Oct 292004
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, October 31, 2004: The Vikings are the second best team in the NFC, after the Eagles. They have an explosive offense and an improving defense. If the Giants don’t dramatically elevate their overall performance on offense, defense, and special teams, they have no chance of winning this game.

Giants on Offense: New coaching staff, some new players, same old problem – can’t score enough points. QB Kurt Warner is playing very efficiently this year, he’s completing 65 percent of his passes and has only thrown two interceptions. However, he has only thrown four touchdown passes.

Through six games, starting wideouts Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard have 48 catches, 602 yards, and zero touchdowns. That’s pretty sad. Jeremy Shockey has two touchdown receptions, but only 259 yards receiving on 24 catches. These three players are not playing anywhere near their reputations. It’s perhaps time to reconsider their ability if they do not pick up their respective games in the last 10 games of this season. Hilliard doesn’t appear to have any speed left and worse, he will face Minnesota’s best corner, Antoine Winfield. RCB Brian Williams is a bigger, more physical corner who matches up well with Toomer. Based on their performance to date, Toomer and Hilliard will struggle to get open on Sunday.

Everyone keeps saying the reason Shockey is not putting up better numbers in the passing game is that because he is being forced to block on passing plays. This is not true. I see Shockey going out on pass patterns as much as ever, including being spread out wide. Either he is not getting open or Warner is not getting the ball to him. SS Corey Chavous is a quality player who will likely be on Shockey for much of the game.

The offensive line played like shit last week against a quality defensive line. This week, they face another quality defensive line and their task will be made much more difficult due to the crowd noise (expect false starts to be a problem again). The left side of the Giants’ offensive line, LT Luke Petitgout and LG Jason Whittle will be severely tested by the Vikings’ top-notch players on that side, DE Kenechi Udeze and DT Kevin Williams – both are former first rounders who can really rush the passer. Reserve DE Lance Johnston can also get after the quarterback. The Vikings are not as strong on their left side of the defense. DT Chris Hovan and DT Steve Martin will line-up over RG Chris Snee, who has been struggling a big in pass protection. RT David Diehl will face DE Kenny Mixon. The Giants obviously need to keep the rush off of Warner and open up some big holes for Barber in order to generate more points. I look for Coughlin to play it more conservatively and try to keep the explosive Vikings’ offense off the field by using the running game and ball-control shorter passes. This will also help to keep the pass rush off of Warner.

Giants on Defense: Everyone talks about the Vikings’ skill position players, but they have a very good offensive line that allows the passing and running game to be so productive. DE Michael Strahan played terribly last week. His run defense has been spotty all year as has his pass rush. He obviously is on the decline. Worse, his wife is giving birth to twins this week and he obviously will be tired and distracted on Sunday. Look for little production from him. The left side of the Vikings is the strength of the line – LT Bryant McKinnie, LG Chris Liwienski, and OC Matt Birk form the core. It will be interesting to see how much DT Fred Robbins (coming off a shoulder injury) plays and how effective (rusty) he will be…this is a big homecoming game for him. Both DT Norman Hand and DT William Joseph played inconsistently last week…Joseph in particular. The Giants need a big game from the defensive line up front. Contrary to popular belief, I think the secret to this game is focusing on run defense rather than pass defense. Viking rookie HB Mewelde Moore has been very impressive and has been putting up big numbers in the ground game. HB Michael Bennett returns from knee injury. He’s a Pro Bowler who can break the big play. HB Moe Williams is the goal line specialist and excellent at picking up blitzes. The Giants have been run over by two weak ground attack the last two games…you can bet that Minnesota is licking their chops at running at this defense.

The Giants’ linebackers need to step it up. SLB Carlos Emmons has been a free agent bust. WLB Barrett Green will now split time with LB Nick Greisen. MLB Kevin Lewis has been getting handled at the point-of-attack on too many positive running plays by the opposition. The Vikings also like to throw to their halfbacks so coverage is important here too.

What can you say about the Viking passing attack? QB Daunte Culpepper has never been better. Through six games, he has completed 73 percent of his passes for almost 2,000 yards and 19 touchdown passes. His quarterback rating is 124.0 as he has only thrown 3 interceptions. The guy is tough to bring down due to his size and he can hurt you with his feet, especially near the goal line.

Randy Moss has been hampered by a hamstring. He’s “questionable” for the game, but he will probably play. Covering him will be a major challenge for Will Allen and Will Peterson as Moss is the supreme deep threat in the NFL (8 touchdown receptions already). The other Viking receivers are no slouches either…Marcus Washington has 6 touchdown catches himself (two more than the entire Giants team). And Nate Burleson has been quite effective as well as the starter opposite Moss.

It’s going to take a total defensive effort by the linemen, linebackers, and secondary to keep this explosive attack under control. The key, in my opinion, is shutting down the ground game…something the Giants haven’t been able to do in recent weeks. Then somehow, they have to get Culpepper out the tremendous rhythm he is in right now, either by putting pressure on him or making life difficult downfield for him with confusing and tight coverages. That’s a lot to ask for. The Giants are going to have to play a near perfect game.

Giants on Special Teams: The Giants will need to dramatically out-play the Vikings on special teams to win. The Vikings may use the explosive Bennett on kickoff returns this week.

Has anyone seen David Tyree lately?

Prediction: This one will get ugly folks. This is the second best team the Giants will face all season. Minnesota’s defense is far stronger than it has been in years, especially in the secondary and on the defensive line. The Giants’ defense has proven to be soft against the run and the Vikings have a slew of running backs who can gouge a defense. The start Eli Manning advocates will be in full force by 4PM on Sunday.

Oct 272004
 
Detroit Lions 28 – New York Giants 13

Game Overview: This was a bad loss for the Giants. Not only was it an important intra-conference game against a playoff contender, but this was a game the Giants should have won. And it was a home game. The Lions played with more intensity and the fact that the Giants could have still won this game despite this indicates the tremendous opportunity that was lost in going 5-1.

So what went wrong?

  • The Giants’ defense allowed the last-ranked offense in the NFL to move the ball. The biggest problem was that the Giants’ defense couldn’t get off the field on third down. As Head Coach Tom Coughlin pointed out, coming into this game, the Lions only had a 25 percent conversion rate on third down. Against the Giants, they converted 60 percent of their third down chances. QB Joey Harrington, who has struggled for much of the season, completed an unforgivable 82 percent of his passes against the Giants. And the defense was unable to create one single turnover. The run defense was excellent in the first half (only 8 yards on meaningful carries), but the run defense dramatically softened in the second half (89 yards).
  • The Giants could not score in the red zone. New York was 0-for-3 in red zone touchdown opportunities while the Lions were 4-for-4. The Giants drove the ball to the Lions’ 1, 11, and 7 yard lines and only came away with 6 points. QB Kurt Warner’s interception in the end zone right before halftime was a killer, but the bigger problem was that the Giants’ offense only managed 3 points in the entire second half of the game. Unlike most of the teams the Giants have played this year, Detroit did not blitz the Giants much. Instead they got superb pass pressure on Warner in the second half of the game with their front four while dropping seven into coverage. This combination of excellent pass pressure with a lot of men in coverage made it very difficult for the Giants to make big plays in the passing game down the field. Also hurting the Giants is that three of their money players – Shockey, Toomer, and Hilliard – are not making plays.
  • The Giants (and the fans) did not come ready to play. The Lions played with greater intensity and urgency. One got the sense that the Giants’ players felt they could beat the Lions without their best effort and it cost them. Until the players learn to play hard every Sunday – like the Patriots and the Eagles do – then New York will be susceptible to these kind of disturbing losses. One wonders if there are enough emotional leaders on this team.

Offense: The way that the Lions defended the Giants was to play a lot of men in coverage and force the Giants to drive the length of the field by dinking and dunking the football. This bend-but-don’t-break philosophy worked very well for Detroit as the Giants were unable to generate big offensive plays – except for Tiki Barber’s 62-yard screen pass. New York’s nine offensive possessions amounted to drives of 8 plays (no points), 5 plays (touchdown), 12 plays (field goal), 13 plays (no points), 5 plays (no points), 7 plays (no points), 14 plays (field goal), 4 plays (no points), and 4 plays (no points). The Giants had three drives of 12 plays or longer and came away with 6 points. If the Giants want to prevent this outcome in the future, they need bigger plays out of the passing game. Also, while I love screen plays, I think the Giants are calling too many of these.

Quarterback: There were two big mistakes by QB Kurt Warner (23-of-34 for 270 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 3 fumbles – 1 which was lost) in the first half. The first was fumbling the ball away on 3rd-and-7 on New York’s first drive. LT Luke Petitgout got cleanly beat on this play and instead of taking the sack, Warner tried to make something happen with the DE James Hall all over him. The second mistake was his interception in the end zone right before halftime. Had Warner zipped the ball to Toomer or thrown it sooner, a sure touchdown would have resulted and the Giants would have been up 17-7 at halftime. Warner underthrew WR Amani Toomer on a go route late in the first quarter, but Toomer still made the 29 yard reception. His best pass of the half was his perfectly thrown 21-yard strike to Toomer on a crossing route on the next drive. Other than an attempt to hit TE Jeremy Shockey deep down the seam, everything else was of the dink-and-dunk variety.

Warner has taken a lot of heat from some fans in The Corner Forum for his performance in this game, but I place more of the responsibility for the second half offensive woes on the offensive line. The Lions usually rushed their down four against the Giants’ front five and got a tremendous amount of pressure with these basic rush packages. Warner rarely had a well-formed pocket or space to step up into. Contrary to what some people have argued, I did not see him hold onto the ball too long in this game – the problem was that he had to scramble to avoid pressure. Like ALL QUARTERBACKS, if you get heat on them on a regular basis, you make them less effective. Warner started to expect pressure even when it wasn’t there. He was NEVER comfortable in the pocket in the second half. And what made matters worse was that the pressure from the down four enabled Detroit to play seven back in coverage. Warner rarely had time to throw the ball down the field and when he did, his receivers either didn’t get open or did not make the play. Some fans in The Corner Forum want to pretend that the opposing pass rush should not affect a Giants’ quarterback…these people are living in a dream world…and they would also probably be calling for Jesse Palmer if Eli Manning got sacked six times.

Warner fumbled twice more in the second half, and could very well have had a third called. The first fumble came on the Giants’ second drive of the first half. Warner had to scramble to his right to avoid pressure and did not keep both hands on the football when moving. Warner once again had to scramble for his life two plays later. This time, Warner scrambled towards his left and tried to set up again to throw, but was hit very hard from the backside. This play didn’t cost the Giants as it came on 3rd-and-6, but it could have had it been ruled a fumble and Detroit’s ball. On the next drive, Warner threw a very accurate deep pass to Toomer that Toomer let slip through his hands. Warner just missed hitting Toomer deep again on 3rd-and-4 with just over 2 minutes left with the Giants trailing by 8 points…but Toomer couldn’t bring in the slightly overthrown ball. Warner’s last fumble of the game came on 4th-and-13 as RT David Diehl couldn’t keep DE Kalimba Edwards off of Warner and Edwards slapped the ball out of Warner’s hand just as he was throwing the football (this fumble was not Warner’s fault).

