schedule. Arizona came into the game at .500, in second place, and looking to get over the hump. With a defensive line stocked by first-round draft choices, and QB Jake Plummer leading an offense with some weapons, the Cardinals were looking to make a statement. Instead the Giants made a statement. Much-maligned QB Danny Kanell thoroughly out-played Plummer, having the best game of his young career, while the Giants dominated both lines of scrimmage. The Giants much-abused offensive line gave Kanell plenty of time to throw, even in the face of numerous blitzes, and drove the Cardinals’ vaunted DL off the line for Gary Brown’s 100-yard effort. The Giants defensive line showed the Cardinals how a great defensive line PLAYS, rather than just looking great on paper. The Giants DL received help from the banged-up secondary, which still managed to cover the Cardinals’ talented receiving corps.

The win, combined with the Cowboys’ surprising loss to the lowly Bears, leaves the Giants still alive, a mere one game out of first place. The Giants will have a bye, and come out of the bye with a visit to the laughingstock Washington Deadskins. The Giants will have a chance to finish the first half of the season at 4-4. With the recent play of the Packers (losing two straight) and 49’ers (Needing black-striped gifts to beat the Colts in Frisco), the second half of the season looks slightly less imposing.

Quarterback: Danny Kanell clearly played the best game of his NFL career, completing 22 of 36 passes for 259 yards, 3 TDs, and 0 interceptions. Kanell was sacked just once. The yardage and TD totals were career highs for Kanell. Kanell was sharp from the beginning, even though the Giants had to punt on their first series. He threw a screen pass to Charles Way that would have gained yardage had Jimmy Hoffa not reached up from his grave to trip Way, then executed a perfect play-action bomb that the normally-reliable Chris Calloway allowed to slip through his arms. Calloway clearly beat the cornerback and had two steps. Kanell lofted a perfect pass to Calloway that should have gone for a touchdown. On the next play, Arizona had its only sack as Kanell folded in the face of a blitz.

The next two drives saw the Giants drive 66 yards and 79 yards on 11 plays each. Those drives were the Giants’ two longest drives of the season in terms of time of possession. Kanell hit a number of receivers on the drive, including Howard Cross, and a short out to Chris Calloway on an audible when Kanell recognized that Calloway was uncovered. Kanell capped the first drive with a one-yard pass to Charles Way on fourth and goal. The second drive was aided by two questionable calls by the officials, including pass interference on Aeneas Williams on 3rd-and-goal from the 8 that gave the Giants a first-and-goal from the one. Nevertheless, Kanell was sharp on the drives, spreading the ball around the field and benefiting from good yards-after-catch. He was able to find his receivers and deliver accurate passes due to good blocking from the offensive line.

After a couple of bad series’ including a terrible flare pass to Gary Brown, a dropped pass by Tiki Barber, and a missed 34-yard field goal by Brad Daluiso, Kanell engineered a pretty field goal drive in the last 1:02 of the half. First he hit David Patten on a sideline pattern that Patten turned into a 13-yard gain. Then he dumped the ball to Barber for a gain of six, and on second down hit Ike Hilliard for 11 yards and a first down at the Arizona 49. After a time out, he hit Patten for a 13-yard gain, and Patten got out of bounds. On first down, Kanell dumped the ball to Tiki, who rumbled for a 27-yard gain to the Arizona 9 yard line. Daluiso hit a 27-yard field goal at the end of the half for a 17-7 Giants lead.

Kanell was 15 for 24 in the first half for 163 yards and one TD. He was not done, as he led a 9-play, 80-yard TD drive in the third quarter that consumed 4:21, and a 10-play 52-yard TD drive in the fourth quarter that ate up 5:23 of the clock. Kanell capped the third quarter drive with a short pass to Calloway that Cab ran in. The fourth-quarter drive ended with a beautiful floater to Amani Toomer on a post pattern that beat the blitz. Kent Graham took over the next time the Giants received the ball.

Kanell showed what he can do when the line controls the line of scrimmage and the defense loosens up. The line and backs picked up the blitzes, allowing the receivers to come free and Kanell to find them. The deep bombs to Calloway and Patten — though unsuccessful — stretched the field. The short sidelines and the middle were open, and Kanell found receivers. Though he made a few bad passes, Kanell’s decision-making was the best of the season. If the line can continue to play as well as it did today, Kanell should be able to manage the game effectively.

Offensive Line: Perhaps I should have started with these guys, because that’s where it all starts, but Danny’s best NFL game deserved lead billing. However, these guys are not far behind because they flat-out kicked Cardnial butt all over the field. They played with an attitude, and they were having fun. They picked up the blitzes, shut down the pass rush, and not only opened some holes for the backs but did two other things they have not done all year: got serious push and sealed the pursuit on outside runs. Oh, there were the breakdowns here and there, including Greg Bishop’s 15-yard face mask foul (!) that negated a first down on the Cardinals 15 (the Giants overcame the penalty and scored a TD anyway!), Ron Stone’s false start penalty that killed a third-and-one in the third quarter and resulted in a punt, and a couple plays where Eric Swann beat Stone and Lance Scott. But those were isolated incidents that took nothing away from the domination of the Big Blue offensive line. The Giants were able to run right behind Stone and Scott Gragg, and left behind Bishop and Roman Oben. They run up the middle. The backs usually had two yards before a defender had a chance at them. On passing downs, Oben neutralized Simeon Rice, Gragg shut down Andre Wadsworth, and the inside linemen controlled Swann.

Jim Fassel told the Giants Saturday night to concentrate on having fun, and the O line seemed to take that to heart, as Oben and Gragg auditioned for the part of the Tumbling Tackles. Following the first TD, the two were caught on TV doing tumbles in the end zone. The extent of the offensive line’s dominance is illustrated by the following numbers: 11-66 in 5:08; 11-79 in 4:40; 8-71 in 1:02; 9-80 in 4:21; 10-52 in 5:23; one sack; Gary Brown 24-108.

The Cardinals have all those high first-round draft choices on their defensive line, and they get a lot of press, but they never have shown much against the Giants. The Giants offensive line has dominated the Cardinals. They did again today.

Running Backs: Gary Brown was the first Giant back to run for 100 yards in a game this season, and he did it on a variety of runs. He was able to hit the corner on a number of pitch sweeps to left and right, giving the lie to the myth that he lacks the speed to get outside. He also ran strong between the tackles, using cutbacks to find good running lanes. Brown picked up a one-yard TD run on a sweep left behind great blocks from Way and Cross. In all, Brown racked up 108 yards on 24 carries for a bullish 4.5 ypc average. His running was instrumental in keeping those long drives alive. Brown was a load to drag down, and he appears to have nailed down the feature back role, proving that the key to getting the running game going was for the offensive line to start blocking, not for Savior to be forgiven his transgressions.

Gary could not have done it without Charles Way’s blocking. While Way’s yards-per-carry average of under 3.0 was not impressive, he ran hard and made a couple of nice runs. Charles caught the first touchdown pass on the fourth-down play, but his biggest contribution was in crushing blocks on Arizona linebackers. Way paved the way for Brown’s TD run by demolishing the outside linebacker. He made a habit of blowing away outside linebackers as he led Brown around both corners several times. Way was part of the Giants’ improved blitz pickup.

