Dec 262000
 
New York Giants 28 – Jacksonville Jaguars 25

Game Overview: The good news is that the Giants locked up homefield advantage and a first round bye against a quality opponent. The Jaguars played a very spirited game – so spirited that you would have thought they had something riding on the outcome. QB Kerry Collins demonstrated some improved toughness in the pocket and the defense continues to play well – this week against a strong passing team.

The bad news is that if the Giants are really going to go anywhere this postseason, the MUST start playing better – particularly early in the game. Reminiscent of the Dallas game last week, the Giants blew too many scoring opportunities deep in enemy territory. The defense got sloppy at the end of the game and made things tighter than they should have been. And the kicking game continues to be a sore spot.

Rejoice a bit Giants’ fans. A 12-4 record and homefield is great. But the team needs to continue to elevate its play or it may be a short playoff ride.

Quarterback: Overall, Kerry Collins (22-of-39 for 321 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) played a good game. A 300-yard passing game by a Giants’ quarterback used to be wishful thinking, yet Collins has had two in three weeks. What impressed me the most this weekend was that Collins stood a lot tougher in the pocket and delivered some key strikes. Jacksonville blitzed the Giants’ a great deal and the offensive line and backs did not do a very good job of picking it up. There were many times where Collins was forced to move away from pressure, throw before he wanted to, or throw the ball away. But he stayed away from the dumb mistake (though there was one pass where the safety dropped a sure interception). The one pick that Collins was credited with was not his fault. LT Lomas Brown did not chop block the end like he was supposed to, thus allowing DE Tony Brackens to be in position to get his hands on the ball on quick pass.

The biggest negative was his play early on. Collins, for some reason, was not seeing the blatantly open man. On the flea flicker attempt in the first half, WR Amani Toomer was wide open for an easy touchdown, but Collins threw the ball to a covered Ike Hilliard instead. There was another play later where Collins didn’t see Tiki Barber wide open after coming in motion out of the backfield for what would have been an easy first down (this was a third down play). This early trend began to get me worried, but Collins really seemed to get into sync after these early snafus.

On the Giants’ first scoring drive, Kerry completed two key 3rd-and-9 passes – the first to Toomer and the second to Barber. It’s this ability to convert on third-and-long that I believe is the biggest difference in the offense from previous seasons. Too often in the past, 3rd-and-long would spell doom and a punt. The Giants were 9-of-17 on third down in the game – better than 50 percent.

Collins was pretty sharp on the non-scoring drive coming off of the goal line in the 3rd quarter. He was fortunate that one deep pass into the teeth of the wind was not picked, but his pass to Toomer got the Giants out of deep trouble on 3rd-and-8. He then found Toomer again with a slant (I don’t know if any quarterback in the league throws the slant better than Collins). On 3rd-and-6, he found TE Pete Mitchell over the middle for a first down. His 4th-and-6 strike to Ike Hilliard that was dropped was simply an incredible pass between two defenders. I also like how he found Tiki Barber for a first down on the next drive on 3rd-and-3. Collins’ primary target was to his right, but with that man covered, it looked like Kerry then looked over the middle before deciding on Tiki out to the left.

Collins was at his best on the Giants’ second touchdown drive. Trailing 10-7, he first hit Toomer in stride over the middle of the defense on a 42-yard catch-and-run. To me, the play of the game came a few play later on 3rd-and-10. Facing an all out blitz with men in his face, knowing he was about to get clobbered, Collins calmly threw to Ike for a 28-yard gain. Those of you who have read my reviews know this is one of the areas where I’ve been hoping to see improvement from Kerry, that is, improved toughness in the pocket. He didn’t scramble – he took his lick at time when his team needed him to make a play. Two plays later, he demonstrated the rifle he has by throwing back across his body on a somewhat risky pass and finding Hilliard for the go-ahead touchdown.

Collins finished the regular season with 3,610 yards passing – the third highest in franchise history.

Wide Receivers: A great game for Amani Toomer (8 catches for 193 yards and a touchdown). It wasn’t just receiving yards, but the quality of the catches. Toomer often made Collins look pretty darn good with his diving, twisting receptions such as 16-yard catch down to the one-yard line on the first drive. The pass was either tipped or poorly thrown, yet Amani came back to make a fine reception of the wobbler. He best catch was his 27-yard effort on a pass tipped by the cornerback in the third quarter on 3rd-and-8. This was a huge play because it got the Giants out of bad field position at a critical time of the game (the Giants were trailing 10-7 at that point). Amani had a key role in all of the Giants’ offensive touchdowns, culminating in his 54-yard touchdown on an underthrown Collins’ pass that put the Giants up 21-10

Ike Hilliard (4 catches for 51 yards and a touchdown) drives me nuts at times. He had me so angry after his two drops, including his 4th down drop of a perfectly thrown Collins’ throw. He earlier dropped a pass on 3rd-and-long that would have picked up a first down – a promising drive was stalled. Ike later redeemed himself a bit by coming up big on the all-important go-ahead touchdown drive with his 3rd-and-10 reception that put the ball on the five yard line and his subsequent touchdown reception two plays later. Still, Ike has to do a better job of holding onto the ball.

Tight Ends: Dan Campbell was up and down in his run blocking. He did not sustain his block very well on the goal line on a Dayne carry; but on the very next play, he got a good block on Tiki’s touchdown run. It is interesting the way the Giants use him – at times, they pull him like a guard on running plays. At other times, he is part of the trips package to the left or right on outside runs. He also had a reception for three yards. TE Howard Cross (no catches) continued his fine run blocking. For example, on Tiki’s 16-yard run in the second quarter, Cross was called upon to block down on the defensive end while Luke Petitgout and Ron Stone pulled around him. If Cross doesn’t make that block, the play goes no where. Pete Mitchell had one big catch for 17 yards, but he also dropped a pass early on in the game that would have kept a drive alive.

Running Backs: Ron Dayne (6 carries for 3 yards) is killing the Giants right now. Aside from one short-yardage play where he picked up a first down, his other carries were wasted plays. It’s gotten so bad with Dayne now that the Giants are forced to give the ball to Tiki more than they probably would like. Barber took a lot of hard hits during the game and at one point it looked like he might have suffered a serious injury. Ron needs to pick up the slack, not only for the team’s sake, but for the health of Barber.

Tiki Barber (24 carries for 78 yards and a touchdown; 4 catches for 35 yards) played yet another very strong game – not only on outside runs, but a few times up the gut as well. He did a great job of following key blocks from FB Greg Comella and LG Glenn Parker on his touchdown run to the right side in the first quarter. He’s also getting positive yardage on sweeps that are not particularly well blocked due to his speed and quickness. The only big negative on Tiki today is that he didn’t get himself in position well to pick up the blitz on a number of Jaguar dogs. With Dayne slumping and/or running out of gas, it is clear that for better or worse, Barber is going to have to carry the main load from here on out.

Comella (4 catches for 22 yards) was used quite a bit in the passing game today and remains a steady and sure run blocker. When Charles Way was forced to retire before the season started, it looked like the Giants were in trouble at fullback. But Greg has done a great job in his first full season as a starter. Don’t overlook his contribution to the team this year.

Offensive Line: This wasn’t one of the lines better efforts. There are some legitimate reasons why one could argue that Dayne is not being productive such as the fact that he hasn’t been allowed to get into the flow of things, that the running plays are a bit too predictable when he enters the game, etc. One other factor is that the run blocking when he has gotten his carries has not been real solid. The line needs to do a better job of clearing space for him so he can get up to speed. Once Dayne is past the line and has his shoulders square to the defense, he is a tough customer to bring down. But the Giants are not getting him to that point. In the run blocking department, I did like the work of the two guards, Glenn Parker and Ron Stone. Parker did have some problems on a couple of pulls where the defense did a good job of knocking Glenn back and disrupting the play. The Parker pull to the right is one of the Giants’ favorite plays and opposing defenses know it now. One thing that is not often noticed on this play is that RT Luke Petitgout has been doing a solid job most of the season blocking down on the end to allow Parker to swing out wide – this happened again on Barber’s touchdown run. LT Lomas Brown is not known for his run blocking, but he did have some positive moments against Brackens, including a key block on a 9-yard run by Barber.

Pass blocking was not great as Collins was sacked three times and hit a bunch. Petitgout gave up an early sack to DE Renaldo Wynn when he got beat to the outside. He later got beat to the inside and Kerry was forced to unload in a hurry. OC Dusty Zeigler had a very rough game in pass protection (usually his strength). He did a poor job of picking up a blitz by LB Kevin Hardy a couple of times. Once it resulted in a sack, another time it forced Collins to throw the ball away on 3rd-and-7 right before Brad Daluiso’s missed field goal. Jacksonville came with a lot of blitzes and it often difficult to tell whether the line is at fault or the backs. There were also times when there were more rushers than blockers. On one play, it appeared to me as if Ron Stone should have picked up one of the inside blitzers instead of helping Zeigler out with his man. I don’t know what Lomas Brown was doing on the quick pass that Brackens intercepted. In such a situation, the lineman is always taught to take the end off his feet usually with a chop block. Brown allowed Brackens to play high and make a leaping interception.

Defensive Line: Very strong once again against the run except for one major breakdown where HB Fred Taylor got jammed up inside, but broke it back towards the strongside for a 44-yard touchdown. I believe the main culprit on this play was DE Michael Strahan (4 tackles), who I spotted getting caught inside. But other than that play, Strahan and his teammates up front were very stout as Taylor ran into a wall of blue jerseys on almost every rushing attempt. It was Strahan who originally disrupted the running play on Taylor’s fumble; Strahan then nailed Taylor in the backfield on the next drive for a loss. Michael later pressured Brunell into an incompletion on 3rd-and-2. DE Cedric Jones (4 tackles, 1 sack) was also very strong at the point of attack and actually played a good game when you consider his opponent was Tony Boselli. Jones beat a double-team on his sack and had a few other pressures on Mark Brunell. He made two strong back-to-back plays in the first half. First he hit Taylor in the backfield on a left-side carry; he then did a good job of sniffing out a screen pass and breaking down that play.

Rushing up the gut was equally frustrating for Jacksonville as DT Keith Hamilton (2 tackles, 0.5 sacks), DT Christian Peter (2 tackles), and DT/DE Cornelius Griffin (4 tackles, 0.5 sacks) completely shut things down aside from one Anthony Johnson 18-yard blast. Peter was particularly stout in short yardage situations, including the failed 2nd-and-1 and 3rd-and-1 consecutive efforts in the second quarter. Hamilton sees a lot of double-teams yet he is still disrupting running plays and getting into the backfield on the pass rush (he got close to Brunell a few times). Griffin is getting better and better. He shared half a sack with Hamilton and batted down two passes at the line of scrimmage – including one on 4th-and-5. What is surprising me most about him is that he is playing the run very well – something that was supposed to be a weakness of his coming out of college. His pass rush also forced Brunell to throw the ball away on 3rd-and-5.

Linebackers: Swarmed up front to stop Taylor. Mike Barrow (8 tackles) continues with his play-making ability by shooting gaps and hitting the back in the backfield. Jessie Armtead (5 tackles) was also very active in tracking down Taylor and he forced a fumble on Jacksonville’s first drive of the game. Armstead has now played five consecutive seasons with more than 100 tackles. Ryan Phillips (1 tackle) made a key interception on a deflected pass. The linebackers did a good job in coverage on TE Kyle Brady for the most part.

Defensive Backs: The Jaguars were not able to exploit the Giants downfield as much as I thought they would be able to. Much of this had to do with the fact that Defensive Coordinator John Fox decided not to blitz too much. But FS Shaun Williams (5 tackles) also deserves much of the credit with his highlight-reel, knockout hit on Pro Bowl WR Jimmy Smith. That is a hit that will be long remembered and may make some future opponents in the playoffs think twice before running across the middle of the defense exposed like that. Shaun was also noticeable in run support again with two forces on outside runs.

I thought the starting corners of Jason Sehorn (4 tackles) and Dave Thomas (5 tackles) did a great job. Sehorn was so good in coverage that you didn’t even notice him in the game. He got beat for the final touchdown, but he had very good coverage on the play. Thomas did play off the ball, but he was usually in position to make a play on the ball. Keenan McCardell did come up with a 17-yard pass on 3rd-and-15, but it was perfect route and throw between Thomas and SS Sam Garnes (some of Brunell’s completions were simply superb passes against solid coverage – give the other guy some credit too). Where he did get exposed was on a crossing pattern on 3rd-and-10 when he was left all alone with Reggie Barlow, who picked up 28 yards on the play.

The big battle for most of the game was between Keenan McCardell and Emmanuel McDaniel (6 tackles). McDaniel had his moments (such as breakup of a Brunell pass to Keenan on 3rd-and-12), but McCardell made a few catches against E-Mac. McDaniel got beat by McCardell on 3rd-and-4 for a first down in the third quarter. He also got beat for a first down on 2nd-and-10.

The big completion given up by the defense was on a strange play. For some reason, the defense let McCardell get behind it despite the fact that they were playing prevent. The deepest guys were Garnes and (very strangely) Pete Monty. McCardell out-leaped these two for a 50-yard completion and made the game far tighter than it should have been in the final moments. Where were the corners? Why was Pete Monty in the game? Garnes (6 tackles) then got beat by TE Kyle Brady for a touchdown to make it a 3-point game.

Special Teams: I really like the work that Damon Washington is doing on the coverage teams. Despite only joining the active roster a few weeks ago, Damon has rapidly become a headhunter on the kickoff and punt coverage units. Shaun Williams also was down the field in a hurry on one punt. The other guy who is really knocking some heads is Jack Golden. Reggie Stephens isn’t bad either. Their one breakdown came after the Giants’ third touchdown when they gave up a return that almost reached the 40-yard line.

The kicking game continues to be troublesome. PK Jaret Holmes wasn’t any better than PK Brad Daluiso on kickoffs. The squib quick after the Giants final score backfired as the Jaguars got the ball near mid-field. Brad Daluiso missed a 39-yard field goal with the wind at his back in a situation where the Giants were only up 14-10 in the fourth quarter. P Brad Maynard was not good – his five punts averaging less than 30 yards net.

A holding penalty on Emanuel McDaniel brought back a very good 22-yard punt return by Tiki Barber and completely changed the field position situation to start the drive. Tiki did make a bad decision to fair catch a punt where he had no one around him. Ron Dixon was never able to get it going on kick returns.

Jason Sehorn did a great job on the onside kick-off attempts. The first he fielded so cleanly that he was able to sprint 38 yards for a touchdown in the waning moments of the game. He also saved the day at the end with his second recovery.


DRANG NACH MACHT

by David Oliver

Yeah, I’m back. I’m harder to get rid of than Dick Nixon. Took my Christmas Sabbatical, didn’t have much to say about the Dallas game other than the offense sucked for 3 quarters, but the defense was awesome; and thanks once again Santa for the Tiki Man. Jax game was delicious. Traveled up Saturday morning in a happy frame of mind. Mom decided she was coming home for Christmas – it’s been several years since she felt up to the trip, so it was going to be like Christmas of old – and that was hard to beat. The G-Men topped it off with a special present. My Giants surprises under the tree this year were another Giant watch, real neat with a moving football, and a special Giants playoff cap – this one has a bulb behind the NY and it lights up, flashing a bright red – can’t wait to wear it for the playoffs. And my new Giants jacket, with the blue leather sleeves, NY on the front and GIANTS across the back. I feel really special wearing it around Washington these days – it’s amazing how many people look down or away – silently.

The locker room was extra crowded after the game and I am told it will be worse after each playoff game. It was a regular locker – no loud celebrating, no raucous behavior – just business as usual. But it is an interesting set of emotions in there. As most of you know, and some have come to gag on, football is more than a game for me. And as a Giants fan, it is not only a Zeitgeist, but a full blending of metaphysics and epistemology all wrapped in that shiny blue helmet. The past several weeks have heightened the reality of football as art and the Giants as the ultimate imagery of life imitating art. Stay with me as I explain.

To a man in that locker room, the Giant players have integrated two concepts into their vocabulary, their play books and their ethos of the game; they are TEAM and WILL. Almost a juxtaposition in a way, but blending very nicely under the tutelage of that new Germanic philosopher, Herr Fassel. That is why this title this week. First came TEAM. And TEAM is a softer form, more French in its essence than German. It brought me back to reading Teilhard Chardin – and what a comeuppance as I actually had to special order his works – at an exorbitant price, I might add. Chardin is the ultimate philosopher of TEAM, with his concept of the Noosphere, the convergence of spirit, the bonding of the many into one.

But WILL – WILL is the ultimate Germanic concept, a true Nietschkean, Wagnerian drive wheel. And this week I sensed WILL bonded to TEAM in the Giants locker room. Professor Lomas Brown was as his best in defining the ingredients in coming from behind. He talked about poise, execution and then said , “It’s will…You have to be willing to fight this man to the end, you have to make him work…” And EMac underscored this feeling when he told me, this team has “the will to win…”, that the players feed off each other.

I’m not sure how far this team will go in the playoffs; Ernie is building them on the premise of a 3 year run for the Super Bowl – this appears to be year 1 on the Gregorian calendar and year 2 on the Julian – either way, it is arriving a little early. But I like the team; I like the players; I like the feeling – it is a little too cerebral for the Mike Curtis throwbacks, but WILL can often forge Supermen, or in this case, a Super Team. And the sub theme is “hard work”; the Giants are committed to hard work and it reverberates through that locker. Jack Golden told me “you work with these guys the whole year (specials) and you have so many doubters saying we can’t get the job done…but we get it done and it feels good…(BUT) there’s room for improvement, a lot of room for improvement.” Jason Whittle said, “I’m going to work my tail off”, and Glen Parker said, “There’s a lot of hard work…guys are working hard.” EMac chimes in with his thoughts on both his contribution and the team’s success, telling me “hard work…the whole team together…” He told me he was recruited as a running back in college and had never played corner but he has kept “working on it and working on it…”

In forging this WILL, the entire team is conscious that they are not viewed as an upper echelon competitor, that there are nay sayers and detractors (probably a lot of them are secretly reading BBI, now the official residence of the Grinch), but as Parker said, “we’re winning; that’s what you have to do.” And Lomas Brown said, “Until we get there and accomplish our goal, we know we are going to have nay sayers.” But Lomas went on to say, that’s not all bad as “They keep you on your feet; never let you get overconfident; point out the little things, things you don’t see, they point out…”, so its not all bad.