Wide Receivers: “We took out chances (down the field),” said WR Ike Hilliard. “We just didn’t hit them. We called our (deep) plays and they either had the coverage or we didn’t him them.” That may be true, but one of the reasons why the Giants are not scoring more points is that the passing game is not making big plays down the field. Why? Is it the play-calling, the quarterback, the receivers, fate? Regardless, Amani Toomer is not making enough plays down the field. He has no touchdowns yet this year and only 371 yards receiving. Against the Lions, he made a spectacular 29 yard reception on and underthrown pass from Warner. The ball was tipped by the corner and Amani was able to out-fight the defender for the ball. His only other reception was a 21-yarder over the middle. Toomer was shutout the entire second half of the football game. Not good enough! Toomer let one deep ball slip through his hands and he could come up with a tough catch on Warner’s other deep pass that was slightly overthrown. If Toomer wants to be considered a premiere receiver, he has to make these kinds of catches.

Ike Hilliard also has no touchdowns this year and only 231 yards receiving. Against the Lions, he caught 5 passes but only averaged a little over 8 yards a reception. And he only had one reception in the second half. So the Giants’ two starting wide receivers had 1 catch between them in the last two quarters of the game! Hilliard has improved his run blocking as the season has progressed.

Jamaar Taylor (2 catches for 16 yards) saw his first action of the season. He got a great block on Tiki’s 62-yard screen for a touchdown, taking out two defenders.

Running Backs: Barber was more productive in the passing game (7 catches for 102 yards and a touchdown) than the running game (22 carries for 70 yards, a 3.2-yards-per-carry average). In the first half of the game, Tiki carried the ball 12 times for 31 yards; he had 10 carries for 39 yards in the second half of the game. Things started off well on the first drive as Barber gained 11 yards on two carries, one up the gut behind a good block from RG Chris Snee and another around left end behind good blocks from Shockey and TE Visanthe Shiancoe. However, the running game stumbled on the next two drives as Barber’s next seven runs went for 2, -2, 7, 4, -1, 1, and –2. On the last drive before half, Barber’s runs went for 3, 8, and 0. The big play of the half for Tiki was obviously the 62-yard screen pass. Barber showed nice vision on this play, cutting back to his left in order to burn Detroit’s over-pursuit. Tiki later broke two tackles after another short completion. However, I did not think he followed his blocks very well on a 2nd-and-1 play late in the second quarter.

Barber was able to generate more yards on the ground in the second half as the run blocking improved. His runs went for 6, 0, 0, 3, 10, 2, 11, 2, 3, and 2 yards. However, he fumbled on one carry (his first of the year), failed to pick up one of Detroit’s few blitzes, and dropped a pass. There was also one weird run where Tiki was barely touched on a run around right end that looked like it would pick up at least 10 yards, but Barber mysteriously fell down.

Ron Dayne (2 yards on 3 carries) remains unproductive, as does Mike Cloud (1 carry for 3 yards, 1 reception for 3 yards).

FB Jim Finn caught 2 passes for 18 yards and I thought he did a reasonable job blocking.

Tight Ends: Like the wide receivers, Jeremy Shockey has been very mediocre thus far this year (only 259 yards receiving). Shockey almost came up with a one-handed grab on a deep seam route on the Giants’ first drive, but a big hit from the safety knocked the ball away from him. Shockey only came up with one significant reception and that was his 19-yarder in the fourth quarter. He was unable to get open against the linebacker on the 4th-and-4 pass that fell incomplete late in the game. Simply put, Shockey is not playing very well in the passing game. Visanthe Shiancoe (2 catches for 14 yards) saw his first action of the season in the passing game.

Blocking by both Shockey and Shiancoe was decent.

Offensive Line: It was a tale of two halves for the offensive line. No, the first half wasn’t great, but Warner had decent pass protection for much of that half. As for the ground game, it was too hit-or-miss. There were times when running plays were pretty well blocked, but there were too many negative plays as well. The big mistake by the offensive line in the first half was when LT Luke Petitgout got beat badly by DE James Hall on 3rd-and-7 on the first drive. Hall sacked Warner and forced a fumble that was recovered by the Lions. There was another breakdown by Petitgout on a running play on the next drive as a linebacker was able to shove a pulling Petitgout back into the backfield to disrupt the entire play, leading to a 2-yard loss. The only other pass pressures that I saw in the first half was a failure to block the strongside end by RT David Diehl (mental breakdown), poorly executed chop block by RG Chris Snee that led to Warner getting face-masked, and LG Jason Whittle not picking up a stunt on a play where Warner received a helmet-to-helmet hit.

As for the running game in the first half, there were some good blocks by everyone along the line on some plays, but there was too much penetration on other runs. Snee missed a block on one Ron Dayne run and OC Shaun O’Hara got obliterated on Dayne’s 3rd-and-goal effort. Whittle continues to look good pulling (as does Snee on some occasions). Whittle took out two linebackers on one running play that picked up 8 yards.

While the run blocking improved in the second half, the pass blocking fell completely apart. It was pathetic. Detroit rarely blitzed and usually only rushed their down four. The Giants’ front five could not block these guys. Warner had no time to throw and was facing seven defenders in coverage. Whittle gave up a sack (and hold) on the first passing play of the second half. On the next play, Petitgout was flagged for holding (though I thought this was a ticky-tack call). On the next possession, both Diehl and Snee got beat by their opponents and Warner was sacked again. Two plays later, Snee got beat leading to another sack. On the next drive, Snee and Petitgout gave up pressures on Warner’s deep pass to Toomer. One play later, O’Hara failed to pick up the blitz (the same one that Tiki didn’t pick up) and Warner was sacked (a defensive holding penalty kept this drive alive). Two plays later, Petitgout gave up an inside pressure. This drive stalled on 3rd-and-4 from the Detroit seven as the Giants called some weird pass blocking scheme where Whittle was been called upon to block the left defensive end. Warner was immediately pressure and the ball fell incomplete. On the Giants’ second to last drive – down by 8 points with less than 3 minutes to play – Petitgout gave up another pressure. On the final drive, Diehl gave up two sacks to back-up DE Kalimba Edwards.

This was simply a DISGUSTING performance made worse because Detroit did it without blitzing (except for one play). There was nothing fancy or confusing here about Detroit’s pass rushing schemes. Simply put, the Giants got their collective asses kicked up front. And while David Diehl (first time starter at right tackle) and Chris Snee (rookie) have good excuses as they are still learning, high-priced Luke Petitgout does not. Petitgout used to be one of my favorites, but he isn’t anymore.

Defense: As I mentioned in my lead-in, a big problem was getting the Lions off the field on 3rd down. The Giants allowed an offense that was ranked last in the league to get untracked. Harrington is not a good quarterback, but he completed 82 percent of his passes against the Giants. The Giants held Detroit to 8 yards rushing in the first half (18 yards came at the end of the half in garbage time), but Detroit rushed for 11 times that figure in the second half as HB Kevin Jones broke off some big runs. As for the passing game, there were some big breakdowns in coverage. TE Stephen Alexander got wide open against the Giants’ zone on the first offensive play of the game for 24 yards despite excellent pass pressure. (MLB Kevin Lewis and SS Gibril Wilson were the closest Giants). Three plays later, on 3rd-and-15, the entire Giants’ defense got burned by a screen play that picked up 19 yards despite this being an obvious screen play situation. Dumb! At the end of the first quarter, WR Roy Williams got wide open in the Giants’ zone coverage again for 37 yards despite excellent pass pressure.

Defensive Line: The defensive line played much better in the first half than they did in the second half. There was a decent amount of pass pressure and the Lions simply could not run the football. DT Norman Hand (3 tackles, 1 sack) stood out. He smashed Harrington on the first offensive play of the game as he released the football and sacked him for a 6-yard loss two plays later. At the end of the first quarter, Hand once again overpowered the left guard to punish Harrington as he released the ball. In the second quarter, Hand really held his ground on a Jones’ run in his direction and stuffed the run. Hand also got a good rush on the play where Gibril Wilson sacked Harrington. In the second half, Hand’s pass rush disappeared and while the Lions didn’t run much in his direction, there were a couple of runs where he was not as stout as he had been in the first half.

William Joseph (2 tackles) played left defensive tackle. He showed incredible hustle on the aforementioned 19-yard screen pass by chasing the back all the way down the field and making the tackle. I also liked the way Joseph held his ground at the point-of-attack on inside running play on Detroit’s next possession. Joseph combined with DE Michael Strahan to stuff a 3rd-and-1 effort by the Lions to force a punt. In the second half, Joseph was awful. He regularly got blasted by RG Damien Woody on running plays. I have no idea why Joseph’s play fell apart in the second half but it was a big reason why the Lions won the game.

Another big reason was the play of DE Michael Strahan against the run in the second half. This was the worst two quarters of football I’ve ever seen from Strahan. Strahan has disappeared as a pass rusher from time to time, but he usually is one of the better run defenders in the league. On Sunday, RT Stockar McDougle mauled him…I mean just obliterated him. Most of Detroit’s big runs came in the direction of Strahan and Joseph (with MLB Kevin Lewis also getting blocked). These includes runs of 22, 20, 2 (touchdown), 6, 10, 7, and 8 (touchdown). On each of these runs, Strahan, Joseph, or both got crushed. Strahan’s big play in the first half was the stuff on 3rd-and-1. He got a couple of good pass pressures on Harrington too – but none of this makes up for his disgusting overall performance. Strahan got no pass pressure in the second half. Simply put, he didn’t show up for the game.

On the right side, Keith Washington (3 tackles) and Osi Umenyiora (3 tackles, 1 sack and forced fumble) split time as usual. Washington was flagged for encroachment on Detroit’s first drive and did absolutely nothing of note in the game. As for Umenyiora, his penetration disrupted a left-side run that lost two yards in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Umenyiora pressured Harrington on two back-to-back plays. The first was an outside move that caused Harrington to scramble and throw an incompletion. The second was an inside move that resulted in a sack and fumble (despite Osi being held on the play too). In the second half, Umenyiora, playing linebacker in a 3-4 set, stuffed a run for a 1-yard loss on 3rd-and-3. It’s time for the Giants to start Osi on the right side and use Washington to spell both Strahan and Umenyiora. It will be also interesting to see if the Giants activate Lorenzo Bromell in a couple of weeks off of the PUP.

I saw both Kenderick Allen and Lance Legree in for a play each, but they did not stand out.

Linebackers: I thought the guy who played the best here was Nick Greisen (7 tackles). Greisen flowed down the line to tackle HB Kevin Jones for a 1-yard gain on Detroit’s second play of the game. Later on the drive, Greisen combined with Gibril Wilson to hold another Jones run to a 1-yard gain. On the Lion’s next possession, Greisen read a running play very quickly and aggressively attacked the play to nail Jones for a 2-yard loss on a run around right end. In the second half, Greisen sacked Harrington on a blitz, but a illegal use of the hands penalty on SLB Carlos Emmons erased this play.

Emmons (4 tackles) is not playing well. Perhaps the Giants should stop signing guys who the Eagles don’t want. Emmons penalty on the above-mentioned sack was extremely costly. Coverage on TE Stephen Alexander was not good (Kevin Lewis, Nick Greisen, and Gibril Wilson are to blame here too). The worst is that Emmons continues to get clobbered on running plays, despite being a legit 250-pound guy. Emmons got blocked on the 20 yard run by HB Kevin Jones (as did Kevin Lewis). He also got blocked on a 6 yard run, missed a tackle on a 13 yard gain by RB Shawn Bryson, lost site of the fullback on an 18-yard pass completion, and got blocked on a 7-yard run.

