Nov 282001
Oakland Raiders 28 – New York Giants 10

Game Overview: After watching the tape closely a second time, two impressions stood out to me: (1) This game was far closer than the score would indicate, and (2) the Giants played with a high degree of effort right up to the end of the game. If the Giants make one play here or there on offense or defense, then the Giants have a good shot to win the game. But hasn’t that been the story of their season thus far?

My point is this: This team is still capable of turning it around, running the table, and getting into the playoffs. They are close – but costly mistakes at inopportune times are really costing the team. Every team makes mistakes – it just seems that the mistakes the Giants are making come at the worst possible moments.

I thought Kerry Collins played one of his better games and I’m a bit surprised at all of the negative criticism thrown in his direction after this contest. The pass protection was unbelievably bad – and I mean unbelievably bad. This is inexcusable when you consider the fact that the Giants were running the ball so well and the Raiders had to honor the running game. But every time Collins went back to pass, there was a Raider in his face.

The other areas that were obviously disappointing was the play of the secondary (both Fassel and Fox remarked at the blown assignments – though I also give the Raiders credit for some superb play design), the play of the wide receivers, and the joke that has become the Giants’ kick return game (blockers included).

But what really impressed me is the way the Giants fought back. Trailing 21-3 at halftime, the Giants could have folded the tents and packed it in. Even though the scoreboard doesn’t indicate it, they dramatically out-played the Raiders in the second half despite atrocious field conditions. The offense moved the ball much of the game, but just couldn’t put points on the board. The defense played inspired football in the second half except for two major breakdowns in the secondary on the one scoring drive. Even with the game out-of-reach at 28-10 late in the 4th quarter, the defense was still playing with passion and fire.

As long as this team doesn’t quit, it has a chance. Don’t write them off just yet.

Offensive Overview: The Giants had four offensive drives in the first half. The first went three-and-out (due to a missed blitz pick-up on 3rd-and-2). The next two drives were impressive. The second drive was a seven play effort that covered 54 yards. It stalled near the Raider 30 yard line because Joe Jurevicius dropped what could have been a touchdown on a perfectly thrown pass from Kerry Collins and a penalty on Luke Petitgout. What should have been seven points resulted in three. Not bad coaching – bad execution. The third drive was 13-play effort that went 58 yards and resulted in no points. It stalled due to a penalty on Lomas Brown that turned a 1st-and-10 at the Raider 24 to a 1st-and-20 at the Raider 46. On second down, Collins was sacked when the Giants couldn’t pick up the blitz (there was no back in the backfield to do so). The first snafu had to do with poor execution, the second had to do with play design. The last drive came with less than two minutes in the game and started at the Giants’ 26 yard line. There was way too much pressure on Collins in this drive for it to be successful. Poor execution by offensive line and those attempting to pick up the blitz.

The Giants had the ball four times in the second half before the Raiders made it 28-10 in the 4th quarter. The first drive started out well again: 10 plays for 42 yards. It stalled prematurely when Collins fumbled the snap on 2nd-and-2 from the Raider 35. The Giants were then robbed on the next two plays by the officials when a very obvious offsides penalty and pass interference penalty were not called on 3rd and 4th down, respectively. Either would have given the Giants a first down. The next drive was a 9-play, 80-yard effort that resulted in a touchdown. The third drive only lasted five plays because Amani Toomer dropped what would have been a first down reception on 3rd-and-6. Poor execution. The 4th drive was the most important of the game and the most disappointing. Due to a personal foul penalty, the Giants started the drive on the Raiders’ 37 yard line. But the first two plays didn’t amount to much. On 3rd-and-8, Collins was under a heavy rush as Ron Stone and Jason Whittle got beat. On 4th-and-8, Collins just underthrew a deep pass to Jurevicius and the ball was tipped away – if JJ can come down with the ball and keep his feet there he scores. The game would have been 21-17 with over 12 minutes left and all the momentum in New York’s hands. But it was not to be.

Offensive Line: If you graded the line on its run blocking, they would receive a great grade. But to be a good offensive lineman, you need to pass block well as well. And as I indicated above, the pass protection was pathetic. It seemed as if every time Collins went back to pass there was a Raider in his face. The Raiders have some good defensive players, but they aren’t that good. And all of this despite the fact that the Giants were running the ball more than they were passing. I was most disappointed in the guards and Lomas Brown, but all made their own costly mistakes in pass protection. This had nothing to do with Collins holding the ball too long or the receivers not getting open, the pressure was immediate. The backs also didn’t do a good job of picking up the blitz and this exacerbated matters

Some specifics: The Giants first drive goes three and out as a defensive back blitzes right up the gut and no one picks him up. Collins is hit as he throws. On the second drive, on 3rd-and-7, Petitgout commits a false start making it 3rd-and-12. On the third drive, on 3rd-and-5, Collins is immediately pressured as Glenn Parker gets beat; only an excellent pass under duress picks up the first down. On the next play, Ron Stone almost gets Collins killed as he didn’t slow down his opponent at all on a screen play. Same drive, on 2nd-and-9, Parker gets beat again and only a great throw by Collins under duress again prevents a sack or incompletion. At 12-yard completion to Amani Toomer to the Raider 24 yard line is then called back due to a holding penalty on Lomas Brown. On the next play, Ron Stone looks like he isn’t even trying on a draw play on 1-and-20 in his direction – he’s just standing there. Fourth and last drive of the first half: Petitgout allows too much pressure on 1st-and-5. Two plays later, both Stone and Tiki Barber get beat in pass protection.

Second half, first drive: On 2nd-and-10, both Greg Comella and Ron Dayne let an onrushing linebacker sack Collins. On 1st-and-10, Whittle gets beat and Collins is forced to unload in a hurry. On the play where no offsides was called on Oakland, Stone gets beat and forces Collins to throw early. Second drive: On the deep pass to Amani Toomer on the scoring drive, Dusty Zeigler failed to pick up the blitz. On the fourth and last meaningful drive, on 3nd-and-8 (the play preceding the deep pass to Jurevicius that just missed), Stone got beat again and Whittle failed to pick up a blitz. Both Brown and Petitgout got beat badly late in the game where Collins was sacked near the endzone.

Keep in mind that all this pressure came in a game where the Giants were running the ball a lot and successfully doing so. I was going to break down the running game for you too as that is more positive, but I’m so mad at the line that I’m not going to. I’ll just say that all six offensive linemen who played (including Whittle) made some excellent run blocks. As bad as the pass blocking was, the run blocking was very strong. On some plays, there really blew guys off the line and the Giants were even sharp on their pulls.

Quarterback: I’ve been rough on Collins for not stepping up into the pocket, but when the pocket is continually collapsing all around you (on the flanks as well as in the middle), then a quarterback cannot possibly have any faith that the pocket will be there to step up into. Yet despite all the pressure and the inability because of the pressure for Collins to set his feet, he was able to fire some very strong passes from his back foot. Most quarterbacks couldn’t do that. Also, this week, Collins stood in there and didn’t start rolling to the right once the pressure appeared. This was a major development.

Collins was also victimized by dropped passes again which I will highlight in the WIDE RECEIVER section. Some plays that stood out included a 2nd-and-7 pass to Tiki Barber for 10 yards despite immediate pressure. Same story three plays later on 3rd-and-5 when Collins hit Toomer for a first down. Collins made yet another great throw under duress on the same drive on 2nd-and-9 to Hilliard for eight yards. On the first drive in the second half, Collins made a superb throw on 3rd-and-17 to pick up the first down. On the third drive, Collins threw a nice pass to Comella while under pressure to pick up the first down.

The bad plays, Collins tripped over apparently no one on 2nd-and-19, resulting in an easy sack. He also missed a couple of throws in the two minute drill right before halftime. On the first drive of the second half, Collins fumbled a snap on 2nd-and-2. The biggest negative was the pass that he put too much air underneath on 4th-and-8 to Jurevicius. It was a very accurate throw, but it needed more zip.

Wide Receivers: Not enough production and too many drops. Phil Simms mentioned that the Giant receivers were getting no separation down the field against the Raider cornerbacks. Combine that with the shoddy pass protection and is it any wonder why I’m sticking up for Collins this week? Ike Hilliard (2 catches for 11 yards) must have forgot that there was a game on Sunday. Joe Jurevicius (2 catches for 18 yards) had a horrible day. His drop of what could have been a touchdown on the Giants’ second (and, up until that point, very impressive) drive was a momentum-swinger. He later couldn’t keep his feet after a short reception with no one around him. Amani Toomer (4 catches for 70 yards) was the best of the bunch, but that’s not saying much. Toomer dropped two passes, including a critical 3rd-and-6 opportunity when the Giants were attempting to get back into the game. Ron Dixon caught a pass, but he also dropped a pass on 3rd-and-10 for what would have been a first down.

Tight Ends/Fullback: FB Greg Comella (4 catches for 26 yards) had a good game as a receiver and an excellent game as a lead run blocker. Dan Campbell (1 catch for 8 yards) performed well in his run blocking role and was involved as a receiver yet again. Howard Cross made some excellent blocks. Marcellus Rivers saw some limited playing time, which is good.

Running Backs: Tiki Barber (19 carries for 124 yards and one touchdown; 5 catches for 41 yards) played his best game of the year. He had some excellent blocking, but there were also plays where he made yardage on his own with his moves and speed. Barber is clearly the best offensive weapon the Giants have right now. My only complaint with his game was some poor blitz pick-ups – a not so insignificant aspect of the game.

Ron Dayne (6 carries for 26 yards) didn’t see the ball much. (Side note: I spotted one play where Dayne and Barber were both in the game at the same time to those who have asked). He had a quality power rush up the middle for 3 yards on 2nd-and-3 on the Giants’ field goal drive. On the first drive of the second half, he also had an excellent 11-yard effort behind good blocking from Whittle and Campbell. Dayne demonstrated good power and balance on the play. However, Dayne also missed a blitz pick-up.

Defensive Overview: The few big plays killed the Giants. New York defenders performed well on the vast majority of the snaps, but it was surrendering the long gainers that proved decisive. But also give the Raiders credit. They ran some well-designed and well-executed plays, such as the beautifully orchestrated screen pass for a touchdown. They picked up two critical first downs by running off the linebackers with the backs and then allowing QB Rich Gannon to scramble up the middle unopposed. And Gannon’s pump fakes hurt the Giants big-time twice. What did impress me is that the fight never left the Giants and they were still smacking heads late in the 4th quarter when the Raiders were simply trying to run out the clock.

Defensive Line: Couldn’t produce much of a pass rush and the main culprits again were DE Kenny Holmes (5 tackles) and DT Cornelius Griffin (4 tackles). With Keith Hamilton out and Michael Strahan being double-teamed, the Giants needed Holmes and Griffin to make more noise in the pass rush department. Holmes got real close to one sack, but that was about it. The good news was that Kenny’s run defense continues to improve and he has actually been an asset in that area lately.

The two defensive tackles, Griffin and Lance Legree had their ups and downs. At times they were very stout against the run. Griffin made some fine penetration on a couple of plays. Legree flashes impressive run defense at times for a rookie, taking on double-teams. But there were plays where both these guys got driven off of the ball or didn’t maintain their gap. Nothing major – but the Raiders were able to pick up some modest gains up the gut. Legree also tipped a pass away. Frank Ferrara (3 tackles) saw a fair amount of playing time and played a feisty game. He’s doesn’t have Legree’s powerful base in run defense, but he is active. He made a few plays at the line of scrimmage.

DE Michael Strahan (2 tackles, 0.5 sacks) is fighting hard on every play, but is seeing constant double-teams now. He forced Gannon to fumble on one play and was credited with half-a-sack. He was pretty stout against the run.

Linebackers: I was really impressed with the way Mike Barrow (10 tackles) finished the game. Late in the 4th quarter he was still slamming people and talking trash like the game was still on the line. He made a number of solid plays in run defense near the line of scrimmage, but he was also effectively blocked on the screen pass that went for a touchdown. Brandon Short’s (7 tackles, 0.5 sacks) failure to keep contain on the opening offensive play of the game led to 38 yard gain by HB Charlie Garner. This play set up the first touchdown that set the tone for the first half. It’s too bad because Short played real well after that making a couple of excellent plays behind the line of scrimmage in run defense. Brandon also looked good on a couple of blitzes. He may be still making second-year type mistakes, but he is still an upgrade over Ryan Phillips. Jessie Armstead (4 tackles) is still slowed by his hamstring tear.

Defensive Backs: This is where most of the mistakes were made. Some were physical breakdowns, others were mental. Much credit also has to go to the Raiders’ play design and execution.

The bad plays started on the first drive. Jerry Rice got open down the field for 17 yards and a first down on the Giants’ 3-yard line on the opening drive. I wasn’t sure if Jason Sehorn or Will Allen was the one who screwed up there. The safety was late getting over too. Sehorn got burned badly for 34 yards by Jerry Rice on 3rd-and-6 on the TD drive right before halftime. Sehorn couldn’t stay with Rice who went in motion coming out of the slot (Tim Brown had gotten free of Sehorn in the same way on the first drive, but Gannon didn’t see him).

Allen played too far off the ball in some circumstances – he can afford to play more aggressively given his speed. Allen then got beat cleanly by Tim Brown for the final touchdown on 3rd-and-7 from the 19 yard line.

Will Peterson did a nice job of knocking down a pass intended for Joey Porter on 3rd-and-6 to force a 3-and-out on the Raiders’ second drive of the game. But he was beat on the very next drive for a first down on 3rd-and-7. This kept a drive alive that the Raiders eventually scored on.

Sam Garnes (3 tackles) had yet another quiet game. He badly missed one tackle that led to 7 yard gain for Garner, but also made a sure tackle on a short pass. Garnes doesn’t seem to get exposed terribly in coverage, but he does need to make more plays. Shaun Williams got understandably burned by a couple of superb pump fakes by Rich Gannon that drew him away from the intended receiver. This is what happened on Tim Brown’s 46-yard touchdown right before halftime. Will Allen got beat to the inside and Williams was nowhere to be found in the middle of the field.

Another killer pump fake came on the Raiders’ last scoring drive. Gannon looked off Williams again and then threw back to the other side of the field. Tim Brown was all alone for a forty yard reception (I couldn’t make out who got beat – it was probably Will Peterson or Emmanuel McDaniel).

Special Teams: The kick-off returns are a joke. Ron Dixon was a bit more assertive this week, but the blocking was pretty bad and there were too costly holding penalties (one on Kevin Lewis and one on Clayton White). Omar Stoutmire misplayed the ball on one return. Emmanuel McDaniel got hammered on another.

Tiki Barber couldn’t get going on punt returns as Emmanuel McDaniel did a poor job of blocking his man.

Morten Andersen’s kick-offs were mediocre, but some of that had to do with the weather. Same story with Rodney Williams on punts. Andersen did connect on a 47-yard field goal.

The best play on specials for the Giants was the monster block Stoutmire got on a Barber return in the 4th quarter.

On A Rainy Night

by David Oliver

In the Meadowlands, long ago, in a solar system millions of miles from earth, the Empire sent it’s Star Ships and evil troopers to quell the rebel uprising of a band of warriors, warriors bound by a Code of Honor to the Mara Dynasty, oldest scions of the original, democratic Confederation known as the National Football League. These warriors, now known simply as the Giants, are led by the enigmatic personality of one Jim Fassel, a Mr. Roberts, Robin Williams, look alike, whose sheer force of personality has imbued them with the spirit of Gladiators. Survival was at issue in this battle. Good football was about to be extinguished. The Imperial Guard (known as The Raiders) and its followers, a bizarre, unkempt rag-tag crew of costumed and painted camp followers descended upon the battleground. The first skirmish was not pretty. Under a dark sky filled by falling dragon-seed, the valiant Giants fought , but not as one. The young were not ready for battle, the old were slowed by the weather and bad strategy. In the end, the Empire was haughty as the bedraggled, befuddled band of Giants left the field and retreated into hiding, hoping to take advantage of an Empire holiday, the Feast of the Almighty Bye. The rebels had a plan. They would transport to the heartland of evil, Dallas and attack one of the most impious and arrogant of the Empire Forces, the Cowboy Battalion. It would be the first battle of the New Millennium Drive, the Drive for respect and success. There was fear among the loyal followers of the Giants; there was doubt; there was negativism. Who will win this battle? Will the Empire succeed in its evil plan to emasculate General Strahan? Would the spiritual leader of the band, Jim Fassel, be left behind with his strategists, the Fox and the Pay-Ton? Or would the Rebel Force seize the initiative behind its irrepressible totem, the TIKI? Would Kerry and the Rebels show the mettle that led them to the brink of conquest in the last decade’s glorious battles. Only time will tell, my friends.

Here we will take a break for my homily of the week. There has been a lot going on in The Corner Forum lately. Religious discussions, political discussions, even some football discussions have gotten heated. The family has become acrimonious. The tone is often strident, but it has remained a dialogue. Almost all viewpoints have been allowed, maybe not welcomed, but allowed. There have been Christians, Christians with a personal relationship, Muslims, Jews, infidels, historicists, polemicists and many more contributors. It is all music to the ears of Carlin-ists, such as myself. God is such a difficult topic for casual conversation. Do we believe in the God of Aknahton, the Rebbes, Mohammed, or the Triune God of the Catholics? Is God really as Michelangelo portrays him, or is God the She of H. Rider Haggard and Betty Friedan? Or maybe the Germanic concept of the Weltanschaung is closer to the accurate description – a World Force? I don’t know. I was raised a Roman Catholic – I left because the education I had broadened my horizons to the point that I realized very few people really understood the importance of dogma but did invest in the doctrine of Faith. I have no Faith and I understood the Dogma enough to know I could never be good at it, so I left. I now consider myself to be a Roman. Jay Glazer and I once had this discussion about God and he told me there was only one God and he believed in that God with all his being. I told him that was just fine with me, as long as he paid Tribute (the human side of the equation), a position I find Roman, Western, civilized. Believe in one God, one Allah, one Buddha, or many Gods. There are many roads to the top of the mountain. But for me, the bottom line is give to the State that which is the State’s. I am not writing this to convince anyone, to debunk anyone or to insult anyone. I am making a pitch for literacy. A decade ago an author, Alan Bloom, wrote a book entitled THE CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND. I urge you all to go to the library and pick up a copy, or just sit and read the Preface by Saul Bellow and the Introduction by Mr. Bloom. He incidentally is an esteemed source of knowledge about Gnosticism and the Gnostics, a sect that has had a large influence on modernity.

I would love to synopsize it for you, but it is too meaningful to cut to monosyllabic rendition. Professor Bloom writes of virtue, of education, of moral and historical relativism – and his comments written a decade ago are germane in light of President Clinton’s recent speech at Georgetown – a speech which was neither wrong, nor right, merely without point, which is just the point Professor Bloom raises in his study. His discussion on God, ethics and the family is also apropos of the discussions in The Corner Forum. You don’t have to read it all, but take my word, your life will be enriched by just thinking through the issues raised in the book

The game, or as Jason Sehorn chooses to categorize it, “just a game” apparently has less meaning to those who make millions from it than it does to those of us who pay a lot to its advertisers and invest so much psychic activity in it. Sure, it’s only a game. Sure, the losers aren’t put to death as they were on the ball fields of the Americas when the Aztecs, Mayans, Olmecs and Toltecs reigned. But is a game “just a game”? I’m not so sure. The young of most mammalian species learn how to deal with life through PLAY, through GAMES. And it continues on through adulthood. Concepts such as sportsmanship, equity, solidarity, commitment, all carry over. When the guys on the assembly line don’t stay focused, the product becomes shoddy, the enterprise could disappear, the impact on society is detrimental. On and on, I could recite examples. No, football is not totemic, but if the players truly feel it’s just a game, maybe they, or Jason, in particular, should ask those single mothers he helps, just how important the game has been to their lives. For me, football is as serious as any other of the many elements of life. I didn’t feel that I ever short-changed my occupation because “it’s just the Government.” That’s part of the problem here. The attitude of so what! Financial success seems to have an affect on joie de vivre and leads to laissez faire. Just a game quickly becomes synonymous with loser.

