Jan 312001
 
Baltimore Ravens 34 – New York Giants 7

Game Overview: In hindsight, the Giants would have been very hard-pressed to win this game given the fact that a number of key players did not perform up to expectations – most notably at quarterback, on the offensive line, and in the secondary. There were two ways that the Giants could have approached this game – aggressively or conservatively. The Giants chose the former, but the latter probably would not have worked either. Let me elaborate:

The Giants came out aggressive offensively, trying a number of tactics to push the ball down the field via the passing game – and picking their spots with the running game. Most football people felt this was the correct strategy. The problem was that the Giants could not execute it because Kerry Collins played a bad game as did the offensive line. Without Collins being accurate, smart, or tough – the Giants had no chance. For the Giants to win this game, he had to deliver and he didn’t. The offensive line did not help and there were surprising mental mistakes by the oldest veterans on the line (more on that in a bit).

The other route the Giants could have gone was to play it more conservatively – like the Ravens did. Repeatedly run the football up the gut even when not successful, take an occasional shot deep in the passing game, and rely on the other team’s quarterback to screw up. This probably would have made for a closer contest, but I don’t think it would have been ultimately successful either. Why? Because the Giants were out-played on defense and special teams. The Giants’ defense gave up the big passing play deep – the Ravens did not. The Giants made far too many mistakes on specials.

It stinks to lose the Super Bowl, but the Giants did not deserve to win it. They did not out-play their opponent. They have no one to blame but themselves.

Coaching: It’s hard to fairly judge the offensive play calling when the execution was so damn poor. Kerry Collins was not accurate and made bad decisions. The offensive line couldn’t block and the receivers had a hard time getting open. The running game – when employed – was virtually non-existent. When plays don’t work, fans love to blame the coaches. But most often is it the failure of the players that are at fault. My only main beef with Fassel is that I think I would have kicked off to start the game. Defensively, there were a few times where there were blown coverages in the secondary; either the players made mental mistakes or they were not prepared adequately for what they saw – only poor quarterbacking by the Ravens saved the Giants from an even worse fate. The Giants took some chances in coverage and it cost them.

Quarterback: To say Collins (15-of-39 for 112 yards, 0 touchdowns, 4 interceptions) was not sharp is an understatement. It’s not like Collins is not a big-game quarterback. He won a national championship in college and played very well in both playoff games (people forget how sharp he was in the post-season Philly game too against one of the league’s best defenses despite the lack of points). But for whatever reason, Kerry was unraveled from the start. Shoddy pass protection did not help matters, but there were plays where Collins had decent protection and misfired. He was VERY jumpy in the pocket and regressed to some bad tendencies such as throwing with poor mechanics, bird-dogging his intended receiver, and forcing the football. And the aspect that I have worried about all year long reared it’s ugly head against Baltimore – Collins was not very courageous (e.g. tough) in the pocket. It’s not all his fault to be sure. His offensive teammates did not help him out. Just when it looked like he would finally get into a rhythm, he would get sacked. And he took a lot of hits in the pocket. But so did his counterpart – Trent Dilfer. Yet Dilfer didn’t force the ball aside from the one terrible pick that was called back due to a penalty. It’s sad but true – Dilfer, despite playing a pretty poor game, out-played Collins because he did not turn the ball over.

The Ravens’ game plan was pretty clear. Play the receivers aggressively (which would force Collins to make near perfect throws since Baltimore has the talent to do this) and get pressure on Collins to rattle him. Their approach reminded me very much of what the ‘85 and ‘86 Giants used to do to the 49er teams – disrupt the rhythm and timing of the passing game. For Baltimore, it worked beautifully. The Eagles tried this in the two regular season games and failed. The Ravens did not. Kerry did not even have his security blanket – the easy dump offs to the backs – as the Ravens’ linebackers were all over these plays for little gain. The Ravens were so quick on defense that it often looked like there were 12 or 13 defenders on the field.

Let’s look at the specifics:

  • First Drive: 1st-and-5 after a penalty. Collins tried to get the ball to TE Pete Mitchell, but MLB Ray Lewis closed on the ball quickly and almost caused an interception. WLB Jamie Sharper fought through a FB Greg Comella lead block to nail HB Tiki Barber for no gain. On 3rd-and-5, the Ravens blitzed a cornerback and Sharper off the right side of the defense. LT Lomas Brown, LG Glenn Parker, and TE Pete Mitchell looked confused as to who they should have picked up; Collins was hit as he threw – incomplete.
  • Second Drive: Collins is sacked as DE Rob Burnett and Lewis arrive at the quarterback at the same time; RG Ron Stone missed a block and no one picked up Lewis. Barber then picks up two yards on a sweep. 3rd-and-14 – Parker is pushed back into Collins and Kerry scrambles for a short gain. Kerry is clearly flustered at this point.
  • Third Drive: Giants are backed up against their end zone. Brown is flagged for a false start. For some reason, Dayne is called upon to block Burnett by himself and Collins is almost sacked for a safety; Collins nearly makes matters worse by blindly throwing the ball over the middle for a near interception. On the next play, Collins buys some time with a rollout and hits Ike Hilliard for a huge first down (to get away from the end zone – the Giants have been losing the field position war from the get-go). On 1st-and-10, HB Joe Montgomery rips off a 4-yard run behind some nice blocks on the right side. Barber is stuffed – the OL can’t generate any movement. On 3rd-and-6, Collins finally has some time, but looks to be eyeing the rush and throws off his back foot – the pass is broken up by Lewis.
  • Fourth Drive: Starts off with a two yard pass to Comella in the flat. Barber picks up two more on a sweep. On 3rd-and-6, the Giants run what looks like a QB keeper and Collins is stopped well short of the first down. Terrible call or bad decision by Collins.
  • Fifth Drive: The Giants keep in extra protection and finally give Collins some time to throw. Collins just misses connecting with WR Ike Hilliard on a deep post – could have been a huge play in the game. Giants run a screen on 2nd-and-10, but Tiki slips and OC Dusty Zeigler misses a block. On 3rd-and-long, Comella misses Lewis on a blitz-pick-up and Collins overthrows Toomer deep.
  • Sixth Drive: Barber picks up one yard. Collins trys to hit Hilliard over the middle, but the ball is tipped. He then trys to hit Hilliard deep on third down, but Ike is well-covered.
  • Seventh Drive: After two Ravens’ penalties, the Giants try a double reverse pass, but the Ravens amazingly still have the intended receiver double-covered – great discipline on their part. Collins’ next pass was tipped by Lewis and intercepted by Sharper. The field position battle that the Giants were finally starting to win suddenly turns against them again.
  • Eighth Drive: Collins starts to find a rhythm. He hits WR Amani Toomer on a 5-yard out. He then hits a well-covered Amani over the middle for 20 yards on what probably was his best pass of the night despite Stone whiffing on a block. Montgomery picks up nothing. Kerry hits TE Howard Cross for seven. On 3rd-and-3, the Ravens jump and the Giants pick up a first down. Barber does a poor job on a blitz pick-up and Collins is forced to scramble and throw incomplete. On 2nd-and-10, Collins passes to Hilliard over the middle for a first down. The Giants are really moving now. The next pass hits a DL in the head. On 2nd-and-10, Parker and Brown can’t handle a stunt and Collins is sacked. 3rd-and-18 – Barber draw for about 11. At the very least, the Giants got back field position again (but the defense was subsequently to give it right back with CB Dave Thomas getting beat deep).
  • Ninth Drive: This was the last drive before halftime. Collins found Ron Dixon for 16 yards. Barber breaks lose for a huge 29-yard gain that takes the ball deep into Ravens’ territory. A field goal looms at least. But Collins makes his poorest decision of the night and forces the ball into double coverage and the ball is intercepted near the goal line. “I misread the coverage and thought (Ike) was behind everyone,” Collins said.
  • After Halftime – Tenth Drive: Barber picks up two up the middle. For some reason, RT Luke Petitgout and TE Dan Campbell allow the left defensive end to run right by and pressure Collins – inexcusable play; Collins is forced to scramble. On 3rd-and-3, Collins finds Hilliard over the middle for a first down. But on the next drive, Parker and Brown AGAIN can’t handle a stunt and Collins is sacked. On 2nd-and-18, Collins is intercepted by the safety (Collins stares down the receiver on this play leading the safety to the ball). Field position battle lost once again.
  • Eleventh Drive: Barber picks up only one on pass to the flat. Collins throws a perfect strike to Hilliard, but Hilliard drops it (could have been called a fumble). Instead of a first down near the 50 yard line, the Giants face 3rd-and-9. The next pass is to Tiki but he can’t break loose for the first.
  • Twelth Drive: Slant pass returned for a touchdown. If you read my preview, you know I was fearful of the Raven CB’s jumping on the slant pass like this. Interestingly, the corner said he knew when Kerry was going to throw the ball because of a little hop in his set up. The Giants need to address this in the off-season. 17-0.
  • Thirteenth Drive: After the two kick returns made it 24-7, Barber is stuffed on a draw. Collins forces the ball to Mitchell and is almost picked. Barber was wide open over the middle for a short gain on this play. “They take deep drops and you’ve got to take the underneath throws and be happy with gaining four, five or six yards,” said Collins of the Ravens’ defense. “There’s a fine line between wanting to be smart and making good decisions every play and trying to make a play and letting it rip. Maybe I tried to do that too much, especially against that type of defense.” On 3rd-and-11, Collins is sacked by DT Sam Adams. This was an absolutely inexcusable play by the offensive line. It was a three man rush and Adams ran right through both Zeigler and Stone. The hit also separates Collins right shoulder.
  • Fourteenth (and Last Meaningful Drive): Petitgout gets shoved back into Collins; incomplete. Brown gets beat for a sack. Petitgout misses blitz and Collins is hit as he throws; incomplete.

So there you have it. 2-of-14 on third down; 152 total net yards. Shut out offensively. Plenty of blame to go all around. But give the Ravens credit. Raiders’ Head Coach Jay Gruden warned Offensive Coordinator Sean Payton. “(Gruden) said, ‘You’re going to have trouble seeing this but the speed they play with is going to be exceptional and they’re more physical than you ever thought they were.’ Everything he said was true,” Payton admitted. “They tackle exceptionally well, they’re always in good position and that’s a sign of being well-coached. You earn what you get.”

Offensive Line: Terrible. I was most disappointed in the play of LT Lomas Brown and LG Glenn Parker. For seasoned vets, they acted like they had never seen a stunt before. Their play certainly did not deserve a ring. Stone also played his worst game of the year and this was one of Petitgout’s worst (moreso in the second half with Luke). Dusty Zeigler missed some key blocks as well. “Even on plays when Kerry wasn’t hit or sacked,” Fassel said, “there were guys falling at his feet. He couldn’t step where he wanted to throw it, and that made him throw off his back foot or disrupted his rhythm. That’s a defense that is very effective at getting you out of your game. We saw that big time.”

Tight Ends: Deserve at least some of the blame for the poor blocking. Both Mitchell and Cross had a catch apiece for seven yards. This was probably the last game as Giants for both. Campbell and Mitchell both missed blocks in pass protection.

Wide Receivers: Kudos to Ike Hilliard (3 catches for 30 yards) for showing special toughness over the middle despite getting repeatedly hammered – yet holding onto the ball. But his drop was a very costly miscue. Amani Toomer (2 for 24) was invisible except for one “drive”. Ron Dixon had one catch for 16 yards. Joe Jurevicius was on the field a lot, but did not produce.

Running Backs: HB Ron Dayne, as expected, was only used as a decoy. He had no carries. Asking him to block a defensive end is stupid. HB Tiki Barber (6 catches for 26 yards) was a non-factor except for his big draw right before halftime. Every time the Giants dumped the ball off to him, he either couldn’t out-maneuver tacklers or there were too many of them. The Giants also could not spring him outside – the Ravens were simply too quick. Joe Montgomery saw some action (2 carries for 5 yards) and did not look out-of-place. FB Greg Comella (1 catch for 2 yards) had a rough game. Never a “root them out” run blocker, he really had problems taking on defenders in the hole. He also whiffed badly on a blitz pick-up. Sadly, Collins (with 13 yards) out-rushed Dayne, Montgomery, and Comella combined.

Defensive Line: The unit, led by DE Michael Strahan and DT Cornelius Griffin, played a very strong game – but not as dominating as hoped. There were plenty of plays where Trent Dilfer was hit or sacked, but he also had decent time to throw on other occasions. This might sound like a rough judgement on my part – but the Giants absolutely needed a DOMINATING performance. Strahan (6 tackles, 1.5 sacks) is a guy who did not disappoint. He was strong against the run and a constant presence in the pass rush department. He not only picked up a sack and a half, he regularly was spotted crashing into Dilfer just as he released the ball as well to force incompletions. Griffin (2 tackles, 1.5 sacks) also was a force on the pass rush. If he stays healthy and works hard, the sky is the limit. Obviously he is a starter next year. The guy who I was a bit disappointed in was DT Keith Hamilton (5 tackles). He played a good game, but he did not dominate like I hoped. He and the entire defensive line kept HB Jamal Lewis under control for most of the meaningful portion of the game. Christian Peter (2 tackles) was a factor in run defense too. Keith had no sacks, but he did hit Dilfer a few times – causing some important incompletions. However, he also was flagged for jumping offsides twice. His defensive holding call on Armstead’s touchdown was a bullshit call. In all the years I’ve watched football, I can’t recall defensive holding on a screen pass being called (and Hamilton barely touched the guy). DE Cedric Jones (1 tackle) had some problems with All-Pro LT Jonathan Ogden in run defense (there was one play where he got caught too far inside and Lewis bounded the run outside), but Cedric generally held his own. His pass rush was non-existent however.

The only time in the game where the Giants didn’t defend the run well when the game was still in doubt in a meaningful situation was right before Stover’s missed field goal. Most of the other yardage came right before halftime and in the 4th quarter when the game was lost. But giving up a cheap late touchdown hurts. The entire DL was blasted on the 3rd-and-2 play that took Lewis to the Giants’ three yard line. On the preceding play, Griffin jumped offsides.

Linebackers: It seemed to me that the linebackers were used in coverage a lot, especially against TE Shannon Sharpe where they did a great job. Sharpe was limited to one harmless catch. Jessie Armtead (3 tackles) did not make much noise except for his wonderfully read on the interception that was returned for what should have been the tying touchdown. MLB Mike Barrow (6 tackles) was more active. He pressured Dilfer into stepping up into the pocket on one of Strahan’s sacks. SLB Ryan Phillips (4 tackles) had problems playing off a block on the aforementioned play where Cedric Jones was caught too far inside. He also got burned pretty badly twice by TE Ben Coates in coverage and once by Sharpe (Dilfer couldn’t connect). The second pass to Coates set up the Ravens’ final touchdown.

One play where the Giants’ defense got out-smarted and it hurt them was on the third down play right before the 47-yard field goal. It was 3rd-and-long and WR Jermaine Lewis lined up as the sole back in the backfield. This should have been a red flag from the start, but Lewis got out and caught an uncontested pass for six yards. Without this completion, the Ravens have to punt.

Secondary: Not a very good game by this unit. CB Jason Sehorn (6 tackles) may have played his worst game of the year. It wasn’t the 38-yard TD to WR Brandon Stokley that sticks in my mind. After all, that was perfect throw and FS Shaun Williams got caught out-of-position on the play. But Sehorn was regularly targeted and only Trent Dilfer’s inaccuracy saved Jason from being truly embarrassed. On the second drive of the game, Sehorn was beat deep for what could have been a touchdown on 3rd-and-6, but the ball was overthrown. On the third drive, Sehorn got beat for the 38-yard TD. The one thing I don’t understand about this play – and have never understood about Sehorn – is that often times when he plays up on the line of scrimmage, he does not jam his man. Someday, this tactic will have to be explained to me by a true football professional because to me, if you don’t jam, it kind of defeats the purpose of playing so close to the line. On the fifth drive, Sehorn was beat deep by Patrick Johnson for what should have been an easy touchdown (Sehorn slipped on the play), but Dilfer threw the ball out-of-bounds. Johnson then got open against Jason on 3rd-and-5, but Trent threw another bad pass. Sehorn was beat for an easy 7 yard completion by Stokley at the start of the Ravens’ first half field goal drive.

CB Dave Thomas (1 tackle) played a far stronger game (though someone screwed up on a few coverages – more on that in a bit). He did a good job of defending an out on 3rd-and-long on the Ravens’ opening drive. Aside from that, you didn’t see him being targeted except for one crucial play. After the Giants’ offense had mounted a drive that effectively transformed the field position situation, Thomas got beat deep by Qadry Ismail for a 44 yard gain on 3rd-and-2; this play set up a very costly field goal. Thomas had good coverage on the play (though he could have jammed the WR better), but the pass was very well thrown. I’m a bit surprised there was no safety help too.

There were a few plays where wide receivers were wide open. On the fourth drive of the game, MLB Pete Monty was the only Giant near a wide open receiver on third down (thankfully Dilfer missed again). On the sixth drive, Mike Barrow was covering speedster Patrick Johnson for some reason and he easily picked up a first down on 3rd-and-6.

FS Shaun Williams (7 tackles) made one big mistake. On the deep TD pass to Stokley, Dilfer smartly looked Williams off in Sharpe’s direction (you know Shaun was looking for a kill shot). He then came back to throw a heck of a pass against Sehorn for the TD. It was pretty obvious that Jason was expecting inside support on the play. SS Sam Garnes (5 tackles) was quiet as usual. CB Emmanuel McDaniel was not exposed in pass coverage.

Special Teams: The Giants lost this battle. P Brad Maynard did alright. Most of his punts were very high and this forced Jermaine Lewis to call many fair catches. His worst punt came out of the end zone in the fourth quarter (this helped to set up the final touchdown). His second punt of the game was pretty poor too. He did launch one rocket that had height and distance, but the coverage teams did not contain and allowed Lewis to return the ball 43 yards to the New York 22 yard line (luckily a penalty took 19 of those yards back). But it was this field position that enabled Dilfer to hit Stokley for the long touchdown.

Aside from that, punt coverage was generally solid with Damon Washington helping to force a muff that was recovered by the Ravens. Lyle West also got down the field in a hurry on another punt.

Ike Hilliard did a really good job fielding punts with returns of 19 and 13 yards. Ramos McDonald put the Giants in a big hole again when he was flagged for holding on a punt return that was fair caught. Ron Dixon had an up-and-down game. Everyone will remember his great 97-yard kick return for a touchdown. But he also really screwed up on three other returns. Two he allowed to hit the ground and this not only prevented a decent return, but also contributed to the losing field position war. Then in the 4th quarter, his fumble set up the Ravens’ final field goal.

Then there was the big catastrophe after Dixon’s touchdown. Lewis went 84 yards and put the final dagger in New York’s heart. The main culprit was PK Brad Daluiso with yet another dreadfully short kickoff. But don’t excuse the coverage team that allowed Lewis to get outside of contain. There were plenty of Giants who had the angle on Lewis, but they couldn’t push him out-of-bounds.


Favorites Don’t Lose

by David Oliver

“The Super Bowl,” my son said to me on Sunday morning. Yes, my son the Jets fan, who two weeks ago would have bet the farm on the Raiders, the then current flavor of the week. So the Super Bowl has come and gone, all the old shibboleths have been drawn from the closet, and once again the only meaningful cliche in the whole ordeal is “on any given Sunday…” On this Sunday, the Ravens stepped into the big shoes and fulfilled the prophetic ramblings of announcerdoms town criers. Their defense was overwhelming. I think it is the Ravens who have been intercepting (small solace in some puns) offensive signals from their opponents. Think about it, their opponents all pitch shutouts the game before and all score more than 20 points – then in the Ravens game, only one scores as many as 10.

For our beloved Giants, this was a Super Bowl of respect, redemption and reversion. They came out of the game as the nice guys who just didn’t have it. They were led by a QB who has found his redemption and his life. They were betrayed by the ugly traits that have dogged them at times this season – highly touted first rounders who disappeared, a QB who got happy feet and served up goofballs, a brave and stout defense that just wore down at the end and allowed a close game to appear as a rout. BUT that happens to every team at some point in a season, and it was the misfortune of the Giants that it happened here. The good part is that none of these faults are insurmountable and when viewed comparatively to the positives, they pale in significance.

