Nov 262004
 
Top Ten Reasons to Be Thankful for the Eagles

#10 – October 31, 1999, Giants 23 – Eagles 17 (OT): The Eagles watch a 17-3 lead vanish in the second half as Duce Staley fumbles near his own goal line, setting up the tying touchdown pass by Kent Graham. In overtime, DE Michael Strahan intercepts a deflected pass from Donovan McNabb and returns it 44 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Eagle fans at the Vet are devastated.

#9 – September 29, 1985, Giants 16 – Eagles 10 (OT): Momentum swung completely to the Eagles late in this game as the Giants see Reggie White for the first time and White bats a pass up into the air that is intercepted and returned for a touchdown by none other than Herman Edwards again. However, the Giants get their revenge and the victory when CB Elvis “Toast” Patterson intercepts Ron Jaworski in overtime and returns the pick for a touchdown in a dramatic win at the Vet.

#8 – August 31, 1997, Giants 31 – Eagles 17: The Jim Fassel-era begins with a bang as does a 9-game, 4-year winning streak against the Eagles under Fassel with this opening day victory. The Giants were expected to finish dead last in the division, but wind up winning the NFC East. An Eagles’ comeback is thwarted in the waning moments of the ballgame as rookie safety Sam Garnes returns an interception 95 yards for a touchdown.

#7 – September 9, 1990, Giants 27 – Eagles 20: Giants begin their Super Bowl run by beating the defending NFC East Champions on Sunday night on national television. The Eagles had won the previous four meetings so this was a key psychological moment to start what ended up being a 10-game winning streak. Phil Simms threw two touchdown passes and David Meggett returned a punt for a touchdown.

#6 – November 22, 1981, Giants 20 – Eagles 10: Giants end a 12-game losing streak to the despised Eagles by beating the defending NFC Champions on their home turf. The Giants’ defense dominates and CB Terry Jackson returns an interception for a touchdown. This was a huge victory in the Giants’ 1981 playoff run.

#5 – December 7, 1997, Giants 31 – Eagles 21: Giants are in a three-way battle for the NFC East title and appear to be fading. Most experts think the Eagles or Redskins will overtake the Giants for the division. New York puts an end to that talk with a dominating game at the Vet with LB Jessie Armstead returning an interception for a touchdown and a big passing game from QB Danny Kanell. The Giants clinch the NFC East title the week after this game.

#4 – December 28, 2002, Giants 10 – Eagles 7 (OT): Giants win season finale at home in overtime as the Giants win their last four games of the season and make the playoffs. New York dominates everywhere but on the scoreboard. HB Tiki Barber rushes for over 200 yards, but fumbles the ball away three times – the last time setting up what looked to be a game winning field goal attempt by Pro Bowl kicker David Akers, who misses. Giants intercept the Eagles’ back-up quarterback in overtime to set up their own game-winning field goal. Most memorable play from the game was TE Jeremy Shockey’s game-tying touchdown reception over All-Pro safety Brian Dawkins.

#3 – December 27, 1981, Giants 27 – Eagles 21: Giants eliminate the defending NFC Champs by beating the Eagles in Philadelphia for the second time in the season, this time in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game. This game marked the Giants’ first post-season appearance in 18 years. QB Scott Bruner throws three touchdown passes and CB Mark Haynes recovers a fumbled kickoff in the endzone.

#2 – January 7, 2001, Giants 20 – Eagles 10: The first stepping stone en route to the Giants 2000 NFC Championship was beating the Eagles for the third time in the season and the ninth time in a row. WR Ron Dixon returns the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. CB Jason Sehorn seals the game in the first half by coming up with a miraculous interception return for a touchdown and a 17-0 lead. The defense held the Eagles to eleven first downs.

#1 – November 19, 1978, Eagles 19-Giants 17: “The Fumble”. Giants are leading in the waning moments and only have to take a knee in order end the game, but the Giants call a running play. QB Joe Pisarcik fumbles the handoff to FB Larry Csonka, Herman Edwards of the Eagles picks up the fumble and scores to win the game. This game set in motion the removal of Head Coach John McVay and Director of Football Operations Andy Robustelli. George Young is hired as general manager in January, ultimately leading to the hiring of Bill Parcells, the drafting of Phil Simms and Lawrence Taylor, and two Superbowl Championships. But none of that would have happened without “The Fumble”.

Approach to the Game – Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, November 28, 2004: Obviously it’s going to take the Giants’ best effort of the year to beat the Eagles on Sunday. This will be the first of many times QB Eli Manning will confront Eagles’ Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson’s complicated blitzing schemes. It is a chess match that will likely be played out for many years to come. Defensively, the Eagles have many weapons to worry about other than WR Terrell Owens. The undermanned Giants’ defense will need to force some turnovers. And the Giants’ special teams must have a big day.

Giants on Offense: The Falcons blitzed Manning some, but the Eagles will likely be coming on just about every play. What the Eagles like to do is bring more people at one point of the blocking scheme than you can pick up. That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the quarterback to make quick, correct decisions. The Giants will have to get rid of the ball quickly. Screens are a good way to beat a blitz, but the Giants run so many screens that you know the Eagles will be ready for them too. A quick slant is another good play. Of course, the ultimate way to beat and discourage a blitz is to hit a long touchdown pass against the defense. The problem is that the Eagles get to the quarterback so quickly that it makes it real tough to get a 5- and 7-step drop. So instead of a bomb, what you really want to do is get a quick pass to a receiver who can make a big play running with the ball after the catch.

The Eagle run defense has improved since they got gouged against the Steelers, but it is critically important that the Giants and Tiki Barber be able to run the ball on them. This will help to keep the Giants in manageable down-and-distance situations and keep the edge off the pass rushers as well. As always, this game will be decided up front in the trenches. Key match-ups include RT David Diehl vs. DE Jevon Kearse (7 sacks), DT Corey Simon vs. RG Chris Snee, DT Darwin Walker vs. LG Jason Whittle, and DE Derrick Burgess/DE Hugh Douglas vs. Luke Petitgout. The line, backs, and tight ends will also have to pick up multiple blitz packages from both linebackers and defensive backs.

The receiving corps and tight ends need to get open quickly and make some plays after the catch. LCB Lito Sheppard (4 interceptions, 2 touchdowns) will be on WR Ike Hilliard and RCB Sheldon Brown will be on WR Amani Toomer. The safeties – Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis – are real good. Jeremiah Trotter is the new starter at middle linebacker. He’s a physical player, but knee injuries and mental lapses have affected his play in the past. Singling up a back on him in coverage would be smart. This is a game where TE Jeremy Shockey needs to come through with a big effort against the safeties and linebackers.

Run the ball, beat the blitz. This game will be won or lost by the blockers up front and the ability or inability of the Giants’ play-makers to make big plays.

Giants on Defense: Everyone spends a ton of time talking about Terrell Owens, but it is the other weapons on the team that set up his antics. People forget that in the opener, it was the running and receiving of HB Brian Westbrook (161 total yards) and the receiving of tight ends Chad Lewis and L.J. Smith (108) yards that set up Owens’ three touchdowns (but only 68 total yards). Obviously, Will Allen (who was rusty as hell in Week 1) needs to come up with one of his best efforts against Owens. But that won’t matter unless the Giants’ linebackers do a much, much better job of dealing with the tight ends and Westbrook in coverage. In my mind, that is the entire key to the game. WR Todd Pinkston also caught a 53-yard bomb on the Giants in Week 1 and New York needs to keep him under wraps.

Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis has been keeping the defense competitive in recent weeks with a variety of different schemes and looks. But that will only take you so far, especially against a team loaded at the skill positions like the Eagles are. The big guys up front need to shut down Westbrook in the running game and get after QB Donovan McNabb. McNabb is not as dangerous as Michael Vick in terms of running with the football, but he keeps drives alive with his feet. Keeping him in the pocket and pressuring him will be important too. McNabb is a streaky quarterback and you can disrupt his timing if you get in his face.

Stop the ground game. Disrupt the timing of the passes to the tight ends and Westbrook (this game will be won or lost by the linebackers here). Get in McNabb’s face.

Giants on Special Teams: David Akers is as good as it gets and he is excellent on kickoffs so it will be tough for the Giants to break a big kickoff return. The Giants need to get better blocking for punt returner Mark Jones as the team needs to get a big return in this game. Eagle kickoff man J.R. Reed has a 66-yard return this year.

Nov 242004
 
Atlanta Falcons 14 – New York Giants 10

Game Overview: Let’s get one thing straight, the Giants are not a good football team. Week after week I read and hear excuses from fans why the Giants have lost. It’s the officials, it’s the play-calling, it’s bad luck, etc. There is a reason why the Giants were 4-12 last season and there is a reason why they have lost to the Lions, Bears, and Cardinals this year: THEY ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Good teams don’t go 2-3 at home. Good teams don’t constantly find a way to lose close football games.

Despite all the media attention on QB Eli Manning and his first game, this was a bad, bad loss for the Giants. They held the Falcons to 14 points, yet lost another important intra-conference game. I don’t believe in moral victories. And the Giants had better pray to God that they have hit a home run with Manning as there are a ton of personnel issues with this team and only four draft picks next offseason.

I hope the Giants have a plan in place. I don’t trust General Manager Ernie Accorsi. Like his team, his performance in personnel acquisition has been too inconsistent (and that’s why his team is inconsistent). The Giants need better players on offense and defense. How will they be acquired? Will the right decisions be made? Will this franchise ever field a team that intimidates opponents who play at Giants Stadium? Will this team ever win a Super Bowl again in my lifetime?

Do I sound angry? I am angry. Losing makes me angry. I am pissed off about wasting the 4-1 start. I’m tired of losing close football games. I’m tired not hearing cheering at Giants Stadium at the end of a football game. This “flagship franchise” has won six world championships, but it really hasn’t fielded a consistent winner since 1990. That’s 15 years ago. Think about that. Where were you 15 years ago? Think how much your life has changed. That’s how long it has been. Before we all realize it, another 15 years will pass. Will be proud of the team by that time or embarrassed?

I hope the Giants have a plan. More accurately, I hope they have a plan that works.

Offense: You are not going to win many football games scoring 10 points. The same problem that has haunted the Giants all season still haunts them – they can’t make plays in the passing game. Both starting wide receivers remain embarrassingly unproductive. The starting tight end is good, but overrated. Pass protection remains a concern and is negatively influencing game plans. If you can’t pass in today’s NFL, you don’t score.

Quarterback: Eli Manning (17-of-37 for 162 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions) played pretty much as expected for a very high rookie #1 pick playing in his first game. There were glimpses of promise interspersed with rookie mistakes. Manning’s stats would have looked far better his receivers not inexcusably dropped a half dozen passes, but Manning was not terribly accurate either. “They had some drops, but a lot of them were bad throws,” said Manning after the game. “A couple were behind them and off to the side. I have to be more accurate and I think at some point, I was throwing the ball too quickly and not getting my feet set, so as the game went on I got a little better, more comfortable and got a feel for the speed of the game and got in the flow of things a little bit better.”

Manning also threw two bad interceptions. The first one, a late pass thrown into double coverage, could have proved disastrous as Manning was picked off on his first throw of the Giants’ last possession right before halftime with only 16 seconds on the clock. Luckily, Atlanta missed the 46-yard field goal. The second came in the third quarter after the Giants had cut the lead to 14-7 and momentum had switched in their direction. The Falcons ran a zone-blitz and Manning did not see the dropping defensive end who intercepted the pass. “They gave us a zone blitz and they brought the “mike” and the “sam” strong side,” said Manning. “I thought I had the slant and obviously the defensive end dropped back into his lane and I threw it right to him, so I have to know that and that’s something you could call a rookie mistake but I should know that anyway, I shouldn’t throw that ball…I should have thrown into the blitz and find my receiver, I had a guy open, but that’s a part of learning.”

Like Warner, Manning was not able to make any plays down the field – his longest completion of the day was 18 yards. Concern with pass protection by the coaching staff was probably an issue. But Manning also said, “They were playing a lot of two safeties, a lot of cover two, so we were hitting some things underneath and on certain plays we had chances to throw the ball downfield but they would call the right defense and we had a couple of in-routes where if had been on the money with them they could have caught them and ran for some yardage and had some big plays.”

The Giants had six offensive possessions in the first half. On the first drive, Manning threw a poor, low pass in the direction of TE Marcellus Rivers. He was sacked on the next play and the Giants were forced to punt. The next drive ended due to two drops. Shockey dropped a perfectly thrown touch pass between two defenders and HB Tiki Barber could not handle a pass that was thrown slightly behind him on a middle screen that looked poised to pick up the first down. On the third possession, Manning looked like a veteran as he changed the play at the line and hit Rivers for 11-yards off an excellent play-action fake. But then Toomer dropped two passes (one slightly behind him, another high – but both in his hands). Again, the drive ended with these mistakes. It was a shame that Toomer didn’t catch the ball that was thrown high because in all other respects it was an excellent play by Manning and the blockers up front. He read the Atlanta blitz up the middle before the play began, called out the protection, and got rid of the ball quickly with two Atlanta blitzers coming up the gut.

On the fourth drive, Shockey dropped another pass that was slightly thrown behind him, but Manning hit WR Ike Hilliard for 11 yards and a first down on 3rd-and-5. The drive ended when the Giants lost three yards on 3rd-and-1. On the fifth possession, Manning tossed a 15-yarder to FB Jim Finn off a bootleg. Shockey then dropped a well-thrown strike over the intermediate middle of the defense. This would have set the Giants up in field goal range. Manning did a good job of sensing the backside blitzer on the next play, but the attempted screen pass failed because Atlanta had sniffed it out. Same story with the screen pass on the next play. Punt. (I love screen passes, but the Giants run way too many of these…there is no surprise). The last possession was the interception right before halftime. This was a bad decision and throw by Manning. Manning finished the first half of the game 5-of-14 for 46 yards and one interception. But there were also six dropped passes.

Manning was impressive on the Giants’ first drive of the second half. This was a 16-play, 72-yard effort where the Giants converted on FOUR third down situations – all passes by Manning. Manning handled the offense like a veteran, pointing out blitzes, changing plays, looking off coverage, coming off his primary receiver when covered, and getting rid of the ball quickly. The first big play was a 3rd-and-8 conversion. Manning was forced to scramble to his right upon being pressured immediately up the middle. He drew the covering linebacker off Tiki Barber by faking a run and then lofting the ball over said linebacker’s head for a first down. Three plays later, he hit Shockey for another first down on 3rd-and-4. Eli was fortunate there was a false start on the next play as his quick pass intended for Toomer was intercepted and would have been returned for a touchdown (this was more of a great play by the cornerback than a bad play by Manning). On 2nd-and-12, Manning badly overthrew a wide-open Shockey, but on 3rd-and-12, he smartly stepped up into the pocket and delivered a strike to Shockey for 18 yards and a first down. One of Manning’s best throws of the day came three plays later as Manning threw a perfect pass to Toomer for 14 yards and a first down on 3rd-and-8 despite immediate pressure in his face (a great throw under fire). Manning badly missed Hilliard on the next play, but on 2nd-and-goal from the 6-yard line, he fired an absolutely perfect pass to a well-covered Shockey in the end zone for his first pro touchdown pass.

With the momentum in the Giants’ hands, the Giants began to move the ball on their next possession. After a big run by Barber, Manning overthrew Toomer on a deep in-cut. On 2nd-and-10, Manning’s primary receiver to his right was covered, but Eli dumped the ball off to Jim Finn to his left for a 15-yard gain. This was an impressive play as it demonstrated that Manning sees the entire field. But two plays later, he made a rookie mistake by misreading the aforementioned zone blitz…this was a huge momentum-killer in the game.

Manning led the Giants on a 13-play, 65-yard drive that resulted in a field goal on the third possession of the second half. This was mainly a running drive, but Manning hit Barber for 13 yards on a screen pass and tossed a 10-yard pass to Toomer. There were two plays that were not successful where, once again, Manning looked like a veteran. After taking the snap, he was tripped up by one of the offensive lineman and stumbled. Instead of making a bad situation worse, he simply decided to throw the ball away. Smart play. Then on 3rd-and-goal from the 8-yard line, Manning recognized an all-out blitz (the type of blitz where you can’t pick up all the blitzers) and fired the ball immediately to Hilliard to his left. Ike couldn’t make it into the end zone, but it was the proper read and decision by Manning.