On the other hand, the discussion on WFAN on the way home Monday was pretty funny. The guys were talking about a Serby statement, where he allegedly wrote something to the effect that these Giants were a disgrace to the uniform. It is a laugher. It’s not like the Giants to a man, have laid down on the field and said to their opponents “ravage us”. This is still a talented team, still well led, and still in position to succeed. Prior to the season, I jotted down Ws and Ls. I had Denver in the W column, but had Green Bay in the L column. I may move that Green Bay to the W column after the Dallas game. I did not count on wins in St. Louis, Minnesota, or more than a split with the Redskins and Eagles. I did have 2 Ws for the Cards, 2 Ws for Dallas, W for the Chiefs, Seattle. I firmly believe that the Giants are in a good position to run the table. And I see the Eagles and the Redskins both with a couple of losses.

Having said this, there are some issues. The papers are now getting brave and talking about rifts in the locker. Coach Fox is defending himself by stating the obvious, as he should have at the beginning of the season, and JF is starting the process of separation from his QB. Many on BBI are asking why isn’t this team, the same team as last year, winning more? The easy answer is to blame two aging offensive linemen and a receiver who has a penchant for dropping critical passes. The real answer is that this team is nowhere near the same team as last year. Last week I chronicled some of the questions. Let’s look a little deeper.

Chemistry is absolutely critical for any unit in any enterprise to succeed. Michael Jordan can’t make the Wizards winners. And Jaromir Jagr has to blend with his mates before the Caps rise to the top. The Giants didn’t make one change on defense – they changed the entire defense. Last year there was a group of familiars, they developed an instinct, a bonding, and at this time last year they made their mark. It wasn’t only the defensive rotation, it was that and the development of a system utilizing the skills of EMac (Emmanuel McDaniel) and Sehorn and a heightened effort by Dave Thomas, knowing his mates depended upon him, blended with some nice masking by the safeties. This carried the Giants over the top. Dave Thomas lacks starting corner skills, so you banish him to the pine. Okay, it had to happen. But you also jettison an entire defensive scheme which includes a journeyman corner who fits perfectly in the nickel, move your superstar all over the lot and go to the worst thing possible, two rookies, whose play inspires confidence for the future but leaves both of your safeties on an island where even the unseeing can see they don’t cover well, so can’t help the rookies. In short, this Giants defense is totally different than last year’s – and although it may be better three years from now, it is not as good this year. I mentioned that any team starting two rookies in the secondary was dreaming about the playoffs. Well, my good friend, the erstwhile Dr. Joe Mancino, a stickler for detail, looked it up and shared with me that the last team to do so was the San Francisco 49ers in 1981, with three rookies in the secondary. I believe that the Giants are going to the playoffs, so they will be in elite company on this count.

The offense has stayed relatively the same. It scores enough against average opponents and it doesn’t score enough against tough opponents. This is partly due to the conservative nature of the coaches – get a lead and let the defense win, partly due to a little less talent at particular spots, partly due to an offensive coordinator who is still learning his game, and mostly due to continual breakdowns which rotate along the line, through the backfield and out to the ends. Every one has screwed up on a play this year which could have been a score, which could have led to a really good record. Why? I don’t know, but befuddled has made a comeback; only now it is the players that are befuddled. And it has become convenient to heap abuse on two stalwart linemen because of their age. Should we wonder that there is an undercurrent of resentment? Sure they miss a block, maybe two or three a game. Who doesn’t. Here’s the rub. I don’t have stats on missed or made blocks but this is how it looks to me. The right side of the line is much better at run blocking. Funny thing is, it is the left guard pulling who leads a lot of those plays. The left side is much better at pass blocking. Funny thing is, it’s Methuselah and Noah holding down that side. The Giants’ scheme places tremendous pressure on the line. The QB does not see the field well, so he needs an extra one second. One piddly second makes all the difference in the world. In addition to needing the extra time because he doesn’t see the field, the QB is at a disadvantage because the plays are so complex. The tight end is about 15th on the list of reads, the fullback is never thrown to over the middle and the deepest threat is always sent down the sideline. Opposing defenses can and have left the middle of the field wide open. Ike is hurt, and they know it, and JJ will manhandle half of his catches, so it’s worth the risk. There are always two guys on Amani and two watching Tiki. Maybe they should activate Carter. Hell, it can’t get worse.

Those are my general observations. Football is a game of intensity, momentum and breaks. The good teams are always lucky. Last year the G-Men caught a lot of breaks. This year, they have stepped up in class and it is the other good teams that are catching the breaks. The confidence of the Giants was at a high following the Rams game. It shattered after the Eagles game and dropped off the screen following the Redskins loss. There were a few games when the O should have produced 40 points. They didn’t and it exposed the D before bonding could take place, before the newcomers fit in. But the team can put it together. The ingredients are there. Tiki Barber is back in form, Parker is healthy, Comella is playing good ball. The key is confidence. Mistakes arise from insecurity and the Coach, JF, has finally begun to recognize this.

That is why the Raiders game was so interesting. It pitted the Apollonian Fassel against the Dionysian Gruden. Intellect vs. emotion, the rational against the exuberant. I try to spend some time near the opponent’s bench and this week there was a stark contrast. The Giants’ bench is always fairly quiet. At their most excited, the Giants’ players stand along the sidelines, one or two get up on the benches. The Raiders sideline was a bustle of activity. The players are yacking and yapping the entire game. They loudly and joyously celebrate the good plays and just as joyously exhort their players to do better on the bad plays. Everyone is in motion and everyone wants to get close to the diminutive, strikingly blonde Sith Maul who leads them. His face is a battleground on good plays as well as bad plays. He rarely looks back at the bench, but his control is unmistakable. The funny part is that the Raiders bench didn’t believe this game was put away until only four minutes was left. There was a huge sigh of relief when Collins floated the bomb to a wide-open JJ. And the screaming along the sideline was “we’re doing everything possible to keep these guys in the game.” So when you read demeaning comments coming from that organization, take them with a grain of salt. The Giants are a dangerous team. Everyone seems to know it but the Giants themselves; oh, and their fans.

The Apollonian Coach, JF, realizes that a constricted sphincter is hurting this team. He is trying to loosen the reins and inject some fun into the practices. In truth, football is very Apollonian, based on the rules of math, the instinctive trigonometry and geometry allegedly resident in the male of the species. It is, after all, a game of Xs and Os. But there is the other side, the turn of the wheel, the emotive cry of a celebration, the 21st Century version of penile envy – the bonding process. This is the Dionysian element, letting loose and giving in to the fun of the game. Last year, JF recognized the team needed the Gladiators. This year, he needs to show re-runs of Hee-Haw.

Now, what about this alleged finger-pointing at Kerry Collins? Hello. BBI has acknowledged from the start, like him or not, this team would go only where Kerry carried them. Unfortunately for him, he lacks the personification of John Elway and the ability to lead a fabled comeback. He lacks the fire breathing ability of Brett Favre and his ability to lead, even in the coldest weather. He lacks the elusiveness of Jake the Snake Plummer and Doug Flutie. Actually, he is more like a Vinny Testeverde or Brad Johnson, thus his star is not fixed in orbit yet. But to say that he is not getting the job done, on a team which has received 20 flags in one game, and a near number in another, on a team on which each wide receiver has managed to mangle a scoring toss in multiple games, on a team with an offensive coordinator who needs a chart the size of Teaneck, is just unfair. But there are problems. Against the Raiders, Kerry completed 19-of-38 passes for 184 yards. But his rating was a paltry 63.9, his longest pass was 29 yards and his average was 9.7 yards. He tossed 1 to his tight end and 9 to backs. Nine went to wideouts. One of the incompletions was a nice gainer which may have gone all the way, but it was manhandled by JJ. Another was a floater to a wide open JJ, thrown so poorly that a completely out of position back was able to recover and bat it away. Fourteen possible points were left in the primordial swamp. Yes, it rained, it poured. I was standing in 2+ inches of water. Dr. Joe took off his shoes and wrung out his socks twice. That kind of rain.

Let me interject here a hero story. Rodney Williams is kicking with some kind of space age metal covering his badly injured wrist. He is taking one for the team and risking possible future limitations in the use of that wrist. Rodney isn’t complaining. He has to catch the ball, spin it to get the laces topside and kick it, all the while hoping no one gets into him and knocking him on the ground on the wrist. Rodney Williams is a stud.

Tiki Barber is playing great ball. He carried 19 times for 124 yards with a burst of a 36 yard run, and caught 5 passes for 41 yards. On WFAN they were saying Tiki ran over and through people and did it all on his own. He did go over, under and through, but he had help from Greg Comella, who also caught 4 passes, and he had some nice blocking on several runs. The photos illustrate what I am saying about the line blocking, which could be better but is not as sub par as many are saying. For me, the biggest disappointment on the line is Luke Petitgout, not Glenn Parker. Luke works hard, but this is the year he should be dominating his opposition. He’s not. Lomas Brown is not a mammoth tackle in the mold of some of these baby bears coming up. But he is savvy, uses his skills well and is a top flight pass protector. But he has lost a little edge. The Giants need to work on play-action passing more and need a consistent game plan which will allow Lomas to use his strengths, rather than exposing his weaknesses. Glenn Parker is in the same position. Is it coincidental that Tiki’s best 2 games have come since Parker has returned to form?

The wouldda, couldda, shouldaas – if JJ caught the early pass over the middle, the Giants are right in the game. If Kerry gets the ball to JJ late in the game when JJ is wide open, comeback is possible. If the Raiders didn’t have Tim Brown and Jerry Rice, the Giants would have won going away (grin). But the Raiders have them and they killed the secondary. And it was efficient in the rain. Brown caught 6-for-117 with a 46 yard howdy, mam. Rice added 3-for-65 yards with a nice 34 yard catch. Maybe the Giants secondary had their cameras in pocket and snapped shots of two future Hall of Famers as they went past, rather than tackling them?

Other than the secondary lapses the only major gaffe was an acknowledged miss of a play by Brandon Short, which allowed Garner to scamper away for a nice pick-up. Notwithstanding that, Brandon had 7 tackles and played a nice game. He is improving each week. Brandon attributes it to “being more comfortable in my position, being in the right place at the right time, which I wasn’t tonight and it cost the team.” I asked him if the defense was slow in starting and he told me, “No, we just made some mistakes early tonight, like my losing contain…” I asked what was the difference in the second half and he told me, “There are a lot of guys on this team with a lot of pride that just decided we weren’t going to get shellacked by that team. There is no quit in this team. We control our own destiny. We can win out and make the season what we wanted it to be.”

I asked Lomas Brown if a team meeting would help. Lomas thought not. He told me, “A lot of times you have a team meeting and it’s just a lot of people talking. To me, if you are going to have a team meeting, then everybody’s going to have to take this meeting to heart. You just can’t have a meeting and you go in there and the leaders on the team say what they have to say and maybe one or two people who aren’t leaders say something and you think you have your problems solved; they’re not. Guys are going to have to take the game home with them. From this point on, all of us are going to have to take the game home with us. It can’t be that we do whatever we have to do around here and then we leave, that’s it. It can’t be like that right now because we’ve got five games left, a little over one month left to go. We have to make a commitment for this month that we’re going to take this game home with us, that we’re going to make sure that we’re prepared for these games and that we’re going to go out and fight and we’re going to fight to the end. That’s the only way it’s going to get done.”

I finished up by talking to Mike Barrow. Mike is always gracious and answers everyone’s questions. By the time I got over to him, most of the players and media had long gone. Mike was finishing up with another reporter and he was talking about his routine of going back to his foundation at times like this, how he reviews his preparation, effort, technique and assignments. He is looking for an answer now, as to what exactly aren’t we doing that is having us to have this crack in our foundation (as a team). His approach is to do his job better and to hope that he inspires someone else to do his job better.

Now we are alone. It’s late, almost eerie in here. It’s just Mike and I on this whole side of the locker. Jessie is coming back into the room with a reporter and they are talking softly. It is a serious conversation, low and earnest. Mike has his head down and I remind him of last year when we talked about kicking the door down. He is very soft spoken and he starts talking, all the while thinking and he says to me, “It’s just one step away, one step away from greatness, one step away from just turning everything around. Seems like we’ve tried everything, like a baseball team. We put our caps on backwards, we sat with our legs crossed, we did everything possible. I’ve been praying, I’m going to continue to pray because I serve a God who is omniscient; he knows exactly what is going on, so we’ve just got to keep the faith. I know this is not what I saw when I came here. God told me that we were going to win some Super Bowls and I know it wasn’t just a one time thing, that I’m blessed in coming here and we’re blessed. This is not what I saw so my faith is keeping me going on; it’s not what I saw. His head was down now. He was sitting on his stool and thinking. I told him, Mike, you keep that faith and you remember those thousands of fans out there who have that faith and have faith in you. Those fans know you guys can do it. Mike looked up, stood from his stool, reached out and shook my hand and said, quietly, “thank you”, as he turned to his stall.

Serby, these guys are a credit to the uniform. To all you doubters, the challenge is ahead. If all the offense was like Lomas Brown and all the defense like Mike Barrow, there would be many rings in our future. I don’t know what the problem is, but I know this, Mike Barrow made 10 tackles, Shaun Williams 8, Brandon Short 7, Sehorn and Holmes 5, Griffin and Jessie 4 and Frankie Ferrara got in on 3. Back in the summer, the defensive guys told me that the best ball would be played in December – well, here comes December. One good outing and a lot of the problems will go away, the finger pointing and the murmuring will stop. The rack is cued up. Now we’ll see what JF really has.

Postscript: It’s a cold December Sunday on the 9th Moon of the Planet Ure-Anus, home of the Imperial Cowboys. Silently the rebel force disembarks from the flight. No one is expecting an aerial assault; everyone is discounting the ground troops. The rebels dig a deep defensive position; they have cordoned off the Cowboy Headquarters. When this battle is done, the rebels are prepared for the winged fighters from the desert. The bond is stronger than the doubt. The foundation is solid. Go Giants.

(Box Score – Oakland Raiders at New York Giants, November 25, 2001)
Nov 232001

Approach to the Game – Oakland Raiders at New York Giants, November 25, 2001: Maybe I’m naively getting caught up in all of Head Coach Jim Fassel’s positive vibes this week, but I have a good feeling about this game and the rest of the season. I think his approach to the team this week was brilliant. Contrary to his usual response after uninspiring defeats where he tightens up on the team, this week he lightened up on the guys in practice. The Giants have been playing too tightly and tensely and Fassel wants them to have fun again. Teams that play loose, usually play well.

With DT Keith Hamilton (shoulder/chest) out, the odds will be stacked against New York. The Raiders like to run the ball and Lance Legree, Ross Kolodziej, and/or Frank Ferrara will have a bulls-eye marked right on their chests. But if the Giants can slow down the Raider ground game and get their own ground attack going, I think the Giants will win on Sunday.

Giants on Offense: With the passing game making far too many mistakes and December fast approaching, it’s time for the Giants to get back to their bread-and-butter: running the football. And forget this running back by committee set-up. I like Ron Dayne, but it’s time to feature the Giants’ best player on offense: Tiki Barber. Tiki is fresh and healthy as he has not touched the ball much this year due to earlier injuries. Barber is one of the few guys on offense the Giants have who scares the opposing team and can break the big play. I’d pound Barber at the Raiders just like the Seahawks pounded the Raiders with Shaun Alexander. Then use play-action to take some shots down the field. This strategy should not expose Kerry Collins to undue pressure and allow him to excel – even against the tough Raiders’ secondary.

In order to run the ball effectively, however, New York must cut down on the number of minus yardage running plays. This means the offensive line, tight ends, and fullback must do a better job of preventing penetration into the backfield. The inside trio of RG Ron Stone, OC Dusty Zeigler, and LG Glenn Parker must be able to move the defensive tackles off the ball. RT Luke Petitgout and LT Lomas Brown also need to win their battles against the athletic ends, Regan Upshaw and Tony Bryant, respectively. In many instances, however, tight ends Dan Campbell and Howard Cross will be called to block down on these ends so it is important that they play well. FB Greg Comella must sustain his blocks at the point of attack, be it on a linebacker or defensive back.

Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard will face a tough time against corners Charles Woodson and Eric Allen. That’s why the Giants need to get their ground game going and then help out the receivers with the play-action fakes. A pass or two over the middle to Barber, Dan Campbell, or Greg Comella would help to loosen things up as well. The Raider safeties are an average lot. I think I would try to burn the aggressive Raider defense with a couple of screens and draws – and one reverse.

But to put points up on the board and win, Kerry Collins has to stop making so many bone-headed plays. At the same time, he can’t tighten up. The Giants are 5-5. Most people have already written them off. The team needs to realize that and play with no fear. Protect the ball, but go out there and take smart chances, have some fun, and make the fans proud again.

Giants on Defense: There are some interesting challenges this week for the defense. The Raiders run a West Coast Offense and like to spread the ball around in the passing game. But they also like to run the ball. Will the Raiders come out throwing or running? That is the big question. Running the ball has to be tempting with Keith Hamilton out and weakside DE Kenny Holmes and weakside LB Jessie Armstead being inconsistent against the run. At the same time, I could see Gruden wanting to isolate a back on strongside LB Brandon Short in the passing game or using one of his Hall of Fame wide receivers to expose the rookie corners (keep in mind that Will Allen has an eye injury too).

Whichever is the case, the Giants must play much, much better up front than they did last week against the Vikings. DE Michael Strahan faces RT Lincoln Kennedy and Holmes will battle against LT Matt Stinchcomb. Inside, the Giants really need DT Cornelius Griffin to step it up and have a breakout game against both the run and the pass. He battles RG Mo Collins, but will most likely see double-team support from the center at times. Lance Legree will probably start at the other tackle spot, with Ross Kolodziej and maybe Frank Ferrara seeing playing time. They will face savvy vet Steve Wisniewski.

Like the Giants, the Raiders use a running back-by-committee approach. Charlie Garner is having a fine comeback year. He has good moves and speed and is a dangerous player if he gets into the open field. Jessie Armstead, Mike Barrow, and Brandon Short need to slam him to the turf near the line of scrimmage. To do so, they must avoid the lead blocking of Jon Ritchie (Greg Comella’s teammate at Stanford). The Raiders will also bring in Tyrone Wheatley, Terry Kirby, and Zack Crockett at different times of the game. All four backs can catch the ball so the linebackers need to keep an eye on them in pass coverage too. Kirby, in particular, is a valuable third down back for Oakland. TE Roland Williams is more of a blocker than receiver, but he can catch ball as well.

When the Raiders pass, the key will be to get heat on Rich Gannon. That’s tough because he’s another one of these damn mobile quarterbacks who you need to maintain disciplined pass rush lanes against. That hurts the ability of the defensive line to free-lance a bit and makes their rush lanes more predictable. But it is important because Gannon can keep a drive alive on third down with his feet. The secret to defeating Gannon is to get him out of rhythm. Get pressure in his face immediately up the gut. I’d blitz Barrow or Armstead or Shaun Williams on a few occasions. The Raider passing game is a timing offense…therefore, disrupt the timing.

The Giants’ secondary didn’t play well last week. The main culprits were Jason Sehorn and Williams. This week Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown come to town. Both are big, strong, physical, and have the annoying ability to get deep despite their age. Sehorn needs to have one of his best games of the year and Will Allen has to play like a veteran. The most athletic receiver on the Raider roster is Joey Porter – watch out for him. It’s time for Williams and Sam Garnes to make some game-deciding plays.

Giants on Special Teams: Knock on wood, but the Giants’ coverage teams have gotten much better in recent weeks. Rodney Williams performed surprisingly well last week given his wrist injury. Now only if the Giants could break a punt or kick return. Ron Dixon was yanked during the game last week for his chicken-shit approach to returning kickoffs. He gets one more shot to impress on Sunday (largely because the Giants don’t have anyone good to replace him). It will be interesting to see how he responds. Of course with the strong-legged Sebastian Janikowski kicking off, he may not get a chance (let’s hope that Dixon doesn’t do the foolish thing and attempt to return a kick from deep inside his own end zone).