MLB Kevin Lewis (10 tackles) tackled HB Shawn Bryson for no gain on an inside run up the middle on the first drive. But he was effectively blocked on many of Detroit’s positive running plays in the second half of the game, including runs of 22 (taken out by the fullback), 2 (touchdown, taken out by the guard), 6 (misread the play and left his gap), and 8 (touchdown). To his credit, he did a great job of nailing the fullback short of the first down on a 3rd-and-1 reception (terrible spot by the officials gave them the first down) and tackling HB Artose Pinner in the hole three plays later (Emmons effectively took on the lead block on this play – a rare positive from him). Lewis gave up a couple of receptions to Alexander and missed a tackle in the backfield on the play right before Detroit’s 3rd-and-goal touchdown pass that gave them a 21-13 lead.

Reggie Torbor got in the game late and was easily pushed out of the way on Pinner’s 8-yard touchdown run.

Defensive Backs: When a quarterback completes 82 percent of his passes, you know the secondary is not doing a great job. FS Brent Alexander got beat by WR Reggie Swington on 3rd-and-10 for the first down on the first drive of the game. Three plays later, CB Will Allen bit on a double move by rookie WR Roy Williams on 3rd-and-6 resulting in an 18-yard touchdown reception. On Detroit’s next possession, SS Gibril Wilson got beat in his zone by WR Tai Streets for a 22-yard gain. Wilson did sack Harrington on a blitz. Allen also made an excellent tackle on Williams in the open-field to prevent a first down on the play right before Detroit’s failed 3rd-and-1 effort.

In the second half, Alexander missed a tackle on Kevin Jones’ 22-yard run. William Peterson was flagged with an illegal contact penalty. Wilson missed a tackle on Jones’ 20-yard run (and Allen got effectively blocked by Roy Williams on this play). On the next drive, Peterson, made a nice play tackling defending a screen to Pinner. On the next possession, Peterson knocked away a pass to Williams, but Alexander got beat on a crucial 3rd-and-7 play by Swinton again. This was a huge play in the game as Detroit kept alive a drive that made the score 21-13. Wilson was late in defending a pass to the fullback that picked up 18 yards later on this drive. On 3rd-and-goal, Allen got beat for a second touchdown (this time by Swinton) despite being all over the play.

Poor tackling by the safeties in this game and Alexander gave up a couple of costly third down completions.

Special Teams: The Giants kept dangerous return man Eddie Drummond under wraps by kicking away from him on two occasions with deliberately short kickoffs. Detroit started with field position at the Giants’ 30 (Reggie Torbor with a good tackle), 32 (Torbor and Barrett Green), 36 (Torbor), and 30 (Jack Brewer and Marcellus Rivers). Kudos for Torbor for being so active.

Jeff Feagles punted twice: a 40-yarder that went out of bounds and a 36-yarder to Detroit’s 18-yard line (Jack Brewer tackled Drummond for a 2-yard loss on this return).

All-in-all, the Giants did a very good job in coverage against a dangerous return team.

Unfortunately, the Giants couldn’t break any big returns against Detroit’s fine kick and punt coverage teams. Punt returner Mark Jones returned one punt for 9 yards. He also made a mistake by fielding a punt at the 6-yard line that he should have let hit the ground. Mike Cloud’s returns went for 12 (bad block by Jim Finn), 38, 19, and 15 yards (bad block by Marcellus Rivers). The 21 yards-per-return average is not good.

Steve Christie hit both of his very short field goal attempts (19 and 25 yards).


This and That

by David Oliver

Friday, raining, Halloween upcoming, Presidential election next week; suffering, like many people from EAD (election anxiety disorder), filled with ennui over last Sunday’s loss; didn’t plan to write anything, but heck, I’ve been watching the parade of wordsmiths peddling their books on the tube for the past few weeks and Andy Rooney said something interesting. He has just published a new compendium of his thought pieces and while hyping the book, at the same time descrying being a huckster, he said that one thing the compendium did was provide an actual document that his kids could stick on a shelf somewhere. I’ve got the photographs, but I spend some time with these kids in the locker and other places, and it just seemed unfair to them not to share a little of their thoughts, and some of what I saw, or thought I saw, or wish I saw out there on the field.

So here a few snippets from the locker and the field. My take is that the game was actually much closer than the final score, that even with a lackluster performance in the second half, this was a game the Giants could have and should have won. It wasn’t as depressing as the last game in the Meadowlands against Detroit in 2000 where the team, with different players and different coaches, came out and laid an egg, but it was almost like a reflection of that game, in one sense, sort of in a mirage like way. The team appeared mesmerized, the coaches appeared mesmerized, and the fans reacted in a hallucinatory fashion, alternating between attempting to stimulate some fire on the field and sitting dumbstruck watching the game unfold, recognizing that in the end, well, the end was inevitable. I’ve been pleasantly surprised since the Eagles game, as the team seemed to be coming around, the coach seemed to show some human sensibility, and all was well in Giants land. As LB Reggie Torbor told me, “Even when we were winning, we knew that we weren’t as good as we could be; a lot of people were looking at us and accepting that as good enough, but we’re not accepting that – we know we have a long road to go and a lot of room for improvement.”

The side that has room for improvement showed on Sunday. And yet, the Detroit Lions came to play with a team that is probably less talented than the Giants. The mantra in the locker, at least for the guys I talked to, was that the Giants “didn’t capitalize on opportunities” and that the Lions “made some plays and capitalized on our mistakes” (DT Lance Legree), and that “every team has playmakers, their guys made some plays, we didn’t take advantage of opportunities today, as a team” (Torbor). So it’s pretty obvious what the message was from the coaches, something to the effect that “hey, guys, we didn’t get the job done out there. But it is only one game, so get in here next week and go to work.” Seems fair enough. Heck even a team with an 80 some year jinx showed it can win the big one, so maybe next year the Giants will come out after their bye week and blow somebody’s doors off. As LB Carlos Emmons was telling a group of scribes, “In this league, anybody can beat anybody, at any time.” Cliché, but so true. Mooch did a better job than Tom Coughlin (TC) this week and his charges showed up with energy. Incidentally, did anyone notice TC wearing glasses?

The key to this season is confidence. A rebuilt team is like a rebuilt personality, an entity starting the voyage on the 7-step process. Last year’s team and coaching staff was unmercifully vilified. The holdovers are fragile until the whole becomes cohesive. As Reggie Torbor told me, “We believe in each other; in what we’re doing. We are going back to work next week and we’ll prepare the same as if we won.” Rookies have short memories; that helps after a loss. Veterans, well, you never know. The benching of LB Barrett Green could not have been pleasant for the veterans, regardless of the circumstances. If Green was asinine, it doesn’t help the chemistry; if the coach acted, well, euphemistically, as he has been said to have acted in the past, it can’t be good for team chemistry. That move was a warning sign. Whatever, my observation was that Nick Greisen did well, considering he has never been a WILL and that he is still working his way back from injury. He did one thing that hasn’t been done since Jessie Armstead left and that is he actually came up to the LOS or ran in the flat and tackled a ball carrier. Green may have speed, but he can’t really tackle one on one a back coming at him out of the backfield. So, from my perspective, Greisen showed enough to merit further play over there. Nick told me it was different, but that he appreciated the opportunity, particularly “after coming in as a starter, then losing your spot, then getting an opportunity to go out as a starter again and prove yourself to the coaches.” I asked him for a self-assessment and he told me that would “have to look at the film. There are a lot of things that happen out there that you don’t notice.” But the important part is that he told me, “I went out there and gave it what I had.” It’s too bad everybody didn’t.

I talked a little to TE Visanthe Shiancoe (Shank), who appears to be adjusting well to the blocking tight end role, or as he said, “I’m real comfortable with the offense, comfortable with moving, comfortable with blocking, comfortable with catching the ball.” He is one comfortable dude. He opined that, “We need to come out with a little more energy,” summing up what appears to be a consensus. Shank referred to himself as a tackle/(slash) tight end, with wide receiver qualities. He said, “I can run a 4.5 and block, every now and then they throw me a pass. I wouldn’t mind getting a pass or two, but if the play calls for me to stay in and block…that’s what I focus on. I don’t want Kurt to get hit.” Now, if the rest of the O-Line felt the same way, I’m sure Kurt Warner would greatly appreciate it. Sunday, they didn’t play as if they felt that way as they were flat out getting beat on way too many plays. The downside is that the Lions were doing it pretty much straight up.

I talked a little to QB Eli Manning who, much like Jessie Palmer, is a choir boy. He is sitting and learning and soaking it in so as “not to waste the year.” It’s hard coming in after his college career and riding the pine, but he acknowledges that it is just another adjustment, “You’ve got to take it for what it is, a learning process.” Eli told me he prepares as if he were going to be playing and he is putting himself into position “to do something about it down the road.” Reggie Torbor feels much the same way, telling me that his role now is special teams and giving Carlos Emmons a break when he needs it. As he told me, “When the time comes, I’ll be ready.” He told me that notwithstanding the fact that losing is never easy or acceptable, and as we discussed, winning takes care of a lot of problems, “Character comes out when you lose. There are only 53 people on a team so there is no where to hide.”

Many of the new kids are refreshing in their approach to the game and to the fans. Reggie summed up pretty succinctly when he told me, “The fans buy a ticket and they deserve to come here and see us play better than we did today. We are going to go out and try to give them something to cheer about. We would rather hear cheers than boos any day.” So I’m not going to succumb to disappoint, notwithstanding my deep anxiety over the coach at the beginning of the year. It’s starting to get cold, it’s football weather and it’s going to be a long stretch. The Vikings game doesn’t have me excited, and it hasn’t put me in a position to get despondent over a loss. Looking at it as objectively as I can, it appears as if the Vikings have too much firepower for the nascent Giants. Even with a hobbled Randy Moss, there is no one on the Giants, or any one else for that matter, who can control Randy Moss. Unless Michael Strahan comes up with one of those corkers, the only Giant capable of taking down Dante Culpepper is Norman Hand. A 265 pound QB is a formidable weapon. But there is more to be concerned over, such as our offensive line, which looked less than ordinary Sunday. They must regroup and give Kurt Warner the time he needs to throw the ball. I expect a big game from Tiki because I don’t know that there is a defense right now that can totally control him – he is our Randy Moss. The real key to the game is Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis and his staff. Some of the innovation seemed to disappear Sunday and it is up to Lewis to come up with an inspired defensive plan, and that does not mean allowing the Vikes running backs to run roughshod through the line. For 3 and one half games in the winning streak, Lewis used an unorthodox approach. He needs to do it again to give the Giants a chance to defeat the Vikings.

(Box Score – Detroit Lions at New York Giants, October 24, 2004)
Oct 222004
 

Approach to the Game – Detroit Lions at New York Giants, October 24, 2004: The break was nice, but it’s time to get back to football. It seems like an eternity since the Giants have played a home game – indeed, the last home game was in September. With the Yankees now off the back pages, New York sports fans need to quickly readjust their sight on football and get over their Red Sox hangover. The team needs your vocal support on Sunday in a key conference game against an improving team.

Detroit is better this year because of their defense and special teams. Much attention – and justifiably so – has been focused on rookie sensation WR Roy Williams. But the Lions’ offense continues to be hampered by inconsistent quarterback play by third-year quarterback Joey Harrington and an inability to run the football. Still, Detroit is a 3-2 team who beat the Falcons in Atlanta a few weeks ago and also defeated the up-and-coming Houston Texans in week two.

