Nov 292000
 
New York Giants 31 – Arizona Cardinals 7

Game Overview: The Giants are a strange team. They beat up on some teams so convincingly that you would think that are one of the best teams in the league, but when they play those better teams, they fall apart. You say, “Big deal, the Giants beat the Cardinals.” But keep in mind that these same Cardinals beat the Redskins a few weeks ago. You could also tell from the game that the Cardinals were playing their hearts out against the Giants, but New York just toyed with them. Strange team indeed.

This game meant very little other than keeping the Giants alive for post-season contention. But to realistically have a shot at the playoffs, the Giants MUST beat the Redskins in a hostile environment. Lose and they probably don’t make the playoffs and Head Coach Jim Fassel probably won’t be retained. The stakes are as high as they can get. The Redskins have beaten the Giants four straight times; can New York reverse this trend?

Quarterback: Despite leading the Giants down the field on their first drive to seven points, QB Kerry Collins (20-of-30 for 232 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions) was hot-and-cold for much of the first half. His first throw of the game was a terribly overthrown ball (his deep throws continue to overshoot the mark). But Kerry settled down on that specific drive and hit WR Joe Jurevicius three times, including a very important 19-yard pass on 3rd-and-8 while he was rolling to his right (another example of Kerry rolling away from non-existent pressure). The drive finished with a short toss to TE Dan Campbell for an easy score on a play-action fake. But for much of the rest of the half, Collins alternated between excellent throws with ones very much off-the-mark. This apparently affected the type of plays called. “I think early on in the game, some of this throws were going a little high,” said Head Coach Jim Fassel. “He was leaning on his back foot and they were taking off on him. We gave him throws with a little hitch on them to get his front shoulder down and he settled right down.”

After a couple of aborted drives, Collins got back in sync again in the second quarter during an 11-play, 72-yard drive that resulted in a 14-0 lead. On that drive, Collins hit WR Amani Toomer for 9-yard on 3rd-and-3, HB Tiki Barber for 13 yards, Jurevicius for 21 yards, and Jurevicius again for twelve yards.

In the second half of the game, Collins really settled down and looked very sharp. The result was 17 more points. Jurevicius was no longer the main target but Toomer and TE Pete Mitchell. The most impressive drive was the 12-play, 80-yard effort after the Cardinals had cut the lead to 21-7. On that drive, Kerry threw a strike to Dixon for 13, found Mitchell for 12 yards on 3rd-and-8, and hit Toomer for 18 on 3rd-and-14. The frustration on the part of the Cardinal head coach and defenders was readily apparent. Collins was on top of his game. On the Giants’ last scoring drive (the field goal), Collins again converted on third down – this time for 16 yards to Toomer on 3rd-and-6.

Wide Receivers: WR Joe Jurevicius (5 catches for 71 yards) really stepped it up and had a very productive first half. All of his catches came in the first half and three came on the first drive. Jurevicius also made a beautiful block on Tiki Barber’s long touchdown run. In the second half, Amani Toomer (4 catches for 58 yards) became Collins’ favorite target and he was a major factor on third down. But where Amani really impressed this week was on his two reverses (2 carries for 31 yards and a touchdown). Amani showed good instincts in reading the defense and juking defenders on both runs. I loved the call on Toomer’s touchdown. It was 3rd-and-1 and everyone watching expected Dayne up-the-middle (Collins’ fake on the play was superb). Ron Dixon (1 catch for 13 yards) saw his first action in many weeks.

Tight Ends: Dan Campbell (1 catch for 5 yards and a touchdown) is becoming a well-used option down in the red zone (3 touchdowns on the year). Pete Mitchell (3 catches for 28 yards) was used in this game like I expected him to be used all year. Even Howard Cross got into the act (1 catch for 6 yards). The pass to Cross was well-designed (backside toss after a play fake) and he probably would have scored on the play if Collins didn’t have to get rid of the ball so quickly. The blocking by this unit was solid.

Running Backs: Although his numbers look decent, I wasn’t real impressed with Ron Dayne (24 carries for 85 yards and one touchdown) this week. He certainly is reading his blocking schemes better and doing less dancing, but he didn’t do much with rock in his hands other than his 16-yard, right-side run on the first scoring drive. I don’t expect Dayne to regularly break big plays, but he should do more with 24 carries (especially against the Cardinals). He also whiffed on a block (a strange play where he was called upon to engage the defensive end). Tiki Barber (12 carries for 32 yards and one touchdown; 4 catches for 52 yards) didn’t do much on the ground aside from his 23-yard counter where he scored; Tiki showed a nice burst on this play. He also fumbled late when the Giants where trying to run out the clock and he was inexcusably sloppy on the play. Tiki did a real nice job on a couple of screen passes that picked up good yardage. FB Greg Comella (1 catch for -1 yard) dropped a couple of screen passes in traffic. He also was lucky that the refs didn’t rule his one catch a fumble.

Offensive Line: This unit played surprisingly well after being completely revamped after LT Lomas Brown (ankle/leg) was forced to leave the game. Luke Petitgout was moved over to left tackle and Mike Rosenthal (a natural guard) was inserted at right tackle. Jason Whittle played right guard for the inactive Ron Stone (ribs). LG Glenn Parker (calf) was playing hurt. Pass protection was excellent. Rosenthal rebounded nicely after a tough game last week to handle Andre Wadsworth this week. Petitgout had some early problems with Simeon Rice but settled down. It’s nice to see that he looks to have the feet to play the position. Whittle did such a solid job that you didn’t even notice he was in there for Stone. But before everyone gets too excited, this was the Cardinals after all. What really stood out to me this week was the quality of the blocks that the Giant offensive line made in space on screens and pulls. I saw excellent blocks on the move from Petitgout, Parker, and Zeigler. Run blocking was adequate and there were few plays where the Card defenders got any sort of penetration.

Defensive Line: A reversal of sorts this week. The pass rush was excellent, but the run defense was ordinary at best. Indeed, on a yards-per-carry basis, HB Michael Pittman probably had the best game of the year against the Giants. A lot of damage came over the left side of the offense as DE Cedric Jones (no tackles) was thoroughly dominated by LT L.J. Shelton. Indeed, when it came to rushing the passer, aside from one rush where Jones almost got to Brown, I saw Shelton just toying with Cedric. It was pretty embarrassing on a couple of plays. DT Christian Peter (no tackles) was also a non-factor against the pass. I saw one rush where he collapsed the pocket, but that was it. The two guys who dominated up front in the pass rush department were DE Michael Strahan (5 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries) and DT Keith Hamilton (7 tackles, 3 sacks). Strahan didn’t pick up any sacks, but he was regularly blowing up double teams and hitting Dave Brown just as he unloaded the ball. He also made a couple of superb plays in run defense, including making a one-armed tackle while being held. A lot of folks have been down on Strahan for a long time, but he has been playing quality football for almost the entire season this year. Keith Hamilton had an excellent game. One of his sacks was marred by the fact that he pulled Brown down by the face mask on the play and gave the Cards a first down on 3rd-and-long. Nevertheless, he gave the left guard fits all night as he often simply powered forward into the quarterback. His sack on the Cards’ 4th down conversion attempt was a huge play.

The reserves played decently. DT Cornelius Griffin (1 tackle, 1 sack) showed a lot of determination on his sack when he battled through a double-team. DT George Williams (one fumble recovery) saw action at right end late and looked good on one pass rush. Indeed, Griffin, Ryan Hale, and Williams kept the pass rush pressure up late in the game.

Linebackers: Strong game all around – though they too bear some of the responsibility for letting Pittman rack up some good yards on the ground. The linebackers blitzed a lot and MLB Mike Barrow and WLB Jessie Armstead were regularly seen crashing into Brown just as he released the ball. Barrow (1 tackle) made two huge hits in the game. He absolutely clobbered Dave Brown on a blitz and then latter made one of the best hits I have ever seen a linebacker make when he crushed Pittman over the middle. Barrow came ever so close to notching a couple of sacks. Armstead (5 tackles) was flying all around the field and did a good job of sniffing out a pass to the back early in the game for a loss. He got a few knocks in on Brown too. SLB Ryan Phillips (4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble) really took a lot of hope out of the Cardinals with his sack/forced fumble. Take note however that the Redskins will notice the big numbers picked up by Pittman against the undercoverage (almost 100 yards receiving). A big chunk of this came on the 36-yard screen pass that was superbly timed as both Armstead and Barrow were blitzing on the play from the side where the screen was run.

The reserves got to play quite a bit late and didn’t disappoint. WLB Kevin Lewis (1 tackle) looked sharp in coverage and was around the ball quite a bit. SLB Brandon Short looked real strong on a bull rush where he crashed into the quarterback just as he was releasing the ball. MLB Pete Monty was in on two tackles and saw some time in the nickel defense early in the game.

Defensive Backs: Despite all the blitzing, the Cardinals were not able to do anything down the field against the Giants aside from one play. Part of this no doubt rests with the inconsistent quarterbacking of Dave Brown, but the Cardinals do possess two outstanding receivers who have hurt the Giants big time in the past (Frank Sanders and David Boston). CB Jason Sehorn (5 tackles) gave up the one big play deep – to Boston on a slightly underthrown pass. But that was about it. There was a key 24-yard completion on 3rd-and-16 given up by CB Emmanuel McDaniel (1 tackle). McDaniel had superb coverage on the play against Frank Sanders, but the ball was badly thrown behind the receiver and thus actually enabling him to make the reception. Sehorn made a play on 3rd-and-2 where he looked like his old 1997 self. After the receiver broke to the sidelines on a short out, Sehorn immediately broke with him, accelerated, and knocked the ball away with his left hand. He had solid coverage all night and even knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage with a “Jordan-esque” leap. I thought Dave Thomas (5 tackles) played a strong game against solid competition. The Cardinals challenged Thomas a few times deep and Dave had tight coverage on all of these chances. The safety play was ordinary – though these guys probably deserve a lot of credit for shutting down the down-the-field passing game. SS Sam Garnes (2 tackles) and FS Shaun Williams (2 tackles) both dropped sure interceptions (Williams would have scored on his). Williams was also flagged with a late hit on a failed third down conversion attempt. He did make a very hard hit on the receiver after one play.

The reserves didn’t look bad. FS Omar Stoutmire made a hellish hit on a wide receiver coming over the middle. Reggie Stephens intercepted a pass on 4th down and almost came up with another earlier during the same drive.

Special Teams: I wasn’t as impressed as the media. The good news was that punt coverage was vastly improved. Damon Washington looks like a real keeper and he showed speed, hustle, and determination. He had one tackle and caused another fair catch. The punting by Maynard was once again solid (he has become much more consistent during the course of the season – knock on wood). The bad news is that kick-coverage continues to give the opposing team excellent field position. The press made light of the 47-yard return late in the game, but you still can’t give up a big return like that. Morever, the Cardinals were still getting the ball out past the 30-yard line on their kick returns. It’s a minor miracle this year when the Giants keep them inside the 30. A big part of the problem continues to be the fact that Daluiso can’t come close to the endzone anymore without knocking off some of the height from his kicks. Jack Golden did make a crushing hit on one return.

You want good special teams coverage? Look at what the Cardinals did to the Giants’ returners. Tiki Barber (yet another fumble on a return) had nowhere to run. Neither did Ron Dixon. Here you have a 3-9 team who’s special teams are far superior to the Giants.


Note from Chris Jacobs, BBI Offensive Line Analyst

BBI faithful,

I’m writing this to let you and everyone know that I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. Unfortunately I won’t be able to submit a weekly O-Line review for the rest of the season. I enjoy doing it, but until I get a computer in my home it’s impossible for me to do this from work. Now getting to the last 2 games starting with Detroit, I went to the game and had a good view. I couldn’t tell you about individual performances but as a whole the offensive line was horrendous. They just weren’t getting any push, I wish I had the game on tape so I could go back and see it. Luke Petitgout really had a bad game – DE Robert Porcher had his way with him. Actually Luke gives me a good segue into last nights game. What a great job he did with Simeon Rice. As scary as it is that Ron Stone and Lomas Brown did not play, I was really happy with how that backups did. I didn’t get to review it on tape yet but I was pleasantly surprised with Jason Whittle. He did a good job with both pass and run blocking. I hope Stoney and Brown will be able to play this week, being that this is the last chance the Giants will have to beat what the media considers an “elite” team. Maybe they should hire a hypnotist so the players see the Redskins in Eagle uniforms. Happy Holidays.

Chris Jacobs

P.S. Can anyone tell me why Dave Brown is still in the NFL?


SUNDAY NIGHT

by David Oliver

Well, the Giants got it right on national TV for once, and wouldn’t you know it, I’d be home in front of the tube watching this veritable cornucopia of points. But what does it presage? Is it the elevation of Coach Fassel to Jeanne Dixon status? Or is it just another setup on the road to heartbreak for Giants fans? This week will tell, so I’m going to give you a little review of what I saw on the tube, as opposed to what I see on the field. Incidentally, the WASHINGTON POST today (Wednesday) had an excellent piece on the kids page about how they cover a game. Boils down to at least 6 photographers, a bevy of writers, a photo editor and some lackeys. The shoot 1600-1700 shots to get 6. Gee, when I was with The Insider, I shot 6 rolls – 200 shots to get 6 and the publisher bitched about the cost of the film. They station one person in each end zone, 1 along each sideline, and I guess their web fotogs go where they want.

So much has been made of specials that it was interesting to see the coverage unit. Sean Williams had two nice stops – I think he may have found his place to star. The new guy had a nice comeback tackle. Other than that, it looked as if there was still some exposure for a real speed return man. The Giants appear to converge to the initial point of attack and a cutback can outflank them as there is not an abundance of speed on the wings.

The defense opened strong with a nice rush by Jessie and Barrow, then a stop on the run. It was 3-and-out for the Cards. On the second defense, the Cards opened with a short pass, but Dave Thomas had position and drew an offensive interference call. Then a screen for short yardage, a decent run and a pass too high as Strahan had a good rush. As McGuire said, the pass was a duck. The Cards drew a face mask penalty, then Player had a better punt and Tiki went down quickly.

The third defensive stand was a quick one with a Hammer tackle, a draw for some yardage and then a great left handed knockdown by Sehorn. Sehorn is noticeably hanging his shoulder, protecting his ribs. Give him credit for a great deal of bravery – sucking it up is one thing, but playing corner with one arm deserves appreciation. On the fourth defensive stand, things got interesting. The Cards drew a false start penalty, then Barrow blitzed and creamed Brown – how many times I remember Brown picking himself off the turf after getting blasted. Then a flat pass covered well by Jessie, with Barrow right next to him. A Strahan rush, a completed pass, a missed tackle, but rundown by Sehorn and then 3rd and 14 and Barrow lays the timber to Michael Pittman – best hit of the game. Player gets off a 44 yard punt.

By now it was 14-0. The Cards were trying everything. A 3 yard run, an incomplete slant pass to Boston an incomplete pass with good protection, a roughing call on Sean Williams for a stupid chesting push. JF is on the sideline signaling “think”. A draw which Barrow stops, a middle draw which Hammer stops, a middle blitz on which boston beat Sehorn, Pittman in the middle stopped by Hammer, the Phillips sacks Brown who fumbles, Strahan recovering. On the sack, Sanders was wide open.

On the next defensive series, Strahan stopped Jones at the line, there was a good rush and Sehorn coming off the end, batted the pass down. Hammer gets a sack but makes a stupid Hammer play by grabbing the facemask. Hammer disappeared from the lineup for a while, but came back and played like he was possessed. JF letting everyone know, enough of the stupid plays. Then the Cards picked up the rush and Boston beat Thomas and almost had an easy one. Jones gets the first on a draw and the 2 minute warning stops the clock. Brown scrambled and threw incomplete, then a delay of game penalty, a short dump pass for no gain, a 3 man rush, the coverage confused Brown and Griffin picked up a sack.

Don’t make more or less of the effort than it was. The Giants shut down a feeble effort, as they should do and have done all year. But the tell tale signs were there. The flank appeared open on at least two run backs, but Williams is a nice addition to specials. There were 2 stupid plays, one by Williams and one by Hammer. The rush, without the blitz was not really effective, and these were the badly injured Cards. It was Brown, not Plummer. Sehorn, for all his bravery, will get beaten by the speed receivers until that rib heals. Thomas, and the safeties, left the middle of the field wide open, but brown couldn’t get the ball out there. Barrow, for all the complaining about him that takes place on this site, is active, mobile and powerful. Like most Mike backers, he is occasionally out of position. The positives: Strahan is rounding into All-Pro shape right when the Giants need him; Phillips has developed a good sack move, loping around the back and getting to the QB if there is any kind of delay. He is often just a step away. His sacks should increase if he is sent more and gets that lope a little tighter. Barrow is a monster on the blitz as well as in middle zone coverage; and Hammer came alive in the desert.

In the second half, it took a few plays for the D to get it right. Pittman had a nice run, then a better run as he broke around end, slipped a tackle and went for 32 yards. Sehorn caught him. Then Strahan tackled Pittman, notwithstanding being held on the play. Brown hit Boston but there was a holding call. The G Men showed blitz and the Cards false started. Brown hit Sanders who was then hit by Thomas – this is one thing Thomas does well. On a blitz, Brown again hit Sanders. Then there was one of those Kodak moment sacks by Hammer who bull rushed his man and while still engaged reached over him and grabbed Brown.

Following a good run back, nullified by a holding penalty, the Cards started again with a swing pass to Pittman for a 7 yard gain. Then Pittman went outside for the first. Brown threw to the tight end for a first, with Strahan closing fast. A flat pass was covered well by Phillips. The Giants blitzed, which was picked up, but Hammer had another bull rush underway and got the sack. Then Brown, with time, threw to a wide open Sanders. A toss to Pittman, who beat Barrow, and a tackle by Thomas. A long incomplete pass and another flag on the Cards. The Giants blitzed again on a screen to Pittman, but the G Men forgot how to tackle. This resulted in a TD, a 32 yard gain for the Cards and the longest pass play the Giants have allowed since the Redskins game.

Following a Giants TD, the ensuing K/O showed Shaun Williams cover ability as he made the stop on a cross field run. On first down, the Cards fumbled and Strahan recovered. Williams also covered the next kickoff. The Giants D kept coming Jessie and Barrow stopped Pittman on a pass, then a short pass, then a blitz and an incomplete and finally Brown was rushed by Strahan and Jessie knocked the ball down. With 4 minutes left, the Cards got the ball and went to the air. Thomas and West had a collision, Brown threw incomplete to Boston, then short to Gedney. I noticed Kevin Lewis in at backer for the Giants and he showed good speed on several plays. Stephens and Williams were called for an over/under interference penalty, then Brown completed one to Boston who was out of bounds, Brown completed a pass, Williams missed an interception, but Reggie Stephens did not, grabbing it on the run. At the 2 minute warning, the Cards futility continued – there was the same pattern, draw, short pass, short pass, fumble, George Williams recovered.

Final analysis: the Giants defense looked very good against an overmatched Cards offense missing several key components. The Cards offense was Pittman with an occasional show by an injured Boston. However, once again, the Cards had the plan right, they just had the Brown handicap. He was blitzed, hit and flustered. One major key to this victory was Hammer – he played his most complete game of the season, even with his one stupid penalty. Strahan is getting penetration and even when he doesn’t get there, the QB feels him coming, and he has been in position for several fumble pick ups. This was a quiet game for Christian Peter and another “virtual” effort from CJ. I don’t know if it’s the scheming, or what, but Fox needs to cut him loose to see if he’s got anything. If its him, then Ryan Phillips should be moved to the rush end position in passing situations with the nickel deployed more often. Reggie Stephens is showing a nose for the ball and even with his mistakes is an asset on the field.

KEYS FOR THE DEFENSE AGAINST THE REDSKINS: Hammer must once again come up big. He is a huge, disruptive force in the middle when he decides to play. Sunday he showed flashes of his time at defensive end, when he bull rushed and sacked the QB. Shaun Williams must do more than suit up for the game. The Skins will study the film and test him early. He could have a career day if he plays it smart. In fact, both safeties must employ the umbrella as it seems to work against the Redskins. Then the Big Three, Strahan, Jessie and Barrow MUST hit Stephen Davis early and often. Pain will decide this game – will Stephen arm hurt more than Sehorn’s rib? With Stephens out of the game, and good games from the aforementioned five players, the Giants can take it to the Redskins. With Davis in the game, Hammer will be nullified as a rush presence and Thomas and the safeties will be uncovered. That could spell disaster.

How about the offense? Well, it was good, methodical and effective against the Cards, but then so has everyone else. I can’t stress it enough – the key here is Collins, Collins, Collins, and Sean Payton. A sporadic offensive game plan and the G Men will be home for Christmas. On Sunday, the plan was go to JJ – and it was effective, until mid-way through the second quarter when KC started looking elsewhere. The ground game, to the right, was effective behind Whittle, Luke and Cross, and when Luke moved left, the right side held its own. But the Redskins are a different story.

The G-Men opened up passing. KC was 4-out-of-5 on the opening score and the offense was smooth. Dayne was running hard, but once again, the planning sent him into the line 3 straight times. No play action, no deception. By the third time into the line, even the Cards were ready. Do this against the Redskins and Dayne will get about 13 yards for the day because the Giants will go in another direction. The passing game opens up the run and it is essential to go up top early and often. Those who contend we can run against the Skins aren’t watching the same two teams as I am. The G-Men will only run successfully if they confuse the Skins D. The Skins backers are quick, so the screen and slipstream pass to Tiki is only going to work once or twice without some center zone completions. The pressure is on JJ and Amani here and frankly, they are overmatched by Champ Bailey and Deon without an extraordinary effort on their part. Although adequate against the Cards, the makeshift offensive line is in for an education this week. Whittle and Rosenthal looked decent, although Rosenthal could be seeing chasing the wrong man on some calls.

On Sunday, the Giants start, when it did get rolling, was the catching rather than the throwing as KC was low to Toomer and high to JJ. Tiki made a nice run on a screen over the blitz with 62 and 52 blocking. This is going to be important against the Skins. A flea flicker worked, but it shouldn’t be a regular in this arsenal as KC needs time to cock and fire. KC threw high again to JJ, but his size enabled him to make the grab.

KC hit Pete on the next possession, then Dayne went over the middle, KC overthrew Amani as there was good coverage on the play. Offensive penalty, Rice stopped Tiki – incidentally, it looked as if Roman Oben was back as Rice gave Luke a tough time. Not really much to say for the first half; 14-0 Giants, typical outing. The Giants can control the game against lesser opponents- they are good enough to overcome mistakes and KC is good enough to get the ball down field as long as he’s not getting hit. Rice seems to have slowed a step or this may have been a closer contest. Bruce Smith always comes up big in important games and someone will have to stop him. I noticed Walendy got some reps, which could be important as he is not as much of an offensive force as Comella can be, but if needed he is a big body who can help control Bruce – who will certainly need to be doubled.