The fans made their presence felt this week and it was appreciated by the players. So those of you who think the fans have no impact, the players on the field are acutely aware of what is happening up there, and they feel it is a necessary part of the game plan. Jason Garrett told me that the fans “make such a difference. Fans, I don’t think will ever realize how difficult it is on an offensive football team when they go to the line of scrimmage on 3rd down and try to communicate things, and they can’t because the crowd is involved, it’s loud; that makes a tremendous tactical difference in a football game. The fans were a huge part of the success today and obviously we have to keep going, they’ll definitely make a difference.” Ryan Phillips also hit on this point as I asked him if there was anything different in defending against Brunell. He started telling me, “Yes, he’s real smart. You saw today, he had a lot of audibles, he recognizes defenses really well…” I asked him about that play calling and opined that Brunell looked as if he were directing traffic back there today. Phillips said, “We had the crowd on our side, too, so he had a hard time audibiling; it looked like they were changing the play but it didn’t get to some guys, that’s what it looked like. The crowd was doing a good job being noisy when we needed them…” And, of course, Lomas Brown said there were three ingredients in home field advantage, “(Opponents) are going to have to deal with the crowd, they are going to have to deal with the weather; they are going to have to deal with the NY Giants.” The fans are at least one third of the way to Tampa. Then he said, “I heard them more than I heard them the whole season; it was awesome man; that’s what we need; they helped us, especially early because we were struggling a bit early…”

The players are aware of what they are doing and as Whittle told me, “We beat some pretty good teams this year, particularly later in the year. They come in here ready to play.” A lot came about after the specials debacle in the Detroit game (following which, even I, the perennial optimist felt as Peter must have when the Cock crowed thrice). Jack Golden told me, “Coach issued the challenge midway through the season, and even earlier in the season, for the special teams to pick it up, and for the most part we’ve risen to the occasion.” Lomas brown also talked about it and told several of us that after the Detroit game “it was one of the down points during the season…I was a little nervous about how we would respond the next week and we went out and responded and did what a championship team needs to do…” But why? Partly the guarantee. As Lomas said, “The guarantee; I’ve never had that before, Coach come out and guarantee you’re going to get there; that ranks way up there, the way this team turned it on. I think it was already there, we just needed something to get us over that hump and the Coach guaranteed everything and everyone focused in because we wanted…we didn’t want to let him down, it would have been letting him down because this man has meant so much to us…he’s taken so much for us, we didn’t want to let him down, and that’s what we’re trying to do; we want to make him look like a prophet…”

I talked to several players about the playoffs and home field. It’s interesting because we all consider the Meadowlands a tremendous advantage and many BBIers wish for nasty weather. But the Giants are not a real cold weather team, not like Buffalo or Green Bay, and the Giants appear to be a lousy wet weather team. It was interesting that several players said the footing was bad, the grass was slippery. Whittle told me because the footing was a little tough “it was hard to get any push in the run game.” So bad weather would clearly seem to favor a good passing team. But there are other intangibles. Jason Garrett told me, “The home crowd, the home environment for the players, we’re familiar with this locker room, the whole environment here at Giants Stadium; then the weather, the wind, all those things; your home works to your advantage.” And Professor Brown again: “Two games, only two games to get to the Championship…” Lomas said the differences between the playoffs and the regular season are “life and death, speed, intensity and execution…” He went on, “It’s sudden death, you’re out…you have to be able to execute; in the regular season it’s every game, in the playoffs, it’s every play. You have to be ready every play in the playoffs because one play can change the whole game around, give a team momentum, and take it away.”

Why am I spending so much time dwelling on the obvious? Partly because much of what these players have said is not obvious; partly because all of us here at BBI need to reflect now on a few things. Sudden death – very important. We are all mainlining football, and that’s Giants brand. We’ve made it past Christmas and are on Cloud Nine. But I remember the feeling of the last playoff game, against the Vikings. We were actually talking about what we would do in Green Bay, logistics, hotel, meals, etc. Then, KABOOM, it was over. Talk about Post Footballum Depression – suddenly, there was nothing. It was a cold, ugly January and the Giants were gone. What an empty feeling. So tuck away in one little corner of your brain that on the way to the Super Bowl, there is Sudden Death.

More importantly, the Giants are winning. Winning ugly, exposing some deficiencies, but winning. And a winner should never have to apologize. But as Lomas said, nay sayers see some things that aren’t seen by those close to the team. So we need to balance euphoria with a critical eye. The Rams and the Titans have mauled the Giants this year, the Vikings twice in the previous 3 years, once in the Meadowlands and late in the year. Does it mean they can come in to the Giants Stadium and do it again? Not necessarily. But they are very talented teams. Keep in mind, throughout this year we have said that the Giants will go as far as Kerry Collins will carry them. The same appears to be true for the Vikings, the Rams, throw in the Eagles and Tampa Bay. New Orleans has already lost their QB and running back and would have to be considered a longer shot than the Giants – talk about no respect for the G-Men.

So what about Kerry Collins? Many here have taken me to task because I have not anointed KC yet to the same status as Farve, Brunell, McNair, Montana, Young or Marino. True. Let me reiterate: he has, at times, terrible mechanics; his head often seems to disappear from the game; he locks on to his receiver; he throws wild passes; he does not have a fiery personality; and he sometimes appears to be a wuss under pressure. That is every bad thing I can think of about Kerry Collins. And despite all of those, he is a winner. He has said he is more comfortable as a system player and he is proving he can be very effective in the right system. His stats are sneakily very good, he is showing he can come from behind, and he has shown that he can miss 14 passes in a row, look terrible for a game, and still lead a winning drive when it is most needed. He has also shown that given a comfortable lead he will maintain a steady throttle and do enough not to relinquish a lead.

I asked Garrett about the conversations among the offensive brain trust on the field, seeking some insight into KC. Garrett told me, “We just try to have conversations about stuff that we see or whatever. It’s the hardest thing for a QB playing – you see less sometimes than people who are in the Press Box or on the sidelines – because you have your own thing that you are doing out there. You bring a certain perspective to it and then other people can help you. Kerry does a great job in allowing for those conversations to happen on the sidelines. If he asks a question of any of us, we just try to help him as best we can.” I also asked Garrett about Kerry’s inclination to play “fast” as Kerry had just said he did in Dallas. Garrett told me, “He’s obviously played so well this year and has a great deal of experience coming in and out of those situations when it happens to him. The only thing I’ve tried to do is, if he has a question about something, or if I see something on the field, I’ll try to help him there. The Dallas defensive line was really pushing and getting up the field so as a quarterback sometimes that forces you to play a little bit faster; but he was able to calm himself down…made some big throws at the end of that ball game.”

The Jax game was another textbook KC game. At times incredibly sharp, at times scary, at times receiving no help from Ike, the line or the running game. When he is in Roth, he throws an beautiful pass – tight spiral, perfect location, a QB’s QB. We were talking on the sidelines and I told one of the guys I was going to ask KC about the mechanics thing. Why does he continue to throw off his back foot at this time of the season? My conversational partner suggested I ask the QB Coach instead. So I’m going to stop holding KC completely at fault and ask Coach Fassel why they haven’t been able to correct these obvious mechanical faults – or are we just not seeing it right?

At any rate, I’m comfortable with Kerry Collins at QB for the playoffs, as long as Amani is healthy, Ike doesn’t have his obligatory two drops in tough situations, the line protects him and the running game gives him some help.

I asked Parker if he foresaw this when he came on board and he told me, “I don’t think you go into a team like that with that feeling, unless, it’s like the Washington Redskins – they’re bringing in the best free agents in the world. I looked – I always look at the schedule to see how you can win after you see the talent and I figured ‘yeah, we’re going to make the playoffs.’ I didn’t know we’d be this good, but that’s a credit to the type of people that are on this team and the resolve of the Coaches…you know, nobody gave us a chance 5 weeks ago – now look at us.”

Parker will play a critical role in how far the team goes in the playoffs. He is an amazing pulling guard, kind of an offensive Artie Donovan – he’s not chiseled, he’s got some mileage on him, but he is a warrior, and he is the only legitimate pulling guard on the roster. He’s been there 4 times and you can tell he’s starting to get that feeling. When a guy like Parker buys into “it” then wonderful things can happen.

In the Jax game, the running game was Tiki. The Great Dayne was a non factor again. I have watched closely when he carries the ball and I have looked at photos from past games in an attempt to understand what is happening. It’s not easy to explain. It is late in the year and he has played longer than ever before – he may have hit the rookie wall. He played on Astro turf in College and the Giants in another inexplicable move, drafted a carpet runner just as they switched to grass. The grass is slippery and as Whittle said, it appeared difficult to get any push. Last, the level of competition has gone up as the season has progressed. There’s nothing to be said for Jax but how about the playoffs. Dayne should be a factor against the Rams. He will be rested, the Rams defense is not as tough as the Saints, Parker should be healthy. I would expect his contribution to be negligible against the Saints who are a more aggressive run defense, except for the Denver game when the Broncos offensive line mauled them.

Against Jax, Tiki gave it all up and kept the game within reach until the last quarter explosion. Tiki is a legitimate star, all purpose back. Two weeks rest will help him. Sean Payton needs to look closely at the tape of the Bucs/Rams game. Tiki brings as much as Dunn to the table.

The passing game in the Jax game was Amani Toomer, with 8 catches for 193 yards. One was lucky as the defender slipped but Amani has more speed than opposing defenses think. He used to be called a long strider, but he has blown past his coverage on several occasions this year. Ike had 2 critical drops, one on a difficult but catchable necessary pass. But he had a couple of nice catches, 1 for a score. Tiki chipped in 4 and Greg Comella another 4, only 1 of which was really successful. The Giants did try to sneak him down field and they need to keep this up. Greg should be in the game plan. Pete Mitchell had one catch and has become as forgotten as Howard Cross in this offense. Inexplicable. 39 passes. Not your father’s December Giants. P.S. Statistically, KC (22-of-39 for 321) was slightly better than Brunell(23-of-41 for 262). Both QBs threw an interception, both had 2 TDs, both had a long pass over 50 yards.

Defense is the Giants game. Freddie Taylor ran his mouth a little, and the Giants acknowledged they were a little unhappy. Both Phillips and Strahan remarked that he seemed to have “left the game” and they took some satisfaction from his lack of success. As Phillips said of the remarks, “It’s hard not to take it personally. That’s just how it is in this League. There are guys that talk and guys that go out and do it. I just want to be one of those guys that go out and do it – anybody can talk.” Ryan is one of the most improved players out there. It is interesting to watch him calling out positions during the audibles – his coverage is getting better and it will not be so easy for Short to take that position next year. He had an interception against Jax. Strahan had 4 tackles and also talked about Taylor. He said the Giants focused on stopping him and “he had the one big run and after that, he disappeared. I couldn’t figure out where he went.” MS said Brunell had some success throwing which made it interesting at the end and talked about Shawn Williams pounding the receivers, saying “that was the intent…we’ve got 4 safeties back there, our 4 safeties made sure when they came up that they put a hit on them…” On Shawn: “That’s the way he hits; he’s a big guy; he has a knack for doing things like that. That’s uplifting for a defense whenever your safeties can unload like that…”

Strahan also said that this was the first TEAM he had played on, everyone contributing and talking about the faith in the offense he said “because of the experience we had last week, it made guys realize, hang in there, the offense is going to come around and make something happen…and all of a sudden they had a big point explosion and we realize they are potent…maybe during the warm up we’ve got to get out there and scrimmage for about 30 minutes before the game starts in order for them to get some rhythm.”

Barrow contributed 8 combined tackles, Garnes had 6 (although out of position on the long pass by Brunell), Emac another solid 6, then Jessie, Thomas, Williams had 5 each. MS, Griffin, CJ and Sehorn added 4 each. Hamilton and Peter were relatively quiet as it was mostly an aerial show. No one ran up the middle and Taylor’s one long run was a bounce out when the middle was clogged – Barrow was angry with himself on that play. CJ had a sack and Hamilton and Griffin had half each. Notwithstanding the final score, the D played well throughout.

The Giants had a big time of possession advantage, holding the ball for over 34 minutes. They had possession for 14 drives, punting 5 times (2 inside 20). They missed a field goal, lost it twice on downs, 1 interception, once at the end of the game and scored on 4 drives. They marched 58, 75 and 55 yards on 3 TDs and Jason Sehorn ran back an onside kick by Jax for a TD. Two long drives (65 yards, 9 plays and 70 yards,12 plays) ended in loss by downs.

My biggest regret – I was at the far end of the bench waiting for the Gatorade dunk when Toomer and Sehorn scored – then at the other end when the Gatorade was tipped: 0-for-3. That’s it for Jax. Now, as I asked Lomas Brown, are you ready for some football?

(Box Score – Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants, December 23, 2000)
Dec 212000
 

Approach to the Game – Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants, December 23, 2000: All the talk this week in the press and with the fans has been under the assumption that the Giants will win on Saturday against the Jaguars and be awarded home field advantage throughout the playoffs. In my mind, this is foolish talk. The Jaguars are not the Browns. In fact, I would argue that the Jaguars are the most talented team that the Giants have faced this year with the exception of the Titans and Rams – despite their record. Jacksonville has a great deal of talent on offense and defense and is well-coached. They are also playing well right now – winning five of their last seven games. If the Jaguars come prepared to play, this is going to be a dog-fight. The Giants had better play well from the opening gun – unlike last week – or they may let a great opportunity slip away.

Giants on Offense: The big key here is for QB Kerry Collins to rebound from what was his worst performance of the season. Frankly, he was terrible last week. Collins has to do a better job of standing tough in the pocket and delivering the ball in a consistently accurate fashion. He did this two weeks ago against the Steelers – let’s see if he can regain that form. The Giants need Kerry at the top of his game as they approach the playoffs.

An interesting battle to watch will be how Jaguar Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers game plans for Collins. Don’t forget that Capers was the head coach in Carolina who cut Collins after he said Kerry “quit” on his teammates. Capers obviously doesn’t have much respect for Collins so this will be a fascinating aspect of the game to watch. I would expect Capers to blitz the Giants heavily in order to shake the quarterback. This also has the added benefit of possibly disrupting the ground game. Because of this Collins will be provided with opportunities to hit the long ball against Jacksonville and the team will need him to do so in order to get the Jaguars to back off. Collins has had some success against aggressive defenses (Eagles and Steelers for example).

The Jaguars have some good talent in the secondary. WR Amani Toomer will be matched up on CB Aaron Beasley, while WR Ike Hilliard faces former first round CB Fernando Bryant (the guy the Jags drafted to replace Dave Thomas). Rayna Stewart is the free safety. SS Donovin Darius is one of the best strong safeties in the league. He is a big time hitter and an instinctive playmaker. He will be a factor against both the run and the pass. It would be nice if the Giants could get some production this week out of their third wideout – Ron Dixon. With Joe Jureivicus (knee) still out, Ron must start making some plays. Same story with TE Pete Mitchell.

The other worrisome aspect of the Giants’ offense right now is the non-production emanating from Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne. Granted the run blocking has not been stellar in recent weeks, but Dayne needs to do a little less hesitating and more attacking. He’s hopping around too much at the point of attack and not running with good body lean (he’s got his head down once he initiates contact). Ron also has to do a better job of breaking low tackles. If this is a case of Dayne losing steam (as many rookies are apt to do at the end of their first NFL season), then the Giants are going to have to consider giving the ball more to Tiki Barber or at least consider giving Joe Montgomery a few carries. But let’s hope Dayne can come out of his slump – he’d be a great asset in the cold weather games to come.

Of course, Ron needs some better blocking up front. There’s a good chance that LG Glenn Parker (knee) will miss this game. Thus, reserve Jason Whittle most likely gets the start again. He’ll be up against DT Seth Payne. Ron Stone will face DT Gary Walker. LT Lomas Brown has a big match-up with DE Tony Brackens, a very good pass rusher (8 sacks). RT Luke Petitgout will battle it out against DE Renaldo Wynn. WLB Kevin Hardy is a good one, but injuries have hit the rest of the linebacking corps and because of this, Jacksonville will often play their nickel defense and blitz a lot. In fact, Capers is a strong advocate of the zone blitz. Thus, the Giants’ blockers (line, tight ends, backs) must be aware of the fact that pressure can come from almost anywhere on the defense. However, if Dayne or HB Tiki Barber can squirt through the first line of defenders, big plays may result in the running game. Likewise, if the blockers can give Collins time, he may hit some big ones too.

