Sep 302000
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Tennessee Titans, October 1, 2000: The loss to Redskins last week at home certainly stung quite a bit. All signs seemed to point to a Giants’ win except for the fact that the Skins desperately needed that game. But poor play from Kerry Collins and the secondary hurt, as did the inability sack the quarterback.

Now the Giants have faced adversity for the first time in 2000. How will they, and more specifcally, the offense respond? The offense has only generated 20 points in two games (though the field goal problems in week three cost another 9 points). To win consistently this year, the Giants need to put more points on the board. That won’t be easy this week as the Titans have one of the better defenses in the league. But if the Giants want to be considered a “good” team, they must beat quality opposition.

In the grand scheme of things, this is not a “must” game. Tennessee is an out-of-conference opponent playing on a home field that they have yet to lose on. But a win would do wonders for team morale and confidence. The Titans are tough, but the Giants have the players to win this game.

Giants on Offense: Kerry Collins needs to play better than he did last week. Some in “The Corner Forum” wondered why this past week why he had a down game. It happens. Players are not machines and all players have bad games. Hopefully, Collins will prove to be a quarterback who excels against quality opposition (like the Eagles’ defense) on a consistent basis. He did not do that well facing the Redskins’ talented secondary last week. There will be games where the Giants do fall 10, 14, and perhaps even 17 points behind. The game will rest on his shoulders then. He can’t be babied forever by the coaching staff and can’t always be blessed by being ahead or even on the scoreboard. Just as significantly, the Giants’ ground game won’t always be there to take pressure off of him. In these situations, Kerry is going to have to take the bull by the horns and win the game by himself (with the help of his line and receivers of course). The game against the Titans may prove to be one of those kind of games. For Collins to be considered one of the best, he will have to demonstrate the ability to win games from behind when the pressure is at its greatest. Those are the kind of quarterbacks who win championships.

The Titans have a quality defense. Much of it is due to the aggressive schemes that Head Coach Jeff Fisher employs; he is a disciple of Buddy Ryan’s. So you know he will try to shut down the run and bring the heat at Collins. The main man up front for Tennessee and the player who makes their defense very good is DE Jevon Kearse. Jevon is an explosive defensive player in the mold of Lawrence Taylor. He is very athletic and very disruptive with a motor that never quits. Even when he is blocked rushing the passer, you will spot him making the tackle down the field after a receiver catches a pass or a running back breaks the line of scrimmage. Kearse is truly an amazing player to watch. Jevon is listed as “questionable” by the Titans with a quad injury, but expect him to play. He is primarily a left side player, but the Titans do move him around some. For the most part, expect RT Luke Petitgout to be the man on the spot. However, if I am Sean Payton and Jim Fassel, I keep Howard Cross in to block. This will certainly limit the Giants offensively, especially in obvious passing situations. But an incomplete pass is better than a sack and possible turnover.

Other key match-ups up front will be RDE Kenny Holmes verus LT Lomas Brown (though Kearse will at times line up over Brown). Holmes is a solid player, but Lomas should be able to handle him (especially considering that Holmes has a bad back). Inside defensive tackles Jason Fisk and John Thorton will compete against LG Glenn Parker and RG Ron Stone, respectively. Again, these are match-ups I like. A big key will be whether FB Greg Comella and OC Dusty Zeigler can effectively engage the linebackers. The Titans have a very athletic and talented group led by MLB Randall Godfrey and SLB Eddie Robinson. First rounder WLB Keith Bulluck is a very athletic guy, but he is a rookie and the Giants may be able to exploit him. But we can talk about match-ups all we want, what the Giants also need to do is to get into a physical, aggressive, tough mindset. The Titans like to slug it out. They are physical and like to wear on you. Big Blue’s offensive front must emulate this type of game and counter-punch effectively. A good dose of Ron Dayne, who seems to be coming into his own, might do the trick. I’d like to see Payton get Dayne in a rhythm and pound the ball this week. This might take some of the starch out of their defense.

But the Giants do have to put up points and most big plays (and scores) come from the passing game. This is where Kerry Collins and his receivers come in. Tennessee has a good secondary. CB Samari Rolle is an emerging player and faces WR Amani Toomer. Toomer has been getting double-teamed and/or facing the opposition’s better corners, but if he wants to be considered one of the best, he needs to make plays against the best or even when double-teamed. Amani is one of the Giants very best players and Kerry needs to get the ball into his hands more. The Titans like to blitz and these kind of situations will provide Toomer with some one-on-one match-ups. He’s going to have to beat the press and make plays down the field. I think he might have a big game this weekend. For his part, Ike Hilliard is having a fine season, but he needs to stop dropping passes. These are drive-killers. The one guy who needs to be on the field more is Ron Dixon – he is six points waiting to happen every time he touches the ball. I’d like to get him matched up on nickel back Dainon Sidney. SS Blaine Bishop (neck) is ailing, but will probably play. He is an extremely tough competitor who makes plays. FS Marcus Robertson is also a fine player.

What should help the Giants this week is that TE/H-Back Pete Mitchell should be more back into the flow of things. It may be tough this week however to get him on the field in those critical third down situations. If you keep Cross on the field to double on Kearse, then the Giants will have to keep Dixon/Jurevicius or Mitchell off of the field.

A final note, blitz pick-ups will be big this week – whether they are from the offensive line, backs, or tight ends. That added half second can be the difference in a loss or a victory.

Giants on Defense: Crap, it’s back to facing the mobile quarterback (Steve McNair) again. McNair has a chest injury, but will most likely play. If he doesn’t, Neil O’Donnell (who is also hurting) gets the start. Once again, the down four will have to maintain their rush lanes as they get after the quarterback. What’s worse is that McNair is as big as a damn running back and even when you get there, you have to make a very solid, sure tackle. For example, a blitzing CB Emmanuel McDaniel may simply bounce right off of him. Regardless, the Giants need to start accumulating some sacks. This not only means LDE Michael Strahan (who faces RT Fred Miller), but also RDE Cedric Jones (who faces LT Brad Hopkins). Both are very solid players, but Strahan and Jones are supposed to be quality pass rushers. No more damn excuses, just get to the quarterback! Getting a good inside push from Keith Hamilton (faces the remarkable LG Bruce Mathews) and Christian Peter (faces RG Benji Olson). Mathews, 39, knows all the tricks in the trade, but Hammer should be able to wear on him. Getting DE/DT Cornelius Griffin more on the field at defensive tackle may also help a great deal in obvious pass rush situations.

But the Titans are not a passing team, they are a physical, blue collar running team. Like the Giant teams of old, they like to play power football and pound you straight ahead. HB Eddie George, one of the best in the game, leads the charge. However, Eddie has had problems getting untracked this year as opposing defenses have loaded up against him. The Giants will need to do the same. The front seven, down linemen and linebackers, need to play very tough and stout at the point of attack. The Titans will try to wear the Giants out and the Giants’ defense hasn’t been know in recent years as the kind of unit who stays strong for all four quarters. A prime example was last week when the Skins started to pound New York with success in the third and fourth quarters. Tennessee is obviously aware of this. The Giant defenders need to maintain that warrior mentality not just for the first half, but the entire game. A big battle will be FB Lorenzo Neal verus the linebackers – especially MLB Mike Barrow. Neal is a very strong lead blocker.

H-Back Frank Wychek (concussion) is “questionable” for the game, but it sounds like he might play now. He is their most consistent receiving threat. Look for rookie TE Erron Kinney to be a factor too. He is a huge target. The Titans like to use the short passing game and they must have seen the success the Redskins had with it in the second half of last week’s game. Eddie George and HB Randy Thomas are also used in the passing game underneath. Barrow, Jessie Armstead, and Ryan Phillips need to do well against them in coverage. Look for the Titans to try to match up George on Phillips in particular.

FS Shaun Williams had a horrific game last week, being out of position a few times and contributing to be passes being completed down field. The Titans will test him this week and the Giants need him to bounce back. Let’s also not forget that SS Sam Garnes was beaten badly for a TD last week too. These two need to step it up. They are both in a difficult spot. Both will be called upon to provide quality run support against George, but they also must not get suckered by play action. The Titans are also hurting at wide receiver a bit. Kevin Dyson (knee) is out for the year. WR Yancy Thigpen (hamstring) is questionable. Carl Pickens (I can already hear “bw in dc” now) and Chris Sanders are the most likely starters. Jason Sehorn and David Thomas have the size and necessary speed to play a physical game with Pickens. Sanders has talent, but has been inconsistent. WR Derrick Mason has a load of talent, but has yet to harness it in the receiving game. The Giants need McDaniel to play him tough (or whoever is in the slot). The Titans may try to take advantage of McDaniel’s height with Pickens or Mason.

The true test for ultimate success for the Giants’ defense is to not wear out. They cannot afford to let their teammates down by starting to give up big runs in the second half of the game.

Giants on Special Teams: This is a huge area of concern this week. The Titans have superb special teams and the guy I’m most worried about is kick/punt returner Derrick Mason, who can return it the distance and create superb field position for his offense (he is averaging 30 yards a kick return and 12 yards a punt return). If the Giants ever needed Brad Daluiso to start booming his kick-offs (with height and distance), it is this week. Same with P Brad Maynard. The coverage units will really be on the spot. Hold your breath on every return fans!

The Titans also do a wonderful job of covering their opponents’ punts and kicks. The Titans are only giving up 2 yards per punt return!!! That is incredible. Much of it has to do with the hang time their punter is getting, but their coverage units are also outstanding.

I know I say it all the time, but specials may determine the outcome of this game. The Giants MUST at least put up a respectable showing.

Sep 272000
 
Washington Redskins 16 – New York Giants 6

Overview: The Giants played with emotion and intensity, but there were simply too many mental mistakes – which I will highlight in the positional reviews. Combine that with QB Brad Johnson’s hot hand and the poor performance from QB Kerry Collins and what was a closely fought smash-mouth affair quickly got out of hand in the second quarter. There were breakdowns in the secondary that led to 16 easy points for Washington.

But to me, the offense is the main culprit in this loss. If you hold the opposing team to 16 points, you should win…especially at home. Every time the Giants seemed to get something going, a missed block, a penalty, or a poor throw stalled the drive. Holding calls on kick returns were a big factor in poor field position. There were some strange calls from Sean Payton on top of everything else (3rd down draw on 3rd-and-10+, the repetitive screen calls that obviously were not working, etc.).

But you have to give the Redskins credit too. They played well and their veterans really stood up when their coach needed them to. For their part, the Giants’ players and coaches must quickly learn from this game and prepare for a tough Titan team. What the Giants’ offense needs to do is start scoring some points again.

Quarterback: Kerry Collins (21-of-44 for 210 yards, one touchdown and one interception) was not sharp. In the first half, there were two times that he was sacked, but aside from these two plays, Kerry had just as much time to throw the ball – if not more – than Brad Johnson did for the Skins. There were a few underneath throws to Ike Hilliard where he was right on the money, but he was way off the mark on a number of throws. It started with the first drive, where Kerry rolled out on 3rd-and-ten away from the pressure, but he seemed to rush a throw to an open Amani Toomer for what should have been an easy first down as the ball sailed high. The worst example of his inaccuracy was right before halftime when he had Amani Toomer for an easy touchdown, but badly overthrew the ball (it wouldn’t have counted because there was a penalty on the play). I don’t think it was the rush that bothered Kerry – it just didn’t look like he had “it” on Sunday night. In the first half, Kerry hit some nice passes early and late and mounted a couple of “drives”, but these would inevitably stall and no points were generated. The third down magic that the Giants had in the first three games disappeared against the Redskins. Some of his decision-making was tad questionable too. In the third quarter, he tried to get the ball deep to Hilliard who was covered inside-out by the corner and safety. Collins started to get into a bit of a rhythm in the fourth quarter when he found Ike and Pete Mitchell over the middle on well-thrown balls. But then he was picked off by Deion Sanders in the endzone. I don’t put much emphasis on his late stats after that since Washington was playing less aggressively in the secondary.

Offensive Line: Our offensive line analyst, Chris Jacobs, may disagree with me below, but it was more mental errors that seemed to be a problem than physical ones. On the big sack by DE Bruce Smith on the Giants’ most serious drive of the first half when the score was still 0-0, LT Lomas Brown wasn’t “beaten”; the problem was that he didn’t even try to block Smith. The Redskins blitzed and Smith was freely allowed to rush Collins. Head Coach Jim Fassel pointed to this play in particular on Monday: “We had other opportunities where we miscommunicated at the line of scrimmage. One time we had a good opportunity to hit a post for a touchdown. We had gotten down to about the 26-yard line, and we get a miscommunication. They walk a linebacker up in the gap, we miscommunicate it. We get two guys on one guy and Bruce Smith comes off the edge completely free and hits Kerry and we get a sack. That not only takes us out of field goal range, I think we had an excellent to hit a touchdown pass.” The Giants were driving at the end of the first half, and an idiotic personal foul by RT Luke Petitgout puts the Giants in 2nd-and-25 (and could have taken away a potential TD had Collins not been off-target). RG Ron Stone pulled on a run and whiffed on Smith in the first quarter. It was these kind of plays that hurt the Giants the most. Physically, they didn’t do as bad a job as you would think. There were holes in the running game and Collins had time to throw. Yes, it wasn’t picture perfect protection, but it rarely is in the NFL. The one big breakdown that was the responsibility of the line was Kenard Lang’s sack on the second drive of the second half that ended a Giants’ scoring threat. Lang split Parker and Zeigler and Collins never had a chance. (Stone also jumped offsides on the same set of downs). Luke was also beat badly by Lang on a running play in the 4th quarter and Barber was hit in the backfield.

Tight Ends: TE Dan Campbell badly missed the block on DE Marco Coleman on the Giants’ attempted flea flicker in the second quarter that stalled yet another drive (Petitgout got blamed by the announcers, but it was Campbell who missed the block – Luke saw the whiff and tried to help out). Perhaps it wasn’t wise to put Campbell in such a sensitive situation on a critical play? Collins tried to hit Pete Mitchell on an intermediate route over the middle for a first down to keep the drive alive in the same quarter, but the pass was tipped at the line. He did have one catch for 18 yards.

Running Backs: When they had a chance to run, the running backs were fairly productive. Ron Dayne (5 carries for 23 yards) had what I thought his most impressive run as a Giant in the first quarter on a right-side pitch where he aggressively attacked the defense up the field and punished three tacklers. Tiki Barber (16 carries for 65 yards, 6 catches for 41 yards) got outside a few times for good yardage and had a nice looking inside burst in the first quarter too. There were times when they were halted at or near the line of scrimmage, but that was no different than any of the other games these two have played. The one thing the Redskins did do a good job of was defending the backside of the play when Tiki cutback. The Skins played very disciplined defense there, as did they on the three failed screens to Tiki the Giants ran in the first half. Greg Comella (2 catches for 11 yards) was once again an auxiliary target in the passing game. However, Greg missed the blitzing linebacker on the Giants’ opening drive of the second half that resulted in a sack on third down.

Wide Receivers: The Skins did a good job of taking Amani Toomer (3 catches for 31 yards, 1 reverse for 5 yards) out of the game. Toomer did get deep on the aforementioned deep pass, but he was rarely heard from. Ike Hilliard (7 catches for 85 yards, 1 touchdown) was often spotted running crossing routes and he did a good job getting open, but he dropped two passes, including one that would have taken the Giants out of a big hole and possibly kept a drive alive (see – another self-inflicted mistake). Ike gets a lot of grief on BBI and I’m not sure why. He will drop a pass or two in a game, but he is a very slippery defender who makes far many more good plays than bad. He’s probably just as frustrated with the drops as us fans, but keep in mind he is a big reason why the Giants offense has performed so well in the first three games. Joe Jurevicius (1 catch for 10 yards) did a good job of picking up a first down when the Giants were fighting to get out of the shadow of their own endzone in the second quarter, but he later dropped a ball from Collins in the third quarter. Ron Dixon (1 catch for 14 yards) almost made a circus catch in the endzone late in the game but was ruled out of bounds.

Defensive Line: Very strong in the first half against the run and not as bad as some say against the pass. First, the run: the Redskins have a very big and gifted offensive line and a very big and gifted tailback, but Washington could get no running game going in the first half and much of this had to do with the play of the defensive line. Norv Turner said the Giants stuffed the Skins rushing attack with run blitzes, but this isn’t exactly true. There were many times when the front four were doing the job on their own, occupying the blocker, and making the tackle as well. After watching the tape, I realized that the pass rush really wasn’t that bad either. The pocket was often pushed right back into Brad Johnson’s face or he was getting hit right as he threw the ball – he just did a great job of standing in the pocket and taking the hit. DE Michael Strahan was active early against both the run and the pass (I could do without the pointing at the opposing sideline however). Particularly impressive was his backside pursuit on a few plays. DT Christian Peter was pretty active (for him) in rushing the passer and I spotted him twice crashing into Johnson just as he released the ball (one could have been intentional grounding). DE Cedric Jones forced LT Chris Samuels to hold him and DT Cornelius Griffin forced RG Tre Johnson to do the same with him. DT Keith Hamilton was stout in the middle, but had a pretty bad personal foul face mask penalty on Stephen Davis. However, the line lost some steam (and intensity?) midway through the third quarter when Davis started to break off some decent-sized runs. This combined with the short-passing game let the Skins march down the field on a time-consuming drive that resulted in a missed field goal. But the damage had been done.

Linebackers: Very active and overall a good game. This might have been SLB Ryan Phillips’ best game as a Giant. He flashed (for once) a couple of times in run defense – once stringing out an outside run and making the solo tackle and then later slashing through the line (something that I’ve been waiting for from him for a long time) to make a very strong tackle for a loss. In coverage, Phillips made one good play against a back, but got beat down the field by the tight end in the second half. WLB Jessie Armstead also made a couple of strong tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage (his quicks are back). He absolutely crushed Johnson on an inside blitz, but Johnson stood tough in the pocket and delivered a huge pass deep down the field. It was an up-and-down night for MLB Mike Barrow. In the first half, I spotted him flying around the field and shooting gaps. He seemed to start getting into the flow of the defense after missing much of camp. But Mike missed a couple of tackles on the Skins’ time-consuming drive in the third quarter that did not result in points.

Defensive Backs: Mental mistakes seemed to be the big story here too, but there were physical breakdowns as well. First listen to Coach Fassel: “I told the defense guys this morning they were going to go deep. I read all the comments all week about everything they said, their philosophy; they are going to go play-action pass over the top…The one pass they hit up on our sideline, we’re in cover two. That ball was thrown and we should be waiting there for the interception. That’s a slam dunk, no question in my mind, absolutely no question, interception. We should be in position. We misjudged the ball and misplayed it. The angle was wrong. They get the completion. They got (53) yards out of it. We should’ve had an interception on that play.” The man in question is FS Shaun Williams, who played very well in the previous three games despite missing all of the preseason. “I thought the receiver was behind me,” said Williams. “I was going for the ball, but I didn’t have a good feel for where the receiver was. He just jumped in front of me and made the play.” On the very next play, Dave Thomas was burned by Jake Reed for a TD on what he thought was going to be a curl route and ended up being a stop-and-go route – another mental mistake. “He ran a shuttle and go. We call it a sluggo,” Thomas said. “He did a curl and I bit on the curl. I tried to recover in time to get the ball, but by that time he was all over it.” In the first half of the game, it seemed to me that the Giants were confused. CB Dave Thomas is the weak link of the secondary. He’s no Jeremy Lincoln, but he’s the kind of guy you want to give some help to if you can. Well, the first big play against the secondary was a deep post pattern to WR James Thrash (the fastest offensive player on the Redskins), yet there was no safety in the picture (Shaun Williams was out of position). You can’t leave a speed receiver all alone with Thomas deep over the middle like that. “I didn’t play disciplined,” Williams said. “I was supposed to be back deep, but I jumped the short route because I thought that’s where he was going to throw it. I made a bad decision.” Later, SS Sam Garnes was burned badly by Irving Fryar on an out-and-up. Why was Garnes covering Fryar all by himself? To me, these are either mental breakdowns on the part of the players or scheme problems on the part of Defensive Coordinator John Fox. (Fox was also crossed up by Turner’s play-calling in the third quarter when the Skins started to hit the fullback and tight end). The other deep throw of the first half by Johnson was simply a beautiful throw and well-executed.