Tiki Barber was up-and-down, as he dropped two sure first-down passes, but had two nice receptions that led to first downs and eventual scores, and his blitz pickup was much better than it had been. His drop of a pass in the first half killed one drive, and he dropped a perfect flare pass in the second half on third-and-two that would have kept a drive alive in the third quarter. The Giants had to settle for a field goal. However, his 27-yard catch-and-run at the end of the first half set the Giants up for a half-ending field goal, and he gained seven-and-a-half yards on a third-and-8 dumpoff that enabled Charles Way to pick up the first down on a fourth-down call from the Arizona 22. That drive resulted in Toomer’s 18-yard TD catch.

The Savior played on the kickoff return team and canceled a 91-yard TD return by David Patten by holding on the play. Savior then came in during mop-up time and ran twice for 9 yards.

Receivers: Four wideouts and Howard Cross each caught passes from Kanell. Cross actually made a couple nice catches and turned one short pass into a 27-yard gain. Cross made his biggest contribution with his blocking. He was fantastic blocking for Brown on his sweeps, particularly on the touchdown run, when Cross demolished Simeon Rice. Cross also was spotted putting a whupping on the bigger Andre Wadsworth on the other side.

Chris Calloway led the receivers with 6 catches for 97 yards, but dropped a perfect bomb from Kanell on the Giants’ opening drive. He settled down after that, however, and made excellent runs after several catches. The receivers as a whole did an outstanding job of running after the catch. David Patten had a 91-yard kickoff return called back (I said he would break one before the year was out) and caught 3 passes for 32 yards, most of the yards on nifty running. Ike Hilliard was quiet, as he only caught one pass, a slant on the goal line that was stopped two feet short. The Giants would score on fourth down. Amani Toomer caught a TD pass on a nifty slant pattern.

Defensive Line: I think the Giants defensive linemen like having a highly-touted defensive line come visit. They thoroughly out-played the $57-million tackles of Washington in the first game, and in this game they showed the Cardinals’ line how to control an offensive line. Michael Strahan, Robert Harris (returning from his injury), and Keith Hamilton were magnificent (with exception of a couple runs where Harris and Hamilton were wiped out). Strahan started it off with a sack, then Hamilton and Harris took over. The tackle duo combined for 4 sacks on the day. Harris clearly reclaimed his starting spot as he provided a degree of quickness that Christian Peter cannot match. Strahan again was a monster against the run as he simply shut down any attempt to run to his side. Chad Bratzke also added a sack and some quality run defense. The linemen combined for 6 of the Giants’ 8 sacks. The eight sacks equaled the season high for the Giants. Arizona only managed 62 yards rushing on 20 carries.

Defensive Backs: The secondary should get credit for some of the sacks, because Plummer had plenty of time to throw on several plays, but had nowhere to throw the ball. The Giants are working wonders with their M*A*S*H corps of a secondary. Jeremy Lincoln is the 87th CB, and he played very well today. Conrad Hamilton continues to lock down his side of the field. C-Rad had a golden opportunity to score a TD as he got the jump on a short out pattern, but he could not pull in the low pass. If Plummer had made a decent throw, C-Rad would have had six points.

Percy Ellsworth pulled in another interception on a terrible pass by Plummer. The Giants blitzed C-Rad from the slot, and Brandon Sanders from the other side. Plummer scrambled and lofted a high floater that Percy reached up to snare. The DBs had little to do in the running game and clearly had everything covered on most plays, as Plummer could do little. Arizona’s lone score came on a coverage breakdown, but given the makeshift nature of the Giants’ secondary, a little confusion now and then is to be expected and forgiven.

Linebackers: This crew was fairly quiet except for a few big plays. Jessie Armstead intercepted a screen pass deep in Arizona territory when Larry Centers fell down. Had the pass been completed, Armstead would have pounded Centers as he read the play perfectly. Unfortunately the Giants wasted the turnover when Daluiso missed a gimme. Scott Galyon stripped Plummer on a sack and recovered the fumble himself to set up the Giants’ last TD. Marcus Buckley had a sack. Widmer did not have one of his better games, as he was wiped out on the few successful Arizona running plays. The Giants’ defensive line pretty much dominated the run, not leaving much for the LBs.

Special Teams: Daluiso was not very good today, missing a gimme FG and being short on most of his kickoffs. The coverage teams were not bad considering, and Ryan Phillips made a gorgeous play on one short kickoff. Eric Metcalf caught the kickoff on the seven yard line, and Phillips nailed him on the TEN for a THREE yard kickoff return. Metcalf didn’t flub the catch or anything. The kickoff was high, and Phillips lasered down the field. The longest kickoff return for Arizona was 27 yards.

Patten had one beautiful kickoff return for 91 yards, but it was called back for holding by Savior. It looked like the hold was not necessary, but it is possible the holdee would have had a play at Patten. Patten’s other kick return was a short one as there was no blocking. Patten will break one before the season is over.

Brad Maynard enjoyed an unusually light day as he only punted the ball THREE times. His first two punts were a 61-yarder returned for 11 yards, and a 63-yarder that was actually a short kick that rolled. His other punt only went 40 yards. Maynard continues to kick very well.

Amani Toomer was not very impressive, as he danced too much and failed to hit the sideline on one return where he had some room.

Conclusion: Well I don’t suppose anyone is forgetting Eric over this review, but there it is. It was a fun game to watch and I’m just glad I got to review THIS one and not one of the other ones — like last week. It was easier to write when just thinking about the game didn’t make me want to cry. The Giants had a lot more spirit and enthusiasm than they have had. It was reported that Fassel’s Saturday night message was “Have fun, don’t worry about the back-to-the-wall nature of the game.” It’s a good approach to take with a struggling team, and it appears to have worked. The offensive line looked downright playful. The offensive game plan was excellent, and the execution was by-and-large crisp. If Fassel is to be blamed for the poor execution of other games, he must get the credit for today’s execution.

So the Giants are still alive. They have a bye week, then travel to Washington D.C. for a tilt with the Deadskins. Hopefully I will have a comp ticket to that game. After that it gets serious.

Oct 161998

Approach to the Game – Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants, October 18, 1998: It’s time to circle the wagons. With the national and local media, their fans, and even the pollyannas at BBI already abandoning them, it’s time for the Giant players to screw what everyone else thinks and just get the job done. Their first challenge in righting their own ship starts on Sunday against a rapidly improving Cardinal team.

The Giants are too tight emotionally. The players, especially on offense, need to relax and have some fun out there on the playing field. The looser they are, the better they most likely will play. What do they have to lose? Everyone already thinks they are out of it already. Their own fans have turned home field advantage into a disadvantage — booing at the first opportunity. Go out and lay it all on the line for 60 minutes, but play with some enthusiasm and attitude. And have some fun while doing. If they do those things, a win will result.

Giants on Offense: The key to this entire game is the play of the Giants’ offensive line. The Giants may lack some talent up front, but they are nowhere near as bad as they have shown thus far in 1998. It is time to get things turned around. But they will have to do it against arguably the best defensive front four in the game. Believe it or not, the Giants’ offensive line can do it. LT Roman Oben played very well against RDE Simeon Rice last year and RG Ron Stone has done a great job against DT Eric Swann for the last two seasons (4 games). To me, the equally huge match-ups will really be LG Greg Bishop against the very underrated DT Mark Smith and RT Scott Gragg against rookie phenom LDE Andre Wadsworth. I’d advice maximum protection schemes for QB Danny Kanell when he goes back to pass. Keep Howard Cross in to help Gragg out with Wadsworth. Keep FB Charles Way in the backfield to help out on whoever breaks lose or on the blitz. But there is only so much the extra guys can do. If the war is to be won, the Giants’ offensive line has to accept this challenge and win their individual battles. Everyone thinks the Giants will be killed up front, but this could end up being their finest hour and the beginning of a turnaround.

