Nov 292002
 

Approach to the Game – Tennessee Titans at New York Giants, December 1, 2002: For all intents and purposes, every game the Giants play from here on out is a playoff game. Don’t feel sorry for them. They’ve painted themselves into this ugly corner by losing to such teams at the Texans, Cardinals, and Vick-less Falcons. Odds are the Giants will bumble and stumble their way down the stretch and only win two or three more games, finishing with a 8-8 or 9-7 record. The closest they’ll get to the playoffs is watching from their couches at home in January.

But they aren’t dead yet so they still have a chance. And the funny thing about the Fassel-led Giants is that every time they are written off as dead, they come back to surprise you. But they have to beat the Titans on Sunday and that won’t be easy. Like New York, Tennessee is 6-5 and coming off a very disappointing loss. Like New York, they are a banged up football team who is just trying to stay alive in a tight playoff race.

Both teams know that their season is on the line on Sunday. Both are desperate. Expect a tough, low-scoring slug-fest with the team playing the more physical game and making the fewer turnovers to win. It won’t be pretty, but there will be some hitting going on.

Giants on Special Teams: This will be the type of game where the Giants will need a perfect or near-perfect performance from PK Matt Bryant. Last week’s missed 33-yarder was extremely costly. The Giants also need a much better effort from P Matt Allen. Chris Bober should be back and that will help with the long snaps on the field goal unit. It will be interesting to see if Dan O’Leary is signed to the active roster to replace Bob Jones.

Giants on Offense: The Titans play a very aggressive and physical-style of defense. They like to come after you and no doubt Head Coach Jeff Fisher noted how the aggressive blitzes and tight coverage employed by the Texans last week rattled QB Kerry Collins and thus disrupted the entire Giants’ offense. The Titans will attempt to shut down the running game and dare Collins to beat them. Isn’t that what you would do?

The good news for New York is it looks like DE Jevon Kearse (foot) will still be out, but the bad news is that MLB Randall Godfrey (ankle) is set to return. He is a play-maker from the middle linebacking spot. Weakside linebacker Keith Bulluock is a former first rounder who runs like a deer and he really has stepped up his game this season. Both Godfrey and Bulluck are three-down linebackers who can play the run and cover – they will be quite a challenge for Tiki Barber and Jeremy Shockey on pass plays.

The good news for the Giants is that Chris Bober (biceps) should be back at center and this will enable Jason Whittle to return to right guard. Let’s hope that Bober won’t be limited in what he can do. The Titans play a physical game and last week the Texans dominated the line of scrimmage against New York because the Giants were not aggressive or physical enough up front. The real troubling match-up for the Giants is DE Kevin Carter (7 sacks) against RT Mike Rosenthal. The Giants also need LG Rich Seubert, Bober, and Whittle to do a good job on DT Henry Ford, Godfrey, and DT John Thorton, respectively in order to get the ground game going. Seubert and Whittle are coming off of a poor effort against the Texans.

The great battle will be in the secondary as the Titans’ best defensive back – CB Samari Rolle – will be lined up against the Giants’ best receiver – Amani Toomer. Toomer must come through this week for the Giants. Having WR Ron Dixon (knee) back will certainly help the passing attack. Dixon will face CB Andre Dyson. And WR Daryl Jones may benefit from being moved to the 3rd receiver spot in the slot.

The primary offensive key to the game? Kerry Collins of course. Yes, the offensive line needs to play a physical game up front and the running backs need to produce, but Fisher and the Titan defense is going to put the onus on Collins to perform. They’ll load up against the run and come after Kerry with the blitz. If Collins doesn’t respond well, then the Giants won’t win. If he does, they will. It’s that simple.

Another key will be the Giants receivers ability or inability to get open against tight coverage. When I’m talking about the receivers, I’m also talking about Shockey and Barber. The Rosenthal-Carter match-up is huge as are the offensive guards/defensive tackle battles.

Giants on Defense: There is a chance that QB Steve McNair (toe/ribs) won’t play. That shouldn’t matter. Not only is Neil O’Donnell one of the better back-ups in the league, but the Giants have already demonstrated this year that they can’t take the back-up quarterback on any team lightly.

But the key defensively is so obvious that it hardly warrants mentioning. The Titans are a power-running team and the Giants have two journeymen defensive tackles, a weakside defensive end who struggles at times against the run, and a weakside linebacker who struggles at times against the run. The whole world knows what is coming – a Eddie George up the gut and Eddie George off left tackle. George was benched last week against the Ravens in favor of Robert Holcombe so you know his pride is hurt and he will come out like gangbusters. The Giants are going to have to play SS Shaun Williams up close to the line of scrimmage and gamble that the secondary can handle a Titans’ receiving corps that will be missing Kevin Dyson.

Everything will depend on the match-ups up front – the Giants’ front seven against LT Brad Hopkins (Holmes), LG Zach Piller (Legree), OC Gennaro DiNapoli (Barrow), RG Benji Olson (Johnson), and RT Fred Miller (Strahan). Obviously, Lance Legree and Dwight Johnson have bulls-eyes on their chests – especially after their 0-tackle performance against the Texans of all teams. But the Hopkins-Holmes match-up is big too. This is a game where the Giants need the linebackers to come up and play the run aggressively too as well as Shaun Williams. This will be an old-fashioned, physical slug-fest.

With New York’s focus being up front, the last thing the Giants need is for the coverage to give way against the Titan passing attack. I’ve always thought WR Derrick Mason was one of the most underrated players in the league. The Giants’ corners really need to keep him under wraps. H-Back Frank Wychek (31 catches) has long been a go-to guy in clutch situations for Tennessee and he will be a challenge for the linebackers – particularly Brandon Short. Every now and then the Titans like to sneak a pass to TE Erron Kinney – who is a very good blocker. That will be a good battle on running plays – Kinney versus the outside linebacker (probably Short again). Most of the time this year, Barrow has had the primary responsibility to cover the halfback out of the backfield (George has 27 receptions).

Stop the run and the Giants will be OK. But if the Titans get the ground game moving, it’s home for the playoffs.

Nov 272002
 
Houston Texans 16 – New York Giants 14

Game Overview: I just had a feeling heading into this one that the game would be trouble. Houston had been playing better in recent weeks and the Giants were arriving with a lot of key players missing such as DT Keith Hamilton, DT Cornelius Griffin, WR Ike Hilliard, WR Ron Dixon, WR Tim Carter, OC Dusty Zeigler, and OC Chris Bober. On top of that, the Giants had 5-6 players suffering from flu. LT Luke Petitgout was throwing up before the game and MLB Mike Barrow was throwing up during the game. Two defensive starters – CB Will Peterson and FS Omar Stoutmire – were forced to leave with injuries.

Does that mean the Giants should have lost to the Texans? No, of course not. But one cannot simply discount the injury situation. Both of the Giants’ starting defensive tackles were journeymen and neither made a tackle or an assist on Sunday. Third-string center Jason Whittle and back-up right guard Tam Hopkins had all kinds of problems – both physical and mental – pass blocking (and Whittle wasn’t sharp run blocking either). Wide receivers Daryl Jones, Herman Moore, and Derek Dorris couldn’t get open. I guarantee you this game is far different if even some of the missing starters played, but because they didn’t, the game was bound to be closer than it should have been.

Still, the Giants would have won had the special teams not gotten dramatically out-played in almost all facets (this was my worry in my “Game Preview”) and QB Kerry Collins didn’t come up with yet another stinker. The Giants lost the field position war because of crappy punting, they gave up 5 points with a botched longsnap and short field goal, and they gave up a big punt return that set up Houston’s sole touchdown. Collins was wild all day – even early in the game when the pass rush wasn’t getting to him. Twice in the last 6 minutes of the game – when the team was attempting to work itself into game-winning field goal position – he threw damaging interceptions.

Too many injuries, the flu, bad special teams, and poor quarterbacking equals defeat to an expansion team.

Special Teams: If nothing else had changed other than the fact that PK Matt Bryant made his 33-yarder and Longsnapper Bob Jones had not sailed the snap over P Matt Allen’s head, the Giants would have won the game. The 5 points surrendered by these two were the difference in the ball game. Special teams cost the Giants the game.

But it didn’t stop there. The Giants gave up a 39-yard punt return that set the Texans up on the Giants’ 34-yard line. The short-field enabled the Texans to put together their only TD drive of the game (and the ensuing 2-point conversion). Missing early tackles on the return were Damon Washington and Reggie Stephens. But a host of other Giants had a shot at Jermaine Lewis too. And Matt Allen was downright awful again. He was dramatically out-punted by Houston’s punter and this led to the Giants’ losing the field position war throughout the game. Allen’s punts went for 33 yards (3-yard return – Kevin Lewis making the tackle), 31 yards (1 yard – Omar Stoutmire and Marcellus Rivers), 36 yards (fair catch), 46 yards (but this went into the end zone so the net was 26), 24 yards, and 37 yards (39-yard return – Johnnie Harris).

Let’s be honest. Matt Allen sucks. The only reason he is on the roster is that he did a better job of holding for Bryant on the field goal unit. You don’t pick your punter based on his holding ability!!! This mess goes all the way back to training camp when Fassel didn’t have Jesse Palmer and Jason Garrett work with Bryant from the get-go. Tom Rouen should have been the punter on Sunday, not Allen. And why is Bob Jones still on the team Mr. Fassel and Mr. Accorsi??? Two weeks ago he lost his long snapping job on field goals because he was so bad. One week ago, his longsnap to Allen on a punt was poor (and he held on the play). Your failure to get rid of Jones on Sunday and find a replacement may have cost you a playoff spot. Pretty stupid.

Allen’s free kick after the safety went for 55 yards and the tackle was made again by Rivers. LB Wes Mallard was flagged for holding on a punt, but he also came darn close to blocking two punts. DE Byron Frisch jumped offsides on the opening kickoff.

Bryant’s kickoffs landed at the 9, 3, and 5. Kickoff coverage was decent. Jermaine Lewis had returns of 25 (Johnnie Harris), 40 yards (Marcellus Rivers – a holding penalty on the Texans brought this one back to the 15), and 22 yards (Ralph Brown).

Delvin Joyce is looking more and more comfortable on his punt and kick returns, though there was one punt that hit the ground that he should have fielded. A combination of good punting by Houston and some poor blocking hurt his cause on a few punt returns. Delvin’s punt returns went for 0 (fair catch), 0, 0 (fair catch), 17, 8, and 0. On the last attempt, Ralph Brown and DeWayne Patmon blew the double-team block on the gunner. His kick returns went for 18, 46, and 18 yards. The 46-yarder was exceptionally well-blocked.

Quarterback: QB Kerry Collins played as bad as his stats indicate (18/41 for 214 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions – a less than 44% completion rate). A lot has been made in the press that Collins was under duress much of the game from the Houston pass rush. This is true. But Collins was off even before the pass rush started to get to him. Drives ended because Collins’ passes sailed wide, low, or high of the intended receiver. He threw into coverage and double-coverage way too much and threw two very costly interceptions. I know Collins misses his other receivers, but he has to start doing a better job of throwing accurately.

Collins’ first pass of the game was a slant pass to Daryl Jones that was thrown too low. Then on 3rd-and-15, despite having time, he threw a 1-yard pass to Tiki Barber over the middle. That’s not going to get it done. On the next possession, Collins threw to a well-covered Amani Toomer on 3rd-and-6 and the pass fell incomplete – again Collins had time on this play. On the next drive, Collins overthrew Herman Moore on 2nd-and-9 and 3rd-and-9.

In the second quarter, the pass rush started to become more of a factor and this only exacerbated things. Collins got immediate pressure from his left and threw an ill-advised pass to Toomer that was almost intercepted. Two plays later, from the 50, Collins had a man in his face and threw into double coverage to FB Charles Stackhouse; luckily the pass was incomplete. On 3rd-and-6, Collins badly overthrew TE Jeremy Shockey and the Giants had to punt again. Next drive, a 2nd-and-10 pass to Shockey was thrown into the ground and a 3rd-and-10 slant pass to Daryl Jones was thrown too low; Collins acted hurried on this play despite having decent protection. Then came the Giants’ sole TD drive in the first half and that was pretty much all Tiki Barber.

On the Giants’ final “drive” right before half, Collins really ticked me off. Facing a 2nd-and-3 from the Houston 49-yard line with 47 seconds left. Collins scrambled right out of the pocket and had nothing but open ground in front of him in order to scramble for the first down. Instead, Collins threw the ball away. On the next play, Collins was sacked and the ensuing punt was the play where the snap went over Allen’s head for a safety. Had Collins simply run for the easy first down, none of that would have happened.

Third quarter. After completing passes to Toomer for 8 yards and Shockey for 15 yards, Collins over threw Shockey again. Three back-to-back-to-back offensive line penalties then ended the drive. It looked like the Giants were moving on the next drive. Collins hit Toomer for 20 yards on 3rd-and-7. Then Collins missed a wide open Toomer near the end zone on a deep pass as he had pressure in his face and couldn’t step up. On 3rd-and-10, Collins found Shockey for 14 yards. But Collins was inaccurate on his next two throws to Shockey and the Giants were forced to attempt a field goal (which they missed). On the next drive, the Giants scored as Collins somehow got the ball to Toomer, who then broke a tackle and ran into the end zone.

The final two drives were disastrous for Collins and the Giants. On 1st-and-10, Collins didn’t see the dropping linebacker in front of Amani Toomer and was lucky the pass was not picked off. On 2nd-and-20, Collins overthrew Amani Toomer. On 3rd-and-20, Collins forced the ball into a double-covered Derek Dorris and the pass was intercepted (there were actually four Texan defenders in the area of Dorris). On the last legitimate chance to win the game, Collins did a nice job of hitting Toomer on a deep in-route for 16-yards on 3rd-and-9. But on 2nd-and-12 from the Houston 33-yard line, Collins came under immediate pressure and just threw the ball up for grabs in the vicinity of Shockey and the pass was intercepted. Game over. The special teams lost this game, but so did Kerry Collins. You can criticize Fassel all you want, but Fassel wasn’t the one who was terribly inaccurate on Sunday. The game plan wasn’t the problem – Collins was. Go back and look at how many drives ended because Collins threw a bad pass.

Wide Receivers: The only one showing up seems to be Amani Toomer (8 catches for 113 yards, 1 touchdown). Why? First, no one seemed to deal particularly well with the press coverage and no one got much separation. Obviously, it isn’t realistic for Collins to be in sync with Derek Dorris and Herman Moore. Dorris was on the 3rd team at camp and Moore only has a handful of practices under his belt. These two may not be running the right routes and/or Collins may not be trusting them to run the right routes. For example, on the two overthrows to Moore – was the problem with Collins or Moore? I have no idea. Daryl Jones did catch an 18-yarder on a nice crossing route, but Collins badly underthrew him on two slant patterns. It doesn’t seem that Collins trusts him either. (Jones was flagged with a false start penalty too for the second week in a row). Toomer’s big play of the game was the TD reception where he showed great concentration despite being held and then shielded from the ball. He then broke a tackle and scored from 31-yards out. My only negative comment on him is that I spotted him missing a block on an early Tiki Barber run to the right side.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey (4 catches for 60 yards) and Dan Campbell (1 catch for 3 yards) were surprisingly quiet on Sunday. I don’t know what was happening with Campbell, but Houston seemed to do a good job of pushing and holding Shockey in order to disrupt the timing between him and Kerry Collins. It also didn’t help that Collins’ throws were off the mark much of the day – though perhaps this had to do with Shockey being in the wrong place too. Whatever the case, the Giants obviously needed more out of Shockey on Sunday and didn’t get it. Both the blocking of Shockey and Campbell was a bit up-and-down. Both did a great job of picking up the blitz on the 20-yard pass to Toomer on 3rd-and-7 in the 3rd quarter. But I saw one play where Shockey got beat on a running play as did Campbell on another. Campbell also got called for a very costly holding penalty on 2nd-and-10 from the Houston 50 with six and a half minutes left in the game. Two plays later, on 3rd-and-20, Collins was intercepted. Campbell still doesn’t look real smooth as the lead blocker from the fullback spot – I think part of the problem is that he is too tall.

Offensive Line: Terrible. I expected some of this with Whittle being the new center and Hopkins the new right guard. But Mike Rosenthal was bull-rushed a few times. Seubert and Whittle had problems getting movement inside. Hopkins was weak in pass protection. And Luke, who was playing with a bad case of the flu, even had his problems in pass protection. Fassel said it best – Houston played a more aggressive and physical game up front then the Giants did. When you lose in the trenches like that, it is tough to win a ball game.

Some of the low lights: Rosenthal jumped on the second drive, putting the Giants in 3rd-and-15. On the next drive, both Whittle and Petitgout missed their blocks and Barber was stuffed. Next drive, Hopkins steps on Collins’ foot, causing Collins to fall and get sacked. On the next drive, Petitgout was beat outside and an incompletion resulted. Two plays later, Rosenthal was bull-rushed and Collins threw into double coverage. Barber picked up 4 yards despite Petitgout being beat to the inside. Next drive, Petitgout and Campbell are beat and Dayne is stuffed. Hopkins is beat on the pass rush and Collins is hit as he throws. Final drive before halftime, Whittle is beat on 3rd-and-3 for a 10-yard sack. On the next play, Bob Jones hands Houston 2 points.

Second half: Rosenthal is beat and Barber is nailed in the backfield. Whittle is flagged for holding, turning a 3rd-and-5 into a 3rd-and-15. On the next play two plays, both Rosenthal and Hopkins jump, turning a 3rd-and-15 into a 3rd-and-25. Sickening and a great way to start the second half! Next drive, Seubert fails to pick up the blitz and the pass falls incomplete. Hopkins gets beat, resulting in another incompletion – this time on a wide open Toomer near the goal line. Rosenthal is bull-rushed again – incomplete. Giants miss a field goal. Giants’ last legit drive, on 1st-and-10 from Houston’s 31-yard line, Barber is nailed in the backfield as Seubert and Whittle can’t get any movement at the point-of-attack (this also happened earlier in the game). The next play is the final interception that sealed the deal for the Texans. On this play, Fassel said there was confusion between Whittle and Hopkins on the assignment and both let the blitzing linebacker come free to force the pick.

Running Backs: Things did not start off well at all for Barber (19 carries for 146 yards, 1 touchdown; 4 catches for 20 yards) as he fumbled the ball away on the Giants’ first offensive snap. But he put up super numbers despite getting little assistance from his blocking mates. For example, on the Giants’ 3rd possession, Tiki bounced the play outside for 12 yards after the middle of the field was jammed up by Houston defenders. Then came his 70-yard spectacular run where Tiki reversed his field to the left, broke two tackles, and then kept his balance along the sideline. Indeed, it was one of the best runs by a back in Giants’ history. Two plays later, Tiki ran for 7 yards on his own to the outside on a play that again that was not well-blocked. Two plays after that, he followed blocks from Rich Seubert and Stackhouse for 2-yards and a touchdown. Again, it was a great effort run. There was one great run by Barber in the 3rd quarter that only picked up 3 yards, but on the play, Barber reversed his field twice and bounced off a couple of tacklers. On the Giants’ last legitimate drive, Barber broke off a 19-yard run behind Rosenthal and Hopkins as he broke two tackles and powered over a third tackler. Barber did a nice job on two blitz pick-ups that I spotted, but also missed his man on another. (FYI, Barber was not supposed to pick up the blitzing linebacker on the play where Collins’ threw the last interception).