Special Teams: Great coverage on punt returns. First, P Brad Maynard put together a strong game, both in terms of his long drive opportunities and coffin corner chances. He did a good job of pinning Deion Sanders to the sideline. Second, the coverage unit really did a number on Deion with guys like Lyle West, Ryan Phillips, Emmanuel McDaniel, and Greg Comella leading the charge.

The bad news was the Giants’ kick returns. Two first half holding penalties (by Brandon Short and Chris Ziemann) really hurt. But so did some strange returns from Ron Dixon. I thought Dixon was over his dancing around the field routine, but he regressed on Sunday and didn’t take the ball aggressively up the field. A kick returner simply cannot hesitate in the NFL, and he certainly cannot come to a virtual stop. Dixon did too much of this (and I also think he put his blockers in a bad position as he seemed to free lance a bit much).

A big mistake was CB Reggie Stephens not falling on the fumble on the Redskins’ opening kick-off of the second half. He tried to pick up the ball and score (a noble goal), but in that situation he needs to fall on the ball. He’ll learn from this. Emmanuel McDaniel should have been able to keep one of Maynard’s punts from bouncing into the endzone. Brandon Short also gave the Redskins a first down very late in the game when he jumped offsides.


Analysis of the Offensive Line

by Chris Jacobs

Lomas Brown 88%:
I was very very impressed with his play this week. If it wasn’t for the miscommunication on the line in the first quarter you would have never heard Bruce Smith’s name mentioned once. And Smith tried every trick in the book; speed rush, bull rush, swim move, spin move, the Reggie White one arm toss, etc. Well Lomas handled everything that Smith threw at him. And what’s even more impressive is 90% of the time Washington knew they were going to throw so they just pinned their ears back and went. You can start carving out the bust now for Bruce Smith in Canton and LB shut him down.

Glen Parker 92%:
All I’ve been reading in the papers is GP saying he had a bad game and blaming himself for the loss. I admire him for not pointing fingers because that’s been a problem in the past with the team, however the truth of the matter is he had a very good game. There was one really bad play that Kenard Lang made GP and DZ look like swinging saloon doors from an old western, and I also gave him a bad mark on Toomer’s reverse because he didn’t hit anyone, but besides that he played a solid game. Still a tad high at times in pass protection.

Dusty Ziegler 90%:
This was a very physical football game. Barring the aforementioned pass protection breakdown with he and Glen P, I would say he had a pretty good game. Did a really nice job handling Wilkinson and Stubblefield up front. On one 3rd-and-2 he took Big Daddy out of the play by himself, it actually surprised me that they didn’t double him in that instance but he got the job done alone. He wasn’t driving guys 5 yards downfield like he has the last 3 weeks but he did good enough to get the job done. Between Stubblefield and Wilkinson, they had no tackles no assists and no sacks.

Ron Stone 88%:
The reason they don’t use him as much as Parker to pull and kick out could not have been more clear than on the second play of the game. I know this has already been well documented but if he makes that block it’s at the very least 10 yards, possibly a long run because it was wide open downfield. Again had some problems getting to the backers here and there but overall did a good job, like I mentioned before, both inside guys didn’t have a tackle.

Luke Petitgout 88%:
88%?!?!?!?!?!? Are you kidding me? Listen, there were 75 offensive plays and the reason why it seemed like he had a bad game was because his mistakes were the most glaring and obvious. First of all the flea flicker sack wasn’t his fault, it was Dan Campbell’s (Paul McGuire knows less about football than Dennis Miller does). And, yes, the left hook to the head of Arrington was a bonehead thing to do out of frustration, he completely missed Kenard Lang on a run in the fourth quarter that resulted in a four yard loss, and, the failed two point conversion was his fault. However, all in all he really didn’t have a bad game.

I could get into all the reasons why they lost this game, I can point out certain players, on both sides of the ball, coaches, play calling (actually I would never question the playcalling). The fact of the matter is they lost, and they lost to a good football team that has a ton of talent. The reason I’m saying all this is because I know many of you are going to read this and think I’m being biased because I’m a fan of the team. But the truth is the O-line really had a good game, I tried to give them bad grades and I looked for bad play from all of them but I couldn’t find it. I’m standing by my post the other day that I don’t think the Redskins are a better team than the Giants.

One final note – Dayne did and excellent job pass blocking.


WASHINGTON EXPOSE

by David Oliver

This week is the first of an annual double header which takes on more meaning than football for me. I have lived in the Washington area over 30 years now and it’s never been home. I’ve watched it grow from a southern cow town with paved street to a fun house mirror impersonation of the Big Apple. There are no European or Asian ethnic enclaves, although northern Virginia is developing a Vietnamese/Korean and Hispanic culture, no traditional working class, no decent bakeries or affordable neighborhood restaurants, and only a pseudo Kulture ,based on road shows and federal largesse. Move the federal government out of town and it would sink back into the Potomac swamps from whence it came. It is a town whose only sport is politics and whose only true fans are the detritus of political campaigns who tramp here, smug and pompous after every election, only to ebb away like a bad low tide 4 years following its arrival.

When the Giants play the Redskins, it becomes a Holy Crusade for me; grit against gloss, truth against lie, reality against delusion. When the Skins win, I grieve; when the Giants win, I preen. A really great year for me is one like the Super Bowl year when the Giants won 3 games; a bad year is like last year when the Giants not only lose 2, but give up 50 points at home.

This year I left home concerned – on a personal note, the lump in my wife’s leg is a tumor (although the surgeon says most of these are benign, we’re not crossing that bridge just yet), Buff the Cat does have cancer and his life expectancy is months, and this is my last week on the job. No, Joey, I don’t want your money – I was being cute and guess I missed the mark. I just try to bring the average fan into the game, to show that we, you and I do have lives and to set the stage for the fact that the players too have lives. And that these lives we have do impact or are impacted by the game -that’s why it is so popular. Of course, I forget that many people today, particularly the young, don’t have lives, having been around only so long. I do have a life and it does involve not only the Giants but a lot of history. If I miss the mark with some, I hope I hit it with others.

The omens are not good as I ride north. The Giants are 3 and 0 and are slightly giddy. The Redskins are 1 and 2 and running scared, after all, Washington is such a wonderful place, where fate is determined ala the roman coliseum, on the whim of the mob’s finger. So Saturday night, I drove down to an old neighborhood establishment – Jimmy Buff’s, on Washington St. in West Orange, N.J. Buff’s has been around forever. Big buff has had a stroke and Little Buff runs it now. Little Buff is a pretty big guy himself. Buff’s makes those great sausage and peppers and onions and potato sandwiches or dogs with the works or just plain vegetables. Order a double and they cut a loaf of pizza bread (a favorite in north Jersey) in half and stuff with your selection. It’s a small place, like a half diner. Single file in the door and there is a counter, a soda cooler and two grills. The grease is sizzling and popping and the air is redolent with the aroma of old Newark. The place is magical- it is a time machine. Every few years I head down and I feel at home again. Thomas Wolfe wrote ‘you can never go home again.’ But Thomas Wolfe never visited Jimmy Buff’s. Hanging at places like Buff’s or Sal’s or the White Castle was a rite of passage – and I don’t apologize for the fact that I miss those places, those times, my friends, family, the bakeries, the nights with Jive Five or thunderbird and a pizza, or slippery sack. And the Giants have always been a large part of those times, and these. Now I’m fully armed and ready for the Redskins game.

Sunday finally comes. I can’t stand hanging around all day. I take Mom shopping, get the cameras ready, watch the Cowboys and the race at Dover, then part of the Jets. At 5PM, I leave for the game. The parking lot is already full of tailgaters – after all, this game could be special – although Sunday and Monday nights are not good to the Giant – another fatalistic omen. Watching the smoke rise into the gray dusky sky calls to mind an interesting juxtaposition – we Giants fans always believe we are at the gates of Camelot, when in truth, we stand closer to Hephaestus’ forge. What to others appears acrid and searing, to us is aromatic and soothing. Another year, a good start, and we think, this could be the year, while preparing at the same time for the inevitable letdown.

There are few experiences in sports that top the introduction of the Giants players before a big game. The Pizza Man and his hard hat cohorts stand atop the tunnel entrance, the team gathers, jumping and shouting and psyching each other, the bell begins tolling, the mournful war cry of the Meadowlands, bong, bong, bong…For this game the Giants have borrowed something else from the Rams playbook. The tunnel fills with smoke and the players come onto the field as their numbers are called, entering out of the mist and the foggy darkness, emerging from the Stadium underworld through Vulcan’s fires. When Jessie’s name is called he emerges from the mist on all fours, barking like a demented war dog, almost howling, and the fans are going crazy. The XFL can’t top this. The feeling is almost mystical, but instinctively I think, oh, my God the Giants are going to lose this game. Adrenalin is a funny thing. When released it must be used up quickly or it dissipates and takes a long time to reload. If the Giants don’t strike fast, I fear this will be a long night. Well, they didn’t and that was that. They worked hard, they fought to the end, but the demon minions of diminutive Dan doused the flames of victory.

And what minions they are. Cruising the Redskins sideline is like a history tour of NFL football in the 1990s. Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, Irving Fryar, Mark Carrier, Darrell Green, Larry Centers, Big Daddy and Dana Stubblefield, Brad Johnson and Jeff George; throw in LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels for future shock and you don’t know where to look, whose picture to take. You read about the 100 million payroll and the names, but until you walk down there and see them, you just can’t imagine that such a team has actually been assembled. It’s like a casting call for an NFL Properties spectacular choreographed by the great Busby Berkeley, with sound and lighting by Lucas and sub theme by Spielberg. It’s a shame Theisman and Co. have this game, it was tailor made for Dennis Miller.

Is there anything you haven’t heard about the game? My take is exactly as Coach Fassel – 4 or 5 plays made the difference. The Giants didn’t make them, the Redskins did. Forget total dominance, because it wasn’t, it was actually a pretty even game. Mad Dog and Fatso didn’t watch the game, hell, they didn’t even listen on radio to the whole thing. Forget the thought that the Giants didn’t play hard, they did. Forget bad coaching, it wasn’t; forget the play calling, that wasn’t the reason (although if you read JFs Monday Press Conference carefully, he did say he had spoken to Sean Payton about the lack of big play calls). But how can you call big plays if there is no execution? It doesn’t matter what you call if players drop passes, miss blocking assignments, or the QB is off target. It wasn’t the case on every play, but it happened enough to prevent victory. Ike dropped a couple early, JJ couldn’t bring one or two in, KC missed numerous receivers and on one play Tiki and Lomas Brown clocked a LB while Bruce Smith went unimpeded to KC.

Statistically, those 4 plays are the difference. First downs, Giants 21 (15 rushing), Redskins 17 (11 rushing); third down efficiency, Giants 44%, Redskins 36%. Net yards, rushing yards, time of possession and final score, advantage Redskins. But all that is tempered by this: Connell 4 catches for 122 yards, a long of 53 (at least 2 undefensed); Reed 21 yard TD; Fryar 23 yard TD (direct result of defensive lapse on play previous); Thrash 46 yard catch (bad defense). Four of those plays were blown coverages; add the failed fumble recovery to start the second half and that is the margin of victory. We can’t minimize it because the Redskins took advantage, therefore they were the better team and won on this night. But it wasn’t a total disaster out there. For fotogs, the keys are luck and lighting. For coaches, it is luck and 4 plays.

Ike wound up with 7 catches – he was the go to guy. Tiki had 6, but 5 of them amounted to very little. Amani, Pete Mitchell, Dixon and JJ were all quiet, with JJ not showing he had stepped up. His size creates enormous mismatches and the Giants had them but JJ couldn’t bring in a couple of critical receptions. Tiki had 65 on the ground, Dayne added 23 but I though Dayne could have been used more and with effect. When Parker pulls in front of him, the Big Fella seems to have a comfort zone and he tucks in the holes. It was interesting on the 2 point attempt to see Dayne coming into a pretty big hole and then to watch Arrington shoot across the gap and totally obliterate him. That doesn’t happen on many Dayne runs. The Giants need to ride this horse now – he looks ready to step up.

The defense was led by dog-man Jessie who had 7 unassisted and 4 assisted for a total of 11. Barrow had a combined 8. Interestingly, Williams and Thomas each had 8. Williams looked great on his blitz. Thomas did not look that bad. He didn’t get help on a couple of plays and that made him look like the culprit. Williams had the bad game, he knows it and he feels bad about it. But I won’t dis him here – he learned something – stay home – take care of your responsibility – his was the deep half and deep third and he bit on play fakes or pumps – ergo bad game for him – big gains for Redskins. Sehorn also looked spotty; he seems to have lost some instinct for the play. Of course, Francesca says he was never impressed with Sehorn, even in his big year. Yeah, Right!! Ryan Phillips was active and had one beauty where he chased Davis into the flat and made the tackle – not many can do that. The middle of the line was solid and the ends stopped the rush, but there was no penetration, no pressure. Johnson actually had time to wind up and throw into the wind. The missing ingredient for this defense is a proven rusher, a pressure generator. One such player will make this a very formidable defense, a premiere defense. Without it, the secondary will be exposed at times.

I was totally nonplused by the big catches and asked several players if they had seen tapes of the Dallas game. They answered, of course. Well, duh, what does it take – the coach goes over and over on the probable attempts, everyone has seen the film, and then, and then, and then, along came…For those who haven’t heard, the Giants were actually in a two deep zone, they just blew the coverages. JF said that the sideline pass caught by Thrash would have been an INT 9 times out of 10, and the guy was there, he just didn’t make the play. Fox and Olivadotti better come up with something or someone to get some pressure before it gets out of control. Maybe it’s time to give Jeremiah Parker a shot. Strahan got close several times but Brad Johnson is so big, he just flipped it over MS’ head for a completion.

Mad Dog and Fatso were crowing about how the Redskins ran the ball late, when the other team needed possession, and how this is the mark of a good running team. NOT!!! The damage was done by two key passes, one late in the third, one in the fourth, to keep possession. They were a 24 yarder to Sellers and a 20 yard to Alexander. In the 4th quarter, Davis runs went: 1 yard, 5 yards, 5 yards, 1 yard, 3 yards, 3 yards, no gain, 2 yards, 1 yard and 3 yards on two different drives, hardly an overwhelming ball control offense. Watch the game, guys before you spout off nonsense.

Here was the critical series of the game for the Giants offense. First quarter at the 4:36 mark, Giants take over following a punt – at their 36. Dayne goes around right end for 12, Tiki around right end for 8, Dayne stopped, Tiki around left end for 18. Then an incomplete pass to Tiki, a sack for -8 (the Bruce Smith sack-result of miscommunication – Giant receiver open on the play). KC to Tiki for -2, and the Giants are 4th-and-20 instead of having points.

There was also the slightly frenetic drive in the 4th quarter. The Skins missed a field goal, Giants ball on the 20. KC to Ike for 12, Tiki -4, KC to Comella for no gain, KC to Ike for 20, Tiki -4, KC to Pete for 18, inc, inc, KC to Tiki for 15. First-and-10 on the 23 and the attempted strike – KC to Ike INT Neon, who runs it back to the 28. No points again.

That, kiddies, is how it went. Cough, sputter, sputter, cough. It was the Ike and Tiki show, everyone else was window dressing. There were open receivers but KC reverted and locked on – and he had happy feet. I looked up once and thought I saw Dave Brown out there, no, I’m sure it was Kent Graham; must be something in the water in the locker room. Man, think about it; Dave Brown got hit and wanted to fight linebackers, Kent got hit and thought he was still in Arizona, KC gets hit and he begins thinking, hey, I’m not Brown or Graham, I think I’m Michael Jackson. Last guy who played here who could get hit and still play a good game was Phil Simms – tell me he doesn’t belong in the Hall!!

Grading this effort was tough. The defense overall gets a solid B+- the Redskins were held to 16 points and weren’t dominant. The secondary doesn’t deserve a D, but what the hell, they tackled if they couldn’t make a play. The linebackers deserve an A for a gutsy performance. All three starters did their jobs. The interior linemen stopped the run. The ends stopped the run, but generated no pressure.

On offense, whew! KC is a stand up guy – he took the blame, and a lot of it was his. The line didn’t run and hide either. Parker acknowledged they could have done better, Lomas did as well as anyone would have against a fired up Bruce Smith. But the line let too many guys get to KC. The tight ends must do more than block. Pete got free once and it was big. The receivers were open – sometimes KC didn’t get the ball there, sometimes they dropped it – inexcusable on both counts. The running backs did their job – Tiki gave it all, Dayne wasn’t used enough – the Big Fella is suited to running at the Redskins.

The Coaching – JF did his job, Sean Payton had one of those games, Fox had a good scheme, but didn’t bring enough heat, Johnny Lynnn – well, he wasn’t the center fielder, so we can’t blame him.

Breakdowns, breakdowns, breakdowns. As MacDuff told his ST unit after the game, “You have to grow up fast in this league”. The breakdowns are inexcusable. They cost the Giants victory – and those of us in the DC area, untold abuse at the hands of THEM.

(Box Score – Washington Redskins at New York Giants, September 24, 2000)
Sep 222000
 

Approach to the Game – Washington Redskins at New York Giants, September 24, 2000: The Redskins are a talented football team. On offense, they have a very big and physical offensive line, a good pass receiving tight end, a quarterback coming off of a Pro Bowl season, and maybe the best running back in the league. On defense, they have a very good secondary (safeties included) and good depth on the defensive line. Deion Sanders returns punts on specials and he has given the Giants a ton of problems in that department in the past.

My point? Do not underestimate the Redskins simply because they have started off 1-2. This game is going to be a real war and this game in effect is really a playoff game for Washington. An overstatement? Perhaps. But if Washington loses this game, they will fall three games behind the Giants in the standings. The starting quarterback will be benched and the head coach may be fired. If the Redskins fall to 1-3, faced with the upcoming schedule they have, it is certainly possible that they will not even make the playoffs. That is how much is riding on this game for them. The Redskins are not the Cardinals or the Bears. There is quality, veteran leadership on this team with players such as QB Brad Johnson, RG Tre Johnson, HB Stephen Davis, DE Bruce Smith, DE Marco Coleman, CB Darrell Green, and CB Deion Sanders. To expect them to take a dive without a fight is not realistic.

All that being said, the Giants have EARNED for themselves a golden opportunity: they can effectively bury the Redskins and take a commanding lead in the division. They can put Washington into such disarray that they may no longer be a factor in the chase. Indeed, the game may have such enormous repercussions that it may continue to haunt the Skins in 2001 and beyond (i.e., quarterback and coaching change, salary cap implications, etc.).

But the game has even a deeper meaning to New York than its effects on its opponent. This is the Giants chance to shine in front of a national audience – to show everyone that they are a good team. Most in the media continue to argue that Big Blue has yet to face quality opposition. When they do, they say, New York will fall back to the rest of the pack. The Giants’ players and coaches can make a very strong statement on Sunday night – not by merely winning, but by dominating Washington. The Redskins’ confidence is shaken and they are not playing well. If the Giants put together a total team effort like they did in Philadelphia two weeks ago, they will win – and they will win convincingly.

Giants on Offense: The Redskins must be thinking one thing and one thing only: play eight men up close to the line of scrimmage, stuff Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne, and force Kerry Collins and the receivers to beat them. Washington most likely is convinced that cornerbacks Champ Bailey, Deion Sanders, and Darrell Green can handle the Giants’ receivers one-on-one. And with TE/H-Back Pete Mitchell ailing (ulcer), that puts even more pressure on the Giants’ receivers to perform. This is the game where Amani Toomer, Ike Hilliard, Joe Jurevicius, and Ron Dixon can prove how good they really are. In the past, Toomer and Hilliard haven’t been able to get much done against Washington. Why should Norv Turner and Ray Rhodes think any differently this time? So the Skins will load up against the run. If the receivers can’t get open, if the line doesn’t protect the quarterback, and if Collins can’t accurately deliver the ball, then it will be a long night for the offense. But what a great opportunity for Kerry Collins and the receivers to announce themselves to the nation and demonstrate that New York indeed has a dynamic passing attack!