Giants on Defense: The Giants will be tested on defense this week. Everyone has been jumping on the defensive bandwagon of the Giants (except for Jaguar HB Fred Taylor), but keep in mind that the Giants have not played a strong passing team since they last lost to the Rams. Thus, the weaker part of the Giants’ defense – its pass defense – has not been severely tested during this winning streak. Unfortunately, the Jaguars have the weapons to attack the Giants through the air, especially if WR Keenan McKardell (knee) plays. Fortunately, there is a chance that Keenan may miss the game. First rounder R.J. Soward is definitely out after failing his second drug test. Look for the Jaguars to employ quite a bit of 3- and 4-WR sets with Reggie Barlow and Alvis Whitted. Whitted is very inconsistent, but he can be an explosive player; Barlow is more sure and steady. The key guys, however, will be WR Jimmy Smith and McKardell – one of the very best receiving duos in the game. Smith is the deep threat (along with Whitted). This will be a big test for CB Jason Sehorn and CB David Thomas. The Jaguars were not interested in re-signing Thomas after last season because they felt he was a liability in coverage. You can bet that QB Mark Brunell will know where he is on every passing play. The Giants also need nickel back Emmanuel McDaniel to play another strong game if the Jags do play a lot of multiple receiver sets. Safeties Sam Garnes and Shaun Williams can help their teammates by coming to their aid as well as delivering some crunching hits to those venturing over the middle. I doubt that Defensive Coordinator John Fox will be able to use Williams in the strength of his game – attacking the line of scrimmage. Shaun will be needed to provide deep help to the corners – something that he’s still not real comfortable at.

The secondary’s job will be made easier if the Giants can mount a pass rush without blitzing as much. The bad news is that DE Cedric Jones will be completely taken out of the game by All-World Tony Boselli. The good news is that the rest of the line is a bit of a mess. Jacksonville lost Pro Bowl RT Leon Searcy before the season started and the middle of their line has never been terribly imposing. The Giants absolutely need DT Keith Hamilton and DE Michael Strahan to win their battles against rookie LG Brad Meester and RT Todd Fordham, respectively. Remember that Brunell is a left hander so Strahan will be coming from the blind-side this week. DT Christian Peter and DT Cornelius Griffin will see a lot of RG Brendan Stai (though Griffin also has been spelling Jones at defensive end on occasion). Timely blitzes from the linebackers and defensive backs will help the pass rush, but the Giants don’t want to do too much of this against Brunell and his receivers – unless the defensive backs really step it up. The Giants’ defenders must also keep in mind that Brunell can run – he’s not an immobile statue back there.

As for the intermediate coverage, TE Kyle Brady (60 catches) and HB Fred Taylor (35 catches) are big factors in the passing game. The linebackers and SS Sam Garnes need to do a good job in taking away the short game from Brunell.

Much will depend on how well the Giants can control HB Fred Taylor. Taylor ignited some fires this week criticizing the quality of the athletes on the Giants’ defense. Hopefully, the defense will use this as fuel to turn up the heat. But keep in mind that Taylor is one of the very best backs in the league. He has a rare combination of speed and power; and the Giants can’t afford to load up against him as they have done with other backs in recent weeks (i.e., Jerome Bettis, Emmitt Smith, Stephen Davis). The Jags’ passing game is too dangerous. Thus, don’t expect Taylor to be shut down – he will do his damage. Taylor has run for over 100 yards in each of the past ten games – a truly impressive feat.

Giants on Specials: Coverage on kicks and punts, as always, is key in terms of limiting good field position for the other team. P Brad Maynard must rebound from a terrible effort last week. The Giants did a nice job (for once) of setting up a wall for Tiki to return a punt last week. It’s way past time for Ron Dixon to break one.

Dec 202000
 
New York Giants 17 – Dallas Cowboys 13

Game Overview: The Giants were very fortunate to come away with a win against an inferior opponent in a critical game. If the G-Men intend to earn a bye week and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, they are going to have to start playing a lot better on offense. For whatever reason, the Giants’ running game has sputtered the last couple of weeks – particularly when Ron Dayne carries the ball. And QB Kerry Collins played his worst game of the year a week after playing his best. The offensive line hasn’t played very well the past two weeks either. Collins, Dayne, and the offensive line – they all must get better quick or the Giants won’t be around long in the playoffs.

The good news coming out of the game was that the defense continued to play extremely well, especially in defending the running game. DE Michael Strahan is re-emerging and MLB Mike Barrow and FS Shaun Williams are fast becoming impact players on the defensive side of the ball. DT Keith Hamilton also continued to show why he got robbed of a Pro Bowl spot. The best news was that the Giants finally overcame a halftime and 4th quarter deficit to win a game. Trailing 13-0 late in the third quarter, the Giants looked like they were on the verge of blowing a great opportunity. But the team did not let up and found a way to win. This type of game – a come-from-behind win – could prove a valuable learning experience for future playoff games.

Coaching: Offensively, I wasn’t crazy about the game plan. As I said in my game preview, I thought it would be foolish for the Giants to challenge Dallas too often on the perimeter due to their superior team speed on defense. The 3rd-and-8 sweep with Ron Dixon when the Giants were driving on their first drive was a perfect example – I didn’t like that call against this defense. The Dallas linebackers were simply too quick for the Giants’ blockers on most outside runs all night. However, the Giants’ coaches were hampered by the fact that Ron Dayne is not running the ball very aggressively and because Kerry Collins was as out of sync as you will ever see an NFL quarterback. I also didn’t particularly like the fact that the Giants ran the ball twice in a row both times after the turnovers deep in Dallas territory in the third quarter. I would have taken a shot at the end zone immediately after each.

Defensively, John Fox proved that my suggestion to lay back and confuse QB Anthony Wright the wrong one. The Giants tried this approach in the first half, but Wright did not make the dumb play and with the extra time in the pocket, made some nice throws. In the first half, Wright went 7-of-11 for 79 yards and was not sacked. In the second half, the Giants came after him and that’s when he began to become unraveled. Dallas only gained 27 yards in the second half. Wright was 6-of-14 and was sacked five times.

Quarterback: Kerry Collins (12-of-26 for 140 yards, one touchdown, one interception) was terrible. I think this was the worst I’ve seen him play. Strange, because he was coming off of his best performance and he started the first drive fairly strongly – until he missed a wide open Ike Hilliard deep. Up until that point, he was 4-of-4 with sharp completions to Amani Toomer, Howard Cross, Greg Comella, and Toomer again.

After that, Kerry was just plain awful. His accuracy was way off – if he wasn’t throwing high, he was throwing wide. A few passes were thrown so badly that they landed well out-of-bounds (these were not throw-aways). He badly missed a wide open Ike Hilliard for a touchdown on the first drive as the ball sailed off the field. Collins, and the entire passing offense, was out of sync the entire night. Kerry never looked comfortable in the pocket, even when he did have time. He rushed his throws, threw with bad technique (rarely set his feet), and looked flustered. He also made bad decisions. Kerry never should have tried to force the ball on his interception in the endzone – he should have taken the sack and taken the three points. He should have thrown the ball away deep in his own territory instead of taken the 14-yard sack that forced Brad Maynard to punt from his endzone. The big thing that worries me with Collins now is not the turnovers, but the way he gets flustered when the opposing team gets any kind of significant pass pressure on him. If Kerry does not learn to play with more mental toughness in the pocket, then he will never get the Giants to a Superbowl because playoff teams usually have very good defenses with strong pass rushes.

Thankfully, Collins did save one of his few good passes of the night on his 33-yard strike to Toomer on 3rd-and-6 for the Giants’ first touchdown late in the third quarter. This was a perfectly thrown pass where Kerry finally demonstrated some accuracy on a deep throw.

Wide Receivers: Tough to judge because of Kerry’s poor accuracy. It looked like they were open quite a bit most of the night, but Collins just couldn’t get the ball to them. The production certainly wasn’t there. Toomer (3 catches for 58 yards) made the big play with his long TD grab. He also made a nice catch on the Giants’ opening drive despite tight coverage. WR Ike Hilliard (1 catch for 7 yards) did not help out Collins with another bad drop on one of Collins’ few strong passes of the night right before halftime. Ron Dixon (no catches) got open on a route for a first down, but Kerry missed him badly. The wide receivers did do a good job of blocking down the field both on running and screen plays.

Tight Ends: Pete Mitchell (2 catches for 12 yards) is being looked to more and that is good, but he also couldn’t bring in a Collins’ pass on 3rd down (while this would have been a tough catch, it was certainly the type of reception that Pete usually makes). He also almost fumbled the ball away after his last catch. Surprise, Howard Cross (1 catch for 9 yards) picked up a first down with a reception on 3rd-and-8 on the first drive. The blocking was sporadic. For the second week in a row, I saw Dan Campbell having problems making the block on the linebacker on an outside run.

Running Backs: Ron Dayne (8 carries for 19 yards) is not getting it done. He looks sluggish, indecisive, and looks like he is running with his head down. He is not hitting the hole quickly or with power – choosing rather to try to make some sort of move to the outside when he sees bodies at the point of attack. This is not the strength of his game. Ron needs to get back to basics and simply attack the defense. Don’t try to make a big play on each carry; just pick up the 3-4 yards if nothing else is there. Whether he’s hitting that “freshman wall” (rookies are not used to the long NFL season), the Giants are telegraphing the plays when he is in the game, he is not receiving the blocking up front, the Giants are not calling the right plays with him in there or not allowing him to get into a flow, or if he not running well, the truth of the matter is that when he is carrying the ball right now, the Giants are getting little out of that play and find themselves in 2nd- or 3rd-and-long. I think it’s time for the coaching staff to simplify things for Ron and allow him to run those plays that he is best at. But at the same time, Ron has to take it upon himself to run with the same type of pride and power that he did at the University of Wisconsin. The Giants can ill-afford another sub-standard performance from Dayne.

Tiki Barber (20 carries for 80 yards; 4 receptions for 47 yards) was the one offensive bright spot of the night. I was particularly impressed with his work after the catch on two screen passes where he demonstrated fine running instincts after the catch and broke both plays for sizable yardage. His 13-yard TD run after Emmanuel McDaniel’s interception was an excellent display of speed when the original hole was bottled up inside and Tiki and FB Greg Comella decided to take the play outside. Comella showed good power and toughness on his seven yard catch-and-run.

Offensive Line: Not a real strong game. LT Lomas Brown had problems even in pass protection – especially against DE Ebenezer Ekuban. But I also spotted him getting beat to the inside even after Ekuban was tossed from the game. Brown also did not sustain very well on his run blocks. LG Jason Whittle has good quickness, but he didn’t sustain very well on some of his blocks and was flagged with a false start. RG Ron Stone got beat cleanly on one pass play early in the game where there was a jail break on Collins (on the same play OC Dusty Zeigler was shoved right back into Collins’ face). Luke Petitgout was flagged with a false start penalty. The pass protection was sub-par as was the run blocking. There were never any big holes for Barber or Dayne to operate with – though they did a better job late in the game when the Giants drove for their final points on the field goal drive.

Defensive Line: Except for a couple of Emmitt Smith runs early in the game, this unit did a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage against a very big and talented offensive line. Smith’s biggest gain came on their first drive – a 15 yard jaunt against the right side of the defense. He later had an 11-yard burst on Dallas’ first field goal drive against the left side – but after that, he didn’t do much at all. He was completely shut down in the second half of the game and finished with only 46 yards on 24 carries. Much of the credit must go to the defensive line: DE Michael Strahan (6 tackles, 2.5 sacks), DT Keith Hamilton (5 tackles, 1.5 sacks), DT Christian Peter (1 tackle), DT/DE Cornelius Griffin (2 tackles), and DE Cedric Jones (2 tackles). All remained stout at the point of attack and allowed the linebackers in particular to make penetration and disrupt the running plays. Griffin made a great play on the 3rd-and-1 quarterback sneak right before Dallas’ last 4th-and-1 gasp. He tripped up Wright before he could get to the first down.

The pass rush was lacking in the first half as LG Larry Allen and RT Erik Williams were doing a number on Hamilton and Strahan, respectively. However, in the second half, the Giants were able to create some match-ups where they got Hamilton over OC Ben Fricke and Strahan matched-up on the opposing tight ends. This caused all kinds of problems for the Dallas protection schemes and Hamilton and Strahan combined for 4 sacks between them (though one of Strahan’s sacks did come at the expense of Williams). Christian Peter was flagged with a late hit penalty on the quarterback.

Linebackers: A very strong game from all three starters. MLB Mike Barrow (11 tackles) was all over the field and was found at the bottom of many piles at or behind the line of scrimmage against Emmitt Smith. He did a great job of reading the play and shooting the gaps. He also did a nice job in coverage except for one holding penalty. He forced Wright to run right into Armstead on his blitz up the gut in the third quarter. Barrow was a great off-season addition by the Giants.

WLB Jessie Armstead (7 tackles, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery) was also all over the field. He too was at the bottom of the pile of many Smith rushing attempts. He also made the play on Michael Wiley’s 4th-and-1 attempt at the end of the game. Jessie did a great job of timing one blitz where he shot up the middle and nailed Wright for a sack. On the negative side, he missed a tackle on TE Jackie Harris.

SLB Ryan Phillips (4 tackles) was tough to move out on running plays and he made a real strong play in coverage despite being lined up outside on TE Jackie Harris.

Defensive Backs: Not a real strong performance by CB Jason Sehorn (1 tackle) again. Sehorn was guilty of not only getting beat on Dallas’ longest pass play of the night (a 30 yard catch-and-run by James McKnight), but he also missed the tackle. He later got flagged with a long pass interference penalty (29 yards) – just like last week. Once again, he gave up a step to his man and in an effort to catch up to the receiver, didn’t look back for the ball and ran into the receiver for the penalty. The Giants have a tough decision on Sehorn in the offseason with him being an unrestricted free agent. I wouldn’t give up the moon for him – he’s not the same player he was.

The announcers kept talking about the Cowboys going after Dave Thomas (3 tackles), but I thought they did a better job of going at Sehorn. Thomas did give up a couple of receptions in front of him, but they were not big plays. He did a good job of defending a deep pass into the endzone. His defensive holding penalty on 3rd down was a bad call. But he was called with a legitimate roughing the passer penalty.

Nickel back Emmanuel McDaniel (2 tackles, 1 interception) made the play of the game with his interception of Wright deep in Cowboy territory. McDaniel did a great job of reading the route and stepping in front of the receiver for the pick. This play set up the Giants’ go-ahead touchdown in the 4th quarter.

SS Sam Garnes (4 tackles) was strong in run support (though he did miss one tackle on Smith’s second best run of the night). The guy in the secondary who really stood out again was FS Shaun Williams (2 tackles). Williams was very aggressive in run support, disrupting the blocking on many Smith carries. He also knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage on a blitz. He’s starting to remind me more and more of Darren Woodson. If he continues to improve at this pace, the Giants may have found themselves another impact player on defense.

Special Teams: The kicking game was a disaster. P Brad Maynard was just terrible, especially on his coffin corner work. He got off three sub-30 yard efforts, including an 8-yarder. That’s not acceptable. PK Brad Daluiso had one field goal attempt blocked and missed a 40-yarder. Both could have been huge in deciding the outcome of the game. His 44-yarder at the end of the game was clutch however. PK Jaret Holmes did a better job on kickoffs, but was not overly impressive. His first kickoff lacked height; the second was better.

The good news is that both punt and kick coverage was strong. Jack Golden recovered a fumble that Damon Washington caused on the opening kickoff of the second half. Shaun Williams also made a nice play in coverage. The Giants did a good job of setting up the blocking wall on Barber’s 25-yard punt return right before Collins’ bomb to Toomer. Dixon had one good return where he brought ball past the 40 yard line.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, December 17, 2000)
Dec 152000
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, December 17, 2000: Dallas has always been a difficult place for the Giants to win, even when the Giants have been good. New York lost the season opener in 1986 during their first Super Bowl year when Herschel Walker’s late touchdown on a draw play stunned the G-Men. Then their was the week 15 game against the Cowboys in 1985 in Dallas – to the victor, the NFC East title. The Giants controlled the entire first half; up 14-7 and driving for a touchdown that would put them up 21-7, a Phil Simms’ pass was batted into the air by DE “Too Tall” Jones and intercepted on the rebound by DE Jim Jeffcoat, who returned the interception for a long touchdown. The Giants promptly lost their composure and fell behind 28-14. New York came back, cut the lead to 28-21, and just missed tying the game when Simms hit WR Bryon Williams for what looked to be the tying touchdown – but he couldn’t get both feet in bounds. The clock ran out and Dallas won the division. I don’t think I’ve ever been more upset after a game – not even after “The Fumble” or the Minnesota playoff debacle. The Giants were the better team and they deserved to win the division but didn’t.

Then there was that game in 1991 in Dallas where the Giants, defending Super Bowl champions, lost despite QB Jeff Hostetler completing an amazing 28-of-34 pass attempts. In 1995, the Giants badly outplayed the Cowboys with Rodney Hampton rushing over 170 yards. But some very questionable calls and failed scoring opportunities enabled Dallas to kick the winning field goal with no time remaining on the clock. Last year, Head Coach Jim Fassel and Co-Owner Wellington Mara demanded that the Giants play with passion or else; New York promptly went out to lay an egg and lost 26-18. The Giants have played in Dallas nine times since 1990 and lost eight of those games. The Giants have only won 11 games in Dallas since 1960. So don’t talk to me about any “easy” games. The memory of 1985 and other debacles in Dallas still haunt me.

Giants on Offense: I think the game plan is pretty obvious this week: run the ball and run it a lot. Dallas is beat up on defense and their linebackers are pretty light. To me, this game screams for a large dose of Ron Dayne running right up the gut. If Offensive Coordinator Sean Payton and Fassel try to run repeatedly outside with either Dayne or Tiki Barber, I’ll throw a fit. The Dallas linebackers – led by WLB Dexter Coakley – are very nimble and active. Running outside plays to their strength; running at them does not. What really helps is that defensive tackles Leon Lett and Chad Hennings, as well as All-World SS Darren Woodson are out – more indication of weakness up the middle. Power the damn ball up the gut behind Pro Bowl RG Ron Stone. Stone is matched up against DT Michael Myers. A key battle on the right side will be RT Luke Petitgout versus DE Alonzo Spellman (5 sacks) – a guy who at times can play very well. On the left side, the Giants will be missing LG Glenn Parker, one of their steadiest players and an emotional leader. How well his replacement, Jason Whittle, plays is critical. Lined up against him will be DT Brandon Noble. LT Lomas Brown will see both former first rounders – Greg Ellis and Ebenezer Ekuban. The latter flashes great potential and has 5.5 sacks in limited playing time this year. The offensive line needs to control the line and provide the backs with some room to operate. The blocking of the tight ends, particularly Howard Cross and Dan Campbell, will be particularly important. FB Greg Comella needs to get out quickly on the linebackers at the point of attack. He faces a very active and speedy bunch – but they are not very big. Engaging MLB Barron Worthom is very important (Dat Nguyen may also see significant playing time and he is very instinctive). Coakley has accrued 122 tackles and is very good in coverage – the Giants need to be careful with their screen passes with him on the field. SLB Darren Hambrick has 136 tackles.