The Giants only had the ball one final time in the game. Manning had to take the team 74 yards in 1:52 to win the game with only one timeout. The Giants were fortunate on the first play of the drive as Manning was sacked and he fumbled the ball away, but a defensive holding penalty on the Falcons erased the play. This was the only time in the game where Manning didn’t seem to feel the pressure. After a pass to Shockey for 7 yards and a Barber run of 13 yards, the drive ended when Manning had a pass knocked down at the line of scrimmage, Manning hit Hilliard for 7 yards, and LB Keith Brooking of the Falcons made two excellent plays in coverage on Shockey.

Wide Receivers: The starting wide receivers – Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard – combined for only 6 catches and 52 yards in the game. Toomer and Hilliard are having an absolutely wretched season and the two may be the worst receiving duo in the league. The Giants have played 10 football games and these two don’t have one touchdown reception. Yet many fans want to talk about how talented the Giants are…what?

I think Toomer (2 catches for 24 yards) has ability, but I think he is a moody guy who pouts when things don’t go his way. I will speculate that he – like quite a few other players – quit playing hard during the 8-game losing streak last year and I think he is pouting again this year because this offense is not vertical enough for his tastes. A poster on the site says he has heard that Toomer doesn’t want to be on this team next year and I believe him. Regardless, Toomer dropped two passes on one possession that hit him in the hands, effectively ending the drive. On the running play before these two drops, Toomer missed his block on an outside run by Barber or a bigger run would have resulted. Just a terrible set of downs for Toomer. I will say this. Toomer did play with more passion in the second half than I have seen him do all season. He played angry. I like that. His big reception of the game was a 14-yarder on 3rd-and-8. Toomer also made a good block on Barber’s 16-yard run around left end in the 3rd quarter and another 9-yard gain by Barber around left end in the 4th quarter.

Hilliard (4 catches for 28 yards) had a key reception for 11 yards on 3rd-and-5, but the only way the Giants really seem to use him anymore is on WR screens. I think this is a good play for Hilliard (and if Jason Whittle had not gotten in his way on one early screen, he might have broken a big play out it), but it shouldn’t be the only way the Giants use Hilliard. I wonder if this is Hilliard’s last year with the team. What average speed he had appears to be gone. Hilliard made a good block down the field on Tiki Barber’s 23-yard run on the first offensive play of the game.

Running Backs: Tiki Barber (21 carries for 107 yards, a 5.1 yards-per-carry average) had another productive day. He is now the all-time Giants leader in history for 100-yard games and has topped the 1,000 yard mark for the fourth year in a row. He has a chance to surpass Rodney Hampton this year as the Giants’ all-time rushing leader. And he is neck and neck with Amani Toomer as the Giants’ all-time reception leader. Amazing.

Barber broke off a 23-yard run on the first offensive play of the game. His next eight runs of the first half went for 0, 6, 4, 4, 5, 1, 3, and -3, and he was not helped by some soft blocking by the tight ends on the edges on some of these plays. Barber did drop a pass that was thrown slightly behind him on a well set-up middle screen that looked poised to pick up the first down (and maybe more) on 3rd-and-6. Barber did a great job of engaging two blitzers up the middle on the 3rd-and-6 pass that Toomer dropped.

Barber rushed for 64 yards on 12 carries in the second half despite being dinged early on in the 3rd quarter on the play where Barber caught the 10-yard pass for a first down on 3rd-and-8 to keep the drive alive. After Barber came back into the game, I thought he made a poor decision to cut inside FB Jim Finn’s block instead of outside (as Finn had set him up for a bigger outside run). The play gained two yards, but could have gained much more. On the Giants’ next possession, Tiki broke off a 16-yard run around left end, almost breaking it on the play. I thought Barber was outstanding on the third drive of the second half. He picked up 13 yards on a screen pass, then smartly bounced a run outside to his left for a 9-yard gain (the commentators remarked about how good Tiki’s vision was on this play). On the very next play, Barber cut back to his right, broke a tackle, and stiffed-armed a defender for an 11-yard gain. On the final drive of the game, Barber broke off a 13-yard draw that seemed for a second that might have gone the distance.

Ron Dayne (4 carries for 13 yard) played pretty well for the second game in a row in limited action. On his first two carries of the game, he was not helped by poor blocking at the periphery of each play. But he had two quality carries on the Giants’ field goal drive, demonstrating a good burst on an outside run that picked up five yards and good power on an inside run the picked up 4 yards.

Jim Finn has been blocking pretty darn well this season, much better than last year. He helped to spring Tiki Barber on some nice gains, including the 23-yarder to start the game. He also made a very good block on a run by Ron Dayne for 5 yards. Finn had a couple of key 15-yard receptions.

Tight Ends: Unfortunately, Alge Crumpler out-played Jeremy Shockey. And Marcellus Rivers proved to be a worse blocker than Visanthe Shiancoe.

Shockey played like horse manure both as a receiver and a blocker in the first half. Not only did he drop three passes, but he didn’t block particularly well either. What makes me really mad is that there are those (including in the media) who say Shockey isn’t being used right. I don’t see it. He is being sent out on pass patterns, including being lined up outside in space. He has five touchdown receptions through 10 games and almost had 2-3 others where he was stopped at the one-yard line (he had two in 2002 and two in 2003). He is also the leading receiver on the team. THE GIANTS ARE THROWING TO HIM.

My biggest problem with Shockey is that he doesn’t seem focused. Where is the fire? Where is the passion? Where is the leadership? He’s getting the ball so he doesn’t have a reason to pout. Shockey made a very good block on the edge on Barber’s 23-yard run to start the game. This is how Shockey was blocking in games 1-8 of the season. However, the rest of the first half, he was not good. He was too soft on his blocks. On the Giants’ fourth possession, he didn’t sustain his block on a 3-yard gain by Barber that could have picked up more yardage. On the very next play, on 3rd-and-1, he whiffed on a block at the point-of-attack and Barber was tackled for a 3-yard loss, effectively ending the drive. Earlier on this possession, he dropped a pass. Then, when lined up outside in space and sent deep, he lined up incorrectly and was flagged with an illegal formation penalty. This was a huge penalty because Shockey was interfered with deep down the sideline and the penalties offset each other. On the second possession of the game, Shockey dropped a perfectly-thrown touch pass from Manning when smacked by a defender after the ball arrived. His also dropped a well-thrown intermediate pass over the middle on the fifth drive that would have put the Giants in field goal range.

Shockey obviously played better in the second half as his blocking improved and he caught 5 passes for 45 yards, including a touchdown. He had big receptions for 9 yards on 3rd-and-4, 18 yards on 3rd-and-12, and 6 yards for a touchdown on 2nd-and-goal. Shockey made a couple of good run blocks, but he also gave up a pass pressure on a 2nd-and-goal play where Manning threw incomplete (the Giants had to settle for a field goal two plays later). Manning tried to hit Shockey twice on the attempted game-winning drive, but he was well-covered by LB Keith Brookings. If Shockey truly wants to be considered an ELITE tight end, he has to be more CONSISTENT. Great players play great most of the time; they are not up-and-down from play-to-play.

Marcellus Rivers has replaced Visanthe Shiancoe as the second tight end and this is a mistake. Rivers simply lacks the natural bulk and strength to be an effective blocker at the point-of-attack. Like Shockey, he was too soft at the point-of-attack on running plays, such as a running play that picked up only 1-yard on the fourth drive of the game when Rivers was pushed back into the backfield, disrupting the entire play (including knocking the pulling guard off balance). He made two poor run blocks on the Giants’ touchdown drive, but he did make a good block on Barber’s 16-yard run late in the 3rd quarter and on his 9-yard run in the 4th quarter.

Offensive Line: The offensive line played a good game against a very good defense. The biggest negative was the one and only sack given up on the first possession of the game on 3rd-and-10. On this play, RG Chris Snee failed to pick up the stunting Patrick Kerney. Aside from that play, pass protection in the first half was solid. And Barber rushed for 43 yards on 9 carries despite some shoddy run blocking from the tight ends. My only other negative of the half was that LG Jason Whittle inadvertently got in the way of Hilliard on a screen pass where a big play may have resulted (Snee made an excellent block on this play by the way).

Ironically, despite the comeback, the pass protection was not quiet as strong in the second half (though still good, considering the opponent). Snee gave up a pressure on the play where Manning was to forced roll out and hit Barber for a first down on 3rd-and-8. Later in the drive, OC Wayne Lucier gave up a couple of pressures on back-to-back plays (one being a stunt). Lucier was also flagged with a holding penalty (that was declined) on the 3rd-and-goal play in the 4th quarter. And Diehl, who had played a wonderful game against a top pass rusher, gave up a few pressures on the Giants’ last drive of the game, including failing to pick up a blitzer on the play where Manning was sacked and the ball was fumbled (this play was erased due to a penalty). For some reason, Diehl has gotten into a nasty habit of screwing up late in the game. But this possession should not overshadow the fact that both tackles played an exceptional game in pass protection, as did the line as a whole.

The Giants rushed for 77 yards in the second half as most of the line did a good job of wearing down the Atlanta defense. Petitgout did fail to make one block on a Dayne run that only picked up one yard.

The only enforced penalty was a false start on Petitgout. Overall, this was the best game of the season for the offensive line.

Defense: If the Giants are ever going to seriously contend for a world championship again, they need to put together a dominating defense with a lot better players. There are some guys to build around here, but there is not enough talent, speed, and leadership. You can only scheme so much in the NFL and that’s what the Giants have been doing for much of the season. The defense allowed only 14 points this week, but there were key breakdowns in the first half that allowed the Falcons to score all the points they needed to win the game as well as dominate the time of possession in the first half of the game. On each of these two drives, Atlanta converted three 3rd-down situations (for a total of six). The defense also had a chance to set up the offense in great shape right before halftime had they done their job on a drive that started at the Falcon 1-yard line, but Atlanta was able to move the ball out to the 42-yard line and leave the Giants with only 16 seconds on the clock. Vick rushed for 91 yards and completed 10-of-13 passes in the first half, including two touchdown throws. Strangely, the Giants did not seem to put a spy on Vick on many plays. And the Giants had problems covering TE Alge Crumpler.

However, Atlanta managed only 65 total yards (and an unbelievable 12 yards passing) in the second half. Where the defense really got screwed was the terrible roughing the passer penalty called on Carlos Emmons. Instead of forcing the Falcons to punt out of their endzone and getting the ball back near midfield with about 5 minutes to play, Atlanta was able to run 3 more minutes off the clock and move the ball out past midfield (a 25-yard run by HB Warrick Dunn proving to be a real killer).

Unfortunately, the Giants’ defense has stopped forcing turnovers again. For the second week in a row, there were none. The Giants had a chance on a play early in the 4th quarter when Vick was sacked and the ball was fumbled with about five Giants around the ball, but someone the center came out of the pile with the ball. Vick also threw some really bad passes that were closer to Giant defenders than the intended receiver.

Defensive Line: Don’t judge the defensive line in terms of their pass rush this week (although they did total two sacks). The reason is that it is hard to rush the passer when you are told to maintain disciplined rush lanes in order to avoid big scrambles from Vick (many of Vicks “scrambles” are also designed running plays). The problem for the Giants in the first half, when Vick rushed for 91 yards, was that the ends and tackles often lost their containment responsibilities. I really think the guys up front were surprised with how fast and quick Vick really is. On Atlanta’s first offensive possession, which resulted in a touchdown, DE Osi Umenyiora (5 tackles, 0.5 sacks) lost containment on a 7-yard gain by Vick as did Lance Legree (4 tackles, 0.5 sacks) on a 20-yard gain. Then Vick was able to pick up 24 yards straight up the gut between DT Norman Hand (1 tackle) and DT Fred Robbins (2 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble) – with Robbins really getting out of his lane.

Umenyiora had an up-and-down game. There were times when he played well at the point-of-attack, and other times when he did not (or was caught rushing too far up field on running plays, such as T.J. Duckett’s 12-yard run in the first half and Dunn’s 25-yard run late in the game). Umenyiora did a nice job of staying at home and destroying an end around. Osi really flashed on two pass rushes that did not result in sacks, but where he exploded off the line of scrimmage. He’s going to be a real tough pass rusher very soon.

Legree had some problems in containment, including on the play where Vick was able to pick up 8 yards on 2nd-and-goal from the 10 (Legree was stunting on the play).

Robbins also had some issues with his containment responsibilities as he often tried to be too aggressive in getting to Vick. However, Robbins is a stout run defender and the Falcons had problems blocking him at the point-of-attack. Robbins’ half-sack and hit on Vick forced a fumble that could have been the turning point of the game had the Giants recovered.

Norman Hand (1 tackle) drove the left guard back into the face of Vick and really caused the sack that Umenyiora and Legree were credited with sharing.

DT William Joseph seems to be regressing again. He played a lot, but his run defense was awful…I mean just awful. Joseph was being pushed around not only on double-teams, but in one-on-one situations. I probably spotted him getting blown off the ball 6-8 times, none more damaging than the 25-yarder by Dunn late in the game. Joseph was also flagged with an offsides penalty. The only positive play from him that I saw was his hustle on the shuffle pass by the Falcons that failed to pick up a first down.

I was impressed with DE Lorenzo Bromell’s (2 tackles) hustle on one play where he tracked down Vick on the far side of the field after an amazing scramble that only picked up two yards. But Bromell’s run defense continues to be atrocious. Chuck Wiley (3 tackles, 0.5 sacks) lost contain on one Vick run right before halftime that picked up 15 yards. But he also got a good pass pressure in the 4th quarter on a play where he almost caused an interception that would have been returned for a touchdown. Wiley was in on the sack where Vick fumbled the ball, making the initial contact.

Linebackers: For the most part I thought the linebackers played pretty well as a group, but there were some coverage problems with the tight end in the first half. There was also one play in the first half where Dunn was left wide open in the flat despite the fact that he was one of the Falcons’ primary pass targets.

I felt this was one of MLB Kevin Lewis’ (7 tackles) better games. He was very active, including making a few aggressive tackles at the point-of-attack in the hole. Lewis’ pressure on Vick also forced the quarterback to throw the ball away on 1st-and-goal on Atlanta’s first scoring drive. Lewis’ blitz up the gut also caused an illegal chop block to be called on the Falcons (yet Lewis still hit Vick on the play too).

WLB Nick Greisen (10 tackles) was also very stout at the point-of-attack as both Greisen and Lewis combined on a few tackles together. I was really impressed with Nick’s hustle on the play where he blitzed up the gut as Vick scrambled to his right en route to a 20-yard gain – Nick was in on the tackle down the field. However, Greisen got beat badly by TE Alge Crumpler for a 21-yard gain on the Falcons’ second scoring drive and I think he was the guy who was supposed to cover Crumper on the latter’s 2-yard touchdown reception on 3rd-and-goal. Greisen bit badly on the play-action pass on this play. Greisen also missed a tackle on Dunn earlier on this drive. (Incidentally, I agree wholeheartedly with Troy Aikman when he questioned the wisdom of not having SLB Carlos Emmons cover Crumpler all game – that’s the strength of Emmons’ game). Greisen lost containment on Vick a couple of times.

Emmons (9 tackles) was active. I saw one play where he got effectively blocked at the point-of-attack for a 9-yard gain in the first quarter. But he did a great job of tackling on the blocks at the point-of-attack and making the tackle on a designed Vick run on 3rd-and-4 that was stuffed for a 1-yard loss. Two plays earlier, he had combined with Kevin Lewis to fill the hole on Dunn run where William Joseph got blasted. Emmons might have been the hero of the game had he been able to adjust to Vick’s terrible pass in his direction near the start of the 4th quarter as he had nothing but green field in front of him. The roughing the passer penalty called on him was ludicrous and possibly a game-deciding penalty.

Reggie Torbor did a good job of reading the shuffle pass, playing off a block, and getting in on a tackle – forcing a punt.

Defensive Backs: Before I start, there are two important items to note. Starting last week, it appears that Curtis Deloatch has now moved ahead of Frank Walker as the third corner on the team when the Giants go into their nickel and dime packages. Also, with Gibril Wilson not playing this week, undersized corner Terry Cousin started at strong safety…that’s how hard hit the Giants have been at the safety position (Wilson, Shaun Williams, Omar Stoutmire, and Jack Brewer). Reserve safety Curry Burns also saw his first action in some of the pass defense packages.