Ron Dayne (5 carries for 21 yards) looked pretty good and did a nice job of following Rosenthal and Hopkins on a couple of right side runs in the second half. Earlier in the game, in the second quarter, he picked up 8-yards on a run around left end and two plays later picked up the first down all on his own on a play that was not well-blocked. Dayne did miss one blitz pick-up that I spotted.

Defensive Line: The defense didn’t struggle too much as Houston lacks a lot of experienced talent. Both defensive ends – Michael Strahan (7 tackles, 2 sacks) and Kenny Holmes (7 tackles, 3 sacks) were extremely active and were a factor in rushing the passer and playing the run. Hugely disappointing were Dwight Johnson (0 tackles) and Lance Legree (0 tackles). Both were a non-factor against a mediocre offensive line. Yikes!

On Houston’s first offensive play, Strahan nailed HB Jonathan Wells in the backfield and forced a fumble that Houston unfortunately recovered. Two plays later, Strahan stunted to the inside and sacked QB David Carr. Two drives later, another pressure from Strahan forced an incompletion on 2nd-and-6.

On Houston’s fourth drive of the game, Holmes sacked Carr on 2nd-and-20. On the next play, he did a great job of holding the point-of-attack, playing off the block and tackling HB James Allen for a 1-yard loss. However, on the next drive, Holmes, Legree, Brandon Short, and Shaun Williams were all blocked on Wells run to the left for 15-yards. Two plays later, penetration by Strahan enabled Brandon Short to finish off Well for a 6-yard loss on a right-side run. On the same drive, Holmes once again held his ground, played off the block, and made the tackle – this time for a 3-yard loss – but Legree was flagged for defensive holding giving the Texans a first down on what should have been 3rd-and-10. Later in the second quarter, Holmes sacked Carr again – this time on 3rd-and-4. At the end of the first half, Strahan pressured Carr and Holmes cleaned up with his third sack of the game.

In the 3rd quarter, another pressure from Strahan forced an incompletion on Houston’s first drive of the second half. On Houston’s next drive, Strahan sacked Carr on 2nd-and-8, but a personal foul penalty on Dwight Johnson gave the Texans a first down. The next drive was the game-winning field goal drive for the Texans. It started off with a 6-yard gain by Wells as Legree, DE Frank Ferrara, and Dhani Jones were all blocked. Three plays later, Holmes made a nice play by stuffing Wells for a 1-yard gain on 2nd-and-2. However, on the very next play, Ferrara was crushed at the point-of-attack and the Texans picked up the first down on 3rd-and-1. Holmes did get blocked inside on a 9-yard run late in the 4th quarter (it looked like Holmes slanted inside and took himself out of the play). DT Matt Mitrione, however, forced the Texans to punt when he tackled Allen for no gain on 3rd-and-4. Strahan was the one responsible for Wells’ 10-yard run on 3rd-and-11 on Houston’s last possession. Strahan lost contain on the backside of the play.

Legree and Johnson were invisible. To make matters worse, Legree got outside his pass rush lane a couple of times, enabling Carr to scramble for good yardage, including a 20-yard scamper. Legree not only had the costly holding penalty, but also missed a tackle on Allen the backfield on a run that turned into a 6-yard gain. Frank Ferrara disappointed in spot duty.

Linebackers: Kudos to Mike Barrow (6 tackles) who gutted it out by playing through the flu and despite having to vomit on the field because of it. However, Barrow did drop what could have been a touchdown-scoring interception on Houston’s second offensive play when he did a great job of reading the pass to Corey Bradford underneath. Near the beginning of the 2nd quarter, Barrow hit Wells in the hole on 2nd-and-6 for no gain. Later in the quarter, he did so again (this time for a 1-yard gain) as Michael slid down the line to hit Wells in the hole. Barrow, Dhani Jones, and Holmes then did a great job of sniffing out a screen pass and causing a 2-yard loss. However, Barrow was beat in coverage by James Allen for the 2-point conversion – key when your remember the difference in the score. Later in the quarter, Barrow meet Wells in the hole again, limiting him to 2 yards.

I thought Dhani Jones (7 tackles) would be playing better than he has thus far this year. He’s doing alright in pass coverage – which was Jessie Armstead’s big weakness last year – but he’s still getting knocked around too much in the ground game. I would also like to see him become a more forceful tackler. Dhani did recover the fumble by Allen early in the first quarter. Two drives later, he combined with CB Will Peterson to slam Allen on a run around left end. In the 3rd quarter, Jones missed a key tackle in the backfield on 2nd-and-goal from the 4-yard line. This misplay probably cost the Giants 5 points as Wells got to the 1-yard and scored on the next play (the Texans converted the 2-point conversion attempt). Jones made an excellent play in the flat by sprinting over and tackling Wells for a 3-yard loss near the end of the 3rd quarter. But in the 4th quarter, on Houston’s game-winning field goal drive, Jones ran himself out of the play on a 6-yard run to his side that was instrumental in getting into field goal range (it was also a strange unbalanced formation by New York that contributed to the success of this play).

What gives me hope for Dhani is to see how far Brandon Short (5 tackles) has improved from his first to second year as starter. Short is developing into quite an active strongside linebacker. After years of guys such as Corey Miller, Marcus Buckley, and Ryan Phillips – Short is finally turning a position that had been a short-coming on the team to an asset. However, Short was pretty quiet in this game. Short had good coverage on TE Billy Miller on the 3rd-and-6 play on Houston’s second drive. In the 4th quarter, Short nailed Wells for no gain on a 2nd-and-4 effort on the Giants’ 32-yard line. Late in the 4th quarter, on the play where Holmes ran himself out of the play and Wells picked up 9 yards, Short got clobbered.

Defensive Backs: This group wasn’t challenged much as Houston’s passing attack is pretty pathetic. It was obvious that Houston’s receivers were having problems getting open, but there were some very untimely miscues by the Giants. Still, Carr only completed 10 passes for 103 yards in the game.

The big play given up was a 42-yarder by CB Jason Sehorn as he was inexcusably beaten by TE Billy Miller down the right sideline. What’s worse, Sehorn interfered with Miller on the play. This was the play that was instrumental in setting up Houston’s first field goal. Two plays later, DeWayne Patmon missed a tackle on Miller who then picked up 10-yards on the play. In the second quarter, Shaun Williams (8 tackles) supplied good coverage on a deep pass to Miller, when he was locked up one-on-one on him. Miller picked up 9-yards on 3rd-and-9 when Sehorn made a wimpy attempt to tackle him short of the first down. A key play in the game was when Will Allen was beaten for 16-yards on 3rd-and-6 from the Giants’ 30 yard line. This kept alive the drive where the Texans ultimately scored 8 points. What I didn’t like about the play is that the Giants only rushed 3 men. I don’t like doing this given the down, distance, and situation.

The entire Giants’ defense was burned on the halfback pass to Carr except for Shaun Williams. The play had been designed to be a pass play from Carr to the tight end, but Williams stayed at home. Near the end of the 3rd quarter, Allen got beat by Bradford again on 3rd-and-4, but the receiver dropped the ball. Lucky. In the 4th quarter, on Houston’s game-winning field goal drive, Sehorn played far too off WR Jabar Gaffney on a 9-yard pass on 1st-and-10. Shaun Williams blitzed and forced Carr to unload quickly on 3rd-and-4. On Houston’s last two offensive possession, Williams made two excellent plays in the backfield, tackling Allen for a 3-yard loss and Wells for a 3-yard loss.

Johnnie Harris (4 tackles) played most of the game at free safety and was not exploited.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Houston Texans, November 24, 2002)
Nov 222002
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Houston Texans, November 24, 2002: It just astounds me when I see posts in The Corner Forum that say the Giants should beat this team or that with no problem. Either these people have short-term memories or have not gone through the pain and suffering of watching the Giants play for very long. So let’s get this out of the way now:

THE GAME ON SUNDAY WILL BE VERY CLOSE AND IT IS NOT A GIVEN THE GIANTS WILL WIN.

The Texans beat the Jaguars once this season and only lost to them by a field goal last week. They have beaten Dallas and lost to the Bills by only a touchdown. Two weeks ago, they almost beat the Titans in Tennessee. That means their last two games were very close contests. The Texans are playing better football right now.

Meanwhile, the Giants are coming off of an emotional divisional game and playing an expansion team on the road. That spells one word – “letdown”. I’ve seen it over and over again – too many times not to forget. Moreover, injuries are a huge factor with the Giants right now. Defensively, the blitz happy Dom Capers will severely test new center Jason Whittle and new right guard Tam Hopkins. Offensively, the Texans are not quaking in their boots over the prospect of facing Kenny Holmes, Lance Legree, and Dwight Johnson on the defensive line. On special teams, the Texans loaded up on special teams specialists in their inaugural season so that area will be a tough test for New York.

The Giants had better to Houston ready to play or they are going to leave the city with an embarrassing loss.

Giants on Special Teams: Jermaine Lewis is the Texans’ punt and kick returner. Remember him Giants’ fans from Super Bowl XXXV? He’s the guy who returned the kickoff for a touchdown after Ron Dixon’s return touchdown. Throughout his career, Lewis has proven to be one of the most dangerous returners in the game. Needless to say, the Giants’ coverage units need PK Matt Bryant and P Matt Allen to launch some very high kicks so they can get down there to surround Lewis.

Delvin Joyce broke a couple of big punt returns last week, but that won’t be easy in this game as Chad Stanley is having an exceptional season as a punter.

Giants on Defense: Let’s be honest. The Giants’ front seven doesn’t scare anyone right now. DE Michael Strahan is a stud, but DE Kenny Holmes, although not playing poorly, is certainly not the kind of guy who keeps left tackles awake at night. And the Giants start two no-name back-ups at tackle this weekend – Lance Legree and Dwight Johnson. Both of these guys might as well paint a bull’s-eye right on their chests. Houston hasn’t run the ball well this year, but they won’t be intimidated in running up the gut on the Giants are at Holmes and WLB Dhani Jones. I expect Dom Capers to play it conservatively on offense by running the ball and relying on his defense and special teams to make the difference in the ball game. Keep rookie quarterback David Carr in manageable down-and-distance situations. That’s what I would do.

Thus, in my mind, the success of the Giants’ defense depends on stopping the run. If Houston is able to get to 2nd-and-6, 3rd-and-2 on a consistent basis, the Giants may be in trouble. But if the Giants can keep Carr in 2nd-and-long and 3rd-and-long, then the chances of him making mistakes increase. It’s all about the running game this weekend.

The Texan receivers are decent. Corey Bradford caught 3 passes for 111 yards against the Giants last season when he played for Green Bay. Bradford is a deep threat. Jabar Gaffney is a rookie, but he is one of those silky smooth receivers out of Florida in the Ike Hilliard mold. Billy Miller has 26 catches at tight end. The Texans also like to throw to HB James Allen out of the backfield (27 catches). Linebacker coverage on both of these players will be instrumental.

Giants on Offense: I’ve got a few worries here. For one, QB Kerry Collins hasn’t looked real sharp to me for two weeks in a row. Many of his passes have been too inaccurate. The other problem Collins has is a new center as Jason Whittle replaces the injured Chris Bober. The center-quarterback exchange is harder to master than most think and I would not be shocked to see one or two fumbled exchanges this weekend. Also, with Whittle at a new position and Tam Hopkins starting for the first time at right guard, Dom Capers’ blitzing schemes (which are difficult for a veteran line to master) will likely cause all kinds of confusion for the offensive line. Capers knows Collins. He knows that Collins doesn’t respond to pressure. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that the blitz is coming in a big way on Sunday from a variety of locations. The ability of Collins’ to remain poised, make the correct decision, and delivery and accurate pass under duress will be everything in this game. If offensive line, tight ends, and backs can give him a little time and Collins delivers, then the Giants could break off some big plays. The important thing is to not turn the ball over. That is what Capers is counting on.

Houston employs a 3-4 defense and this is the same style of defense that Atlanta used to give New York so much problems. The big difference in the two is that Houston will blitz more from a variety of spots. That’s why you see a guy like nickel backer Jeff Posey with 6.5 sacks, ILB Jamie Sharper with 3.5 sacks, and OLB Kailee Wong with 4.5 sacks. Sharper and ILB Jay Foreman are the leading tacklers in the middle against the run. This is a linebacker-centric system. Keith Mitchell is the other starting outside linebacker.

Giants’ fans may be familiar with much of the Houston secondary since starting corners Aaron Glenn and Marcus Coleman came from the Jets in the Expansion Draft. Aaron Glenn is a very good player. As the left corner, he normally lines up over the “Z” receiver so Daryl Jones may have yet another tough opponent to face this weekend. This match-up makes sense to the Texans size-wise too since both guys are shorter. The bigger Coleman will likely receive double-team support from the safety against Amani Toomer. The Giants need Toomer to have a big game. How much of an impact Herman Moore will have remains debatable. He’s still learning the offense and may not have much left in his gas tank.

Luckily for the Giants, they have two quality receivers in TE Jeremy Shockey and HB Tiki Barber who can present all kinds of problems for defensive coordinators.

The Giants will make life much easier for themselves if they can run the ball. Expect Houston to run blitz a lot in order to prevent that. I might take some shots early, then come back to the running game. Tam Hopkins is more of a power player at right guard than Whittle, so he may help the strongside running game. But Hopkins isn’t very mobile. I would advise against pulling him much.

Nov 202002
 
New York Giants 19 – Washington Redskins 17

Game Overview: Leave it the Giants to find a new way each week to make a game that shouldn’t be close a nail-biter. The Skins should have been shut out of this game, but instead, the Giants found themselves trailing 17-10 late in the 3rd quarter. Kerry Collins overthrew two receivers for what should have been easy touchdowns; an idiotic taunting penalty and a dropped interception by Will Allen handed Washington seven points; a bad interception that gave the Skins the ball at the 12-yard line and a dropped interception by Will Peterson caused a 10-point swing (Peterson would have likely scored on the play); and another interception gave Washington the ball on the 11-yard line and WR Rod Gardner comes down with a TD catch despite being surrounded by a sea of blue defenders. I’m telling you – I was pulling my hair out.

But the Giants found a way to pull it out as the defense limited the Redskins to 166 yards of total offense (60 yards rushing and 106 yards passing). PK Matt Bryant was a perfect 4-for-4 on a wet, soggy field. TE Jeremy Shockey (11 catches for 111 yards) had his best day as a pro by far and WR Amani Toomer (8 catches for 95 yards, 1 touchdown) made an impact against a quality opponent who was often double-teaming him.

The Giants have a nice little winning streak going now, but keep in mind that the Jaguars, Vikings, and Redskins are not very good. The Giants still have not beaten anyone of consequence since they defeated the Rams in week two. Most importantly, the injury situation is depressing. Not only are Keith Hamilton, Ike Hilliard, Dusty Zeigler, and Tim Carter out for the year, the Giants don’t know when they will get Cornelius Griffin, Ron Dixon, and Chris Bober back. Kenny Holmes is playing hurt and all three starting linebackers have had problems with their hamstrings.

My big hope for this team is that it realizes all of the above and doesn’t start getting a big head about itself. I think the key for the Giants is to get to 8-4 in the next two weeks and then play those last four games like a sprint. But getting to 8-4 will not be easy.

Special Teams: The big relief was that PK Matt Bryant went a perfect 4-for-4 on field goal attempts, including a 43-yarder. Obviously, he benefitted from the return of P Matt Allen as his holder and the insertion of Chris Bober as his snapper. Because the Giants are not going to activate two punters, they have waived P Tom Rouen despite the fact that the Rouen looked to be the better punter. It is absolutely absurd that the Giants have based who their punter will be on his skills as a holder. This whole mess goes back to the poor coaching decision in training camp to not have QB Jesse Palmer work with Bryant. But I digress.

Bryant’s kickoffs were not good, but the field conditions and weather were a factor. His kickoffs landed at the 23, 14, 13, 9, 13, and 7. Kick coverage was good despite the erratic kickoffs with returns being limited to 10 yards (Kevin Lewis and Sean Bennett making the tackle), 17 (Kevin Lewis), 22 (Marcellus Rivers), 28 (Kevin Lewis), 17 (Reggie Stephens and Wes Mallard), and 23 yards (Marcellus Rivers). Kevin Lewis also forced a huge fumble on a kick return that Marcellus Rivers recovered. This set up a field goal that cut the Redskin lead to 17-16. Obviously, Lewis and Rivers were the stars of the kick coverage team.

Matt Allen was horrible. His punts went for 31 (muffed), 17 (a terrible pooch punt opportunity – Damon Washington made the tackle), 34 yards (another terrible pooch punt opportunity that reached the end zone – the net was 14 yards), 31 yards, and 49 yards (a good clutch punt – Marcellus Rivers made the tackle – again).

Delvin Joyce was finally given some space to return punts. His returns went for 3, 10, 25 (this was called back to a holding penalty on Johnnie Harris), and 28 yards. The latter set up the first field goal in the second half. His kick returns went for 19, 26, 20, and 27. Pretty average.

The low, game-winning field goal attempt by the Redskins’ punter was blocked by DT Lance Legree and recovered by FS Omar Stoutmire.

The big negatives? The delay of game penalty on the Giants’ field goal unit in the 3rd quarter turned a 47-yard field goal attempt into a punt where the Giants only netted 14 yards. This could have cost the Giants the game. Also, long snapper Bob Jones, who only snaps for punts now, not only brought back an excellent punt by Matt Allen with his obvious holding penalty. But his next snap on the re-kick was low. Why does this guy still have a job?

All in all, the Giants’ special teams were the biggest factor in the Giants winning the football game. When was the last time you could say that?

Defensive Line: Good game by this group. DE Michael Strahan (7 tackles, 2 sacks) was back to his old self in terms of his run defense. He was very stout on strongside runs in direction and even made a nice play from the weakside spot on the Skins’ first offensive play. Late in the 1st quarter, Strahan teamed with Dhani Jones and Will Allen to stuff a Stephen Davis run to the right for a 1-yard gain. On this same drive (in what ended up to be the Skins’ first scoring drive), Strahan had three solid pass pressures. On the next drive, he batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage that was intended for a receiver who was wide open underneath. On the next play, on 3rd-and-9, he sacked Shane Mathews to force a punt. In the 3rd quarter, on the play where Jason Sehorn intercepted Shane Mathews, Strahan was applying heat to the quarterback once again. On the next drive, Strahan got another pass rush on Mathews that forced an incompletion. On the last Redskins’ possession, Strahan first pressured Mathews into an incompletion on first down and then sacked Mathews for 7-yard loss on 3rd-and-10 from the Redskins’ 14 yard line, all but putting the final nail in the coffin.