But the Giants also need to keep Dallas from crowding the line of scrimmage and the Dallas secondary isn’t very strong. Both starting safeties are out. CB Phillippi Sparks is a solid player, but he has lost speed. I’d take some shots against him deep – especially with Ron Dixon. WR Amani Toomer will be matched-up against Ryan McNeil – a bigger player who matches up better with players like Amani than with smaller, quicker guys like Ike Hilliard. It will be interesting to see how the Giants game plan without Joe Jurevicius (knee) playing. Will we see more of Dixon or WR Thabiti Davis – or will the game plan use more of Comella, Pete Mitchell, or Dan Campbell?

The one thing that New York doesn’t want to do is give Dallas hope by turning the ball over. Let’s hope Kerry Collins can continue to build on his superior performance from last week.

Giants on Defense: First and foremost, stop Emmitt Smith. Easier said than done. Smith is still playing incredibly well at this late stage of his career and he still has the benefit of a fine offensive line making holes for him up front. The front seven of the Giants on defense had better come to play. If they lay an egg like they did against the Titans, the Giants are going to lose. The two major match-ups up front are DT Keith Hamilton versus Pro Bowl LG Larry Allen and DE Michael Strahan versus RT Erik Williams. Williams (neck) is ailing, but is expected to play. He always gives Strahan trouble. One of Cedric Jones’ few bright spots this year came with his crucial late sack in the first game this year against LT Flozell Adams. Adams is a huge player and Cedric needs to batten down the hatches and get ready for a running game directed squarely at him, WLB Jessie Armstead, and CB Jason Sehorn. DT Christian Peter and DT Corenlius Griffin will face off against RG Solomon Page. Ex-Giant Ben Fricke starts at center. We hear that he is “tough as a boot.” The Dallas line is good the Giants must play a very physical and aggressive game up front to keep Emmitt under control.

The solid line won’t help the pass rush either. Making matters worse will be the presence of youngster Anthony Wright at quarterback. He’s a very mobile guy and thus the Giants must be wary of their pass rush lanes again (thus hindering the rush). Facing Wright is a scarier proposition than most realize. Since this is his first start, there is no “book” on him; the Giants don’t know his strengths (other than his arm and mobility) or weaknesses (other than his inexperience). It is quite possible that he could pull another Jay Schroeder episode on the G-Men. Many fans are calling for the Giants to blitz the hell out of him. I’m not sure I agree. For one, Dallas is expecting it. “I’m sure John (Fox) is going to throw the kitchen sink at us with his blitz package,” Dallas Head Coach Dave Campo says. “We’re looking forward to seeing how Anthony reacts to those things.” Secondly, blitzing will open up some one-on-one opportunities for Wright down the field and possible cheap points. I think I’d be more apt to play things a bit more conservatively and mix up my coverages – try to confuse the young man. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t blitz, especially since I doubt the Giants’ down four will be able to get consistent pass pressure on Wright without sending an extra man. You don’t want to give him all day to throw. But I wouldn’t “send the kitchen sink.” One play that the Giants’ defense has been susceptible to this year is the quarterback draw – the Giants need to do a better job of defending this play.

Strong coverage of his targets will be key. Watch for short passes to FB Robert Thomas out of the backfield and the tight ends to build Wright’s confidence. The linebackers of Jessie Armstead, Mike Barrow, and Ryan Phillips need to be tough here. Third-down back Michael Wiley will probably be used more now that Chris Warren has been waived.

As for the receivers, don’t underestimate James McKnight, Jason Tucker, and Wane McGarity. McNnight and Tucker in particular can get deep (Tucker burned CB Jason Sehorn for a very long touchdown last year). CB Dave Thomas will be challenged vertically with this speed. FS Shaun Williams will be needed to help defend the run, but his first priority must be to help out Thomas in deep coverage. The Giants also need a strong game out of nickel back Emmanuel McDaniel.

Giants on Specials: Dallas has one of the best, if not the best, coached special teams units in the league. Punt returner Wane McGarity has returned two for scores. Kick returner Jason Tucker has the speed to break it as well. Coverage, as always, will be key to preventing Dallas from working with a short field. It would be nice if the Giants’ blockers could create some space for Tiki Barber to operate when he returns punts. Look for Dallas to try to block a punt too.

Dec 132000
 
New York Giants 30 – Pittsburgh Steelers 10

Game Overview: It wasn’t so much a surprise that the Giants won this game, but it was surprising at how easy they won and how they won. Don’t forget that this was a playoff game for the Steelers. They knew if they lost this game, they would be through. Pittsburgh had a lot more riding on this game than the Giants. New York was in control of this game from the opening kickoff and this was probably the Giants most complete game since week two against the Eagles.

What was shocking too was that the Giants did it offensively through the air. The Giants had no running game from the backs – none whatsoever. The only big run came from WR Amani Toomer on a reverse. The Giants put up 30 points on a very tough Steelers’ defense on the right arm of Kerry Collins, who may have played his best game as a pro. The timing of Collins’ effort is perfect. If he can take the confidence that must come from this game and build upon it, we may all look back to this game as the moment when Collins took that step to make himself an upper echelon quarterback and the Giants an upper echelon team. Only time will tell. The exciting part is that he has by no means peaked. He’s still relatively young and still learning. And there will be rough spots. But it is ironic while that Phil Simms was broadcasting this game from the press box, Collins demonstrated the finest quarterbacking in the Meadowlands since Phil was playing in 1993.

Coaching: The interesting thing offensively is that the Giants came out throwing the ball and kept doing so even when they were up 13-0, 20-3, and 23-3. This was NOT a conservative game plan. It was not a matter of the Giants first trying to run, then adjusting. They came out winging it and stayed with it. This game plan completely took the Steelers by surprise. There were some more exotic plays as well – a reverse on 3rd-and-1, a flea flicker, and a shovel pass. Great job by Jim Fassel and Sean Payton.

Defensively, the Giants did a great job of containing QB Kordell Stewart in the pocket. As I feared, the Steelers came out throwing, but the Giants held up despite being seemingly surprised early. Some may want to know where the sacks were, but there were numerous times in the game where DE Michael Strahan and his mates didn’t take the most direct path to the quarterback in order to maintain their rush lanes. This discipline forced Stewart to stay in the pocket and throw from the pocket – something that he is not comfortable doing. John Fox took some chances in the secondary by playing more men up at the line of scrimmage (particularly FS Shaun Williams), but the defensive backs held up pretty well for the most part.

Quarterback/Receivers: Kerry Collins (24-of-35 for 333 yards, 2 touchdowns, no interceptions) played his best game as a Giant on Sunday. Some may point to the game against the Jets last year, but Collins was supported in that game by a strong rushing game from Joe Montgomery. Let’s look at some of the specifics:

On the first drive, Collins started off by throwing a perfect swing pass to Tiki Barber. The pass was thrown so well that Tiki was able to catch the ball in stride and explode down the sideline for 18 yards before the defense could adjust. In the past, a Dave Brown, Danny Kanell, or Kent Graham pass would have been off the mark and Tiki would have had to stop and catch the ball – allowing the defense to stop the play for no gain. However, the drive stalled when Collins’ pass to Ike Hilliard on 3rd-and-8 was too low. The Giants settled for a field goal.

On the second drive, on 3rd-and-9, Collins was afforded excellent pass protection and stood patiently in the pocket until Amani Toomer broke free over the middle. Kerry hit him in stride and a 28-yard catch-and-run resulted (if Toomer keeps his feet he might have scored). Collins then tried a pump-and-go route to Toomer, but it was well-covered and he threw the ball away. After another throw away, Collins then found Tiki Barber (6 catches for 75 yards) over the middle for a first down on 3rd-and-10. Kerry’s bad decision came in the redzone when he was flagged for intentional grounding. The drive ended on the one yard line when the Giants failed to convert on 4th-and-goal.

On the third drive, Collins hit TE Pete Mitchell (2 catches for 25 yards) over the middle for 15 yards (finally!). After a penalty put the Giants back five yards, Barber did a poor job of following Dusty Zeigler’s block on a screen and was stuffed. Kerry’s worst decision of the day came on the next play when he tried to hit Toomer in the endzone, but the ball was underthrown and almost intercepted. Giants kicked a field goal and were up 6-0.

Now the good stuff really started. On the fourth drive, Collins hit Hilliard on a turn-in for 11 yards and a first down. The Giants tried a flea flicker but Tiki Barber didn’t sell the play well because he pitched the ball back to Collins too soon. On 3rd-and-6, Kerry hit Joe Jurevicius (1 catch for 6 yards) on a crossing route and Joe did a great job of fighting for the first down. Passes to Toomer on a slant and Mitchell (who needs to be used more like this in the redzone) over the middle picked up two more first downs. Tiki then scored to make it 13-0.

On the Giants first drive in the second half, Collins hit Toomer for 15 yards on 2nd-and-10. I’ve criticized Collins’ presence in the pocket at times this year, but he showed me something two plays later. On 2nd-and-11, Collins didn’t panic when he spotted a blitz coming from his right. He sidestepped the rush, stepped UP INTO THE POCKET and then delivered a strike to Toomer crossing over the middle for 24 yards. The drive looked to be in trouble after a sack. Facing 2nd-and-17, previous Giants’ offenses would have crumbled. But Collins threw to Barber for 8 and then on 3rd-and-9, a well-executed shovel pass for 23 yards picked up the first down. The Giants did a great job on third down in this game (9-of-14 on conversion attempts). On 3rd-and-6 inside the ten, Collins hit Hilliard over the middle for what looked to be only a first down, but Hilliard – showing no ill-effects from his lung/sternum injury – bounced off two tacklers and scored. Giants 20-3.

Hilliard (5 catches for 90 yards, 1 touchdown) had a big day. His biggest play came on the next drive when he caught an out from Collins turned up field and put on some superb moves that were reminiscent of his days at the University of Florida. It was a 59-yard catch-and-run where Hilliard would have scored if he had only followed FB Greg Comella’s superb block. Instead Ike cut it back and tripped over the last man who could have stopped him. On 3rd-and-8, Collins hit Ike over the middle, but it wasn’t enough for the first down and the Giants were forced to kick the field goal. 23-3. Incidentally, I didn’t like the play design on this play. Ike wasn’t deep enough to pick up the first down and the Giants’ braintrust had Mitchell running a 1-2 yard out pattern.

I thought Collins’ best work came on the last drive when the Giants were probably just trying to run some time off the clock. Instead, Collins lead the Giants on an 11-play, 80-yard juggernaut that took almost seven minutes off the clock. Collins kept the drive alive by hitting Hilliard on a slant for seven yards on 3rd-and-5, Toomer for 45 yards on 3rd-and-8 (a PERFECTLY thrown deep sideline pass – couldn’t have been thrown better). Then on 3rd-and-2, he rolled out to his right and fired a rocket to Toomer in the back corner of the endzone for a touchdown. Giants 30 – Steelers 3.

The main beneficiary of Collins’ strong day was Toomer (9 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown). Toomer showed fine toughness on quite a few short throws as well as down-the-field ability on the deep stuff.

Pass Blocking: Superb. The Giants gave up one sack on a blitz where a linebacker came free (it looked to me as if Dan Campbell should have picked up the man instead of helping Luke Petitgout on a double-team). The line was aided by the fact that Collins got rid of the ball quickly and a Steeler defender said after the game that it was tough to get to Collins because of all his 3-step drops. However, there were quite a few plays where Collins had all day to throw. On Toomer’s 28-yard reception on the second drive, Collins looked over the middle, looked right, then looked over the middle and then threw. This was indicative of the pass protection on the day. Ron Dayne also continue to do a good job on blitz pick-ups – a surprising positive for a rookie.

Running Game/Run Blocking: I was all set to criticize HB Tiki Barber (12 carries for 22 yards and 1 touchdown) and HB Ron Dayne (11 carries for 20 yards) for their meager statistics. My impression when I watched the game live was that they did not run the ball well. However, after watching the tape and rewinding numerous plays, I have to say that it was the terrible run blocking and not the running that was the problem. Dayne has gotten a lot of grief recently from fans, but I’m here to tell you that he had nowhere to run on most of his runs. Same with Barber. Some examples:

On the first drive, Dayne was hit in the backfield when both OC Dusty Zeigler and LT Lomas Brown whiffed on their blocks. On the second drive, Dan Campbell missed his block and Tiki was held to five yards on a sweep that should have picked up more. On 4th-and-goal, Greg Comella was stood up in the hole and pushed back; this knocked the pulling LG Glenn Parker off stride and back into Dayne. Now many have argued that Dayne should have scored here, but the Pittsburgh defenders, Comella, and Parker were all surrounding Dayne in the backfield. Personally, I think the call was the problem. I don’t like pulling linemen on 4th-and-short.

On another run, Zeigler fell to the ground and missed his man. He missed another block on another Tiki rushing attempt (Zeigler didn’t play well today in the running game). RG Ron Stone was flagged with a false start. In the second half, RT Luke Petitgout missed a block on a right side run. Glenn Parker failed to hit his man on two pulls (the Steelers did a great job of disrupting the Giants favorite running play where they pull Parker to the right). LG Jason Whittle, subbing for Parker, missed a block on another run and Barber was nailed in the backfield. All of these missed blocks contributed to plays where Dayne or Barber went nowhere. Part of the problem too was that ILB Earl Holmes for the Steelers was all over the field. Sometimes you have to give the other guy credit too.

The good news? The 3rd-and-1 reverse to Toomer was a great call and well executed with superb blocks from Campbell and Zeigler. The left side of the line, including Lomas Brown and Jason Whittle did a good job of creating space for Tiki on his 3 yard touchdown run. On the Giants’ last scoring drive, the blockers started to provide Dayne and Barber with some room. There was an 8-yard counter to Barber with an excellent pulling block from Parker and a very nice inside cutback by Dayne for solid yardage up the middle that set the Giants up inside the ten.

Defensive Line: This unit did a great job of containing Stewart in the pocket (only 8 yards scrambling) and limiting the always dangerous Jerome Bettis to only 39 yards rushing. I am amazed that opposing offenses simply refuse to run at DE Michael Strahan (2 tackles). The Steelers only tried a few times and only once was it successful. Strahan didn’t pick up a sack, but he buzzed by Stewart a few times and there were plays where I spotted the Steelers putting two men on him. The Steelers’ offense is well-suited to DT Christian Peter’s (2 tackles) game and he responded well by gumming up things inside along with DT Keith Hamilton (3 tackles). Peter got a good pass rush on Stewart on one play, but then was flagged on another for a very blatant late hit on the quarterback. Hamilton did a good job of disrupting a screen with quick pressure. He was also flagged with a questionable 15-yard facemask penalty on the Steelers’ only successful attempt to run at Strahan. DE Cedric Jones (3 tackles, 1 sack) played well against the run and helped to contain Stewart. His sack came on a play where he was unblocked (he still is a non-factor rushing the passer except for last week’s game against the Skins and late in the Dallas game). Jones did save the defense bigtime when he knocked down a screen pass that was set up for big yardage. He also stood real stout on the critical 3rd-and-2 Bettis run that forced the Steelers to settle for a field goal in the first half.

As for the reserves, DT/DE Cornelius Griffin (2 tackles) made a nice play from right defensive end in the hole against Bettis on the play where he hurt his groin. Ryan Hale saw some time but was a non-factor.

Linebackers: Pretty quiet game as they too had a role in keeping Stewart and Bettis under control. Not flashy, but effective. MLB Mike Barrow (5 tackles) did a great job in coverage and almost picked off a pass for a touchdown when he broke on a pass intended for a wide receiver on 3rd-and-9. If he held on, he scores easy. He then later nailed Bettis for a 3-yard loss on a left side run. Jessie Armstead (7 tackles, 1 sack) showed good aggressiveness on an inside blitz where he knocked the blocker back into the pocket. He also nailed Stewart for a “sack” at one of the few times that he got through containment. Like Peter, SLB Ryan Phillips (7 tackles) is made to play against this type of offense and responded well by standing up blocks and getting in on tackles.

Defensive Backs: It seems to me that in John Fox’s scheme, CB Jason Sehorn (6 tackles) is often left to fend for himself with no help. This at times can make Sehorn look bad if he’s not on top of his game and he wasn’t on Sunday. But get one thing straight – Sehorn is still the best cover corner on the team. Sehorn was flagged with two penalties – a holding call that gave the Steelers a first down and a 41-yard pass interference penalty when he let WR Hines Ward get behind him. On another play, Sehorn was playing too far off of Ward and allowed an easy completion for a first down on 2nd-and-long. Jason has also gotten into the nasty habit of trying to tackle with his shoulders instead of wrapping up and he’s starting to miss a lot of tackles again.

Dave Thomas (2 tackles) made a great play on the Steelers’ 4th-and-3 conversion attempt in the first half. He played his man aggressively and knocked the ball away. WR Bobby Shaw did beat Thomas deep on the first drive of the second half – FS Shaun Williams was late getting over to help on the play. Luckily, Pittsburgh missed the field goal attempt. Thomas wasn’t able to get to the fallen wide receiver on a short reception late in the game, enabling the receiver to get up and pick up 25 yards on the play.