But the problems for the Giants aren’t just dealing with the Cardinal defensive line. MLB Ronald McKinnon was a holy terror on wheels last week, picking up 5 tackles, 3 interceptions, 3 passes defensed, and forcing one fumble. He had more than adequately replaced Eric Hill, although he is not as big and stout as Hill against the run. McKinnon has the advantage of playing behind those two excellent defensive tackles. OLB Jamir Miller is no slouch either, although he is banged up some.

The secondary, once an area of weakness for the Cardinals, is improving. CB Aeneas Williams is one of the best in the business and CB Tom Knight, a former first round pick, plays opposite of him. Williams last year returned a Kanell pass for touchdown. Knight is currently listed as questionable for the game. If he doesn’t play, that could be a big advantage for the Giants. The Cardinal safeties, rookie FS Pat Tillman and SS Tommy Bennett, are very ordinary, though I am high on back-up S Corey Chavous. When the Giants attack the secondary, I suggest using 3-WR sets as much as possible. 4-WR sets would be great, but I am real wary of sacrificing the added blocking against the Cardinals.

One thing is clear, the Cardinal defenders must be licking their chops about facing the Giants’ offense. Jim Fassel may be able to use this eagerness on the part of the Card defenders against them. The Cards’ front seven will be looking to add to their sack totals. Draws and screen passes would be wise. We would keep everything quick — quick slants, quick hitters to the running back up the middle. We would run at Simeon Rice’s side most of the day as well. FB Charles Way or OC Lance Scott needs to get a helmet on McKinnon inside. The Giants might also be able to burn over-aggressive defensive backs with double-move routes, if the offensive line can buy some time for QB Danny Kanell.

This is a big game not only for the offensive line, but QB Danny Kanell, who has not played well the last two weeks. If he starts out real slow, back-up Kent Graham may replace him. Danny has to do a much better job with reading defenses quickly and accurately firing the ball. He has to make defenses pay for bunching up against the run. I’d like to see Danny improve his play fakes too, especially when setting up screen and swing passes.

All that being said, I think the Giants can run on the Cardinals. I would be very tempted to run my power game early and often, utilizing Gary Brown and Charles Way mostly. Don’t be surprised if the Giants start to turn things around in that area this week.

Giants on Defense: The Giants defense did not play well last week and must turn things around against the Cardinals if the team is to win. Unfortunately, the Giants’ secondary right now is in disorder with all the injuries. But the team can’t use that as an excuse. CB’s Conrad Hamilton and Carlton Gray, and S’s Percy Ellsworth and Tito Wooten are talented ball players. They can get things done and make a difference. But they face a tough quarterback in Jake Plummer and talented receivers in Rob Moore and Frank Sanders — the latter two very much underrated by many fans.

But to be able to focus on shutting down those guys completely, the Giants must first shut down the running attack, something the Giants didn’t do very well last week against Atlanta. The Giants have the players up front to dominate the Cardinal offensive line if they play at the top of their game. They, along with the linebackers, must stuff HB’s Adrian Murrell and Mario Bates. If the Cards can’t run, they will become much easier to defend and Plummer will be under much more pressure to deliver.

I feel a big key in this game is the ability of the Giant linebackers to cover FB Larry Centers, WR/3rd down back Eric Metcalf, and TE Johnny McWilliams. Plummer may be looking to dump the ball off to these guys quite a bit and Centers and Metcalf in particular can do a lot of damage after the catch. Because of that, I wouldn’t blitz too much. The corners will need help from the safeties and the linebackers need to keep an eye on the underneath receivers. Guys like Scott Galyon and Jeremy Lincoln will need to come up big in nickel packages. Everything will be made much easier if our front four on defense can generate a pass rush on its own.

Aside from all that, I suggest varying coverages to a great degree. Plummer is still relatively inexperienced. If the Giants can confuse him and get a pass rush on him, he may make some costly mistakes. It would also be wise to maintain pass rush lanes so Plummer doesn’t take off and beat you with his feet. He is a mobile guy with a fierce competitive streak.

Giants on Special Teams: The Giants’ special teams played relatively well last week. Hopefully, that will continue. The big worry is defending punt/kick returner Eric Metcalf, one of the best in the business. The punt and kick coverage units of the Giants will be critically important this week. It’s time for David Patten to break one.

Oct 141998
Atlanta Falcons 34 – New York Giants 20

Overview: There is no use crying over spilled milk. The Giants are obviously not going to the playoffs this year. Heck, it’s going to be a struggle for this team to reach the .500 mark given the toughness of its remaining schedule. It is time to face reality. This team is not as talented on offense as many of us Giant fans thought they would be this year. To make matters worse, key young players have regressed.

What fans and the Giants’ players and coaches need to do right now is simply focus on one game at a time. Don’t think in terms of we need to win these next few games or have such and such record by this point. Just go out and win your next game. Don’t peek down the road and don’t hold anything back. And certainly don’t think about what has already transpired. All the Giants should be thinking about is the Arizona Cardinals, their next opponent.

Coaching/Front Office The expectation level for this team was unfairly raised by last year’s success. The Giants won the NFC East last year mainly because of the crappy division they play in. Seven of their ten wins came against divisional opponents. Maybe being so successful early on may end up backfiring and hurting the long-term development of the team. But the winning record and division championship did one important thing in 1997 — it changed the collective attitude of the team. The difference between a winning football program and a losing one is mainly mental. In 1995 and 1996, under Dan Reeves, this team really did not believe in itself. In a tight ball game, the players felt that they would inevitably find a way to lose the game. Part of this had to do with their youth. Bill Parcells once said that in close ball games, young teams lose. Well, in 1997, Jim Fassel changed all that. Through hard work, an aggressive defense, a weak schedule, and a little bit of luck, the Giants won the NFC East. The Giants lost a heart breaker to the Vikings in the playoffs, but the most important battle had been won — the young Giants finally stopped doubting themselves and started to believe that they could actually be one of the better teams in the NFL.

All of that is in danger now. When one looks into the eyes of the Giants’ players, particularly the offensive players, one sees a lack of confidence and an abundance of doubt and frustration. This frustration has now spilled over to the defense. It seems as if the old days have returned and the players are now expecting the worst to happen. And when one expects the worst, good things rarely follow.

How does Jim Fassel and his coaching staff right this ship? Winning a football game would be a step in the right direction. But that isn’t likely until the coaches find a way to get the players to say to themselves, “enough is enough. We’re better than this. We’re angry and we’re going to make the other teams pay.” That is Fassel’s biggest challenge. It’s not the play-calling or game day tactics. He must get this team to start believing in itself again or the future will remain dark. Not only this year, but down the road as well.