This is not a season wrap-up, it is a game review – the assessments here do not reflect the gains and successes of the year, they pertain only to the Super Debacle; it is not pretty, but it is a one game analysis only. First, some general observations. There are apologists for every point, some can’t see good in a particular player or coach, some can’t see bad. Any criticism is viewed as personal, biased or just plain all wet. Any praise is condemned as boosterism. Carefully studying the game tape, some things are obvious: the offensive line did a hell of a job pass blocking. There was ample time for any major league QB to scope the field and find receivers. So don’t blame the line. There were also some awesome blocks on the draw plays which opened huge holes in the impenetrable defense of the Ravens. The play calling was adequate. There were opportunities. They were squandered by poor execution, both by the QB and his receivers. The defense played a very good game up front. The secondary had its worst game since the lions encounter. But even with that very good game, which should have made it a close contest, the defense did not play as well as the Ravens defense and was handled by the Ravens offensive line on many plays. So, despite a heroic performance, the Ravens would have won this game anyway. The special teams had one breakdown, but also cleared the way for Dixon’s return – there was some very good blocking, good punt coverage and good punting. So don’t call for MacDuff’s head because Jermaine Lewis broke one. The coaching – every Giant Coach looked tight, from JF on down. I believe this had an effect on the team. It’s not that the Giants were out-coached; it’s more like they coached out. And finally, once again the Giants looked like a sandlot squad following a bye week. This team needs rhythm; it had none; it rarely has any following a week off. If the Giants want to consider themselves a “blue collar” team, it would be well to keep in mind that blue collar work is repetitious, which means that it must be constant to be good- and the week off never serves them well.

On to the details:

(OFFENSE)

QB – I have been beaten over the head and shoulders here for my observations about KC. Following the Vikings game I said, I will not doubt him any longer, but I may criticize him for a bad performance. His performance in the Super Bowl was a bad one. So I slept on it. He’s 27 years old, has been fighting for his sanity and career for three years and faced the toughest defense in football right now. So he came up with a clunker. Does that make him a bad QB? No. By the same token, it does show he is not an elite QB, YET. So for all you guys who are going to jump my ass on this one, go watch the tape. KC reverted to almost every bad tendency he has, except I didn’t catch him throwing off his back foot or with a hitch. He did, however, rush his throws when he had no reason to fire, he locked on to receivers and he threw to spots without reading the defense. These are excusable traits for a Dilfer or a raw rookie; they are inexcusable for a seasoned veteran, on his second Championship team. He flat out panicked and played a horrible game. I really hoped I would see JF walk up to him at the end of the first quarter, take his head in his hands and tell him, Kerry, we need you now, focus and lead this team. I didn’t see that and KC went deeper and deeper into himself and did not help his team. Was Dilfer better? No, but he hit the one pass he had to hit – the opening score – and that was enough. But spare me the Dilfer is a leader columns. The Ravens probably would have scored 50 points if Dilfer could hit an open receiver consistently. So, to my friend Conrad, who cheap shotted me on Saturday night. I wasn’t wrong about KC, but I was one pass wrong about Dilfer.

Running Backs – Tiki Barber is a warrior; Tiki Barber is a warrior; Tiki Barber is a warrior. Oh, yes, good as Greg Comella is, and I love him, Sam Gash blew up a number of Giants’ blitzes – I guess if you win the Super Bowl, he is worth the salary. It was good to see JoMo in the game; it wasn’t good not to see Dayne.

Offensive Line – I thought these guys did the job. On passing plays, they protected KC adequately enough. Lomas Brown played his butt off. There were some nice trap blocks. But I also saw Stone get confused more than once. Towards the end of the game, when it got out of hand, the line just gave it up and you could sense everyone just wanted to get on the bus. But there are some questions here that JF must ask and answer to himself over the off-season. Does he want a passing O or a running O? Of course, the answer is balanced, but an offense must be balances passing, or balanced rushing. Consider the Ravens. They consider themselves a running team and they have the road graders to pave the way. But their road graders are good enough to handle a very effective pass rush. The Giants, on the other hand, have a very adept pass blocking corps. But they cannot clear the way for guys like Dayne and JoMo. They are fine for Tiki. So there is a disconnect here which JF must rectify. I mention it because in this game, the Ravens D made the Giants O one dimensional, which put all the pressure on KC. In 2 or 3 years, KC will find the seams, connect and change the outcome. But JF must do something with the philosophy of O and the O Line to get him there.

Receivers – Gutsy game by Ike, Amani and Tiki. But Ike got clocked on one hit over the middle and disappeared. That’s how good the Ravens are. Tiki never gave up, never gave in, and showed his value. Amani was deep covered most of the game, and without pinpoint touch and timing, KC was not going to get him in the game. KC did not have either, Amani never got in the game. The tight ends should have had a huge game, they didn’t. One catch for Cross, one for Pete. I don’t understand what is nullifying this element in the Giants game. Three of the teams that beat the Giants did it with the tight ends prominent. The Giants are a very tough defense. Ergo, tight ends can be effective against tough defenses. The Ravens are a tough defense. Where were the tight ends?

Conclusion: Take away the interceptions and the game is 13-7 Ravens – no cigar for the Giants, but respectable.

(DEFENSE)

The front seven. A very good game for three quarters, when it counted. Jamal Lewis did no damage until the game was lost. The headlines may say, brutish performance by Lewis, the stats will show 100 yards, but the Giants kicked his butt until garbage time. It’s just a shame they quit on it in the fourth for those two scores. Michael Strahan played a man’s game. He hit Dilfer more times than he hits the tackling dummy in training camp. Cornelius Griffin showed that he has arrived. Next year this young man is going to be a force. Biggest disappointments – Hamilton, who although he had some nice plays, once again goofed it up with stupid penalties. The holding call was seminal. That pass was a typical Dilfer interception throw and with Jessie’s score, man, I love revisionist history. He also had a freak offsides which allowed the Ravens to get untracked to begin with. CJ, once again, a non-factor, after several nice games. He was thoroughly handled by a big tackle.

The linebackers were active with Jessie and Barrow playing hard. Barrow was picked up by Gash on several plays, which hurt. Ryan Phillips was alone on big ben Coates and once again a tight end hurt the Giants at critical points. It wasn’t Ryan’s fault, but he didn’t check the big man at the line, and it’s difficult to stay with these guys once free.

The secondary – Not a very good game. In my preview, I wrote that there would be tremendous pressure on the corners and they needed their A game. The Ravens went right for them. Jason was playing catch up all night, and for whatever reason, the only time I heard Shaun Williams name was when he blew the coverage on the TD. In my preview, I also noted it was the second line of Ravens receivers who would damage the Giants and they did – Stokley and Jeffers really hurt. Sharpe was a non-factor until the issue had been decided.

(COACHING)

I don’t think the Giants were out-coached. They were out-executed. Offensively, the game plan looked for what the Ravens would give. The draw plays worked. Several screens would have, but the Ravens were smart enough to grab the receivers. The short passing game was predicated on the receivers catching the ball in stride and eluding the backers. Several passes were behind the receivers, a few were tipped, and once the Ravens saw the plan, they adjusted and creamed the receivers. The long game was bizarre. Kerry just threw the damn ball up – there was no timing, he just wouldn’t wait that extra second. That is not a coaching problem. On defense, Fox was aggressive – the rush just didn’t get there. Good Ravens’ play. That put pressure on the secondary – Dilfer didn’t have to be perfect, he just had to get the ball out there. I actually counted only three good Dilfer passes all night, but they all hurt the Giants.

Final observations – The only “Mother F” heard was Shaun Williams coming out of the tunnel saying, “Let’s get some of these MotherFers, men!” Yeah, right, Shaun. The Giants seemed loose coming out – Jason winked at the camera during the anthem, Lomas, Stone, and Ray Lewis were singing along. I thought the Giants were relaxed, loose, maybe they were just flat. Right from the opening series, when one ball was popped in the air and almost intercepted and another down field was almost an INT, the handwriting was on the wall. Payton game planned to give KC a quick start. It was more like hitting the eject button.

The field position game did not go in the Giants’ favor and this was not good. On the TD pass, I wrote down, blown coverage, and Simms quickly picked up the same thing. Vibes – the game is going south. Hope KC finds his rhythm as in the Eagles, Jax and Dallas game. Keep it close. Special teams had a nice play, popped a ball loose – could have made a difference. Oh, no, this is one of those games where the breaks are going to the Ravens. Dilfer 2-9, KC 4-14. The punters getting a workout. The biggest play of the game, Strahan hits Dilfer, Jessie interception, TD, called back, Hammer holding. I relax. That’s the ball game. You can’t come back from that kind of adrenalin rush and deflation. Ravens ball – trapped deep, Dilfer hits a pass over Thomas, out of the hole, then a 9 yarder just enough to give Stover a chance, he converts. 10-0. Giants get the ball, ugly facemask – field position, completion to Dixon, Tiki draw, this could be it. KC winds up and cranks into double coverage. INT. Tiki wide open 15 yards down field. Halftime.

The most exciting thing after that was the Dixon return. Good blocking, nice hole, accelerator on. Gone. Then Jermaine does it the other way. Watching incredulous as EMac is manhandled, twisted, turned, then shoved in the back, no flag. Despair.

Sometime next week, wrap up for the year, thoughts on next.

(Box Score – Baltimore Ravens vs. New York Giants, January 28, 2001)
Jan 262001
 

Approach to the Game – Baltimore Ravens vs. New York Giants, January 28, 2001: This script just keeps getting better and better and I love it. If you read my game preview for the Viking game two weeks ago you saw my assertion that the gods were on our side. And the forces that control the universe deemed it desirable that this hardworking, disrespected team in Blue come out of that conflict victorious in a dominating fashion. But then doubt crept into my mind as the Ravens, a team that seems to have received more miracles than any other, was also given a ticket to Super Bowl XXXV.

But those doubts have now subsided. First, the Giants were once against installed as underdogs. Then came the talk of the Ravens having the best defense of all time. But the most important development was this: the Ravens opened their mouths. For a week, they have done nothing but talked trash and acted like a bunch of thugs. Everything that is wrong in sport has been personified by their words off-the-field this week. The Super Bowl is the supreme altar of the NFL. It is to be treated with respect and reverence. Yet the Ravens came to Tampa and have pissed all over it.

The Giants? They have remained old-school. They quietly go about their business in preparation for the game. The G-Men do not flout, they do not boast. They realize that performance on the field is what matters. The Giants have handled themselves with class and dignity and have said all the right things about their opponent. We Giants’ fans have had a unique opportunity to see this team mature right in front of eyes over the course of the season. The transformation has been nothing short of astonishing.

Can the quality of the character of the two teams possibly be differentiated to a greater extent than how the offensive leader of the Giants and the defensive leader of the Ravens addressed their troubled pasts during this week? In a dramatic moment that long-time Super Bowl observers say they have never seen before, the hardcore press was floored by Kerry Collins’ honesty, sincerity, and most importantly, his responsibility in dealing with his past transgressions. Regardless of the outcome of the season, Kerry proved that he is a winner as a human being and that transcends even the Super Bowl. Ray Lewis? He could care less for the families of the murdered victims. He may or may not been involved in the actual murders, but he was there at the crime scene – a crime scene that he fled. Ray then later lied to the police. But according to him, it’s not his responsibility – it’s someone else’s. “I’m not responsible for my own actions – someone else is. I’m the victim” is the tiresome refrain that we unfortunately hear more and more of in today’s society. It’s the refrain of the loser.

This is a game about Good versus Evil. The Giants are not only good players, but they are good human beings. How could the gods not be pulling for class, hard work, and responsibility? How could they not be helping the underdogs? Humility versus Brash. Right versus Wrong. David versus Goliath. Regardless of the outcome, I will echo Lawrence Taylor words of a couple of weeks ago – I’m proud of this team.

I will repeat myself from my last preview as well. This game will be decided by who controls the lines of scrimmage, quarterback play, turnovers, big plays, and special teams. The Giants do not have to play the perfect game. They do not have to come out tight. They are the underdogs and have nothing to lose. Play smart, fundamentally sound football and the game will be yours. Enjoy it!

This day is called the feast of Super Bowl XXXV:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Super Bowl XXXV.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Super Bowl Sunday:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Super Bowl Sunday.’
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Kerry the Quarterback, Strahan and Armstead,
Barber and Dayne, Hamilton and Sehorn,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Super Bowl XXXV shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in the League now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Super Bowl Sunday.

Edited version of Henry V, Act iv, Scene 3

Giants on Offense: This is not going to be pretty. The Ravens have the best defense in the league and Giants’ fans should appreciate what good defense means. In a lot of ways, this Ravens’ defense is like the old Giants’ Super Bowl defenses: they stuff the run, get you in long-yardage situations, and take no prisoners on third down. There are very few weakness on the unit. The two defensive tackles in the middle are almost impossible to move; they keep things free for MLB Ray Lewis to make plays. The ends are athletes who can rush the passer. The outside linebackers are outstanding as well. In the secondary, the Ravens have two speedy, athletic corners (both recent first rounders), a Hall of Fame free safety, and a solid strong safety. It’s hard to run up the gut on them because of the tackles, but it is hard to get outside because of Lewis and the outside linebackers. The Ravens also force a ton of turnovers.

My message to fans would be this: respect the defense and acknowledge its impact on the Giants’ offense. Just because a play doesn’t work, it isn’t because someone on offense screwed up or the game plan stinks. The Ravens’ defense is going to make plays – a lot of them. Scoring will be at a premium and thus field position will be everything. If it is 3rd-and-15, a safe short pass or a draw play that comes up well short of the first down is not a bad play.

I think Offensive Coordinator Sean Payton shed light on the game plan this week when he said the Giants need to be patient on offense. I take that to mean that the Giants will run certain plays early that are not likely to be successful in order to set up bigger plays as the contest wears on. Thus, I do not expect the Giants to throw deep or try their trickier stuff early. It is certainly possible that the Giants may go 3-and-out the first couple of times they have the ball.

The Ravens will want to get in Kerry Collins’ face early and hit him. Like the old Giant defenders who battled Joe Montana, they will want to get him out of any kind of rhythm and try to intimidate him. Because of this, I would keep everything short and easy for Collins early: 3-step drops where he quickly makes a read and gets rid of the ball. Maximum protection. If nothing is there, throw it away. Kerry’s best decisions on Sunday may be those passes that he decides to throw out of bounds. My early bread-and-butter would be the slant and quick outs to the receivers; I would also get Greg Comella, Tiki Barber, and Pete Mitchell involved as options. What Kerry has to be careful of is not forcing throws. The Ravens know he loves to throw the slant pass – so one of their defensive backs may jump on this early. If I was going to try any big play early, I would run something like a slant-and-go route if the corners are playing tight.

What the Giants want to do is stay out of long-yardage situations at all costs. A 4-yard out to Hilliard, a 3-yard run by Barber, or a 4-yard catch by Comella is big. Keep the down and distance manageable. My game plan would involve a heavy dose of misdirection. The Ravens are very aggressive on defense – use this aggressiveness against them. Also pass when you look are in a running situation and visa versa. Don’t shout out “What the heck are they doing?” when they run a draw on 3rd-and-7 with four wide receivers in the game or throw the ball on 2nd-and-1 out of a three tight end formation. “You’ve got to change up,” Offensive Line Coach Jim McNally says. “You’ve got to the throw the ball, run a draw or run a trick play. You just can’t run the same thing over and over. You can’t play smash-mouth football with them.” When it comes to the run, counters, traps, draws, and reverses should be big. The Giants have a finesse offensive line (except for RG Ron Stone). Plays where the Giants can “influence” (hence the phrase influence blocking) their opponents to go in one direction and take themselves out of the play will be key. “The only thing you can do against big guys like (DT Tony) Siragusa and (DT Sam) Adams is when they start moving you’ve got to take them where they want to go,” said LT Lomas Brown. “When guys are that big and that strong you can’t stop them from going where they want to go. If they want to start going to the inside or the outside, you take them where they want to go and try to get them out of the way…You know you’re not going to push them back because those guys are so big. You try to work on combination blocks, maybe get two guys on one guy and get a good angle on them. It’s not like we’re going to dominate them because they have the strength and weight advantage.”

The battles up front will be decisive. LT Lomas Brown faces DE Michael McCrary (four sacks in the post-season). RT Luke Petitgout draw a tough assignment with DE Rob Burnett (10.5 sacks in the regular season). He also will be called upon to block the explosive SLB Peter Boulware who often plays in a down position in pass rush situations. Inside, LG Glenn Parker will battle it out with behemoth Siragusa while RG Ron Stone faces Adams in what may be the best confrontation on the line. Running up inside against the Ravens is almost impossible because these two defensive tackles usually demand double-team support from the center – that allows greater freedom of movement for Ray Lewis in the middle. It will be interesting to see how much the Giants test the middle; they might be tempted since Ron Stone might be able to handle Adams. I wouldn’t discount some quick hitters inside.

The big key is get a hat on Lewis – be it Zeigler (who will have problems disengaging from the tackles), FB Greg Comella, tight end, or another offensive lineman. Comella may be one of the most important men on the field on Sunday. He has the mobility to get out and engage Lewis – the big question is can he get there and sustain the block? “He is amazing,” Offensive Coordinator Sean Payton says of Lewis. “He’s the best at what he does right now. It will be a goal of ours to have a body on him, but that’s a challenge because he moves so well laterally.” The Giants may be able to pick up some yardage outside if they can get blocks on the linebackers. This is difficult as all three are quick and athletic. What it comes down to is a matter of execution. That play where Tiki starts heading in one direction, then quickly takes it to the other side (a counter) may be a staple – this gets the defense leaning in the wrong direction. I would be tempted to run a toss sweep a couple of times too. I wouldn’t try too much of that right side pull with Parker – the Raven defensive tackles will blow that up at the point of attack.

Pass protection will probably be the thing that makes or breaks this game for the G-Men. Give Kerry time and he will pick you apart. The Ravens know this and that’s why I expect them to get a bit out of character and blitz Collins more heavily than they normally would attack another quarterback. This can present problems for the Giants, but also opportunities (just like in the first and second Giants-Eagles games). The blocking of the offensive line is not also something to concentrate on, but the pass blocking of the tight ends and backs as well. Howard Cross, Pete Mitchell, Dan Campbell, Tiki Barber, and Ron Dayne need to come up big here.

Passing early, I would target the linebackers. All are athletic and WLB Jamie Sharper has been making plays in pass coverage. But these guys are a bit too aggressive at times and I’d like to see the Giants get Barber or Mitchell out on them. That’s why at times you may see the Giants try what the Jets did and spread out the defense a lot of receivers (including Mitchell and Barber).

Eventually, the Giants are going to have to take some shots deep. By using the short passing game and run early, what the Giants will hope to do is cause the linebackers and defensive backs to creep up more and more. Then you want to take your shot. This is what I meant when I said look for New York to try to use the early plays to set up the big stuff later. Cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Duane Starks are talented, athletic former first rounders who can play. McAlister plays on the right side of the defense and is likely to be on WR Amani Toomer most of the time. McAlister is a taller corner and this will work well for the Ravens. Starks, on the other hand, is a smaller, quicker guy who seems well-suited to defend Ike Hilliard. The Giants may be best advised to try to get Toomer and Hilliard out of these match-ups, as on paper, they seem to favor the Ravens. But both are very aggressive and will at times bite on moves prematurely. This could pay big dividends for the Giants. FS Ron Woodson is a savvy guy who makes plays.

Want to know who might be the real keys on Sunday? Wide receivers Joe Jurevicius and Ron Dixon. These two have a chance to make a dramatic impact against the nickel corner (Robert Bailey). Or Dixon could be moved outside and Ike then takes advantage from the slot.

The Giants need to pass protect well, but this will be Kerry Collins’ stage. He’s going to get hit and he is going to get pressure in his face. There will be times in this contest where Collins will have to stand in the pocket and accurately deliver the ball despite the oncoming rushers who will be looking to hurt him. To me, that is the last evolution he has to make. Obviously, staying away from turnovers is a must (both picks and fumbles). The backs MUST hold onto the ball as well. But if the Giants’ offense can get the Ravens back on their heels a bit, they can make some plays. The more than can get up in this game, the less of a factor the kicking game will be.

Giants on Defense: To have any sort of chance to win this game, the Giants’ defense needs to dominate on this side of the ball. It won’t be as easy as many fans think. The Ravens can power the football with HB Jamal Lewis behind a decent offensive line. They have very good speed and explosiveness at wide receiver and a tight end who can cause match-up problems. HB Priest Holmes is a quality reserve/3rd down back who impresses me every time I watch him. The Ravens may not need a lot of points in this game and any breakdown that leads to points could be decisive. The pressure will be on New York to perform at a very high level.