Williams (8 tackles) was a huge factor in controlling Bettis at the line of scrimmage. Indeed, he was like having an extra linebacker on the field as he regularly came up with big hits AND sure tackles. He made a sure tackle that saved first down on a CB blitz right before the aforementioned missed field goal. SS Sam Garnes (2 tackles) made a nice play in coverage against the tight end to knock the ball away.

Nickel back Emmanuel McDaniel (3 tackles) missed Stewart on a blitz, but CB Reggie Stephens (3 tackles, 1 interception) saved him and the defense by chasing down the elusive and fast Stewart for no gain. Stephens had great coverage on 4th-and-goal late in the game and picked off the pass in the endzone (with an assist from the blitzing Armstead). Reggie did get beat by Ward for a first down on 3rd-and-4 earlier in the game however. McDaniel also gave up a reception late in the game.

Lyle West made a big hit after a reception on the Steelers only scoring drive, but got beat in the endzone for a touchdown. However, I didn’t like the coverage as the Giants had West and MLB Pete Monty covering the two inside receivers (both wide receivers to boot). That won’t work and it didn’t.

The bad news was there were two plays where Steeler receivers got open in the seams as it looked like there were blown assignments. Fortunately for New York, Shaw dropped both passes. This needs to be addressed this week by the coaches of course.

Special Teams: Kick coverage was very good until the last kickoff when the Giants let the Steelers return the ball to the 45 yard line very late in the 4th quarter. Jack Golden absolutely launched himself into the wedge with a hit so vicious that I had to watch it three times. Thabiti Davis, Reggie Stephens, and Lyle West made sure tackles on coverage.

Brad Daluiso’s kickoffs continue to remain short and with little hangtime. He did a great job on his three field goals however. Brad Maynard got off a poor effort (27 yards) on his one lone attempt.

Omar Stoutmire started the game with a 47 yard return with a excellently-blocked seam for him to run up through. Blocking on punts for Tiki Barber remains poor however (the Giants are not blocking the gunners effectively). Reggie Stephens made a great play by holding onto the onsides kick despite a vicious hit.


Who’s Going to Bring a Broken Arrow…

by David Oliver

The new Rod Stewart song, story of my life cuz the young man in me won’t die. Met up with Dr. Joe Mancino, erstwhile fotog for INSIDE FOOTBALL, and headed up for the game – one day trip this week, because I’m still not feeling well, my wife is on vacation in St Thomas and someone has to feed the cats. Dr. Joe handled the wheel and I co-piloted him through the Scylla and Charibides of the NJ Turnpike. We had a good trip, notwithstanding the fact that he drives at 75 mph and still seems like he’s driving like an Old Lady. One skid on the way home when it was icy on the 295 entrance, but Dr. Joe did a masterful job of keeping her off the guard rail.

Noticed last week one thread in which some contributors were thanking Eric for his work on the site. Of course, there was one nattering nabob who had to be an ass and criticize those who were expressing some appreciation. Then he took some cheap shots at both Eric and myself. Proclaimed Eric was a “punter with a website” and I talked to, I dunno – something like lesser individuals in the locker who would talk to me. As much as I love NY, one thing I have never understood is smart mouths with the brains of horned toads who like to shoot off their mouths in a critical way without producing one thing of seeming sense. All I can say, wiseass, is that if you are so good – here’s a challenge – call Pat Hanlon, get a pass to work the game, either upstairs or on the field, go into the locker room and talk to whomever you consider “important” personages, then write a report for the group as to what you saw and heard. If you can’t do it – because I don’t believe you can as you appear to be intellectually emasculated and without any redeeming social value, if you can’t do it, change your handle to “fudgepack” because that title is more appropriate for your additions to this site. And keep in mind, if you are going to be a wiseass, back it up, or shut your arse.

Now let me get back in touch with my gentler side because this time of the year is very special for me. It’s not only about the quality of the football, it’s about the festival of lights, the birth of Christ, the celebration of Channukah, the month of Ramadan. It is about the primaeval need for something warm and fuzzy to fight off the depression of short days, the long season of dormancy, the winter of our souls. It is about family, friends and celebration and nowhere is it more beautiful than the Big Apple – from the Tree and ice skating rink at Rockefeller center to the Italian section off Grand Ave. and Mott St. I treasure my memories of Christmas past, when Mom and Dad and my wife, son and I would go into the City, stop for dinner, usually at Vincent’s, right across the street from the restaurant where Joey Colombo, or was it Gallo, met his demise, then have a cappuccino and cannoli at Ferrara’s,. Then we would walk the streets, looking at the decorations, the twinkling lights and stopping at the music stores playing carols outside, particularly “Oh, Bambino”. Damn, I can’t tell you guys what I would give to have one of those trips back, to have my Dad here again, my Mom, young and beautiful, my wife with that glow in her eyes, and my son- to hold him again when he would take those small hands and slap my cheeks and laugh as only babies can laugh. Then on Christmas Eve, to have that traditional Italian fish dinner- Mom would spend all day cooking smelts, scungilli, calamari, lobster tails, fried eel; we would have coffee and sweet pie or home made cookies for dessert. I mention this now because I won’t be going to the Dallas game and Jacksonville is just before Christmas, so I won’t have an opportunity between now and then to wish you all a happy and joyous season with your family and loved ones. Take a few minutes out to just feel what you have and to be thankful for this past year, and some great Giants football.

I say great because great it is getting. First the Skins, now the Steelers, two good teams thoroughly dismantled and totally dominated by the streaking and peaking Giants Game day temp, a seasonable 37, mostly overcast, at times so dark on the field that we were losing 1.5 to stops of light between shots – but dry and comfortable for this time of the year. Strange game as the G-Men totally dominated, yet the time of possession was only 32:14 to 27:46 and the edge in plays 62 to 56. But third down efficiency for the Giants 9-of-14, a gaudy 64 %, 394 total yards, 326 net yards in the air.

Special Teams – One more step on the road to new and improved. Good field position, kickoffs still a little short, but field goals setting the offense for the Giants right now. Kickoff returns – Stoutmire had a nice 47 yard return. There was only I Giant punt. Coverage was much improved as the Steelers had 132 total yards on 7 KO returns, with a long of 30. When you don’t have much to write about specials, it is a good game. I talked to Brandon Short about it. First he told me he isn’t 100% yet but is glad to be out there and having an opportunity to make some plays. We bantered a little about him and Jack Golden, who was popping people again out there and I asked if they had a little friendly rivalry going to see who was the most feisty. Brandon told me the unit had a lot of pride and was accepting the challenge. He told me that he “personally takes pride in that (good special teams play).”

Defense – Another great effort all around. The defense showed it’s versatility today, playing a contain, team oriented defense against the Steelers, following an aggressive, blitzing defense last week against the Skins. I concentrated on this versatility and spoke to Coach Fox, Jessie Armstead, Michael Barrow and Cedric Jones about the unit and the effort (how’s that, kk?). Jessie said that Kordell Stewart was a hard QB to cover, but that he “really didn’t too much spying,” other than to “keep an eye on him, you know, keep one eye on your man and one eye on him…when I saw him break the pocket, I knew I had to come up out of my coverage and make the play.” He was asked about the Bus and said, “One thing about it is that we have the best run stop defense in the League and we knew we just had to attack, you had the D-line fighting up front, the linebackers clogging the holes and, you know, we’ve got some big secondary guys that come up and seal the run, too.” He said, “You can’t take anything away from the Bus, that’s why they call him the Bus, but one thing about it is, he’s got to run through 11 of us…” Jessie talked about the team concept, that the focus wasn’t on the defense, but that the offense was doing it’s job, that the team, and he emphasized team was doing it together. Talking about Coach Fassel’s prediction, he said Coach had put it on the table, knowing he had the “type of guys who would go out and fight for you. A lot of coaches could make that prediction, but they don’t know what type of guys they have…”

I asked him about the versatility of the defense and he said, “With Coach Fox, he’s probably the best defensive coordinator in the League. He knows right when to blitz and right when to sit you back, he didn’t come out there today just blitzing Kordell Stewart, he looked at the game plan, and he did the way he felt right, and we came out on top.” Jessie had a combined 7 tackles on the day. I congratulated EMac on his interception last week. He’s a very humble young man and he said, “Sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time.” I asked him how it was playing with all the defensive backs out there at the end of the game and he told me it was just basically “a little more talking, everybody talking, and good things happen when you talk.” EMac had 3 tackles on the day.

I talked to CJ and congratulated him about getting a sack today. He told me that “we weren’t really concentrating on getting the QB sacks today, our game plan today was really, we wanted to stop the run…and to keep Kordell in front of us, and whatever, today we were doing that whatever and towards the end we were rushing and I was able to get to him.” I asked him what it was like to put a shoulder pad on the Bus and he said, “Hey, I mean, he’s a load, you try to get him going East and West, because when he’s going downhill…he’s a load to bring down.” CJ also talked about the team effort and “everyone knows where they’re supposed to be and you make the plays…that’s what we need, we need everyone to know their assignment, and when it comes time to make that play, they make that play.” CJ had 3 tackles on the day, with a sack and a pass defensed.

Coach Fox said, “Players win games and our guys did an excellent job looking at tape, studying their opponent, and I think it was evident.” On the defensive scheme he said they (Steelers) were going to run certain plays in certain places and “we tried to minimize that and teach our guys where they were going to show up and then try to get more than one guy in the hole.” On Bettis he said, “He’s a very hard runner, most of the times in those short yardages we’ve got people on him and he’s spinning for first downs – my hat’s off to him.” Coach Fox said, “We did step it up a notch.” I told him about Jessie’s remarks and he laughed and blushed a little (about him being the best D coordinator). He said, “I appreciate the comments, but you know, you need good players. We ‘ve got good players. They’re well-respected in the League and well-respected by their teammates. Players win games in this League and they’re playing well right now.” He also said, “This team is beginning to grow in the right direction and we have to see if we can remain this focused throughout the season…they see something that they want and they’re working hard to get it.” I asked about the versatility of the planning and playing and he told me, “I feel real good about this group of guys. I have for a long time. We’ve got with free agency in this League, each season brings along a few new guys and it takes a while for those guys to develop within the system. I’m real proud of what they’ve done and how hard they’ve worked.”

Michael Barrow was as usual, very gracious and giving of his time in talking to us. He was concentrating on the team aspect of the game also and related that Coach Fassel had once again shown a clip from GLADIATOR to the team – Saturday night before the Redskins game – it was the Coliseum shot where Russell Crowe is telling the gladiators that he didn’t know what was coming into the arena but if they stood together, they would survive. It is an evocative scene, a purely masculine moment, and if it doesn’t reach a special place in you, then you have never been in a fraternity, never played organized team sports, never been to combat, either in the military or on the streets, never been embattled as only men can be. My son had advised me to see the movie and I’m glad I did because it reached me personally – it is the way I managed my crack team of seven litigating attorneys, it is the way I form my friendships, it is the way I live mt life. It is a brutally tough standard – stand together – and obviously, it reached Coach Fassel in much the same way because he has imprinted it upon these Giants. The look in Barrow’s eyes showed that it reached him also, his eyes glistened and you could sense a rippling surge in his muscular physique. He talked about the Giants recent success as a “family thing…it’s all about winning. I know that all my individual goals that I have will be accomplished based on the success of this team, we sacrifice that, and that’s the beauty of it, we sacrifice that (individual honor) for team goals because they are all connected.” He told us about his affirmation of Jesus and playing to help the team win, “When I step out onto the field, that’s the one thing I’m thinking about, God I want to glorify you and I want to help this team win.” He went on, “If I do something to hurt this team, I’m upset about it, so I come back and I get a guy like Jessie holding me accountable, saying come on let’s go, let’s go and vice versa, I’m like keeping him accountable and we’re all keeping each other accountable, but we trust in one another.” I love talking to Preacher Barrow – it’s so refreshing to hear this kind of homily from a young man, a sincere statement of who he is and what he is about, in a non-polemical manner, not reaching out to convert, but giving his own testimony in an earnest manner. So much is made of the Ray Lewis and Rae Carruth or the Dallas marauders, but it guys like Barrow who give hope for the sport and for the future.

He echoed Coach Fox when talking about the awareness “it’s like a seed that’s been planted; it started in training camp…we know who we are, we’re a great defense, we’re a great team, we can make it happen, and then the seed manifests, right now it’s starting to manifest…” He pointed to the Redskins game as the proof “that’s when everything started manifesting itself…we kept speaking faith, Coach Fassel stepped out, everyone thought he was crazy…but then the substance started manifesting itself, the seed started growing and you started seeing the fruits of our labor…” In that game, he said, faith in themselves was “tested over and over, it was awesome, even in tense moments, it was like ‘stay together, stay together’ and we stayed together…” I asked him about the ritual in the Skins game where he and Jessie and Michael Strahan would tap helmets together each time the D took the field. He said, “That’s just something that we do. We call it ‘Roll Call’, you know everybody has their thing where you get back to focus, say ok let’s go…that’s something that indicates we’re just anchoring in, we’re saying, ok, when we take this field we have to make a play happen.” Someone else asked him if the goal line stand was one of those “roll calls” and he said basically yes and he went on “it’s third-and-2, you’ve got the Bus back there, and he’s coming down hill, it’s one of those things, all buses have to stop at a railroad, and we just made a railroad…” He talked about their system (Steelers) and said it was a reflection of their Coach – then he started visualizing and imitating Coach Cowher, his jaw jutting out and spitting orders out to the team. He said Cowher’s teams are like the Terminator, “you chop a leg off and they keep on coming…they’re going to keep coming.” I wish I could play the tape for you when he was talking like Coach Cowher saying, “If I see one of you guys quit in this game, you’re out of here” grinding his teeth and sounding tough. He said, “This team scared me coming in here.” Barrow had 5 combined tackles and 1 pass defensed.

The rest of the defense also lived up to the ‘team’ concept. Sean Williams had another good game with 8 combined tackles 1 pass defensed), Phillips had 7 combined tackles, Sehorn had 6 combined tackles. Hamilton had a quiet day with 3 tackles, Reggie Stephens had 3 tackles and an interception on the goal line. Strahan and Peter were quietly effective; Griffin was hurt. West got in for 2 tackles, one a monster crunch. Dave Thomas had a decent day with 2 tackles and 2 passes defensed. The Steelers receivers had a lot of catches. Led by Bobby Shaw with 6-for-88 and a 36 yarder, Hines Ward with 6-for-64, long of 23. The Giants strive to limit the receptions to under 30 yards and with only 1 exceeding that, pass defense was successful notwithstanding a 20-of-34 day for Slash.

On offense, the Giants receivers were led by Amani Toomer with 9-for-136 yards, with a long of 45 and a TD. Ike contributed 5-for-90 with a beautiful twisting 59 yard run, Tiki had 6-for-75, Pete 2-for-25 and JJ and Comella with 1 each. The running game was held in check with 68 yards, but one run was a reverse to Toomer good for 28 yards. Tiki had 22 and Dayne 20. FOR THOSE OF YOU INTERESTED IN DAYNE’S BODY – I SPECIFICALLY ASKED HIM ABOUT THE “JELLO” CLAIM AND HE WAS NOT UPSET – HE TOLD ME EVEN THE TEAM QUESTIONED HIM AT FIRST. BUT HIS BODY FAT ANALYSIS CAME OUT “10” WHICH IS VERY, VERY GOOD BY ANY STANDARDS. AND THAT IS AT 260 POUNDS. I WISH I WAS CONFIGURED THAT WAY. He did acknowledge that he needed to get at the weights in the off season.

Lomas Brown was happy and said that the Giants had “come out aggressively against those guys, because we knew they had a very aggressive team…so we knew we had to get something going early to try and keep our defense off the field and we were able to do it. We wanted to put up more points than we put up, but we got the victory and that’s all that counts.” He also felt this win for the offensive line was a big one – “It takes us to another level, we played against Washington last week, we did a pretty good job against them, then to come home against a team like Pittsburgh and be able to move the ball on them, it really, really helps our offensive line. I think right now our offensive line is starting to jell together.” He also said that he thought this was the best performance for the team so far because so much was riding on the game with 4 or 5 teams right behind the Giants. I asked him about the red zone problems and he said, “It is a concern for us because the farther we get into the season, we’re going to have to be able to punch the ball in. A lot of times 3 points don’t get it done, so we’re going to have to start punching this thing in and really, really start getting that ball and when we’re in the red zone, start taking advantage of the red zone.” I asked him about the feeling for the guys when they start making holes and he said it felt good because “running backs go for 100 yards, or Kerry doesn’t get touched, it makes us feel good because we look for some of those little things.”

That pretty much sums it up for this week. I could go for another 3 pages, but you guys have a flavor for the game, the feeling in the locker room, what is driving this team and if you’ve been following, you can pick up on the tools of the ‘new motivator’- Coach Fassel is succeeding, not by playing head games or terrorizing the troops, but by preaching ‘unity’ and teamwork. He is giving new currency as a new age coach to the old adages, the code of the warrior, the hunt – “stay together and we’ll survive.” It may have taken all the critics a long time to bring it out of Coach, notwithstanding his proclamations that he doesn’t care what anyone thinks, he is showing that he is a leader, or rather the Giants, since the Lions game, are showing he is a leader. Fitting in a wry sort of way, that it took the Lions to bring out the Gladiator.

(Box Score – Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants, December 10, 2000)
Dec 082000
 

Approach to the Game – Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants, December 10, 2000: This is no time for the Giants or their fans to be feeling good about themselves after the win over the Redskins. That victory will matter little unless the Giants win on Sunday against the Steelers. The bad news for the Giants is that Pittsburgh is playing its best football right now as QB Kordell Stewart appears to have revived his career. The Steelers may only be 7-6, but they are an extremely difficult team to beat. They play football the way it is meant to be played: they are very aggressive and punishing on defense and they have a very physical running game. Teams like that are always tough. “Pittsburgh is very similar to Tennessee,” says MLB Mike Barrow. “They both have the big back and a mobile quarterback who doesn’t have to throw for 300 yards a game, and a good defense.” And we all know what the Titans did to the Giants.

