Jan 092002
 
Green Bay Packers 34 – New York Giants 25

Game Overview: I know many of you are not superstitious, but the whole year had that “jinxed” feeling to it. It started with a schedule that put the Giants in Denver when they were opening their new stadium with their legends of the past on hand. As the Giants are walking through the airport in Newark early Tuesday morning, they pass some of the September 11th terrorists who are about to hijack a plane. Many of the players see the Twin Towers collapse from their homes. All of the sudden football doesn’t feel as important as it once did. The refs then literally steal the Rams game when they call a phantom holding penalty on a successful field goal attempt…the Giants end up losing by one point. The Giants dominate the Eagles the following week, but can’t get the damn ball into the endzone. Another one point loss. One of the most important players on the team, Keith Hamilton, basically becomes a one-armed player due to injury. Kenny Holmes has a bum knee. Cornelius Griffin has a bum ankle. Jason Sehorn’s knee keeps locking up. Jessie Armstead – who is already slowing down – tears his hamstring. Tiki Barber misses all of the preseason. Ike Hilliard’s toe never got better. The left side of the offensive line got old real fast. The Giants take a 21-14 lead on the Eagles with 2:43 left in the game and end up losing 24-21 as a miracle play falls four yards short. The officiating all year is horrific – flags are regularly thrown on the Giants for dubious calls, but they are rarely tossed for the other team’s infractions. In the end, even Michael Strahan’s NFL sack record is tainted. As David Oliver points out, bad karma indeed.

But many of the Giants’ problems were of their own creation. Execution was sub-standard. Most of the offense was far too inconsistent and the play-calling was questionable at times. The big problem was again was the fact that the Giants simply could not score enough points – averaging slightly over 18 points a game. They never did blow out anyone. Defensively, the Giants had a lot of injuries, but they were still disappointing – culminating with perhaps their most uninspiring performance of the season against Green Bay. The Giants’ defense didn’t play a physical game in 2001. Special teams remained an inexcusable joke that cost the Giants games. The Giants were worst in the league at kick coverage and returning kicks. The punting game caused self-inflicted wounds at times.

I wouldn’t read too much into the Green Bay game. The Packers are motivated and heading to the playoffs. The Giants’ loss to the Eagles the previous week sapped moral and motivation for New York. The bad news was that there were flashes of more damn inconsistency at troubling spots. The good news was that some of the young guys got a chance to play.

Quarterback: Kerry Collins’s performance was mostly positive, but there were a few old negative tendencies that came to the surface once again. First, it’s important to remember the year as a whole – not just what transpired in the last quarter of the season. Many fans are guilty of only remembering the last few games and not the entirety.

Collins was way too inconsistent in 2001. Why? Who knows? Perhaps he simply had a down year. Perhaps 2000 was his career year. But until the last minute drive against the Cardinals, Kerry’s leadership, poise, decision-making, and accuracy all waned. Coaches and teammates silently stewed. Then came three impressive back-to-back-to-back late drives against the Cardinals, Seahawks, and Eagles. Collins started standing tougher in the pocket, making better decisions, and throwing the ball more accurately again. The old Collins of 2000 seemed to be re-emerging with the incredibly important additional attribute that he started to prove that he could be a come-from-behind signal caller. All this leaves fans – and probably management – a bit unsure of how much they should trust Collins in 2002.

Some of the old negatives appeared at times against the Packers. There were a few plays where Collins was bit too jumpy in the pocket (you can tell that the pass protection on his blindside makes him nervous – he doesn’t trust Lomas Brown and Glenn Parker anymore). On the short passes to Tiki, he was looking too quickly in his direction again – leading the opposition’s linebackers to intended target. Kerry had a chance to hit a big play in the second quarter when Green Bay came with an all-out blitz. He had Toomer on the slant, but the throw was off his back foot and too low. Collins fumbled a shotgun snap and he threw a poorly overthrown ball off his back foot that was intercepted at a key spot in the third quarter when the Giants were driving and trying to cut the lead to 34-17.

But, as I said, the positives out-weighed the negatives. There may have been a few plays where he was jumpy, but I mostly saw continued toughness in the pocket – even when it was collapsing. The Giants moved the ball well and would have had even more points if it weren’t for failures by the supporting cast (breakdowns in pass protection, dropped passes, etc.). Collins did a good job of looking off the coverage on a few throws. There were several passes that were pretty damn sharp, throwing into tight quarters that many quarterbacks wouldn’t even dare. His slant passes were particularly impressive and he had a really nice touch on a deep pass to Tiki for 25 yards. In the end, Collins had thrown for 386 yards and two touchdowns.

Offensive Line: On the surface, with 524 total net yards, you would think the offensive line performed very well against the Packers. Indeed, when you consider the fact that Collins dropped back to pass 59 times and was sacked only once, pass protection certainly wasn’t poor. Plus the Giants gained 146 yards rushing. They must have done something right, right? Yes and no. The pass protection was strong for the most part, but there continued to be annoying breakdowns on the left side that disrupted plays. Much of the ground game was due to the strong blocking of the tight ends as it was the offensive line. Indeed, the Giants were not able to generate anything running left and largely abandoned that option. The left side of the line just seems old and tired…one got the sense that Lomas Brown and Glenn Parker couldn’t wait for the season to be over. Fresh blood is needed.

The positives are that Luke Petitgout continues to develop into one of the better right tackles in the league. There are times when he struggles a bit in pass protection – and he did on two plays that I spotted against Green Bay – but his run blocking has truly become an asset and many of the Giants’ positive run come off his blocks on the strongside. They have all year. Strange, because Luke doesn’t look like a big, bruising run blocker – but he gets movement. Added to that is his ability to get out quickly to engage linebackers – he got a great downfield block for instance on Dayne’s big run (this is what I mean when I say engaging at the second level). Luke is rounding into a fine, fine player because he can block at the point-of-attack as well as block on the run. Now if he can just stop with the false starts – one took away a 50-yard field goal.

Jason Whittle replaced Ron Stone (wrist) and played pretty darn well for someone who hasn’t seen much time. Whittle played hard and you could tell that he was fighting and scratching for everything. Jason worked to sustain his blocks and generally did a good job in that department (i.e., Ron Dayne’s 61-yard run) and moved pretty well. But he didn’t really overpower anyone and couldn’t blow people off the line like Stone can (when motivated and playing well). If he starts next year, he’s the kind of guy who can help you on pulls, screens, getting out to engage the linebacker, etc., but not necessarily the guy you want to run behind when you need to run right up the gut. His pass protection against the Packers was very solid.

Dusty Zeigler doesn’t make many mistakes and also moves really well. Indeed, he probably is one of the best pulling centers in the game and is fun to watch on screens. For a big guy, he doesn’t get a lot of movement either, but not many centers in this league do. Zeigler is smart, works hard to engage his man, and solid in pass protection. I only spotted two instances where his man got in Collins’ face against Green Bay. Unfortunately, one of those instances was the bootleg pass to the left after Dayne’s long run. The defensive tackle got to Collins too quickly and Kerry wasn’t able to set up properly to hit Dan Campbell rolling away from the fake. Whittle could have helped out here too.

It’s the left side that bothers me. To be fair to Lomas, he kept one of the best pass rushers in the league this year mostly at bay. But what was truly upsetting was to see him give up a critical sack and turnover against a journeyman, back-up defensive end. Most frustrating was that here you have a 38-year old veteran, a 7-time Pro Bowler, use as poor of technique as you could possibly see in the NFL. Not only did he not keep his feet moving, but he ducked his head – a huge no-no in pass protection. The Giants were driving at this point and looked ready to cut the lead to 27-17.

Parker had a couple of nice blocks on pulls (a la his play in 2000), but there were also those instances where he simply wasn’t quick enough to get out on his block again. There was also too much pass pressure coming from his area. You can tell that the pass protection on the left side makes Collins nervous (rightfully so). On the third play of the game, Brown and Parker couldn’t handle DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Collins had to dump the ball off quickly. 3-and-out. On the next drive, Parker and Brown could get no movement at the point-of-attack and Tiki was stuffed on a left-side run. On the very next play, Kabeer pushed Brown back into Collins. Kerry hurried a throw that was not thrown far enough to the outside, resulting in an interception. Pressure given up by Brown also influenced Collins’ second interception.