The second half started the same way and even Theisman opined that “the Giants O is very cloudy”. The Cards blitzed and got to KC, then a good rush and the dump to Tiki was stopped. This series showed graphically the danger for the Gmen this week. Two good rushes and KC starts dumping the ball – a good way to get Tiki killed. The Giants must form some sort of pocket and KC must step up and give his receivers a chance. Dink and dunk are not “Thunder and Lightning”.

The second drive was nice. Sweep to Tiki just to lull the D, then a short drop and hit Amani on a slant. A reverse to Toomer in which he showed the old QB skills and cut up field, Dayne off the right side, KC screen-dropped, then a blitz and a pass behind JJ (KC does not throw well under pressure), on 4th-and-6, the Cards were called for defensive holding (lucky), then another flag on the Cards, finally Tiki cuts back, picks up a nice block from JJ and 21-0.

The end of the 3rd quarter and the start of the 4th, another of those Giants’ drives. KC to Dixon, Dayne up the middle, short, KC to Pete, screen, Tiki knocked out of bounds and spilled the Gatorade on the Cards bench. KC rifled a pass to Pete, Dayne tripped for a loss, KC, with time, complete to Toomer, Dayne for 7, off the right side, Dayne again, the Toomer on a reverse, got a block, TD. The final drive, following the fumble recovery. Dayne for a few, Dayne again, KC to Toomer, face mask on the play, Dayne to the 10, Dayne up the middle, KC throws it away. Field Goal.

There you have it. Observations from viewing on a screen – there is still too much real estate available to opposition receivers. Jake the Snake would have made this interesting. Let’s hope Brad J is a bit rusty and let’s hope the safeties cover the middle. I’d also like to see Reggie Stephens on the field more in the nickel as he has a nose for the ball. Strahan is closing real fast lately and this was obvious on the screen. Phillips need to tighten his rush slightly and he can be dangerous. Most impressive – Barrow – he needs to bring his A game early to stop Davis.

I’d like to leave with some quotes from two special teams and role players. I asked Reggie Stephens to give us a view of what he sees when he runs back kicks and he was refreshingly honest. He told me, “I don’t see anything. I’ve been at it so long, it’s just instinct. It’s not something that can be taught. Some players just find holes, just find a way – I think that’s what I have.” He went on to say, “You can train all day, run left, run right, but if the hole is not there, you’ve got to make the hole; just watch Barry Sanders, there’s never a hole, he just makes one.” And that’s what football is; that’s what special teams play is – you’ve got to feel it – it’s a ZEN exercise; if you don’t have that instinct to seek and destroy, to survive, special teams play becomes an exercise. The good ones use it as a springboard, like Jessie did; some make it an art form like Tasker and Thompson; most never advance, they just cycle out. Sure, there’s good coaching and bad coaching, but special teaming is instinct.

Finally, I talked to Jack Golden and he told me it was the “ups and downs” that are tough. He said, “In this profession, what Coach tries to get us to do is to get ready to play football.” “But,” he went on, “you have to find it within yourself to get motivated, every week, it’s not an easy thing to do, no one says it’s an easy thing, that’s why they pay us the good money; but you’ve got to find it within yourself to come out every Sunday and to play at a higher level than you played last week, that’s the hardest part.”

As for the Giants unit, he felt they had to start fast, get mentally into the game, catch some breaks and take advantage of them; otherwise, you can “feel it snowballing.” Golden recognizes this is a young unit and “sometimes players get down on themselves. What we need is for the fans and the coaches to boost us up, constructive criticism, for the most part our special teams need some encouragement.”

So read between the lines here, watch closely on Sunday, and cheer hard. At this time of the year, every game is important, as in see Lions, but don’t kid yourselves, this one is the big one. Rarely does a team get to slay Dracula twice – the Giants are getting another opportunity to plunge the dagger of defeat into the Redskins. They failed the first time. Are they up to the task this time? I’m glad I don’t have to send any season ticket holder playoff money in Friday – I am optimistic, but it is a very guarded optimism based on performance in these games. Go Giants!!!

(Box Score – New York Giants at Arizona Cardinals, November 26, 2000)
Nov 242000
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Arizona Cardinals, November 26, 2000: This game is not about X’s and O’s. It is about three little words with big meanings:

Compete: To strive or struggle with another or others to attain a goal, such as gaining an advantage or winning a victory; to try to do or be better than someone else

Tenacious: Determined, dogged, unyielding, persistent, obstinate

Pride: Your feelings of your own worth and respect for yourself; a sense of one’s own proper dignity or value; pleasure or satisfaction taken in an achievement

Three little words…but they will mean all the difference in the world over the course of the next five games.

Nov 222000
 
Detroit Lions 31 – New York Giants 21

Game Overview: This team needs a mental enema. There are two ways to look at this game – one from a glass half full perspective, the other from a glass half empty perspective:

  • Glass Half Full: There are always little twists and turns in every season that are unexpected and unexplainable. You lose to a team that you should beat and everyone says you’re toast, but then you later salvage your season by beating somebody no one expected you to defeat. The Giants were still suffering from a post-Rams game hangover while facing a team that is receiving a normal short-term boost from a mid-season coaching change. The Lions broke with their tendencies and completely fooled the Giants with their game plan. New York is no longer in first place, but they still control their own destiny.
  • Glass Half Empty: This is third year in a row where the coaching staff seems unable to get a proper feel for the team’s psyche AND push the right buttons in order to get them to respond. The problem also rests with the players. They don’t seem to care. After this game, I heard from one source that most of the players were not really all that upset about the loss. “Just another game” was the attitude expressed. Most disheartening was that this was coming from some of the supposed “leaders” on the team. The team lacks heart, character, and pride. But there are also a number of talent questions.

The great thing about football is that, ultimately, you can not hide the TRUTH on the field. You may be able to create an illusion during a stretch of games, but the final results after a full 16-game season will tell you what you have to work with – both in terms of talent and coaching. The Giants are 7-4 and still have an excellent shot at the playoffs. If they do not make it and don’t do anything once they get there, then they don’t deserve any respect or job security. Personally, I have serious doubts about the ability of the coaching staff and the character/talent of the personnel. The Giants players and coaches have five games to prove fans like me wrong (and backing into the playoffs and exiting quickly doesn’t count).

Coaching: This team was not emotionally prepared to play this football game. The Lions played with a sense of urgency and the Giants did not – to use a common “Fassel-ism”. This lack of urgency was demonstrated by Detroit’s greater quickness at the snap, hustle, and fewer mental breakdowns. This has been a common occurrence during the Fassel administration. He really does not seem to have a feel for psyche of the team. Without that attribute, a coach will never be outstanding and it is doubtful that his team will ever excel.

After the Titans’ game, I went off on a diatribe condemning Fassel’s ability to instill fear in his troops. We all know the pattern. Giants win a few, then get humiliated, Fassel threatens jobs immediately after the game, but then calms down and does not make any significant changes during the week. Do you think the players don’t notice this tendency? Heck, if children notice when they can get away with things, you know adults will. There are no consequences for poor production on this team. If you do not execute, there is no punishment. The results are predictable. Now the counter charge would be that in the era of the salary cap there is no depth so you can’t bench your starters or you are certainly are giving yourself no chance to win. That may be true, but do you have any other option? Without fear, a general cannot lead.

Defensive Coordinator John Fox was out-coached in the game, plain and simple. The Giants expected the Lions to ram the ball down their throats, but Detroit came out throwing the ball with play-action and burned New York through the air. Most damning of all was getting burned by the 3rd-and-3 draw after the Giants had cut the lead to 28-14 and needed a defensive stop. The team had already been hurt by this very same play earlier in the game and to get exposed by it again in such a crucial situation is unforgivable. Fox was late to adjust his tactics. He also had his defensive backs play too far off the average receivers of the Lions. CB Jason Sehorn isn’t going to get burned deep by Johnnie Morton – so why was Jason playing so far off the ball? The Giants were especially hurt badly by the soft coverage on their big blitz on Morton’s TD. In such a blitz situation, you can’t give the receiver a big cushion off of the line – you have to jam him. The coverage had Sehorn playing back, Morton easily crossed the middle of the field, and sprinted to the endzone. Bad defensive scheme. Same story in the redzone. Dave Thomas is playing far off the line, Herman Moore has an easy release, cuts inside, and makes an uncontested reception. John Fox is an overrated coach.

Do I need to even talk about “Special” Teams Coach Larry MacDuff? Every Giants who knows anything about the team knew that it was only a matter of time before poor special teams cost the Giants bigtime. MacDuff hasn’t been able to turn around his unit for four years now. You can’t tell me that the Giants’ special teams personnel is that much poorer than the rest of the NFL. Is it really much worse than the Browns, Bengals, Chargers, etc.? Ironically, if Fassel does lose his job, then it will probably be because of the special teams situation. There’s no one there to blame but you Jim.

Players’ Attitude: Where is the pride on this team? Why don’t the players seem to care? Where is the professionalism? The post-game remarks from players both publicly and privately spoke volumes of this lack of pride, care, and professionalism. Is it the responsibility of the coaches to instill these characteristics into the players or must it come from the players themselves? Chicken or the egg? Whatever the answer, the Giants don’t have it. It may be the case fellow fans that the Giants’ players simply lack the will, heart, character, determination, and intensity to succeed – regardless of who coaches this team. If true, then management really needs to clean house because an expansion team will have a brighter future than a team with no heart. We’re talking major moves here since the heart of the team is Jessie Armstead, Michael Strahan, Jason Sehorn, and Kerry Collins. The team lacks competitors who care about winning.

And on a sidenote, fire Dr. Joel Goldberg. His personality testing has done nothing but fill this roster with fragile, leadership-less, inconsistent non-competitors who don’t deliver in the clutch. Of course, the scouting staff deserves much of the “credit” for this as well.

Quarterback: Kerry Collins’ numbers (29-of-51 for 350 yards, 2 touchdowns passing, 1 touchdown rushing, and 1 interception) look very respectable, but 271 of those yards and all three touchdowns came after the Giants fell behind 28-0. Is Collins just a tease that will never deliver on the goods? Or is it not wise to be too impatient with his progress at this point? It’s a tough question to answer. But ultimately, the future direction of the franchise rests on the ability of the organization to accurately answer this question. If Kerry is a tease, then the Giants need to get rid of him after the season and start all over with a new free agent. At the same time, there is a number of reclamation projects throughout the league – guys who were castoffs but later succeeded in a big way but who just needed time.

I’m biased towards guys like Phil Simms. He’s the kind of guy I grew up watching and who I judge other Giants’ quarterbacks by. Thus I am partial to tough guys who stand in the pocket and take the big hit, guys who responds positively to pressure-packed situations, and guys who deliver in the clutch. Kerry Collins hasn’t done any of this yet despite possessing superior tools than Phil had. Will it come? I’m starting to wonder.

In his defense, Kerry was placed in a difficult situation against the Lions. The Giants had absolutely no running game. This not only eliminated the play-action from the Kerry repertoire, but constantly put him in 3rd-and-long situations in the first half – this is not a situation conducive to success for any quarterback outside of St. Louis. Pass protection was shoddy at best and got worse as the game wore on. Nevertheless, Collins was not accurate for much of the day. Even on those receptions completed, many times receivers had to extend themselves to make difficult catches. He forced the ball on his interception – which was a critical turnover. Kerry also continues to overshoot on his deep passes. A perfect example of how his inaccuracy hurt was his poor throw to Pete Mitchell for what should have been a first down. New York was forced to punt and on the ensuing play, the punt was blocked. Collins did have two key scrambles – one for a much needed touchdown and another for a first down on 4th-and-10.

FoxSports game analyst Matt Millen said during the game that the book on Collins is to get into his face because he doesn’t deal with pressure well and will make mistakes. If true, then Kerry will never be a championship-caliber quarterback. These next five games will be very telling.

Wide Receivers: WR Amani Toomer (8 catches for 108 yards) had a big day, but also had a costly drop on 3rd down that stalled a drive; this came when the score was 21-0. These drops by Giant wide receivers are killing New York. He did make two outstanding catches – a one-handed effort and another juggling reception. Ike Hilliard (1 catch for 19 yards) was strangely quiet until he was forced to leave the contest with a serious chest injury in the third quarter. Joe Jurevicius (2 catches for 23 yards, 1 touchdown) made a circus catch in the endzone for a touchdown. His other reception was a 4th-and-7 reception that kept a drive alive. Joe was flagged with a pass interference penalty however. Thabiti Davis made a critical 27 yard reception on 2nd-and-26 on the Giants’ third touchdown drive despite getting hammered. He was however flagged with a holding penalty on the proceeding play that took a long Tiki Barber touchdown catch-and-run off the board.

Tight Ends: Finally, the tight ends were more involved in the passing offense. Dan Campbell came up with a clutch 2 yard TD reception to cut the lead to 28-14 in the third quarter (Collins did a nice job of delivering the ball despite dropping backwards due to pressure). Pete Mitchell (5 catches for 70 yards), however, made THE clutch play on the drive with his 16-yard reception on 4th-and-6. Even more impressive was the fact that Pete had to reach behind himself to catch the ball. Pete did have a costly drop however on a play that would have picked up a first down on 2nd-and-10. On the ensuing play the drive ended with Collins being sacked. All the tight ends must share a big part of the responsibility for the terrible run blocking.

Running Backs: The running game was non-existent. Ron Dayne (4 carries for 5 yards) carried very few times and when he did, there was nowhere to run. Tiki Barber (8 carries for 30 yards; 8 catches for 99 yards) had one nice-looking left side run, but that was about it in the rushing department. His fumble on the promising drive deep in Lions territory after the Giants’ fell behind 14-0 was very, very costly. Most of his receiving damage came on dump off passes when the Lions were playing prevent defense. Tiki also did a poor job of standing his ground on a linebacker blitz and was blasted back into Collins. He dropped a pass too. FB Greg Comella (2 catches for 5 yards) didn’t aid the running attack this week with his lead blocking.

Offensive Line: The worst performance of the year – by far. The run blocking was atrocious as the Lions’ defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. Detroit was more physical and quicker to the punch. The pass blocking was almost as bad. RT Luke Petitgout had his roughest day of the year. He had problems with DE Robert Porcher and even his back-up (James Hall) and gave up a couple of sacks (one leading to a forced fumble) and a number of pressures. To make matters worse, he lost his composure in the second half with a variety of penalties (holding, tripping, personal foul). RG Mike Rosenthal played terribly too. On several occasions, the inside rusher (at times the Lions moved Porcher inside) simply ran by Mike en route to Collins. Detroit finished with four sacks and countless hits and pressures on Collins; Porcher accounted for three sacks by himself. RG Ron Stone was flagged for holding and also had problems picking up one stunt.

Defensive Line: The Giants were completely suckered by the Lions. Expecting run, run, run; Detroit came out throwing the ball from the get-go. Time-and-time again, play-action fooled the Giants. To make matter worse, once again there was little pressure. Just like in the Titans game what hurt was the inability of the defense to get off the field on third down. Over and over again, the Giants could have stopped drives and prevented touchdowns if they had risen to the occasion on third down. With the notable exception of the goalline stand (when it was a matter of too little too late), the Giants came up short. Look at Detroit’s first TD drive: they faced 3rd-and-1, 3rd-and-7, and 3rd-and-9 and every time they converted. Money players make plays on third down. And when the defense had a chance to help the offense get back into the game, they allowed a 61-yard drive that resulted in a field goal to put the game out of reach. Not only was it the 3 points that hurt, but the seven and a half minutes the Lions were able to take off the clock. Once again, Detroit converted a couple of times on 3rd down on this drive.

In the pass rush department, at times, DE Michael Strahan got close. I spotted him getting mugged and double-teamed on a few occasions. But he did not provide consistent pressure and received no help from his teammates. DT Keith Hamilton took the day off. DE Cedric Jones is a mediocre player who was dominated by a rookie. DT Christian Peter is a one-dimensional run stopper (though he did have one impressive looking pass rush). DT Cornelius Griffin who has a world of talent is still learning and hasn’t arrived yet. The Lions’ offensive line, despite being revamped this week, controlled the line of scrimmage in the passing game. Most costly was the lack of alertness on QB Charlie Batch’s draws on third down. The run defense numbers are misleading. The Lions didn’t put up big numbers, but they consistently picked up positive yardage and this kept down and distance situations manageable. Hamilton and Peter didn’t play particularly stout inside. Griffin made one nice play on the goalline on 3rd-and-goal.

Linebackers: Last week, I said Jessie Armstead wasn’t slowing down. This week, I’m not so sure. Jessie played an uninspired game and didn’t seem particularly bothered by it after the game was over. In many ways, Jessie is the heart of this team, but he is not producing big plays on the field or delivering the emotional impetus the team needs to succeed on Sunday. He has got to realize that being a captain carries with it a big responsibility to make sure his teammates are ready to play on Sunday. If he does not want that responsibility, then it is time for him and the Giants to part ways.

After putting a couple of good games together, MLB Mike Barrow seems to be regressing. He too has not made many plays during the past two losses. Jessie and Mike flashed against Detroit – each made a stop on the back in the hole – but these two are being counted (and paid) to deliver on a regular basis. Mike is playing hard and he is playing aggressively – ironically it is his aggressiveness that sometimes causes him problems and takes him out of the play. Both he and Jessie did make a nice stop on the goalline (that Shaun Williams helped to create by taking out the lead blocker). Jessie also sniffed out a draw. SLB Ryan Phillips got close to the quarterback on a couple of dogs, but couldn’t close the deal. He also got beat down the seam by TE David Sloan despite having good coverage because he didn’t turn back to look for the ball – this was a big play on Detroit’s last TD scoring drive.

Defensive Backs: Awful. CB Dave Thomas and CB Jason Sehorn played far too soft most of the day. Detroit went after Thomas quite a bit and Thomas did not respond. He gave up one touchdown, a few other short receptions, and was flagged with a holding and a pass interference penalty. Many will probably disagree with me, but Jason Sehorn is nothing special. He’s solid, but he is not a shut-down cornerback and I wonder how competitive he is. Against his old USC teammate Johnnie Morton, Jason acted like he had never covered the guy before and played far too off the line. The result was easy completions in front of Jason (such as the 3rd-and-8 completion on the first TD drive) as well as the 32-yard TD pass on the short crossing route. Jason did make a nice play on his CB blitz where he tackled the receiver for a loss on an end around. SS Sam Garnes was invisible in pass coverage once again except for his dropped interception (yet another by the hands of stone secondary). He did get to batch on a blitz and forced a fumble (along with DT Keith Hamilton) that was recovered by Strahan. FS Shaun Williams intercepted a pass late in the endzone.

Special Teams: Freaking pathetic. Punt coverage was amateurish as no one stayed in their lanes. Desmond Howard had returns of 50 yards and 30 yards. The latter happened after Greg Comella was flagged for holding and the Giants were forced to re-kick. Tiki Barber returned a punt for 67 yards to the Lions’ 18 yard line, but Bashir Levinston was called for holding. Long-snapper Jason Whittle let his man run right by him and block a punt which was recovered at the Giants’ nine yard line. Levingston fumbled the ball away on a kickoff return. Omar Stoutmire fumbled the ball (but recovered). Barber did have a 31-yard punt return that helped to set up one touchdown for the Giants.


AND THE BAND PLAYED ON

by David Oliver

Today’s Washington Post carried the announcement that Maryland has fired Coach Ron Vanderlinden, after 4 years of no win, no show ball and empty seats. In his time, the team was outscored by ranked opponents by over 350 points and beat up only even weaker sisters Wake Forest and Duke. Two weeks ago, Coach Bobby Ross quit, saying he had lost the fire, blah, blah, blah. His team has been on a tear since, the Giants being the latest victim. Last week Coach Jim Fassel said he didn’t care what people thought, he didn’t want to hear it, that all he knew was that his team was getting better. This week the story line is the coaches don’t fumble, don’t miss blocks, blah, blah, blah.

To date, I have been a Fassel supporter. He is a sincere man, appears to have a grasp of the game, but he is proving to be an uninspiring motivator, leading a lackluster group of players into mediocrity, much like Coach Vanderlinden, believing next year’s team will be really good and needing just a little more time. It is with great reluctance that I write this, but I think it is time for Coach Fassel to step aside. After viewing yesterday’s dismal performance I am in a 180 degree spin. That chump Chad – what a fitting name – may be right; this is, right now, the worst 7-and-4 team in football, unless, of course, the Redskins win tonight, notwithstanding which, they will be the worst 7-and-4 team in football.

I’ll detail the reasons for my change in opinion a little later, but those of you who saw the game already know them, those of you who were actually in the Stadium know even better. I wanted to start this review talking about the fabled Lions and Thanksgiving and what that game meant to us. Bobby Layne and Tobin Rote, later Alex Karras and Jim Taylor, the Lions and the Packers, the not so good Lions always rallying on Turkey Day and pulling off impossible wins. The family gatherings, with 6 or 7 family units and 20 cousins, throwing the ball around in the morning, sitting for an afternoon meal, starting with a huge antipasto, then pasta, then turkey, then a break while the women did the dishes and the men stretched or played cards, then dessert, coffee, 5 or 6 different pies, cookies, then a nap and the game, then dinner, which was sandwiches of the leftover turkey, and finally home at 9 or 10 o’clock at night.

As we got older, it was the High School football games in the morning, followed by the aforementioned ritual feast and the Lions. But the mornings were East Orange and Barringer or Seton Hall Prep and East Side or St. Benedicts. Yesterday, I was fortunate to have two throwback experiences. There was a large family tailgate party right next to my usual parking spot. I looked over and there were Lions jerseys and Giants jackets, then I noticed Coach Larry Peccatiello among them. When I came out, long after the game, they were still there. One of the family called me over and graciously offered me something to eat or drink. I declined, telling him I had a 5 hour drive and he asked me where. I told him Virginia and he called, “Hey, Larry, come over here. Here’s a guy from Virginia.” Coach Peccatiello walked over and asked me where I lived and told him. For those of you who don’t remember Coach spent some time with the Redskins as a Special Teams Coach and defensive assistant. He is the Defensive Coordinator for the Lions. We talked a little and he asked if I was originally from here and I told him yes, I was born in Newark. Well, turns out his whole family is also from Newark and they are Barringer High grads, so we talked about the old Barringer/East Orange games, fabled for tough play and good fights before, during and afterwards. Then I mentioned I had graduated from Seton Hall Prep and one of Larry’s brothers told me two of his sons also went to the Prep. Giants Stadium parking lot, a microcosm of life and legend surrounding the Giants, Newark, coming of age. A Lions Coach who lives in Virginia, a fan and reporter who lives in Virginia and the remaining family, all still in “Jersey”, sharing tales of the old days. You gotta love it.

Before the game I talked a little with the Honor guard, all Vietnam Vets, looking sharp with their black berets and although aging now still looking good in their uniforms. We got to talking about those times and lo and behold there was a Seton Hall U man, graduated 2 years behind me. And there was a fellow Federal employee, 11 months to go before retirement, leaving for pretty much the same reason I left. We talked about respect for the flag, the fire fights, the draft board and how none of them wanted to be heroes, how they tried to beat the draft, and how eventually they went, they served, they are happy to have survived, and how they respect that flag and this Country. We talked of the first Seton Hall man who lost his life, a classmate named Brian Conlon, and of our days at the Hall. They asked if I would take a photo of them on the field and I arranged for the team photographer to get them actually at midfield. We shook hands, and walked a little taller, they knowing there was a civilian who remembered, me proud of them, great guys and all heroes.