Vick only threw for 115 yards all game (and only 12 yards in the second half), but there were some key completions that hurt. Both CB Will Peterson and CB Will Allen shut down the Atlanta wide receivers. But Allen was beat for a 6-yard touchdown pass by TE Alge Crumpler on 3rd-and-goal in the first quarter. And Peterson got beat by Crumpler for a 16-yard gain when Atlanta was backed up on their 1-yard line right before halftime. This was big play in the game.

Peterson had good deep coverage on WR Peerless Price on one deep pass in the first half. On the very next play, on 3rd-and-1, Peterson made a fantastic play when he aggressively tackled Price short of the first down marker on a quick toss. On the following possession, Allen combined with Umenyiora to blow up an end around to Dez White that lost 2 yards. Allen was also used a few times as an effective blitzer in the second half of the game, including on the incomplete pass where Emmons was flagged for roughing the passer.

Atlanta’s biggest completion to a wide receiver – a 16-yarder to Dez White – came when White got all alone in the Giants’ zone on 3rd-and-6 on the second touchdown drive. I do not know who was at fault here as there were three Giant defenders in the area.

CB Curtis Deloatch got beat for an 11-yard gain on 3rd-and-1 on Atlanta’s first possession and scoring drive.

FS Brent Alexander (6 tackles) got faked out badly by the fullback on a play where Alexander could have stopped the back short of the first down marker on 3rd-and-6. Three plays later, Atlanta scored their second touchdown. In the 3rd quarter, Crumpler had a couple of steps on Alexander down the seam, but Vick’s pass was overthrown. Alexander made a big hit and almost caused a fumble on a called QB draw on 3rd-and-17 late in the game.

Burns missed a tackle on a run by Dunn that picked up 5 yards.

Special Teams: The coverage teams did well, the return teams did not.

Punt returner Mark Jones returned four kicks for a cumulative total of one yard…that’s a 0.3 yards-per-return average! He also muffed one of these punts. Frank Walker was flagged with a questionable holding penalty on one return (on the same play Reggie Torbor was flagged with a personal foul/late hit penalty). Torbor was flagged with an illegal block on the very next return.

Willie Ponder was active this week, but only managed to gain 19 and 17 yards on his two returns.

Jeff Feagles punted 5 times for a 42.2 yards-per-punt average and down three of his five punts inside the 20-yard line. All of Feagles’ punts came in the first half. The Giants kept the dangerous Allen Rossum under control as he only managed 11 yards on three returns. Feagles’ punts went 38 yards (out of bounds at the 16 yard line), 53 yards (return of 8 yards, Derrick Ward on the tackle), 37 yards (return of 3 yards, Derrick Ward on the tackle), 43 yards (10 yard return erased due to a holding penalty on the Falcons), and 40 yards (down at the 1-yard line by David Tyree). Tyree was flagged with an illegal touching penalty, forcing a re-kick, but he drew a holding penalty on the following punt.

PK Steve Christie kicked off three times, with the football being fielded at the 4 (return of 25 yards, tackle by Curry Burns and Reggie Torbor), 6 (return of 18 yards, tackle by Derrick Ward), and 11 (return of 18 yards called back due to a holding penalty on Atlanta, Nick Greisen on the tackle). Kudos to Derrick Ward who was in on three special teams tackles on the day, before leaving the game with a concussion.

Too many penalties on special teams this week.

(Box Score – Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants, November 21, 2004)
Nov 192004
 

Approach to the Game – Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants, November 21, 2004: Before it is even played, for better or worse, this game will be remembered as the debut of the Eli Manning era. Understandably, Giants’ fans everywhere are both excited and nervous to finally see the draft’s number one prospect in a game that really counts. The optimists have visions of a Peyton Manning clone in their head; the pessimists worry that not only did we give up too much for Eli, but the Giants did not even draft the best quarterback in the draft. Ben Roethlisberger has certainly set an exceptionally high bar for Eli Manning. But it is important to keep in mind that (1) Roethlisberger did not spend much time on the bench and has not been collecting rust like Eli, (2) Roethlisberger works behind a superior offensive line, and (3) Roethlisberger has better wide receivers.

With respect to the latter two points, while all attention will be on Manning, the truth of the matter is that unless the Giants’ supporting cast starts playing better, Eli will not be able to carry this team by himself. He needs Tiki Barber to continue to be productive as a runner, he needs solid pass protection, and he needs receivers who get open. The Giants are about to face a series of teams with strong pass rushers and Manning is going to take some punishment.

Do the Giants still have a shot at the playoffs this year or are they officially in rebuilding mode? The Atlanta game will give us a good indication.

Giants on Offense: Conventional wisdom says keep it simple and play it conservative. Run the ball and throw short passes. Because this is what Atlanta is expecting, I do not think this is the way to go in this game. The Falcons will likely load up against the run, and put Eli and the offensive pass protection in difficult down-and-distance situations. If you ask me, rather than helping to protect Manning, this is a recipe for getting him roughed up. My solution? Be bold…attack…take some shots down the field on first and second down. Go after the secondary when they least expect it. Yes, Eli will likely take some hits with this game plan too, but I think it is safer to be less predictable.

Besides, Atlanta’s defense is giving up about 95 yards per game on the ground (second in the NFC) and 248 yards through the air (15th in the NFC). However, I do think Atlanta’s rush defense is overrated. The Falcon defensive line is athletic and active, but they can be pushed around some if the offensive line is able to sustain their blocks. RDE Brady Smith (15 tackles, 4 sacks) is not real stout against the run, but is a hard-working blue collar-type who will battle you, and he can get some heat on the passer. LT Luke Petitgout, despite his pass protection woes this year, has been run blocking very well. Ed Jasper (23 tackles, 1 sack) plays the right defensive tackle (or nose tackle in the Falcons 4-3 scheme). He will line up over LG Jason Whittle. Jasper is their best run defender at the point-of-attack, but not much of a pass rusher. LDT Rod Coleman (19 tackles, 6 sacks) plays the undertackle position. He is the guy who the Giants’ pushed hard to sign in the offseason and almost landed. Coleman is one of the big reasons why the Falcons’ defense is playing so well. While undersized, Coleman is very quick and can obviously rush the passer. The RG Chris Snee-Coleman match-up is probably the biggest of the day for the Giants. Snee does have problems with quick pass rushers and this is a battle the Falcons we be favored to win. However, Snee should be able to move Coleman out on the running game if he sustains his blocks. Coleman is not a strong run defender at the point-of-attack. He makes his plays by out-quicking his opponent and penetrating. The other potential scary match-up for the Giants is LDE Patrick Kerney (43 tackles, 8 sacks) against RT David Diehl. Kerney has twice as many sacks as any play on the Giants; his quickness as a pass rusher gives opponents fits.

Unfortunately for the Giants, the strength of the Falcons’ defensive line (Coleman and Kerney) will be lining up against the most inexperienced portion of the Giants offensive line (Snee and Diehl). And what both Coleman and Kerney are good at (pass rush) is what Snee and Diehl are not real strong at (pass protection). In my mind, this is where the game will be won or lost. As I said, conventional wisdom says play it safe and run the ball at these two, thereby giving Snee and Diehl more confidence. This may be the correct solution. But I have a feeling that Atlanta is going to make that difficult by playing the linebackers and strong safety close to the line.

The Falcons have good linebackers. WLB Keith Brooking (63 tackles, 1 sack) is one of the better linebackers in the game. He can do it all. MLB Chris Draft (32 tackles) is athletic, but not real natural in coverage. His lack of bulk sometimes hurts taking on blocks as well. SLB Matt Stewart (40 tackles) is one of the better strongside linebackers in the game. But he too at times will have some problems in coverage. This group likes to run and chase and benefits from the chaos created up front by the down four.

The big addition to the secondary was rookie first round CB DeAngelo Hall, who is one of the best athletes in the game. He starts at left corner and will line up over Ike Hilliard. Hilliard is not beating anyone with speed, so Ike will have to make his plays by gain separation on his cuts. Hilliard is capable of making plays underneath in this fashion as Hall will guess wrong at times. Amani Toomer (who was banged up in the Cardinals game) will face right cornerback Jason Webster. Webster is a good athlete, but only an average corner. The Giants NEED Toomer to make some big plays in this game, including a touchdown or two.

The one guy who probably will benefit the most with Manning now starting is WR Jamaar Taylor. Manning and Taylor worked a lot together in camp, the preseason, and on the scout team. And Manning likes to throw down the field.

The other guy who should do better is Shockey. However, I have not been impressed with Shockey’s focus or passion on the field this year. In fact, if you ask me, Shockey is still living off his rookie hype. If he wants to be truly considered a great tight end, he needs to make more plays in the passing game. Contrary to popular belief, he is often sent out on pass patterns. I would expect the Falcons to keep second-year SS Bryan Scott on him. Scott has better coverage skills than most strong safeties.

With Marcellus Rivers being promoted this week, Eli will have another more experienced tight end/H-Back to dump the ball off to this week. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Marcellus make some key plays (he most likely was working a lot with Manning on the scout team too).

My big concerns with Manning are (1) fan expectations, and (2) nervousness. Manning probably will have little control over either. If people remember, he was pretty nervous at his first mini-camp and his first appearance in the preseason. I would not be shocked to see some balls sail on him early (this would argue for the more conservative, conventional attack that the Falcons will expect).

Giants on Defense: Well, we know the Giants can’t beat Falcon back-up quarterbacks (see Doug Johnson and Kurt Kittner) so they should have an easy time of it with Michael Vick!(sarcasm off)

Vick is the media focal point, but the Falcons have a lot of weapons to worry about. Giant fans should remember that Atlanta’s two-headed running back tandem of Warrick Dunn (the quick, slashing runner) and T.J. Duckett (the big, pound back that Dayne was supposed to be) has given the Giants’ fits in the past. Dunn is a threat as a cutback runner and as a receiver out of the backfield. Duckett will run over people. The Giants’ run defense against the Cardinals last week was not overly impressive and I would expect Atlanta to run at the Giants quite a bit, especially when Reggie Torbor is playing defensive end. The Falcon offensive line is not a strength of the team, but they are well-coached under former Denver Bronco OL-guru Alex Gibbs who likes to teach his players very questionable cut blocking tactics (the Giants tried to hire Gibbs in the offseason).

The real weapon besides Vick is TE Alge Crumpler (35 catches). He – not Shockey – will be the best tight end on the field at the Meadowlands on Sunday. Crumpler is a big, physical two-way tight end who can block and make big pass plays down the field. The problem with giving him too much attention is that it hampers a defense’s ability to put a spy on Vick. For example, I think the guy I would want to spy Vick (SS Gibril Wilson) is the same guy best-suited to cover Crumpler. Also keep in mind that Wilson is not 100 percent as he suffered a burner in the Cardinal game. The guy really on the spot in terms of jamming and staying with Crumpler, if you ask me, is Carlos Emmons. One of the reasons why the Giants signed Emmons was to improve their play against opposing tight ends. The Giants need their best from Carlos on Sunday.

The Falcons run a modified version of the West Coast Offense so coverage on the fullback, Justin Griffith (16 catches), is important as well as Warrick Dunn (12 catches). MLB Kevin Lewis will likely have to make some plays on Griffith, while WLB Nick Greisen’s athleticism will be tested by Dunn.

The Falcons’ receiving corps is average. Peerless Price (23 catches), who will be covered by CB Will Allen, has some speed, but Allen should be able to handle him. Dez White (14 catches) doesn’t play as fast as his timed speed and this is another good match-up for the Giants. Brian Finneran (10 catches) is a good possession receiver and may actually prove to be a bigger thorn.

Then there is Vick. Vick certainly receives a lot of press. His detractors are as passionate as his supporters. However you may feel, Vick has improved his ability to throw the football this year. He has a rocket for an arm and can make some throws that no other quarterback in this league can make. I saw him strong-arm one throw last week to a receiver on the far side of the field despite having a man right in his face and falling backwards. And at times, his deep throws are incredibly accurate. But like almost all young quarterbacks, Vick is inconsistent. Where Vick is the most dangerous is running the football. He is the fastest, quickest running quarterback to ever play the game. The Falcons like to roll him out and give him the option to run or pass and sometimes he will just take off and sprint away from everyone for a 40-yard gain. This type of play puts tremendous strain on the linebackers and secondary. Do you cover your zone (teams usually have to stay in zone coverage because of his threat to run) or run up to stop Vick? How much of a threat is Vick? He has 536 rushing yards and is averaging over 7 yards-per-rushing attempt!!! Everything the Giants do on defense on Sunday must be predicated on one thing – keep containment on Michael Vick. The pass rush will suffer, but it has to. If you rush Vick in an undisciplined manner, he will beat you with his feet. No debate. So don’t worry about sacks, keep those rush lanes occupied. And for God’s sake, get a bunch of hats around Vick and tackle the man. You can’t shut him down completely on the ground, but you have to limit his damage.

Whoever plays end – Osi Umenyiora, Lance Legree, Reggie Torbor, Lorenzo Bromell, Chuck Wiley – must not let Vick get around the edge too easily. They can’t pursue plays too hard or they will get burned. I’d like to keep Torbor in the game, but the Falcons would then simply run the ball at him. The other problem for the Giants in keeping Vick contained is that their linebackers are slow. Vick will run circles around these guys, unless Barrett Green plays and is healthy (both questionable). I would keep Gibril Wilson on Vick.

The best news for the Giants? Vick, Dunn, and Duckett will fumble; and Vick has as many interceptions (7) as he does touchdown passes. The Giants’ defense must start creating some turnovers again and this is a good opponent to do so against.

Giants on Special Teams: Allen Rossum is averaging less than 21-yards per return on kickoffs, but he has a history of breaking big returns. It’s on punt returns where Rossum is doing far more damage (over 14 yards per return and a touchdown). Rossum will fumble too.

Nov 172004
 
Arizona Cardinals 17 – New York Giants 14

Game Overview: The Giants have wasted their 4-1 start by losing to three bad football teams in four weeks. This was the SOFT portion of the schedule. Now with the schedule becoming extremely difficult, there is a good chance that the Giants will not even finish the season with a winning record. Many fans want to blame one specific player (Kurt Warner), unit (offensive line), or coach, but the truth of the matter is that the Giants are like just about every other team in the NFC – a run-of-the mill squad with average talent. The Giants are not very tough. They certainly are not resilient. And they do not handle adversity well. The starting wide receivers are slow; the offensive line, tight ends, and backs have regressed in their pass protection (24 sacks in 4 games is simply disgusting); and Kurt Warner has not played well in over a month. The quarterback switch to Eli Manning may help, but unless his supporting cast elevates their games, Eli is not likely to be terribly successful either. Manning is a rookie, after all, and he does not have Pittsburgh’s strong supporting cast around him.

I don’t think I have ever seen two back-to-back games by the Giants where they were so completely in control for most of the first half, let the other team gain momentum in the second quarter, and then completely fall apart in the second half. Talk about lack of mental toughness.

Also worrisome is that the team has not responded to Head Coach Tom Coughlin’s coaching in recent weeks. Sacks allowed and penalties committed have exploded despite Coughlin’s focus on eliminating these self-inflicted wounds. As Paul Schwartz of The New York Post said this week, “Tom Coughlin is an offensive-minded coach who can’t get his offense untracked and he’s a discipline-minded coach who can’t get his team to stop committing foolish penalties.”

Offense: Strange, strange performance by the offense. The Giants only had three offensive possessions in the first half, and two of them were 80-yard touchdown drives (one 11 plays, the other 10 plays). The team started moving the ball again on their third and last drive of the half, before two sacks sabotaged that effort.

In the second half, the Giants had the ball seven times, but only one of these drives ever actually threatened to put points on the board. That was the first drive of the second half as the Giants moved from their 20-yard line to the Arizona 26-yard line. However, the 44-yard field goal attempt by PK Steve Christie was blocked. The results of the next six drives were: 3-and-out, 6-and-out, 3-and-out, 7 plays (turnover on downs), 3-and-out, and 6 plays (turnover on downs). Only once after the original second half drive did the Giants even cross midfield (barely, the Arizona 48-yard line).

Why the riches to rags results? “They decided to sell out and stop the run, and we weren’t able to respond with anything in the pass game,” HB Tiki Barber said. “We didn’t protect Kurt, and that put us in a bad position as the game went on.” And five of the seven drives in the second half were sabotaged by either a sack or penalty, consistently putting the Giants in difficult down-and-distance situations. “I think a lot of it is on us finding a way to protect and to make a big play because if you make big plays in the blitzes, they’ll stop doing blitzing,” said Barber. “We haven’t done that.”