Nevertheless, this is a game the Giants should win if they can quickly shake off their bye week rust – something they have had problems with in recent years. Unless the run defense is as sloppy as it was against Dallas, the Giants should be able to make the Lions one-dimensional on offense and force Harrington to make mistakes. The Detroit defense, led by DT Shaun Rogers, has played well, but it is a bit beat up with injuries.

This is important game for the Giants. The Lions are one of the few NFC teams with a winning record and both teams could be vying for a Wild Card spot down the line. The players, coaches, and fans need to get motivated to excel on Sunday and bury this team.

Giants on Offense: The Detroit defense is no push-over. They have a very good defensive line that can get pressure on the quarterback all by itself and allow the back seven to focus on pass defense. The strength of the defense is the defensive line, and specifically, the two big defensive tackles inside who can also make life difficult in running the football. DT Shaun Rogers (3 sacks) is playing at a very high level right now and is very disruptive. The Lions list him as a right tackle, but they like to move him to both spots, which means that both RG Chris Snee and LG Jason Whittle will have their hands full on Sunday. Most likely both will require double-team support from OC Shaun O’Hara. This will allow the Detroit linebackers freer access to HB Tiki Barber and QB Kurt Warner. The other defensive tackle is pretty imposing too. Dan Wilkinson (questionable with an arm injury) has never lived up to his lofty draft status and has changed teams quite a bit in recent years, but his is a big, athletic talent who has given the Giants problems in the past when he was with the Washington Redskins. The ability or inability of the interior of the Giants’ offensive line to deal with these two will probably determine how successful the Giants are on offense against the Lions.

The defensive ends are decent. RT David Diehl will face DE Cory Redding and LT Luke Petitgout will battle DE James Hall (4.5 sacks). Pettigout faces the tougher task as Hall is one of the better defensive ends in the game.

The Lions will be without LB Boss Bailey (knee), but rookie SLB Teddy Lehman has been impressive. WLB James Davis is the replacement for current Giant Barrett Green. Former Steeler Earl Holmes mans the middle linebacker position. He’s a tough, physical run defender who sometimes has problems in coverage. Given Lehman’s inexperience and Holmes’ issues in coverage, there may be some room here for Tiki Barber and TE Jeremy Shockey to exploit in the passing game. But running the ball may be tough for Tiki unless the Giants can get those defensive linemen up front blocked.

The Lions’ secondary is helped by the fact that Detroit does not normally have to blitz all that much in order to pressure the passer. LCB Fernando Bryant (questionable with a groin injury) and RCB Dre Bly are decent corners. Bryant is a fast cover corner who sometimes has problems with bigger receivers. If healthy enough to play, he will line up against Ike Hilliard. Bly will face Amani Toomer. Bly is a quick, but not fast, ballhawk who will gamble at times (as will Bryant). If Bryant does not play, Chris Cash will start in his place. Rookie CB Keith Smith is the regular nickel back. Rookie WR Jamaar Taylor may be able to make a big impact in this game if he doesn’t get too nervous in his first real playing time. FS Brock Marion lacks speed, but he makes a lot of plays on the football. Bracy Walker is the strong safety.

It will be tough for the Giants to run between the tackles against the Lions unless Wilkinson is really hurting. When the Giants run the ball, it would probably be wise to focus on Barber runs around the ends. Creating mismatches with Barber and Shockey on the linebackers should also be productive. Whether Bryant plays or not should impact the Giants’ strategy. Really where the Giants may make some hay is with Jamaar Taylor (or Hilliard) on Detroit’s third corner. I would come out passing the football and try to get a big lead early. It’s time for Kurt Warner to start throwing some touchdown passes.

Giants on Defense: Detroit was really hurt by the loss of WR Charles Rogers at the beginning of the season. However, rookie WR Roy Williams also looks like a superstar in the making. He did not play last week against the Packers due to an ankle injury and remains questionable for the game against the Giants. He creates match-up problems because of his superb combination of size and speed.

The key for the Giants in this game is to keep the Lions one-dimensional by taking away the running attack (we can pretty much say this every week against any opponent). Two weeks ago, it was believed that Dallas would not be able to run on the Giants, but the Cowboys did so in a big way. So until the Giants shore up their run defense, the opposition is going to test it. Look for the Lions to run the ball early with halfbacks Artose Pinner and rookie Kevin Jones. Pinner is a tough runner who can change directions, but he has some fumbling issues and isn’t much of a pass blocker (the Giants maybe able to challenge him here with their blitzes). Jones has dynamic moves and can catch the ball. He also had some fumbling issues in college. As a team, the Lions are only rushing for about 3 yards a carry. And Detroit will likely be without FB Cory Schlesinger (hamstring). The Giants need to make sure they do not get untracked on Sunday like Dallas did two weeks ago.

The Lions have some decent talent on the offensive line. The tackles are good. RDE’s Keith Washington/Osi Umenyiora will face LT Jeff Backus and LDE Michael Strahan will line-up against RT Stockar McDougle. Backus is a solid technician. Quick rushers can sometimes give him problems so Umenyiora has a chance to shine here in obvious pass rushing situations. McDougle is a massive player who can maul his opponent with his size and strength. However, he sometimes has issues in pass protection. Ex-Patriot Damien Woody is the right guard who will likely face DT William Joseph and/or Norman Hand. Last week, with Fred Robbins out, Joseph often played left defensive tackle with Hand moving over to right defensive tackle. If Robbins (shoulder) does not play again this week, expect a similar rotation with Lance Legree also seeing a lot of work. The other starters are LG David Loverne and OC Dominic Raiola. Woody is a much better player than Loverne.

The Lions have good receivers. As I mentioned, Williams is a stud. Whether he plays or not will change everything. If he does play, CB’s Will Peterson and Will Allen will be severely tested. The other top receivers are Az-Zahir Hakim (who is questionable with an ankle injury) and ex-49er Tai Streets. Hakim is quick and shifty; Streets is a big and physical.

Lions’ head coach Steve Mariucci is a West Coast Offense guy so passes to the tight ends and running backs are always a threat. Ex-Redskin TE Stephen Alexander is a decent receiving tight end and the Lions will throw to all three of their halfbacks (including HB Shawn Bryson).

The guy who the Giants need to rattle is QB Joey Harrington. Harrington is a high first rounder who has yet to live up to his lofty draft status. At times, he makes excellent throws; at other times, he will make a bone-headed decision. The Giants need to get after him and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. But the Giants have to be careful not to give up cheap points on big plays as Harrington can throw the ball deep.

If the Giants can stop the run and get after Harrington, the defense should be able to control the Detroit offense.

Giants on Special Teams: This is one area where Detroit may have a big advantage over the Giants. They are extremely well-coached under Chuck Priefer, the father of current Giants’ special teams assistant Mike Priefer. Eddie Drummond is a dangerous punt and kick-off returner as Detroit does an excellent job of blocking for both types of returns. Drummond is averaging almost 30 yards a kick return and has scored a touchdown already.

New York is not likely to break any long kick returns with Mike Cloud replacing Willie Ponder.

Oct 132004
 
New York Giants 26 – Dallas Cowboys 10

Preface to My Game Review: I have received quite a few e-mails in recent weeks criticizing me for not being more optimistic about the Giants’ fast start this year. These people do not understand my overall approach when it comes to the team. BBI members who have been with the site since its inception in 1995 know that I have usually always tried to maintain a balanced overview of the state of the Giants. When the Giants lose, I usually argue that things are not as bad as they appear; when they win, I usually point out the flaws. Yes I am guilty of an occasional meltdown (this usually happened once per season under Jim Fassel’s regime), but I would like to think that I try to keep things in perspective.

So, if the Giants keep winning, you won’t hear an inordinate amount of praise from me. Likewise, if the Giants start to lose some football games, I am not going to jump off the bandwagon either. This is who I am and this is how I’ve covered the Giants since 1995.

Game Overview: Last week I said the Giants-Packers game was not as close as the score indicated. This week the game was far closer than the score would make it seem. The Giants were out-played by the Cowboys for much of the first half and three dumb Dallas penalties were directly responsible for the Giants’ first touchdown of the game in the third quarter. A roughing the passer penalty on the Cowboys also kept the Giants’ first field goal drive alive. In other words, 10 of the Giants’ points may not have occurred had it not been for dumb mental errors on the part of the Cowboys.

The bad news is that there were plenty of areas where the Giants didn’t play well. The run defense was shoddy. There were too many penalties on the offensive line. The Giants are still not making big plays in the passing game down the field. The good news is that the Giants are winning despite these correctable problems. The Giants can and should get better as the season progresses and that is an exciting prospect. The only dark cloud on the horizon is that the injuries are starting to mount somewhat. People can argue that losing Shaun Williams, Omar Stoutmire, Barry Stokes, Tim Carter, and Wes Mallard are not big losses. But they WILL become big losses if and when injuries strike again at safety, the offensive line, wide receiver, or linebacker.

But back to the game. This was a huge win for the Giants. Texas Stadium was as loud as I can remember a regular season game being. This was a huge game for the Cowboys too. The Giants took their best shot – in their house – and beat them. The Giants are now 2-1 in the NFC East with three more division games left to play.

Offense: One thing that surprises me a bit is when Giants’ fans wonder why the offense is not more productive when the team faces one of the better defenses in the league. It’s an attitude that seems to suggest that there is any talent on the other team, that games are not generally evenly-matched contests. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The Cowboys went to the playoffs last year and remain a dangerous team to play against BECAUSE of their defense. As I said in my game preview, they have a very good front seven and an impact player at free safety. I was personally amazed at the play of MLB Dat Nguyen against the Giants – this guy was constantly around the football and disrupting plays. Give the Cowboys’ defense credit folks.

I thought the Giants would win this game if HB Tiki Barber and QB Kurt Warner did not turn the football over. This was also the publicly stated goal of the Dallas defense. Barber and Warner did not turn it over and that is a big reason why the Giants won.

What was interesting was how aggressive Tom Coughlin remained late in the game with his play-calling, calling a couple of deep passes that fell incomplete. This could have backfired on him, but it didn’t and the Giants put the game away instead of having to sweat it out late in the 4th quarter. The Cowboys defended the Giants’ screens pretty well until late in the game when Barber broke his 55-yard reception.

Quarterback: As usual, Kurt Warner did not put up big numbers (18-of-33 for 217 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions) and his completion percentage (55 percent) was down the week. But Warner remained very composed against an aggressive, attack defense that tried to rattle him and the entire Giants’ offense. Warner was often spotted pointing out potential blitzers and I was impressed with the way he once again stood tall in the pocket with a lot of bodies flying all around him. Warner made a nice pass to Amani Toomer for 18 yards on 3rd-and-15 on the Giants’ first drive of the game. Warner threw a perfect deep pass in the end zone for Tim Carter on the Giants’ second drive of the game that should have been a 33-yard touchdown, but Carter dropped the ball. Two plays later, Warner hit Ike Hilliard for 15 yards on 3rd-and-5 despite being pressured from his blindside. This helped to set up the Giants’ first field goal.

The Giants’ offense did not get moving again until late in the second quarter when Warner hit Jeremy Shockey for 19 yards (called back due to holding), Shockey for 9 yards, Hilliard 16 yards (with a lot of pressure in his face), and Barber for 4 yards. These plays moved the Giants within field goal range again to cut the score to 10-6.