The first thing to watch out for is that head coach Brian Billick likes to take some shots early down the field in order to get ahead of his opponent. Thus, the Giants must be very wary early of the big throw. The adrenaline will be flowing big-time on the Giants’ defense – they have been disrespected all week and this is the Super Bowl after all. Look for the Ravens to try to take advantage of this with their own misdirection or big play early. Like I said before the Viking game, how well New York weathers this early storm will be crucial. Maintain your focus, discipline, and keep your emotions under control fellas!

Ultimately, the Ravens will revert back to their bread-and-butter: the running game. They love to pound the ball behind LT Jonathan Ogden and FB Sam Gash on left side runs. DE Cedric Jones will be the man on the spot. His performance may determine the outcome of the game. He doesn’t have to make the spectacular play and make the tackle; but he does need to stalemate Ogden at the line of scrimmage. I also think there will be greater pressure on the linebackers in run defense in this game as Gash is one of the very best blocking fullbacks in the NFL. WLB Jessie Armstead, SLB Ryan Phillips, and MLB Mike Barrow must avoid or disengage from his blocks quickly and get to Lewis. The rest of the defensive line must also dominate their opponents. DE Michael Strahan faces older, veteran RT Harry Swayne – who is more of technician than a power player. Inside, Keith Hamilton needs to take control of his battle with LG Edwin Mulitalo. Christian Peter and Cornelius Griffin should be able to do some damage against RG Mike Flynn though OC Jeff Mitchell is a very solid player. It is essential that the Giants win the war up front, keep the opposing blockers off the linebackers, and disrupt the plays.

When the Ravens throw, their receivers may cause more problems than you think. Baltimore has smaller, quicker guys than the receivers the Vikings have. These kind of receivers often cause problems for big corners. Brian Billick will test David Thomas…you can count on it. I would think he would be matched up on WR Brandon Stokley…a guy that reminds me of a poor man’s Wayne Chrebet. Stokley is the key guy to watch among the wide receivers when QB Trent Dilfer needs a first down. The most explosive starter is Quadry Ismail – a speedster who can get deep. I would think Jason Sehorn would draw him most of the day. The reserves are Patrick Johnson (a very fast player) and Jermaine Lewis (a Stephen Baker clone who makes big plays). Once again, Emmanuel McDaniel will be under pressure to perform.

A huge key will be coverage on Sharpe – the Ravens’ “go-to” guy. Much has been made of the fact that Shaun Williams (who is suffering from a tight hamstring) shut him down two years ago when Sharpe was with Denver. I would think that Williams will see a lot of Sharpe again, but if does, then someone is going to have to take up the traditional free safety responsibilities. Because of this we may see Armstead or Barrow on Sharpe more than many think. What the Giants do not want to see is Ryan Phillips get locked up on him. I think Billick tries to get Thomas or Phillips isolated in this game…how well John Fox can prevent this may determine the fate of the final score. The linebackers must also be very conscious of passes to Holmes, Lewis, and TE Ben Coates.

Play disciplined defense. Watch out for the big play early. Stuff the run. Then get after Dilfer. Trent Dilfer is the kind of guy who can lose a game all by himself. It is very important for the Giants to get in his face early and rattle him. The more they can do that without blitzing a lot, the better. Live by the blitz… They say Trent is a different guy now and he undoubtably has improved in terms of his decision-making. He also has a good arm and is capable of making some big-time throws. But Trent still is Trent. Pressure him. He will make a mistake.

Giants on Special Teams: This aspect of this game is HUGE. The kicking game and coverage most likely will be decisive. Field position will be everything in this game. You may see punt, punt, punt, punt from both teams in an effort simply to move closer to each other’s goal line. Brad Daluiso and Brad Maynard must come through on their kickoffs and punts, respectively. The Giants can ill afford to let the Ravens have the ball on the 40 yard line after a kick return. In addition, Lewis is the most dangerous punt returner in the game. If I’m the Giants, I have Maynard punt more for hang-time than distance in order to allow the coverage teams to force him to fair catch the ball. Lewis is a big play waiting to happen and all Giant fans should hold their breath when he has the ball. Of course, the head hunters on the team such as Damon Washington, Jack Golden, Thabiti Davis, Brandon Short, and Pete Monty should have something to say about that. Daluiso will be on the spot on his field goal attempts in what may be a very tight game.

It looks like Tiki Barber will field punts in this game. Getting a big return would be great, but it is more important that he properly catch and secure the ball.

The Giants also must keep an eye out for fake field goal or punt attempts, especially if the Giants’ defense is playing well.

Is this a game where the Giants finally block a field goal or punt? The Ravens have had problems with their punt protection schemes.


“XXXV”
by David Oliver

This review should be simple. Every old adage and cliche ever used has been applied, dissected, discussed and disabused. But only one really applies “dance with the girl you brought to the ball.” The Giants have been winning with a blend of air attack, spiced by just enough ground warfare to keep the offensive linemen fresh, AND the tendency on the part of their opponents to diss them. To date, the Ravens have shown the same idiosyncracies as the Vikings, Eagles, Jaguars and Steelers. They shrug at the Giant defense and laugh at the offense. McCrary almost was laughing out loud before the team left Baltimore, thinking that the Giants offense showed very little.

The media started the week with the same attitude, but football minds are starting to be heard. Last night, Tony Gonzalez was on with Bill Maas and crew and when asked for a prediction, said without hesitation, if the Giants don’t turn it over more than twice, they will win. Later, or earlier, depending on when it first aired, Jim Rome had Deacon Jones as a guest and the Deacon flat out said, the Giants will win because they have an offense. And that fellow BBIers is the story of this game.

But just what does that mean? It means that Kerry Collins must avoid the hatchet job of the NFL’s dirtiest defense. Taking their cue from defensive superstar, Ray “I’ve been exonerated by Shannon Sharpe” Lewis, the defense plays ugly and dirty. Not to say they wouldn’t have won anyway, but putting out two playoff QBs in a row hasn’t hurt their chances. Thus, the Ravens have one big chance for victory, send KC to the sidelines.

Are they a good defense? Yes. Are they a great defense? Deacon Jones says No. Had they won 17 games as the Dolphins did, yes, if they do it for 4 or more years, as the Steelers did, yes. Well, Deacon’s words are good enough for me. Now, how good is good? The Ravens have shut down every mediocre offense they played. They controlled the Titans, who play close to the vest anyway. But they did allow some nice offensive teams to roll up yardage and points. This could be one of those games. Can the Giants run the ball early and with success? I think not. Dayne may get his TD, but it won’t come with a 100 yard rushing effort. The middle of the Ravens D, with the Beer Keg and the Goose is pretty hefty. Backed up by linebackers who fly to the ball, the middle of the line will be impenetrable. But that’s not the Giants’ game. The linebackers are laterally active, but that leaves space for Tiki – a healthy Tiki. The corners are aggressive, but not big enough to defend the Giants wideouts, Toomer and JJ, or adept enough to seal the seams against Ike, if Kerry gets time. The Ravens won’t see a lot of Pete Mitchell, but when they do see him, he will cause major problems for them. Ron Woodson is Ron Woodson, but you can’t hit what goes past you, so Payton’s deep game should produce results.

The Ravens offense is dysfunctional, and they laugh about it. But Trent Dilfer in a different uniform is still Trent Dilfer, and the return to Tampa should give him flashbacks. When rushed, he tends to throw the ball high and up for grabs. Guess what? He hasn’t met Griffin yet or a rejuvenated Barrow. But he already knows Strahan and Peter and Hamilton. The Giants will get pressure on him. This will not be a wait and see game. Even with Jamal Lewis, the run blitz can be effective, so expect some quick hitting. The guys who do the most damage to the Giants schemes are the lesser known Ravens receivers, so expect to see a lot of nickel as the game progresses, particularly if the Giants take the lead. EMac will again play a large role. The injury to Shaun Williams is troublesome, not only because he whacks Sharpe, but also because he can be an effective blitz man against Dilfer. The early part of this game is going to be Lewis for the Ravens against Hamilton, Peter and Barrow for the Giants. When the Giants show the Ravens that they play some defense also, the game goes to Dilfer, and that is like putting it on the shoulders of Dave Brown. Good enough to stick, but don’t bet the farm on him in the clutch.

So how does John Fox game plan this one? Heavy pressure from the start. CJ and Strahan will pinch the action to the middle, for the Giant vacuum. The corners will go man up with a lot of pressure to perform so Jason and Thomas must bring their A game. Don’t expect lucky fluke bounces to go the Ravens way this game as the Giants’ secondary players have good ball awareness and these guys are hungry. Once the Lewis issue is settled, expect a blitz package with 6 guys coming, all from different angles and 2 and 3 at a time. This is the key – the Giants defense will score because Dilfer is that bad.

Now on offense, what would you do if you were Sean Payton? Well, I’ll bet he’s got GONE WITH THE WIND pretty well memorized by now. Remember back in mini-camp – so long ago – when he told me he didn’t expect much at first, but by the end of the year the Giants’ O would be right there? Well, he had it right, didn’t he? With the maturation of KC, the Payton variation of the Gruden machine is now on stage. He will take his shots. Don’t look for that deer in the headlight look from KC this week – he’s ready, and he will take his shots. The key, as always, is Tiki and Toomer. Same plays, Tiki to the left flat and look for room. Amani down the sideline. Look for Comella to try and chip on Lewis, and maybe even Dayne in the 2 back or single position, chipping on Lewis. Comella will go out of the backfield. The Giants surprise here could be Dixon, who is faster than the Ravens can get off the film, and who has unbelievable body control. With the center of the line not known for pressure, the onus will be on the back to pick up and redirect Lewis, and for Lomas to do his thing.

On specials, the Giants finally have an advantage. Dixon broke one, his first, against the Ravens in the exhibition game, and it would not be a major surprise to see him get some yardage, if the Ravens have more than 3 kickoffs. This game is going to be a battle of field position up front. Short is healthy, Golden is playing well, and if Williams can contribute, along with McDonald and Washington and Stoutmire – advantage Giants.

So, who are the X factors? Obviously Daluiso will be important. DelGreco cost the Titans one win, and didn’t help in the other. Even the Redskins won on the toe. The Ravens expect close – they are figuring they will win 3-0. If it’s close, the Giants will win, 15-10. Tiki and Toomer are going to be the studs, but look for JJ to put the dog on Herring in front of their old Coach. Also, look for a big game over the middle, which means Pete or Ike. I don’t expect a big yards out of a handoff running game, but Tiki will get his combined 100+.

Keys to the Ravens – it’s simple. Continue the job the media has done on Lewis, frustrate him, the defense will get frustrated and the Giants will make big plays. The Giants will score more than 20 points in this game, unless Tampa gets hit with torrential downpours. Kerry has found redemption. Lewis never will.

Jan 172001
 
New York Giants 41 – Minnesota Vikings 0

Game Overview: This thing isn’t over yet. Winning the conference championship is great, but losing the Super Bowl sucks. They always remember the winner and often forget the loser. Who outside of Buffalo remembers the Bills cremating the Raiders in the 1990 AFC Championship Game? No one. But who remembers the Giants winning Super Bowl XXV when Scott Norwood missed the final field goal? The whole country. The Giants players and coaches need to get their minds right and focus on the next (and final) obstacle. There will be plenty of time to celebrate the season when the season is over. For now, it’s time to get back to work.

I do want to take one brief moment to reflect on a bit of the irony of this season. Beating the Vikings in the conference championship must be like coming full circle for Head Coach Jim Fassel, Defensive Coordinator John Fox, WLB Jessie Armstead, DE Michael Strahan, HB Tiki Barber, and others. Three years ago a promising season was terminated prematurely when the Giants collapsed in the final seconds of the first playoff game of the Fassel-era against this very same team. Now the Giants have handed Minnesota their most humiliating defeat in their team history. Poetic justice indeed. More demons exorcised.

But this is a game review after all, so let’s get back to the game. This was practically the perfect game and it rivals the 1986 49-3 playoff destruction of the San Francisco 49ers as the most complete playoff game in Giant team history. It is hard to imagine the offense or defense playing better giving the context of the moment, what was at stake, and the caliber of the competition. There was a lot of talk this week about the old Giant players and teams of the past – but this performance took a backseat to no one. That’s what makes the next game ever so important. If the 2000 Giants can find a way to win that game, then this team will cement its legacy forever in the consciousness of Giant fans everywhere. Who knows, 10 years from now, Coach Fassel may call upon Armstead, Strahan, and Barber to speak to the next generation of Giant players before their NFC Championship Game.

Coaching: The Vikings were completely out-coached. So was almost every opponent the Giants have played this year. Just remember that the next time you take a shot at Coach Fassel (I’m ashamed of my temper tantrum directed at Fassel after the Titans game now). Fassel is going to be here a long, long time so if you don’t like him, you had better find yourself another team to root for. He’s here to stay probably for as long as he likes. And unlike his most famous predecessor, he won’t leave this franchise in a lurch at the last moment just as the season is about to start. There is a lot to be said about commitment and loyalty. Fassel has that – Tuna does not.

Offensively, the game plan made a lot of sense and I expected the Giants to come out throwing like they did (see my game preview). However, I was impressed with the overall commitment to the pass. Even with a big lead, the Giants didn’t let up and went for the jugular – it reminded me of the old 49er teams under Bill Walsh. The Giants also went deep more often than I thought they would. One thing to look for when you guys and gals watch the game again (and I know you will), is take a look at the personnel packages in the game. For example, there were times when the Giants ran when Pete Mitchell was in the game and passed when Ron Dayne was in the game. This decision to break from tendencies I think really confused the Vikings. The Giants’ 518 total net yards was the third-highest total in team history and the most in a post-season game.

Defensively, what can you say? The Vikings were held to nine first downs and 114 total yards. Who would have even conceived of the notion that the Giants would shut out the Vikings? Daunte Culpepper, Robert Smith, Randy Moss, and Chris Carter were non-factors in the game. Non factors. Unbelievable! Defensive Coordinator John Fox decided to keep Jason Sehorn on Randy Moss – despite what many fans and football men thought – and it worked beautifully. The Giants didn’t blitz much, but they did keep switching things up and this confused and frustrated the Minnesota players and coaching staff. Let’s pray some other team doesn’t offer Fox a head coaching job for at least one more year.

And how about special teams? Special Teams Coach Larry MacDuff has been a media and fan whipping boy for years. But special teams has played better and more consistently during the seven-game winning streak. They haven’t lost any games and have contributed quite a bit to some victories.

Quarterback: What can you say about the performance of Kerry Collins (28-of-39 for 381 yards, 5 touchdowns, 2 interceptions)? It was as good a performance as any in the history of the franchise. I think Kerry threw two bad passes all day (his second interception and another errant toss that should have been picked off, but was dropped). Everything else seemed to be right on the mark or was a deliberate throw-away. His accuracy was uncanny. Those of us who have seen Collins play every game since 1999, including the preseason, knew he was capable of this. We saw glimpses of it against the Jets last year and Pittsburgh this year. Kerry is a competitive leader with a rocket arm and quick release. Like he has all season, he made some incredible throws against the Vikings even when his feet were not set underneath him, including the touchdown pass to Joe Jurevicius.

To be honest, Kerry benefited from the fact that he was often provided with superb pass protection and the Giant receiver had no problems getting open against the soft Viking zone coverage. Collins will face the sternest test of his career in two weeks and he hasn’t always dealt well with pressure in his face. But against the Vikes, he still had to execute and he did so to almost perfection. From the get go, it was obvious that Collins was “on” and that he had a lot of confidence. On a a 4-play, 74-yard opening drive, Kerry hit WR Amani Toomer for 16 yards on a well-thrown slant. He then came back and found Amani on a 10-yard out. Two plays later, he threw a perfect strike to Ike Hilliard on a seam pass for 46 yards and a touchdown. After the Vikings fumbled the kick return away, Collins threw another beauty to FB Greg Comella coming out of the backfield on a waggle for 18 yards and a touchdown. Five offensive plays; 14-0.

In the second quarter, it was Collins’ pass to Toomer for 22 yards that helped to set up Brad Daluiso’s 21-yard field goal to make it 17-0. Later came the 5-play, 71-yard drive with Collins throwing a deep pass to Ron Dixon for 43 yards. He then rolled to his left and fired a rocket to Joe Jurevicius in the back of the endzone despite not even having his feet set on the play. This play was a perfect demonstration of his incredible arm strength.

After the Giants went up 27-0 with another Daluiso field goal (also keyed by Collins passes to Barber for 11 yards, a pass interference call against Jurevicius for 21 yards, and a 13-yard toss to Comella), Kerry led the Giants on another long drive – this time for 10-plays and 77 yards. Collins’ favorite target on this drive was Ike Hilliard as he found him for 11 yards, 28 yards (on a crossing route), 13 yards, and finally the 7 yard touchdown pass with 12 seconds to play before halftime. 34-0. The final piece of the masterpiece was his 7 yard fade to Amani for his fifth touchdown early in the third quarter. By early in the fourth quarter, Collins was pulled for Jason Garrett. What a game!

Garrett completed one pass for four yards on 3rd-and-3 on the Giants last possession.

Wide Receivers: The Giants have been drafting receivers high for as long as I can remember, hoping that someday they would have an impact like this. The star here was Ike Hilliard (10 catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns). This game was made for Ike – a guy who has always played well against zone coverage. Hilliard is at his best when he doesn’t have a guy pressing him at the line and playing him aggressively and Minnesota played right into his game by playing so softly. Hilliard’s 46-yarder for a touchdown came on the opening drive set the tone for the game. He was a huge factor on the Giants’ touchdown drive right before halftime with four key catches for 59 yards (and another score). Not to be outdone, Amani Toomer, playing on a severely sprained ankle, came up with 6 big catches for 88 yards and a touchdown. Toomer got things rolling on the first drive with two catches on the very first two offensive plays of the game. He also had a big catch coming off of the goal line in the first quarter that got the Giants out of field position trouble.

What was unusual this week was that the third and fourth receivers had a big impact in the game. Ron Dixon had 2 catches for 62 yards, including a big time catch on a 43-yard bomb from Collins. Ron really had to fight for the ball and did a great job of coming down with it. He also made a nice move at the line of scrimmage on his second catch that completely fooled the DB and got him open on slant. Joe Jurevicius caught a touchdown pass to make it 24-0. He also drew an important pass interference penalty.

Tight Ends: Not a factor in the passing game as the Giants’ braintrust correctly decided to make the receivers the main focal point of the offense. The blocking was not up to par this week in the running game. I spotted Howard Cross missing two blocks.

Running Backs: Greg Comella had a great impact with his four catches for 36 yards and a touchdown. HB Tiki Barber (12 carries for 69 yards, 4 catches for 21 yards) started off slowly as the Vikings seemed determined to stop any sort of running game, but he warmed up as the passing game tore apart the Minnesota defense. In other words, like the old Bill Walsh teams, the Giants used the pass to set up the run. Barber had big runs of 12 yards (which helped to set up the third touchdown pass), 21 yards (a draw play on the second field goal drive), 17 yards (a counter play on the fourth touchdown drive), and another 10+ yard carry (on the final TD drive). Tiki did drop one pass.

HB Ron Dayne (10 carries for 29 yards, 1 catch for 8 yards) had an up and down performance. On positive side, he had three strong, positive runs where he once again flashed his potential. The first came off the left side for five yards. That was followed up by a 13 yard charge up the gut. He later came up with a 14 yard gainer on 2nd-and-14. On the downside, despite the ball being slightly tipped, he should have caught the Collins’ pass to him that was deflected and intercepted. This could have been a huge momentum switch in the game. He also took his own touchdown off the board in the second quarter by moving before the snap – the Giants had to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown. On another goal line attempted, the play was stymied in the backfield when LG Glenn Parker was shoved into the backfield on a right-side pull. Still, there were other runs where Dayne continues to look a bit slow and indecisive at the line. He needs to attack more aggressively like he did on his positive runs.

Joe Montgomery (16 carries for 43 yards) got almost all of his carries in the fourth quarter against a demoralized defense that was simply looking to go home. Still, Joe was able to keep the sticks moving over and over again and made the 4th quarter a quick affair that was enjoyable to watch. The Giants held the ball for the last 12:53 of the game on one drive that was aided by a personal foul penalty on Minnesota on 3rd-and-long. Joe attacks the line of scrimmage with more verve than Dayne, but he sometimes plays a bit too fast – he needs to set up his blocks a tad better.