Tight Ends/Fullback: Dan Campbell and Howard Cross were blocking machines on Sunday. The Giants were largely so successful running the ball because the ability of these two to get critical blocks at the point-of-attack. For all the grief the Giants’ motion offense gets from fans, when it works, it is a beautiful thing to watch. Often times, the Giants will start the play with a balanced look, but when all the motion is complete, they will have overloaded the formation to the strongside. It often ends up that Cross and Campbell are over there together. The Giants best runs occur when Petitgout, Campbell, Cross, and Comella can all execute their blocks on the right-side – and that’s what happened on Sunday. Now if the Giants could just get a left guard who could move a bit faster and sustain a little longer, then the Giants may really be in business. Cross is still blocking very well and I’m not sure he’s gone just yet – there is still a role on this team for someone who can block like him.

Comella blocked well too, but his biggest problem was that he dropped a couple of passes, including a critical one on 3rd-and-5 that would have given the Giants a 1st-and-goal from the 3-yard line. Instead of making the score 14-14, the Giants had to settle for 14-10. Marcellus Rivers continues to play a lot. Even though he is not seeing the ball, just playing is great experience for him. He learned a valuable lesson on Sunday on Collins’ first interception that was thrown slightly behind him. Marcellus has to cut his route sharper to the outside and not round it off so much. That will come with experience.

Wide Receivers: Amani Toomer (5 catches for 79 yard) made a couple of excellent catches (i.e., his leaping grab of a high Collins’ throw despite getting hammered), but also continued to have some problems catching the ball. He had two second half drops on pretty passes from Collins. What’s weird about Toomer’s drops is that this was never a problem before this season. Maybe he is just in a funk. His other miscues included committing an obvious offensive pass interference penalty.

Ike Hilliard (3 catches for 31 yards) was surprisingly quiet except for his spectacular 8-yard reception on 3rd-and-goal for a touchdown. Ike showed amazing presence (to know where the line was) and body control (to be able to keep his feet in bounds) on the play.

The receivers continue to block well for the run, including Ron Dixon. This is what gives me hope for Dixon. If a receiver is lazy, it shows up in his run blocks. Dixon really works hard at his run blocking – at least it looks that way on the tape. He got an excellent block down the field on Dayne’s long run. Joe Jurevicius got a really good block on the CB on a 9-yarder and 16-yarder by Barber. In the passing game, Dixon (3 catches for 61 yards) made a couple of quality 20-yard catches down the field – something I expected from him all year. I didn’t like the route on a deep pass that was obviously intended for him. Instead of giving the CB a move or head fake, he simply ran straight down the field. He remained covered and Collins was forced to throw the ball away. Dixon also dropped a pass late. Joe Jurevicius (8 catches for 82 yard) was productive underneath, but missed two big plays down the middle of the field because he didn’t get both his hands up on the ball. Strange.

Thabiti Davis caught two passes, including a big one on 4th down. Although Jonathan Carter didn’t catch a pass, he got a lot of playing time and had two passes thrown in his direction. The experience will help.

Halfbacks: Ron Dayne (10 carries for 81 yards, 1 touchdown) really played well down the stretch. Give him some room to operate and once he has a head of steam, defenders cringe at the thought of tackling him. What is really clear is that Dayne has become more comfortable with the Giants’ blocking schemes (i.e., the motion, the pulling, the lead fullback, etc.). He reacting more now, rather than thinking, and it shows. His 61-yarder was blocked well, but he also had to fight through some tight confines at the line; he also showed the burst that those at training camp were talking about in the summer. I was actually more impressed by his shorter runs. He did not hesitate at the line when there was no hole and powered it up there regardless – something he didn’t do last year. On the Giants’ first scoring drive, Dayne started things off with a nifty sidestep of a blitzing linebacker in the backfield and turned a loss into a 3-yard gain. On the next drive, he picked up 3-yards after spinning off a tackler at the line of scrimmage. The biggest negative on Dayne was his fumble to start the game that put the Giants into a 2nd-and-13 hole from their own six-yard line.

Tiki Barber (9 carries for 65 yards, 6 catches for 53 yards) started off a bit slowly. I spotted him missing an early blitz pick-up and he dropped a 3rd-and-2 pass from Collins. But he had a number of sizeable runs to his right and an all-effort, 10-yard touchdown where he fought like crazy for the last yard. He played hurt and took a pounding – but he stayed in there for most of the game.

Defensive Line: The entire defense didn’t play with a lot of emotion or intensity and were pretty much humiliated in my opinion. The injuries were a factor as the defense was stripped of Jason Sehorn, Will Allen, Keith Hamilton, and Shaun Williams. Up front, Hamilton (no tackles) hurt his knee and on the very next play the Packers took advantage of it, running right up the gut at the gimpy Hamilton for a 25-yard touchdown early in the first quarter. For the rest of the game, Lance Legree (6 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) played hard and hustled, but he had his problems playing off blocks and didn’t make much of an impact. I did like the way he hustled however; even when knocked to the ground, he would fight to get back in on the tackle. I thought Cornelius Griffin (2 tackles) played a decent game. He got the most pass pressure of any of the Giants on Favre and did a good job of holding his ground at the point of attack for the most part.

Michael Strahan (4 tackles, 1 sack) and Kenny Holmes (3 tackles) got close on the pass rush at times, but were largely non-factors. Both had their problems at times against the run. Strahan got blocked on one early run pretty easily by the second-string tight end. Indeed, by the third quarter, the Giants’ run defense had reach the level of disgusting as the entire front seven was being shoved around. Strahan’s efforts to get his sack were hampered by the Packers mixing things up with misdirection, quick throws, and added pass protection slid in his direction. The Packers also didn’t run a lot of plays – 57 to the Giants’ 81 – mostly because they were scoring too quickly. He did get close on probably 3-4 occasions, but Favre got rid of the ball just in time.

Cedric Scott (2 tackles) saw a lot of playing time as Holmes aggravated his knee injury. There was one play where Scott looked impressive as his shot down the line from the backside to tackle the back. At times he was pretty darn stout at the point-of-attack, but I also saw him having some problems at other times – including one occasion where he was blocked by the tight end. It was good for him to see some playing time.

Linebackers: Invisible. Probably as bad a game as I’ve seen these three play. Michael Barrow’s numbers (11 tackles, 1 pass defense) look good, but I’ll be damned if I graded him positively except for a very few plays. Jessie Armstead (7 tackles) missed tackle on Ahman Green turned a no-gainer into a 25-yard touchdown. He also missed two tackles on Green Bay’s field goal drive right before halftime – costing the Giants’ another three points. He missed a couple of more tackles in the second half, and like Barrow, had problems playing off of blocks. Two really solid backside tackles against the halfback late don’t compensate. Was Brandon Short (2 tackles, 1 pass defensed) even on the field? I saw him make one good play against the run and one against the pass. That was it.

Green Bay’s backs were getting far too open underneath – the backers must share a lot of the blame there.

Defensive Backs: Dave Thomas (3 tackles) was beaten like a drum and it was embarrassing. He played back to prevent the big throw and the Packers just kept throwing the ball in front of him for cheap, easy yards. Then when he moved up, they beat him deep. I’ll cherish his over-achieving play in 2000, but he’s done. He blew the coverage on Favre’s 26-yard touchdown toss to Bill Schroeder on the Pack’s first drive (indeed, there looked to be quite a few mental as well as physical breakdowns in the secondary as some guys were simply too wide open in zone coverage). Thomas’ man (Corey Bradford) got free of him right before halftime for 45 yards and this set up a last-second field goal. On this play and a few others, the lack of athleticism on the part of Thomas was startling as Thomas had problems even keeping his feet. Thomas’ other big play given up was the 57-yard touchdown where Bradford simply just ran by him. There were three deep balls thrown in Thomas’ direction that he defended very well, including the terrible pass interference call on him.

Will Peterson (2 tackles, 1 pass defensed) got beat deep once for 47 yards, but had solid coverage on the play. Other than that, he was quiet as Favre through away from him and at Thomas.

Emmanuel McDaniel (2 tackles) had his problems. Antonio Freeman had EMac beat deep for a touchdown but Freeman dropped the ball. He was also beat on a couple of short throws underneath. Ralph Brown (1 tackle) saw a lot of playing time and didn’t embarrass himself.

I see a lot of complaints in The Corner Forum about where is the safety help? Unless a fan knows what kind of coverage the Giants are in and the responsibility of the safeties on a given play, I don’t see how we can accurately judge if a mistake was made (either mental or physical). Still, it seems a bit odd that there is no safety in the picture on some of these deep passes. Perhaps it is simply a matter of fact that the Giants put their safeties elsewhere or the opposition beat a blitz. Perhaps someone is screwing up. Sam Garnes (4 tackles) was invisible yet again. Shaun Williams (5 tackles) was forced to leave the game early with a knee injury. He looked good helping out Thomas on one deep shot into the endzone. Williams had nice coverage on Bubba Franks on another play to force an incompletion. But he used incredibly bad technique with an attempted shoulder tackle on a receiver that was broken for a 27-yard gain. Also, on many of Green’s runs, Williams was on the receiving side of too many hits. Very unlike him.