DT Cornelius Griffin (4 tackles) was active before he was forced to leave the game with an another ankle injury. He made a great pursuit play on the Skins’ second possession when he chased Stephen Davis down from the backside; this was an important play as Kenny Holmes and Dhani Jones were handled at the point of attack. On the very next play, both Griffin and Holmes got a good pass rush on Mathews to force an incompletion on 3rd-and-3. Griffin combined with SS Shaun Williams to tackle Davis for a loss on a draw play in the second quarter. Near the end of the 3rd quarter, Griffin combined with the blitzing Brandon Short to force an incompletion on 2nd-and-10.

Kenny Holmes (2 tackles) played decently against a quality opponent (Chris Samuels). Holmes combined with Brandon Short to stuff a Davis draw on 1st-and-goal from the 8-yard line in the 2nd quarter. On Mathews’ last TD throw, Holmes had excellent pressure on the play and clobbered the quarterback as he threw the ball. Later in the quarter, Holmes did a great job of stringing out a 3rd-and-3 sweep in his direction, allowing Mike Barrow to make the tackle from behind for a 1-yard loss and forcing a punt.

DT Lance Legree (2 tackles) made a big impact on the Redskins’ last serious drive to win the game. Before that, he combined with Dhani Jones on a Davis run up the middle in the middle of the 3rd quarter, holding the back to a 1-yard gain. On the drive in the 4th quarter where the Skins were attempting to regain the lead, Legree and Mike Barrow tackled Davis for a 2-yard loss on 1st-and-10 from the Giants’ 33. This was a huge play because the Skins came up 2 yards short on the 3rd down play and were forced to try the field goal that was blocked. Before that, Legree got a great pass rush and clobbered Mathews as he was throwing the ball on 2nd-and-12, causing an incompletion (Dwight Johnson also got a good rush on this play). Johnson (2 tackles) saw action both at end and tackle (especially the latter after Griffin left the game). He did a good job and earned the praise of Head Coach Jim Fassel after the game. He stuffed Davis on a 3rd-and-1 run up the gut for no gain in the 4th quarter. Later on the same drive after the Skins converted on 4th down, Johnson combined with the blitzing Brandon Short to put pressure on Mathews to force an incompletion. On the play before Strahan’s last sack, Johnson also got a good pass rush on the quarterback.

DE Frank Ferrara (no tackles) didn’t make any plays. He was embarrassingly blocked by a wide receiver on one pitch in his direction in the second quarter.

Linebackers: Mike Barrow (9 tackles) was more like his old self this week despite playing with a strained hamstring and later suffering a concussion late in the game. He was active against the run and did a better job this week of filling gaps, such as the 2nd-and-6 run by Davis at the beginning of the 3rd quarter where Davis only picked up 1 yard. On the play where Brandon Short should have intercepted Shane Mathews’ pass in the 4th quarter, it was Barrow’s blitz and hit on Mathews that caused the play.

Brandon Short (6 tackles) combined with Strahan on the game’s first offensive play to hold Davis to a 2-yard gain. He also did a good job of sniffing out a draw play in the second quarter. Short was a major factor as a blitzer in the second half of the game, especially in the 4th quarter. Although he didn’t come up with a sack, he forced a number of incompletions. The bad news was that he dropped what should have been a game-sealing interception on the Skins’ last serious drive to take the lead.

Dhani Jones (3 tackles) improved against the run this week. He did a great job of holding at the point-of-attack on a Davis run off left tackle for 3-yards late in the first quarter. On the previous play, he showed good pursuit on a strongside run where he combined with Strahan and Allen to make the tackle. Jones had decent coverage on TE Leonard Stephens in the end zone (along with Shaun Williams) in the second quarter. In the 3rd quarter, he and Legree held Davis to a 2-yard gain on a run up the middle. Jones made a great tackle in the 4th quarter on Davis on Davis’ best run of the game (for 14 yards) when Jones chased the play down from behind or it could have been off to the races for Davis (Holmes, Short, and Legree were taken out of the play and Shaun Williams had taken the wrong angle).

Defensive Backs: What impressed me was the fact the Giants didn’t seem to be confused with all the various sets Steve Spurrier employs to get his mostly average receivers open. The biggest problem the Giants’ defensive backs – specifically, Will Allen and Will Peterson – had was holding onto the football. But you can’t ask much more than holding an opponent to 106 yards of passing offense. Shane Mathews only completed 4 passes in the entire second half of the game.

Shaun Williams (6) tackles set the tone on the Redskins’ first drive of the game. He nailed Stephen Davis in the backfield on 3rd-and-1 for a 1-yard loss and forced Washington to punt. However, I don’t know what Williams was doing on Mathews’ second touchdown of the game as he watched WR Rod Gardner run in front of him for the reception; Williams should have made a play on the ball. On Washington’s last possession of the game, Williams knocked away a pass intended for Willie Jackson on 1st-and-10 from Washington’s 14-yard line.

Washington’s only decent downfield passing play came on an 18-yard connection near the end of the first quarter as Rod Gardner found an opening in the Giants’ zone in front of FS Omar Stoutmire (4 tackles).

The Skins’ first wide receiver screen went for 7-yards on the second play of the game, but two subsequent attempts were defended perfectly as Will Allen (3 tackles) and Will Peterson (5 tackles) each came up quickly to make the tackle. Where Allen really screwed up was his stupid unsportsmanlike penalty on 3rd-and-5 after making a great play on WR Chris Doering on a shallow crossing pattern. He later could have redeemed himself on this drive by intercepting a pass thrown right to him in the end zone, but he dropped it (incidentally, both Ralph Brown and Jason Sehorn had great coverage on the goal line on this play). The Redskins scored on the next play as Peterson was beaten by Willie Jackson, despite solid coverage from Peterson. The pass interference penalty called on Peterson earlier on this drive was bit touchy if you ask me. Peterson had a chance to make a huge play right after Collins’ interception gave the Skins the ball on the 12-yard line. On 3rd-and-11, Mathews hit Peterson right in the chest and there was nothing between him and the end zone 98-yards away…but Peterson dropped the ball. The Skins then kicked the field goal…it was a 10-point swing. Peterson had a two negative plays on the Skins’ last offensive possession right before halftime. He got beat on a slant by Jackson for 11-yards and he missed a tackle on Jackson two plays later after a short reception.

In the second half, the Skins’ receivers could find little breathing room against the Giants’ defensive backs, but there were some mistakes. Will Allen had excellent coverage on Gardner on a 3rd-and-5 pass after Shockey’s interception. This forced the Skins to punt in what looked like a good scoring opportunity for Washington. But after Collins’ interception on the next possession, Will Peterson was beat again for a touchdown (this is the play where Shaun Williams didn’t make a play). Later in the quarter, Peterson had good coverage on Gardner on an intermediate crossing route that fell incomplete. Then in the 4th quarter, the Skins took a shot deep at Peterson and came up empty as Peterson once again had excellent position on Gardner. On the Skins’ drive where the block occurred, Peterson was flagged with a horrible pass interference call for 7-yards; Peterson did nothing wrong on the play. The Skins later benefitted from a huge non-call by the officials on the same drive. On 3rd-and-10, Gardner obviously pushed off on Will Allen, sending him to the turf. But the officials didn’t call the penalty and a 13-yard gain resulted.

Things didn’t start off well for Jason Sehorn (1 tackle, 1 interception). He was beaten by WR Derrius Thompson for 8-yards on 3rd-and-6 on the Redskins’ first scoring drive. But Sehorn, like the two Wills, kept the guy he was covering quiet most of the game. And Sehorn made a great, athletic interception on 3rd-and-10 near the end of the 3rd quarter that set up New York’s final go-ahead points. Later in the 4th quarter, Sehorn had excellent coverage on a pass intended for Derrius Thompson that fell incomplete.

Quarterback: QB Kerry Collins (22-of-46 for 211 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions) had plenty of good reasons to have his problems on Sunday. The weather was a factor. He had only one veteran wide receiver out there (an unbelievable situation). The Skins have three good cornerbacks and a quality set of linebackers. I didn’t expect fireworks. But his inaccuracy almost cost the Giants’ the game – and this despite pretty remarkable pass protection. He badly overthrew a wide open Tiki Barber and Dan Campbell on a back-to-back plays on the Giants’ first drive. Instead of a 16-play drive culminating in 7 points, the Giants had to settle for 3. He had one pass almost picked off when he forced a ball into Daryl Jones on a slant where Jones was double-covered. On the next drive, he threw behind Shockey and the pass was picked off and returned to the Giants’ 12-yard line, setting up a field goal.

On the next drive, Collins made some plays. He threw a beautiful sideline pass to an extremely well-covered Amani Toomer on 3rd-and-4 for 5 yards and a first down. Three plays later, on 3rd-and-10, Collins spotted Jessie Armstead coming free on the blitz and hit Shockey as the hot receiver for 15-yards and a first down. On the next play, he found the wide open Toomer streaking down the middle of the field for a 35-yard touchdown toss.

But Collins wasn’t real sharp in the second half either. The second interception was not his fault; Champ Bailey merely made a great play on the ball. But on the next drive, his accuracy was still off as there was one pass that was thrown very low and far behind Shockey. Later on this same drive, Collins broke the cardinal rule of quarterbacking when he threw late over the middle of the field. The decision was not only poor, but so was the high throw. Two Redskins had a chance to pick it off, but they couldn’t come down with the ball. On the next drive, he made his best throw of the game – a 4th-and-10 out pass to Amani Toomer for 12 yards – a key play in the game that led to a field goal. But later on the drive, he underthrew Dan Campbell on a seam pass from the Washington 22-yard line. On the next drive, after the Redskins fumbled the kickoff, Collins was behind Shockey again for another incompletion. And on New York’s last field goal drive, Collins threw a 2-yard pass to Barber over the middle when he had Dan Campbell all alone on the right sideline on what would have been an easy touchdown. Collins simply didn’t see Campbell.

Wide Receiver(s): Amani Toomer (8 catches for 95 yards, 1 touchdown) was the only wide receiver on the roster to catch a pass on Sunday. That’s unbelievable. What was impressive about Toomer’s performance is that in the past, Toomer has tended to disappear in games against top corners and/or where he was double-teamed. The Giants desperately needed Amani to make some plays on Sunday and he came through for them. Toomer could rarely shake free of Bailey when Bailey would line up on him, but Toomer somehow came up with his share of catches. Things did not start off well, as five of Collins early passes were intended for Toomer but only one was completed (Toomer beat Fred Smoot on a 9-yard pass on the Giants’ 3rd drive). But on the fifth drive, the last before halftime, Toomer caught two 5-yard passes, including a superlative diving reception for a first down on 3rd-and-5 despite being covered like a blanket. Then he finished up the drive by beating the safety easy for a 35-yard touchdown reception. (Incidentally, the announcers said Toomer had dropped a pass on this drive, but in fact Bailey got his hand on the ball).

In the second half, Champ Bailey was able to get hand on the slant pass to Toomer early in the third quarter. The ball was deflected up into the air and intercepted by the safety. It was simply a great play by Bailey. On the next drive, Toomer caught a 13-yarder and a 11-yarder – the latter being off of deflection where Toomer did a nice job of tracking the ball down to come up with the catch. A pass intended for Toomer on 3rd-and-10 right after the big punt return by Joyce was deflected by Bailey again and Toomer couldn’t come down with the ball. However, on the next play, on 4th-and-10, Toomer caught an out pass for 12-yards against Darrell Green. He later caught a 5-yarder against Bailey in the 3rd quarter.

It was disappointing that Daryl Jones didn’t make any plays in the passing game on Sunday. But keep in mind that this was his first start and his only significant playing time with the first unit except for late in the Vikings game. Plus, since he is the “Z” receiver in the Giants’ offense, much of the time he was lined up against Champ Bailey (who played a great game against the Giants). Daryl had four passes thrown in his direction – all in the first half. The first pass was a go route, but Bailey had Jones well covered. On 3rd-and-20, Collins tried to hit Jones in the end zone, but Collins’ pass was thrown out-of-bounds. The next pass thrown Jones’ way was the slant where he was double-covered and not open. Jones’ last opportunity was the 3rd-and-10 deep crossing pattern where Jones beat both Smoot and the safety, but dropped the ball. Twice in the first half, Jones was open underneath, but Collins decided to throw the ball instead to Toomer and Campbell. Jones was flagged with a costly false start penalty on 3rd-and-8. It was costly because Collins’ pass to Shockey went for 9-yards on the very next play – 4 yards short.

The only pass thrown in Derek Dorris’ direction was deflected away from Dorris by the defensive back (this was the pass that Toomer caught off of the deflection).

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey, despite playing on two bum toes, finally had his breakout game (11 catches for 111 yards). Shockey was a factor in the game early and often. On the Giants’ first drive, he caught 4 passes for 41 yards and had another thrown in his direction (it was tipped at the line of scrimmage). The second catch was an impressive diving effort for 10-yards.

One of the most important plays of the game was Shockey’s 15-yard reception on 3rd-and-10 from the 50-yard line. The Skins had just gone ahead 10-3 and if the Giants had to punt, momentum would have been completely with the Skins. The Skins blitzed Armstead off of the corner and Collins hit Shockey short as the hot receiver. Shockey broke one tackle short of the first down and then spun his way past the marker. On the next play, the Giants scored to tie the game. But it wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the third down conversion.

In the second half, Shockey caught a 15-yard pass on a crossing route on 3rd-and-3. This kept the game-winning field goal drive alive right after Sehorn’s interception. On the next drive, Shockey caught a 15-yarder that was important because it moved the Giants from their own 9-yard line to the 24 – a key play in the game in terms of field position.

But it wasn’t a perfect game for Shockey. He fumbled the ball away at the Giants’ 36 on the second play of the second half and only good defense prevented the Redskins’ from turning that into points. He also dropped two big passes in the second half. The first was a deep pass in the third quarter where Shockey had a step on the defensive back and Collins laid the ball in there perfectly. The second came early in the 4th quarter on 2nd-and-9 from the Redskins 19. Shockey had beaten the linebacker and Marcellus Rivers gave him a good block on the play down the field. If Shockey caught the pass, I think he would have scored easily.

Dan Campbell (1 catch for 7 yards) did a nice job of blocking in the first half, including from the fullback spot this week. There were a number of plays where I spotted him taking LaVar Arrington out of the play. However, like his OL teammates, he did get stymied a few times in the second half with respect to his run blocking. Campbell got open for what should have been a 25-yard touchdown pass on 2nd-and-20, but Collins overthrew him in the end zone.

Running Backs: The running game actually performed decently in the first half of the game, but then faltered in the second half. As usual, Tiki Barber (64 yards on 24 carries) was the early focus. On the first drive, he picked up 3 yards (LG Rich Seubert missed his block on Daryl Gardener), 2 yards (excellent pursuit play by the Skins’ safety), 5 yards (a nice cutback run as the Giants fooled the Skins by pulling Seubert to the right), 6 yards (good blocks by Campbell and LT Luke Petitgout), and -2 yards (RG Jason Whittle was flagged for holding on this play).

On the Giants’ third drive, Barber picked up 6 yards (up the gut behind a good OL surge), 4 yards (good block by Campbell), 3 yards (good blocks by Seubert, OC Chris Bober, and Whittle), 6 yards (Giants’ accepted a penalty to negate this play), no gain (excellent pursuit play by Jeremiah Trotter), and no gain. Contrary to what I thought heading into the game, the Giants were having more success running up the middle than outside.

Two series later, Ron Dayne (10 carries for 29 yards) got his first touch. His best run was hist first, a 9-yard effort around left end behind good blocks from Petitgout and Shockey. On 2nd-and-1, Dayne did a good job of keeping his feet moving as he picked up 2 yards and the first down. Two plays later, he only picked up 1 yard as Seubert missed a block on the defensive lineman who made the tackle. Dayne had a nice blitz pick-up on the Giants’ first drive during one of Kerry’s overthrows.

In the second half, the Giants couldn’t get anything going except for a few runs. Tiki Barber was able to break off a key 23-yarder that set up the second field goal in the second half after the Redskins’ fumbled the kick return. It was a good cutback run behind good blocks from Petitgout and Seubert. (Incidentally, the cutback burned Jessie Armstead badly). Later on the drive, however, Barber dropped a screen pass on 3rd-and-11 from the Redskins’ 15-yard line. The Giants had two blockers out in front of Barber on the play. Barber’s other decent run was a 6-yard draw on 3rd-and-goal from the Redskins’ 7 yard line. I liked the call and it almost worked as the Skins barely kept Barber out of the end zone. Kudos to Barber’s effort on his 3rd-and-3 run around right end that was poorly blocked. He came darn close to making the first down that would have helped the Giants to run more time off of the clock. However, Tiki is darn lucky that the ball wasn’t ruled a fumble as it came loose when he stretched for the marker (incidentally, Daryl Jones got a killer block on the play). Dayne’s only decent carry was a 5-yarder behind good blocks from RT Mike Rosenthal and Whittle. There was one Dayne run where he cut it back up inside for only a 2-yard gain; I thought he had a decent hole to his left if he had seen it. The big problem was the offensive line was getting any movement in the second half of the game.

Offensive Line: For the most part, the pass protection was excellent. The Redskins surprised the Giants with a couple of blitzes by Armstead when it appeared he was covering Shockey. Arrington also came free as he was unaccounted for on a couple of plays. There was one play in the first half where both Rosenthal and Whittle got beat quickly and this led to immediate pressure on Collins. Chris Bober got beat on one pass rush by Dan Wilkinson on the first drive. Seubert had some problems with a couple of stunts and Luke Petitgout had a problem on one stunt.

The run blocking was pretty solid in the first half, but really faltered in the second half as the Giants had all kinds of problems moving the Redskins’ off the line of scrimmage between the tackles and running outside against the Skins’ linebackers. Daryl Gardener was a constant thorn in the side of the Giants and Rich Seubert in particular.

Whittle was flagged for holding, the line’s only penalty.


Rainy Days

by David Oliver

And all the rest. Sunday began inauspiciously, dark and gloomy. Dr. Joe and I headed North on the pavement of dreams, Route 95, a concrete ribbon transporting us through Charm City, past Cal Ripken’s Aberdeen Field of Dreams, across the Susquehanna and into the stinking wasteland of Delaware, over the architectural wonder of the Delaware Memorial bridge, dual megaliths giving testimony to the creative genius of the engineering profession, up the I-295 (free) bypass of the Turnpike, which waits for us much like the inevitability of age. The New Jersey Turnpike, passing through hectare upon hectare of rural land, across the river from the City of brotherly Love, no joke, a true Cain and Able City if ever there was one; back to I-95, known more for the industrial wasteland of its northern passage, container cranes on the right, cogeneration and cracking plants on the left, oil storage terminals dotting the landscape as industrial replacements for the green of trees, every time I pass then I think of Billy Sol Estis and his soybean oil scam. But I love this northern part for it is home. I love the Pulaski Skyway, fondly remembering the Breyer’s plant we passed in Newark before climbing up and over Seacaucus, the Pepsodent plant at the end as we descended downwards into the Holland Tunnel and adventure. The weather always changes as you pass New Brunswick, home of Rutgers and hapless football. What was grey now becomes sprizzle, leaving a grimy trail in the wake of the wipers, the sky meeting the pavement in our own version of cry the forsaken land, the split in the road, one section heading east for the transit to Paradise, the other west towards the meadowlands and on to the Tappan Zee bridge and Rip Van Winkle. Out of the mist rises Avalon, Giants Stadium, the Guggenheim of sports with its upwards crawling ramps. Off the Turnpike and into the Bacchanalian frenzy of tailgate heaven.