Quarterback: Kurt (19-of-30 for 193 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions) did not turn the ball over this week (no interceptions or fumbles), but for what ever reason, he simply is not making plays DOWN THE FIELD. Every pass seemed to be a dump off to Tiki Barber or a slant to Amani Toomer. It is not all about the protection, because there are times when the pass protection is solid. If you ask me, I think Warner’s confidence is lagging. And I will speculate that Warner has been afraid to take chances down the field for fear of making mistakes that would cost him his job. If true, it is ironic that playing it safe is what in fact did so.

Regardless, as the game wore on, you could tell that Warner was not comfortable in the pocket. His feet were rarely set. This is a trait demonstrated by many quarterbacks who do not have faith in their pass protection. However, as has been noted by many, quite a few of the sacks allowed by the Giants have been the fault of Warner himself, including in this game.

Warner played well on the first two drives of the game. He was afforded decent protection and made mostly accurate throws. Indeed, he was a perfect 4-for-4 on the first drive, including two 15-yard tosses to WR Amani Toomer, an 8-yarder to WR Ike Hilliard, and a 2-yard touchdown toss to TE Jeremy Shockey. He was 2-of-4 on the next scoring drive. Warner badly missed a wide-open Shockey deep on what should have resulted in a 50-yard touchdown, but he made a really nice play four plays later when he scrambled away from pressure from his left to hit Toomer for a 21-yard gain down to the 2-yard line.

The Giants had only one more drive in the first half. After picking up a first down on 3rd-and-4 by hitting WR Jamaar Taylor for a first down, Warner returned to some bad habits by holding onto the ball too long in the pocket. LT Luke Petitgout got beat by DE Bertrand Berry, but Warner had enough time in the pocket to at the very least throw the ball away. On 3rd-and-12, his decision to hold onto the ball and scramble to his left was an even worse decision. This was a coverage sack pure and simple; he needs to throw the ball away in that situation. “We knew that he tends to hold the ball quite a bit, a little bit longer than most quarterbacks,” Cardinal DE Bertrand Berry said. “We really felt like if we could just get in his face and give him some pressure that we would be able to get him on the ground.” Warner finished the first half a very respectable 7-of-9.

The Giants moved the ball successfully on their first possession of the second half, mainly due to the running of Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne (including Barber’s running after short throws). On 4th-and-1, the Giants ran their second successful quarterback sneak of the game with Warner (talk about Coughlin raising the white flag in terms of his faith in short yardage), but Warner appeared to injure his throwing hand on this play. I wonder if this injury affected the rest of his afternoon. The drive stalled with a sack and blocked field goal.

After this possession, it was really all down hill for Warner and the Giants. On 3rd-and-10 on the next drive, Warner took his second coverage sack of the game and the Giants went three-and-out. On the next drive, a couple of negative runs by Barber and a holding penalty on Shockey put the Giants in a bad 2-and-23 situation. Warner threw a couple of quick slants to Toomer, but it was not enough yardage to pick up the first down. Warner had time for a deeper throw on 3rd-and-13 but was unwilling to wait for something to develop deeper down the field. On the fourth possession of the second half (another three-and-out), Warner had lots of time on 2nd-and-12, but his pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage. On 3rd-and-12, Warner threw a duck in the general direction of Jamaar Taylor. This was a really terrible throw, as the ball was wobbling horribly (reminiscent of Dave Brown). Fifth possession: Warner attempted to hit Shockey down the field, but threw into double coverage (Shockey was also penalized on the play) and Warner had another pass batted down at the line of scrimmage. Warner then threw his best pass of the second half, a 15-yard slant to Toomer on 3rd-and-10. However, Warner was sacked on the next play and threw into double coverage on 2nd-and-14. After a 9-yard pass to Shockey, the Giants tried a fake punt that failed.

The sixth drive was a 3-and-out that was hampered by a 7-yard sack on 2nd-and-8. On the final drive, Warner dumped the ball off short three times. On 2nd-and-2, his pass intended to Toomer was knocked away by the safety. On 3rd-and-2, Warner was pressured from his right, he scrambled to his left, and tried to hit Hilliard down the left sideline. This pass floated and was almost picked off. On 4th-and-2, his intended pass to Toomer was tipped at the line. Game over.

Were there breakdowns in pass protection? Yes. There were six sacks in this game; four in the second half. But two of the sacks in the game were due to Warner holding onto the ball too long. When Warner had time, he was not able to make the clutch throws in tight situations. The Giants had the ball SEVEN times in the second half and came away with NO points. The Giants admirably stood up for Warner this week when the quarterback switch was made, but the fact of the matter is that Warner has not played well since the bye week. He played himself out of the job. Nevertheless, Coughlin defended Warner after the game. “It is very difficult to be the quarterback when you hardly ever get your back foot down (before being pressured),” Coughlin said.

Wide Receivers: Ike Hilliard said he looked forward to redeeming himself this week after a bad game against the Bears. The results? One catch for 8 yards; one end around for 12 yards. If Hilliard doesn’t start producing soon, Coughlin needs to seriously consider moving him to the third receiver spot and starting Jamaar Taylor, who at least has an upside.

Toomer had somewhat of a breakout game (8 catches for 100 yards), but he still can’t find the endzone. Toomer had a 15-yard reception on a crossing pattern and a 15-yard catch on a slant on the first offensive possession of the game. Amani also had an important reception of 21 yards down to the 2-yard line on the next drive. Earlier on this possession, Toomer made a nice block on HB Ron Dayne’s 9-yard run around left end. In the second half of the game, Toomer caught five passes: all slants (for 7, 8, 10, 9, and 15 yards).

Jamaar Taylor only had one catch, but the 9-yarder came on 3rd-and-4.

Running Backs: Like the rest of the offense, Barber was far more productive in the first half. Barber rushed for 108 yards on 21 carries (a 5.1 yards-per-carry average) and scored a touchdown (he also had five catches for 52 yards). However, 80 (on 12 carries) of these yards came in the first half and only 28 (on 9 carries) yards in the second half. Two of Barber’s runs on the first drive were largely on his own as the blocking was only partially there. Barber broke a tackle on his first run of five yards, and his speed and cutting ability was largely responsible for a 7-yard gain later in the possession. Tiki’s biggest two runs of the day came on the next scoring drive as he broke off runs of 17 and 16 yards against the middle of the defense. He then finished the drive off with a 2-yard touchdown run, stretching out for the goal line.

Things started of well for Barber on the first drive of the second half too. He gained 15 yards on a run up the middle. On the next play, a 1-yard run, I felt he could have bounced the play outside to his left for a bigger gain. But on 2nd-and-9, he made a fantastic play by making three guys miss and breaking a tackle for a 20-yard gain after a short pass from Warner. Three plays later, Barber took out a blitzer bearing down on Warner. He then broke another tackle after a short pass from Warner for a 5-yard gain.

After this possession, the Cardinals really started to load up against the run. On his first carry of the next drive, there were more Cardinals in the box than Giant blockers and Tiki was tackled for no gain. Barber did pick up 8 yards on 2nd-and-2 on the next drive, but his final five runs of the day went for –3, -1, -2, 5, and 2 yards.

Ron Dayne (3 carries for 19 yards) got a few touches and didn’t look bad this week. He had a 3-yard carry off right tackle on the first drive and a 9-yard carry around left end on the second drive. Dayne’s last two carries of the game came on the first drive of the second half, and both were real solid runs. He carried the ball 7-yards up the gut. On the next play, he broke off a 12-yard run up the middle, breaking a tackle and running over a defender. However, a holding penalty erased this play.

FB Jim Finn was mostly positive in his lead blocking. He missed his block on the defensive back on Barber’s first carry of the game, but he got good blocks on runs by Dayne and Barber on the same possession. On the next scoring drive, Finn got good lead blocks on Dayne’s 9-yard carry as well as Barber’s 2-yard touchdown run. Finn also had a good lead block on Barber’s 8-yard run at the end of the third quarter.

Tight Ends: The run blocking was way too inconsistent this week. Shockey got two excellent blocks on the first possession to help spring Barber for gains of 5 and 7 yards. Shockey then finished up this drive with his 2-yard touchdown reception. On the next scoring possession, Shockey fell off his block against the linebacker on a 5-yard gain by Tiki a little too easily. But Shockey and Visanthe Shiancoe (along with the entire offensive line) got good blocks on Barber’s 17-yard run up the middle. And then Shockey got another good block on Barber’s 2-yard touchdown run. On the final drive of the first half, Shockey gave a poor effort on a 4-yard draw play to Barber that could have picked up more yardage had Shockey made his block. Shiancoe also got pushed back earlier on this possession on a play where Barber was forced to reverse his field.

Things were worse in the second half. Shiancoe got a good block from the H-Back spot on Dayne’s 12-yard run that was called back. However, a few plays later, Shockey got beat badly by DE Bertrand Berry for a 5-yard sack on 2nd-and-8. It was this play that proved to be the drive-killer. Shockey got a good block on Tiki’s 8-yard run at the end of the third quarter, but was flagged with a holding call two plays later (another drive killer). On the play preceding this, Shiancoe was shoved back into the backfield, leading to a 3-yard loss on a Barber run to the right. Shockey then continued to hurt his team by being flagged with an illegal motion penalty on the next possession. Not a good game for Jeremy. Two of his four receptions came against the prevent defense in the game’s final moments.

Offensive Line: Like the rest of the offense, this unit played pretty darn well in the first half, but then weakened in the second half. There were two sacks in the first half (one on Warner, one on LT Luke Petitgout) and four in the second half (one on Warner, one on Shockey, one on Petitgout, and one on RT David Diehl). So in other words, half of the sacks were not the line’s fault.

There were few mistakes on the first two scoring drives. Pass protection was mostly solid and the Giants rushed for over 100 yards in the first half (totaling the runs by Barber, Dayne, and Hilliard). The Giants like to run Barber to the left behind Petitgout and LG Jason Whittle, with RG Chris Snee pulling, and this play was effective for the Giants (such as Barber’s 16-yard gain). And the entire offensive line got very good blocks on Barber’s 17-yard gain. Petitgout and Whittle got good blocks on Dayne’s 9-yard carry as did Petitgout and Snee on Barber’s 2-yard touchdown run. This drive started off with two quality downfield blocks by Whittle and OC Shaun O’Hara on a Barber screen pass of eight yards. The only pass pressure on the first two drives was from DE Bertrand Barry against Petitgout on the play where Warner scrambled to his right and hit Toomer for a 21-yard gain.

There were a couple of breakdowns on the final drive of the first half. Both Whittle and Shiancoe could not make their blocks on a Barber run to the left, where Barber was forced to reverse his field (Whittle really got shoved backwards on this play). Then Petitgout got beat for a sack three plays later by Berry (Warner should have thrown the ball away, but Petitgout did get beat).

The line played well on the first drive of the second half except for one mistake. Barber picked up 15 yards up the middle behind good blocks from Diehl, Whittle, and O’Hara. O’Hara did get bull-rushed on the 20-yard pass play to Barber. Petitgout and Whittle made good blocks on Dayne’s 7-yard run, as did Diehl and Snee on Dayne’s 12-yard run, but O’Hara was flagged with a costly holding penalty on this play when attempting to engage the linebacker at the second level. O’Hara made a great open field block on Tiki’s 10-yard screen at the end of this drive.

There were no offensive line breakdowns on the next drive that went 3-and-out. On the third drive of the second half, Snee gave up a quick pressure on an 8-yard slant to Toomer. Then Snee, Whittle, and Petitgout got good blocks on Tiki’s 8-yard run. Two plays later, a pulling Diehl failed to engage any Cardinal on a Barber run to the right that lost a yard. This drive stalled when Shockey was called for holding. I saw no glaring offensive line problems on the next drive that went 3-and-out. On the fifth drive, Petitgout, Taylor, and Hilliard got good blocks on Barber’s 5-yard run. However, Petitgout gave up his second sack of the game to DE Bertrand Berry a few plays later, this time being beat to the inside. On the sixth drive, Diehl, who had been doing very well in pass protection all day, made a dumb mental mistake that allowed a sack. He let Berry have a free run at Warner, while he picked up a blitzer inside that Barber was already engaging. “We worked 70 percent of the time last week against the pressure package, the blitz package, and acted like we never saw it before,” Coughlin said. On the final drive of the game, Diehl gave up a pressure on the 3rd-and-2 pass to Hilliard that fell incomplete. For some reason, Diehl has been guilty of these late-game breakdowns in recent weeks despite playing well for most of these contests.

Defense: This was an incredibly frustrating game overall, and especially so defensively. The Cardinals had four offensive possessions in the first half, and while they moved the ball pretty well, they probably would have been held to three points in the first half had it not been for some untimely mistakes on the Cards’ last drive of the half (converting on 3rd-and-11 on a pass to the fullback, and a 22-yard pass interference penalty).

One of the reasons why the Giants only had three offensive possessions in the first half was that the Giants’ own drives were so time-consuming. But the Giants also let the Cardinals eat up a lot of the clock in the first half. The Cardinals had the ball for 8 plays, 11 plays, 4 plays, and 9 plays in the first two quarters. If the defense really wants to help out the offense, they need to get the opposition off the field sooner and create turnovers (there were none on Sunday by either team).

While the defense gave up 104 yards rushing, the Cardinals were limited to 74 net yards passing. The Giants’ run defense got a bit too soft in the second half of the game.

Defensive Line: As expected, the Giants used a variety of looks in an effort to cover for the losses of Michael Strahan and Keith Washington. The basic package had Osi Umenyiora at right end and Lance Legree at left end. But Osi spent a lot of time at left end with Reggie Torbor at right end. There were also some 3-4 looks with Lance Legree at nose tackle and Fred Robbins playing defensive end. Lorenzo Bromell saw quite a bit of playing time at left defensive end and Chuck Wiley got in the game at right defensive end in the second half.

I thought Fred Robbins (7 tackles) stood out on the first defensive series. Fred stuffed two runs and forced an incompletion with a strong pass rush. He later combined with Umenyiora to stuff another run in the second quarter. In the third quarter, he penetrated the line to tackle the back for no gain. With six minutes left in the contest, he got effectively blocked at the point-of-attack on an 8-yard gain by HB Emmitt Smith, but he then combined with Chuck Wiley and WLB Nick Greisen to tackle the back short of the first down marker on the next play.

Norman Hand (1 tackle) was not on the field as much as he normally is with the Giants running a variety of fronts and personnel packages.

Umenyiora (4 tackles, 1 sack) played both defensive end positions. He sacked and forced a fumble on the Cardinals’ first drive of the game when he beat the right tackle to the outside. However, on Arizona’s next possession (the one resulting in a field goal), Osi was flagged for jumping offsides and then was effectively blocked at the point-of-attack on an 11-yard run by Emmitt Smith when playing on the weakside. Later in the half, Umenyiora (playing left end) combined with Robbins to stuff a run towards the strongside. On the play preceding Smith’s second touchdown run, Umenyiora blew his opportunity to tackle the fullback in the backfield; instead a 7-yard gain down to the 3-yard line resulted.

Legree (3 tackles, 1 sack) nailed Smith in the backfield for a 1-yard loss on a play where he was playing nose tackle in a 3-4 look. But the Cardinals were able to run at Legree some in the second half, most noticeably on their last touchdown drive. Legree did get one good pass pressure in the fourth quarter and then made a big, big play by not being fooled by the quarterback on a play-action boot where Legree sacked the quarterback for a 10-yard loss.

Reggie Torbor (6 tackles) is somewhat of a liability in run defense from the down end position, but I was impressed with the way he hustled to get back in on plays down the field after originally being blocked or rushing too far up field on a running play. However, he had a free shot at Emmitt Smith on 3rd-and-goal from the three-yard line and Smith was able to carry him into the end zone. Torbor made a huge play late in the game by hitting Smith in the backfield and forcing a fumble on 4th-and-1, giving the offense yet one more chance to save the day.

I am not happy at all with William Joseph (2 tackles). There was one play in the fourth quarter where he out-muscled the offensive lineman in front of him to stuff the run, but there were a number of other runs where he got embarrassingly and easily pushed out of the way. Joseph needs to elevate his game right now! He did get a key pass pressure on 3rd-and-5 in the fourth quarter that forced an incompletion and punt.