Nov 222001
Minnesota Vikings 28 – New York Giants 16

Game Overview: Too inconsistent. That sums it up for me. The occasional excellent play on offense or defense cannot surmount the repeated mistakes that lead to stalled drives on offense and surrendered opportunities on defense. Kerry Collins throws a great pass on one play, then gets flustered in the pocket on the next. The defense does a good job on first and second down, but gives up the first on third down. The inconsistency is killing the Giants and their season.

Offensively, we fans sometimes look too hard at the trees instead of the overall forest. What it ultimately comes down to is that the Giants don’t score enough points. It’s a challenge week in and week out for this team to break the 20 point barrier. The play-calling is suspect at times, but the real reason why the Giants are not scoring more is the inconsistent play of Kerry Collins, the offensive line, and the wide receivers. I know Jim Fassel and Sean Payton want to open up the offense more, but New York is making too many mistakes in the passing game right now. It’s time to go in the opposite direction, choose one back (Tiki Barber), and pound the ball.

Say what you want about the Vikings, but they still have a dangerous quarterback and starting receivers. The Giants played awfully soft in the secondary on Monday night and the pass rush was strangely quiet. It looks to me like the Giants didn’t give Minnesota enough respect and got burned.

Quarterback: Kerry Collins is driving me crazy. He looks great on one play and then looks like a chicken-shit, flustered idiot on the next. I can’t understand how such a big, strong quarterback like Collins is so afraid of the pass rush. Too often, at the slightest hint of pressure, he starts moving laterally in the pocket (though there were also a lot of called rollouts on Monday too). Sometimes this works and there were plays where Collins made rocket throws on the move for completions or what should have been completions. But there are times when he does this, doesn’t get his feet set, and the ball sails on him. There are a few times when he stands tough in the pocket, steps up into despite the rush, and makes a strong throw. If he did this on a regular basis, he would be an elite quarterback. But he doesn’t so he’s not.

Let’s look at the first drive as an example of his inconsistency. On the first play, he has time but badly overthrows Ike Hilliard deep. On the next play, he feels pressure and scrambles to his right. He makes a perfect throw despite not setting his feet, but Joe Jurevicius bobbles the ball. He fires the ball to Toomer on the next play for a first down. Then comes an excellent play where he steps up into the pocket, despite the rush, and hits Dan Campbell over the middle for a 25 yard gain. Then comes the bonehead play that costs the Giants’ 4-points. On a designed rollout, Kerry throws too far to the outside and misses a wide open Jurevicius for an easy touchdown. The Giants are forced to settle for three points.

The play that pissed me off the most was his decision to bring the ball down and scramble up the gut right before halftime. There were only 12 seconds left and the ensuing sack hurt (Morten Andersen’s field goal attempt hit the cross bar).

Another drive providing an good example of his nauseating inconsistency was the first drive of the second half. Collins made a wonderful throw over the middle to Hilliard for 20 yards. Then behind perfect protection, he made another excellent throw, this time to Ron Dixon for 32 yards. On the very next play however, he was pressured and threw up a duck that should have been intercepted. Terrible decision.

The worst drive was the one that came right after Minnesota took the lead in the 4th quarter, 21-16. Needing a long drive not only to respond with points, but also to provide the defense with some rest, the Giants went 3-and-out. Collins fumbled the center exchange, underthrew Toomer due to pressure in his face, and then badly overthrew Toomer on a pass that should have been intercepted. The Giants punt, the Vikings score, and the game is out of reach.

The book on Collins in a nutshell? Too many mistakes. Three fumbles (a fourth was called back due to a penalty on the Vikes). The two interceptions weren’t his fault, but there were three other passes that landed right in the hands of Viking defenders that should have been intercepted that were his fault. The fumbles are most disconcerting because the Giants worked with Kerry on that all week in practice before the game.

Wide Receivers: Some excellent plays, but there were poor plays too. Again, the damn inconsistency. Despite playing in pain, Ike Hilliard is the Giants’ best wide receiver this season. He had 6 catches for 106 yards against the Vikings including a real nice 32-yarder and 25-yarder late in the second quarter. The first set up a field goal and the second should have set up a field goal if it weren’t for Collins bonehead play mentioned above. But Hilliard’s dropped pass late in the 4th near the goal line was intercepted and this play prevented any dramatic comeback attempt. Inexcusable.

Amani Toomer (5 catches for 60 yards) and Joe Jurevicius (3 catches for 42 yards) were too quiet when you consider (1) the state of the Minnesota secondary, and (2) the fact that the Giants passed far more than they ran. Toomer was flagged with two offensive pass interference calls (though one was questionable). The first stalled a promising drive in the second quarter. The last occurred right before Hilliard’s drop. He was also flagged with a false start when the Giants had a 1st-and-goal at the Minnesota 10-yard line two minutes before halftime (the Giants settled for 3-points here). What is most disappointing to me about Toomer this year is the lack of big plays from him. I expected more from him in 2001. Jurevicius really didn’t make a lot of noise until late in the game. His dropped pass on 3rd-and-2 on a very promising drive on the Giants’ third possession forced New York to settle for yet another field goal. Ron Dixon finally made a play as a wide receiver, making a very nice catch for 32 yards. However, he also was flagged for a false start.

Offensive Line: At times, the offensive line provided rock solid protection, but there were too many other plays where the pressure was getting to Collins (though to be fair to the line, Collins’ jumpiness in the pocket sometimes makes the line look bad). What was most disturbing is that the Giants should have dominated up front against a below average opponent, but didn’t. DT Chris Hovan (as I feared in my preview) gave the Giants problems with his quick first step (he got off the ball a few plays faster than the line). The run blocking was even more inconsistent as there were a couple of big Tiki Barber runs, but not much room on the other opportunities. The four times Ron Dayne got the ball, he never had a chance. To be frank, the Vikings played with more fire in their bellies than the Giants did up front – simply put, they wanted it more.

RT Luke Petitgout did not have a good game. He had a few problems in pass protection with the outside rush, including on the Giants’ first drive where Collins was sacked on 3rd-and-goal from the 11 yard line (Lomas Brown also got beat on this play). He got a nice kick-out block on Barber’s 29-yard run. Luke was flagged with a false start and holding penalty (the latter being declined).

Lomas Brown also had a false start and had some problems in pass protection. Aside from the play mentioned above, he and Glenn Parker allowed quick pressure on the play where Collins’ was almost picked off near the goal line in the third quarter. It was Brown’s man who hit Collins’ hand on his last pass that was intercepted. Lomas did a nice job on the goal line with Glenn Parker and FG Greg Comella on Tiki’s one-yard TD run.

The inside trio of Glenn Parker, Dusty Zeigler (until he was forced to leave with a concussion), and Ron Stone had their problems too. Parker was flagged with a false start. Zeigler gave up an early pass pressure on the first drive. Zeigler, Stone, and Comella did a nice job on Barber’s 24-yard draw play on the first drive. Hovan gave Stone fits at times with his quick first step. Poor pass protection by Stone, Jason Whittle, and Lomas Brown forced Collins to throw too soon on 3rd-and-8 on the Giants’ second drive of the second half.

Against a good opponent, these miscues would have been more understandable, but the Vikings were not a good opponent. And some of the Viking blitzes were not blocked well (sometimes the fault of the line, other times the backs).

Tight Ends/Fullback: For those who haven’t noticed it, Cross does see quite a bit of action, but Dan Campbell has taken his job from him. Cross had a very good block on Barber’s 29 yard run. Dan Campbell had two catches for 29 yards, including a nice 25-yarder where he faked the linebacker out. This type of play will really open things up for the receivers if the Giants choose to employ it more. However, Campbell’s blocking was subpar this week. He gave up one pass pressure and his miss blocked in the second quarter on a Ron Dayne run allowed the play to lose five yards.

Greg Comella was too inconsistent as well. He had some excellent blocks such as his lead block on Barber’s 24-yarder on the first drive and his 29-yarder on the next drive. But Comella also missed the block on the cornerback on 2nd-and-goal from the five and Tiki was nailed for a six yard loss on the play (the Giants had to settle for a field goal two plays later). Comella also missed another block on the cornerback on another Barber run (this time to the left side) in the third quarter.

Halfbacks: Anyone who criticizes Ron Dayne’s running in the Viking game is an idiot. Go back to the tape and look at all four runs – he had absolutely nowhere to go on all four runs (if anything, one of his positive runs should have also been nailed for a loss but he made a nifty move in the backfield to avoid the tackler). If you want to criticize Dayne for anything, criticize him for his dropped pass.

What is clear is that the Giants have spent a high #1 draft pick on a back-up running back. The team obviously did not anticipate Tiki Barber’s emergence in 2000. Ron Dayne is the type of back who needs to get the ball 20+ times a game to be truly effective. He’s not getting this with Barber on the team and I doubt he ever will. In hindsight, the selection of Dayne was a terrible decision by the Giants as he doesn’t not fit in here.

It’s time for the Giants to feed the ball to Tiki Barber 20+ times a game for the remainder of the season. Tiki is fresh and fits better with the current Giants’ offensive line. Most importantly, he’s the best offensive player on the team. Ride your best horse.

Tiki had two big runs (for 24 yards and 29 yards) and one big catch (for 31 yards). For some strange reason, the Giants went away from him after his two big early runs.

Defensive Line: Had their moments, but in all honesty, Daunte Culpepper had way too much time – especially for such a one-dimensional offense. The best game up front was played by DE Kenny Holmes (8 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery). Holmes’ sack came on a play where the Giants had only a 3-man rush and Holmes was also being eyed by the left guard. But Kenny kept fight and hustling, stripped the ball, and recovered the fumble. He had some other moments too on the pass rush getting into Culpepper’s face on a few occasions (for example he had a very strong rush on the play immediately preceding his sack). His run defense was pretty strong too except for one play. On the Vikings’ first drive, he nailed the halfback for a four yard loss. Holmes later combined with Keith Hamilton to stuff the fullback for a one-yard loss on 2nd-and-3. The down side was the Kenny was flagged with two offsides penalties and wasn’t as consistent as I hoped in his rush – given the quality of his opponent. He got caught too far inside on Michael Bennett’s 16-yard run in the second quarter too. Holmes and Will Allen got suckered on Culpepper’s bootleg in the 4th quarter.

The rest of the line was too much of a non-factor. Yes, there were a few obvious plays where DE Michael Strahan was being held or double-teamed, but for the most part he was embarrassed by RT Chris Liwienski. There were a few pressures (including on one of Will Allen’s interceptions), but not nearly enough. Strahan should have dominated this match-up and didn’t. Keith Hamilton (1 tackle) was pretty invisible except for his 15-yard face mask penalty. It was interesting to note however that I still spotted him being double-teamed quite often. Regardless, one of the biggest reasons why New York is struggling this year is Hamilton’s dislocated shoulder that has caused him to miss some important games that were narrowly decided against the Giants as well as limit his effectiveness in others. DT Cornelius Griffin, despite the presence of Strahan to his left and Hamilton to his right, was way too quiet (4 tackles).

This was an opponent that the Giants should have dominated up front and didn’t. Just like the Giants’ offensive line. That was huge reason why New York lost the game.

Linebackers: Way too quiet. There were a couple of sacks (one by Mike Barrow and one by Jessie Armstead). Both came on plays where the linebackers shot into the backfield after Culpepper started to scramble around. Armstead (5 tackles) did a nice job of defending an option play, but the old Jessie seems to be gone for good. Not only is he not making many plays, but he’s also missing tackles now (something he never used to do). It’s embarrassing to see him congratulate himself publicly after the very few plays he makes now. I did like one run force he had early in the game, but he missed the tackle. Mike Barrow (9 tackles) made an excellent hit and tackle on the fullback on 3rd-and-1 for no gain at the beginning of the fourth quarter. But he also got faked out by Culpepper on a quarterback draw play.

Brandon Short (4 tackles) started the game on a strong note with a very sure tackle for no gain on Michael Bennett, but didn’t make much noise after that. He had some problems staying with Minnesota’s pass receiving tight end.

Defensive Backs: Chris Carter is right. Jason Sehorn (3 tackles, 1 pass defensed) is the most overrated (and I say overpaid) corner in the game. He has some absolutely great games, but follows them up with some games where one or two mental mistakes cost the Giants dearly. There is that word again – inconsistent. He gave the Vikings a touchdown when he somehow blitzed on play where he wasn’t supposed to blitz and left Randy Moss all alone for an easy touchdown. He played soft most of the night too. For such a big corner, Jason doesn’t like to get his jersey dirty.

Will Allen (5 tackles, 2 interceptions) fell down on Randy Moss’ last touchdown and this contributed to putting the game away, but I thought he played his best game of the year against a top-notch opponent (Moss). His two interceptions were both outstanding in that he ripped the ball away from the receiver in both occasions. I particularly liked his closing speed that he flashed on the second interception on Moss in the end zone. Allen rarely gets beat deep and if he can start playing aggressively like this underneath, than the Giants may truly have a Pro Bowl corner soon someday (and his name won’t be Sehorn). The down side to Allen’s game was the 39-yard pass interference penalty that set up the Vikings’ first TD. If Allen had turned around to play the ball, he would have been fine on this play.

Like Sehorn, Will Peterson played too soft in this game. I think all the Giant corners were concerned about getting beat deep and this really opened things up underneath for the Vikes with some easy pass completions. One play that kept hurting the Giants was the swing pass to Randy Moss as he came in motion. Peterson had problems against Chris Carter on a couple of important short catches on third down that kept drives alive. There was another play where Peterson had real tight coverage on Moss, but failed to turn around in time to play the ball. I thought the pass interference penalty on Peterson on 3rd-and-9 in the third quarter was bullshit however. It was good, tight coverage.

Shaun Williams (6 tackles) had his worst game of the year – the type of game that may have cost him a Pro Bowl spot. He should have picked off or knocked down the TD pass that Moss caught on Minnesota’s first drive. It was an easy play and he blew it. Later, the game was put out of reach when Allen slipped down in coverage and Williams took the wrong angle on Moss, allowing him to sprint to a 57-yard TD. Shaun had a couple of big hits, but those two plays were huge. Sam Garnes (2 tackles) wasn’t exposed in coverage as far as I could tell. The pass interference call on him was somewhat questionable if you ask me too.

Special Teams: Rodney Williams, except for one poor punt, performed well. His first punt (53 yarder) was called back, but he followed that up with a 51-yarder. His second was a 62-yarder. But his last effort was a short and low punt for 36 yards.

Morten Andersen’s kick-offs were acceptable. He also hit three of four field goals (43 yards, 36 yards, and 51 yards). His 52-yarder right before halftime missed by inches.

Tiki Barber returned one punt, but couldn’t do anything with it. Ron Dixon was so tentative and in indecisive on his kick returns that he was benched. Damon Washington and Omar Stoutmire replaced him, but showed no explosion. The Giants should think about activating Jonathan Carter from the Practice Squad.

Except for one kick return (that was returned for 34 yards), the punt and kick-off coverage teams were fine with Dhani Jones, Thabiti Davis, and Dave Thomas making plays.

Offensive Line Review

by Chris Jacobs

When I went to bed Monday night all I could think about was seeing the pocket collapse around Collins all night and how bad the O-Line played. Tuesday I spent most of the day not working, but on The Corner Forum trying to defend Collins knowing well that he would be getting hammered all day by those who are not fans of his. Then I watched the tape. There were two things on the tape that stood out. The first was the O-Line didn’t really play that bad, each of them had breakdowns at inopportune moments but it wasn’t as horrible as I thought. They other was that the backs and the tight ends when asked to stay in to help with the pass protection was horrible. Actually I should qualify that with saying Dan Campbell was absolutely terrible pass and run blocking. (Howard Cross did a good job) And both Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne failed to pick up blitzing linebackers or was beat by a D-Lineman occasionally, contributing to the harassment Collins took. I’m not giving Collins a pass here because he did not play well either, he has to protect the ball and many of his throws were not accurate. A few were not his fault as he was being hit as he threw. The Vikings defensive front is small and quick which usually plays to the Giants strengths, but they looked like they were playing in mud the entire game. It was a good game plan on the part of the Vikings because when given time Collins could have killed them. Just look at how he marched the team down the field late in the game when they blitzing stopped.

Lomas Brown 80%: A common theme this entire season has been consistency and I’ll use the word over and over again especially in this review. One thing that I remember from grading Lomas last season, is that he seemed to get tired late in games and that would sometimes hurt his grade, however with many late leads it wouldn’t hurt the team. So it seems that this season instead of getting tired late he seems to be coming out of the gate slow. By this I mean I broke his grading down to quarters and he graded out much better in the 2nd and 4th quarter than the 1st and 3rd. I’m going to keep an eye on this moving forward, maybe that is contributing to the Giants slow starts in games.

Glenn Parker 88%: Many will be shocked by this one. He graded out the highest of any of the linemen. Maybe he’s finally getting in football shape after missing camp. Played solid all game. Many times as the pocket collapsed around Collins, Parkers man didn’t go anywhere. He also did a real nice job on Tiki’s touchdown which allowed him to walk into the end zone. He did miss his block at the point of attack when Tiki was caught for the 6 yard loss down near the goal line early, but to his credit there was a total collapse (Dan Campbell) and by time he pulled and got there three guys were in the backfield. I also had him giving up one sack in the 1st half. Besides that the only good thing I can say about him is he seems to be improving in an offense that is regressing.

Dusty Ziegler 85%: On a couple of bad plays I couldn’t tell if he missed his man or if he was sliding off of him to try and chip a blitzing backer. The pressure up the middle was coming all game and he was really fighting to slow it down. On the second play of the game a blitz came up the middle Collins was flushed to the right and missed Joe Jurevicius. Well, the were trying to set up a screen to the left but because Dusty failed to lay a glove on the backer the play was completely busted. If anyone is interested on how he was hurt, it was on the last play of the half when the missed FG bounced off the crossbar, he was chasing the defender who had the ball and he was clobbered.

Jason Whittle 85%: Barring the fumbled snap in the 3rd Quarter he made no glaring mistakes and played solid. The Vikings stopped blitzing in the 4th quarter making his job a little easier. In comparison to Ziegler, Whittle seems to be a little bigger and stronger but not as quick. There are a couple of running plays the Giants run where the center pulls, I don’t know if he could handle that assignment as well as Ziegler but so far he’s played well when called upon this season.

Ron Stone 80%: Well he certainly has not been playing up to his Pro Bowl status, but to his credit he has a bum shoulder and i can tell you from experience it’s very difficult to play any position in football with a bad shoulder. Now that being said, his main weakness this season has been getting beat off the line with a quick move. It happened once or twice this game but it really looked like the Vikes jumped offsides and it wasn’t called. On one play the tackle came across the line before the ball was snapped and stopped knowing he jumped and pointed to Stone to try and pass the blame. No call. So he kept doing it. Why not, they’re not calling it. There was one play where his man sacked Collins but it wasn’t his fault because Collins felt some phantom pressure and just sort of fell into him. With a bye week coming up hopefully he can get his shoulder healed up. (His level of play isn’t going to help him get that big contract he’s looking for).

Luke Petigout 78%: This was probably his worst game of the season. He was getting beat by the speed rush and sometimes was bull rushed into Collins. You could tell he was frustrated because he got himself ejected late in the game. I had him giving up 2 sacks in the first half and then one in the second half along with a false start and a holding penalty. I also couldn’t tell if he missed his block or not on the play that Tiki was caught behind the line for the 6 yard loss. I don’t think it was his assignment but I couldn’t tell.

Minnesota Blues

by David Oliver

I had decided not to write a review of this game, but, well, what the hell, why not? It will be a thought piece as much as review.