Unfortunately, the kickoff came next and that time between the Honor guard and the Peccatiello family gathering was a disaster, a blur, a waste of 3 good hours. Last week Coach said he would find a way to get this team to start better. Well, Diogenes, keep the lamp lit. Lot had a better chance of finding 10 honest men in Sodom than JF of finding 10 guys to play Special Teams like football players – I think there is 1 out there now. But don’t just blame Specials. NO ONE showed up in the first half. NO ONE. The Coaching sucked, the offense was a disaster and the defense gave up real estate, notwithstanding the short fields it was dealt. A prominent NY newscaster was on the field and I talked to him for a while. We say hello in the locker, acknowledge each other, he is one of the more likeable guys in the business. I asked him if he had been observing the Giants “a long time” and he said yes, a long, long time. Then I asked him to confirm what I was feeling, had he ever seen a performance this dismal in his tenure. He looked at me and said “the first half, no, never, it was about the worst football he had ever seen.” I felt the same way; this was football worse even than the 70s. I guess 20,000 fans all agreed because they left at half time.

Forget the edge in time of possession for the Lions of 33:53 to 26:07, also forget the 25 Giants’ first downs and 350 yards passing for KC. But do keep in mind 10 penalties for 103 yards against the Giants, the blocked punt, the 80 yards on 2 punt returns for the Lions, the meager 53 yards rushing from the Giants vaunted ground game, the 5 yards gained by Ron Dayne, although his one very good run was nullified by a holding penalty, as was Tiki’s good punt return, as was, as was. This Lions team is a team which has had a harder time finding the end zone than the Giants, it’s QB had the lowest rating in the League. He completed a very efficient 20 of 32 for 225 yards, more telling he often had as many as 7 seconds available to find a receiver. And he had a tidy 30 yards running the ball on 4 carries. OK, so the Lions were held to less than 100 yards rushing, and their passing game wasn’t overwhelming, it didn’t need to be. Yes, the Giants’ D was dealt bad field position again, but it was beaten, time and again. As Michael Barrow told us after the game, it seemed as if “the Lions coaches talked to the Tennessee coaches” because they employed a similar game plan, effectively. Dave Thomas had his worst game as a Giant, Morton ate Jason Sehorn’s lunch on a play in which the Giants blitzed, but Batch hit Morton on a slant and he took off across the field like a gazelle, leaving Jason in his wake. Desmond Howard had a nice 50 yard punt return and a 29 yard KO return. Yes, that’s his speciality, yes he burns a lot of teams, but, come on guys, put together one complete effort.

Now before the KC fan club gets all over me as being too harsh, I’ll give you the positives. For the first time, in the second half, I noticed some embers glowing. He actually ran for a first down. Afterwards even he said the Giants had better start playing with some intensity. And he did complete 29 passes, many of them sharp, crisp on the money throws, including the TD to Campbell, throwing while backing up under pressure – a perfect throw. And there were too many dropped balls, including the first 2 thrown to Pete Mitchell. Add to that a porous line, particularly when KC needed time. But, the good part of KC was all in the second half when the game was out of reach. His start was woeful, as he often missed targets, threw bizarre passes and continually looked to the flare or short pass without even glancing down field. I will repeat it again, I don’t believe KC is comfortable starting games with this dink, dunk and punt offense; if that is the case, my apologies to him. The offensive game planning is not suited to these players. The Giants running game will not get untracked if the coaches continue to call the game this way because these are not drive blockers. There are no behemoth road graders with a mean streak along the Giants’ front. Therefore, I believe the Giants need to come out up tempo and firing 15 to 20 yards down field to Amani, Ike and JJ. Then look to Pete and Tiki. This will open up the trenches and make room for the Great Dayne. There is no surprise in the Giants’opening O and execution is just not possible. These guys don’t match up against the likes of Porcher and Ellis or Stubblefield and Bruce Smith. Heck, they had trouble making space against the likes of Ray Agnew. But they can set up quickly and pass block in an up tempo offense. We keep hearing about this up tempo O, but the Giants tempo is up tempo Molasses. At one point KC was almost pleading for the play. As an aside, there was also one defensive series where Barrow was screaming at John Fox that there were only 10 men on the field, please send in an 11th.

Bottom line here, I don’t think the Giants’ coaching staff should lay all the blame on the players. There have been enough coaching lapses and breakdowns in the big games to fill an unemployment line, if performance really mattered.

Amani Toomer and Tiki played their butts off. Amani, incidentally, told me after the game that there were no residual affects from the concussion, that he felt fine. I asked about the hits he and Ike were taking, often getting whacked by 2 or 3 guys and he told me “we could slide, or go down, but we want to compete, to make plays.” Amani had 8 catches for 108 yards with a long of 21. Tiki chipped in 8 for 99 with a 22 yarder, most of his coming after the catch. He had one unfortunate fumble and had one nice run back called for a holding call. It was that kind of day. Pete caught 5 for 70, mostly late, but dropped 2 early ones which could have made some difference. JJ had 2 for 23, Comella 2 for 5, Thabiti Davis, 1 beauty for 27, Ike only 1 for 19 Campbell 1 for 2 (TD) and Howard Cross 1 for a 3 yard loss. Three tight ends don’t cut it. If the Giants are going to insist on running this modified WCO, then a big, mobile pass catching tight end is an essential for the off season. That may be the #1 priority in the draft and could even be the first choice.

The kickoff return teams are now featuring a 3 headed dragon of Bashir, Reggie and Omar Stoutmire. Is there some contract positioning going on here? Bashir is a specialist. He should be returning every KO. Reggie Stephens is a speed guy who is as much an offensive threat as anything and he should be out there with Bashir. Adding Stoutmire to the mix is a dilution not an addition. It says only that Bashir may not be in the long term plans because he is a specialist, and this staff loves guys who can perform 5 functions, even if they can’t do any of them well. Teams have realized Desmond Howard’s value as a specialist, Alan Rossum still carries them back – get the ball in Bashir’s hands and he will get yards. If not Bashir, Reggie can develop into a prolific return man. But 2 men, 2 men, 2 men only should be in this position. I asked each of them what was going on and the answer “dunno”, “coaching decision” – something they are not going near.

On defense it was Jessie and Barrow. Jessie had 15 combined tackles, 9 solo and Mike had 13 combined, 8 solo. They turned in solid efforts, but Jessie is so frustrated he was not in the locker long post-game. Mike was his usually composed, generous self and spent a lot of time with anyone who wanted him. I had a nice conversation with him and asked him how he was handling the frustration. He told me he was “praying to Jesus and looking to him and playing my game.” He told me the veterans would step up, that “we are a very professional team. We always hold each other accountable. It’s no ‘Big I, little t’ on our team, we set standards, our coach does an excellent job of giving us enough rope to hang ourselves and he’s always telling us ‘come back, come back’, he’s always keeping us in check, because it’s hard to deal with success. He’s real good with always giving us a gut check, always checking us as to where we’re at as a team…the leaders on this team, we respond to that well. He puts a lot on us and we’re not going to let him down.” I asked him about frustration and some of the comments of guys on offense and specials and he thought for a moment and told me “the only thing I’m frustrated about is losing, because I expect to win. I’m not frustrated with any players, any part of our game, well, I may be frustrated because I know we can play better, I know we’re a better team than what we’re showing the last two weeks. I’m frustrated because we’re right there, one step away from greatness, you look at all the great teams in the past, San Francisco, the New York Giants, it’s always that one moment that turns this thing around, it’s always scratching at success.” I asked him, then, what was that one thing that he felt was needed. I told him I couldn’t put a finger on it and he answered in kind, saying, “I can’t put a finger on it, I’m just praying about it (laughingly), just taking Jesus with me, Lord give me a revelation, what is that one step, knocking at the door of success, yet not opening it, not kicking it down, it’s just something, like people talking about a boxer not finishing, we’ve got the talent to do it, and we’re going to do it, it’s just, just (searching for the thought), it’s going to something that you can’t mark, you can’t anticipate it…it’s like the Stock Market, you can do all the research, come with all the figures, but one day, that stock you bought just skyrockets, I don’t know what it is…”

Michael Strahan had 7 combined, 5 solo with a fumble recovery; Sean Williams also had 7 combined with 1 INT and a pass defensed; Thomas had 6 solos, but gave huge cushions and was beaten all day. Garnes had a combined 6 with a pass defensed and a forced fumble, Jason Sehorn had 4 solo with a pass defensed, but was beaten by Morton on the TD run and gave up others. Peter had combined 4, then Phillips, Griffin, Hamilton had 3 and Hale, Jones, Emac 2 each. Hamilton had a solid hit on Batch. On specials, Bashir had a tackle and assist as did West, Reggie Stephens had 2 tackles, JJ, Comella and Monty each had a tackle For the Lions, Porcher had 3 sacks, 1 fumble recovery and 5 solos.

The game started badly for the Giants on their first possession, following a 3 and out by the Lions. Tiki no gain, Dayne for 3, incomplete to JJ (penalty on Lions), Tiki for no gain, incomplete to Mitchell (dropped the ball), sack by Porcher, punt. Already the fans were restless. The second possession set the tone, after the D had once again held. Tiki lost 2, then a pass to Ike for 19, Toomer for 17, Dayne for 1, Toomer for 13, Cross lost 3, Dayne no gain, shotgun, interception. The Lions took over, marched down field and scored. The Giants then went into the vacuum. No gain to Tiki, Dayne for 1, incomplete to Mitchell, punt, Desmond Howard returned it 50 yards, the fans were not happy. The Lions only had to go 28 yards and they did so in 6 plays.

Another lackluster Giants offensive series, a decent punt, a penalty, a re punt and a Howard return for 30 yards. Another short field . The Giants’ D got angry and Garnes sacked Batch, who fumbled, Strahan recovered. The Giants started ok, with Tiki for 12, Toomer for 21, then Tiki went 10 and fumbled back to the Lions.

Its nearing the end of the half and the Giants are down by 14 but within reach. Toomer for 11, incomplete, Tiki for 5, incomplete, then Maynard has one blocked. You could see the Lions massing for the charge and the whole damn team broke through. As Boomer said last night at halftime, Maynard looked like Maynard G. Krebs. Eight yards, 42 seconds, incomplete, 1 yard run, then Batch to Moore beating Thomas and as Bob Papa said on the post game show, how can you drop 4 yards into the end zone and get beat on a slant pattern. Thank God for halftime. What, not yet, you say. Oh, the kickoff, which unfortunately was fumbled after a nice run back. However, no points resulted as the field goal attempt hit the upright. Now, thank God for halftime.

In the second half, the Giants got nothing started, the Lions scored very quickly on a 4 play drive, with Morton beating Sehorn and the blitz and carried it in from the 32. The Giants finally scored on KC’s arm. Mitchell caught one for 17, Toomer for 16, incomplete, scramble for 2, Barber for 22, Toomer for 10, no gain, inc., the KC’s legs – a 4 yard scamper for the TD. On the next Giant series, it looked like 3 and out but there was an unnecessary roughness call on Schultz as he met Ike helmet to helmet and Ike was injured. I was right there and the crack of helmet on helmet was scary. Ike gets hit a lot like that because he’s full out and wide open. Following the penalty, KC hit Toomer, Dayne had a nice run, called back for holding on Stone, then 7 to Comella, incomplete to JJ, making a nice effort in the end zone, then Mitchell for 16 and Campbell for 2 and the TD.

The fourth quarter was a study in frustration. The Lions kicked a field goal. On the next possession, KC was sacked and fumbled. Detroit recovered. The Giants D made a nice stand. There was a holding penalty, a 2 yard gain, a 2 yard gain, then S. Williams made an interception in the end zone on one of Batch’s few poor throws. The Giants put together another drive starting with a sack by Porcher (KC in the shotgun), Tiki for 12, incomplete to Tiki, JJ for 10, Mitchell for 22, incomplete-spike, incomplete., incomplete, KC around end for 12, penalty on Giants, Mitchell for 7, incomplete, Mitchell for 8, spike, incomplete, penalty on Luke for tripping, Tiki for 13, penalty on Luke for unnecessary roughness, 48 yard TD to Tiki, called back, penalty on Davis for holding, pass to Davis for 27, incomplete, JJ 13 yard TD. Finally, with 41 seconds left the Giants got the ball one last time and the game ended on another sack.

The Giants had 13 possessions. They gave the ball up on a punt, an interception, a punt, a punt, a fumble, a blocked punt, a fumble, a punt, then a TD, TD, fumble, TD, end of game. They had two 8-play drives, 1 nine-play drive and a bizarre 17 play drive on which they actually gained 120 yards, with a minus 40 on penalties. Talk about the little House of horrors. Can you imagine a 17 play, 120 yard drive, and all that in 3:39 seconds? What an offensive juggernaut.

I have more to tell you, some of which you will have already read in other places, but I talked to Lomas Brown and to Jack Golden in addition to Michael Barrow. I can’t wait for the offensive line analysis because performance was not good. Is there any element of the game on which I could be positive? When the team lights up, the offense can move. The defense is solid if put in a position where it doesn’t have to continually defend a short field. But in the final analysis, no one should be smug about this one. Everything broke down. JF promised he would find a way to get the team to start faster. He didn’t. Sean Payton is still having problems selecting plays and getting them in, McDuff may be working hard, but something is amiss in the schemes, the running back coaches are doing nothing with Ron Dayne. At one point in the second half, some of JF’s fire started to show through as the guys are spending a lot of time sitting on the bench, a thousand miles away. JF had enough of this and started screaming “get off your asses” which was such a beautiful thing to hear. Older veterans like Lomas are getting angry. Maybe there will be that epiphany that Michael Barrow is praying for, and maybe it will be this week. If not, this will be the worst 7-and-5 team in football and everyone will be home for the holidays.

To everyone, may you have a Happy Thanksgiving. Remember those less fortunate than yourselves, and notwithstanding the plight of our Giants right now, give thanks for all our blessings to be living in this place at this time.

(Box Score – Detroit Lions at New York Giants, November 19, 2000)
Nov 172000
 

Approach to the Game – Detroit Lions at New York Giants, November 19, 2000: This is a very important game – a conference opponent that is competing directly with the Giants for a playoff spot. And just as importantly, the Giants want to maintain their first place standing in the NFC East. For those fans who were loud in supporting the Giants last week at the Stadium, the team really needs you this week.

The Lions are very similar to the Giants. They have a very good defense and like to run the ball. Meanwhile, their passing game has remained inconsistent. This game will be an old-fashioned slugfest. It will be a physical, low-scoring contest most likely decided by turnovers and special teams play.

Giants on Offense: The temperature is dropping and the wind is starting to pick up in the Meadowlands. It’s time to crank up that diesel – Ron Dayne. The Lions have a very strong defense all across the board. They have a good defensive line, linebackers, and defensive backs. Opposing teams do not move the ball well on them or put up a lot of points. To make matters worse, the Lions do well in taking the ball away and this has been a major factor in their 6-victory season thus far. Detroit has an NFC-leading 28 take-aways this year. While the Giants don’t want to go into a conservative shell, the last thing they want to do is get too risky with the football and turn the ball over. That suggests that a heavy dose of Dayne is in order.

Dayne said he learned from the short-yardage failures in the Rams game to be more physical. Head Coach Jim Fassel said he has noticed a difference in Dayne even this week. That is good because the Lions will be gearing up to stop the rookie. Up front, the Lions are very active. DE Robert Porcher and DT Luther Ellis are the best of the bunch. Porcher (like Michael Strahan) has been criticized by fans for not being productive enough, but he is coming off of a very strong game. Luke Petitgout will face him most of the time, but the Lions moved Robert around quite a bit last week. To me, the biggest concern is the Ellis-LG Mike Rosenthal match-up. Ellis is a load who can stuff the run and rush the passer. Rosenthal may need double-team support from OC Dusty Zeigler. RG Ron Stone should be OK against DT James Jones as should LT Lomas Brown versus DE Tracy Scroggins.

Detroit’s real play-maker against the run is MLB Stephen Boyd. He is very active and instinctive and it is absolutely critical for the Giants’ blockers to successfully engage him. SLB Allen Aldridge and WLB Chris Claiborne are also very active against the run. TE Howard Cross needs to come up with a big effort in the run blocking department. The Giants may also want to get the linebackers to play a bit back on their heels by throwing the ball short early to TE Pete Mitchell, FB Greg Comella, and/or HB Tiki Barber.

The Lions are strong at cornerback with first rounders Bryant Westbrook and Terry Fair. Westbrook normally lines up on the left side of the defense, but I wonder if Detroit will move him around to cover Amani Toomer (due to Amani’s height). Safeties Corwin Brown (if ailing starter Ron Rice does not play) and Kurt Schulz are not top athletes, but they are tough, opportunistic competitors. Both play the run well.

Points will be hard to come by. Detroit has kept five of its ten opponents to 14 points or less. Every point opportunity is critical to the outcome. The Giants must keep the Lions honest by effectively running the ball and then using play-action to beat the safeties in coverage. What the Giants can ill-afford is turnovers. QB Kerry Collins is on the spot. He will be playing against a very tough, opportunistic defense that gives up few points. A lot of pressure will be on his shoulders to generate some big plays while not getting sloppy with the football. Detroit can rush the passer and has good cover men. If the play isn’t there, he needs to throw the ball away rather than force it or take the sack. Field position in this game will be critical and perhaps decisive. It may not be exciting, but a safe seven-yard gain on 3rd-and-10 rather than a 6-yard loss on a sack may determine the outcome of the contest.

This brings us back to where we started – Ron Dayne. He needs to have a bigtime breakout game. Of course, he needs his offensive line to play much more efficiently and physically than it did last week. Get those 2nd- and 3rd-and short yardage opportunities. Move the sticks and put some points up on the board.

Giants on Defense: The Lions love to run the football. They have a big, physical offensive line and a running back (James Stewart) who is primarily a no-frills, north-south runner who will pound the ball right at you. This will be an old-fashioned slugfest and both teams will be sore and tired after the game.

But a word of caution to the Giants. I watched much of the Lions’ game against the Falcons last week and the Lions did an excellent job of crossing up Atlanta early by throwing the ball and running a trick play (a wide receiver option pass). Detroit also likes to run the reverse. WR Herman Moore, who has not been having a productive year for him this season, was employed heavily on the first drive as QB Charlie Batch went up top and drove the Lions down the field for seven points on their very first drive. This put the Detroit defense in a more comfortable position of dealing with a lead. Defensive Coordinator John Fox and his troops need to be very cautious that the Lions don’t try the same strategy, particularly early. It will be interesting to see if Fox has CB Jason Sehorn follow Moore around. CB Dave Thomas faces a tough match-up whether it be against Moore or WR Johnnie Morton.

Defending the short pass will also be important. TE David Sloan is a good one, but he is ailing with a hamstring and back injury. If he plays, the Giants, particularly SLB Ryan Phillips and MLB Mike Barrow, must cover him well. The Lions also like to throw to James Stewart out of the backfield a lot – again, linebacker coverage is critical. FB Corey Schlesinger and 3rd-down back Mario Bates are other options.

But what this game will largely come down to is the Giants’ run defense versus the Lions’ rush offense. The play of the front seven on defense will be key. DE Cedric Jones faces the mammoth rookie Stockar McDougle. DE Mike Strahan battles reserve RT Barrett Brooks. Both Jones and Strahan will be at a significant size disadvantage against their opponents; both will have to play with great technique, leverage, and quickness to defeat their opponents’ run blocks. Inside, this game is made for a guy like DT Christian Peter. He will face RG Jeff Hartings, a very good guard. The Giants need DT Keith Hamilton to control his contest with LG Tony Semple. They also need very strong and active games from WLB Jessie Armstead, Barrow, and Phillips. At the same time, the linebackers (and safeties especially) must be VERY careful of play-action. No cheapies!

QB Charlie Batch has struggled this year and the Giants need to keep his confidence down by getting after him. At the same time, they also need to be wary of his scrambling ability. The Giants got burned bigtime last week with quarterback scrambles. These type of plays keep drives alive and raise confidence.

Special Teams: The Giants must at least break even here. PR/KR Desmond Howard is one of the best in the business. Good kick/punt coverage starts with strong boots from PK Brad Daluiso and P Brad Maynard. Then it will be up to the coverage men to stay in their lanes, avoid blocks, and make the tackle. Since this is bound to be a low-scoring affair, Daluiso also needs to come through on all of his field goal opportunities. His competition, PK Jason Hanson, is outstanding. It will be interesting to see if the Lions try any deception on specials after seeing the Rams success last week. Tiki Barber needs to break one on punt returns; and his blockers need to give him some help. With Ron Dixon sidelined again, Bashir Levingston retains the kickoff return duties.

Nov 152000
 
St. Louis Rams 38 – New York Giants 24

Game Overview: In some ways this game was closer than the final score indicates; in others it was not. What is clear is that the Giants got beat by a better team. That does not mean the Giants have no chance against the Rams if they were to face them again, but they would obviously have to play more mistake-free football and hope that the Rams do not play at the top of their game.

What went wrong? The turnovers, especially the first one (the fumble by WR Amani Toomer), were practically decisive. Toomer’s fumble gave a gift touchdown in a game where the Giants could ill-afford to be generous. After two more aborted drives, the special teams gave up a 39-yard punt return that put the ball on New York’s 27 yard line – three plays later and it is 14-0. Throw in two pretty bad Kerry Collins interceptions (the Rams for some reason bring out the worst in him), a fake punt, and a defense that was over-matched against the Rams’ passing game, it is no wonder why the G-Men lost to the defending champions. But despite all of that, a play made here or there could have made this a seven-point game in the fourth quarter – so that is encouraging. So is the way the Giants continued to fight back despite the big halftime deficit. What the Giants ran into was a Superbowl Champ coming off an embarrassing defeat on national television and playing a team that was not as talented or ticked off as it was. And for some reason, there is a lot of bad blood between both these teams and that only helped to fire up the Rams.

The Giants need to get over this game very quickly and get their heads right. The Detroit Lions are up next and this is a huge game for the Giants. Indeed, it may be one of the most important of the entire season.

Quarterback: Kerry Collins (17-of-34 for 240 yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions) played a mediocre game. There were a few outstanding throws and a couple of drops also hurt, but I was unimpressed with Collins’ play in three areas. First, there were once again a few too many times when Collins started to get jumpy in the pocket and started scrambling around when there was no need to do so. For some reason in each game, there always seem to be times when Collins starts rolling to his left or right to avoid phantom pressure (not counting the pre-designed rollouts). This tendency often causes him to run right into actual pressure from the ends outside of the tackles. Once in this position, Kerry finds himself in real dire straights and often finds himself drifting back to avoid the defender and throwing towards the sideline off his back foot. Fans may say that the line is to blame in such situations because of the pressure, but it was Kerry’s movement that caused the pressure in the first place. What is so strange about this is that there are times when Collins stands tough in the pocket and delivers the ball calmly despite the oncoming rush.