Lorenzo Bromell (1 tackle) played some at left end. He did not play the run well and was pushed around fairly easily. But he did get good pressure on a stunt despite the Cardinals’ completing a key 3rd-and-11 pass in the first half. Chuck Wiley saw action at right end and I was impressed with his run defense on one play.

Linebackers: I continue to be pleasantly surprised by Nick Greisen’s play (7 tackles) at weakside linebacker. He is a good run defender who is aggressive in filling the hole. In the second quarter, Greisen over-pursued the receiver on a crossing route and missed the tackle on a 14-yard gain. However, three plays later, his blitz on 3rd-and-6 forced an incompletion and punt. Late in the first half, Greisen met Smith on the goal line but couldn’t bring the Hall of Famer down short of the end zone, resulting in a touchdown. In the second half, Greisen badly misread a Smith run to the left that picked up 11 yards, but he followed that up with stuffing Smith for no gain on the very next play. Greisen also made a very important tackle late in the game by tackling HB Troy Hambrick on for a 1-yard gain on 2nd-and-2.

SLB Carlos Emmons (3 tackles) was flagged with a costly roughing the passer penalty on an incomplete pass to start the Cardinals’ off on their successful field goal drive. I thought this penalty was very touchy, but the league has these quarterbacks in skirts now. Two plays later when Umenyiora jumped offsides, I was impressed with Emmons’ ability to stay with WR Larry Fitzgerald on a post route down the deep middle of the field. However, a few plays later, Emmitt Smith was able to pick up 11 yards when Emmons was caught too far up field on a run to his side. Emmons also missed a tackle on a 9-yard run by Smith in the third quarter.

Kevin Lewis (3 tackles) got blocked on Smith’s 11-yard run in the first quarter, but he did expertly fill the hole on a Smith run of 1-yard later on the drive.

Perhaps the biggest play given up by the defense was the 3rd-and-11 pass to the fullback for 16 yards late in the first half. This play kept the Cardinals’ drive alive, eventually cutting the Giants’ lead to 14-10 at halftime. Reggie Torbor was in coverage on the play and actually was all over the fullback. However, the perfect throw just passed over the out-stretched fingers of Torbor. To me, this was the most frustrating play of the game. I don’t think the Cardinals win the game if Torbor is able to knock that pass away. Reggie did look very good on a blitz where he sacked the quarterback for a 12-yard loss (this play was wiped out due to a penalty). Torbor also got another quality pass rush in the fourth quarter that forced a bad throw that was almost picked off.

Defensive Backs: Arizona was limited to 74 net yards passing (90 gross yards). The longest reception by a wide receiver was 14 yards. The Cardinals have a very dangerous receiving corps and the Giants’ secondary pretty much kept them under control except – again – for some very untimely mistakes. Rookie WR Larry Fitzgerald caught one pass for 2 yards. All-Pro WR Anquan Boldin was limited to 31 yards receiving and WR Bryant Johnson was held to 32 yards.

Will Allen was rock solid all game. They tried to go deep on him twice in the first half but Allen was all over both plays. In the second half, Allen nailed QB Josh McCown on a corner blitz. On the next play, on 3rd-and-2, Allen expertly covered Fitzgerald deep, knocking away the pass. Midway through the fourth quarter, Torbor forced a bad throw by McCown that Allen almost intercepted – this might have been a game-changing play had he been able to hold onto the ball. Allen then made a huge play by stuffing Troy Hambrick for no gain on 3rd-and-1 when the Cardinals were attempting to run out the clock.

The Cardinals tested Will Peterson’s ability to tackle the bigger Arizona receivers with quick, short throws. Peterson made one sure tackle, but he also couldn’t keep Boldin short of the first down on a 3rd-and-4 play. He also later missed a tackle after another short throw. Johnson caught an 11-yard slant against Peterson on the first drive too. At the beginning of the second quarter, the Cardinals tested Peterson deep with a pass into the end zone on 3rd-and-10, but Peterson had solid coverage on the play. There was contact, but because Peterson was looking back for the ball, it was not called. Peterson forgot this lesson late in the second quarter, when he again had good coverage on the deep pass, but this time did not turn around to look for the ball. A killer 22-yard pass interference penalty was called, setting up the ball on the 2-yard line (the Cards scored on the next play). Earlier on this drive, Peterson knocked away a pass intended for Johnson. Peterson also got flagged with another killer penalty in the third quarter on the Cardinals’ other touchdown drive. Peterson was flagged with an illegal use of hands infraction on a play where Torbor sacked McNown for a 12-yard loss.

SS Gibril Wilson (7 tackles) was also with Emmons on the deep post pattern to Fitzgerald that was well covered. However, he was playing too far off WR Karl Williams on an easy 5-yard completion on 2nd-and-3 on the Cards’ first scoring drive. Wilson also got handled pretty easily by the fullback on a run blitz on a play that picked up 9 yards on the Cardinals’ second touchdown drive. On the very next play, Wilson was blocked again on a play that picked up 7 yards.

FS Brent Alexander (2 tackles) was flagged with a defensive holding penalty on the Cardinals’ touchdown drive right before halftime.

Interestingly, the coaches decided to play Curtis Deloatch at corner in the nickel and dime packages this week and not Frank Walker. Deloatch did give up a 9-yard reception on the Cards’ touchdown drive right before halftime. Deloatch latter made a mental mistake by not sticking with Fitzgerald on a 3rd-and-10 play that luckily fell incomplete due to a poor pass.

Special Teams: I am not crazy about the fact that Willie Ponder, who is leading the NFC in kick return average, was deactivated again. I realize the Giants have injury issues, but Ponder is one of the few weapons on the team right now. The Giants only returned two kickoffs, a 28-yarder by Derrick Ward and an 11-yarder by Ron Dayne. Dayne fielded the short kickoff in front of Ward and he really should have let Ward field the ball. Brandon Wiley was flagged with an unnecessary roughness penalty at the end of the first half on Dayne’s kickoff.

Mark Jones returned four punts for 17 yards. Curtis Deloatch was flagged with an illegal block in the back on one return. WR David Tyree was flagged with a running into the kicker penalty. Had this been called roughing the kicker, the Giants would not have had one final chance on offense to tie or win the game.

PK Steve Christie’s first two kickoffs were not good – one was a low, line drive that was fielded at the 10, the other was also fielded at the ten. On the latter, Reggie Torbor made a big hit on the return of 16 yards (Frank Walker made the tackle on the first return after a 24-yard gain). Christie’s next kickoff was better, to the goal line and Ward made a very solid tackle after a 22-yard gain.

Jeff Feagles punted five times for a 46.8 yards-per-punt average. Arizona returns went for 7 (Jim Maxwell on the tackle), 38 (Feagles), 3 (Curtis Deloatch), 4 (Nick Greisen and Jim Maxwell), and 13 (Frank Walker). The 38-yard return was a killer because it set the Cardinals up on their game-winning touchdown drive. Frank Walker was badly held on this play but it was not called. The Cards also badly held Curtis Deloatch on another return but that was not called.

The Giants attempted a fake field goal from their own 35-yard line, trailing by three points, with six minutes left in the game. I thought this was a bad decision at the time, but I’m more conservative. Contrary to most, I thought the play design was innovative as it certainly had me thinking the Giants were going to throw a screen to their left when all the blockers lined up in that direction (instead Feagles passed the ball towards Jim Finn to his right). Give the Cardinals credit as they lined up properly and did not seem fooled by the play. Had Feagles, who is a good passer, thrown a more accurate pass, Finn may have just made the first down before onrushing Cardinals hit him.

The really big mistakes on special teams, however, were the 38-yard punt return by the Cardinals and Steve Christie’s 44-yard field goal attempt that was blocked. The block ultimately proved to be the difference in the ball game. It looked like the problem was that Christie’s kick was too low.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Arizona Cardinals, November 14, 2004)
Nov 122004
 
Rally Around Big Blue!

We are springing to the call
of our brothers gone before,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom,
And we’ll fill the vacant ranks
with a million free men more,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom.

The (Giants) forever, hurrah, boys, hurrah!
Down with the (Cardinals), up with the star,
While we rally ’round the flag, boys, rally once again,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom.

With the Giants’ casualty list growing (12 out for the season and other ailing), including the critical loss of Michael Strahan, Battle Cry of Freedom immediately came to mind for me this week. The vacant ranks of those gone before have been filled. Will the team rally – rally once again?

I am not going to talk about the opponent this week. This game is not about the Cardinals. It is strictly about the Giants. The losses of Strahan and Keith Washington are tough hurdles to overcome, but in these losses there are opportunities. For years, Michael Strahan and Jessie Armstead were the heart and soul of the New York Giants’ defense. When Armstead was waived after the 2001 season, Strahan became the sole leader of the defense. His very presence inspired the troops, but it also may have intimidated others from stepping up to the plate and assuming leadership responsibilities. Strahan has fallen and others MUST assume the mantle of leadership.

How does one become a leader? “What I’ve found is that the best type of leadership there is for somebody to make a play,” says Coach Coughlin. “Make a play. Make a play, rally people around you, get them excited.”

In a way, this is going to be a good test run for the Giants to find out what life without Strahan will be like in the not-too-distant future. Strahan turns 33 years old this month. He undoubtably has a future in television if he wants it and the demands of being a new father. He is in the twilight of his career, with production that is declining at the same time as his salary escalates. I am sure Strahan will be back in 2005, but will he be back in 2006? I see similarities here with LT’s situation in 1992, when he suffered his first and only season-ending injury. Taylor came back to play in 1993 because he didn’t want to finish his career by being carted off the field. But 1993 was his last season. The 1992 Giants did not rally. They were 5-4 at the time of his injury, but the team lost six of its last seven games without him to finish 6-10.

The Giants can avoid a similar fate if others step to the plate and carry this defense. Will Allen, Will Peterson, Frank Walker, Gibril Wilson, Brent Alexander, Nick Greisen, Kevin Lewis, Carlos Emmons, Reggie Torbor, Osi Umenyiora, Norman Hand, Fred Robbins, Lance Legree, and William Joseph – it’s on their shoulders now. There is strength in numbers and fame and money to be made. How? Make plays, win ball games. The legacy of the 80-year old Giants is defense. There is a proud tradition to uphold. Be aggressive, be physical, get to the football!

How cool would it be for this defense to still carry the team minus Strahan, Washington, and both starting safeties? The national media would be dumfounded. It is possible. Without the threat of Strahan’s disapproval looming over his shoulder, Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis can really vary his defense now. I would expect to even a great variety of looks from both the 4-3 and especially the 3-4. Look for players such as Reggie Torbor to see a lot of situational playing time. Opposing offenses won’t know what is coming. If the defense makes plays and wins games, media attention will be focused on the players…new stars will arise from the ashes. New York is the media capitol of the world and New Yorkers love defense.

Nov 102004
 
Chicago Bears 28 – New York Giants 21

Game Overview: These kind of losses make me sick. I realize that teams all around the league have and will lose games like this, but it just seems like the Giants have more of them than others. It is absolutely unbelievable how the Giants lost this game. A penalty took one touchdown off the board that could have made the score 21-0. Up by 14 points, with six minutes left before halftime, the Giants allowed the Bears to score 20 points in those six minutes to take a 20-14 halftime lead. The bumbling, stumbling offense did nothing in the second half of the game despite the fact that the Bears gave the offense more than a few chances to redeem themselves. Just sickening.

The Giants are not good enough to seriously contend in the playoffs. And with QB Kurt Warner sure to leave in free agency next offseason, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Giants to waste the remainder of the season on Warner with Eli Manning sitting on the bench. It would if Warner was playing well, but he is not. And because of this, the Giants will not go far. Could Manning’s play be worse than Warner’s? Sure, he is a rookie and most rookie quarterbacks (Ben Roethlisberger aside) make dumb mistakes. Plus, the offensive line is now playing down to preseason expectations so Manning would be under duress. But if the Giants go into 2005 with Manning the starting quarterback, having seen no significant real playing time, the 2005 season will be another up-and-down mess. Keep in mind that players such as Tiki Barber, Amani Toomer, and Michael Strahan are getting older.

The Giants embarrassingly lost their second home game in three weeks to a bad football team because once again the team failed to abide by the “Coughlin Doctrine” – don’t turn the ball over, don’t commit dumb penalties, and be more physical than your opponent at the line of scrimmage. The Giants turned the ball over five times, committed 14 penalties for 109 yards, and the offensive line was pushed around by the Bears’ front seven.

Offense: How bad was it? The Giants only totaled 258 yards of offense. Kurt Warner was sacked 7 times, the most sacks the Giants have given up in a game since 1996. And the team turned the ball over five times. The Giants were impressive on their two touchdown scoring drives (both on short fields) in the first quarter. They also looked strong on the drive that should have resulted in another touchdown that quarter, but was erased due to a holding penalty. But aside from these three drives, the Giants did not gain another first down for the rest of the half. Worse, there were four turnovers (two fumbles, two interceptions) in the first half. The offensive ineptitude continued in the second half, as the Giants did not pick up another first down until late in the third quarter. And New York fumbled the ball away again. Most disconcerting was the Giants’ inability to pick up a first down on 2nd, 3rd-, and 4th-and-1. The Giants were an atrocious 1-of-14 on third down and 0-of-3 on fourth down. Their only successfully converted short-yardage play was a 3rd-and-1 that resulted in a touchdown. Barber was stuffed on consecutive 2nd-and-1 and 3-and-1 plays in the second quarter. He was stuffed on a 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1 in the third quarter. Even when the Giants passed on 3rd-and-1 it did not work as a Warner pass to FB Jim Finn was batted away by the defensive end and a 3rd-and-1 pass to Shockey fell incomplete on another 3rd-and-1. In other words, the Giants were 1-of-7 when they needed to get a yard. Give me a freaking break! When the Giants finally managed to put a drive together late in the game (aided by penalties on the Bears), they turned ball over on downs despite having a 1st-and-goal from the 2-yard line. Pathetic! And to rub even more salt in the wound, God decided to torment Giants’ fan even more by having New York recover the onsides kick with almost two minutes left in the game and only down by seven. The offense has a chance to save the day! What happens? Incomplete, sack, sack, incomplete. Way to go Giants!

Quarterback: Kurt Warner (18-of-36 for 195 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions, 2 fumbles) practically lost this game all by himself for his team. Warner’s fumbling problem is beyond ridiculous now. Late in the first quarter, on 3rd-and-13, Warner was given decent time in the pocket, but could find no one open (Coughlin says there was a receiver open on the play). For some reason, he thought he could run to his left away from trouble. This was a ridiculous decision on his part because Warner wasn’t going to have time to set up again after pulling the ball down and he certainly wasn’t going to run for the first down. Worse, by carrying the ball so loosely, he invited a turnover and that’s exactly what happened. Late in the second quarter, Warner threw two bad interceptions that handed the Bears six points. Indeed, the Giants were lucky it wasn’t 14 points. His first throw to Toomer was a tad high and into double-coverage. His second throw was way behind Shockey and easily intercepted. In the third quarter, the Giants’ defense forced a turnover and gave the ball to Warner and the offense at the Bears’ 18-yard line, but Warner fumbled the ball away again two plays later. That’s four turnovers. Game, set, match.

Aside from the turnover nightmare, it was still a mixed bag for Warner. He badly overthrew WR Amani Toomer on 3rd-and-11 on the Giants’ first offensive possession of the game. He did help to set up the next two scores with throws of 21 to Toomer, 6 to Shockey, and 20 to Shockey. He also hit Shockey again for 14 on the play preceding the touchdown run by Barber that was called back due to a penalty. In the second half, the Bears’ pass rush became a bigger factor and made life more difficult for Warner. He didn’t help the Giants’ cause with his second fumble and a false start. Coming off their goal line near the end of the third quarter, the Giants started to put a nice drive together with a big Barber run and then a real nice play by Warner on 2nd-and-17. Warner smartly moved to his left away from pressure and found Barber down the field for a 28-yard gain. But the drive stalled when the Giants couldn’t pick up a yard in two tries. Warner made an excellent throw to Toomer for 16 yards on the next drive despite tight coverage, but that drive stalled too. Trailing by 14 with seven and a half minutes to play, the Giants moved from their 36-yard line to the Bears’ 2-yard line. Warner made throws of 13 to Toomer (nice throw despite tight coverage), 18 to Barber on a screen pass, and 7 to Shockey. Warner had no chance on his next play as he was hit as he threw. Then, Warner’s intended pass to Hilliard was tipped at the line of scrimmage…this was a touchdown had the ball not been tipped. On 4th-and-3, Warner was pressured and threw a ball that was not near anyone. On the Giants’ last drive of the game, Warner’s first pass was incomplete as he tried to force the ball into Shockey despite triple coverage. Two sacks and another incomplete pass on 4th-and-20 ended the game.