There were some positives:

I saved plane fare
I was not subjected to any abuse in long lines
I slept in my own bed – well, sort of slept
There are no more Monday night games

There are no real explanations, rationalizations or excuses for last night. We witnessed another Monday night performance by the Giants. I am chalking it up to that and nothing more. The Giants simply have not been able to play well on Monday night, regardless of the opponent, the year or the setting. But I will say this: after reading SOTI’s comments yesterday, like many of you, I knew this was going to be a long, rough night. Knowing SOTI, I rely on the veracity of his comments, so I have a simple suggestion:


The defense, rather than mocking the other team’s defense, should look at tapes of their own offense. In fact, after playing their own offense, the defense should offer some suggestions to the coaches. To feel the way they apparently did about any team in the NFL, but in particular about a team that plays well at home, has beaten a contender like the Packers, and is playing an emotional game retiring the number of one of their own, shows a lack of character not usually associated with Giants teams.

This game was lost in last year’s off-season. There were two key re-signings needed – Jason Sehorn and Christian Peter. Sehorn was signed, but at a price so ridiculous that it negated the possibility of Peter. Why were these two necessary. Sehorn is a play maker and when healthy and mentally prepared is a difference-maker. Also, there was no one else of his caliber available. Peter because he was an excellent rotation man for the Giants and for Fox’s schemes. Sharing the tackle position with Griffin or Hamilton gave the Giants a solid middle.

Cutting Ryan Hale was a major gaffe. He was just coming into his own as a tough sub – another rotation man. He and big George Williams helped maintain defensive intensity, Incidentally, a thought came to me during the Eagles game, at the end, when Fox was exhorting the D to block the extra point. The only two blocks in the last two years were made by the Hale-Williams combo. Was a potential win over the Eagles worth 500,000? Maybe, maybe not – second guessing is wonderful. Lance Legree is a keeper, Ross Kolodziej was not a good fit in lieu of either of the other two, more expensive linemen.

Why bring up old news? Because this defensive front is dinged to the point of not getting the job done. Strahan’s back is bothering him, Hamilton is not 100%, Griffin’s ankle has not been good all year, even Legree is hurt. Okay, it’s that time of the year that all NFL players are dinged up. The lack of a front line rotation is hurting the Giants.

The cornerbacks. Forget future greatness. An NFL team today will have trouble winning with one rookie corner. Two in the game together is a recipe for disaster. The Giants are dreaming if they think they can pull it off with two rookies.

There were offensive line backups available who could have helped. The Giants chose to stand pat. The line has not regressed; it just hasn’t improved. With the film review in the League today, and a much tougher schedule, the O line had to improve; it hasn’t. Ergo, bad games against good teams.

I always try to keep in mind that there are two teams on the field, two sets of coaches, different playing conditions at home than on the road. These are factors and important factors. Motivation is a critical component in the victory equation. Last night, the players didn’t execute, but the coaching staff went in with a bad game plan, couldn’t make adjustments and was out-coached. It happens.

Offensive woes: Two words – Kerry Collins. Playing with the St. Louis Rams, he would be Kurt Warner. Playing with the Giants, he is Craig Morton or Norm Snead. Kerry has one of the finest arms in football. My son keeps telling me, yeah, just like Jeff George. Last night, his lack of field presence was so obvious that Dan Fouts remarked on it. When a pocket forms, Kerry runs. When the protection breaks down, Kerry runs. Problem is he runs laterally and he runs like a giraffe. I’d like to blame the line but I can’t. The line is playing just as it did last year.

Offensive woes: Play selection – Hey, these guys can run the two minute drill to perfection. Just switch to a full time hurry up and the G-Men will get that 40 points. Now, can anyone tell me why, if the coaches felt the Vikings had no defense, why couldn’t the Giants put this one away? Stats again are deceiving. Remember when we used to beg for a 300 yard game? Well, now we get them – so how about a meaningful 300 yard game. Balance has become ritual. Pass, pass, run. Run, run, pass. It appeared that the Vikings CONSISTENTLY put at least 7 men at or on the line and often rushed 8. Is their secondary so great that the Giants couldn’t just as consistently hit the middle zone. Nice pass to Dan Campbell, then never seen again except when missing blocks. This was not the old Chicago Bears that the Giants played. Three and out is inexcusable.

Offensive woes: Ron Dayne? – Yes, I said at the beginning of the season that Dayne would get 1,000 yards this year. Mea Culpa, slip of the finger – one too many zeroes. But with only four carries a game, duh? I said last week that Dayne was being Wheatly-ized; well, it’s worse than that. Ron Dayne is not the Bus, he is not Natrone Means. He is a space runner. You know what I mean – Alan Faneca and Sam Gash out front and Nellie bar the door. That is not a knock on Glenn Parker or Greg Comella. They do the job just fine for Tiki. Dayne is not Tiki. He has no acceleration out of the gate, but once he gets moving, he is a freight train. The game plan is built around Tiki, and Tiki is hitting his form. The Giants need to make some adjustments for Dayne. The only immediate thing I can come up with is the two back set with both on the field, and Comella as the H-Back. This is not and apparently will never be a tight end friendly offense, so give Mike Rosenthal a tight end number and put him out there to block.

It goes on and on. Kerry has never impressed me with his ability to throw when moving. He throws to his right and tries to zing it down the sidelines. TD to Joe Jurevicius, NOT. Important completed first down passes, NOT. Even the sage, Dennis Miller said that it looked as if KC was throwing across his body on roll outs, only he was moving to his right. Blame the line – no way. Seven or eight on 5 and a half, and the larger number will win every time. That’s why the two minute offense is so effective. The Giants offensive planning apparently has nothing in the arsenal to beat the stack defense. Until the dink pass appears, the Giants line will look bad. The receivers – not bad. JJ murdered one, Ike let the last one fly off into space, Amani got caught touching a defender, but 300 yards is not bad. Ike gave a heroic effort all night. Back to off season and Santana Moss – speed wins. The Giants like speed. The Giants apparently like Santana Moss. Ergo, the GM makes the move necessary to get a game breaker. NOT. The Giants philosophically won’t trade next year’s #1. Pulleeze. So maybe soon they’ll have a number 1 and find another Rocky Thompson. Second guessing is wonderful. The only saving grace is that we started before the first guess, so we can’t be wrong, right?

Tiki played like Lightning. Just not enough Tiki.

Defensive woes: Rookie corner backs. Peterson was turned inside out – no adjustment was made to help him. If I saw one more 3-yard pass to Chris Carter on the sideline, in front of Peterson, I would have cried. Peterson is a rookie. He may turn out to be a great corner. I think he will. But he has got to learn that the NFL is aggression. He cannot sit back because the QBs and receivers will take what he gives all day – and they did. Allen saved 2 TDs on bad defensive stands by being aggressive. He didn’t stop the pass, he stole it. Good for Allen. Nice performance.

Defensive woes: Safeties. No running game, so help on the passes, NOT. Sam Garnes had what was probably his worst game as a Giant. Shaun Williams had one of those regression games. Big hitter, can’t cover. Inexcusable play on the TD. Just a bad night for both. Chalk it up to Monday night and the New Moon.

Defensive woes: Yes, Michael Strahan was held a number of times. No, Michael did not have a good game. A tackle named Liwienski, or something like that, beat him. Not pretty. Michael tried hard all night. He put out the effort, just didn’t get the results. Hammer is obviously still hurting, Griffin is definitely hurting. Kenny Holmes had a decent night. Even the linebackers suffered. Brandon Short disappeared. Jessie and Mike had some nice plays, but not up to standards. I wonder what the Vikings were saying about the Giants’ defense? The nickel didn’t work, the dime didn’t work. The Vikings ground the D into the turf in the third and early fourth quarters. John Fox was out-coached. It happens.

The offense did not do enough to help the defense. The offense did not do enough to help the offense. What would I like to see? Well, it’s come down to this – the Redskins are poised to overtake the Giants. That is the ultimate indignity. It is conceivable that the team can regroup and beat the Raiders. Conceivable, but not likely. That’s why I’m rooting hard for the Giants this week. Should the team lose, however, it is time to move on. I’d like to see Jessie James Palmer play out the season. If the Giants can go with two rookie corners, why not a QB? Kerry Collins is pressing. As a result, the mistakes are mounting. He is a fine QB, under optimum conditions. But when you are compared to Trent Dilfer and Tony Banks, well, maybe some watching time will do him good. My son taunting me brings this very ugly image of Kerry Collins fading into Jeff George – I see a huge mechanized arm – the rest is a blur.

The first 15 plays are scripted. Okay, fine. Come back after the bye week – another delightful event for any Giants team, and script this. First 7 plays, hand off to Ron Dayne. Next 7 plays, throw to Dan Campbell. With the 15th play, just tell the QB to call an audible. That ought to keep us all happy. Seriously, the Giants must make up their minds what exactly is their offensive philosophy. Balance always sounds so professional. When a defense puts 7 or 8 in the box and dares you to do something, do it, break their rhythm and then get balanced.

It really seems as if the team invested everything in the Rams game. Losing that, they are drifting and getting beaten by lesser teams, to the point that the Giants are now one of the lesser teams. It’s not lack of effort. It might be Super Bowl hang-over. The penalties amassed in the Rams game and the Vikings game are indicative of something – coaches all like to say that part of the game is on them. So coaches, stand up and take the blame.

I really don’t like apologies, but I don’t like smugness either. A simple, we the Giants, are sorry, would go a long way. Denial is sorrowful; recognition is the key to recovery. The team is 5 and 5; the season is half-full or half-empty; there is still a chance, that’s why they play the game. And that’s why I will be out there screaming and yelling on Sunday and hoping that the hunted can turn around and become the hunter. That’s why I am rooting harder than ever for our Giants. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Remember the families of those we have lost. Think about the goodness of America. Root hard on Sunday. Go Giants.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, November 19, 2001)
Nov 172001

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, November 19, 2001: Football is pure Darwinism, that is, survival of the fittest. If you don’t compete and excel, then you don’t win. You don’t go the playoffs and you certainly are not given a chance to win the ultimate prize. No excuses. Don’t blame the schedule, injuries, fate, or the Monday night hex.

My point? The Eagles are playing damn good football. The thumped the Vikings and Cowboys back-to-back. Two weeks ago, the Giants were lucky to escape with a win against the Cowboys. Now, they get the Vikings. This is a team the Giant should beat. If they don’t, then the Eagles deserve to win the division – not the Giants. Its in their own hands. Now go out there and kick some ass!

Giants on Offense: The Vikings have a bad defense. There is no reason why the Giants should not be able to move the ball and put up at least 24 points on this team. I don’t care if the Giants are playing against a team that is looking for revenge. As long as the Giants come mentally ready to play, talent wins ball games.

I think the Giants should be able to use a well-balanced strategy in this game in terms of run versus pass. The Vikings’ secondary is in a bit of chaos, but it will be helped by return of Robert Griffith – the Vikes’ best defender and one of the very best safeties in the game. It should also be helped by the addition of Dale Carter at left corner. Carter has had his problems off the field and been out of football for a while, but he is a superb athlete. Carter will be matched up on Ike Hilliard. Amani Toomer faces rookie CB Eric Kelly when the Vikes are in their base set (Kelly moves over to the slot in the nickel). While Kelly will likely be given help with Toomer, there is no reason for Toomer not to have one of his best games of the year as long as Kerry Collins is on target. It’s time for Toomer to stand up and make some plays – he’s been paid a lot of money to do so. The Giants will probably use a lot of 3-WR sets in this game (like the NFC Championship) and could even use some 4-WR sets in order to get more weak defensive backs on the field. This could be Ron Dixon’s chance to make a play as a receiver finally this year. Tyrone Carter is the new starter at free safety this week.

The Giants could take another route and, opposite of the NFC Championship Game, come out with a running strategy. If so, the Giants would not throw the ball from multiple sets as much. When the Giants do pass, Tiki Barber, Greg Comella, and Dan Campbell could be used more as underneath targets. Campbell had a great week of practice and Barber is starting to round into shape. The latter fact is good news if the Giants do decide to run a lot.

In order to move the ball, the Giants need to control the line of scrimmage. The only one up front who really concerns me is DT Chris Hovan. He is a physical, competitive presence with good mobility for an inside player. He can be disruptive and LG Glenn Parker will have his hands full with him. LT Lomas Brown faces Talance Sawyer on run downs and Lance Johnstone on passing downs. Likewise, on the right side, Luke Petitgout battles Stalin Colinet on run downs and Patrick Chukwurah on pass downs. Winfield Garnett is the other tackle. As you can, these guys are not exactly household names. WLB Ed McDaniel is a decent player. The middle backer is Kailee Wong and the strongside backer is Lemanski Hall.

Offensively, the Giants need the offensive line to dominate and for QB Kerry Collins to make plays while keeping mistakes to a minimum. If these two things happen, the Giants should win easily.

Giants on Defense: The big thing is prevent the Vikings from making the big play deep to their talented wide receivers. Don’t let the Vikings get points quickly or easily and the Giants should be alright. That is sometimes easier said than done. They key match-ups will be WR Randy Moss versus CB Jason Sehorn and WR Chris Carter against CB Will Allen. Sehorn has been getting beat some deep this year and you can bet your ass that Daunte Culpepper will test him deep. At the same time, Carter is a master of running routes underneath. Allen, as a rookie, likes to play off more in order not to get beat deep. This may be a good idea since Carter has been running deeper routes this year, but at the same time, Allen may give up some cheap completions underneath. If this occurs too much, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the more aggressive Will Peterson play over Carter.

What everyone, including Sehorn, has to be wary of is that the Viking wide receivers like to push off a lot. This is illegal, but Minnesota tends to get away with it quite a bit in their home dome. Last week, David Boston’s push off against Sehorn came on Arizona’s lone TD play. Also, Jake Reed is back with Vikings – most Giants fans will remember his name from the infamous ‘97 playoff game.

Because of their talented wide receiving corps and their big, strong-armed quarterback, the quality of the pass rush will be most important. DE Kenny Holmes should finally have his break-out game. LT Brad Badger (toe) is not likely to play. His replacement, Everett Lindsay, is more of a swingman, guard-type. Holmes’ outside rush should give him fits. The Giants also need a big game from Keith Hamilton who will be playing over Calvin Collins – the third-string guard. Both Holmes and Hamilton have to destroy the left side of the line or the Giants may be in trouble. DE Michael Strahan will face RT Chris Liwienski and that’s another match-up New York must win. DT Cornelius Griffin faces off against RG David Dixon. The center, Matt Birk, is a Pro Bowler.

The Vikings will try to take some pressure off of their line and Culpepper by attempting to run the ball. First rounder Michael Bennett is back this week after missing three games due to an injury. He has breakaway speed, but he isn’t a very tough runner. Mike Barrow, Jessie Armstead, and Brandon Short need to pound him. They also need to keep an eye on TE Byron Chamberlain – who is a good pass receiver.

Giants on Special Teams: Kick and punt coverage on the Giants has improved in recent weeks, but there is still room for much improvement. Nate Jacquet is a dangerous punt and kick returner.

The big question for the Giants is how strong will the punting game be. Whether Rodney Williams (wrist) plays or not will be a game-time decision. If he does play, how well will he be able to catch the snap? Gabe Lindstrom may punt instead, but he has no NFL experience. Expect the Vikes to come after either one.

Nov 142001
New York Giants 17 – Arizona Cardinals 10

Game Overview: This game was a lot closer than it should have been. Offensively, the Giants dominated the line of scrimmage, but there were two crucial mistakes by the men up front in short yardage that killed two drives and some sloppy ball-handling by Kerry Collins that stopped two more. The lack of scoring productivity in the second half (3 points) is a bit misleading in that New York only had the ball for four possessions. The first ended on an interception, the second was stopped inside the Arizona five yard line on downs, the third resulted in a field goal, and the last was simply designed to run out the clock.

Defensively, the lack of a consistent pass rush was a bit disturbing and CB Jason Sehorn had all kinds of problems trying to defend WR David Boston. One long Arizona drive in the first half was halted with a forced fumble by DE Michael Strahan. The Cardinals’ sole touchdown was set up by a poor 16-yard punt. The field goal was set up by a Kerry Collins’ interception.

Tight Ends: To me, the offensive star of the game was Dan Campbell. It wasn’t so much the one-yard catch for 11 yards where Campbell took a big hit and kept going for more yardage. It was his blocking on running plays that really stood out to me. Many of New York’s big runs outside the tackles were only possible because Campbell made excellent blocks – including sometimes on a defensive end. Campbell was also open on a deep pass, but Collins slightly overthrew him. Howard Cross also had a strong game blocking except for one major exception. Cross, along with Ron Stone, got beat in the 3rd-and-1 short yardage situation near the end of the first half and Ron Dayne was stuffed on what was looking to be a promising drive. The other negative on Cross was that he looked slow as molasses on his five-yard reception on 3rd-and-7 from the Arizona 12-yard line in the second half. Had Cross caught the ball smoother or got his feet moving faster, Cross would have easily picked up the first down and the Giants probably would not have been forced to settle for a field goal. But aside from those plays, fans should not lose sight of the fact that a few of the Giants’ positive runs (including Dayne’s touchdown) were made possible from strong blocks from Cross.

Offensive Line: The offensive line played very well on Sunday across the board. Pass protection was superb and I don’t think I spotted an offensive lineman give up a serious pressure, let alone a sack. The run blocking was very strong with only two major gaffes that proved costly. One was the aforementioned short-yardage play where Cross and Stone allowed penetration on 3rd-and-1. The other was the 3rd-and-goal play from the one-yard line where it seemed the entire line was beat to the punch by the Arizona defensive line. The Cardinals were the ones to get superior leverage on the play and Ron Dayne never had a chance. These plays proved costly, but the line for the most part dominated the Arizona front seven. I felt that LG Glenn Parker played his strongest game of the year and even looked good again on the pull. RT Luke Petitgout had a real nice game both as a run and pass blocker. OC Dusty Zeigler was active engaging linebackers at the second level and strong at the point of attack. LT Lomas Brown played well and had some key blocks on running plays. There was one series of plays where I was miffed at RG Ron Stone in the second quarter (ironically this was on the Giants’ second TD drive). Stone was not doing a real good job of sustaining his blocks on running plays on this drive. But aside from that and a play where he didn’t get out quick enough on a pull and a penalty for being illegally down field on a screen, I graded him positively. Stone missed a downfield block on the safety too on Ike Hilliard’s 21-yard reverse; Hilliard may have scored if Stone makes the block.

Running Backs: Finally, Tiki Barber (17 carries for 118 yards) looked like his old self. He was getting strong blocking up front, but he was also doing a good job of accelerating at the right moment and looked real good bouncing one inside play to the outside for 21 yards. He had a sharp looking 17-yarder in the third quarter behind strong blocks from Stone, Petitgout, and Greg Comella and followed that up two plays later with a 12-yarder behind Petitgout and Campbell. He made some real nice runs to the outside on the Giants’ last drive too where New York was simply attempting to run out the clock. It was nice to see his quick feet and explosion back.

I’m trying not to sound like a Ron Dayne-apologist, but Dayne (19 carries for 49 yards, 1 touchdown) simply did not benefit from the same strong run blocking that Tiki did. The two negative plays that really stick out are the two short-yardage plays I mentioned above where the run blocking broke down. On Dayne’s first carry of the game, a left-side run that picked up 1-yard, Campbell got a good block on the corner, but Stone didn’t get out quickly enough on the pull. Ron Dayne’s next carry was a very strong right-side run for a 4-yard touchdown that came behind excellent blocks from Cross, Campbell, Petitgout, and Parker. His third run was a 13-yard burst up the middle with solid blocking from Zeigler, Parker, Brown and Stone. His next run picked up three yards. His fifth run (1-yard) was hampered when Comella missed a block Then came two carries (for -1 and 2 yards) where Stone didn’t sustain his blocks. He had a 9-yarder in the second half when Stone and Zeigler gave him good blocks, but then was tackled for a 4-yard loss on the next play when the linebacker cleanly shot the gap on a right-side sweep. His best run of the day, an excellent cutback run that picked up 26-yards on the Giants’ last drive, was called back due to a penalty on Amani Toomer. The point? When Dayne gets good blocking, he is effective. When he doesn’t, he looks mediocre.