Second, Kerry’s deep passing has not been real sharp this year and this hurt big time against the Rams. On the Giants’ first possession, Kerry overthrew an open Ike Hilliard down the right sideline on a play that could have resulted in a 50+ yarder (Ike had gotten behind the corner and safety). He also missed Joe Jurevicius deep in the second half.

Third, Collins threw two balls that were intercepted, thus making even more difficult for the Giants to mount any kind of realistic comeback. The first pick was a deep ball to Hilliard where Ike was double-covered. Collins inadvisably tried to squeeze it in there, the ball was slightly underthrown, and picked off. This put the ball back into Trent Green’s hand and he proceeded to march his team down the field for the fourth touchdown in the first half. On the second interception, Collins accurately led Hilliard on a crossing pattern over the middle, but he did not see the middle linebacker drifting towards Ike from the opposite direction and the ball was again intercepted. The Giants were trailing 31-17 at the time and this turnover enabled Green to put the dagger in the Giants heart with another TD drive.

Now to be fair, there were a few very good throws and Collins did get the Giants back into the game despite missing Amani Toomer and Ron Dixon. Armed with only Hilliard, Jurevicius, and Thabiti Davis, Kerry was provided with only half of his deep arsenal.

Wide Receivers: Amani Toomer (1 catch for 20 yards) got hammered coming over the middle of the field and fumbled the ball on the Giants’ first possession. The ball was picked up and returned to the Giants’ one-yard line. Not only did the play give the Rams a gift early lead, but it forced Amani out of action for the rest of the game. A devastating play.

Ike Hilliard (5 catches for 110 yards and 2 touchdowns) had his best game of the year. Much of that had to do with the fact that Collins was without Toomer and was largely forced to throw in Ike’s direction time after time. Hilliard’s two touchdowns were highlight-reel action. On the first, he came across the middle out of the slot, caught the ball, and raced down the left sideline for a touchdown after faking one defender out. On the second, he demonstrated superb concentration as he held onto the ball despite getting smashed in the ribs by the safety just as the ball arrived. Ike bounced off the hit and waltzed into the end zone. Very impressive. The downside was that there were two more drops from Hilliard. One came on third down where Collins made a very accurate throw despite pressure – the drop forced the Giants to punt. This proved costly as the ensuing punt set the Rams up on the 27 yard line of the Giants. The other was also costly as if Hilliard had held on, he might have scored on the play and cut the lead to 38-24 near the beginning of the 4th quarter. As it was, an ensuing sack forced the Giants to punt.

With Toomer out, Joe Jurevicius (2 catches for 31 yards) was provided with a wonderful opportunity to shine, but he came up with a disappointing effort. He did get a step deep on the defender late in the game on a play where Collins overthrew him, but he was too quiet in a game where the Giants needed him to step up and deliver.

Thabiti Davis was forced into action quite a bit, but did not have a reception.

Tight Ends: There was one pass thrown in the direction of Howard Cross in the first quarter, but Collins’ throw was not on the mark. Pete Mitchell (3 catches for 33 yards) saw the ball a bit more this week, but he remains strangely left out of the passing offense. I heard one unconfirmed rumor from a BBI regular that Pete has put his house up for sale in New Jersey. With him being an unrestricted free agent next year, he may not want to come back.

Running Backs: Ron Dayne (9 carries for 66 yards) was taken somewhat out of the game by the Rams big early lead. Despite that, he broke off his best run as a Giant, demonstrating vision, a burst, and decent speed on a 50-yard gallop down the right sideline. However, it was three short-yardage carries by Dayne that proved very costly. On the first, with the Giants driving in the second quarter, New York faced 3rd-and-1 and then 4th-and-1. But Dayne was stopped short on both. Same story early in the third quarter, when the Giants faced 3rd-and-1 from the two yard line. A touchdown there makes it a 28-21 game, but Dayne’s inability to power the ball into the end zone caused the Giants to go for three instead. To be fair, Dayne was provided with poor blocking on both plays. I also did not like decision to send Dayne to left on both plays. Dayne should have been sent right up the gut or off of right tackle behind Stone, Petitgout, and Cross.

Tiki Barber (9 carries for 61 yards, 4 catches for 32 yards and a touchdown) had a couple of good runs, including a 23-yard draw. Still, Tiki did not make enough of an impact in this game. He came ever so close to getting the ball into the endzone preceding Dayne’s failed 3rd-and-1 conversion after the turnover. Tiki also had a nice right-side run where he used some nice moves to get a first down. His prettiest play of the day was the swing pass from Collins where he demonstrated some good vision, moves, and power to get the ball in for a score. Barber did drop one ball and fumble another – but he showed great hustle in recovering the fumble. Keep in mind that he is playing with a broken thumb.

Hate to sound like a broken record, but FB Greg Comella (2 catches for 14 yards) was sharp again with his lead blocking. But Comella couldn’t get out on the linebacker on Dayne’s failed 3rd down run down on the goall line. “What happened was Comella got caught up in a line stunt,” said Tiki Barber. “He was supposed to get out one-on-one on the linebacker but couldn’t get there.” He also did a real nice job after one reception where he put on a spin move, kept his balance and picked up additional yardage after the catch.

Offensive Line: The loss of LG Glenn Parker before the game started must have been disconcerting. His replacement, Mike Rosenthal, played admirably well, but the Giants had some problems picking up blitzes and I wonder if this was partially due to unfamiliarity and miscommunication. The blitz that hurt the Giants the most were blitzes from the secondary – there were a couple of plays where the Rams sent two defensive backs from opposite sides at Collins. Whether a lineman was supposed to pick these blitzes up, the back, or it was simply a “hot” read where Collins should have gotten rid of the ball is unknown. It is also certainly possible that the receivers did not recognize the blitz, cut off their routes, and provide Collins with an immediate target. There was also pressure from Grant Wistrom on one play where LT Lomas Brown got cleanly beat. Still, for the most part, pass protection was solid. RT Luke Petitgout did a decent job on DE Kevin Carter. There was one crazy blocking formation early that had Dayne trying to block Carter – needless to say an incomplete resulted as Collins was forced to unload the ball. Run blocking was a mixed bag. There were some very good runs by Dayne and Barber where the line created some nice holes. But the problems in short yardage were devastating. The Giants couldn’t get much of a push at the line in these situations.

Defensive Line: The first touchdown you can’t blame the defense – the Rams started with the ball on the one-yard line. The Rams’ second “drive” started on New York’s 27 yard line. But the drive that really hurt was the 12-play, 71-yard march down the field for a score after the Giants had cut the lead to 14-7. The TD drive given up right after Collins’ second interception interception, when the Giants were still only trailing by 14 midway through the 3rd quarter also hurt.

There were moments when there was a pass rush and Trent Green was sack or hit as he threw the ball. But for an opponent that had no semblance of a running game, the Giants should have been able to exert more consistent pressure. It was this lack of pressure that directly led to the defensive backs being exposed by superior athletes at the wide receiver position. As I feared, Cedric Jones (zero tackles) was largely handled by LT Orlando Pace. Jones had a few pressures, including one that caused an interception on a screen pass and set the Giants up on the 10 yard line. He also came very close to sacking Green in the endzone for a safety. But for the most part, he was kept quiet. Same with DT Christian Peter (4 tackles) and DT Cornelius Griffin (who played quite a bit). Indeed, Griffin’s performance was disappointing as the Giants needed to get more inside pass pressure from him. The two down linemen who faired better were DT Keith Hamilton (5 tackles, 0.5 sacks) and DE Michael Strahan (4 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 passes defensed). Strahan was doubled at times and yet he did get some decent pressure on Green. I spotted him crashing into the quarterback several times aside from his 1.5 sacks. But he didn’t have the monster game needed given Jones’ ineffectiveness on the opposite side. His 15-yard personal foul penalty helped the Rams on their fourth TD drive too. Hamilton had some real nice inside power charges. Still not enough however. When the Rams did run the ball (aside from Green’s scrambles), the front four and linebackers did a good job except for late in the game when the Rams were running out the clock.

Linebackers: If anyone thinks Jessie Armstead (7 tackles) has slowed down, then they should watch him cover speedster HB Trung Candidate down the sideline. His coverage on that play was superb and there are not many linebackers who could do that. Jessie also knifed into the ball carrier on a draw for a minimal gain. He latter sniffed out a screen pass (Keith Hamilton got a good rush on the play too). MLB Mike Barrow (8 tackles) got suckered badly on Green’s play-action on the one-yard line for a score. He also failed to come up with an easy pick on a ball deflected by Strahan. Mike missed some tackles in the backfield. He should have sacked Green on an inside dog, an outside delayed dog, and tackled the back for a loss on a play where he smartly shot the gap. But he didn’t finish on all three of these plays. Ryan Phillips made a nice play in coverage early on a crossing pattern. MLB Pete Monty played quite a bit, but wasn’t heard from much.

Defensive Backs: Not good. CB Jason Sehorn (5 tackles) did a decent job on Pro Bowler Isaac Bruce for much of the contest, but as the game wore on, Bruce was able to get open in front of Sehorn on some outs and he got beat badly in the 3rd quarter for a long touchdown that put the Rams up 38-17. A big completion given up by Sehorn was the 9-yard out to Bruce on 3rd-and-8 after the Giants had cut the lead to 14-7. A stop there could have made a big difference as the Rams proceeded to go up 21-7 on that same drive. Surprisingly, Dave Thomas (7 tackles) didn’t get beat too badly. In fact, he was in excellent position on some deep balls. What hurt was his two drops of potential interceptions. One came on the Rams’ first drive as Thomas played the coverage so well that he looked like intended receiver. However, he dropped the easy interception in the end zone. Thomas did get burned for a touchdown on a well-executed inside pattern. He and FS Shaun Williams (9 tackles) were beat deep on one play by Torry Holt, but the pass was off the mark (the Rams scored on the drive regardless). Shaun was also guilty of the dropsies as he dropped a sure pick near the goal line too. The missed opportunity was very costly as it came a couple of plays before the one where Sehorn was burned for a touchdown. That play could have been a huge momentum changer. CB Emmanuel McDaniel (5 tackles) got burned deep by Az-Zahir Hakim, but was very lucky Hakim dropped the ball. Reggie Stephens got burned badly inside by Ricky Proehl for touchdown. Stephens had problems staying with the Rams’ receivers much of the day. SS Sam Garnes (10 tackles) made one big hit and was in on a lot of tackles, but he continues to be largely invisible in the big play department. Often times that is a good sign for a defensive back, but it would be nice for the well-paid Garnes to make a big play every now and then.

Special Teams: The poor play of the Giants’ special teams (except for kick returns) was a huge factor in the outcome of the game. PK Brad Daluiso’s kickoffs continue to exacerbate the mediocre kick coverage unit. To their credit, the kick-off coverage teams held the dangerous Tony Horne in check. However, the same can not be said of the punt coverage unit. Hakim had a big 39-yard punt return that set up the Rams deep in Giants’ territory at the 27 yard line and led to the second touchdown. They gave up another 33-yarder earlier in that quarter as well. Too often, coverage men are leaving their lanes or getting effectively blocked. P Brad Maynard did punt fairly well and Emmanuel McDaniel did do a nice job of downing one punt inside the five yard line. The Giants were also burned by a fake field goal that was converted for a first down (and led directly to a touchdown). What is even more disconcerting is that the players were warned by the coaches about the fake during the time out. The one bright spot was the kick return game as both Reggie Stephens and Bashir Levingston returned kicks past mid-field. Pete Monty was called for a holding penalty on one return.


Offensive Line Analysis: The Hair of the Dog

by Chris Jacobs

Every Monday I listen to the Jim Fassel report at 5:05pm on WFAN. This week was the first time I’ve heard Fassel get upset at either of them. Instead of trying to explain, I’ll just give you the exchange between Fassel and Chris (Maddog) Russo as memory serves:

Russo: Well ya know Jimmy, you haven’t really won a big game since you’ve been with the team.
Fassel: We beat the Redskins for the division title in 97′, and we blew them out.
Russo: But the Redskins weren’t a playoff team that year.
Fassel: They would have been if they beat us.
Russo: Ok, you haven’t beaten a good team this season though.
Fassel: The Eagles are 7-4, they’re playing good football. If you take us out of that equation, they’re 7-2.
Russo: Yeah but they aren’t any good.
Fassel: Why don’t you call Bill Cower and tell him that.
Russo: How good are the Steelers?
Fassel: I don’t know.

Ok fast forward to about 10 minutes after the Fassel report was over, now Mike and the Maddog were trying to go over the last six games for the Eagles, Redskins and Giants to decide who would win the division. Well they came to the possible conclusion that the Skins and Giants would be 10-6 and the Eagles would win the division at 11-5. WHAT!?!?!?!?!?! You just told the coach he hadn’t beaten anyone! I’ve given up on the media. Last week Steve Serby of The Post was saying why the Giants would win, and talking about home field advantage in the playoffs and blah, blah, blah. I open the paper Tuesday morning the the Serby headline is, “Giants show they are far from being Super.” Make up your mind. You’re putting them in the NFC Championship game one day, they lose to the best team in the NFC, and suddenly they’ll be lucky if they win a playoff game. If the Giants win 4 of the last 6 games they’ll be calling them the worst 11-5 team in the history of the NFL, blah blah blah. None of these guys ever played, they don’t know what it’s like to push yourself to do that extra set of squats in February when the season is 8 months away. I’d love to see Mad Dog run downfield full speed on a kickoff and end up flat on his back with his head ringing. These guys have no idea what it’s like to prepare all year for that 60 minutes to prove you belong, you’re the best. These are the guys who tried out for the football team and quit because they didn ‘t have it, and then laughed in the stands when the team lost. They have no idea how emotional the game is. All that preparation, for one moment, too few moments considering what goes into it. Alright let me get on with it before I start talking about that game we lost my sophomore year in College that knocked us out of the playoffs. If only I had done that extra set of squats…

Lomas Brown 86%:
He didn’t grade out bad but he didn’t have a very good game. Besides the obvious short yardage blunders his man was getting pressure on the QB often in the second half. To his credit though, on the short yardage, and the pass blocking, the Rams knew it was coming.

Mike Rosenthal 82%:
After I was done cleaning my pants… I was pretty pleased with his performance. Did a much better job run blocking, put some guys on rollerskates at times. Needs to keep his head up to sustain blocks. In pass protection he kept chasing his man out of his zone on the twist stunts, it hurt them a couple of times. I think someone in the booth noticed because he stopped doing it in the fourth quarter. No reason to feel uneasy with him in there the next two weeks.

Dusty Zeigler 96%:
His only bad marks were on running plays when the Rams had nine guys on the LOS. Showed no sign of the injury bothering him.

Ron Stone 86%:
Like LB, not his best game, got only one bad mark pass blocking. Did ok run blocking but nothing spectacular. Still the best of the bunch.

Luke Petitgout 88%:
Had a good game, the one sack that L. Little recorded was actually Rosey’s fault that flushed KC out of the pocket. Did a good job run blocking, nothing to report as far as mistakes or bad habits. His influence blocking is improving weekly.

Greg Comella:
By far his best game of the season. Improving every week.

Howard Cross:
By far his worst game of the season. Was pushed into the backfield repeatedly. Goal line run to Dayne would have worked but Cross was pushed back into Stone.


RAMSGATE

by David Oliver

Photographers deal with positives and negatives. A positive is a complete image, a negative is an image that must be processed to produce a complete image. A positive is a transparency, what you see is what you get; a negative is a work in process. Football presents many similarities. Sometimes what appears as a negative can be worked into something quite beautiful. And transparencies, positives, are just that. Much like the Rams game on Sunday, you have to work with the film, process the negatives, to reach your final image. The positives immediately stand out, but the negatives aren’t so blurry, looked at through time and with the right dose of chemicals – in my case coffee.

I’m writing this without reading the commentary in the papers or on the board. I had the pleasure of the WFAN on my home yesterday and the calls were predictable. The Giants can’t play with the elite teams, what did you expect, forget the Super Bowl this year, fire the special teams coach; I’m sure the NY Media was writing the same things. Well, I feel like pollyanna this week and I’m playing with the negative. Are the Giants an elite team? By what definition – are they 10 and 0 – no. Can they play with the elite teams? Well, of course they can, and in the end, they only have to beat two of them one time each. Have they beaten the Redskins, Titans or Rams? No, not yet anyway. But the Redskins are very doable and they’ll have that chance soon.

Well, then, are they a bad team? Hmm! They are leading the division, they have a very respectable 7-and-3 record, they beat every team they are supposed to beat, so no, they are not a bad team. Which leaves good or very good as a category of teams. The Skins, for some reason, own the Giants the past two years. This should be soon corrected. The Titans abused a flat Giants team for one half, but was on the ropes in the second as a rally fell short. The Rams came into town with a huge chip on their shoulder and they took it to the Giants, but they did not overwhelm them.

In photography it is luck and lighting. Skill is presumed. In football, it is breaks and momentum, skill is presumed. As analysts, and we are all analysts, we have to consider not only the is but the ought, the ‘ifs’, the ‘buts’ and the ‘thens’. In other words, look at it syllogistically, if, then, but, much as in developing film the negative, when processed becomes a positive.

Let’s cut to the chase. Are the Rams an ‘elite’ team? Absolutely. They have more speed than a fleet of Maseratis, they are big, in every sense of the word, starting with Orlando Pace. They are as acrobatic as the Flying Wallendas, as methodical as Bobby Fisher, as demoralizing as those Palm Beach voters who went for the yin and yang of politics by voting for both Al Gore and Pat Buchanan on the same ballot. The Rams won the game, fair and square, I think, and no recount, or replay, even the Toomer fumble, will reverse the result now. But none of this is to say the Giants didn’t play hard, as they did. But a hand review of the stats shows that the early 14 point gift bulge unfairly tilted the whole game and in a rematch things might be different.

The Head Coach popped his cork in his post game interview which should be indicative of the emotional pressure cooker that NY football, sports, is. I don’t know how Senator Clinton would fare before the withering accusations of the sports reporters of the Post, the News, the Times, the Ledger and the Bergen Record. The pencil necks have had a field day with this ‘elite’ thing. Nothing less than 10-and-0 and 50 points a game would satisfy them at this time and the fans are following this doppleganger like lemmings in the spring run. Coach almost screamed, almost hissed, that he didn’t “care what people think” about this issue. He said that he knows they are getting better and this is the important thing. I mean, which is it, the Giants can or can’t make the playoffs, they can or can’t beat any ‘elite’ teams, they won’t go far if they do make the playoffs. Only two teams get to the championship game. Only one is a champion. The Giants have only done it twice in the last 20 years. So what’s the big deal. Enjoy the wins and let the playoffs take care of themselves. The final standings won’t read the Giants finished 13-and-3* but they didn’t beat any elite teams. Heck they may have to beat the Eagles a third time to advance to the Conference Championship – so does that make them a lesser team?

Coach said he was “very disappointed” and not happy with the level of play. No surprise here. He said, “We have to figure out how to start the game better,” and he said that was his job and he would do it. And this is the key. In big games, the adrenalin rush seems to overwhelm the Giants. Scientists announced today that clinical studies have isolated the portion of the brain in which love is located. And they know why ardent lovers don’t think straight. Of course, with men, that’s easy – all the blood leaves the brain and rushes south – ah, back to football – maybe Dr. Goldberg can do some studies and discover why, in big games, the Giants run onto the field in an overexcited state, and then fumble fornicate all over the field during the first quarter. It was interesting in the locker after the conference. I was changing the batteries in my tape recorder (I’m always changing some damn batteries in some damn equipment) and I was in a corner by Keith Hamilton and Ron Stone. Both are fairly quiet, intense guys. Coach walked by and said first to Stone and then to Hammer, something to the effect of we’ll be back, don’t get down. He was still emotional and upset and he realized this one had gotten away from the Giants – it was winnable, but it got away. I wished I had a camera then (not allowed) because it was an ESPN moment. It was a MASCULINE moment, raw emotion veneered by restraint.

Okay, so I think the Giants could have won this one. So sue me. Maybe, like Warren Christopher, I have spent too much time in Washington and I am capable of convincing myself that my favorite has won despite the facts. Last month, I would have said, not me I’m from Missouri, the show me state; but after watching them elect a dead man to the Senate, I think they’ve seen about everything, so I need a new slogan for my scepticism.

Thus, a little different review this week. I’m going to mix some stats, some observations, some reviews together to tell you what I saw. Start with the coaching. For the first time in a long time, I believe the Giants staff put the whole thing together right. Had they won with this plan, everyone would be giving them an A; they didn’t, so no A, but was it the plan or the execution. Never was that phrase so obvious. The Rams are a known quantity – they will amass 30 points against anyone, including Michael the Archangel’s Legions (although it is scary to think the Skins defense matches up pretty well with more speed in the secondary). The Giants have been scoring a respectable number of points so the strategy was to take care of business offensively and somehow steal two TDs off the Rams defensively. And it almost worked. The Rams are a big play offense; the Giants negated that for the most part, allowing only one pass more than 30 yards and one run back of any consequence. A dropped interception, a fumbled completion and a momentary loss of composure, and that 2 TDs was on the board and playing the Rams even the rest of the game was for naught. Coaching problem? No. Execution problem? Big time. Keep in mind, there was another team on the field, they are good, and any mistakes will be costly – that’s a fiber optic connection, quick and sure.

As a result of these early miscues, Sean Payton had to get out of the game plan, the methodical control offense of the Giants and get into a shootout. The Giants and KC might win a shootout with the Bengals, but not the Rams. KC is a good QB, he is not a great one, not even a potentially great one. He has a strong arm, and when given time can pick apart a defense. Heck, even the Old Timer could probably do that. KC lacks field vision, quickness and fire, which offset his ability to manage the clock. Great quarterbacks respond to pressure like Phil Simms when he said to Kevin Greene after one particularly vicious sack, “is that all you’ve got?” That’s the fire. Or like Payton Manning who can find Marvin Harrison while running for his life. Or like Troy Aikman (before his 9th concussion) who can be concussed 8 times and throw a touch pass 40 yards down field on every drive. Don’t jump my butt just yet. Kerry tried harder this game. He took a couple of hits and didn’t get totally wild. But he can’t evade anyone, he can’t find open receivers, he can’t inspire his guys to do the impossible. Last night there were two you could watch, both lesser skilled men than KC. Even Trent Green is lesser skilled but a better leader, a better competitor. For those of you who want an ‘elite’ team, write to EA and tell him to get an elite QB Having. Said all that, I believe the Giants can win with KC, will win and are going to go deeper into the playoffs than Vegas says.