The Giants control their own destiny right now, but that will change if they don’t beat Pittsburgh. This game is almost as big as last week’s affair and the Giants need to come out and match Pittsburgh’s intensity. Bill Cowher will have his boys ready to play. Will Jim Fassel?

Giants on Offense: Pittsburgh has a very good defense. Like the Giants, the defensive players there are part of a long and storied tradition of superb defense and the players buy into that tradition. Thus, nothing will come easy on Sunday. The Steelers also pose special problems for the Giants as they are one of the few NFL teams that still operates a 3-4 defense. Thus, the offensive line will have to quicky adjust to a whole new scheme. In a 3-4, it is the responsibility of the three down linemen to “two gap”, meaning that they plug the gap between two offensive linemen and aim to neutralize those two blockers, allowing the linebackers to go unblocked and make the majority of the tackles. The 3-4 can be very tough to run against and the Giants’ offensive line will have to get quicky into sync over which guys they are responsible for in terms of blocking. The defensive linemen for the Steelers are nothing special, but they do their job in keeping the offensive line off of the linebackers. When it comes time to pass, the offensive line has to be wary of the fact that a linebacker or linebackers can be coming from almost any direction – and the Steelers love to send them. LOLB Jason Gildon has ten sacks and ROLB Joey Porter has nine.

As I mentioned, the 3-4 is tough to run against and the Steelers’ personnel can make it even more so. The down three guys do a good job of occupying blockers and RILB Earl Holmes and LILB Levon Kirkland are VERY tough at the point of attack. Knowing these guys, they will make it their personal challenge to shut down “Thunder and Lightening” on Sunday. Thus, I would not play right into Pittsburgh’s hands. I’d come out aggressive and throw the football. The short passing game, as it was used against the Redskins, is certainly an excellent option. Many 3-4 linebackers often have problems in space covering backs and tight ends. But while Pittsburgh has a solid secondary, the players are not the caliber of Washington’s and I would certainly take some shots down the field, with or without Ike Hilliard (lungs/sternum) in the line-up. Their safeties, SS Lee Flowers and FS Brent Alexander, are also better against the run than the pass. The guy who would be a major focus of my game plan is Amani Toomer, who will most likely be matched up against CB Dwayne Washington. LCB Chad Scott has had his problems at times so a strong performance by the starting flanker (be it Hilliard or Joe Jurevicius) is a must. Isolating the nickel back (Deshea Townsend) with one our receivers would probably be wise too. He’s quick, but not big. I would at least take 3-4 shots deep with Toomer or Ron Dixon.

But eventually, we all know that New York has got to be able to run the ball if they are to win. Holmes, Kirkland, and NT Kimo Von Oelhoffen make it tough to run inside. The safeties are also strong in run support. I’d be more tempted to employ Tiki Barber on the perimeter of the defense. Since this is likely to be a low-scoring game (just like last week), ball security is paramount. All ball carriers must hold onto the football. QB Kerry Collins can’t get sloppy with the ball either.

It will be interesting to see what the Giants do once they get into the redzone. Jim Fassel said after the game against the Redskins, “I already talked to (Offensive Coordinator) Sean (Payton) about some things I want to change this week about how we practice some things and do some things in the red zone. As we move forward, and that’s all I’m looking at, we can’t be kicking field goals and expect to continue to win. We’ve got to set our target higher than that. We’ve got to get touchdowns when we get down in there.”

Giants on Defense: Everyone and their mother knows that the Steelers are a running team and the key to stopping them on offense is to stop HB Jerome Bettis. However, I think there is a strong possibility that the Steelers might take a page out of the Lions and Titans’ game plans against the G-Men and come out throwing. If they do, first and foremost, the Giants must prevent Stewart from scrambling for key yardage. Stewart is as dangerous a scrambling quarterback is there is in the league. This will hurt the pass rush as the Giants must maintain disciplined pass rush lanes in order to attempt to keep him under control. I also think a factor will be the quality of the coverage on Mark Bruener – one of the best two-way tight ends in the game. It seems as if Mike Barrow or Ryan Phillips often cover the tight end in John Fox’s scheme – and these two will have to step it up here. Keeping an eye on the backs out of the backfield would be a wise move too.

The other possible aerial targets are starting wide receivers Hines Ward and Courtney Hawkins (who is questionable with a knee injury). Ward is a multi-dimensional player who can catch, run, block, and even pass – watch out for trick plays utilizing him. Hawkins is a Chris Calloway-type who keeps the chains moving. If he can’t go, then Bobby Shaw or former first rounder Troy Edwards will fill in. This isn’t a particularly fast group, but they can pick up first downs and keep drives alive. The Giants’ defensive backs are certainly capable of winning these match-ups, but they must stay focused, not get fooled by play-action, and execute properly.

Stewart is guy who can look absolutely terrible, but then make some amazing play to win the game. Unfortunately, he’s playing extremely well right now. The Giants’ defenders must keep him contained and an absolute necessity is to tackle well – he made some Oakland defenders look pretty silly last week when they tried to bring him down. Don’t go for the kill shot – just stay under control and make a nice safe, solid tackle. If the Giants can keep him in the pocket and give him a bunch of different looks on defense, they can make him ineffective and cause him to make mistakes.

 

Like against Washington, much of the defensive success this week will depend on who controls the line of scrimmage. The Steelers have a tough and physical offensive line that likes to run the football. A big match-up will be DT Keith Hamilton versus LG Alan Faneca; so will DE Michael Strahan versus RT Marvel Smith (a rookie). DE Cedric Jones could find himself in the middle of the action again this week as teams continue to test the right side of the Giants defense. His opponent is LT Wayne Gandy. RG Rich Tyliski will see both DT Christian Peter and DT Cornelius Griffin – the latter seeing more and more playing time. The offensive line blocks better against the run than the pass, so the Giants could see some decent sack opportunities on Sunday – but they must keep Kordell from getting past them.

Then there is Jerome Bettis. “He’s a real good back,” says DE Cedric Jones. “He’s different than a lot of other big backs because he has great feet and he can make guys miss in the open field. With a big back you expect him to pound it and pound it, but he’s not like that because he can do both. You have to get him before he gets started. With big backs like Eddie George or him, if you let them square their shoulders up and start running full speed downfield, it’s going to be a long day.”

The Giants’ defense must swarm Bettis and gang-tackle him. The secret is to get him bottled up at or behind the line of scrimmage, as Jones pointed out. Once he gets his shoulders squared and into the secondary, he is real tough to bring down. Having big and good tackling safeties such as SS Sam Garnes and FS Shaun Williams will help. But CB Jason Sehorn and nickel back Emmanuel McDaniel are not the best tacklers around. Look for the Steelers to run the ball a bit at Armstead – he needs a big game as does MLB Mike Barrow in defending the run. The Giants defenders need to play tough, physical, and determined. No let up. Don’t do a good job for three quarters and then let Bettis get going in the fourth quarter.

But watch out for that play-action early!!!

Giants on Special Teams: In low-scoring defensive battles, specials are always huge. The Giants need to continue to improve covering kicks and punts. Rookie Hank Poteat is a decent punt returner.

Dec 062000
 
New York Giants 9 – Washington Redskins 7

Game Overview: Whewww! What a big game! What a great win! But it won’t mean much unless the Giants get their heads straight now and start focusing on the Steelers. This was a “must” game, but only because it kept the Giants in contention for the NFC East title and put them in a better position for making the playoffs. They could quickly find themselves in a hole again if they don’t win next week. The Steelers beat the best team in football yesterday…if that doesn’t grab your attention, nothing will.

Hopefully, Fassel’s words right after the game, when he sounded a lot like Winston Churchill, will be prophetic. “This is just the beginning,” Fassel said.

But back to the game – after all, this is supposed to be a review. This game very much reminded me of the old Bill Parcells-Joe Gibbs battles. It was a hard-hitting, low-scoring affair with both sides playing great defense. Like the old days, the Giants rendered the Skins one-dimensional, took a good lead into the 4th quarter, saw it disappear down the stretch, but somehow in the end managed to hold on. As soon as Jeff George came into the game and starting completing passes, I thought, “Oh God, this is going to be like another Jay Schroeder situation (reminiscent of the game where he beat the Giants coming off the bench when LT knocked Joe Theisman out of football). But fortunately for the Giants, instant replay overturned what looked at first to be the game-winning catch by making a very makeable game-winning field goal a tough one that fell short.

Though the score shows otherwise, the Giants dominated this game because they won the war in the trenches – both on offense and defense. Offensively, although New York put up few points, the G-Men were able to run the ball and control the tempo of the game. Defensively, they shut down the run and made life miserable for the starting quarterback. Kudos for a strong performance by the special teams as well. Indeed, had it not been for the Giants’ miscues and bad officiating (a failed 4th down conversion, three turnovers, a bogus holding penalty called on Ron Stone, a non-fumble call by the Redskins after a Shaun Williams’ hit, some confusion on the defense late, a delay of game penalty not called on the Redskins’ touchdown pass, and two missed sack opportunities), the game would not have been even close.

Coaching Staff: It’s too early to tell how this will all end up for Jim Fassel. Many people are back on his bandwagon after two victories in a row, including the impressive win in Washington. However, a loss the Steelers and/or Cowboys will have many calling for his head again. But let’s give some credit here to the man. After two tough losses to the Lions and Rams, he got his team re-focused and took most of the heat for their poor performance while they regrouped. The Giants were properly prepared and motivated to beat the Cardinals and Skins. In a telling move, the team gave Jim a game ball after the contest. With three games remaining, the Giants are all alone in first place in the NFC East and the second seed in the NFC. Who would have thought that heading into the 2000 season?

Also, give some credit to Defensive Coordinator John Fox for this week’s effort. For once, he out-coached Norv Turner and his staff and completely stifled the Washington offense. The Redskins’ running game was non-existent (29 yards rushing). Washington picked up four first downs on their second drive of the game, but did not manage another until the third quarter. The only problems came late when a combination of perhaps too soft defensive schemes, Giants’ fatigue, and confusion over which personnel should be on the field almost cost the Giants the game. In fact, the Redskins’ biggest play of the game (the 45 yarder to WR James Thrash) came on a play where the Giants only had 10 men on the field. (Incidentally, the officials made a bad call on the 12-men on-the-field penalty. The Giants had 11 on the field – even the announcers miscounted. When Jessie Armstead insisted this was the case after the game, I watched the tape and he was right).

Quarterback: With the Skins’ corners pretty much taking away the deep passing game, QB Kerry Collins (18-of-29 for 164 yards, no touchdowns, one interception) was pretty much forced to go with the short stuff. He wasn’t helped early on by costly drops by Joe Jurevicius and Amani Toomer that stalled what could have otherwise been a promising start. Fumbles by Jurevicius and TE Dan Campbell after receptions didn’t help matters either. Collins threw one really bad pass, his interception by Sanders where Collins said afterwards that he made a bad read. He also wasn’t able to get the Giants into the endzone despite a couple of excellent red zone opportunities. However, credit here has to also go to the Redskins’ defensive backs that were all over the receivers in the endzone. “(The Redskins) took (the receivers’ routes) away either with the scheme or coverage. We certainly would have liked to get a couple in there,” said Collins. One thing that continues to bother me (and I’ve harped on this) is that, sometimes, when Collins doesn’t see a receiver open immediately, he will roll to his right away from phantom pressure. This action actually puts him in harm’s way as he is leaving the pocket (and the solid protection from Luke Petitgout) into Luke’s man. Inevitably, Collins will start falling back and throwing the ball away off his back foot. There is nothing wrong with throwing the ball away if the receivers are covered, but he might be cheating himself of more opportunities if he would just remain in the security of the pocket. This happened on the Giants’ 3rd-and-goal play right before halftime.

Kerry was lucky that Deion Sanders didn’t take his swing pass to Jurevicius to the house off the fake reverse – the play was too telegraphed. Collins also got lucky late in the game with his key toss to Joe Jurevicius for a first down on 3rd-and-9 in the 4th quarter. The play allowed the Giants to take much more time off the clock and probably ultimately saved the win. However, Collins misfired on the play by throwing high (he was under pressure and threw off his back foot). The pass was intended for Toomer. The good news? Aside from the one turnover, Collins didn’t do anything to lose the game and he did make some smart decisions on when to throw it away. He didn’t force the ball and took what the defense gave him – a sign of maturity. And for the most part, he was pretty accurate, even on his deep throws that did not connect. He threw a near perfect deep pass to Ron Dixon on the first drive that was well-defended by Deion Sanders.

Wide Receivers: Not much of a factor. At least they kept the Redskins a bit honest. Amani Toomer (3 catches for 26 yards) was kept very quiet and dropped an early pass that would have picked up a first down on third down. The Giants tried to hit him on the slant later in the game in the endzone, but he was well covered on the play. Joe Jurevicius had a rough start. He dropped a pass on the first drive. Fassel said after the game that he also made some mental mistakes (i.e., probably lining up incorrectly or running the wrong route). Joe did make a big play getting free of Darrell Green and running for what looked like a huge play until Green stripped him of the ball from behind. Jurevicius has to be cognizant of the fact that Champ Bailey, Deion Sanders, and Green have the speed to chase anyone down from behind and he should have expected contact. The only silver lining was the play ended up being better than a punt and really helped to maintain the field position war for the Giants that they were winning for most of the game. But to his credit, Jurevicius kept his head in the game. He caught two third down passes in the first half to keep drives alive, the second on the first field goal drive on 3rd-and-3. Jurevicius also outfought Sanders for the ball on the swing pass – a critical play that could have cost the game. Then Joe’s superb catch late in the game on 3rd-and-9 despite heavy contact was a game-winning play that picked up a crucial first down and let more time run off the clock. The Giants were lucky that Ron Dixon’s catch for seven yards wasn’t ruled a fumble; he also came up just short of a first down on the play and the Giants were forced to punt. He had an opportunity deep in the game, but ran his route too close to the sidelines and caught the ball out-of-bounds in the end zone.

Tight Ends: Not as much of a factor as I thought they would be. Dan Campbell’s fumble after his 11-yard reception could have proven decisive. Obviously, he needs to hold onto the ball better in that situation. I thought the Giants’ redzone opportunities screamed for the use of Pete Mitchell (2 catches for 10 yards). I still contend that he is not being used properly by Offensive Coordinator Sean Payton. Mitchell did make a key first down reception on 3rd-and-4 to take more time off the clock midway through the fourth quarter. Decent blocking up front from a unit that helped to open up some running room for the backs and kept Collins’ jersey clean. I thought Dan Campbell in particular blocked very well.

Running Backs: Ron Dayne (18 carries for 57 yards, 1 catch for one yard) played fairly well for the most part. He really got the Giants’ offense moving on their second possession with three straight power runs off right tackle. After a Tiki Barber short gain, he then picked up the first down on 3rd-and-1. This type of solid, but unspectacular, power running continued until Dayne gave a relatively weak effort on 4th-and-1 in the second quarter. This failure took away a scoring opportunity and could have been a momentum changer as well. One area where Dayne is getting better is on his blitz pick-ups.

Tiki Barber (14 carries for 82 yards, 4 catches for 26 yards) was the more productive performer. Tiki usually will break 1-3 big plays a game. He had a few of these type of runs against the Redskins. The first was a 22-yard right-side run (the Giants did most of their running to the right against Washington) where he showed good vision, moves, and power to help get the Giants into field goal position in the second quarter. On the very next play he picked up good yardage after a short pass over the middle which he took down to the eleven yard line. Tiki also had a key big run in the 4th quarter on a play where he was originally bottled up at the point of attack, but then bounced it outside.

FB Greg Comella (1 carry for 1 yard) was used on one play as a change-up. I was surprised he wasn’t used as more of an option in the passing game. His blocking was solid as usual.

Offensive Line: About as good of a performance as you could expect from this unit that was facing one of the most talented defensive lines in the game. QB Kerry Collins was not sacked once (though part of this was due to the decision to employ the short passing game and Kerry’s quick release) and the running game was able to generate 141 yards rushing. I was very much impressed with the work of the tackles: RT Luke Petitgout on DE Marco Coleman and LT Lomas Brown on DE Bruce Smith. Both were largely controlled – especially on the pass rush – and special kudos goes to Brown for his performance despite playing hurt (leg) and not practicing much of the week. The one big down note came on the 4th-and-1 effort where the Giants were not able to create space for Dayne. Glenn Parker once again looked sharp on his right-side pulls. Parker did have problems blocking DT Dana Stubblefield on the pass rush however and there were a few times, including when the Giants were trying to run out the clock, when Glenn let Dana get by him and get into Collins’ face. RG Ron Stone was flagged with a bogus holding call at a time when the Giants were about to put the finishing touches on Washington – the call moved the Giants back and they subsequently had to punt the ball away. As this came right before Jeff George’s entry into the game, this bad call could have proved decisive.