As for the front office and the work of new General Manager Ernie Accorsi, I would suggest that his early decision-making has been highly questionable at best. Re-signing RT Scott Gragg, an unproven and inconsistent player, to a big, 4-year deal looks like a huge mistake. So does re-signing FS Tito Wooten, a guy with an unstable personality, to another big, 4-year deal. Throw in Kanell’s not-so-small 3-year deal and the Giants have committed a huge portion of their salary cap to three ordinary ball players. I hope these moves don’t portend of future poor decision-making.

Offensive Line: The offensive line has only played decently in two games this year, both victories. This is no coincidence. Without a solid foundation up front, a team cannot hope to execute well offensively on a consistent basis. Against the Falcons, the line was once again horrible. They gave up six sacks and did not create enough space in the running game. LT Roman Oben probably had the best game of the bunch, but he did not play particularly well either. He was beaten cleanly on DE Antonio Edwards’ sack, forced fumble, and fumble return for a touchdown in the second quarter. Edwards is a journeyman and to be beaten inside like that should never have happened. Oben also later gave up an outside speed rush sack to Chuck Smith. The good news is that for most of the game, Oben actually did a nice job on Smith in both pass and run blocking department. But it wasn’t enough to overcome his teammates’ inconsistencies. Greg Bishop played a poor game and seems to be regressing after a fast start. He was flagged a couple of times, including one very costly hands to the face penalty that erased a first-and-goal from the one situation. He also had problems with Lance Scott in picking up stunts and the Giants continue to fail to generate any consistent push up the gut in the ground game. Lance Scott is just not a very good ball player. He would make a decent back-up/special teamer, but he doesn’t get any push on his run blocks and has too many lapses in pass blocking. It is always a bad sign to see an offensive lineman constantly picking himself off the ground. Jerry Reynolds, subbing for the injured Ron Stone, also had major problems with stunts. He and RT Scott Gragg were very much confused by a Falcon stunt right at the start of the game — a play that resulted in a sack. Gragg, for his part, did not play well either. Besides the above-mentioned play, he also gave up a terrible sack late in the fourth quarter on a play where he got caught flat-footed.

Quarterbacks: Without solid pass protection, it is extremely difficult for even a veteran quarterback to get the ball down the field to the wide receivers. What makes things virtually impossible is that Danny Kanell (11 out of 21 for 100 yards, 1 touchdown, no interceptions) is not experienced AND he is not playing well. Danny seems confused. He’s bird-dogging receivers and not reading defenses very well. Kanell clearly appears to be pressing. He doesn’t look very instinctive to us right now either. The high point of the evening was obviously Kanell’s performance in the 2-minute drill right before halftime when he led the team on an impressive touchdown drive to bring the Giants to within one point of Atlanta’s lead. He also just missed hitting Ike Hilliard on a deep pass and threw a fairly accurate pass into the endzone to Hilliard that resulted in a defensive pass interference penalty. But he also was very careless with the ball on Edwards’ fumble recovery and score. He looked uncomfortable in the pocket even when he had time and many times forced the ball into covered receivers. What worries us most right now with Danny is that his offensive teammates do not seem to be rallying around him. Indeed, the offense seems to lack ANY leadership. Kanell is at the crossroads right now and the Giants will most likely use the rest of the season to determine if he will be their starter in 1999.

Kent Graham (11 out of 16 for 105 yards, zero touchdowns, zero interceptions, one touchdown rushing) came into the game late in the fourth quarter. Granted he was playing against a prevent defense and a defense filled with many second teamers, but this was clearly Kent’s best performance since returning to the Giants. Kent was very decisive on the field and his arm strength does bring an added dimension to the game that Kanell lacks. But Graham, as he showed all during camp and the preseason, continues to have problems with his accuracy.

Wide Receivers: How much blame should the receivers receive for the impotence on offense? That’s a tough question to answer with Kanell and the offensive line playing so poorly. Not having a viable threat at tight end is certainly not helping matters either. Were the receivers open, but the ball was not delivered? Tough to tell. But WR Chris Calloway was a non-factor in the ball game, catching his one and only pass very late in the game. Ike Hilliard (4 catches for 35 yards) is not making the type of impact the seventh player in the draft should be making. Amani Toomer (4 catches for 38 yards) made some plays against the Falcons, but also dropped a couple of catches. David Patten (3 catches for 59 yards and one touchdown) made his first big play in the passing game this year, but it was largely due to a busted coverage by the Falcons. Joe Jurevicius saw very little playing time. These guys must start making some plays after the catch. The Giants’ offense needs a spark.

Tight Ends: Terrible. Al Pupunu was once again invisible as a pass receiver. His blocking was mediocre at best. Howard Cross made a nice block on Charles Way’s 4th down conversion effort (as did Roman Oben), but hurt the Giants as a receiver. On one play, he wasn’t even looking back for the pass. On another, he fumbled the ball away. Howard Cross, as a receiver, is a very easy player to cover.

Halfbacks/Fullbacks: These guys actually did not play poorly, but were limited in their attempts by the score and the inability of the passing game to pick up first downs. FB Charles Way (11 carries for 39 yards) had a few very good looking inside runs and his sweep outside on 4th down was a huge play. Gary Brown (6 carries for 15 yards) looked quicker to us this week, especially on his outside runs. For one game, Tiki Barber (3 carries for 12 yards, 9 catches for 56 yards) was sharp catching the ball out of the backfield and showed a little burst after the catch. He’s still not breaking tackles or making a lot of yards after the catch however. It also looked like he was the one responsible for not picking up the CB-blitz on Kanell’s final sack and fumble.

Defensive Line: DE Michael Strahan (6 tackles, 1 sack) played well, especially given the fact that he was double-teamed most of the game and Falcons stayed away from his side most of the night. He was strong against the run and picked up yet another sack. However, the rest of the line did not play particularly well. The Falcons have a below average offensive line, yet the defensive line (and linebackers) did not really control the game like they should have. Most disappointing was their performance after halftime when the Falcons were able to control the clock and the tempo of the game with their ground attack. Atlanta HB Jamal Anderson picked up over 100 yards rushing. DE Chad Bratzke was held VERY quiet by Bob Whitfield all night and the Falcons were able to pick up decent yardage in his direction. Inside, aside from a pressure or two, Keith Hamilton didn’t make an impact at all. Christian Peter is improving and didn’t hurt the team. He didn’t make many plays, but we love his hustle. He did pick up an impressive looking sack, that was unfortunately didn’t count due to an off-sides penalty by Strahan.

Linebackers: Up and down. The good news is that Jessie Armstead (5 tackles, 1 sack) looks like he’s getting closer and closer to being his old self. He was flying around the field most of the night, making an impact on the blitz as well as against the run. He forced a fumble with a great hustle play from behind. However, at times, I also saw him being engulfed at the point of attack by Falcon blockers. Marcus Buckley started the game off very strong, but faded as the game progressed. I felt he forced the first fumble, not Armstead. He also made a couple of very nice plays in run defense and was solid in coverage. But later, I saw him getting knocked around defending the run as well as missing tackles. Corey Widmer (9 tackles) didn’t make much of impact inside and much of Atlanta’s success on the ground must lie with him. Doug Colman made a nice play on the goalline. Scott Galyon (5 tackles) picked up where he left off, looking good both against the run and on the blitz. Defensive Coordinator John Fox did gamble a lot with the blitz in this game. Perhaps he felt that the only way the Giants were to win the game with the offensive performing so poorly was to take chances and force turnovers. This aggressiveness paid off at times, but the Giants were also hurt by a number of shallow crossing patterns that were wide open because the area was vacated by blitzing linebackers.