I wasn’t real happy with Warner after the Giants’ touchdown drive in the third quarter. Warner took one sack when he should have thrown the ball away. He also fumbled the ball when sacked by on another play, but fortunately the Giants recovered and Dallas was flagged with a personal foul penalty. But Warner did throw a really nice fade pass to Shockey for the touchdown on 3rd-and-goal. Warner helped to set up the third field goal with passes of 12 to Toomer, 8 to Shockey, 5 to Barber, and 7 to Barber. Two key passes on the final field goal drive were the 16-yard out to Toomer on 2nd-and-10 and the 8-yard out to Toomer on 2nd-and-6 despite a heavy blitz. Warner was flagged twice, once for delay of game and once for a false start.

Wide Receivers: Losing Tim Carter (no catches) could hurt a lot. Jamaar Taylor has the ability to adequately replace him as the deep threat (and has a chance to be a lot better than Carter), but now the Giants’ depth situation at wide receiver becomes very thin. An injury to Toomer or Hilliard could make things ugly.

Carter apparently broke his hip on the post-route that should have resulted in a 33-yard touchdown had Carter not dropped the ball. Carter later almost caused an interception when he slipped out of his cut on a square-in.

Toomer caught six passes for 66 yards, but I thought he would have a bigger game against the rookie Jacques Reeves. Toomer did come up with 18-yard reception on 3rd-and-15 that turned around the field position situation. But Toomer also fumbled away the ball in the second quarter on a WR-screen pass; this helped to set up Dallas’ field goal. Toomer did make a number of important catches in the second half such as his 12-yard out on the third field goal drive and his 16- and 8-yard outs on the final field goal drive. Toomer also had a good block on Barber’s long 58-yard run.

Ike Hilliard only caught 2 passes for 31 yards, but both were important plays on each of the field goal drives in the first half: the first a 15 yard reception on 3rd-and-5 and the second a 16-yard reception on 2nd-and-11. On the latter drive, Hilliard was ruled to have dropped a pass that should have been ruled a fumble that he recovered himself. There was one run early in the game where a linebacker ran through Hilliard’s attempted block on a running play, but Hilliard did get an effective block on Barber’s 3-yard touchdown run.

Running Backs: HB Tiki Barber (23 carries for 122 yards, 1 touchdown; 5 catches for 76 yards) is having what looks like a career year. He is running well both inside and outside of the tackles and he seems to come up with a huge play in every game (two against Dallas). Barber and the Giants’ offense could not get untracked in the first half as Barber was limited to 23 yards rushing in the first half. Barber also dropped a pass in the first half. However, in the second half of the game, Barber exploded. Barber broke off a superb 58-yard run on the Giants’ first touchdown drive. On this run, Barber demonstrated outstanding vision as he cut his run back to a big hole to his left, broke a tackle, and then slowed down to help set up Toomer’s downfield run block. Barber’s runs of 4, 5, and 7 yards helped to set up the final field goal drive (the latter run was all Tiki as he cut away from the point-of-attack). Then Tiki put the game away with his 55-yard reception off a WR-screen. A few plays later, he picked up 8 yards on 3rd-and-6 by cutting his run back up inside. On the very next play, he powered into the end zone off the right side of the line. Barber’s blitz pick-ups were excellent.

Things didn’t start off well for Jim Finn in the run blocking department as a saw MLB Dat Nguyen run right through him to stuff Barber on the first drive of the game. He also completely whiffed on LB Al Singleton on the next drive. But after these snafus, it was mostly a positive performance for Finn in the blocking department in the second half of the game. Finn got a good run block on the defensive tackle on Barber’s 58-yard run. He also got an excellent block on Tiki’s 3-yard touchdown run.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey (5 catches for 44 yards) continues to see his role grow in the passing offense. His numbers would have looked even better had he not had a 19-yard reception erased due to a penalty. The first offensive play of the game was also a Warner-to-Shockey pass for 19 yards. Shockey’s big reception was his shortest, however. On 3rd-and-goal from the 1-yard line, he ran a nice fade route, subtly pushed off of All-Pro FS Roy Williams, and scored the go-ahead touchdown.

Visanthe Shiancoe was flagged with a false start. He did get a nice block on one Barber run that picked up 5 yards off left tackle (as did Shockey).

Offensive Line: After seeing a series of heavy blitzing teams such as the Eagles, Redskins, and Cowboys, the Giants offensive line has seen a lot of complicated stuff thrown at them in a short period of time. The results have not always been pretty, but the line has mostly held together and the first five games have been a tremendous learning experience for them. Dallas came out aggressively and blitzed quite a bit from every angle. What made matters more difficult was that the crowd was so loud that the Giants often had to snap the ball on a silent count. The biggest problem remained the penalties as LG Jason Whittle, LT Luke Petitgout, and RT David Diehl were flagged with false starts; Petitgout was flagged with holding.

The Giants were not able to run the ball much at all in the first half as Barber was limited to 23 yards on the ground. The Dallas linebackers are very fast and flow quickly to the point-of-attack. There were two Barber runs in the first half where OC Shaun O’Hara, RG Chris Snee, and Diehl got good blocks. There was also a left side run where Petitgout got a good block. Whittle got beat pretty badly by DT La’Roi Glover on another Barber carry.

In the second half, O’Hara got an excellent block on the linebacker on Barber’s 58-yard run as Whittle and Petitgout likewise walled off their men. In the 4th quarter, I spotted good run blocks from Petitgout (twice), Diehl (twice), O’Hara (twice), and Whittle (twice). One of Whittle’s blocks was a good pulling effort on Tiki’s 3-yard touchdown run. O’Hara got a good run block on the 8-yard run on 3rd-and-6 that preceded this play (as did Diehl).

There were some breakdowns in pass protection up front. On the Giants’ first drive of the game, Diehl got beat to the outside on 3rd-and-4 by DE Greg Ellis and Ellis’ contact on Warner forced an incompletion. On the next drive, Dallas blitzed three men on two Giants (Diehl and Snee), yet Diehl did not pick up anyone. A few plays later Petitgout got pushed back into Warner by the right end and then Snee gave up a pressure that forced an incompletion on 3rd-and-10. On the Giants’ third drive of the game, Petitgout got beat and gave up a sack. Snee gave up a pressure late in the first half. Snee also got run over on the play where Warner was sacked and fumbled the ball (Snee recovered the fumble). In the 4th quarter, Snee failed to pick up a free blitzer.

Defense: The Giants gave up too many rushing yards (166). However, part of this can be explained by the game plans of the Giants and Cowboys. The Giants chose to call defensive alignments that were pass defense-focused. For example, I spotted quite a few defensive sets where the Giants had defensive backs playing linebacker. The Cowboys also chose to cross the Giants up by spreading out their offense and then running the ball against the undermanned middle. These explanations are not mean to excuse the poor run defense of the Giants, but merely try to explain that there were extenuating circumstances for it.

Coming into the game, the Cowboys were the #2-ranked passing team in the league. But the Giants shut down their pass offense (112 net yards). I found it interesting that when Bill Parcells was asked by the Dallas media why the Cowboys did not attack the Giants through the air more, he said it was because the strength of the Giants’ defense was their pass coverage and pass rush.

During the Giants 4-game winning strength, the strength of the team has been their defense and the strength of the defense has been the secondary.

Defensive Line: I don’t think it was a terribly impressive game by the defensive line. What I think is interesting – be it because of the new schemes or the perception or reality of Michael Strahan’s run defense ability – is that teams are no longer afraid of running in Strahan’s direction. In the first half, the Cowboys were able to pick up some decent games with strongside runs with Strahan getting effectively blocked on these plays. But there was also one impressive play on Dallas’ touchdown drive where Strahan played off a block and made the tackle. Strahan (5 tackles) came up with a big pass pressure that forced an incompletion on 3rd-and-3 on Dallas’ opening drive of the second half. He also forced another incompletion on 2nd-and-7 in the 4th quarter with a strong pass rush. Strahan was flagged with a 15-yard personal foul penalty.

Keith Washington (2 tackles) was pretty much controlled by LT Flozell Adams. Dallas was able to pick up sizeable chunks of yardage by running left, including HB Eddie George’s 24-yard run in the first quarter and a series of runs early in the third quarter. Osi Umenyiora (2 tackles, 1 sack) made one nice play against the run late in the third quarter and then on the very next play sacked Vinnie Testerverde on 3rd-and-6. This was a big sack as the Dallas place kicker fell short on his 52-yard field goal effort.

None of the defensive tackles really stood out. Both Norman Hand and Fred Robbins each did make one nice play against the run. Robbins stuffed one FB Darian Barnes run for a 1-yard loss in the first quarter and Hand did so against George in the second quarter. Hand also got one decent pass rush. However, these two were not particularly stout against the run on Sunday (Robbins left the game early in the first half). On George’s 24-yard run, Robbins took himself out of the play by slanting hard to his left (I don’t know if this was the design of the defensive scheme or a mistake by Robbins). The Giants also got hurt a few times when they stunted their defensive tackles and this helped to open up the middle of the defense on runs.

William Joseph played a lot after Robbins left the game. He did force a fumble (mistakenly credited to Strahan), but he too had some problems disengaging from the Dallas offensive line. To be fair to Joseph, there were a few plays where he was asked to play nose tackle and the ends were split out wide…in other words, he had a lot of ground to cover and a lot of enemy blockers to face. But Joseph got pushed aside in some traditional sets too such as when RaShard Lee picked up 14 yards up the gut in the second quarter. Lance Legree played a lot too and really got man-handled by LG Larry Allen.

Linebackers: Right now these guys are doing better in pass defense than they are in run defense. MLB Kevin Lewis (5 tackles) doesn’t see the field when the Giants put in their nickel and dime packages, but he did come up with two excellent plays against the run. He stuffed George for a 2-yard loss on 4th-and-goal. This was a huge play in the ball game. He also made a nice play when pursuing George on a run around right end that he tackled for a 1-yard gain. However, Lewis was blocked effectively on a few between-the-tackle runs.

The good news with SLB Carlos Emmons (4 tackles) is that when I watch him in pass coverage, I love the way he aggressively and forcefully jams the receiver at the line of scrimmage. The bad news is that Emmons is still getting run at (effectively blocked at the point-of-attack) and on Sunday, he missed a bunch of tackles. One came on an important 3-and-8 play where Emmons missed WR Terry Glenn and this allowed Glenn to pick up the first down (Dallas scored a touchdown three plays later). Emmons got one pass pressure early in the game, but the biggest play he made in the game is when he forcefully tackled TE Jason Witten short of the first down marker on 3rd-and-7. Dallas went for it on 4th-and-1 and failed. This latter play was the biggest of the ball game but it was set up by Emmons’ sure tackle.

WLB Barrett Green (4 tackles) had problems with runs at the point-of-attack too, including getting taken out by the fullback on a few inside runs. Green was flagged with an illegal contact penalty but his coverage has been generally very good. The big play he made in the game is when he forced Witten to fumble and he then recovered this fumble. This set up PK Steve Christie’s 51-yard field goal right before halftime.

Defensive Backs: Another superlative effort by the defensive backs. Dallas came into the game one of the league leaders in passing offense, yet the Giants held them to 112 net yards passing. Granted some of this was due to the fact that the Cowboys chose to run more than pass, but when Dallas tried to pass, they were not very successful.