Offensive Line: Strong performance against a mediocre opponent. I was most impressed with RT Luke Petitgout’s work on DE/DT John Randle. At times, Randle can take over a game and get into an opponent’s head with his trash talk, but Luke retained his composure and made Randle a non-factor in the game. There was one play I saw where Randle was able to bull-rush back into Collins, but this kind of pressure was a rarity for the Vikes. LT Lomas Brown did a number on DE Fernando Smith in pass protection except for one play (the same play where Luke got bull-rushed). Smith wasn’t a factor until Brown left the game with a back injury and Mike Rosenthal replaced him. The weakness in Rosenthal’s game – his lack of quick feet – was readily apparent as Smith clobbered Collins on Mike’s very first passing play. When the season started, we all hoped that Lomas would be able to hold down the fort until a replacement was found. Now I find myself hoping he doesn’t decide to retire after the season is over. The running game was most productive when directed inside behind the interior blocking trio of RG Ron Stone, OC Dusty Zeigler, and LG Glenn Parker – though the line came up with a poor effort on Dayne’s first goal line attempt.

Defensive Line: The line played a strong game against a top-notch opponent. Just a week ago, the Viking offensive line had no problems with the vaunted Saint defensive line and held them to no sacks and very little pressure. Such was not the case on Sunday against the Giants. DE Michael Strahan (2 tackles, 1 sack) continued his re-birth with another very strong performance. While Strahan’s lone sack was more of the garbage variety (caused by Cedric Jones’ pressure), Michael was spotted more than a few times buzzing around or crashing into Culpepper, including two smack downs that caused the ball to helplessly flutter to the turf twice. He also drew an illegal hands-to-the-face penalty. Jones (0 tackles) was able to get to Culpepper on the play where Strahan picked up the sack, but he missed the tackle and couldn’t finish. His pass pressure did contribute to Emmanuel McDaniel’s interception. DT Keith Hamilton (3 tackles), DT Cornelius Griffin (0 tackles), and DT Christian Peter (1 tackle) were able to generate just enough heat to make Culpepper feel uncomfortable back there. Hamilton almost sacked Daunte on one play but couldn’t bring him down; Griffin then forced him to get rid of the ball quickly. In addition, Griffin slammed into Culpepper when the Giants only rushed three on another play; he also recovered the fumble that Shaun Williams caused on the blitz. Hamilton batted a ball at the line of scrimmage. “The things we were able to do today were based on what our front four did,” said Giants’ Defensive Backs Coach Johnnie Lynn. “We didn’t have to be out there in one-on-one coverage all day long. And when they’re trying to go up for the ball and the guy is the same size as them, they can’t rag-doll them around.” Viking WR Randy Moss agreed: “I think if you gave anybody the game ball, you’d give it to their defensive linemen, starting with Strahan, Hamilton and go on down to the other guys. They have a heck of a defense, and it starts with their front four.”

“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to their defensive linemen – they played a great game,” said Culpepper. “We knew they were going to double Randy sometimes and go one-on-one against him other times…I haven’t seen them play that well in any film I’ve seen them play.”

“They put a tremendous amount of pressure on Daunte,” Viking Coach Dennis Green said. “Daunte got hit a lot, sacked a lot. He made some errant throws, and we couldn’t run the ball.” In reality, the Vikings were forced to eschew the ground game once they found themselves in a big deficit that kept only getting bigger. The low tackle figures on the Giants’ defense reflect the fact that Minnesota was only able to run 41 plays. When they did run, Keith Hamilton was spotted on the bottom of a couple of piles. The only breakdown came in the third quarter when Strahan and CB Dave Thomas got caught too far inside on a run that Robert Smith bounced outside for big yardage.

Linebackers: The Giants also used MLB Mike Barrow (7 tackles, 1 sack) as pass rusher quite a bit and he cleanly beat Korey Stringer with a speed rush to the outside on a play where Mike got a great jump. He also drew a hands-to-the-face penalty from LT Todd Steussie on another pass rush. Yet another time he smashed into Daunte on a stunt from the RDE spot. WLB Jessie Armstead (7 tackles, 1 sack) made a number of key open field tackles, including two on a scrambling Culpepper and another on Robert Smith on a screen pass. He sacked Culpepper in the third quarter for a big loss.

Defensive Backs: You know all my talk about not possibly re-signing CB Jason Sehorn (2 tackles, 1 interception) this upcoming offseason? Forget it – I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. This guy completely took the best wide receiver out of the game. What more can you ask? Sehorn gave up one very early catch to Moss, missed the tackle, and was flagged for tripping – but that was the only bad play he made all day. Moss caught another short pass on him, but Jason made a very strong and sure tackle. “(John Fox’s) plan was to make them throw the ball short,” said Sehorn. “We wanted to take away all the deep things they wanted to do. If they wanted the 10-yard out, it was there. We were going to give them those passes. And when we got up, 14-0, early, the running game became obsolete. So they had to throw.”

Two catches for 18 yards – that’s what Moss had. Incredible! “Am I surprised we shut down Moss?” CB Dave Thomas said. “No, not with Jason guarding him.” Jason successfully defended the two deep passes thrown in his direction despite aggressive hand play from Moss.

Let’s also give a large amount of credit to Thomas (2 tackles). WR Chris Carter has proven to be a Giant-killer in the past by Carter’s first catch of the game came in the 4th quarter. Unbelievable! The play of the day for Thomas came when Daunte hit a receiver on a quick throw to the right on 3rd-and-1, yet Thomas came up with such a strong and sure tackle that he prevented the first down. I wish Fox Sports had done a better job of isolating the work of Sehorn and Thomas because these two must have really done a number on the two All-Pros.

I thought the most important play of the game came when CB Emmanuel McDaniel (2 tackles, 1 interception) out-fought Chris Carter (who is notorious for out-fighting defensive backs) for the ball and coming up with an interception after the Giants’ turned the ball over. If EMac gets burned there, the score becomes 14-7 and who knows what happens?

A large amount of the credit for shutting down the explosive Viking passing attack must also go to SS Sam Garnes (4 tackles, 1 interception), FS Shaun Williams (2 tackles, 1 sack and forced fumble), and reserve S Omar Stoutmire (who saw some playing time even early in the game). Garnes picked off a pass when Moss saw Stoutmire coming in for a kill shot and pulled up on the play. Williams forced a fumble when he sacked Culpepper on a safety blitz.

Special Teams: Big game for Lyle West who fought hard for a key fumble recovery on the Giants’ kick-off after their first score. The Giants scored on the very next play to go up 14-0. West also had a big hit on a kick-off.

Brad Daluiso hit two field goals, but missed another. He also may now be one of the worst kickers in the league in terms of kicking off – his boots keep coming up dreadfully short. Because of this, kick-off coverage early in the game was pretty bad with the Vikings getting to the 40-yard line time a couple of times. However, the head hunters on special teams – Lyle West, Brandon Short, Jack Golden, Damon Washington – quickly took over and each one of these guys made very strong tackles on kick-offs.

Brad Maynard only punted once – it was high and short. Ike Hilliard was only able to field three punts. One was a risky diving effort that saved some field position. Another was a pretty nifty return that didn’t pick up much yardage, but he showed some amazing moves on the play. Incredibly, since the Vikes never scored, the Giants only returned one kickoff (to start the game).


NFC CHAMPIONSHIP

by David Oliver

Was there anything less than perfect for Giants fans on this Sunday? I’ve thought long and hard trying to find something over which I could be critical so you wouldn’t accuse me of being a homer. And I found something. A few minutes before the coin toss there was a military flyover, three thunderous, low-flying fighters buzzed the Stadium. The head military man came up the sideline a little later asking if anyone had photos of the flyover. No one had apparently snapped it and I told him it was unexpected. He said yes, and they were a bit early. So there you have it – the jet flyover was early – that’s the critical part of this report.

I got up at 4 a.m. left at 5:20. When I pulled into the Pilot at Exit 7 of the Turnpike, where I usually gas up, I looked out the window and saw Bob from Annapolis and Steve from Maryland (or vice-versa). Both nice guys, true blue, weekly commuters up the Pike for Giants games. We talked for a few minutes, compared notes and said ‘Go Giants.’ The only party missing was Hope J. and she was missed. Then I was listening to Mike F on the WFAN, and he was saying the parking lots were already mostly full at 8:30. I cruised up the Pike, had no trouble getting in, parked, picked up my credentials and went down the tunnel. The security guys were already telling me “you aren’t going to have fun today”. There was TV equipment everywhere and the guards said TV guys had taken over most of the sidelines.

LT was standing there talking to my favorite analyst, BT (Billy Taylor). There was more fur in evidence than in a zoo, the beautiful people were out in force, as well as some ugly people, who maybe can’t help being ugly, but they could have stayed home. The photographers’ room was more crowded than usual, but less than I expected, and the Giants had outdone themselves in the comfort department. There was a full brunch buffet with eggs, bacon, sausage, the usual cold cuts, soup, orange juice, plenty of water and boxes of programs and roster sheets. Last week the programs never arrived. Many thanks to the hard working staff who did a great job. The Giants are one of the top three teams in the league when it comes to recognizing that photographers are people too.

It was mayhem on the field. Terry, Howie, James Brown and that ex-Bengal (CC) were on hand with a full set. There was a TV boom in the corner, a full camera in all four corners, the mobile units on the sideline behind the benches and several roving units. Celebrities were everywhere, including Danny Aiello, Spike Lee, Puffy Combs and Darrel Waltrip, there to help FOX hype its NASCAR coverage. It was like being on a movie set. And the fans were there, loud and joyous. There were hard hats, uniforms, face paint, signs, one blow up doll dressed as a Viking and getting pummeled by its owner.

The Vikings had special guests including Fran Tarkenton and Bob Lurtsema. The Giants had invited LT, Harry Carson, Phil McConkey, Carl Banks and others. It was impressive to see these Giants back on the sidelines. They were introduced with the team and came out of the tunnel waving towels, driving the crowd to hysteria. LT had on a black top coat and paced the bench area. Harry pulled on a white jersey and also paced, waving a towel. T looked impressive, ever a force. Harry was animated. Both obviously were enjoying the day and you could tell they missed the game. If you love football, particularly NY Giants football, there was no other place to be this Sunday.

And there was a game, too. I had 3 cameras going. I shot so much film pre-game that I was in the danger zone, 5 shots left on one, 6 on another and 8 on the third. Everyone shot a lot of film and I was lending film throughout the day (repaid at half time). I paid the price. Usually when I drive up the day of a game, I am zoned for half of the first quarter. It takes that long to unwind and for my brain to control my finger. I expected a fast start and an aerial game, but the Giants struck so quickly, I was caught changing film on the Comella TD and didn’t have my lens on tight. I got the shot, slightly blurred. On the Ike TD, there was so much shoving and jostling for position, that I got camera mikes, refs butts and everything but Ike. One of the distaff regulars turned into a demon on Sunday. She was pushing and shoving as if she was Goldberg. At first it was funny, a 5’4″, maybe 115 pounder shoving the big boys. Then it got obnoxious. Everyone down there has a job, everyone wants the shot – otherwise they should be in front of a TV. But there is a code of conduct, politeness, among the regulars. It’s kind of like steel workers on a high rise. Next time this photographer gets aggressive, her butt is going to meet the stadium turf. Other than that, it was a well-behaved bunch on the sidelines.. Oh, the extra referee watchdogs and the FJ were a constant irritant, but that’s life in the age of ego.

So the grind it out, boring, cold weather, no account Giants’ offense opened with a 16 yard pass to Amani, a 10 yard pass to Amani and a 46 yard bomb to a streaking Hilliard – TD. The ensuing kick off was high and short. The Viking receiver bobbled it, then both backs fell on it. This took place right in front of me and the Vikings clearly fell on the ball. But there was no whistle and the pile on happened. 20 guys jumped on, in and around the ball, pushing, shoving, grabbing. The refs dived into the pile. And guess what – Lyle West came out with the ball. First play, Comella comes out, right into our sector and Kerry lofts a perfect pass. Greg reaches up, grabs it and hits the end zone turf. As he’s going down, I catch the ref raising his arms, there are no flags and Greg thumps down. You could hear the audible OOF!, but he holds the ball, the Giants score again and the fans are going out of their minds. Greg is only the second Giant to score his first TD in a playoff game, that’s the kind of day it was going to be.

LT and Harry are prowling the bench area, smiling and frowning, concentrating, almost a conscious effort to impart their will and skill on the players. Now it’s the turn of the D. The fans know it, the team knows it, LT and Harry have made their impact. Barrow, Jessie and Strahan, the 3 Amigos of D, the 3 Horsemen of Giant tradition, the 3 scourges of mobile QBs take the field. The towels are waving, the fans are screaming and you can see the look already on the Vikings’ faces. They know they must score now. They start to move the ball, but penalties kill this possession. OK, you can hear Dennis Green saying. We’re establishing rhythm, we can catch these guys. Moss has been slightly nicked, the O goes to the bench. The Giants take possession and start moving through the air. A ball bounces off Dayne’s hands and is intercepted. In late October this might have been disaster, but now, it’s just another play. The D is on fire. The Vikes start moving on the short field but get greedy and go for it all. The Giants are in the nickel and ball hawk EMac steps in front of Carter and grabs the ball in the end zone. About now, you can feel the Vikings equipment men packing up the gear in the tunnel. The Giants stay aggressive, move the ball, then a long pass to Dixon is intercepted; but it’s better than a punt, puts the Vikes deep and the Giants shrug it off. The D stops the Vikes cold. Berger gets a slightly high snap and shanks one. The curse of the meadowlands has bitten the Vikes. The first quarter ends 14-0. Daluiso kicks a field goal to open the second quarter and everyone senses something big is happening here. Giants 17-0.

The D is hungry for action. Bam, bam, Culpepper gets sacked twice, once by Strahan, once by Barrow, Barrow coming in so quickly, Culpepper wasn’t set up. You could feel the impression LT had made on Barrow, and when Barrow went to the bench, LT came over and talked with him. Here was tradition, a Bergsonian conundrum, time and place melding, LT like the man in the black cape and hat with the whip standing on the car in the tunnel in Fellini’s 8 and a half, inspiring these Giants and feeling it with them once again. And they responding, showing LT that they know Giants’ tradition, that they were a part of it and that they too would go into the hearts of Giants’ fans as DEFENSE.

The Giants take over and come right down field. Tiki pass, Tiki run, long pass to Dixon right in front of us. We’ re in Kerry’s corner. He rolls left, towards the Giants’ bench and JJ comes cutting across the end zone. He is as deep as he can get in the right angle crease of the back, Kerry waits, then fires on the run, a perfect pass where only the tall JJ can get up for it. JJ grabs it and gets both toes down. TD. JJ runs to the goal posts and dunks the ball. Pandemonium in our corner. The fans are besides themselves with joy. Make your reservations for Tampa.

Dante Culpepper, the latest greatest to face the Giants is in shock. He hasn’t been blitzed so ruthlessly or hit so ferociously in his career thus far. He is learning what it means to come into the Meadowlands in a high stakes game. His teammates have entered the Twilight Zone of the swamps. There are no Scandinavian horns blaring or raucous “who let the dogs out”. There is just pure, high energy Giants’ fans, screaming themselves hoarse, bonding to the TEAM and becoming the Twelfth man. There is a sense of Victory now, payback for dissing the City, its fans, the Stadium location and the quality of football in the NFC East. Take that Boomer, take that Madden, take that the rest of you know it all commentators. I could go on about the futility of the Vikings, the feeling on the bench as the game progressed, the stolid presence of Dennis Green, the hardest Coach in football to get a clean photo of on the sidelines. Randle, Culpepper, Moss and Carter realized it was going to be one of those days, and I won’t say they shut it down – they just couldn’t get it started. The only person over there I felt for was Robert Smith, a class act and a very good ball player. He sat disconsolately on the bench and when JoMo punched over that 4th down first down, he muttered something as knowing the Vikes would lose, it really hurt to be shut out.

Here’s the deal. Giants possession of 42:22; the defense is fresh and rested for the Ravens. First downs, 31; efficiency – 3rd down, 50% on 4th down, 100%; total net yards – 518, 82 plays (twice the Vikings); yards rushing, 138, mostly late; yards passing 380 on 29 of 40 (KC Championship shared record of 5 TDs); punts 1; penalties, only 4. The Giants had the ball 12 times. It went like this: TD (1:57); TD (0.06); Interception (2:24); Interception (1:25); FG (3:10); TD (2:42); FG (3:27); TD (3:19); TD (2:35); missed FG (5:18); punt (3:06); end of game (12:53), 19 plays, 38 yards, 5 first downs – Garrett and JoMo. The Vikings had given up by then. The Giants mercifully just stayed on the ground, keeping the ball most of the last quarter and kneeling it over for virtually the entire last 2 minutes.

The scoring – Hilliard, Comella, Daluiso, JJ, Daluiso, Hilliard and Toomer. In the middle of it all, the Giants still threw 2 interceptions and missed a field goal. Individual stats: KC 28-of-39 for 381 yards, 5 TDs; Ike 10-for-155 with a 46 yd TD; Amani 6-for-88; Comella 4-for-36; Tiki 4-for-21; Dixon 2-for-62; JJ 2-for-15, Dayne 1-for-8. On the ground it was Tiki 12-for-69; JoMo 16-for-43; Dayne 10-for-29. Garnes, EMac and Sehorn had INTs, Shaun Williams forced a fumble and Griffin and West recovered fumbles.

Jessie had 7 combined tackles (combined includes solo), 1 sack; Barrow 7 combined tackles 1 sack; Garnes 4 combined tackles, 1 INT, 2 passes defensed; Hammer 3 combined tackles, 1 pass defensed; EMac 2 solo tackles, 1 INT, 1 pass defensed; Sehorn 2 solo tackles, 1 INT, 3 passes defensed; MS 2 tackles, 1 sack; Thomas 2 solo tackles, 1 pass defensed. They just weren’t out there enough to build up stats.

That’s the game by the numbers. Now let’s take a closer look.

Coaching: Sure Denny Green is running his mouth. What else can he do, he is trying to deflect the heat, keep up the morale. The team was such an utter failure that the off season could be long and cold in Viking-land. This was the first shut out of a Green coached team in his 9 year stint. And it is sweet pay back for that job in the Meadowlands in January a few years ago when the Giants gift-wrapped a win. The Vikings were outplayed that day and this.

For the Giants, the most complete game of the year. Coach Fassel and Coach Payton put together an aggressive plan, exploiting the weak secondary of the Vikings. The Vikes made the mistake of reading the media and believing the Giants are a lumbering, cold weather team with no offense. In the NFL, it is look at last week’s analysis. Sure, the O didn’t score any points against the Eagles but it did control and move the ball for 36 minutes, and it was the air game. We have analyzed again and again here and pointed out that if Kerry is cut loose early and connects he finds his groove. JF and Payton finally have that confidence in him and turned him loose. My pre-game comments said this was his op for a big game and I said he would throw for over 300 yards and Ike would be the go to guy. The coaches read the same novel and liked it. It was attack, attack, attack no backing off, no stopping after a few mistakes, and success.

On the defensive side Coach Fox designed a masterful game plan, just as he did for Jax, the Steelers and the Eagles. He used multiple packages including several blitz variations and mixed coverage in the secondary. The nickel was effective in confusing the Vikes and Culpepper and the pressure Denny Marcin’s troops applied rattled the Vikings

Assistant Coaches McNally, Marcin and Lynn contributed by having their troops prepared for the game plan. It is difficult to assess how much impact Pope and Olivadotti had – certainly Olivadotti didn’t hurt the linebackers.

Specials – Coach MacDuff continues to work hard and is now the beneficiary of having Shaun Williams, Damon Washington and Jason Sehorn added to his squad to go along with Golden, Short and West. This is now a credible team and has shown that the coaching wasn’t at fault. Coach Fassel challenged the unit and it responded, but Coach MacDuff coaches the unit so he must receive credit.

Coaching – A- is there room for improvement? Sure, 50+ points against the Ravens and holding Dilfer to negative yardage. That ought to raise the grade here.