Omar Stoutmire didn’t help out Thomas on the long TD pass…was he supposed to? Stoutmire did make a nice play by knocking away a pass intended for Bradford on 3rd-and-11.

Special Teams: God am I tired about writing about how bad the Giants’ special teams are. The good news was that Morten Andersen continued his accurate field goal efforts – including a 50-yarder that was taken off of the board. P Rodney Williams also punted exceptionally well – four punts for a 46.8 yard average. Punt coverage, given the strong work of Williams, was solid with returns of 0, 6, 0 (fair catch), and 2 yards. Ron Dixon did a good job of getting down field as a gunner and Dhani Jones was in on two tackles.

Kick-offs and kick coverage were another story. Green Bay came into the game struggling on kick returns. Welcome to the fiasco that is the Giants’ kick-off coverage!!! First, Owen Pochman was only able to get his kicks to the 8, 12, 16, and 6. And the Giants gave up returns of 31, 35, 53, and 19. On the 35-yarder, Ralph Brown and EMac lost contain as Clayton White missed an early tackle opportunity by not breaking down properly. On the 53-yarder, both Jack Golden and Thabiti Davis missed tackles.

Punt and kick returns were pretty bad. Tiki had nowhere to run on his returns (blocking sucked again). Ron Dixon got a chance late to return a punt and did too much dancing (some things never change). Jonathan Carter did not hit the “holes” fast, but did show some vision and moves. Still, by slowing down, he made it easier to tackle him. He only managed returns of 9, 14, 23, 19, 24, and 12. Two holding penalties on returns – by Kevin Lewis and Clayton White – hurt as well.


It Wasn’t Lombardiesque

by David Oliver

As the Packers came to town to close out the season. There were a few things for which to be grateful: the game wasn’t at Lambeau; the rain held off and Michael Strahan got his record, deservedly so, to the delight of a horde of photographers who stayed til the bitter end for this one shot, which I somehow missed. Kerry Collins also set a record by taking every snap for two successive years, a testament to the philosophy of it’s better not to take punishment and live to throw another day, and to the perverse stubbornness of his Coach who just doesn’t believe his second and third guys are worth more than throwing the ball in practice. So the 2001 season could be remembered as the year the Giants had four kickers and three quarterbacks, no special teams gunners and salary cap difficulties. Pretty quirky stuff. But it didn’t figure in to this game, so we’ll confine our analysis to the Packer-Giants entertaining meeting.

It was entertaining because Brett Favre came to town. And he is worth the price of admission anytime. He completed only half of his 30 passes, for 315 yards, and finished with a rating of 109.7. I have seen a lot of great ones play the game, many on television, but some in person. I consider myself fortunate to have photographed Dan Marino, John Elway, Brett Favre and Troy Aikman. I never photographed Joe Montana or Steve Young. Phil Simms was probably the most underrated and undervalued of his time. That’s about it for greatness. Favre is always a delight. He has a canon for an arm, plays with the heart of a teenager and the soul of a warrior, is almost impossible to sack, tantalizes you with a variety of movements and throws from an unbalanced position, and is a complete QB.

Strong arms come and go; but very few will find a place in history with just a strong arm. Each of the QBs above had or has a strong arm, with the possible exception of Montana. But there are the intangibles: Marino had an incredibly quick release and unbelievable fire; Elway was atomic powered and could engineer miracle comebacks; Aikman had accuracy; Favre is a wild man who throws hard, leads by desire, never loses in the cold and has developed accuracy over the years. He stays animated and he is into the game, as a game. He is a joy to watch. Every one of these QBs developed touch to go with their strong arms. Montana was the master of touch.

It is unfair to compare Kerry Collins to any of these legends, so I will just reiterate the numbers. Kerry completed his second year as the only QB to take a snap at Mara Tech and in this game he completed 36-of-59 passes for 386 yards. But he threw 2 interceptions against 1 TD, had a long of only 29 yards and had a rating of 71.7. How do you amass these stats, yet have such an abysmal rating and be considered only so-so? Like several of his predecessors in Blue, Kerry has not developed “touch.” He has no feel for the short game, unless it is a straight drop off to Tiki Barber. He is a method thrower, rear back and fire it, often with incredible accuracy – more accurate than Kent Graham, but the absence of touch is what keeps Kent a career back-up and it keeps Kerry in the “wonderment” class, as in I wonder what kind of game he will have today. Kerry hit nine different receivers, but his average completion netted only 10.7 yards, with a long of 27, although he actually had 4 completions longer than 20 yards. He did play a stronger game again – his last two games showed considerable improvement. He only had one or two of those goofy throws to the ankles, he ran out nicely, he used pretty good discretion, and despite an abysmal third quarter, he kept the Giants in the game until the end. He is not in Favre’s league, but he had a decent game for the second straight week.

The receivers were running all over the lot. Coach Payton again opened up the playbook and the machine rolled. It was a tantalizing performance which should fuel the “what ifs” for the off-season. Interestingly enough, the two guys rumored to be heading elsewhere were the most active. Joe Jurevicius (JJ) had 8 grabs for 82 yards, tough yards, with a nice 25 yard grab and go and Greg Comella had 7-for-59 yards with a 26 yarder. It would be a shame to lose either or both, as this is how the passing game should go and these are the guys who can bring up a notch. JJ takes a pounding out there. He was manhandled on a couple and the refs were using their towels to blow their nose. Just plain disgusting officiating, one more time. Greg has been another of the walking wounded – guys who don’t complain, don’t talk about it, saddle up and go give good effort every play. He is a classic fullback and his hands are a weapon which will not be easily replaced. It’s a shame that Kerry and Coach Payton couldn’t figure out that the way to break an eight man rush is to throw to the fullback OVER THE MIDDLE. Oh, well, here goes the merry-go-round, buy your tickets now.

Tiki pulled in six receptions and Amani had five, but Amani dropped an early, easy catch and a couple were thrown to the stilt walker. Ron Dixon had three receptions for 61 yards and again showed that promise. His problem is that he is not a system player; he can run like the wind, has great body control and nice hands. He can’t get up in the morning, has a lite attention span and thinks he is the second coming of Jerry Rice, but he has talent, and it is the kind of talent you can’t just write off. Ike also pulled in three, one of which was needed, the kind of play Ike has been good at. I still think back to that day in Jacksonville when Dave Brown threw the pass behind him and he slowed, only to be clothes-lined by a defender, which snapped some vertebrae. What a career he might have had. Sigh, more Giants karma. Dan Campbell, Thabiti Davis, and Ron Dayne rounded out the receiving.

The running game was very nice with Big Ron rumbling for 81 yards, 61 on one gallop. Tiki added another 65 on nine carries to go with his six catches. Ron Dayne also ran in a 2-point conversion, led by a nice block laid by Dan Campbell who just kept pushing the defender backwards. Dayne’s 61-yarder came right down the sideline on the Giants bench side of the field. I was standing on the 20 with a 300MM lens and watched the big back rumble past. With that lens I could only get his head and a side view at that. It is this kind of burst which he brings to the table. I’ ve mentioned trade rumors before and it would be a shame if the Giants let him go for worthless draft choices. In fact, the only trade I would make for Ron Dayne would be for Daunte Culpepper. I’ll fess up again – I said Ron Dayne would gain over 1,000 yards; I figured him for 1,200 just as EA says, but I’m revising that figure; as a feature back , RD is good for 1,500 yards a year. I watched Ahman Green in college, kind of hoped the Giants would grab him. Green is nowhere near the runner that Dayne is. Ronnie with the G-Men is tattooed, Blued and screwed. The key is, as Coach Payton says, balance. But 19 carries between two great backs and 59 passes is not balance. Unless, of course, they get confidence in RD’s hands and send him out of the backfield also.

Okay, 36 pass completions and 146 yards on the ground isn’t chicken feed, unless you are a critic of the Giants’ line. I don’t find them to be as bad as most here at BBI. Lomas Brown again did a pretty good job, Glenn Parker did a Parker like job and the last six games has performed as well as he did last year. Zeigler was again steady, Stone again wasn’t missed, Luke is improving steadily and Whittle looked good. Even Chris Bober got some reps and he had some movement. Back to the off season. Had the Giants brought in Dave Szott, we wouldn’t be talking about wholesale replacement of the line. And although this isn’t a season review, I’ll say it again, you can’t replace 60 % of your offensive line at once and win, not in the draft. And any free agent replacement who can do the job better is going to cost big bucks. Having said that, the Giants will need to draft one and sign one, but today, against the Packers, the line did it’s job.