So do the Giants come out throwing or do they do what is expected and run the ball? Good question. Washington’s run defense is still suspect. But if the Redskins bring eight men up and shoot the gaps, running will be tough. Safeties Sam Shade and Mark Carrier are physical. Passing early might be the best time to hit the secondary. Bailey is a top notch corner, but he is still young and susceptible to double-moves. Deion Sanders can sometimes be exposed on crossing patterns. Darrell Green is not big or physical. The corners are excellent, but there are ways to attack them. Of course, pounding the ball a bit at Sanders on sweeps to the left might help to soften him up as well. We all know Deion doesn’t like contact.

My ideal solution would be to attack the young Redskins’ linebackers in coverage with Tiki Barber and Pete Mitchell. Unfortunately, Mitchell may not play, and even if does, it looks like he will be limited. That is unfortunate. Because while Greg Jones, Derek Smith, and LaVar Arrington are athletic, they still lack a feel for the passing game and can be exposed. WLB Shawn Barber is the exception because he played safety in college. We may see Jim Fassel and Sean Payton try to get Tiki down the field more in the receiving game this week. Tight ends Howard Cross and Dan Campbell must play well – both in the blocking and receiving departments.

For New York to win, we all know that they will have to run the ball. Up front, the battles are LT Lomas Brown versus DE Bruce Smith (and Ndukwe Kalu), LG Glenn Parker versus DT Dana Stubblefield, RG Ron Stone versus Dan Wilkinson, and RT Luke Petitgout versus DE Marco Coleman. Smith has played well for the Skins and is still a heck of a player who can be very disruptive. Wilkinson is a guy who has impressed me at times with his ability to control the middle of the field. The Skins’ defense under Ray Rhodes has been more aggressive than under Mike Nolan – Washington blitzes much more because they have quality corners. The coaches, offensive line, tight ends, and backs must be prepared for this.

In games like this, the outcome is usually decided by a few factors: (1) turnovers, (2) who can run the ball, (3) attitude, and (4) coaching. If New York doesn’t turn the ball over, can establish the running game, plays with great intensity and passion, and has a great game plan, then they will win and do so pretty convincingly.

Giants on Defense: I have a few concerns here. Yes, Washington will be limited by the absence of WR Michael Westbrook, and even more so if pass-catching back Larry Centers (elbow) is out. But Norv Turner still knows how to attack a defense as he proved last year when Washington came to New York. That day, he knew the weak link of the Giants’ secondary was CB Jeremy Lincoln and he attacked him mercilessly. Will CB Dave Thomas be the next victim? Does Washington have the receivers to do so? Albert Connell proved to be a quality deep threat as a number two receiver last year, but he may not be an ideal number one receiver. I would think CB Jason Sehorn would concentrate on him mostly by himself and the Giants will provide some safety help to Thomas. Andre Reed and Irving Fryar may be old and nearing the end, but they still know the tricks of the trade and how to get open. Two guys who could also be factors are CB Champ Bailey who the Skins will use some at wide receiver (he has great speed) and WR James Thrash. Once again, the young corners such as nickel back Emmanuel McDaniel and possibly Reggie Stephens will need to play well. So will FS Shaun Williams, who Fassel singled out this week for his impressive early season play. Williams could be a difference-maker in this game.

In my mind, one huge match-up is SS Sam Garnes, MLB Mike Barrow, and/or SLB Ryan Phillips on TE Stephen Alexander. Alexander is a very good receiving threat who can get deep. He also gave New York all kinds of problems last year. The linebackers will also have to be wary of Centers (if he plays) and the other backs (Stephen Davis, Adrian Murrell) as QB Brad Johnson likes to throw against the undercoverage. Turner has also surprised the Giants in the past by having his quarterbacks throw to the blocking tight end (who is now James Jenkins).

But the guy who makes the Skins go on offense is RB Stephen Davis. He is a big back who can punish a defense; but he also has enough elusiveness and speed to break off big runs. He is perfectly suited to a big, physical, and talented offensive line. LT Chris Samuels may be a rookie, but he looks like he will be 10-year Pro Bowler. He’s a much better pass blocker than run defender. DE Cedric Jones will have his hands full against him. RT Jon Jansen owned DE Michael Strahan last year – the Giants need Strahan to take control of that match-up both against the run and the pass. Inside, RG Tre Johnson is a massive presence who the Skins like to pull to their left and get out on the weakside linebacker (in this case Jessie Armstead) or the middle linebacker (Mike Barrow). LG Keith Sims faces DT Keith Hamilton. OC Mark Fischer replaces the injured Cory Raymer and may be somewhat vulnerable to inside dogs. Much will depend on Hamilton and fellow DT Christian Peter in not being moved off of the line of scrimmage. The Giants must control the line of scrimmage on defense and not allow Stephen Davis to get going. Unfortunately, the G-Men have been unable to accomplish that in recent games against him. This will take an all-out effort by all the members of the defense (including the secondary).

And there’s my second big concern. Norv Turner will know that the Giants’ defense will be jacked to stop the run. Factor in the home crowd, a nation-wide audience, and the desire for revenge and you know New York will come out super-aggressive and perhaps a bit too hyper. This will be the perfect time for Washington to hit the Giants with play-action or misdirection plays (Turner loves to run reverses on the Giants – watch out for Connell or Bailey here). The Giants’ defense must be aggressive and physical, but most importantly, they must play smart on Sunday night.

My third concern is what type of coverage to play in the secondary. Dallas used a three deep zone to great effect against Washington, forcing them to drive the length of the field using dink and dunk passes. But the Giants use more of a risky man or man/zone scheme in order for them to blitz more – and the Giants will most likely have to blitz in order to get pressure on the Skins. While this scheme allows New York to be more aggressive in the pass rush, it also puts more pressure on the defensive backs and big plays are more likely to result. Should the Giants play it safe or should they be aggressive? We’re going to find out soon.

In terms of the pass rush, the good news is that the Giants don’t face a mobile quarterback this week, even if Brad Johnson is replaced by Jeff George during the game. Thus, for the first time this year, the down lineman can be much more aggressive with their upfield charges. We even may see Cornelius Griffin at defensive tackle some this week in passing situations. But one thing is brutally clear. If the Giants play well early and Washington does make a switch at quarterback, the Giants cannot let down against George. He is a very accurate passer, particularly on the deep ball. Brad Johnson is the more cerebral of the two and he beats you with his smarts; but George can beat you with his arm. That being said, if you hit Jeff enough, he will fumble and start throwing interceptions.

Giants on Special Teams: With Deion Sanders returning punts, this is where we need P Brad Maynard to rebound bigtime. Same with PK Brad Daluiso and his field goals and kick-offs. James Thrash can be dangerous on kick returns. Coverage units must play disciplined and smart – Turner is very much willing to employ trick plays on special teams (like he did with Champ Bailey on Monday). If you remember, a few years ago he burned New York with a fake field goal (a fake punt is not out of the question either). Of course, the Giants can create a little bit of their own magic with their return game.

Final Note: To say this is a big game is an understatement. To win, in big games your “star” players must play like stars. The outcome most likely rests on the shoulders of Kerry Collins, Michael Strahan, Jessie Armstead, Tiki Barber, Jason Sehorn, and Amani Toomer.

Sep 202000
 
New York Giants 14 – Chicago Bears 7

Overview: Less than nine months ago, the Giants were a beat up and battered team that finished a supposed “playoff run” by going 0-3 down the stretch. The offensive line was unconfident and untalented; there was no running game; there was much finger pointing and whispers about players who were not playing hard; and no one was having any fun. The Giants finished the disappointing 7-9 season with an utterly embarrassing effort (or lack thereof) in Dallas despite words of warning from the head coach and owner. Many players had quit. It was obvious.

Fast forward to the off-season and General Manager Ernie Accorsi and Head Coach Jim Fassel and their respective assistants completely re-made the roster. The malcontents were sent packing. In came some savvy veterans – guys with talent and, just as importantly, leaders who brought with them a calming, confident presence. Together with the leadership growth of some key veterans such as Kerry Collins, Tiki Barber, Sam Garnes, and Keith Hamilton, the Giants mysteriously acquired that key ingredient this offseason that separates the winners from the losers in the National Football League: the Giants began to believe in themselves.

0-4 didn’t bother them in the preseason; they didn’t panic. The players knew what they were capable of and they went out an proved it in the first three games. Unbelievably, the Giants have made it look easy. One gets the sense that we haven’t seen the “A Game” from the players and coaches yet. It almost seems as if they are holding their best back for those big battles to come against Washington, Tennessee, and St. Louis. This team has not even come close to peaking yet. What a difference nine months make.

That confidence combined with a dramatically improved talent base has given the Giants a crucial 3-0 head start. But that is all it is. Now the real battles will begin. How good and how far this team will go is about to be determined. The more the Giants win, the more the pressure rises. But with that pressure can come great glory. It is all there for the taking. But each player must fully realize that with each passing game there can be no letdown, no breather. That won’t come until February. Now is the time to put it all on the line. Hard work in the film and weight rooms; complete focus in team meetings and on the practice field; and execution and intensity on game day will determine the outcome.

Get ready players, coaches, media, and fans because now the fun part is about to really start.

Quarterback: Another solid performance from Kerry Collins (24-of-33 for 249 yards, 1 touchdown and no interceptions) who was not spectacular, but very efficient. The high point of his day came on the first drive when the Giants drove the length of the field (80 yards) and never faced a third down situation. The drive was culminated by his best throw of the day (and perhaps season) – a gorgeously thrown deep ball to Ron Dixon for a 34-yard touchdown. Dixon was well-covered, but the defensive back never had a chance because the pass was so well thrown. I also saw something from Collins that really made me take notice later in the game. Collins stood in the pocket and calmly delivered a pass to Ike Hilliard despite knowing he was about to get sandwiched by two Bear defenders. Plays like that win games. I also loved the rollout to the left where Kerry was able to throw back across his body and find a well-covered Dan Campbell. Kerry and Dan seemed to be completely in sync with one another on that play as Dan somehow could tell that Collins wanted him to reverse direction in order to get open.

Don’t be fooled by the final score of this game, if it weren’t for the kicking game, a fumble, and a barely-deflected shovel pass, this game could have easily been 34-7. (In the first half, they got nothing out of drives of nine, eleven, and nine plays). But Collins again kept drives alive with accurate throws. Most importantly, for the second game in a row, he didn’t make the dumb mistake. No fumbles, no interceptions.

Offensive Line: BBI reporter Chris Jabobs will provide his excellent detailed analysis, but I want to make a few quick observations. I still can’t get over the fact how quickly this unit has come together. The Giants’ blocking schemes are not your basic, run-of-the-mill mano-a-mano stuff. This is a very involved zone-blocking system with lots of traps and pulling. Throw in the screens, reverses, counters, and various out-of-the-ordinary plays that Jim Fassel and Sean Payton are coming up with (not to mention the motion before every snap), and it is a minor miracle that they guys are acting like they have been together for five years. To me, the interior trio of Glenn Parker, Dusty Zeilger, and Ron Stone really stood out this week. Stone really surprised me with his pulling this week. Yes, there were moments when Bear defenders such as DT Mike Wells and MLB Brian Urlacher were able to stuff things, but these guys once again wore down their opponent. As John Madden pointed out throughout the game, Parker was doing a great job on his pulling (especially to the right). But I thought Ron Stone and Dusty Zeigler deserved more attention as well. LT Lomas Brown kept high-priced free agent Phillip Daniels quiet all game. RT Luke Petitgout only had one big snafu where he was bull-rushed back into Kerry Collins for a crucial sack. On the plays that I watched him, Luke seemed to be doing a decent job on his run blocks. The Giants once again dominated the time of possession (38:11 to 21:49), number of plays (76 to 56), and put up 407 yards of total offense. The Giants are wearing out opposing defenses and keeping their own defense fresh. “We were so fresh that whenever we went out there, we gave (the Bears) our best shot every time we went on the field,” SS Sam Garnes said.

And you know what? No penalties.

Tight Ends/H-Backs: Much more active in the passing game this week. H-Back Pete Mitchell (2 catches for 17 yards) made his presence felt on the first two drives – one was a nine yard pick-up on first down and the second one converted a third down. His return is going to be huge in coming weeks, especially on third down. Dan Campbell made an incredible, diving catch for 13 yards after reading Collins’ eyes (and intentions) by reversing his field and shaking the defender. Even Howard Cross got into the act with an 18-yard reception where he put on a Mark Bavaro impersonation by running over defenders after the catch. As for the blocking, Campbell was up and down on the plays where I kept my eyes on him. There was one Ron Dayne sweep to the left where Campbell did a great job of sealing the corner. However, on a right-side sweep, he couldn’t handle the defensive end and the play was stopped for no gain. Fans should also learn to appreciate Howard Cross’ contribution to the “Thunder and Lightening” production – he remains a superb run blocker.

Halfbacks/Fullbacks: They’re still at it. Tiki Barber (17 carries for 86 yards; 6 catches for 58 yards) and Ron Dayne (19 carries for 69 yards) have now torn apart three NFL defenses and a running game that was a joke last year is now putting up the best numbers in the league. The style has been well-documented already: Dayne punishes the opponent on straight-ahead runs and Barber runs around them with quickness and moves. Their highlights of the day came on the 6-play, 43-yard drive in the third quarter – a drive that was all “Thunder and Lightening” running. It was almost as if the backs and blockers (including the fullbacks and tight ends) said, “Enough of this crap, it’s time to put this team away.” The big plays on the drive were Tiki’s 19-yard run behind Zeigler and Parker and Ron Dayne’s 8-yard left-side sweep on 3rd-and-one where he punished the tackler. Tiki finished the drive with a halfback reverse behind a great block from the pulling Parker. Dayne had a big run called back due to a holding call on WR Joe Jurevicius, but Dayne seemed to take yet another step forward. He attacked the line a little quicker and more aggressively this week. The funny thing is that even when he appears stuffed, you find out he somehow still picked up four yards. Once again, he was huge in picking up first downs on second- and third-and-short. Tiki’s one big mistake was his fumble near the 10 yard line, but he did properly cover the ball on the play. Still, that could have been a killer turnover. He also dropped a swing pass that stalled a drive. It’s also too bad that his shovel pass was deflected because it looked like a huge play to me if completed.

Greg Comella (4 catches for 31 yards; 1 carry for 4 yards) continues to have a major role in this offense as both a receiver and blocker. Greg’s blocking was very strong again on Sunday on those plays where I watched him. I also like the attitude he brings to the field. There was once play where S Tony Parrish was giving Tiki the business after a big hit and Comella came over, shoved Parrish, and seemed to say, “Don’t pull that crap with us.” I love seeing fellow players sticking up for others like that. The two plays where I kept my eyes on FB Craig Walendy he did a real nice job with lead blocks.

Wide Receivers: With the running game operating a such a high-level, the receivers didn’t see the ball much. I’ve been somewhat surprised that the Giants haven’t been able to get Amani Toomer (5 catches for 24 yards) more involved with the downfield passing game this year so far. Perhaps, they are saving that for later opponents. Perhaps, Toomer is being doubled-teamed and can’t shake it. Regardless, Ike Hilliard (6 catches for 58 yards) was Collins’ favorite target on Sunday. He, like Dayne, has become a major factor on third down in keeping drives alive (Pete Mitchell will only add to this mix). His third down reception late in the game when the Giants were trying to run out the clock was a huge play. He did drop one perfectly thrown pass in the first half, but redeemed himself on the same set of downs with a key reception for first down. He also almost came up with a circus catch on a low-throw from Collins in the end zone on a flea flicker. Contrary to popular belief, Ike has not peaked and is getting better.

The guy who could really add to this mix flashed against the Bears. Ron Dixon got behind Thomas Smith on second-and-inches (a wonderful time to throw deep) for a 34-yard touchdown on the first drive of the game. Get one thing straight – Smith is no slouch; he’s one of the best corners in the game and he was playing well off of Dixon before the play even started. Dixon also did a good job on a 12-yard reverse earlier on the same drive. The Giants still haven’t been able to get the ball to Joe Jurevicius (though Joe continues to be a factor as a blocker on the field). His holding call brought back a big run by Dayne however and stalled a drive.

Defensive Line: This unit had a fairly strong game. The run defense was once again superb, but the Bears don’t run the ball very well so it’s hard to get an accurate judge on that. The pass rush was a bit curtailed by the need to prevent QB Cade McNown from scrambling and the Bears’ quick passing game. The defensive tackles were particularly stout inside. Keith Hamilton (3 tackles, 1 sack) was active against the run and was factor on the pass rush on a number of occasions. Christian Peter (3 tackles) couldn’t be moved off the ball; he needs to get more pressure on passing downs however. Michael Strahan (4 tackles, 1 sack) made a few plays against the run by hustling down the line of scrimmage. He did pick up a sack and had a few pressures. Cedric Jones (2 tackles), like Strahan, did well moving down the line to tackle the runner in the hole. Ryan Hale and Cornelius Griffin (1 tackle) saw limited action. Hale shows some pass rush promise and the Giants may want to think about using him instead of Peter on passing downs. Remarkably, the Bears were only able to pick up 54 yards in offense in the second half of the game (and only 48 yards rushing for the game total). The defensive line deserves much of the credit.

Linebackers: Strong game for the linebackers, particularly in pass defense. There were a couple of breakdowns where the back seven seemed a tad confused by the unusual passing schemes of the Bears, but the linebackers and defensive backs did a good job of coming up and making sure tackles on all the short passes and screens. Jessie Armstead (5 tackles, 1 sack), Mike Barrow (5 tackles, 1 sack), and Ryan Phillips (4 tackles) all were very active. This was probably Armstead’s best game of the young season and he did a wonderful job of timing his delayed dog up the middle for a sack. He was flying all over the field. Ryan Phillips did a good job in coverage on one early pass to the flat. Barrow forced an absolutely key fumble late that Strahan recovered.

Secondary: Like I said above, there appeared to be times when the secondary seemed a tad confused by the unusual schemes of the Bears, but the corners and safeties performed well and only gave up one big drive that led to points (a 12-play, 74-yard march where Cade McNown was 7-for-8). The guy who I thought played very well was Emanuel McDaniel (2 tackles) who seemed to always have tight coverage on his guy. CB Jason Sehorn (5 tackles) had a mostly positive performance. There were many plays where he was locked up one-on-one on Marcus Robinson, one of the best receivers in the game (most of Robinson’s catches didn’t come against Sehorn but were short passes where Robinson was running through the middle zone of the field). Sehorn got beat pretty badly by Robinson on one fly pattern, but fortunately the ball was badly overthrown. He also seemed to mistime his jump on well-thrown pass in the end zone where the receiver was ruled out-of-bounds. Later on the same drive, Sehorn was beat by Eddie Kennison for a short, 2-yard out TD pass (very difficult to defend without jamming the wide receiver). Jason really shined however on the Bears’ last desperate drive. Locked one-on-one with Robinson on another deep fly, Jason was step-for-step with the receiver on what may have been a game-saving play. He then did a great job on the ensuing play by coming up on a short pass to prevent the receiver from picking up a first down. McDaniel then deflected the 4th down pass to the tight end. Dave Thomas (4 tackles) had only one bad moment where he was beat by Robinson deep (again McNown missed him). But aside from that Thomas was not heard from other than making very sure tackles. Safeties Shaun Williams (5 tackles) and Sam Garnes (2 tackles) were key in stopping the short screen passes. Reggie Stephens saw quite a bit of time and wasn’t heard from – a good sign. My big complaint with the secondary thus far this year is that, like last year, they don’t seem to be in position to make interceptions.

Special Teams: First the good news. Kick-off and punt coverage was very good – the best so far. Bear returners never got untracked and the coverage men got down the field quickly.

The bad news? The kicking and punting games were horrendous and could have cost the Giants the game. Brad Daluiso missed a 34-yard field goal that would have given New York a 10-0 lead. He then had a 41-yarder blocked when holder Brad Maynard dropped the snap (the snap from Jason Whittle wasn’t great either). Then very late in the game, another Daluiso effort from 31-yards was blocked. These mistakes are not acceptable, especially the bad hold from Maynard.

