Dec 312002
New York Giants 10 – Philadelphia Eagles 7 (OT)

Game Overview: This game will undoubtably go down in Giants’ history as one of the most memorable game ever played. Images from this game will forever be burned into the memory of Giants’ fans: Jeremy Shockey stealing away the ball from Brian Dawkins and then savoring the moment by letting Dawkins hear it; a devastated Tiki Barber kneeling on the sidelines after his third fumble; the sigh of relief when David Akers missed an easy field goal near the end of regulation; and the euphoria players and fans felt after Matt Bryant won the game in overtime with his 39-yard field goal.

The win completed a miraculous turnaround. At 6-6, the Giants looked dead as a door nail. Four wins later, their 10-6 record belied what was supposed to be a rebuilding year in many circles. The Giants are now one of the hottest teams heading into the playoffs.

But if one is to look at this game objectively, one must recognize that the Giants, specifically Kerry Collins and Tiki Barber, came damn close to giving this game away. Collins took certain points of the board with his incredibly stupid decision to force the ball to Shockey in the end zone on the team’s first drive. Barber did the same when he fumbled the ball away inside the 4-yard line. And Barber’s last lost fumble should have sealed New York’s fate, but somehow Pro Bowl PK David Akers missed a chip shot with 1:16 left. Combine those errors with two horrific calls by the officials to take two Giants’ touchdowns off the board, it is a minor miracle the Giants prevailed.

The defensive statistics look impressive, but is it is also important to note that the Giants’ defensive performance on the first series of the game was embarrassingly bad and that the Giants were later aided by quite a few dropped passes. The run defense was superb, but the pass rush was non-existent.

On special teams, the kickers remain shaky.

Am I nitpicking? Perhaps. But next time Akers won’t miss that kick. There is a fine line between a glorious victory and gut-wrenching defeat.

Special Teams: Part of the problem with Bryant’s kickoffs is that his leg is dead tired. He kicked in NFL Europe and this is his first NFL season. In other words, instead of an average 11 game college schedule, Bryant has now kicked in 10 Europe games, 5 preseason games, and 16 regular season games – an almost three-fold increase. Regardless, Bryant’s kickoffs have gotten progressively worse. This week, his kicks landed at the 20 (returned 13 yards to the 33), 27 (returned 10 yards to the 37), and 13 (returned 32 yards to the 45). That’s as bad as it gets and the Giants are darn lucky the last kickoff didn’t cost them the game in overtime. It’s hard to judge the kick-off coverage unit when the kick-offs are so bad. Making the tackles were Byron Frisch, Johnnie Harris, and Marcellus Rivers.

Bryant almost cost the Giants the game as well with an extra point that hit the upright but fortunately bounced in and a missed 36-yard field goal.

Matt Allen’s punting – as usual – was disappointing. His punts went for 54 (net 34 on a touchback), 38 (nice job by Kato Serwanga to get down the field quickly), 22 (terrible), and 25 (pooch punt landing at the 12). Ironically for such a low scoring game, Allen never punted in the second half of the game.

Delvin Joyce’s kick returns went for 35 and 39 (an illegal block by Kevin Lewis brought the latter back to the 9-yard line. Obviously those efforts were excellent. His punt returns went for 2, 18 (illegal block by Charles Stackhouse brought this back), 2, 10, and -2. Joyce never returned a punt in the second half of the game.

Defensive Line: The Eagles only managed 65 yards of rushing and 20 of those came on a WR reverse. Duce Staley was held to 28 yards on 17 carries. That’s outstanding. The Eagles tried to run at the Giants’ weakside, but DE Kenny Holmes (4 tackles, 1 sack) and DT Lance Legree (4 tackles) were up to the task. This was the best I’ve seen these two play run defense together all season and it was against a quality opponent no less. On the reverse, Holmes was not fooled; he wasn’t able to get off the block, but the reason the play worked was not his fault. DE Michael Strahan (7 tackles) was more hit or miss. Some of his run defense plays for negative yardage were outstanding, but two of the Eagles’ best rushes (for 9 and 7 yards) were run right at him. Cornelius Griffin (4 tackles) was pretty stout.

The pass rush was a different story. The Giants rarely got any pressure on A.J. Feeley. Holmes got close once in regulation, but it was in overtime where he made the most important play of his career as a Giant. His one-armed sack of Feeley despite still being engaged by Pro Bowl LT Tra Thomas may have saved the game on the Eagles’ first offensive possession in the extra period. The Giants need to get a better pass rush or they won’t survive long in the playoffs. Michael Strahan and Cornelius Griffin, in particular, both need to elevate their games. Griffin did make a nice athletic play in coverage when he tipped a pass away on 3rd-and-11; if he doesn’t make this play, the Eagles may pick up the first down.

Linebackers: Things started off pretty ugly on the Eagles’ first drive as they drove 67-yards in four plays for a touchdown. TE Jeff Thomason got wide open in the middle of the defense for 20 yards on a zone blitz. On the next play, HB Duce Staley was not covered when he lined up in the slot and a 35-yard gain resulted. The announcers said FS Omar Stoutmire was to blame, but I’m not so sure that a linebacker wasn’t supposed to pick him up. On the 20-yard reverse for a touchdown, both Michael Barrow (10 tackles) and Dhani Jones (8 tackles) got faked out of their jocks. TE Chad Lewis was also left wide open in the middle of the field on the Eagles’ third drive for a 16-yard gain.

After that, things were mostly positive as the linebackers played a big role in keeping the Eagle ground game quiet. SLB Brandon Short (3 tackles) was aggressive against the run and the pass. He was a little two aggressive on the latter as he got flagged with defensive holding and then made matters worse by not being able to knock the ball away or tackle Thomason en route to 17-yard gain. Short had very aggressive coverage on Lewis on the 3rd-and-5 play in overtime where the ball was deflected and intercepted by Shaun Williams. The announcers felt that holding should have been called, but I didn’t think his actions warranted a flag…heck Jeremy Shockey sees that kind of hand-fighting on every play. Regardless, the coverage by Short created the turnover and was big factor in the victory.

Dhani Jones played a good game both against the pass and the run. He was very solid in coverage and made a huge play when he played off a block and tackled Staley on a screen pass for no gain. What I’ve liked about Jones’ play in recent weeks is that he is being more aggressive at filling the hole on running plays in his direction.

Barrow was very active against the run as his tackle total indicates. He was in the center of the action after Tiki’s 3rd fumble of the game. He tackled Staley aggressively for only a 1-yard gain on 2nd-and-3, but he missed Staley short of the first down marker on the next play. He was on each of the ensuing 3 tackles, holding Staley to 1, -1, and -2 yards. These three plays are important when you consider PK David Akers missed a potential game-winning field goal on 4th-and-12.

Defensive Backs: A.J. Feeley only completed 13 passes for 150 yards and the longest reception in the game by a wide receiver was 14 yards. That is damn impressive. However, it is also a bit misleading. The Giants were very fortunate that more than few accurate passes were dropped by Philly receivers in key situations. At certain points of the game, the coverage was not as tight as I would have hoped. In particular, the Eagles were able to find the soft spots in some zone coverage a bit too easy. The Giants were lucky it didn’t cost them.

FS Omar Stoutmire (6 tackles) missed Staley on the 35-yard gain on the third offensive play of the game. On the next play, CB Will Peterson (2 tackles) did not play the reverse aggressively enough to his side and SS Shaun Williams (4 tackles) missed a tackle that would have kept the receiver out of the end zone.

On the next series, CB Will Allen (3 tackles) made a nice play in run defense on 1st down and then broke up a 2nd-and-6 pass intended for WR Freddie Mitchell. On 3rd down, CB Jason Sehorn (1 tackle) was beaten down the middle of the defense for what looked to be a big play, but the pass fell incomplete. On the next series, Stoutmire made two nice plays in run defense. On the next series, Allen had excellent coverage on WR James Thrash on a 3rd-and-5 play and the Eagles were forced to punt.

On the Eagles’ first possession in the 3rd quarter, Peterson was the center of attention. Peterson had good position on a deep pass to Thrash, but for some reason, he didn’t play the ball and was lucky Thrash couldn’t bring the ball in. On the next play, perhaps overly-conscious of getting beat deep, Peterson played too soft on Thrash and an 8-yard completion was the result. Two plays later, however, Peterson had perfect deep coverage on Thrash and the ball fell incomplete. A quick throw to Mitchell was limited to a 3-yard gain on the next play as Peterson made a sure tackle.

On the next drive, Sehorn made his only tackle of the game, but it was a big one as he kept WR Antonio Freeman short of the first down marker on 3rd-and-5 by one yard. Williams came up with the interception in overtime off of deflected pass.

Quarterback: I would have been very pleased with the performance of Kerry Collins (25-35 for 256 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception) if it weren’t for some of his costly mistakes. He started things off right on the Giants’ first drive with a 22-yard pass to TE Jeremy Shockey, but three plays later, he made a stupid, stupid decision to try to force the ball into a double-covered Shockey on 2nd-and-goal from the 6-yard line. The pass was also a tad high and intercepted off a deflection. This play took at least 3 points off the board and perhaps 7. On the next series, I became a bit worried as Collins looked a bit nervous in the pocket. This was reminiscent of his nervousness in the first Giants-Eagles game. The Giants went 3-and-out.

On the third series, Collins threw a perfect deep strike to WR Amani Toomer for a 33-yard gain. And he made a good decision two plays later when deciding not to force a screen pass that was well-covered. But on 3rd-and-10, he inexcusably fumbled the shot-gun snap and the Giants were forced to punt.

On the fifth series, Collins hit Barber out of the backfield for 13 yards on 3rd-and-6. Then on 3rd-and-7, Collins threw a high pass to Toomer that Toomer came down with for 24 yards. Two plays later, Collins threw low to Shockey for another 24-yard gain. Two plays later, Kerry hit Stackhouse out of the backfield for a 6-yard touchdown reception. However, a bogus holding penalty took the points off the board.

Near the end of the first half, Collins impressively spun out of what should have been a sack and picked up 8 yards on the play. What I liked is that in a game of this magnitude, Collins didn’t slide but fought for the first down marker.

On the first series in the second half, Collins fumbled another snap (inexcusable), but picked up 12 yards on the next play with a pass to Shockey. The drive ended with another Barber fumble. On the next drive, Collins made another mistake by not getting the play off in time – moving the ball from the Eagle 21 to the 26. This was big as Matt Bryant missed a 36-yard field goal 4 plays later.

Where Collins really turned things around was on the next drive – a 13-play, 80-yard march where Collins was 8-of-8 (not including the 43-yard TD strike taken off the board due to another bogus holding penalty). Collins completed passes of 4 yards to TE Dan Campbell, 4 to Barber, 5 to Shockey, 20 to Shockey, 4 to Campbell, 8 to HB Ron Dayne, 19 to Barber, and 7 to Shockey for the touchdown. Collins stood in there tough despite pass pressure and calmly delivered the football…very impressive.

Collins is lucky. He didn’t bring his “A” game with the interception, two fumbles, and the delay of game penalty, but the Giants still won. On the positive side, Kerry delivered in the clutch on a drive when the Giants needed him the most.

Wide Receivers: Not a huge factor this week though Amani Toomer (2 catches for 57 yards) got screwed when the officials took his 43-yard touchdown reception off of the board. Amani’s other two questions were impressive: a 33-yard reception on a deep pass down the left sideline against double coverage and a leaping catch of a high Collins’ pass on 3rd-and-7. Not only did he come down with the ball, but Amani ran for additional yardage after the play en route to a 24-yard gain.

Daryl Jones (1 catch for 8 yards) remains frustratingly unproductive. His sole reception in the red zone came out of the slot where he made a nice move to change direction quickly and then fought aggressively for the end zone. However, Jones had a chance to be a big hero with a 1st-and-15 strike into the end zone by Collins from the Eagle 26-yard line. Jones got himself wide open in the end zone, but mistimed his jump and the slightly overthrown ball fell incomplete.

Both Jones and Toomer did a good job in the run blocking department. Jones got a great block on Tiki’s 22-yard gain in the 1st quarter around right end and Toomer got a nice inside block on the safety on a Tiki run up the middle on the game-tying touchdown drive. Toomer did a great job of knocking down a tipped Collins’ pass that looked like an easy interception. Kudos to Jones for showing veteran savvy by drawing the crucial personal foul penalty in overtime.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey (10 catches for 98 yards, 1 touchdown) made impact plays in the Giants’ most important game of the year. Too many “stars” in this league disappear in the clutch, but not Jeremy who made one big catch after another. New York’s first play was a short pass to a well-covered Shockey who came down with the tipped ball and rumbled for 22 yards. In the 2nd quarter, Shockey made a sliding catch for a 24-yard gain despite being covered by Pro Bowl CB Troy Vincent. He then made three key catches on the game-tying TD drive. First, he caught a 5-yard reception on 3rd-and-2. Then he came down with an incredible 20-yard catch on 1st-and-25 despite getting destroyed by the safety – his ability to hold onto the ball despite this monster hit was amazing. Shockey then saved the day by out-jumping and out-leaping Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins for the 7-yard touchdown catch on a jump ball from Collins.

Both Shockey and Dan Campbell (2 catches for 8 yards) continue to be big assets in the ground game with their run blocking. I saw one Barber run where Campbell didn’t get a good block, but that was the exception on another wise fine effort. A lot of Tiki’s 203 yards rushing came because of fine run blocks from both tight ends. Campbell also did a heck of a job picking up a blitz from the fullback spot. This enabled Collins to hit Toomer for a 24-yard gain. Campbell did drop one pass from Collins.

Running Backs: As Ron Dayne (1 carry for 2 yards; 1 catch for 8 yards) was sick; Tiki Barber (32 carries for 203 yards; 8 catches for 73 yards) was the workhorse and responsible for 280 of New York’s 461 offensive yards. It would have been an incredible performance if it weren’t for 4 fumbles (3 of which were lost). Yet Tiki never gave up and, aside from the personal foul penalty, was responsible for all of the yardage in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal. Tiki’s big runs of the game were a 22-yard effort around right end on the first drive (good blocks from Campbell, Rosenthal, Seubert, and Jones) and a 39-yard effort in the 3rd quarter (good block by Petitgout at the point-of-attack and good downfield blocks from Bober and Shockey). But he was consistently productive throughout the game with many runs that went for 5, 6, 7 yards.

His receptions were key as well: a 10-yarder on 3rd-and-3, a 13-yarder on 3rd-and-6, and a 19-yard reception on 2nd-and-12 on the Giants’ game-tying TD drive. Tiki touched the ball an amazing 40 times. In overtime, Tiki touched the ball 6 straight times for 7, 5, 10, 6, -3 (fumble), and 1 yard; in other words, all six plays.

But let’s be honest here – I love Tiki to death but he almost gave this game away. His first fumble came inside the Eagle 5-yard line when the Giants were about to score. The second came on the Giants’ first drive of the second half when they were moving the ball again. The third was the deadliest – fumbling away the ball on the Giants’ 26-yard line with only 4:50 left to play in the game. Only a minor miracle prevented Ackers from winning the game. Tiki also muffed the handoff two plays preceding Bryant’s game-winning field goal.

If it weren’t for the fumbles, it would have been a great performance. But you have to take into account the fumbles. You have to.

Offensive Line: An incredible job both blocking for the run and pass against the best defense in football (sorry Tampa). No, things were not perfect. I saw all five offensive linemen miss blocks. Mike Rosenthal had a couple of problems in pass protection, Luke Petitgout gave up a sack to Pro Bowl DE Hugh Douglas, and there were pass pressures given up by each of the three interior linemen. But the Eagles only managed one sack and Collins had as much time as I’ve seen any quarterback have against this Eagles’ defense. Most impressive was the productivity of the ground game as the Giants first ran a lot to their right, then their left, and then up the middle. By the end of the game, the Giants had worn the Eagle defense down and Barber had picked up over 200 yards rushing. Rosenthal does need to sustain better when he pulls to his right as a couple of longer blocks would have sprung Barber for bigger yardage. The holding penalties on Rosenthal and Seubert that erased two touchdown passes were so bad as to warrant punishment for the official involved. You can’t make calls like that in a game of such significance. The two legitimate calls that could have hurt were Rosenthal’s illegal chop block (came after he was cleanly beat at the line of scrimmage on a trick pass play from Shockey to Toomer) and Petitgout’s false start at the end of regulation that cost the Giants 5 yards and 10 seconds when they were trying to get into field goal range.

But all in all, a superb job against a very tough and aggressive defense. Special kudos to Petitgout’s work on Douglas and Jason Whittle’s work on Corey Simon.

A Slow Dance On A Killing Ground

by David Oliver

That is what the Philadelphia eagles experienced last Saturday. There really is not as much to say in this review as most of you watched the game on television. So I will focus on keywords in this discussion: heart, physical performance, opportunity and confidence. That is what this version of the NY Giants is about. The theme in the locker room has been building and it has developed into a mantra – everybody wants to contribute, everybody is willing to do whatever it takes and everybody is aware of what the media and fans have been saying about 7-and-9, 8-and-8, rebuilding year, yadda, yadda, yadda.

A weary Rich Seubert told me that this game was “physical, probably one of the most physical games I have ever played in.” He set the stage for the offensive line, continuing, “that’s football” and “it feels good”. He said that both teams came in and hit each other in the mouth for 60 minutes, and then some. He also said that each member of the line gives everything, “If we make a mistake and get beat, we come back the next play.” There is no quit in this locker room, he told me “we never give up.”

Mike Rosenthal told me, “Guys in this locker room, it’s the offseason we put in, it’s the training camp we put in, it’s the season we put in, the preparation we put in every week; it’s the never say die attitude with these guys; no matter what happens, no matter how many points they take off the board; no matter what happens, we always believe we’re going to win. This group has confidence right now, we’re just excited to be in the dance.” Mike told me, “All year, we knew we were going to be good. We’ve been steady. Our job up front is to give the playmakers time to make their plays and they’re playing great; Shockey has been a world of difference.” Mike acknowledged that he is not a finished product, but said that as a unit, “Each time we go on the field, all of us, we have something to prove, something to work on. That’s the attitude we’re taking.”

Is it showing? Against the Eagles, the Giants controlled the ball more than 39 minutes, rolled up 461 yards on offense, again scored in the Red Zone, Tiki gained over 200 rushing yards and Kerry Collins had a respectable rating of 89.7. But it was a game of asses and elbows, fought in the trenches, in the middle of the field. Karma did not seem to favor the Giants as TDs were taken off the board by penalties, Tiki put the ball down 4 times and the first drive was stopped by a fluke interception. Observations from my position: The pass into the end zone most likely would have wound up in at least the third row of seats, except for a Herculean effort by Shockey who leaped, tapped the ball and tried to bring it in, only to have it fall into the outstretched hands of an Eagle. The play cannot be faulted, the effort cannot be faulted. The Shock tried to make a play, which if he had done so would have broken the Eagles’ backs early. It was a beautiful football play that just didn’t go right. Karma. Tiki ran left, Tiki ran right, Tiki ran all afternoon but in putting the ball down 4 times, Tiki almost came up as less than heroic. I watched closely on the third fumble. He was carrying the ball in his left arm, outstretched, fingers around the tip. But it didn’t look firm and when he hit the ground, it popped free, almost as if the arm wasn’t right. Isn’t that the wrist that was broken last year?

Jason Whittle told me the game “was the most exciting thing,” something he just couldn’t explain. Whittle has several nice hits out there and he told me, “I feel like I’m coming around. It was a fun game.” And Chris Bober, whose locker is right next to Whittle, had to bear the brunt of my tease of the week. I asked him about his one bad snap and he answered immediately that, “It was just one of those things that happened.” Don’t think these guys are unaware of what is happening out there at all times. Chris told me, “As an offensive line, as an offensive team, we played well.” So I asked him about longevity and the prospects of holding this line together next year. Chris said, “That’s the deal, that’s the hope and wish of all of us; we’re hoping that it can get done. As far as this year, we’re still going”, he said, and continued on, “I told the guys before the game I don’t want this to be the last time we ever play together; let’s just keep going; let’s go as far as we can.”