In my opinion, the big reason why the secondary is playing so well right now is that Will Allen and Will Peterson are blanketing the primary receivers. Fans and media types are criticizing Allen for dropping two interceptions that would have been returned for touchdowns (and rightfully so), but that does not diminish the fact that he is taking his man completely out of the passing attack. Allen nearly scored on Dallas’ first offensive play of the game as he quickly jumped on a short Testeverde pass to the tight end in front of him, but he couldn’t hold onto the ball. In the second half, Testeverde threw a backwards pass to Keyshawn Johnson who then tried to hit RB Ritchie Anderson down the field for a big play, but Allen easily broke it up. Anderson just got a finger on the ball to make it a tougher catch for Allen, but had Allen caught the ball, he would have scored. Allen made the biggest play of the game when he tackled FB Darian Barnes short of the first down marker on 4th-and-1.

The only pass play of note Peterson gave up was a play where he was too far off Keyshawn Johnson. Johnson easily caught the ball in front of him and broke Peterson’s tackle for a 24-yard gain. Peterson also gave up a 9-yard slant, but that was it. Peterson finished the game for the defense by easily intercepting a deep pass intended for WR Antonio Bryant. Peterson still does need to fight off blocks by wide receivers on running plays better.

How good did Allen and Peterson do? Johnson, Glenn, and Bryant were limited to seven catches.

Of course, Terry Cousin and Frank Walker deserve a lot of credit too, especially when Dallas went to multiple wide receiver sets, which was often. Walker had excellent coverage on Johnson twice in the endzone early in the second quarter. The first pass fell incomplete, the second went for a touchdown, but Walker couldn’t defend what was an extremely well-thrown football.

Gibril Wilson (5 tackles, 1 sack) remains a very active and impressive rookie. He sacked Testeverde once on a safety blitz and was right there as well on Umenyiora’s sack. Wilson did have some problems against the run when Dallas smartly called running plays when New York had a nickel or dime package in the game as Wilson was playing the linebacker spot. Wilson did make a nice tackle on Anderson in the flat after a short pass in the fourth quarter.

Brent Alexander (4 tackles) has been credited many times by Coughlin for making sure that Wilson is in the right position. He made a nice play in run defense against the Cowboys, but he sometimes has problems tackling runners in the open field.

Special Teams: I’m glad Tom Coughlin did not listen to the Giants’ fans calling for Steve Christie’s head last week. He went 4-for-4 on his field goal efforts and his 51- and 47-yarders were big-time kicks (and right down the middle). His kickoffs were fielded at the 15, 27 (a squib kickoff), 11, 12, 7, and 26 (deliberate short kickoff).

Kickoff coverage was not sharp. The first kickoff was returned 36 yards to the Giants’ 49-yard line (Curtis Deloatch and Steve Christie on the tackle). The next was a squib return for 25 yards that Dallas almost broke (Frank Walker on the tackle). The other returns went for 24 (Deloatch), 22 (Jack Brewer), 18 (Brewer and Deloatch), and 0 (Brewer). Tom Coughlin singled out Deloatch’s play after the game. Brewer also remains very active on special teams.

Jeff Feagles punted three times for a 42.7 yards-per-punt average, with one effort inside the 20. Dallas punt returns: fair catch (Brewer down in a hurry), 6 yards (Kevin Lewis), and 11 yards (Mike Cloud).

The Giants’ return game was not productive. Coughlin seems to have moved to Mike Cloud from Willie Ponder due to ball security issues, but I am not sure this is the right move. Cloud is not a good kick returner. On his first return, he abandoned his blocking. He did better on his two other efforts, but he looks too slow to me to ever break a return. Cloud’s returns went for 18, 26, and 24 yards.

Mark Jones was not able to do anything this week. The two punts he returned went for 5 and –1 yards.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, October 10, 2004)
Oct 082004
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, October 10, 2004: If the Giants are going to seriously contend with the Eagles for the NFC East title, this game against the Cowboys is absolutely critical. The Eagles are 2-0 in division games while the Giants are 1-1. Falling to 1-2 with only three more division games left would be a tough obstacle to overcome.

Dallas made the playoffs last season due to a top-ranked defense. They added two old farts to the offense in QB Vinny Testeverde and HB Eddie George. Meanwhile the secondary has taken some knocks due to injuries at safety and cornerback. The Cowboys are not a super-talented team. They have very good receivers at wide receiver and tight end, but I’d take the Giants’ roster over theirs. They win because they are well-coached. Like Coughlin, Parcells’ teams play hard all the time and generally don’t beat themselves. However, despite what some fans think, Parcells in not God. He hasn’t had a lot of success – especially in the playoffs – since he left the Giants in 1991. This is a very winnable game for the Giants. But New York needs a strong effort from all three phases of the game. Dallas is coming off a bye week so they have had two weeks to prepare for the Giants. The Cowboys will be ready.

Giants on Offense: The Dallas defense is very sound. Up front, the best players are DT La’Roi Glover, who will line-up over LG Jason Whittle, and DE Greg Ellis (3 sacks), who will line-up over LT Luke Petitgout. Whittle will have his hands full with Glover, especially if his hand is still wrapped in that big cast. The other battles will be DE Marcellus Wiley versus RT David Diehl and DT Leonardo Carson against RG Chris Snee.

The Dallas linebackers – Al Singleton, Dat Nguyen, and Dexter Coakley – are all on the small side, but they are good athletes who can disrupt running plays with their quickness and cover. HB Tiki Barber will have to work hard against these guys to get open and the outside runs that the Giants like to use might not work very well against Dallas’ linebacker speed. A big key to watch in this game is the ability of the Giants’ blockers, especially the guards, OC Shaun O’Hara, and lead blocker (be it TE Visanthe Shiancoe or FB Jim Finn) to successfully engage the linebackers and sustain their blocks.

The Cowboys have had some injury problems in the secondary. SS Darren Woodson hasn’t played yet this year. His replacement – Tony Dixon – is a good run defender and blitzer who sometimes struggles in coverage. Rookie Jacques Reeves starts at right corner as the Cowboys lost Pete Hunter a couple of weeks ago. However, FS Roy Williams is one of the very best defenders in the game and a real difference-maker. Second-year left corner Terence Newman is also an excellent player. If Newman stays at his left corner spot and covers Ike Hilliard, the Giants absolutely MUST get a first-class game out of Amani Toomer against Reeves. If Amani truly thinks he is one of the best receivers in the game, he has to prove it. Since depth at corner is now an issue for Dallas, getting Tim Carter on the field and creating match-up problems against the Cowboy nickel package would be smart.

The Cowboys are another heavy blitzing team. They will bring not only their linebackers, but their defensive backs (especially their safeties – Dixon has 3 sacks). The way the Giants will attack this defense will be interesting. Coughlin could decide to play it close to the vest and run at the smaller linebackers. I wouldn’t think outside runs would be terrible productive however as the Dallas linebackers and safeties can chase very well. Coughlin could also decide to go after the weaker spots in the Dallas secondary early. However, the Dallas linebackers are better suited than most team to cover TE Jeremy Shockey and HB Tiki Barber. If the Giants do a lot of damage in the passing game, I would expect it to be to the wide receivers.

What the Giants absolutely must not do is beat themselves. QB Kurt Warner and Barber need to protect the football. Don’t give Dallas any cheap scoring opportunities. I would use screens to help defeat the blitz and run the ball between the tackles with Barber. And I would take shots down the field to the wide receivers. Jeremy Shockey needs to make some plays against the linebackers. If he is one of the best in the game, he has to play like it.

Giants on Defense: The strength of the Dallas offense is their set of wide receivers (Terry Glenn, Keyshawn Johnson, and Antonio Bryant) and their pass receiving tight end (Jason Witten). Coverage on these four will largely determine the game. The Giants need Carlos Emmons to pound on Witten and keep him from being a big factor in the passing game. Will Peterson will line-up over Johnson and I think this is a favorable match-up for the Giants. Will Allen will face Glenn and Allen has the speed to stay with him. I think a lot of action will center around Terry Cousin and Frank Walker. These two need to play well.

Dallas has a pretty solid offensive line. I don’t expect DE Keith Washington to get much done against LT Flozell Adams in the pass rush department. Washington will be challenged in run defense by the huge Adams. LG Larry Allen is nearing the end of a brilliant career. He is not as quick as he once was, but he is still a very strong player. DT Fred Robbins has been strangely quiet since his big day against the Redskins and he needs to pick it up. RG Andre Gurode hasn’t developed as hoped, but he is an aggressive player. With DT Norman Hand (elbow) banged up, we may see more of DT William Joseph this week. This is Joseph’s time to make a statement. The Giants do need a big game out of DE Michael Strahan, who will face the weak-link in the Dallas line, RT Torrin Tucker. It also hurts Dallas that TE Dan Cambpell is out for the year and won’t be able to help Tucker.

The Dallas rushing attack has struggled and it is absolutely critical that the Giants don’t allow the Cowboys to get their ground game going this weekend. Eddie George is nearing the end of the line, but he is still capable of having an excellent game as he did last year in the playoffs. Richie Anderson and a HB/FB hybrid and a Parcells’ favorite. He is used as a receiver, runner, blocker, and sometimes even a passer.

I wouldn’t want Vinny Testeverde starting on my team as I’ve seen the guy have too many mental meltdowns. However, when he plays well, he is can be very good. He is comfortable in this Dallas offense, is an experienced veteran, gets rid of the ball when pressured, has a strong arm, and has excellent receivers to throw to. It will be interesting to see how the Giants approach him. Do they blitz and risk one-on-one coverage with those quality receivers? Or do they employ the game-plan from last week and focus more on coverage than rushing the passer? Obviously, Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis will mix it up, but I wonder how heavily weighted in one direction or the other the game plan will be.

The Giants’ defense can’t obsess about it, but there will come a time in this game when Parcells will call something aggressive, be it going for it on 4th down or calling some sort of trick play. If the Giants can defeat this play, it will be an enormous psychological lift for the Giants and likewise disheartening for the Cowboys.

Giants on Special Teams: The Giants need to be wary of the trick play here too.

Of biggest concern this week is the injury status of punt returner Mark Jones (shoulder). If he can’t play, the Giants may have Curtis Deloatch, Amani Toomer, or Tiki Barber return punts. Obviously that is not a terribly comfortable situation.

Also, the Giants field goal situation is shaky as Steve Christie has missed half his field goal attempts.

Dallas kickoff return man ReShard Lee has a 62-yard return this year; the Giants obviously need to keep him under wraps as well as punt returner Dedric Ward. Ward is sometimes guilty of putting the ball on the ground.

Oct 062004
 
New York Giants 14 – Green Bay Packers 7

Game Overview: This was obviously a very important win. It moved the Giants record to 3-1, keeping pressure on Philadelphia in the NFC East. Psychologically the victory was critical because it helps to convince the players that Head Coach Tom Coughlin’s methods do work and that this team can contend this year. Winning begets confidence, which begets more winning. The game was not as close as the final score would indicate. The Giants faced a desperate team that made the playoffs last season on their home field and kicked their butts. That means something.

Offense: There were a lot of posts in The Corner Forum this week about why didn’t the Giants take more shots down the field in the passing game. Those arguing this case are completely ignoring the fact that the winds were treacherous and QB Kurt Warner doesn’t have a strong arm. It was also the Giants’ game plan to dominate the time of possession battle and keep potentially explosive Packer offense off the field.