Kerry Collins – A- in the zone. This was his best game as a Giant, as a professional. He played under control but with fire. I watched him warm up when they were introducing the Vikes and you could see it in his delivery. He had both zip and touch in his throws, the game plan was designed to take advantage of his strengths and he played totally focused. We have been saying that the Giants would go as far as Kerry took them – he has lived up to the burden and he is taking them all the way – he is the team driver.

I don’t apologize for my doubts – they were purely football doubts – I have said from the start that this was a genuinely nice guy, dealt some bad hands and dissed by fools. But I did not see the confidence, the control, the toughness necessary to lead, until the last few games. It is there now and he may have bad games to come, but the Giants have found their QB.

As an aside, this process has taken all year. The line and KC now have mutual confidence and respect – Kerry has shown he is willing to lay out and the line believes in him. Lomas and Parker know leadership and if Kerry is leader enough for them, he has arrived. Ernie and JF also had a role in this, and frankly, Payton loves to game plan for KC. These two guys together are young, aggressive and want to light it up. It may have taken a TEAM to raise a Kerry Collins, but it is now Kerry’s show – he has inherited the mantle from Conerly, Tittle, and Simms. I may criticize him in the future for shoddy play, but I will not doubt him.

Jason Garrett got some playing time and that was good. He did his job, maintained the flow, didn’t make mistakes and he had some fun.

RUNNING BACKS – B- Tiki Barber is a big time player. He is smooth and tough, can find a hole, turn the corner and catch a pass. His combined yardage figure places him in the upper echelon of backs. Were he about 15 pounds heavier, he would be compared to Gale Sayers. As it is, backs of the future will be compared to Tiki Barber. He is a Giant asset.

The Great Dayne – many here consider him a bust; many on the sidelines feel the same way. I have been lambasted for not properly extolling his virtues, and I have been criticized as ‘liking’ him therefore coloring the reporting. Ron Dayne will be an All-Pro back within 3 years. He is still adjusting to the pro game. He ran on turf, behind huge lines and in an offense designed to take advantage of his open field speed. He was not often hit low and he is strong enough to escape a high tackle. But at this level he is getting hit low and he has been dropping. In the Vikes game I saw a little something different which leads me to believe Charles Way is working with him. He was running more like a fullback, putting his head down and hitting the line and pushing on his linemen. This is a positive. Once he finds his balance, he will be tough because he has shown then in the seam he is a runaway horse. Now before you start kicking the hell out of me – I stayed with Kerry Collins, and I am asking you to stay with Ron Dayne. “Thunder and Lightning” are a legitimate pair.

Joe Montgomery – the odd man out. He is a talented, powerful runner, more in the Jamal Anderson, Bennett of Green Bay style, He runs hard and fights for yardage. He knows how to follow blockers and he can go through a hole. What he needs to work on to enhance his value is to develop the cutback. The backers identify his direction and string the line, minimizing his yardage. Once he learns how to turn it back in, he will chew up real estate, and become an exciting and dangerous back. In the 4th quarter he ran against a dispirited defense, but they were trying to stop him. He showed his grit, and that cannot be minimized. And he must stay healthy. I don’t know how you use 3 backs in a rotation so I fear he may be lost to the Giants and emerge ala Wheatley, but for different reasons. He is a hard worker and willing to carry the load. I hope the Giants find a way to keep him, but if not I wish him luck wherever he goes.

TIGHT ENDS – Difficult to grade. All 3 blocked well. My photos show even Pete leading the way. But none of them were utilized in the passing game. Howard is still a great blocker, but if he gets that ring, I doubt he will be back. Campbell continues to show promise. He is supposed to be a blocker but needs more work here. He already has better hands than Howard. He may never be a Bavaro, but he could be as good as Aaron Pierce was supposed to be. Pete is not used, which is a shame. Payton says he is in the game plan, but…maybe he has lost a step. He may be another casualty here and could move on.

LINE – Too old, too slow, too soft – yeah, right. The Vikes learned the hard way. Lomas Brown still has the heart of a lion and the cunning of a fox; Parker is the Eveready Bunny; Ziegler just runs left, runs right, hits somebody; Stone is the Darth Vader of the line, and Luke – anybody out there question his heart this year? They are not physically dominant and don’t blow people off the line; their forte is not short yardage running. But under Coach McNally’s tutelage, they are working together and finding ways to get it done. And they protect Kerry. Most importantly, they protect Kerry. I said it as early as mini-camp that this line would function best when on the move, that Ziegler is an active center who clears the middle. They make mistakes, their assignments get goofed once in a while, but they are a very good line. Mike Rosenthal and Jason Whittle are developing the mean streak needed to stay at this level and will only get better. Engler is quiet, but he doesn’t go away and that is a good propensity for an offensive lineman. I talked to Ziemann on Sunday and he is a big likeable guy who says he’s ready to get back and will be around for the winter. For a kid who is always smiling, he is a nasty drive blocker and could fill in very nicely along with Iron Mike and Jason of the offense. This unit kept Randle and company in check the entire game, no small feat. They are getting better and better, and I don’t perceive any letdown as the old guys want that ring.

DEFENSE – There are 2 units vying here – Strahan, Barrow and Armstead are a unit. MS has joined the linebackers to form the heart and soul of the defense. They rally on the sidelines and play together during the game. Barrow was a force Sunday, his sack a thing of beauty. MS hit Daunte so hard, his 270 pound frame buckled. And Jessie speed rushed, mauled and covered like a beast. They put the pressure on Daunte that allowed the other unit to shine. That unit is the secondary. Coach Lynn has them believing and playing together as a fist. Dave Thomas is sick of hearing about how he can’t cover; he is covering and he is hitting. Jason is almost back; he is nearing good health, and success as a team has induced him to bring his game. What he has lost in speed, he has gained in instinct and his A game is tops. Garnes and Williams are developing into what the Giants expected. Hard hitting, deep cover men. They were not beaten Sunday, Carter and Moss didn’t abuse them. Of course, we can’t forget the nickel and Emac – the little tough guy has earned the right to play, makes up for Percy Ellsworth’s ball hawking ability loss, and plays smart – EMac will be a coach when his playing days are over.

Hammer, Peter, Hale, Griffin and Big George are the interior. Smith gained nothing on these guys Sunday and that freed the backers to make the blitz. CJ is also playing up to potential and he is developing a move to the inside to take advantage of his speed. Everyone but Big George contributed Sunday and he took the hit and rode the bench so the Giants could get more speed in the game.

Additional Thoughts: Over the last five or so games, the much maligned #1s of the Giants have begun to play up to potential. Shaun Williams has not been beaten deep since the first Washington game, in which he looked like Robin Williams. Phil in L.A. had it right. Williams has found hid comfort zone and should continue to develop. CJ is having some fun and is getting cut loose in the more aggressive game the Giants are playing. He is often less than a step away from the QB and if he continues to build on this year and plays balls out, he will become a pass rusher as well as tackler. Michael’s resurgent play in the second half has been helped by CJ ability to get into the backfield. Don’t discount his performance because of stats (same with Peter). Luke Pettigout is a starting tackle in the NFL. He has earned it and he will be there for a very long time. He has more fire than most people realize and he is fearless. No one intimidates him, not the Freak, not Randle, not the Eagles fierce rushers. He may have been a slight reach, but he was not a mistake. So kudos to the Giants’ staff, not only for Kerry Collins, but for these 3 #1s, for Tiki and Ike and Amani. Next year should be Dayne’s turn to make us believers.

This team is mentally tough; they have been dissed by everyone, including the NY Media. But the fans have responded to good football and the team is falling in love with the fans. Many of these kids have played before large crowds before, but none has experienced playoff fever in NY, and they love it. Lomas was touched when told the fans were calling his name. I have his quote in the conversations part but he said something to the effect of I love these fans. They are football people. Where else would the fans chant the name of an offensive lineman.

That is what makes NY special – where else would people know and appreciate football in the trenches, hard and fast. Defense was first celebrated here and will always be celebrated here. When LT and Harry stepped onto that field, it was electric. Wild, unbridles passion, but fairness; tough but fair, it’s the NY way, it’s the Giants’ way. There are no loud mouths on this team, no trouble-makers, no bad apples – I know, some guys will never forgive CP – but forgiveness is not ours, it is God’s only. These are good kids, good people.

An embattled Coach who put it all together, a staff which rallied behind him and the troops. Barrow, Brown and Parker have led the way, they have healed the breach, they have made the difference. And Kerry Collins has grown up – he is the Man.

One more game, one more step. As my wife told me earlier this year – Super Bowl 25 – Super Bowl 35, the Giants are on a 10 year cycle – kind of like my life – how about yours? Go Giants.

Post-Game Interviews:

The locker room after any game is an interesting place. Following a loss, emotions run high; many guys shower, dress and leave. A few veterans take their time and willingly deal with the tough questions; they have learned that the media people have a job to do. Following a win, spirits are high, more guys stay around, and the conversation is free and easy. The playoffs accentuate the emotions. There are more TV folks, a lot more print journalists and a few guests. Following the NFC Championship game, the locker was a zoo, swarming with first timers, old pros, all sorts of guests. For the Giants, the magnitude of victory provided a release and the players answered the same questions over and over, never showing impatience and using the scene as a celebration of sorts.

There are all sorts of styles among those covering the team. Some guys look for the controversy, some do puff pieces, some write straight press release reports. At this time of the year, there are numerous feature pieces focusing on one or two plays, spiced with an anecdote or two, a quote or two thrown in for measure. This is all good stuff for us, who as football junkies, as Giants junkies, can’t get enough.

It’s a difficult thing for a writer to find an understanding with readers, particularly readers as Giants’ fans who are so knowledgeable. How do you make it enjoyable? Interesting? Factual? Non-repetitive? It is just as difficult to establish a rapport with these athletes who have heard the same questions over and over, the dumbest questions ever asked and sometimes questions that just don’t make sense. There are writers who will only ask questions in an open forum, some who will share with a small group, some who will never ask, just write the answers to others questions, and some who will only talk to players one on one.

I have tried to present the story of this year’s team through the words of the individual players. If you have been with me from mini-camp, you can see the awe of the rookies, the melding attempts of the new free agents, the forge of brotherhood in the different units. I apologize for some seeming disjointedness as in using the words of the players, flow is difficult to establish. There were down moments, moments of wondering and doubt, then a healing process, a bonding, an acceptance of each other, and finally a love for each other. What provided the catalyst? Was it the loss to Detroit? Was it the maturation of the team? Was it the emergence of a leader? Was it all combined?

Frankly, the iron will and belief in himself of one man led to the turnaround. Make no mistake about it because you are about to read a slew of pieces written about Coach Fassel, of “the guarantee”, of the threat of loss of his job. And hopefully, you will learn more of the man and his impact on these Giants. Coach suffered through an unbelievable year last year. The terminal illness of his mother and her loss, the poutiness of his “star children on the defense”, the rebellion of his QB, and the insistence of management that he change his mode of operation. These were challenges that most would consider burdens; they were more than straws to break any camel’s back.

But more than anything else, it was the loss of his mother and the self analysis that followed that has led to success this year. Somewhere along the journey, JF found a beacon, an inspiration, a lodestar. That light came in, of all things, a movie, The Gladiator. It started in the summer – at first a kind of quirky, okay we’ll line up two by two and march down to the theater. Some of the veterans got a glimmering of what was taking place. The fast start helped the thing grow. But just as steel is forged in fire, it took the hard times to forge this team. The loss to the Rams wasn’t devastating; the loss to the Lions was. Self-doubt crept into the tent. And then it took another quirky act of the Coach. He made “the guarantee”. People laughed; some silly articles got into the Press about JF’s meeting with EA. It was the buzz. JF almost rivaled Dan Snyder for laugh of the month.

Unnoticed to everyone was the fact that the team didn’t laugh. The veterans were touched and humbled by the Coach. The rookies were stunned, then noticing the veterans, they were motivated. At the same time, the national media and football fans were heaping abuse on the team as the “worst” of everything in football. There is nothing in life like scorn on all sides countered by the embrace of a leader to rally a group of warriors. The 300 at Thermopylae gave up their lives because they loved their leader; those who died in the pass with Roland did so because they loved their leader. The man stood tall when everything and everyone else was down on them. He backed his coaches, he stayed with his players, and before the Redskins game, he played excerpts again for them of The Gladiator – the Coliseum scene. And the Giants became a team because their Coach loved them and they in turn realized that they loved their Coach.

They began to again find their self-respect and respect for their unit members and finally respect for the other unit members. Winning has brought the fans back into the equation and this has become a juggernaut. We should all enjoy it for it doesn’t happen very often. Come what may, we should all thank Coach. He has emerged, he is a leader and his team will not be denied.

This message has come through loud and clear in my conversations after the last few games. I asked Jason Garrett to compare this locker to the Dallas teams of which he was a part. He told me “lots of the same thing…there’s a reason why teams get this far; a lot of it has to do with talent, but more with the intangibles; working hard together, competing, the team work; handling the successes and adversities of a season; and this team has done that; it’s been a great team to be a part of.” I talked to one of the guys who has had to participate vicariously, Chris Ziemann, and he told me, “It’s been wonderful sitting there watching the team come together. It’s frustrating to be hurt, but that’s just part of the game.” And Thabiti Davis told me, “It feels good. We are getting it done and it’s a lot of fun; everybody is going out and having fun, that’s the main thing, winning is going to come, it’s more fun when you are winning and having fun doing it, we’re just going out and playing.” As far as everyone accepting the Giants, Davis said, “They have to accept it and prepare for it; Coach Payton is going to come with something totally different.” Dave Thomas was asked about the doubters and said, “I don’t want to talk about the doubters, if you want to jump on the bandwagon, that’s fine, I’m riding it, if you want to ride it, come along, we’re going to put a Caboose on it, we probably can get some more (cars).” He also said, “I thank God that Coach Fassel believed in me and made me a part of this special, special team.” Lomas Brown told me, ” I love these guys. They just made me feel so welcome. A lot of times, it’s hard being the outsider coming into a new situation, being the new guy on the block, but I’ve never felt that way, from day one, I’ve felt a part of this team and this organization; my teammates, they helped me feel that way and I love them for that.” Lomas continued on the team feeling and said of the 41 points scored: “We wanted to help them (the defense) – this is a team thing – when you have a team working, everyone wants to pull their own line; we didn’t do that last week, the defense pulled us through; so we wanted to come out and help those guys.” Lomas also spent a great deal of time on the impact and relationship between the team and Coach Fassel, the guarantee and the feeling throughout the team that they were not going to let their Coach down.

Reggie Stephens told me, “They don’t want to give us respect, I guess, so we’ll keep on doing the same thing, doing what we have been doing.” He talked about the winning momentum and told me “everybody kept saying Giants can’t do this, Giants can’t do that, but every week, we get it done…all year we’ve been suspect (D Backs), maybe because I’m from Rutgers, maybe people didn’t know who I was…EMac has gone through some different things, he’s got 5 years in the League, he’s been cut from teams, then he came to the Giants and got the chance to prove what he can do, he got the chance, I got the chance, very rarely does a guy come in and play in the first year and have the stats…it’s a team effort, we’re playing well; I don’t know what else to say right now, it’s like a dream; I feel so happy for Coach Fassel, the management, the Maras, it’s nice to bring them something because I know they really want it. Coach Fassel, all year he took the heat, he put it on his back, all we had to do was go out there and perform…”

The players have also been overwhelmed by the fans. Reggie told me, “The twelfth man was great; coming out of that tunnel and seeing the towels waving like that, it was great.” During the game, Reggie told me “the crowd kept roaring and roaring and it seemed like they (Vikings) didn’t know what they were doing…Chris Carter said it was going to be tough to come in here and play, anyone who comes in here knows its going to be a tough place to play. Our fans are great, supporting us, we put it all together today, everybody gets an A+.” Brandon Short told me, “Oh, my goodness, our fans were a major part of it; they (Vikings) were confused on some of their audibles…the crowd noise played a major factor, these are the greatest fans.” And, of course, Lomas, was touched deeply. He said, “I never thought I’d ever see an offensive lineman getting cheers. It never happened before (for him), it felt so good.” He went on about “this City, this is a football City, these fans know football, when they cheer for an offensive lineman to get up and I don’t have anything but love for the City and fans, I appreciate everything…”

One of the most telling comments in the room came from Glenn Parker, when asked about Kerry Collins and the past. Parker said, “I couldn’t be happier for one single individual. I don’t know about those times, or what he went through. I know what I know now and the feeling that this team has for him and he for us; it’s a game of redemption for him and maybe a game of redemption for him in the eyes of the entire League.”

Other interesting comments: Brandon Short, when I asked if they could tell something was different about this game: “From the opening drive, to be honest. The kickoff, we knocked the ball loose, the ball was on the ground, it was like WOW, this is going to happen…I didn’t see anything in their eyes as to when they shut it down, but I knew we were going to win this game at that point, that nothing was going to stop us; the clock couldn’t move fast enough.”

Luke Pettigout was sitting quietly, as always, dressing. When I asked him if he had a little different feeling this year he smiled and said, “The different end of the spectrum, from the whole total team standpoint. This point last year I was sitting around watching the games. I think I went jogging before the games just so I felt like I was going to do something for the weekend; this is a great success for the Giants and hopefully we can get one more victory.” I teased him about what would be better, the National Championship at Notre Dame or… He laughed and said that when he was there they didn’t even sniff at the Championship – notwithstanding, even if they had, this was a much more special feeling.

CJ – I asked CJ about his feisty behavior out there after several plays and he told me, “There were some things going on after the whistle, you know, you have to protect yourself out there. They did some things out there that I didn’t appreciate, so I had to answer.” I asked him about his aggressive play and he told me that going into the game they knew the pressure points, that Coach Fox had come up with a game plan to go after them and there were certain match-ups the Giants had to win to get the victory. CJ told me, “We won those match ups…the game plans the last couple of weeks have been aggressive; I like it when we come in and get aggressive. Coach Fox turned us loose today, last week; when you are on the attack all the time, it gets to be fun out there.”

Jason Garrett also talked about the game plan and told me, “The approach was to have a balanced offense; when we looked at the tape, we felt we had opportunities to throw the ball, and still be able to run with it. Kerry made a lot of big plays, the receivers made a lot of big plays, we kept going. What was most impressive to me is that we stayed aggressive and kept after them, even when we got up early; it was a great approach and it worked out well for us.”

Dave Thomas told us he was surprised that the Giants totally shut down the Vikes receivers as “you can never shut down a group of wide receivers that basically at any point can score and take it to the house. What that says about our defense is that we’re very special and we have been doing some good things all year long.” Thomas also talked about the front seven and the importance of pressure on the QB. He then went on to say, “Today we confused them with our coverages, but we also confused them with how quick we are; a lot of people say our defense is slow, and I don’t understand that. I don’t know if it’s the uniforms, they say black makes you look slow, I guess blue is the closest thing to black, so we’re kind of deceptive. At the same time we have to line up and once you line up against us you’re going to see what the Giants bring to the table.” Dave also talked about Super Bowl week and the “distractions out there, and you know what I’m talking about. Basically, you have to come to work, keep your mental state in the right place and once you are on the field you take care of business.”

Lomas summed it up. He said the wait “makes it more sweet, the more you have to wait, the more you want it, the better it tastes. I’m not through, we’re not through, we’ve got one more mile to climb and we’ll be done.”

This is a very special team and you fans at BBI are very special fans. Enjoy the ride.

(Box Score – Minnesota Vikings at New York Giants, January 14, 2001)
Jan 122001
 

Approach to the Game – Minnesota Vikings at New York Giants, January 14, 2001: You are all aware that I am not impartial. I’m a fan first and foremost. So maybe it’s just me getting caught up in all the hoopla, but I just have a feeling that the Giants are going to get it done. The script is just too perfect. Here you have the underdog Giants – a team that the “experts” keep predicting to lose. You can almost feel their frustration in the papers and on TV afterwards; it’s almost like they want to shout, “Can’t somebody just get rid of this team and be done with them?!?” I think not.

It’s as if the gods have determined this path already. The Panthers and Saints handed Kerry Collins over to New York. Carolina did the same with Mike Barrow. The Giants wanted OT Andy Heck in free agency; he turns them down and they end up with Glenn Parker upon the suggestion of his agent. The division favorites – the Redskins and Cowboys – were sent sliding. Injuries mounted up for rivals while the Giants remained healthy. The opposition missed field goals while the G-Men did not. There were late comebacks against Dallas and Jacksonville – in the latter game Jason Sehorn returns a kickoff for a touchdown (talk about irony). The Saints knocked off the Rams and the Eagles knocked off the Bucs in the playoffs. The Giants beat the Eagles – those dreaded Eagles who always gave the Giants fits – three times decisively. Ron Dixon tells his teammates that he is returning the opening kick for a TD and he does. Now Lawrence Taylor will give the post-practice pep talk on Saturday. It’s just too perfect.