Chris recognized the karma in this game, telling me, “They played a very good game. They’re a good team, a very good team. It was a physical game. When he missed that FG, luck was on our side, but maybe it was meant to be; maybe it was meant to be to get us in the playoffs and we’ll keep on rolling from there.” We talked about the progress of the team from the first Eagles game and he said, “We’re a different team – totally – I really believe that…We went out there and played well on both sides of the ball. We shot ourselves in the foot a little bit, but we came away with the victory. I think we can feel very positive about this. We’ll clean up those turnovers and we’ll be fine.”

Indeed, they may be. Playing away from home may not be a real disadvantage for these guys. True, the 60,000 crazed fans waving towels won’t be in their corner, but the condition of the lot was, well, on one play, I’m standing on the east side of the Eagles bench and a divot comes flying across the field. You all know that there are a number of bad hairpieces associated with the Giants and at first I wasn’t sure if someone had just lost it and tossed their rug, or was this actual sod? Needing a little myself, I almost picked it up and put it in my camera bag, but one of the officials beat me to it.

On the defensive side of the ball there was some cracking. Dhani Jones had one of his better games, Griffin was under full motor, Will Allen was hitting on Staley, and Strahan and Holmes were just a couple of inches short on a number of occasions. Staley was held to 28 yards, and I can assure you, he spent Sunday in a hydrotherapy pool. But it didn’t start out that way. The Eagles had their way with the Giants D on the first drive. I know Coach Lynn says he was too aggressive and paid for it but that wasn’t the reason. There was poor tackling and poor positioning. Coach Olividotti was standing right in front of me, on the west side of the Giants’ bench, looking into the defensive backfield. Dhani was out of position and Williams just missed a tackle. Adjustments were made, uh, Coach Fassel was seen talking to Coach Lynn immediately after the Eagles score (grin).

Cornelius Griffin told me that the difference between these teams since the first time they played was all the Giants. He said, “We’ve been getting better each week. We finished strong today.” He said that you need a balanced effort, “You just don’t want the offense needing to put up points every game; you want to do your thing too. Last week the O put up a lot of points; this week they didn’t. Up front, we had to win the game.” I asked him about the D-Line rotation and he told me, with exuberance, “I like it; a different guy every time and they can communicate with me now.”

Johnnie Harris gave me a view from a newcomer and told me he had “come to the team to try to help them and now we have our chance.” I asked him how he happened to have been available and he said, “I have no idea. Oakland made a big mistake; they went with the rookie, their first round draft choice. I thought I was supposed to be the starter. We battled it out and I won, but I still got the bad end of the stick. Basically, it worked out for me here, now I’ve got the good end of the stick. I’m here playing and trying to help these guys. When I’m called on I’ve got to get out there and shine.”

I asked him about the team spirit and he told me, “I love it, plus, I’ve got to give them more spirit. It comes from me and it comes from them, we feed off each other. We have to stay together.” Finally, I asked him about his special teams reputation. He told me, somewhat wistfully, “I’m not a special teams player. I do it because in Oakland I played it a lot because there weren’t a lot of guys as athletic as I was. I’ll play special teams, but I’m really not a special teams player. I’m really a safety. They know I can get out there and play safety anytime. It’s my opportunity and once I get a chance, I’ll show what I can do – they know what I can do. If somebody gets hurt and goes down, I’m available and we won’t miss a beat. It won’t be like somebody coming in. It’ll be Johnnie Harris. They know they can count on Johnnie Harris.”

Just before I left the locker I did a little memory lane thing with Amani Toomer. We talked about the Street & Smith piece on him his rookie year (for which I had done some shots) and asked if he ever thought about those days. He told me, “I do, because in those days everything was so positive. We knew what kind of team we had.” And in one breath he went on, “We felt we had a great team that nobody knew about (this year). Everybody overlooked us and said 8-8 or 6-10. We came out and fought throughout the season, and we won some close games like this one. It’s the heart of this team – if you get an opportunity like this, you have to take advantage of it.”

For those of you who like old school football this was it. Two heavyweights pounding on each other all day. No one gave anything up, neither side quit. The only difference was that this time Rocky came from Newark.

(Box Score – Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, December 28, 2002)
Dec 262002

Approach to the Game – Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, December 28, 2002: Once again, it’s been wild and crazy ride. July and August in Albany seems like an eternity ago. At that time, fans were pondering the Michael Strahan-Tiki Barber-Keith Hamilton feud that was supposed to tear the team apart. The Giants were going to lose Strahan next offseason as he was going to be an unrestricted free agent. Kerry Collins was going to be one too and was asking for Brett Favre money. There was the loss of Ron Stone, Lomas Brown, Glenn Parker, Greg Comella, Joe Jurevicius, Morten Andersen, Jessie Armstead, Sam Garnes, and Emmanuel McDaniel. Jeff Hatch, who was counted on to provide depth at tackle, never practiced and was placed on IR. Jason Sehorn was nowhere near 100 percent as he was still recovering from offseason knee surgery. No one knew when Dusty Zeigler would come back from the same offseason surgery (and he never really did). Everyone was worried about the hamstring injury Tiki Barber had suffered in the preseason and the toe he hurt against the 49ers. The kicking game was a mess. The Giants realized at the last minute that Rodney Williams was never going to develop any consistency. They waived him a week before the season started and signed Matt Allen. Owen Pochman was placed on Injured Reserve and the “camp fodder” kicker, Matt Bryant, appeared to be the only available option. Daryl Jones was returning punts and didn’t look good and there seemed to be a new kick returner every week. The long snapper, Bob Jones, wasn’t very good at his specialty. Luke Petitgout was moved to left tackle and nobody knew if he would be able to handle the position; the rest of the offensive line was made up of no-name low draft picks or rookie free agents (Rich Seubert, Chris Bober, Jason Whittle, Mike Rosenthal). Everyone predicted disaster there. There were new starters at weakside linebacker, free safety, and fullback.

The Giants out-played the 49ers in the first game of the season but lost a heart-breaker because they could not score enough points in the Red Zone – the start of what would become a constant theme for much of the season. There were only 8 offensive touchdowns in the first 7 games of the season. The Giants won an inspiring game against the hated Rams in the second game of the season in St. Louis when that team still had all its weapons and beat Seattle at home the following week. At 2-1, it looked like the Giants faced an easy stretch against the Cardinals, Cowboys, and Falcons, but only managed to win one of those games. Then New York got dominated by Philly as the Eagles ran up and down the field on the Giants, amassing almost 300 yards on the ground.

The Giants were 3-4 and headed south in the standings. And the injuries were mounting. Jeremy Shockey was a shell of his preseason self due to two painful toe injuries. Keith Hamilton was lost for the season with an Achilles’ injury. At wide receiver, first Ike Hilliard (chest) and then Tim Carter (Achilles’) were done. Ron Dixon seemed to be coming on, then hurt his knee and was never really a factor for the rest of the season. Injuries forced guys such as Will Peterson, Will Allen, Michael Barrow, Kenny Holmes, Cornelius Griffin, and Chris Bober to miss important games. The Giants had to rely on players such as Dwight Johnson, Lance Legree, Frank Ferrara, Nick Greisen, Kevin Lewis, Ralph Brown, Johnnie Harris, Tam Hopkins, and Daryl Jones to start. In desperation, the Giants were signing guys off of the street: Matt Allen, Tony Simmons, Herman Moore, Derek Dorris, Ian Allen, Barrett Brooks, Ross Kolodziej, Byron Frisch, Reggie Stephens, Kato Serwanga, Johnnie Harris. Giants were dropping like flies and there were so many injuries that fans became accustomed to and even expected bad news after every game.

Fassel took over the play-calling and the Giants’ fattened their win column with three wins in a row over the Jaguars, Vikings, and Redskins. The Giants were 6-4 and things were looking up again. An injury-riddled team headed to Houston and lost an embarrassing game to the expansion Texans. But with a 12-point lead in the 4th quarter against the Titans the following weekend, it looked as if the Giants would redeem themselfs until an unbelievable collapse appeared to have ended their season. Now the defense – the historical stalwart of the franchise – was failing them. At 6-6, there were too few games left, too many teams ahead of them in the standings, and too many question marks. Their season was obviously over…any fool could see that. Fassel was doomed this time. Nothing could save his job now. Nick Saban was to be the next head coach.

But wait…then came one of those December runs that Jim Fassel has become famous for. An injury-riddled Giants team composed largely of second- and third-teamers beat the Redskins. And then two offensive explosions did in the Cowboys and Colts and the Giants found themselves just one-game shy of a 10-win season. With the Falcons and Saints choking, the Giants controlled their own playoff destiny again.

That’s where we stand now. One regular season game left. The Eagles need to win the game in order to attain home field advantage in the NFC playoffs – in other words, to stay out of Green Bay in January. The Giants need to win or pray the Panthers upset the Saints in order to accomplish what few thought they could do before the season started – make the playoffs. These Giants were supposed to be a last-place team in the NFC East. Philadelphia was supposed to win the division and the Cowboys and Redskins were supposed to fight it out for the second spot.

How will it all end? Will this be a Cinderella-season or will the Eagles and Saints finish officially what started back in July so many weeks ago? It’s been quite a ride…quite a story. Let’s turn the page and find out what happens next.

Giants on Special Teams: Why have the Eagles been winning so many games even with their injury situation at quarterback? One big reason has been the play of their special teams. Brian Mitchell remains one of the league’s most dangerous punt and kick returners and many of the Eagles’ wins have been sparked by his big returns. The Giants kickers and coverage units will be on the spot.

Message to Delvin Joyce and his blockers…if you’re going to break one for a touchdown, this would be the ideal spot to do so.

Giants on Defense: The first game against the Eagles may have been close on the scoreboard heading into the 4th quarter, but it shouldn’t have been. The Eagles dominated the Giants on both offense and defense because they controlled both lines of scrimmage. The Giants gave up 299 yards of rushing. 299 yards. Yes, Donovan McNabb was responsible for 111 yards, but Duce Staley rushed for 126 yards himself. And Staley is running better now than he did when the Giants first played them. The Eagles are now like the Giants’ teams of late 1980’s/early 1990’s…they are a power running team that plays good defense and special teams; and they don’t turn the ball over. That makes them very difficult to beat.

The fans will be jacked up waving their towels to and fro; the Giants’ defensive players have been preached to all week, “Stop the run, stop the run, stop the run.” So what you are going to have at the start of the game is a VERY aggressive and determined defense. Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid, an excellent game-day tactician as a play-caller, knows this. I guarantee that many of the offensive plays in the Eagles first two offensive series will be misdirection or trick plays. Reid will expect the Giants to be super-aggressive and will use that against them. Watch out for flea flickers, wide receiver reverses (a Reid favorite), screens (ditto), draws, etc. Reid will look for the knock out punch early…get up early, take the crowd out of the game (and get them booing), and then come back to the power running game. This is what is coming…as I said, I guarantee it. How well the Giants weather this early storm will be crucial…perhaps even decisive. I’m worried because I expect Reid to out-coach Defensive Coordinator Johnnie Lynn here.

Once the game settles down, it all comes down to the line of scrimmage…the Giants’ defensive line and linebackers versus the Eagles’ blockers on the offensive line, tight end, and fullback. In October, Philadelphia dominated. Will they do so again? The focal point most likely will be right-side and right-middle of the Giants’ defense. Pro Bowl LT Tra Thomas and physical LG John Welbourn versus DE Kenny Holmes and DT Lance Legree, respectively. That looks like a huge mismatch for the Giants. DT Cornelius Griffin will face Pro Bowl RG Jermane Mayberry and DE Michael Strahan battles it out once again with RT Jon Runyan. Runyan gets a lot of bad press in his battle with Strahan, but he is a good right tackle who gives Strahan problems at times. He’s very mean and physical. Both Strahan and Holmes have to be very wary of reverses coming in their direction…very wary.

The linebackers must play a physical game against the run. But they also must be smart and be on the look out for Eagle deception…especially early. Be too aggressive and misdirection will take them right out of the play. When the run does come right at them, Dhani Jones, Michael Barrow, and Brandon Short need to do a good job of slipping blocks and making hard, sure tackles. They also need to do a good job of covering TE Chad Lewis (41 receptions). Reid loves using Lewis against the Giants. In the big game late last year at the Vet, Lewis was the center piece of the Eagle attack early in the game. And Lewis has been able to make big plays against Barrow. Another area where the linebackers need to play it smart is guarding against the screen pass. QB A.J. Feeley does not have a strong arm. What Reid likes to do is take a shot deep early to get the defense to back up and then everything else is either a run or a short pass, including an inordinate amount of screen passes. I watched the Redskins get burned over and over again on the Eagle screen pass for big yardage. Duce Staley has 48 receptions on the year and HB Dorsey Levens and FB Cecil Martin have to be watched as well. Rookie HB Brian Westbrook is speedster who Reid likes to create mismatches with. There will be a lot of pressure on the linebackers both mentally and physically in this game.

We still do not know if Will Peterson (knee) will play. And even if he does, he hasn’t practiced in weeks so how rusty will he be? Regardless of who plays, the last thing the Giants want to do is play too soft in the secondary. While the Eagles will throw deep, most of Feeley’s throws will be short or the dink-and-dunk variety. Play too soft and you make things too easy for him. Get in the face of the receivers and make Feeley make good throws into tight quarters. If he does that, kudos to him. But don’t make it easy. Because this is a “West Coast Offense” and most of the passes will be short, tackling by the secondary will be crucial. The guy who has given the Giants a lot of trouble in the past is WR James Thrash. I would expect CB Will Allen to cover him much of the time. If WR Todd Pinkston (toe) can’t play, then former 1st rounder Freddie Mitchell will start with Antonio Freeman maintaining his role as the third receiver. If Peterson doesn’t play, Ralph Brown will be on the spot again as the nickel corner.

Giants on Offense: Don’t fool yourself into thinking that the Giants will be able to move the ball well against the Eagles. The Eagle defense is a well-rounded defense with no glaring weaknesses. The Redskins, Cowboys, and Colts have good defenses; but the Eagles have a great defense. They have three defensive backs who have made the Pro Bowl and have to feel pretty comfortable that they can take WR Amani Toomer out of the game, even with one-on-one coverage. They also believe that SLB Carlos Emmons and WLB Shawn Barber will do well in coverage on TE Jeremy Shockey and HB Tiki Barber, respectively. They may be right. Even if Shockey presents problems for Emmons, Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson does have the luxury of putting the strong safety on him as both corners and the free safety are Pro Bowlers. The Giants will need a monster game from Toomer, Shockey (who has the flu), and Barber in the passing game. Does anyone expect Daryl Jones to do anything against Troy Vincent or Bobby Taylor? I didn’t think so. This is where not having Ike Hilliard or Ron Dixon will really hurt.

I don’t think the Eagles have a lot of respect for Kerry Collins and based on the October game, they shouldn’t. Collins has responded well to pass pressure most of the season, but he looked scared as hell the last time these two teams played. He was jumpy in the pocket and his accuracy was terrible. These are the kind of games that good teams need their starting quarterback to play well in and make big plays. Things will not be easy for Kerry at all. The Eagles will blitz him unmercifully and his receivers will be tightly covered. He needs to play a near perfect game.

The other guy who I think needs to play exceptionally well is Tiki Barber. Not only as a runner, but as receiver out of the backfield. With so many passes being thrown to Toomer and Shockey, Barber has become more of an after-thought in the passing game. I think Tiki needs to have a bigger role here this weekend and the Giants need him to respond appropriately.

What will be decisive is the turnover battle. The Eagles thrive on turnovers. The Giants can’t afford to play it too conservatively (don’t confuse great Eagle defense with Giant offensive conservativeness either), but the Giants must hold onto the football. No interceptions. No fumbles.

Lastly, we come to the offensive line. This is the other big line of scrimmage battle. This unit, along with the tight ends and backs, has done a good job of picking up the blitz in recent weeks, but the Eagles probably have the most complicated blitz packages in the NFL. And they also have very good players. The Eagles lead the league in sacks (55) and 3rd down defense (29.9 percent). That is a function of the pass rush. LT Luke Petitgout will have his hands full with Pro Bowl DE Hugh Douglas. DT Corey Simon is a nightmare to block and beat-up RG Jason Whittle will need help. That will make it easier for the Eagles to blitz up the gut. N.D. Kalu is a dangerous situational pass rusher. The Giants will need one of their best pass blocking effort of the season. They can also aid their own cause by being more aggressive and physical in the run blocking department for Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne.

“I think one thing this defense does, or doesn’t do, is give up big plays,” Collins says of the Eagle defense. “Usually, you see a defense and they give up a big play some of the time. These guys, you just don’t see anybody get past them. Obviously, their secondary is playing great. They are athletic. Their linebackers are making plays all over the field. Their defensive line is probably the most improved part of their defense. There is not a weakness on this defense. You have to be patient. You can’t expect to get a lot of big plays. You just have to be patient and put some drives together.”

The Eagles are the best team in the NFL. They play football in a consistently domineering fashion and their record proves it. I expect them to be Super Bowl champions in a month. The Giants will need their best effort on Saturday to beat them.

Dec 252002
New York Giants 44 – Indianapolis Colts 27

Game Overview: The Giants dominated this game from start to finish. Things were a lot closer than they should have been at halftime (due to two untimely fumbles) and in the 4th quarter (due to defensive and special teams letdowns). But the Giants controlled the line of scrimmages and the tempo of the game. What was particularly impressive was the intensity that they played with – it was obvious that they were taking this game much more seriously than the Colts despite the fact that the Colts needed to win the game as well for their own playoff hopes. Love, hate, or feel indifferently to Head Coach Jim Fassel, but this team has played hard for him in every game this season. Looking around the League, there are not many teams who play hard for their coaches during the course of an entire 16-game schedule.

What impressed me most defensively was the Giants’ defense against the run, led by the linebackers; the play of CB Will Allen against WR Marvin Harrison until late in the game; and the Giants’ ability to handle the audibles by Peyton Manning and the no-huddle offense. Offensively, you can’t ask for more than 44 points and 6 touchdowns. The Giants scored a touchdown on EVERY offensive possession in the second half of the game. QB Kerry Collins was practically flawless, WR Amani Toomer dominated, the offensive line didn’t give up a sack, and TE Jeremy Shockey continues to present problems for opposing defenses. It still baffles me how the Giants are being this productive on offense in recent weeks despite having no wide receiver threat opposite of Toomer. Fassel is doing a great job of moving Toomer, Shockey, and Barber around to create mismatches. Fassel was also particularly aggressive with some play calls in this game such as the flea flicker to start the second half, the 3rd-and-1 play-action pass to FB Charles Stackhouse, and the decision to throw on 3rd-and-11 with just over 4 minutes left in the game. All three plays were higher risk plays that resulted in touchdowns.

Special Teams: What is getting somewhat worrisome is that the kick-off coverage, which had been improving throughout the season, has now taken a step backwards for the second week in a row. The Colts are not renowned for their return game, yet there were far too many good returns given up. Playing inside a dome this week, Matt Bryant was better on his kick-offs (to the 5, 10, 5, 3, 9, 13, 2, and 4), but not real strong. Colt returns went for 23 (Johnnie Harris making the tackle), 27 (Kevin Lewis and Ralph Brown), 24 (Kato Serwanga), 48 (holding brought this back to the 28), 33 (DeWayne Patmon), 25 (Johnnie Harris), 21 (Wes Mallard), and 28 (Kevin Lewis). The Giants need to get better here again fast.