It promised to be a day of little poetry, sloppy and brutal as a battering ram against the Giants’ fans dream of playoff destiny. The Redskins, even a terrible team as this one, could be a roadblock, more a tragedy. Divison games are never pretty, no wedding cake revelry, more like a dry Panettone which we eat only because generations of our forebears ate it. Too often these games are decided by toes, as in kicks made or not made. Too often have Redskins running backs made the giants defense appear like Swiss Cheese or Limburger. But there is always the memory of that playoff victory on the way to the SuperBowl, with darkness descending and paper blowing across the field, when those glorious Giants pistol-whipped the mighty Redskins, left them gasping for air to the thunderous cheering of the frenzied crowd, capped off by Jim Burt hoisting his son on his shoulders and heading for the fans.

As our bags were being checked, Dan Snyder and his entourage pulled up in two Limos. They were allowed into the inner sanctum, the lot closest to the doors, where only the team buses are now allowed. A lot cordoned off by steel fencing and guarded by Hessians, fierce, but not too coordinated. As the Limos leave there is a shouting match among the guards over who authorized entry. Yet again, thank you Usama Bin Laden, for you have allowed these cretins without self control the power to control us. I decide to skip practice because of the gloom. Hanging out in the tunnel, I note the size of the Redskins, awesome, as most teams who walk the tunnel to the visitors room. They always seem larger than our warriors. I note Tre Johnson, seemingly with a small head for his mammoth proportions and a fine set of dreads, or threads, or braids. If they played with no helmets, this would be one scary dude. Dan Snyder is walking in the wake of his minions, black topcoat open and flapping, reminding me of an Australian drover herding his roos into the pen. I hope he leaves here today realizing once again that rich boys may have the toys, but often it isn’t enough. On the field, General Peter Pence, U.S. Army 4 Star is a guest of honor. General Pence is a NJ boy and he is making the rounds. He was at Dover in September, guest of NASCAR. Funny how life is now; here is a 4 Star General whom very few people have probably ever heard of; a chestful of medals, but where was he that our media has not lionized him, or where was I that I did not hear of his exploits. He is ramrod straight, possessing the look of a successful Coach. Maybe he will call plays for the Giants today.

THE VIEW FROM THE SIDELINES

Which brings us to the game. Not much rain until near the first half, then a steadily increasing downpour, soaking everything, cameras, lenses fog up, clothes, boots. The sidelines are muddy, even with the rip rap put down for the TV crews. If you close your eyes, you can feel the wet in your bones, the very fibre of your being is hosed over. The fans must feel it, at least those who are not well-lubricated against the elements, and the players must feel it. But with the sod down you don’t even get those beautiful shots of turf face, you know, the photos with players full of mud and blood, soaked through to the skin. Only Stephen Davis looks the part, having been pushed down so many times that his back is black from mud stains. The game was not artistic, and only a Giants’ victory kept us from deep depression. The Giants had a wonderful Red Zone efficiency of 0% and a wonderful Goal-to-Go efficiency of 0%. That’s right, 0-4 and 0-1. It doesn’t matter who calls the plays on the sidelines; it doesn’t matter what plays are called; it comes up 0% for Jim Fassel just as it did for Sean Payton. It is kind of sad watching the Giants’ own version of the Maytag Man standing by himself along the sidelines, still looking at his chart, looking at it as if it is the Rosetta Stone of football, and thinking, if only he can figure out the first character, all the rest would fall in place.

COACHING

But this is not a badly coached team, maintaining discipline and ekeing out wins with a cast of characters even Giants loyalists wouldn’t know without a roster list. One man goes down, another fills in and on goes the game. Coach McNally wanders among his troops, a solemn mein, or aura surrounds him. He is a Yoda force, stressing fundamentals and faith. Another stalwart goes down (Chris Bober) and a rookie prepares to fill a gap somewhere. It was almost a premonition as right after the failed Redskins FG, everyone seemed to be coming up and patting Tam Hopkins on the butt, giving him a nudge, preparing him for the battle. In the locker after the game, I talked to Bober, who showed no sign of injury, didn’t let on that he was hurt. Coach Lynn continues to work magic. He gave me a knowing grin and nod in the locker, a telling glance as if to say “how do you like this defense?” In truth, I am not comfortable with it, even though it is showing results. I like a defense that has linebackers where they traditionally play. The front four play hard and they are easy to spot. But the safeties and the linebackers appear to be playing as one, like the fan spread of a Peacock’s tail when he is on edge. The corners roam the field and provide a great perimeter game. There aren’t as many sacks, there’s not as much pressure, so I am always on edge because it seems to depend on perfect play to stop an offense. It stopped the Redskins, but that isn’t saying much. The Skins are basically Stephen Davis and Gardner. Shut down Shane Matthews and the Skins offense plods. Matthews does not respond well to pressure, which is why I wanted to see more dogs. Nevertheless, Matthews didn’t respond well anyway and if not for the butter all over the Wills hands, this game could have been a rout.

Could have been a rout, but wasn’t. That’s the key here, as ekeing out a win over a struggling team can be defined as boring. Unless, of course, you are an avid movie fan, used to manipulated endings, in which case a missed FG or a made FG with under a minute left can be considered exciting. So the coaches are doing a good job. Buy the fact remains, 0-4 in the Red Zone is unacceptable. They might as well install interactive displays on the seats and let the fans call the plays when they enter inside the 20 yard line- can’t get much worse than 0%.

THE OFFENSE

Matt Bryant. That was basically the offense. Four FGs. But props must be given to Jeremy Shockey and Amani Toomer. Both puffed a couple, but they brought the ball in time after time and that wasn’t easy on a wet, sloppy day. It was fun watching Shock go up against Jessie Armstead. It wasn’t fun seeing Jessie sitting on the Redskins bench in that awful uniform, looking like a foster child who had just been sent off to another ‘loving’ home. It was true pathos in the tunnel after the game seeing Jessie, gracious and nattily attired, welcoming a procession of Giants players, Will Allen, Kevin Lewis, watching Kenny Holmes quietly hanging with him, and Michael, grabbing him in an embrace to say goodbye once again.

Back to the offense. Kerry Collins had another of his terrible games and came away lucky. He overthrew a WIDE OPEN Tiki Barber on what would have been an easy score; he overthrew an open Daryl Jones in the end zone. He fired every pass at the same velocity, no touch, no arc, just whoomp. So several bounced off receivers, one off Daryl Jones, one off Derrick Dorris. And yet, Kerry can direct it into Amani’s mid-section, or lead him on a sideline route, today on the Giants sideline where he used to hit Jurevicious. His best pass of the day was his interception, thrown straight and true, right into the arms of a Skins defender. Kerry threw 46 times, he completed 22 passes; his QB rating for the game 50.2. Shane Matthews had a higher rating, yes, that Shane Matthews.

But the Giants had an overwhelming lead in time of possession, with Tiki gaining 64 yards and Dayne adding 29. Not Thunder & Lightning, but better than Davis and good enough to grind the clock into the dimming light. One crucial play was the Tiki around end, step out-of-bounds, fumble play which resulted in a first down, replay challenge of some 7 minutes which split the baby, giving possession to the Giants but 1 yard short which would give the Skins another chance to snatch victory, lost only when the kicker slipped and bounced the ball off of Lance Legree’s chest. It was that kind of a day.

The offensive line once again did the job, protecting Kerry. That was the difference.

THE DEFENSE

It was an unbelievably gritty performance spoiled only by Will Allen’s taunting and pushing after a nice stop and the inability of the secondary, except for Jason Sehorn, to hold onto sure interceptions. It seemed as if the Giants in reality had scored the first 30 points, as the defense would shut down the Redskins time and again, only to let them escape the noose. Michael Strahan had a fine game, with 2 sacks, one of which sealed the victory at the end. Kenny Holmes was active, Lance Legree appeared stout. Cornelius Griffin was having a good game until that run by Stephen Davis. Grif broke through the line and hit Davis squarely. I could hear the thump. Then, it was almost as if everything stopped, freeze frame, Griffin slipped to the ground and Davis kept going, maybe getting to the line of scrimmage or a 1 yard gain. Griffin rolled over and held his ankle. Another lineman down. Those ankles appear to be a real obstacle between Griffin and greatness. Dwight Johnson came in and was a monster. He continually penetrated. blowing up plays, or making them. Another unheralded free agent from Baylor. That’s two on the team. Dwight is a quiet guy, good natured, with a ready smile. Last year, when he was signed to the practice squad, we talked several times and he has been confident that when his chance comes, he will show some stuff. He showed some Sunday. Shaun Williams had a good day, helping out all over the field. He had several nice hits and didn’t let anything behind him.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Delvin Joyce looks better every game, Kevin Lewis has bulked up and is getting down field and Marcellus Rivers is making tackles and made a nice fumble recovery. I asked KLU (Kevin Lewis) what was the difference in special teams this year? Basically he told me, “Every one on the special teams unit wants to make the play…you’ve got 11 hungry guys out there, every snap.” I asked him, you had that last year, didn’t you? Apparently not. KLU was noncommittal but said, “It’s a different feeling. We’re in the huddle before we even go out there, and we’re like, we’re going to make the difference, I’m going to be the one, it’s a different feeling, everyone is taking pride in their job.” I asked if it was the coaching or the players and he said, “It’s the players, it’s definitely the players. Bruce does a fantastic job of getting us in the right schemes, but it’s like, it’s your ball, guys, go out there and do something with it. He puts it in our hands to get it done.”

I talked to Delvin Joyce and teasingly told him I always wanted to talk to a football player from a girl’s school. He laughed and said, “Hey, wait a minute”, then we chatted about the old days. He is as friendly and gracious a player as I have met in the locker room and obviously is enjoying the opportunity. I asked him if he had a role model and he told me his dad; as an aside, he told me he is the giant (no pun) in his family, and Michael Jordan. Jordan, not only for his on court exploits but also for the way he handles himself off the court, clean and professional. Also Barry Sanders, because of his humility, the way “he would score a TD and simply hand the ball to the ref.” He told me he tried to incorporate that demeanor into his game as “there’s no need for all the flash; you get paid to do this, that’s enough.” I asked him if he had any doubts about making it as a Pro. He told me, “You know, I did, because I sat out last year and I was working, I really didn’t think it would happen, so I was set on moving on, but looking back on it, my success never began with football, it wasn’t going to end with football. If it happened, it happened, and by the Grace of God, I’m here now, so it’s good.” We talked about the road here and playing against the big guys. He said, “Today, everyone was blocking so hard, a lot of effort out there.” On the bigger guys, he said, “Ever since I was younger, they always told me, the bigger they are, the harder they fall, so it’s never really given me any kind of concern.” I mentioned that we had a JMU Alumnus on the Board, whose name I’m not supposed to mention, but what the hell, we are Interactive so I asked Delvin if he had any words for a fellow Alum. He said, “Joey in VA, take care, wish you luck, and Go Dukes.”(exact words).

OTHER CONVERSATIONS

Chris Bober told me, “We just feel like we’re in a groove right now. Whatever they throw at us, we’re going to handle it.” Chris and Seubert both gave props to the Redskins’ defense and both said they were huge, particularly the front four. Chris said the key was “we kept pounding and pounding and pounding, got the point on the board and it was good enough to win.” I asked him about Jessie and he told me he was never around him much and because this is his first year starting, didn’t go up against him much in practice. Interestingly, Chris told me, “He was out there, and, of course, words were being thrown around, but it was kind of fun.” On LaVar he said about accounting for him “on film, you might, but out there, unless I’m going one-on-one with him, which I don’t think I did, you don’t even notice.” I mention this because it shows how focused these linemen are – players are players, forget the press clippings, if he’s mine I worry about him. Disciplined, well coached guys.

Seubert told me, “This was probably the best D-Line we have faced, the best D-Tackle I’ve faced.” I asked him about the line and LBs, were they moving around, filling in on line stunts. He laughed and said, “They did a lot of stunts, very active, they did a lot of DEs, DTs, but they run them all the time, so sometimes they are going to get home, but the linebackers were moving around a little bit.” Seubert said he didn’t hear a lot of talking going on and towards the end there’s “kind of a mutual bonding, like, you play against a guy, you help a guy up. You want to knock him back down, knock his head off, he wants to knock you back down, knock your head off. We’re both playing this game of football.” I asked him about the improvement in the line and he said “that’s experience.” He gave props to Luke, telling me that Luke talks to him all the time, calming him down, and Bober “he knows what he is doing.” I asked if he was ready for the stretch run and he shot back, “I’m ready, it’s started already, hasn’t it, it started 2 weeks ago. We just have to win, Philly comes here for the last game, it’s going to be interesting.” We wrapped up by him telling me, “This is the longest season I’ve ever played.”

Just something to keep in mind; many of thee kids are first time starters and it is a long season. They were happy in the locker, and it never hurts when you’re happy. Like Seubert said, “comes Sunday, you just go out there and play.”

OK, I’m out of time. Just a little aside. Back in the summer when it looked as if I was going to move on, Sandy and I were at my vets getting some shots for one of the cats. My vet is a big Redskins fan so we talk a lot of football. His brother in law is a Giants fan. He asked me if I was moving on because he knows I’ve been at it a while. He looked at Sandy and asked her if she’d be happy if I stopped. Sandy shot right back at him, “If he goes back, it will only be because of the kids in the locker room.” Talking to Delvin Joyve and Kevin Lewis and the other guys reminded me of that. Sandy’s right. These are great kids.

(Box Score – Washington Redskins at New York Giants, November 17, 2002)
Nov 152002
 

Approach to the Game – Washington Redskins at New York Giants, November 17, 2002: Because the Giants dug themselves into a 5-4 hole by losing to teams such as the Cardinals and Falcons, every game from here on out is critically important. Odds are the Giants won’t make the playoffs, but they can make things a lot more interesting down the stretch if they beat the Redskins on Sunday in the Meadowlands.

The Redskins are a bit of a enigma and you really can’t tell what kind of game you will get from them week-to-week. At times, they look downright horrible; at other times, they look like a playoff contender. The strength of their team is the defense and this defense has been playing much better in recent weeks. Worse, Jessie Armstead’s Redskin teammates appear to be as fired up to help him beat his former team as he is. The Redskins’ defense is not the defense of the Jaguars or Vikings. They are now ninth in the NFL in total defense despite a very rough start to the season. Defensive Coordinator Marvin Lewis – who decimated the Giants’ offense in the Super Bowl – has his troops moving in the right direction. We’re going to get a much better feel for Head Coach Jim Fassel’s offense this week than the previous two weeks. Points will not come easy.

Giants on Special Teams: The big worry is the psyche of place kicker Matt Bryant. How mentally tough is Bryant and can he rebound from two poor games in a row? It looks like Chris Bober will be the new snapper on field goal and extra point attempts and Matt Allen will be his holder again. That should help. But Bryant still has to nail the ball through the uprights. There is a good chance this game will be decided by a field goal.

Allen says Head Coach Jim Fassel has told him he will be the punter this week. With Jacquez Green being waived, CB Champ Bailey will return punts. Bailey is a great athlete with a tremendous amount of speed. Allen needs to continue to punt for hangtime in order to help out his coverage team.

What the Giants desperately need to do is get their own punt and kick return game going. The Giants have been terrible at holding up opposing gunners on punt returns. Delvin Joyce has looked pretty good when given a chance. The problem is that his teammates are not giving him a chance. The kick return team continues to remain a joke for yet another year. Losing Tim Carter won’t help. The fact that the kickoff unit NEVER provides the offense with good field position is embarrassing. It’s also the type of thing that loses football games.

Giants on Defense: One of the reasons why the Redskins struggled offensively against the Jaguars last Sunday is that Steve Spurrier stopped calling running plays. He’s heavily criticized about that in the Washington press this past week. Usually when that happens, it means you’ll see a heavy dose of the run the following week. Will Spurrier do that or stick with his first love – the passing game? The fact that the Giants have struggled to defend the run in recent weeks makes me think he will do the former, but I honestly have no idea. Regardless, the Giants have to prepare for both.

Two things will help the Giants defensively this week: (1) they finally are not playing against a mobile quarterback, and (2) the interior offensive line of the Redskins has been shaky at times. The Giants’ down four will be able to rush the passer more aggressively this week (and they are coming off of a decent pass rush performance against the Vikings regardless). But the Redskins will most likely try to grind the ball out some. HB Stephen Davis (knee injury) should play this week, but he probably will be rotated with HB Kenny Watson. The trio on the spot will be DT Cornelius Griffin, DT Lance Legree, and MLB Mike Barrow versus RG Wilbert Brown, LG David Loverne, and OC Larry Moore respectively. This will be old style NFC East football when Davis gets the call. He’s a north-south runner who punishes people. Griffin, Legree, and Barrow will have to play a much more aggressive and physical game than they have in recent weeks.

The strength of the Redskin offensive line is their tackles. Both LT Chris Samuel and RT Jon Jansen have had their problems this year, but they are still very good. Jansen usually does a good job on DE Michael Strahan as does Samuels against DE Kenny Holmes. Both Strahan and Samuels need to play the run better as well. They need to stay disciplined in their gaps, play with leverage, and prepare for some smash-mouth football. Likewise, outside linebackers Dhani Jones and Brandon Short need to step it up against the run as well. Jones in particular needs to make more plays.

The run defense can be added by better run support from the secondary. This is the type of game where SS Shaun Williams can make an impact. He usually plays well against Washington. Both he and FS Omar Stoutmire need to start intercepting some passes.

You know all about Spurrier’s “fun-and-gun”. He loves to play multiple wide receiver sets and stretch the field both vertically and horizontally with the passing game. But out of these sets, the Giants need to be very careful about three things: (1) draws, (2) reverses, and (3) trick plays. Spurrier uses all of these quite a bit to slow down the pass rush. And you know he saw how the Vikings burned the Giants’ defense for 78-yards and a touchdown on a halfback draw last week.

The Redskins recently signed WR Willie Jackson (who was cut by the Falcons). He’s a solid veteran who runs good routes. He, along with WR Rod Gardner, are probably the Skins’ most consistent receiving threats. But the Giants could see a lot of Derrius Thompson, Chris Doering, and Darnerien McCants too. This is the kind of game where Will Peterson and Will Allen can really shine. There will be some passes thrown in their direction. If they want to truly be considered two of the best, they need to make some plays on the ball and pick some passes off. This will be a big game too for nickel back Jason Sehorn and possibly dime back Ralph Brown.

Spurrier likes to throw deep, but he also likes crossing patterns and wide receiver screens. Obviously, the key is not to give up a big play. Make the Redskins earn it.

Do not underestimate QB Shane Matthews. He is not very mobile and he lacks a strong arm, but he is comfortable in Spurrier’s system and he has looked very sharp at times. The key is to get in his face and force him to make some bad decisions. Mathews has taken a lot of shots this year and hasn’t always responded well. Ideally, it would be great if the Giants could get enough pressure with their down four to create problems. But that would depend on both Strahan, Holmes, and Griffin on having monster games. Look for the Giants to blitz, but they need to be careful. There will likely be a lot of receivers on the field and if the Giants don’t get there, a big play could result.