Maynard was also terrible on two coffin corner efforts. One he kicked out of bounds past the 20 yard line and another he knocked into the end zone. Maynard looks like a bust to me and the Giants have to start thinking about possibly replacing him either this year or next offseason. To his credit, he did nail a very good 57-yarder, but the inconsistency in his game is really hurting the team.


Analysis of the Offensive Line

by Chris Jacobs

Lomas Brown 95%:
Had about as good a game as a player can have, very consistent. I’d say his only downfall, again, was he’s getting tired at the end of the game. I had him graded out at 103% in the first half, he seems to get really tired in the fourth quarter, this may hurt the team in a close game down the road. Did a great job picking up a stunt with Parker in the first quarter. Will have his hands full next week, they may keep a back in the backfield to help him with Smith.

Glenn Parker 100%:
He didn’t play a perfect game, actually I’d say Lomas had a better game. Parker made more mistakes than Brown but he made up for extra efforts here and there, and that’s why he graded out so high He really works his ass off out there and has to be in great shape because they’ve got him running all over the place out there. His first step on his pulling was flatter down the LOS this week which put him in the right position to make his blocks. Once again, next week is the big test.

Dusty Ziegler 89%:
Had his worst game yet, but he still graded out at 89% which is a good sign. For some reason he had two bad plays in a row at the end of the first half, on pass protection where his man beat him. Then on the first two plays of the second half he got beat on two consecutive running plays. I noticed that in the Cardinal game he came out after the half a little slow also. I know when he was with Buffalo, that big pig Logan for the Jets always gave him a hard time so we’ll see how he does this week against fat ass Wilkinson.

Ron Stone 95%:
Every time I say something about a guy he does the opposite, last week I talked about how his quickness is his downfall and so they start pulling him. I didn’t take count but he must have pulled about 5 or 6 times, I’m glad they did this because it makes the offense more unpredictable. I was really impressed with his speed pulling around the corners and finishing guys off. On one Dayne sweep he pancaked Urlacher, it’s that kind of attitude these guys didn’t have last year that’s the difference.

Luke Petitgout 90%:
Another solid game, the only glaring mistake was the sack he gave up at the end of the game. (Someone please explain to me how that isn’t a facemask). His only weakness to this point is he seems susceptible to the bull rush, Lomas is too but he’ll drop and cut the guy instead of getting pushed back into the QB. I’m sure with time he’ll learn, he’s playing well for a second year guy.

Why were there only 14 on the board!:
If the O-line collectively grades out at 93%, and the QB completes 73% of his passes with no interceptions, 407 yards of total offense, how come this wasn’t a blowout?

  1. Kicking game is atrocious.
  2. Jurevicious holds a guy after Dayne is already 16yards downfield. He’s not a rookie anymore he has to start using that big round thing in his helmet.
  3. Shovel pass that was tipped, would have been 6 easy, there was no one in between Tiki and the endzone.
  4. Tiki’s fumble.

I had another 26 points on the board without these mistakes, this won’t fly against the Redskins.

Sean Payton:
Third Quarter, the counters and misdirection plays aren’t as effective as the past two weeks. The Bears D is very disciplined in making sure they don’t over pursue Tiki. So what does he do? Ram it down their throat, Tiki up the middle, Dayne around the outside, then a nice little Delaware Wing-T sweep for a touchdown. This offense is very diverse, there is no one player they need to rely on the carry the team.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Chicago Bears, September 17, 2000)
Sep 152000
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Chicago Bears, September 17, 2000: This is a very important game for the Giants, especially when you consider the fact that three of the next four games are on the road. The Giants can ill-afford to drop a game here against a very beatable Chicago team with the likes of Washington and Tennessee on the horizon. The Giants must win this game and they should win this game.

But let’s get one thing straight – Chicago is a much better team than they have showed thus far in the early season. What’s more, their backs are now against the wall and this will be their home opener. Blowouts are not the norm in the National Football League. And teams that are blown out (like Chicago last week), normally give a very good showing of themselves the following week. Don’t expect the Giants to win this game in a cakewalk. This should be a very closely contested affair and the game probably won’t be decided until late in the 4th quarter.

The absolute decisive factor in this game will be whether the Giants maintain their focus, intelligence, and intensity.

Giants on Offense: Chicago’s defense is very average. That doesn’t mean they don’t have some talented players and are not capable of putting together a great game, but when you look at their personnel across the board, they fall right into the middle-of-the-pack in terms of NFL standards. The best thing the Giants’ offense can do is to take a big early lead in order to take the life out of the players and the crowd – just like the Giants did last week in Philadelphia.

We now have a good feel for what the new Giants’ offense is all about. The offensive line employs more of a finesse scheme with a lot of pulling and trapping. There is motion galore which is designed to confuse the defense and give the offense a better understanding of the defense’s intentions. Ron Dayne is the horse of the running game and Tiki Barber is the explosive change-of-pace back. Dayne is used more on straight ahead power runs and Tiki is used more on outside runs and cutbacks. The flats are vulnerable with Barber and FB Greg Comella (the screen being especially popular). The starting wide receivers are now both intermediate and downfield threats. Head Coach Jim Fassel and Offensive Coordinator Sean Payton intend to stretch defenses both horizontally and vertically and early plays are often specifically designed to set up a bigger play later in the game. The offense is balanced and multi-dimensional.

Now add to this mix the return of H-Back Pete Mitchell. Mitchell is bound to be rusty as he missed most of the preseason and the first two games with a knee injury. He’s not 100% yet. But he is a key figure. The other Giants’ tight ends don’t scare opposing linebackers and safeties like Mitchell can. What’s more, he is a sure-handed security blanket that helps keep drives alive. Pete can also be a big factor in the red zone. While he was out, some of this critically important roll was taken up successfully by Comella. Now with Pete back in the fold, the Giants’ offense just got that much tougher to defend. Now that middle linebacker or strong safety may not be able to help out on Tiki out of the backfield or Toomer running a slant.

But let’s get back to the opponent. The Bears’ best pass rusher in line is DE Phillip Daniels. LT Lomas Brown faces him. The other end, Bryan Robinson, is more of a run defender. Same story with the inside guys, Jim Flanigan and Mike Wells. Wells can be a difficult defender to move out against the run at the left defensive tackle spot. Thus I would think you would see New York running right with Dayne quite a bit behind RG Ron Stone and RT Luke Petitgout. Defenses around the league have already begun to take notice that when Barber is in the game that they must watch out for the cutback run. Injuries have unsettled Chicago a bit at linebacker. SLB Roosevelt Colvin is out and MLB Barry Minter is questionable. First rounder Brian Urlacher who can play all three spots will start. He is very talented athletically, but he is still a rookie and the Giants can take advantage of that inexperience.

The Bears have decent corners. In fact, Thomas Smith is a guy the Giants were hot after in free agency but couldn’t afford. Nickel back Jerry Azumah was supposed a guy who New York might have tried to trade for. Dime back Terry Cousin is solid. Tony Parrish and Shawn Wooden are a fine safety tandem (though Wooden has a hamstring problem). But Kerry Collins is red hot right now and this secondary shouldn’t intimidate him and his receivers. If Chicago focuses too much on the run, look for Kerry to go up top. If they look to shut down Toomer, then Hilliard, Jurevicius, Mitchell, or Barber should get open. As long as everyone stays composed and focused and plays smart, the Giants should be able to move the ball and put up points.

Giants on Defense: We’re about to get a good read on the Giants’ secondary and players such as CB David Thomas, nickel back Emmanuel McDaniel, dime back Reggie Stephens, and FS Shaun Williams. In fact, so will CB Jason Sehorn who will most likely be locked up on very talented WR Marcus Robinson much of the day. That leaves the speedy, but sometimes undisciplined, Eddie Kennison on Thomas. That’s a huge match-up. But the problems don’t stop there. The Bears will often run 4-WR and even sometimes 5-WR sets (with an empty backfield). They love to run WR screens and force secondaries to tackle well. And they have the talent at WR to do it – Bobby Engram, Marty Booker, Macey Brooks, Dez White. Short catches become big plays when facing the Bears. The entire secondary will be on the spot and TACKLING will be a priority. The good news is that SS Sam Garnes and Williams are very strong tacklers. (In fact, I would be very tempted to sit Ryan Phillip and play the nickel to start the game.) Having very mobile linebackers such as Mike Barrow and Jessie Armstead will also be huge. The good news is that the Giants have two “safety-like” linebackers (Armstead and Barrow) and two “linebacker-like” safeties (Garnes and Williams) and this will help them match-up well. But Thomas, McDaniel, and Stephens are going to have to step it up.

Of course, the best way to disrupt a passing game is to get pressure on the passer. Unfortunately, for the third week in a row, the Giants can’t afford to pin their ears back and go hell bent after the quarterback. Cade McNown is yet another dangerous scrambler. In fact, he’s the leading rusher on the Bears and is averaging over nine yards per carry. Once again, DE Cedric Jones, DE Michael Strahan, DT Christian Peter, and DT Keith Hamilton will have to maintain their pass rush lanes. This makes pass blocking much easier for a strong Bears’ offensive line that features LT Blake Brockermeyer, LG Todd Perry, OC Olin Kreutz, RG Chris Villarrial, and RT James Williams. These guys are no slouches and the Giants’ defensive front will need the same kind of intensity that they brought to the table last week.

The Bears are not afraid to use their tight ends/H-backs in the passing game either – the linebackers must remain strong in coverage here too, especially with Garnes preoccupied elsewhere. Surprisingly, given quality of the offensive line, the Bears don’t run the ball with their halfbacks very well. Perhaps, their offensive mindset is dominated by their aerial antics. One thing is clear though – the Giants can’t afford to let Curtis Ennis or James Allen get untracked. Continue to make the opposition one-dimensional, cover the receivers, and get after McNown in a disciplined fashion. Do that, and the Giants win.

Special Teams: The Giants are getting better, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. P Brad Maynard simply has to get his act together. This is his third year and it is time for him to demonstrate on a consistent basis why he was a high draft pick. Kick-off coverage was improved last week, but they still gave up a good return. Plus, Glyn Milburn is dangerous and Eddie Kennison had a huge return against the Giants in the preseason. (Milburn also returns punts). The Giants keep getting closer and closer to breaking a kick and punt return. Barber and Ron Dixon are explosive, but the blocking is also improving.

Sep 132000
 
New York Giants 33 – Philadelphia Eagles 18

Overview: The Giants’ 33-18 win was truly impressive. Don’t let the doubters from the national media fool you – the Eagles are a good team and this was their home opener. The Giants dominated the game and all three units played well. Indeed, the final score was not indicative of the domination. The Giants’ pulled in the reigns in the 4th quarter and the Eagles scored a meaningless late TD.

The most amazing aspect about the win to me was the poise and confidence of the players and coaches. The poise and confidence was palpable even through the television screen. The Giants never got flustered and one got the sense that they believed the game was theirs the moment they stepped on the field. This team believes in itself and that belief is worth its weight in five first round draft picks. Teams who believe in themselves win. It is as a simple as that.

The Giants are not only 2-0, but they are 2-0 in the NFC East. But there is no time to rest on laurels. The Chicago Bears are up next and they are a far more dangerous team than their 41-0 loss to the Bucs indicate. The players and coaches need to forget about the Eagles and focus completely at the task at hand. The growing confidence is great…but don’t get too cocky…just ask the Eagles about that.

Quarterback: You can talk about the offensive line, the running backs, and the wide receivers all you want. You can talk about Sean Payton too. But if the Giants don’t get the quarterbacking that they are getting right now, none of the rest matters. Kerry Collins (21-of-29 for 220 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions) is the catalyst. If he does not execute, no game plan will matter. It is his arm that is forcing opposing defenses to respect the run; it is his accuracy that is keeping drives alive; and it is his leadership that is elevating the offense to a status rivaling that of the defense. Yes, he is getting good pass protection, but even that can be a bit misleading. Collins’ quick release makes the pass pro look better than it actually is.

Collins was superb against the Eagles. Four of his eight incompletions were throwaways. He didn’t get flustered (and he could have after that early sack and fumble). The Eagles came after him hard and they sometimes got there, but he stood tough in the pocket and calmly delivered the ball. When something wasn’t there, he didn’t force it and threw the ball away. These were two big concerns of mine with Collins and yet both became strengths on Sunday. The exciting thing is that Collins will only get better as he becomes even more comfortable with the offense and his teammates. He is developing into one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

Collins threw two nice looking touchdown passes. Both had great touch. But it was his rifle-armed throws that picked up key first downs that most impressed me. With the Eagles’ pressing the wide receivers, Collins was able to fire the ball into tight spots and move the sticks. You could see the frustration on the Eagles’ secondary. Examples: On the Giants’ first field goal drive, Collins hit Ike Hilliard for 11 yards on 3rd-and-9. On the Giants’ first touchdown drive, he found Ron Dixon for 15 yards on 3rd-and-10. And the final blow was Collins’ brilliant 10-play, 67-yard drive in the third quarter that took all life out of the Eagles. On that drive, he hit Toomer for nine yards on 3rd-and-8, Hilliard for 10 yards on 3rd-and-8 (on a shovel pass), and Toomer for 9 yards on 3rd-and-five. The final play was a perfectly lofted 30 yard TD pass to Hilliard. See if Collins doesn’t convert on those previous third down occasions, the 30 yard TD pass never happens. Obvious you say? Well fans sometimes forget what transpired on a successful drive to make it successful. Do you think Danny Kanell or Kent Graham convert all those third downs? Then on a field goal drive in the fourth quarter, Kerry found Hilliard for 7 yards on 3rd-and-7. Collins was 7-of-8 in the second half, with his only missing coming at the hands of Howard Cross (no pun intended).

Wide Receivers: The numbers look good. Ike Hilliard had 8 catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. Amani Toomer had 7 catches for 80 yards and a touchdown (Toomer also got robbed by the officials on a deep sideline pass that should have been ruled a catch). Ron Dixon caught his first NFL pass for 15 yards and did a great job of getting open and keeping his feet inbounds. But what really impressed me was the down-field blocking of the receivers – something that I was disappointed in last week. Much of Tiki Barber’s damage running the ball was due to the blocking of Amani Toomer, Joe Jurevicius, and Ike Hilliard. It was nice to see Hilliard such a big part of the game plan. He was sure-handed and he helped to keep drives alive with clutch receptions. The entire Eagle secondary is very good and physical – but the receivers were not intimidated. The Giants now have a really nice one-two receiving punch with these two. Just wait until Pete Mitchell is back and Joe Jurevicius and Ron Dixon really get going.

Running Backs: The first guy I want to talk about is not Tiki Barber or Ron Dayne, but FB Greg Comella. Greg is proving that the Giants knew what they were doing when they decided not to aggressively pursue another veteran fullback. Greg’s lead blocking has surprised me. For the most part, he is making solid contact and while he is not blasting his man, he is successfully occupying the defender. He caught two more passes for 12 yards on Sunday, but he did even more damage running the ball twice for 19 yards. With defenses so focused on the receivers and halfbacks, they are often forgetting about Greg. Indeed, on Greg’s first carry, almost the entire Eagle defense followed the fake and left Comella alone for big yardage.

As for Tiki (11 carries for 96 yards and a touchdown; 3 catches for 29 yards), what can you say? Many fans have questioned his ability from the start, but right now he is one of the most dangerous halfbacks in the league. I hate to sound like a broken record, but his vision and instincts for the hole right now are startling. Against the Eagles, he torched Philly with his cutback running with three big runs. He has become a big-play homerun hitter for New York. Do realize that in two games, he is averaging 10 yards a carry?!!! Tiki is also starting now to break tackles and his 31-yard TD run on a draw play that he cut back to the left was apt demonstration of his quickness, elusiveness, and power.

Dayne (21 carries for 50 yards) keeps plugging along. I’d like to see him start breaking some more runs. He had a couple of carries against the Eagles where he flashed those quick feet (for a big man) and picked up good gains. There was one run in particular where he made a lateral cut that was startling for someone so large. Still, Dayne seems to be stuck in second gear – I’d like to see more decisiveness and straight-ahead attitude in his runs. He also must improve his blitz pick-ups. Perhaps I’m being too greedy and impatient – he is a rookie after all. All that being said, Dayne is already a significant presence and you can see that the Eagles were very conscious of him when he was in the game. Dayne’s short-yardage running is already having an impact as well. He picked up a number of key first downs on the ground against Philadelphia.

Offensive Line/Tight Ends: There were some problems. For example, DE Hugh Douglas gave LT Lomas Brown some problems early on a few rushes. There were also three penalties (a false start on Brown and Luke Petitgout as well as a holding penalty on Luke). But the line did a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage against a very aggressive, blitz-happy team. And to be fair, the tight ends (Howard Cross and Dan Campbell) and backs deserve equal credit. The one guy who gave New York real problems when they ran the ball was MLB Jeremiah Trotter (12 tackles); he was all over the field. Trotter disrupted a number of Ron Dayne runs by successfully shooting gaps or out-quicking blockers. There were other occasions where Philly just jammed things up with physical play. But as the game wore on, New York used the Eagles’ aggressiveness against them with misdirection. The most effective play was the cutback run by Barber once he had the defense leaning in one direction. But the Giants were also able to pound the ball somewhat too and the Eagle defense spent a long, long time on the field. “I don’t think we had but about 20 plays in the first half,” DT Keith Hamilton said. “That’s something we haven’t had around here as long as I can remember. I’m used to playing 80, 90 plays a game down here in Philly.”

What was most surprising was that Collins had pretty good protection most of the day. The Eagles were coming too, but the line, tight ends, and backs picked it up. Of course, there were 3-step drops and Kerry has a quick release and this helped. But there were also 5- and 7-step drops and except for the early sack and fumble (Brown and Barber got beat), the Eagles rarely hit Kerry. The plays that got me the most excited were the ones involving the screens. There was one screen pass to Tiki in particular that was simply a well-executed joy to watch. It didn’t go for big yardage, but to see Barber with an escort of three huge lineman in front of him was just great.

Defensive Line: The stars of the defense were DE Michael Strahan, DT Christian Peter, DT Keith Hamilton, and DE Cedric Jones. They didn’t pick up any sacks, but there were numerous pressures. But the most important aspect of the game was the fact that they completely out-played a highly-regarded Eagle offensive line and shut down the dangerous ground game of Philadelphia. HB Duce Staley, who gained 201 yards rushing in the previous game, was held to 11 yards against the Giants (his longest rush was four yards). The Eagles didn’t pick up a first down until the second quarter. Strahan (3 tackles) was superb against RT Jon Runyan – arguably the best right tackle in the game. Runyan was never able to get any movement on Strahan; indeed, it was Strahan who often disrupted plays with his push against Runyan. Jones (2 tackles), who has had a strong start, also played very well against the run, controlling huge first rounder Tra Thomas. Both ends were spotted buzzing around Donavan McNabb on the pass rush, but the elusive quarterback was able to avoid both. The going was equally tough inside; the Eagles could not drive Peter and Hamilton off the ball and this enabled the linebackers and secondary to make plays in run support. The only down note was Hamilton’s dumb late hit penalty on the quarterback that helped the Eagles’ on their first drive in the second half. Reserves DE Cornelius Griffin and DT Ryan Hale saw some playing time.

Linebackers: I thought SLB Ryan Phillips (2 tackles, 1 sack) played maybe his best game as a pro. He was very stout against the run and was finally able to pick up a sack. Phillips’ sack was big…it came right after two superb individual efforts (an amazing scramble by McNabb and a highlight reel catch by TE Chad Lewis) got the ball to the Giants’ 4-yard line. But the sack and subsequent pressure from Jones and Strahan on back-to-back plays forced Philly to kick a field goal. WLB Jessie Armstead (3 tackles, 1 sack) also got to the quarterback and was helped by the fact that the defensive line kept the big blockers off his body (he did get handled on McNabb’s quarterback draw for a TD however). I didn’t think Mike Barrow (no tackles) played very well either against the run or pass. He did flash as a pass rusher on a couple of plays. Pete Monty (1 tackle, 1 sack) got to the passer on an inside dog where he hammered McNabb – very well timed. Brandon Short (3 tackles) saw some time late an looked terrible in pass coverage.