This is a game that could go ever so many different ways. One would think it would be a high-scoring affair, but I’ve seen too many football games that were supposed to be like that that turned into defensive struggles. I can see a close game; I can see a blowout – by either team. Both teams come into this game confident, both have plenty of motivation to win.

But I do know this – the fans can have a direct impact on the outcome of this game. Even if the Vikings get up big (say 17 points) – don’t give up yelling and making life difficult for Minnesota. While the Viking defense has its moments, it is a weak unit and despite what the media says, the Giants are capable of coming back on these guys. At the same time, despite all their weapons, there are times when the Viking offense will bog down and become frustrated. No lead will be safe in this game for either team.

If you’re a Giants’ fan, you’ve got to love this. The Giants are the underdog and getting little respect from the media and fans outside of New York/New Jersey. The pressure is on Minnesota, not the Giants. The seeds of doubt must still rest with them regarding the 1998 Championship Game when they blew it against the Falcons. The Giants? They are that pesky underdog that just won’t go away; they are the type of team that “favorites” often get upset by. Most importantly, they have nothing to lose since they are supposed to regardless.

What will decide the game? The usual: who controls the lines of scrimmage, quarterback play, turnovers, big plays, and special teams. Go out there Giants and play with respect, but not fear, for your opponent. Win or lose, play your game. You don’t need to play a perfect game to beat these guys – just play smart, sound, fundamental football. Just like you have all year. The gods will take care of the rest.

Giants on Offense: I really feel strongly that the key for the offensive football team is to come out loose and have some fun. New York is the stage and the crowd will be loud and waving their towels. It’s the Giants’ David versus the Viking Goliath. How can you not love this setting? The players need to go out there and let it all hang out. Live for the moment.

To me, this is Kerry Collins’ game. Not just with his right arm, but with his presence and leadership in the huddle. Keep everyone calm and focused. “You get to this point, you love those kind of challenges,” says Collins. “You know what? No one expected us to be here, so we’re just gonna go out and fly around and let it rip and have a lot of fun. I don’t want us to go out there tight. I’m not gonna go out there tight. The pressure’s really off, the way I look at it.”

Kerry does tend to come out a bit hyper at times, with his passes overshooting the mark. It is up to Head Coach Jim Fassel and Offensive Coordinator Sean Payton to give him the type of plays that will enable him to quickly get into a rhythm or flow of the game. The Vikes tend to be fairly aggressive up front, but they don’t take many risks in the secondary due to their inexperience and talent deficiencies in the defensive backfield. They won’t play tight, aggressive coverage like the Eagles and Redskins do. But the Vikings will crowd the line of scrimmage with an extra safety in order to stop the run. To me, the game plan is obvious. Use the short-to-intermediate passing game to move the ball down the field, eat time off the clock, and score points. The primary weapons should be Amani Toomer (outs and slants), Ike Hilliard (on comeback and crossing routes), Tiki Barber (in a variety of patterns), and FB Greg Comella. An occasional toss to a tight end (be it Howard Cross, Pete Mitchell, or Dan Campbell) wouldn’t hurt either. When Ron Dayne is in the game early, I expect it will be as a decoy. There should be a lot of room in the Minnesota zone. Collins will have to be accurate and patient. Don’t force the ball, but just take what the Vikes give.

If Collins is “on”, the Giants will put up a lot of points and may win this game going away. If he is “off”, things could get ugly. This is his moment. The really great quarterbacks play well in big games. Collins won a national championship in college. This should be nothing new to him.

So much will depend on the health of Toomer (ankle). He will play, but how effective will he be? He will line up against RCB Robert Tate – a very good athlete who is inexperienced. Tate can make a good play and then look awful. Ike Hilliard will line up against CB Wasswa Serwanga – another guy who doesn’t have much pro experience. The Giants need Ike to shine in this game like he did in the national championship game in college. Serwanga is a guy he should eat up. Minnesota is even greener in the secondary with FS Orlando Thomas out of the game; rookie FS Tyrone Carter will start. Carter is a very small player, but he is tough and aggressive. The strength of the secondary is SS Robert Griffith. Not only is Griffith very good in coverage, he is an excellent run defender. It will be interesting to see how many 3-WR sets the Giants employ with Joe Jurevicius (knee) returning. Since the secondary is a weakness on the Vikings, I would think getting more DB’s on the field would be a Giant strategy.

Obviously, the Giants can’t abandon their running game. I just wouldn’t come out and try to ram the ball down Minnesota’s throat. For one, they will be expecting that. Secondly, the Giants need points and points come out of the passing game. When the Giants do run the ball, Barber could have a big day with the cutback run. The Vikings are aggressive up front, but not the most disciplined bunch in the world. I would also think we could see a reverse or two. It’s absolutely critical that the Giants’ offensive line dominates. LT Lomas Brown (back) and LG Glenn Parker (rib cage) are ailing so let’s pray they can hold up. The Vikings like to move DE/DT John Randle around the line of scrimmage. He could appear almost anywhere against anyone up front. I’ve been impressed at times with rookie DT Chris Hovan. He’s got a nice combination of strength and quickness. RG Ron Stone must do a number on him. He is teamed with DT Tony Williams who will line up against Parker. DE Fernando Smith will be matched up against Luke Petitgout much of the time (it will be interesting to see if Minnesota moves Randle over Luke in pass rush situations).

The Vikes have some aggressive linebackers, but this isn’t the best unit in coverage. MLB Kailee Wong is similar to Corey Widmer in that he is a converted defensive lineman. SLB Dwayne Rudd is an athletic talent who makes mental mistakes. WLB Ed McDaniel is solid. Again, I’d throw the ball against these guys. I’d try to get Barber, Comella, and possibly the tight ends involved here. I’d also use some of the misdirection I talked about above.

The Viking defense played much better last week. They are well-coach by Emmitt Thomas who used to be Ray Rhodes’ defensive coordinator in Philadelphia – so he knows the Giants. There is some good defensive talent on the team. But if the Giant players on offense stay loose, execute, play smart (no penalties), and don’t turn the ball over, they should move the ball and put points up on the board. Once and if New York gets up with the passing game, then I’d hit them with a heavy dose of the run with Ron Dayne. I would then take some shots with play-action and put the game away.

Giants on Defense: Everyone and their mother is talking about Randy Moss, Chris Carter, and Daunte Culpepper. But if you don’t stop HB Robert Smith, then you will lose the game. Hello…the Vikings have rushed for more yardage than the Giants. Smith is a breakaway threat who can score any time he touches the ball. He killed the Giants last year with a 70-yard touchdown run. Smith has good speed, can be elusive, and runs behind a huge, smash-mouth offensive line. Smith is the guy to worry about first.

That being said, I expect Viking Head Coach Dennis Green to go for the knockout punch early. It would surprise me to see the Vikings throw deep time after time early in the game. They don’t want the Giants hanging around because they longer they do, the more dangerous they become. I think how well New York defends this opening storm will determine the game. The defensive backs had better be ready for the deep ball from the get-go.

But back to the ground game first. You have to pick your poison in many cases with the Vikings. Play aggressively against the run and you get burned with the pass; play it safe against the pass, and Smith will break you. Much of New York’s success in run defense comes from the fact that the secondary is active in run defense. That probably won’t be the case on Sunday. Thus, even more pressure will be on the front seven on defense than normal. These guys will also be hampered by the fact that they will be playing up against a very large and very good offensive line. DE Michael Strahan will have his hands full with Pro Bowl RT Korey Stringer – a mammoth man who Strahan won’t be able to bull-rush. Strahan surrenders almost 70 pounds to Stringer (maybe more). Michael will have to play with great leverage and fire to stuff the ground attack in his direction. He will also have to use more of speed game than he is used to on his pass rush to be effective. DE Cedric Jones will be equally challenged by LT Todd Steussie. DT Christian Peter faces RG David Dixon – another huge guy who likes maul defenders. Dixon could have problems however when Cornelius Griffin lines up over him as he is not the athlete that Cornelius is. This could be a big game for DT Keith Hamilton. The Vikes are not real solid at left guard with two players share time (Corbin Lacina and Chris Liwienski). He most likely will see double-team blocking from Pro Bowl OC Matt Birk. The front four of the Giants must: (1) play stout against the run, (2) maintain their pass rush lanes as Culpepper can scramble, and (3) get after the passer. It won’t be an easy task. So much of the defensive success or failure will rest on the shoulders of Strahan, Hamilton, Griffin, Jones, and Peter.

Equally important against the run will be the linebackers. They also must keep an eye on Smith out of the backfield. I’d keep Jessie Armstead on him. The linebackers will need to watch out for short crossing routes from the receivers (particularly Chris Carter). The Vikings also like to cross up defenses by throwing to TE Johnny McWilliams as well. FB Jim Kleinsasser is an infrequent target, but he has good hands and infrequent targets sometimes become factors in playoff games.

What about the blitz? I think the Giants will blitz, but they won’t do it all the time. I think it is pretty obvious that Defensive Coordinator John Fox is going to try to confuse the Minnesota offense (specifically Culpepper), but mixing things up. So expect the Giants to come hard on one play, then play it safe on the next. Look for change-ups in coverage from aggressive to passive, from zone to man (and zone/man combinations). “You don’t want to get caught up in trying to put too much pressure on Culpepper when you have two receivers on the outside when he can throw the ball up to and they can run up under and make plays,” says Armstead. “It’s just like a baseball game. You just got to know what pitch to throw at him at the right time. Keep him off balance as best you can because he can make a lot of plays out there. We’re going to throw a lot of switch-ups at them, but they’ve got so many different weapons sometimes you’re wondering where to start at.”

Culpepper is having an amazing season. He is blessed with outstanding talent around him, but he also is playing with great poise for a first-year starter. Still, I think it must be possible to confuse him given his inexperience. First, the Giants must keep him in the pocket. There will not be a great pass rush this week because of the problems associated with blitzing the Vikes too often and the need to contain Culpepper. The second most important thing is to tackle him. The guy is as big as a guard. Who would have ever dreamed it possible that there would be a quarterback this big in the NFL (6-5, 266lbs)? Little guys won’t be able to bring him down so I wouldn’t blitz someone like Emmanuel McDaniel. Even the “bigger” guys like Armstead and Barrow will be at a size disadvantage. Then need to wrap up forcefully. Too many of Culpepper’s big plays come when guys bounce off of him.

That brings us to the glamour match-up on this side of the ball – the wide receivers versus defensive backs. On the positive side, the Giants have big defensive backs (except for nickel back Emmanuel McDaniel) so they match-up better than most teams size-wise with Minnesota. However, it would appear that we won’t see the match-up that many expected: WR Randy Moss versus CB Jason Sehorn. It is quite possible that the Giants will put Sehorn on WR Chris Carter one-on-one and double-team Moss with CB Dave Thomas and FS Shaun Williams by rolling the defensive coverage towards Moss. Moss needs to be double-teamed regardless so the Giants will probably rely on Sehorn to handle Carter as best as he can. Jason will really be on the spot this week as Carter is one of the best in the history of the game. The outcome of the game may largely rest on his shoulders. As for Moss, Thomas and Williams (or whoever covers him) need to play the ball as much as they play the man; too often defenders get too concerned with Moss that they lose track of the ball and Moss out-jumps them for the reception. A critical aspect of the game for all in the secondary will be the ability to tackle well. Speed guys like Moss and Smith can go the distance if you don’t wrap up. Moss is going to get his catches – but make him catch the ball in front of you and then hit him – HARD.

The big cerebral battle will be between the defensive coaches of the Giants and offensive coaches of the Vikings. Minnesota will be able to see how the Giants plan to defend them early and they will adjust accordingly. Look for the Vikings to move Moss around and try to match him up on McDaniel by playing him in the slot. Can the Giants adjust? The Giants need Shaun Williams and SS Sam Garnes to step up big too in coverage. They will need to provide double-team support and fight for every ball thrown in their direction. Don’t let the Viking receivers out-hustle you! Moss and Carter are very aggressive in going up for the ball. A match-up that could end up being decisive that no one is thinking about is McDaniel versus third-down receiver Mathew Hatchette.

To me, it comes down to this: weather the opening storm. Mix things up and try to confuse Culpepper and frustrate the Viking offense. Stop the run, contain Culpepper, and somehow generate somewhat of pass rush (hopefully from the down four). Most importantly, don’t let up!!! Just when you think you have Smith, or Carter, or Moss under control, they break one on you. Don’t let that happen!!! Four quarters – sudden death if necessary.

Giants on Special Teams: If you have been watching the playoffs, you have seen how decisive special teams play has been in the outcome of most games. Punt returner/kick returner Troy Walters is a small guy, but he is quick, fast, and elusive. Get down in a hurry, stay in your lines, and wrap him up. The field position battle is always huge – especially in the playoffs. If Randy Moss is used, obviously coverage becomes even more important.

The Giants need P Brad Maynard to start punting better again. They also need a guy to field punts who will be secure with the ball. It could be Barber or Toomer this week, but it also could be Ike Hilliard or Reggie Stephens. Jason Sehorn will be the emergency guy.

Jan 102001
 
New York Giants 20 – Philadelphia Eagles 10

Game Overview: Thank God that is over. On paper, you figured that the Giants would win this game pretty convincingly because the Giants are a more mature team and more well-rounded on offense. But the Eagles have been giving everyone fits this year (except for the Giants for some reason). Also, there is that infamous Giants-Eagles history. As my dad said to me before the game, leave it to the Giants to beat a team eight times in a row and then lose to them when it matters most. As you probably can tell, he’s a “realist.”

From 1975 to 1981, the Eagles beat the Giants twelve times in a row – “The Fumble” in ‘78 was the nadir. In the late ‘80’s there were some bad times too – who could forget the four haunting defeats in 1988 and 1989? But to me, this wipes that slate clean. Nine in a row is great, but three times in one year and ending their season in the playoffs is far worse than anything they have ever done to us. After all, if it were not for “The Fumble”, there would not have been a George Young, Phil Simms, Lawrence Taylor, etc.

The Eagles will be trouble in the future – give them a good receiver or two and they will be scary. But for now, they are in the rear view mirror. Next up are the Vikings and some more demons to exorcize – these more recent. The challenge will be far stiffer and few will give the Giants much of a shot. But this team has a remarkable way of proving people wrong.

Coaching Staff: I kind of poo-pooed the talk over in The Corner Forum about Fassel being a different coach. Silly I thought. The guy and his team are winning now so others argue that all the sudden he knows what he is doing. The first defeat and he’ll be called an idiot again (I’m still convinced the latter to be true). But the more I see and hear him now, the more there does appear to be something different. He just seems to be carrying himself differently somehow. Maybe I’m reading too much into things. But this team – both offense and defense – is now firmly in his corner. I don’t put much weight into “The Guarantee” other than that it took the heat off the players for a couple of weeks – but every other button he has pushed has worked. The Giants are ready to play every week now. They commit few penalties and usually don’t beat themselves. They may be the most balanced team left alive in the playoffs.

Offensively during the game, I got the sense the Giants pulled in the reins after the big early lead. It was pretty clear that the Eagles weren’t going to win unless the Giants gave them some cheap points. That won’t work next week, but it worked this week. The best news is that the Giants looked pretty vanilla against the Eagles – they kept their best stuff under wraps for yet another battle.

Defensively, John Fox called a masterful game. I’ve been hard on him at times this season, but his unit has played splendidly since the Lions game. The use of DT Cornelius Griffin as a spy really caught the Eagles off guard. The Eagles only picked up 186 yards on offense and were a putrid 13 percent successful on 3rd down conversion attempts. Fox will have his work cut out for him next week however – the Vikes are loaded offensively all across the board and the Giants still have personnel shortcomings on defense.

Quarterback: Strange game for the offense. All that was required of them was not to screw things up. They only put six points up on the board and yet the game was never really close. The best thing that you can say about Kerry Collins’ performance (12-of-19 for 125 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions) is that he was efficient and didn’t make any costly mistakes. He was hurt early by a couple of passes batted down at the line of scrimmage – both coming on third down. This was particularly frustrating as the Giants were failing to take advantage of some superb field position. Then when it did look like the Giants would get something going in the first half, two fumbles ended drives in scoring territory.

Collins and the Giants’ offense was at its best during their third drive in the third quarter. Coming off of their own goal line, the Giants marched 13 plays and 88 yards to set up the final field goal. The crucial aspect of the drive was that it took over eight minutes off of the clock. On the drive, Collins went 4-of-4. There was a big time throw from the goal line to Pete Mitchell for 14 yards – despite the pocket collapsing all around him (more of that toughness that I was hoping to see), a sharp looking slant to Amani Toomer for 12 yards, and a wonderful deep pass to Mitchell for 33 yards on a post route that was perfectly thrown. The drive was kept alive by a 9-yard quarterback draw on 3rd-and-4 (Collins actually gained as many yards on the ground as Donovan McNabb – 17).

Wide Receivers: Not much to write about as the Eagles double-covered Amani Toomer (2 catches for 23 yards) and the Giants never really took many chances throwing the ball down the field. Collins and Toomer continue to run the slant play to perfection (both of Amani’s completions). Ike Hilliard (3 catches for 35 yards) had a nice catch and run over the middle on a perfectly thrown toss from Collins (I felt this pass and the deep one to Mitchell were the two best throws of the day). I couldn’t tell why the ball was fumbled between Dayne and Hilliard on the reverse – but the ball looked to be there in Hilliard’s hands. Ron Dixon got open deep for what might have been a big play, but Collins put too much air under the ball, allowing the defender to recover in time (still should have been pass interference, but wasn’t called).

Tight Ends: Pete Mitchell (2 catches for 47 yards) came up big on the Giants’ best offensive drive of the game with catches of 14 and 33 yards. The big one came on a neat play where the Giants sent Mitchell and Campbell deep out of their short-yardage formation with Ron Dayne in the backfield. The tight ends – particularly Howard Cross – were used to help chip on DE Hugh Douglas at times. Cross was flagged with an illegal motion penalty however.

Running Backs: The stats don’t look great for Dayne (17 carries for 53 yards, 1 catch for 4 yards), but he was the Giants’ most effective runner on Sunday and his inside running game was a major factor in the Giants’ controlling the clock – and therefore tempo of the game. The Giants held the ball for more than 36 minutes and Dayne deserves much of the credit. Yes, there was a really sharp 18-yard burst off the right side – but it was the regular 3-4 yard pick-ups that kept the Giants in manageable down-and-distance situations. He even showed some fire by getting into a Eagle defenders face after a cheap shot. The thing I like most about Dayne is that he doesn’t showboat out there. When he makes a good play, he walks quietly back to the line of scrimmage like it is no big deal.

Tiki Barber (15 carries for 35 yards, 3 catches for 13 yards) just couldn’t get it going. Many will say it was the arm, but I think the Eagles’ defense (one of the best in the league) did a fine job of guarding against the cutback run and really focusing on him when he went out for a pass. He did make a nice pick-up on one screen pass. Barber’s fumble took certain points off the board and could have proven very costly against a better opponent. Greg Comella (1 catch for 3 yards on a screen) wasn’t used as much as I thought he would have been. Joe Montgomery was used as decoy on one play – at least he saw the playing field. The Giants should keep him involved like that at a minimum.

Offensive Line: The offensive player of the game was LT Lomas Brown. He shut out Hugh Douglas – one of the most dangerous defenders in the league. I’m not talking just about sacks here – Douglas had no tackles. Remarkable. Yes, there were plays where Brown had help with a chip here or there. But as the game wore on, it looked to me that Lomas was handling him more and more all by himself. Pass protection was excellent for the most part. LG Glenn Parker did get pushed back into Collins on one play and I saw RG Ron Stone whiff on one pass block, but Collins was not under duress. Surprisingly, the Eagles did not blitz much – it appeared that they crossed the Giants up by playing more people back to cover Toomer and Barber. Run blocking was up-and-down. There was some solid work at times up the gut and off the right side. Then at other times, Dayne and Barber ran into a sea of green defenders. One area where I’d like to see the line improve is its smash mouth approach at the end of ball games. I know this is more of a finesse line, but the Giants need to do a better job of running off time late in the 4th quarter. Petitgout was flagged with a false start. Special kudos to back-up RT Mike Rosenthal and back-up LG Jason Whittle for their seamless transition when Petitgout (ankle) and Parker (rib-cage) were forced to leave the game. Rosenthal made some really nice run blocks (too bad he doesn’t have the quick feet for pass protection) and Whittle was solid on the Giants’ 13-play drive that took the life out of the Eagles.