Giants on Offense: The Redskins’ usual defensive tactic against the Giants is to load up against the run and dare their wide receivers to beat their corners. They did this when Ike Hilliard and Amani Toomer were both healthy and starting. Obviously, don’t expect a change on Sunday.

With eight men in the box, how do the Giants attack the Redskins? Do they play strength-on-strength and attempt to run the ball? The interior duo of DT Dan Wilkinson (who will be lined up over Jason Whittle) and DT Daryl Gardener (who will be lined up over Rich Seubert) is big and strong. The ends – Bruce Smith (versus Luke Petitgout) and Renaldo Wynn (Mike Rosenthal) – are not as impressive. The linebackers are all very active and are the top three tacklers on the team. LaVar Arrington (8 sacks) is a punishing hitter who sometimes has problems at the point-of-attack. Jeremiah Trotter was always a nightmare for the Giants when he was with Philadelphia. And Jessie Armstead will be seeking his revenge against his former team. Word has it that Jessie’s new team wants to win as much for Jessie as anything so expect a fired up defense. I think the Giants need to use this aggressiveness against the Skins by using misdirection and crossing them up with the unexpected. Take a little steam out of their charge. Reverses, screens, draws. I also firmly believe this is the opponent who the Giants need Jeremy Shockey to step up and do the most damage against. In fact, I think in order to win this game, Shockey must come down with at least 6-7 passes. With the receivers having their hands full, the Giants need to attack the linebackers and SS Ifeanyi Ohalete in coverage. Tiki Barber obviously must be a factor here. Passes to Shockey and Barber – that’s the route I would go.

If Fassel wants to play it conservatively (wait for the Skins to implode) and run the football against a defense waiting for the ground attack, running off tackle may be the route to go. Pound the ball at LaVar. Or pound it at Bruce Smith. I think running left on the Skins at Smith might be a good strategy.

Normally, CB Fred Smoot would be lined up over Amani Toomer. It will be interesting to see if the Skins keep CB Champ Bailey on him. Regardless, the Skins’ corners are damn good coverage men. This is the kind of game where Amani Toomer usually disappears against quality opposition. It will be especially hard on Amani as there is a good chance he will be doubled quite often. If Amani wants to make a name for himself, he needs to make plays in such a situation however. Rookie Daryl Jones will really be on the spot. If the Redskins keep Bailey in his normal position, then Jones will be facing one of the NFL’s elite corners. The good news is that Bailey doesn’t have much film on Jones and there is a chance Jones could surprise him. But the odds will be stacked against him.

What about the newcomers Herman Moore and Tony Simmons? Both don’t know the Giants system and therefore it would be risky to play either other than a snap here or there. Not only do Moore and Simmons not know the Giants’ terminology, they don’t know the offense and don’t have a rapport with QB Kerry Collins. In addition, routes change based on pre-snap reads by the quarterback and receivers. If the quarterback and receivers are not on the same page, it might be six points the other way. It’s far more likely that Derek Dorris is activated this week and sees some action. The Skins cut him, so let’s see if he can make them pay.

If I’m Fassel, I use my three tight ends more than I use the three new guys. Dan Campbell is becoming more productive in the passing game and Marcellus Rivers looks to me as if he is finally comfortable with the Giants’ offense. My message to the tight ends? Listen to what CB Fred Smoot says:

They have a solid tight end as well in rookie Jeremy Shockey. But we have two good cover safeties in Ifeanyi Ohalete and David Terrell. So tight ends don’t pose as big a threat to us.

Go get ’em guys!

Nov 132002
 
New York Giants 27 – Minnesota Vikings 20

Game Overview: For the second week in a row, the Giants turned what should have been a blow out into a squeaker. In fact, this time they had to come from behind to win. The good news is that QB Kerry Collins and the offense once again demonstrated that they can come from behind in a pressure situation in the 4th quarter. The bad news is that it never should have come to that. Last week, the defense gave up 17 points to allow the Jaguars to get within 7. This week, the defense gave up 14 points in five plays in the 4th quarter. And the kicking unit cost the Giants 8 easy points (two short field goals and two extra points).

Obviously, the defense needs to tighten it up. So do the defensive coaches. Some of the problems the defense has faced in the past two weeks is that the opposing offensive coordinator has called the right play at the right time. But the players need to play better as well – particularly the linebackers and defensive line against the run.

The special teams situation is scary. The snaps and holds should be rectified, but I worry about Matt Bryant’s confidence. Too many games in the NFL come down to the kicker.

Special Teams: Obviously the kicking game was a freaking joke. When it wasn’t a bad hold by P Tom Rouen it was a bad snap by long snapper Bob Jones. When it wasn’t a bad snap or bad hold, it was a bad kick by PK Matt Bryant. The Giants are EXTREMELY fortunate to come out of Minnesota with a win after blowing two extra points and two field goal attempts (31 yards and 36 yards). My big worry is not the snaps and holds, but Matt Bryant’s psyche. Bryant’s extra point miss looked like it was all him to me.

Bryant’s kickoffs landed at the 6, 7, 5 (low kick), 8, and 11. That’s only average. Kickoff coverage was decent with returns by the Vikings of 23 yards (Will Allen making the tackle), 29 (Marcellus Rivers), 18 (Wes Mallard), 23 (Wes Mallard), and 22 (Damon Washington). This has been the biggest improvement that Bruce Read has made on special teams.

Tom Rouen’s screwed up with a couple of holds against the Vikings, but his punting has been pretty sharp thus far. Rouen’s punts went for 55 yards (just bounced into the end zone), 49 yards, 52 yards, 20 yards (landed at the 19), and 43 yards. Obviously, the second-to-last effort could have been better. Punt coverage was OK. Returns went for 11 yards (Marcellus Rivers and Damon Washington), 9 yards (Johnnie Harris), and no gain (Marcellus Rivers). Once again Rivers was active on special teams coverage. But for the second week in a row, the opposition came darn close to blocking a punt (on the 20-yarder).

I saw a post in The Corner Forum this week criticizing Delvin Joyce for fair catching so many punts. Delvin has no choice. The Giants have been so poor at holding up the opposing gunners that Joyce inevitably has a gunner right in his face as soon as the ball arrives. Not calling for a fair catch in such a situation is just plain stupid. The first punt was aborted as the snap went over the punter’s head and the Giants recovered the ball on Minnesota’s 23-yard line. The Giants almost blocked the second punt and that kick only went 36 yards and landed out-of-bounds. Delvin’s first and only chance to return was a good return of 13 yards. On Delvin’s next chance, both gunners were embarrassingly in his face as soon as the ball arrived – horrible! Then came another good example of how bad the blocking is. At the beginning of the third quarter, the Vikings punted to Joyce who had to call for another fair catch as a man was right with him. However, the Vikes were called for holding and had to punt again. Despite this second chance, Joyce once again had to call for a fair catch as the gunners were right down there again. The next punt was not fielded and the last went out-of-bounds. Johnnie Harris was flagged with holding on one punt return.

Joyce did come darn close to breaking a big return when he was just tripped up on a 26-yard return. His other returns went for 26 and 20. The Giants need to do much better here. Again, the blocking needs to be better.

Defensive Line: The pass rush was much stronger this week as Michael Strahan, Cornelius Griffin, Kenny Holmes, and Frank Ferrara were all credited with sacks (and Ferrara and Holmes both forced fumbles; Griffin recovered one). In addition, there were many quarterback pressures coming from Griffin, Holmes, and Strahan. What was great was that the Giants were able to get decent pass pressure at times by just rushing these three. The big problem is that the run defense continues to struggle. For the second week in a row, the opposition was able to run at Michael Strahan. I wonder if his back is still acting up. The other three defensive linemen also had their problems at time against the run. Sometimes Lance Legree is able to jam things up; sometimes he gets clobbered. Same story with Holmes and Griffin. Both Strahan and Holmes also missed a tackle behind or at the line of scrimmage. Reserve DT Matt Mitrione has seen a lot of playing time the past two weeks. He has the same type of hustle as Frank Ferrara, but he’s still learning what the NFL is all about. Mitrione got one good penetration to disrupt a run, but he’s getting effectively blocked on running plays too often as well. On Michael Bennett’s long TD run, both Griffin and Mitrione were pushed out of their gaps as they went after the passer.

Linebackers: Dhani Jones, Mike Barrow, and Brandon Short have all been nursing hamstring injuries. Barrow’s injury came in the game against Jacksonville. Jones’ and Short’s injuries have been lingering around for a while. All three have missed practice time because of this and I wonder if it is affecting their game. On Sunday, the play of the linebackers against the run was crap. Over and over again, I saw each of these three get handled at the point-of-attack. Undoubtably, the defensive line needs to do a better job of keeping the linebackers free, but the linebackers also need to do a much better job of avoiding or shedding blocks and making the play. For example on one play in the first half, both the guard and tackle started a double-team on Lance Legree. As soon as Legree was shoved out of the way, the tackle went out and took Dhani Jones out of the play. This was an example of Lance not being able to take on the double-team block and thereby helping Dhani. At the same time, in such situations, Dhani must do a better job of getting off of the block. On the same play, the center took out Mike Barrow one-on-one. Two plays later, the Vikes got a big run to the outside as Strahan, Short, and Barrow got all blocked to the inside and CB Jason Sehorn got demolished on the outside (a lesson for those who want him at safety). Dhani’s flying around the field, but he’s not making the play; Wes Mallard may take his job next year.

The good plays? The undercoverage wasn’t bad at all. Barrow also had a great hit in the hole on the goal line, helping to force the Vikes settle for a field goal. Barrow also did a good job in one running situation jamming things up after Griffin and Mitrione got shoved out of the way. He also picked up a sack.

Defensive Backs: The entire secondary (not just Will Peterson and Will Allen) continues to excel in pass defense except for the all important category of accruing interceptions. Hopefully those will come soon. Randy Moss was kept invisible until the two big passes to him in the 4th quarter that set up Minnesota’s first touchdown. Yes, the Giants double-teamed Moss quite often. But they also left him alone with Allen, Peterson, and Sehorn at times and all three did a good job on him. The safeties have a big role in pass defense so don’t discount their work here too. However, it is important to note that SS Shaun Williams and FS Omar Stoutmire haven’t picked off a pass this year.

The only big mental breakdown in coverage was the 23-yard pass to Chris Walsh in the 3rd quarter on a play where Walsh was wid e open in the middle of the zone.

The secondary does need to do a better job of defending the run as well. Shaun Williams seemed more interested in hitting Randy Moss than tackling Michael Bennett on the latter’s 78-yard touchdown run. With the linebackers out of the middle of the field (they were blitzing from the perimeter of the defense on the play), Williams was supposed to be the safety net on this play and he failed miserably. Williams was supposed to be a force against the run this year, but I don’t think he has been very dominant. And all three corners need to do a better job in run support on outside runs.

Will Allen played the stronger game this week. His biggest gaffe was getting beat by Moss on the 32-yard pass down to the 1-yard line (Shaun Williams was late getting over on this play as well). Will Peterson was beat by DeWayne Bates for 19 yards on a slant and then tacked on a 15-yard face mask penalty at the end of the play. This play really hurt because it came on 2nd-and-21. It was also Peterson who got beat on Moss’ 48-yard deep strike to Moss. For some reason, Peterson never turned around to play the ball. Jason Sehorn was also lucky that a 3rd-and-6 out pattern to Moss was thrown off the mark in the second quarter.

But all in all, the pass defense held up quiet nicely. Daunte Culpepper only managed to connect on 9-of-20 passes for 91 yards. Todd Bouman was 3-of-6 for 85 yards. Repeated attempts to throw deep and hit people in the end zone were not successful.

Quarterback: Kerry Collins (25-of-35 for 300 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception) has been sharper. He threw one really bad interception into triple coverage and was lucky that another was overturned by replay. What was frustrating was that the Giants were only 1-out-of-11 on 3rd down situations. This is normally where Collins excels. Some of this obviously wasn’t his fault as there were some protection breakdowns, penalties, and miscues by those surrounding him. But Collins was a bit off on many of his throws which often seemed to be behind the intended target. What was a bit surprising to me was the decision to attack the Vikings with the running game instead of going up top. The Giants ran early and often, eschewing the deep passing game for most of the contest.

Collins’ best pass was a deep pass…the 46-yard strike to Amani Toomer down the left sideline. It was a pass that couldn’t have been thrown better. On the Giants’ first TD drive of the second half, Collins threw a really nice pass to Ron Dixon on the play where Dixon cut back against the grain and picked up 33 yards. His fade to Toomer on the touchdown was well-thrown as was his 3rd-and-4 pass to Jeremy Shockey on the Giants’ game-winning drive. This was the Giants’ only 3rd down conversion of the game and the pass was accurately delivered despite the fact that Collins was being smashed by a free blitzing linebacker.

Wide Receivers: The horrible news coming out of this game was the injury to Tim Carter (Achilles’ tendon). Carter is now lost for the remainder of the season. He will have a hard time making it back in time for training camp next offseason and may never be the same athlete again. Losing the second rounder like that is devastating.

Ron Dixon was also forced to leave the game with a strained knee ligament and the Giants are unsure when he will return. Before he left, Dixon made quite an impact with 4 catches for 107 yards. All four catches came in the second half of the game. Dixon had some serious run-after-the-catch yards on his first two receptions. He turned one 9-yard reception into a 30-yard gain on a pass thrown behind him. On the next drive, he turned a 16-yard gain into a 33-yard gain by cutting back against the grain. This helped to set up the first touchdown in the second half. Dixon made two catches on the game-winning drive. The first was a 15-yarder. The second was an incredibly important 29-yarder right after the Giants had been flagged with an illegal chop block and found themselves in a 1st-and-25 situation. Dixon made a diving catch on the latter play.

Amani Toomer (5 catches for 83 yards, 1 touchdown) finally got into the end zone again. His second catch was a great play – a 16-yard slant pass on a ball thrown behind him and where it took 5 defenders to bring him down. Three plays later, he did a nice job of making a 7-yard sideline reception despite tight coverage. Both of these plays came on the second quarter touchdown drive. On the next drive, Toomer used a very subtle push-off on the defensive back to create just enough separation on the corner to come down with a 46-yard reception; Toomer demonstrated great concentration on the catch too with the defender still on him. His last catch was came on the fade route for an 11-yard touchdown; on the play, Toomer got the corner to bite on an inside move and was wide open in the corner of the end zone. Amani drawing a pass interference penalty on 3rd-and-6 on the Giants’ game-winning drive was huge.

Daryl Jones (1 catch for 9 yards) will be the man on the spot now with Dixon and Carter out.

Tight Ends: Dan Campbell (4 catches for 35 yards) continues to perform well as a blocker and this week made an impact as a receiver. As I’ve mentioned before, it is Campbell’s blocks from the down tight end position that often allow Giants’ running backs to get outside the tackle. He tends to get much better blocks from this position than as a lead blocker from the fullback spot, where he is more sporadic. I thought the holding penalty called on him down on the goal line was a bad call. His big passing play was the 27-yard reception on the Giants’ first scoring drive of the second half. It took four Vikings to bring Campbell down on a play that was very “Bavaro-esque”. (Incidentally, this drive was the best offensive drive the Giants have had all year. It was very obvious that the Giants were playing with a lot of passion and vigor, and they executed extremely well on this 6-play, 91 yard march).

Jeremy Shockey (3 catches for 19 yards) did not have a real productive day and was guilty of two drops on passes thrown behind him. Still, these are the type of catches that Shockey and his fans come to expect him to make. Fassel also appeared to be chewing out Shockey after a 3rd-and-9 incompletion on a pass intended for him; I can only assume that Shockey ran the wrong route. Shockey’s 5-yard reception on 3rd-and-4 was clutch as if he doesn’t make that play, the field goal unit is called upon to win the game. Shockey’s blocking continues to improve although there are still a few plays where he doesn’t sustain as well as he should. That will come with time.

Incidentally, all three Giant tight ends – Campbell, Shockey, and Marcellus Rivers (especially Rivers) got great blocks on the Giants’ last possession on Tiki’s two big running plays that ran out the clock. Rivers also showed good focus on his 2-point conversion reception as the pass was tipped.

Running Backs: Tiki Barber (24 carries for 127 yards, 1 touchdown; 7 catches for 46 yards) is really starting to break out of his slump. More important than the yards is the fact that he is finding the end zone with three touchdowns now in two games. His running looks much more decisive and his gait looks much more crisp. He’s now doing damage on runs between the tackles, outside of the tackles, and on cutbacks. His 14-yard run helped to set up the first touchdown (good blocks from Rich Seubert, Jason Whittle, Mike Rosenthal, and Campbell). Barber had a very important run to get the Giants’ out of the shadow of their own goal line with a 16-yard carry around left end (good blocks from Charles Stackhouse, Seubert, and Campbell). This was a very aggressive run by Tiki as was the 8-yard run by him later on this scoring drive as he drove four defenders back an extra 3-4 yards. On the next play, he moved the ball from Minnesota 7 to the 1-yard line behind good interior blocks from Seubert, Whittle, and Bober. Barber did a great job of keeping his balance on his 8-yard, game-winning touchdown behind good blocks from Stackhouse, Campbell, Rosenthal, and Daryl Jones.

Barber was excellent on the Giants’ last possession when they were attempting to run out the clock as he carried the ball four times for 41 yards, including a run of 15 and a run of 20 yards. On one of these runs and on a run right before halftime, Tiki showed his smarts by not running out of bounds and stopping the clock. I saw one good blitz pick-up by Barber and one bad whiff. The former came on the big pass play to Campbell; the latter forced Collins to throw the ball away on 3rd-and-17.

Ron Dayne (6 carries for 40 yards) did most of his damage on the 30-yard touchdown run in the second quarter (Petitgout, Seubert, Bober, Whittle, Campbell, Shockey all got good blocks). His second best run came on the same drive, a 6-yard run behind Seubert and Luke Petitgout. On that drive too, however, Dayne didn’t do so hot trying to pick up a blitz.

FB Charles Stackhouse (1 catch for 1 yard, 1 touchdown) remains a bit up-and-down on his blocking. At times, he crushes his man; at other times, he gets stood up or doesn’t sustain as well as he should. Like Campbell, most of his success comes on blocks outside of the formation and he tends to struggle more on lead blocks between the tackles. But he is improving.