Wide Receivers: It is unbelievable how unproductive the Giants’ wide receiving corps has become. Is it the style of offense? The quarterback? Overrated talent? Amani Toomer (2 catches for 34 yards) and Ike Hilliard (6 catches for 38 yards) still have not scored a touchdown this year. In fact, the only wide receiver to have scored a touchdown all season for the Giants (Tim Carter) was placed on Injured Reserve weeks ago!!! The Giants’ starting duo had 72 yards of offense against the Bears! Third wideout Jamaar Taylor didn’t have a catch. Not only did the starters not help their team, but they made things worse with horrible mistakes. Toomer was flagged with a holding call that began the meltdown. He was flagged for holding the cornerback on a 13-yard touchdown run by Barber. Instead of the game being 21-0, it is 14-0 and a few plays later Warner is turning the ball over for the first time. Hilliard, whose yards-per-catch totals this year look more like a tight end’s, set up the Bear’s second and tying touchdown with a fumble. He later fumbled again later in the game, but the Giants recovered that ball. I thought the illegal crackback block called on Hilliard was a terrible call as Hilliard hit the defender clearly from the front.

The good news is that the receivers continue to block well.

Running Backs: The day started off well for Tiki Barber (21 carries for 72 yards, 2 touchdowns; 4 catches for 59 yards) despite running into the back of his pulling guard on his first carry of the game. Barber scored on a 3rd-and-1 play off right tackle from the Bears’ 3-yard line midway through the first quarter. He scored on 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line by bouncing the play outside on the next possession to make the score 14-0. On the very next drive, Barber broke off a 19-yard run off left tackle as he made the linebacker miss in the hole and showed some elusiveness down the field. Barber also did a nice job of reversing his field (this looked intended by the play design) on his 13-yard touchdown run that was called back. But things started to go south for him in the second quarter. After a 9-yard reception, he could not gain a yard on 2nd-and-1 and 3rd-and-1 and the Giants were forced to punt. Much of this had to do with the run blocking, but Barber has to try not to get too cute with his cuts in short yardage too (this is where not having a true short-yardage back hurts the Giants as Tiki can’t really push the pile). Barber also gave up a sack when the linebacker jumped over his attempted blitz pick-up. Barber looked weak again on a blitz pick-up on the play where Hilliard fumbled. To his credit, Barber saved a defensive touchdown by pushing the corner out of bounds on Warner’s first fumble.

In the second half, I once again thought Barber got too cute on a 3rd-and-1 effort. He abandoned his inside blocking to bounce the play outside, where there were a couple of unblocked Bears waiting for him. On New York’s next drive, two Barber runs of 7 yards sandwiched a false start penalty by Warner. On 3rd-and-1, Warner’s pass intended for Jim Finn was deflected by the defensive end. I did not like the play design as Barber was called upon to block the end by himself…that’s nuts. Tiki broke off a huge run on the next series. Starting at their own 1-yard line, Barber squeezed through the line of scrimmage en route to a 21-yard gain that for a second looked like it might go for 99 yards. Three plays later, Tiki caught a 28-yard pass down the field as on 2nd-and-17. However, the drive once again stalled as Barber was unable to gain a yard on 4th-and-1. After the Bears took a 28-14 lead, the Giants ran a screen play to Barber that was poorly blocked. Nevertheless, Barber was able to break off an 18-yard gain with some great running after the reception.

Jim Finn did a fine job with his lead blocking and blitz pick-ups. Finn made a very good block on both of Tiki’s touchdown runs and the 19-yard run in the first quarter. Mike Cloud had a nice cutback run of 13 yards late in the third quarter.

Tight Ends: It looked like it was going to be a really big receiving day for Jeremy Shockey (6 catches for 64 yards, 1 touchdown) as he was very active in the passing game early with four passes thrown in his direction in the first quarter, three of them being completed including 20-yarder that put the ball at the Chicago one-yard line. Shockey’s blocking was strong early too. Like Finn, he got good blocks on both of Barber’s touchdown runs. But Shockey also badly missed a block on the linebacker on a Mike Cloud run that lost one yard. In the second half, Shockey was flagged with an obvious holding call on a screen pass. A 3rd-and-10 pass by Warner fell incomplete as Warner was hit as he threw when Shockey could not handle DE Adewale Ogunleye’s pass rush. Jeremy had a 16-yard reception in the fourth quarter and a 1-yard touchdown catch where he did a good job of selling the play-action fake with his block.

Visanthe Shiancoe got two excellent blocks on Barber’s 21-yard gain off the goal line, taking out two Bear defenders.

Offensive Line: The weird thing about the offensive line is that they are regressing as the season progresses, rather than getting stronger as expected. Both run and pass blocking were far too inconsistent on Sunday. The Giants gave up seven sacks (one of which was a coverage sack and another was the fault of Tiki Barber). Five sacks is way too much as is the pressure on plays where Warner is not sacked. For example, on the Giants’ first play of the game, the defensive tackle split a double-team block by LG Jason Whittle and OC Wayne Lucier to pressure and hit Warner. On first play of the next possession, a strong safety blitz came free to smash Warner just as he was releasing the ball. The pass protection by the offensive line then settled down until midway through the second quarter. A double-team by Lucier and RG Chris Snee was split and Diehl gave up a pressure all on the same play, forcing Warner to scramble for a 3-yard gain. LT Luke Petitgout failed to chip the end before going out to block on a screen, causing the ball to be tipped. Then Petitgout got beat to the outside as Whittle lost his man inside and a sack resulted.

The pass protection got worse in the second half. Despite completing a 9-yard pass to Hilliard, Whittle was pushed back into Warner’s face by the defensive tackle. A drive that started at the Bear’s 18-yard line ended prematurely when Petitgout gave up another sack to DE Alex Brown. Warner fumbled the ball away on this play, but the turnover was really Petitgout’s fault as Warner was in the act of throwing after stepping up into the pocket away from Brown. On the next possession, Snee was cleanly beat for a sack. Diehl gave up a pressure to Ogunleye on a play Warner was clobbered as he threw. Later in the drive, Warner was hit again as he threw as the Bears’ blitzer timed his blitz perfectly to beat the blocking scheme. The low-point of the day for the offensive line was the Giants’ final possession when they had a chance to tie the game after recovering the onsides kick. On 2nd-and-10, Diehl was beat by Ogunleye for a sack. On 3rd-and-10, Lucier was driven back into Warner’s face, causing another sack. Then on 4th-and-20, Warner was pressured again as Snee and Lucier lazily let the defensive tackle split their double team. Embarrassing! Kudos to Brandon Winey for filling in ably in a pinch for the injured Luke Petitgout in the second half.

The run blocking was solid early. Diehl and Whittle got good blocks on Tiki’s first touchdown run. On the 19-yard gain by Barber, Petitgout made a real nice block at the point-of-attack as Snee got a good downfield block. And Petitgout took out two defenders on Barber’s 13-yard touchdown run that was called back. But short-yardage run blocking became a nightmare starting in the second quarter. The Giants sent Barber up the gut on back-to-back 2nd-and-1 and 3rd-and-1 running plays and got stuffed. On one of these plays, the defensive tackle shoved Lucier into the backfield, disrupting the entire play. Late in the second quarter, a left-side sweep lost three yards as Petitgout was embarrassingly shoved into the backfield and his man made the tackle. In the second half, Petitgout got a good block on Barber’s 21-yard gain off the goal line. But a couple of plays later, Whittle couldn’t get to LB Brian Urlacher as Urlacher tackled Cloud for a 1-yard loss. Snee then made a nice block on Cloud’s 13-yard gain, but Barber couldn’t pick up the first down on 4th-and-1 when Lucier got pushed back by the tackle again. On the next series, Diehl and Snee got good blocks on a Barber run of 5 yards, but Winey couldn’t make his block on a blitzer and Barber was tackled for no gain. Lucier didn’t do a very good job of blocking in the open field on Barber’s 18-yard screen pass.

Penalties were again a problem. Snee was flagged with two false starts, including a killer one down on the goal line late in the game. So did David Diehl in the same situation. These two penalties help to turn a 1st-and-goal from the 2-yard line situation into a 2nd-and-goal from the 10-yard line. Inexcusable! Petitgout was flagged with an illegal formation penalty by not lining up on the line of scrimmage.

Defense: While the defense gave up some big plays that contributed to the loss, they played pretty well for the most part. Chicago only managed 231 yards of offense, 27 yards less than the Giants. And the Bears picked up only 13 first downs in the game (2 less than the Giants) and had to punt the ball away an astounding 10 times. The Bears only completed 8 passes, but there were some big completions in those eight. This game could have been a lot worse for the Giants had the defense not made a couple of goal line stands. The Bears sole first down on their first seven possessions came as the result of a penalty. But the Giants then gave up a cheap touchdown as for some reason Nick Greisen was called upon to cover a wide receiver over the intermediate middle on one play and then CB Will Allen lost the ball in the lights for a 35-yard touchdown reception. The other big play given up was a 41-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

Defensive Line: It’s ironic that the Giants lost Strahan (4 tackles, 1 sack) in a game that was probably the best he has had all season. Strahan not only beat the tight end for a sack, but he had a number of quick pressures on QB Craig Krenzel before he left the game with a season-ending injury in the third quarter. Strahan was very stout against the run too. Strahan caused the Bears’ second turnover of the day when he sniffed out the swing pass to the running back and his presence caused the back to drop what was ruled a lateral. On the next series, Strahan got injured on a running play where he over-pursued the back in the hole and reached back in an attempt to tackle him. The Giants lost DE Keith Washington (1 tackle) for the season too; he will be missed for his run defense. Lance Legree played the rest of the game at strongside end and I thought played pretty well as a run defender, disrupting a few Bear runs in his direction.

Fred Robbins (6 tackles, 2 sacks) played an excellent game not just as a pass rusher (he had a few other pressures asides from his two sacks), but as a run defender too where he made a few penetrations into the backfield. Norman Hand (1 tackle) helped to gum things up inside and had a sack taken away from him because of a defensive penalty on MLB Kevin Lewis. He also got a good pressure in the second half of game on one play.

Osi Umenyiora (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery) had more of a mixed day. His first big play was the fumble recovery and return of 15 yards when Krenzel was sacked by SS Gibril Wilson. I spotted Umenyiora getting a good pass rush on Krenzel on one play in the second quarter. However, Umenyiora got easily walled off on HB Anthony Thomas’ 4-yard touchdown run around left end that tied the score at 14-14. And the Bears were able to run at Umenyiora some in the second half of the game. Osi was still a factor on the pass rush. He tipped away one 3rd-and-3 pass as he rushed from the linebacker spot in the 3-4. Then he kept the Bears out of field goal range with his 9-yard sack from the right end position. On this play, he beat the tackle to the inside (a couple of Osi’s sacks this year have been from an inside move that he has now added to his pass rush arsenal). However, Umenyiora lost contain on Krenzel’s 2-yard conversion attempt off a naked bootleg.

Linebackers: I thought the linebackers played fairly well and I thought this was SLB Carlos Emmons’ (7 tackles) best game of the season. Not just because of the tackle total, but because he was tough at the point-of-attack this week. He also got some pressure on the blitz.

WLB Nick Greisen (8 tackles) is much more stout at the point-of-attack than Barrett Green and Greisen also knocked away two of Krenzel’s passes. For some reason, the Giants got caught in a defense where Greisen had to cover WR David Terrell out of the slot over the intermediate middle of the field. This resulted in a 28 yard pass play on 1-and-20 and set up the Bears’ first score at a time when the Bears had not been able to pick up one first down on their own in seven possessions. Bad mistake by the defensive coaching staff. I also didn’t like the defensive line-up on Thomas’ four-yard TD run off left tackle as all of the defenders seemed to be bunched inside, including Greisen.

Kevin Lewis (8 tackles) was active, but he was flagged with a costly illegal contact penalty on a play where Hand had sacked Krenzel. Instead of it being 2nd-and-goal from the 10, the penalty made it 1st-and-goal from the 4-yard line and the Bears scored on the next play. He was handled some at the point of attack, but he also did a nice job on one run by fighting through a block and making the tackle.

Someone screwed up by letting Anthony Thomas get wide open for a 21-yard gain after the big Bears’ punt return. Luckily for the Giants, the Bears were flagged with an illegal formation penalty on the play.

Reggie Torbor saw time both at linebacker and defensive end. As an end, he got easily blocked inside on Thomas’ game-breaking 41-yard touchdown run.

Defensive Backs: Krenzel only completed 8-of-21 passes so the pass defense was very good for most of the game. However, there were a couple of major mistakes that ultimately proved costly.

Will Allen was playing an exceptional game until the 35-yard touchdown over his head. He had knocked away a 3rd-and-6 pass on the Bears’ first possession, a 3rd-and-5 pass later in the first quarter, and a 3rd-and-10 pass in the second quarter. He was step for step with WR Bernard Berrian on a deep pass into the end zone in with five and half minutes left in the second quarter, but Allen lost the ball in the lights despite having perfect position. A touchdown resulted on an excellent throw by Krenzel. I believe Allen’s excuse on this play because of his reaction during and after the play. He was right there to make the play – he just didn’t see the ball. Allen was very sound pass coverage in the second half of the game except for one play where he stumbled on a slant and gave up a 9-yard completion to WR David Terrell on 3rd-and-3. He knocked another pass away earlier in half.

The other big mistake by the pass defense (other than having Greisen cover Terrell) was the complete breakdown in the secondary by letting WR Bobby Wade get wide open down the seam for 33 yards very late in the second quarter. This set up the Bears’ final field goal before halftime. Someone screwed up big time.

Will Peterson played a strong game again. He knocked away two attempted fade passes to Terrell in the first half. However, Peterson got beat by Terrell for a 20-yard completion two plays before the 41-yard run by Thomas.

CB Frank Walker is very aggressive, but he has to be careful. He is lucky he did not get flagged for an obvious pass interference penalty and he still tends to play the man rather than the ball. Walker did a good job of keeping Krenzel short of the first down on a quarterback scramble to the right on 3rd-and-4.

Gibril Wilson (9 tackles, 1 sack) both helped and hurt his team this week. He made a nice play on the fullback in the flat in the first quarter. But he gave the Bears their only first down in their first seven possessions with a stupid holding penalty on 2nd-and-37. On the next series, Wilson sacked and forced a fumble that the Giants recovered, setting up New York’s second touchdown. But Wilson made another dumb penalty when he was flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty after Krenzel started his slide. This put the ball at the Giants’ 8-yard line and the Bears scored two plays later. Wilson did make a nice tackle on the halfback on the goal line for a 1-yard loss on the Bears’ final red zone opportunity of the first half. In the second half, Wilson had nice coverage on the tight end over the middle on 3rd-and-25. But perhaps the biggest mistake the defense made all game was by Wilson in the fourth quarter. Blitzing from the weakside, Gibril had a free shot at Thomas in the backfield on the latter’s 41-yard touchdown run. Wilson overran the play and both Will Allen and FS Brent Alexander took the wrong angle in pursuit down the field.

Special Teams: Jeff Feagles punted seven for 38.7 yards-per-punt average in very windy conditions. His punts went 44 (downed by Jim Maxwell), 25 (out of bounds), 37 (downed by Jack Brewer), 41 (return of 8, tackle by Mike Cloud), 26 (out of bounds), 49 (return of 30, tackle by Marcellus Rivers), and 49 (return of 5, tackle by Rivers). Obviously, Feagles had problems kicking into the wind. And not only did the Giants give up a 30-yard return, but Rivers was flagged with a 15-yard face mask penalty on the play. On the punt downed by Maxwell, David Tyree did a great job of keeping the ball out of the endzone by batting it back into the field of play.

Steve Christie’s kickoffs landed at the 3 (8 yard return, tackle by Frank Walker), out of bounds, and endzone (return of 19, tackle by Nick Greisen and Reggie Torbor). Obviously, the kick out of bounds was not good. However, the Giants did manage to recover the onsides kickoff late in the game (kudos to Jack Brewer on this play).

The Giants’ return game showed flashes of life. Willie Ponder’s returns went for 24, 22, 86, 38, and 33 yards. On the 86-yard return, Kevin Lewis was flagged for a non-existent holding penalty…a terrible call by the officials. Ron Dayne made a real nice block on one return.