Defensive Backs: The Eagles’ wide receivers are not very good, so this wasn’t a great test for the secondary. I was impressed with CB Jason Sehorn (8 tackles). He was flying around the field and was step for step with his man when McNabb did look in his direction. Sehorn did a great job of chasing down Duce Staley from the other side of the field after a reception. CB Dave Thomas (5 tackles) played well except for giving up a 23-yard reception on 3rd-and-3 on the Eagles’ first TD drive. Thomas had solid coverage, but didn’t turn around to look for the ball. CB Emmanuel McDaniel (3 tackles) was quiet (a good sign). He broke up a two-point conversion attempt.

Shaun Williams (2 tackles) was aggressive against the run and made a hell of a hit on a tight end coming over the middle late in the game, knocking the ball loose for an incompletion. Lyle West (3 tackles) was not heard from (a very good sign) until late when he gave up the final touchdown. He did miss a tackle on McNabb’s touchdown run too, however.

Special Teams: This unit played fairly well. P Brad Maynard did not punt well with his two chances – he’s still just too damn inconsistent. His first punt bothered me the most. The Giants could have pinned the Eagles inside the ten yard line, but his kick bounced right into the endzone. His second punt was short and took a backwards bounce.

Kick-off coverage gave up one decent return to Brian Mitchell. Aside from that play, they Giants did a good job of covering kicks with Omar Stoutmire standing out on a fake reverse. Reggie Stephens also made a very strong tackle on another return. Brad Daluiso jacked one into the end zone that wasn’t returned, but his first kick-off was very short (fans forget that Daluiso wasn’t really nailing kick-offs anymore even before his knee injury).

The return game looked decent. Blocking on returns is getting better as Ron Dixon and Tiki Barber keep just missing huge returns. As it was, Dixon picked up 44 yards on one return.


Analysis of the Offensive Line

by Chris Jacobs

Lomas Brown 76%:
Hugh Douglas gave him some trouble, particularly in the 1st half, but surprisingly enough he graded out at 82% for the first half. It was the second half that really hurt his grade but by that point the game was all but over. In the first half Douglas got around him three times, he had one false start, and he missed his block on one or two running plays. But there were 46 plays in the first half so even with those few bad plays he didn’t grade out bad for the 1st half. In the second half, particularly the 4th quarter he seemed tired, played a little sluggish, perhaps showing his age, or got comfortable with the lead. Here’s the positive. Third play of the game, Douglas gets around him and Tiki and causes the fumble, then a false start, pinned deep in the second quarter Douglas gets around him again but Collins gets rid of it. I started to get a little nervous, because this is the point that Roman Oben would begin to implode. But with help from Payton’s play calling, and the fact that he’s a veteran he didn’t lose confidence and played solid.

Glenn Parker 87%:
A solid game again for Glenny. (Do you think they really call him that or is Bill Maas trying to be funny?) There was something I noticed last week that I didn’t comment on because it only happened once. Parker seems to be pulling too deep, he needs to make his first step flatter down the line. Last week he stepped on Collins’ foot which caused the Collins-Dayne collision. This week he did it a couple of times, on one occasion he was too deep and Trotter cut underneath him and stopped he play for no gain. On the positive side he wasn’t too high on his pass blocking this week, he did a much better job with that.

Dusty Ziegler 89%:
Another solid game, it’s the same thing every week, he’s quick and strong. He whiffed once on a running play in the fourth quarter. Like I’ve mentioned before, I don’t know the Giants’ playbook or blocking schemes, so if he’s blocking the right guy he’s doing a great job.

Ron Stone 86%:
If he has one downfall it’s his quickness, and that Corey Simon kid really gave him a hard time in the first half. (His first half grade was 76%). Simon kept putting a swim move on him and was in the backfield blowing up running plays. The flip side to that was when Ron got into him he blew him off the ball. Trotter gave him a hard time too, but it’s the smaller quicker guys that Stoney is going to struggle with. And like I mentioned earlier, Payton’s play calling helped. He almost had a mistake free second half that brought his grade up to 86%.

Luke Petitgout 82%: (Would have been 86% without the penalties).
Mike Ma-who-la? The obvious mistakes, missing his block on he second play of the game, the hold, getting bull rushed into Collins causing the incomplete pass to Tiki. Everyone has bad plays, especially the younger players, but he’s bouncing back from it, which shows maturity. I see over in the Corner Forum that there are many inquiries about Luke and how he is doing. So far he is a huge upgrade over Gragg.

Other Thoughts:
I’m very very impressed with Greg Comella, if everyone wants to go back and look I called him average at best in the Chicago preseason review. He’s making me eat my words. He’s a complete player, he can catch, run, and his blocking is improving every week. That Trotter kid is a stud and GC blew him up on more than one occasion. He’s Way and Bennett in one.


YOU COULD FEEL THE LOVE

by David Oliver

Pow! Whack! Thwack! Bam! An easy way to start this review because that’s how it went out there on the sun-baked, ratty-carpeted killing fields of the Vet. It was an awe inspiring, uplifting, and from field level, totally dominating throwback to the glories of the 80s. Of course, reality is never very far, as this week’s dominated was last week’s dominator, when they completely dismantled the Cowgirls. The nice thought is that the other 4 will spend the season ripping each other to shreds.

So, I’ll begin again at the end of the game and tell you about the parade of players who went up to Coach Fassel and shook his hand, patted him on the back or threw a big arm around his shoulders for a moment. This game was a vindication of sorts, a catharsis of sorts, an alert to the fans that these Giants of 2000 are for real and will be a force in the division. There was a lot of shaking hands among the offensive and defensive units, a congratulations for a job well done and a thank you to the specials who held it together today and showed signs of emergent life. And there was Tiki with a smile as wide as the Grand Canyon, the sheer exuberance of Michael Strahan who had a monkey dislodged from his upper torso, and Coach MacDuff, coaching his troops, exhorting them, inspiring them to take pride in their job. The veteran parade to Coach Fassel as the clock wound down was genuine in its expression; it signified the coming of age of a TEAM, the togetherness so stressed by the Coach, in the face of the relentless media and fan cauldron of scrutiny which hangs over every NY area sports franchise.

Even during the pre-game warmups, there was an ambient feeling of adrenaline rush and testosterone flow. One of the Philly fanatics got all over MS and MS answered back. They waged a war of words with Michael being incensed over the use of profanity and the flicking of the bird in front of the children in the area, including the heckler’s own young one. After the game, Michael told me he doesn’t usually talk back to the fans but “well, this is Philly.” The City and its fans have a way of doing that to you. However, today they were cheerful, almost friendly, and acting like real fans. They were louder than I can remember, for a while. They were not all that vulgar and they had that look of pain in their eyes just as we do when so disappointed. They had high hopes. They were fans just as we are.

Game stats – Giants 24 first downs, Eagles 13; Giants 3rd down eff 50%, Eagles 30%; Giants net yards 387, Eagles 237; Giants offensive plays 69, Eagles 48; Giants rushing yards 167, Eagles 56; Giants tackles for a loss 6, Eagles 1; Giants time of possession 38:44, Eagles 21:16. Oi! 38+ minutes, shades of Tuna and the glory days of the 80s.

Tiki the Magician, 11 carries 96 yards, the Great Dayne 21 carries 50 yards, tough yards, off-tackle yards, Gforce Comella 2 carries 19 yards. Kerry, well he just had to go and spoil the stats, 5 carries for 2 yards. I’m cutting him some slack because he was 21 of 29 in compilations for a tidy 220 yards and he managed the game quite nicely. The big guns of Air Payton showed up today. Ike had 8 for 84 yards, Amani 7 for 80 yards, each had one TD; Tiki reeled in 3 for 29 yards, Comella and Dixon each had one.

The Giants had the ball 12 minutes in the first quarter and 10:5 in the last quarter, another almost 10 in the second, but they allowed the defense to get a workout in the third. They had 10 possessions, with most averaging around 4 minutes. Their long drive was 7:16. Let’s look at this long time of possession. It started with a Dixon return of 27 yards and a 15 yard roughing call tacked on for the push out of bounds. Dayne ran for 1 yard and the 3rd quarter ended. Tiki went off tackle for 10; KC passed to Amani for 9; Dayne off right tackle for 5; Dayne off right tackle for 0; Comella up the middle for 3; KC to Ike for 7; Dayne off right guard for 1; Dayne up the middle for 4 loss (Douglas and Mamula came off the same side for that stop); Tiki around left end for 4 loss; Daluiso 44 yard field goal.

Now let’s look at the defensive side of the ball. The Eagles’ best drive came in the second quarter. 1st and 10 at midfield following a weak punt(31 yards); Staley for a 2 yard loss (S. Williams crunch); McNabb up the middle for 17 on a scramble during which he somehow eluded a host of tacklers; McNabb a 31 yard pass which was somehow caught for 31 (West covering, but it was a great catch not a defensive lapse); Eagles on the Giants 4 yard line. McNabb sacked for a 12 yard loss (Phillips); McNabb pass incomplete (CJ rush); McNabb pass incomplete (Jessie rush); field goal.

On offense the Giants mixed pass and run effectively, utilizing all weapons except tight end. One pass to “hands of stone” fell incomplete. Credit to Kerry, he keeps trying. On defense, they also mixed it up, utilizing a variety of rush and contain schemes (which totally befuddled the blockers), with very good coverage by the secondary.

Game impressions: First quarter was slow with a field goal and good defense, holding the Eagles to 3-and-out and 3-and-out. In the second quarter, the Giants opened it up a little using multiple receiver, stacked formations and motion. Toomer scored on a 25 yard reception, with Kerry arm pumping once and then waiting for Amani to blow by the coverage. Both secondary men bit on the pump and Amani was almost 7 yards behind them crossing the goal line, where the pass just nestled in his arms. Then came the back breaker as the defense stuffed the Eagles just before the half. KC went to the shotgun and hit Tiki for 4, Hilliard for 7, then Tiki went out of the gun up the middle, cut to the sidelines and romped 31 yards, untouched, in a classic he-could-go-all-the-way TD. Check the photos and see the HOLE.

The Eagles were relatively impotent all day with McNabb scrambling all over the place but doing minimal damage as the secondary coverage held, the ends converged and contained and the tackles and linebackers swept up. There were individual stand out plays by Sehorn, Williams, Monty, Phillips, CJ and MS. The tackles controlled the middle with little drop off from Hammer and Peter to Hale, Big George and C. Griffin. Hale blocked an extra point kick and Griffin showed he came to play by not backing down to Eagles’ provocation. He had to be dragged away more than once. This young man has some fire. Thomas and West played well enough to help the D – Thomas was only badly beaten on one play but McNabb, under pressure, couldn’t make the connection.

JJ and Taylor were doing a lot of jawing and pointing and the middle of the Eagles’ line was frustrated all afternoon. Some minor scuffles broke out late, nothing serious. Taylor should have been quiet because he was getting beaten all day. Ike scored his TD beating Taylor on a post pattern, and both Ike and Amani raced by defenders indicating that the Eagles game planned for the run, not the pass. They went after Dayne and figured for some reason that the Giants were not an aerial threat. NOT! They did stop Dayne on the tough inside runs with 2 and 3 men tackling the big fella, but Tiki’s outside sprints had them off balance, and the line was really punching some holes on the motion plays. Dan Campbell was on the field in some two tight end sets and is establishing himself as a powerful blocker. His long legs give him stability for the push and he gets good drive often sealing off his end.

Dixon had some nice returns, one on a bobble and he added a catch. I thought I saw him gimpy on one play and he may have suffered a little “toe”. Special teams did give up a Mitchell run back, also on a bobble, otherwise coverage was credible. They are doing a much better job on return blocking, allowing Dixon to get to the outside. On coverage, they are improving, but still not a force. These are young guys and as they start to believe in themselves and have some fun I believe they will develop into a better than average unit. Brad D is accurate and getting good distance on his field goals, but his kickoffs have lost some distance and he doesn’t reach the end zone. Maynard is often a story of the beauty and the beast. Sean Landeta, kicking for the Eagles, still has it. Sean, along with McCaffrey, are legacies of Dan Reeves mistakes.

Sean Payton is doing a great job mixing it up. His play calling is confusing the opponents. The formations are helping this effort, particularly in keeping the D backs off balance. The O Line is thriving, keeping Kerry upright; Ike has more moves than a snake, Amani is showing his 5th gear and Tiki, Tiki, Tiki. Stone is a massive drive blocker, Parker can still pull and Ziegler is very active (I don’t understand why the Bills thought he couldn’t play center).

Only concern – There were a whole lot of ice packs and wraps on legs and arms. Nothing appearing serious, but…Jason might have caught a spike or something on his tackle, Parker hurtled off into space on one play and stayed on all fours for a few seconds and Lomas favored his leg on a play late in the game, but appeared fit in the locker.

REPORT CARD: Solid A for an overwhelming performance against a very good Eagles’ team.

Offensive Unit: A+ Playing as a team, everyone contributing. Kerry and Tiki are the drive wheels, playing behind a very good offensive line which is quickly silencing critics. These guys are proving adept at making holes and pass protection. Ron Dayne is doing some heavy lugging and getting his Baptism by fire with the Eagles keying on him and sending 2 and 3 tacklers on every play. They were selling out to stop Dayne, which opened opportunity elsewhere. Comella is stepping up and playing as he did in College. He can run and catch and is not afraid to lead into the hole. Kerry complimented him in a post game.

Wideouts: Special commendation A++ Ike and Toomer, not your standard election year package. Dixon should get more time – he is a talent, throw him into the fray. JJ needs to work himself into position to catch Kerry’s eye.

Tight ends: B But only because they don’t catch. They block with the best. When Pete rejoins them, they will be a more complete unit.

Regrets: Although Walendy has value on special teams, he is not in the fullback rotation. This spot can be more usefully occupied by JoMo. Same deal with mike Rosenthal. Big Mike and JoMo are players – they have attitude. They need to get in the game some to develop. Rosenthal can spell Parker for a few plays a game. JoMo can give the Giants a three headed monster. With as many plays as were run in this game there are plenty of balls to feed all these guys and not risk demoralization or rust.

Coaching – Offense: Solid A. Payton is having fun. This is good. Every game he uses a little something different. He still scripts the first 15 plays, but only the first 15. He’s smart enough to ride a hot horse, will not panic and abandon the running game, but also uses the quick strike. A nice variant of the WCO. I teased him about his ‘single wing’ and ‘double wing’ formations and he grinned and acknowledged he borrowed a little from here and there. McNally looks comfortable and he has put something special together. Incidentally, the Giants have one of the lighter lines in the NFC, averaging 306.4, with only Carolina and St. louis averaging less. Denver is the lightest overall averaging 287. Other interesting figures. The Giants average 6-2.4 in height (an NFC high), 247.1 pounds overall, 26.3 years in age, 3.94 years in experience, they have 13 rookies and first year men and 7 players over 30. This places them somewhere in the lower half (favorable) of the NFC.

Coaching – Defense: A+ You’ve read the statements elsewhere. I’ve been saying it since mini camp, this defense is solid and will continue to play Giants’ football. Credit Fox and Marcin for developing the rotation, fostering high expectations and morale and calling an aggressive game. The Giants are not as thin as supposed. Hammer, Peter, Hale, Williams and Griffin fill the middle. Golden and Short are developing and with Monty will give the giants 2 deep at backer and the secondary – special kudos to Coach Lynn – McDaniel and Stephens are developing nicely, Sehorn is a force, Shaun Williams – I apologize Shaun – you are starting to play like a #1; same for CJ, and Michael is still the leader of this unfairly maligned gang. Coach Fox is at his best with an attacking unit and the Giants are once again sending waves of attackers in unpredictable fashion. Jessie, Monty and Phillips all blitzed; Sehorn is also in the mix. CJ and MS are playing contain against the scramblers, sacrificing personal stats for unit success. The D is back.

Specials: B MacDuff is working hard and it’s beginning to show. The youngsters on the return team are bonding and developing unit pride. They are beginning to catch on. This is their way onto the field and they take it seriously. Not there totally, yet, but give credit where credit is due.

HEAD COACHING: A If JF fails now, it is his albatross. This is his team, molded in his image and bonding as he wants. The veteran leadership is showing, Kerry is quietly showing that redemption is possible. Handing over the play reins to Payton has served as a tremendous pressure valve. JF can now exhort, lead and mold this team. My only downgrade, and it is a nitpick, is sitting JoMo and Rosenthal in sweats. Let’s get the whole team in on the fun Remember the lesson of Gladiator, Coach, stand together and you survive.

Conversations in Philly:

It was a better trip this week, mostly sunshine and light traffic. The trip home following the Cardinals game was an adventure. On the NJ side of the river across from Philly, I ran through a thunderstorm of biblical proportions. Hundreds of cars were pulled to the side of the road, which was covered by 2-3 inches of water. There was more lightning and thunder and visibility was low. Coming under one underpass, there was a sudden stoppage of traffic. As I cleared the pass I noticed red flashers all over the road – then a flood – 3 or more feet deep, with all those cars stuck in the outer lanes – guess the owners had to swim for it. I was behind a huge van and just tucked up beneath his underride. I put the car in second, told him go, baby, and let him break a wake for me. I stayed on the phone with my wife, who always keeps me calm, and through the flood and up over the hill we went. Two major things I learned from all my years working with highways: 1) never pull to the side of a highway, but if you do get out of the car and run for the trees, and 2) never stop – go slow, crawl, but do not stop in a danger situation or you are done.

But that was last week and now we had sunshine so I took a little extra time in the locker room. It was a happy locker as always after a win. I stopped to chat with Mike Rosenthal who told me I should be talking to the guys who played. I asked about the shoulder and he told me it was fine, that he was ready and just waiting for his opportunity. It’s got to be tough on the big guy, going from last year inactive, to dressing, to starting to this year inactive. He’s going to be in this league for a long time, he’s ready to go, he’s paying some dues without complaining and he deserves a uniform.

I asked Lomas Brown if it felt good and he said “it was awesome; it was awesome; it was something that we needed; we came in here and pretty much took it from them. That’s impressive, that’s impressive for this team.” I asked him if this was one of those defining moments for a team, and he having been through many wars, gave me a realistic answer in saying, “Well, I won’t say that because it’s still early in the season, we still have a long way to go, but for us, it helps our confidence, to come in here and do what we did, especially on the road against a team like that.” I asked him if the Eagles did anything different out there and he told me, “Without a doubt. Their aim was to stop the running game, they did more stunting than we thought they were going to, but we stayed grounded and kept doing what we had to do, and we were able to get the victory.” I told him that I noticed they were loading both ends on one side and Lomas told me, “Yes, they were doing that, they were walking the backers up, they had the interior D-linemen doing a lot of stunting and that makes it hard on the run blocking because guys aren’t where they’re supposed to be, so you have to make adjustments on the run, but I thought we did that for the most part and we hit them with a couple of big plays and that helped us.”

I had him laughing as I left him by telling him I was behind the bench with my kneepads on and they got me so fired up I started yelling for a helmet because I was ready to go and run some traps with him. He graciously told me to come on out because he could use all the help he could get. Lomas is a great addition, a warrior and a gentleman and I wish him success in getting that Ring here with the Giants.

Ryan Hale is getting more rotation time and thoroughly enjoying it. He told me “It felt good” then we talked about Michael Strahan. Ryan told me “I was so happy for Michael Strahan, because Michael Strahan is and will be the premiere end in this League for as long as he plays this game. Michael has been taking a lot of heat lately and I think today he silenced a lot of people because John Runyan is a good tackle, but Michael showed him…and I’m glad for Michael because this was a big game…and he really stepped it up.” Hale went on to tell me of the respect the team has for MS, who is not only a captain but a true team leader and that the team doesn’t expect him to get 15 or 16 sacks every year because he is being blocked differently and because other teams are game planning for Michael. Ryan told me, “No matter what kind of game he has, we’ll always be behind him because he is our team leader and we’ll always support him.”

We then talked about Ryan’s role in the rotation, and he described it, “It’s just like anything else. If I were to cut a head of wheat I wouldn’t be very good at it, but the more hay you cut, the more plays you get, the more comfortable you feel out there, and that’s the way I’m feeling right now. I’m feeling a little more comfortable out there. By no means am I ready to start, but I feel like I’m making some pretty good strides.” I asked about the blocked extra point and he told me that was his block. I told him we weren’t sure on the sidelines because big George Williams came out thumping his chest. Ryan said, “It’s hard in that type of situation, you never know who gets it because it comes off so fast.”