Offensive Line: Obviously, the run blocking was decent. For the most part, pass blocking was good too, but there were some shaky moments and costly penalties. The guy who had the most trouble was RG Jason Whittle, who struggled at times with DT Chris Hovan (who is a heck of a player). Hovan got into Kerry Collins’ face more than a few times and caused hurries and incompletions. Whittle was flagged for holding as well. Whittle and Rosenthal had problems picking up a stunt on the play where Whittle got called for an illegal chop block (this was not intentional, the Giants were falling over themselves). The Giants were also confused on Hovan’s sack as he came free between the center and right guard. LT Luke Petitgout was very sound except for some problems in the 4th quarter. He was flagged with one false start and had some problems with DE Lance Johnstone’s quickness. Chris Bober is doing a fine job at center although every now and then he doesn’t sustain a block as long as he should. But he has good size and strength for a pivot man and is doing a nice job both as a run and pass blocker. His holding call in the third quarter prevented the Giants from initiating another drive however. He got called for a false start in the 4th quarter too. Mike Rosenthal did a decent job. I saw one bullrush against him and he was flagged for a false start. LG Rich Seubert had a very strong game; I saw him give up one pressure, but he was a real asset in the running game and darn solid in the pass protection department.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, November 10, 2002)
Nov 082002
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, November 10, 2002: The losses to Arizona and Atlanta hurt the Giants’ playoff chances. Now every game is a must-game. There is no room for error. But the Giants’ players and coaches shouldn’t worry about that. What they need to do is coach and play in an aggressive fashion and have some fun. Let the chips fall where they may.

The Vikings may be 2-6, but they are a different team at home (2-2) then away (0-4). That’s not spin, that’s the truth. WR Randy Moss and HB Michael Bennett are home run threats and Daunte Culpepper, while he has struggled this year, is quite capable of putting on an All-Star performance. The Minnesota run defense can be stingy and DT Chris Hovan is a stud.

Giants on Offense: The most important thing is for the Giants to come out attacking like they did against the Jaguars. Minnesota’s pass defense is pretty bad so I would come out throwing the football. Get the lead and then start pounding with the running game. The key to the passing attack is Kerry Collins of course. He was very efficient against Jacksonville, hitting the open man repeatedly. If he plays that way again this week and the Giants don’t turn the ball over, then New York will be tough to defend.

Ron Dixon will face left CB Corey Chavous. He’s a bigger, physical corner, but he’s not the fastest guy in the world. I would take some deep shots in his direction. Amani Toomer will line up against right CB Eric Kelly. Tim Carter is still very green and is still learning how to run routes correctly. That can lead to turnovers, but Carter’s explosiveness can cause problems for the Vikings as well in the secondary.

Obviously Jeremy Shockey figures into the passing attack as well. Last week, Jacksonville’s linebackers had real problems covering him. MLB Greg Biekert – the ex-Raider – is getting up there in years, but he is still a good player. The other linebackers are ordinary. Matching up Shockey and/or Tiki Barber on this group on pass plays should pay big dividends. If the Vikings put a safety on Shockey, then the receivers and Collins must make Minnesota pay down the field.

DT Chris Hovan is a disruptive force in the middle of the defense. He plays the under tackle spot in the Vikes’ defense and most likely will line-up over Rich Seubert in most situations. Fred Robbins (a 320 pounder) plays the other tackle spot and will face Jason Whittle. Lance Johnstone shouldn’t give Luke Petitgout too many problems (knock on wood). Ex-Dolphin Kenny Mixon is a solid player who will give Mike Rosenthal a good battle.

If the offensive line can protect Collins and Collins plays well, the Giants should be alright on offense.

Giants on Defense: The Vikings are dangerous on offense. They have moved the ball up and down the field against the opposition. What has killed them has been turnovers. Minnesota averages over 144 yards rushing a game and 238 yards passing…making them extremely well-balanced and therefore difficult to defend and the second best offense in terms of yardage in the NFL.

Of course a huge key will be defending the run, something the Giants haven’t been too good against since they lost Keith Hamilton. Michael Bennett isn’t the most instinctive or physical guy in the world, but give him an alley and he’s gone. The Vikings can rush the football and they undoubtably will test the Giants’ run defense repeatedly. The Giants not only need to jam up the gaps, but also smack Bennett around. Be aggressive and physical with him. Force a turnover.

Randy Moss is still the most dangerous receiver in football when he is focused. The key for the Giants is to frustrate him early and thereby take him out of the game. They didn’t do that last year and Moss killed the Giants with three touchdowns. Anyone who doesn’t think that he is capable of doing that again is being foolish. Moss will most likely match-up against CB Will Peterson most of the time. Let’s hope that Peterson’s dislocated finger doesn’t prevent him from playing Moss in a physical fashion. Moss will also have a height advantage over Peterson. If Moss moves to the slot, CB Jason Sehorn will be on him. I would think that regardless of where Moss goes, the Giants need to double-team him with safety support. That will put pressure on everyone else in the secondary. Moss doesn’t like to get hit…this would be a good game for Shaun Williams to unload some kill shots. DeWayne Bates looks like he will be healthy enough to start. He’s a big receiver who lacks great speed.

The Vikings like to throw to their backs and tight ends quite a bit. With the safeties looking to help out on Moss, this will put a lot of pressure on Mike Barrow, Dhani Jones, and Brandon Short to play well in pass defense. Bennett is very dangerous out of the backfield because of his speed, but the Vikings also like to throw to FB/H-Back Jim Kleinsasser, HB Moe Williams, and TE Byron Chamberlain (who made the Pro Bowl last season). As much focus as the Moss versus the Giants’ secondary will get, the these match-ups will most likely determine the game. Barrow, Jones, Short – the pressure to perform is on.

LT Bryant McKinnie, the Vike’s high first rounder, is expected to see his first action of the season. He’s a huge man with good feet. DE Kenny Holmes needs to use his veteran experience against him to be effective. LG Corbin Lacina (knee) may not play this weekend against Lance Legree. If he doesn’t, then back-up Everett Lindsay will start. RG David Dixon will battle Cornelius Griffin and DE Michael Strahan could see two players – Chris Liwienski and Lewis Kelly – at right tackle splitting time. The linebackers must avoid Matt Birk – a quality center. The Giants front four needs to control the line of scrimmage to control Bennett and to get after Daunte Culpepper.

Culpepper is a huge quarterback who can run. Tackling him is not easy and the rushers need to make sure they bring something extra when they try to bring him down. Culpepper is quite capable of beating you with his strong arm if you give him time. But if you can get in his face and rattle him, he has been prone to mistakes this year.

Stop the run. Cover Moss. Watch the backs and tight ends as receivers. Get after Culpepper.

Giants on Special Teams: Enough is enough. It’s time for the Giants kick returners to start doing some damage. More specifically, it is time for their blockers to also create some running lanes. The Giants are dead last again on kick returns despite having two guys back there with good speed.

The Giants’ blockers also need to do a better job of allowing Delvin Joyce return punts. He has more fair catches than returns. That’s disgusting.

As always, kick and punt coverage is critical. Nick Davis has returned both for the Vikes and Moe Williams has hurt the Giants bigtime in the past with his returns.

Nov 062002
 
New York Giants 24 – Jacksonville Jaguars 17

Game Overview: Now that was fun. It’s been a long time since the Giants have taken a huge lead on a team like that. The only thing that irritated me is that the Giants let the Jaguars make the end much more interesting than it should have been.

I wasn’t that impressed with the defense. I think the 3 points allowed after three quarters was a bit misleading. The Giants’ defense was aided by a number of mistakes by the Jaguars (i.e., the fumbled snap from center, Fred Taylor dropping the deep pass that was right on the money, the intentional grounding penalty by Mark Brunell, a couple of dropped passes by Jimmy Smith, etc.). The run defense was spotty at times and the poor tackling by the young corners in a few instances contributed to big plays. The Giants also gave up some big runs to the opposing mobile quarterback again. The Giants’ offense protected the defense with its long drives in the first half. In the 4th quarter, the defense couldn’t get the Jaguars off of the field. The Giants were fortunate that Jacksonville didn’t play with a sense of urgency at all during that quarter and they ran out of time. The 15-play drive that the Jaguars scored their first touchdown on really ticked me off. The Giants had the Jaguars in a 2nd-and-33 situation and let them convert that. Unbelievable. The Jags converted three 4th downs on that drive.

What was interesting is that Defensive Coordinator Johnnie Lynn got more aggressive with some big blitzes, bringing both linebackers and defensive backs. This continued in the 4th quarter as well – the Giants were not playing a prevent defense on that long drive. Given the lack of pass rush from the front four, the Giants will have to live and die by the blitz down the stretch.

Offensively, Head Coach Jim Fassel calling the plays did make a huge difference. The articles in the press have mentioned the specifics all week, but the Giants got in and out of the huddle quickly, did not shift as much, snapped the ball quickly, and kept personnel substitutions at a minimum. The running backs were allowed to get into the rhythm of the game and Fassel didn’t hesitate to repeat plays. The difference in philosophy from Sean Payton was so obvious and startling that it suggests that Fassel has never really been on the same page as his offensive coordinator. That’s scary.

There was an article by sportswriter Bob Glauber of Newsday this week arguing that it will be only a matter of time before opponents decipher the Giants simplified offense and shut it down. He says that because it is less complex, the task of defending it will be easier. I’m not so sure that is the case. I’ve long been a proponent of running fewer plays better. This is what gives an offense its identity…its core. Joe Gibbs’ offenses were not complex in the 1980’s…neither were Bill Parcells’ offenses during that same time period. Both ran what worked over and over again and adjusted to what the opposing defense was doing. Jim Fassel seemed to embrace that philosophy in his press conferences this week. Fassel said it was his objective to take what defenses are giving you, don’t play to their strengths. If he continues to abide by that logic and QB Kerry Collins and his cohorts execute properly, there is no reason why the Giants can’t get on a bit of an offensive roll here.

Special Teams: Special Teams Coach Bruce Read has improved the Giants’ special teams a great deal simply because the Giants are no longer giving up big kick and punt returns. That continued on Sunday night despite some shoddy kickoffs from PK Matt Bryant. Bryant’s first kickoff was a terrible kick that landed at the 16 yard line. His second was better as it had good height and landed at the 5. However, his short squib kick right before halftime was so poor that it could have very easily led to a field goal opportunity for Jacksonville. Bryant’s two second half kickoffs were poor too – one went to the 25 (which was also a line drive), the other to the 13. Just terrible.

Bryant’s place kicking was also bad. He missed field goals of 41 and 37 yards in the second quarter, costing the Giants a 13-0 lead. He deserves no special mention for making a 27 yarder.

The Giants did not punt in the first half of the game. Punter Tom Rouen’s debut was not an auspicious one as his first punt was partially blocked and only went for 25 yards. Fassel said the block was not the fault of Rouen, but the protection. His second punt was a 51-yarder that just barely touched the endzone for a touchback – an excellent kick. His last punt was a 38-yard effort with 5 second left in the game…the main thing there was just to get the ball off. Good job. Bob Jones’ snaps to Rouen were off the mark and that needs to be corrected.

The Giants only were able to return one kickoff – a 19 yarder by Delvin Joyce. The Giants need to do a much better job of blocking for their returners. New York is once again last in the NFL in kick returns. Damon Washington returned one as the upback on a terrible kickoff by Tom Seder that landed at the 26. The Giants did a very good job of recovering the two onsides kicks (DeWayne Patmon and Dan Campbell).

Delvin Joyce never had an opportunity return a punt. He was forced to call for one fair catch in the second quarter when Tim Carter and Ralph Brown did a poor job of blocking the gunner outside. His only other chance was a fair catch as well.

Defensive Line: The big problem remains the fact that the Giants cannot get a consistent pass rush from their down four. I would not be upset at all if the Giants spent their first three draft picks of the 2003 Draft on defensive linemen. What was particularly annoying was losing contain on Brunell – giving up quarterback runs of 27 and 25 yards.

Kenny Holmes got more pressure on the quarterback in this game and surprisingly a couple of his good pass rushes came on inside moves. Kenny was also pretty active against the run (7 tackles) and did a nice job of recovering Brunell’s fumbled snap. On Jacksonville’s first drive of the second half, Holmes’ penetration stuffed HB Fred Taylor for a 2-yard loss. However, two plays later both Holmes and Lance Legree got clobbered on an 8-yard run by HB Stacy Mack. On the next drive, Holmes’ pass rush on Brunell on 3rd-and-4 forced an incompletion and made Jacksonville settle for a field goal. On Jacksonville’s first TD drive, Holmes got close to sacking Brunell twice. However, on Jacksonville’s last TD drive, Holmes lost contain on Brunell and this enabled the quarterback to scramble for 25 yards down the left sideline.

Legree played better this week, but continues to have some problems defending the run. In the first quarter, Legree and Mike Barrow successfully filled a gap that Taylor was trying to run thru and Taylor was forced to bounce the play outside where Holmes cleaned up. On Jacksonville’s first TD drive, facing a 3rd-and-1, Legree and DE Frank Ferrara got superb penetration and clobbered Mack in the backfield for a 2-yard loss. But it was Legree along with linebackers Dhani Jones and Kevin Lewis who got handled at the point-of-attack on Mack’s 22-yard run in the 3rd quarter. Legree and DE Michael Strahan then got blocked on the very next play as Taylor ran for 7-yards.

DT Cornelius Griffin was way too quiet. He had one decent pass rush in the first half, but that was about it. In the second half, Strahan and Griffin got handled at the point-of-attack (along with Brandon Short) on a Mack run off right guard for 15-yards. DT Matt Mitrione played quite a bit and continues to gain experience. He got a decent pass rush on one play and good penetration on one running play. However, he was also flagged with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the Jags’ first touchdown.

As you can see, the Jags ran at Strahan with some success in this game, which is an oddity. Michael did sack Brunell on a key 4th-and-4 play in the 3rd quarter after Brunell was flushed out of the pocket by the blitzing Omar Stoutmire. However, Strahan lost contain on Brunell’s 27-yard run on 3rd-and-4 that helped to set up Jacksonville’s field goal. The roughing the passer penalty called on Strahan in the 4th quarter was a joke.

Linebackers: The linebackers played better this week. On Jacksonville’s second drive, Mike Barrow combined with Lance Legree to close the gap HB Fred Taylor was trying to run through (Holmes cleaned up on the play). On the very next play, Barrow did a great job of reading the screen pass to Taylor and holding it to no gain. On 3rd-and-10, Brandon Short made a very sure tackle on TE Kyle Brady, holding him short of the first down and forcing a punt.

I got nervous when I saw Short split out wide all alone with Fred Taylor before the snap of the ball and only a terrible drop by Taylor prevent a huge play for Jacksonville. I like Brandon Short, but he’s not the kind of guy you want covering someone in space like that down the field. Jacksonville’s best run by Taylor in the first half was a 6-yarder run right at Holmes and Short. On the next play, Jacksonville tried to run left again, but this time penetration by Dhani Jones forced Taylor to change directions and Will Allen tackled him for a 1-yard loss.

In the second half, Barrow made an excellent pursuit play on a toss to Mack holding a 2nd-and-2 carry to a 1-yard gain. Short and Will Peterson also showed excellent pursuit nailing Fred Taylor near the goalline when he tried to bounce the play outside. Two Brandon Short blitzes up the gut at the end of the 3rd quarter helped to stop another Jacksonville drive. In the 4th quarter, both Short and Jason Sehorn missed a tackle on a13-yard pass to WR Bobby Shaw on 2nd-and-33. This was significant as the Jaguars ended up converting a 4th-and-1 on this series. On another 4th-and-1 later in the drive, both Dhani Jones and Kevin Lewis got blocked on Mack’s 4-yard run up the middle.

Defensive Backs: Corners Will Allen and Will Peterson were fine in coverage for the most part, but it was their tackling that wasn’t so hot this week. At the start of the second quarter, Jacksonville threw deep to their best receiver (Jimmy Smith) against Allen, but Allen was step-for-step and knocked the ball away. Two plays latter, FS Omar Stoutmire made a very good tackle on Kyle Brady to hold the much bigger Brady short of the first down and forcing a punt. (Incidentally, the Giants blitz on this play forced the quick throw). On the next series, Will Peterson played far too off the ball on a 3rd-and-5 play allowing an easy reception by Smith. To make matters worse, Peterson missed the tackle and the play went for 32 yards. On the next play, Peterson did a good job of defending a WR-screen.

In the second half, Peterson ran step-for-step with Jimmy Smith on a deep pass into the endzone. On the next series, SS Shaun Williams did a good job of reading a draw play and holding Mack to a 3-yard gain. In the 4th quarter, Williams did a great job of timing his blitz up the middle and sacked Brunell for a 13-yard loss. Two plays later, however, Peterson missed a tackle on Jimmy Smith that turned a 3rd-and-20 into a 4th-and-1. On the very next play, despite a good pass rush from Kenny Holmes, Peterson was beat on an out for 5-yards and the first down. On the next play, a blitz by Peterson forced an incompletion. Later in the drive, Williams hit on Mack caused an incompletion. Peterson was flagged with defensive holding on an out-and-up pattern. Then Williams and DeWayne Patmon were burned by Bobby Shaw for a touchdown on play-action rollout to the left where Shaw streaked across the field. On Jacksonville’s next drive, Will Allen turned an 8-yard completion into a 26-yard completion when he missed a tackle on Jimmy Smith. Smith’s touchdown reception came on a play where the Giants let him run across the formation unopposed. Strange.

Quarterback: My initial reaction of Kerry Collins (20-28 for 228 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions) before watching the game a second time was that he played decently, but nothing special. I was much more impressed after the second viewing. Why? Because just like Fassel was calling plays against away from the defense’s strengths, Collins was throwing the ball where the defenders were not. Most of Collins’ passes were the shorter stuff that doesn’t excite, but he slowly drove the dagger in Jacksonville’s heart by continuing to throw to where the coverage was weak and not forcing things. There were a couple of deep plays called, but the protection was not great on these plays and Collins didn’t risk turning the ball over. Smart play.

And Collins’ accuracy was pretty impressive. Of Collins’ five incompletions in the first half of the game, two were tipped at the line of scrimmage, one was dropped by Jeremy Shockey, and another was inaccurate because his arm was hit while throwing the ball. His two most important passes of the game were the 4th-and-17 strike to Tim Carter for 27 yards (the pass was a tad high but it got there) and his perfect 8-yard out to Ron Dixon in the endzone for a touchdown.

The only pass that I was real unhappy with Collins in the game was the 3rd-and-6 pass to Ron Dixon with 4:28 left in the game. Dixon was open, but the pass was too high. The Giants were forced to punt and Jacksonville then cut the lead to 24-17 on the subsequent drive.

Interestingly, as BBI contributor RobertR pointed out in The Corner Forum, on over 60 percent of the Giants’ 1st-and-10 situations in the first half, Fassel called for a passing play.

Wide Receivers: The stats for the wide receivers don’t look impressive, but these guys did their job. Kudos to Ron Dixon (4 catches for 46 yards and a touchdown) for stepping in for Ike Hilliard and making some nice catches. His first two receptions were slants – for 14 and 15 yards. His next was an excellent 9-yard grab along the sideline where he did a great job of keeping his feet inbounds. He walked the tight rope again at the end of this drive on his 8-yard touchdown reception with 16 seconds before halftime.

Amani Toomer (4 catches for 36 yards) did all of his damage on short underneath stuff, helping to keep the chains moving. His first reception was his best, a diving 11-yard reception along the sidelines.

The big play was the 27 yard reception by rookie Tim Carter on 4th-and-17. Carter did a nice job of finding the open spot in the zone and then he had to sky for a pass that was slightly overthrown. Earlier in the drive, he looked very good on a 13-yard reverse where he made a tackler miss. However, Carter was flagged with a false start penalty in the 3rd quarter.

All three of these wide receivers did an excellent job of run blocking. Don’t underestimate that aspect of their play.