Bryant kicked a 20-yard field goal, but missed an extra point. Chris Bober’s snap was wide on the play, but I thought Allen did a good job of getting the ball down in time for Bryant.

The Giants only punted three times…all three coming in the first half. Matt Allen’s punts all had good hang-time, but only the last had good distance (33, 34, and 49 yards). None were returned. The first fair catch was forced by Nick Greisen and Charles Stackhouse and the latter two fair catches were caused by Tony Simmons.

Delvin Joyce only had two chances to return a punt and both of these ended up being fair catches. The Giants blocked the first punt (Marcellus Rivers). The second punt was a touchback. The Giants came after the punter on the third punt and consequently there was no blocking and Joyce called for a fair catch. The fourth punt went out-of-bounds. The fifth was a pooch punt that was fair caught. The sixth punt landed inside the 10 and wasn’t fielded (Ralph Brown almost made a horrible play by accidentally touching the ball).

The Giants’ kick-off game was not real good this week. Daryl Jones managed returns of 20 and 18 and Delvin Joyce managed returns of 23 and 25 yards. Joyce fumbled away one onside kick and recovered another.

Defensive Line: Just a so-so game for this group. Aside from a few pass pressures, the defensive line never applied much heat against Manning. Part of this had to do with his short pass drops and quick release. The Giants had two sacks; both from Kenny Holmes (6 tackles, 2 sacks). But the first was a coverage sack and on the second he was unblocked. Where the line did a decent job was keeping opposing blockers off of the linebackers. This allowed the Giants to completely shut down Indianapolis’ running game.

Michael Strahan (3 tackles) and Dhani Jones got good pass pressure on the flea flicker attempt by Manning on Indy’s third offensive play. Two plays later, Cornelius Griffen (7 tackles) and Michael Barrow stopped a screen pass in the backfield for a 4-yard loss. On the next drive, Griffin tackled Edgerrin James in the backfield for a 1-yard loss and then demonstrated his athleticism by making a tackle in coverage. On the next drive, Strahan helped to force an incompletion on 3rd-and-9 by pressuring Manning. Griffen got pressure on Manning on the play where Dhani Jones picked him off. In the 2nd quarter, Strahan and Griffen combined to nail James right at the line of scrimmage. Later, Strahan got another good pressure on Manning, but the ball was completed. At the end of the half, both ends made great run plays during a goal line stand. First, Strahan came down the line to tackle James Mungro and save a touchdown. Then on the very next play, Holmes did the same thing from his end.

In the second half, Strahan and Brandon Short combined to hold James to a 1-yard gain. On the 3rd-and-1 play right before the Giants stopped the Colts on 4th-and-1, DT Lance Legree (2 tackles) help to hold Mungro short of the first down. DE Byron Frisch got burned on a WR-reverse at the end of the 3rd quarter. There was not enough pressure on Manning in the second half from both the starters and the back-ups.

Linebackers: This was probably the strongest combined effort from this group all year as all three starters made plays defending both the run and the pass. SLB Brandon Short (8 tackles, 1 interception) was very noticeable. On the first series, he disrupted the blocking scheme on a run off left tackle that went nowhere. Two series later, he made a nice open field tackle on WR Marvin Harrison after a short completion. In the 3rd quarter, he did a good job of covering James out of the backfield and holding him to a 1-yard gain. Two plays later, he nailed James along with Strahan at the line of scrimmage. Three plays later, on 4th-and-inches, Short shot a gap and tackled Mungro for a 1-yard loss. This was a huge play in the game. Later in the quarter, Short did a superb job of covering the athletic TE Marcus Pollard on a pass down the middle into the end zone. When the Colts scored a touchdown on their next drive, it was Short who tackled Mungro short of the end zone on the 2-point conversion attempt. Short ended the Colts’ last scoring drive by intercepting Manning.

Michael Barrow (6 tackles) made an impact as well. But just as important as the plays he made on the field was his largely successful effort to direct defensive traffic and make defensive audibles against Manning & Company. Barrow matched wits with Manning all day and came up the champion for three quarters. As for the plays he made: On the first series, he combined with Griffen to tackle James in the backfield on a screen pass. On the Colts’ second series, Barrow tackled James for no gain on a run off left tackle. Barrow had decent coverage on Pollard on a 2nd quarter pass play, but Manning threw a perfect pass that was completed for a 40-yard gain. In the 3rd quarter, Barrow made two excellent plays against James out of the backfield. First he sniffed out a middle screen pass that fell incomplete. Then he was in James’ face on a swing pass that was dropped.

Dhani Jones (4 tackles, 1 interception) came down with his first interception of the season. He got heat on Manning on a blitz early in the game and looked like a much faster player on the artificial turf. A lot of Manning’s passing attempts were foiled by Jones in coverage. You could see him looking in the direction that Jones was dropping and then going to his secondary receiver. Jones was a factor on the 3rd-and-1 play right before the failed 4th-and-1 gamble by the Colts (he and Legree combining to make the tackle).

Kevin Lewis, who for some reason was in the game on the first defensive play of the game for Michael Barrow, nailed James at the line for no gain.

Defensive Backs: This group really did a number on the high-powered Colts’ passing game until the 4th quarter. Very impressive when you consider that Will Peterson was out of the line-up. The star was CB Will Allen (6 tackles) who really kept All-Star Marvin Harrison under control until one drive in the 4th quarter. Harrison’s numbers look far more impressive than they really were. Harrison caught quite a few short passes, but didn’t make the killer play down the field as he has time and time again against so many opponents. I saw Allen give up plays of 11, 3, 11, 8, and 7 yards. Every thing in Harrison’s direction was either covered, incomplete, or short. The only time Allen faltered was on a 4th quarter drive where he gave up two big pass plays: a 24-yarder and a 25-yarder for a touchdown, cutting the score to 37-20.

CB Jason Sehorn (1 tackle) did a decent job until the 4th quarter as well. On the third play of the game, Sehorn stayed deep with Qadry Ismail, thwarting a flea flicker. Sehorn got a big hit on James on a 3rd-and-10 pass that was completed, but failed to wrap up James and bring him down. On the next series, he was playing far too soft on a 14-yard completion to Ismail. In the 3rd quarter, Sehorn came darn close to intercepting a deep sideline pass to Harrison that Sehorn did knock away. Later on the drive however, Sehorn got beat over the middle for 9 yards on 3rd-and-6. Up until that point, Sehorn was playing very well. However, he gave up a 19-yard completion to WR Reggie Wayne on the drive where Allen struggled. Then after the Colts recovered the onside kick, Sehorn got beat badly down the middle of the field by Wayne for a 40-yard touchdown pass that cut the score to 37-27.

Ralph Brown wasn’t exposed in coverage, but was forced to leave the game with a concussion after a big hit on Ismail after a short completion. Reggie Stephens was flagged for an 11-yard pass interference penalty.

Shaun Williams (2 tackles) got a hit on Mungro on the 3rd-and-1 attempt that was held to no gain where Jones and Legree cleaned up. But both Williams and Omar Stoutmire (5 tackles) looked very confused on the 21-yard seam pass for a touchdown to Wayne in the 4th quarter. Johnnie Harris was right with the tight end on a 3rd-and-5 throw that fell incomplete in the 2nd quarter.

Quarterback: You can’t argue with perfection and that is what Kerry was on Sunday (a perfect 158.3 QB rating). He went 23-of-29 (and two of those passes were dropped and I would argue another should have been caught by Shockey) for 366 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. Collins was obviously very, very accurate. His pass protection was superb, but a lot of potential sacks are also averted by Collins due to his ability to get rid of the ball with pressure in his face. A few of the stand out plays include: a 13-yard out to Amani Toomer on 3rd-and-7 on the first touchdown drive; a picture perfect, incredibly accurate deep throw on the 82-yard flea flicker to Toomer for a touchdown; a wonderfully-thrown touch pass to FB Charles Stackhouse out of the backfield on 3rd-and-1 for an 18-yard touchdown; a 17-yard, strong throw to Jeremy Shockey despite pressure causing Collins to throw off his back foot; a 9-yard slant to Toomer on 3rd-and-8 on the fourth touchdown drive; a 10-yard completion to Toomer on 3rd-and-8 on the fifth scoring drive; a 21-yard touchdown pass to Toomer on the same drive; and a 27-yard touchdown pass on the next drive. An All-Pro effort.

Wide Receivers: Talk about All-Pro efforts. WR Amani Toomer, who apparently is the only healthy viable receiver on the roster and the focus of constant attention by opposing defenses, came up with an incredible 10 catch, 204 yard, 3 touchdown performance. The big plays are highlighted in the quarterback review. Rather than sulk because he didn’t make the Pro Bowl, Amani made a statement. When he is double-covered, he is still making catches and when he is singled-covered, he’s toying with lesser corners now. He completely turned around the corners on his last two touchdown receptions.

Daryl Jones is embarrassingly quiet. Coaches and players say he is doing well in practice, but aside from the 32-yard pass play against the Skins, he’s not making any plays. He dropped a pass from Collins on a 3rd-and-9 play where the Giants successfully picked up the blitz, but he dropped the ball. Collins didn’t throw in his direction again.

Tight Ends: A big day for Jeremy Shockey (7 catches for 116 yards). The Colts love to run “cover two” in the secondary. (Defensive coverage where both safeties are deep – 12-14 yards off the line of scrimmage. The two cornerbacks are in press coverage while the two safeties prepare to help the corners on passing plays and come forward on running plays). However, this coverage is vulnerable to a quality pass-catching tight end as the Colts found out on Sunday. They were forced to adjust to “cover one” and that’s when Toomer tore them up. (Defensive coverage where the free safety is 12-14 yards deep, the two cornerbacks are in press coverage, and the strong safety is about 5 yards deep over the tight end. Cover one is generally a man-to-man scheme). This is how these two fine players are now complementing each other and creating problems for defenses.

Shockey started the Giants off with a 15-yard completion on a slant. But near the end of the 1st quarter, on a deep pass over the middle that looked like an overthrow from Collins, I thought Shockey mistimed his jump on an accurately thrown pass. Later on the drive, Shockey redeemed himself on TE screen that picked up 24 yards on a play where Shockey ran over the safety (a play reminiscent of his play in the preseason). (Incidentally, Rich Seubert, Chris Bober, and Luke Petitgout all got good blocks on this well-executed screen). Two plays later, Shockey broke two tackles on a quick 10-yard strike to the 4-yard line. Shockey’s big snafu in the game was fumbling his 26-yard strike from Collins on a seam pass late in the 2nd quarter when it looked like the Giants were about to go up 17-0. (Shockey just dropped the ball). In the 3rd quarter, Shockey caught a 19-yarder over the middle unopposed on the third touchdown drive and later came down with a 17-yarder on the fourth touchdown drive.

Dan Campbell continues to be a major factor when run blocking. He got a great block on Barber’s easy 4-yard touchdown jaunt around left end. However, I did see Campbell miss one block at the end of the line on a Dayne run that was stuffed and Campbell still looks uncomfortable to me as the lead blocker from the fullback position. Campbell caught 2 passes for 19 yards including a 12-yarder on 2nd-and-11 where he carried the tackler past the first down marker. Campbell was flagged with a false start.

Running Backs: Tiki Barber (18 carries, 60 yards, 2 touchdowns; 2 catches for 5 yards) really wasn’t that much of a factor except for his two short touchdown runs. Also, Tiki very nearly cost the Giants dearly by fumbling the ball away at the Giants’ own six yard line with 1:25 left before halftime. He also wasn’t able to hold on to a pass from Collins on what looked to be a well-executed screen with plenty of running room. On the positive side, Barber was very sharp on his blitz pick-ups. He had a quality 15-yard run near the end of the 1st quarter behind good blocks from Mike Rosenthal, Jason Whittle, and Stackhouse. In the 3rd quarter, Tiki picked up 9 yards on a draw play where he stiffed armed a linebacker for extra yardage and another 9-yard run around right end behind good blocks from Campbell, Rosenthal, and Whittle.

Ron Dayne (13 carries for 46 yards; 1 catch for 4 yards) was a bit up-and-down. The negative was his inability to pick up a first down on short yardage efforts on 2nd-and-2 and 3rd-and-1 on back-to-back plays in the 2nd quarter. The blocking was not ideal, but Dayne also ran too high on both runs and didn’t bull his way into the line of scrimmage like a big back should. However, on the next drive, Dayne picked up 14 yards on a run around right end behind good blocks from Mike Rosenthal and a pulling Rich Seubert. On the same drive, Dayne did manage to pick up the first down on another short-yardage effort on 3rd-and-1. Late in the game, after the Colts had cut the score to 37-27, Dayne had an important run on the Giants first play as he picked up 16 yards around right end, making a nice cutback on the play.

Stackhouse (1 catch for 18 yards and a touchdown) looked pretty decent as a lead blocker and had that key touchdown reception on 3rd-and-1 in the 3rd quarter.

Offensive Line: The pass protection was near perfect and special praise is in order for both tackles as Luke Petitgout and Mike Rosenthal completely shut down the Colts’ dangerous edge pass rushers. Collins was not sacked and rarely pressured against a team known for its ability to rush the passer.

The run blocking, on the other hand, continues to be spotty at best. Rich Seubert was flagged for holding, but I thought it was bad call. Petitgout was flagged with a false start.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Indianapolis Colts, December 22, 2002)
Dec 202002

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Indianapolis Colts, December 22, 2002: The Colts are 9-5 and have won five out of their last six games including a very impressive 35-13 drubbing of the Eagles in Philadelphia, a 23-20 victory over the Broncos in Denver, and a 28-23 come-from-behind win against the Browns in Cleveland. They are a good football team that is beating other football teams with winning records. The 2002 Giants, on the other hand, have yet to defeat a team with a winning record, though they came close against the 49ers and Titans.

The Giants don’t have much of a shot at the playoffs, but whatever little shot they do have depends on them winning on Sunday in Indianapolis. Lose and the season is most likely officially over.

Giants on Special Teams: Returner Delvin Joyce is really coming into his own, but he is “questionable” with a shoulder injury. He is likely to play, but it is unknown how much the injury will affect his return game or whether another hit will quickly send him to the sidelines. On punt returns, the Giants are still not doing an exceptional job of holding up the opposing gunners; that’s why Delvin is still calling for so many fair catches.

The Giants need much better kick-offs from Matt Bryant, who rested his tired leg some this past week, and better punts from Matt Allen. The last time Bryant kicked in a dome, against Houston, he missed a 33-yard field goal that cost the team the game. Since then, he has kicked exceptionally well.

Let’s hope the Giants can get a big play or two out of their special teams this week – blocking a kick or getting a big return.

Giants on Offense: The defense of the Colts is not exceptional, but they don’t give up a lot of points (18.3 points-per-game) and they have some very good players in the front seven.

This is a game where I think the Giants really need to get their ground game going. Indianapolis has a few players who can really get after the passer, but they are a bit undersized up front and the defensive line has some injuries (all are expected to play). Former Giant Chad Bratzke (6 sacks) has spent time both at left end and left defensive tackle. He’s contending with a leg injury, but is fired up to play against his old team. Bratzke, if you remember, is an all-hustle-type with fine quickness, but he’s not a real stout player against the run. With DT Brad Scioli (shoulder) set to return to left defensive tackle this weekend, Bratzke most likely will be moved back to left end where he will battle RT Mike Rosenthal. Bratzke will be a real challenge for Mike to say the least. The other end is impressive rookie Dwight Freeney (10 sacks and an incredible 7 forced fumbles). Freeney is undersized, but exceptionally quick. With Kerry Collins’ propensity to fumble, Luke Petitgout needs to keep Freeney away from his quarterback. “He’s fast,” Offensive Line Coach Jim McNally says of Freeney, who has 8 sacks in his last 7 games. “He’s like a running back out there.”

Making things tough for the Giants too is that the Colts like to move their defensive linemen around. Sometimes Freeney lines up left with Bratzke on the right. Sometimes Bratzke plays tackle, leaving Scioli (7 sacks) outside. “You never know what you are going to get with us because we like to change it up,” Bratzke says. “I think teams need to be concerned and need to be alerted to what we are doing.”

“They’re going to be the best pass-rush team we’ve seen, no question about it,” McNally says. “I thought Tennessee was going to have the best defensive line we’ve seen because they’re really good, but I think these guys might be (better).”

“We’re going to have to match their speed and intensity,” Rosenthal says. LG Jason Whittle, who has been hampered a great deal with hand and knee injuries, will be another lineman on ths spot. Obviously, a great way to keep a great pass rush off your quarterback is to run the ball. This is what the Giants need to do or they will be in trouble. Tiki Barber got snubbed by Pro Bowl voters so I expect a big week out of him. But the Colts will no doubt look to stop the run first and foremost, then attempt to get after Collins. If I’m Fassel, I cross the Colts up by passing early to get the lead, then hit them later with the running game – just like the Giants did last week against Dallas.

The real play-maker in the Colts’ linebacking corps is Mike Peterson. He’s a fine cover linebacker who also leads the Colts in tackles; most likely will often be lined up on Jeremy Shockey or Barber.

This is a game where the Giants need a great effort from Kerry Collins. He’s been real good at protecting the football in recent weeks and the Giants need that to continue. Collins could really improve his standing around the league if he somehow manages to out-shine Peyton Manning. Protect the football, move the football, and finish drives with touchdowns.

The Colts’ secondary is average at best. It’s too bad that Amani Toomer is the only receiver on the roster doing anything. He got a Pro Bowl snub as well so he should be motivated. Daryl Jones needs to step it up and make some plays. Tony Dungy is a big fan of the 2-deep zone and this is a coverage that a good tight end can exploit. The big worry with Shockey is the artificial turf. Every time he plays on it, he re-aggravates his toe injuries. Shockey needs to cut out the dropped passes, make a game-breaking play or two, and get into the end zone. He only has one touchdown this season and that came in week two.

To me, the offensive keys to this game are Collins and the offensive line. The Giants win if they play well, lose if they don’t.

Giants on Defense: The good news for the Giants is that Edgerrin James doesn’t look like the same back as he used to due to injuries. He’s still a big load however and the Colts will test the Giants’ weakside run defense (Kenny Holmes, Lance Legree, Dhani Jones). The Giants will also see much of reserve James Mungro who has good speed and burned Philadelphia with some explosive runs right up the gut. While contending with Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, the last thing New York needs is for Indianapolis to get its ground game going. My old mantra holds true again – stuff the run, get after the passer.

Up front, Holmes will battle Tarik Glenn, one of the better (and biggest) left tackles in the league. RT Adam Meadowns is a better pass blocker than run blocker. DT Cornelius Griffin faces huge RG Ryan Diem (6-6, 330lbs). LG Rick DeMulling will line up over DT Lance Legree’s head. The Giants need big efforts from all four down linemen, both in terms of stopping the run and getting after Manning. The more the Giants have to bring up support to help these four, the more dangerous the situation against Manning.

Manning is so tough not only because of his physical skills, but because he is such a smart quarterback. The coaches allow him to change the play at the line of scrimmage and he’s so good at reading defenses (and the blitz) that he often burns his opponent with a last second change. This is how he killed the Eagles in Philadelphia. Manning spotted the blitz coming (and the Eagles do a great job of disguising their blitzes) and hit the hot receiver over and over again for huge plays. That’s why the Giants have to be very, very careful with their blitzes and attempt to do a better job of mixing things up than the Eagles did. “We can’t show our hand until we absolutely have to,” says SS Shaun Williams. “We have to play with his head as much as we can. We have to line up like we’re playing one coverage, then switch to another. Sometimes we have to line up in one coverage and stay in it, otherwise our bluffs will not work…We’ll mess with his mind as much as we can, but he’s a hard guy to mess with. He studies a lot of film and knows what he’s doing all the time.”