Defensive Backs: Aside from two poor plays, this unit played surprisingly well — especially given the fact that three-fourths of the starting secondary was out with injury. FS Tito Wooten was beaten deep for a touchdown by a superbly executed play-action fake by Chris Chandler. Tito has always been an aggressive player and one of the holes in his game is that he tends to bite too much on play fakes. This is a big “no-no” for free safeties who should always play the pass first and foremost. Tito’s aggressiveness cost both him and the Giants on this play. On the other hand, Percy Ellsworth has always been stronger against the pass, rather than the run. Percy started at strong safety in this game in place of Sam Garnes. I would have played Tito on the strongside. Tito (6 tackles) did play an excellent game in run defense. Percy (11 tackles) wasn’t bad in this area either, but he was late in getting over to help Carlton Gray on Terrance Mathis’ long touchdown catch — a play where Percy looked terribly slow. Mathis’ touchdown against Gray ruined what was otherwise a pretty darn good performance. Gray did a nice job knocking down a couple of passes and was generally solid. But the touchdown pass hurt badly. He also hurt the Giants with a personal foul penalty on Chandler. The best performance I felt was turned in by Conrad Hamilton. Hamilton seems to be improving game after game. Conrad was very solid in coverage and also recovered a fumble. He was a little shaky in the tackling department however. Jeremy Lincoln’s holding call on third down in the first quarter was particularly costly as the Falcons later scored on the drive. With all the injuries in the secondary, the scary thing was that Kory Blackwell actually saw a lot of playing time.

Special Teams: The special teams actually may have played their best game of the season. Kick and punt coverage was solid against a very dangerous kick returner. Charles Way made a couple of very impressive open field tackles. Pete Monty and Doug Colman also made plays. Both David Patten and Brandon Sanders looked bad, however, not breaking down better in their tackle attempts as gunners. Both hustled down field in good order, but that matters little if you are out of control when it comes time to make the tackle. David Patten didn’t receive much help on his returns, but still looks dangerous. Amani Toomer ran away from his blocking on his one kick return, but made good decisions as a punt returner. Brad Maynard was the star of the game for the Giants with his superb punting. Brad Daluiso was perfect on his two long field goals.

Oct 091998

Approach to the Game – Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants, October 11, 1998: The Giants keep backing themselves into a corner. After starting 1-2, the Giants faced a “must” game in week four against the Chargers. They won impressively, evening their record to 2-2. But after a disappointing effort against Tampa Bay, the Giants are 2-3 and face another “do or die” game — this week against Atlanta. To make matters worse, there is more of a circus-like atmosphere surrounding the game as former Giants’ head coach Dan Reeves returns to the Meadowlands. He and much of his coaching staff will have a distinct advantage in this game due to their familiarity with the Giants’ personnel. Reeves knows their respective strengths and weaknesses.

All that aside, if the Giants are to turn things around and start a winning streak, they need to get things right on offense. What is becoming clear is that the Giants still lack talent and maturity on this side of the ball. There are some good players: Ike Hilliard, Chris Calloway, Amani Toomer, Joe Jurevicius, and Charles Way. There are also good players who are having down years so far like Roman Oben and Ron Stone. Then there are those players who there are question marks about — players who might still develop into fine players or who need to be replaced. Guys like Danny Kanell and Scott Gragg. What is frustrating with the Giants on offense right now is that when one element of the unit plays at an acceptable level, the other does not. The Giants have yet to play one game this year when all phases of their offense (quarterback, running backs, receivers, and offensive line) were clicking.

Giants on Defense: We’ll start off with the defense this week since they are the only ones getting the job done in 1998. We all know how Dan Reeves likes to play the game offensively — run the ball, run the ball, run the ball. Spice things up with the passing game and an occasional trick play. Thus the focus of the Giants’ defense should be to shut down Atlanta’s running game and HB Jamal Anderson in particular. The Falcon offensive line is not a strong unit. They are also starting a rookie at right tackle (Ephraim Salaam). It is vitally important that the Giants’ front four play a strong game. DE Michael Strahan will face Salaam and must dominate this match-up. Reeves may use someone like H-Back Brian Kozlowski to help out against Strahan. DT Keith Hamilton should do well against second-year man LG Calvin Collins. Chad Bratzke faces the up-and-down Bob Whitfield — a very talented, but lazy player. We wouldn’t be surprised to see OC Robbie Tobeck have to help out with Hamilton. If this is the case, then whoever is playing at LDT (Harris, Peter, or Holsey) needs to perform well against RG Gene Williams. If Anderson sparks the Falcon running game, then the Giants will be in trouble.

Against the pass, Chris Chandler is a decent, veteran quarterback who wins games. He’s not having a great year and has proven to be injury-prone, but he generally finds a way to get things done. He has two potentially dangerous receivers in Tony Martin and Terance Mathis. Of course how well CB’s Phillippi Sparks and Conrad Hamilton play against these two will also be decisive. TE O.J. Santiago is an athletic pass catcher. The key to playing him is to be physical with him. The Giants need to keep an eye on him. They also need to be wary of WR/HB Tim Dwight — the center of many of Dan Reeves’ potential trick plays.

Atlanta’s offensive line is not a strong pass blocking unit. They do give up a lot of sacks. Shut down the run, put Chandler in obvious passing situations. That’s the key.

Giants on Offense: The Giants need QB Danny Kanell to rebound in a big way on Sunday night. If he plays as poorly as he did last Sunday, the Giants have absolutely no chance to win. Danny’s never going to beat teams with his mobility or a strong arm. He’s got to do it with his leadership, poise, pocket presence, instincts, and, most importantly, his accuracy. However, right now, Danny is not a very accurate passer. He has to keep his head about him and remember to use proper technique. The Falcons have a very ordinary secondary. CB Ray Buchanan is the best of the bunch and most likely will face WR Chris Calloway. WR Ike Hilliard needs to dominate CB Ronnie Bradford. If Kanell and Hilliard play good games, this could be a breakout game for Hilliard. SS William White is a good run support player, but he can be exposed in coverage. Forcing him to cover someone like Tiki Barber might be a good idea. FS Eugene Robinson is a savvy veteran. The Giants also may be well-advised to get the ball to Amani Toomer or Joe Jurevicius in 3-WR sets. But none of this matters, including the play-calling, unless Kanell executes the plays better.

The offensive line also has to block. Atlanta’s defensive line is smaller than ideal, but they have decent quickness and a history of being a good pass rush team. Their sack numbers are down so far this year, but they still have some players who can cause problems. Their best player is RDE Chuck Smith and his match-up against LT Roman Oben is the one to watch. If I were Fassel, I’d power the ball right at this smaller line. Yes, the Falcons are going to gear up against the run. But they might not have much success if New York executes it’s power running game successfully. Oben (310lbs) versus Smith (265lbs), LG Greg Bishop (315lbs) versus DT Shane Dronett (295lbs), RG Ron Stone (325lbs) versus DT Travis Hall (300lbs), and RT Scott Gragg (325lbs) versus DE Lester Archambeau (275lbs). Get FB Charles Way (250lbs) or Lance Scott (300lbs) out on MLB Jesse Tuggle (230lbs) and run HB Gary Brown right behind them. If the Giants want to run Way, then I’d get FB Greg Comella to lead-block for him. It’s time for Gragg to start earning his fat paycheck. It’s also time for Stone to play like the player he was last year. The Falcons also have a relatively inexperienced linebacker, Craig Sauer, subbing for the injured Henri Crockett. I’d test him both by running and throwing at him. Charles Way may be used more as a receiver this week because of this. The Giants desperately need to start getting the tight end more involved in the offense. Al Pupunu has good hands and a feel for the passing game. Why he isn’t being used in this capacity is a mystery to me.