Mark Jones’ punt returns went for 13, 3, and 29 yards. The latter return helped to set up the Giants’ final touchdown of the game by putting the ball at the Bears’ 11-yard line. Jones was flagged with an invalid fair catch signal (I thought this was a good call despite what Coughlin said). Curtis Deloatch needs to block the opposing gunner better; he let his guy run free twice.


Sometimes Words Just Fail

by David Oliver

This has been a difficult team to watch and assess. As a believer in the Parcellian adage, you are what the record says you are, I have to look at 5-and-3 and come away quite happy. I am happy because I believed after the Eagles game that if the Giants did not beat the Redskins they could go winless. I also believed that the Redskins would be the best match up for victory, and the Giants came through. They then beat a couple of decent opponents rather handily, and were streaking towards the playoffs. Along came the Bears, a team with a very good defense, and they defeated a somewhat listless Giants team that for one quarter looked like a Super Bowl contender. They were not only beaten on the scoreboard, but received a physical beating as well. I don’t know what the Bears locker looked like, but losing both starting defensive ends, leaving the field with a bruised starting RB, having a QB who was hit more times than William Joseph has hit a tackling dummy, and watching the antics of a Coach throw his clipboard onto the field on the dead run, but with no greater accuracy than his QB, left me very edgy.

Nevertheless hope springs eternal, and running into Hope J at the Pilot put a mellowing touch on a bad day. So here are a few observations.

  • There appears to be some flutter in the learning process of the offensive coordinators and play callers. Trying, once again, to make Ron Dayne into a power back, after a spring and summer of observation, is just plain dumb. That move alone gives me pause about this offensive system. Dayne is not, and never has been, a power runner. What would I do? One of three things: split him out, or send him out into the flat, and throw him flare passes; go out and get a monster FB who would lead him into the hole; or trade him to a team like the Steelers who actually have O-Linemen who can power block.
  • Next up is to use Shockey as the weapon we know he is. Shank is the blocking TE. Keeping Shock in to protect the QB is a waste of one of the two offensive weapons the Giants have. Shockey cannot even be used as a block and release TE – just send him into the seam and let him bull over the LBs and CBs.
  • Recognize that for whatever reason, Toomer and Ike are no longer significant in this offense. Whether it is chemistry with Warner, or age finally catching up, our wideouts are ineffective. Solution – use Jamaar Taylor more, in conjunction with Shockey. Warner seemed to have developed a nice rapport with Carter, oh, well, all-promise and all-IR Carter. Such is life.
  • Playcalling is erratic. This was to be expected with a rookie offensive coordinator, but it getting to be crunch time, so let’s get this straightened out.
  • Final observation: Kurt Warner is a once and possibly future great QB. But not in this system unless corrections are made. Yes, he holds the ball too long, but I disagree with some of the observers in The Corner Forum that his receivers are open all over the field. They are not, and mostly he doesn’t have time to find them. A good friend called me this week to advocate playing Eli. I argued it would be a terrible move right now, not because I am concerned with Eli’s psyche, but I am concerned over his body. Warner is getting killed. Eli would get killed. My friend argues that everyone would play better. I contend that most are maxed out. We have a very young right side of the line, and a jerry built and injured left side. Wait until December, when there are some winnable games, then get Eli into the mix.

The defense is quiet and steady. The entire unit has been playing inspired ball. But it will now be tested. Osi is ready to step up and in, so there won’t be a drop off on that side, maybe even an improvement. No one can come in and replace Strahan. It is going to be an interesting three weeks.

Arizona has a solid defense. For a number of reasons, I believe that the Giants will lose the next three games, but I also believe that they will win at least four in December as they match up better against the Redskins, the Ravens, the Bengals, and the Cowboys.

I talked to some linebackers Sunday night – Jim Maxwell, Reggie Torbor, and Kevin Lewis. It was interesting watching the locker dynamics as the herd (TV and main media) finally has discovered Kevin Lewis. I teased him about my needing to make an appointment to talk with him, and he laughed as he asked me, “Yeah, where have they been for the past few years?” Kevin is now the leader of the D, as the guy who calls the plays and sets the formations. Although disappointed in the outcome of the game, he said, “From a players’ standpoint, it is one play at a time…you win or lose on every play…when they break one for 100 yards, you have to erase the play.” I told him he sounded like a cornerback, known for their short memories. He said, “I have to be because I have to direct them on the next play…I just say I’ll get him next time.” We discussed his play and his role and I asked him if he was satisfied with his play. He told me he would never think he played a great game and that “when I make a bad play, I come down on myself.” He told me he is in control of the defense, and that “when I am calling plays, if I’m excited, they might panic. I have to be the same guy all the time.” He said if he gets excited or disappointed on a play, he has to let it go quick. This, he said, was the most important thing he has learned this year. We discussed the bond being formed by the linebackers and by the entire 11-man squad. They start in March and continue through the summer, “but” he said, “until the real bullets start flying, you don’t really know guys.” I asked him who he though was the biggest surprise on defense and it should come as no surprise to realize that he said, “Gibril Wilson, to come in as a rookie, making plays, putting in the time,” and he told me the older guys were taking him under their wings. As Kevin said, Gibril “is ready to play.”

I talked a little to Jim Maxwell about his journey from Gardner-Webb to the pros. He told me he went to Gardner as a 6’3″, 185-pound quarterback and came out some 40 pounds of muscle heavier as a LB. The Giants would like him to add a little weight, but only if he keeps his speed, so he told me he would spend the off-season in the weight room, but he would focus on still running. He’s on special teams now, and although he’d love to get in some defense, he’s willing to do his job. He did play some specials in college, but he was mostly saved because of his full-time defensive role. I asked him to highlight the transition process for me and he said, like everyone, that it “is a faster game.” He went on to bullet the next most important things, which for him, include, “everybody is looking for that certain match-up; there is a lot of class room, all day here in the morning, learning and all that.” I asked him about Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis and Linebackers Coach Billy Davis and he told me that Lewis was very involved in the meetings, “that he knows his stuff, gets results…supervises in the meetings.” He also told me that there was a steep learning curve in this system and that he likes the system. He finished by telling me that every game he realizes, “I haven’t seen that yet; every day, it’s learning something different.”

Finally, Reggie Torbor told me that Sunday was frustrating as the team felt they were fighting back, “fighting against the clock; ran out of time.” The Bears, he said, “made some plays, made more plays than we did.” But he said, the attitude is “not to let it happen again. Come here tomorrow, watch the tapes and correct the mistakes.” I asked him if guys were trying too hard to make individual plays and he told me, “Everyone breaks the huddle saying don’t take this play for granted.” His attitude is, “Face it, correct it,” but he mostly summed it up pretty well when he said, “It just didn’t happen tonight.”

No it didn’t.

(Box Score – Chicago Bears at New York Giants, November 7, 2004) 
Nov 052004
 

Approach to the Game – Chicago Bears at New York Giants, November 7, 2004: This is not a comfortable position for the Giants: coming off an upset against a quality team and now being favored against an inferior team that they are favored to beat. But the Giants need to get over this “play down to the level of your opponents” crap that has tormented them since God knows how long. The Bears are a lot like the Lions – good defense and special teams, bad offense. But the first two elements of their team often keep them in tight games and the Bears are physical on offense and they can run the football. Yes, this is another trap game for the Giants. The players and coaches need to stop talking about not falling prey to trap games and actually prove it with their actions on the football field. As Tom Coughlin is fond of saying, “Deeds, not words.”

Giants on Offense: The Bears have a good defense. They are well-coached defensively (their head coach being one of the candidates competing for the Giants’ top job with Coughlin) and have good talent. It will not be easy for New York to move the football or score many points. The defensive line is decent with two ends who can rush the passer: LDE Adewale Ogunleye (questionable with a leg injury) and RDE Alex Brown. The Bears have a nice complementary defensive tackle duo in LDT Tommie Harris and RDT Ian Scott. Harris was a top draft pick who plays with excellent quickness and has 2.5 sacks. Scott is more of the 2-gap run defender who ties up blockers. The Giants’ offensive line, which has not pass blocked well the last two weeks, will need to elevate its game in pass protection. Both tackles and RG Chris Snee will be under the microscope in this department. The Bears are not afraid to blitz, especially with MLB Brian Urlacher (“NFC Defensive Player of the Week”; 4 sacks despite missing the early portion of the season) so blitz pick-ups by the line, tight ends, and backs will be critically important.

WLB Lance Briggs is a run-and-chase type who is a good tackler and hitter. But he is not terribly strong at the point-of-attack and has problems in coverage at times. Running in his direction and at Alex Brown (who is not a good run defender) would seem prudent. Look for off tackle runs behind LT Luke Petitgout and those runs around left end where TE Visanthe Shiancoe will block down on Brown and Petitgout and LG Jason Whittle pull.

I’d be surprised if the Bears don’t keep Urlacher (a former safety) in coverage for much of the game against HB Tiki Barber. But if the Giants are able to match-up Barber (or TE Jeremy Shockey) on one of the other two linebackers in the passing game, this might prove fruitful as well. Hunter Hillenmeyer is the non-descript strongside linebacker.

In the secondary, the Bears will be without LCB Charles Tillman (knee). But the secondary is still decent. R.W. McQuarters (on Ike Hilliard) will start at left corner and Jerry Azumah (on Amani Toomer) is the right corner. McQuarters is a heck of an athlete, but he will sometimes gamble and lose. He also will give up plays in front of him so look for QB Kurt Warner to play pitch-and-catch with Hilliard some. Azumah is a smaller corner who plays bigger than his size. He is very quick and fast, but he will bite on some moves. With Mike Brown out for the season, Todd Johnson is the new free safety. Johnson is a good run defender but he sometimes struggles in coverage. Reserve CB Nathan Vasher is an impressive rookie who just returned a pick 71 yards for a touchdown against the 49ers. If the offensive line can give Warner time, the Giants’ receiving corps of Toomer, Hilliard, and Jamaar Taylor may be able to make some big plays with double-moves against this aggressive group.

Giants on Defense: The major key defensively in this game is stopping the run. The Bears are down to their third quarterback as Rex Grossman was lost for the season and Jonathan Quinn was terrible. Craig Krenzel is the new quarterback who got his first start last week in the Bears’ defeat of the 49ers. Again, this is not a comfortable position for the Giants (remember Doug Johnson of the Falcons?). But the Giants must go into this game thinking run defense first and foremost. The Bears can run the ball as they are a physical, blue-collar group up front. And the Giants’ run defense has been spotty at times this season. The interior of the offensive line is a real strength with LG Ruben Brown, OC Olin Kreutz (one of the best centers in the game), and RG Mike Gandy (questionable with a hamstring injury). This is a very good run-blocking group who can maul defenders so the defensive tackles all need to buckle up their chin straps and get ready for a real war. John Tait is one of the best right tackles in football and the Bears will likely count on him to handle DE Michael Strahan all by himself. LT Qasim Mitchell is a huge player who can run block but who also sometimes struggles in pass protection. The Giants need big games out of Keith Washington and Osi Umenyiora here.

Thomas Jones is questionable with a toe injury so the Giants may see more of Anthony Thomas – a no-frills, physical running back typical of the University of Michigan. He’s strictly a between-the-tackles runner who finishes his runs off well. Thomas is good in short yardage too. FB Bryan Johnson is a very good lead blocker and the Bears will use him as a safety valve in the passing game (12 catches). The man on the spot here in my opinion is MLB Kevin Lewis. This is the type of game where Lewis will really show his mettle. If he plays poorly, misreads plays, and can’t get off blocks, the Giants may be in trouble. The other guy who needs to play well in run support is the undersized strong safety, Gibril Wilson. It’s also time for SLB Carlos Emmons (questionable with a hip flexor) to be more of a factor in run defense. If Emmons can’t play, Reggie Torbor will be on the spot. It’s probably better for the Giants to have Nick Greisen starting this weekend on the weakside, given the style of the opponent.

If Thomas Jones plays, he is a major threat of the backfield (26 catches). Linebacker coverage here will be crucial. TE Desmond Clark is more receiver than tight end. He has the ability to make plays down the field.

Krenzel is a big quarterback who usually makes good decisions, but he is a statue in the pocket, has a slow release, and is not terribly accurate. He has a good, but not great arm. The Giants should not play it safe in my opinion (and thereby give him confidence), but come after him and force some bad turnovers. The Giants played it safe with Joey Harrington of the Lions and Harrington played his best game of the year. Take some chances with your secondary and come after Krenzel – make him beat you. If he does, then kudos to him and the Bears.

Will Peterson faces the Bears’ most-talented receiver, David Terrell. But Terrell doesn’t run great routes and has been a big disappointment to the Bears since he was drafted. Nevertheless, he does have the ability to make catches deep or over the middle so Peterson has to take him very seriously. The other starter, Bobby Wade, is a very quick receiver who lacks speed. Will Allen has had some problems with quick, double-moves so Wade and the Bears may come after him a bit until he proves he can handle it. Wade is similar in style to Wayne Chrebet – a savvy guy who knows how to get open. Like the Giants’ starters, neither Terrell nor Wade have a touchdown reception yet (knock on wood).

Giants on Special Teams: The Bears have outstanding special teams and very dangerous returners. R.W. McQuarters is the punt returner and Jerry Azumah is the principle kickoff returner. Azumah is averaging 27 yards-per-return and has a 73-yarder this season. The Giants’ coverage units need to be in top form on Sunday.

Former Giant Brad Maynard is one of the top punters in football and PK Paul Edinger is very good despite his unorthodox kicking style.

Prediction: Once again, the Giants embarrass themselves against an inferior team. Bears 55, Giants 6.

Nov 032004
 
New York Giants 34 – Minnesota Vikings 13

Game Overview:

“I’ve just been given the only good news from today. The Giants are not on our schedule next year, thank God.”
– Vikings’ Head Coach Mike Tice after the game

Make no mistake about it, this was a huge win for the Giants. It was a statement game against what had been clearly defined as the second best team in the NFC behind the Philadelphia Eagles. Now, it would seem that the Giants and Falcons can lay claim to that honor. But this is not the BCS so rankings in November don’t mean jack squat. What matters is to put another string of wins together and start positioning oneself for an apparent playoff run.

Giants on Offense: The Giants actually gained more net yards on the ground (168) than they did through the air (115). The big improvement was the dramatically increased efficiency in the red zone. The Giants scored four touchdowns (all rushing) and a field goal in the red zone against the Vikings. The passing game was hampered by some really spotty pass protection by the offensive line and an unwillingness by QB Kurt Warner to pull the trigger on some throws (be it because of solid coverage or a reluctance to take chances). The run blocking was very good and halfbacks Tiki Barber and Mike Cloud played very well.

Quarterback: It wasn’t a great performance by Kurt Warner (13-of-21 for 144 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions), but Warner was under a lot of duress from a strong Vikings’ pass rush. Indeed, it seemed that half the time Warner was dropping back to pass, he was getting hit. Some of this was due to Warner holding onto the ball too long too. For example, on the Giants’ first offensive possession, Warner appeared to have Shockey open on a play-action pass, but did not pull the trigger. He was then sacked as he failed to find another option to his likening. Two plays later, Warner never had a chance as the Vikings got immediate pressure off the edge and up the middle.

On the next offensive possession, Warner threw a deep sideline pass to TE Jeremy Shockey that resulted in a 38-yard pass interference penalty. Two plays later, he hit WR Amani Toomer for 12 yards, setting up the first red zone opportunity that culminated in a touchdown run by Barber.

On the next possession, Viking pass pressure once again became a factor, but the drive ended with a 3rd-and-3 coverage sack. Warner completed his only pass opportunity on the next drive (resulting in another touchdown run by Barber). Then there were two three-and-outs (and another sack). The last drive of the half, which resulted in a field goal, was an 11-play, 49-yard effort that started off with a nice play by Warner to compete a pass to WR Ike Hilliard despite immediate pressure. Warner completed a 10 yard screen to Hilliard, then made a key throw to WR Jamaar Taylor for 19-yards on 3rd-and-6. A 9-yard pass to Shockey put the ball at the 1-yard line, but then OC Wayne Lucier and Warner botched the center-quarterback exchange and a fumble resulted (Warner recovered). This would happen twice on the day. “I’m going to take the full blame for it,” said Lucier. “I have to get the ball up to him.” Warner’s worst pass of the day came two plays later when he didn’t see FS Corey Chavous on a pass intended for Toomer. An interception should have resulted, by Chavous dropped the ball. This was eerily reminiscent of Warner’s snafu at the end of the first half against Detroit.