Now that all said, Manning is also quite capable of stinking up the place on the field. I’ve seen him blow games in the clutch when the pressure is on. The Giants need to play sound pass defense and make everything difficult for him. Make the Colts drive the field, don’t give up any cheap scores. At some point, Manning is likely to screw up. Manning is excellent at seeing the entire field and will hit the open receiver is a guy is left open. Don’t make it easy for him.

Manning will try to fool the Giants. Some of his audibles are fake audibles designed to get the defense to change their set. Some are the real deal. It will be MLB Michael Barrow, who calls the Giants’ defensive audibles, who he will match wits against. And the Colts are using more and more of the no-huddle offense. This makes it difficult for defenses to audiblize. “It puts you more in a stationary defense – not a lot of dog and blitzes and stunts because it’s hard to get all those calls in,” says Fassel.

The other big problem is WR Marvin Harrison, one of the very best (if not the best) receivers in football. Harrison is like a very fast Ike Hilliard with better hands. He’s a great route runner, can get open with his quickness or speed, and can take it to the house on any play. Making things very tough is that Manning and Harrison have a great rapport with each other and they can improvise on the fly. “Harrison is phenomenal,” CB Will Peterson says. “You look at him on film and Peyton Manning obviously know where he’s going to be and Harrison knows when Manning is going to make the throw. It’s going to be a tough challenge for us.”

“Harrison and Manning are on the same page all the time,” says CB Will Allen. “The guy (Harrison) makes plays. Their offense is keyed to him. They get him the ball. That’s it, really. He’s not afraid to go across the middle. He has the speed to stretch the field. He’s a complete receiver all the way around.”

Receivers Reggie Wayne and Qadry Ismail are factors in the passing game as well. Both have more than 40 catches. But the one guy who really worries me is TE Marcus Pollard. He’s not much of a blocker, but he is a threat in the passing game and runs like a big wide receiver. He will put a lot of pressure on the Giants’ coverage schemes. Heaven help the Giants if Pollard is left all alone with Brandon Short.

The Colts will put the ball up in the air a lot. This is the kind of game where Peterson, Allen, Williams, and Omar Stoutmire can really shine. The onus will be on them to make plays.

Dec 182002
New York Giants 37 – Dallas Cowboys 7

Game Overview: This game was over by the end of the first quarter. Dallas lost a heart-breaker the week before against the 49ers and the three touchdowns the Giants put on the board against them in the first 15 minutes of the game took the life right out of them.

It’s important for Giants’ fans to keep this game in perspective. Dallas is not a very good football team. The Giants do not control their own playoff destiny and face a far tougher schedule than the other two NFC Wild Card hopefuls. The Giants will have to beat the Colts in Indy and then defeat the NFL’s best team in the finale to have any hope of making the playoffs.

There are two interesting trends with the Giants. Defensively, Defensive Coordinator Johnnie Lynn continues to use the blitz more and more – even when the Giants had a big lead, Lynn kept coming after them, sometimes leaving single coverage on WR Joey Galloway. Offensively, the Giants offense has become a fairly basic quick-tempo offense without a lot of movement. Fassel is repeating plays more and this is improving execution and creating an offensive identity for the team. The Giants don’t run the ball well straight ahead, but Fassel will spread teams out and use his athletic linemen to position block as the running backs search for holes – often on the backside of the play. It’s pretty darn amazing that the Giants have been as good as they have been on offense lately with only one productive wide receiver in the line-up. That’s a tribute to Fassel and his offensive coaches in designing plays for Amani Toomer, Jeremy Shockey, and Tiki Barber. This is a FINESSE offense that is starting to come into its own. Giants’ fans should not expect a POWER running game from this group – the personnel isn’t there for that. Fans should however appreciate that the Giants are one of the most well-balanced offensive teams in the NFL. They can hurt you with the run and the pass. FINESSE carries a negative connotation; it shouldn’t.

Special Teams: Matt Bryant was perfect on his three field goal attempts from 38, 35, and 31.

Kickoff coverage wasn’t real strong this week, especially early in the game. A contributing factor here were the very short kick-offs by Bryant. His kick-offs landed at the 14 (returned 19 yards to the 33), 12 (returned 33 yards to the 45), 15 (returned 30 yards to the 45), 5 (returned 28 yards – penalty brought this back to the 20), 9 (returned 18 yards – penalty brought this back to the 14), 17 (returned 18 yards to the 35), 7 (returned 20 yards – penalty brought this back to the 13), and 9 (returned 35 yards to the 44). That means Dallas’ average starting field position after a kick-off was almost the 30-yard line…that’s not good.

Making tackles on kick-off coverage were Marcellus Rivers (2), Ralph Brown (2), Delvin Joyce, Charles Stackhouse, Reggie Stephens, Kevin Lewis, and Wesly Mallard.

Matt Allen continues to stink as a punter. To be fair, after a horrible start, he started punting a bit better after Fassel screamed at him on the sidelines. Allen’s punts went for 14, 49, 41, 32, 38, and 23 yards. Returns went for 0 (punt went out of bounds), 10 (Omar Stoutmire making the tackle), 0 (fair catch), -2 (Stoutmire), 0 (fair catch), and 0 (downed). Obviously, punt coverage was good.

Last week, Delvin Joyce broke a big kick-off return; this week he broke off a big punt return. His punt returns went for 17, 5, 0, 8, fair catch, fair catch, 37, and fair catch. The 37-yarder set up the Giants’ final touchdown in the 4th quarter; on the play Wes Mallard made a killer block and Joyce broke two tackles. Ralph Brown is not very good at holding up opposing gunners.

The only kick returned by the Giants was returned by Daryl Jones for 10 yards to the 32 yard line.

The big snafu on special teams was giving up the onsides kick late in the contest. Penalties were also a problem. Kevin Lewis, Dhani Jones, and Reggie Stephens were all flagged with holding.

Defensive Line: The return of DT Cornelius Griffin (1 tackle) continues to make a big difference. While Griffin’s stats don’t reflect it, he was a factor on the pass rush, pressuring QB Chad Hutchinson both inside the pocket and outside when the quarterback scrambled. DE Michael Strahan (2 tackles) did not play in the second half after aggravating a neck injury that looked quite scary as he collapsed on the sidelines. Strahan’s pressure on Hutchinson right before halftime caused the quarterback’s deep pass to Antonio Bryant to be underthrown and easily intercepted by safety Johnnie Harris.

In the first half of the game, I repeatedly saw DE Kenny Holmes (3 tackles, 1 fumble recovery for a touchdown), DT Lance Legree (3 tackles), and DE/DT Frank Ferrara (4 tackles) get effectively blocked at the point-of-attack on running plays. None of these three are very good run defenders and none of them consistently create pass pressure. Holmes did a great job recovering Hutchinson fumble and weaving his way through Giants and Cowboys on a 50-yard scoring run. Legree did do a nice job of playing down the line and allowing Michael Barrow to make a play on the backside against HB Troy Hambrick for a 2-yard loss in the 2nd quarter. Ferrara got a good pass rush from the DT spot late in the 2nd quarter to help force an incompletion on 3rd-and-8.

In the second half, Legree made a couple of plays. On Dallas’ first possession, he clobbered Smith in the backfield for a 2-yard loss (Kenny Holmes also got in on this play). Legree also did a great job (along with Mike Barrow) of reading the screen pass Dallas ran in the 4th quarter to nail that for a 2-yard loss. Ferrara continued to have problems against the run in the second half, but he did get another good pass rush from the tackle spot to force an incompletion on 3rd-and-13. DT Dwight Johnson and Holmes combined to tackle Hambrick in the backfield for a 3-yard loss in the 3rd quarter, but earlier on the drive Johnson and Ferrara got effectively blocked on a 9-yard run.

DE Byron Frisch saw quite a bit of playing time and came up with two sacks in the 4th quarter from the left end spot. One came on a nice inside move; the other he was unblocked. Frisch was not real stout at the point of attack, but he demonstrated fine hustle on two running plays, including one where he got in on the tackle on a sweep to the other side of the field.

Linebackers: MLB Michael Barrow (13 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble) probably played his best game of the season. Michael was all over the field and caused the key play in the game when he blitzed up the middle on Dallas’ second possession to force Hutchinson to fumble. The loose ball was returned by Holmes for a touchdown. On Dallas’ first possession, on 2nd-and-5, Barrow did a great job of playing off a block and chasing Emmitt Smith down on a run around right end. Before his sack on the second possession, Barrow aggressively attacked another play around right end, disrupting the blocking on the play. In the second quarter, Barrow chased down a Hambrick run around left end and tackled the runner for a 2-yard loss. He later had good coverage on Hambrick on a pass over the middle, limiting the gain to 2 yards. Then Johnnie Harris and Barrow held Emmitt to a 2-yard gain on a play where the right-side of the Giants’ DL had slanted too far inside. In the second half, Barrow caused an incompletion with another inside blitz. On the next play, both he and Dhani Jones did a nice job of filling a hole and stuffing Smith.

Brandon Short (4 tackles) got blocked effectively at the point-of-attack on Dallas’ first play (a 5-yard gain by Emmitt Smith). But later in the quarter, he made a heck of a play on 2nd-and-1 when pushed the tackle back into the backfield and blew up a Smith run around left end. This was a huge play as it turned a 2nd-and-1 into a 3rd-and-5 and forced Dallas to punt a play later. The unnecessary roughness penalty called against Short on the sideline hit was a terrible call.

Dhani Jones (6 tackles) was pretty active despite playing on a high ankle sprain. However, Dhani continues to have some problems shedding blocks at the point-of-attack. Dhani either has to shed blocks better or avoid them better. Often, he’s doing neither. At lot of Dallas’ productive runs not only came at the expense of Holmes, Ferrara, and Legree, but also Jones. Jones did a very good job of pressuring Hutchinson to help force an incompletion on a 3rd-and-8 play in the 2nd quarter (the same play where Ferrara got pressure). Dhani was also in Hutchinson’s face with Strahan on the play where the ball was underthrown and intercepted. Dhani’s run defense improved in the 3rd quarter. Jones did a good job of filling one hole along with Barrow and then he did a great job of playing off a block from the tight end and making the tackle at the line of scrimmage. On the next drive, he filled the hole again and then did a nice job covering Galloway on a crossing route and got a hand on the ball to cause an incompletion.

The back-ups saw some playing time in the 4th quarter. I was pretty discouraged when I saw both Wes Mallard and Nick Greisen get easily blocked on a Hambrick run around left end. However, on the next play, Greisen (along with Frisch) held Hambrick to a 1-yard gain around the right side. Later in the drive, Mallard did a good job of shooting a gap and holding Hambrick to another 1-yard gain (Frisch was pursuing from the backside on this play). It looks to me that Mallard’s game is going to have to be based on beating the block, rather than tacking them on. Kevin Lewis had problems at the point-of-attack as well, but he did a nice job in coverage on a few plays in his direction.

Defensive Backs: It was great to have both Wills back in the line-up, but it stunk to see Will Peterson forced to leave so early with a neck stinger. Hutchinson was only able to throw for 161 yards despite the fact that Dallas was playing catch-up from the get-go. Part of this had to do with the ineffectiveness of Hutchinson and the receivers (bad passes, dropped passes), but the Giants also did a good job of covering in the secondary. The Giants did catch a break late in the 2nd quarter when on a play where Lynn decided to rush three, WR Ken-Yon Rambo was left wide open in the zone on 4th-and-8, yet Rambo dropped the ball.

Before he left, Peterson had very good short coverage on an incomplete pass to TE James Whalen in the first quarter. On the very next play, Peterson combined with FS Omar Stoutmire to prevent a first down on a 3rd-and-7 toss around left end that had surprised the rest of the defense. On the play where Peterson was hurt, he got a big hit on a short completion to Whalen.

On Dallas’ third possession, Hutchinson spotted WR Joey Galloway all alone with Will Allen and threw up a deep pass in that direction. However, Allen stayed right with Galloway (and actually had better position on the ball) and knocked the pass away. Allen was beat by Galloway over the middle in the 2nd quarter, but Galloway dropped the ball. Allen lucked out again on the next drive when Galloway got a step on him on a deep post pattern, but Hutchinson overthrew the receiver. Later in the same quarter, Allen had Galloway all alone again and again Hutchinson tossed up a deep ball; Allen had great coverage on him and the pass fell incomplete. On the down side, Allen missed a tackle on a short completion to Galloway right before halftime that turned into a 30-yard reception. But that was Galloway’s only catch of the game. Allen was also a factor in Shaun Williams’ interception as he cut off Galloway from the spot on the field the pass was thrown to. Kudos to Allen for doing a number on Dallas’ most dangerous receiver.

Ralph Brown (4 tackles) was playing too soft on a 14-yard Bryant completion in front of him in the 2nd quarter. He gave up a 12-yard completion in front of him late in the 4th quarter, but that’s when he should have been playing soft with a 37-0 lead. Jason Sehorn (3 tackles), back in his nickel spot, had good coverage on a pass intended for Rambo late in the 2nd quarter. In the 3rd quarter, he got his hand on a ball intended for Bryant over the middle. In the 4th period, Jason did a great job of reading a quick pass to Rambo; he jumped in front of the receiver and was poised to intercept the pass and return it for a TD, but Griffin batted the pass down at the line of scrimmage. Sehorn struggled at right corner late in the game when he first got beat by Reggie Swinton for a 14-yard pass to the Giants’ 10-yard line and then got beat by Bryant for a 9-yard touchdown two plays later. Reggie Stephens got beat over the middle by Rambo for a 23-yard gain on Dallas’ last possession.

Stoutmire (5 tackles) made a heck of a play chasing down the aforementioned 3rd-and-7 toss from his deep safety spot. Shaun Williams (5 tackles, 1 interception) had an active day despite suffering from back spasms. On the play mentioned above where Short shoved the tackle back into the backfield, Williams came up from his strong safety spot to help finish off the play for a 4-yard loss. On the next drive, Williams made a great play by tackling Bryant on a WR-reverse for a 10-yard loss; it was a big play because much of the rest of the defense had been fooled. In the 3rd quarter, he picked off a pass from Hutchinson.

Johnnie Harris (2 tackles, 1 interception) played quite a bit, including in the first half when Williams was ailing. He nailed Smith near the line of scrimmage on a safety blitz. On Dallas’ last drive before the half, he made an outstanding open field tackle on Joey Galloway, perhaps saving a touchdown. Three plays later, he intercepted an underthrown pass near the goal line.

Quarterback: Kerry Collins (13/27 for 190 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions) was very effective early, missed some chances later, then sat down for the day. Collins set the tone on the Giants’ opening drive as the Giants came out throwing, going a methodical 4-for-6. He hit Daryl Jones for 12 yards. Then he side-stepped the rushing end and hit Amani Toomer in the hands, but Toomer couldn’t hold on. Then he passed to Toomer for 14, Toomer for 7, and Tiki Barber for 13. On 2nd-and-goal from the 1-yard line, he slightly overthrew Toomer on a fade pass. On the next offensive possession, Collins’ completed both of his passes, including a beautiful 10-yard out pass to Toomer as he was hit while he was throwing. On the next drive, despite pressure, Collins threw a very good deep pass to Toomer that was completed for 33 yards. Collins then stood tough in the pocket with a blitzing safety about to smash into him and completed a pass to Dan Campbell for 6 yards. However, the Giants had to settle for a field goal on this possession as Collins and Bober botched the snap on 3rd-and-2.

The Giants stayed aggressive on two late possessions in the 2nd quarter, but one of Kerry’s passes was batted at the line of scrimmage, and a poor blitz pick-up by Ron Dayne contributed to a slightly errant pass to Daryl Jones. Toomer then dropped a ball and Barber lost a yard on 3rd-and-1. And Fassel kept it going to start the 3rd quarter. Collins hit Shockey for 17 on the first play of the second half. Then found Barber for a 30 yard catch-and-run. Shockey then dropped the third pass in a row. On 3rd-and-7, Collins just missed connecting with Toomer near the goal line and the Giants settled for a field goal.

Before he was pulled, Collins got a little sloppy. A blitz forced him to rush a throw that was errantly thrown to Shockey and hit S Roy Williams in the back. And Collins threw two passes that should have been picked off, but both were dropped (though to be fair, on the former, it was a free play as the Cowboys had jumped offsides). Collins threw a perfect deep strike to Amani Toomer that was completed for 29 yards (and if the refs had not screwed up by blowing the whistle prematurely, it should have been a 66-yard touchdown pass). However, on the next play, Collins badly overthrew an open Toomer over the middle.

Jesse Palmer (3/4 for 30 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions) saw his first regular season action as a Giant. His first pass was completed to FB Charles Stackhouse over the middle for 10 yards on 2nd-and-7. A 2nd-and-11 throw to Daryl Jones was thrown in the dirt. On 3rd-and-11, he did a great job of getting rid of the ball quickly in the face of a blitz and hit Dan Campbell for 14 yards and a first down. On 1st-and-goal from the 9, his pass to Toomer was off the mark, but Toomer made a great adjustment and came down with the reception. On the next play, Ron Dayne scored to increase the Giants lead to 37-0.

Wide Receivers: Amani Toomer (6 catches for 99 yards) has really, really stepped up his game. Long-time readers know that for years I’ve been calling for Toomer to make plays when he was either covered by the opponent’s best corner or double-teamed. And that’s exactly what Amani is doing now. It’s absolutely incredible that the Giants are moving the ball through the air as Toomer the only wide receiver on the field who concerns the defense. Toomer caught two passes on the Giants’ first scoring drive and craftily created separation by pushing off in the end zone on the overthrown pass from Collins. At the beginning of the 2nd quarter, he caught a 33-yard deep pass, setting up the first field goal in the game. In the 3rd quarter, he made a spectacular, one-handed grab of a 29-yard deep pass from Collins. Toomer wasn’t touched and had the presence of mind to get up and run another 37 yards for the touchdown, but the refs screwed up and blew the whistle too soon. In the 4th quarter, Toomer made another great catch – this time on a pass thrown behind him and too high from Jesse Palmer for 6 yards down to the 3-yard line. My only criticism is that he dropped two balls that hit him in the hands. They were tough catches, but I thought he should have had them.

The Giants need more productivity from the other receivers. Daryl Jones caught the first pass of the game from Collins for 12 yards, but was shut out after that. He had a chance for a big play in the 2nd quarter, but an intermediate strike on a slant was slightly thrown behind him. Derek Dorris has been the Giants’ third receiver for a few games now and he still doesn’t have reception.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey (3 catches for 28 yards) had a very quite game as a receiver, but he really had a good game in the blocking department. More and more, the Giants are becoming comfortable leaving him alone to block the defensive end on outside running plays (like the Giants do with Dan Campbell). Both Shockey and Campbell got great blocks on Ron Dayne’s easy 4-yard touchdown run in the 1st quarter. Dan Campbell had 2 catches for 20 yards, nearly matching Shockey’s productivity. Shockey had a nice 17-yard reception on the first drive of the second half, but then dropped a pass to help stall the drive.

There was one poorly designed play where Marcellus Rivers was called upon to block a defensive end all by himself in pass protection. Collins was under immediate pressure and the pass was thrown incomplete on 3rd-and-3.

Offensive Line: An excellent all-around game. The line gave up no sacks (though part of that is due to Kerry Collins’ ability to get rid of the ball quickly) and Barber and Dayne gained 161 yards on the ground combined. This is not a smash-mouth group that gets a lot of movement at the point-of-attack (though they did some of that against Dallas this week), but they are pretty good athletes who angle and position block better and better as they gain experience. Probably the guy who had the roughest time out there was RT Mike Rosenthal, who was hampered by injury. He got beat a couple of times on the pass rush and Dayne may have a bigger run on one of his carries in the 2nd quarter had he sustained his block longer. He also missed a block on a Dayne run in the 3rd quarter that would have picked up more yardage. Rich Seubert was flagged for holding and Jason Whittle for a false start.