Back to the game plan, control the ball, don’t make mistakes. With only 19 running plays, ball control is out of the question. The Rams won that battle, controlling the ball for 36:40, limiting the Giants to 23:20, beating the Giants at their own game. Most telling was the fourth quarter when the Giants had it only 4:08. KC did complete 17-out-of-34, but even those are not great numbers. A total of 240 yards and a long of 46 to Ike, and in fairness, several key drops, including one by Ike which would have been a 50 yarder, easily, but Ike took his eye off the ball at the last minute. On the other hand, there were several key misses by KC, he often couldn’t find the open man, locked in on one receiver, and in the end fired so far over the head of JJ that it looked more like Cherry than Kerry out there. It wasn’t the usual 8-10 yards per average though as Ike caught 5-for-110, Tiki 4-for-32, Pete Mitchell 3-for-33, Jurevicius 2-for-32, Comella 2-for-14 and Toomer 1-for-20 before he was knocked into Thanksgiving weekend. The Giants made as if this was a light injury post game, but Amani had an Excedrin World Class and still couldn’t remember the play. He needed attention, he needed protection and frankly, he didn’t get it and that’s not right.

As an aside here, the Rams were physical, very physical, actually they came into the stadium and physically beat the Giants. It was a hard fought contest and neither side left anything out there. The Rams left beat up and tired, the Giants left beat up and demoralized. I don’t think I have ever seen Jessie so despondent after a loss. The Rams may be a finesse team but they are a physical finesse team. They had a chip on their shoulder, as the Giants both last year and according to the Rams, this year, wouldn’t stop yapping. The Giants are an emotional, fiery team, and that’s good, but every once in a while you have to put it on the Big Dog just to back up the yapping. In this game, they were out-muscled. Jessie and Strahan did play Championship ball and Hammer and Peter were right behind them.

On to Special Teams, where every week we hear fire McDuff, waive Daluiso, the specials are killing the Giants. Well, guess what folks? The specials are getting better and they are holding their own. The Rams are a very potent specials squad, led by Hakim and they were held in check. Not only that but the Giants did some damage of their own.. Maynard had 6 punts, averaging 50.5 with a long of 54. Daluiso kicked off 5 times with 1 touchback. The average Ram start was their own 30, the Giants average start was their own 33. Horne had one decent return of 32 yards, but the Giants had 173 total, with 43 by Bashir, 40 by Reggie Stephens and 22 by Omar Stoutmire. Not bad. Each team had one field goal, but the Rams also missed one. So in this game, advantage goes to the Giants Special Teams and Coach McDuff.

Defense is difficult to analyze in a losing effort where the winner scores 38 points and 5 TDs. The Giants game plan was to nullify the big strike and they did save for one. Other than the 34 yard TD strike to Bruce, the Rams looked like this: Holt 8 for an average 10.8; Proehl 6 for an average of 8.8; Bruce besides the TD 4 for 18.8; Hakim 2 for an average of 19.5. The rest were inconsequential. The zone coverage employed by the Giants worked. But they were bamboozled on a fake field goal and could not contain Green who ran 6 times for 54 yards, including an 18 yard TD. If you saw the tape on ESPN last night you could see Jessie falling back with the receiver on Green’s run, opening up the field. That’s a credit to the Rams who send out so many good receivers, it is physically difficult to cover everyone and watch the QB. Throw Marshall Faulk into the equation and you have something very special. Consider this: the Rams had 5 TDs. The first went 1 yard. One of the other 4 was set up by a return to the Giants 27. They had 2 legitimate drives of 71 and 63 yards (set up by an interception) and a 59 yard drive (also set up by an interception). The defense was outstanding considering the short field the Rams had. But no one on the D felt good. They have taken 38 points personally, no matter how they were put on the board.

On regular defensive plays, the safeties, as you would imagine, were very active. Garnes had 10 combines stops (8 solo), Williams had 8 (6 solo). Barrow had a combined 8 and Jessie 7. Hamilton had 5, then the corners, Sehorn and Thomas with 5 and EMac with 4. Peter and Strahan had 4, Phillips 2, Monty 1. Williams, Sehorn, Thomas, and Emac had 1 pass defensed each; Strahan had 2 batted balls and Phillips had two passes defensed and an INT. This was not a bad defensive effort. Strahan was a monster and the middle played tough. Green had time to throw as he often used a 3 step drop, but when he went to 5 and 7, he wasn’t pressured. We watched him making his reads and several times coming off his primary along the sidelines to go over the middle. For the Rams, I have to mention London Fletcher who was a demon. He played as if he had a score to settle with 7 solo tackles, no chippies, 1 interception, 1 pass defensed and a forced fumble. Bottom line, John Fox and Johnny Lynn had a good game plan, the problem, too many, too fast Rams and short field position to defend.

The Giants had a couple of nice drives as Payton and KC clicked some of the time. The first drive was the Dayne explosion as he took the ball on the Giants 34 and barreled for 50 yards, running to the east endzone and stopping at the Rams 16. Two plays later Tiki took a swing pass the final 13, making some beautiful moves to get into the endzone. Unfortunately, the Rams answered quickly. Green methodically took them downfield and hit Proehl for the score in the west endzone where Ricky had a lot of family. He threw them the ball.

Score 28-7 at the half, time of possession advantage Rams 2-to-1. Then Bashir ran the kickoff back 43 yards and a KC to Ike strike for 46 finished the drive. Daluiso kicked off into the end zone. Phillips intercepted a pass at the 21 and ran to the 11. Then disaster. Dayne was to run off tackle, but KC and Dane thought they saw something and changed it to around end. For the second time this year I saw Dayne try to run laterally around end in the east end zone and Fletcher came firing across and took him out. MESSAGE TO THE GIANTS – do not run Dayne around end to the left side of the line. Okay, time for a testosterone check. JF fails and sends in Daluiso for a field goal. We see the Rams smiling as they leave the field. They just dodged a bullet. They will take 7 for 3 all night. JF said he felt the 3 plus 2 TDs and the Giants would lead – yeah and the Queen said if I had two I would be King. But the King answered if I had three more I’d be a pinball machine. The Giants never have an answer at times like these. JF felt no points would demoralize the team. Well, 3 and still needing 2 TDs didn’t seem to perk them up as the Rams answered right back with 3. This is the Giants strength and weakness. Play steady no risk, no mistake ball, or should I say no balls ball, beat the weak, tease the strong, murder the fans.

After that, the Giants got a little drive going, KC gets sacked, then KC tosses it to Fletcher and the fans head for the exits. The big one to Bruce, as now the Giants are demoralized, it’s 38 points, and it’s over. In the 4th quarter a little rally. KC hits JJ for 18, then Tiki up the middle for 23, Tiki pass for 7, KC to Mitchell for 10, then out of the shotgun for 34 and a TD to Ike. On the final possession, KC went to JJ for 13, then missed him. The Rams were giving chase to KC and that does not help his accuracy. On the final toss, JJ beat his man down the sideline and KC overthrew him by 10 yards. JJ turned, placed his hands on his hips and stared, wondering much like the rest of us “what if”.

(Box Score – St. Louis Rams at New York Giants, November 12, 2000)
Nov 102000
 

Approach to the Game – St. Louis Rams at New York Giants, November 12, 2000: Over the course of the last few years there have been times when the Giants’ players have gotten so over-hyped for a game that it has negatively affected their performance. The pressure made them tighten up and press too hard. The team felt it had to play near flawlessly to win and when adversity struck, morale plummeted. Interestingly, Head Coach Jim Fassel has now adopted a different approach. “I told this team we don’t need to play out of our heads,” Fassel said. “This isn’t going to take some over-our-head happenings (to win against the Rams). And I’m not going to coach the game that way. As a coach you can try to get cute and fancy early in a game like this and it can blow up on you. You’d rather not look back and say, ‘I should have trusted my team.'”

For their part, the players seem to be buying into it: “In the past in these games we’ve really gotten tight. We thought we had to do something extra special to win these types of games. But I think we’ve got more confidence now. We’ve got our formula a little more figured out now. We understand we just have to go out and play our game.”

As I said, interesting. Perhaps this team and its head coach are maturing into something special. We’ll find out over the course of the next seven games. Sunday’s game is not do-or-die. It is not a “must” game. But a win would be very telling.

Giants on Offense: If you believe Jim Fassel is telling the truth about his approach to the game, then the Giants won’t get away from their normal game plan: run the ball and do so heavily. It isn’t glamorous or exciting – unless you are a true die-hard Giants’ fan who appreciates even a four-yard power run up the middle. Establish control of the line of scrimmage, and most importantly, the clock. The Giants want to slow the tempo of the game. To use a basketball analogy, they want to make the contest a half-court game – not a fast-break one. The Giants want to do what the 1990 team did to the Buffalo Bills in Superbowl XXV. Control the clock and keep the opposing offense off the field.

The strategy is somewhat risky because there is little room for error. The best the Giants are hoping for is make the game close. They are acknowledging that they can’t win a scoring match against St. Louis by a decisive margin. In a close contest, a turnover, penalty, sack, or even failed 3rd down conversion could prove fatal. It is not the type of game for the weak of heart. But upon reflection, this is probably the smartest strategy for New York. The offense is not likely to play well if it is forced to become something that it is not. The Giants are a running team and aside from one game this year, they have not been able to break the 30-point barrier. Moreover, Kerry Collins has yet to prove he can take the pressure when the entire game plan is placed on his right arm. When pressed, Kerry is still prone to be jumpy in the pocket and make a dumb throw. He’s getting better, but he’s not all there just yet. Run the ball, draw in the defense, and then go to play-action down the field with the passing game. It’s what has gotten the Giants to 7-2 and for better or worse, it will be the Giants’ game plan on Sunday. You go with what brought you here.

That being said, you know that Jim Fassel and Sean Payton have been thinking about this game ever since the schedule came out. Aside from the few specialty plays they will want to use against the Redskins in a few weeks, if Jim and Sean have anything up their sleeve, it is bound to come out in this game whether it be a trick play or simply a play that the Giants have not run before (or often). In addition, the Giants need touchdowns, not field goals. They have little chance to win this game unless they score at least 24 points. Thus, the Giants will have to take their shots – just like they did against the Browns. They also must be productive in the redzone.

Don’t let the national sports media fool you – the Rams’ defense has plenty of good players on it and it is finally starting to play better. This was a very good unit last year when the Rams won the Superbowl and most of those same players are still on the squad. They are very athletic, fast, and quick. But they do not have a lot of lead in their pants. Big Blue needs to play a physical, nasty, and aggressive game up front. This includes the offensive line, tight ends, and FB Greg Comella. A huge match-up will be the gimpy RT Luke Petitgout (thigh) versus Pro Bowl DE Kevin Carter (17 sacks last year). The latter has not been playing well and was benched, but has now regained his starting spot and is looking for something to prove (a la Amani Toomer a couple of games ago). LT Lomas Brown lines up against the athletic DE Grant Wistrom (7 sacks this year). These are battles the Giants must win as are the match-ups inside: LG Glenn Parker, OC Dusty Zeigler, RG Ron Stone versus DT Ray Agnew, DT D’Marco Farr, and MLB London Fletcher. If the Giants can’t control the middle of the line of scrimmage, they have absolutely no chance to win this football game. Getting a body on the quick and active Fletcher is particularly crucial – this is a big game for Zeigler and Comella because of that.

Defensive Specialist Bud Carson was recently brought in to revive the Rams’ defense. Giants’ fans will remember him from his days in Philadelphia (he was also a top defensive coach in Pittsburgh for many, many years). Carson loves to bring it. His defenses are aggressive and blitz a lot – not just to get to the quarterback, but also to disrupt the run. This is a smart game plan for the Rams as they are athletic and quick up front, but ill-suited to read-and-react. Look for them to shoot the gaps and try to nail Ron Dayne and Tiki Barber in the backfield by bringing more attackers than blockers. Ideally, this could set up the Giants for a big play deep with the passing game, but unfortunately, that style gets away from the game plan. Still, it will be interesting to see if Payton takes some shots early or runs some misdirection (i.e., reverses, counters, screens, draws, etc.) to slow down the aggressive approach.

The Rams’ linebackers are good in coverage thus I wouldn’t think the tight ends would be involved much in the passing game – unless they get surprised by the fact that the Giants are even employing them. Comella has become a big factor catching the ball and he and TE Pete Mitchell could make a big play or two keeping ball control drives alive. But, as has been the case all year, QB Kerry Collins primary targets will most likely be WR Ike Hilliard, WR Amani Toomer, and HB Tiki Barber. Toomer will face CB Dexter McCleon. McCleon is a good cover corner, but he lacks size and Amani may be able to take advantage of that. So might WR Joe Jurevicius against the smaller Rams’ corners. A huge battle will be Ike Hilliard against CB Dre’ Bly – a second year man who has struggled some. Ike needs to dominate this match-up (or Jurevicius if Ike is in the slot in 3-WR sets).

Finally, all the best laid plans may go right out the window and this game may fall on the shoulders of Collins. He has been playing better in recent weeks and may be coming on. At the same time, he did not deal with the spotlight too well against the Redskins and Titans. The media will be in full force on Sunday – how will he respond to the pressure?

Giants on Defense: Yes QB Kurt Warner and HB Marshall Faulk are out. But the Rams are very dangerous on offense. Why? First, they run THE state-of-the-art offensive system in the NFL today. It puts pressure on defenses on almost every play and it can cause confusion. The game plans are excellent and the style is fast-paced. Second, Trent Green is not your typical back-up. He was brought to St. Louis in 1999 to be the starter after a solid season in Washington – only an injury gave the job to Warner. Third, the Rams are loaded at wide receiver with not two or three, but four quality wide receivers. I’m not sure the Giants have the talent in the secondary to stay with them. CB Jason Sehorn (ribs/shoulder) is playing hurt and will be a tad rusty. You say you want him to shadow WR Issac Bruce? Well then you have a potential nightmare match-up with CB Dave Thomas versus WR Torry Holt. Let’s be frank – Thomas is not in Holt’s or Bruce’s league. Heck, Sehorn may not be able to handle Bruce. Then you have WR Az-Zahir Hakim who is as quick as a water-bug and just as elusive. Fortunately, nickel back Emanuel McDaniel plays a similar game, but McDaniel is not the same caliber player. And just when you think those are the problems you will face, then WR Ricky Proehl beats you (Reggie Stephens will be on the spot in this game too). And because of the design of the offense, the Rams will create mismatches. There will be plays when Stephens is on Holt or Bruce for example. Not a pretty picture.

So what do the Giants do? I’d go back to the same game plan that the Giants used in 1990 against the Bills in the Superbowl and similar to the bend-but-don’t-break-style of the 1998 game against the Broncos. Play five and six defensive backs on every snap. The Giants are better suited to do this than most teams because SS Sam Garnes and FS Shaun Williams play like linebackers (and Omar Stoutmire could be a factor here too). Switch up your coverages, but don’t get too risky. Let the Rams catch the short passes, but don’t get beat deep. Be physical and punish the receiver. Hit him hard and make him wish he won’t come over the middle again. However, the absolutely most important thing to do however is TO TACKLE THE RECEIVER AFTER THE CATCH. Contrary to popular opinion, the Rams don’t do most of their damage with big catches down the field, but by running with the ball after the catch. This is where there athleticism, speed, and quickness show up. Hakim killed the Giants after the catch last year. McDaniel in particular needs to tackle much better and Sehorn will have to gut out his injury problems. Dave Thomas has also been known to whiff on occasion. Do that against the Rams and you lose. And because of that, this may be the most important game that Garnes and Williams play all year.

What about the run you ask? Don’t the Giants tempt fate if they ignore HB Justin Watson and first rounder HB Trung Canidate (who is extremely fast). Yes they do. But they can’t afford to pay them much attention. If the Rams beat the Giants on the ground, so be it. Then they deserve the game, but don’t allow them to ring up points quickly through the air. The Giants are going to have to count on the down four and undermanned linebackers to do the job. I also wouldn’t even play SLB Ryan Phillips (if I see him on the field, I’ll scream).

The Giants’ defensive line needs to play a great game, particularly against the pass. Unfortunately, LT Orlando Pace will most likely take DE Cedric Jones out of the game. DE Michael Strahan must therefore play a strong game against RT Ryan Tucker. Inside, I’d be real tempted to start DT Cornelius Griffin over DT Christian Peter since he is the better pass rusher. DT Keith Hamilton will face LG Tom Nutten and needs to dominate.

One of the big reasons why the Giants signed MLB Michael Barrow was to deal with teams like the Rams who throw a lot against the undercoverage. Last year, the Rams had a field day throwing against Corey Widmer and Ryan Phillips. Barrow is far, far stronger than those two in coverage. Barrow could prove to be the difference in the game. As could WLB Jessie Armstead. Jessie hasn’t been flashy this year, but this could be the type of game where he shows that he still has it. Barrow and Armstead need to keep the halfbacks and tight ends under control and play the run aggressively. There will be a ton of pressure on them to make plays and not make mistakes. But that is why you get paid the big bucks.

Giants on Special Teams: This is where I really fear the game will be lost. If PK Brad Daluiso continues to kick off and kick off as poorly as he has been, then KR Tony Horne will kill New York. Likewise Hakim is an extremely dangerous punt returner and the Giants can ill afford one of P Brad Maynard’s “bad games” right now. I honestly think the game will be decided on special teams by punt and kick coverage. Field position in this game with be everything.

Bashir Levingston will return kicks for the second game in a row with Ron Dixon out. PR Tiki Barber has not been close to breaking one in a long, long time.

Nov 082000
 
New York Giants 24 – Cleveland Browns 3

Game Overview: Five weeks ago, things weren’t not looking so hot for the Giants. After a 3-0 start, they had lost two in a row, culminating in a horrendous effort against the Tennessee Titans. Looking at the upcoming four games at that point (Falcons, Cowboys, Eagles, and Browns), one certainly felt like the Giants SHOULD take the next four, but after the Tennessee game, many of us were prepared for the G-Men to stumble once or twice against these inferior teams. But five weeks later, the Giants stand at 7-2 and are atop the NFC East by 1.5 games. Give the coaches and players credit. They beat the teams they were supposed to beat and in this day of salary-cap imposed parity, beating the teams you are “supposed” to beat is not always easy (just ask the Redskins and Colts).

The game against the Browns was close for a while. A couple of breakdowns on offense stalled promising drives. But the defense stiffened and the offense began to chew up chunks of real estate and put points on the board. In the end, the Giants won convincingly, 24-3. As they should have.

Now, the level of competition increases dramatically. And so too must the Giants’ level of intensity, focus, and execution. If New York doesn’t, then first place will slip away.

Quarterback: Kerry Collins (19-of-31 for 257 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions) played one of his best games as a Giant against the Browns on Sunday. Things started off a bit slowly for the offense however. On the first drive, the Giants started at the five yard line after a Cleveland punt. On 3rd-and-7, Kerry hit Toomer on a well-thrown slant pass for a first down. Again, I know I keep harping on this, but the slant is a great play to run against an aggressive defense and Collins throws this pass very well. After a 27-yard gain on a double reverse, Collins was blindsided by the weakside defensive end and fumbled the ball. The ball was recovered but the Giants now faced 2nd-and-30. On the next play, Kerry was lucky the pass was not picked off as he didn’t get enough air on his ball over the linebacker. Just as distressing was that Ike Hilliard was wide open on this play for big yardage, yet Kerry tried to hit Toomer. The Giants got a first down on a dumb Browns’ personal foul penalty, but the Giants couldn’t pick up a first down after three straight runs and were forced to punt.

On the Giants’ second drive, Kerry never had a chance to throw the ball as Dayne fumbled it away.

On the third drive, the Giants started to click a bit offensively. After a Tiki Barber run, Kerry hit FB Greg Comella on a swing pass for a first down. His next pass was tipped and fell incomplete. He then hit Comella again – this time for 9 yards on a screen (good block by Glenn Parker on the play). After Ron Dayne picked up a first down, Kerry was pressured on a rollout and the pass fell incomplete. Tiki picked up five yards and then Kerry threw a nice pass for a first down to Toomer on a quick out. After a 9-yard pass to Tiki, the Giants were stuffed on 2nd- and 3rd-and-one and kicked the field goal to tie the game.

The fourth drive (right after the Giants stuffed the Browns on 4th-and-two) started off rocky. Tiki was stuffed and Collins’ pass on second down was batted down at the line. On third down, Kerry was pressured from the strongside (the gimpy Luke Petitgout was having problems) and he badly missed a well-covered Pete Mitchell over the middle. But a roughing the passer penalty (a bad call) gave the Giants new life. Luke was beaten outside again on the next play and Kerry was forced to throw the ball away. On 3rd-and-7, Collins found Ike for 10 yards and a first down. He then found Comella for 9 yards and Tiki picked up 13 on the next play behind a very good block by Comella on an outside run to the left. Collins threw a nice pass to Tiki down the left sideline, but the officials failed to call an obvious pass interference penalty. After a short gain by Dayne, Collins threw a perfect 28-yard seam pass for a touchdown to Ike Hilliard. The throw was truly a beauty and it came on 3rd-and-8.

The Giants took a knee on the fifth drive and went into the locker room up 10-3.

The sixth drive of the game, the first of the second half, didn’t start off well. Collins missed an open Jurevicius on an out. After a Dayne run for three, Collins’ pass was knocked away when WR Thabiti Davis didn’t come back for the ball.

The Giants took control of the game with their seventh drive. After two runs, Kerry found Toomer for a first down on 3rd-and-3. Then the ground game got into action as the Giants methodically marched down the field. Once again, Collins came through on third down however when he hit Toomer on a slant pass on 3rd-and-4 for a 17-yard touchdown, thus completing a 76 yard drive.

It was the eighth drive where Collins was at his best. He hit Amani for a first down on 2nd-and-11, Ike for 22 yards on 2nd-and-16, and then finished off the drive with a 32-yard strike for a touchdown to Toomer on 3rd-and-7. Very impressive. Giants 24 – Cleveland 3. Game over.

The highlight of the game for Collins was not just his three touchdown throws (all excellent passes), but his ability to make good throws regularly on third down.

Running Backs: It was a productive day for Tiki Barber (15 carries for 53 yards; 2 catches for 15 yards) and Ron Dayne (19 carries for 64 yards), but not flashy. The Browns played a lot of defenders near the line of scrimmage and made the backs fight for everything they got. It also hurt when OC Dusty Zeigler and RT Luke Petitgout had to leave early with injuries. Ron Dayne fumbled on the second drive of the game, but I think it was a bad call by the official – Dayne was down. Ron continues to look particularly sharp between the tackles and, like in the past few games, has begun to drag tacklers more and more. Tiki had a few decent outside pick-ups, but really couldn’t break one this week. Both backs really took charge on the second drive in the second half with Tiki being sent outside to the left a number of times and Dayne going off right tackle. This drive really sapped the life out of Cleveland. Tiki had a key run picking up a first down on 3rd-and-3 on this drive (behind a good block from Lomas Brown).

The guy who I thought really stood out was FB Greg Comella. Once again, Greg did a very good job lead blocking for the backs. But this week, his number was called quite a bit in the passing game (5 catches for 58 yards), including a pass down the field against the sidelines in the fourth quarter. He even got to carry the ball 3 times for 16 yards – the highlight being a quick burst on an inside run that picked up good yardage.

Wide Receivers: Strong game all around. WR Ike Hilliard (3 catches for 60 yards and one touchdown;1 carry for -6 yards) remains one of Collins’ favorite weapons on 3rd down and he does a good job of getting open in such situations. Hilliard got open deep down the seam for a 28 yard touchdown.