Defensive Line: The line played very well and largely controlled the line of scrimmage. Except for a couple of runs, All-Pro HB Stephen Davis was shut down and QB Brad Johnson had virtually no time to throw the ball. The first sack occurred after DT Keith Hamilton (2 tackles) flushed Johnson out of the pocket and DT Cornelius Griffin (2 tackles, 1 sack) finished him off. I also spotted Griffin pressuring Johnson later in the second quarter. Griffin got a big hit on Davis after FS Shaun Williams disrupted the play by shooting the gap and taking out the lead blocker. Hamilton was very active rushing the passer in the second half, applying pressure on five separate plays. Hamilton made a super play against the run for a loss right before CB Emmanuel McDaniel’s interception too. His missed sack on Jeff George on the Redskins’ last drive however could have cost the Giants the game. He also jumped offsides on the first play coming off the goal line when George entered the contest and quit on the play. (Incidentally, on the very next play, a Giants’ rusher – I think it was Griffin – was mugged in the endzone by two linemen; it was an obvious holding call and a safety should have been the result). DE Cedric Jones (2 tackles) had some problems on a couple of runs, but for the most part he stalemated All-Rookie LT Chris Samuels. WLB Jessie Armstead nailed Davis at the line on one play where Jones just blew his blocker back into the backfield. Surprisingly, Jones had a few decent pass rushes on Samuels too and got some heat on Johnson (and later on George on one play in the redzone). Jones also sniffed out a screen pass and caused Johnson to abort the play. DE Michael Strahan (2 tackles) got one good pass rush on Johnson and knocked him to the ground in the first half. Strangely, I don’t think the Skins EVER ran at Strahan’s side the entire game. In the second half, Strahan really turned it up and I saw him pressure Johnson heavily three times and George twice. He also made a great play from the backside against the run. Michael did miss a sack on George in the redzone late in the game. DT Christian Peter (1 tackle) was stout inside and helped to keep the offensive line off of the Giants’ linebackers.

Linebackers: The linebackers were very active against the Redskins as Washington did a poor job of picking up the blitz against New York. Both WLB Jessie Armstead (5 tackles) and MLB Mike Barrow (5 tackles, 1 sack) were seen regularly flying around the quarterback. Barrow’s sack was impressive as he didn’t give up on a play where Brad initially avoided him. Even reserve MLB Pete Monty (2 tackles) got into the act on one blitz where he pressured Johnson into an incompletion along with Barrow. SLB Ryan Phillips (2 tackles) did a great job taking on a lead block on one Davis left-side run (Phillips had swapped with Armstead on the play) and caused the back to be stuffed. He also had solid coverage on TE Stephen Alexander on a second quarter incompletion. On Hamilton’s offsides, Phillips smashed into George causing an incompletion on a free play.

Defensive Backs: These guys’ jobs were made much easier by the superb pass rush. Brad Johnson had little time to throw the ball and until QB Jeff George got into the game midway through the 4th quarter, the Skins weren’t able to move the ball at all except for their second possession. FS Shaun Williams (4 tackles) was very active. In the first half, he did a good job disrupting an inside running play. He also clobbered Johnson on a delayed safety blitz up the gut. In the third quarter, he hammered WR Albert Connell on 3rd down to force an incompletion (the play should have been ruled a fumble and the Giants’ ball deep inside Redskins’ territory – another bad call). Williams later hit FB Larry Centers so hard that he fumbled (but Jason Sehorn and Mike Barrow missed a golden opportunity to recover it and ice the game). Shaun got burned by WR James Thrash deep on a David Thomas blitz. It did not help matters that the Giants only had 10 men on the field at the time. Shaun did save a TD on the play however with his diving tackle and thereby caused more time to run off the clock. SS Sam Garnes (3 tackles, 1 interception) played his deep coverage perfectly on a deep sideline toss in the second quarter and almost came up with an interception. CB Dave Thomas (4 tackles) made a superb play on a run force on a Davis sweep. He and CB Jason Sehorn (5 tackles) did a number on the Redskins’ receivers for most of the day. Thomas did a nice job of reading the quick slant on his CB blitz and jumping up to deflect the ball. Nickel back Emmanuel McDaniel (2 tackles, 1 interception) had a big game. He picked off one pass in zone coverage (Brad Johnson read man-to-man); this was a huge play as it came right after Dan Campbell’s fumble. He also earlier caused Sam Garnes’ pick by hitting Johnson just as he was throwing the ball. He did get beat on George’s touchdown toss to Irving Fryar however and later missed a key tackle on Friar on the Redskins’ last drive that led to big yardage.

Special Teams: This unit out-played the Redskins. PK Brad Daluiso was a perfect three-for-three on field goal attempts, including a 47-yarder. His kick-off after the first field goal was horrible however. WR Thabiti Davis (2 tackles) was active on special teams as punt and kick coverage was solid. P Brad Maynard did a reasonably good job with his coffin corner punting and helped the Giants win the field position war. Kick returns remain mediocre at best as does the blocking for Ron Dixon. When Tiki Barber did have a couple of chances to return punts (most of the Skins’ punts were so bad that they never got to Tiki), he did not have much room to operate either. Tiki did have a very nice return as a kick returner (interesting move by Fassel) after the Redskins’ touchdown. In a game decided by the smallest of distances, Tiki’s big return was a huge play.


EIN GOTTERDAMMERUNG

by David Oliver

For those of you who don’t live in the Washington area, you can’t imagine the anxiety of Redskins week – listening to these blowhards crow about their Super Bowl team, their owner, their stadium; well, maybe after this election you can imagine what sane, rational people face on a daily basis in this hell hole. A Giants’ victory is worth two weeks of pure pleasure listening to the whining, self-pitying slobber of the worst fans in football. This one was particularly satisfying because it pushed Danny Boy over the edge. The only person associated with this team that I feel sorry for is Norv, a good and decent man who has had the misfortune of being associated with both Dallas and Washington. Well, Norv, as they say, when you sleep with dogs you are going to get fleas. Take your million and move back to the West Coast – you will be much happier there. I had some fun a little while ago listening to that yellow dog George Michaels kissing Terry Robiskie’s ass and watching House Whore Sonny Jergenson smile in glee now that his Boy ‘George’ is in control. Loser – the word signifies this sports dogwatch. Worst of all is the new polarization of races pushed by the Jessie Jackson of sports, Michael Wilbon, who was quoted by Michaels as saying this team will play for Robiskie because he is an African-American. What a total jackass. But if one of the white sports columnists said something idiotic like the Giants played for Jim Fassel because he is a white man, the fool would be resigned to the fate of Jimmy the Geek (Greek). Why can’t we all just come to the realization that we are men, black or white, rich or poor, handsome or ugly, talented or left behind. No one will win if demagogs succeed in making this a racial or religious issue. In the hunt, all the spear throwers bring down the Mastodon, and football is the ultimate hunt. It takes 50 men, united behind leaders, some happen to be white, some happen to be black, some happen to be black with blue eyes and some happen to be white with soul. Well, that’s Washington, why I hate it, and why I consider it Sodom to Los Angeles Gomorrah.

Picked up Eric “BigBlue” K man Sunday morning and made the journey. A friend gave me his blue pass to the Jericho Church parking lot and we got in with no problem. If I’ve got to pay $20 to park to work a game, I’d sooner give it to a Church than to Danny Boy. Eric was resplendent in his Giants coat and I only had to punch out three hillbillies to get him across the parking lot. Normally, I sneak into the high rent Press Room for a few minutes, grab a Program, say hello to friends and then head for the trenches, but Eric’s Joseph Coat gave up the ghost and we were denied entry to the Inner Sanctum of fat-assed writers who can’t take the cold on the field.

Pregame festivities at FedEx are like something out of the 1936 Olympics, or a Nuremberg rally. The Redskins band takes the field, dressed in yellow and burgundy with yellow head dresses. The cheerleaders are strutting their tight little tushes (well, everything wasn’t bad), there are flag wavers, swirling these huge Skins colored flags and there are fireworks booming in both end zones. All that was missing was the Redskins salute. This whole month has been one for philosophy. An election straight out of Charlie Chaplin, with tinges of Orwellian prophecy and now a football game, starting with the drama of Siegfried’s Rhine Journey, and at the same time harkening back to the gladiatorial contests of Rome , while reminding me of the soma distributed to the masses in Aldous Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD.

I can hear my legion of critics now, i.e., Idea Man – talk about self-indulgence, intellectual arrogance and pomposity – to name yourself Idea Man, when the content of your whining shows that if you have any ideas, they are certainly copied out of DC Comics. For God’s sake, shut your whining mouth if the only idea you ever had was to be critical of someone who is saying something other than the pseudo intellectual flatulence you are used to lapping up, you jackass. Okay, that’s it. Got it off my chest. If I lose you as one of Eric’s regulars, sorry, Eric. Other than that, I don’t like you either and I’m not responding to any more of this drivel.

So how was the game. Well, it was flat out the best defensive effort of a Giant’s team in 10 years. They came fast and furious from every direction. Those of you who watched the game saw Madden’s analysis of the blitz packages. Every gap was hit, by multiple players. The onslaught was so furious that the D exhausted itself hitting and chasing Skins QBs. When I looked at my negatives I was dumbfounded at what I saw. Keith “Hammer” Hamilton, Barrow, Jessie, Thomas, Cornelius Griffin, Strahan, Phillips, Shaun Williams and even EMac – they came in waves, two and three breaking through at a time. It was exhilarating; it was humbling; it was GIANTS’ FOOTBALL. Oh! By the way – the offense did just enough to carry the day.

Let’s look at the game planning. The arguments raged pre-game. Should the Giants go on top early or run at the Skins all day? The first series answered that question – a pass to Toomer, a Dayne run, a dropped short pass, a missed handoff, then a long pass down the middle to Dixon. The G-Men were testing the secondary. On the second series, they started with Dayne running mainly right but coming left once, three straight carries, then Tiki, then Dayne, then a slant pass which missed.

So the tone was set – the Giants were going to use some power running, but they were going to go at the corners and even pop one down field once in a while. Madden said that the first and second down calling was decent, but the third down calling was uninspired. And he was in the ballpark, but maybe not for the right reasons. There were dropped passes, a few errant passes, and then that innate conservatism of Giant play calling on third or fourth and short – we are going to run Ron Dayne right at you behind Stone. Madden said on one play that Dayne didn’t hit the hole with authority. Excuse me, John, the Redskins had 5 men lined up over Stone – what hole was Dayne supposed to hit?

The defense – well, the scheme was to blitz, blitz some more, then throw in another one. EMac was on the field a lot as an extra cover guy, so there was a modified nickel out there, but it wasn’t a complete nickel because the corners were coming. This basically held the Skins in check until late in the game when Jeff “the Crying Game” George came in, showed some toughness, got lucky more than once and exploited a Giants’ D that suddenly went goofy, trying 12 men on the field once and then 10 men on the field once, neither with success. Ryan Phillips said, “It’s strange, he’s (George) not known as a scrambler, he’s not known as a tackle breaker, but he did a good job of getting out of the pocket and he set us back on our heels because we weren’t expecting that.” The biggest break of the game was not the replay which moved the Skins back, but the refs missing the time clock expiring on the Skins TD pass. So, if anything, the replay was the classic make-up.

That’s the general idea. How about some specifics?

Quarterback – KC didn’t lose the game. But he didn’t win the game, either. Big players come up big in big games. KC still showed his tendencies to hurry his passes when rushed, often missing receivers by not waiting that extra split second. He threw behind a couple of receivers in critical places. He had one or two mystery throws. But he also hit his receivers on some decent short routes. His pass to Campbell was a good one, as was his pass to JJ, both on the fumble and on the over the middle for the first down late in the game. But he did not exercise good judgement in the red zone, and when he throws on the run, his passing is abysmal. One strange thing I noticed on more than one play is that the Giants often had two receivers in the same zone, particularly JJ and Amani. Fassel said JJ had run a few patterns incorrectly and it showed. So, the question remains, is KC missing too many receivers, or are the receivers botching too many routes? On the interception, there was an observation that maybe a wrong route had been run, but KC threw the ball into no man’s land. Madden said he was deked by Deion- I think it was just a bad throw- Pete Mitchell was at least 10 yards beyond the interception, which was a low throw to begin with. KC also missed one obvious handoff – Madden said he didn’t get out fast enough. School is still out on KC – he is good, sometimes he plays very good – but he is not great. He does not perform well in pressure situations or in pressure games. The Giants offense needs him to step up and win one game by himself – lead a rally, connect on 10 straight – heck even Boy George does it now and then.

Running Game – Decent. Dayne may not be setting the world on fire, but the real difference between him and Tiki is the pass catching, not the running. Is the big guy one of my “favorites”- as alluded to by some of the readers on this site? Well, if you recall pre-draft, I said I personally favored Alexander, but I had no problem with Dayne, and that Dayne was the logical Giant pick. Well, I still believe Ron Dayne will be a durable big yardage back for the Giants. He may not be Barry Sanders, but I believe he will be as good as Stephen Davis, or the Detroit running back, or any Miami running back, or Curtis Enis or Timmy Biakabutuka – how many backs do I have to name. Ron Dayne has his problems – some rookie mistakes, some technique. It will work out. Tiki is a great change of pace guy and the Giants play maker, whether taking a handoff or catching the swing pass. It doesn’t bother me that he runs the middle once in a while. He is versatile and proven. I’d like to see the Cloud get some touches, particularly in passing situations. He has shown he has the skill, but Payton is locked into a rigid structure – Dayne, Tiki, Tiki, Dayne. Where is all the versatility. So Comella is a good blocker – doesn’t mean he can’t touch the ball. At times this year, they have worked him into the offense, at times he’s the forgotten blocking back. He does that well, so it’s OK as a primary role, but change up once in a while; make the defenses think and react to something different. And then there’s Joe Montgomery. Don’t be surprised to see this man be a star for another team. JF believes in the cult of toughness – get hurt and it shows a weakness. Joe has been hurt – maybe too much, but he is a wasted talent who can move the pile and find the hole in short yardage situations, if Dayne can’t. He’s getting paid, he should be used.

Wide Receivers – JJ has now had his coming out party. The last two weeks, he has shown he can play the game at this level. He is a strong McCaffrey and can only get better with reps. He had one hand bounce this game, made a beautiful catch going high over the middle late in the game, had a couple of decent short yardage catches and the great play against Darrell Green, on which Green showed why he is still the Man. For a tall receiver, JJ not only goes high, he also goes down on his knees and lays out for passes – not many of KCs throws to him were right on the money. JJ told me in the locker room that the ball Green knocked out was “just one of those unfortunate things.” I asked him if he felt he had stepped into the starting role in a way which was showing his talent and value, and he told me, “I’ve done some things to help this team win. But there’s a great cast around me. I’ve been proving people wrong (all my life)…when you get opportunities you have to take advantage of them. I’ve done that my whole career and I plan on continuing to do that. You don’t like to step into the starting role at the expense of someone’s injury, especially an Ike Hilliard. But we all understand it’s part of the game, and when Ike comes back, we will have another weapon (referring to himself).” Ron Dixon showed some flashes. His catch in the end zone showed unbelievable body control – he was twisted three different ways. On the opening drive, although double covered, I believe he was hit early by the defender on the play. He is an asset and like JJ, deserves some reps. Amani had a quiet game, making a couple of catches, having a few others thrown a bit erratically.

Tight Ends – Once again, need more production. Granted a tight end doesn’t have much role in a WCO formation offense, but Payton needs to watch some game tapes of the great ones – like Novacek or Bavaro. Pete Mitchell has become a lost man, for whatever reason. Payton says there are 10 or more plays per game for him, but either KC is not looking or there is more going on than meets the eye. Dan Campbell caught one, then fumbled it. This is unacceptable from this position. As we have learned from Howard Cross, the Giants use the tight ends as receivers in critical situations and they must hold the ball. But it was nice to see Dan get the ball in the middle of the field. With his size, he could be a zone buster if he can control the ball.

The Line – This was a very good game for the Trench Warriors. This is a fierce Redskins defense and Lomas had a nice day against Bruce Smith. Glenn Parker is like the Ever Ready Bunny – he just keeps on going. Stone is a massive presence who was getting movement on his opposite number and helping the running game early. Luke performed well and his toughness is really showing down the stretch and Ziegler quietly pushes left and right. What confuses me is that on some plays there are huge gaps made by this line and on others, there isn’t enough space for a slice of bread. Their general success appears linked to the game plan. When they go one on one, they are a very decent offensive line, but when the play calling becomes predictable and the defenses stack the box and fill the gaps, the line cannot exert explosion. For all the misdirection, the Giants running game is still pretty predictable – they need more quick openers, more line slants. Lomas Brown was ecstatic. He told us, “When they missed that field goal, I never jumped so high. This was such a big game, there was so much pressure, so much riding on this game, that for us to pull it out the way we did, on the road, with their backs against the wall, this speaks volumes for this team. Hopefully we can translate this into three more victories…” Someone asked him about the difference from a couple of weeks ago (following the Lions loss Lomas was very outspoken). “Without a doubt. I think we’re focused now and this is the best time of the year to be focused, coming towards the stretch run, trying to get into the playoffs…” He joked and laughed with us about loving the instant replay. “We caught a break and that’s what happens. Good teams, you make your own breaks, and this was such a big break for us.” Lomas said this was a great victory, but he wasn’t ranking it with one of his greatest because “we still have some work to get done.” I talked with him and we discussed the “game of pain” philosophy – 2 wounded teams, both needing to reach down. He said, “That’s right, that’s right, that’s what you have to do in big games like this, and the guys responded. That let’s me know, we have some big time players on this team, guys responded to the challenge today.”

I asked Glenn Parker if he was starting to get that feeling. He asked me what feeling was that and I said this team coming together and getting ready to make a statement. He said, “We’ve felt that way the last few weeks, even in a couple of losses. We’ve felt we were coming together and doing the right things, this certainly verifies the things that we’ve been trying to tell the world – that we can play. We’ve beaten a good team in Philly, twice and now we’ve got this team. This is a very tough place to play, full of old pros and they played their butts off today and they came after us and luckily, we just had a little more.” He was asked by someone about the stretch drive and he said, “I’ve seen some weird things happen at the end of the year where things fall your way. I was on a Wild Card team down 35 to 3 and we won a game, so there’s nothing out of the way.”

The defensive line was outstanding. Hammer was once again a force. He repeatedly beat his man and was in the QB’s face or chasing him. And there were no foolish plays today – he pulled up several times when he had a free shot because he wasn’t going to risk that penalty. Ryan Hale emphasized that the defense was focused and taking them one game at a time. I talked to him about the rotation and he said, “We roll in quite a bit, and that’s good because it gives Keith, who have been in the league nine years and play a lot of snaps, (a rest)…if I can come in and give him three plays at a crucial time, that’s such a help to them.”