Defensive Line: DE Michael Strahan (4 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble) dominated RT Jon Runyan – one of the best tackles in the league. It was like watching the Strahan of old as he threw the bigger (and probably stronger) Runyan around like a rag doll. And it wasn’t just the two sacks – there were a number of pass pressures coming from Michael all day. The other impact guy up front was DT Cornelius Griffin (4 tackls, 1.5 sacks) who was used as a spy most of the day on McNabb. The Giants would start off with a 4-man rush, but Griffin would peel off as if he were in a zone blitz – but his sole duty was to watch for McNabb’s scrambles (which he did perfectly). It seemed as if every time McNabb took off, Griffin was there. What is remarkable is the athleticism Griffin displayed in taking down McNabb in the open field. We’re talking about a 300 pound lineman after all.

DT Keith Hamilton (2 tackles, 0.5 sacks) and DE Cedric Jones (2 tackles) were important figures in keeping McNabb contained. The Giants maintained an unbroken front all along the line of scrimmage; there were no major gaps. The Eagle running game was virtually non-existent. Jones also did a nice job of keeping with Koy Detmer on the Eagles’ trick play and recovering the fumble caused by Strahan. Ryan Hale (1 tackle, 1 sack) cleaned up on McNabb on one play where Griffin missed him.

Linebackers: The linebackers did a marvelous job in coverage on the running backs and TE Chad Lewis and were very active in making tackles near the line of scrimmage. WLB Jessie Armstead (9 tackles, 0.5 sacks) flashed on a few plays, including a couple of where he nailed McNabb just as he crossed the line of scrimmage and the one blitz. MLB Michael Barrow had 11 tackles – many keeping backs short of the first down marker. Barrow was also used to spy on McNabb quite a bit according to John Fox. SLB Ryan Phillips (2 tackles) made a real nice play in run defense making a sure tackle on an outside run.

Defensive Backs: The Eagles don’t have much at wide receiver so the Giants’ secondary can play a very aggressive and confident game against them. It showed. CB Dave Thomas (3 tackles) was able to play tight and aggressive (his strength) because of the qualitative deficiencies of the Eagles and because he often had help on his side from FS Shaun Williams (5 tackles, 1 forced fumble). But Thomas also did a good job of staying stride-for-stride with receivers when they were sent deep – including speedster Todd Pinkston. He also recovered the fumble that Shaun Williams forced. Thomas was burned for the Eagles’ sole touchdown on a quick pass where he wasn’t able to make the tackle. The Vikes run plays like this and all of the Giants’ corners will need to tackle better in order to survive.

The defensive play of the game was made by CB Jason Sehorn (4 tackles, 1 interception). His pick and 32 yard return for a score was one of the most incredible interceptions I have ever seen – his coordination and concentration on the play were superb. But don’t lose track of the site that he was able to make the play in the first place due to his amazing break on the ball. Sehorn was locked up one-on-one most of the day while Thomas got help – but McNabb rarely threw in his direction. He does need to improve his tackling. I know his ribs are still hurting, but the Vikes will test him in this department.

Emmanuel McDaniel (5 tackles, 0.5 sacks) cleaned up on Jessie’s blitz with a sure tackle on the sack. He got beat on one play where he dove to knock the ball away, but just missed (he won’t be able to take these kind of chances against Minnesota without supreme risk). SS Sam Garnes (4 tackles) deserves a bunch of credit for keeping Pro Bowl TE Chad Lewis invisible yet again. Sam was aggressive in run support too. He did miss a tackle over the middle on one of the very few big completions of the day.

Special Teams: Ron Dixon finally delivered – but just as importantly, the blockers finally delivered. Dixon just flew away from everyone on his 97-yard kick return for a touchdown to start the game. Don’t lose sight of the great blocking on the play however – there was a huge seam for Dixon to run up inside.

Long-time BBI‘s will remember my pet-peeve regarding Amani Toomer returning punts (despite his 3 career touchdowns) – he won’t run the damn ball directly up the field. Inevitably, he runs parallel to the coverage unit and this gets him into trouble. He did make one good return by employing this method, but he also fumbled the ball away and only stingy defense and a poor field goal attempt saved him.

Thabiti Davis and Lyle West both made excellent tackles in coverage, but the 34 yard kickoff return by Brian Mitchell after Sehorn’s touchdown set up the Eagles’ for their only points in the second half. Howard Cross’ missed block enabled the late punt block that led to the Eagles’ only touchdown. Brad Daluiso was perfect on his field goal attempts; his kickoffs remain uninspiring. Brad Maynard’s punting was ordinary (the ancient Sean Landeta out-played him).


I COULDDA BEEN IN CLEVELAND…

by David Oliver

Lomas Brown repeated one more time to yet another reporter asking him if he was happy about how this season has gone. He relayed the thought about how low he was after being released by the Browns and of the uncertainty of his next career move. This could be the plot of the sequel for ON ANY GIVEN SUNDAY.

The 2000-20001 version of the NY Football Giants is a Chaucer’s Tale of redemption, reclamation and a little bit of THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD. You have the old, grizzled warrior, Lomas Brown, almost consigned to the scrap heap; his sidekick Glenn Parker, of whom Ernie Accorsi said in an afternoon interview on the WFAN, “I told him, you could have played in 1951- heck, he might have played in 1951.” Kerry Collins and Christian Peter, both picked up by the Giants after each had fallen from grace. Michael Barrow, released because he was too expensive under the new economics, and thought to have too much mileage on him. Each has contributed leadership and skill to this team. They have inspired the younger players and revitalized some of the veterans. Ernie pointed this out in an earlier interview when he talked about the frustration of some of his defensive stalwarts, and how the new additions, particularly to the offense, have brought new life.

So let’s talk about these players and then integrate their tale into the whole fabric of TEAM DESTINY. Hugh Douglas, the feared Eagles pass rusher – did he play yesterday? If you read my preview of the game, you will remember that I said this was one of the critical match-ups for success. Lomas Brown called on all his strength, his wily, veteran savvy, his energy to stop Douglas. He shut him down, and notwithstanding the absence of scoring by the Giants’ offense, Lomas’ play was one of the reasons for victory. He got nicked a little during the game; every offensive lineman did at one time or another. Throughout the third and fourth quarter, Lomas would walk off the field with a look of tired resignation and determination in his eyes. He would pull on that new edition cap the guys wear on the bench and he would sit and stretch his tired legs. The docs came over and looked at him every so often, but Lomas was not to be denied. When the O took the field, he strapped on his helmet and returned to the fray. He is a noticeable presence on the field, as he ‘shows’ big. When he engages his man, he hooks him under the arms and rides him outside. It’s a work of art only to someone who has done that sometime in his life – lined up across from a snorting mad man, spitting and foaming and talking about how he is going to rip your head off on the way to tearing out your QB’s guys. Lomas has heard it 10,000 times; he’s faced the fastest, the meanest, the cagiest defensive linemen that this league has to offer. He is slow and clumsy on run blocks, but he is a prima ballerina on the pass ride. Douglas didn’t disappear because of the grass and footing, because he was sick, because–because–because he disappeared because Lomas Brown did his job and totally nullified him. Those of you young bucks who think life is running down hill fast and getting one of the cows in the field – take a lesson from Lomas, walk down and get them all.

Lomas told me, “I’m just happy because Douglas is a game breaker…he can change the course of a game…” Well, Lomas, he did change the course of this game – with a little help from you – the Giants offense, although not point productive, was able to control the ball and the clock for 36 minutes. The respect thing was raised once again – every player is asked this question every week by at least 5 media types – how do you feel about the lack of respect the Giants get? Lomas went to his checklist: we’ve done everything we’ve had to do; we reached our goals; we won against a team for the third time that nobody said we could; we don’t win pretty, but we get the job done. It has become a litany now with these Giants, they are here, they earned it and notwithstanding the belief of those behind the cameras and microphones that they are not an ‘elite’ team, they are committed to keep on doing thee things.

Lomas offered a few other pithy thoughts. He said again that the crowd was awesome. He said when you hear that noise you feel invincible. He shrugged off the nicks and bruises and said “this is the playoffs. Lose now and you have plenty of time to rest.” And finally, he said “everybody should be excited (the team). We’re down to the final four…everybody should be excited about what we have accomplished and can accomplish.”

Glenn Parker, the other old warrior, went down several times on the field. Each time, it looked grim. Each time, he shook it off and returned to the fray. Afterward he told us this was one of those games that “during the year, you have to win games like that.” Meaning a TD by Special Teams and a TD by the defense. He said this was the first TD scored by the D all year – kind of incredible when you think about it, and he said he thought it was the first by Specials – but he forgot Jason’s on side kick return against Jax. When asked what he would tell the newer guys about the challenge they now faced, he said, “I would tell them (all the guys who haven’t been in a Super Bowl) to envision how they would feel about the Super Bowl, then take that feeling and put it into next week’s game.” He said that he would probably say a little something to the young guys during the week, but nothing ra-ra because this was a pretty mature team.

Michael Barrow – the Alpha and Omega of the resurgent defense – the catalytic force who likes to call himself “Batman”, to Jessie’s “Superman”, and another of my keys to the game. How much can you say about this man, how he plays the game, the intensity, the ferocity, the pure humanity of the warrior. Barrow had 11 tackles, 10 individual, 1 shared. He was a force in the middle, stopping Brian Mitchell several time and combining with Jessie in bringing down the tight end. I had thought they would blitz him more, but he played a coverage game and patrolled the short zone.

Barrow lauded John Fox and the other defensive coaches for their game plan. He said they kept mixing it up, often rushing 4 and then switching to 3, blitzing with a number of different packages. He said with McNabb, you “want him to throw early” and the Giants gave him no time to throw and no place to throw. The intent was to put a lot of pressure on the Giants’s D backs, because the combination of packages the coaches designed was going to force man coverage. And the secondary responded.

He talked about Jessie and how he believed Jessie has raised his game to another level. Jessie had 9 tackles in the game, 6 unassisted and half a sack which he shared with EMac and which came at an appropriate moment. Jessie and Barrow combined to ensure that the tight end was not a factor in the game.

He also talked about the crowd and the towels and used the Who Wants to be a Millionaire metaphor. He said that it was important to “use our lifeline to the fans”, and when questioned about the towel waving – he waved his towel often on the field to get the fans excited – he said he wasn’t sure that it was Jessie’s idea or that he had the thought simultaneously and asked for and started waving the towel. Normally he doesn’t carry a towel. It was a two way love fest between the fans and the players on the field. Everyone was excited and it showed – it hasn’t been this way since the Giants/Redskins title clash.

When asked about the respect thing, he replied, “Obviously, no one thought we could get this far. This week is going to be a classic David-Goliath matchup.” Finally, I asked him about his statements early in the year about how he had prayed over the decision to come to the Giants. I asked if he felt these victories were the fulfillment of those prayers. He told me, “It says in The Bible that God will give you the desires of your heart…but I want more and more…I want to win every game.” Then he laughed and told me, “I see Chris Carter has also received a message” He laughed again and said God can’t be giving us the same message when we are on opposite teams so we’ll just have to wait and see. I told him about Ernie Accorsi’s interview earlier where Ernie had said a 12- or 13-and-4 season would not be a successful season; that only winning the Super Bowl would be successful, that’s why you play the game. Barrow thought for a moment and then said “I agree. The only success is winning the Super Bowl.”

Kerry has been analyzed, quoted and dissected by a lot of people so I use my limited time trying to catch up to guys I can discuss things with one to one. But I have to say this about Kerry, particularly because I have been unimpressed for most of the season. Against Jax, I reported I saw a little change, maybe in carriage, demeanor, play. Maybe I haven’t given this young man enough credit for the passage he is making. After all, as Ernie A. also said, “He’s only 27, he’s younger than Weinke.” I’ve never had a problem with confidence in my life. I’ve been told I’m slow, fat dumb, a bad boy, irrelevant, name it. Never bothered me. So I have a problem of recognition of loss of confidence that other people may have. What seems to me part of the give and take of daily life may be a monumental struggle for others. Frankly, the Kerry Collins I have watched for most of the year was a classic example of catatonic expressionism.

But I also consider myself pretty adept at recognizing and investing in emerging technologies and companies. And what I began to see last week and continued to see this week, was an emergent personality. Maybe Kerry Collins is shaking off those demons, maybe he is growing up. And in keeping with Jim Fassel’s philosophy and under his tutelage, maybe what we are seeing here is the emergence of a new gladiator. When he pulled that ball down the first time and ran with it, joy leaped in my heart. A little leaked out when he slid. But on that second time when he pulled it down, in what looked like a design play, and put his head down and went up the middle, I cheered – here is the QB I have waited to see – one with self-pride, confidence and toughness. Then when he made that almost statue of liberty fake and hand off , I grabbed the crow and enjoyed the feathers. KC had another workman like night, 12-of-19 for 125 yards with a long of 33, including a beauty to Mitchell and one almost down the Giants sideline which would have been a momentum generator.

Towards the end of the game, on that long drive, Coach Fassel could be seen lecturing Coach Payton. It was obvious to us in the end zone, waiting for the score, what was being said. Don’t risk another turnover, only high percentage plays, we’ll take the field goal. This philosophy I never like, but that’s why I am sitting at the computer. The next phase in Kerry’s emergence from the chrysalis of self-doubt will be to cut him loose and let that strong arm go down field to show the world the Giants’ high-octane receiving corps. Once the game is designed for Kerry’s talents, instead of harnessing those talents to the game design, I will sign on as a KC believer in full.

Christian Peter – a quiet warrior, the ultimate warrior. He shows up on every play he is in the game. He may not make flashy, swooping sacks. But at the end of the game, his uniform is the dirtiest, he has blood on his face, his arms, his legs. He is sweat drenched and physically tired. I have said it before and I will say it again, Christian Peter, Tony Siragusa, guys like that are guys I would hang with any day, and trust to guard my backside any night. Cornelius Griffin will be an All-Star soon and for many years; Ryan Hale will be a serviceable man in rotation and he will get blocked kicks, sacks and tackles. But no one, no one on this team puts out more energy and more intensity than Christian Peter.

On to the rest. The defense. Awesome. There may not be an LT in this group, or his cohorts Carson, Banks and Reasons, but these guys are as good as any defensive group ever to wear the Giants’ uniform. The front 7 are an integral unit – actually, it’s more like the front 11. Michael Strahan is showing why he is an All Pro selection. He has raised his game each week of the season and as his injuries subside he is again becoming a dominant force. Strahan had 4 tackles, 3 unassisted and 2 sacks for 19 yards, along with a forced fumble. He was a constant presence. Griffin added 4 tackles and shared in 1 and a half sacks. Sehorn had 4 tackles and that picture perfect interception. He went down on the field, bounced the ball up, caught it, got up and ran into the end zone. I watched the whole thing take place as if in slow motion, snapped a few shots as he went by and got out of the way as Donavan McNabb rolled into us in trying to make the tackle. Good friend John Ferguson provided a wall for McNabb then reached down and patted him on his shoulder – if you have it on tape, Fergy is the guy wearing the shorts, I’m the guy moving backwards. In the Redskins game, Fergy and I were in the middle of the melee near the bench. I go 240, Fergy slightly bigger – we’d make a nice pair of pulling guards.

EMac, Williams, Garnes and Thomas combined with Sehorn to shut down the scramble ability of McNabb by staying with their men. EMac had 2 and 1 on tackles and shared in the sack with Jessie, which I, of course, missed as I was passing behind the bench. EMac also had a pass defensed, Garnes had 2 defensed and 4 combined tackles, Williams a pass defensed and a forced fumble. Ryan Hale had a nice sack after McNabb had eluded two other Giants and CJ grabbed a fumble to go along with 2 assisted tackles. But CJ played his tole and kept McNabb contained all night. Unfortunately CJ always leaves the field with the cleanest jersey, which doesn’t help his image as a stalwart.

The offense was led by the line. Dayne had a nice 53 yard night with one beauty of 18 yards. It is sometimes painful to watch his growth. Under a full head of steam and in space he is a great running back. He has size and speed and brings to mind memories of Rob Carpenter. However, unlike Rob, he cannot get used to going in the middle and moving his legs. He runs into his blockers and stops and waits for a hole to open. He has got to develop the ability to run into the pile and push – if he trusts his blockers, keeps his feet moving and pushes the pile, holes will open for him. The Giants need a Siskle & Ebert type session with Ron, where they sit him in a room with game film and some coaches and show him over and over how he stops. I can’t see how he is not embarrassed by this – push, Ron, push. The Tiki man must be admired for true grit – but just as the Giants did to Stephen Davis, the Eagles did to Tiki – get a helmet on the arm – out comes the ball. Still 15 carries for 35 yards and 3 receptions for 13, with a broken arm, is nothing to carp about. 43 carries for 112 yards adds up to a successful night against a tough Eagles defense.

The receivers were similar with Ike grabbing 3-for-35, Pete 2-for-47, with a nice catch of 33 at an important part of the game, Amani 2-for-23 and Comella and Dayne chipping in one apiece. Amani talked to Mike Eisen and I, as Mike, with a little help from yours truly, helped Amani get his jersey and pads off, and told us that he was not a fumbler, he’s had 3 in his career, 2 in the playoffs. He told us, “It’s been a while…taking some time to adjust.” He also said that the fumbling had “changed my whole game” and that he wasn’t comfortable, but he added it wasn’t a problem and if he had to do it next week, he would be OK.

The young guys were excited. Reggie Stephens told me this “was a real confidence builder” and that the team is “playing well together.” I asked him about Brian Mitchell and he said he brings it, he told me he is having the most fun of his life. We discussed the movie ON ANY GIVEN SUNDAY which so many people have critically dissed. Forget Pacino as a prototypical Coach, the movie is about as close to the field, locker and business aspects of the business as you will get outside a documentary. Reggie agreed, actually he and Golden and I all enjoyed it and found it realistic to a fault. We talked about the feeling and holding it and fighting for the next 2 rounds and EMac, Reggie’s roommate, concurred, telling me how his first year he thought he would be going every year and how he has waited 5 years for this shot. This is a special thing for these very special guys. Golden always fills me in on the ups and downs of the Specials and he was a little down on himself feeling he didn’t have a good game, and that the Specials didn’t perform. He said that the Eagles were very intense on Specials and that it was obvious it had been “a big part of their practice…they dominated special team play tonight.” I asked how he liked playing with Jessie and Barrow and what he would do in the off season to get some playing reps. He told me that watching Jessie he felt “I have to change my body.” Golden is a student of the game, looks to experience and will play in this League for a long time. Look for him in 2 years to break into the lineup.

Rather than tell you how drives unfolded, I’d like to give you some feeling for the game and the sidelines. The Eagles came out too pumped. Even McNabb did a little pirouette. I’ve discussed my adrenalin theory here before. If a team gets too high, they have to dominate quickly or risk losing that adrenaline flow. Once again it is difficult to regenerate. The Eagles victimized themselves tonight by setting themselves up for a Giants’ break through, which came on the opening kickoff. Early on I was talking to a long time Philly photographer who confirmed my feeling and told me “this game is over”, when it was 7-to-0. He said the Eagles didn’t have it tonight and it is obvious, as it was.

Giants were going down all over the field. Parker got whacked twice, Dave Thomas was taken behind the bench, cordoned off and pumped with fluids, Amani had someone twist his leg on a tackle and looked to me like a medial collateral sprain – he had to be in some pain. It was a fierce, hard-hitting slug fest, as you would expect. Barrow, Jessie and Strahan bumped helmets and kept their bond intact. Barrow is expressive, often talking to himself, gritting his teeth, praying and balling his fists, Jessie is quiet, going inwards and summoning the will, Strahan is gregarious and voluble, marching up and down the sidelines rallying the troops. The towels were a nice touch. When Griffin was in the game you could feel an energy surge – the young man has speed, power and confidence. He wants to serve notice on everyone that he is a one man wrecking crew and he will be blowing up a lot of plays on Sundays for years to come. The secondary was on tonight. Dave Thomas showed that he can play against anyone but the blinding speed receivers, EMac can play against anyone, Williams and Garnes were taking away McNabb’s looks all night. No one was leaving it on the field. They came back tired, they went out determined.

