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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
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.
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.”
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.