Greg Comella played pretty darn well for the most part as a lead blocker, but did miss a couple of blocks (to be fair, he had a tough angle on both plays). The thing that I liked the most was the Giants’ decision to allow him to test the deep middle of the field and he responded with a 20-yard reception. The Giants should allow him to run down the field more as a pass receiver.

Quarterback: Kerry Collins (15-out-of-24 for 155 yards, one touchdown, and one interception) was OK, but he was too sloppy with the ball on three occasions: (1) his fumbled snap on the Giants’ first scoring drive (this did not prove costly), (2) his fumble on a play where he was not touched on 3rd-and-7 (stalled a very promising drive on the Giants’ second possession), and his very poor overthrow of Joe Jurevicius on the first drive of the second half that was picked off. Collins wasn’t pressured all day, yet he didn’t make many plays down the field. He underthrew an open Amani Toomer deep on the first play of the second drive. He also annoyed me again with his tendency to roll out to the right when there was no pressure (this jumpiness in the pocket is most disconcerting). His best play of the game was his perfectly thrown pass to Ike Hilliard for a touchdown on the skinny post. One dangerous tendency Collins has to be wary of is that he is patting the ball before he releases it. This is a key that defensive backs can use to jump on his passes.

Wide Receivers: Not real productive, but it is hard to tell if the problem rested more with them or Collins. Amani Toomer (4 catches for 43 yards) should have done more against his opponent. The Giants used him mainly on out patterns. Toomer had some good blocks in the ground game, but his holding penalty brought back Ron Dayne’s best run of the game. Ike Hilliard (3 catches for 43 yards) had a big 27-yarder for a touchdown. But he also dropped a pass on 3rd-and-7 right before Pochman’s 16-yard punt that set up the Cardinals in great field position. Hilliard also took the Giants’ out of field goal range on their last drive of the game with his holding penalty.

Joe Jurevicius only had one catch for 14 yards. He had the ball jarred loose in the endzone on a wonderful pass from Collins (it was a great play by the safety). He also dropped what I thought was a catchable pass on 3rd-and-10 right before the missed field goal.

Defensive Line: Played on OK game against a very strong and very big opponent, but the pass rush was lacking across the board. The run defense was mostly positive, but there were some minor breakdowns. The strongest game was once again played by DE Michael Strahan (7 tackles, 1 sack). Strahan started the game off by making an excellent play down the line of scrimmage to stop the HB Michael Pittman to a one-yard gain. But Strahan (and Jessie Armstead) got run at for 8-yards on the Cards’ fourth drive of the game. Strahan came through with the defensive play-of-the-game on the same drive with his inside rush, sack, and forced fumble of QB Jake Plummer on 3rd-and-goal from the 7-yard line. The ball was then picked up by Kenny Holmes and then lateralled to Mike Barrow. The ball ended up in New York’s possession on the 45 yard line. A huge play. Strahan and Mike Barrow expertly sniffed out a draw play on 3rd-and-11 from the 12-yard line on Arizona’s first drive of the second half. But aside from the sack, Strahan really didn’t get any pressure on Plummer until the Cardinals’ last sustained drive of the game in the 4th quarter. Strahan got caught too far inside on a 6-yard run by Thomas Jones. He and Keith Hamilton did a great job of stuffing a shovel pass to Pittman on 3rd-and-4 on the same drive.

DE Kenny Holmes (2 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) flashed some, but he still isn’t making enough plays. His pressure on Plummer forced an errant throw on 3rd-and-3 on Arizona’s fourth drive of the game. His stout play at the point of attack on 1st-and-goal in the second quarter allowed Brandon Short to make the play on Pittman from the backside for a 3-yard loss. He also blew up the running play to his side on Arizona’s first possession in the second half where Pittman lost one yard. That was the best aspect of the game for Kenny – his run defense was much improved and I don’t think I spotted one play where he got pinched inside this week. But he needs to make more plays as a rusher.

So does Cornelius Griffin (2 tackles). Griffin is just not getting to the passer. His run defense was up-and-down. There were times where I spotted the double-team shoving him 3-4 yards down the field. But he also had some moments in run defense at both the point-of-attack and in pursuit.

DT Keith Hamilton (5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 pass defensed) played well in his first game back – especially early. He had an 8-yard sack on the third play of the game on 3rd-and-11. His run defense was also pretty strong at the point-of-attack – something I thought he would have more problems with given his shoulder injury. He and Shaun Williams did miss tackles on a Pittman run for 13 yards in the second half however.

DE Frank Ferrara lost contain on the strongside on the play where Plummer threw his 38-yard scoring pass to WR David Boston – a big no-no.

Linebackers: I thought Brandon Short (5 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 1 pass defensed) played an excellent game. He may be coming on. He recovered a fumble on Arizona’s second drive of the game. Brandon caught Pittman from behind for a 3-yard loss on 1st-and-goal from the seven. One drive later, Short disrupted a sweep to the right and tackled Pittman for a 2-yard loss. Late in the first half, he did a good job of defending a draw play and then deflected a pass intended for the tight end on 2nd-and-4. In the 4th quarter, he combined with Mike Barrow and Griffin to stuff a 3rd-and-2 rushing attempt for no gain.

Mike Barrow (8 tackles) was steady but unspectacular. Jessie Armstead (3 tackles) was too quiet. Armstead combined with Griffin to stop Pittman for a 3-yard gain on the second play of the game. But Jessie missed an easy sack opportunity on Plummer when “the Snake” simply ducked and let Armstead fly over him.

Defensive Backs: Jason Sehorn (3 tackles, 1 pass defensed) had a rough game against a top-notch opponent in David Boston. To be fair to Jason, he says that David Boston got away with a flagrant push-off on his 38-yard scoring play (plus, Plummer had too much time on the play in question). But there were too many plays where Boston beat Sehorn for key gains. On Arizona’s second drive of the game, Boston beat Sehorn for 22 yards. But on the very next play, Sehorn forced Boston to fumble and Short recovered the ball. On the Cards’ 4th drive, Boston caught a 16-yarder on a down-and-in pattern on 2nd-and-15 against Sehorn and Shaun Williams. On the same drive, Boston beat Sehorn for 20 yards down to the 7-yard line. In the third quarter, both Sehorn and Williams were lucky that Plummer missed Boston deep on a pump fake or a 93-yard TD would have resulted. In the 4th quarter, Jason got beat by Frank Sanders on 3rd-and-5 for a first down. Jason finished strong by knocking the ball away on a right side pass intended for Boston.

The rookies held up better. I was particularly impressed with aggressive play of Will Peterson in coverage. Will Allen kept things fairly quiet in his direction as well. Peterson got beat by Boston for 11-yards on an out pattern in the second quarter, but that was about it. On 3rd-and-4, Peterson’s solid hit forced an incompletion in the same quarter on a late drive. In the third quarter, he had real tight coverage on his man on 3rd-and-8 to force another punt. For his part, Allen had a clean shot at Plummer on a blitz, but rushed too out of control and the quarterback side-stepped him. This hurt because Plummer completed a pass for 20-yards on the play. Allen and Williams gave up a 13-yarder to Boston on 3rd-and-5 on the Cards’ first drive of the third quarter. But those were the only negatives that I saw. He finished the game off by intercepted Plummer’s last pass.

Williams (8 tackles) didn’t make any plays on the ball and that was disappointing. He also missed a tackle. Sam Garnes (2 tackles) almost picked off a pass in the endzone right before the scoring toss to Boston – he had great position on the play.

Special Teams: PK Morten Andersen missed a 38-yarder. PK Owen Pochman’s first kickoff was impressive (into the endzone), but the rest were terrible. The second and third were low, line-drives. The last was a very bad short and low kick. His punting was almost as bad. He had a nice pooch punt, but everything else was real short – including a 16-yarder that gave the Cardinals the ball at the Giants’ 38-yard line.

The good news is that despite the poor kicks and punts, the coverage units performed well with Kevin Lewis, Thabiti Davis, Will Allen, and Damon Washington leading the way.

Tiki Barber had a nice 16-yard punt return, but also made a big mistake by signaling for a fair catch late in the second quarter when he had a lot of open field in front of him (the Giants had for once done a good job on the opposing gunners). Ron Dixon and his blockers continue to do nothing on kick returns.

By The Time I Get To Phoenix

by David Oliver

Ah, the good old days. Glen Campbell transforms into Dan Campbell who transforms into Campbell the cook I once worked with, he in the kitchen, me in the parking lot at Dan Dowd’s Steak House in West Orange, NJ. Campbell was a tall, elegant black man who used to regale us (my buddy and I) with tales of home in North Carolina, of visiting Mom and her home cookin’, squash and rutabaga and sweet potato pie. These are the constant currents in a wandering mind , today, yesterday and even tomorrow. There is a lot of time in airports and on long distance flights to think – it used to be enjoyable, but I’m not so sure anymore. Today I am thinking of both yesterday and tomorrow because it is about this time of the year that I am wondering why I do this. And I resolve to myself that it will be my last year. That carries through until about February, when the Giants again crash into my bubble and I compulsively return. This time I am just not so sure.

I never feel really mainstream here at BBI. Maybe that’s why I haven’t left just yet. I have been called about every name in the book, from bag of wind to racist to “old man”; all terms meant to hurt. Most often these names are cast by folks much younger than I am, allegedly or by self-proclamation, far more liberal than I am, more succinct with the English language than I am, or should I properly say, am I? The latest occasion is being called “racist” for posting a dark humor piece on our President’s new found machismo. Word plays are not humorous anymore and use of the word “turbinator” is now racism. How silly of me. I have researched for a week now and I cannot find a race of turbans, or turbinates. Seems to me that lots of people wear them, white people and black people, Semites and Aryans. Well, here’s the rub. It is fairly obvious from a perusal of the board here that few people have ever read Michel Foucault or any of the other French semanticists, or any semanticists for that matter, so why would I expect them to know the dialectics of semantics? We are in an age of semantics where anyone can throw any term around and give it self-definition. The young are particularly prone to this anti-intellectualism, but those who proclaim themselves “liberal”, as if that is an advanced human condition, also lapse into it. To categorize is to define and to do so willy-nilly, in a mean spirited fashion, or without factual knowledge to base term-throwing upon is not only anti-intellectual, it is totalitarian. I have spent a lifetime fighting the smugness of people who believe they have a monopoly on rightness, so I don’t suppose I’ll stop now.

Case in point: A person for whom I have the utmost respect chided me on this same incident. It was gentle, but it was pointed. Now, a few days later this same person, whom I know to be good of heart and spirit, uses the term “dwarf throw” in relation to a football play. Was it mean-spirited? No. But it does show how the term, based on an event, has entered into mainstream language. Well, it just so happens that my son is a dwarf – yes, a real, actual, living dwarf, all of 4’4″ tall. Think it doesn’t hurt? Think it’s different growing up a dwarf than it is being black, or Jewish, or having poor vision and thick glasses, or being excessively glandularly overweight? Well, it’s not. But is it racist to impute the use of a hurtful term, even in a non-derogatory fashion, or sexist, or funny ha-ha, or sardonically funny? No it’s not. It’s not uncaring, it’s not even stupid. But it is painful, no? So my friends, before you casually throw names around, names like racist which have a very nasty implication, bite your tongue and lighten up. And if you are under the age of 20, shut your ass because you simply have nowhere enough experience on which to call anybody anything.

I haven’t flown since the events of 911 and I have wanted to see for myself what is happening these days. I wasn’t very happy. I made it through security at Dulles in no time at all. Thankfully, I had an e-ticket and paperwork because the line at the ticket counter was nightmarish. I was searched a couple of times, had my film dropped all over the place, the usual harassment, but I went through ok. The laughable part was that there were few European looking people doing the checking. One of the security agents and I shared a laugh as I told him I wanted to see his government issued identification – after all, there were 19 Middle East men involved in 911 and no Euros that I could recollect. Sound racist? Sure, it sounds that way. Funny thing is that I look Middle Eastern, as much as Euro and certainly not mainstream American, so I have been profiled by everyone, everywhere. This is one of the conundrums of multi-culturalism. We are at war with Middle Eastern and Far Eastern civilizations and people from those same civilizations protect us. Fertile ground for Heller, or Kubrick.

Airports today are very Orwellian. Loudspeakers blast warnings about where not to leave what, empty your pockets, don’t look left or right, and for God’s sake, don’t laugh. Oceana is at war. I proceed to the gate and indulge in small talk with a fellow passenger. (My wife cracks up at this “chattiness” about me – I never talk to anyone, let alone strangers, so she finds this amusing, that I can sit and learn a person’s history in an hour). My flight mate is middle age, well-dressed and manicured, professional looking, and it turns out that she is a professional and in the healthcare field. She hails from Phoenix, by way of the well-heeled Chicago burbs. We talk current events a little and she tells me how shocked she was to see the Pentagon. We get to the President’s talk and I opine how sad it is that he finished 5 th in the ratings. She had made a decision that I was simpatico politically and says, “Can you blame them? (viewers)” I am intrigued. We talk a little more and she tells me, “Well, he is inflammatory.” Ah! Here we have the use of terms again. Code word – inflammatory, I am conspiratorially to believe, equates to whacko. Bang, gender difference, financial difference, what? I am a middle aged male, yes, old. My life began during WWII, I grew up during Korea, lived through Viet Nam and the Gulf and a 100 other skirmishes, all the while surrounded by the ‘Cold War.’ Is an inflammatory President a bad thing? I spent a career being called upon to do dirty work for a number of Presidents and I am enjoying our ‘inflammatory’ President. He doesn’t speak with the affectations of a Harvard professor, he may not ever apologize for America’s Past, as some other, more erudite, intellectual Presidents, he may not give in to the howling jackasses of a dissipated civilization as another did in Iran, when American Diplomats were held hostage, in short, he appears to be a President with testicles – and that’s no code – he is a man.

When I was in my 20s and early 30s, I was involved in some community activities. I always wondered where were the 50 year old guys? Now I am one of those 50 year old guys and I know. Why appear on someone’s radar screen when it isn’t necessary? I have more scars than Moby Dick, I’m flat out tired of bullshit, I don’t care to indulge in vaginal politics, I ain’t paying reparations for something I have spent a lifetime doing my part to correct, and I appreciate a President with balls. So I spend my time looking out my window watching the squirrels, birds and cats all enjoying the sanctuary and food I provide for them.

Airborne, I am given a plastic knife for lunch, but I also am given a metal fork. Hmm! I don’t know what I can puncture with a butter knife, either plastic or metal, but I know I can create some havoc with a metal fork – bend the tines, or just use them all. So I read THE LEXUS AND THE OLIVE TREE on the way out – get it, it gives much thinking material. This follows the TALIBAN by a Pakistani journalist, and will be followed by the NEW JACKALS next week. It amazes me that we can be so smart and dumb at the same time, so willing to accept ideology without an experiential basis, so averse to understanding the full potential of technology, so prone to cite Isaiah and Jeremiah, but not Orwell or Huxley or Henry James, the prophets of our age.

The return was even more a surrealistic adventure. Arrive at the Phoenix Airport at 6AM for an 8:45AM flight. Security is tight. Polite, yet obnoxious. I watch men and women in their late seventies, maybe eighties made to empty their pockets of everything, and get subjected to a search. They wander a little, not sure of which line to be in, shaking like leaves blowing in the wind. I think, how sad. Oceana is at war. What this does is it creates a scene of confusion, of pandemonium around the security counters. Good opportunity to sneak past somewhere else. I am wand searched, then the ultimate indignity, hand patted. I have taken everything out of my pockets, worn a belt with a non-metal buckle, the works, but I am hand-patted. Oceana is at war. I am glad it makes some twit feel more secure that 70 and 80 year old folks are searched and that I was hand patted, because WE WERE NEVER A THREAT TO BEGIN. Then word of the American jet spreads through the crowd, followed by more anxiety. And the incident in Washington where the guy had to go to the bathroom. Poor fellow. Of course, it’s just happenstance the idiot has some Mary Jane and a cleaver in his possession. Am I missing something here? The final indignity – those passengers are made to land with their hands behind their heads or on the seat in front of them. Yep, that’s the American way of life. Oh, I am forgetting, Oceana is at war.

I mention this because my next seat partners are a middle age couple, chic in that money sort of way. He tells me they live in San Francisco Monday to Friday, then fly back to Phoenix, actually Sun City for the weekend. Nice Condo, no maintenance, golf courses, the works. We discuss the American airlines incident and the wife says, “We should just nuke all of those trouble-makers.” My ears perk up. She speaks softly, is educated and very direct. So I tell her that I know she is speaking lightly, but that I am one of those nuclear solution proponents. She tells me, “No, I mean it. It is time to let the world know that this is America and Americans won’t stand for this behavior.” All is not lost. I am not the last freak left on earth. I must redouble my efforts to get my wife to move to Arizona, land of the bleached blonds, the scorpion and John McCain. The rest of the trip is anti-climatic. I have found soul mates. Her husband and I talked football and he asked me, “Do you think Kerry Collins is the answer?” As A San Franciscan he still hasn’t gotten over the loss of Y.A. Tittle, much as I have never gotten over Sam Huff.

Is Kerry Collins the answer? The man must have been reading BBI. I had several answers for him. First, what is the question? Second, sure, at least as long as EA is the GM. Third, he may be if he can get to and win a Super Bowl. Fourth, yes, statistically. Fifth, are you kidding me. I thought that about covered the field, so I settled into thinking about the game. And the game was another Kerry Collins thing. He fumbled, he threw an interception, he threw a TD pass, he looked lost on a boot play, he directed some nice drives. Just as Churchill described the Soviet Union, Kerry is still an enigma wrapped inside a riddle. Does that make him a bad QB? Of course not. I was interested because of the natural juxtaposition in the game. On one side Kerry Collins, drop back, pocket passer QB, tall, strong, leads teams to Championships, but remains unloved. Certainly not Trent Dilfer, although Dilfer now wears the Ring; not even Vinny Testaverde yet. On the other side, Jake the Snake Plummer, short and wiry, elusive moves, dangerous, exciting, and loved. But he hasn’t done a whole lot – one playoff appearance. In truth, watching the game, one would think The Snake was a dynamo. He eluded sacks, passed downfield, created excitement. At the end of the game, Kerry was 15-of-24 for 155 yards, with a rating of 77.6. Jake was 13-of-26 for 172 yards and a rating of 68.1. Each had an interception, each had 2 fumbles. Kerry went home a winner. He is still questioned. Jake went home a loser. He is still Jake the Snake Plummer, play-maker extraordinaire and dangerous QB. Go figure.

It carries over. BBI argues ad nauseam over Ron Dayne. Is he a bust? By the time Shaun Alexander gets here, the media and fans should be on a raw edge. However, in this game, RD carried 19 times for 49 yards a TD and an awful 2.6 per average. Sure Tiki carried 17 times for 118 yards. Look at the other side. Pittman had 17 touches for 54 yards, Jones 5 for 15. By the way, wasn’t Jones a more sought after back in that draft? Big Ron is slowly being Wheatley-ized – a sprinter forced up the middle on his carries. He is making the transition without complaining. When the weather gets cold and the Giants’ line starts punishing people, big Ron will get his yards.

Tiki had a great game. He had the “Lightning” look again. He ran to all areas of the field but was particularly impressive coming right, where Parker, Stone and Luke were making cavernous holes. I fully expected him to break one of those runs, but he came through the hole flat, not linear and by the time he turned it up, he was bottled on the sideline. But his was an impressive performance.

The offensive line had a good rhythm, except on the goal line. On Dayne’s TD he went right over Stone. Not over as in behind; literally right over him. Coming the other way, the Cardinals flooded the line. I count at least six guys within hand reach of the tackle. This is where the Giants could use a bruiser fullback – and basically, it is the only place where such a player could be put to good use. I asked Whittle about the goal line and he told me he didn’t have the answer, that “we just need to get down there in the Red Zone and score some points…we need to run the ball like we know we can. We’re starting to get in sync. It’s that time of the season when we’ve got to pick it up and really start playing well. We just can’t leave it on our defense.”