Amani Toomer (6 catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns; 1 carry for 27 yards) put up another 100 yard effort. Amani continues to shine on slant routes and scored on a play very similar to the one he broke last week against Philly. He also got deep on a fly pattern down the sideline and made nice over the shoulder catch for his second touchdown. Amani also looked real sharp on his 27-yard double reverse in the first quarter.

WR Thabiti Davis made one bad play and one great play. On a curl route, Thabiti didn’t come back to the ball and thus this enabled the defensive back to jump in front of him and almost pick off the ball. But later in the game, Davis made a great play where he drove off the corner, then came back for the ball and made a diving reception for a first down on 3rd-and-8. Joe Jurevicius was quiet again with only one catch for 10 yards.

Offensive Line: The guys inside played pretty well, but the tackles were a bit shaky in pass protection. LT Lomas Brown gave up one sack/forced fumble on the first drive when he got beat to the inside. Ironically, it was Brown’s run blocking this week (mostly on the pull) that impressed me. RT Luke Petitgout allowed DE Courtney Brown to get too close to Collins and tip a ball (this was before he got hurt). Later, after he was hurt, it was obvious that Luke couldn’t move his right leg very well and he had all kinds of problems in pass protection and had to come out. His replacement, Mike Rosenthal, did OK, but he was lucky that Collins has a quick release as his outside pass protection was not sharp (his feet looked stuck in cement). Mike did a much better job in the run blocking department, but also got away with a holding penalty on one inside run. OC Derek Engler who came in for Dusty Zeigler did OK as well. He didn’t get much movement in his run blocks, but he didn’t get embarrassed in pass protection. LG Glenn Parker played very well both on his straight ahead blocks and when pulling. RG Ron Stone had a solid game but the Giants couldn’t generate much movement on the strongside against Brown and Orpheus Roye in the first half.

Tight Ends: Howard Cross blocked well as usual and deserves a lot of credit for the Giants’ ground game this year. He was flagged with one block in the back penalty this week however on Ike’s failed reverse. Dan Campbell caught one pass for only one yard (Percy Ellsworth made a nice open field tackle on the play). Pete Mitchell played, but I only saw one pass thrown in his direction.

Defensive Line: Once again, an opponent could not run against the Giants’ front seven on defense as the defensive line either made the tackle or set up the linebackers to do so. Even better, this week the down four got a solid pass rush on Cleveland.

DE Michael Strahan (7 tackles, 2 sacks) played his best game of the year. Ironically, it was not his sacks that stood out to me (on one of his sacks, he was not blocked and the other was caused by Mike Barrow). But Strahan regularly beat the right tackle and got pressure on QB Doug Pederson time and time again. Michael made the biggest defensive play of the game by shoving the big tackle into the backfield, played off the block, and then nailed ball carrier for a loss on 4th-and-2 with Cleveland threatening. Strahan was all over Pederson on the Browns’ only other serious threat of the game. He smashed the QB just as he released the ball on one play and then directly caused an interception by not being fooled by the play fake and forcing Pederson to throw the ball when he didn’t want to on another. In the 4th quarter, it was Strahan’s pressure that forced the quarterback into Keith Hamilton’s arms. He subsequently forced another incomplete on 3rd down by chasing Pederson out of the pocket.

DE Cedric Jones (2 tackles) did not play well. He was hardly heard from on the right side and what is worse, he made an incredibly stupid penalty nearly ripping off the head of Pederson with a blatant face mask penalty after Strahan had pressured him out of the pocket.

DT Keith Hamilton (2 tackles, 1 sack) continues to play extremely well. He and Christian Peter (1 tackle) stuffed the inside run, while Hamilton got a number of pressures on the quarterback. In the first quarter, Hammer almost sacked Pederson in the endzone for a safety.

Cornelius Griffin (2 tackles, 1 sack) played his best game as a Giant. He made a huge play in the backfield against the ball carrier on 2nd-and-goal from the one. Then in the fourth quarter, he obliterated Pederson on a stunt, picking up a sack.

Linebackers: MLB Mike Barrow (3 tackles) played well again. On the first offensive play by the Browns, Mike sniffed out a swing pass to the back and nailed him for a loss. Barrow had great coverage in the endzone on play-action on 1st-and-goal from the one yard line. Most linebackers don’t play disciplined enough in such a situation to defend the pass and Mike saved six points there. On the play preceding Strahan’s stuff on 4th-and-2, Mike Barrow stuffed the running back in the hole on 3rd-and-1. Late in the second quarter, Barrow crashed into Pederson as the quarterback just released the ball (Cornelius Griffin was also there). On this play, Barrow was playing left end. On the very next play, his pressure from right end caused Pederson to step up and get sacked by Strahan.

WLB Jessie Armstead (7 tackles) was not flashy, but he was around the ball a lot. He was very solid in coverage.

Ryan Phillips (2 tackles) had some problems in coverage as he just doesn’t have the fluid hips that Barrow and Armtead have. Phillips was beat by the fullback for an 8-yard reception and also got exposed by Dennis Northcutt on a short reception in his short zone.

Defensive Backs: The corners were OK, but had some problems. Emmanuel McDaniel (4 tackles, 1 interception) missed the jam on Kevin Johnson on 3rd-and-9 on the first drive and a 21-yard reception resulted – EMac should not let a receiver get behind him like that on 3rd-and-long. He also missed a tackle on a short pass to WR Dennis Northcutt and this led to a decent pick-up.

Dave Thomas (2 tackles) once again got called for being too aggressive with his hands on a deep pass and was flagged for a 22-yard pass interference penalty. This set the ball on the one-yard line. However, the secondary, including Thomas, played very well on 3rd-and-goal from the two and the quarterback couldn’t find an open man. Pederson tried to hit David Patten for a first down on 3rd-and-2 two in the third quarter, but Thomas had good coverage. But Thomas later missed a tackle that led to a big run by the halfback after a catch. Reggie Stephens (1 tackle) looked a tad gimpy to me out there – he’s still hampered by that ankle injury. Reggie got beat in the fourth quarter for a first down on 3rd-and-11 by Kevin Johnson.

Both safeties were pretty quiet as Pederson never really threw the ball much down the field.

Giants on Specials: Special were OK. P Brad Maynard punted well and punt coverage was decent. PK Brad Daluiso continues to be awful on kick-offs. He is much worse than he was before he hurt his back earlier this season and it is only a matter of time before this costs the Giants. Despite the terribly short kick-offs, coverage was decent. Ramos McDonald made a very nice tackle as did Kevin Lewis. Bashir Levingston’s kick returns were only ordinary. Tiki did break a 16-yard punt return.


Offensive Line – Second Stringers Do Well Enough to Get the Team a Win

by Chris Jacobs

I was very excited to watch the tape this week. While I worried about Ziegler and Petitgout I was really thrilled that I would be able to evaluate some different players. The level of play among the starters is consistent and I was running out of things to write about. The last thing I wanted was the weekly analysis to be redundant.

Lomas Brown 88%:
The only bad mistake was getting beat by an inside move that caused the Collins fumble in the first quarter, however he saved a possible touchdown by falling on the ball. Besides that he had almost a perfect game as far as pass protection was concerned. Run blocking he did a good job, did a lot of pulling, he missed his block here and there, but he didn’t get tired at the end of the game.

Glenn Parker 88%:
I almost crapped my pants when he got up limping, losing him would be very detrimental to the running game. But he bounced back and had his usual game, great job run blocking, at times a little high pass blocking, but over all did a great job. The additions of GP and LB are the reason the Giants are one of the top teams in the NFC at mid season.

Dusty Zeigler 100%:
He was only in for 10 plays and didn’t make any mistakes. I tried to see where he injured his leg, but I couldn’t tell.

Derek Engler 79%:
Not bad, but not great. I was thinking of some nicknames for him. But instead I’ll just point out some weaknesses and compare him to DZ. He needs to keep his shoulders square and move his feet. In pass protection he seems to struggle moving laterally, instead he just turns, and once the D tackle has him turned he has him beat. He needs to stay square. On run blocking, he’s not as fast as Zeigler, so he couldn’t hook the Nose if he was shaded to the run side, and he had a tough time getting to the Backers. When he did get to the backers he had his head down which made it difficult for him to sustain his blocks. Still, he did some good things. What he lacks in speed he makes up with strength, but with better technique he can improve.

Ron Stone 95%:
Not much to say that hasn’t been said, I’d like to say he deserves serious consideration for the Pro Bowl but I don’t really see any other O lineman to make the comparison.

Luke Petitgout 72%:
His grade is bad because after he was injured he couldn’t really do much. Up to that point he was doing well.

Mike Rosenthal 76%:
The best thing that I can say is that he played well for a guy who hasn’t been activated the first 7 weeks, and has most likely been running the scout offense in practice to this point in the season. For the first time this season Eric and I disagree, I thought he did a good job in pass protection. He has good feet but there were some occasions he didn’t try to ride the guy outside and got beat. As far as run blocking goes, there were moments where I don’t think he knew his assignment. It’ s hard for me to tell, but he was hesitant, and on more than one occasion didn’t block anyone. The upside is that he has talent and with more reps in practice and in games he will improve. One more note, looked good pulling, seems fast for a man his size, they might be grooming as a Glenn Parker-type for the future.


DOPPLEGANGER-NFL STYLE

by David Oliver

Question: When is tradition not tradition? Answer: When viewed through the prism of Paul Tagliabue’s looking Glass world. This week’s opponents, the Cleveland Browns are a storied franchise, with those orange helmets, the Dawg Pound, Jim Brown and a stat log including 418 victories, 50 NFL seasons, 35 post season appearances, 23 first place finishes, 14 Hall-of-Famers, 11 Head Coaches, 4 AAFC Championships, 4 NFL Championships. And all this for an expansion team only a few seasons old.

On Saturday, I linked up with Dr. Joe Mancino, INSIDE FOOTBALL photographer/reporter and off we went via Southwest Airlines. There were a host of Giants jersey clad fellow travelers all flying to Cleveland from long Island and New England via Baltimore, so the trip was joyous notwithstanding the radar down delay. We talked to a Giants fan, Orpheus Cutinho, heading out to link up with an old friend and see the game. Orpheus is a NYC Sheriff and played ball at Virginia State. On the way back we hooked up with BBI reader Kevin from New Haven, who had brought his young son out to the game.

The new Stadium is beautiful. It was one of the nicest facilities we have visited yet, and I understand, the Bengals and Steelers Stadiums are close to identical. The views looked good from everywhere, particularly the lower tiers and the acoustics were great. We could really hear the pads popping along the sidelines, which was a special treat. And the pads were popping as this was a hard hitting game with both defenses trying to dictate the tempo.

The game itself, in keeping with this year’s edition of Giants’ offense started slow and lumbered through the first quarter. After the game, I asked Amani Toomer about these starts, and he told me “we are a physical team, and the first quarter is a lot of hitting.” The Dog pound was quiet, mostly, at least in terms of real nastiness. The Security Guards told me the fans were very sedate, so sedate that they had stopped selling batteries in the stadium because no one threw them anymore. But they did have some fun with Glenn Parker before the game, getting to him by calling him out on his consumption of donuts. When Glenn turned to respond, one wag shouted out “and you have rabbit ears, too, pull your helmet down.” The Dog Pound denizens were, however, impressed with the imposing bulk of the Great Dayne. Unlike the stylish denizens of 5th Ave, where anorexia is IN, these brat fed, meal loving mid-westerners had an unusual appreciation for RD’s love handles, which rippled for the Pound’s pulchritudinous beer queens as the velvet on an Elk’s antlers during the fall rut. One more example of Oliver’s Law of the Relativity of Beauty: Anorexia for the tight ass psychotics who populate the coasts, averduplois for the brew and brat princesses who hold the rust belt together.

The game itself was another study in dominance. The Giants had possession for 36:34 to 23:20 for the Browns. Third down efficiency was a presentable 59%, 370 net yards, 77 offensive plays, 156 yards rushing (meanwhile, the D held the Browns to a scanty 41 yards rushing on 16 carries), 215 yards passing. The only downer was once again the yards per pass average of 6.3. Watching this game closely, particularly Kerry Collins and listening to his remarks afterwards, I am reassessing my opinion on Mr. Collins. Although I still don’t believe he has Championship fire, I no longer believe the slow starts, particularly his slow starts, are his fault. I think the QB is a secret gunner like Daryl LaMonica, and that he would love to go down field on every play. He is a passer, with a strong arm and decent vision once he is in rhythm. But the game planning is “establish the run, then use the run to set up the pass”. When teams stuff the run, as the Browns did early on, then the coaches decide “okay, let’s go down field”. I do believe in the running game; I do believe in power football; but I believe that using the pass to set up the run mandates that a team does pass, early, does try to stretch the field, then pounds the ball when a little lead is in place. Call me crazy, but I’m beginning to believe that KC would love to throw down field early, get 2 or 3 scores, then hand the ball to Tiki and RD for a quarter, and finally turn the game over to his 2 fellow QBs and watch a quarter of football from the sidelines. I think he gets bored handing the ball off early in the game and then has a little trouble getting into his rhythm.

The defense, after some flat-footedness in the secondary early on, tightened up and was overwhelming. Michael Strahan had his best game of the season, with 7 tackles and 2 sacks and he was a constant presence in the backfield. His effort fired up his buddy, Jessie Armstead who chipped in with a combined 7 tackles. EMac had 4 tackles and 1 interception, Shaun Williams had 4 tackles and Mike Barrow had 3. Griffin got some quality time and had 2 tackles and a beautiful sack in which his speed allowed him to chase down and hit the QB. Hammer (Keith Hamilton) had 2 tackles and a sack and was close to the action all day. Cedric Jones, Ryan Phillips, Dave Thomas, Sam Garnes all had 2 tackles, and Christian Peter and Reggie Stephens contributed one each. Reggie told me his foot was feeling good, teasing me by saying, “I didn’t come out did I?” EMac was all smiles and I told him all his INTs were on the other side of the field, to which he told me he was “just trying to grab anything he could.”

The special teams did mostly well, with Kevin Lewis, Ramos McDonald, Pete Monty and Lyle West getting tackles. Lewis is having fun and told me that the specials guys were bonding well and trying hard. He said, “It’s exciting, cheering on everyone. We’re like a family…We’ve got to make up for it, let’s get it up here. Then you’re on the sidelines, you’re wondering what’s going on, then you’re back on the field and everyone is saying let’s get it done, fellas. Start all over.” I asked him if he was looking for some regular game time and he laughed and told me, “It’s a long season, you never know, anything’s possible.” Kevin is in a similar position to O.J. Childress last year and he is really enjoying being on the specials. He gets down field and accounts for at least one stop every game. Bashir Levingston got in on kick returns and didn’t look bad, with a consistent 20 yard average for his two returns.

The Browns defense is going to be something special. Moore had 9 tackles, Wali Rainer a combined 8, Marquis Smith a combined 8, Jamir Miller a combined 8 and Percy Ellsworth 7. Miller and McKenzie each had a sack, one for 17 and one for 19, ouch! But they were on the field a lot and had plenty of opportunity to tackle Giants as the Giants ran a lot of plays. The hitting was awesome and we could hear the pads popping in the middle. You could see ball carriers go into the line, then stop in their tracks as the hit was applied. The Giants had a lot of little nicks and bruises as a result of the physical nature of the game. It did give Derek Engler and Mike Rosenthal a chance to play and both held their own, both getting compliments by KC in his post game interview.

The Giants had 10 possessions and in typical fashion their drives ended in a punt, fumble, field goal, TD, half, punt, TD, TD, punt, end of game. Tidy, workmanlike, Giants football. There were five drives of over 10 plays, three over 5 minutes of possession and two very close to 5 minutes. The three TD drives were 80, 76 and 87 yard drives – no cheapies here. Time of possession by quarter was 8;04, 8:00; 8:56 and 11:34.

The first drive looked like the Giants had something going, mixing passes, runs (one by Amani Toomer around left end for 27 yards). But a disputed sack and fumble pushed them back and they had to punt. JF challenged the call on the field, but luck reverted and the play was upheld. JF was not happy with the refs and at one point asked a zebra, “Do I (JF) have to tell you the rules?” Actually, for a hard hitting game, the zebras weren’t too bad. Now let’s look at the TD drives. The first had an unauspicious beginning. Tiki for no gain, incomplete to Tiki, incomplete to Pete – roughing the passer, new first down. Incomplete to Toomer, Tiki for 3, pass to Ike for 10, pass to Comella for 9, Tiki around left end for 13, incomplete to Tiki, Dayne for 2, then a beautiful pass to Ike for 28 and the touchdown. The pass to Ike was textbook with KC laying it right in his hands as Ike crossed the goal line. The teams went in at halftime with the Giants holding a shaky 10-3 lead.

In the third quarter both teams had quick possessions. Then the Giants took over on their own 24. Tiki for 4, KC for 3, KC to Toomer for 8, Tiki for 8, Dayne for 6, Dayne for 4, pass to Comella for 9, Tiki for 6, Dayne for 1, Tiki for 4, inc to Toomer, pass to Tiki for 6, then pass to Toomer for 17 yards and the score. Amani caught the ball, shook off a tackler, turned to his right and ran it into the end zone. This was textbook Giant football: 13 plays, 76 yards, 6:45; pound the ball up the field, integrate the fullback, H-Back, then strike with the medium range TD pass. Incidentally, Comella had a great game and Sean Payton appears to be recognizing his value as an H-Back. He can be a weapon and in the absence of a legitimate pass catching tight end (until Pete Mitchell returns to full usefulness), Greg can catch and run. He is a tough competitor.

Finally, late in the third quarter, the Giants took over on their 13. Dayne barreled for 11, then lost 1. The quarter ended. To start the fourth, KC hit Toomer for 26, Ike tried a reverse and lost 6, KC then hit Ike for 22, Dayne ran for 3, Inc. and a beautiful pass from the shotgun for a TD to Toomer. The ball was thrown where only Amani could catch it, Amani laid out, he was bumped and pushed and there was an interference flag, but Amani made the catch. After the game he was all smiles and I asked him about it. He told me, “Everything is starting to head in the right direction.” Asked if he was relieved now that he was scoring he said, “I wouldn’t say I was relieved, but it’s that feeling of knowing that you’re going out there and being able to compete every week.” Coach also talked Amani and told us that “from a coaching standpoint, one of the greatest feelings you can have is that when you challenge a guy and see him step up.” He also told us that he only pulled him out late in the game to give Joe Jurevicius a chance to play before his home crowd. JJ told me he was happy to play here, that he played his last year of High School ball before these people and that he had a lot of family in the stands. He said, “I would have liked a TD so I could throw the ball up in the stands to my family, but I would settle for the catch and the chance to play.”

Cornelius Griffin was all smiles in the locker and we talked about his sack. He told me he was having “fun playing with these guys. It’s all about having fun.” I asked him about the Rams game and he said, “They’re a good team, but I think we can play with them, no doubt, football is football. This same air of confidence was present with the cornerbacks, EMac and Reggie. They are looking forward to the challenge and feel that these Giants are a pretty good team and a pretty good defense.

Kerry Collins talked about the road win, that the Browns had a tough defense and had done a good job stopping the run. He said the giants just had “to continue to do what we’re doing,” He discussed Amani’s frustration, and said “it’s a long season” and can be frustrating but games like today bring you back. He noted his own lack of big plays this season and attributed it to the game planning. He said, “Today, it was imperative that we got those plays…they were stuffing the run and Sean realized we needed to go down field.” Asked if a good defensive stand did anything for the offense, he said, “It makes you want to go out and take control of the game.”

So that’s pretty much it. The defense was it’s usual stingy self. Although Christian Peter didn’t show up big in the stats, he worked hard in the early part of the game in controlling the line of scrimmage. Griffin came in late in the passing situations and showed some of his great explosion and speed. Strahan was a monster. He was at his most amiable in the locker also, which evidenced the fact that he had done well and knew it. He was continually in the backfield and forced Doug Pederson to throw the ball in a hurry numerous times. Dave Thomas cranked up and played a nice, solid game, as did EMac, although WR Dennis Northcutt gave them some early problems. Cedric Jones wasn’t much of a factor, but reached out as Pederson went by on a scramble and was called for a 15 yard face mask.

The offensive line deserves special recognition, as Engler played quite a bit, as did Rosenthal. Although the Browns poured on the pressure, the game did not get out of hand. Kerry rolled to his right a lot, and the TDs were scored with the subs in the game. The tight ends were quiet, but Campbell had one catch, although only for 1 yard. Howard, uncharacteristically, was involved in one pushing match, and when I asked him about it, he said he was “just defending myself.” Tiki got a little banged up in this game – not serious, but a bandage here and a wrap there type of thing. The Great Dayne pounded the ball in there when they needed it. Even Thabiti Davis finally got some action and caught a pass. But the stars were Ike and Amani, KC and Comella. I have it figured out now. In the second quarter, I watch for when the Giants run 3 successive plays to the left. Then I run to the right side of the end zone. And along come either Ike or Amani. Today both. After a shaky start in which KC even had a pass batted down, a very lazy looking toss, he warmed up and put the ball in perfect position. The receivers never had to break stride. Greg Comella made some major contributions and could become a real weapon.

The coaches did a good job and some nice adjustments were made at halftime. However, as Tiki said about these slow starts “it won’t do this week” against the Rams. 7-2, game and a half up on the Skins and Eagles. A win this week will tighten the grip on first and establish the Giants as this year’s potential Cinderella.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Cleveland Browns, November 5, 2000)
Nov 032000
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Cleveland Browns, November 5, 2000: Don’t take the Cleveland Browns too lightly! Yes, they are not a very good team, but there is NFL talent on their roster and in the NFL when a team doesn’t come mentally prepared to play a football game, most likely it will lose the game. Just ask the Denver Broncos (they last lost to the Bengals). Plus, for their part, the Giants have some real concerns in the secondary (due to injury) and on special teams (coverage teams have been terrible in recent weeks). If the game stays close and the opposing crowd gets into it, anything can happen.

The key to me this week is to win and get out of the game healthy.

Giants on Offense: The Browns are a far better defensive team than offensive team and the Giants’ fans must not assume New York will come waltzing into Cleveland and move the ball up and down the field. Obviously, the Giants want to establish the running game with HB Ron Dayne and HB Tiki Barber. The Browns are giving up over 146 yards on the ground a game and that is where it is important to attack them first and foremost. The big battle up front will be rookie DE Courtney Brown, the first player taken in the draft, versus RT Luke Petitgout (with probable double-team support from TE Howard Cross or TE Dan Campbell). Courtney is the complete package – he is a very disruptive player who can stuff the run and rush the passer. LT Lomas Brown faces DE Keith McKenzie, who is a decent pass rusher. Inside DT Orpheus Roye is a big, powerful run stuffing-type. RG Ron Stone should match-up well with him however. LG Glenn Parkers squares off against DT Stalin Colinet. But the Browns like to rotate their defensive linemen quite a bit so we should also see their back-ups on the field.