Quarterback: I thought it was a mixed day for Kurt Warner (20-of-26 for 187 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception). His completion percentage was excellent (77%) despite the windy conditions. And the wind and the anticipation of a blitzing defense (which never really materialized) probably is the reason why his yards-per-completion totals were lower as the play-calling called for mostly short passes. The offensive line provided Warner with excellent pass protection, but Warner continues to help out his blockers by sliding in the pocket when necessary. And Warner gained significant yardage on his two scrambles (22 yards).

However, on the Giants’ second drive of the game, Warner missed seeing a wide-open Amani Toomer on what should have been a touchdown. He also took a 10-yard sack instead of throwing the ball away when the Packers blitzed a safety right into a called naked rollout. Then on 3rd-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Warner threw a terrible pass intended for Toomer with three Packer defenders surrounding the receiver and the ball was intercepted. With 21 seconds before halftime, Warner took an ill-advised sack by holding onto the ball forever instead of throwing it away (two of New York’s four sacks were the responsibility of Warner; a third really wasn’t a “sack” as Warner ran out-of-bound for a 0-yard loss).

Warner tried to force a ball to Toomer on 3rd-and-15 in the third quarter that was almost intercepted. But Warner made some key passes on the Giants’ second scoring drive. He hit Toomer for 17 yards to start the possession. Then he found Jeremy Shockey for 26 yards on 1st-and-20. His 9-yard run put the ball at the Green Bay 1-yard line, but he should have dove for the touchdown instead of slid. Two plays later, Warner just missed Toomer on a fade, but then threw an excellent fade to Shockey in the end zone for the touchdown.

Wide Receivers: The leading wide receiver was Ike Hilliard with 5 catches for 36 yards. In the first half, Hilliard was employed on a couple of quick WR-screens, one of which would have been stopped for no yardage had it not been for a superb move by Ike to make a linebacker miss. Ike’s biggest play of the day was a 3rd-and-2 screen pass that he broke for 14 yards. The Giants are a very good screen team – and they use halfbacks, tight ends, and receivers on these screens.

Tim Carter’s action all came in the first half. He ran an end around for 15 yards (Amani Toomer had a good block on this play) and he caught both his passes (for 17 and 6 yards) on back-to-back plays in the second quarter.

Amani Toomer (3 catches for 34 yards) made a bigger impact with his blocking than with his receiving. He did have a 17-yard reception on the Giants’ second TD drive, but Toomer had more trouble with CB Al Harris than I expected. Toomer got key blocks on Barber’s 38-yard run and his late 17-yarder.

Running Backs: Tiki Barber (23 carries for 182 yards, 1 touchdown) rushed for almost 8 yards per carry and had his second most productive day as a pro in his career. Things didn’t start out great for Barber on the first drive as he failed to follow his blocks on a toss to the right and only picked up 2 yards on a play that should have gained more. But on New York’s second drive, Barber picked up 17 yards on a run around left end. On the Giants’ next possession, Tiki made an excellent run when he cutback to the left, faked the pursuing linebacker out, pivoted back to his right and shot through the gap that his fake created to gain 8-yards on a play that looked like it was going nowhere. Late in the second quarter, Barber gained 11 yards on a poorly-blocked draw play all by himself.

Most of Barber’s damage came in the second half. His 52-yard touchdown run was exceptionally well-blocked, but Barber also made a nice move in the hole and sprinted for the end zone. Barber also came up big on the Giants’ second touchdown drive. Tiki nearly broke another big play as he was just tripped up on a screen pass that picked up 6 yards. On the very next play, Barber cut back a run to the left to pick up 38 yards. On the following two drives where the Giants were attempting to grind out the ball against a defense looking to stop the run, Barber had runs of 4, 7, 5, 3, 3, -1, 3, and 17 yards.

Barber is on top of his game right now. He looks just as strong and quick as he ever has and he is making big plays in both the running and passing game.

Ron Dayne (9 carries for 26 yards; a 2.9 yards-per-carry average) continues his mediocre play despite starting the game at halfback and not being exclusively deployed in predictable situations (a common criticism of his proponents). Dayne dropped a pass on the first drive of the game. On New York’s next possession, Dayne did gain 6-yards in a blocking scheme that worked well for the Giants most of the day: a run between RG Chris Snee and RT David Diehl where H-Back/TE Visanthe Shiancoe leads the play into the hole and LG Jason Whittle pulls into the hole. Later in the drive, on 1st-and-goal from the 6-yard line, Dayne picked up 3 yards on his first carry. His next run was terrible however as it looked like he had a touchdown if he had just cut his run to his right instead of plowing right into the pile up on the ground in front of him (I swear it seems like Dayne runs with his eyes closed sometimes – poor instincts). This was a big play because on the subsequent play Warner threw his interception in the end zone (at least Dayne’s pursuit on this play prevented a possible Green Bay defensive touchdown by forcing the safety back inside where he was tackled by Diehl). Dayne did score on 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line, but a false start penalty on Luke Petitgout erased the touchdown.

FB Jim Finn’s blocking was solid. He got a great block on Barber’s late 17-yard run by taking out two defenders.

Tight Ends: A lot of the success that Tiki Barber had on the ground was due to the blocking of the tight ends, particularly Visanthe Shiancoe. It really pisses me off when the media still contends the Giants don’t have a blocking tight end – because they do in Shiancoe, as I’ve been arguing for over a year. Both Shiancoe and Shockey are often called upon to block defensive ends all by themselves and both usually do a good job in doing so. Things didn’t start off strong for Visanthe when he didn’t sustain a block on Dayne’s first carry of the game off right tackle. But the Giants gained quite a bit of yardage behind solid blocks from Shiancoe at the point-of-attack when he was used as a lead blocker from the motion TE or H-Back position. Shiancoe got key blocks from the H-Back spot on Barber’s 52-yard touchdown run, Barber’s 38-yard run, and Barber’s late fourth quarter 17-yard gain.

Shockey got a good block on Tiki’s 17-yard carry in the first quarter, but he missed two blocks early in the second quarter on Barber runs that picked up 1-yard and lost 4 yards, the latter being on 3rd-and-3 (Shiancoe had some problems with the defensive lineman on this play as well). Shockey made a key block at the point-of-attack on Barber’s 52-yard touchdown run

Shockey caught 5 passes for 74 yards, including a fade for a touchdown over the left corner on 3rd-and-goal from the 4-yard line. He was a big part of the second TD drive as he caught a 26-yard pass on 1st-and-20 and a touchdown on a 3rd-and-goal fade from the 4-yard line. (Incidentally, how does Jeremy Shockey get flagged for thumping his chest twice while Terrell Owens is allowed to do a whole series of push-ups in the end zone? The NFL officiating is an embarrassment). Shockey also had a nice 11-yard reception on a TE-screen.

Offensive Line: The stat line reads four sacks allowed, but two of these sacks were not the fault of the offensive line. One came on a play where Warner had all day to throw but simply refused to throw the ball away; the other came on a naked rollout where the Packers had unfortunately called a safety blitz to the same side. Another “sack” was credited to the Packers when Warner rolled away from pressure to his right and ran out of bounds for a 0-yard loss. The line did give up one sack when Snee got badly beat by the defensive end (Whittle also allowed his man to get on top of Warner too on this same play). Snee also gave up another pressure in the second half. But most of the time, the pass protection was very, very solid. There were some plays when Warner could have written a book back there he had so much time. As I thought he might, the embattled Packers’ defensive coordinator pulled in the reins on his blitzing schemes that had gotten his defense killed the previous week. So with the Packers often rushing only four, the Giants’ offensive line had few problems dealing with the pass rush. Confusion on stunts sometimes remains an issue as Snee and Diehl had trouble picking up one stunt (on the play where Warner ran out of bounds), OC Shaun O’Hara had problems on another, as did LT Luke Petitgout on another.

When a team rushes for 245 yards in a single game, the offensive line is obviously doing the job in the ground game. The Giants’ most productive early run (Barber’s 17-yarder) was their usual left-side affair. In this case, Petitgout on a short-pull kicked out his man, Shockey blocked down on the defensive end, FB Jim Finn led the play through the hole and took out the pursuing linebacker, and Whittle and Snee got excellent downfield blocks. But the Giants added another interesting bread-and-butter play to their arsenal this week when they ran between Snee and Diehl with Shiancoe (from the H-Back position) and Whittle (pulling across the formation) leading the play in the hole. The 52-yard TD run came on a slight variation of this as the hole was between Diehl and Shockey with Shiancoe and Whittle leading. On Tiki’s 38-yard run, Tiki squirted through a hole created by O’Hara, Whittle, and Shiancoe (Toomer got a good outside block on this too). O’Hara still has trouble with power, but he is very good at engaging blockers at the second level.

The biggest negative was the penalties. Diehl, Snee, and Petitgout got flagged with false starts. Whittle got flagged for an illegal chop block (and it wasn’t a good block to boot as his man still pressured Warner) and another holding call on a pull.

Defense: Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis decided not to blitz as much against the Packers and keep more men in coverage against their potentially explosive attack and, obviously based on the results, that was the correct decision. This was another strong game by the Giants’ secondary, which right now is the strength of the defense.

Defensive Line: The only defensive lineman who exerted any consistent pressure was DE Michael Strahan (5 tackles). Strahan was a bit up-and-down against the run again as early on in the game HB Ahman Green (who the Giants largely kept in check) was able to gain 8-yards on a run in his direction (SLB Carlos Emmons was effectively blocked on this play as well). However, a few plays later, Strahan really stood his ground, defeated the blocks in front of him, and tackled Green for no gain. There was another play in the third quarter where Strahan strung-out a right-side run, fought off the blocker, and made the tackle.

The rest of the starters were pretty non-descript. DE Keith Washington had three tackles. The best play he made was not getting fooled on an end around. DT Fred Robbins dropped Green for a 4-yard loss on a run around left end where Robbins was not blocked. This was Robbins’ only tackle of the game. There was one 9-yard run by Green where Robbins got easily blocked. Norman Hand wasn’t involved in a single tackle and I spotted him getting absolutely crushed on one inside run.

The next best DL for the Giants on Sunday was DT William Joseph. Joseph over-powered the left guard on the play where his hit knocked QB Brett Favre out of the game. On the following Packer drive, Joseph made a few plays: he completely disrupted a Green run at the point-of-attack while at the same time drawing a holding penalty, he knocked down a Doug Pederson pass, and he stuffed another Green run for 1-yard loss.

Osi Umenyiora is still sackless, but he is getting some heat on opposing quarterbacks. His sacks will come. The Giants ran an interesting pass rush scheme where they had Strahan at right end and Umenyiora at right defensive tackle. Unfortunately, on this play, the Packers called the perfect play with a shovel pass to Green. Credit Umenyiora with hustling all the way from the quarterback spot down the field 17 yards to make the tackle.

Linebackers: It’s tough for me to figure out how the Giants’ defense has been getting the job done in the past two weeks when there have been few standouts in the front seven other than Strahan. The linebackers were not bad on Sunday against the Packers, but they really did not stand out either. The guy who remains near the top of the Giants’ cumulative tackle list but who I never really see making a play is MLB Kevin Lewis (5 tackles). Lewis gets blocked at the point-of-attack too often for my taste. It’s tough for an average-sized MLB to take on blocks from big offensive linemen so middle linebackers need to be agile enough to avoid some of these blocks. Lewis never seems to be able to do that. He also misreads plays at times and, by doing so, takes himself out of the play. But so far Lewis isn’t hurting the Giants. He must be doing a solid job in coverage.