So I asked him about the rhythm, the communication thing, prefacing it with the ‘roll call’ by MS, Barrow and Jessie, and the bond on that side of the ball. Whittle told me, “We definitely have a bond (the offensive line). We go out there and we see each other, we know exactly what the other guy is thinking, what we’re going to do; we have a lot of fun when we’re out there; it’s different. I remember when I first moved to the offensive line from the defensive line when I was in college. When you’re on defense, you’re just out there going balls to the wall. You’re not thinking about, well, obviously you have assignments, but you’re just going 100 mph, you’re psyched up. On offense, I think, you have to be a little more mindful with what you’re thinking about, like, okay, it’s 3rd down and short, they’re in a nickel; we know what they like to do, or they have the possibility of bringing these people in, and different things…it ‘s a little bit different.” I went back to the goal line and he said, “We just have to go back and see what we’re doing wrong. I ‘m sure it’s something minor, that’s usually what it is on offense. It’s usually something tiny that we’ve just got to correct and all the guys have to do their job.”

I continued this theme with Glenn Parker, who I think, had his best game of the year. Glenn was finishing up with another interview and he was saying, “We didn’t put up enough points to really finish the job the way we should have. We’ve got to score more points. We obviously left at least 14, maybe 21 more points off the board today. Tiki is getting back to his rhythm and the offensive line…the right calls are coming in, the offensive line is doing better. When you win, there is plenty of credit. Everybody gets some.”

So I followed up on the problems and he told me, “A little breakdown here, little breakdown there and we’re missing big opportunities. When you lose, it’s not everyone’s fault. It wasn’t the offensive line playing poorly. What happens is that everybody can do the right thing on certain plays, but if you’re a little bit out of sync, like say the offensive line with the QB with the receivers, it’s going to result in a bad play. I don’t think we were playing poorly before. It’s just that all, the entire offense is in sync now, everybody is getting it together and we know what we’re doing.” Glenn looks and sounds like he’s in form again and he told me, “I felt good out there. There were a couple of misreads on my part. We probably could have gotten another TD, I think. I’ve got to look at the film, you never know until you see it, but we’re coming together.”

It looked that way today. The game, from the sidelines, appeared to be boring, which usually means the lines are controlling. It is rough, tiring football. At one point, I noticed Luke on the ground and Whittle went to help him up. It was a difficult task because Luke was drained from the day’s efforts.

The offense held the ball for almost 34 minutes. These guys rolled up334 yards on 67 plays, 41 rushing plays. I had a few minutes with Coach Payton and I asked if he was pleased with the ground effort and did he plan it that way. He told me, “We went in with a plan to be balanced and we wanted to message our running game. We didn’t go in with the thought that we were going to run it only, but it certainly was pleasing to get that back on track. Those guys blocked well up front today. The two backs ran well and it was nice to have a game like that.” He was pleased with Tiki’s performance and felt that this was a carryover from the bounce the team got in last week’s win. He was less inclined to discuss the Red Zone offense and told me it’s more a goal line offense problem He said, “We got down to the goal line one time and we ran Dayne one time and fell short, then we ran a boot pass and Campbell got held trying to get out…we’ll look at exactly what we’re doing when we get down to the 1-inch line, so I don’t know if it’s so much a Red Zone offense, as much as a goal line offense. You know if we finish that play, if we get the field goal that we missed, then all of a sudden you feel pretty good about it. I think it’s important that you look at correcting what’s broken…” He trailed off here and I finished by asking him about the discussion over opening up the offense. I asked how he responded to those questions and he answered me simple, “I don’t react to it really. Our job is to win.” He started to say something about looking at last year and listening to everybody, but thought better of it, so I left him to another reporter.

I had a long talk with Frankie Ferrara, but I’m working on a piece about him, so I’ll save that for later, but Jason Sehorn was answering questions late in the locker room. He was chiding some reporters on their questioning of the win and said, “What do you expect, that every game is going to be a blowout?” He went on to say “They didn’t do anything. All game they got…one long play, that was about as obvious as a push-off gets.” He refused to accept that it was an ugly win and said, “An ugly win is if they move the ball, move the ball, move the ball and we get lucky, they move the ball and just drive on us – that didn’t happen.” And finally on the push off he told us he yakked at the ref, but the ref, of course, didn’t respond, they never do. He was asked if David Boston had said anything and he cracked everybody up when he said, “Yes, he did. I’ll tell you exactly what he said. He said, ‘I make $500,000, you make (so much). They give that one to me.'”

I finished up with Mort Andersen who had a big old ice bag on his right knee. He was in good spirits. Everybody is happy with a win. Mort told me, “I hit one bad ball today and I’m not happy with that, but the game is fine. It’s a challenge every week.” He talked about parity with the players moving around and a road win being a good win. He told me the game was still fun for him. He liked the personality of the Giants, the character. He felt that they had shown they could come back and that they could sustain a lead. He told me, “I like the way we’re going right now. By no means are we playing our best football, but we’re winning games, games that we had to win. Hopefully, we can steal a couple that maybe, well, games that people don’t think we should win.” I asked how he was finding Giants Stadium and he told me, “It’s a difficult place, no question. I’ve played there enough throughout my 20 years that I’m starting to figure out a little of what I need to do, but I think the key is to hit a solid ball in there and not to do too much with the ball, just hit a solid ball and trust your swing, and it should go.”

There’s not much to say about the D. It shut Arizona down. Strahan, Barrow, Holmes and Jessie were ever-present. Brandon Short had another good performance. We didn’t get a chance to visit after the game, but we conversed across the din in the locker and he told me he felt he was getting better – I told him, it shows. We’ll talk after one of these games. The secondary did it’s job. Boston and Frank Sanders are fine receivers and Plummer is a nightmare. Several time, he was trapped for a sack and somehow got out. I was right behind him on the goal line once and I was primed for a sack shot. Next thing I knew he was heading around the right side. One of the great plays was the Strahan sack and strip of the Snake. The ball bounced 5 or more yards and Holmes raced over and scooped it up. Strahan was up and the two of them were racing downfield, with Michael doing some nice blocking. The Mike Barrow came buzzing up and Holmes looked back and flipped him the ball. It was fun to watch. Ross Kolodziej looked good in there in his minutes, giving chase to the Snake a couple of times. Frankie also got some time and again looked good.

It wasn’t exciting, but it was a nice win. One of these games, the Giants are going to put 40 points up on the board. Next week, the Vikings. It’ s Monday night, against a team bent on revenge. It has all the earmarkings of a disaster. It also has the potential to be the launch pad to the playoffs. Go Giants.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Arizona Cardinals, November 11, 2001)
Nov 092001

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Arizona Cardinals, November 11, 2001: The Cardinals are not having a good season, but they are playing better football this and should not be taken lightly. They beat the Eagles at the Vet earlier this year and defensively shut out the Eagles at home in the second half of last week’s game. And while the Cardinals’ offense has struggled, Jake Plummer and his receivers are still capable of making big plays and putting points on the board.

The Giants cannot afford to lose this game. They are 4-4 overall and 2-2 in the NFC East. Another division loss here could prove devastating.

Giants on Offense: The important thing for the Giants is not to put themselves into a deep hole for the third week in a row. The offense needs to put some productive, point-scoring drives together early in the game. Whether this is done via the pass or run is little matter as long as it gets done. Once the Giants have a lead, they then can pound the Cardinals with their running game.

In order to put some early drives together, the offensive line needs to come off the ball more effectively in the ground game and provide more solid pass protection. Kerry Collins also needs to guard against turnovers a bit more, while at the same time not becoming too cautious. It’s a delicate balance.

The Cardinals’ defensive line is ordinary at best. But they all play very hard so the Giants need to match or surpass their intensity up front. If they do, then the Giants should be able to control the line of scrimmage. At end, gone are Simeon Rice and Andre Wadsworth. In their place, LT Lomas Brown will face Thomas Burke and RT Luke Petitgout squares off against rookie Fred Wakefield. Inside, Russell Davis lines up over RG Ron Stone and Barron Tanner faces LG Glenn Parker.

WLB Rob Fredrickson and MLB Ronald McKinnon are quality starters. Both are instinctive, play-makers. Fredrickson can play the run, cover, and blitz. McKinnon is undersized and does better when freed up by the defensive tackles. Ray Thompson will likely start on the strongside. While athletic, he’s undersized for the position and the Giants should be able to run the ball in his direction.

Fortunately for New York, they no longer have to contend with Aeneas Williams in the secondary (he was traded to the Rams in the offseason). Left corner Tom Knight has been limited with a hamstring injury and may not play. David Barrett will start if Knight can’t go. Neither is very good. Right corner Corey Chavous is a smart, physical player who lacks top athleticism. Amani Toomer should be able to do some damage against him. The safeties are average too. If I’m Fassel and Payton, I’d be very tempted to go to 3-WR sets early and attack down the field. The Cardinals are well-coached on defense and play hard for Dave McGinnis, but they are lacking in talent on that side of the ball.

Giants on Defense: The Cardinals have been struggling on offense when it comes to putting points on the board, but they have some good talent on that side of the ball and have some very capable play-makers who could have a breakout game at any moment.

Where the Cardinals have really improved offensively is up front on the line. They have gotten bigger and better and it is a line that could become one of the better ones in the league. There will be some tough battles inside between DT Keith Hamilton (who is still ailing with a shoulder injury) and LG Pete Kendall (one of the better guards in the league). DT Cornelius Griffin has the unenviable task of squaring up against the massive and super-talented rookie RG Leonard Davis. LT L.J. Shelton is a former first round draft pick with an excellent combination of size and athleticism – yet another formidable foe for DE Kenny Holmes. RT Anthony Clement is underrated and big – he will give DE Michael Strahan a good game. Just like last week in facing the big and physical Dallas offensive line, the Giants will need to out-quick their opponent and play with superior technique. This is an offensive line that can drive people off the ball.

The Giants may catch a break in that HB Michael Pitman has suffered a couple of concussions and may not play. If he does, he is a tough, aggressive runner who can catch the ball (remember his big screen pass for a touchdown against the Giants last year in Arizona). If he doesn’t play, former first rounder Thomas Jones will start. While he has been disappointing to the Cardinals, he is a quick runner with good speed and moves. As usual, the defensive key is to shut down the run and then concentrate on getting after the quarterback.

Jake Plummer is an enigma. At times, he can look terrible and at other times he can look unstoppable – especially late in football games. The focus for the Giants must be to keep him from gaining confidence and getting into a rhythm. A strong pass rush is a good start – but just keep in mind that the Cards’ offensive line is no longer a weakness. The Giants may have to blitz more to get consistent pressure and that will expose the secondary to more risk.

The good news is that WR Rob Moore (hamstring) is out. But WR David Boston has given the Giants fits in the past. Jason Sehorn has first hand experience at how good he is. On a good team, Boston would be considered one of the league’s best. Frank Sanders has also given the Giants problems in the past. He lacks deep speed, but has gotten deep on the Giants in previous games. Will Allen, who struggled last week, faces him. The third wide receiver, MarTay Jenkins, is a speedster who caught the last-second TD pass against the Eagles in the Vet. Will Peterson will have to guard against the deep stuff with him.

Starting TE Terry Hardy (shoulder) is out. His back-up, Twan Mitchell, is a converted receiver so you know he can catch the ball. The linebackers and safeties need to keep an eye on him.

Giants on Special Teams: The big worry this week is the punting game with Rodney Williams out. Owen Pochman hasn’t punted since high school. You can be sure that the Cardinals will try to rattle him by coming after him.

The good news is that Pochman will be activated so kick-offs should be better. That is good news for a cover unit that is improving with added talent (Clayton White, Kevin Lewis, Dhani Jones, Cedric Scott). The bad news is that MarTay Jenkins is deadly on kick returns with the blazing speed to go the distance. Be careful there.

The Cardinals will have their own new punter this weekend – Chad Stanley and the Giants should try to come after him a bit.

Nov 072001
New York Giants 27 – Dallas Cowboys 24 (OT)

Game Overview: Don’t let the exciting, come-from-behind victory in overtime deceive you. This team was damn close to falling to 3-5. The 4-4 mark still has to be considered disappointing given the fact that the Giants have already matched their regular season loss total from last year.

The Giants would like you to believe that this game will be the one that turns their season around. It could. But to do so, what really is needed is better play across the board on special teams, offense, and even defense. There have been too many disappointments thus far this year: the offensive line, Tiki Barber, Amani Toomer, Ron Dixon, Kenny Holmes, Cornelius Griffin, and Jessie Armstead. Kerry Collins has been inconsistent as all hell and the tight ends are invisible in the passing game. The shoulder injury to Keith Hamilton has had a major impact on the defense. The Giants’ special teams are an embarrassment.

The positives? Michael Strahan and Mike Barrow have been sensational. Others playing well include Keith Hamilton (before the injury), Dusty Zeigler, Greg Comella, Joe Jurevicius, and Shaun Williams. The rookie corners are still making rookie mistakes, but they show a lot of promise. Jason Sehorn has played mostly well except for his late lapse against Washington.

If the Giants are to win the NFC East and truly contend for a spot in the Super Bowl, they must play better – especially on offense and on special teams. If not, the Giants will struggle to remain over .500 and will fade with a whimper.

Quarterback: It was truly a tale of two halfs for Kerry Collins (24-out-of-34 for 280 yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions). The first half was a disaster and included two interceptions returned for touchdowns, 2 fumbles (one which set up another touchdown). To be fair to Kerry, he wasn’t helped by some shoddy pass protection and route running. For example, color commentator Troy Aikman expertly pointed out on the pass picked off for a touchdown that was intended for TE Dan Campbell that Campbell ran a poor route on the play, allowing the linebacker to get a good jump on the ball.

But Collins has no one to fault but himself for the poor decision to throw to a well-covered Amani Toomer on the slant pass that was returned 71-yards for a touchdown. He also was lucky earlier in the game that another short pass was picked off for a touchdown. Collins also didn’t seem to have a feel for the pass rush on Sunday – the most striking example is that he didn’t seem to recognize the double blitz coming from his frontside that resulted in a sack.

But this game may turn out to be one of the most important, positive experiences in Collins’ career. Why? Because despite the turnovers and the pass pressure, he maintained his poise and confidence throughout the game. Too many times in the past, once Collins got rattled, he stayed rattled. But he turned in a productive performance on the field (3 touchdown passes and the game-winning field goal drive) as well as keeping the spirits up of his teammates on the sidelines and in the huddle. I also saw improvement in Collins on the swing pass. Instead of staring at Barber from the get-go, Collins first looked down field to draw off the coverage away from Barber, then he came back to Barber on the swing. Earlier in the season, he was drawing the coverage to Barber by immediately looking in his direction. Collins’ play-action fakes were also stronger in this game. In my mind, there were four plays that stand out in particular: (1) the deep 48-yarder to Toomer off of play-action on the first TD drive, the deep pass to Jurevicius on a post route for a touchdown, and (3) the patience and vision to spot Ike Hilliard coming free late in the endzone for the game-tying touchdown, and (4) the 33-yard pass that set up the game-winning field goal in overtime. On the last play, Collins was forced to scramble to buy time and lofted a perfect touch pass to Hilliard in a pressure-packed 3rd-and-5 situation. Big-time play and big-time plays win football games.

Wide Receivers: Pretty strong game all around. The Giants are developing a nice three-headed monster at wide receiver with Amani Toomer (3 catches for 69 yards), Ike Hilliard (7 catches for 63 yards, 1 touchdown), and Joe Jurevicius (3 catches for 50 yards, 2 touchdowns). It will be interesting to see if all three will be back next year. Toomer set up the first touchdown with a well-run deep corner route for 48 yards. He also made what looked to me to be a great catch on what should have been an 80-yard touchdown (how in the heck was that play overturned?). Amani had another great, one-handed sideline pass taken away due to a penalty. Joe Jurevicius only had three catches, but two were for touchdowns. The came on a fade stop pattern in the endzone after Toomer’s big catch. This is the kind of play the Giants should use more in the redzone with JJ, given his size. The next TD pass came on a post pattern where the Giants were able to isolate Jurevicius on a linebacker. Easy score. But it was Hilliard who probably made the best play of the game. Seeing that Collins was in trouble, Hilliard broke off his pattern and ran back to the sidelines and down the field in order to provide Kerry with a target. The resulting 33-yarder was as big a play as there was in the game.

Running Backs: With the inconsistent run blocking up front, the abundance of three-and-outs, and the early game scoring deficits, the Giants have gotten away from a productive ground game this year. Some of this probably has to do with Tiki Barber’s hand injury that caused him to miss much of camp and the hamstring injury that caused him to miss some regular season time too. Perhaps Barber simply isn’t in sync yet. Much of it has to do with the deficient run blocking. But whatever the reason, Barber has not proven to be a game-breaker yet this year. Ron Dayne looks a lot sharper, but the Giants seem unable or unwilling to feed him the ball and allow him to get into a comfort zone. Plus, on too many of his runs, there are blown blocking assignments too.

To the Giants’ credit, they did not panic on Sunday and stuck with the ground game despite twice falling behind by 17 points. They showed a lot more patience than I would have and in hindsight, it was the right move. Barber (7 carries for 30 yards, 8 catches for 60 yards) and Dayne (17 carries for 52 yards, 2 catches for 30 yards) were not spectacular, but they were efficient. Barber was a favorite underneath target of Collins and served as a valuable safety valve. Dayne made one outstanding play when he caught a very short pass, juked out one defender, broke a tackle, and then juked out another defender en route to a 21-yard gain. However, Dayne fumbled away what probably would have been the game-winning drive in regulation with his fumble inside the five-yard line late in the 4th quarter. It’s unfortunate that this happened when it did because Dayne had strung together a great series of strong runs on the very same drive. There were two strong runs up the middle for four yards apiece (on the latter, Dayne showed Tiki-like explosion in the hole) and then he showed great patience and vision on a left-side sweep that was not blocked particularly well. His effort picked up a key first down in a tight situation.

Offensive Line/Tight Ends/Fullback: In a bit of analysis that one rarely hears anymore while watching a game, Troy Aikman interestingly pointed out how Dan Campbell’s poor route running contributed to Kerry Collins’ first interception for a touchdown. According to Aikman, Campbell did not aggressively push up and drive the linebacker on his heels before he made his cut. This allowed the linebacker to cut up underneath Campbell and make a play on the ball. If true, this is a perfect example of one important reason why the tight ends are not seeing the ball more. As for the blocking by the tight ends, it was mostly positive. Howard Cross wasn’t able to maintain his block on Greg Ellis on the first play of the second drive and this led to Dayne getting hit in the backfield for a loss. But I didn’t spot any major snafus by Cross or Campbell after that.

The offensive line was a different story. Lomas Brown has played fairly well this year, but he did not have a good game on Sunday. Glenn Parker was OK against Dallas, but I think he’s showing his age. The Giants probably need to replace both at the end of the season. Ron Stone is having a poor year if you ask me. He had a shoulder injury which may be bothering him, but he’s not helping himself in a contract year. If he departs, the Giants may have to replace three starters on the line. Zeigler has problems with power at times, but he is a fine player. I like Petitgout (and he played well on Sunday), but he’s been very inconsistent of late.

The pass protection was not real strong in the first half, but settled down in the second half. The run blocking was better. Ron Stone had problems in pass protection, giving up one clean sack/forced fumble to Greg Ellis and a couple of pressures. What is so strange is that Stone is been having problems in pass protection at all – usually he is a rock in the middle of the line on passing plays. Lomas Brown got beat cleanly to the outside by a no-name defensive end for a sack and forced fumble that set up a touchdown. He got beat again to the outside on the very next drive but Collins got rid of the ball quickly. Another sack came from the frontside as Tiki Barber and the strongside OL’s didn’t adjust to a double-blitz (and Collins didn’t see it coming). Petitgout’s pass pro was very solid, but Glenn Parker had problems a couple of times.