On defense, Barrow again led the way with 11 tackles, although more of them were shared this week. He also got in on a pass defense. Jessie added 7 tackles, sometimes looking very good, and others looking very average. Lance Legree saw significant action and contributed 6 tackles. Williams and Garnes contributed 9 between them. Michael was concentrating on the sack, which he got late in the game, with the help of some good sportsmanship by Favre. The Packers killed Michael in this game using two and three blockers, mauling him, holding him, grabbing at him. The refs are once again responsible for a whole lot of unnecessary discussion. If they did their job, Strahan would probably had 2 or 3 sacks in the game, which is saying something when you are playing Favre. The Giants were getting some penetration, but Favre has incredible field vision and got rid of the ball, sometimes while being hit, others an instant before. Cedric Scott got some good time and contributed two hits, Ralph Brown had one, Dhani Jones had two, Frankie Ferrara had one. Dave Thomas, EMac and Stoutmire played throughout. Thomas was brutalized on an interception on one of those plays where the ref wasn’t blowing his nose. He was just putting an exclamation point on poor Dave Thomas’ season. Kind of sad, Dave Thomas of Wendy’s – departs – and Dave Thomas of the Giants probably follows, in a football way. Life is just full of little ironies. Ralph Brown told me in the locker that he was excited, that he felt the young guys were a good nucleus for the future. He said he would be working hard this off-season “to improve his playing speed.” Pass defense was not noticeably worse without Allen. There were only 15 completions, but one went for 54 and one for 45 – they both hurt.

Special Teams were as usual. Rodney Williams did have a pretty good day, kicking four times for 187 yards, with a long of 52 and two inside the 20. Punt returns were negligible, kickoff returns not much better. Kickoff coverage was terrible.

What else is there to say? The Giants had a nice advantage in time of possession, rolled up 524 net yards on offense, had 25 first downs and lost the game. The Packers started fast, or the Giants started slow, with a penalty on the opening kick, then the usual botched fumble from scrimmage and three net yards on the first drive. Their possessions went in a bizarre fashion, punt, interception, TD, punt, FG, missed FG, punt, punt, fumble, interception, TD, TD, end of game.

To a man, the Giants were happy for Michael Strahan’s record, yet, no one mentioned Kerry Collins’ record. There was a strange mood in the locker room; some veterans were still dismayed over not making the playoffs, some were wistful over the possible end of a Giants stay, the young guys seemed relieved that it was over and were ready to get out of there and go take a vacation, the coaches were silent, brooding. Lomas Brown, ever, the gentleman, the diplomat was assigning his locker to a successor. He was asked why he was already giving it away and he flat out said he’s not sure if the Giants want him to come back, although he’d love to and would take the minimum. He was funny about the locker, pointing out one player and saying “Don’t give this corner to him, he’s weird,” in a friendly way and telling us that it was professional to establish locker rights. We joked a little about agent’s and various things. Lomas is a class act and can easily fill the bill as a strong reserve, if not part time starter.

Brandon Short told me that he felt that he improved by leaps and bounds and that next year would be a coming out year. He is ready to show his stuff. Jack Golden had a tackle today and was upbeat. His mom has just had surgery and he has been worried for a couple of months. Jack is a great guy and he hustles. Many people don’t understand his role on the unit – he was brought in as the enforcer, and his feistiness is encouraged. He is not just a hot head, his job is to bring a little life out there. Jack needs to reflect a little in the off-season and come back refreshed because he has the ability to be a good one.

Walk around the room with me. No one is talking today’s game, except the Strahan record. All the beat writers want to know is who is coming and going, how the players feel about it. The Practice Squad guys shower, dress and leave quickly, quietly; the young guys who got reps out there today are animated, eyes bright, happy they played in a game. Comella and JJ, polite, bruised, quietly answering questions; Jason Garrett, nattily dresses and smiling as if he had just won the Super Bowl, another gentleman. Jesse James Palmer, Mr. GQ, talking alone with Kenny Palmer at his locker. Crowds with Jessie, Barrow, Lomas; it seems as if all the reporters are at one end of the locker and it may just tilt and sink into the Meadowlands.

Barrow is answering questions about Jessie and other veterans who might be elsewhere. He is saying how this is a business and how he knows what it is like to be “fired” to not be wanted. He tells us he has counseled Jessie to have faith in God’s plan, to remember how “He blew out his knee in college, how he came in here as an 8th round draft choice.” He says Jessie will play somewhere next year, hopefully here. About other guys, he talks about when he came in here there was a supposed “disunity” problem, and how guys were brought in because of locker room presence. He says there has been a bonding with these guys, on and off the field, and he feels sadness that some of that may be lost, but he hopes all of the rumors aren’t true.

Morten Andersen summed it up best for me. He told me he wants to come back, that he’ll play somewhere, but he hopes it’s here because he likes the players, he likes Von Appen and the tradition, the honor of playing for a franchise like the NY Giants is something special. He’s been around for a long time and there was no locker speak or media talk here, this was a football player telling me how unique it is to be a Giant. He is disappointed in the year because “it is a team sport, and you get your satisfaction out of the team’s accomplishments. ” He said special teams was a large disappointment; the kicking game was short, the coverage teams were placed at a disadvantage and they didn’t give the team the ball in good positions to score. There is no ducking here; Mort feels specials let the team down, and he wants to be part of turning that around. He likes the personnel and told me he doesn’t feel as if the Giants are that far away, they are, after all, “the team that went to the Super Bowl last year.” But the most critical factor in the year, he told me, was the two one point losses to the Rams and the Eagles. He felt these losses hurt the psyche of the team, “and it never recovered.”

There were no excuses; there was some elation, some wistful thinking, some sadness, a lot of wonder. It was a little different Giants’ locker room – but one theme remained constant; these are great guys, and notwithstanding their year was over, my year was over, our year was over, these are our Giants and that’s why we love them. That’s football.

(Box Score – Green Bay Packers at New York Giants, January 6, 2002)
Jan 042002
 

Approach to the Game – Green Bay Packers at New York Giants, January 6, 2002: This game means nothing to the Giants other than preventing a losing record. That is motivation, but not motivation enough for a team battling a Super Bowl contender fighting for a division title with the Bears. To be honest, it would be better for the Giants to lose the game in order to improve their draft position. But at the same time, like always, I’ll be rooting for them to win and be pretty ticked off if they lose. Such is the fate of a Giants’ fan!

Giants on Offense: The fact that Kerry Collins has played well for the last nine quarters should not erase memories of his disappointing play all season. Still, Collins has finally seemed to regain some of his old 2000 self in the last quarter of the 2001 season. Indeed, if Collins can take away one overriding positive from 2001 it is that he gained somewhat of a “comeback kid” mystique with his teammates. That could provide big dividends. What can we expect out of Collins in 2002? Who the hell knows? It will be interesting to see if the Giants bring in another veteran in the offseason or keep Jason Garrett. How much progress can Jesse Palmer make in one offseason? Regardless, Collins can make the Giants feel a bit easier about the quarterback position with another positive performance on Sunday.

Collins made an interesting comment this week that he made a big pitch for Ike Hilliard to stay with the franchise. Hilliard is signed through next year, but there were some whispers that the Giants would get rid of him. My best guess is that he stays (along with Collins). Amani Toomer will be back too, but I was disappointed in his play this year. I thought he would contend for a Pro Bowl spot, but his third straight 1,000-yard season was strangely lacking. Let’s hope he hasn’t plateaued. Then there is Ron Dixon. He isn’t the brightest guy in the world, but the guy can sure run. Personally, I think the odds are stacked against him because of the quarterbacks can’t trust him to run the right route, then they won’t throw to him. There are only so many times you can just tell him to “run like hell” on a fly pattern. But if Dixon could somehow have a Toomer-like renaissance like Amani did in his third year, the Giants’ offense will be much more explosive. Jonathan Carter fits into this same category. Joe Jurevicius? He could stay if some team doesn’t offer him more money – but he could be gone via free agency. My best guess is that the Giants take a wide receiver high in the draft, possibly with their first pick. After all, Ernie Accorsi wanted Santana Moss in round one last offseason – a time when the Giants’ receiving corps looked far more solid.