I visited with Brandon Short and asked him if it was everything he expected and what lessons he had learned so far. He told me, “It’s a lot of fun, it’s always fun when you win…I’ve learned all rookies start the same whether you are a first pick or the last guy in the draft; you’ve all got to get out there and perform; granted a higher pick gets a lot more opportunities to get out there on the field, but if you play, they’re going to put you in anyway…I’m just trying to get better every week. All the older linebackers have been helping us young guys, like me, Jack (Golden), and Kevin (Lewis), they’ve been helping us out tremendously, so I feel like I’m getting better, we all are, every week.”

Shaun Williams and I discussed the succession of scramblers the Giants are facing and he acknowledged that this was a good win. I asked about game planning and he told me, “As a team we’ve started to study film more this year and guys are spending extra time because we want to win, and that’s been a key to our success so far.” I asked him about working with Lyle West and he said, “Lyle knows the defense, Lyle is a competitor, he’s a football player. I knew he was going to play well today and he did.”

Amani was talking to a group of us about his TD and he was saying, “When situations like that arise, the ball is going to be in the right spot…during training camp we were looking good and the defense was telling us it was hard to cover us…now when we’re playing other teams that aren’t used to the motion and the shifts, we’re really stretching them out and they don’t know how to react…the more plays we get, I’d compare it to boxing, like taking body shots; in the first quarter we were on the field for a long time, kind of like hitting them in the body, getting them loosened up, then when we scored the TD, they didn’t have the juice to come back and put more pressure on us.” I asked him how he got 7 yards behind the defenders and he told me, “A lot of it has to do with Kerry looking them off, our offensive line is protecting, and we’re executing good; we practice it so it looks like that, it’s the way it’s supposed to be.” But he quickly said, “There were a couple of drives that we could have done better, convert on a couple of third downs, just to put the game more out of reach.” I told him that at the end it looked as if the Giants were trying not to roll up the score. He said, “We know they work just as hard as we do, they went to training camp, we just wanted to win; we don’t want to rub it in anybody’s face…that always comes back to you.” I asked if we had finally seen the entire arsenal and he smiled and said, “We showed a little bit more this week than we did the week before, but I think there’s still a lot to see.”

MS told me, “I feel good, we won the game, I feel good about that…the whole week it’s been Runyan and Strahan, everybody made a battle of it except me. I just wanted to pay and do what I could do. I was able to play pretty good today. The next time we play, who knows…I know he’s going to come out and play a lot harder, so it’s an interesting match up for everybody except me. I’m just happy trying to play and each week is different. Next week I’ve got Big Cat Williams and we’ll see how I do.” We talked about the pre-game heckler and Michael told me, “In Philadelphia, this is probably the only City where I would talk to the crowd, because it’s Philadelphia…when you see a guy flicking you off with a kid sitting next to him…it’s Philadelphia…” I asked him how McNabb was developing and he said, “He’s coming along great, you can’t catch the guy, like I said earlier, you can put him in a cab with 5 guys and he’ll escape from the cab without anybody touching him. He’s very elusive, very strong, once he gets a little more experience, he’s going to be dangerous.”

I continued that discussion with CJ who told me “he’s unbelievable. We put a lot of pressure on him, he still makes the plays…he got out of trouble a few times…that’s when he’s at his best, coming off blitzes…for the most part we wanted to contain him.” I asked CJ if he had a role as a run specialist or pass rusher and he told me, “In the NFC, if you can’t stop the run, you’re not going to win…because you’re playing against backs like Duce Staley…we try to stop the run and make them one dimensional. When you chase a QB like we did last week and this guy, here, McNabb, you’ve got to be real cautious, you just can’t go up the field with a speed rush, you’ve got to come under control. If we had been flying up the field out of control, he wold have hurt us real big time. We’re staying under control until we face pocket passers. Next week we’ve got Cade McNown, it’ll probably be about the same, staying under control on our rush.” CJ told me he was feeling comfortable with his development but “there’s still a lot of things out there. I go back, and I’m my biggest critic, I’ll look at the film, I’m going to be hard on myself every week so I keep on improving and getting better. I’m just going to keep on plugging and I feel it’s going to come the way I want it to come.” He told me that he and Michael “just go full out the whole game, just empty the tank, throughout the week try to reload it and empty it again next Sunday. Mike and I expected to get a lot of plays, so we got in better shape so we’d be able to sustain throughout the game.”

Well, there you have it, game planning, film review, going full out the new offensive philosophy and execution. So far so good.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, September 10, 2000)
Sep 082000
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, September 10, 2000: Philly’s home opener. A week after the Eagles humiliated the despised Cowboys. Some of the rudest and most obnoxious fans in the world will be screaming their heads off. The Eagles themselves are feeling pretty damn cocky about themselves and feel like they can play with anyone. I doubt most prognosticators will give the Giants much of a chance this weekend.

Games like this is what makes football great.

This is an important game – a division game on the road versus a legitimate playoff contender. I don’t have to tell you all how important tie-breakers come during the month of December. The Giants teams of the mid- to late-1990’s might have been scared of such a situation. But this is a veteran team with leaders such as Kerry Collins, Tiki Barber, Lomas Brown, Jessie Armstead, Mike Barrow, and Keith Hamilton. Guys like this don’t intimidate easily. They keep their cool and give it their all even when rough spots arrive – and there will be rough spots on on Sunday.

The Giants can make a statement on Sunday – to the local and national media, to their fans, and to the rest of the NFC East. Their experience and leadership should overcome an inhospitable environment and keep the Giants at the top of the division.

Giants on Offense: The Eagles have a very active, quick front seven and a very strong secondary. But it is a relatively young and light defense. The game plan seems relatively straight-forward: use a variety of formations and misdirection to confuse the youngsters and run the ball at the less powerful. Pass when they expect you to run and run when they expect you to pass. Don’t be surprised to see Tiki run the ball on 3rd-and-long like he did last week (with success I might add).

But it won’t be easy. The defense will be pumped with very loud crowd support. The Eagles will likely attack the line of scrimmage not only to get after Collins, but to disrupt the run. The Giants must take advantage of this aggressiveness and use it against Philadelphia. Counters, draws, and screens will help slow down the Eagles. What the Giants need early are big plays and points in order to take some of the starch out of the defense and crowd.

Kerry Collins needs to out-play his counterpart. Kerry is poised for a breakout year and it is time to show the rest of the league that he is one of the better quarterbacks in the league. Winning games like this one requires your quarterback to step up and make big plays in key situations. Yes, Philly has two very good cornerbacks in Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent – both big, physical corners who can cover. But Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard are no slouches and Collins has the arm to get them the ball even when covered. The slant pass is particularly effective against an aggressive defense. I would also exploit Philly’s depth in the secondary by getting Joe Jurevicius and Ron Dixon onto the field in 3- and 4-WR sets. Offensive Coordinator Sean Payton won’t give the Eagles one look. He will be constantly changing personnel and formations.

What will be real interesting is to see if Tiki Barber plays more than he did last week. If the Giants fall behind, then Tiki will see the ball even more. If the Giants are way ahead, you pound them with Ron Dayne. But what if the game is close? Who does Payton feel matches up best against their defense? In a traditional power offense, one would power the ball at the light defenders with Dayne. But the Giants have more of a finesse line and finesse schemes now. It will be interesting to see what happens.

It is unfortunate that it looks like TE/H-Back Pete Mitchell won’t be able to play this week. He would be a huge asset in keeping the Eagle linebackers honest in the running game and also a significant weapon against these very same linebackers in the passing game. If he doesn’t play, expect to see a heavy dose of FB Greg Comella again. Dan Campbell also becomes important.

Of course, the fate of this game will largely be decided in the trenches. The good news is that, unlike it predecessors, this Giants’ offensive line is particularly well-suited to deal with quickness. LT Lomas Brown has the athletic ability to really handle Mike Mamula and LG Glenn Parker should be able to control DT Hollis Thomas. The big battles up front really will be whichever blocker (Dusty Zeigler, Greg Comella, one of the guards, etc.) is designated to block impressive MLB Jeremiah Trotter; RG Ron Stone versus DT Corey Simon; and RT Luke Petitgout versus DE Hugh Douglas. Simon is a very impressive rookie with fine, fine quickness, but I look for Stone to educate the youngster. Petitgout has left tackle feet and quicks – and he will need these traits against Douglas. In many instances, don’t be surprised to see TE Howard Cross be responsible for Douglas too (even one-on-one).

The crowd will be loud – the fans will be tough – but the Giants can and should go for the kill early on Sunday.

Giants on Defense: The goal is obvious: stop Duce Staley, a guy who tore up the Dallas defense for over 200 yards last week. Duce should not be a surprise to Giants’ fans; the Giants had their hands full with him last year. The main job of the front seven will be to stuff him at the line of scrimmage and put QB Donovan McNabb in long yardage passing situations (of course, that is the goal each and every week).

What the Giants need to be really careful of is that the Eagle head coach also knows the Giants will be concentrating on the run. Thus, the defense must be very careful of play-action and the times when Philly will be pass on first and second down. Focus on stopping the run – but don’t be surprised to see a pass. Easier said than done.

When McNabb does put the ball up, don’t expect a big pass rush from the Giants down four. Those Syracuse fans among us know just how dangerous Donovan is on the scramble – he’s even faster than Randall Cunningham was in his prime. The job of Michael Strahan, Christian Peter, Keith Hamilton, and Cedric Jones will be first to contain McNabb – yes I did say contain. It isn’t glamorous – but it is the kind of thing that will win the ball game. But since the Eagle receiving corps is ordinary, I would think we’ll see more blitzing from Defensive Coordinator John Fox this week. Much depends on whether SS Sam Garnes (concussion) plays. Fox is likely to be more careful if Lyle West is starting.

The Eagles’ head coach is a West Coast Offense guy so covering the backs and tight ends will be crucial. Mike Barrow, Jessie Armstead, and Ryan Phillips will all be on the spot in coverage. Duce Staley, Cecil Martin, Stanley Pritchett, and Brian Mitchell can be dangerous out of the backfield and all of the Eagle tight ends are involved in the passing game. What the Giants can’t afford is for Jason Sehorn, Dave Thomas, Emmanuel McDaniel, and the safeties not to do their job against the receivers.

The big match-up up front with be Strahan against RT Jon Runyan – the best right tackle in football. Many fans are harping on Strahan for not getting sacks, but this week it will be his run defense that will be most important. DE Cedric Jones also faces a huge, talent player in LT Tra Thomas. With these two having their hands full, New York needs big efforts from Christian Peter (who lines up against Jermane Mayberry) and Keith Hamilton (who lines up against John Welbourn). Indeed, Hamilton and Strahan may be the two most important Giant defenders on Sunday.

Stuff the run – be wary of play-action – and then get after McNabb (but also maintain pass rush discipline). It sounds like a lot, and it is. But if the Giants want to be considered one of the best defenses in the league, then this is the type of game they live for.

Giants on Special Teams: Tiki Barber and Ron Dixon could be the difference in this ball game with their punt and kick returns, respectively.

Punt and kick coverage must continue to improve. The Giants face the familiar Brian Mitchell in both departments. Brad Maynard and Brad Daluiso need to help out their teammates with strong kicks – with both height and distance.

Special teams will most likely decide the game.

Sep 062000
 
New York Giants 21 – Arizona Cardinals 16

Overview: The game couldn’t have gone much better for the Giants. They took a big early lead and were able to dictate the flow of the game against an undermanned Cardinal team. The big positives were the play of the offensive line, the run defense, and the “Thunder and Lightening” backfield of Ron Dayne and Tiki Barber. Concerns were continued pass rush and special teams problems. There were also too many penalties (mostly on specials). So the Giants got the win, yet there is plenty for the coaching staff and players to work on in practice this week to improve.

“There were a lot of good points,” said DE Michael. “But this team is mature enough to realize that offensively we can play better, defensively we can play better and our special teams can play better.”

“What’s important is that we beat a team we were supposed to beat,” said LT Lomas Brown. “Yeah, we’ve got to play better. But this is a big first step.”

“Now we have to put it behind us and get ready for Philly,” said WLB Jessie Armstead.

Offensive Line: The offensive line would get my game ball. They did not have a penalty or yield a sack. The Giants gained 223 rushing yards on top of that. Yes, the Cardinal defense was hurting, but that is still a very impressive performance.

“If you look at any of the plays I ran, I wasn’t getting touched for five or six yards,” HB Tiki Barber said.

“They pounded us,” said Arizona safety Pat Tillman. “We just couldn’t seem to stop them. No matter what we did, nothing seemed to work.”

“Ever since I’ve come here, the Giants have tried to do the same thing,” said Cardinal DT Mark Smith. “They try to run the ball. We slowed them down for a while, but they stuck with it. They just broke us and we fell apart. They have pretty much the same game plan, but now they know how to execute it. Instead of trying to force it, they have the line and the backs to get it done. I hadn’t really seen that before.”

The inside trio of LG Glenn Parker, OC Dusty Zeigler, and RG Ron Stone were particularly impressive in the run blocking department. Stone was a blaster inside and Parker and Zeigler were adept at pulling (such as the 3rd-and-6 and 3rd and 4 trap plays that sprung Tiki for a first down). But tackles Lomas Brown and Luke Petitgout also got into the act and helped to lead the Giants to their best rushing performance in three years. The line and backs did a good job picking up the blitz too. The line really took control of the game at the start of the 4th quarter after the Cardinals cut the Giants’ lead to 14-3. The Giants then wore down the tired and demoralized opponent with a 7+ minute, 15-play drive that featured a heavy dose of Ron Dayne straight up the gut. The impressive drive was capped with a Dayne TD that followed a great block by Parker for a 21-3 lead. For all intents and purposes put the game out of reach.

Collins was hit by Brad Ottis on one play and forced to throw the ball away when LT Lomas Brown got beat to the outside, but pass protection was pretty solid. Perhaps the prettiest play of the day was the well-executed screen to Comella where the left side of the line pulled right – faking a sweep right – while the right side of the line set up the screen on the left and sprung Greg for a big gain. Stone took out the safety on the play.

Tight Ends: Not much of a factor in the passing game (especially with Pete Mitchell out), but Dan Campbell did have a catch and showed some good power running over tacklers. Where Howard Cross and Campbell made their biggest mark was in the run blocking department.

Running Backs: “Thunder and Lightening” – the name does fit. Tiki had the best game of his career as a Giant running the ball with 13 rushes for 144 yards (an 11.1 yards-per-carry average) and two touchdowns. He also had 3 catches for 25 yards. For whatever reason (improved offensive line, weight loss, better understanding of the pro game, increased confidence, etc.), Tiki has become a far better back running the ball than his first few years in New York. He now runs with very good vision, instincts, and elusiveness. Tiki had two highlight reel runs. At the end of the first quarter, he reversed his field on a right-side sweep that was well-defended, eluded one lineman, and outran everyone to the left corner of the endzone. He later exploded off big blocks from Ron Stone and Dusty Zeigler for a 78-yard romp where he eluded a tackle from the safety. It was the Giants’ longest TD run since the 1950’s. One got the feeling that he might have been able to break the 200 yard mark if the Giants kept feeding him the ball. But smartly, the coaches realized the game was in hand against an undermanned opponent and they used the opportunity to give Ron Dayne the playing time he needs with the first team offensive line. Plus there was no reason to risk injury to Barber in such a situation. Barber got his twenty touches (rushing, receiving, returning) and so did Dayne – just like the coaches planned.

Ron Dayne (23 carries for 78 yards and one touchdown) was not as impressive, but he slowly is getting accustomed to the Giants’ style of run blocking. As Fox‘s Bill Maas pointed out, the Giants run more of a zone blocking system that calls for Dayne to slide to the right as he takes the handoff – as opposed to the straight-up-the-gut philosophy he was used to at Wisconsin. You can still see that Dayne is not yet 100 percent comfortable at exploding into the hole. He also needs to learn that he isn’t going to beat many NFL defenders to the corner with his speed. My advice to him – don’t run horizontally to the line of scrimmage too much; you’re at your best when attacking the defense moving forward.

But one thing I do have to keep harping on with fans is that Dayne is never going to be the big-play, explosive-type back that fills up a highlight reel tape. His job is to pound the ball in the middle, pick up tough yards inside, and keep the chains moving. It is not glamorous. It is not exciting. But not many in the league can do it on a consistent basis and this is the type of play who wins ball games. “He’s going to carry it in some tough times,” said Head Coach Jim Fassel after the game. “They know we’re going to run it. We know we’re going to run it. Everybody knows we’re going to run it and give it to him. I thought he did a good job.”

Dayne also admitted that he had some opening day jitters. “I started to feel a lot better (as the game went on),” Dayne said. “I was more nervous in the beginning. I was missing holes that I thought I should have gotten to.” Dayne was at his best in the fourth quarter during the above-mentioned final TD drive. He carried the ball 6 times for 36 yards on that drive and topped it off with an impressive looking TD run off the right side.

FB Greg Comella played a very strong game except for one very costly fumble as the Giants were driving at the end of the first half. The Giants were already in field goal range and Comella fumbled the ball away after trying to break a tackle after a catch (Comella was the leading Giants’ receiver with 5 catches for 42 yards). But aside from that miscue, Greg was often the go-to guy for Collins when the Giants needed to pick up a first down. He picked up 13 yards on 3rd-and-6 on the Giants’ first TD drive. Greg had a 25-yard gain on one well-executed screen pass where he quickly accelerated up the field. He also did a nice job blocking. FB Craig Walendy surprisingly played a lot and didn’t look bad at all blocking.

Quarterback: I have high expectations for Kerry Collins (17-of-25 for 172 yards, no touchdowns, 1 interception), so I wasn’t overly impressed with his performance. But the only stat that really matters is the win-loss column, so I’ll take it.(grin) Collins looked a tad jittery to me – especially in the second half. It almost seemed as if the rain delay, or his collision in the backfield with Ron Dayne, or his interception phased him a bit. Perhaps he was too conscious of not making the dumb mistake. But he didn’t exude the same kind of gun-slinger mentality to me in this game. And I certainly don’t think his accuracy was overly sharp. There was one play in the first quarter on 3rd-and-long where he ran out of the pocket when I didn’t think he needed to. The dumbest thing he did was his decision to try to force the ball to Hilliard in the end zone. The play resulted in an easy interception and gave the Cardinals new life. A field goal there would have finished Arizona even earlier in the game and put the Giants up 17-0. Instead, the Cards used that momentum to cut the lead to 14-3. Kerry needs to play smarter. There are times to take chances and times not to.

For the most part, Collins threw in the short- to intermediate-range. Much of this had to do with the fact that the Cardinals were rotating a safety over to Amani Toomer to double-cover him. Much also had to do with the fact that the Giants running game was operating at a very high-level and Offensive Coordinator Sean Payton decided to ride the hot hands of Barber and Dayne.

The two plays where I was most impressed with Collins were his non-throwing plays. He showed his toughness and competitiveness by launching himself at a defender on Barber’s reverse field TD run. He also didn’t shy away from any contact on a 3rd-down bootleg that picked up a key first down on another TD drive.

Wide Receivers: It was a very quiet day for the receivers as the Cardinals kept safety help deep most of the day and with the Giants running the ball so well. Ike Hilliard (3 catches for 62 yards) and Amani Toomer (4 catches for 35 yards) were the only receivers to have a reception. Amani looked sharp on a quick sideline toss that was designed for him to make the corner miss – which he did. He also did a good job of driving CB Aeneas Williams off the ball and coming back for a well-thrown out pass from Collins. Toomer also made a very important clutch play on a slant on 3rd-and-long with the corner all over him to keep the clock moving late in the game. Hilliard made a key catch on the Giants’ first TD drive with a 24-yard reception on 3rd-and-10 – flashing some excellent moves after the catch. Ike’s best catch was the 29-yard low pass from Collins that put the Giants in business on the Cards’ five yard line right before halftime (unfortunately, Collins was intercepted three plays later). One area where I’d like to see the receivers improve is their blocking. CB Tom Knight was the last man available to tackle Dayne at the line of scrimmage on a couple of runs and if he had been tied up better, big plays might have resulted.