Giants on Special Teams: Here we go again…the Giants have to do a better job of covering kick-offs and punts. Tim Dwight is a scary return man. He regularly returned punts for touchdowns in college and he returned a kick-off for a touchdown last week. We recommend kicking away from him. The good news is the Giants get one of their better special teams players, Scott Galyon, back this week. One curious thing we have noted thus far this year is that all the punters the Giants have faced have kicked the heck out of the ball and not given Amani Toomer much of a chance to return punts (of course the sorry-ass blocking on the gunners hasn’t helped either). That may change this week as P Dan Stryzinski is not having a very good year.

Oct 071998
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20 – New York Giants 3

Overview: I am always wary of singling out one individual for a loss. Football is the consumate team sport and in any given defeat, a number of players can usually be held to task. However, as I sat around with fellow Giant fans after the game in a local bar trying to figure out what is wrong with the offense, the only player I thought who played poorly on that unit against Tampa Bay was Danny Kanell. Danny was terrible. And after handing the Bucs a 10-0 first quarter lead, it became apparent that Bucs had little faith in Kanell’s ability either as they loaded up against the run and dared Danny to beat them with the pass. Kanell could not accept the challenge and make Tampa Bay pay for this strategy. And that folks is the story of the game.

The Giants are 2-3 and face an uphill fight in their effort to repeat as division champions. Let’s not just review the Bucs-Giants game here. Let’s take a long, hard look at where the Giants are as a team. It’s time to take off the rose-colored glasses and attempt to look at this team as an outsider might.

Quarterbacks: Danny Kanell (10-27 for 83 yards, 0 touchdowns, 3 interceptions) lost the game. Period. He gave the Buccaneers a 10-0 lead in the first quarter with two bad interceptions. On his first pick, the third offensive play of the game, he threw behind HB Tiki Barber and right to a Bucs’ cornerback who returned the pick for a touchdown. On the very next drive, he misread the Bucs’ defense on a zone blitz and threw right to the dropping defensive end. That interception set up Tampa Bay’s first field goal. But as bad as those plays were, let’s not forget the fact that Danny had trouble hitting any target throughout the game. On deep throws, his passes were tossed out-of-bounds. He was high most of the afternoon, and when he wasn’t, he was throwing low, behind, or too far in front of his receivers. In short, Kanell’s accuracy was atrocious. It looked to me as his targets were open, he just couldn’t deliver the ball. Tampa knew this an basically loaded up against the run by bringing their safeties close to the line of scrimmage. Kanell could not make the Bucs pay for this lack of respect. I also wonder if Kanell is having more trouble reading defenses than many of us realize. It seems to me that he’s looking to dump the ball off to the running backs too soon, despite having adequate protection. Indeed, he’s looking so quickly to the running backs at times that he’s leading defenders right to the play.

Let’s look at the big picture. Can Danny Kanell eventually lead the Giants to a Superbowl? That’s a tough question. First, let’s keep things in perspective. Danny Kanell has started only 16 games in his career. In other words, in effect, he has just completed his “first season” of football. It usually takes a quarterback a couple of years at least to become adept passers technique-wise and more than novices at reading defenses. To expect faster development is simply not realistic. What are Kanell’s assets? He’s a smart, tough quarterback with decent size and a good feel for the game. He doesn’t get rattled easily and that is a tremendous asset for a quarterback. He also has a quick release and seems to be ahead of the curve in making quick decisions. His limitations are that he doesn’t have great arm strength, he isn’t mobile, and his accuracy is very inconsistent at this point in his career. There are some in the NFL who feel that you can’t win consistently in today’s NFL without a mobile quarterback. Is this true? That’s a question that won’t be settled here. Can Kanell improve his accuracy? Fassel and Kanell would argue so. But to be truly effective, Kanell has to improve his accuracy to the point that it is the strength of his game. In other words, his accuracy, “headiness,” and decision-making ability have to overcome his limited arm strength and mobility. If he can’t, then he will never be more than an average quarterback.

It is virtually impossible to win the big game in the NFL without an elite quarterback. Regardless of what happens with the Giants’ win-loss record from here on out, the key to the Giants’ future success will be the quarterback position. Watch Kanell. Observe if his accuracy is improving and doing so on a consistent basis. If it doesn’t, then it is time to consider Mike Cherry, a draft pick, or a free agent in 1999. You can’t win the big one with an average-armed quarterback who has little mobility and inconsistent accuracy.

Wide Receivers: How can you adequately evaluate the performance of the receivers when your quarterback can’t get them the ball? Amani Toomer (1 catch for 10 yards) made a fantastic catch in a key situation on a high throw from Kanell by outleaping the defender and coming down with the ball despite a hard fall. Ike Hilliard (1 catch for 12 yards) also made an unbelievable play by holding onto the ball despite being nearly beheaded on a short pass. Chris Calloway (2 for 23 yards) was his normal steady self, but was lucky that a defensive holding penalty was called on a play where he fumbled the ball after a catch. I saw Joe Jurevicius (no catches) in motion on the first drive on a play where he was supposed to clear out a zone for Gary Brown, but I didn’t see him on the playing field after that. Strange. David Patten (no catches) has made little impact as a receiver this season after an impressive training camp and preseason.

I firmly believe that the Giants have the talent they need at wide receiver. Ike Hilliard is a super-quick play-maker. He’s not really a deep threat, but he can do damage after the catch and the Giants need to do a better job of getting him the ball in a position where he can run with it. Amani Toomer looks like a different receiver this year. I still worry some about mental errors in terms of route running, but he’s playing with a lot of confidence. David Patten has good hands, has great speed, and seems to really have bulked up in the offseason. He will be a factor. Rookies Joe Jurevicius and Bryan Alford have bright futures. Jurevicius has great hands and his size-speed combination is a nightmare package to defend. Alford reminds me of a young Mike Sherrard. One of the problems with the Giants on offense right now is that when Chris Calloway and Ike Hilliard are on the field at the same time as the only receivers, the Giants do not scare defenses vertically. I love Calloway, he’s a super-consistent, dependable guy who wins games with his play. But he can’t get deep. The safeties rarely keep an extra eye on him. Obviously, Hilliard has to start. We would strongly consider starting to have the young receivers cut into Calloway’s playing time — especially as the Giants lose more games.

Tight Ends: Invisible once again in the passing game (no catches). Is it the talent or the unwillingness on the part of Kanell or Fassel to utilize the tight ends? What ever the reason, the Giants terribly limit themselves by not threatening defenses with the tight end. Even if they did use Howard Cross and Al Pupunu, they really aren’t the type of guys who can stretch the field down the middle. The linebackers don’t have to worry about a mobile quarterback. The safeties don’t have to worry about the deep passes to the wide receivers with Calloway and Hilliard on the field. The safeties and linebackers both don’t have to worry about the tight end. Thus the safeties and linebackers can cheat up and defend the halfback and fullback. Is it any wonder why the Giants are having a hard time running the ball? The Giants’ quarterback, be it Kanell or someone else, needs a tight end who can stretch defenses or at the very least serve as a security blanket. The Giants’ current corps of tight ends do neither.