SLB Carlos Emmons (5 tackles) is another guy who hasn’t come though with a memorable performance. And he too has been getting handled too much at the point-of-attack for my liking. But the Giants’ defense is playing well and Emmons must have a role in that.

WLB Barrett Green (6 tackles, 1 forced fumble) got beat in the flat by Ahman Green on a couple of occasions, but played the run pretty solidly, including one play where he forced Ahman Green to cut his run back inside where Emmons nailed him. He also forced Ahman Green to fumble and this was recovered by the Giants. Barrett knocked a pass away that was intended for TE David Martin, but there was also a 9-yard run where Barrett got knocked off his feet.

Defensive Backs: Another strong game by the secondary and this week it came against a very good quarterback and set of wide receivers who were coming off of a huge offensive game. Will Allen (4 tackles) and Will Peterson (4 tackles, 1 interception) played great. The Packer receivers could do nothing against them. Peterson came down with an interception late in the first half to snuff out the only Packers’ drive of the first half that reached the 50-yard line. Peterson also made an excellent tackle in the flat against the fullback to limit a short pass to a 4-yard gain. The only real negatives on both Wills were that Peterson got flagged with a 20-yard pass interference penalty and Allen badly missed a tackle on the fullback, leading to a 24-yard gain. Allen redeemed himself a few plays later by first perfectly playing a deep pass into the endzone that drew an offensive interference penalty and then knocking away a pass intended for Javon Walker. A blitz by Allen also forced a bad throw on 3rd-and-6. Peterson knocked away an out pass intended for Robert Ferguson late in the 4th quarter

Frank Walker was back and played pretty well after missing so much time. He had excellent coverage on a 3rd-and-3 out that he knocked away. Walker was flagged for defensive holding on 3rd-and-7 late in the second quarter, but this was a ticky-tack call. His worst play came on the 4th-an-5 28-yard touchdown pass by Favre. Walker did not get back quickly enough out of his zone and then did not turn around to play the football; Terry Cousin, who was playing safety at the time, was also slow to get over. Walker was flagged for pass interference on a play where he picked off the ball and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown. However, this was an aggressive play that sometimes doesn’t get called and I applaud Walker for the effort.

Terry Cousin played yet another strong game too. He has really helped the nickel defense.

SS Gibril Wilson (12 tackles) is playing like a veteran. Wilson can not only cover, but he is an aggressive run defender. Wilson jumped in front of QB Brett Favre’s first pass of the game and almost came down with an interception. On the same drive, he showed his athleticism by staying with the speedy WR Javon Walker over the deep middle of the field with no other help on the play. Later in the half, he came up aggressively to take on the pulling guard, take him and Ahman Green out on a play that looked like it was going to pick up some decent yardage instead of just one yard. Two Wilson blitzes disrupted left-side rollouts by Favre. He continued his aggressive run defense after Favre was knocked out and had good coverage on a pass to TE Bubba Franks that only picked up 1-yard. However, Gibril did miss a couple of tackles, including one on the 24-yard gain by FB William Henderson.

FS Brent Alexander (6 tackles) recovered a fumble.

Special Teams: Since the Giants were unsure about Ron Dayne’s calf, Mike Cloud was activated and he returned kickoffs as the Giants chose to deactivate Willie Ponder. The Giants should keep Ponder active if they can as Cloud is simply too sluggish to return kickoffs (he had one return for 23 yards).

Mark Jones returned four punts for only 16 yards. There was one play where I think the wind hung up the ball and confused him as he allowed it to hit the ground instead of cleanly fielding it. There was another punt that hit the ground in the second half where Jones foolishly picked up the ball off the ground with the coverage unit bearing right down on him. That’s how turnovers occur.

Jeff Feagles punted four times for a 48.8 yards-per-punt average, but his net was hurt as Jack Brewer and then David Tyree failed to down two punts inside the 5-yard line. His third punt was downed at the 3-yard line by Mike Cloud. The only punt returned by the Packers was returned for 14 yards (Kevin Lewis and Ryan Kuehl on the tackle).

Steve Christie had a bad, bad day. On a very windy day, he missed field goals from 49 (with the wind), 30 (against a stiff wind), and 33 (against a stiff wind) yards out. These misses could have cost the Giants the game. Christie’s kick-offs landed in the endzone for a touchback, the 7-yard line, and the 22-yard line (the first two came with the add of the wind, the latter was against the wind). Green Bay’s two kick-off returns went for 27 yards (Nick Greisen on the tackle) and 14 yards (Jim Finn on the tackle).

(Box Score – New York Giants at Green Bay Packers, October 3, 2004)
Oct 012004
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Green Bay Packers, October 3, 2004: The Giants have never really had a lot of success against the Green Bay Packers. The Giants did win the 1938 NFL Championship Game against the Packers, but the following year in 1939 Green Bay beat the Giants in the Championship Game and did so again in 1944. Vince Lombardi had been an offensive assistant coach under Giants’ Head Coach Jim Lee Howell from 1954-1958, but in 1959 Lomardi left to become the Packers’ new head coach. Defensive Coordinator Tom Landry left the next offseason to become the new head man in Dallas. The Giants got stuck with Allie Sherman in 1961.

Lomardi’s Packers beat Sherman’s Giants in the 1961 and 1962 NFL Championship Games. So if you’re keeping score at home, the Giants were 1-4 in NFL Championship Games against Green Bay. The Packers only lead the regular season series 24-20-2, but the teams have only met four times since 1992. The Ray Handley-coached Giants beat the Packers in ’92, but the Giants lost in 1995, 1998, and 2001. And the last time the Giants won an away game in Green Bay was 1971.

Why the history lesson? Well, I don’t give the Giants much of a chance in this game. It’s not that the Packers are that much better than the Giants. It has more to do with the fact that the Packers are a good football team, playing at home in a difficult place to win, and more importantly, a desperate football team. If the Packers fall to 1-3, they will be in deep, deep trouble. When two teams are pretty evenly matched, I always take the more desperate team, especially if it is a home game.

And let’s keep things in perspective. After the Eagles’ game, most BBI‘ers were about to write-off the season. After wins against two not very good football teams, there are some BBI‘ers talking playoffs. If the Giants do fall to 2-2, I’m sure the bitching will start again about the coaching staff, the play-calling, the players, management, etc. These ups-and-downs are a little ridiculous, especially from BBI‘ers who are older and have been through many NFL seasons.

But back to the game. If the Giants do find a way to match Green Bay’s intensity/desperation and come away with a win, I will be truly impressed. It would be a giant step forward for this team (pun intended). This game is winnable. Counting playoffs, the Packers are only 6-5 at Lambeau Field in their last 11 games. There is nothing to be scared of here IF the Giants match Green Bay’s level of hunger for victory.

Giants on Defense: Everyone in the media is talking about Brett Favre, but the key to this game is stopping the running game and HB Ahman Green. The Giants have been too soft against the run at certain points of all three games. Green works behind one of the very best offensive lines in the NFL. It is a group who has played together for a long time and have developed enviable cohesion and chemistry. The game will be largely determined by the ability or inability of the Giants’ front seven on defense to stand its ground and minimize the amount of damage Green does. The linebackers really have to pick up their run defense this week as do the Giants’ defensive ends.

Green Bay is also a very good screen team. They are well-aware of the fact that Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis loves to blitz, so look for Green Bay to counter with some well-timed screens. Obviously, the best way to defeat a screen is to recognize that it is coming as soon as the ball is snapped. The Packers run a version of the West Coast Offense so linebacker coverage on the fullback (William Henderson) and tight end (Bubba Franks) is also important. And not only can Ahman Green catch the ball out of the backfield, but so can his back-up, Tony Fisher. The Packers will look to exploit the blitz with quick passes to these targets…

Plus, they may count on their excellent offensive line to pick up some of these blitzes (like Philadelphia did in the opener) and take some shots down the field with their wide receivers. We all know that Brett Favre is a gunslinger who likes to take shots (and gambles) down the field. He has a very solid corps of wide receivers in Javon Walker, Donald Driver, and Robert Ferguson. Walker is the best of the bunch even though the Packers don’t list him as a starter on their depth chart. He makes big plays down the field and isn’t afraid to go over the middle. Ferguson is an athlete with excellent hands. Driver was Favre’s go-to guy in 2002 and Pro Bowl player, before a neck injury slowed his progress in 2003. Obviously, this will be a tough test for the secondary, not only dealing with these three, but also a quarterback the caliber of Favre.

If I’m the Giants, I don’t get too aggressive with my blitzes. And a huge key will be how well New York disguises their blitzes. If the Packers see the blitz coming, pick it up or have a screen play called, big plays will result. I am not saying don’t be aggressive, but just be smart. There is a risk to the blitz – just ask the Packers’ defense. The problem is that the Giants are unlikely to mount a significant pass rush with just their down four against the Packers’ experienced offensive line. (And the last thing I want to see is Strahan yucking it up with Favre – just play the damn game Michael).

Stop the run, look out for the screen passes, and find a way to mount a pass rush without bringing the house on every down.

Giants on Offense: The Packer defense is struggling and the best thing the Giants can do is to demoralize them further from the get-go. As I stated above, I don’t think the Giants are likely to win this game unless they play extremely well so I would be very aggressive offensively from the opening drive. I would eschew the ground game in the first quarter and take my shots down the field against a banged-up and oft-confused secondary. The Packers have issues at left corner with Michael Hawthorne, who will be lining up over Ike Hilliard. This is Hilliard’s time to shine. I would also try to get Tim Carter matched up on Hawthorne at certain times in the game. It will also be interesting to see if this is a contest where Jamaar Taylor gets activated and plays a few snaps. The right corner, Al Harris, is someone who the Giants are familiar with from his Philadelphia days. The Giants’ and WR Amani Toomer have had good success against him in the past. Rookie CB Jason Horton and FS Darren Sharper have struggled as of late as well. If the Giants’ offensive line, backs, and tight ends can give QB Kurt Warner some time, I think the Giants can make some big plays down the field in the passing game. But the pass protection is the key. Green Bay likes to blitz, blitz, blitz. But they were so aggressive last week, that it killed them. It will be interesting to see if their new defensive coordinator pulls in the reins this week as he is under a lot of criticism right now. Is it better if he does or doesn’t?

Trying to run the ball against a blitzing defense is usually hit or miss. With so many players crowding the line of scrimmage, it is often difficult to find an opening to run through. However, if HB Tiki Barber can get past the initial trash, there should be some open fields to do some damage. Screens and draws might be productive.

Right end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila will face LT Luke Petitgout. “KGB” hasn’t played particularly well as a pass rusher or run defender since he became a full-time starter. The Giants should be able to run at him. The Packers are hurting at tackle with Grady Jackson and James Lee out. Cletidus Hunt is an up-and-down player who sometimes causes problems, sometimes coasts. Left end Aaron Kampman is a technically-sound, blue-collar type who plays the run better than the pass.

The linebackers are solid and all good athletes: SLB Hannibal Navies, MLB Nick Barnett, and WLB Na’il Diggs. The Packers will bring them so blitz pick-ups by Barber, Visanthe Shiancoe, Jeremy Shockey, and Jim Finn will be key.

Take a chance on the offensive line. Be aggressive and try to make some big plays down the field early for touchdowns. Try to take the crowd out of it by having them get on their defense. Then come back to the running game, running at KGB with those left side sweeps and off-tackle runs the Giants like to run.

Giants on Special Teams: C’mon Willie Ponder and Mark Jones…I can feel one coming.