It is interesting to note that the Giants used OC Omar Smith as a blocking tight end down on the goal line this week. He got a good block on Tiki Barber’s 3rd-and-goal touchdown run.

Running Backs: Tiki Barber didn’t have a lot of carries (11), but he did a lot of damage (81 yards, 1 touchdown). Tiki is playing the best football of his life as a runner and he credits it due to his increased patience as a ball carrier. Tiki’s most productive runs come on cutbacks. Fassel has realized this and is calling for more plays where the offense spreads out the defense and allows Tiki to pick his spots with more open field to work with. Five of the Giants’ first six plays were pass plays designed to get the defense to back off the line of scrimmage. Even the sole running play came on a play where the Giants’ OL were in a pass blocking set (love it). After the first six plays, Tiki then ran for 8 yards around left end, 4 yards up the middle, 1 yard up the middle, and 1 yard off left tackle for a touchdown. On the next possession, the Giants simulated a run to the right; Tiki then cut back to the left behind a good block from Luke Petitgout, broke two tackles and sprinted down the left sideline en route to a 60-yard gain. Barber had a very nice 30-yard catch-and-run at the beginning of the second half to help set up a field goal. Tiki’s blitz pick-up on LB Kevin Hardy in the 3rd quarter was lacking and led to an incompletion.

Ron Dayne (19 carries, 80 yards, 2 touchdowns) was pretty good in relief of Tiki. What stood out was that Dayne did a good job of finding and picking his hole, keeping his feet moving, and running with some power after contact. That has not always been the case with him. After Tiki’s 60-yard run in the 1st quarter, Dayne cutback to his left for a 4-yard power run off left guard. On the next play, he ran threw a huge hole for a 4-yard touchdown. Two drives later, Fassel decided to feature Dayne in a big way. Dayne got the ball on five straight carries for 6, 6, 3, 4, and 2 yards. He was pretty impressive on this drive except for on the last run, the 2-yard gain on 3rd-and-3, I thought he missed a big opportunity by not spotting a sizeable hole to his left for what may have been big yardage. (Also, if I were Fassel, I wouldn’t have been in such an obvious run formation given the down and distance in this situation). Later in the 2nd quarter, Dayne wasn’t able to get a good block on the blitzer and this contributed to Collins’ pass to Jones being off-the-mark.

In the second half, Dayne continued to run hard. He had two tough back-back-runs off left guard in the 3rd quarter for 5 and 8 yards. Then the Giants’ last touchdown drive of the game in the 4th quarter, Dayne carried the ball for 2, 10, 3, 5, -1, and 3 yards. On the -1 run, Petitgout missed his block. On the other runs, including the 3-yard touchdown run, Dayne demonstrated fine power.

Charles Stackhouse did a pretty good job as a lead blocker this week on the plays where I kept an eye on him. He had one catch for 10 yards.

One of Those Beautiful Days

by David Oliver

You know the kind I’m talking about; the days when the NY Giants unleash all the potential and just wallop some team that needs it. It happens every couple of years, last being the shellacking of the Vikings. Of course, it doesn’t get better than plastering the Redskins, the Cowboys or the Eagles. In this year of wondering greatly, the Giants have 8 wins thus far, 2 each against the Cowboys and the Redskins. A split with the Eagles won’t be so bad if the Giants can get past Indianapolis this Sunday.

There were several highlights in the Cowboy game, including a decent lead in time of possession, a very nice difference on the scoreboard, a continued improvement in the Red Zone (50%) and Goal-to-Go (100%) efficiency, the running of the Great Dayne, the appearance of Jesse James Palmer, the instrumental play of a number of substitutes, a crazed performance by Michael Barrow, and another decent outing by KC (not wonderful as he did drop one, was not as sharp as last week and had a rating of only 71.5 – we have high standards here at BBI, you know). Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement, as the third down efficiency remained a woeful 18%, the kickoffs are a little short and the punting, well the punting is, uh, not good.

The running game is coming along nicely. Ron Dayne got some extended playing time and responded with a 19-for-80 night; he ran hard, he ran smart, he got into the end zone twice. Tiki was Tiki with 11 for 81, with the damage done by his 60 yard sprint down the sidelines. The young offensive line appears to be coming into it’s own. There are some holes now opening reminiscent of the first year with Parker. The holes are on both the right and left sides, which indicates a lot of improvement by Mike Rosenthal, and more quality by Jason Whittle than many on BBI are willing to recognize. This game is not to be taken lightly. Dallas has a defensive front seven, which, although not as big as the Redskins, is considerably faster. Watching these guys warm up, I thought our offensive line would have a lot of trouble. Ellis, Glover and Ekuban are no scrap heap players and Coakley and Nguyen are fast backers, with Roy Williams bringing some hit to the secondary. The backers and safety accounted for 22 tackles; the front four had 13. The Giants were able to exploit the speed of the front four by pushing the ends out and containing the middle. Glover received kudos from the Giants O line – how did New Orleans ever let him get away?

It was interesting to watch this game unfold as many of the BBI mantras came to be: play Dayne, come out aggressive, use an aggressive defense, pound the ball in the red zone – so who says we don’t know what we are talking about? The Giants scored so early, so fast that the Cowboys went into shock and didn’t recover until the 2 minute warning in the game. At that point, they realized Coach Campo wasn’t coming back and probably realized a lot of them would be leaving on the same train. In truth this was a game pitting a group of under-achievers (Cowboys) with a lot of talent, against a group of over-achievers (Giants) with suspect, or young talent. It turned out to be a no-contest, which leads to some off the board contemplation.

Let’s look at the game in the context of some pressing questions.

Is there any form taking shape to the Coaching scenario: Is Coach Fassel a good Coach, a mediocre Coach, better as a Coordinator? There is no conclusive answer here, yet. Great Coaches are apparently measured by a surplus of Ws. Coach Fassel is headed in the right direction, but last year’s record is a handicap. One thing is certain, the Dallas game ensured that he will not have another losing season this year. Conceivably, these Giants could go 8-8, the old kissing your sister thing, but that is better than 7-9 or 6-10. Compared to Coach Campo, whose talented team does not seem to be responding, Coach Fassel appears to be getting the most from his players. There is always a reticence in the locker room to openly discuss any Coach, so it is unlikely that any reporter will get a good Coach, bad Coach answer to a direct question. What I have gleaned from my conversations with the players is that there may have been some early season frustration with the lack of aggressiveness in the offensive scheming, but even that was tempered by the acknowledgment that the players were not executing. The flip side of that coin is that after a good game, as the last 2 weeks, the players are Spartan in their comments on the positive side, preferring to say things such as, “we did our jobs”, “guys stepped up”, “all three teams executed like it was planned”. Implicit in those comments is the acknowledgment that the Coaches, as a collective group, had the team prepared. To a person, what the players will say is that Coach Fassel is professional, he treats them as professionals, and his message is that whoever is on the field, he expects them to do the job. There is a sub-theme here in that Coach Fassel and his staff are making it fun, or keeping the fun in the game for these players, which is an important ingredient, not to be taken lightly.

My own assessment is largely irrelevant. Of course, I am more generous in recognition following a victory, particularly a lop-sided smashing of a rival. I am less inclined to be generous after a devastating loss, often occasioned by close to the vest, play not to lose, passive-aggressive Coaching. I have seen the man, like some Presidents, age faster than he should. This is not an easy job and we are not easy fans to mollify. To all appearances, he is a decent guy. When he is relaxed, he has an easy-going, almost playful manner. When tense, well, if looks could kill, three quarters of the NY Media would be underground. He has his favorites, but who doesn’t; he is a somewhat diffident disciplinarian, often seeming to pick on lesser players. This year he seemed to develop a little “it’s not my fault” attitude, but he got over that quickly enough.

Similar to Coach Mariucci, he is being measured in the wake of a legend. Coach Walsh on the left coast, St. Bill in NY. And it is tough to wear a legend’s boots. Should Coach Fassel stay in NY as long as Shula was with the Dolphins or Noll with the Steelers, we will probably look at his tenure as the Golden Age of Giants football. But that won’t happen. If I can see the aging, his wife surely can. What I can envision is Coach Fassel heading elsewhere, of his own volition. Should Arizona make him an offer, well, the desert climate is mighty attractive; and 8 wins in a year would not be considered a defeat. In fact, a couple of trips to the playoffs would make him a celebrity. NY is a challenge; if you have an ego, it is a lesson in deflation; it is physically and mentally wearing, not to say emotionally. Even St. Bill packed it in twice. So let’s wait until the off-season and revisit this question.

Did the Dallas game shed any light on the operations end? I have never been a fan of the GM. I think he simply has no handle on the salary cap and his drafts are crap shoots. Having said all that, when you look at what he has done this year in picking up players who have been released by others or out of the game, he hasn’t done badly. Compare him to GM Butler and he looks like an average football man; compare him to Jerry Jones or Brown, or Snyder and Co., he looks like a blooming genius. His dogged pursuit of Penn State Alums brought Brandon Short and Kerry Collins, but also Bob Jones. His insistence on KC is akin to George Young favoring Dave Brown; of course, one was pathological, the other just, well, questionable. I think the offseason will shed some light here also. Luke Pettigout will be a difficult signing, and we all know how EA feels about offensive linemen; will he have enough money to go into the free-agent market; and this is an important draft year for him. Win or lose, EA, like Allie Sherman, will always stick in my mind as the man who jettisoned Jessie Armstead, just as Allie did with Sam Huff.

How about the question of talent? Are the Giants talented, semi-talented, or mediocre? In light of the Dallas game, we can have some interesting debate here. Dallas is a “talented” team, or a “talent-laden” team. A huge offensive line, Emmitt Smith, a defense chock full of prominent names, and now, finally, a promising QB. They have been beaten twice this year by a team that even John Madden called mediocre. Yet, the fact is that the Giants do have a POTENTIALLY devastating offense. Barber, Dayne, Shockey and Toomer are excellent skill players. The QB is somewhat enigmatic, seemingly unable to come up big for big games, but statistically sound. The defense has Strahan and Barrow, two up-and-coming corners, a safety who appears to be coming into his own, a developing strongside linebacker. Almost every player on the field on the defensive side of the ball made a contribution against Dallas, led by Barrow’s 13 tackles and a forced fumble. Jones had 6 tackles, Stoutmire and Williams each 5, and Harris in for Williams 2 more; Short, Frisch, Brown, and Ferrara each had 4 tackles and Sehorn, Holmes, Legree had 3 each. This was good stuff. So, although the team is not talent-laden, it has enough star quality performers to be considered talented. The Super Bowl year got an assist from cast-offs Brown and Parker. This year a large group of unheralded players are stepping up and providing an assist. Frankie Ferrara, Byron Frisch, Ralph Brown, Delvin Joyce, Johnny Harris, Kevin Lewis, all have contributed and appear to be showing more each game. Both the defensive and offensive fronts need some bolstering before this unit will be considered s talented by the mavens. This is within reach if the GM does his stuff.

I talked to a couple of guys in the locker room, and one in particular knocked my socks off. Tony Simmons, a wideout who has not found a place yet started talking and we went on for quite a while. Simmons is an engineer. When I told him I was a lawyer who had worked with a lot of engineers, the conversation went to life outside the locker room. He lit up and told me he wanted to be a construction engineer and he got great joy out of the mechanics of big projects. We talked fiber optics, satellites, right of way pipelines. He was so animated, I had a little laugh to myself. All the enthusiasm of youth, as he went on, I felt pretty good about the future; once again the Giants have uncovered a gem, as a contributor in life, if maybe not as a football player. But we did talk a little football.

I asked him what he thought about the organization and he told me, “They are very classy; they help their players out and do what they’re supposed to do; and the players respond.” I asked him if he was focused and he said, “Very focused. I’m on a team that wants me (this sentiment has been relayed to me by a number of players)…can’t let go…this is it…for me, it’s not like the last straw, BUT, it’s one of those things; it’s a great opportunity, a great team, I like it here and it’s close to my home.”

I next asked him what has been holding him back; that he hasn’t seemed to live up to his potential. His answer: “It’s not that anything held me back. I was young at my position. I came from a school that ran the ball, that’s what we did. I wasn’t a polished receiver; I was a complete receiver in that I could run routes, catch the ball and block, and what I was known for was, really, blocking, because I was a big receiver, but I was still young at my position. As time passed, I got better at route running, then I started understanding the game, just a lot more…so now I see stuff and it’s like ‘that’s why they do this’, and I can pick it up quicker and quicker, and it’s like ‘now I’m understanding this stuff’, but before, I was like a kid, ‘I want to play, I want to play’; now I understand, I’ll grow and mature into the game, now I understand things.”

We went on to discuss his experience in the Euro League and he said, “I really liked it over there. That’s when I really matured. I had to become a leader and I’m not the type of leader, like I’m not out there jumping around telling everybody what to do; I’m just going to do my job, ‘ya’ll see me, that’s what I do.’”

So I asked him, as a newcomer, what does he see in this team. He responded, “Spirit is great. Most people at this time, they get to the point of saying ‘we lost this person, or this linebacker’; some teams, they probably give it up. But this team, it’s like “NO”. Coach Fassel even said it, ‘I don’t care who is out there, they step up, we make plays, we come together as a team, and we win games.’ That’s what you want. You want to be on a team like ‘I don’t care what time it is, I don’t care how many points are on the board, it’s not over until we say it’s over’; right now, that’s our motto, ‘it’s not over until we say it’s over.’”

I specifically asked him, as well as others, if Coach JF had stepped it up. His comments echoed several, so I’ll use his answer as indicative of what has been expressed to me. He said, “He’s stepped it up, like we know what we’re supposed to do, be professional about it and most importantly, have some fun. Sometimes, some coaches, they kind of forget that part. It’s a fun game. It’s still fun for me. I’ve been on teams that take the fun away from the game a little bit because it’s like work, work, work. It’s like wait a minute, I’ll work, but the game is still supposed to be fun. When I went to Europe, the Coaches out there, they made it still fun for me so I wanted to play more and more because it was so much fun. I wanted to go out and practice and have fun. Practice was no big deal to me, it was like ‘when do we go to practice.’ It feels like I’m back into that mode again. It’s fun to just come and play and do your job. I understand it’s a job, but it’s still fun; if the games stay fun for me, I know I can play well.”

This is very much he attitude in this locker room. There are a lot of young guys and it’s important for them to have fun. The coaching staff appears to have found some magic here and is taking the pressure off these kids. I talked to Reggie Stephens and Delvin Joyce and there was more excitement. Reggie told me it’s been interesting because in practice, sometimes he gets his reps, sometimes not, then all of a sudden you are in there. Having been in the system and knowing the nickel, dime and corner has helped him and he plays specials because the coaches know he can play specials well. This week a couple of guys went down and Reggie found himself as the gunner. His assessment – he did a pretty good job, and “all you can do is build from those things.” I asked him about Delvin Joyce and he told me that Delvin is something special. He said, “We block for the guy; we put it on our shoulders to block for him. We hate it when he gets hit; we don’t want him to get hit, not just take a free shot, you have a block and often you have to stay on your block a little longer because Delvin stays alive.” Oh, by the way, Reggie did mention that it “was good to see the offense just go down there and score points.”

I asked Delvin if he was aware of his teammates’ attitude. He smiled and said, “Yes, I rely on help from my teammates. There are 11 guys on the field, the same guys.” He said that everybody was coming together and the attitude is “they take care of me, I’m going to reciprocate by trying to make something happen.”

There you have it. A very big win over Dallas. A very satisfying two week stretch. Say what you will, I’ll take those 2 wins anytime. Now, if they can somehow get 2 more…

(Box Score – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, December 15, 2002)
Dec 132002

Approach to the Game – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, December 15, 2002: I’m trying hard not to get my hopes up, but it’s difficult. My head tells me the Giants’ playoff hopes are for all intents and purposes dead. However, my heart keeps saying, “The Giants could win the next two games and Philly could lose to their divisional rivals Washington and Dallas, setting up a winner-take-all season finale between the Giants and Eagles.” I see this as a more viable option than the Giants catching Atlanta or New Orleans for the last Wild Card spot because of the powder puffs those two teams play. Is it likely this scenario can happen? Hell no. But I can dream.

But lets not get ahead of ourselves. First things first. The Giants have to beat Dallas. That is NEVER easy. Dallas plays good special teams, has a very good defense, and an improving offense. In recent years, Giants-Cowboys games have always been close battles right down to the finish. The Giants have beaten Dallas 4-out-of-the-last-5 games, but all have been nail-biters.

And keep in mind, despite the fact that the Giants are getting some injured players back, they are still without Ike Hilliard, Ron Dixon, Tim Carter, Keith Hamilton, Dusty Zeigler, and possibly Will Allen and Dhani Jones. The injuries to the receiving corps really limit the offense.

Giants on Special Teams: Close games are often decided by special teams and Dallas has one of the best special teams coaches in the business. Rookie kick returner Woody Dantzler returned a kickoff for a touchdown last week. The speedster Joey Galloway is now returning punts for Dallas. Both players are obviously threats to go all the way. The Giants will need high and deep kicks from Matt Bryant and Matt Allen as well as solid coverage across the board.

Delvin Joyce is getting close to breaking one. Let’s do it this week guys!

Giants on Offense: The problem for the Giants is that the Cowboys have athletic coverage men at linebacker and safety to cover TE Jeremy Shockey and HB Tiki Barber. Weakside linebacker Dexter Coakley is perhaps the best cover linebacker in the NFL and an outstanding player. Rookie safety Roy Williams is a star in the making and is coming on. He will likely be lined up on Shockey much of the day and he personally feels that covering Shockey won’t be a problem for him. He may be right. MLB Dat Nguyen is a mobile, high effort player and SLB Kevin Hardy is a good player. This is a strong set of linebackers. They will also make it very tough for the Giants to run wide – which unfortunately is the strength of the Giants’ running game (outside runs with Tiki Barber). Dallas linebackers will be able run and chase Barber and beat the blockers to the point-of-attack. New York will not be able to make a living off of these outside runs.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that the Giants’ offense doesn’t match up well with the Cowboys’ defense. The Giants are a finesse running team and the ideal way to attack Dallas is with a power running game. With the offensive line not being strong drive blockers and Ron Dayne an afterthought, that option is out the window.

The Giants will have to attempt to grind it out at Dallas and hope that Petitgout, Seubert, Bober, Whittle, Rosenthal, Campbell, Shockey, and Stackhouse can get the job down at the point-of-attack. Whittle faces the toughest test as he will be playing against DT La’Roi Glover (6.5 sacks). Rosenthal will battle DE Greg Ellis who also has 6.5 sacks. But a big key will be the ability of the blockers to get out and sustain blocks on the speedy, mobile linebackers of Dallas. That won’t be easy.

Dallas’ right cornerback is Mario Edwards, a good press corner who will most likely line up on WR Amani Toomer much of the day. Daryl Jones will get a break this week as he will face rookie CB Derek Ross. This would be a good time for a breakout game by Jones. The Giants also need to start getting some production out of Derek Dorris or Tony Simmons.

The onus will be on Kerry Collins to perform. He can be the difference in this game if his accuracy is on.

Giants on Defense: The good news is that the Giants may be getting some reinforcements back in the form of CB Will Peterson, CB Will Allen (maybe), and MLB Michael Barrow. That will help. If both corners can play, Sehorn will move back to his normal nickel back role.