Defensive Line: The run defense was outstanding. The Cards gained 43 yards on the ground with QB Jake Plummer accounting for 18 of those. The pass rush was disappointing and needs to improve quickly if the Giants are going to contend for the division crown. “They couldn’t run the ball,” said CB Jason Sehorn. “It was impressive the way the line stopped the run and forced them to throw. Anytime you make a team one-dimensional it’s to your advantage. They may chew up some yards there at the end, but you really have the advantage when you know they have to throw.”

Fassel admits the pass rush was disappointing and needs to be improved. But he also said much of the emphasis in the game plan was to keep Plummer from getting outside the pocket and scrambling. “He’s quick and can get out of the pocket. He has that escapability,” Fassel said. “By scheme and design, we wanted to keep him in the pocket.”

Cedric Jones (4 tackles) was very active in the first half on runs to his side – causing the play to go nowhere. The Cards could not get any push inside against DT’s Christian Peter (3 tackles) or Keith Hamilton (1 tackle, 2 assists) either. Michael Strahan (two assists) stood his ground on the left side. The Giants also rotated in defensive linemen quite a bit with DE Cornelius Griffin seeing time at left end (and Strahan moving over to the right side). DT Ryan Hale also saw significant playing time. Both Peter and Strahan made nice plays in the open field when they dropped back into coverage on zone blitzes.

The pass rush was different story. Yes, the Cards often got rid of the ball quickly and yes, Strahan was often being held by his opponent, but the Giants need to get to the quarterback better than they did. What was most disturbing is that Arizona was operating with a beat up offensive line. Defensive Coordinator John Fox’s decision to only rush three down lineman in the 4th quarter didn’t help matters either.

Linebackers: MLB Michael Barrow (6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery) played the best of the group. He”flashed” twice with a well-timed run blitz where he crushed the back in the backfield and a sack late in the game. He did get beat for a big 21-yard completion on third down that got the Cardinals out of deep trouble in their own end of the field. WLB Jessie Armstead (3 tackles and 3 assists) was also fairly active, but he didn’t make his usual big play. SLB Ryan Phillips (1 tackle) did a good job of filling his gap in run defense and did a good job of covering the fullback for no gain. Pete Monty (1 tackle and 3 assists) saw some playing time as well. He did get beat by Pittman for a 21-yard gain too however.

Defensive Backs: The Giants gave up 318 passing yards, but this stat is somewhat misleading. The Cardinals were forced to play catch-up even before the first half was over and Plummer put the ball up 49 times. “We may have given up a lot of passing yards,” said CB Jason Sehorn. “But that’s just because that’s all they were doing in the second half. They’re going to get some passes completed if they throw it 50-something times.”

Indeed, until late in the game, the Giants kept the dangerous, but inconsistent Plummer, in check – only giving up big chunks of yardage when they went to their prevent defense. CB Jason Sehorn (eight tackles) was generally solid. David Boston caught a couple of underneath passes against him and David Boston beat him over the middle for a first down on 3rd-and-16 in the first half. But Sehorn was also all alone with Boston on a deep fly pattern and knocked the ball away. CB Dave Thomas (4 tackles) kept Frank Sanders in check most of the game, but he was up-and-down. His best play was when he broke on the ball as soon as Sanders made his cut and almost came up with interception. He was well-positioned to knock the ball away on the late TD pass to David Boston, but whiffed on the knockdown attempt. Thomas did a good job on the following two-point conversion attempt by knocking the pass down intended for Boston. He was lucky that Plummer didn’t hit Mar Tey Jenkins on a deep fly pattern early in the game where Jenkins had step and Dave did give up a 22 yard completion to Sanders on a Plummer roll out in the second quarter.

Perhaps the star of the day in the secondary was Emmanuel McDaniel (3 tackles). On the negative side, he was flagged for illegal contact and he did drop two interceptions. But he also picked off two passes (one on a Hail Mary) and did a good job on the slot receiver most of the day. “He’s gotten better, and he’s shown me a lot,” said Fassel of McDaniel. “He’s handled a lot; we picked him up off the street a year ago and now he’s starting in our nickel package. I like his competitiveness – he seems like a guy who’s a performer.” CB Reggie Stephens made a nice break on a sideline pass and almost came up with a pick.

Shaun Williams’ (6 tackles and 1 assist) only glaring breakdown came late when he was beat by Boston inside for a late touchdown. He made a good looking interception where he broke in front of the ball and raced down the sideline for a 40 yard return. Boston did find the open zone against Williams late in the second half for a big completion and also caught another pass over the middle where it looked like Shaun was responsible. Williams was very active in run support, as was SS Sam Garnes (5 tackles, 1 assist). Garnes did a great job of tackling the fullback short of the first down on third-and-short. On the very next play, the Giants held on 4th-and-inches. Lyle West (3 tackles) played quite a bit when Garnes was forced out of the game (dehydration and later a concussion) and did not embarrass himself.

Special Teams: The special teams started off pretty strong, but faded. Early kick and punt coverage was strong, but the Giants gave up a 41-yard kickoff return on a reverse. Cardinal kick returners also had too much running room early on their returns (the Giants’ coverage men weren’t in the picture fast enough). Brandon Short was flagged for being offsides and Craig Walendy was flagged twice for holding (one which brought back a big return from Ron Dixon). Dixon was flagged for interfering with a fair catch. Dave Thomas ran into the punter and was called for it.

Tiki Barber had one nice punt return, but also fumbled on a play where he should have called for a fair catch (luckily McDaniel was there to cover the ball). Barber also called for a fair catch a couple of times where I thought he had some running room. The big mistake was not covering the onside kick by the Cardinals. Brad Maynard punted very well, including a nice coffin corner punt that pinned the Cards inside the five.


Breakdown of the Offensive Line

by Chris Jacobs

Lomas Brown 93%:
Rarely makes mistakes, stays with his blocks. Very good at influencing the DE up the field on running plays. On the second series he whiffed on a block which resulted in an incomplete pass, and immediately apologized to Collins. He has a great motor for a 37 year old, a hot humid day and he didn’t take a play off.

Glenn Parker 86%:
Obviously great at pulling on sweeps and trapping. Very quick for his size. Still tends to get a little high on some pass protection causing him to get pushed back collapsing the pocket (low man wins). On the fade attempt to Joe Jurevicious in the fourth quarter (the play previous to Daynes TD), Parker whiffed on his man causing Collins to make a bad throw. Made up for it on the next play when Dayne followed him right up into the hole for the TD.

Dusty Ziegler 88%:
Had a solid game. He missed on a couple of cut blocks, however on several occasions put his man on rollerskates and just drove him 5 yards downfield. He’s as quick as he is powerful, does a good job getting around his man and sealing him inside to create holes. A good example was Tiki’s long run, the Nose tried to scrape down but DZ got around him and sealed, you saw the result.

Ron Stone 86%:
Very powerful, like DZ was just blowing guys off the ball all day long. Payton really likes running the ball to Stoney’s side, usually pulling Parker around to trap or pull up into the hole. Sometimes he has trouble getting out on the LB, which is probably why we don’t see him pulling as much as GP. Quickness really isn’t his strength, but he and Parker compliment each other. Great pass blocker.

Luke Petitgout 92%:
Had a solid game. Oddly enough the only glaring mistake I saw was on Tiki’s first TD run. Lukes man was in the backfield right off the snap and almost blew the play up. If the play went as designed LP managed to ride the guy inside enough that he wouldn’t have made the play. Comella missed a block on that side too causing Tiki’s razzle dazzle TD run. Besides that he did a really good job, I’m concerned about next week because Philly has some speed guys on the outside and that’s where LP struggled in the preseason. Bryan Cox gave him a hard time a couple of weeks ago, look for Payton to keep a back in the backfield to help him out this week.

Concerns: They came out very very flat in the second half, two 3-and-outs in a row and then the interception thrown by KC after the turnover. Made up for it though with the 15 play scoring drive the next series.

Some Thoughts: The O-line controlled the line of scrimmage and the defense played so well that the passing game was non-existent. I think the Cards defensive game plan was to try and force the Giants to beat them on the ground. They really didn’t have 8 in the box all that often, even late in the game they seemed to be afraid to give up the big play to Ike or Toomer. Even on Ike’s two big catches there were 3 guys around him and they only had 3 or 4 rushing and rarely blitzed. We’ll see a different game next week, Philly is going to dare Collins to beat them up top. Expect Philly to try and shut down the run early and blitz often, because their D-backs match up well with the Giants wideouts.

Kudos to Payton: Lots of misdirection, imaginative and unpredictable. Two plays that stick out in my mind.

  1. The Toss sweep/counter – On the first scoring drive, it looked like a busted play but I ran it back and watched it about 15 times, this was a designed play to look like a sweep right and Tiki cuts it back left against the flow.
  2. Counter Trey play action screen left to Comella (the big gainer).

Bottom line is the defense was confused most of the game. He kept them off balance.


THUNDER & LIGHTNING
OR
THE TIKI SHOW

by David Oliver

On a team bereft of celebrities (except for Angie Harmon), representing a City which feeds on them, an unheralded running back, considered too slight for full time duty, stepped forward on Sunday to lay claim to the footlights. For the moment, he eclipsed his stablemate, the Heisman winning, power running, also affable, and soon to be celebrity. This tandem, Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne ran behind a line called too old, too soft, too late, which carved holes in the speed defense of the Cardinals, kept it’s QB well-protected and thoroughly enjoyed rolling on the wet grass field of the Meadowlands. Thus was born the East Coast version of Thunder & Lightning.

It didn’t hurt the birth of a legend that the game was played in intermittent rain and thunder, and of course, lightning strikes ringing the Stadium and hitting fairly close nearby. The game was suspended for a while shortly after the start of the second half, when one crackle and boom shook the Stadium, scared the residents and gave the Referee diarrhea. Mean Joe Greene was unimpressed as he entered the tunnel muttering, hell WE played through this kind of weather. This now happens annually and I tell people it is just Jimmy Hoffa letting the tenants know who rules the end zone.

Let me reintroduce myself to my fellow fans. I am David Oliver, soon to be retired government lawyer, sports photographer, writer, your reporter, teller of tales and most of all Giants fan. I covered the Giants for three years as the photographer for the original GIANTS INSIDER newspaper. I was well paid, but didn’t like the hours. I linked up with Eric and BBI because I liked the sense of sharing, the witty, if sometimes acerbic commentary (albeit no one here is in the same league as Paul Gregory for caustic casuistry), and the sense of relationship. I am not well paid here. I am not paid at all. My choice. I’m here because I like you guys and I’ll stay until that changes. Of course, I have expectations that sometime, somehow both Eric and I will be paid because he has done a great job putting and holding this thing together, and because I need the money. Community, unfortunately doesn’t come without a price in today’s marketplace.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, here we go again. Why the lead-in this week? Well. It hasn’t been a particularly good summer. I’m concerned about how I pay the bills next month when my pension covers about half my current salary; I’m worried about my wife, who has a lump on her leg, deep into her muscle and we can’t get an MRI until next week; my favorite cat and best buddy, who is already an insulin dependent diabetic, has now been diagnosed with cancer; the straw, the tiny non-significant straw which almost broke the camel’s back happened last week. I just bought an Iomega Zip CD writer. It worked fine for 5 weeks until I tried to cut a disk of the Giants/Ravens game. It cut off with 3 seconds left. I went to another file, perfect. I copied a previously made disk, perfect. Back to the Giants, 3 seconds left, cut off. Then the fatal mistake. I called Support at Iomega. When they were done with me my computer would no longer recognize the Zip (USB); Iomega said, your problem and they were out of there. I now have a $250 piece of op art on my desk. On Wednesday I broke out in my first ever case of hives and considered Seppuku. But two things happened on Thursday. I opened The Corner Forum and read how everyone was getting excited about Sunday. The mail came. I had a plain white box delivered. When I opened it, out came my die-cast Giants tail gate, pick-up truck from the Danbury Mint. It was blue and red and had Giants on the doors, and it was fully outfitted. I went from almost tears to laughter; once again the beacon flashed, GIANTS, GIANTS, GIANTS, and I had somewhere to retreat, to forget just how tough life can be sometimes. This team has been such a part of my life for so long, it has become more than Xs and Os; it symbolizes the Manichean struggle of light against darkness; it bonds me to a community, and memories, that once were home physically, and now home always in my heart and mind; it has marked the passing of seasons, the highs, and lows of aging; the eternal hope that all will be well; the challenge of Percival in his search for the Holy Grail. Through war and peace, assassinations and asses, war and peace, loss of family and births and weddings, the GIANTS have always been the lodestar of my life. On Saturday, I strapped on my armor (kneepads and BBI teeshirt), I holstered my weaponry (cameras, tape recorder, pad and pencil), I mounted my trusty steed (96 Toyota Camry with 90,000 miles) and up the Turnpike I rode, full of hope once again.

As kick off neared, the excitement grew throughout the Stadium. But it was a more subdued excitement this year, maybe because the Cardinals don’t evoke the same visceral feeling as the Redskins or Cowboys. But it was still opening day, and for the regulars the first football since the first week of January. The walls were decked out in the red, white and blue bunting, Frank Gifford was down on the sidelines. The new grass had been manicured and prepped. It was time for the unveiling of the new Giants’ offense.

The team came down the tunnel, jumping and chanting and I was reminded of the warrior chant of a Zulu Impi on its way to battle. They were ready; there were abrazos and high fives, and the focus was plainly visible in their eyes. Surprisingly, once the game began, the new Giants O had a touch of the old; it is still Giants football, a ground game and a tough run defense. The difference – the ground game has a quick strike component in Tiki Barber, who showed that once he finds daylight, he can-go-all-the-way. The Giants amassed 223 rushing yards, on 41 carries, an average 5.4 yards per. The O controlled the ball for 31:30 seconds, and that will signify victory against any team in the League except for the St. Louis Rams, who don’t need to hold the ball that long to win a game.

The defense was also a touch of the old, limiting the Cardinals to 43 yards rushing on 20 carries for an average of 2.2 yards per. Although the Cardinals threw the ball 49 times with 28 completions, there were 3 interceptions and easily could have been 5 or 6. Most of the yardage came late in the game when the issue had been decided and the Giants played sloppily. Thomas Jones, the high draft choice and favorite of many Giants’ fans, was held to a gaudy 16 yards on 12 rushes. If these were Ron Dayne’s stats, the Giants would have to trade him for the screaming.

Tiki gained 144 yards on 13 rushes, with one beauty of 78 yards. Just before the snap on that play, I sensed something was about to happen. I took off down the sidelines, heading for the opposite end zone. As I passed behind the Giants’ bench, I heard the roar and glanced at the field. Tiki and I were parallel on the 50 yard line. I started to run, with my two cameras, waist bag, kneepads and monopod. When I hit the 35, Tiki was in the end zone and encouraging the fans to cheer. The Tiki show had begun – the new super weapon had been unveiled. Oh! His stablemate, the Great Dayne had a not so shabby 78 yards on 23 carries, a 3.4 per average, but many of his yards were tough yards. Still, late in the game, the guy next to me has the Chutzpah to say, “Boy, Dayne sure looks slow.” Sure he does – next to Tiki or Marshall Faulk. But he runs just fine for the Clydesdales up front who parted the Red Sea for him on his prance to the end zone.

Let’s talk a little D here. Sehorn, 8 tackles, 2 passes defensed, Plummer stopped throwing his way early. Shaun Williams, 6 tackles, 1 assist, 2 passes defensed, 1 INT (ok, Phil in LA, I’m beginning to look at him a little differently). Barrow, 6 tackles, 1 key fumble recovery; Jessie 3 tackles, 3 assists; Garnes 4 tackles, 1 assist (then the crack and the knockout. Sam was out cold for several minutes, scary minutes – when he came to, he didn’t want to ride the cart, so the Giants sent out the very attractive, blonds neurosurgeon now on the sidelines to hop on the cart and convince Sam to take the ride- nice touch, these Giants have). Manny McD came up big with 3 tackles, 4 passes defensed, 2 INTs and he should have had 1 or 2 more. Reggie Stephens almost had an INT; D. Thomas registered 3 tackles and although beaten in the end zone on one of the TDs and called for a maul along the sidelines, did not have a bad game. Most of the day, he was more than adequate.

Back to offense and the passing attack, which was well-balanced. Ike was the long man, Comella the short, Amani the intermediate. Comella had 5 receptions for 42 yards with a nice 25 yarder. He dropped the ball once but it was an effort strip as he was fighting hard for extra yardage. Ike had a beauty of 29 yards which was classic Ike with moves in every direction. Tiki added 3 for 25 yards and Campbell had 1 for 10 yards.

The Giants had time of possession advantage in the first and last quarters and had the ball 12 times. Their shortest time of possession was the Ram-like run of Tiki, the series taking all of 40 seconds. The longest drive was 7:32 and ended with the Dayne TD run- it was a 15 play 82 yard drive with 6 first downs. The other TD was a 5:10 drive, 10 plays 71 yards with 4 first downs. Something old, something new, nice football.

BUT DON’T START MAKING YOUR SUPER BOWL RESERVATIONS JUST YET. The Cardinals, although they beat the Giants twice last year are a wounded group of birds. Defections and injuries have hurt them and the Giants got them at the right time. We have a saying on the sidelines for good photos, luck and lighting. With the Giants schedule, luck is going to be a big factor. This week , the Giants will play one of the two toughest games on the schedule – the Eagles, for their home opener, in front of the meanest crowd in football. The other is the Rams game. The Eagles have been underrated and are out to take no prisoners. What they did to Aikman was shameful. And Troy is not a happy-footed, ‘fraid to be hit QB. If the G-Men are to have success in the City of Cain and Able, they will need to design a quick snap, wide open game to keep KC on his feet. I’m just not sure the Giants can batter the front seven of the Eagles with the power game. I guess we’ll have a lot of questions answered. How durable is the offensive line, just how tough a leader is KC?

Outside the stats, who looked good, who didn’t? Keep in mind that the game viewed from the sidelines is much different than on film; that’s why review of the tape is so critical. We see bits and pieces, isolations of a play, sometimes guys look better at field level, sometimes they don’t show up. So my analysis may be considerably different than yours- it’s a matter of perspective, not better or worse. To repeat, the game was classic Giants’ football, a solid ground game, a touch of short zone passing, an occasional down field foray, and a strong run defense. Early on the running game was solid, across the line. Positive yardage was made to the right, left and in the center. The big guys were getting push, and there were actual, visible holes opening for the backs. On defense, CJ started strong, Sehorn was a monster and the middle tackles, although not getting push controlled the line of scrimmage. There weren’t that many noticeable blitzes, so the Snake had time to move around. My assessment is that our middle rotation is as good as any in football and we shouldn’t be calling for change because they aren’t in the backfield on every play. When Fox has full confidence and starts calling dog plays, the middle guys will get penetration. I respectfully disagree with the Lorena Bobbitt’s of BBI – the Giants’ Peter is just fine in place.

Ike looked really good, both in finding the seam and in looking in the pass and running with the ball. Comella showed he’s ready to step in and take a few of those plays designed for Bennett. He’s not flashy or speedy, but he’ll make the possession catch and gain positive yardage. Tiki is on the verge of something really specia l- he is a Megget back in every sense and could surpass him. Even he, when asked to describe his runs in the post game, used the term “sensational”. On his one TD, it was a sweep, defended well by the speedy Cardinals. Tiki turned on a dime, reversed field and out legged the Cardinals across the entire width of the field. This was a Barry Sanders move. He did have one miscue, fumbling a punt, but it was covered by the Giants.

Dave Thomas was tested early and responded well – he cut in front of the receiver on one play and should have had the INT. Of course, he ran into the punter on the next play, but it was the lesser penalty and didn’t cost the Giants. When he was beaten on that late TD he came off the field furious. He was tossing and kicking things on the bench. He is intense and wants badly to show he can play.

M. Barrow was quietly plugging the gaps. He was getting off his blocks, which is something we haven’t seen in recent years in that position. He also rooted under the pile on one play and came out with a fumble which stopped a Cardinal drive and cost them at least a field goal.