The one area where the Giants really need to revamp is obviously the offensive line. Luke Petitgout is a keeper. The big question is can he play left tackle? It’s terrible not knowing the answer to that because it clouds the Giants’ options in free agency and on draft day. If they knew for a fact that he can play left tackle, then could solely concentrate on run-blocking right tackles. Dusty Zeigler says he is more comfortable at guard than center. We know he can play center so we’ll pencil him in there for now. Pay attention to Jason Whittle against the Packers as he very well may be a 2002 starter at one of the guard spots. Personally, I’m fed up with Glenn Parker and Lomas Brown – good guys who ran out of gas. Ron Stone didn’t deserve the Pro Bowl and won’t get the money he will be seeking. Giants need a lot of help here.

I like Dan Campbell…I have since his rookie camp. One of the biggest positives of this year for the team was the improvement Campbell had as a blocker. He also showed some flashes down the stretch as a pass receiver. Dan is no Mark Bavaro, but he looks like a legitimate two-way tight end to me. The other positive is that Marcellus Rivers saw more and more playing time down the stretch. He’s a small, pass-receiving-type who would be very interesting if he had a bit more speed. I expect the Giants to add competition here, but the Giants are not in such dire straights at this position as some make out. My sleeper? Brady McDonnell who is on Injured Reserve. He could be the second blocking-type TE on the roster.

Boy it looked like Ron Dayne was destined for late-season oblivion again when Fassel decided (correctly I might add) to put the ball more in the hands of Tiki Barber. Dayne, who remember lost a ton of weight and gained quickness in the offseason, flashed big-time in the last two games. He is quicker, faster, and more decisive. Just as importantly, his vision has improved as he has had a few big cutback runs. Like Tiki said last year, it was only a matter of time before Dayne understood the Giants’ system. Dayne’s biggest weakness is that he still needs a head start. Penetration in the backfield kills his rushing attempts. Thus, for him to be truly effective, the Giants need to get a better run-blocking offensive line that doesn’t allow so much penetration. I would like to see Dayne get the majority of the carries against Green Bay. Tiki Barber had an injury-plagued year and missed all of the preseason and some of the regular season. It took him time to get back into shape and this hurt the offense. The one thing I’d like to see more Barber is that he needs to score more (only three touchdowns in 2001). Who will the third halfback be in 2002? Will Joe Montgomery still be on the roster or will Sean Bennett be invited back? Damon Washington is still in the picture as well.

There are whispers in the New York press that Greg Comella may not be back as the Giants may be looking for a better lead blocker. That will be an interesting situation to watch as well. I think Greg did a decent job this year, but getting a dominant lead blocker would really help Dayne.

Giants on Defense: For some reason, I don’t worry as much about Kenny Holmes as others do. I see the flashes so I know the talent is there. He’ll never be anything close to Michael Strahan, but I think he will be a better pass rusher than he showed in 2001. Still, I’d like to get another right-side pass rusher to push him as well as spell him. Michael Strahan should still be on top of his game for another year or two. Cedric Scott has the size you look for in a strongside defensive end and should be a decent back-up there as long as he develops. Inside, Hamilton’s injury probably cost the Giants the playoffs – no exaggeration. He is a critically important cog in the defense and he was missed in the one-point losses to the Rams and Eagles. Cornelius Griffin didn’t have the type of year anticipated, but no one is about to give up on him. He has All-Star-type tools. What the Giants need to do is find a stud to rotate in when one of these two gets tired or hurt. Lance Legree or Ross Kolodziej will improve.

The weakside linebacker spot is the one that worries me the most. Jessie’s lost his burst – I don’t think it was just the hamstring tear. He didn’t make many plays in the preseason or the regular season before he got hurt. The only memorable game he had was against the Cardinals. In a 4-3 defense, you want your weakside linebacker to be a big-time playmaker. I like Dhani Jones, but I wouldn’t just rely on him either. Personally, if I were GM, I’d unload Armstead and go after a big-name in free agency or the draft. Look for guys with great speed who can cover. Brandon Short had a fine season for his first at strongside linebacker. Mike Barrow has Pro Bowl talent and shows no signs of slowing. Depth is a bit of concern here.

The secondary is getting more grief than it deserves due to the chaos at cornerback. Jason Sehorn will return healthier next season. As long as he hasn’t lost his speed, he still is capable of being a shut-down corner. The knee injury that he suffered before the season (not to be confused with his surgically repaired ACL), robbed him of his mobility. Will Allen and Will Peterson showed me more than I hoped to dream before the season started. I figured that neither would be able to start until mid-season. Both are athletes with a lot of confidence. It will be interesting to see if Ralph Brown is still in the picture in 2002. Don’t write him off just yet.

The big mystery is what will happen at safety. The Giants can win with Sam Garnes at strong safety and Shaun Williams at free safety. But Williams does seem better suited to the strong position. Garnes is average. Getting a bit of a ball-hawker in the Vencie Glenn-mold would be ideal. DeWayne Patmon and Clarence LeBlanc are long-shots at this point – but can’t be discounted.

Giants on Special Teams: If Rodney Williams can just improve his consistency, he could be special. But that has been the rap on him since he left college. I don’t see the strong leg on Owen Pochman; I hope he is a better field goal artist than kick-off man. Call me crazy, but I think I’d bring back Morten Andersen next year. He makes me as comfortable on field goals as Matt Bahr did.

Ron Dixon isn’t a good return man. He doesn’t have a feel for it. The two returns he broke last year came on plays where there were huge holes to run up into. The Giants need to find a viable kick returner. I find it hard to believe that coaching on special teams is not a problem. You can’t tell me that our back-ups are that much worse than other team’s back-ups when it comes to covering punts and kicks.

Jan 022002
 
Philadelphia Eagles 24 – New York Giants 21

Game Overview: It was a classic game between two bitter rivals waging war for the NFC East crown. Unfortunately for Big Blue, Ron Dixon fell four yards short of the goal line and a miracle play that would have lived forever in the history of the game. But what ultimately cost the Giants game was poor execution on offense in the first half of the game and the inability of the defense to stop the Eagles in the waning moments of the 4th quarter. Indeed, New York is very lucky that the Eagles didn’t take a commanding lead in the first half. Of the Giants’ first six drives of the game, there were three 3-and-outs, one two play drive that ended with a fumble, a five play drive, and a nine play drive. It was that last drive of the first half, the nine play drive that haunts me. Amani Toomer dropped a deep ball that would have set the Giants up deep in Eagles’ territory. On the very next play, Tiki Barber dropped a screen pass that had nothing but open field in front of it; Tiki may have even scored on the play.

Despite all that, the Giants took a 21-14 lead with 2:43 left in the game. If the defense steps up like it should, the Giants win the game. It didn’t. Donovan McNabb had too much time and his receivers were too wide open. Surrendering 10 points in late like that is inexcusable.

There are some special players on the Eagles – guys like Donovan McNabb, Jeremiah Trotter, Corey Simon, and Hugh Douglas – who will make plays no matter what you do. And these guys did just that. Two Eagles who hurt the Giants quite a bit (again I might add) were Trotter and James Thrash. But if the Giants execute well, they win the game. No excuses, the Eagles won because they played better than the Giants did from start to finish.

Quarterback: It’s tough to tell how much the lack of offensive productivity in the first half is the responsibility of Kerry Collins (22-out-of-39 for 303 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions). I would tend to believe that Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard were having problems getting open, so Collins dumped the ball off to Tiki Barber a lot. Three dropped passes in critical situations didn’t help matters. One big positive is that Collins didn’t commit a turnover (no interceptions, no fumbles). And for the most part, he didn’t force the ball (there was one throw in the first half on a rollout where he was lucky the ball wasn’t picked). Here is a quick breakdown of the first half for Collins:

  • On the first drive, his only pass was dropped by Toomer on third down and the Giants went 3-and-out.
  • On the second drive, Collins’ 3rd-and-2 rollout pass to Hilliard was forced and the ball fell incomplete.
  • On the third drive, the Giants turned the ball over (Barber fumble) without a pass attempt.
  • On the fourth drive, Collins was forced to throw the ball away on 3rd-and-9 when Luke Petitgout couldn’t pick up a stunt.
  • On the fifth drive, after a first down pass to Marcellus Rivers netted eight yards on first down, two subsequent running plays were stuffed and the Giants were forced to punt.
  • On the sixth drive, Collins did a nice job of moving the team from the Giants’ 16 to the Eagle 43. But two back-to-back drops by Toomer and Barber stalled the drive with only a minute left before halftime.

The second half was a different story. I loved the play-calling – a lot of misdirection, screens, and a flea flicker against an aggressive defense. Scoring 21 points on the Eagles in one half is about as good as you can expect. Collins played pretty tough in the pocket, didn’t make any big errors, and moved the ball on four scoring drives. There were two passes, however, that I’m sure Collins would like back. First, he just overthrew an open Dan Campbell in the endzone on the Giants’ third drive of the second half and the Giants had to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown. Then on the fifth drive of the second half, on 3rd-and-6 from the Eagle 13 yard line, Collins threw behind Ike Hilliard and the Giants were forced to settle for another field goal. Collins played well, but if makes those two throws, the Giants probably win the game.