The run blocking was stronger. Petitgout and Stone did a nice job on most of their run blocks. My favorite play in terms of how it was blocked was Dayne’s 11-yard run in the second quarter. Cross and Stone both moved the DL off the ball as Petitgout moved out to engage one linebacker. A pulling Parker hit a second linebacker as Comella got a good lead block. That’s how it should be done – five well-executed blocks by five players working together. A 6-yard run by Barber around the left side in the third quarter could have been bigger if Lomas Brown executes his block better (Cross and Stone got good blocks to lead the play). Zeigler and Brown also got beat on another running play and Dayne was stuffed in the backfield. In the 4th quarter, Dayne rattled off a 10-yard run behind solid blocks from Cross and Petitgout again.

I wish the Giants’ line was more line the Dallas line – big and powerful. As Chris Jacobs said to me, “Can you imagine Ron Dayne behind the Dallas line?”

Defensive Line: Michael Strahan (6 tackles, 1.5 sacks) needs more help from his defensive line mates. The loss of Keith Hamilton to a shoulder injury has really sabotaged this unit as Hamilton was the only other guy playing well up front. Cornelius Griffin (6 tackles) isn’t playing poorly, but I expected him to be making much more of an impact as a pass rusher by this time – especially when you consider he is lining up next to Strahan. To be fair to Griffin, he was facing quite a few double-teams on Sunday. But there were times against the run where I spotted him getting driven way off the ball again. His best run defense came on a play where he got in the hip pocket of the pulling guard and tackled the runner for no gain in the 4th quarter. Ross Kolodziej (3 tackles) did an admirable job and actually made a couple of plays against the run in the hole early on. But as the game wore on, both he and Griffin were getting pushed further off the ball by interior players of Dallas. Late in the game, Frank Ferrara spelled Kolodziej and made an immediate impact with his hustle. After originally being stymied by Allen on a pass rush, Ferrara spun off of the block and chased down the quarterback for a big sack late in the 4th quarter when it looked like Dallas may be driving for a game-winning field goal. Ferrara also made play in the hole against the run. Not bad for an undersized defensive end playing out of position.

Kenny Holmes (2 tackles, 0.5 sacks) had another disappointing game. Here’s the guy who was doing all of the talking before the season about the Giants having the best defensive line in football and he has done practically nothing in eight games. Most pressure I saw from him on Sunday came on plays where he wasn’t blocked or was blocked by a tight end. Holmes shared a sack with Strahan on one decent rush. He also got good pressure on Stoerner on the play where Dhani Jones picked off the ball. His run defense was mostly poor (though he did make a couple of nice plays). Kenny also jumped offsides on 3rd-and-5 – giving Dallas a key first down on their field goal drive.

Strahan on the other hand is playing his ass off. The Giants didn’t get much pressure from their down four on Sunday – mostly because Dallas concentrated on Strahan and the other three guys didn’t take advantage of their opportunities. There were some plays where Strahan was handled one-on-one successfully, but mostly he was double- or triple-teamed. To me, he really demonstrated how much fire he is playing with on a play early in the first quarter. On 3rd-and-3, the Giants couldn’t get near the quarterback with their 4-man rush. But Stoerner couldn’t spot an open man and took off for the first down running to his left. Anticipating this, Strahan ran all the way across the formation and chased Stoerner down, forcing Dallas to punt – an all-hustle play. He also did a good job of sniffing out a double-screen in the 4th quarter. Strahan’s run defense was mostly positive, though I did see him get handled pretty easily on one outside run for 14-yards.

Cedric Scott made a nice play in goal line defense in the third quarter gumming things up.

Linebackers: Mike Barrow (14 tackles, 1 sack) had a huge day as he made a number of sure, aggressive tackles on inside runs and also made a few plays behind the line of scrimmage. It was Barrow who largely saved the butts of his defensive teammates up front by making the tackle on plays where the were effectively blocked. The only real negatives came on a dropped interception on 3rd-and-18 and a weakside run where Barrow ran around a block, helping to lead to a 16-yard gain. Barrow’s sack in overtime on an inside dog helped to stall a promising Dallas drive.

Jessie Armstead (3 tackles) played on a bum hamstring and was pretty quiet. Dhani Jones (3 tackles, 1 interception) played for him on third down. Jones had excellent coverage on the play where he picked off the pass from Stoerner intended for the back.

Brandon Short (5 tackles, 1 interception) had a rough day except for his pick – which was huge (it was a great diving effort too). Short had pretty good coverage on the tight end twice, but never turned around to play the ball, leading to two big receptions down the middle of the field (including a 22-yarder in overtime). Short also had some problems at the point of attack against the run on a few plays. But Brandon did a great job on the 2nd-and-goal rollout by Stoerner right before Peterson’s interception as he took away the intended receiver in coverage and forced the quarterback to throw the ball away. The play was designed to fake Brandon out and he wasn’t fooled.

Defensive Backs: Not a great game for the rookies. Will Allen was beat for a first down on Dallas’ first drive on 3rd-and-11 for a first down. He later got beat pretty badly on out fake on a post pattern for a touchdown by Joey Galloway. After that, Will Peterson took over the left corner spot. He combined with Garnes to expertly defend one deep pass to Galloway in the first half. But Galloway also beat Peterson for 16 yards on 2nd-and-10 in the third quarter. After a questionable pass interference call against Peterson for 25 yards set Dallas up on the five, Will made a great diving interception in the endzone on an errant pass – saving the game for the Giants. Peterson got beat late in the third quarter for 23 yards by Galloway on 3rd-and-7. He later got beat again by Galloway on Dallas’ late drive in regulation for a first down on 3rd-and-11. On a positive note, he had fine coverage on a deep pass intended for Galloway in overtime on 2nd-and-20.

Jason Sehorn played alright for the most part and also made a big interception. Rocket Ismail beat Jason for a first down out of the slot in the second quarter. But Sehorn did a great job of making a play on an underthrown ball on a corner route in the endzone for a key interception in the third quarter. But late in the game Jason was exposed a bit too. He got burned deep by Ismail for 37 yards coming off of the goal line at the end of the 4th quarter (Shaun Williams was late too on the play). On the previous drive, he gave up a 14-yard reception to Ismail too.

I wasn’t real impressed with Sam Garnes (8 tackles). He made a couple of nice plays against the run near the line of scrimmage, but I also spotted him getting blocked too effectively on a number of positive runs for Dallas. He also did a poor job of getting over to cover Ismail on a deep sideline pass for 25 yards in two-deep coverage. Shaun Williams (9 tackles) played a decent game, making a number of sure tackles. I liked the way he aggressively defended a screen pass in the third quarter. But he was late in helping out Sehorn on the 37-yarder mentioned above.

Special Teams: The Giants’ special teams have been so bad for so long that one is tempted to say they played a good game if they show any improvement whatsoever. But this should not mask the fact that their performance is still way below average. With all the practice time and emphasis the Giants devote to special teams, it is an embarrassment that they don’t perform better. The main culprits continue to be terrible kick returns and poor kick and punt coverage.

Ron Dixon just doesn’t seem comfortable returning kicks. In particular, he doesn’t seem to know how to react to the blocking wedge in front of him as he responds slowly and indecisively to the onrushing cover men. Dixon did have one very good return that he took to the 47 yard line, but the play was brought back due to a penalty. His fumble right before halftime on a kick return could have cost the Giants the game. Damon Washington also doesn’t look comfortable returning kicks.

Morten Andersen’s kick-offs left much to be desired. His first landed at the 7-yard line and was returned to the 32. Another landed at the 19 and another bounced at the 22. The latter led to a big return to midfield. He kicked off better late with one landing at the goal line (not surprisingly – the kick-off coverage improve noticeably with the stronger kicks). The punt coverage unit gave up a 28-yard return despite an excellent punt from Rodney Williams – it was on this play that Williams was forced to make the tackle himself and broke his wrist. The Giants are getting better covering kicks and punts, but they still are below average in this department. However, players such as Clayton White, Dhani Jones, and Kevin Lewis are showing flashes of life.

Morten Andersen kicked two 40+ field goals (41 and 42 yards) – the latter a “money” kick coming in overtime. Tiki Barber had a strong 21-yard punt return late in the 4th quarter.

Of course, the big special teams play of the game was the blocked punt by Thabiti Davis that set up the game-tying touchdown. Davis made a superb individual effort by avoiding the block at the line of scrimmage inside the formation and then launching himself at the release point of the punter. Fassel later said Davis almost blocked another punt too.

Offensive Line Review

by Chris Jacobs

How Bout’ Dem Cowboys!!!

It never fails, down 17-0 to the Cowboys and the phone rings. Instead of my usual “hello” when I picked up the phone I uttered “Hey Moff, how ya been.” Dan Moffitt and I shared many common interest through college, we both played football, liked beer, parties, video games, cold cereal. Not necessarily in that order. We managed to stay in touch even though we both have two children, jobs, and lives that require us to drink a lot less beer, never attend keggers, video games are on hold till the kids get older, and we’re usually cleaning the cold cereal off the floor. We don’t get together often enough but we do have our annual “football bet”. With all the things Dan and I have in common, he is a Cowboy fan and I am a Giant fan. So as a tradition every year we bet a case of beer on the Giant/Cowboy rivalry. Well this year I was a little disappointed because we just couldn’t come up with a bet that was fair. The Giants would surely sweep the Cowboys, so we couldn’t bet on that; the Giants would have a better record, so that’s out. We always want to make it fair and he’s realistic (he knows they stink) so we didn’t make one this year because the Cowboys were just so horrible. “Hey Jake, I just turned on the game, how did the Cowboys score 17 points?” I couldn’t figure out if he was being sarcastic or sympathetic so I just answered “turnovers.” So after a nice conversation with some catching up and a decision to bet on the next Giant/Cowboy game it ended with Dan making a bold prediction “Don’t worry, the Cowboys will figure out a way to lose this game…” At this point it was 24-7 and Ron Dixon had just fumbled the kickoff. I thanked him for the encouragement and prayed that he knew his team better than I knew mine. I later called and left a message thanking him for always being right and waiting for him to give me next week’s lottery numbers. He has not returned my call…..

Lomas Brown D-:

Well, he had just about the worst game he’s had since he became a Giant. While watching the game I originally thought he had a bad first half and a good second half but he played poorly the entire game. His pass blocking did improve in the second half but he did a very poor job in run blocking. In the first half he kept getting beat outside with a speed rush. The first time caused the Collins fumble, and later in the half his man had beaten him outside causing KC to leave the pocket. On the play where KC was sacked by the blitzing safety Lomas was bull rushed back into him that may have disrupted the play anyway. As I mentioned he did much better in the second half. Run blocking was another story, as a whole I was disappointed the Giants had to play catch up because they were getting a nice push by the entire line. However Lomas just doesn’t seem to be able to drive anyone off the ball, he does a better job when either pulling on a sweep or getting to a backer. Now with that being said, and I’m talking about consistency, I had in my notes five running plays that he didn’t block anyone, or missed his block. He did have some good blocks, particularly on a Tiki Barber sweep where Tiki cut outside but should have cut in. Some bad plays seemed like miss communications, others looked like blown assignments and some he just missed his man. Bottom line is he has to step it up in the run blocking department.

Glenn Parker A:

Much much better than previous weeks. Probably his best game of the season thus far. He was getting a nice push drive blocking and he was turning the corner and getting some nice blocks on the pulling plays. I don’t know what they did to light a fire under him but he looked like the Glenn Parker from last season. On the infamous overturned Toomer TD, he was beat on an outside move that caused Kerry Collins to run out of the pocket. Besides that he did a good job all around.

Dusty Zeigler B+:

Again he played very well, he was getting a good push in the run blocking department, and did a good job in pass protection. Made two mistakes as far as I could tell. On a screen to Tiki, Noble read it, and he should have stayed with him instead of peeling off to get out to the flat. And on a draw to Tiki, he missed a block on a backer who made the tackle in what could have been a good gain.

Ron Stone C:

Did a real good job in the run blocking department, did a very poor job pass blocking. Ellis beat him twice off the line with a little swim move, and like last week he’s a little high sometimes and gets pushed back into the pocket. He did do a good job recovering a fumble in the second quarter, but it was his fault Collins fumbled in the first place. Again it would have been nice to be able to run the ball more because he was getting a nice push in the drive blocking department, and did do a nice job once when he had to pull and kick out the defender which is not his strength.

Luke Petitgout A:

Did a real nice job this week, I had him in my notes getting beat once in pass protection on the inside, besides that he played solid all day. Was getting a nice push on the line in the run blocking department. Did a nice job hooking his man on a sweep to his side and a good job sealing the backer when they run that counter to his side.

One last point on the Third and 2 in overtime before the winning field goal. Ron Dayne has to keep his head up and read the blocks, he decided before the ball was snapped that he was going to bang it up in there for the first down. If he would have followed Comella and bounced it out left there was NO ONE there, it would have been at the very least a 10 yard gain. This goes back to the “Bad call vs. Bad execution” argument. Some would argue that it was a bad call because the Cowboys were expecting it, but if run properly by Dayne it could have been a nice play.

Dhani Does Dallas

by David Oliver

Or was it Frankie “I did it my Way” Ferrara, or could it have been “we had a Kerry good second half”, or was it simply a matter of an entire team coming of age and snatching victory from the jaws of defeat rather than being a donor for once. I’m not quite sure what happened, but I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in the locker room at half time. There was a common refrain in the locker room following the game, best summed up by Dhani Jones like this: “It was heat. We went from 350 to 500, from 500 to broiling. We just grabbed it out of the sky and we were possessed by it. We looked around at each other, we looked in each other’s eyes and we just pulled together. We knew that team would not let down and we couldn’t let down either. We just had to let the progression of time and the will to win take us through.”

It was that kind of game. I’ve been kind of down lately – the time change and coming of stick trees always has that effect on me. I was thinking at half time, how am I going to go into that locker room after this game, if they lose, and face these kids again. It is a major downer. For the guys upstairs that write for the major papers, well, they’re like high price call girls; they get their money no matter what the freak show. But for us on the field, most of whom make precious little, we’re more like plain old whores; we do it for love and we get involved with the clientele. So when the team is down, we are low. When the team wins, we are as excited. That’s just part of it.

And it becomes difficult to write about it. By November, it takes me an extra day to do a report. I have to brood over what I saw, digest it, transcribe my notes and interviews and put it into words. This week I have struggled mightily. In truth, I am still in shock over 0911. It hurts real deep and the Giants are the only merciful distraction. I watch the news coverage 2 to 3 hours a day, then I read the books, magazines and wonderful commentary on BBI, which I will confess is better discussion than can be found at any briefing in the Pentagon, or after hours soiree in official Washington, then I think. I work about 9 hours a day on photos. So the days are full – up at 6:00AM, to bed around midnight, maybe a little later.

Today was Election Day, and notwithstanding that we have a piss-ant election for Governor, which is not going to go my way, I’ll be damned if I will miss a vote. I took out the CD player and decided I would just walk over to the polls and do my thing. My bonus was a magical surprise. Yesterday I bought the new Andrea Bocelli album, Cieli di Toscana . As soon as it started playing, I was transported to another plane. This man with the beautiful voice, born without the ability to see, but possessed by a vision few of us have, reached out and tapped me. His music told me to look up at the falling leaves, still in color here, to see the blue sky peeking through, to feel the breeze and to take joy in who I am and where I am. Bocelli, the ballot box and BBI gave me the inspiration to come home and pick up the pen. I was reminded that many of you could not see the game and that just as I was at a time when the Giants were unavailable, you would want every word about the game, good or bad, foolish or wise, witty or dull, because the Giants are the magnetic center of our universe.

There are many questions surrounding the 2001 Giants. There was the dissing at the beginning about the Giants had an easy schedule last year, the team has mediocre talent, then the early injuries, now because of three straight losses, the old questions about coaching and play calling. In truth, a one point loss to the Rams, the elite team in the NFL, a one point loss to the Eagles, who every one expected to take advantage of the law of averages anyway, and even a crushing defeat to the Skins, a team JF has not beaten twice in a year since arriving back in the Meadowlands, would not end the season. A loss to Dallas may have, and it was perilously close. We are now back to the old half full or half empty paradigm which the Giants face so often. The injury bug has bitten big-time; the QB is playing the game as if it were a yo-yo, with incredible highs, disastrous lows, but his stats make it look as if he has mastered walking the dog: and the grass pods on the field have begun to stink like rotten cabbage even earlier this year than last.

So here is what I am seeing. Michael Strahan – watch him all year. We are seeing something very special here, almost LT-like. It appears as if the Firemen and Policemen and sights at Ground Zero have matured him. He is capable of controlling a game. He was fighting triple-teams on Sunday and winning. He is held, grabbed and mauled on every play, but the referees, although blind as Tiresias, see nothing. Tiresias was a Greek seer and legend says he was given breasts and the other accouterments of femininity to make him more capable of experiencing all life’s vagaries. And he saw it all. When Bernie Kuker and crew show up, I realize that blindness and vision have nothing in common, so like Tiresias, the Gods should put Bernie into Michael ‘s uniform one Sunday. Maybe then he’ll have some understanding of the game of football.

Kerry Collins – watch him all year because as we have said before: the Giants will go where he takes them. This kid may amass statistics unlike any ever seen in a Giants uniform, yet, he still won’t get a free dinner anywhere in the NY Metro area. He is enigmatic, somewhat diffident, and simply refuses to become the Ringmaster in the 5 Ring event that is the modern NFL. I am reevaluating him constantly, and I find him an interesting case study, but more interesting human being. Forget his personal life, many chapters of which must yet be written. As a footballer he has been up, he has been down; he has taken teams, like Moses and the Israelites seeking the Promised Land, to Championships and he has been booted out of locker rooms. But he continues to march to the beat of his own inner drum. And for that alone he has won my admiration. I was standing on the sidelines with an old Dallas player, vintage 1966-72, and he was a decent player. He told me that what he and others saw in Kerry was a young man with all the tools, but that his heart is suspect. It’s the fire thing again. We discussed the early days of the game and his era, and we laughed together thinking about how today’s players would react to a 60 minute game, playing both sides of the ball. He told me the ball players he played with and against played for the game – there wasn’t much money, but they played for love of the contest. They weren’t nearly as athletically gifted as today’s athletes, but they were tough. And back again to Kerry. I did a little parody last week and it caught some folks by surprise. I talked about how Kerry couldn’t run, had no field presence, lacked fire, yadda, yadda, but with a few coaching nuances he would be fine. It was, as I said, a parody. Again this week, many on BBI wonder why he slides two yards short of a first down, why doesn’t he see defenders, why does he always dump off his passes, and so forth. I’m kind of surprised Kerry didn’t turn it around with Ditka because it seems as if Iron Mike is what he needed, needs. On the other hand, under the corporate style of the new Giants, he is becoming immune to critics, accepting of the fact that bad breaks are just something that happens, and realizing that leadership is a mantle bestowed on winners. For me, it is important that his troops rally to him as Michael Strahan has done and as one player told me in the locker room, “Kerry Collins came to the sidelines after he threw an interception, and he told us to keep our heads up. I felt if he was still fighting, we had to still fight”. Well, folks, that’s the stuff of leadership. So how did he play? He was just plain awful in the first half. My Cowboy friend and I both felt that the drive just before the half would be defining. If Kerry could lead them to a score, the Giants would rout the ‘Boys. When he threw that interception, I thought my new friend would have a fit. He was disappointed in Kerry – a Cowboy player, a Cowboy fan, almost rooting for the big, strong-armed QB to get the job done. I didn’t see him in the second half but I wonder what he would have told me because it was a different Kerry Collins.