If I’m Dallas, I run, run, run at New York. The front seven is going to have to buckle down and take on the power running game. This will be man-on-man, macho stuff up front. DE Kenny Holmes, DT Lance Legree, and WLB Dhani Jones/Kevin Lewis will be the obvious targets. Holmes will face LT Flozell Adams, who weighs almost a 100 pounds more than Holmes. Lance Legree didn’t play much last week due to injuries and hasn’t been a factor in most games. The good news is that he will be facing journeyman LG Ross Tucker. DE Michael Strahan will battle RT Solomon Page and DE Cornelius Griffin will face RG Andre Gurode, a rookie, but a strong guy who can maul people in the running game. The Giants will have to play a physical, aggressive game up front; play with leverage and get off blocks quickly. Good efforts from Brandon Short and Michael Barrow will be necessary to stop the run.

This might be the last time the Giants face HB Emmitt Smith. Smith is slowing down, but as he demonstrated on Thankgiving Day, he is still capable of hurting a defense. He will likely be spelled quite a bit by Troy Hambrick, the guy who will take over his job next season. Hambrick is a bigger and faster back, but lacks Smith’s savvy.

When Dallas puts the ball up, they have some decent players to throw to. WR Joey Galloway is a speedster has given Will Allen problems in the past. Rookie WR Antonio Bryant is an athlete with good hands. Receivers Ken-Yon Rambo and Reggie Swinton can run; WR Darnay Scott is a solid veteran back-up. Linebacker coverage on tight ends Tony McGee and James Whalen will be important as well as the backs out of the backfield.

Chad Hutchinson is Dallas’ new quarterback. He’s your typical pocket passer with a strong arm. Chad is playing better each week and it will be important for the Giants to get pressure on him and force him to make some mistakes. Chad is especially dangerous on play-action – the Giants need to be wary of that.

Dec 112002
New York Giants 27 – Washington Redskins 21

Game Overview: My hats off to the Giants’ starters, the back-ups, and the coaching staff for putting together a solid effort despite losing two tough games in a row and confronting an almost impossible injury situation. Heck, at one point, CB Kato Serwanga, who was signed only days earlier, was playing an instrumental role in the defense when nickel back Reggie Stephens was forced to leave the game due to injury.

The most remarkable thing was the number of big plays made by the back-ups. Serwanga, CB Ralph Brown, LB Kevin Lewis, LB Nick Greisen, and WR Daryl Jones all made big plays at key moments in the contest. The Giants also received excellent efforts from veterans such as QB Kerry Collins, HB Tiki Barber, WR Amani Toomer, DT Cornelius Griffin. If it wasn’t for the poor punting and kick-offs, the special teams unit would be in very good shape.

Was the play of the back-ups perfect? No way. In fact, there were some down moments for all of the defensive players I mentioned (more on that in a bit). But for these guys to come in and contribute in a key divisional game on the road was pleasantly unexpected.

Special Teams: Punting continues to remain a problem. Matt Allen is just not getting it done. Often his punts have good hang-time (though the last effort was a dangerous line-drive with the Giants holding onto a 6 point lead with just over a minute to play). His punts went for 21 yards, 36 yards (7 yard return, tackle by Omar Stoutmire), 42 yards (7 yard return, Charles Stackhouse), 33 yards (1 yard return, Stoutmire), 30 yards (muffed fair catch – Nick Greisen down in a hurry), 36 yards (fair catch – Kato Serwanga down in a hurry), and 34 yards (11 yard return – solid coverage all around on a line drive punt). It is sad when a 40-yard punt by your punter is considered a “good kick”.

Matt Bryant was two of three on field goal attempts. His two good kicks were from 42 and 35; he missed from 37. The latter could have proved costly in what became a 6-point game. More distressing is his short kick-offs on a day when the weather was not a problem. Kicks landed at 11, 6, 10, 13, 20 (horrible), and the 13. Kick returns went for 22 yards (Johnnie Harris making the tackle), 33 yards (DeWayne Patmon), 25 yards (Wes Mallard and Quincy Monk), 25 yards (Marcellus Rivers and Ralph Brown), 15 yards (Rivers and Mallard), and 25 yards (Rivers). Not a real strong performance this week by the kick coverage units either.

Delvin Joyce did not return a punt. His kick returns went for 24, 24, 46, and 21 yards. Joyce got great sustained blocks by the kick return unit on his 46-yarder and did a nice job by not going out of bounds and cutting the return back inside for big yardage.

Special kudos to Nick Greisen and Kato Serwanga on Bailey’s muffed punt return. A Redskin actually recovered the ball, but Greisen pulled the arm away from the Redskin at the bottom of the pile and Serwanga successfully fished the ball out. This was a huge play in the game as the Giants had gone 3-and-out right after the Skins had cut the score to 17-14.

Defensive Line: The return of DT Cornelius Griffin (6 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble) from injury had a major impact on the pass rush. Griffin benefited from the fact that he was playing over a journeyman guard, but some of his pressures came against RT Jon Jansen on stunts. On the Skins’ first drive of the game, Griffin sacked QB Danny Wuerffel on 3rd-and-6 coming off such a stunt. This was more of a coverage sack, but at least Griffin got there. Griffin also made what should have been a field goal-saving tackle at the end of the first half when he hustled after the scrambling Wuerffel and kept him in-bounds. But a penalty on Strahan wiped out that effort and enabled the Skins to score their first points of the game. In the 3rd quarter, Griffin sacked Wuerffel again and forced a fumble. The pile drive he put on the quarterback knocked him out of the game and should have warranted a personal foul penalty. Still it was a good play. Later in the same drive, Griffin sacked Patrick Ramsey for an 11-yard sack. Griffin was involved in a few other pass pressures on the day as well. Griffin and Frank Ferrara (who played at DT in this game) did get suckered on a 2nd-and-10 draw play in the 2nd quarter and he was not exceptionally stout at the point-of-attack on running plays, but it was great to see him back in the line-up. It made a big difference.

The other defensive tackle position was not productive at all. Lance Legree (no tackles) started, but Frank Ferrara (no tackles) saw a lot of playing time as well. Ferrara got effectively blocked on most running plays in his direction. Dwight Johnson didn’t play much but made a nice tackle in the hole on the play preceding the Skins’ last turnover of the game.

DE Michael Strahan (4 tackles) did not pick up any sacks, but he was a factor on the pass rush on a few plays. His pass rush on 3rd-and-4 in the 1st quarter forced Jansen to hold him and turn the play into a 3rd-and-14. In the 2nd quarter, Strahan expertly played a draw from the defensive tackle position. But his delay of game penalty a few plays later handed the Redskins 3 points. Michael needs to maintain his composure in such a situation. In the 3rd quarter, LB Brandon Short picked up a sack that Strahan had a big role in as he was the first on the scene to cause Wuerffel to pull the ball down.

Kenny Holmes (no tackles) and Byron Frisch (2 tackles) split time at the right end spot and neither was particularly productive. Holmes got close on a couple of pass rushes, but that was it. Both he and Frisch each lost contain on WR reverses. And Frisch had problems at the point-of-attack on running plays (including the 33-yarder by HB Stephen Davis). Holmes was flagged with an offsides penalty and really overplayed a run to the right and left his side exposed to a cutback on another Davis run for 8 yards.

Linebackers: Let me first focus on the positive. Kevin Lewis (6 tackles, 1 sack) did an admirable job filling in for Dhani Jones on the weakside and seemed to be in the game on almost all downs as a nickel linebacker as well. And he continued to play on the special teams units. That’s a lot of work for a guy who hasn’t played much. Lewis played an aggressive game against the run and made a real nice play near the end of the 1st quarter when he shot the gap and tackled Davis for no gain on 2nd-and-2. He picked up a sack on a 3rd-and-10 play in the 3rd quarter when he was left unblocked on a blitz. I saw him have nice coverage twice – once on the halfback and another time on the tight end.

But the Skins took some advantage of Lewis’ aggressiveness with some misdirection to his side that succeeded (cutbacks, reverses, screen). There were also a few running plays where Lewis couldn’t play off the block quickly enough. Lewis also got beat by the tight end on one 15 yard reception.

Nick Greisen (1 tackle, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery) made a huge play with his forced fumble and fumble recovery when he sacked Wuerffel in the 2nd quarter. And defensive starters said Greisen did a good job of calling the signals and being where he was supposed to be in the game. But Nick had his problems in the running game as I saw him wired to a lot of blocks. With sub-par run defense by players such as Frisch, Ferrara, Greisen, and Lewis at times, it is fortunate for New York that Washington didn’t run the ball more.

Brandon Short (7 tackles, 1 sack) stats look good. He finished off Wuerffel on a pass rush where the quarterback was scrambling for his life as Strahan, Griffin, and Holmes were also there. But Short was blocked at the point-of-attack on Davis’ 33-yard run in the 3rd quarter (as was Frisch – and Greisen took the wrong angle on the play). Short was also flagged with roughing the passer that helped to set the Skins up on the Giants’ 4 yard line.

Quincy Monk saw some playing time and was credited with a tackle.

Defensive Backs: It was a minor miracle that the Skins didn’t tear the Giants apart with the passing game. As it was, they still passed for 363 yards and there were a few complete breakdowns in the secondary. For example, there was a play near the end of the 1st quarter, where the tight end was left all alone by himself (linebackers most likely played a role here too). At the beginning of the 3rd quarter, WR Derrius Thompson was left all alone on a 28-yard pick-up. And there was huge 36-yard pass play given up in the 4th quarter when Thompson was left alone in a zone between CB Ralph Brown and CB Kato Serwanga (I don’t know who was at fault). Later, a screen pass by the Skins picked up 24 yards on 2nd-and-20 (the linebackers have role here too).

Still, even though players such as CB Ralph Brown and CB Kato Serwanga got beat, they seemed to make up for it by causing turnovers that switched momentum to New York. The big surprise was Brown (4 tackles, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery) who made two huge plays with his fumble recovery and his interception. Early in the 2nd quarter, Brown was beat on a slant by WR Derrius Thompson for 9 yards to the Giants’ 13-yard line. FS Omar Stoutmire (6 tackles, 1 forced fumble) hit Thompson hard, causing a fumble. Brown quickly scooped up the ball and weaved his way for 31 yards, stopping a scoring threat and setting up the Giants with excellent field position (something the defense hasn’t done all year). Later in the quarter, Brown picked off a pass over the middle and returned it for 19-yards. On both returns, Brown demonstrated excellent vision and quickness picking up extra yardage. But Brown did have some problems in the second half of the game. He was beat by Thompson on a crossing pattern in the 3rd quarter and also missed the tackle on the play. On the next drive, Brown was beat for 19 yards on 3rd-and-13 by Thompson, keeping alive a drive that ended with a Redskin field goal. Near the end of the 3rd quarter, Brown made an excellent play by knocking the ball away from Thompson on a 3rd-and-5 crossing pattern.

CB Jason Sehorn (4 tackles) had another rough game. Interestingly, the Skins seemed to be targeting Sehorn more than anyone else in the secondary. For whatever reason (injuries? lack of confidence? lack of speed?), Sehorn is playing far too soft and giving his opponent a big cushion. This would not be a huge problem if Sehorn closed quickly enough, but he isn’t. This was particularly noticeable on slant routes. Sehorn started things off well with an excellent hustle play on a WR-reverse to the Giants’ right. Sehorn, playing at left corner, chased the play down all the way across the field and limited the gain to 5 yards. However, on the very next play, Sehorn was for 23 yards on 3rd-and-2. On the next drive, Sehorn was again beaten by Gardner on 3rd-and-2 – this time for 12 yards. The play that made me the angriest with Sehorn came near the of the half. On a Wuerffel 26-yard scramble to the right, Sehorn completely whiffed on the quarterback, thus enabling Wuerffel to pick up approximately another 15 yards in a successful effort to set up a field goal. In the 3rd quarter, Sehorn had excellent deep coverage on a pass intended for Gardner in the end zone. On the next drive, Sehorn was beaten for a slant near the goal line, but the pass was off-the-mark. The Skins came right back with the same play on the next play and Gardner beat Sehorn for the touchdown. In the 4th quarter, on 4th-and-9, despite the Giants blitzing two linebackers, Sehorn was beat by Gardner for 18-yards (he slipped on the play). This play kept alive a drive that allowed the Skins to cut the score to 27-21. Sehorn did make a nice play on the Hail Mary at the end of the game by coming all the way from across the field to knock the ball away.

CB Reggie Stephens (2 tackles) started the game off as the nickel back, but was forced to leave with an injury. Stephens got beat by Darnerien McCants in the 2nd quarter and missed the tackle on the play as well. But for the most part, he was not exposed in coverage. CB Kato Serwanga (2 tackles, 1 forced fumble) took his place and played late in the game with a pulled hamstring. He understandably was a bit confused at times in zone coverage – on one such play he didn’t pick up Thompson quickly enough, leading to a 17-yard pick-up on 3rd-and-15. However, a few plays later, despite getting beat by McCants on a slant pass, Serwanga punched the ball out of the receiver’s hands and saved the day for the defense.

Shaun Williams (2 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) had a relatively quiet day. He made a nice play in run defense in the 2nd quarter, tackling Kenny Watson after a 2-yard gain. His big play was the fumble recovery and 16-yard return of the McCants’ fumble. He batted down a pass intended for the tight end earlier on this drive. Johnnie Harris (2 tackles) got beat by WR Chris Doering on the successful 2-point conversion. He also missed a tackle on a short completion that turned into an 18-yard reception. This missed tackle was responsible for a successful 44-yard field goal on the next play.

Quarterback: Kerry Collins (17-of-31 for 212 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) played pretty well, especially when you consider that once again he was without another veteran receiver to complement Amani Toomer. Thus, as was the case in the first game against the Redskins, Collins felt most comfortable throwing the ball almost exclusively in the direction of Toomer and Jeremy Shockey. However, Collins’ accuracy was generally much better this time around. He made some simply marvelous throws. And one thing that has been key for Collins most of the year is that he is not turning the ball over much (both interceptions and fumbles).

I was a bit worried after the first drive when Collins overthrew Shockey on a fly pattern down the left sideline. But on the next drive, he threw an exceptionally accurate pass to Toomer over the middle for 29-yards despite tight coverage (unfortunately the play was called back due to a personal foul penalty on Tiki Barber). But Collins demonstrated resiliency and toughness on the next play as he hit Toomer for 16 yards on 2nd-and-18. This despite pressure coming down on him and Collins taking a big hit after he threw (this is the type of toughness that I’ve been calling for from Kerry). Collins tried to hit Daryl Jones on a slant later in the drive, but threw too low. (Most of the slant Kerry’s slant passes to Jones since Jones became a regular have been very low – almost as if Kerry doesn’t trust Jones…that will probably come with time).

On the Giants’ first scoring drive that resulted in a field goal, Collins threw a very accurate pass to Jeremy Shockey that resulted in a 20-yard gain. What I liked about the play was that Collins threw to Shockey’s shoulder that was away from the safety that was covering him and thus preventing the safety from making a play on the ball…pin point accuracy. But the drive fizzled on 3rd-and-2, when Collins’ pass on a sprint roll, was thrown over the head of Jones. This is one of Hilliard’s old staples and it is clear that Collins and Jones are still working on their timing. Collins’ touchdown throw to FB Charles Stackhouse on the next possession was a superb play; Collins just got the ball off as LaVar Arrington was bearing down on him and the throw was perfectly made to a double-covered Stackhouse on 3rd-and-2 from the 2-yard line. Two possessions later, Collins deliberately slightly underthrew Toomer on a go-route up the right sideline as CB Champ Bailey’s back was to the play. It was easy play for Toomer to stop and catch the ball as Bailey ran by him…a perfect pass again for another touchdown.

The first two drives in the second half were aborted due to bad field position and a sack. On the third drive, Collins badly overthrew Shockey on 3rd-and-8. But after Bailey’s muffed punt, the Giants got the ball back and Collins quickly found Shockey over the middle for 20 yards down to the 1-yard line. On the next drive, Collins got the Giants out of a big hole by throwing yet another perfect pass to a well-covered Shockey for a 30-yard catch-and-run. Two plays later, standing tall in the pocket with LaVar Arrington flying up in the air near him, Collins another pin-point pass to Daryl Jones for 32-yards despite tight coverage on Jones. These two plays put the Giants in field goal position on a drive that started from the New York 9-yard line. The only play I didn’t like from Kerry on this drive was that he rolled out away from imaginary pressure on 1st-and-goal from the 22-yard line. On the next drive, Collins also badly missed a wide open Tiki Barber on 2nd-and-16 on what could have been a big play. But all in all, there was a lot more positives than negatives, two touchdowns, and no turnovers.

Wide Receivers: It is interesting to note that despite all the injuries (Hilliard, Dixon, Carter), Jim Fassel is still employing quite a few 3-, 4-, and 5-WR sets (with Jeremy Shockey and Tiki Barber often spreading out wide). Fassel tried to spread the Skins out quite a bit in order to get the running game going. It didn’t work, but I applaud the strategy.

Once again, WR Amani Toomer (4 catches for 60 yards, 1 touchdown) came through with some key receptions despite being the focal point of the Redskin defense and facing their toughest defender, Champ Bailey. Toomer had a 29-yarder called back due to a penalty on Barber, but followed that up with a 16-yard reception. Amani had two short receptions on the first field goal drive, but also dropped a pass over the middle. And Toomer beat Champ Bailey for a 29-yard touchdown reception in the 2nd quarter. However, Toomer dropped another pass in the 3rd quarter on 2nd-and-22 over the middle.

WR Daryl Jones (3 catches for 41 yards; 1 reverse for 4 yards) finally came up with a big play – his 32-yard reception that helped to set up the Giants’ final points on the day. It was a perfect throw from Collins, but also an excellent catch by Jones since the defender’s hands were right on the ball too. That said, the Giants do need to get more productivity out of Jones with him returning to the starting roll again. Jones was flagged for offensive pass interference on Shockey’s tight end screen in the 4th quarter.

Derek Dorris and Tony Simmons were not thrown to.

Tight Ends: The Redskins mixed up their coverages on Jeremy Shockey (5 catches for 89 yards). I saw linebackers on him. I saw safeties on him. I even saw him get hit by the Skins when the ball was thrown in another direction. But once again, Shockey abused Washington. Indeed, he would have had an even bigger day if he hadn’t dropped two passes (the frustrating part of his game) and had a 13-yard reception off a tight end screen called back due to a penalty on Daryl Jones (incidentally, this was an excellent play – I hope the Giants use it again). Shockey had a 20 reception on the Giants’ first field goal drive and then came up with a marvelous 4-yard reception on the first TD drive as he caught the tipped ball as he was falling down (great concentration). But his touchdown reception on this drive was wiped out as he was flagged for offensive pass interference (Jason Whittle was also holding on the play). Nevertheless, two plays later, it was Shockey he drew a very important pass interference penalty in the end zone on 3rd-and-goal from the 7-yard line, thus enabling the Giants to score a touchdown three plays later. Shockey turned a short reception into a 20-yard gain in the 3rd quarter as he quickly accelerated up the field after catching the ball and carried a defensive back for extra yardage, almost getting into the end zone. On the next play, both Shockey and TE Dan Campbell got the key blocks on Tiki Barber’s 1-yard touchdown run. Shockey got free of LaVar Arrington on the next drive and turned a short reception into a 30-yard gain (his longest of the season) as he accelerated down the left sideline. Of note, Shockey’s blocking also continues to improve as I often saw him called upon to block the defensive end all by himself on those runs where New York likes to pull the tackle and guard on Barber plays to the outside. This is what Campbell does so well and if Shockey can do this too, it will make the Giants less predictable on running plays.

Campbell was flagged with a very costly holding penalty that moved the ball from Washington’s 7-yard line to the 17. On the next play, Shockey jumped offsides and the Giants were facing a 1st-and-goal from the 22. On 3rd down on the same series, Campbell didn’t pick up the free Redskins blitzer that forced Collins to unload the ball quickly.