Wide Receivers: One of the biggest reasons why the Giants lost was the poor play of the wide receivers. Amani Toomer’s two drops were very costly. He dropped a 3rd-and-9 pass on the Giants’ opening possession to force a 3-and-out. And his drop of another deep sideline pass late in the second quarter cost the Giants sure points. He did score a 60-yard touchdown off of a flea flicker, but that was more the result of the Eagle defense being fooled. Take away that pass and Toomer caught two passes for nine yards. Pathetic. Toomer also fumbled the ball on an end around that put the Giants’ in a big hole that they were fortunate to get out of. (On a side note, Toomer was clearly interfered with on the 3rd-and-6 play right before the Giants’ last punt; if the call is made, the Eagles don’t kick the field goal in the waning seconds of the game. All year, the officials only called two pass interference penalties for the Giants while the opposition got the call pretty regularly).

Ike Hilliard (3 catches for 19 yards) was even worse. He was practically a non-factor in the game. He also missed a block on the WR-screen to Toomer on the first play of the Giants’ second drive. If Hilliard makes that block, Toomer picks up a lot more yardage than two yards. On the positive side, he did catch a 7-yard pass on 3rd-and-5 on the Giants’ first field goal drive. But he also dropped a ball in the second half as well.

Joe Jurevicius only had one catch, but it was a nice 18-yard play. After bobbling the ball originally, JJ came down with the reception despite a big hit from Sean Dawkins. Still, the Giants needed JJ to be more of a factor in the game. Ron Dixon did all he could do on the last play of the game. I’ve watched the play a few times from two different angles and if the strong safety doesn’t tackle Dixon, the Giants win the game. Joe Jurevicius did a good job on his block of Bobby Taylor and gave Dixon the sideline (watch the return from the endzone perspective if you have the tape), there were just more Eagle defenders than blockers in the area. A great play that just missed.

Tight Ends/Fullback: Only so-so in the blocking department. Greg Comella got pushed back on a left-side sweep on the second offensive play of the game and Barber was limited to only one yard (Lomas Brown didn’t get much of a block on the play either). The Giants set up a pretty good looking screen for Comella on the fourth drive, but he couldn’t take advantage of it, only gaining four yards on the play. On the second drive of the second half, Comella dropped a pass that was almost intercepted for a touchdown. On the very next play he caught a 5-yarder on 3rd-and-3.

Dan Campbell got pushed into the backfield by the defensive end on a 3rd-and-3 run to Barber on the fifth drive. Not only did this screw up the play, but Campbell is the one who tripped up Barber. For some reason, on one pass play in the second half, the Giants had Campbell all alone in pass protection against Hugh Douglas and Collins had to throw the ball away. Dan made two important catches on the Giants’ go-ahead TD drive that seemed to salt the game away. He made a great diving 20-yard reception on 2nd-and-20 that moved the ball from the Giants’ 9 to the 29 yard-line. Then on the very next play, he made an 11-yard reception. Three plays later, Campbell got a good block on Barber’s 23-yard run on 3rd-and-1. He did likewise on the two-point conversion.

One positive development was that not only did Marcellus Rivers get involved in the passing game (1 catch for eight yards), but during the last few weeks, he has seen more and more playing time.

Offensive Line: Given the quality of the opponent, the offensive line did a decent job. But once again, untimely mistakes stalled drives. The inside run blocking was pretty good as Tiki Barber was able to pick his way through the trash in the first half for some consistent 4-5 yard runs. But after the Giants picked up their first offensive first down (in the second quarter), the Giants were halted on 3rd-and-9, when Petitgout couldn’t pick up a stunt by Corey Simon and Collins was forced to unload in a hurry incomplete. Ron Stone got hurt on this play and did not return. Jason Whittle did a good job in his place. Petitgout gave up another quick pressure on the pass to Rivers on the very next drive. On the very next play, on 2nd-and-2, DT Paul Grasmanis ran past LG Glenn Parker and nailed Ron Dayne for a 1-yard loss. This really hurt because the failed Campbell block came on the very next play. 3-and-out again. OC Dusty Zeigler looked sharp on a downfield block on a 15-yard screen pass to Barber on the last drive of the first half.

In the second half, the left side of the offensive line really pissed me off. The main culprit was Parker and what really irritated me was that his opponent was Grasmanis – a back-up. The second drive was a disaster. To start the drive, Parker didn’t seem aware of an Eagle blitz coming right up the middle over his head and Collins was forced to throw quicky. Three plays later, Parker was beat straight up in pass protection (the same play where Campbell was blocking Douglas) and Collins was forced to throw incomplete. On the next play, Glenn couldn’t get out of Barber’s way on a pull and Tiki was limited to two yards. Next play, Lomas Brown gets beat to the outside for a sack on 3rd-and-8. Crap offensive line play.

Parker and Brown redeemed themselves a bit on the next drive when Ron Dayne cut behind their blocks on his 30-yard run. Two plays later however, Parker was stalemated on his pull and Cross didn’t sustain his block – Dayne lost 1-yard on the play. Brown’s false start on 2nd-and-goal from the eight-yard line on the same drive really hurt. On the next drive, Brown was embarrassed as he couldn’t move the light N.D. Kalu at all and Tiki Barber was stuffed. A few plays later, either the middle of the line or the backs screwed up royally in recognizing the imminent (and obvious) blitz from Trotter and Collins was sacked.

On the fifth drive, Parker didn’t effectively block Carlos Emmons and the linebacker stuffed the Barber run. On the next play, Parker and Zeigler did a good job on the screen and Barber picked up 8 yards (the Giants ran a lot of good looking screens in the game and this is one area where the offensive line excelled). Parker also got another good block on a screen a few plays later that picked up 15 yards. Three plays after that, Tiki Barber was able to cut back off of quality blocks from Parker and Brown for a 10-yard gain. On the next play, Petitgout and Campbell made excellent blocks on Tiki’s 23-yard run. On the 7-yard run right before Dayne’s 16-yard touchdown, Petitgout got a great block as did Comella and Cross. The Giants were really controlling the line of scrimmage at this point. Too bad they didn’t do this from the start.

Running Backs: In the first half, it was mainly the Tiki Barber (16 carries for 71 yards, 10 catches for 87 yards) show as Ron Dayne was rarely in the game. Barber showed some real good toughness, vision, and moves on a few inside runs that picked up a respectable 4-5 yards a clip. However, his fumble after the McNabb fumble was very costly. He also screwed up big time when he dropped a perfectly timed and executed screen pass on 3rd-and-10 from the Eagles’ 43 yard line late in the second half. Barber had a lot of open field in front of him. This drop may have cost the Giants the game.

In the second half, both Ron Dayne (8 carries for 59 yards) and Barber were big factors. On the third drive of the half, Dayne started things off right with a super-impressive 30-yard blast straight up the gut where he showed some excellent power. He immediately followed that up with another 6-yard power run right up the gut. On the sixth drive of the half, Dayne took advantage of an Eagle defense that dramatically overpursued en route to his 16-yard cutback run that put the Giants up with 2:43 left to play. A few plays earlier, I really liked the power and vision he showed in the hole on a 5-yard gain up the middle.

Barber made a couple of big runs in the second half including the aforementioned 23- and 10-yarders. But where he really looked sharp was on a few screen passes where he showed good patience in vision in setting up his blockers. The screen pass is one of my favorite plays, but it is very hard to execute. The Giants of the mid-1990’s under Dan Reeves could never get this play down. On Sunday, the Giants consistently burned the Eagles with the screen pass. A perfect play against an aggressive defense.

Defensive Line: Michael Strahan (6 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble) had a monster game rushing the passer, but he lost contain to his side on a few occasions and this really hurt as McNabb was either able to buy time to throw by rolling right or ran for good yardage. Strahan also got run on a couple of times in the first half (including 12 and an 18-yard jaunts by Correll Buckhalter). The 3.5 sacks look awfully good and Strahan was mugged some, but he should have played a more disciplined game. Strahan’s first sack came on inside move against Jon Ruynan where Strahan showed rare closing explosion. On the very next play, on 2nd-and-18, Strahan cleaned up on a Mike Barrow sack and forced a fumble that Barrow recovered. Strahan’s second full sack came when Michael tripped up McNabb just as he was about to scramble up the middle. Strahan lost contain on the Eagles’ 5th drive as McNabb scrambled past him for an 18 yard gain. His third full sack came on a play where Michael beat Ruynan up underneath again.