Coach Fox and Coach Lynn made the necessary adjustments – they won this coaching battle. Coach McNally had his guys ready. There was a lot of talking on the bench among the offensive linemen. Whittle and Rosenthal know the stakes – Mike’s tenure starting last year is paying dividends now. Luke is also playing with confidence and toughness – I wish someone would ask Jimmy Sabo what he hears about Lukes ‘heart’ now. Ziegler is quietly capable. The rookies are into it. Thabiti Davis made some Specials tackles, Short, Stephens, Dixon are beginning to realize how much fun there is in winning. An aside. After the Jax game Golden and I were talking. Dixon’s locker is right next to Golden’s. No one, I mean no one was talking to Dixon, who was giving Golden and I a ration about our conversation. This week, there were 20 guys surrounding Dixon and he was expounding. Golden and I had a good laugh and said what a difference a week makes.

Each week gets tougher, the stakes are higher, the opponent more difficult. David V Goliath, apt, the Giants love it. They will be ready. If they are beaten, it will be because the Vikings beat them – these Giants aren’t giving anything away.

AND IN THE NFL, ON ANY GIVEN SUNDAY…Go, Giants.

(Box Score – Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, January 7, 2001)
Jan 052001
 

Approach to the Game – Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, January 7, 2001: Throw out the two previous blowouts by the Giants against the Eagles. When quality division opponents meet, the outcome is usually close and final victory is quite often decided by a key play or two. These two teams know each other very well. While there may be a new wrinkle here or there from both coaching staffs, the team that will win will be the one that executes better, makes fewer mistakes, and makes more big plays.

A big key for the Giants will be not to play too uptight. Relax fellas – you know these guys so just go out there and play your game.

Giants on Offense: The Eagles feel that if they can control HB Tiki Barber, they can control the Giants’ offense. “We got to stop Tiki,” says MLB Jeremiah Trotter. “That’s one of our main goals going into the game, to stop Tiki. I wouldn’t say we overlooked him the last two games, but we may not have paid enough attention to him.” Where Tiki has hurt the Eagles in the past has been with his cutback runs as well as a pass receiver out of the backfield. Philadelphia will surely attempt to tighten up on defense and not allow him a cutback lane. They also may double-team Tiki when he goes out for the pass. The Eagles are also well aware of Barber’s injury situation (foot sprain/forearm fracture) – so they will also look to punish him. The big question is whether or not Tiki can still be decisively effective given all this additional attention? Or should the Giants’ coaches try to trick the Eagles by using Barber as a decoy? We’ll probably see some of the latter, but I imagine Head Coach Jim Fassel and Offensive Coordinator Sean Payton will ride the horse that brought them to the dance in the first place.

But Barber won’t be able to carry the ball 30 times. He and his team need HB Ron Dayne (or possibly HB Joe Montgomery) to not only share the load, but be productive in doing so. Dayne has slumped recently, but he was a big factor in the Giants’ last win over the Eagles at Giants Stadium. The Eagles are quick up front, but they are not particularly big and an effective inside running game would do wonders for the entire offense. Ron doesn’t have to break big runs – but the Giants need him to pick up 3-5 yards per clip. Another key performer could be FB Greg Comella. Every now and then, the Giants pick a game for Greg to have a major role in as a receiver out of the backfield. Could this be one of those games? It might be if too much attention is paid to Barber by Philly.

A real key to watch for? Blitz pick-ups by the backs and tight ends will be HUGE.

As in any game, so much will ultimately depend on the battle in the trenches. The two key guys on the spot will be LT Lomas Brown (who will be facing off against Pro Bowl DE Hugh Douglas) and RG Ron Stone (who will match-up against impressive rookie DT Corey Simon). A large part of the Giants’ success against the Eagles this year has been the play of these two players against Douglas and Simon. Let’s hope that continues. If Stone can handle Simon in the ground game, then OC Dusty Zeigler will be free to engage others – particularly the linebackers. Zeigler and his compatriots up front must do a better job against the inside blitz than they did two weeks ago against Jacksonville. Don’t think that the Eagles didn’t pick up on that. The Giants also need LG Glenn Parker and RT Luke Petitgout to hold their own against DT Hollis Thomas and DE Brandon Whiting, respectively. In pass rush situations, Mike Mamula comes in for Whiting. A guy who New York must do a better job on is MLB Jeremiah Trotter – one of the best linebackers in the league (he has an incredible 171 tackles on the year). He needs to be engaged more effectively by one of the offensive linemen or Comella at fullback. TE Howard Cross must play well as a blocker too. On right side running plays, he may be called upon to take on Whiting, while a lineman or Comella engages SLB Carlos Emmons (116 tackles).

The Eagles’ defense is an aggressive unit. In the past, the Giants have been able to take advantage of that aggressiveness with draws, shovel passes, screens, reverses, etc. Will the Eagles play a more disciplined game this time? Will New York go to the well once too often? Fassel and Payton must do a good job of getting a feel for the flow of the game and when to take some shots with misdirection.

A huge factor in the Giants’ two previous victories against the Eagles has been the G-Men’s ability to convert on third down. “The thing is, I honestly feel we played all right both games on first and second downs,” DT Corey Simon says. “And then we would get them into a third-and-8, third-and-9, third-and-12, we thought we had them pinned and then, boom, they run a draw or something and move the chains. It wears on you after awhile.” The key figures in these situations are QB Kerry Collins, the wide receivers, and Barber. It is absolutely essential that Kerry play a composed, efficient game for the Giants to win. He doesn’t have to put on an All-Star performance. But it will be necessary for him to keep mistakes to a minimum, not get rattled, and keep some drives alive with his right arm. Kerry has shown a tendency to come out too hyper and throw high. Hopefully, he will calm down quickly. I’d try to get him into a rhythm early by throwing short passes on first and second down. Collins loves the slant to the receivers and some quick throws to Comella out of the backfield might be smart. Pete Mitchell is always an option if he is in the game too. But the Eagles will be coming with the blitz, so throw quickly (3-step drops – this is what Collins is best at anyway). Kerry must stay composed. The Eagles believe they can make him jumpy. “We haven’t gotten to Collins at all,” MLB Jeremiah Trotter says. “It starts there. We believe there isn’t a quarterback in the league that we can’t get to, and so we have to get after him. We have to pressure him. If we do, he’ll start thinking. He won’t have much confidence back there. They protect him well, but we have to get beyond that.”

Collins needs help too. The Eagles have a very strong secondary. CB Troy Vincent is a Pro Bowler and CB Bobby Taylor is a Pro Bowl alternate. FS Brian Hawkins is a big time hitter in the Shaun William-mold. Nickel back Al Harris is a solid player as well. “They like to use a lot of zone blitz and keep their cornerbacks in man-to-man coverage,” says Ike Hilliard, who will be matched up on Vincent much of the time. “They do present a lot of matchup problems for teams because of the size and speed they have in the secondary.” If the Eagles do come out an play an aggressive game, I’d put Ike in motion quite a bit in order to make it harder for Philly to jam him at the line of scrimmage (Hilliard is normally better against zone coverage than man). Amani Toomer is one of the guys on the spot – he and Collins need to connect on a few big plays. Taylor will attempt to play an aggressive game against Toomer and take him out of his game. It is questionable whether WR Joe Jurevicius (knee) will play and/or be effective. If he can’t go, Ron Dixon needs to make his presence known in a positive fashion. It’s been a long time since he got deep for a touchdown in week three.

Giants on Defense: Obviously, the focus is to limit the amount of damage QB Donovan McNabb can do with his arm and legs. But to make the Eagles completely one-dimensional, the defense must ensure that running game does not get untracked. I don’t think the Eagles will come out running; I suspect they will use the short-passing game that is their bread and butter. After all, they do run a West Coast Offense. But the Eagles will sneak a run in here and there – especially if they get a lead. Picking up HB Chris Warren off of waivers from Dallas was a major coup. He is a productive vet who ran for 85 yards last week against Tampa Bay. He also is a big factor in the passing game as a receiver. In fact, all of the Eagle backs are. Strong safety and linebacker coverage on Warren, HB/3rd down back Brian Mitchell, and FB Cecil Martin is a crucial aspect of the game. SLB Ryan Phillips, WLB Jessie Armstead, and MLB Mike Barrow will be on the spot in particular. The Eagles like to dink and dunk the opposition to death until the defensive backs start creeping up – then they take their shots deep.

Perhaps the biggest match-up on this side of the ball will be Pro Bowl TE Chad Lewis versus the Giants’ undercoverage. I would guess that SS Sam Garnes will be called upon to cover him much of the time. But anyone of the other linebackers could as well. It all depends on what kind of coverage schemes the Giants employ. After all, the linebackers also have to keep an eye on the backs out of the backfield and the potential for a McNabb scramble. Lewis is McNabb’s favorite target with 69 regular season receptions. The Eagles also like to throw to TE Jeff Thomason down on the goal line (5 regular season touchdowns).

The Giants also need to be wary of trick plays. Their coach has no problem calling them. Brian Mitchell can throw the ball and the Giants need to watch out for that as well as flea flickers.

With so much focus being on the backs and tight ends in the passing game as well as keeping McNabb in the pocket, it is absolutely essential that the Giants’ defensive backs, particularly the corners play well. WR Charles Johnson (ankle) is questionable, but he probably will play. He is the Eagles’ best receiver and Jason Sehorn will most likely be called upon to cover him most of the day. Dave Thomas must come up big against Torrance Small. Rookie WR Todd Pinkston could see more playing time if Johnson is limited. He is a tall, thin guy with fast wheels. CB Emmanuel McDaniel could be key player. So will FS Shaun Williams who may be called upon in a variety of roles: provide deep help to the corners, provide short help against the backs and tight ends, a blitzer, and a possible spy on McNabb.

That is a big question – whether to spy on McNabb or not? My guess is that there will be times when the Giants do so, but on many plays, they will rely on the defensive guys to play disciplined football. The more you spy, the more you are taking a man out of coverage or the pass rush. If the Giants do spy, Armstead or Barrow are the obvious choices. “You look at it (that) he’s the type of guy you should spy, but he’ll kill you if you spy the whole game, because now he’s got all day to throw the ball,” Barrow says. “It’s a chance, like dialing up a blitz, you got to disguise what you’re doing and calculate your strategy. If you’re too aggressive on it, thinking ‘I got to get to him,’ now you’re out of control. If you go slower he throws the ball away. It’s a tough job to do. With him he can pump fake, you’re jumping up, he’s running by you. You really got to make the right guess.”

Keeping McNabb in the pocket and under control depends on the down four maintaining disciplined rush lanes. This hurts the pass rush, but it is essential when playing against the Eagles. Don’t look for the Giants to pick up many sacks. But when the defenders are in position to do so, they must bring themselves under control and make strong, sure tackles on McNabb. Focus on his mid-section and wrap up. McNabb is strong and elusive and can make a big play if a defender whiffs on him. Not flying around out of control is a big key – especially the blitzing defensive backs and linebackers.

But the defensive line can’t allow McNabb all day to throw or he will kill the Giants with his arm. That’s why I think we’ll see more blitzing this time. But the less the Giants have to blitz, the better. The two huge match-ups up front are DE Michael Strahan versus RT Jon Runyan and DT Keith Hamilton versus LG John Welbourn. Runyan is one of the best tackles in the league and a tough guy. He and Strahan don’t like each other. Welbourn handled All-Pro Warren Sapp pretty damn well last week. He is bound to receive some double-team support from OC Bubba Miller too. The Giants need Hamilton and Strahan to play inspired, physical football. The Giants also need big games out of Armstead and Barrow. DE Cedric Jones faces the imposing LT Tra Thomas – a huge player with quick feet. DT Christian Peter will split time with DT Cornelius Griffin against RG Jermane Mayberry. Griffin will also spell Jones some at end. Griffin has the ability to make a key play or two.

Giants on Special Teams: Two huge keys. HUGE. First is to control Brian Mitchell on kick and punt returns. The second is to watch out for trick plays: an onsides kick, a fake field goal or punt, or some kind of misdirection on a return. This is a big game for the Eagles and as an underdog they will pull out all of the stops. As for controlling Mitchell, the Giants need Brad Daluiso and Brad Maynard to help the coverage teams with good kicks. Then it is up to the coverage guys to maintain their lanes and bring Mitchell down with sure tackles. The field position battle will be a major factor in this game and special teams play will have a decisive role in that.

I doubt Ron Dixon or Tiki Barber will be much of a factor in the return game – they haven’t been all year.


GIANTS-EAGLES, PART III – THE THRILLA IN SECAUCUS

by David Oliver

It doesn’t get any better than this. For those among you who wanted the Rams – breathe deeply cuz the G-Men, and everyone else dodged a big one thanks to the Big Easy. Now, if they just do the Vikes, it could get real interesting. And anyone who thinks that cold weather doesn’t affect football play, go back and look at the tape of the Eagle-Buc debacle. Warren Sapp was part right when he said no one likes to play in a cold – if you were raised in an igloo, you don’t like playing in the cold. Sapp obviously doesn’t like playing in the cold because he was nowhere to be found. But the Eagles don’t mind it – after all, Philly has always been the poor mirror image of the Apple down the Pike. So Philly thinks Delaware River cold is like Meadowlands cold – fat chance! Those of you who have done the Meadowlands in January know of the cold, the wind swirling through the parking lot, blowing wrappers, papers, cans and seagulls every which way, creeping into the Stadium, up the Hirschorn funnels of the ramps, through the corridors and into the bathrooms in search of human bodies to torture. You won’t see anyone taking off a shirt and baring a chest in the Meadowlands – the crazy escape artist who went into his block of ice downtown had a better chance of survival.

The Giants aren’t in love with it; but it is theirs; it is their cold, their wind, their tundra, their turf. And if the fans show up in force, the darkness will descend on the Eagles and mercifully put them out of their misery before their wives and mothers have taken down the Christmas tree. Coach Reid said it in a wonderful way, this is another game which will be decided by who wants to win more than they want to stay warm. I used to run a lot in winter. I did the Baltimore Marathon three times, even lining up once for the only major Marathon ever snowed out. I’ve run in Beltsville in February and Charlotte in January. Cold does things to the mind. Three hours doesn’t sound like much, but when your bones hurt and your lips are chapped into cracking and your nose won’t stop running, and that’s in the first 10 minutes, the mind becomes the only human element left to combat the weariness, the despair.

So here are 2 big keys to victory: preparation and support. The team which is the most mentally prepared will finish ahead. The team which has the support platform, the fans, will forget the cold and the hurt, will put aside the mistakes and will take the victory. They are the intangibles and the intangibles favor the Giants in this battle.

Go in expecting something real close: 10 to 3 or 13 to 3, or 16 to 13. But don’t be surprised to see something like 20 – 0. Why? Because this is a defensive game. Forget who rushes the ball or throws the ball – on the field the outcome will be decided by who controls the blitz. The Eagles will blitz ceaselessly. The Giants will play contain, as in the past two games, to stop McNabb, but it will be Michael Barrow who hold s the key to victory. Let’s look at the units.

DEFENSE: The Eagles look awesome across the front seven with Douglas, Trotter and Emmons providing the push and Caldwell patrolling the short zone. You can’t discount Corey Simon or Mike Mamula, but they shine when the other guys are going crazy. This is a tough bunch, but control Douglas and they stay just tough.

The Giants answer with Hamilton and Peter clogging the middle. If they are on their game no one from the Eagles will expose the line. Strahan and Runyon are going to cancel each other out except that Strahan only needs to shake him off on the McNabb scramble. CJ will not rush unless the Eagles roll out the red carpet for him. That will force McNabb to the middle. Jessie and Phillips will patrol the short zone which leaves Barrow to become the beast. He must contain McNabb in the middle and at the same time be prepared for at least 10 dogs during the course of the game to force McNabb to alter his pattern. The safeties will help Barrow. Which leaves a lot up to the corners and the nickel. Keep this in mind – the Giants goal is not to allow a completion over 30 yards and McNabb seldom throws over 30 yards. He throws best on the move, Thomas covers worst on the move, which again leads to Barrow’s importance. The Eagles like to move the ball in short chunks, the Giants don’t mind giving up short chunks. If there are alterations to be made to the game planning of the first two games, it is John Fox who must make the alterations. In the cold, the Giants D cannot allow rhythm or momentum. In addition to Barrow coming up the middle look for Shaun Williams to come early. Chad Lewis could be a factor here as Charles Johnson will last until the first time Shaun Williams pops him and takes away his desire. Chad Lewis belongs to Jessie. The only other threat the Eagles have is Brian “motor mouth” Mitchell. He should have angered the Giants enough by now that he will become the poster boy for the Cold Pop.

ADVANTAGE: the Giants are playing inspired defense right now, John Fox wants to be a Head Coach, the Meadowlands favor the D. Keys to success: Barrow and Shaun Williams hitting McNabb, Dave Thomas keeping the flame on the Spicy Chicken.

OFFENSE: For the Eagles, the offense is two – McNabb and Mitchell. Stop McNabb and the Eagles have no offense except Mitchell running back kicks. Allow McNabb to run right and left and you start looking like Warren Sapp as a Snowman. Their running game is Warren, who ought to be good for two or three fumbles when the helmets start hitting him. With a limited Charles Johnson, their wideouts should not even make Dave Thomas look bad.

The Giants have more options on offense, although Tiki has been an Eagle killer. If he is limited look for Greg Comella, yes, Comella to pick up the flare outlet pass. There is no way the Giants offensive line will shut down the blitz of the Eagles, so it must be controlled. This is where McNally’s theory really must come into its own. The O-Line will chip and direct the rushers and Comella must pick up the blitz in the middle – this is the most danger. Lomas will get beaten once or twice, but he can taste that ring so look for him to win the battle most of the day. Parker has been here. He knows tough and he knows weather – he will rally the troops. Stone is the Big Dog and he’s not going to get beaten.

KC has got to be prepared to take a few hits because he will be hit. Everyone is talking about the running game and Dayne. Right now, Dayne is not quick enough to beat the Eagles to the point, but if the Giants take control of the game, look for Dayne to pound them senseless. Just as the Giants, the Eagles corners face a difficult job, but for a different reason. KC doesn’t scramble but Toomer and Hilliard are better than anything the Eagles have, and they are as good as anything the Eagles have had to defend this year I don’t look for Ike to be a factor early because the Eagle blitz will not give KC time to search the middle. But Amani should go deep, often and early and it will pay big dividends Tiki will be more serviceable than the Eagles think because he is tougher than the Eagles believe. The X factor on offense for the Giants is Comella and Pete Mitchell.

Thus, on offense it comes down to which QB has the better day, McNabb the Scrambler or Kerry the Dentist. If either gets hot, they will dictate defensive deployments and you can get out the blow dryer.

SPECIALS: The return game favors the Eagles because of Brian Mitchell. But he hasn’t faced Shaun Williams. The most critical element in the Giants’ recent success on specials has been Shaun. The other new addition Damon Washington. He is getting up field fast enough to force the flow. Jack Golden is improving by watching Shaun and he will contribute. BUT the Giants must stop Brian Mitchell. Punting, flat out favors the Eagles. Landeta has not forgotten the Meadowlands. Maynard is handicapped by the Giants fascination with the kick within the 20 – he shanks one or two a game and in a playoff game that could cost big time.

Kickoffs should be a wash. Neither kicker will reach the end zone unless there is a gale on the field. Only Daluiso should be activated as Holmes has not established that he is a better kicker. But Daluiso is critical for field goals. Field position, the Giants game will win this one. Look for two or three Daluiso field goals, at least one longer than 40. Look for Ryan Hale to block an Akers attempt – the Eagles will be forced to kick long and Akers can be had.

FINAL COMMENTS: Like the Thrilla, this one will be body blows and gizzard. The team that wants it more will win. The Eagles have gone further than any team on defense and one offensive threat. The Giants are more balanced, but not overwhelming on offense.

KEYS: McNabb for both teams. Contain him and the Giants win. Let him find rhythm and it gets tight and ugly.

KC – can he take the early hits, and like a prize fighter, come back and connect with Amani and Ike?

Douglas – does he get in KC’s face? Break the blitz and the Eagles get frustrated.

Barrow – Now is Barrow time. The middle is his, both on contain and with the blitz.

One man on each side of the ball – Advantage Giants.

Next week, New Orleans.