Running Backs: Yes, the run blocking created some nice holes, but I honestly don’t think the offensive line blocking was dramatically different (or better) this week. What was different was (1) Tiki Barber started to cut back like the Barber we all know and love and (2) Fassel let the backs (and Ron Dayne in particular) get into a rhythm. If you have read my previous game reviews, you know that I was questioning Tiki’s focus and decision-making in many of the earlier games. Against Jacksonville, Tiki (19 carries for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns; 4 catches for 62 yards) did a nice job of spotting the opening in the defense and quickly accelerating in that direction. Tiki’s always been a good outside runner when healthy and given some room to operate. But where he is really dangerous is when he cuts back against the grain. On the Giants’ first drive, Tiki picked up 14 yards on two carries around left end. He then bulled his way up the middle for 4 yards on 1st-and-goal from the 6 yard line. On the next play, he made a nice cut back behind Rich Seubert and Charles Stackhouse for the touchdown. On the Giants’ next drive, Tiki’s 11-yard reception over the middle was huge as it moved the Giants from their own 2 yard line to the 13.

I thought one of the biggest plays in the game was Tiki Barber’s 36-yard catch-and-run on 3rd-and-3 at the beginning of the 3rd quarter. If the Giants punt there, Jacksonville may feel like they can get back into the game easier. Instead, this play set up Bryant’s field goal that put the Giants up 17-0. I also loved the hustle by HB Delvin Joyce on the play to get in front of Barber in an attempt to throw a block. (Incidentally, I’m a big fan of the formation used on this play, that is, having Barber and Joyce both in the backfield on 3rd down since both are good receivers out of the backfield). The back-breaker in the game was Barber’s 44-yard masterpiece for a touchdown. It was a 2nd-and-1 run up the middle, but Tiki broke a tackle and then bounced the play outside, using Amani Toomer as a shield. Barber then slowed up to allow Rich Seubert to get in front of him to make the final block near the goal line. Great vision and patience on the play by Barber. This is what has been missing from the Giants’ running game – not so much better run blocking, but breaking the big run. It is the big runs that inflate rushing statistics in today’s NFL.

Tiki was the halfback in the first quarter; Ron Dayne (13 carries for 52 yards, 2 catches for 7 yards) was the halfback in the second quarter. Dayne does look more comfortable in the one-back set, but the Giants did use him with the fullback still in this game as well. The most important thing is that the Giants kept him in the game and didn’t pull him after one carry. Fassel must have told him this before the game as Dayne didn’t look to the sidelines expecting to be pulled out. Dayne picked up 8-yards on a 3rd-and-2 carry behind good blocks from Chris Bober, Rich Seubert, Luke Petitgout, and Stackhouse. Collins then hit Dayne for 6 yards and on 2nd-and-4, Dayne ran for the first down behind good blocks on the left side of the line again. The drive stalled on 3rd-and-1 when Petitgout allowed the defensive end to hit Dayne in the backfield.

In the second half, Dayne had an excellent power run for 8-yards behind Petitgout and Stackhouse that moved the ball to the Jaguar 6-yard line. At the beginning of the 4th quarter, after the Giants held on 4th-and-2, it looked as if Dayne and the Giants were going to rip the heart out Jacksonville by grinding the ball at them. Three straight Ron Dayne power runs up the middle picked up 10, 9, and 2 yards. But on the fourth carry, Dayne fumbled the ball away.

The guy who is rapidly improving is FB Charles Stackhouse. Each week you can see him getting better and better as the lead blocker. He’s going to be a better player than Greg Comella if he keeps his head on straight. One of my favorite moments in the game was the congratulations that Charles Way gave to Stackhouse on the sidelines after Barber’s first touchdown run.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey is getting all the press, but once again I want to mention how well Dan Campbell is doing as a blocker. Dan Campbell is often the key block on many of the Giants’ most successful running plays. He is usually called upon to control the corner by blocking the end or a linebacker and inevitably does a good job. This allows the Giants to pull other linemen to his side to get out in front of the running back. Campbell also caught 2 passes this week for 19 yards – he’s improving as a receiver. The Giants must not let Campbell get away in free agency.

Shockey (2 catches for 24 yards) was a bigger factor in the game than his stats indicate because he was the victim of 3 penalties (two pass interference calls and defensive holding). On two of these plays, Shockey caught the ball anyways, but the Giants took the penalty in order to get the first down. His best catch was his diving 11-yarder on the Giants’ second TD drive; Shockey had the presence of mind on this play to get up and fight for extra yardage. However, all was not peachy for Shockey. He dropped one pass. He also got pushed back into Collins on a safety blitz and Collins was hit as he threw on an important 3rd-and-14 pass. Worse, Shockey was called for holding on the play, which was significant because two plays later Bryant barely missed his 41-yard field goal effort. In the 3rd quarter, Shockey’s missed block on 2nd-and-2 from the Jacksonville 6-yard line caused Barber to lose 2-yards. A better block here and Barber may score. The good news is that I spotted Shockey get a good block on a Barber run to the right (Campbell got a good block on this play too – as usual) as well as Barber’s 9-yard run right before his 44-yard TD (Campbell and Rosenthal got good blocks here too).

Offensive Line: The left side of the line was far stronger than the right side of the line, but for the most part, the entire group controlled the line of scrimmage. The only negative I saw from Petitgout was his missed block on Dayne’s 3rd-and-1 effort. The rest of his run blocks were very good and he held his rusher at bay the entire game. This was one of Rich Seubert’s best games yet because he didn’t have any glaring mistakes. Do not underestimate the incredible hustle he displayed on Tiki’s 44-yard touchdown run to make the final key block near the goal line. If Tiki doesn’t get in, you can’t assume the Giants would have scored anyways. Those type of blocks by offensive linemen win ball games.

Mike Rosenthal and Jason Whittle made some excellent run blocks too. But Whittle had some problems on the Giants’ second possession. Fassel and Collins wanted to throw deep on 1st-and-10 from the Jaguars’ 43 yard line, but Whittle got beat inside and Collins was forced to scramble instead. On the next play, Whittle and Campbell couldn’t make their blocks on a Barber run off right tackle. Barber then picked up 5 yards on 3rd-and-2 behind good blocks from Whittle and Bober. Two plays later, Whittle missed his block on a Barber running play. Then he was flagged for a false start. On 2nd-and-13, Collins was sacked as Mike Rosenthal got beat to the outside and Collins couldn’t step up into the pocket as Bober was bull-rushed up the gut.

Then it was Rosenthal’s turn to struggle on the Giants’ fourth and last possession of the first half. Rosenthal gave up an inside rush that forced an incompletion on 1st-and-10 from the Giants’ 44. Later on the drive, Rosenthal was beat to the outside and the rusher hit Collins’ arm as he threw. On the very next play, Rosenthal was beat again and Collins was sacked – this is what put the Giants in the 4th-and-17 situation.

The offensive line did a good job on the Giants’ first two series of the second half as the Giants put another 10 points on the board. However, the third drive of the second half was pretty ugly. Whittle gave up a sack to DT Marcus Stroud. Two plays later, Chris Bober was beat badly and Collins was forced to scramble for his life (Bober was also flagged for holding on the play). The offensive line really started to take control on the next drive, but Dayne fumbled the ball away after his fourth carry in a row. The offensive line had a chance to put the game away on the next drive when they got the ball back with 5:19 left, but they could not create enough running room for Tiki Barber who only picked up four yards on two carries.


Sense of Place

by David Oliver

I have never really cared for southern writers, except for Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers and Flannery O’Connor. The two ladies were Georgia girls. All wrote of struggles with demons, of one sort or another, resident in the human psyche. Maybe Carson summed it up best:

Whether in the pastoral joys of country life or in the labyrinthine city, we Americans are always seeking. We wander, question. But the answer waits in each separate heart — the answer of our own identity and the way by which we can master loneliness and feel that at last we belong.

My connection to Flannery is a little more personal. I had a good friend from Georgia. His mother was an artist who worked in glass. She had spent a lot of time with Flannery and on a visit to their home, she made sure to take me on a tour of the town, to Flannery’s home and to her own girlhood home. Flannery was a Catholic, and Catholics were probably rare in this part of Georgia. Her religious nature and her coming to grips with suffering had made a deep impression on my friend’s mother. It may have been my Catholicism at the time that so inspired her friend to share a little of Flannery’s life with me. The difference between these writers, who I like, and writers like Faulkner or Dickey or even Pat Conroy, writers I do not particularly like, or Thomas Wolfe, for that matter, is hard to put on paper. They all had a sense of place. The depth of that sense of place is what separates them from writers from all other sectors in America.

I suppose that I have been in the south long enough now, or at least out of NJ, to understand some of what they have felt. It’s funny, in a way, that some early posters here said that my writing reminded them of Thomas Wolfe, the Wolfe from North Carolina and not the Tom Wolfe from Washington & Lee who wrote CANDY COLORED, TANGERINE FLAKE, STREAMLINED BABY, and with whom I’d rather be compared. Funny because Thomas Wolfe is famous for his writing “you can’t go home anymore.” I guess it’s because I keep trying to go home and that many of you in the Diaspora of the American intellectual wilderness also would love to make that return, at least once. Wolfe was influenced by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, whose famous axiom is that you can’t place your hand in the same river twice. I have also been so influenced, but I keep trying to disprove Heraclitus, to argue the dialectics, to broach the difference between the concrete and the abstract. Descartes said “Cogito Ergo Sum.” I say, “if I can imagine it, it must be real.” Well, critics have said that Thomas Wolfe is unreadable. And many on BBI have said I am unreadable; so I guess there is a connection.

Writers since Wolfe, not necessarily Southern writers, but writers who have left what was once ‘home’ have explored this sense of rootlessness. I got a good laugh out of a work by Linda Matchan, THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD, when she said:

“But parts of the city, like a lot of big city neighborhoods in the past few decades, have reached a dangerous tipping point. The economy has slowed to a crawl, college graduates are leaving or moving to the suburbs. Houses I used to play in are shabby…Could it be that we romanticize our past? That we’re better off leaving our personal history to our memories? ‘THIS is where you grew up?’ my teenage son smirks as I drive him around the dilapidated section of the city – OK, I’ll say it, slums – that used to be my neighborhood.

It didn’t just happen overnight, of course. Maybe it took the death of a parent to make the point. We, the Pepsi generation, were always supposed to stay young. Now I can’t ignore the evidence that I’m not.”

Yes, Thomas Wolfe has inspired legions of writers, stirred them to face the inevitability of change, the sensation of returning to a beloved, familiar place only to find , well, to realize that it is we, ourselves, who have changed, and in that change, now feel like a stranger in a strange land. Earlier this year someone started a thread with a Hunter Thompson piece and someone else said something to the effect ‘if only Oliver could write like that.’ I can’t, I won’t even try, mostly because I am sober – have always been sober. I’ve never been enthralled with the WhiteRabbit and I don’t experience life in a kaleidoscopic, hallucinogenic blaze of sensations bouncing all over my senses as if I were a catadiatropic lens. Now, if I were writing about a car race, say the race in Miami I could tell you how “we stepped out into the heat baked streets bounded by the concrete and glass towers of Babylon, inhaling the mixed tanginess of the sea breeze, the coconut tinctured suntan lotion of the thong clad senoritas and Cuban-American mamitas, semi-naked with firm, fleshy breasts bouncing in the dappled sun rays of a Miami morning, driven by the salsa beat of the staccato blare of a high rev limiter on the new Toyota engines of these modern chariots careening beneath the people mover, filled with sleep-eyed office workers on their way into dungeons of depraved capitalism. My eyeballs rest against my lids for a moment in a rendezvous of lust, expectation and duty, and the closer I get to the racetrack street of Biscayne Blvd, the acrid sweet smell of invisible burning methanol, or is it the pipe we hit last night in that South Beach Bistro, the one with the crazy gays teasing the latina cucarachas in from Brazil, aiee, that beach, Rio, now that is the den of iniquity that makes South Beach resonate like a conservative republican reed in the salt flats of an Islamic nightmare, or maybe the coke laden rum, a whole new meaning to rum and coke; Christ, my fellow traveling writing friend just thumped me in the ribs, popping my eyeballs from their rendezvous with my lids to the midnight glaze of too dark polarized shades which I am wearing to give me the cool look of a true racing aficionado”. Now that is my race writing. Not here.

Speaking of the race in Miami, and Giant connections, I strike up a conversation with the maitre’d in the Media Room, a huge man wearing a NY Yankees cap. I ask him about the cap and one thing leads to another with my telling him I have been on the sidelines for a couple of years at Giants’ games. He tells me he lived up there for a few years staying with a fellow as, sort of a companion. I ask “T”, and he nods and says, yes. We discuss LT and his football prowess and I tell him about I almost became his representative with the NJ Auto dealers, but I knew I couldn’t baby sit him, or control him. He laughed at control and said “that’s about right.” He told me LT was spending a lot of time in Florida these days, in fact, most of his time, playing a lot of golf. We shared a laugh over LT playing a round of golf most Sundays before a game. The Giants’ universe is an example of the Big Bang theory; it is constantly evolving and expanding.

Here, I write of the return, the trip home, to the polar star of my wanderings, Giants Stadium and the football Giants. I have only been away since May but in that time it feels as if I have plunged into a black hole, no, that’s not right, for even though I am shackled here as Prometheus was once because I possessed the fire of football and brought it to you, in reality, it is more as if I passed through some worm hole and shot out the backside of a parallel universe. Everything is strange. I feel a disassociation as I drive into the lot. I foolishly strap on my waist pack and digital camera, only to have to remove them for Cerberus to sniff. The NJ State police guard the entrance to the Stadium, and they are not unlike Chiron at the gates of Hades, in full uniform, tall black boots, and peaked hats. But we do what we must do, both them and I. Who knows, maybe Ayn Rand was correct; maybe I am suspect because I am – well, I’m an old, fat photographer carrying too many bags even though I have pared down considerably, hardly a threat to anyone’s established order. OK, the dog likes me, even with the smell of all the cats and raccoons, the hair on every article of clothing. The State Police don’t even look in my eyes, they trust that dog’s scent detector so much, or maybe the dog can’t smell a damn thing and both he and his handler are getting pretty good overtime. It’s the drill and I follow the drill because I want to be here. I get some help from the parking lot attendant, they are all my friends, strapping up again, walk 50 paces and take everything off again so that the border guards can inspect each and every piece of equipment I lug with me. Oops, I’m not at the Border; I forgot, it’s easier to cross the Rio Grande than Lot 11( grin).

I’m in now, but the sense of vertigo gets stronger. There are lights but they seem dim, yellowish, and subterranean as you come out of the darkness. Two weeks ago I told you of the Polanski film with the hands reaching out from the walls. I must be going through a phase as tonight I am reminded of an old TV rendition of Beauty and the Beast, in which Richard Boone was the Beast. As the beauty entered his Palace, there were candelabras lining the hallways and rooms. The candelabras were human arms, coming out of the walls, holding the candles, waving slowly back and forth, lighting her way. Television crews were everywhere, the players from the Jaguars making their early walk to inspect the field, reporters, officials all moving past me, as if on a conveyor belt. I was moving slowly, the lights waving, and a silence surrounding me. Every noise was muffled, carts moved silently, people passed me in a mist. It was as if I was invisible. Then the spell was broken. “Hey, how are you? Where have you been?”, this from a security guard. Then Pat and Babe look up and say, “Oliver, where have you been, we haven’t seen you in a while.” I enter the room set aside for photographers. It is a different room, smaller, but adequate I still have trouble understanding why people who carry a pen are treated differently than people who carry a camera, but that’s not a real major concern. The boys look up and I am greeted by a chorus of “look who’s here”, “where have you been?”, “is everything ok?”, “racing season must be over”. I have to sit with each individual and catch up, explain where I’ve been, what I’ve been doing. Thomas Wolfe is wrong and right. I am home, in every sense. And yet, I might as well be on the moon. Most of these guys live within 20 miles of where they were raised. Their sojourns beyond the perimeter have been brief. But they are knowledgeable of the world and as in any club, I am welcome back, on my own terms, with only as much explanation as I care to give. This is the world of the Giants’ field rats, a unique and wonderful bunch of guys. In 10 minutes, I am comfortable here, as if I had never gone anywhere and this is the first game of a new season.

As this is a night game, I don’t go out for practice. I’m shooting high speed, high grain film, so the portrait shots won’t be very good. I’m pacing myself because yesterday morning I had another surprise, a nasty hemorrhage, and I have never liked the sight of my own blood. I walk towards the field and it seems brighter. Another gift of stepping back, I guess. This is the fresh view I had hoped for. More security guards, more salutations. Funny thing about how you can be anonymous, yet known. And each and every one of them knew I hadn’t been around. Some of these guys check in every now and then to BBI, I make it a point to say hello to all of them, to kibitz a little, sometimes bring them photos. They help me in innumerable ways. They are a good crew. I walk around the field to get my bearings. It’s a new field, sod now, laid right over the trays. The TV crews are going nuts. I have never seen so many idiots running around, or standing around doing nothing. I am told later that there was an army of interns here. And they were as obnoxious as a crew can be. There is never cordiality between TV guys and photographers. They have the right of way. Sometimes they abuse it. The regular crews and the NFL Films guys are all decent sorts. We have recognized that each has a job and there is a truce, if not friendliness. We share the field. They get what they need and once they have it, they step back for us. Not perfect, but it works.

I see Frankie Ferrara and am greeted with a big grin. I tease him and ask “Hey, Frankie, do something special tonight. I need a shot.” He cracks back, “I’ll do my best. The first sack is for you.” Everyone around us gets a kick out of that. Then I see Darnell Dinkins, hobbling along on his crutches. I haven’t talked to DD since last February and I’m sure he doesn’t know who the hell I am. Soon as I call out “hey, Double D”, he turns and smiles and says, “How are you?” I say, “You don’t remember me, do you?” and he says, “Yes, I do. And I remember what you told me in Florida, and now I’m here.” What I told him in Florida was that he should never give up on himself, that he should work hard, never take a minute off when he is on that field, in practice or during a game, and that he would make it. I’m happy for this kid, just as I am for Frankie. They receive tons of abuse and insults from weenies who never played the game, never had a dream, who lacked the courage to go out and do the impossible. Cervantes’ lovable fool, Don Quixote, has always been my inspiration, and I pass his message to every young workhorse who has a dream. Work hard, believe in yourself, dream the impossible dream.

I can’t wait to see Shockey in action. He has the potential to be an LT of the offense. I want him to jump up, to shout, and to show anguish over a bad play, because in time he will be the leader of this team. I’m confused by the passivity of the defense and I want to see if Johnnie Lynn learned his lesson in Philadelphia. And I want to see how JF calls the plays and how the team responds. One of the most interesting parts of the night is how many times, even before kickoff, and from how many people I hear the refrain, ‘this team really misses Comella.’ Yes, one of BBI’s favorite whipping boys. But that’s the truth; these are knowledgeable people, people who have seen every game hers so far, people who know the game and its players. And they were unsolicited comments. People here on this Board scoffed at Greg’s blocking abilities, but people up close know differently. That’s not taking anything away from Stackhouse, who may become very good, maybe even something special. But right now, Comella is a big loss.