Warner’s first pass of the second half was not a good decision either as a pass intended for Shockey was almost intercepted by a linebacker (again, Warner was pressured on the play). A few plays later, the second botched center-quarterback exchange occurred. On the next drive, Warner threw too high to a wide-open Shockey; Shockey made the 25-yard catch but had to dive for the ball. If the ball had been better thrown, Shockey would have had significant yardage after the reception. Warner then threw a perfect bullet to Amani Toomer for a 17-yard touchdown, but an offensive holding call erased the score. Toomer dropped a pass from Warner and then on 3rd-and-23, Warner found Shockey for 26 yards and a first down. HB Mike Cloud scored on the following play. All-in-all, it was a mixed drive for the quarterback. The only other play of note in the second half was Warner’s bad decision to hold onto the ball too long late in the fourth quarter on 3-and-6; Warner was sacked and a fumble resulted (the Giants recovered). Of the three fumbles attributed to Warner, this one was his responsibility.

Wide Receivers: Kudos to Amani Toomer (3 catches for 31 yards) for playing despite a sore hamstring. All three of his catches came on scoring drives. Toomer was flagged with a costly offensive pass interference penalty in the end zone that moved the ball from the Minnesota 2-yard line to the 12-yard line at the end of the half. Toomer was flagged with another offensive pass interference penalty on the Giants’ first drive of the second half on a deep fly pattern. Toomer had a 17-yard touchdown reception erased by an offensive holding penalty. On the very next play, Toomer did drop a perfectly-thrown pass over the middle.

Jamaar Taylor only had one catch, but it was a big one for 19-yard on 3rd-and-6 against Minnesota’s top corner. Taylor was flagged for two offensive holding penalties however. He did have a nice block on HB Mike Cloud’s 26-yard run in the fourth quarter.

Ike Hilliard only caught two passes for 8 yards. He also gained five yards on a reverse.

Willie Ponder saw some action and had a 3-yard reception in the first half off of a WR-screen.

Running Backs:

“He’s just incredible. You give him a crease and he takes it and you don’t even know which way (he’s going to go)…He’s just an exciting back to play with and I’m very fortunate to have someone like that on our team.”
– TE Jeremy Shockey on HB Tiki Barber

Barber had yet another excellent game (101 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns; 1 catch for 10 yards). Barber had two strong runs up the middle on the Giants’ second offensive possession – the first for 6 yards; the second for 2 yards and a touchdown. Contrary to newspaper reports, the Giants did not spread out their formation on this play as Shockey was lined up inside as a blocker. Barber kept things moving on the Giants’ next possession, with runs up the middle for 7 and 4 yards as well as a run around right end for 7 yards. On the next drive, Barber gained 13 yards around left end, 4 yards up the gut, and then 5 yards up the middle for another touchdown. On this play, the Giants did spread out the Vikings, and Barber badly faked out the middle linebacker by first taking a step to his left and then cutting back to his right behind the interior run blocking. “It was a simple play,” Barber said. “They cover Shockey one-on-one, we throw it to him. If they don’t, if they pull back out and play a zone, we hand it off to me. It’s a great play because the defense can’t be right.”

On the field goal drive before halftime, Tiki had runs of 5, 4, and 2 as well as a 10-yard reception on a WR-screen. In the second half, Mike Cloud cut into Barber’s touches. Barber did have runs of 6 and 2 yards on the first scoring drive of the second half. Barber didn’t come back into the game until Cloud was dinged. Barber had two runs of 6 yards each on the Giants’ last possession to help bleed some time off the clock.

Mike Cloud (9 carries for 55 yards and two touchdowns) played a strong game in relief of Tiki Barber. I thought one of the biggest plays Cloud actually made was his diving recovery of the botched center/quarterback exchange early in the third quarter. A turnover here in Giants’ territory could have completely switched the momentum of the game and Cloud out-hustled a number of Viking defenders to the ball. Cloud’s first carry of note was his 1-yard touchdown run on the next drive. This was a tight formation again and with OC Wayne Lucier getting pushed back on the play, there wasn’t a lot of room to run the ball, yet Cloud was able to fight his way into the end zone (unlike another running back on the roster who was inactive). On the next possession, Cloud had runs of 3, 3, 26, 4, and 2 yards. The latter was also a tight formation play (again, contrary to press reports, only one of the goal line TD runs was from a spread formation). On Cloud’s 26-yard run, he broke two tackles. He also broke a tackle on his second touchdown run. Cloud’s last run of the day was an 11-yard pitch to the left.

FB Jim Finn (3 carries for 7 yards; 1 catch for 8 yards) didn’t see the field much at all in the first half as the Giants were mostly in a two-tight end offense. His carries all came late as Cloud was dinged and the Giants were trying not to get Barber hurt.

Tight Ends: I know I am going to sound like a broken record, but once again I want to single out the strong run blocking of Visanthe Shiancoe. Much of the success of the ground game against the Vikings was due to the strong run blocking from Shiancoe. Shank not only got good blocks on the defensive end by sealing his man inside on outside running plays, but Shank got good lead blocks from the H-Back position when sent in motion. Only once did I see him not sustain a run block on one Tiki Barber carry. Shiancoe had one reception for 5 yards that moved the ball to the Minnesota 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter.

“The first couple of years, when I got into a rhythm, it felt like nobody could stop me. If they had double coverage, I felt like I could beat it. Now, I can’t even explain it. I’m not the same. I’m not going to be happy with three catches for however many yards. I want to keep getting better.”
– TE Jeremy Shockey on his play thus far this year

Jeremy Shockey (3 catches for 60 yards) only had three receptions, but they were all big. The first was a 9-yard reception that placed the ball on the Minnesota 1-yard line. Of course, not counted in the statistics, was the huge 38-yard pass interference penalty he caused on the Giants’ first touchdown drive. Shockey’s other two receptions came on the Giants’ first scoring drive of the second half. He made a great one-handed, diving grab of a high Warner pass for a 25-yard gain. Later on this drive, Shockey got wide open again and jumped over an attempted tackle en route to a 26-yard gain on 3rd-and-23. Shockey also had a very good day in the run blocking department, with a number of quality blocking efforts on positive runs. He did badly miss a block on a WR-screen to Ike Hilliard that lost 3-yards.

Offensive Line: It was a strange game for the offensive line. The run blocking was outstanding across the board. This may have been the best run-blocking game by both offensive tackles (Luke Petitgout and David Diehl) all season. And OC Wayne Lucier is a better run blocker at the point-of-attack at center (at least he was against the Vikings). I get a kick out of watching RG Chris Snee when pulling for the ground game – he really looks to lay the wood on people.

However, the pass blocking was another story. Warner was under too much pressure on too many plays. There were five sacks, but three of these were coverage sacks, including the first sack on the first play of the game. However, two plays later, Diehl got badly beaten by DE Kenechi Udeze off the edge and LG Jason Whittle got bulldozed by DT Chris Hovan, resulting in a quick sack. Later in the first quarter, Lucier missed a stunt on play where Warner had to get rid of the ball quickly. On the next play, Snee got pushed back into Warner’s face and the drive ended two plays later when Warner could not find anyone open after a 3-step drop (DE Lance Johnstone sacked Warner as Petitgout strangely tried to block his man at the ankles and appeared to hurt himself on the play – perhaps his back is still bothering him).

In the second quarter, both Diehl and Petitgout gave up pressures on Warner’s 19-yard pass to Taylor on 3rd-and-6. On the next drive, Diehl gave up another sack as he got badly beaten by DE Kenny Mixon (I’ve seen some in The Corner Forum who have argued that Diehl should now be benched despite his mostly solid play this year as a first time starter at right tackle…I can’t think of anything more ridiculous). On the last drive of the half, Warner was under heavy pressure again on the first play of the drive as Petitgout mysteriously ignored the man over his head to help out Whittle (Luke did this twice in the first half). Lucier also gave up a pressure on this drive (and was involved in the botched snap).

Things were better, but not great in the second half. Whittle gave up a pressure on Warner’s first pass of the half. Lucier caused a false start. And then Petitgout gave up a pressure that forced Warner to throw high to Toomer. On the next drive, Whittle was flagged for an obvious holding call on Warner’s touchdown pass to Toomer (Lucier was called, but it was Whittle, who played center in the shotgun formation only, who was the guilty party).

Again, the run blocking was outstanding across the board, but the Giants need to pass block better than they have done the past two games.

Defense: I thought the big key defensively in this game was not allowing the dangerous Viking ground game to get rolling. Rookie sensation Mewelde Moore and former Pro Bowler Michael Bennett were limited to less than 50 yards combined – and much of that came in garbage time late in the game. This made the Vikings one-dimensional and very much helped to allow the Giants’ defense to concentrate on the defending the Minnesota passing attack. Defensive Coordinator also deserves a lot of credit for coming up with a variety of defensive looks that seemed to confuse QB Daunte Culpepper and the Viking blocking schemes. There was not much of a pass rush, but the Giants were able to shut out THE top-ranked offense in the NFL until the fourth quarter. Also, it is important to note that the Giants’ 10 interceptions thus far this season tie them with the entire total they had for all of the 2003 NFL season.

Defensive Line: The guys up front deserve a lot of credit for shutting down the running game…and everyone contributed as reserves such as Lance Legree, William Joseph, and Osi Umenyiora saw quite a bit of playing time early. It was also interesting to note that Norman Hand continued to line up at right defensive tackle with Fred Robbins back healthy. Robbins (2 tackles) got a couple of good pass pressures in the first half, but he was also flagged with a bad 5-yard encroachment penalty with the Vikings backed up to their own 1-yard line. Robbins showed good hustle on a screen pass to Bennett in the third quarter. Norman Hand (1 tackle) was stout against the run and got good pressure on Culpepper on his first interception of the game (as did DE Keith Washington). Hand also batted down a pass. Joseph got two pass pressures on Culpepper in the second half. Joseph did look a tad silly trying to cover Moore on a zone blitz that picked up 26 yards and that helped set up the Vikings’ first touchdown.

DE Michael Strahan (4 tackles) made a couple of plays from the backside against the run and got a good pass rush on one Culpepper incompletion in the first half. Strahan’s pass pressure on Culpepper despite a double-team block helped to cause Culpepper’s second interception. I also spotted three more pass pressures from Strahan in the second half. I thought DE Osi Umenyiora (no tackles) played a good game even though he didn’t show up on the stat sheet. The Giants played him at both right defensive end and linebacker. He got beat in coverage on a zone blitz early in the game, but what impressed me about him against the Vikings was how stout he played at the point-of-attack at defensive end on running plays. The blitzing Umenyiora (from the linebacker position) seemed to confuse the Minnesota blocking schemes somewhat. However, the Giants did not get not get much of a pass rush in the game.

Linebackers: MLB Kevin Lewis (no tackles) didn’t see a lot of playing time as the Giants were often in their nickel and dime packages. However, he made a huge play early in the game as being the only player on the field to recognize that Culpepper’s swing pass to Mewelde Moore was actually a lateral. His recovery set up the first points of the game for New York.

SLB Carlos Emmons (6 tackles) was more active this week and certainly more aggressive. He really laid the wood on one occasion after a short reception. WLB Barrett Green was forced to leave the game early with knee and ankle injuries.

Reggie Torbor saw some late playing time as a pass rusher and got good heat on one pass rush.

I was once again impressed with WLB Nick Greisen (5 tackles). Greisen was very aggressive in tacking on blockers on running plays and helping to stymie the ground attack.

All of the linebackers deserve credit for their job in coverage against the running backs and tight ends. Emmons knocked away one pass intended for Bennett.

Defensive Backs: While I will single out breakdowns in pass coverage, I want to make one thing crystal clear – the ENTIRE secondary did a SUPERB job of shutting down the most dangerous passing attack in the NFL. The Vikings made some plays, but that is to be expected. Randy Moss did play for most of the first half and on some plays looked like his old self. And even without him at full speed, the Vikings have a very dangerous receiving corps. Will Allen and Will Peterson are playing extremely well and the Giants have themselves a bonafide steal in SS Gibril Wilson. When the ball is not being thrown in a certain direction, that usually means the guys in coverage are doing their job but they don’t always receive the glory because it goes unnoticed. Of particular note was the good job the secondary did of covering Viking receivers deep in the second half of the game (except for one bad pass interference penalty by Frank Walker).

Will Peterson stopped the Vikings’ second offensive possession on 3rd-and-3 when his big hit on WR Marcus Robinson forced an incompletion. However, on Minnesota’s next possession both Peterson and FS Brent Alexander were fortunate that Culpepper overthrew WR Kelly Campbell deep as Campbell got behind both. On the next drive, Robinson beat Peterson on a double-move and Alexander was late in getting over, resulting in a huge 42-yard reception. A few plays later, Will Allen got beat for 6-yards by WR Nate Burleson on 3rd-and-3. Two plays after that, Gibril Wilson originally misread the play on Culpepper’s intended pass to TE Jermaine Wiggins, but Wilson incredible closing speed quickly made up for that mistake as Wilson cut in front of Wiggins to intercept the pass and return it 39 yards.

In the second quarter, Frank Walker made an excellent play defeating a block on a WR-screen to limit the play to a 1-yard gain. Marcus Robinson then beat the Giants deep again as he got behind Will Allen and Alexander couldn’t make the play on the ball, resulting in a 32-yard gain. On the very next play, a supposedly gimpy Moss turned on the after-jets and cruised by Allen to what would have been a 21-yard touchdown strike had Moss been able to get his second foot in bounds. The drive ended when Wilson made a superb play by avoiding the blocks on an attempted screen pass that lost 3 yards. Later in the quarter, I was impressed with Wilson’s run force on one play. Alexander’s blitz forced an incompletion by Culpepper. On the last Viking possession of the half, Frank Walker had excellent coverage on a 3rd-and-6 pass to Robinson that fell incomplete.

In the second half, Wilson missed a tackle on a short reception that ended up picking up 15 yards. This drive ended when Culpepper through the ball right to Will Allen. On the next drive, Will Peterson did a good job of holding a screen pass to a 1-yard gain. Allen later knocked away a pass intended for Burleson.

Probably the worst the secondary played was on the Vikings’ last touchdown drive of the game. Walker did not play a deep ball to Campbell well and was flagged with a bad 42-yard pass interference penalty. On the very next play, he missed a tackle on a short reception that picked up 18 yards. A few plays later, Will Allen looked terrible on two plays near the goal line. He got faked out badly by Burleson on 1st-and-goal from the 7-yard line; Burleson was wide open but dropped the ball for what should have been a touchdown. Then on 3rd-and-goal from the one, Burleson put another move on Allen that allowed him to get open easily for the score. To Allen’s credit, he did knock away the 2-point conversion attempt to Burleson.

Special Teams: The Giants played pretty darn well on special teams except for their own return game, which continues to remain untracked.

PK Steve Christie nailed his third 50+ field goal of the season (out of four attempts). He also made a 30-yarder. His kickoffs landed at the Minnesota 8, 1, 8, 30 (questionable coaching decision to call a pooch kick), 29 (squib kick), 8, and 9. Viking kickoff returns went for 19 (David Tyree and Willie Ponder on the tackle), 22 (Nick Greisen), 22 (David Tyree and Jack Brewer), 15 (Nick Greisen), 3 (returner took a knee), 15 (Frank Walker), and 23 (Jim Maxwell). Obviously, the kickoff coverage was very good. The only down note was Frank Walker’s 5-yard offsides penalty.

Jeff Feagles averaged over 45 yards per punt on five punts, including three downed inside the 20-yard line. Feagles’ first punt was downed inside the one as David Tyree did a fantastic job of batting the ball back before it bounced into the end zone and Curtis Deloatch downed it. The other Viking returns went for 1 (David Tyree on the tackle), fair catch, 5 (Reggie Torbor), and fair catch. Both Tyree and Deloatch did a great job of gunners all day. David Tyree was VERY active on special teams on Sunday.

Giant kickoff returns went for 28 (Willie Ponder) and 20 yards (Mark Jones). Ike Hilliard recovered an onsides kick. Punt returns by Jones went for 5, 7, 3, downed, and downed (the latter being partially blocked by Reggie Torbor, resulting in a 9-yard punt).

(Box Score – New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, October 31, 2004)