Which leads to a new discussion about play calling and execution. Sean Payton is taking a beating, some of it justified. But watching with my Cowboy friend gave me a new appreciation for some things. I began to call out the Giants plays, and it became especially noticeable on the long Amani Toomer pass when I not only called the play, but also the yard line and position. My ‘friend’ was going crazy and asked how I could do that and said if you can do it imagine the defensive coordinators that face the Giants with all the film and everything. I gently explained to him that I wasn’t unique, that probably half the Giants’ fans who had been fans for at least 5 years could get at least 50% of the plays right. But here’s the rub. Execution is critical. Notwithstanding the fact that I knew the Toomer play and probably so did Dave Campo and his staff, Kerry got time, the ball was thrown perfectly and Amani caught it and held on. Execution trumped knowing the play. It’s a classic Lombardi, here we are, we’re lining up, it’s the sweep, stop it if you can. When the Giants execute, their long game is as good or better than anyone else in the League. So what is the problem in the short game? Partly a breakdown on execution, partly wrong play design for the personnel and partly the adjustment thing. The first 15 plays of the game are scripted. The opposing coordinators have seen enough film on the Tiki play that even with perfect execution, it doesn’t have a chance of being as successful as last year. The adjustment thing is more difficult. A lot of film is sent down to the field, but I don’t know that real analysis is done until the film after the game is reviewed. Sean Payton is still a young coordinator, and frankly, if the Giants could get the signals in quicker, he would benefit from being upstairs. Good adjustments are made when an offensive coordinator knows what he wants to do, which is dependent on some familiarity of what his opponent is going to do. The Giants spend entirely too much time searching that big board for a play. Healthy players and better execution will result in more success, but Bennett is gone, Tiki’s films are matinee specials among the Giants’ opponents, and everyone has seen the Super Bowl tapes enough to realize that Kerry does not react well to pressure. The play calling is too haphazard to work as the Giants’ offensive scheme is totally dependent on the complete health of about 13 offensive players.

Another segue on coaching and execution for special teams. We have watched this unit go through games, as Boomer would say, a rumblin’ and a stumblin’ and a running down the sidelines. At times it looks Barney Google slap dash in performance, in others, it could have been the inspiration for the Clown aria in Il Pagliacci. One coach has lost his job because of it, another has not been winning plaudits from the hardest critics in the world, us. Both the players and the coach tell me there is not a whole lot to coach for specials. A coach mostly motivates. Oh, he might have a scheme or two, but mostly it is to get the unit to play as a unit. The players tell me you just have to run down the field like a wild man and make a play, or take a kick and feel the hole. Pretty standard stuff, but not everyone is cut out for it and some guys thrive on it. It is where the truly crazed rule – intense speed, guys hitting from every angle, hell, it’s the most dangerous time to be on the sidelines because guys are waging their own little wars 15 or 20 yards upfield or downfield from the play. Take my word for it, these are big guys, running hard and throwing their bodies all over the place. The Giants have been one or two, at most catalysts away from developing a good unit, and that may be about to change.

When I was a kid, LSU had names for their individual units; they had the Bengal Tigers and Chinese Bandits and a couple I can’t remember. Everyone wanted to play for a particular unit – there was team pride and unit pride. The pro game is different. Specials are very transitional and few players want to spend much time there. There aren’t many big contracts on specials and that is a shame. Maybe the Giants ought to give the unit a name, a special recognition. It can’t hurt. Then there is the special player, guys like Brandon Sanders, Buckley and the Giants own, remember Special L. Clayton White just might develop into a good one. Jack Golden could be a great one if he realized that his future in the league was through specials. Kevin Lewis has found some rejuvenation after a stint on the Practice Squad. On Sunday, all these guys contributed and they were a happy bunch. Jack Golden told me, “Strahan stayed on us the whole game. We threw three games down the dumpster and we needed this one, it wasn’t even a choice.” Clayton White, who Kevin Lewis refers to as ‘the young buck’ is becoming a presence. Clayton told me, “It’s probably the best feeling right now that we’ve had so far this year because we were in a big slump, then we started the game out and we were thinking ‘oh, my God, this can’t happen again’, but we know our character, we know our heart, we said this can’t happen, let’s do something about it right now and everybody dug deep and said ‘you do your part right now, let’s not look up at the scoreboard, let’s go out and play one play at a time’; our main thing this week was to finish and we did a pretty good job of that.”

I asked him about the effort and production on specials and why it looked different in the second half today, and he told me, “we try hard every week, every play. Sometimes things don’t work out for us. Our coaches challenge us a lot; they let us know that Dallas was in the top 11 in all big four categories, and that was a challenge to us. Some guys went home at night and thought about that; they just dug a little bit deeper, I know I did. We improved a lot today on special teams, and I hope it just keeps up.”

Kevin Lewis was back on the A-Team today and I teased him a little, which was nothing like Glenn Parker asking him if his mother knew he was wearing her drapes today (flashy, hip pants). Lewis is an easy going guy for a linebacker, usually with a ready smile. I asked if he and Clayton White had a little competition going , and we all laughed. They are developing a nice relationship and Klu told me it was nice going downfield with Clayton knowing that Clayton was going to push the runner over to him. Lewis told me, “We changed the course of the game early in the fourth quarter with that blocked punt, then the team got the TD, then we pinned them inside the 25 two times in a row on the kickoff. The defense came out there and kept up the enthusiasm. They (Dallas) punted away and the offense gets the ball and scores…” Enthusiasm – it was rippling throughout the locker, but especially the specials guys. Ron Dixon and I talked. Ron has a soft, southern drawl, but he is bouncing and bubbling even while getting dressed. He told me, “We made strides today. The kicking game looks like its heading in the right direction. I felt comfortable (meaning injuries pretty well-healed), and the guys told me ‘just hit it’; I split one but it got called back, and I fumbled one; that was a TD if I held on to the ball. But we’re heading in the right direction”. I asked him about last week and his perceived hesitancy, ala Ron Dayne, in the hole. He acknowledged it and told me now that he’s comfortable, he is just working hard, trying to get better.

Even Kole Ayi was bubbling and ready to get in a game. He told me, “It was great this week, it was an exciting game. These guys fought hard. This team shows they have a lot of heart, they played hard.” I asked if he was surprised when the Giants picked him up and he told me, “I was hoping someone would, and yes, I was pleasantly surprised.” He told me he was looking forward to special teams work and that he was “waiting to go.”

Specials did its job this week. Relationships are being forged and guys are committing to the game. Clayton White is a big catalyst. Now with a rejuvenated Lewis running along side him and with Kole Ayi waiting to show his stuff, with Cedric Scott realizing that he is here and with Marcellus Rivers actually enjoying the contact of the unit, the Baron may be on to something. I like excitement, I like to watch guys develop into a unit. It’s something I did my entire career. I always built my team from guys who weren’t considered first unit players. Superstars are nice, but in my line they were sometimes prima donnas. So I picked guys who worked hard, who had pride and who had intelligence and spirit. Then I turned them loose and watched as they succeeded. Success instills confidence. At the end of my career, I managed a strange group – no All-Pros on the team, but few relished going up against us – we were that good. I don’t know if the Giants are quite there yet, but I feel it. I watch the Baron work with these guys and I am enjoying this feeling of bonding. I don’t think any of them came in here wanting to be a special teams guy, but many of them are realizing two things: first, playing specials is their only way to stay in the game and get a chance; and, second, specials can have a big impact on a game, that you can have a lot of fun playing specials well, and that this is a very tough brand of football. So let’s watch how it plays out.

On to the defense. What can we not say about the defense. We fans are fortunate to have one of the premier defenses in the game. Let us take a look: Legree, RossK, Ferrara, Peterson, Allen, DJones. Yep, that’s right, think about it, that’s the team that helped to beat the Cowboys. The stalwarts – Hammer, Armstead, Griffin all hurting. Rookies dotting the field, holding down the line, being whipped into shape by the stellar play of Michael Strahan and Michael Barrow, helped by the madhouse tackling of Garnes and Williams, supplemented by Sehorn and EMac, and filling in the gaps nicely. Even with the starters hurt or missing, as a unit, defense gets no less than A-. Ross K was abused by House Allen at times on the field and he knows it. But he couldn’t keep from smiling in the locker room. He played his heart out for three quarters and told me he was “excited, no very excited. It was a GREAT experience. You go into start a game, but to start against arguably one of the best O-Linemen in the history of the league – it was a great learning experience.” So I asked him, what did you learn? His answer, “Any time you play against anybody with that kind of size and speed and strength, the combination that just makes a great player, the biggest thing, and I was talking to Hammer about it, is being able to read their stances and anticipate his next move, which enables you, hopefully, you know, I’m giving up a couple of pounds, so I should be a little bit quicker and use that to my advantage. I wouldn’t recommend that you take him head on; there were 2 or 3 plays where he and Stepnoski, well, I was down the field 6 or whatever yards. It was fun. The game of football is all about having fun, being competitive; it comes down to the team concept, it comes down to guys battling through adversity just like we did this evening…just keeping focused and playing hard…to be a part of it and to be apart of a win like this, it’s a great feeling.”

Could it be said better than that?

Dhani Jones, my philosopher, poet buddy, always starts off our conversations in a deep vein. I bantered a little with him about his role out there and asked what was holding him back. He answered, “I’m bounded by the chains of my life.” I asked him about the INT and he said simply, “beautiful, beautiful.” Dhani is a team guy. Whenever he is asked about Dhani, he minimizes his role. He went on to tell me that, “I did a small part. How many people do we have on this team, how many coaches, how many staff members do we have? That crowd, these players, I’m just a small piece of the puzzle.” Dhani gets frustrated with himself. I know he doesn’t like to make mistakes, so I asked him about getting better, about feeling comfortable. He told me, “It’s just a progression, I just want to get better. I’m taking it one step at a time. I moved forward (today); I want to keep moving forward. A lot of people take that one step forward, then they think about it, then, sometimes, the next step is back. I just want to keep moving forward. I talked to Cornelius (Griffin) last year and he said you just want to get in there and go forward, keep making moves, go forward, get better, get better, get better; and that’s what I want to do. I’ve done a lot of things, but I’ve never truly mastered anything. I want to go out there and play well, just listen to what my coaches say, study the film of (plays) which I participated in, learning my opponent, my team mates, learning the game, learning the history of the game, and becoming part of the future. Dhani Jones is, to borrow a Parcellicism, a football playing dude. He is also so much more than that.

Kenny Holmes appears to be a big disappointment to many fans, much like Michael Barrow was at this point last year. Everyone expected him to come in and put up 20 sacks, have 200 tackles, and generally make us forget about Cedric Jones. Well, Kenny hasn’t done that, not even the CJ part, but I really am seeing a different game out there. The last several games Kenny has been very active. He’s getting closer and closer to the QB and the runs to the left side aren’t puncturing the line as frequently. On what do I base my judgement? Two things: first, the stats show his activity; second the camera. I see the game through my little magnifying lens. When a particular number appears in photo after photo, I take note. Then I go out and look at that player for a couple of games. The two players lately coming up in the lens are Glenn Parker and Kenny Holmes. They are playing 100% better than they were in September, and that means not bad in this high powered defense for Kenny. Dallas has a huge offensive line, I mean huge. I teased all our defensive linemen about it and they all laughed and then acknowledged the difficulty of playing against these guys. When I was teasing RossK about being ‘keasterized’ by Allen, Dhani Jones chimed in with a contribution about how Flozell grabbed him (Dhani) by the neck on one play and how he went straight down. Kenny laughed and said, “Oh, yeah definitely (they’re big), but that’s part of the game. You line up against 350, or whatever he was, you’ve got to play. As a whole we did alright. In the first half we didn’t play up to our standards, then we came out in the third quarter and started to play a little better, in the fourth quarter we played Giants ball.”

I told him the team seemed more animated late in the game, that there was a looser attitude on the field. He responded, “It was hard to get fired up, we were a little flat, so we said we’ve got to do something to spark us up, so we started dancing and having a good time out there”. I told him that I was witnessing some improvement in his game and he agreed, owing it to “determination, playing as hard as I could, leaving it all on the field and knowing there’s nobody behind me, no one is coming to rescue me. I’ve got to go to war every week.” Kenny told me the Giants, to a man, feel they’ve got to turn the season around, that Dallas was the first task. He also told me, “We came in at half time saying we believe in each other, no matter what anyone else says.”

There it was again. As I said I would have loved to be in the locker room. Whether it was JF, and I believe it was him in large part, or Michael Strahan and Barrow, Armistead or Hammer, somehow this team had one of those experiences that make the game worth while – you know, a real man thing, the Band of Brothers, Gladiator theme. It’s us alone, we’re here and we will do this for pride. Roland at the pass and Alcibiadis and the 300 surely felt it. Something happened in that locker room, and someday I wish someone would write about it. Now we’ll have to see if it carries over.

The defense is still dinged up and will still rely on some rookies. Lance Legree will play a larger role and Will Peterson may be on the verge. He made his play. It’s what he has been waiting for. The kid has been beaten all over the field for 7 games, but he has made some nice stops, his recognition is improving, his experience level is rising, and now he has made his play. He bears watching in the next couple of games. Jason Sehorn did not look particularly sharp, but he made a key interception, and he made it in front of the receiver. For most of the game he was playing off and behind his man and some easy catches were made in front of him. The flex defense worked in the end, but I still don’t like it. I know, the Giants can’t rush Michael Barrow on every play; but I’ll bet they could have against Stoerner and Leaf. Both were given a lot of time and looked a whole lot better than they are.

The offense, well, what can I say about offense that hasn’t been said. Look at the photos and you will see – there were two Kerry Collins in this game. Ron Dayne is running hard, much harder than he ran last year, Tiki’s effectiveness is minimized, both because of injury and also as discussed above. The play calling is still choppy. Kerry is improving in his play action, he had at least one beauty again today. But for all the movement, the Giants O is still pretty vanilla for much of the game. I have called for a reverse, and last week I got one, a botched job, deep in the Giants’ territory and early in the game. NOT. That is a gadget play that might work when the other team is back on their heels, the Giants are driving, or in the red zone – because it is uncharacteristic of the Giants – it shouldn’t be run just because it’s in the book and the fans want more excitement. And those wideout screens, or whatever they are. Once is enough, but twice, with equally bad results.

I’ve read Chris’s review and I’m glad he has seen Parker’s improvement. I am in full agreement on Stone. He is still injured and that’s a tough position with a shoulder injury. I don’t quite agree about Luke – he is better than mediocre, but hasn’t had one dominant game yet this year. He needs to let it rip. Lomas, ah, Lomas. No, he’s not a road grader; he’s a ‘mature’ player who is gamely throwing his body in front of and at people on run plays. The media criticism appears to have challenged his pride and he is doing something he has never been known for. I think he’s doing it better than last year. Pass rush – I don’t know, seems to me Kerry was hassled more from the right than from the left.

JJ ran another beautiful deep post for a TD and a corner route for another. Watching him in the end zone Sunday reminded me of that first mini camp in the bubble where he had Shaun Williams completely turned around and mumbling to himself. JJ is on the verge. Amani just loves that deep out – just keep throwing it to him. And Ike is the middle route man. The Giants’ offensive philosophy appears to remain run to open up the pass, notwithstanding that the official policy is pass to set up the run. Opening the offense up doesn’t mean gadget plays; to me it means going down field. And that hinges on O-Line performance. If those guys do their job, Kerry can hit a moving Pepsi can at 40 yards – that’s opening up the offense.

This week, Arizona, the desert. Okay, Michael, you are Special Forces and those guys with the white headgear, they’re – well, you know. Make us proud.

(Box Score – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, November 4, 2001)
Nov 022001

Approach to the Game – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, November 4, 2001: The Cowboys are not a good football team right now and there is no reason why the Giants should not make short work of them. However, NFC East games usually are pretty tight and Dallas has been playing with a lot of passion on defense and special teams. The Giants need to get on top quickly and then pound them with the running game.

Giants on Special Teams: It’s time for Rodney Williams to get out of his funk and help this team win again. Reggie Swinton returns both punts and kicks for Dallas and is dangerous. The coverage teams need to play disciplined, aggressive football. One guy who needs to step it up on special teams is Jack Golden. Dave Thomas also needs to start making more plays.

Another big area of concern is that the Giants’ kickoff return unit has not been very productive. The blockers and Ron Dixon need to get into sync and start making some noise here in order to help out the offense.

The Giants are overdue for a good special teams game.

Giants on Defense: With or without Emmitt Smith (knee), you know the Cowboys are going to try to run the ball down the Giants’ throats just like Washington did. Even if DT Keith Hamilton (shoulder) and/or WLB Jessie Armstead (calf/hamstring) play, the weakside will be the target. They will aggressively test the injuries or the replacements. Plus, DE Kenny Holmes did not play the run particularly well last week. The Dallas offensive line is big and talented. LG Larry Allen is considered by many to be the best offensive lineman in football. He will face the injured Hamilton or the inexperienced Lance Legree (who is also ailing a bit with a chest injury). LT Flozell Adams is a mammoth player who will have a huge size/strength advantage over Holmes. Kenny will need to use his superior quickness and leverage to disrupt plays. On the strongside, the Giants need Cornelius Griffin to have a big game against RG Kelvin Garman – this is the type of opponent who Griffin should eat up, but Cornelius must play stouter at the point of attack. Luckily for Michael Strahan, his old nemesis, Erik Williams, is gone. His new opponent this year is RT Solomon Page.

To me, the defensive key of this game is the ability of the Giants weakside defense to defend the run. Holmes and Hamilton or Legree will be on the spot. So will Armstead or his replacement Dhani Jones. I like Jones a lot – he is a smart football player and he plays the game with a lot of passion. He’s got good quickness too. The Giants also need Mike Barrow to play better than he did last week in flowing down the line and making tackles. All Giants’ fans know how tough Emmitt Smith is. But his replacement Troy Hambrick is no slouch either. He’s got a very good size/speed package and is averaging almost 8 yards per carry. The Giants are going to have to play a very aggressive and physical style of football in order to defend the bigger Cowboys. Aggressive play from the safeties in run defense will be important too. Look for some run blitzes.

But the safeties and corners must be a bit wary of trick plays too. Dallas saw the success Washington had and the Giants have some aggressive safeties. Journeyman Clint Stoerner will probably start at quarterback, but recently signed Ryan Leaf could see action as well. It is important for the Giants to stuff the run and put either quarterback in long down-and-distance situations where they can rattle the passer. Turnovers should result.

The secondary also must be wary of the tremendous speed possessed by the Cowboy receiving corps. Joey Galloway and Rocket Ismail are speed burners. The good news is that Will Allen (ankle) returns this week and that is the strength of his game too. But Jason Sehorn needs to play the deep pass better than he has done recently. Look for Dallas to test him deep. Stoerner is more of a short- and intermediate-passer so when he plays, the linebacker must keep an eye on TE Jackie Harris and 3rd-down back Michael Wiley.

Giants on Offense: Dallas will try to keep the game close by slowing down the pace of the contest with their running game and expecting their defense to do a decent job against the Giants’ offense. They probably also expect to win the special teams battle. The talk in the press this week in New York has been about getting the Giants’ running game going. If the Giants focus on running the ball from the start of the contest, however, I think this will be a mistake.

I expect Dallas to load up against the run and try to put Kerry Collins in long-yardage situations. Moreover, even if the Giants are partially successful in running the ball, I don’t think this strategy will be conducive to putting the Cowboys away early. I would come out from the get go just like the Giants did in the second quarter last week and throw the football early and often. Do it on first and second down with 3- and 4-WR sets. Get a 10 or 14 point lead, then hit them with Dayne and Barber. Don’t play into their hands.

Aside from SS Darren Woodson, the Dallas secondary is not good. Amani Toomer, Ike Hilliard, Joe Jurevicius, and Ron Dixon should eat these guys up. Get the Cowboys into their nickel coverage and throw the football down the field. Passing short to the backs and tight ends won’t be as productive because the Cowboy linebackers are good in coverage (though the Giants should try to test rookie Markus Steele on the strongside).

If you look at Dallas’ front seven with their light linebackers and smaller linemen, you would think the Giants would be able to run all over them. This may prove to be the case. But Dallas is very quick and active up front and the Giants don’t really have a powerful offensive line to play smash mouth. I would keep most things going north-south rather than east-west against Dallas. Don’t provide them with opportunities to shoot gaps and create negative plays. I would run some power sweeps, but for the most part, I’d try to do most of my damage between the tackles. It will be important for the blockers to be able to engage and sustain their blocks against the quick linebackers. If they do, the Giants should be able to break some long running plays.

Up front, the Giants should be able to control the down four of Dallas for the most part, but in order to do so, guys such as RT Luke Petitgout, LG Glenn Parker, and RG Ron Stone need to elevate their games. All three have been playing sub-par football in my book.