The other guy the Giants have to focus on in the ground game is MLB Wali Rainer. He is one of the leaders of the Browns’ defense and the Giants need to get a body on him, be it OC Dusty Zeigler, FB Greg Comella, or one of the guards. Cleveland has two very big outside linebackers in WLB Jamir Miller and SLB Rahim Abdullah. Since both guys are more forward-movers than agile guys in space, I would try to get the ball to Barber, Comella, and TE Pete Mitchell against these guys in the passing game. Controlling Abdullah at the point of attack on the strongside will also be a big factor in establishing the ground game. Miller is very good at rushing the passer – he may be too big for Tiki to pick up on the blitz.

When QB Kerry Collins puts the ball up top, he will be missing one of the guys who the Giants had hoped to get more involved down the stretch. WR Ron Dixon, the Giants’ speed burner, most likely will not play with a sprained foot injury. Thus, Joe Jurevicius will see even more playing time than usual. We may even see a bit of WR Thabiti Davis. But the main guys remain WR Amani Toomer, who is coming off his best game of the year, and WR Ike Hilliard, who is leading the Giants in receptions. Toomer will be matched up against CB Daylon McCutcheon most of the day. Daylon is a gamer who plays a physical game, but Amani will have a bit of a height advantage there. Ike gets CB Corey Fuller. Lewis Sanders is the nickel back and his battle with Jurevicius could be decisive. SS Marquis Smith is a solid player and we are all familiar with FS Percy Ellsworth. It’s a shame that Dixon is out because Percy doesn’t have the speed to stick with him. I’d hope the Giants can get Dayne in the secondary because I know Ellsworth won’t want to tackle him.

Giants on Defense: With season-ending injuries to QB Tim Couch and HB Errict Rhett, the Browns are struggling a bit on offense right now. WR Darrin Chiaverini and WR David Patten (who has played well for Cleveland) are also ailing a bit. But WR Kevin Johnson is a dangerous deep threat and Patten (who also has speed) may play. WR Dennis Northcutt can also get the ball deep. The Giants’ secondary is not a pretty picture right now. CB Jason Sehorn is out. Gone is CB Andre Weathers with a knee injury. CB Ralph Brown was lost weeks ago. CB Reggie Stephens is hampered by an ankle injury. That only leaves at corner Dave Thomas, Emmanuel McDaniel, Ramos McDonald, and Bashir Levingston. Bashir missed all of camp, the preseason, and the regular season thus far. He will be rusty as hell if forced to play in coverage. The big match-up will be Johnson versus whoever is covering him (most likely Thomas). The bad news is that Dave may not have the speed to cover him deep. The good news is that the Browns may not have the quarterback right now who can accurately deliver the ball (Doug Pederson and Spergon Wynn split time last week). Wynn has a very strong arm, but is a rookie. Pederson is an accurate short-passer, but lacks a big-time arm. But big play here or there could mean all the difference in the world for the Browns. The Giants have to be very, very careful that they don’t give up any cheap big plays.

The linebackers must be careful to keep an eye on TE/H-Back Aaron Shea – he is a very good receiver. The Browns also like to throw to their halfback (Travis Prentice) and occasionally their fullback (Marc Edwards).

The Giants can make it easier on their secondary if they can get to the passer. DE Cedric Jones (1 sack) needs to show more. He faces our old friend LT Roman Oben. That will be an interesting match-up to watch. DE Michael Strahan faces RT Steve Zahursky. Inside DT Keith Hamilton lines up against LG Jim Bundren and DT Christian Peter faces RG Everett Lindsay. These are all match-ups the Giants should win if the defensive line plays with intensity, intelligence, and focus.

The Browns feature runner is now rookie Travis Prentice. Travis is a big, no-nonsense, straight-ahead back. He can wear down a defense if you aren’t careful. Stuffing the run and putting Cleveland in 2nd and 3rd and long situations are a must. OC Dave Wohlabaugh is a quality player and the defensive players, particularly the tackles and MLB Mike Barrow.

The Browns are not a real confident offensive team right now. Stuff the run, don’t give up any deep passing plays, and get after the passer. If the Giants do these three things, they should be fine on Sunday. A turnover or two would also help out our own offense.

Giants on Special Teams: Brad Daluiso kick-offs for the past two weeks have been horrible. If PK Jaret Holmes is healthy, I would have him kick-off. The coverage teams also have to rebound from a poor effort. The last thing the Giants need is to give Cleveland life with good field position or easy scores. It’s time for specials to hold up their side of the bargain in this thing. Dennis Northcutt can be very elusive on punt returns.

With Ron Dixon most likely out, Bashir Levingston will probably return kick-offs. That’s a bit scary because he hasn’t practiced much and he still isn’t completely healthy. The blockers for him and PR Tiki Barber need to do a better job of giving both room to operate.

Nov 012000
 
New York Giants 24 – Philadelphia Eagles 7

Overview: The Eagles have given every team they have played this year problems, except for the Giants. Big Blue once again made it look easy in a game that most (including me) thought would be a nail-biter. The Giants’ defense completely shut down the one-dimensional Eagles. The offense ground the Philly defense down, held a more than 2-to-1 time of possession advantage, and (most importantly) put 24 points up on the scoreboard. The only weak spot was the play of the special teams.

At the halfway point, the Giants are 6-2 overall, 6-1 in the NFC, and 4-1 in the NFC East. They are in the driver seat for the push for a playoff spot. To contend for the division title, they can ill-afford a let down next week against a very beatable Cleveland team.

Quarterback: Kerry Collins (22-of-37 for 253 yards, 1 touchdown, no interceptions) started off red-hot in the first quarter, then cooled noticeably, then rebounded in the second half. Collins completed his first five passes of the game and looked very accurate in doing so. Using the short passing the game, the Giants moved down the field on their first possession, but the drive stalled when Toomer could not handle two Collins’ passes on 3rd and on 4th-and-7 (the Giants were in field goal range if it weren’t for the fact that they were facing a strong wind).

On the next offensive possession, the Giants marched down the field and scored a touchdown. The drive started off with a perfect strike from Collins to WR Amani Toomer. Toomer couldn’t pull the ball in as the defender had a hold of one of his arms, but a 17-yard pass interference penalty was called. Collins then hit Tiki Barber on a 36-yard catch-and-run. A 13-yard throw to Toomer and a Collins run moved the Giants closer and Ron Dayne powered it in from one-yard out.

Collins tried to hit Ron Dixon, Amani Toomer, and Ike Hilliard deep when the wind was at their back, but a cross breeze seemed to push all the passes to the right. Ironically, Kerry looked better throwing into the wind in the first quarter than with the wind in the second. The Giants’ best passing play of the day came late in the second quarter on 3rd down. The Eagles came with an all-out blitz. Both Collins and Toomer read the blitz, Collins quickly and accurately delivered the ball, Toomer broke a tackle and scored from 27 yards out.

Kerry appeared to get more back into sync near the end of the third quarter. Key throws on the Giants field goal drive included a 5 yard strike to Toomer (slant) on 3rd-and-5 and a 13-yard strike again to Toomer (out) on 3rd-and-five.

The only ugly part of Kerry’s game on Sunday was his decision-making when scrambling (aside from his run on the first scoring drive). Kerry looked indecisive when pressured and was lucky that on one awful-looking running attempt that he did not fumble the ball away (the ball bounced out-of-bounds).

Wide Receivers: It was obvious that the Giants wanted to get Amani Toomer (9 catches for 108 yards and one touchdown) the ball. They threw to him early and often. It looked like he was going to have another rough game after his inability to hold onto two passes on the first drive, but he then settled down and became a major factor in the contest. The Giants like to throw the slant pass with Collins at quarterback and both Toomer and Hilliard do a good job with this kind of route. Toomer, of course, is able to deal with contact better due to his superior size and strength. Toomer also looked sharp against the Eagles catching short passes off of the line of scrimmage and then using his run-after-the-catch-ability to pick up additional yardage. The 13-yard pass Toomer made on the first scoring drive was of this type. It was only a 1-yard pass, but Amani picked up an additional 12 yards after the reception. Toomer got behind the corner and safety on a deep pass attempt, but the ball was overthrown (the wind was a factor). Amani also made a great reception of a low throw from Kerry on 3rd-and-12 for 19 yards and a first down in the third quarter.

With Toomer being the focus of the passing attack and Ike Hilliard facing the more talented cornerback (Troy Vincent), Hilliard did not see the ball as much (5 catches for 39 yards). The good news is that Ike made some really strong catches in traffic, including on one play where he was absolutely hammered as soon as he caught the ball. There was one play where I thought he dropped the ball, but the replay showed that the defender had a hand on the ball. Hilliard made a key catch on the Giants’ last TD drive making a 6 yard reception n 3rd-and-3. Joe Jurevicius and Ron Dixon were both on the field quite a bit, but they did not have a reception. Collins tried to get the ball to both but misfired. Jurevicius was flagged with a false start.

Running Backs: I thought the way Ron Dayne (25 carries for 93 yards and one touchdown; 1 reception for 12 yards) and Tiki Barber (14 carries for 52 yards; 4 catches for 71 yards) were employed was perfect. Although Tiki started the game, Dayne got by far most of the carries. This not only prevents wear-and-tear on Tiki and keeps him fresh, but it makes the shock of dealing with his quickness that much greater when he does come in for the Heisman Trophy winner. Ron started off a bit slow, especially on attempts outside the tackles. However, as the game wore on, he got stronger and stronger and rolled off a number of impressive inside runs. What was truly startling was the combination of quick feet and power he displayed on these runs. There were two runs where Ron started to head to the right, but quickly cut back to his left and exploded up the middle. The quickness of his feet on these runs was surprising. It seems as if Dayne is getting more and more comfortable with the offense, his teammates, and the speed of the NFL game. This comfort level is allowing him to become much more decisive and instinctive on his runs now. By the fourth quarter of the game, Dayne seemed unstoppable on his inside rushes, regularly punishing tacklers and moving the pile. He even caught a pass and put on a nice move for additional yardage and a first down after the reception.

Tiki was much more of a factor in the passing game this week with the big play being his 36 yard catch-and-run that set up the first touchdown. But he also did have a couple of impressive outside runs that picked up sizeable yardage, including a sharp looking 17 yard pitch-out on the Giants’ final scoring drive. Barber is on pace for a thousand yard rushing season in a part-time role. Amazing. The bad news was that Tiki almost fumbled the ball away twice – once on a direct snap and another time on an outside run.

Joe Montgomery was active this week and came into the game in the fourth quarter when Dayne and Barber were out with not-serious ailments. The Giants were on the 4-yard line of the Eagles and Montgomery promptly scored on the very next play by charging off right tackle and running over a would-be tackler. It was good to see Joe finally see some action. I would have liked to have seen him get a few more carries when the Giants got the ball back on their next and final possession.

Greg Comella (1 catch for 10 yards) didn’t see the ball much. The Giants tried to get him the ball on a screen pass that fell incomplete. Collins and Comella seemed to be out of sync on the play. The ten yard pass to Greg came on the Giants’ final scoring drive and helped to set up Montgomery’s touchdown run. Greg did a good job with his lead blocking again.

Tight Ends: Dan Campbell played quite a bit and it seems as if the Giants are phasing him in more and more for Howard Cross. Dan has the size and athleticism to become a solid two-way tight end and it is good to see the coaches starting to increase his playing time more and more. Collins tried to hit Dan over the middle but either Kerry was way off with his throw or Dan didn’t run a good route. Campbell gave up a sack to pass rushing demon Hugh Douglas. Why the offensive brain trust had him blocking Douglas is beyond me (the Giants made this same mistake against the Redskins with Marco Coleman).

Howard Cross, as usual, blocked very well. Pete Mitchell caught two passes for 13 yards. I’m still surprised he’s not seeing the ball more, but the Giants now have a variety of weapons. With Toomer, Hilliard, Dayne, and Barber currently serving as the mainstay of the offense, guys like Mitchell, Comella, and Dixon are going to have to fight for every opportunity. Pete did make a great grab on a tight end screen that was well set up.

Offensive Line: Very strong game up front both run and pass blocking. There were a few penalties, including two somewhat questionable holding calls, and some penetration (that is going to happen against a quality, attacking defense). But for most of the game, the Giants controlled the line of scrimmage, the time of possession, and the tempo of the game. I thought the stars up front were RG Ron Stone (for his work against talented rookie DT Corey Simon) and LT Lomas Brown (for his working against NFL sack leader Hugh Douglas). Stone was rock solid in pass protection and blew his man off the line repeatedly in the ground game. Brown gave up some ground on a few plays to Douglas, but he kept him surprisingly quiet most of the way. I also continue to be impressed with Luke Petitgout’s run blocking on the move. There was one play where he blocked his man on the move about ten yards down the field. OC Dusty Zeigler and LG Glenn Parker did a good job of creating running room inside as well as picking up the Philly blitz. Collins was sacked three times. One came against Campbell, one came on a CB blitz where there was no one to pick up blitzer, and one came when Collins left the pocket and was caught by Corey Simon near the sideline – none of these were the fault of the offensive line.

Defensive Line: It’s hard to argue with success and the Giants held the Eagles scoreless until late in the game. The Eagles had more punts (nine) than they had first downs (eight) and they only converted once in eleven third down situations. Still, I don’t think the defensive line excelled. To be fair, the game plan was clearly to keep the dangerously mobile Donovan McNabb in the pocket by maintaining disciplined pass rush lanes. By doing so, this makes it far easier for an offensive line to pass protect. And there were a few flashes of pass rush pressure coming from DT Keith Hamilton (who almost had a sack for a safety), DT Christian Peter (who picked up his first sack of the year), DE Cedric Jones (who picked up half a sack), and DT/DE Cornelius Griffin (who also picked up half a sack). But there was simply not enough consistent pressure – especially against a team the Giants knew was going to pass over and over again. DE Michael Strahan got close to McNabb on a few plays, but I thought RT Jon Runyan pretty much handled him this time. LT Tra Thomas also largely kept Jones under control. As for the run defense, the Eagles only had their running backs run seven times (for fifteen yards). Jones did a reasonable decent job of sniffing out a wide receiver reverse, but took a poor angle on the play and allowed the receiver to get around him. Griffin impressed me with his athleticism and hustle, especially on one down-the-field tackle he made on the Eagles first drive where he caught McNabb from behind. He’s a player and he’s cutting more and more into Peter’s playing time. Hamilton made a super play against the run when he jacked the left guard back into the backfield and tackled the ball carrier. I also spotted him out-quicking the guard on another play to make a tackle. At times, Keith looks unstoppable. Now if he could only play like that more often throughout the game!

Linebackers: Call me crazy, but I think MLB Mike Barrow is challenging WLB Jessie Armstead for the title of best linebacker on the team. Barrow (3 tackles, 1.5 sacks) is one of the best middle linebackers in coverage in the league. He and Armstead made it difficult for McNabb to find targets underneath. Barrow did get beat by TE Chad Lewis late on a 26-yard pass, but even on this play he had solid coverage. I still contend that Mike may be the best pass rusher on the team. He picked up 1.5 sacks on Sunday and came close on other occasions. I even spotted the Giants using him from a down end position. Jessie (5 tackles, 0.5 sacks) made a very nice play nailing the ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage. He also deflected a McNabb pass that was subsequently intercepted by Emmanuel McDaniel. Jessie would have have had a great day if he had held onto that ball as well as an earlier one that he dropped. It appeared to me that the Giants were using Jessie as a spy on Donovan for much of the contest and this may explain why he was fairly quiet. Also, simply put, the Giants’ defenders were on the field much and there are now more play-makers on this defense than there were in the past. SLB Ryan Phillips (1 tackle) was very quiet.

Defensive Backs: I am becoming more and more of a fan of FS Shaun Williams (4 tackles). I love the way this guy hits and tackles. On the Eagles’ first possession, he made a superb open-field tackle on the running back preventing a first down. He had an easy pick slip right through his hands however near the goal line. SS Sam Garnes made a hell of a hit on the wide receiver running the reverse, but had a quiet game. But Chad Lewis was not heard from much and Sam probably deserves much of the credit (as do the linebackers).

The Eagles’ receivers did not perform very well on Sunday. There were quite a few drops. Plus, McNabb seemed to have problems with the Meadowlands’ wind. Thus, it is difficult to get a really good read on the corners. We do know this, the Philly receivers were a non-factor. They only caught three passes all game. CB Dave Thomas was spotted providing very solid coverage when ever the ball was thrown to his side of the field. CB Emmanuel McDaniel was very aggressive and kept tight to his man. He picked off one pass on a deflection and almost came up with another when he anticipated the route and jumped in front of the receiver. If he had held on, he may have scored. CB Andre Weathers looked solid until he was forced to leave the game with an injury; he was around the ball quite a bit. CB Ramos McDonald played too soft on one play and gave up an easy completion underneath on 3rd-and-6 (the Eagles’ only 3rd down conversion all day). Both McDaniel and McDonald did a poor job of attempting to tackle WR Chris Johnson on his 25-yard touchdown catch-and-run late in the game.

Special Teams: Pretty bad. The Giants gave up a big punt return to Brian Mitchell. But the big problems were kick-off coverage. It’s hard to fairly judge the coverage team because PK Brad Daluiso’s kick-offs were so horrendous. Heck, I don’t think I’ve even seen a placekicker on any team give a worse performance in this department in a game. Granted Daluiso was working against the wind on some of these, but even his kicks with the wind were not impressive. I wonder if his time is running out. Ron Dixon only had one chance to return a kick (Joe Jurevicius did a good job of covering an onside kick late in the game). Tiki Barber had all kinds of problems fielding punts in the wind. He fumbled two of them (but recovered). Another punt hit Lyle West in the foot when he didn’t hear Tiki calling him off – almost another disaster. Emanuel McDaniel was flagged for holding on one punt return.

The good news is that P Brad Maynard performed fairly well, including a very nice coffin corner punt.

With the playoff chase about to begin, I’d hate to see the Giants lose a game or two due to their special teams down the stretch. It’s time to spend more time on this area of the team in practice again.


Analysis of the Offensive Line
The Philadelphia Eagles, it’s good for what ails ya.

by Chris Jacobs

Some notes from the Dallas game first:
I couldn’t help but have that empty feeling inside after they make Troy Aikman look like Dave Brown and almost lose on the last play of the game. I wasn’t able to write a review of that game but I can tell you the O-line didn’t do all that bad from what I saw. The bottom line is, if Toomer can’ t catch the ball, no one on the line is at fault. It bothered me when Amani was benched in the second half, although I agreed with it. I’m glad Fassel finally stirred things up in the hippie love fest he has with the team. I thought he would have started with Shaun Williams a few weeks back but the benching of Toomer did the trick, not only for Toomer but for everyone on the team. Wideout is the one area on the team that the Giants actually have depth so maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to use him as the scapegoat. The fact that he was killing drives helped the decision, I’m sure. Bottom line, I’m glad they won.

On to the Philly game:
Giant fans are quite critical, myself included. I read the comments on The Corner Forum and I listen to WFAN. If you didn’t know you’d think the Giants were 0-8. After complete domination of the Eagles, a team with a winning record, I was completely satisfied. The Eagles are like tonic for a Giant fan’s soul. And if anyone is upset at Collins not being able to complete a pass thrown longer than 20 yards, don’t you worry. It was like trying to hit a small green surrounded by sandtraps from 175 yards with a 5 iron with a 20mph crosswind. For those of you that don’t golf, imagine trying to hit the mute button on your TV from across the room with m&m’s. KC has a great arm but it’s going to take a while to get use to the winds in that Stadium. The ability to pound the ball with Dayne will help them as winter approaches. He’s running more instinctively now, using that great vision and quick feet we’ve heard about all pre-season but haven’t seen yet. Earlier in the season he was running on eggshells, but he seems more comfortable now, and it shows in the stats It was nice to see Toomer and KC hook up 9 times for 108 and 1 TD. Nothing to be critical about this week, I just wish the rest of the teams on the schedule would wear green helmets when playing the Giants, it seems to have some sort calming effect on them that can’t be explained.

Lomas Brown 89%:
Great game after a bad performance against Philly in week two. Hugh Douglas had a sack but fault Sean Payton for a blocking scheme that left Dan Campbell alone on Douglas. He did more pulling this week, and he did well except one play that he whiffed on Bobby Taylor. I can’t wait to watch him go against Courtney Brown this week.

Glenn Parker 84%:
He’s had better games but some of his missed assignments weren’t his fault. That quick D-line of Philly was getting in the backfield and preventing him from pulling and getting to his man. On more than one occasion the tackle actually held him, and the linebacker stops the play for no gain or a loss. It was obvious that part of the Philly game plan was to prevent Parker from getting around the corner. Besides that he had his usual solid performance.

Dusty Ziegler 92%:
He has his best days against defensive fronts that are small and quick. Had maybe his best game of the season. Did well in pass protection and got out on the linebackers on the running plays. I’m still trying to find weaknesses in his game.

Ron Stone 87%:
Had a good game, still struggles getting to the quick linebackers, I noticed he had problems with that two weeks ago against Dallas also. Needs to sell the screens a little better also, I noticed twice on screen plays he didn’t seem to put in a great effort.

Luke Petitgout 88%:
He’s starting to do things that remind me of Lomas Brown. That’s good if they are grooming him to be the left tackle of the future. What he has that LB doesn’t is the ability to drive guys off the ball, package that with some of that veteran savvy and you’ll have a complete player. The holding penalty was crap, the guy submarined him, he fell on top and needed to get up because it was a screen play. Bad call.


THE WAY WE WERE

by David Oliver

This is a difficult week to write about Giants’ football, with so many other things intruding. But it is Halloween, and it was the Eagles (something about the League schedulers lately and the ghost of ‘Hoiman’ Edwards), a 4 o’clock game and slight snow flurries, all following a bye week. It was also the first cold weather game for both teams which may account for the Giants’ fumbles and the Eagles’ dropped passes. It was so cold, I just went back to Mom’s for the night and watched real frustration as the Lightning Bolts fell victim to Gruden’s horsemen once again.

When I got home yesterday, I decided to watch the last 100 laps of the CART race from Fontana. There was more carnage than I can remember in any CART race with engines blowing and guys hitting the wall. The real drama of the race came at the finish as Gil de Ferran finished third but won the championship. Gil sat in that car for 5 minutes and just cried, overwhelmed by emotion, and I was transported out to Fontana. I feel extremely blessed because I know many of these drivers; I’ve interviewed them, photographed them, sat on the wall and just chatted with them, traveled on airplanes with them and gotten to know them on a human scale, much as I have with football players. Gil is a gentle person, a gentleman whose first love is family, but whose passion is racing. For those of you who have never been to a race, it is hard to describe the pure, visceral feeling of 25 machines traveling at 200 mph, the smell, the noise, the sense of the impossible actually happening. I wished I was there, but when the Giants play, the Giants come first. So I sat transfixed, worn out from the season so far, and as Gil cried, I felt that I was in the cockpit of that car with him. When he hugged Roger Penske, you could feel the love and the thankfulness.