Cornelius Griffin is making his presence felt. He gets beaten on some plays, but he is taking his cue from Hammer and he pours through the line like a madman. He plays with a high level of spirit and you can tell the game is still fun to him. He is vocal and feisty and won’t back down. This is a future Pro Bowler and he will be a mainstay of the Giant defense for many years. In fact, he has flashed potential to be the best defensive lineman the Giants have had since Robustelli, Grier, Mo and Kat. He told me the defense is just “focusing on our goal, which is the playoffs, get better, not make any mistakes.” He and Chris Samuels had a little exchange on the field, tossing a ball back and forth at each other and I asked him what they were saying to each other. He said, “I told him he was lucky I didn’t catch it (batted pass) because he would have never caught me. We’re really good friends (played at Alabama together), he’s a great guy, great guy.” I asked him if he was having as much fun as it looked like and he said, “Yeah, I had fun from the first quarter.” I teased him about being a rookie and asked if he felt like he was passed that. He said, “I don’t think of myself as a rookie, I’m a first year player, but these guys don’t intimidate me.” He told me their offensive line was talking to him and that they’re a good offensive line with great guys “but we came here to play today.” Christian Peter played his normally tough, quiet game. He digs in and gives it all he has. In the locker he is one of the most spent, and beat up guys. Nothing is held back. I’d love to see him get a few sacks before the end of the year so people recognize his value to this group. He echoed the common line of unity and told me “we all play together, towards the end we didn’t lose our composure, we stayed focused, we made plays.” Michael Strahan played an up game and is solidifying his place on this year’s Honolulu trip. The blitz packages are freeing him up and he is getting some good rush efforts, at times using his strength to push his man back, at times going around. He had one smart play when he fell back off his rush and cut off a screen pass play. CJ showed probably his most complete game of the year. He got in on several tackles and chased both QBs. He was within inches of a couple of sacks and should be credited with several hurries. They cut him loose today and he showed some effectiveness in a blitzkrieg scheme. He is less noticeable in the stationary front defense and that may be hurting our perception of him. He was pretty funny in the locker room when asked about his thoughts when Eddie’s field goal went up. He said he had a real problem with depth perception “and from where I’m standing on the field it’s looking good to me, I’m really having a heart attack at that moment.” He said he had to wait for the refs to wave it off. I told him he lost me a lot of money on the sidelines because when he was chasing George I said to the guy next to me, CJ will catch him. He told me, “When I was coming from behind, he looks back and I see his head turning and he can see me out of the corner of his eye, and he’s still looking for his receiver and I was going to get him and he looked back just in time and got rid of it.” I asked if he watched the game last night (Oklahoma) and he said, “Oh, yeah, well, a little because I knew what was going to happen. But they’ll still get better. In two years when they get the athletes they want to recruit and all…” I’m coming around full circle about his value as I watch the game planning, the formations and the player sets. When he first came up, there was some talk about converting him to linebacker and the more I see of him, it might offer some possibilities. He is a big man and he does have great lateral quickness. He’s not afraid to tackle. His disadvantage would be coverage, but it would be interesting to see him and Phillips switch positions on different sets.

The Linebackers – Awesome. Michael Barrow is playing like a rookie with experience. He is all over the field and throws his body into the middle like a madman. Jessie is very active and was close on several occasions, particularly when George came in. Don’t write off the old warrior just yet. It was interesting to watch Jessie, Barrow and Strahan tap helmets before the D took the field on each set. There was a bond of leadership here. On the first defensive set, Hamilton and Griffin led the charge. On the second, it was Jessie and Barrow, Sehorn had 2 stops, CJ and Phillips got involved. On the third, it was Shaun Williams. On the 4th, Jessie, Sehorn, CJ and Garnes. On the 5th Barrow and Monty. On the 6th Jessie and Hammer. On the 7th Hammer and EMac. On the 8thBarrow and Williams. Then it was CJ, a full rush, Thomas had two or three rushes and a knockdown, Strahan. Then Emac had an INT. Towards the end, Hammer was breaking through and Strahan but George played probably the best 8 minutes of his career. The Giants rotation used Monty frequently and the entire linebacking corps was disruptive for the Skins. Ryan Phillips is finally playing like he belongs, and this is a pretty good 3-4 unit, Phillips, Barrow, Monty and Jessie. They also move all over the field and come from different positions. This was John Fox at his best and it was a defense which would make LT proud, swarming, relentless and hard hitting.

The secondary. More than adequate today. Thomas made several nice stops, knockdown, blitzed and tackled. He was beaten late in the game over the middle, but at the time the Giants were in disarray. EMac had a nice rush and hit and a good interception. He was beaten on the phantom TD, but you can’t stop them all. Sehorn was aggressive in all phases of the game and is still playing at an extraordinary level considering he is protecting those ribs. Garnes doubled up nicely on several plays and made some nice stops and Shaun Williams was laying the hits on. What he lacks in cover skills, he makes up for in his hitting and blitzing potential.

Specials – No mistakes. Maynard hit some beautiful punts. Daluiso hit his field goals, including a long one and his kickoffs weren’t bad. All in all, the Giants appeared to win the battle of field position handily today and that was the game.

So it was a team effort and I enjoyed it. Let’s hope it carries over next week for the pesky and dangerous Steelers.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Washington Redskins, December 3, 2000)
Dec 012000
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Washington Redskins, December 3, 2000: Why do we love football so much? I think there are a number of different psychological factors at play. In many ways, for men, it has become one of the very few socially acceptable “fixes” for the natural warlike tendency of our species. You want evidence? Look at the terminology that is associated with the game. The game is played by “warriors” who battle it out in the “trenches”. The offense is led by a “field general” who helps to direct both a “ground and air attack” against a “determined defense”. There are “blitzes”, “shotguns”, “screens”, and “gunners”. There certainly is a lot of testosterone flowing.

But I also think there is something equally as large at work here: a sense of connectivity and belonging. When a bunch of us fans congregate at training camp each summer, there is plenty of non-football discussion. But inevitably, the talk comes back to those favorite or dreaded moments and players. We may forget our mates birthday, but we’ll be damned if we forget “The Fumble”, “The Pass”, or “The Drive”. Then there are those games – both good and bad – that stay with us. Games such as the overtime season finale against Dallas in 1981 where Joe Danelo got a second chance; Jim Jeffcoat’s interception return for a touchdown in Dallas in 1985 that cost us the division; the destruction of the 49er’s, Redskins, and Broncos in the post-season in 1986; Al Toon’s catch in the waning seconds of the game in 1988 that cost the Giants another division title; Gary Reason’s stop on the goal line in Denver that saved the season in 1989; the miracle games against the 49ers and Bills in the 1990 post-season; the late-season OT loss to Dallas in 1993 that cost us the division; the mauling of the Redskins in 1997 that won the division; etc., etc. It is the memory of those moments and our sharing of those moments with fellow believers that enable us to feel connected to others. We feel that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves – the same type of dynamic at play in religious and political movements.

For better or worse, we are approaching one of those moments on Sunday in a place called FedEx Field against Washington Redskins, the defending NFC East Champions and Superbowl favorite heading into the 2000 season. For the Giants, so very much is at stake: any chance of winning the division, the inside track on any kind of playoff appearance, the job of the head coach and all of his assistants, and the fate of many current players. For the Redskins, their playoff hopes will be on life support if they lose and their coach will be fired shortly after the season ends. Who knows if the loser will ever be this close again for several years? High stakes indeed.

But you’ve got to love a game like this. This is a perfect “David versus Goliath” scenario. The Giants will be playing a more talented team in a hostile environment. “The Giants can’t beat good teams.” “The Giant coaches will be out-coached again.” Few think that the Giants have it within them to win this game. But this just adds more drama to the moment.

The Giants can win this football game. The boo-birds are all ready to come out on Sunday if the Redskins struggle early. It won’t be easy. Despite what their critics say, the Redskins are still loaded with star talent. Their defense is excellent, they can run and pass the football on offense, and their special teams can win games (just ask the Rams). What the Giants need is to come out and play a smarter, tougher, and more physical football game. They also need their star players to come out and play like stars. I think this game will be decided in the trenches and by the play of the quarterbacks. The Giants also need to at least break even on special teams.

Finally, the combined coaching staff of the Giants must put together a winning game plan. Norv Turner has had Defensive Coordinator John Fox’s number in recent games. Offensive Coordinator Sean Payton’s game plan was not inspiring at the last meeting either. Will this be Jim Fassel’s Waterloo? Or will it be his Gettysburg? Just a couple of more days and we’ll have the answer.

Giants on Offense: The Skins are averaging giving up less than 17 points a game so the Giants must make every opportunity count. New York is in a tough spot here. Ike Hilliard is going to be sorely missed. Without him, it is difficult to imagine the Giant receivers being any kind of consistent factor against the likes of cornerbacks Champ Bailey, Deion Sanders, and Darrell Green. That does not mean that the Giants can or should ignore the down-field passing game; I just don’t think they will make a living off of it.

So how do you game plan against the Skins? Well first, let’s look at what their game plan will be. Defensive Coordinator Ray Rhodes believes that if you take away the Giants’ running game and make the Giants one-dimensional that QB Kerry Collins will not be able to win the game by with his right arm. And to be honest, Collins has bee unable to disprove this notion around the league. So the last thing the Redskins will want to let the Giants do is to easily run the football on first and second down. The likelihood that the Redskins will stack the line of scrimmage is only enhanced by the fact that Washington is convinced that their corners can not be beaten by the Giants’ wide receivers – and history has not disproved this notion either. We know how the Skins will play the Giants: they’ll attack the line aggressive to stuff the run and come after Kerry Collins.

If the Giants run the ball, they will be playing right into Washington’s strategy. It certainly would be the safer route to go. And honestly, there is a possibility that it could still work. If the Giants’ offensive line, tight ends, and FB Greg Comella are more physical and execute better than the defenders on the Skins and if Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne play at the top of their game, then the Giants may be able to pound the ball regardless. They did run it fairly well against the Skins during the last meeting. But I still think the Giants have to keep the Redskins off-balance a bit by throwing early. This is a far riskier strategy as it is prone to more traumatic errors (i.e., sacks and interceptions). What I would do is come out with a short-drop, quick release game. Get the ball to TE Pete Mitchell, FB Greg Comella, and HB Tiki Barber. Hit Amani Toomer and Joe Jurevicius on slants where they can use their size to an advantage. Don’t let Collins think too much. Maybe take a shot deep early with Ron Dixon. Get those linebackers and safeties to take a couple of steps backwards, then hit them with the run.

This kind of strategy will put an immense amount of pressure on Kerry Collins. It may be unfair and I may be proven incorrect by game’s end, but I think this is Kerry’s game to win or lose. Can he handle that type of pressure? Remember how much is at stake. History says no. But rightfully or wrongfully, I think I would sink or swim (at least early) with Collins. Kerry, for his part, has to go out there and just say, “F*ck it.” Don’t worry about making mistakes; just pretend that he is back at Penn State leading his team to a national championship. Live for the pressure, crave it…because it is those quarterbacks who succeed despite the pressure who go down in history as the great ones. He has to stop overthrowing receivers on deep throws too…if a guy gets open deep, hit him.

Whether the Giants pass or run, the game will ultimately be decided in the trenches too. Giants-Redskins games are always physical affairs and the team that is tougher for four quarters generally prevails. The Redskins have two excellent defensive ends in Bruce Smith (9 sacks) and Marco Coleman (11 sacks) and the pressure will be on LT Lomas Brown and RT Luke Petitgout, respectively, to match their intensity and performance. Inside, the battles are between defensive tackles Dana Stubblefield and Dan Wilkinson and guards Glenn Parker and Ron Stone. DT/DE Kenard Lang comes in on third down to rush the passer effectively. Throw OC Derek Zeigler, FB Greg Comella, TE Dan Campbell, TE Howard Cross, SLB LaVar Arrington, MLB Derek Smith, and WLB Shawn Barber into the mix, and this is where the fate of the running game will be determined. The linebackers are very active so I wouldn’t do much outside running on these guys unless you scheme to confuse them. Smith is a sure tackler and Arrington and Barber are very athletic players who love to run to the ball. The problem is that the Giants operate a more finesse blocking system so they will probably play more into the strength of the linebackers.

But let’s not forget the runners themselves, Tiki Barber needs to hold onto the ball and break off some big runs. Ron Dayne needs to play his best game as a pro. You’re no longer a rookie Ron – you’ve played 16 games counting the preseason. It’s time to prove your Heisman ability on the pro gridiron and take over a game. Impose your will on the defense. Make it impossible for Sean Payton not to keep calling your number. Win the game.

Giants on Defense: The bad news is that Norv Turner seems to have John Fox’s defense figured out. Unless Fox adapts, then the Giants won’t win. Turner loves to find a weakness in the Giants’ coverage and just keep plugging away at it. In 1998, it was going after the linebackers with his backs and tight ends, in 1999 it was throwing at Jeremy Lincoln, in 2000 it was isolating the Giants’ safeties. Then there have been those games where it has gotten real ugly because the Giants couldn’t stop HB Stephen Davis.

What should the Giants do? Be aggressive, but risky, and come after the running game and QB Brad Johnson or play a safer, bend-but-don’t-break-type of game? That’s a tough call…probably the answer will lie in between and Fox will most likely keep switching things up as he usually does. The argument for attacking the line with your linebackers and blitzing is that you are more apt to disrupt the running game and put pressure on Johnson. But this makes you more vulnerable to those mismatches in the secondary that Turner and Johnson seem to always find. Is it better to die slowly or quickly? Hopefully it won’t come to that.

I think what I would do is hope that my base front seven can handle the run against a banged up Davis (broken forearm) and an offensive line missing RG Tre Johnson. Like on offense, this game will be decided in the trenches. The huge match-ups are DT Keith Hamilton versus LG Keith Sims and DE Michael Strahan versus RT Jon Jansen. Lose these battles and the Giants won’t win. But DT Christian Peter, DT/DE Cornelius Griffin, and DE Cedric Jones need to at least show up and put forth a professional performance. A big play or two from Peter or Jones in particular would be very much appreciated. Yes Jones is facing the super-talented Chris Samuels – but the guy is still a rookie. The Giants need Jones to play stout run defense as they are sure to test WLB Jessie Armstead and CB Jason Sehorn in run defense (you know they want to hit Jason in the ribs). Thus Jones’ play – even just against the run – could be decisive. Peter and Griffin might be able to make some headway against the cagy, but older Jay Leeuwenburg at right guard. Mark Fischer is also a reserve-type of guy. Simply put, the front four has to get it done. They have to play quicker, faster, and be more physical.

Linebacker play is also key. TE Stephen Alexander and FB Larry Centers (knee injury that might limit him) are quality receivers. James Jenkins could also be a surprise option (Norv had done this to the Giants in the past as well). Turner may test SLB Ryan Phillips quite a bit in coverage. All three linebackers must be aware of play-action, but they also must come up forcefully against the run. It’s time for Jessie Armstead to take over a game. If he wants to go to the playoffs, he has to lead the way. This is his team. Mike Barrow can make an impact too, but he must remain disciplined and not get caught out of position. The Redskins love to run reverses and everyone must be cognizant of that fact.

Then there are the big match-ups in the secondary. Michael Westbrook is out for the season, but WR Albert Connell and WR James Thrash have been playing remarkably well. And WR Irving Friar always seems to play well against the Giants regardless of what team he is playing on. Connell (knee) is ailing, but may see limited time in the game. The starting corners of Dave Thomas and Jason Sehorn will be on the spot. Sehorn because he will probably be called to cover guys by himself and Thomas because Turner will undoubtably test him repeatedly. But the two guys who I think may decide the fate of the pass defense are FS Shaun Williams (who played terribly the last time these two teams met) and SS Sam Garnes (who the Redskins successfully isolated against a wide receiver for a touchdown in the first game). Turner will scheme to confuse the secondary again and create mismatches. The coaching staff and secondary must come together to find a way to prevent this or, at the very least, execute properly and defeat those intentions. This will probably also be a big game for nickel corner Emmanual McDaniel – he may be locked up on the likes of WR Andre Reed. All of these guys need to tackle well. Sehorn is in a tough spot because of his injury so the others must compensate.

I really think one of the keys to the game is to frustrate the Redskin passing offense early. QB Brad Johnson is not well-supported in Washington right now and the boo birds will be out if he can’t move the team. This can only help the Giants’ cause. Don’t give up any cheap big plays – especially early. Play sound and aggressive defense. Be wary of misdirection and be the more physical team. Do this and win the turnover battle and the Giants will win the game. (Oh, and if the Skins pull Johnson – don’t let that old back-up quarterback jinx take effect with Jeff George).

Finally, we all know that the Giants’ main defensive performers have to play well. But games like this are often decided by the unexpected – that one player who everyone forgot about who made a key play or two. There is an opportunity here for a defender such as Shaun Williams, Ryan Phillips, or Christian Peter to make their mark.

Special Teams: Nobody has respect for the Giants’ special teams and why should they? When Norv Turner has been in trouble, he has relied on his special teams to steal momentum away from the other team. The Giants must be wary of fakes – both on returns as well as when punting or kicking.

When the Giants punt, I would continue with the strategy where Brad Maynard is punting for hang-time rather than for distance (as he did last week) and let the coverage men get down the field to force fair catches. The kick coverage unit must keep James Thrash under control on returns.

What would really help the Giants a great deal is for them to finally, finally, finally break a kick or punt return. Much of the problem has been with the blocking. The Giants are allowing the opposing gunners to get down the field too fast. In a game where every point and every yard may mean the difference between a win and a loss, Tiki Barber and Ron Dixon have a chance to do something special.