All in all, it was a pretty decent game – well, three quarters were fun, then there was a lot of Jaguar offense. The Jags had a huge lead in time of possession in the 4th quarter, holding the ball for 10 minutes. They also had a small advantage in the third quarter, holding the ball for almost 9 minutes. As the Giants had an overall TOP lead of 6 minutes, it gives you a pretty good idea of the ebb and flow of the game. The Giants had a nice balanced attack, with 10 first downs by rushing, 13 by passing and 3 by penalty. KC had another bizarre night, completing 20-out-of 28 attempts for 228 yards. More importantly, he ran with authority on one play, then got crazy and tried it on a second. But he looked aggressive. And he came down field vocally animated towards Tim Carter on the series with the 4th-and-17. I can’t remember seeing KC ever so authoritative. He must be peeking at BBI. He was better than Mark Brunell, except for the 4th quarter. Brunell, incidentally, did a lot of play changing at the line, and his legs and arm made it as close as it was. He’s not Brett Favre, but he’s better than Jake Plummer and Jeff Garcia.

The first quarter looked as if it would be the Tiki Barber quarter. Tiki was involved in 5 plays on the first scoring drive out of 8, with a defensive penalty on one of the plays. His TD run was almost effortless as he strolled into the end zone untouched. The line blocked down and collapsed the Jax defense. Most noticeable on the play was big Mike Rosenthal stretched out in a prone position on the ground. I noted that he was in that position several times. Jason Whittle told me after the game that he was finally healthy, but I am not so sure. I have it on pretty good authority that we will be seeing more of Ian Allen on the right side before the end of the year. Ian is a big guy, looks tough, and it may be just a matter of getting the plays down. The only disappointment in the first quarter was that the Giants held the ball for 11 minutes and came away with only 7 points. Also of note is that JF went to Toomer, Dixon and Shockey early to get them into the game. It appeared as if the pace of the game had the Jaguars a little out of sorts. Defensively, Brunell looked as if he was establishing a rhythm, then fumbled. Kenny Holmes was on the spot for the recovery. The second possession was quick with the Giants giving up a couple of passes, but shutting down the running game.

The second quarter was also a large TOP by the Giants, holding the ball another 11 minutes. Brunell couldn’t get much going as Allen and Peterson were active. He did complete a nice 32 yarder on which Stoutmire made the stop. An intentional grounding call on Brunell effectively stopped a good march inside the Giants 34 yard line. Of concern was Matt Bryant missing his first FG of the season, then later missing another. On the positive side, the Giants were opportunistic. When it looked as if their drive was going nowhere, Akin Ayodele got a penalty, his second major. The Giants, faced with the 2 minute drill, went to trickery, with Tim Carter going around end for a nice gain. Then KC hit the ShockWave. There were 2 incompletes, one on which Carter was apparently not where he should have been and received a tongue lashing from KC. Then a sack. It didn’t look good, or feel good. Shades of Minnesota, on a 4th-and-17, JF was sending in the punt team. The fans let him have it as there were only 26 seconds left. JF called a timeout, then sent the offense back out. Collins through a high bullet to a wide open Carter, who made a nice leaping grab. Then he hit Dixon in the front corner of the end zone – a high, leaping grab by Dixon which was ruled incomplete, but reversed on replay and called a score. It was a classic Dixon body control catch. Watching Shockey on the field during the review was worth the price of admission. He gestured, pointed, clapped, and when the TD was awarded he ran down and grabbed Dixon in a bear hug.

The Giants came out in the third quarter and had a nice crisp drive ending in a Bryant 27 yard FG. A short kick put Jax in good position and then Mack ran right at the Giants. He carried 4 straight times gaining 15 and 8, then Barrow hit him and stopped him for a 1 yard gain and Legree with help from Dhani Jones stopped him for 2. The Jags went to the air and went nowhere as Michael Strahan finished them with a sack and 14 yard loss. The Giants took over and it was Tiki, Tiki, TD, with his patented burst down the sideline. Several linemen were noticeably on the move with him. The next KO was ok but Mack had a nice run back. Then it was Mack, Mack, Brunell on a scramble gaining 27, more Mack, then some Taylor and a FG. The Giants D was holding up pretty good, putting a lot of pressure on Brunell, but once again not getting the angles right and not protecting the right side. The Giants bogged down, there were a few penalties, then Tom Rouen had a terrible punt. It looked to me as if it had been tipped as it just flew over the line, end over end. It was an ugly kick. The Jags went nowhere and gave it back to the Giants early in the 4th quarter.

The Giants decided to ride the Dayne train and it worked – for 3 plays. But on his fourth straight carry, Ayodele made up for his early penalties by stripping the ball. Brunell went to work out of the shotgun. Shaun Williams got a nice sack, then Brunell hit Bobby Shaw, then Jimmy Smith, working on Patmon. Then an incomplete pass followed by another completion to Smith. Ferrara and Legree stopped Mack for a loss. Pete Mitchell caught a short pass. Pete Mitchell, yes, that Pete Mitchell. A couple of short gains, which the Giants seemed to be giving. Then one of those freak plays with two penalties, both on the Giants, one being a roughing call on MS. A pass to Smith, TD – a nice pattern with Smith just over the goal line. Matt Mitrione drew an unsportsmanlike on the play.

Jax tried an onsides kick which Patmon recovered. But the Giants were now in their full conservative mode. Two short runs and an incomplete pass. Punt. Brunell was in the shotgun full time now and the Giants were trying everything. Brunell was passing, dodging and running, and bringing the Jags closer. Finally, the TD pass. S. Williams went down and it looked serious as he was having trouble getting up. But he made an effort and got up, just a little late as the Giants were called for an injury time out.

Jax tried a desperation onsides kick which Dan Campbell grabbed, looked for a moment as if he was going to run with it, then wisely hit the deck Barber, Barber, Dayne, a punt and Jax had no time to do any other damage.

The Giants owned the first half, moving the ball well, distributing it, balancing pass and run. Their first six possessions, into the 3rd quarter, were TD, missed FG, missed FG, TD, FG, TD. Then it was punt, fumble, punt, punt. They looked totally inept in the fourth quarter, as if they had mentally gone into the locker room. What I liked out there was the offensive line. Everybody was engaging a man and it was a solid wall. I was teasing Whittle and Bober in the locker room and when Whittle told me he was now feeling pretty good. I said that was nice to hear because someone had to protect Bober out there. Bober laughed and said he needed all the help he can get. I talked with him about the irony of coming up as a tackle, trying it at guard and winding up as a center. He said he absolutely loves the position and learns more every game, but he is comfortable there and he could wind up there for some time. Seubert and Luke are the tough, quiet guys on the left; pro linemen just as you imagine they should be. Rosie is still improving. He is using his massive physique better and his wingspan, although he spent too much time on the ground in this game. They all told me they are young, aggressive, stick together, hang together, protect each other and intend to get better every game, as a unit as well as individuals.

Shockey is a character. He never stops moving, almost as if he is hyperactive, and he and Dixon together could be a nightmare for opposing defenses for years. We were joking around after the game, Mitrione, Stackhouse and me and Shockey came over to talk to Mitrione. As he walked past, I complimented his play and said very lowly, “Don’t ever let anyone take away your enthusiasm.” Looking straight ahead, he murmured back, “Don’t worry, I don’t intend to.” Speaking of Stackhouse, he appears much more comfortable with himself. But he was still tentative out there on a couple of plays and was almost waiting for someone to come and hit him. This allowed some penetration. But when he gets moving and has a clear shot, he can be devastating.

The defense was much more aggressive, throughout the game, including the 4th quarter. Very few QBs could have escaped the multiple blitzes the Giants were throwing at them. They desperately need to tighten up the right end, and then they will be formidable. Jason Sehorn may be unhappy as the nickel, but right now Allen and Peterson are doing the job. They do tend to go for the ball at bad times, however, and they are going to be burned. But I’d rather see them aggressive than playing off the receivers. Williams had one of his good games, coming up to stop the run, blitzing and helping in the passing game. The D line did an adequate job, but Brunell was in the shotgun and throwing so much, they weren’t tested. Almost all of the big gains came to the right side, even though Kenny Holmes was very active and in on 7 tackles.

I’m not real sure about the conditioning of the team and I’m not real sure about the consistency. But the offense looked crisp at times, even without going downfield. The line gives KC a lot of time and Carter, Shockey, Dixon and Campbell all were wide open at one time or another. Dayne looked good. More carries for Dayne, please. Tiki looked great, bouncing it out a couple of times to his favorite left sideline position. Special teams were both good and not good, but did a great job on the 2 onside kicks. Bryant looked troubled by something as he didn’t follow through on his first kick. It was just right. His second was just not in the zone. He looked OK on his third, looked comfortable on the extra points and had mixed kickoffs.

I always try to talk to Mike Rosenthal first in the locker room. He’s a nice kid and we just chit-chat about things, his development, his state of mind, little personal things. I asked him about the difference in his play this year and last and he told me, “The opportunity is here and I’m taking advantage of it.” We discussed the pressures on the O line and he told me that in this offense the linemen were asked to be both pass blockers and drive blockers, so “if one situation is working, we’re going to ride it; if it’s passing, we’re going to be pass blocking and if it’s running we will be drive blocking.” I asked him if there was a leader yet on the line and he told me it was, “kind of all of us. With Dusty out, the other guys, well, we’re all best friends. We all work out together, we’re in here all the time; it’s become a community effort. If someone is down one day, another guy picks him up.” He is really enjoying himself this year and is much more relaxed. He told me, “I’m loving it. It doesn’t get better than this.”

Matt Mitrione is down in the corner next to Stackhouse. He is a gregarious fellow, voluble and close to the guys around him. He started out telling me he is learning a lot, still making mistakes, but learning. I asked him from who, did he have a mentor, who was the biggest influence on the team for him. He said he was learning from everybody, “Grif is so patient with me, Ken is always on me about running stunts. Hammer is my biggest teacher.” I ask him about the Italian Stallion and he breaks out in laughter and tells me, “Frankie, sometimes he freaks out if you ask him a question, but Frankie is my biggest educator and mentor, my biggest motivator.” I asked him if he is related to Dan Mitrione and he tells me yes, that he knows only a little about him, but there is some stuff around the house and he is talked about at family gatherings. Dan Mitrione was a special guy. He was an AID tech who was in Uruguay training the police in counterinsurgency techniques. It was the hey day of the urban guerilla movement, I think they called themselves Montaneros. Dan was assassinated. I always remembered Dan, although I never knew him, he was a little before my service. It is ironic that I was in some places south of the border doing similar work and it is a special treat to meet a family member here playing for the Giants.

Stackhouse is right next to Matt . He jumped into our conversation and I started teasing him. I told him I hadn’t been to any games yet, but that I had watched several on TV. I told him that in the first game, I thought he was playing opposite Superman because I saw him make a block on an open space, an air block. He laughed and said, “C’mon now, I wasn’t that bad.” He is an energetic fellow and talks at a rapid clip. I asked him about his personal development and he started talking about great coaches, and, “blocking drill after blocking drill, picking up the pace of the game, working with the LBs, all great guys that take you along.” We talked about the blocking game and he told me he was “studying the game, going into the game and knowing what you have to do, play recognition; if you see a hand there, they’re going to do this; going out and working hard; trying to get better, better, every day; I can’t slack off; I’ve got to keep going up, accepting it as a job, keep getting better, that’s what I’ve been doing.” His delivery is rapid, staccato, a mantra, but not an abstract one. This kid is dedicated; he wants it.

I ask him about the O-Line and he tells me they all have great personalities (no we weren’t talking about any blind dates). He likes laughing around with them, joking with them, getting familiar with them, “just knowing basically what they are going to do, because I’ve had enough games now to see just about all the NFL defenses. I’m seeing what can happen, the worst case scenarios, putting them into my head while I’m out there with my hands down, getting ready to go into the play.” He continued on, “It took a lot of study; I’m watching film, watching film, game film, game film; now it’s actually coming through and working out for me.” He finished up by telling me, “It’s about time for us to go out and score TDs. We have an explosive offense, we just need to go out there and perform. You have got to be almost perfect on every play and that’s a challenge. I love a challenge, that’s the best thing about this game, you go out and get challenged on every play, Man vs. Man. That’s the best thing about this League.”

I finished up with Kenny Holmes who even on an active night had to listen to a couple of fans screaming throughout the second half, “Do something Kenny, make a play!” I’m sure they were some BBI guys sitting behind the Jags bench, maybe 15 rows in. Kenny told me the D wanted to come out and make a statement “especially after last week.” Then he told me, “We played well until the last part of the game and you just can’t play the way we played because we were sitting on a lead.”

I asked him how the defense has changed from last year. He thought for a while, obviously measuring his words, and said, “It is a lot less complicated. We don’t use a whole lot of our calls, so it’s narrowed it down and made it a whole lot simpler for me, and the younger guys.” We discussed aggressiveness and he acknowledged that they had discussed it during the week and felt that “We had to knock the QB down. We were doing that with 4 guys, and we wanted to put on more pressure, so we started bringing 5 and 6 guys this week, to not let him sit in the pocket. We started sending a LB here and there, to kind of mix it up. The pressure worked. Anytime you get a QB to not be comfortable in the pocket, I think it’s the best thing.”

Well, that’s about it. I just wanted to talk to a couple of guys, ease back into the locker room. Spent a few minutes with Dr. Joe and Pat from Inside Football talking to Dhani Jones’ parents, then walked out to the car. It was about 1:30 am. As I pulled out of a deserted parking lot, I looked around. There were papers and bottles littering the entire lot, as if some nomad encampment had recently departed. I was home, even if for only a little while. And it felt good.

Many thanks to Pat Hanlon, who puts up with an itinerant photographer’s coming and going, and who makes the whole thing possible. I deal with a lot of Media Directors and PR people, almost all competent and helpful. Pat is a Professional’s Professional.

(Box Score – Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants, November 3, 2002)
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Approach to the Game – Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants, November 3, 2002: Unlike previous game reviews, I’m not going to focus on the opponent this week. What I’ll focus on is the Giants because their biggest problems right now are with themselves. They have to rededicate themselves completely to turning this thing around because there is still time left to make this a good season. But their backs are up against the wall and things will be harder than ever with important cogs such as DT Keith Hamilton and WR Ike Hilliard missing.

The Giants can get it done, but they have to stop playing afraid – both offensively and defensively. Take some chances, have some fun, win some games.

Giants on Offense: Head Coach Jim Fassel takes over the play-calling this week. Don’t look for different plays. That’s not in the bag. It’s too late in the season to make major changes to offensive schemes. But where Fassel can make a difference is calling the right plays at the right time, developing a feel for flow of the game, sticking with what works, and taking some chances. Of course, ultimately, it will be the players who decide the fate of contest, but play-calling makes a difference.

Kerry Collins is coming off his worst performance of the year. If you hear him speak, it sounds like he thinks his job is safe. He’s an idiot if truly believes that. The Giants may not pull him this season as long as they are still mathematically still in it, but there is no guarantee that he won’t be let go at the end of the season if he keeps up this inconsistent play. There is a difference between being careless with the football and taking risks. The Giants need Collins to not be careless, but to also take more risks by playing aggressive football. Take some chances. Throw the football down the field. Let Amani Toomer, Ron Dixon, and Jeremy Shockey fight for the football. Collins also must play tougher in the pocket. If he doesn’t, I want him gone. You can’t win a Championship with a quarterback who is afraid to get hit. Step up into the pocket Kerry and take a shot while delivering the ball. Football is a contact sport.

The loss of Ike Hilliard will hurt, but in the long-run, this might turn out to be a good thing for the team. The Giants need to see what Ron Dixon can do as a starter. Unlike Hilliard, Dixon can stretch the field and make things easier for Toomer and Shockey underneath. Over the course of the next 3-4 games if Dixon can’t get the job done, then I bet you we see more of Tim Carter and Daryl Jones. These guys are green, but they are explosive. Dixon, Carter, and Jones can get the Giants some cheap touchdowns and that’s what New York needs right now. Let’s just hope that Kerry gives these youngsters a chance to make some plays.

One guy on offense who is not living up to his contract is Tiki Barber. The run blocking hasn’t been great, but Barber hasn’t helped things either with his inconsistent decision-making. Tiki needs to focus on football and start making some plays. Most importantly, he needs to get into the end zone more. The other guy who has been invisible for two games in a row is Amani Toomer. I question how wise it was to get married in the middle of the season. I also wonder if we are watching one of Toomer’s infamous mid-season disappearing acts. Toomer loves to talk about making the Pro Bowl, but you have to earn it Amani. It won’t be handed to you.

The thing that really sucks for the Giants is the injury to Jeremy Shockey. He is just a shell of himself right now because he can’t practice, he can push off hard on the injured toe, and thus he can’t accelerate or cut like he can when he is healthy. It is the ligament in the toe that is damaged and Shockey won’t be right all year. Still, he can lead and inspire with his play and he certainly can have an impact on the game, but his injury is just about as significant as the one to Hamilton and Hilliard.

My message to Fassel would be this: If you are going to rotate running backs, don’t do it play-by-play, but series-by-series. Allow Barber, Ron Dayne, or Delvin Joyce to get into the flow of the game. Also, take some shots with Tim Carter…speed kills.

Giants on Defense: The loss of Keith Hamilton hit home something that many of us have been fearful for the last few seasons: the Giants are not deep at all on the defensive line. DE Kenny Holmes is still not making plays. Cornelius Griffin has not stepped it up. Lance Legree got mauled in his first start. That leaves DE Michael Strahan and that is scary because he is getting double-teamed and held on almost every play. You can bet the farm that all future opponents are going to run at the Giants. Griffin, Legree, Holmes, Matt Mitrione, Byron Frisch, and Dwight Johnson need to step it up, but this thing really isn’t going to get fixed until next year’s draft and free agent signing period.

Mike Barrow has not played as well as he did the previous two seasons – it’s time for him to lead by EXAMPLE and make some plays. Brandon Short is still making some mistakes but he is improving and one gets the feeling that he is the kind of linebacker that Parcells would love to coach. Dhani Jones has been hampered by that hamstring all season. For a first year starter, he hasn’t hurt the Giants, but one would like to see him make more plays. All three need to be more disruptive against the run.

So does SS Shaun Williams. I’m very surprised Williams hasn’t been more of a factor in run defense and as a blitzer near the line of scrimmage this year. I’m also surprised we have seen some good kill-shots from him. By no means has he been bad, but where is the impact play? As depressing as this season has been, the play of Will Peterson and Will Allen is bright ray of hope. They are still learning so expect some mistakes still, but you’ve got to love these two. I wish Omar Stoutmire would play like he did against San Francisco on opening night some more. That would help this defense out tremendously. Is there ever been a more overpaid player in the NFL than Jason Sehorn?

Giants on Special Teams: The kick and punt coverage has dramatically improved this year. Matt Bryant has been a Godsend. Matt Allen has been OK. What the Giants need to start doing is break some kick and punt returns. I like Delvin Joyce as a kick and punt returner. Tim Carter looks like he has “it” with his speed and up-field return style. Now if both of these guys could just get some alleys to run through.