Offensive Line: Very good pass protection, but not much movement generated for the running game. For some reason, the Giants have problems moving the Redskins off the line of scrimmage. Part of the problem is that DT Daryl Gardener is a monster (I wish the Giants had nabbed him). Part of the problem is also that Tiki is a much more natural running back outside of the tackles than between them. But much of the problem is that the Giants don’t seem to drive block very well. That said, sometimes the offensive line gets unfairly blamed for blocks missed by a tight end or fullback. For example, on one of Barber’s stymied goal line efforts, the play was well-blocked except for Stackhouse didn’t get a good lead block on Jessie Armstead and Armstead made the tackle on what should have been a score. On a Ron Dayne run that might have resulted in a touchdown, Marcellus Rivers left the defensive end unblocked and it was the end who got to Dayne as he approached the line of scrimmage.

I also wonder if all the injuries have hurt the line indirectly. Because of all players hurt at a variety of positions, Jim Fassel has had to cut out practicing with pads during the week. This means the Giants haven’t been able to work on short-yardage drills with full contact. It shows.

Tiki’s big run on the day came on a cutback run behind good blocks from Luke Petitgout, Rich Seubert, and a pulling Jason Whittle. Whittle was flagged for holding on one play and missed a block on a defensive tackle coming off the goal line, but it is important to note that Whittle is playing with an injured knee and a fractured knuckle. Whittle did a nice job twice pulling across the formation to pick up a blitzing LaVar Arrington. I cursed the Giants for employing this tactic in the preseason, but it appears to be paying some dividends now. Whittle’s and Tiki Barber’s block on Arrington’s blitz was instrumental on Daryl Jones’ 32-yard reception. Luke Petitgout got beat for New York’s only sack given up by DE Bruce Smith on an outside rush. Tiki’s other big run of the day, his 18-yarder in the 4th quarter, came behind good blocks from Petitgout, Seubert, Shockey, and Dorris.

Running Backs: Tiki Barber’s stats (20 carries for 96 yards, 1 touchdown; 2 catches for 13 yards) look better than they really are. He had a highlight reel run for 43 yards in the 2nd quarter and an 18-yard run in the 4th quarter. That means his other 18 carries picked up 35 yards (less than 2 yards per carry). His 43-yard run was a brilliant run where Tiki demonstrated great patience and vision, cutting back against the grain of the defense. His 18-yarder was a tough run as well as he finished it off by carrying tacklers for extra yardage. Barber also had some tough runs late in the game when the Giants partially successful in attempting to run time off the clock. Barber did get flagged with a costly leg whip that wiped out a 29-yard pass play and also dropped a key 3rd-down pass that probably would have resulted in a first down.

Ron Dayne only picked up 11 yards on 8 carries; he also caught 1 pass for 4 yards. FB Charles Stackhouse caught his second touchdown pass of the season. However, his run blocking was inconsistent at best.

View From the Sidelines

by David Oliver

It was a strange and wonderful day and game as the Giants visited FedEx Field. The weather was warm, which was nice, but it was overcast and the light disappeared rapidly. I got to ogle some cheerleaders, had the pleasure of meeting Hbart and better half, met the smiling fellow whose photo graces the photo page, witnessed Ralph Brown and Kevin Lewis get some quality playing time and make some quality plays, once again enjoyed Shockey, well, you get the drift. A win in Washington is worth many, many heartbreaking losses. When I actually had a job, the Monday after a Giants victory over the Redskins was a great thing – sweater, tie, jacket, the works. Of course, a loss was like hell.

The game – well, the first half was kind of boring, at least photographically. There was nothing to shoot but asses and elbows, so I shot cheerleaders. But it picked up. Noteworthy items from the game: it didn’t look as if KC was having a great day, but his rating was 97+, so he had a darn good day. The difference is that he made no major gaffes. His passes were short and generally on target. Likewise, Tiki appeared to be having an ordinary day, and he did, except for his one long run. Most outstanding was the Giants scoring twice from the red zone (goal-to-go). Of course, it took 11 plays to punch in one of those scores, but, hey, it’s a start. Time of possession was slightly in favor of the Giants. The G-Men led in the first half, then held on in the fourth quarter, when we were treated to more of the JF offense, run, run, punt. Someone mentioned to me that this was unfair as a Tiki run came up only 6 inches short of a first down, which would have saved us the last minute theatrics of a Washington drive. My answer to someone was, yeah, and how would your lady feel if you came up 6 inches short. See, that’s how Giants’ fans would feel if they had lost this game. I just don’t care for the hypertension that comes with a conservative play calling, hold on offense. Of course, we all forget about how we bitched over Saint Bill and Ron Erhardt’s very “boring” offense. I guess it’s easier to take in a playoff year, any playoff year.

Shockey only caught 5 passes, but I could have sworn it was more like 15. He is everywhere, catching, running, blocking, greeting other players when they make plays, getting in the faces of the opponents and the fans. As Brandon Short told me, “He’s amazing. He can play on my team, my defense, any day. He has a defensive mentality, as an offensive player. He’s aggressive. He’s athletic. He’s mean. I like everything about his game.”

Amani was steady and caught his TD pass and 3 others. Daryl Jones finally showed up, catching one beautiful 32 yarder. Stackhouse caught a TD from short range on the old Comella play. Otherwise, he did not have a particularly noteworthy game. I have several shots of him, particularly on passing plays, sort of wandering around the field looking for someone to hit. I’m not picking on him, merely trying to point out that the FB in the Giants offense, no matter who, will have a difficult time making the Pro Bowl. The line acquitted itself well. Remember, this is a big, tough Redskins D-Line. I was teasing Seubert about one play where he was tossed by a lineman. He said it was after the play, which it was, and the guy must have been mad about something. Actually, he was mad because Seubert had been doing a number on him all day (92 -Daryl Gardener). Seubert told me he was a little sore, but “that’s football, that’s why you play the game. You want to feel like you’ve been run over by a truck after the game. And you want to win.” I love these guys – him and Bober. Chris is always pleasant, always having fun. As he says, “They’re paying me to play football” in that “Man, you just can’t believe it!” manner. Seubert and I talked about the Dallas game and he said, “Everybody is playing for something, playoffs, statistics, a job. We’ve got a chance. We’ll play Dallas and go from there.” I asked him if it would bother him that 20,000 Cowboy fans would be in the seats and he told me not really, but when Giants fans are there and into it “when the place gets loud, it’s big.” These guys feed off fan involvement, so don’t give or sell your tickets to Cowboys fans – get some Giant spirit there on Sunday!

Where was I? The offense. The O got the job done. Scoring 27 points is a good thing, no matter how it gets done. So on the basis of a win, scoring 27 points, scoring twice in the red zone, the O must get an A-. The minus is because of the pathetic third down efficiency and lack of running game (take away Tiki’s long run). Not great, not terrible.

The defense was very interesting. You need a scorecard these days to identify who is playing where, when. Kato Serwanga, Ralph Brown, Kevin Lewis, Nick Greisen, Reggie Stephens, Johnnie Harris, Dwight Johnson, Byron Frisch, all playing and contributing. Frank Ferrara moved back inside and played some tackle. When you look at the final stats and realize that Washington rolled up a lot of yards, almost 500 yards, you just have to scratch your head. Nine different receivers caught passes, yet that’s the reason they lost the game. Stephen Davis ran for 70 yards on 12 carries. I said last week that if Davis had 35 touches, the Skins would win, but the Skins offensive game plan is as stubborn as the Giants, just the perspective is different. WR Derrius Thompson was actually the biggest receiver, although Gardner is the more feared. I asked Defensive Backs Coach DeWayne Walker if they had done anything different for Gardner this game and he told me, “We rolled our coverage to him a little bit and tried to know where he was at times…We had to change a little bit for the new guys like Ralph and Serwanga, so we did a little differently, but there were times when we left them out there, too. A lot of other positions on our defense are thin, so there were times when we had to just get out there and play against them.” Coach told me, “It was a big time challenge. But these guys execute what I ask them to execute; you just have to try to get the detail and be a close knit group and have a lot of pride – it showed today, these guys rallied around each other.”

This game was a Shaun Williams game. He was directing traffic and getting the corners in place; he was cheap shot hit and concussed; he was like the dude in terminator, he just kept coming back. Watching the doctors work him over on the sidelines, then seeing him back in the game, well, he won a lot of points in my book Sunday. Coach Walker was full of praise. When I asked him about SW, he told me, “He’s so tough. He (Williams) told me not to worry about it, ‘I’ll be ready to roll on Wednesday.’ He’s one of my favorites, he is a special guy.” High praise, indeed, from a coach.

It was good to see Kevin Lewis have a good day. He is a quiet, cheerful guy, much like Ralph Brown. Not many people follow his game, but he plays on nickel, dime, quarter and special teams; he is a contributor. He told me “I just try to stay focused, today, I just tried my best, I just feel great right now, I’m blessed.” He extolled the coaches job in getting the team ready, making sure everyone was on the same page. I asked him about the talking out there. Last week, it looked as if there was mass confusion. This week, Lewis told me it was purposeful, because “they were doing a lot of checking. As a defense, when they start checking, start moving, we have to react to that, run around, start talking again.” I asked him about Stephen Davis and he laughed and said “Davis, hard runner, (more laughter), hard runner.” He told me one of the earmarks of this defense is guys flying around, getting to the ball.

I wanted to talk to a special teamer so I caught up with Wesly Mallard. This is only the third game I have worked this year and many of the new guys couldn’t tell me from the janitor. Wes surprised me by saying, as I walked up, “Hey, I remember you.” We haven’t seen each other from the rookie mini-camp, so I guess it was the AFLAC thing. He told me he was just trying to improve and that he would get his chance. He’s a confident kid. I asked him about the team spirit and did he see any dog in the locker room. He spoke for many others who I asked the same question, when he said, “This team has so much fight in it. We don’t want to give anything. I don’t know what people are saying out there, everybody in here is fighting. Nobody is taking a play off. You take a play off in the NFL, you’re either going to get hurt, or a lot of people will see it.”

That’s what I see. Maybe bad execution, but I haven’t recognized any joy riders. The defensive line was adequate to the task at hand. There was considerably more pressure today. Kenny Holmes was getting penetration on LT Chris Samuels and Strahan had a good first half, with 4 tackles. Just before the half, there was an incident and I have never seen MS lose his composure like this. The Skins were driving, it looked as if the clock would run out before they could get in a last play, and Michael was out in the middle of the field holding a Skin down – like really pushing him down. He was called for a delay penalty but it took half the team and the coaches to get him off the field. He was cheap-shotted, after the play, by a sub and he was furious. The Skins got the FG and it seemed to take a lot out of MS. Cornelius Griffin tried to stay close to Michael and cool him down without getting into him.

The linebackers were interesting. I’ve talked about Lewis, who was in on 6 tackles. He wasn’t perfect, but he did a darn good job holding down the right side and had a nice sack. Brandon Short had 7 tackles and a sack and played a very good game. We also talked about his college buddy, LaVar Arrington and he told me he wishes him well and wants to see him successful, except when the Giants and Redskins play. He feels he has made the adjustment to SAM and told me, “Absolutely, it’s my spot.” I told him I would love to see him on more dogs and he smiled and said, “You play within the confines of the defense.” He also told me, “Don’t throw dirt on this team yet; we have a lot of talent, and if things fall in our favor, who knows what might happen.” I asked him about Larry Johnson (Penn State) and he told me that LJ had been on the scout team when Brandon was at State. He said, “He was the only guy who had the heart to keep coming back at us, we had a formidable defense.” I asked if he would like to see LJ as a Giant and he smiled and told me, “I’d like to see him be successful.”

Finally, the D-Backs and Special Teams. Kato Serwanga came up big with his forced fumble and 2 tackles and Ralph Brown had a monster day with 4 tackles, an assist on specials, 2 passes defensed an interception and a fumble recovery. It was the first time he looked like a Pro and he knew it. I grabbed him in the locker room and told him I wanted to shake his hand, both to congratulate him and to see if it was true that he had a special magnetic oil on his hands because the ball kept coming to him. We shared a laugh, as we always do, and I told him that it was one thing to see a ball coming to you, which it has to do for you to make plays; it is another to know what to do with it. Then I learned a few things. Ralph told me, “I played QB in High School and my father was a running back (in the NFL – Broncos).” He said this very modestly. Then he said, “Some people have a knack for that , it’s kind of being scared and kind of trying to get in the end zone at the same time.” He was a popular interview this day and I just listened in as he told everyone it was experience, game time, that he knew he had to do something and was kind of down on himself as a 3rd year man, talking about his kidney problem last year, and saying “I’m like a rookie in my third year.” He kept repeating the mantra, “experience, experience, experience.”

Stoutmire contributed 6 tackles, and before I forget, Griffin had 3 sacks, tossed people around all day and played a great game. I had a feeling he was up for it when he came out of the tunnel and looked over at me with a nod and wink. That’s usually a sign to get the camera ready, it’s going to be fun. This nonsense about not playing hurt, is just that. This kid has been hurt since he midway through his first year; he doesn’t complain, won’t even acknowledge it. But when he feels good, he is a monster. On specials, the guys chipped in: Stackhouse, Patmon, Mallard and Rivers had tackles, along with Harris and Stoutmire who added 2 on specials and also had a forced fumble.

What more can I tell you? It was a win. It wasn’t pretty, but there were some good signs. We always complain about not getting a look at the young guys. Well, they’re in there now – and some of them are taking advantage of the opportunity.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Washington Redskins, December 8, 2002)
Dec 062002

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Washington Redskins, December 8, 2002: This one is going to get ugly unless the Skins really screw up. The type of offense the Titans employed to such great success against the Giants last week, that is 4- and 5-receiver sets, is the bread-and-butter offense that Steve Spurrier likes to run. There was pressure on him when the Skins were in playoff contention to run the ball more but now with their season over too, look for Steve to go back to his roots and just let the ball fly down the field. If Will Peterson, Will Allen, and Michael Barrow were healthy, this wouldn’t be a problem, but they aren’t. Right now, the Giants don’t seem to have enough corners to even cover the Skins’ receivers. And the ones they do have suck. It is not improbable that the Skins could hang 30+ points on the Giants this weekend. And Fassel will get blamed for it.

The Skins are banged up on defense too, but not across the board like the Giants. Washington has very good corners and DT Daryl Gardner gave the Giants fits the last time these two teams played. New York is going to have to score a lot of points to win on Sunday.

Giants on Defense: Steve Spurrier is going to look like a genius against the Giants because the Skins are going to pass the ball up and down the field on New York. There will be little pass pressure from the front four (Strahan, a gimpy Griffin, Legree, and Holmes) and piss-poor pass coverage from the corners (Sehorn, Brown, and Stephens). In fact, if I’m Spurrier, I put a fourth and fifth receiver on the field. Who is going to cover them? Kato Serwanga? DeWayne Patmon? Give me a break!

New York has two options: die slowly or die quickly. If they choose the former, they will only rush four and drop more people back into coverage and hope the inconsistent Redskins’ quarterbacks make mistakes. If they don’t, they will march slowly down the field like the Titans did. If they choose the latter, the Giants come with the blitz and watch Ralph Brown or Reggie Stephens get beat for a quick score. Some choice! Obviously, New York will mix it up and try to confuse the opposition. I think the key for the Giants is to disguise their blitzes better than they have and just pray Sehorn, Brown, and Stephens some how come up with huge days. That’s most likely counting on too much.

The undercoverage will be ugly this week too. The weakness in Brandon Short’s game is his coverage skills (as evidenced by last week’s play). Nick Greisen is going to be a fine player, but he missed eight weeks of practice with a broken foot and admits he hasn’t returned to game shape. Kevin Lewis is a journeyman who struggles in coverage.

My focus? I’m treating this more like a preseason game. I want to see Greisen (albeit a rusty Greisen) on the field. I also want to make a determination if Omar Stoutmire is the kind of guy who I want starting for the Giants next season.

Giants on Offense: Offensively, the Giants should benefit with the subtraction of Dan Wilkinson and Jeremiah Trotter due to injuries. Also, unlike the first meeting, Ron Dixon will be in the line-up. But the Skins’ defense is in much better shape than New York’s right now because Washington has good cornerbacks.

Ideally, the Giants want to run the football. A key component in that will be the ability to block DT Daryl Gardner who gave LG Rich Seubert a lot of trouble the last time these two teams played. Carl Powell will replace Wilkinson at left defensive tackle, and the banged up RG Jason Whittle needs to play well there in order to control the middle of the line of scrimmage. The Giants also need Luke Petitgout to come up with a better run blocking effort than his last game. These last four games are very important in determining the future of Mike Rosenthal and Jason Whittle with the team.

Jeremy Shockey gouged the Skins in the first meeting for 11 catches and 111 yards. According to CB Fred Smoot, “(Defensive Coordinator) Marvin Lewis will come up with a game plan to limit Shockey (this time).” Dan Campbell will play, but is limited with a groin injury.

CB Champ Bailey is having a superb season and Smoot is solid. The Giants need quality performances from Amani Toomer and Ron Dixon (who is playing with a torn ligament in his knee). People know that I like Daryl Jones, but the guy hasn’t delivered thus far. I’m hoping he makes a play or two.

The microscope will remain on QB Kerry Collins. He played well last week after three sub-par performances. Before that, he was playing extremely well. Up-and-down, up-and-down. Let’s hope he is on this weekend and continues to improve. New York’s future depends on it.

Special Teams: Delvin Joyce is getting closer and closer to breaking one. Should Matt Bryant be the place kicker next year?

Dec 042002
Tennessee Titans 32 – New York Giants 29 (OT)

Game Overview: What a difference two weeks make! Two weeks ago, the Giants were sitting at 6-4, a game behind the McNabb-less Eagles. It looked as if the Giants had a legitimate shot to overtake Philadelphia and steal the NFC East title. But an unforgivable loss to the expansion Texans due to poor special teams and quarterbacking, and a devastating loss to the Titans due to poor defense, have all but ended the 2002 season for New York. Meanwhile, the Eagles continue to demonstrate what an aggressive, take-no-prisoners defense and good special teams can do.

An unbelievable series of injuries to an already paper thin team depth-wise sabotaged the 2002 Giants. The wide receiving corps (Ike Hilliard, Ron Dixon, Tim Carter), the offensive line (Dusty Zeigler, Chris Bober, Jason Whittle), the defensive line (Keith Hamilton, Cornelius Griffin, Kenny Holmes), the linebacking corps (Mike Barrow, Dhani Jones), and the secondary (Will Peterson, Will Allen) have been hard hit. A gimpy Jeremy Shockey has hurt.

Poor offensive play-calling contributed to defeats against the 49ers, Cardinals, and Falcons. Poor quarterbacking hurt against the Eagles and Texans. Poor defense killed the Giants against the Eagles and Titans.

The Giants did not turn the ball over against the Titans and only punted twice in regulation – yet they found a way to lose the football game.

Defensive Schemes: The Giants’ pass defense was embarrassing. Steve McNair passed for 334 yards, completing 30-of-43 passes. This despite the fact that McNair was ailing and the Titans were missing WR Kevin Dyson. Why were they so bad? First, the pass rush was pathetic. DT Dwight Johnson, DT Lance Legree, and DE Kenny Holmes are not good pass rushers. So the Titans could concentrate on Strahan. Defensive Coordinator Johnnie Lynn often made things worse by sometimes only rushing three linemen and not blitzing. Second, the coverage men (both defensive backs and linebackers) played too soft. Thus, McNair usually had loads of time to find an open receiver who was usually running his route unopposed. What a recipe for disaster!