Peter and Hammer controlled the middle and made tough stop after tough stop. It wasn’t the Giants’ lead that forced the Cardinals to the air; it was to total control these guys had over the line of scrimmage which totally nullified any Cardinals’ ground game.

Manny McD should have received a game ball. He was all over the field and continually in the receivers’ lanes. This is no easy feat with Plummer because the Snake does not lock on, he moves quickly and fires on the run.

Shaun Williams had a very nice game. He was powerful on run stops and showed good instinct in breaking on the ball. He also had a nice run back on his INT.

The defensive ends were quiet although CJ had 4 tackles. He does not fire off the ball and it is my belief that a good pass rush needs penetration from this position. The Giants aren’t using CJ to cover the tight end, so he needs to get up field quickly and directly to the QB. Plummer rolled quite a bit to his side and there was still no pressure. MS plays hard, but be cautious in your criticism – nothing is as it seems here, and for sure, his contract has nothing to do with any fall off in play.

Finally, KC. He played well, not outstanding. He does get some gaudy numbers, but I can’t get a fix on his style. He’s not a traditional stand in the pocket QB and he’s not a scrambler. He moves around well, but he focuses on the short reads. Maybe it’s the play-calling, but the progression seems skewered.

SCORECARD:

The game was a win, so overall the Giants from top to bottom earn a solid B on performance. This includes coaching and production.

Offensive Line: (A) a solid game; good movement on a very fast defense; no real weaknesses exposed here. Protected KC well and actually opened some very nice holes.

Tight Ends: (C) Too quiet. Howard Cross is still the best cheerleader on the team, is an awesome physical presence, blocks well and plays with the enthusiasm of a 25 year old. For all that, he is just another lineman. Campbell had one catch but was mostly invisible. Pete Mitchell is a noticeable absentee.

Fullback: (Solid B) Comella is an active player. Walendy is a good specials man right now and shows promise as a blocker. Comella has the heart of a lion and although he is no Alstott, he could play a major role in this offense when the going gets tough.

Running Backs: (A) The Thunder and Lightning show is for real. They found the holes and went through them. Tiki praised Dayne saying that last year on a third and 1 there was no confidence that it could be made. This year it is give the ball to the big fella. For JOMO, well, these are the times that try men’s souls.

Wideouts: (B) Quiet game for Toomer and JJ, Ike did his job. KC just didn’t look down field much.

KC: (B) “Managed the game well” in JFs words, statistically gaudy, still sloppy in the red zone, not comfortable with the rush. This week is exam time on leadership skills – Aikman didn’t survive the Eagles and Troy is a fearless pocket presence – can Sean Payton design a game plan to keep KC comfortable? The Giants are going to have to look beyond Tiki and Comella to break the Eagles’ backs and get the ground control in operation.

Defensive Line: (B) Great run defense, not much pressure on the QB.

LBs: (B) Active and helpful in the run, mostly a quiet game. Olivadotti is still learning his new position and his players. It’s time to start sending Jessie.

D-Backs: (A) Beaten a few times but overall a nice effort. Should have a ton of picks. The nickel is a strong unit, Sehorn is a presence on the field. Thomas and Williams held up well, Manny McD and Stephens are knocking on the door – both could be special.

Specials: (INC) Up and down. Looked bad on the on sides kicks. MacDuff was really irritated on his way out. He was telling one of his unit, “We can’t play like that, we can’t play like that, it will lose us games.” He’s not a bad guy, he’s not a bad coach, but he has a young, up and down unit. This job is going to overstress him.

Coaching: (B) Communication was better. JF was active on the sidelines. He worked the refs the entire game and you could sense his frustration as the Giants don’t seem to get the calls. JF would talk to Payton, but Payton was calling the plays – JF was “managing” the game. Fox is always active; MacDuff was racing up and down the sidelines exhorting his unit and watching carefully. Olivadotti was interesting. He stood 5 yards down field and studied his unit, formations, etc. He is a quiet guy, but we may see something develop here as the season progresses. McNally is very active and seems to like his guys – he’s always coaching on the bench.

LOCKER ROOM:

Line & Fullbacks:

The Giants appear to have taken a new approach to post game. They bring Coach Fassel and two or three of the star players from the game into the media interview room where they make a brief statement, then answer questions. There are no set time limits and the questioning can be interminable and often not too bright. By the time the signal is given that the locker is open, many players have showered, dressed and gone. Conscious or not, this does restrict access, unless you are a beat writer and attend the practices. Locker room access is provided after practice.

Following last week’s game, I had an opportunity to talk with Lomas Brown. It seems everyone asks him for an assessment of Ron Dayne, but I started out asking him about Lomas Brown. He laughed and told me, “feeling pretty good. Coach Fassel took care of us in this camp. It wasn’t a very brutal camp. I’m feeling good; I’m confident about what we can accomplish as an offensive line, as an offense period. We’ve got some great talent out there. The only thing that kind of concerns me is that we need to be more productive in the red zone…I feel very encouraged about things right now.”

Then we talked about communication among the linemen. He told me that “there will be some situations that come up where we will have to do a lot more talking than what we have in the preseason because we haven’t seen a lot of blitzes or because teams haven’t done certain things against us; so there will be more adjustments…but for the most part, we have a base and a foundation there right now.” I asked him for his assessment of the team going into the season. He said, “We’ve got as much talent as some of the other teams I’ve been on; by far, this is the best defensive team I’ve ever been associated with, so, to me, all we have to do as an offense is (a) control the clock, and (b) put some points up. I feel confident that this defense will be able to hold it down for us, and that’s a very encouraging feeling for an offensive player when you have that type of support on the defensive side; so, I’m looking forward to some great things happening this year.”

After the Cardinals game, I chatted briefly with Glenn Parker and asked him about the Cards front four. He said that “they are a good front four. The thing is we got up early on them and were able to pound, and that is tough on any D-line.” I said to him that it looked as if the Giants’ linemen were leaning on them and doing a lot of pushing, to which he responded “we really were, and by the end of the game we were really getting some push. It had to be hard on them because it is much harder to react to a play than if you know what you are doing. Defense is much more tiring than offense.” I asked how he felt about this O-line out there and he told me, “I felt good to an extent. They (the Cardinals) did some things that really stymied us for a while, but we got back into a groove. But we’ve got a long way to go and we’ll see them again and they’re going to be coming after us. They’re a good team.” I asked if he got a feel for Tiki’s performance and he said, “He did great. He ran through holes and got yards, and so did Ron. Ron showed why he’s a number one. He was in the holes and hitting them just like Tiki did.” Next, I wandered over to fullback row and chatted with Craig Walendy, who just may be another of those “football playing dudes.” I told him that I had noticed him playing like a wild man out there on specials and he said, “I try, you know I got nabbed for a holding call trying to make something happen and I slipped up; I’ll try never to do that again.” He told me has had been primarily a blocker in college, leading the way for the likes of DeShon Foster, Jermaine Lewis, Skip Hicks, Kareem Abdul Jabaar and Keith Brown. I asked him if he was comfortable with that role here and he shouted, “Oh, yeah, I love it.” I asked about adjustments he had to make and he said, “Just the system, the system is a lot to learn; it’s a lot of fun once you get it down, it’s a great system and I think the offense showed that today.” He told me he was having fun and that he loved it here, except for the weather (lightning). I then asked how he liked playing with the “big fella” (Dayne) and he answered, “I watched him in College. I’ve never seen a guy like him, a big guy, has speed, runs around people, as well as over people; that’s a great combo, especially here, where you’ve got the big guy and then Tiki, who can just fly. It’s a really talented backfield.” I asked if they were working him into any receiving sets and he acknowledged that “in the preseason I got a couple of chances. You’ve got to do what’s expected of you. Whatever they want me to do, I’ll be more than happy to do it. I’ll go out as a holder on extra points, I don’t care, it’s just fine with me.”

Then came one of my favorite guys in the locker room, Greg Comella. No matter how tired he might be, Greg braces and almost stands at attention when he speaks. He looks you straight in the eye, measures his words and speaks with precision. Reminds me of those days in ROTC many, many years ago. He was almost apologetic, telling me “there’s a lot to clean up. We did some good things, but as an offense there are certainly areas that we can improve on…when you become complacent, when you become satisfied, that’s when things go wrong.” We talked about potential and he said “there’s so much that opens up the offensive plays when you run the ball well…the offensive line, they were tremendous; our backs, with big plays like Tiki was making…it’s fun to be part of that.” We discussed the Eagles and Greg acknowledged “Philly is always good. What’s important for us is just to continue to focus on improvement, take it game by game, and really, day by day. The mind of a champion, I’ve been told, is relentless, so we need to be relentless in pursuit of what we want…you always feel good after a win, you have to keep improving, there’s a lot of work we need to do.”

Secondary:

Shaun Williams told me about using the time during his injury, when “I tried to watch a lot of film, be involved in practice a lot, which Coach Fassel really emphasizes, making calls, making checks which need to be made, and I think that helped me today.” He talked about the offense doing an outstanding job “giving the defense a rest”, and he said “as a defense we played pretty well. We wouldn’t have liked giving up those plays at the end of the game, but overall we did pretty well.”

Shaun said that communication was good, he hesitated for a moment as if recalling something specific from the game, but then repeated, almost as if reaffirming for himself, that communication was good. We discussed Plummer’s elusiveness and I asked if it was difficult to get a fix on him. Shaun said, “Yes, it is, that’s just what he’s known for. I played against him in college…he’s just known for that, scrambling around, putting the ball in the air, making plays; fortunately, today we were able to come up with some plays.” We talked about the Eagles game and about facing another scrambling QB and Shaun said “outstanding QB, very mobile, nice strong arm and he’s going to create some problems for us. But if we keep him contained, make him get into bad situations, 3rd-and-long situations, we can hold together and make some plays.”

I asked what he thought, off the top of his head, without benefit of film review, what the secondary needed to do to get better. His answer was “just be more consistent in our calls and if we are so lucky to get up on them, just keep them down, not let them get the late scores; but that can happen anytime in the game if we’re not really honed in and focused on the job at hand, we can let some plays slip by us.”

Coach Lynn stopped to chat and he was pleased with his unit, thought they had done a good job. When I asked him about McDaniel’s performance out there, he snapped “should have had more picks.” I teased him and asked if he was going to get him on him about it and the coach said, “Absolutely, one may have been a little hard, but the other he should have had…all of them.” I asked him what he was going to do for the Eagles and he said, “I don’t know, I’m going to sleep on this one tonight because they only come very rarely.” I asked him if he thought the communication was good and he told me that “it seemed pretty good, just till the end there, we got a little ragged…” We also talked about how the weather may have led to some breakdowns and he agreed to an extent saying “you get away and stuff like that, but we’ve had that experience before, Jacksonville twice; these guys have played in that, where you go in the locker room and come back out and do it again…” He was concerned about the mental lapses and said he would work on that this week.

Reggie Stephens was pumped and really excited about playing. I teased him about not pulling in a couple of interceptions and he said he “was just overanxious. I’m going to settle down, I’m going to play well, I know I am.” I asked him if he was happy being back at corner and he said “yes, but, safety, if I had to learn it, I just had to learn it. I’ve been put in worse predicaments, coming up in my life. I’ve been playing everywhere, receiver, running back, everywhere, so it’s not new to me, it’s just something I have to deal with. It’s not new. When the reporters came to me and said how do you feel about it, I’m like, well, I’ve been doing it all my life, so it’s no big deal. I’m just blessed with the opportunity to be here. I’m just going to try to be the best player. I’m young, I’ve got a lot of talent, I’m just trying to piece it together; I’m trying to learn from a guy like Emmanuel who’s been in the League for 5 years. This is my second, but not really, it’s my first. I’m trying to learn from Jason, Dave Thomas, so when I do get an opportunity, it’s going to all come together for me. I’m just excited. I like the pressure. I had pressure on me just to get here. If people would just get behind me, I think the Coaches have a lot of faith in me, so I’m not going to let them down.”

On to Dave Thomas, who in all fairness, did not have that bad a game. He was very down on himself at the end of the game and faced his locker as he dressed. But he didn’t duck, didn’t run, didn’t run out early. When I asked him about his feelings at the end of the game, he told me, “I’m just upset because they didn’t make the call. That’s tough. Although we have a win, I kind of take their scoring a TD real seriously. We were trying to keep the score a lot lower than that and I felt that it was out of my control. I could just go out there and play, but the call just didn’t go my way.” I asked him about the game as a whole and pointedly said that the media had been all over him about his coverage of fast receivers. He replied, “I can’t worry about what they say, but at the same time, I just have to do the job. Hopefully I can show my tem mates and it will trinkle down to the media, that I can play in this league.” DT is a sincere, likeable guy, very much like a quiet Percy Ellsworth, who gets down on himself about a bad play because he feels he has let his team down. Redemption is a God given gift and each week these guys have an opportunity to go out and earn it.

There you have it for now. I wrote in my game review about my feeling that the Birds will be one of the two toughest games for the Giants this year. As I wrote up these interviews, the attitudes of the players reminded me of being a teenager in Newark. There were a lot of gangs, a lot of fights – rumbles, gang banging, you name it. Newark always had a reputation for toughness. Philly, of course, also had that rep – particularly South Philly. During the summer, guys from Newark went to Seaside heights. Guys from Philly, being like Bolivia, land-locked, went to Wildwood. Seldom did the two sides meet. One weekend I went with a group of Newark guys to Wildwood, just to see what it was like. We walked into one of the dance clubs, where word had it, only Philly guys went. House rules, you didn’t dance with Philly girls. So we, of course, asked. Three of the young beauties were daring and accepted. As the music started, a contingent of the Philly toughs ambled over. Picture it, we all had ducktails and curl bobs, black hair, you know… The Philly guys told us they weren’t happy with us dancing with their ladies. We told them, well, you know what. Then they asked, where you guys from and we gave the one word answer NEWARK. Well, they weren’t chicken and didn’t mind a fight, but NEWARK, you know. So they backed off, shrugged and said hey, one dance is OK. Well, I hope the GIANTS remember when they travel down the Pike this week, that the helmet logos may be NY, but they are really from NEWARK, and NEWARK doesn’t take crap from Philly. Adios for now.

(Box Score – Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants, September 3, 2000)
Sep 012000
 

Approach to the Game – Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants, September 3, 2000: So begins the 2000 season. As I have done in the past, I will provide a brief preview of what to look for in the upcoming game, match-ups, and strategy. The tone may sound foreboding at time, but it shouldn’t. Unlike previous years, the Giants have the talent on offense to scare the opposition and put points on the board. It’s time to stop worrying about this player or that, this team or that, or any other negative possibilities.

It is time for the New York Giants to impose their will on others.

The Cardinals are a beat up team right now – a desperate team. Some would argue that this makes them particularly dangerous, like a cornered animal. Heck, I might have even suggested that myself last year. But not now. There is no excuse for this Giants team not to really take it to the Cardinals on Sunday. Punish Arizona. Take the life out of them early with the passing game Tiki Barber; then grind the life out of them with a steady dose of Ron Dayne. Most importantly, score and turn the game into a blowout.

The Giants have the talent to dominate on Sunday. Now it’s up to them to impose their will on their opponent.

Giants on Offense: The Cardinals have been hard by injuries and a holdout. Out of the game are both defensive ends (Simeon Rice and Andre Wadsworth). Wadsworth’s back-up is also out. DT Eric Swann was cut and is now with the Panthers. The Giants should be able to dominate the line of scrimmage. RT Luke Petitgout should have an easy time of it with third-string DE Corey Sears. LT Lomas Brown should also be able to control DE Brad Otis. Same story inside. DT Mark Smith has talent, but the trio of LG Glenn Parker, OC Dusty Zeigler, and RG Ron Stone should not have a problem with him and DT Tony McCoy. Of course, the head coach of the Cardinals, Vince Tobin, knows this and will likely bring some heat on Sunday. If he does, QB Kerry Collins, the line, the receivers, and the backs need to be ready for the blitz from a variety of angles. Then again, the Cardinal secondary is also hurting and Tobin may decide to play it safe and force the Giants to steadily march down the field and hope the G-Men self-destruct. Regardless, when the Giants get into the redzone, get touchdowns – don’t settle for field goals.

I would attack the Cards from the get-go with the passing game. It will be interesting to see if the Cards shadow Amani Toomer with CB Aeneas Williams, who normally plays on the left side. If they don’t, then Collins should put the ball up a bunch to Toomer against CB Tom Knight. Heck, strike that. Put the ball up to Toomer regardless of who is covering him…if Toomer wants to be in the Pro Bowl, he needs to beat the best. Impose the will. I would also try to isolate HB Tiki Barber on the linebackers, preferably, SLB Johnny Rutledge (who is also ailing). Sean Payton would also be well served to go after the Cards’ nickel back Corey Chavous with Joe Jurevicius or Ron Dixon – or both. Chavous, a big physical corner who lacks top speed, probably matches up better with Joe so I’d like the Giants to take a shot or two with Dixon in there.

Now that the games count, it will be interesting to see what the Giants do at TE/FB. How much does Howard Cross play? Will Dan Campbell see significant playing time? FB Greg Comella could be a bigger factor as a receiver than most realize.

Kerry Collins needs to take charge and be aggressive. He doesn’t want to be too careless – especially with fumbles and the center exchange, but he has the receivers, pass protection, and talent to put up some big yardage. Let it rip.

Once the game is under control and they have the Cards reeling, the Giants should switch things up and start to pound the ball straight up the gut with Ron Dayne. This will take what life is left in Arizona right out of them.

Giants on Defense: It’s payback time. Jake Plummer has embarrassed the Giants’ defense plenty of times; now it’s time for the Big Blue Wrecking Crew to embarrass him. Of course, the old moto that I preach constantly still stands: stuff the run and then get after the passer.

Up front, Cedric Jones battles talented, but still raw L.J. Shelton. Michael Strahan gets his first chance at a 2000 redemption vis a vis RT Anthony Clement. Inside, the defensive tackles should benefit from the fact that the Cards’ starting center is out and Arizona was forced to move one of their guards over. So not only is Chris Dishman new at center, but Keith Hamilton will face his back-up at left guard in Matt Joyce. Christian Peter lines up against Lester Holmes. Again, the Giants should control the line of scrimmage. They need to. Don’t let HB Thomas Jones get untracked. Stuff him in the backfield. Of course, the linebackers, led by Jessie Armstead and Mike Barrow, should help matters. The nice thing about both of these guys is that they are three-down backers who can play the run, cover, and blitz. Look for Barrow on dogs right up the gut.

The weakness of the Giants defense right now is the pass defense on the strongside. CB Dave Thomas, SLB Ryan Phillips, and SS Sam Garnes are not the quickest or fastest guys around. The Cards know this as does Defensive Coordinator John Fox. It will be interesting to see how the Giants adjust – if they can. WR Rob Moore is out for the season, but Frank Sanders and David Boston have both given the Giants big problems in the past. Sehorn should face Boston most of the time and needs to shut him down. Thomas may need help on Sanders. The Cards may also try to isolate one of their backs on Phillips. All of the linebackers need to keep an eye on 3rd down back Michael Pittman and TE Terry Hardy.

Of course, pass defense will be greatly enhanced by a quality pass rush. Strahan, Jones, Hamilton, and Peter need to get after it. The Giants will blitz, but they certainly don’t want to blitz all the time. That puts too much pressure on the secondary. The Giants want to hit Plummer early and often. But don’t let him get out of the pocket and improvise – that’s where he is at his best.

You want to be considered one of the best defensive units in the league Giants? Then dominate on Sunday.

Giants on Special Teams: This is where the Giants’ youngsters need to play aggressively, but most importantly, play smart. Stay in your lanes on kick and punt coverage. Make solid and sure tackles using proper technique. Don’t let punt returner Mac Cody or the kick returners (Pittman and MarTay Jenkins) get loose. The Cards know the Giants are inexperienced here and may try something fishy. Play smart. Booming kicks from Brad Daluiso and Brad Maynard will help. Let’s seem some consistency Maynard!

For their own part, the Giants (i.e., Ron Dixon) should get some good opportunities to do some damage on kick returns as former Giant Cary Blanchard is not known for his deep kickoffs. The blocking on returns has gotten better and better. Tiki Barber should also be able to make some big plays on punts.