In the second half, Strahan did a much better job of maintaining his contain responsibilities (while still getting some quality pass pressure). He almost broke the sack record as McNabb barely got rid of the ball on a 3rd-and-16 play. However, Strahan really screwed the pooch twice on the Eagles’ game-winning field-goal drive (just like in the earlier Giants-Eagles game). First, he committed a stupid delay of game penalty when he wouldn’t let McNabb get off of the ground. Then on the very next play, for some reason Strahan left his area of responsibility and allowed McNabb to run for 11 yards right past the area he vacated. It looked to me as if Strahan was freelancing on the play. These two plays moved the ball from the Giants’ 33 to the Giants’ 17 – setting up an easy field goal attempt.

Kenny Holmes (4 tackles) actually got some decent pass pressure in the first half of the game against McNabb and came darn close to two sacks himself. Problem was the Eagles were able to run the ball successfully a couple of times in his direction as well. Holmes got close to McNabb on the first Eagles’ offensive play of the game (as did Strahan who hit McNabb). Both of these two got real close to McNabb again on a 3rd-and-5 play on the opening drive where Emmanuel McDaniel got beat for a first down. One play earlier, Holmes did a good job of staying at home against a WR-reverse (unfortunately, none of his other teammates were there to make the play). Holmes jumped offsides again on the Eagles’ second drive – he’s done that far too much this year. On the Eagles’ third drive, Holmes got close for a sack again, but Strahan and Jessie Armstead lost contain and McNabb scrambled away to his right. In the second half, Holmes really improved against the run and Philadelphia was not able to generate much yardage in his direction. On the 2nd-and-10 play where Emmanuel McDaniel got beat for 15 yards on the Eagles’ game-tying drive, Holmes almost sacked McNabb.

Inside, Cornelius Griffin (2 tackles) showed some life again. He had a couple of quality pass rushes in the first half and looked real strong against the run. In the second half, on the Eagles’ third drive, Griffin got two quality pass pressures on McNabb. Keith Hamilton (1 tackle) didn’t have the kind of game as was hoped. For the most part, he was steady against the run, but the Eagles were successful in neutralizing him on a few runs in the first half. He made some noise at the start of the second half with some pass pressure, but that was about it. He did bat one ball down late in the game.

The reserves saw some playing time. Both Frank Ferrara and Lance Legree got great pressure on McNabb on a 1st-and-10 play in the second quarter. Legree, however, had problems at the point of attack on the 18-yard Buckhalter run (as did Strahan, Armstead, and Shaun Williams).

Linebackers: Not as productive as hoped. Mike Barrow (9 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, 1 pass defensed) was on the short-end of two TE Chad Lewis touchdowns, but Barrow had excellent coverage on both plays. McNabb just threw two perfect passes. Barrow’s blitz led to the play where Strahan forced the fumble and Barrow recovered.

I was more than a bit concerned with the way Jessie Armstead (7 tackles, 1 pass defensed) started the game. To be frank, he looked terrible. He looked slow and it looked like the Eagles were deliberately running the ball right at him (even when he switched sides). On the first defensive snap, he missed a tackle on Chad Lewis that resulted in big yardage (a 31-yard reception). Armstead was also slow to help out Holmes on the reverse to James Thrash that picked up 10 yards on the opening Eagles’ drive. Mike then got blocked on a 4-yard Duce Staley run a few plays later. On the next drive, Philadelphia again ran successfully at Armstead for seven yards (Mike Barrow got picked off by the fullback on this play too). When Armstead flipped to the other side, he wasn’t able to play off the block on Buckhalter’s two big runs. However, as the Giants neared the end of the first quarter, Armstead started to make some plays. His run blitz brought down Staley for a two-yard loss. On the same drive, he did an excellent job of disrupting a screen on 3rd-and-13 and nailed Staley for a four-yard loss. His run defense also stiffened dramatically at this point too. In the second half, Armstead did a nice job of holding Staley to a one-yard gain on a 2nd-and-17 pass attempt.

Brandon Short (3 tackles) was real quiet. The pass interference call on him on the Eagles’ game-tying drive was questionable. He was a step late on the blitz on the deep pass to Thrash during the same drive.

Defensive Backs: Will Allen (5 tackles, 1 interception, 4 passes defensed) had the kind of nightmare game that almost all rookies eventually will have. Unfortunately, it came in a game of this magnitude. Though there were some rough spots in the first half, it was really the second half that most of the bad plays came. On the Eagles’ second drive of the game, Thrash caught a 9-yard pass in front of Allen, who was playing very soft on the play. Allen committed a flagrant 44-yard pass interference penalty on the Eagles’ fourth drive of the game – had he turned around to play the ball, he could have knocked it away. Allen did an excellent job on the Eagles’ last offensive play of the first half. With only a minute left in the quarter, the Eagles ran Staley up the middle and then took their sweet time huddling up and running another play. What they were trying to do was lull Allen to sleep and make him believe they were merely running out the clock. On the very next play, McNabb threw deep on him. Allen was not fooled and he picked off the pass.

The second half actually started off pretty well for Allen as the Eagles tested him quite often yet were unable to move the ball. What was clear was the Eagles were trying to entice Allen to come up and play the short pass before throwing it deep on him. Fox example, just like in the first half, McNabb threw the ball short against the soft-playing Allen for a 5-yard gain. But on the next drive, Allen did a great job of defending Thrash deep on 1st-and-10. Then two plays later, he covered Thrash well on 3rd-and-7 to force a punt. On the ensuing drive, Allen got beat on a slant pass by Thrash for a first down on 3rd-and-8. The roof started to cave in on the fifth drive. Thrash blew by Allen for a 57-yard touchdown. On the play, it was clear that Allen was getting set to jump on a shorter pass. The Eagles then again took advantage of this aggressiveness two drives later when Allen got beat on an out-and-up for 32-yards; this play set up the game-tying touchdown. The agony for Allen wasn’t complete until Thrash beat him for 25-yards on the game-winning field goal drive.

Will Peterson (2 tackles) did alright, but it is tough to judge him since the Eagles really threw more in the direction of Allen (and seemed to game plan for that give that James Thrash was the primary target). Peterson did a good job of covering Todd Pinkston on a pass in the endzone two plays before the Eagles’ first touchdown. In the second half, Peterson did a good job on a left-side sweep and tackled Staley for no gain. Peterson got beat for a 9-yard pass by Todd Pinkston on the Eagles’ game-winning field goal drive. The completion moved the ball from the Giants’ 46 to the Giants’ 37 yard line.

Emmanuel McDaniel (3 tackles, 1 pass defensed) was the nickelback. He got beaten by rookie Freddie Mitchell on the Eagles’ first drive on for five yards on 3rd-and-5. In the second half, McDaniel made a great tackle on the much larger Chad Lewis to prevent a first down after Mike Barrow had gotten beat for 14 yards on 3rd-and-15. However, EMac also got beat on the game-winning drive – a 15-yard completion to Mitchell.

The safeties were quiet. Too quiet. Shaun Williams’ pass interference call in the first half was bullsh*t, however.

One of the big differences in the game down the stretch was that the Eagles’ defensive coordinator felt comfortable enough to blitz the hell out of Collins because he had faith that his veteran corners would shut down the Giants’ wideouts. However, Defensive Coordinator John Fox played it much softer – probably because he feared exposing his rookie corners. The soft prevent-like defense hurt the Giants big-time late in the game.

Special Teams: P Rodney Williams’ punted poorly. His punts went for 32, 28, 47, 45, 17, 49, 27, and 41 yards – and most of the longer punts were the result of good rolls. Punt protection was also not so hot as the Eagles got close to blocking punts a few times.

Owen Pochman’s kickoffs landed at the 11, 6, 7, 12, and 12. What was dismaying was that he couldn’t get the ball into the endzone even when the wind was at his back – unlike his counterpart on the Eagles. Kickoff coverage surrendered returns of 18, 37, 25, 24, and 21 yards – an OK job except for the 37 yarder. Brian Mitchell never returned a punt as Williams’ punts were not fielded or fair catches resulted.

Jonathan Carter did a decent job of returning two kick-offs for 32 and 23 yards. Omar Stoutmire returned one kick-off for 24 yards and looked pretty good doing so. Tiki Barber was able to break punt returns of 17, 13, and 15 yards – not bad production at all.