The most frustrating thing for me was watching the Titans empty their backfield time-and-time again and then seeing the Giants not take advantage of this by blitzing. With no back in the backfield, an adequately disguised blitz can often lead to disaster for an offense as the blitzer will come free. Aggressive defenses attack in such a situation. Instead, the Giants let the Titans dictate to them. The other frustrating thing was that for much of the game – and especially when the Titans were facing the wind – was that it was obvious that their game plan was to employ the short passing game. Quick throws to the wide receivers, or a pass to the tight end or back were called over and over. Yet, the Giants’ coverage men seemed surprised by this and never really adjusted.

Part of the problem if you listen to the coaches after the game was the players did not playing as tight as they should have been playing in coverage. Jim Fassel said on WFAN that some of his players were too afraid of getting beat deep. I can only guess that he was talking about guy like Jason Sehorn, Ralph Brown, and Brandon Short. Also, when the Giants did blitz near the end of the first half (bringing both a linebacker and safety), Brown was beaten easily in coverage for a touchdown. So perhaps the personnel short-comings dramatically altered the game plan (rightly or wrongly). Keep in mind that not only were the Giants missing Hamilton, Griffin, and Peterson on defense, but Mike Barrow (concussion) was forced out of the game and CB Will Allen (shoulder) and LB Dhani Jones (ankle) were ailing. The biggest problem the Giants had on defense on Sunday was a talent problem. A poor pass rush/coverage scheme only made matters worse.

I’m going to break down the game a bit differently this week in order to provide a feel for the flow of the game:

  • Titans’ First Offensive Possession: HB Eddie George is only able to manage 5 yards on 2 carries. On 3rd-and-5, Strahan sacks McNair and forces a fumble. Dhani Jones recovers.
  • Titans’ Second Offensive Possession: Jason Sehorn “tackles” WR Justin McCareins after a gain of 2 yards (incidentally, for a big defensive back, Sehorn is the biggest wuss of a tackler I’ve seen since Percy Ellsworth). Strahan pressures McNair into an incompletion. Ralph Brown is beaten to the inside on 3rd-and-8, but a sure tackle by Shaun Williams prevents the first down. Titans punt.
  • Titans’ Third Offensive Possession: This was a killer 18-play, 86-yard, 9 and a half minute drive that resulted in a touchdown. On this drive, the Titans overcame a 3rd-and-7, 3rd-and-1, 4th-and-5, and 3rd-and-12. The 4-man rush gave McNair too much time and the stunts the defensive line were using didn’t work. Kenny Holmes gave the Titans 5-yards when he jumped offsides. Then George ran right as Strahan and Sehorn were effectively blocked and Short over-pursued. After George was stopped for 3-yards by Strahan, both Short and Barrow stopped George for no gain. On 3rd-and-7, the Giants rushed only three and Barrow was blocked on a middle screen as Robert Holcombe picked up the first down (this was the same type of play Atlanta used to great effect against the Giants; incidentally, the play should never had counted – the Titan blocking Barrow was illegally down field before the pass was thrown). Lance Legree made a nice play coming down the line to tackle George, but on the next play Sehorn was playing far too soft, setting up a 3rd-and-1. On that play, Strahan took himself out of the play and Short and Williams got blocked. First down. Short was then beaten badly by TE Erron Kinney for 10 yards. George picked up 6 as the left tackle on the Titans grabbed Holmes around the waist in a very blatant manner and the refs never called it. Barrow then stuffed George for a 1-yard gain and Short made a superb play tackling Holcombe for a 2-yard loss on 3rd-and-3. But on 4th-and-5, Allen got beat by Derrick Mason on a crossing pattern for the first down. The Giants lucked out as a pass to the 1-yard line was called back due to an illegal formation penalty (Ralph Brown got beat on the play). But on 3rd-and-12, Sehorn got beat by Mason for 11 yards and McNair picked up the first down with an easy sneak. Two plays later, Sehorn and Barrow were beaten by Mason for the touchdown. Too much time for McNair, crappy pass coverage.
  • Titans’ Fourth Offensive Possession: This possession didn’t start off well for the Giants either. Holmes and Jones were fooled on a end around for 16 yards. Then McCareins picked up 12 yards as the Titans again when with an empty backfield set and the defensive backs were far too off (Allen missed a tackle too). Then Legree and Williams combined to tackle George for a 2-yard loss. Empty backfield again – easy pass to Wychek for 7 yards with no pass pressure (a constant theme). On 3rd-and-5, Sehorn was beaten by Mason for a 32-yard touchdown but the play was brought back due to a delay of game penalty. McNair’s 3rd-and-10 pass fell incomplete (decent coverage by Allen) and the field goal attempt was no good.
  • Titans’ Fifth Offensive Possession: This was the last drive before halftime and perhaps the most damning. The Titans went 63-yards in 4 plays and 51 seconds (with only 1:05 left on the clock). McNair took advantage of a 3-man rush to scramble up the middle for 13. Two plays later, facing another 3-man rush, Mason beat Sehorn for 24-yards (and Sehorn missed the tackle). On the next play, the Giants blitzed both Stoutmire and Barrow, but Ralph Brown was easily beaten down the left sideline for 26 yards and the touchdown. Instead of leading 10-7 at halftime, the Giants were trailing 14-10.
  • Titans’ Sixth Offensive Possession: Things started off well for the defense in the second half. Legree, Holmes, Barrow, and Short were all effectively blocked on a George run to the left for 7 yards. Holmes then did a good job of holding the point-of-attack and Dhani Jones finally made a good play in the backfield, tackling George for a 1-yard loss. On 3rd-and-4, Sehorn, Barrow, and Short did a superb job of defending a wide receiver screen and nailing Mason for a 5-yard loss. Punt.
  • Titans’ Seventh Offensive Possession: George is tackled by Shaun Williams after a gain of 3 yards. A pass to Mason picks up 10 as Sehorn is playing too soft. Some Giant (probably Barrow) blows his coverage assignment on George as George is left wide open over the middle for a 10-yard completion. George picks up 7 yards as Legree and Ferrara are easily blocked. Barrow hits Holcombe in the hole, but suffers a concussion, causing him to miss the tackle. Barrow – the leader of the defense – is done for the day. A personal foul penalty on the Titans prematurely ends this drive for Tennessee. The Giants luck out and the Titans punt.
  • Titans’ Eighth Offensive Possession: Giants allow a 14-play, 72-yard drive that results in a touchdown. Titans overcome a 3rd-and-10, 3rd-and-9, and 3rd-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Jones wasn’t able to hold onto a pass that might have finished it for the Titans on the first play. Pressure by Mitrione forced an incompletion. On 3rd-and-10, the Giants rushed only 3 again and got burned again as McNair scrambled up the middle for 12 yards (Jones didn’t attack this play like he should have). George picks up 5 yards as Strahan, Kevin Lewis, and Short are blocked. George then catches a pass for 6. On 1st-and-10, the Giants blitz Short. Sehorn comes too, but I don’t think he is supposed to blitz here as the man he was covering was left wide open and no one picked him up (reminiscent of his snafu against the Vikings last year). The open receiver picked up 17 yards, but fortunately for the Giants, another personal foul on Tennessee brings back the play. It doesn’t matter however as the defense continues to collapse. Sehorn has good coverage (finally) on Mason and the ball falls incomplete. Holmes, Sehorn, and Short all stand their ground on the run to the left and Holcombe is stuffed. On 3rd-and-9, Lynn still hasn’t learned his lesson. He only brings 3-men again and McNair makes a great throw running away from Dwight Johnson for 25 yards. Allen then makes a nice play against a run to the right. Strahan pressures McNair, but Sehorn is beaten again by Mason – this time for 13 yards. Johnson (no tackles in the game) and Legree are blown out of the middle as George carries the ball to the 4-yard line. Johnson is blown out again as George gets to the 1. On 3rd-and-goal, Strahan and Short are blocked, and Williams doesn’t attack the play aggressively enough. George scores, cutting the Giants lead to 26-21.
  • Titans’ Ninth Offensive Possession: With only 2:13 left in the game, the defense allows the Titans to march 81 yards in 12 plays to not only score a touchdown, but the 2-point conversion. Sickening! The first two plays were fine. The Titans were at their own 19 and the first two passes were short (6 and 8 yards) and were completed in-bounds. On the next pass, Sehorn was beat but the pass was thrown too high. On the next two passes, Sehorn was beaten by Mason for 8 and 5 yards (the latter being on 3rd-and-2). The Giants luck out (in the short-term) as for some reason Brandon Short is being called upon to cover John Simon all by himself deep down the right sideline. The pass goes through Simon’s hands. Brown then does a nice job of covering Bennett deep. On 3rd-and-10, Reggie Stephens is playing a mile off of WR Eddie Berlin and Berlin picks up 14 yards (this is an inexcusable play by Stephens). After a incomplete pass, McNair breaks tackles by Mitrione and Jones (just sickening) en route to a 11 yard scramble out-of-bounds that stops the clock with 23 seconds left. McNair then hits Bennett as Will Allen is now playing far too off the ball (at least Allen has an excuse – his very injured shoulder). On the next play, Wycheck beats Kevin Lewis for a 9-yard touchdown. On the two point conversion, the formation screams “look out for a QB draw” and the Giants’ coaches are yelling the same from the sideline. But Holmes and Legree get blocked out of their lanes and Dhani Jones doesn’t step up aggressively enough to fill the hole. Game tied.
  • Titans’ Tenth Offensive Possession: The Giants’ defense finishes the game off ever so nicely in overtime, by easily allowing Tennessee to move the ball 60-yards in 7 plays to set up the game-winning field goal. The collapse was complete. The Giants were playing what amounted to a prevent defense in overtime. Un-friggin-believable!!! Brown gets beat for 12 yards as he is not even in the picture when the ball is completed! Sehorn makes a nice play, but then Short gets beat for 23 yards as he isn’t even in the picture! Mason picks up12 yards as both Jones (who simply sucked in this game) and Sehorn (ditto) missed tackles. Holcombe then runs right into a Giants’ blitz by Jones and Short, but both of these two get blocked and the halfback picks up 14 yards. Two plays later, Joe Nedney kicks the game winner. Nice job defense! Nice job Johnnie Lynn!

Giants on Offense: The Titans played the Giants exactly like I expected them to: they crowded the box and dared Collins and the passing game to beat them. The Titans have a good, aggressive run defense and that showed as Tiki Barber finished the half with -4 yards on 10 carries. Much of that was the defensive scheme employed by the Titans, but there were a lot of missed blocks up front too. But to Jim Fassel’s credit, he took what the Titans gave him and attacked through the air. Collins, the receivers, and the offensive line – for the most part – delivered far better than I expected they would be able to. The Giants only punted three times in the game – twice in the first half and once in overtime. And they did not turn the ball over. The biggest snafu for the Giants offensively – and this cost them the game – was their inability to punch the ball in from the 1-yard line late in the 4th quarter. One of the things that bothers me about the Giants on offense is that instead of keeping things simple and drive blocking in short-yardage, they always seem to be pulling people that often get in the way of the halfback. Thus the plays are often slow developing and vulnerable to penetration. Also, based on Fassel’s comments, it would seem that Collins now has some freedom to change the play at the line of scrimmage when the defense is expecting what is coming. What did he say about PE majors coaching football?

  • Giants’ First Offensive Possession: Great call by Fassel after McNair’s turnover. Go deep on the first play – I love it. The protection was on and the pass was there, the only problem is that Ron Dixon dropped the ball. A 2nd-and-10 run lost a yard as Luke Petitgout was pushed back into Barber. After a first down reception by Dixon was nullified by Petitgout’s illegal formation penalty, Collins and Dixon did a great job converting again for the first down. On 1st-and-10 from the 19, Barber lost a yard as OC Chris Bober missed a block on the defensive tackle. Then two poor passes from Collins (one too wide, one too high) forced the field goal attempt that was good. The drop by Dixon on the first play hurt.
  • Giants’ Second Offensive Possession: Collins started things off with his third poor pass in a row – this one was thrown at the feet of Barber. Barber was then only able to pick up 1-yard as Petitgout didn’t sustain on his block and Mike Rosenthal watched the linebacker run right past him (as good as the pass blocking was on Sunday, the run blocking was poor). On 3rd-and-9, Collins hit Jeremy Shockey over the middle for 23 yards and a first down. The next play was the best run blocked play by the Giants in the first half as the line and tight ends did a good job of enabling Barber to pick up 5 yards up the middle. LB Randall Godfrey then made a superb play hustling down the line to stuff Barber to a 1-yard gain. On 3rd-and-4, a quick pass to Shockey is behind the tight end – this causes him to slow down and adjust to the ball. The play comes up 1-yard short and the Giants have to punt. At this point, Collins looks off again. Punt.
  • Giants’ Third Offensive Possession: Barber loses a yard as FB Charles Stackhouse misses his block. Collins makes a really nice throw with a free blitzing linebacker in his face and Dixon picks up 13 yards. Jason Whittle misses his block on a strongside run and Barber is tackled for a 1-yard loss when he reverses his field. Jeremy Shockey drops what should have been an easy reception, causing a 3rd-and-11 (these drops by Shockey in each game are troublesome). On 3rd-and-11, the Titans blitz a safety, disrupting the timing of the screen pass. Punt.
  • Giants’ Fourth Offensive Possession: This is a 10-play, 55-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown. Four straight pass plays to Shockey, three of them completed for a total of 14 yards. The one that falls incomplete is caused by Bober getting run over by the defensive tackle. On 3rd-and-6, the Giants make a great play. The Titans come with a blitz. Tiki picks it up. Amani Toomer gets jammed in the face at the line of scrimmage but manages to get free. Collins does a great job of reading the blitz opportunity and throws a perfect pass to Toomer who beats CB Samari Rolle for 26-yards. Great effort by Barber, Toomer, and Collins! 1st-and-10. Petitgout misses another block and Barber loses 5 yards. A pass to Daryl Jones near the goal line is then knocked away by the defensive back. On 3rd-and-15, the refs ignore an obvious pass interference penalty against Dixon, yet flag Rosenthal for holding. On 3rd-and-25, TE Dan Campbell doesn’t do a good job picking up the blitz and Collins is hit as he throws. The ball is a duck, but fortunately for the Giants, Dixon is interfered with again. 1st-and-goal from the 1. Barber loses two yards as Stackhouse is stuffed in front of him (again, too much pulling for my taste – just drive block). On 2nd-and-3, Toomer is interfered with in the end zone. From the one, Barber is stuffed again as Shockey and Marcellus Rivers can’t make their blocks. On 2nd-and-goal, Collins finds a wide open Campbell for a touchdown.
  • Giants’ Fifth Offensive Possession: Giants start things off right at the start of the 3rd quarter by going 62 yards in 3 plays for the touchdown. Barber is tackled for a 2-yard loss as CB Samari Rolle makes a great play by sacrificing his body to blow the play up. Collins then hits Toomer over the middle for 25 yards and a face mask penalty adds another 15. Collins then throws a superb deep pass to Dixon in the end zone (against double-coverage and right over the safety’s shoulder) for a 24-yard touchdown.
  • Giants’ Sixth Offensive Possession: Giants move the ball 40 yards in 7-plays to set up Matt Bryant’s 36-yard field goal. Dayne picks up 10 yards on two back-to-back passes (the latter being a nice effort as he finished off the play with some power). Giants luck out on the next play as Collins’ pass is right in the hands of a linebacker, but it bounces off and finds Dixon for 28 yards (nice concentration by Dixon). Collins throws to the end zone for Dixon who has a step, but his pass is too high (Collins received some late pressure as Seubert lost control of his man). Collins makes a nice throw into double coverage to Toomer along the right sideline, but the pass is just out of his reach. The Giants kick the field goal.
  • Giants’ Seventh Offensive Possession: Giants go 88 yards in 9 plays and score another touchdown. Barber breaks loose for 42 yards as Shockey, Dixon, and Toomer all get great blocks. Barber then picks up 12 behind good blocks from Shockey and Dixon again. Barber then picks up 4 yards behind Rosenthal, Whittle, and Bober. Two plays later, Collins hits Toomer on a 7-yard out pattern for the first down on 3rd-and-4. Shockey picks up 10 yards as he breaks a tackle after the reception. Collins then misses Shockey. Barber cuts back, but is tackled for no gain. On 3rd-and-goal from the 6, Shockey is interfered with, resulting in a first down. On the next play, Barber scores behind good blocks from Rosenthal, Whittle, Campbell, and Stackhouse. The Giants go for the 2-point conversion (I have no problem with that decision). For some reason, Barber is called upon to block the defensive end all by himself. The pressure causes an errant throw by Collins who misses a wide-open Shockey in the end zone.
  • Giants’ Eighth Offensive Possession: Giants go 78 yards in 12 plays to set up another field goal. However, the tragedy is not being able to score the touchdown which would have salted the game away. What I loved on this drive was that Fassel was aggressive with the passing game despite the fact that the Giants were up by 5 points with less than a quarter to play. On the second play, Collins hit Shockey over the middle for 21 yards. Barber could find no running room to the right as Rosenthal was pushed back, but through great individual effort, Barber picked up 9-yards on his own by cutting back. Dayne then picked up the first down with a 2-yard carry. A pass to Dixon was tipped, but Collins found Toomer for 12 on the next play (Fassel is surprisingly continuing to attack with the passing game – great job). Two plays later, Collins throws a perfect deep pass to Toomer for 34 yards down to the 1-yard line. Barber is stuffed on 1st-and-goal despite an all-out effort on his part (a Titan linebacker did a great job of meeting him over the top). Then the tragedy. A 2nd-and-goal running play is well-blocked and should have resulted in a touchdown, but Barber trips over Seubert for a 2-yard loss. On 3rd-and-goal, the Giants tried to fool the Titans by playing a tight formation with Dayne in the backfield (this play screams run to the left as Campbell is line up over in that direction). The Giants try to sneak Stackhouse to the right, but LB Randall Godfrey makes a game-winning play by not being fooled. Nice call – but it didn’t work.
  • Giants’ Ninth Offensive Possession: Giants have a chance to win it still as Joyce gets the ball out to the 40-yard line. Collins then throws a perfect pass to a well- and double-covered Dixon. Barber picks up 2 yards on a run to the left, but could have picked up more if Petitgout sustained his block better (Luke did not play a good game in terms of his run blocking). Then came the killer play on 2nd-and-8. Toomer caught a 12-yard pass down to the Titan 32-yard line, but he was called for offensive pass interference (the TV replay never showed the play so I don’t know if it was legit or not). Collins’ 2nd-and-18 pass to Barber was batted down. On 3rd-and-18, Collins is pressured by a defensive end who lined up offsides (wasn’t called) and Collins panicked a bit as he scrambled to his left and out-of-bounds. Last chance down the drain.

Special Teams: The big problem now is the punting game. Matt Allen sucks. Period. He’s the worst punter in the league. His punts on Sunday went for 37, 17, and 34 yards. Fortunately, for New York, the Giants never punted in the second half of the game. The last punt came in overtime. The Titans never returned a punt.

PK Matt Bryant hit all three of his field goals – from 38, 36, and 19. His kickoffs landed at 13 (19 yard return – Wes Mallard made the tackle), 8 (a 29-yard return was brought back due to holding on the Titans), 12 (25 yards – Mallard), 3 (32 yards – Johnnie Harris), 12 (8 yards – Damon Washington), 17 (11 yards – Washington), and 15 (a 24-yard return is brought back due to a holding penalty on the Titans).

Byron Frisch was flagged for unnecessary roughness at the end of the first half; Johnnie Harris was flagged for being offsides in the 3rd quarter.

Delvin Joyce’s punt returns went for 19 yards (a very costly holding penalty on Ralph Brown moved the ball from the 46 back to the 16), fair catch, and no gain. Damon Washington returned one kick off for 26 yards. Joyce’s kick returns went for 37 (excellent), 25, 21, and 38 (excellent return to start the Giants off in overtime – too bad it was wasted).

(Box Score – Tennessee Titans at New York Giants, December 1, 2002)