Halfbacks/Fullbacks: I felt Gary Brown (17 carries for 67 yards, nearly a 4.0 yard per carry average) ran well. He’s a power running back with quick feet. No, he’s not going to break the long run on a regular basis, but he can wear down a defense and occasionally break the 20-25 yard run. That’s no worse than OJ Anderson or Rodney Hampton. Moreover, he’s just now starting to get into sync with the line. If the Giants were able to get the opposing defenses to stop crowding the line of scrimmage, Brown might be even more affective. Tiki Barber (2 carries for minus two yards, 3 catches for 10 yards), on the other hand, is in a very serious slump. He seems to be thinking too much, pressing too hard, and losing his confidence. He’s a third down back with a case of the dropsies. He’s lost his elusiveness and he can’t break a tackle. Is it merely a sophomore slump? Is he playing too heavy? Or is he a bust? Time will tell. Tyrone Wheatley was not activated for the game. Regardless of what you think about him, everyone should recognize that he has no future in New York. FB Charles Way (1 carry for zero yards, 2 catches for 25 yards) has not been a factor offensively this year with the ball in his hands.

I like the Giants fullbacks in Way and Greg Comella. What the Giants desperately need is an impact halfback. The kind of running back who scares defenses with his ability; the kind of running back that keeps defensive coordinators up at night. These kind of running backs often make their offensive lines look better than they really are…they find that hole and explode through, no matter how small. They find the cutback lane and burn overaggressive defenses. They break a tackle or make a great move that leads to a long touchdown run. The Giants do not have this type of back on their roster.

Offensive Line: The line played fairly well against a very good defensive front seven. In the running game, it was SS John Lynch (13 tackles) who kept killing the Giants. Why? Because he wasn’t worried about the passing game. LG Greg Bishop did a commendable job on DT Warren Sapp. LT Roman Oben continues make dumb false start penalties…he must have caught what Scott Gragg had last year. He also was flagged for a holding penalty that was nullified by a Bucs’ penalty. Jerry Reynolds also did an admirable job filling in for RG Ron Stone. Derek Engler continued to sub some for Lance Scott at center. I felt that Kanell had decent time against a very aggressive pass rush team. The Giants didn’t break many long runs, but Brown was consistently able to pick up positive yardage and he did hit a few +10 yarders.

Do the Giants have the horses on the front wall? I still like LT Roman Oben and RG Ron Stone. Both are having down years compared to last year, but both have the tools and have proven that they can do it. Greg Bishop is actually playing fairly well. It would be nice to have another road grader inside at that position, but the Giants can win with Bishop at guard if he continues his steady play. Scott Gragg is still up and down too much. But he’s not going anywhere given his new contract. Hopefully, he will end up being no worse than a Doug Riesenberg. I still wonder about Lance Scott. I don’t see him getting much of a push inside. He’s not killing the Giants, but he’s not really making many key blocks either.

Offensive Summary: The Giants need help at halfback and tight end. They also may still need a starting quarterback. A road-grading guard or center would help immeasurably. That’s a lot of needs to fill for one offseason. Also keep in mind that rookies take time to develop, especially quarterbacks and offensive linemen.

Defensive Line: The defensive line played a fairly strong game. It’s nearly impossible to fault the defense for the loss, but the defensive line did wilt somewhat late in game after the Giants had cut the lead to 10-3. Tampa, using Warrick Dunn, Mike Alstott, and Lorenzo Neal was able to control the clock and put the game away with a very important field goal drive. But at that point in the game, the defense was nearly exhausted due to the heat and the fact that they were on the field nearly the entire game. DE Mike Strahan (7 tackles) picked up another sack and was molested by RT Jason Odoms much of the day. DT Christian Peter (4 tackles) played decently again subbing for Robert Harris. His biggest problem is staying onsides. Keith Hamilton (3 tackles, 1 sack) was a disruptive inside and DE Chad Bratzke (7 tackles) played a nice game against a tough tackle in Paul Gruber. Bernard Holsey (3 tackles) flashed some in his limited action — we’d like to see him on the field more. Cedric Jones defenses an outside run nicely and played a lot more than he usually does. Interestingly, the Giants often had him at RDE and Bratzke at LDE. Defensive Coordinator John Fox also had Bratzke rushing once from an upright position.

The Giants look set on the defensive line for many years if they can re-sign a few guys. Strahan will be a free agent after the 1999 season, but re-signing him will be a priority. Bratzke is playing well and Cedric Jones seems to be coming on. Re-signing Bratzke may be tough. Hamilton and Harris are two of the better defensive tackle tandems in the game and are still relatively young. Holsey, Jones, and Peter give the Giants impressive depth and the coaching staff obviously sees something in rookie DT George Williams.

Linebackers: Good game for the linebackers. Warrick Dunn did make them at times look bad in the tackling department, but Dunn does that to most teams. Ryan Phillips bit on a play-fake and was beaten in coverage on one play. He was eventually pulled for Marcus Buckley (7 tackles) who played his best game as Giant. Buckley not only made a great play on his interception of a deflected pass, but he was generally around the ball most of the day. MLB Corey Widmer (11 tackles) had an excellent game defending the run. He was very forceful filling the hole. He also defensed a pass near the goalline. Even Jessie Armstead (10 tackles) looked quicker than he has. He made some tackles and looked good on a blitz. The only thing that bothered me about the linebackers/defensive scheme is that the Bucs always seemed to throw into the blitz. By that we mean that as soon as one of the outside linebackers blitzed, the Bucs always seemed to be ready for it and passed to the fullback in the vacated area…too many times for it to be a coincidence.

The Giants are obviously set on the weakside, especially if they can re-sign restricted free agent Scott Galyon. Inside, I would like to keep Widmer, but Pete Monty and Doug Colman are no slouches. The strongside is the question mark, but Buckley and Phillips haven’t really hurt the Giants and are both getting better. The Giants may have too many offensive needs regardless.

Defensive Backs: Trent Dilfer was so bad that it is tough to accurately judge these guys. However, give the Giants a little credit. They did limit Tampa Bay to 85 passing yards. CB Conrad Hamilton almost came up with two picks by playing an aggressive game. Indeed, one of his almost picks would have gone for a touchdown. Carlton Gray was beaten on a shallow crossing pattern where the quarterback had far too much time to throw, but he also made a great play with his sack and forced fumble on Dilfer — a play that set up the Giants’ defense on the Bucs’ 11-yard line. FS Tito Wooten also looked real good on his inside blitz and sack. CB Phillippi Sparks was quiet and that’s always a good sign for a cornerback. Percy Ellsworth was quiet too. He’s still too passive in the tackling department however. Garnes (10 tackles) played the run fairly well, but did look silly trying to tackle Alstott on one play. It’s obvious that his foot is bothering him.