Four Yards Short

by David Oliver

Or three seconds short, or any other way you look at it, it comes out short. Not only the game, but the entire season has gone this way. The “if…but” syllogism reigns supreme in Giants land, and now our season is three weeks short. So how do you view the game? It was everything Sam Garnes said it would be last week. It was a backyard brawl, a memorable contest. Kenny Holmes told me that it was “a hard fought game. We said it was going to come down to the wire, and it did, it came down to the last second with Dixon running…” The mood in the locker was somber, but in many senses philosophical. Kenny went on, “Two good teams out there fighting, and we were on the short end of the stick this time.”

It wasn’t so much that the Giants lost this one. The Eagles went out and won it. Give credit where credit is due. The Giants have a couple of “stars”; the Eagles have one “Superstar”. Donovan McNabb came into his own on that playing field, and it is he who is the budding legend, the Elway factor. I hope Ernie Accorsi was watching real close. As Giants fans, we know, from watching LT for an era, that a superstar can elevate the play of a good team to greatness. And Donovan McNabb possesses those qualities. The Giants harried him, harassed him, chased him all night, all over the turf at the Vet. In the end, he just flat out was the difference.

The Giants will have a long off-season to think about it and I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but there are a few drums that just have to be beaten a little more. They are simple: you can’t win with TWO – 2 – dos, zwei, duo, ROOKIE cornerbacks in your lineup. Potential is wonderful, but it is just potential until it is actuated. I know – I am one of yesterday’s bright young men. Also, it is difficult to win if you replace half of the starting lineup and one third of the linebackers playing in front of those rookies. So I will say it now and move on, until the season wrap up – I don’t know what the management was thinking last off- season and I fear this coming off-season. I will say it here and now – it is very difficult to win when you replace three- fifths of your offensive line and switch positions for the remaining two linemen.

One more tribute to McNabb and we’ll talk Giants. I finished up with Kenny Holmes on McNabb and he told me, “Everything around him is a piece to his puzzle, and he is the main piece…getting out of the pocket and throwing to those guys, running the ball, 10, 15, 20 yards, it carried the team.” McNabb is a Rubic’s Cube for defenses and defensive coordinators. Last year’s Giants defensive team was ideal for stopping the McNabbs of the League, and proved out the adage that teamwork and experience are invaluable. This year’s defense has more potential, maybe by a factor of 5, but it will be home for the playoffs.

The game itself was a war, following the first quarter in which the Giants were listless. Why would the Giants start so slowly in such an important game. Well here’s one piece which I have heard and not seen discussed elsewhere. When the Giants’s team arrived in the locker room, the heat was up to, as one player said, “about 120” in there. Remember, war isn’t always what it seems and the little psywar pregame activity often plays a part. Could it be that the Eagles were so incensed at the Giants stealing their plays last year, that they turned up the heat, literally, this year? (grin) And then, of course, calling the bomb squad on yours truly and cutting open my bag must have had something to do with the bad karma pervasive to the vet. I guess they never heard of dogs, unless they were roasting them all on the grills in the parking lot (grin).

So the Giants came out flat, while the Eagles actually practiced an extra 15 minutes outside before the game. Whenever I see activity like this, I wonder what’ s up. It struck me as quite noticeable and I felt that the Eagles would come out like Mike Tyson, which they did. I also felt that if the Giants weathered the early storm they would come on to win the game. But the contest was more like the Shannon Briggs-George Foreman fight. After the first quarter, it was a see-saw affair, with the Giants throwing rope-a-dopes, flea flickers, ends around, the whole playbook that was designed for Sean Bennett came out, but the Eagles had an answer for everything – the answers name was Thrash, a mediocre wide receiver by way of Washington, who beat Mr. Potential as if he were beating a sword into a PlowShare.

There were the usual imponderables and inexplicables, like running 20 seconds off the clock with 1 minute left and giving the ball to Mr. McNabb and Company; like going into the prevent victory defense following said offensive goofiness, like putting Emmanuel McDaniel (EMac) on the field and having him spy McNabb on the flank instead of dropping into coverage. I could go on and on, but let’s look at it position-by-position, or at least some of them.

Management: So as to send a message on scape-goating, this game, and several others were lost in the off-season by not signing key reserves and investing everything in the corner position.

Coaching: Hard to assess for this game. The team wanted it, so they were motivated. Sean Payton opened it up and called a very good game. John Fox used his tools as best he could. The only fault I could see was playing soft with under one minute left. Without pressure, there was no way to stop McNabb or force him into a mistake. Three men cannot contain liquid mercury. We can debate this one for the next six months, but the game was coached about as well as it could be, given the circumstances.

Kerry Collins: All in all, a pretty good game. He made his reads and he looked off his receivers. He made some nice quick decisions when the primary receivers were covered. He missed a TD to Campbell when he overthrew him in the end zone, but he began to find Campbell and work out a relationship. Kerry was talking in the locker room and told a few of us that he was excited about next year, that he believed the Giants offense is not that far off, that he loves Ike “that’s why I went to bat for him last week.” Kerry said, if he’s here, he wants Ike here, and he “wants to lead this team.” Kerry is finally starting to sound like a QB who wants it, so I guess that means he will be gone next year. Kerry was 22-of-39 for 303 yards and a rating of 89.8. (McNabb, incidentally, was 21-of-39 for 270 and a rating of 90.8).

The Receivers: Amani dropped an early one which could have been big and established some tempo. He only had 3 catches on the night, with the 60 yard reception of the flea-flicker for a TD. Ike was also quiet with 3-for-19 and Campbell had 2-for-31. Tiki had a big night with 10-for-87 and was constantly available over the rush. JJ, Rivers and Comella rounded out the group. On the whole, take away Tiki and the Amani bomb and the group did not make its’ presence felt. Oh, dare I forget that Dixon’s romp is included in the 303 yards – he went 62 yards although not the primary receiver, on a play called the Lambuth play because it is barely practiced. It was a Tiki reception and back flip, over his head which Dixon took down the sidelines and almost into history. But, sigh, the history part only happens to the Giants, not for them.

Rushing: A nice combo. Tiki carried 16 times for 71 yards and Ron Dayne carried the mail 59 yards on only 8 carries. The big back rumbled 30 yards on one carry. Savor it, for if the rumor mill is correct, he will be lugging the leather elsewhere next year.

The Offensive Line: Gave up 2 sacks, one to Jeremiah Trotter, who again was everywhere with 15 tackles, and one to Hugh Douglas. There were some nice holes on the Dayne runs and Tiki had some decent blocking for his. For all the abuse these guys take, they have done the job over the past four games. Jason Whittle filled in almost three quarters for Ron Stone, and there wasn’t any noticeable drop off. Dusty Zeigler had a very active afternoon and Lomas Lomas was fighting tooth and nail with Douglas for the entire game.

Defense: Barrow appeared to be feeling ill, yet he had 9 tackles and 0.5 sacks. He also had a pass defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. But he was beaten in the end zone for a score. Jessie had 7 tackles and a pass defensed. Michael Strahan had 3.5 sacks with 6 tackles. He constantly forced McNabb out of the pocket, but McNabb did quite a bit of damage on his scrambles. Short had three tackles and almost got to McNabb on the final long pass to Thrash – almost, but not quite. Hammer had a very quiet night and Griffin had only two tackles although he was in McNabb’s face all night. EMac had 3 tackles and Holmes added 4. All in all, the Giants had 9 passes defensed, with 4 by Allen, who also had an interception. So he had a very busy night.

The margin of difference between this year and last, in both games, was the inability of the Giants to contain McNabb. Holmes got a lot more pressure than CJ, but CJ did not allow McNabb outside. Similarly with both Griffin and Short. This can all be worked out by experience, but this year it was costly. This year, many games came down to this for the defense – inability to stop the tight end and the inexperience of the corners. It may be a fine line, but it is the difference between playing and watching during the playoffs.

The Giants had the ball15 times, time of possession was slightly in favor of the Giants. The first half ended 7-0 Eagles and the Giants went punt, punt, fumble, punt, punt, punt, end of half. I guess they lowered the heat in the locker as the Giants went TD, punt, FG, punt, FG, TD and the f-o-u-r-y-a-r-d-l-i-n-e.

What more can be said? It was a gutsy performance, the team gave it all they could – but the karma wasn’t right. Victory has 100 mothers; defeat is an orphan. I was down, I was up, I was disappointed, I was happy, I felt the Giants would win, I actually thought Dixon had scored. I picked up my torn bag, went into the locker, watched Jim Fassel present Mayor Guiliani with a token of appreciation from the team, talked to my buddies in the locker room, and walked out into the cold Philadelphia night thankful I had been here. It was and is the story of the Giants, and my own life, almost, wait until next year, walk proud for effort.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, December 30, 2001)