Which came full circle with the events of last week, as celebrated by the parade of the Yankees today. I listened to that all the way to Baltimore on the WFAN, with Susan Waldman on the press bus, as the floats traveled up the Avenue of Heroes. The Pinstripes in all their glory, a Subway series, it just doesn’t get any better. Like most of you, I reveled in that Series. Although there are many METS fans at this site, I am an old, unapologetic Yankees fan. I like the METS – after all, how can you not like a team first managed by Casey Stengel, with Ritchie Ashburn, Marvelous Marv Throneberry, Dr. Straneglove, and later Seaver and Kooseman, Kranepool and Keith. History. The Mets are loved because Chub Feeney and Buzzy Bavasi and the earlier NY teams moved to the West Coast to do their stand up comedy routine. Ah, those teams. The Dodgers with Furillo, Campanella, Hodges, Snider, Reese, Gilliam Amoros, Don Newcombe, from Newark and Robinson. The Giants with Antonelli and Sal “the Barber” Maglio, Rhodes, Wilhelm and Willie.

But it is the Yankees I remember most. My family came from Pennsylvania, anthracite country. They were working people. They loved their Yankees. Every year, once or twice, the contingent that had remained in Pennsylvania after Mom and Dad and some of my other Aunts and Uncles had moved to New Jersey, would come out for a Yankees game. We would meet up at our place. My mother’s Uncle Mike and his sister, my mother’s Aunt Josephine, Aunt Jo to us, My Uncle Ed (we called him Uncle Mayor, because of his political bent), My Dad (who was always called CAT – I have cousins who never knew his real name, he was always Uncle CAT), and then on to Astoria, NY, to pick up my Uncle Ralph and Aunt Cam – she who later became a diehard METS fan, until the day she died she rooted for the METS. My cousins were all all along for the ride. So there were usually at least 15 of us and it was a big time. We would sit in the Grandstand seats, eat hot dogs and cheer on our heroes.

The Stadium was awesome. Those monuments were out in center field, a celebration of legacy. The older among us talked of Joe DiMaggio as if he were a Saint. The younger idolized Mickey Mantle. I can remember that last Subway series. I was in 8th grade and I remember walking home from school and stopping in every store front that had a TV – the shadows creeping across the Stadium, the beautiful fall day, and Larson and Berra jumping on each other after that perfect game. Television was black and white then. We had a Stromberg – Carlson, a big console which we had for many, many years. Other models were Philco and Dumont and names now gone from the landscape, gone like my family and those wonderful, innocent times.

Later Dad and I would go. I loved those Yankees, Mantle and Berra, Hank Bauer, Woodling, Coleman, the Scooter, Gil MacDougal and the pitchers, Raschi and Reynolds, Ford, later Tommy Sturdivant and Tommy Byrne, Larson, Bobby Schantz and Bullet Bob Turley. First basemen Joe Collins and Moose Skowron and on and on, year after year. I vividly remember one game where Dad and I went to see the Yankees and I believe it was the Senators. We took the bus from Newark to the Port Authority and then a subway to the Stadium. I remember looking up at those walls as we walked to our gate. We sat in the Mezzanine, just behind home plate on the third base side. The grass was perfect, it was warm and everyone was happy. Bob Turley was pitching that day. He walked the first three batters, then he struck out the next three. The Yankees lost that day, wither 1-0, or 2-1. Bullet Bob was outdueled by journeyman Senator Chuck Stobbs. My last visit was to the old Stadium. My Cousin Tony and I went because Ted Williams was in town- it was near the end of his career and we had to see him. It was a night game in the fall, and it was cold. We were half juiced and I don’t remember a lot of the game, but I do remember the Splendid Splinter whacking one into the right field seats. He beat the Yankees, but he didn’t disappoint us. I still have a seat from the old Stadium. It is wrapped up in the basement and I won’t refinish it. The blue paint is peeling off the wood, but that’s how it will stay. My son doesn’t share those memories, he is an Oriole fan. It makes me sad that someday when that chair is passed on, if it is to my grandchildren, they will never know what that chair means – of the laughter and love, of a family sitting in Yankee Stadium and cheering the Bronx Bombers, of the passage from Depression and World War to the 21st Century. Well, in closing here, I just want to say “thank you, Mr. Steinbrenner.”

Now, about that son, the Jets fan. Last Monday we sat and watched the Jets and Miami. The poor guy has been so beaten down by losing that the year I went out and bought season tickets to take him to the games he became so disgusted he told me he didn’t want to go anymore. So Monday we watched. At the end of the third quarter, I gave up. I seldom turn off a football game, but that night I went upstairs. I was up there 10 minutes and he bellowed up, “the Jets are coming back”. Well, I couldn’t go back down because if they lose, he calls me a jinx. At 1:30AM, he popped his head in my bedroom, and said “You still awake?” I mumbled “I am now”, and he joyfully told me “they won.” On Tuesday he asked if I was going to the Giants game this week, and then asked if I would get him a Jets Jersey. Ah! The sweet feeling of victory.

Now to the business at hand. As I said before, it was cold, snowy (wet flurries), windy, and for the first half boring and scary. As Lomas Brown said afterwards, “I would call it an ugly win, but we scored some points.” That’s why I like talking to Lomas, he tells it as he sees it. It would be an ugly win, except the Giants scored points, and somehow dominated the game. The Giants held the ball 43:41 to 16:19 for the Eagles. Go figure. There were 25 first downs, 10 rushing, 14 passing, 1 by penalty. The Giants had a 41% third down efficiency and actually went for it on 3 fourth downs, making it once. And wonder of wonders, JF actually won a challenge, which excited him to no end. He told us afterwards that he had seen that one himself and had he lost he would have considered throwing the flag and everything else in the trash and scrapping any idea of future challenges.

The G-Men rushed for 152 yards on 44 carries, Ron Dayne rushing for 93 of them, Tiki for 52, KC for 3 and Joe Montgomery carrying the ball once for 4 yards and a TD. It was nice to see JoMo get a chance, which came, not by design, but because Dayne had just thrown his guts up and Tiki was nicked. JoMo’s TD came on the right side behind the stalwarts who were happy. They made a nice hole. Parker is very adept at pulling and I am more impressed every game as he gets into a rhythm and leads the play to the outside. He is a savvy veteran and one of the better pulling guards the Giants have had in some time.

Amani was back, catching 9-for-108 yards and often extending for the catch. Ike was solid with 5-for-39, dropping at least 1, Tiki had 4-for-71, Pete Mitchell had 2 for 13 and Dayne caught his first a nice 12 yarder. Comella also had one for 10 yards. Dayne looked like Jumbo Elliot on his catch, bobbling the ball a little before tucking it in. In one formation, I got very excited as Comella split all the way out as the wide receiver, before running in and taking his blocking position. As he noted afterwards, the “corners didn’t even pay any attention to me”, and he’s correct because I locked on to him expecting a little Giant trickery. Not this time, but something to watch in the future. Also Sean Payton told us that there were at least 14 plays called for the tight end, but the situation dictated the ball going elsewhere. In other words, KCs option on his reads.

The defense played an excellent game. Emmanuel McDaniel (EMac) had an interception, catching a pass that Jessie bounced up in the air. Jessie also had another pass defensed, as did EMac. Williams, Garnes, Thomas and Weathers all had 1 pass defensed, and notwithstanding the Eagles’ dropped passes, this unit once again looked good and got the job done. In the tackling department, Jessie led the way with a combined 5, Griffin had 4, Williams, Barrow and Jones had 3, Hamilton and Strahan had 2 each. Garnes, EMac, Ramos McDonald, Monty, Peter, Thomas and Weathers each contributed 1. Barrow had 1.5 sacks, Jessie and griffin had half as did CJ and Peter had 1. Everyone is asking the question, where was Autry? Don’t know, but the Eagles never mounted any running threat and McNabb was not really a factor in the game.

The Giants received, and it was so windy, JF told us he had considered taking the position and giving the Eagles the ball. But at the last minute, he took the ball. The first 2 plays were short passes, 6 to Mitchell and 7 to Ike. Then Tiki ran around end for 7. Three more short passes, Toomer, Ike Tiki. From the 29, Dayne was stopped and then 2 incompletes. The Giants actually went for it on 4th but didn’t make it. The Eagles went nowhere.

On their next possession, the Giants started as if they meant business. There was an incomplete, but an interference call moved the ball. Tiki carried for 1, then the pass to Tiki good for 36 yards. Then to Toomer for 13 to the Eagle 7, Collins on a run right to the goal line and Dayne barreled in for the score. This was a very nice 5 play, 74 yard 3:02 drive. Tiki was again the weapon. The Eagles then had a 15 yard gain, a McNabb scramble for 13 , a sack, an incomplete to Autry and an incomplete to Brian Mitchell.

As the quarter ended it got a little sloppy. Tiki gained 4 and 11 on successive runs, Dayne gained 1, an incomplete to Comella, a complete to Amani for 12, an incomplete, a penalty (holding – Luke Petitgout), Tiki stopped for a loss, pass to Ike for 8, then incomplete, then penalties on both teams, a sack and another punt. The Giants had the ball for almost 11 minutes. Boring but effective football.

The teams traded the ball a couple of times then the Giants took over on their own 3. They drove it out behind Dayne and a nice pass to Tiki. Then Tiki fumbled and recovered on 2 successive plays. Maynard punted – a beauty of 44 yards to the Eagle 4. Nice directional kicking. The Eagles couldn’t move, punted and the Giants took over after the 2 minute warning on the 32 – there was an unsportsmanlike on the punt against the Eagles which was a major break for the Giants. KC threw an incomplete, the Tiki gained 5. KC hit Amani, who made a nice move and out-legged the Eagle defenders, running to the tunnel end along the Giants sideline for the score. There was still a minute and a half left and Philly and Mitchell had a decent run back on a short kickoff. McNabb hit three short passes, then got a penalty against them, another short pass, time was running out and Philly missed a 48 yard field goal attempt. In the second quarter the Giants had the ball 8:21 to the Eagles 6:39.

In the third quarter, the Giants had a huge time of possession advantage 11:26 to 3:34. Neither team could sustain anything as the Giants mixed up running and passing, with KC getting sacked twice and a lot of confusion out there as the Giants burned 3 timeouts, 2 on one series. The best series was the last of the quarter. The Giants took the ball on the 39 and for 4:21 passed for 8, 5, 5 and 13 around a Dayne run, then Dayne bulled the middle for 13 and went over the right side for 5. Then Dayne was stopped, there was a penalty, Mitchell caught another for 7. Giants settled for a field goal. A nice 12 play, 48 yard, 6:15 drive.

On the Eagles next series, Jessie bounced a pass, EMac made the Int, the Giants took over on their own 46. Then came the grinder, 11 plays to go 54 yards. Tiki for 17, Dayne lost 2, Dayne for 9, pass to Ike for 6, Dayne for 1, Comella caught a pass for 10, Dayne for 1, Dayne for 5, Dayne for 5, Tiki lost 2, the JoMo went over right tackle for 4 and the score.

Then the Eagles best series. A very short kickoff and an 18 yard return. Golden and Kevin Lewis made the tackle and were still smiling an hour later. McNabb hit Lewis for 26, then an incomplete followed by a 25 yard TD pass. The Eagles went into the onside formation, kicked it 11 yards to the Eagle 41, JJ picked it up and was tackled on the 38. There were then 7 successive Dayne plays , which netted 22 yards. At the 2 minute warning, there was an incomplete pass. The Eagles took over and went nowhere. In the 4th quarter, the Giants had the ball an unbelievable 13:04 seconds, the Eagles less than 2:00

The Giants had the ball 14 times. They gave up the ball twice on downs, punted 6 times, had it at the end of the half and the game and scored on 4, 3 touchdowns and a field goal. They had a 9 play drive, three 8 play drives, an 11 and a 12 play drive among their possessions. Interestingly, they never went more than 57 yards. It was a methodical, controlled offensive performance and a neat defensive contribution, very much like the first three games.

KC had a lot of adrenalin and appeared bothered by the wind as he fired several passes up and away. The line was happy and had the game under control. When I asked Sean Payton about the Eagles blitzing (the Giants first TD broke a blitz), he told me the Eagles were doing a lot of blitzing but the line handled it. He said the Eagles probably sent more guys from the defensive backfield than any other team the Giants faced. I’ll do a little piece on this conversation later. I spoke to Bashir Levingston on the bench and he told me he was ready but no one was telling him anything. He believes this is the last week for his roster exemption. I asked him about the report that he didn’t look sharp in practice and he was dumbfounded and asked me what practice. Apparently the Giants have not gotten him into the flow. It looks like more mind games here ala JoMo. JoMo was telling several reporters of his frustration and asked that people “understand” how frustrated he is – after all he was the leading ground gainer last year, and he just doesn’t feel he is getting any respect. Reggie Stephens told me he is fine and probably could have played in this game. But he said it was the coaching decision and it was fine with him. He’ll be back next week. He also said he was happy for his roomie EMac. I teased him about how I would like to see him on offense, and he beamed and said, “hey, talk to the coaches.” This kid is a gamer and he and EMac will be around for a while.

This was a complete game, Giants football as we know it, command and control. Not exciting, just smothering. The defense looked sharp, the offense did the job, except for the confusion at one point, during which we could hear JF telling Sean Payton to get with it. Payton took total blame for it telling us that the packages just weren’t right and it was his doing. As far as being on the field, he feels it is not a matter of seeing the plays, but of communicating with the QB. He feels the time saved in getting the plays to Kerry is worth more than being upstairs and relying on a relay.

Next week, Cleveland and a should win, must win game to get tuned up for the Flying Circus. The Titans did us a big favor last night by beating “The Franchise.” Now we just have to maintain that edge.

POSTGAME:

Standing in the Media Room, waiting for Coach Fassel to give his overview, I spotted Ryan Hale walking in the locker area with a couple of hot dogs. I called out to him to lay off the dogs. When I went into the locker, Ryan asked why I was giving him grief over his dogs. I told him they would kill him, that he should be eating a steak. We agreed that there were no good steaks in this part of the country. Ryan is a great guy. He is polite and humble. I asked him if he was feeling more a part of the regular rotation and he told me he felt it was an honor to be playing with guys like Michael Strahan and Keith Hamilton, and that “every one of us here strives every day to try to improve…in this game, if you are not improving every day, then you are going backwards.”

We talked about his role in the rotation and he told me this game was a little different because it was so cool. The starters got a good rest between the weather and the three and outs. Ryan said “Keith is in such great shape this year, he really didn’t need a lot of rest (today).” Each game is different, and it’s mostly “up to Keith and Christian Peter. When they need a break, I go in there. As good shape as those guys are in, they really don’t need it very often.”

About this time, Coach Marcin walked up and said to Ryan, “I’m glad you are getting interviewed, Hale”, so I asked Ryan how he liked working under Coach Marcin. Ryan was effusive, as he told me “I can’t explain the type of Coach he is, or what he means to us on the defensive line. He’s been coaching 36 years. When you bring that much experience to a defense, to a defensive line, you can’t put a price tag on it, you can’t explain it…36 years of experience; he knows what’s going to happen almost before it happens. He’s been a fantastic Coach to me and I feel I’ve learned more in my year and a half that I’ve been here, than I learned in High School, College, the whole thing, just because of Coach Marcin. He’s been around for so long he knows what he’s talking about.”

Finally, I asked Ryan if the team was starting to believe, and he told me they really have believed all along. He told me “when we came out of Arizona, and really put it to Arizona, that just started something right there, and everyone began saying “‘we’re going to do this thing, we’re not going to be mediocre, we’re not going to be 7-and-9, we’re not going to be 8-and-8, we’re going to change that.'”

That theme pervades the Giants, particularly on defense. They have bought into Coach Fassel’s game plan, they set goals by quarters and they shoot for targets. Their success to date does not surprise them, but it is not enough.

Christian Peter, for example, was talking to some reporters, and he told them the team expected to be 6-and-2 at this point. When asked if people who had not followed football closely might be surprised to see the Giants here, he said, “I’m sure, going from last year to this year, a lot of people didn’t expect us to do what we’ve done so far, but we still have another half of season to go.” He also said he felt that the Giants could challenge the elite teams “as long as we keep working hard and staying focused.”

Working hard and staying focused, believing in each other, that’s how Champions are forged. Jessie Armstead continued this line, saying “we still have people doubting, but as long as we believe in each other, that’s the main thing. You don’t win all the games, but let’s win enough of them.” When asked if the schedule looked favorable from here out (editorial aside – I don’t know how this feeling of favorable schedule has come about – the Giants still play Detroit, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Washington and even Jacksonville is no walk in the park), Jessie diplomatically said “let’s take it game by game, that’s our objective. We’ve got Cleveland and we’ve got to go in there with an attitude, we’ll do everything it takes to dominate that game.” Asked about going 6-and-2 over the next half, he repeated that you have to take it one game at a time and that “we break it into brackets. We’re in our third bracket right now and our goal is to win 3-out-of-4.” He also emphasized that now was not the time “to pat ourselves on the back, we’ve got to keep working hard, do everything we can to stay in this race.” Asked about the loss of the cornerbacks and Jason, he said that anytime you lose a starter it hurts and losing Jason hurts but “one thing about it, we’ve got a lot of young guys around here who can fill in until Jason gets back. We realize another guy has to step up.” He talked about McDaniel as an example and said “EMac is a scrappy little guy, one of those guys you’ve got to keep around because he keeps making plays; it might be a play here and there, but I’ll tell you what, he’ll make more plays out there than mistakes.”

I asked him about containing McNabb and he told me “we just played really well and he was off balance for a while.” Finally, I asked him if the defensive chemistry was now fully adjusted and he told me “it’s taken some time, a lot of new guys in there, but we’re doing real well right now and looking forward to Cleveland.”

Coach Payton talked about the outside running plays and said “with Trotter in there, and the way they stack the linebackers in there, they make it harder for you to run inside; the dogs and blitzes come inside, so they force you to run a little bit more on the perimeter. There are certain guys who carry out there, certainly Ron will run outside, but Tiki, the same way. Some teams will give you opportunities, Dallas gives you some opportunities to run inside. Week by week, I don’t know that we say, this guy’s going to…there’s a place for him, and hopefully we do a good enough job that when one is in there, you can’t always say run or pass.” He said they would continue “to work on the play pass (for Dayne) and Ron got his first catch, second catch in the last 8 years, I understand. It was good to see some of those things. We’re going to play action pass with him in there and he knows that. With Tiki, the same way, we’re going to run inside.” He talked about running Ron outside to keep from being too predictable and said that “we did tonight for a big fourth down conversion, we’ll also send Tiki inside, we’ll continue to do that. There are X number of plays we have with Ron Dayne running outside.”

He talked about focus and approach and that there were great practices this week. He complimented Amani and the line and said, “Anytime you play a defense of that caliber, you’re always looking at how you’re going to be able to do this, they’re a good defense (Eagles), they’ve been able to shut down Dallas, go on through the list, so it was important for us tonight. That was an important win.”

I asked him about the Philly blitz package and said that it didn’t appear as if The Eagles had blitzed as much today. He said, “At times it didn’t seem like it, but they gave us a full blitz where they brought everybody, both safeties came (Amani’s TD) and we had a slant on at the right time, it looked like the toss was going to be run, then we threw the slant…but, they won’t get out of their personality, you’re still going to get the Will and the Free Safety, the corner blitz, they drive you crazy, they bring more people from the secondary than anyone we play, which makes things a little awkward and you’re going to have some bad plays when that happens, but you have to have your big plays like Amani’s TD.”

Asked about Pete Mitchell’s involvement, he said “he was involved tonight, but coverage dictates some of that. If you look at the tapes, I want to say there were at least 14 Pete Mitchell plays, there were a number of them called early on, he actually caught the throw back screen, there was a Y option call where they rotated strong, we threw it to Toomer, so we can’t dictate the coverage rotation. Certainly he’s getting more comfortable coming off his injury and we’re going to continue to utilize him.”

He talked about the game plan and said he wouldn’t change anything that was done, except eliminating the time outs, which he said were his fault. He said, “That was me and we can change that, the bottom line is, the play that was sent in wasn’t the correct play with the personnel group and I should know better…Kerry was not at fault, hell no, not at all, Kerry did an outstanding job and we didn’t have any time outs, taking the delay of game that left us in field goal range, that was all on me, I’ll get that corrected, that was my fault.”

I asked him about expanding the number of plays he would use and he said, “You put a list of maybe 180 plays going into a game like tonight, and going through the tempo of the game…(to another inquirer) you ask a very good question about Pete, the very first third down is a Y option for him to get open, but if they rotate into a sky strong, as they did, the play has to go X, otherwise you are forcing it; then on the throw back screen there were a number of other plays we had, there was a stick in for him, and they pushed the Mike underneath it, so…he (Pete) was a big factor for us last year and we’ll continue to utilize him, at the same time Dan and Howard, we’ve got a number of guys and all of them are competitive and they want their touches, the most important thing in a game like tonight is what are the positives coming away from is – we controlled the line of scrimmage, we ran it awfully well, we threw it well, we scored a TD, as we haven’t been doing, in the red area, against one of the 5 better defenses in the NFL.”

There was another line of questioning on the tight ends and Coach discussed Howard, how when Howard (Cross) trots onto the field you think run, because he is a blocking end, which he does very well, but “you’ve got to have enough play passes for Howard, just like Ron Dayne, and when Pete’s in there, you have to have some run, otherwise you start drawing nickel coverage.” On JoMo, he said, “It was as simple as you have one guy throwing up and one who is dinged, the only other guy we had was Joe. He went in there and he’s demonstrated that he is capable of running hard, really, one of his greatest strengths is his goal line short yardage ability to be tough and physical, there was a run against New Orleans last year where I still haven’t seen any better run, where he broke one for about 12 yards, so it was great to see him get in there.” Coach acknowledged the difficulty for JoMo and said “credit to him, he knows that you keep that light burning at the end of the tunnel, that opportunity is going to come, we just can’t tell when, it comes at different times, but credit to him, it was great to see, he went in there, we had the right play called…” I asked Coach about the certainty of that opportunity and he said, “He’s a quality back and it’s a good scenario we’re in this year compared to a year ago where we were just trying to find a back…”

On Amani, Coach said he hadn’t seen the final number of catches he had, but he told us “I said to Amani, Amani you will have 8 or more catches in this game, I had a list of 15 plays, Toomer catches, he’s that type of player for us. He’s a guy we’re going to count on. Certainly, I’m excited for him. I told him before the game, you’ll have 8 or more catches this game.”

So there it is. The Coaches are refreshing in their new approach. How many guys like Sean Payton would acknowledge a rookie mistake, discuss plays and formations in the detail he does. You can see him thinking as he talks, going over the plays, the play calling the game plan, assessing what he did and how it can improve. Those of you concerned about the absence of Pete Mitchell, there you have it. Dayne outside and Tiki inside, there you have it. Like it or not, it is not haphazard, it is in the plan and it is Coach Payton calling the plays. The defense is together, the themes, the Giants are where they belong; they expected it and targeted for it; they need to work hard and believe in each other; they will not look ahead.

(Box Score – Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, October 29, 2000)