If Jason Sehorn comes back near 100%, the Giants are in good shape. This is especially true if they can hold onto Carlton Gray and/or Sparks’ level of play remains steady. Re-signing Conrad Hamilton will be important too. Shaun Williams will be a starter at one safety spot next year. Sam Garnes, Tito Wooten, and Percy Ellsworth (if they can re-sign him) will fight it out for the other spot. This secondary is very good once everyone is healthy.

Special Teams: Aside from the kickers and returners, the Giants’ special teams stink. Special Teams Coach Larry MacDuff is not getting the job done. Of course you need good special teams players, but much of special teams is about attitude and coaching. How bad is it? The Giants tried to set up the return on almost every punt, but it seemed as both Tampa Bay gunners were unblocked all day. It’s time to get Percy off the specials because he is noticeably not getting the job done. More evidence? If Daluiso doesn’t force a touchback, the Giants inevitably give up a big return. Really, it’s a joke. I don’t know why any returner in their right mind would down a Daluiso kick in the endzone, no matter how deep it was. I also don’t like having Maynard kicking down the middle of the field to dangerous returners. The Giants did this against Deion Sanders and got burned. They are lucky Jacquez Green didn’t do it to them in Tampa. Maynard punted decently, but screwed up on the hold for the first field goal attempt (I still thought Daluiso could have kicked the ball however). Amani Toomer didn’t have a chance. For one, Tampa’s punter got great hangtime and secondly, he had no blocking. David Patten had yet another nice kick return.

I’m afraid the Giants special teams won’t improve until MacDuff is fired. The Giants could also use some more headhunters personnel-wise. Superbowl-caliber teams rarely have bad special teams.


Oct 021998

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, October 4, 1998: The Giants are currently in a three-way tie for first place in the NFC East, along with Dallas and Arizona. The Giants are beat up physically right now, especially at linebacker and safety. They also face a talented, desperate team this week in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa has to win this game or their playoff hopes may be over. At the same time, their confidence is shaken somewhat. The Giants need to jump on top of them early and keep the Bucs doubting themselves. Offensively, the Giants want to continue to improve upon the running game and keep the penalties to a minimum. Defensively, they want to stuff the run and force Trent Dilfer to beat them. As always, the Giants need a good game from their special teams. Head Coach Jim Fassel has publicly said he thinks this will be the Giants toughest game this year.

Giants on Offense: We would stick to the same game plan that the Giants used last week: simpler, more straight-ahead run blocking; getting to the line of scrimmage at a faster pace and snapping the ball on a quick count; and running HB Gary Brown often up the gut behind FB Charles Way. Tampa Bay has a very aggressive and quick defense. We don’t anticipate the Giants making a living by attempting to run the ball outside or utilizing a lot of slow developing running plays. Get to the line of scrimmage quickly, snap the ball, and plow straight ahead with Gary Brown. The Giants simply do not want to face a lot of obvious pass rush situations against the Bucs — their defensive line is very adept at rushing the passer. The big match-up is between DT Warren Sapp and LG Greg Bishop and OC Lance Scott. Bishop will be under the gun. But DE Chidi Ahanotu is no slouch and will test RT Scott Gragg as will DE Regan Upshaw against LT Roman Oben. DT Brad Culpepper isn’t big, but he is quick and can rush the passer. RG Ron Stone needs to wear him down. At linebacker, WLB Derrick Brooks is Tampa’s version of Jessie Armstead. MLB Hardy Nickerson has a Pro Bowl past and is the heart of the defense. FB Charles Way needs a good game blocking against him.

Like the Giants’ defense, these guys are very tough, but they are also becoming very frustrated with their own offense’s inability to move the ball and generate points. Thus, they may start to gamble more than they should in order to create turnovers and field position for the offense. Ball security will be of utmost importance for the G-Men. What Danny Kanell and his offensive teammates want to do is to keep Tampa off-balance with a steady combination of passing and running plays. We wouldn’t try anything fancy. Play for field position and take advantage of ANY possible scoring opportunity. This game is likely to be low scoring and the team that makes the fewest mistakes in the end will likely come out on top.

That being said, this might be the game to surprise an opponent with some timely passes to the tight end (either Howard Cross or Alfred Pupunu). Tampa won’t be expecting that. CB Donnie Abraham and SS John Lynch are very good players, but the rest of the secondary is ordinary. The Giants might be able to do some damage there. We expect Ike Hilliard, who is returning to his old collegiate territory, to have a good game. Same with QB Danny Kanell. If Kanell doesn’t outplay QB Trent Dilfer, the Giants will be in trouble. Is this the game we start seeing more of Joe Jurevicius, or will Amani Toomer continue to hold him off?

Giants on Defense: The Giants are really banged up on defense right now. Key players like CB Jason Sehorn, WLB Jessie Armstead, FS Tito Wooten, WLB Scott Galyon, DT Robert Harris, SS Sam Garnes, and S/CB Shaun Williams are missing or ailing. But the defense has kept it together and played well regardless this season. Tampa’s offense is really struggling right now. The Giants need to keep them and their fans frustrated. The way to approach a Tampa Bay game right now is simple: stop the run and force Trent Dilfer to beat you. The good news for the Giants is that Dilfer has been terrible. The bad news is that a key weapon, WR Jacquez Green, who has been out with an injury, will return this week. The Bucs also have a very tough combination of runners in HB Warrick Dunn, FB Mike Alstott, and FB Lorenzo Neal. The Giants need to crowd the line of scrimmage, swarm to the ball carrier, and make sure, crisp tackles. The tackling of the secondary may prove decisive in this game. Dunn is a very powerful running back for his size and can break the big run. All three runners can be a factor in the passing game as well — especially Dunn.

Where the Bucs have also been struggling on offense is with their offensive line. These guys are not playing as well as they did last year. DE Chad Bratzke faces a tough test against LT Paul Gruber. DE Michael Strahan must and should handle RT Jason Odom. But the focus will be on the interior trio of DT Keith Hamilton, DT Christian Peter, and MLB Corey Widmer inside against Tampa’s inside running game. The Bucs are also bound to test the Giants’ weakside linebacker, be it Jessie Armstead or Marcus Buckley and SLB Ryan Phillips. The Bucs may try to isolate someone like Dunn or TE Dave Moore on Phillips, who is still learning the game.

Stuff the run — force the Bucs to pass. If the Giants can’t do this. They likely won’t win.

When Tampa does pass, they do have some quality weapons to throw to. Dunn and the fullbacks are good targets out of the backfield. Moore has made some outstanding catches at tight end. WR’s Reidel Anthony and Jacquez Green are very fast and dangerous targets. WR Karl Williams is solid. The Giants’ secondary will have their hands full. What the defense would like to do is to force Tampa into obvious passing situations and then get after Dilfer. The more Dilfer throws, the more likely something bad for the Bucs will happen. Get into his face, fluster him, rattle him. Don’t allow him to get untracked.

Giants on Special Teams: Brad Daluiso did a great job of kicking the ball off into the endzone and preventing returns last week, but the Giants can’t count on him to do this every kick. It almost seems that each time he isn’t able to do this, a big return results. The Giants absolutely need to get their kick and punt coverage teams in order. Jacquez Green is an EXTREMELY dangerous returner and has already returned punts/kicks for touchdowns in the preseason and regular season. At the same time, it’s time for Amani Toomer and/or David Patten to break a big return again. They have come close, but such a special teams play could prove to be the difference in the ball game.