Oct 272005
 

Approach to the Game – Washington Redskins at New York Giants, October 30, 2005: Without any previous context to draw from, it is difficult for me to project what kind of emotional state the New York Giants players will be in on Sunday afternoon. The romantic warrior scenario would be for the Giants to go out there and just “Win One More for the Duke,” but the real world does not often emulate the ideal.

It’s been a long week. Wellington passed away on Tuesday morning. His funeral is on Friday. The emotional equilibrium of the regular practice week, not to mention the routine, has been disrupted. For better or worse, Mara’s death has been a distraction. Will that take a toll on the playing field on Sunday? Or will the Giants use Wellington’s memory to help inspire them to play with renewed intensity and purpose?

We all may have opinions on this matter, but none of us will really know the answer until Sunday.

Giants on Offense: This will be one of the Giants’ most difficult defensive opponents this season. The Redskins’ defensive coordinator is arguably the best in football and he has an outstanding defensive staff supporting him. While the Redskins have some excellent personnel on defense, their total overall performance exceeds the sum of the individual parts. Where the Redskins have been somewhat vulnerable this year is giving up the big play. The Giants need to be patient and not get flustered. The offense production may come in fits and starts.

The Redskins’ defense is stingy, being fourth in the NFL in yards allowed and fourth in the NFL in passing yards allowed. “They’re a good defense,” said WR Plaxico Burress. “They get after it, try to confuse you which side the blitz is coming from. We just hope we can pick it up and make plays. They’ve got a lot of schemes.”

“Washington does a lot of different things you have to prepare for,” said HB Tiki Barber. “It’s all the same stuff, it’s just disguised well. We have to try to figure out a way to dissect it. They do hide it very well.”

On paper, the Redskins’ defensive line is not overly impressive. They are not as strong against the run as they were last year, but still most teams have had problems consistently moving the football on them. Their most imposing player up front is probably ex-Giant DT Cornelius Griffin, who will line-up over RG Chris Snee. Griffin has been bothered somewhat by a hip injury, but is expected to play. Fellow defensive tackle Joe Salave’a, a good run defender, has also had injury problems (his foot). The Giants should physically test these two repeatedly with the running game. The Giants’ offensive line needs to do a better job of blocking for Barber, but let’s be honest too, Tiki also needs to start breaking off some bigger runs (while at the same time not leaving his blocking up front in an attempt to hit the home run on every play). The Giants need consistent, positive production out of Tiki, with an occasional bigger run.

The ends on the Skins are ordinary and the Giants’ tackles should not struggle with them.

The most impressive linebacker on the team for the last couple of years has been Marcus Washington. He is a big, intense player who can do it all – play the run, blitz, and cover. Lavar Arrington was glued to the bench until last week and should continue to see more playing time as he emerges from the doghouse. He’s a big-play type who is guilty of making mental mistakes. Lavar is at his best when allowed to attack, moving forward, without thinking too much. The Giants should try to take advantage of his aggressiveness with misdirection.

Somewhat surprisingly, the secondary for Washington has remained a real strength despite the loss of Fred Smoot in the offseason. The right corner is now Shawn Springs who has had sort of a career rebirth since joining Washington last year. He’s a big, physical corner with good athleticism and he matches up well with Burress (who might not play or will probably be limited with a shoulder injury). When the Redskins go to their nickel package, rookie first rounder Carlos Roger – another big, physical, athletic corner – plays right corner and Springs moves inside to cover the slot receiver. The left corner is Walt Harris. The bad news for the Giants is that he is another big, physical guy who could give Amani Toomer problems. As you can see, the Washington corners are big and are one of the few secondaries that can match-up size-wise with the Giants. Making matters worse is the impact-ability of FS Sean Taylor, a freakishly big and athletic play-maker who hits like a truck and covers like a corner. Taylor has been bothered somewhat with an ankle injury. SS Matt Bowen is another physical player. He rarely makes mental mistakes.

What will be interesting to see is how the Redskins try to handle TE Jeremy Shockey. Shockey has a history of giving the Redskins problems, but Washington may consider shifting Taylor closer to the line to cover the athletic tight end.

In this game, the Giants may be better off passing underneath to Shockey and Barber. With all the blitzing Washington does, the screen pass could be a big weapon.

Giants on Defense: The Giants’ defense is not getting the job done and unless the coaches and players get this turned around quickly, New York will be sitting at home at playoff time. They have played two bad games against the run (San Diego, Denver) and have struggled in pass coverage all year.

Washington’s offensive explosion against the 49ers last week have dramatically inflated their overall offensive numbers, but the Redskins’ offense has played surprisingly well this year. Why? Because QB Mark Brunell and WR Santana Moss are playing exceptionally well. While Brunell hurt the Cowboys with the deep passing game, he really doesn’t have a strong arm and Washington’s passing game is really based on max-protection schemes that get the ball out to the wide receivers and tight ends quickly. Like Denver last week, Washington will employ a lot of play-action bootleg passes. Brunell is the highest-rated passer in the NFC. Let that sink in for a moment.

While Moss gets a lot of attention, the guy who often keeps the chains moving is TE/H-Back Chris Cooley. It seems like time and time again, Brunell will roll out looking for Cooley for a key reception. With Carlos Emmons (chest) ailing, Cooley could be a problem for the Giants. And watch the back-up tight ends/H-Backs in the red zone!!! While Cooley has two touchdowns on 25 receptions, four of Mike Sellers’ five receptions have gone for touchdowns and Robert Royal has another. All of the Giants’ linebackers need to play smart in coverage. Former Redskin MLB Antonio Pierce will be fired up to play his old teammates – the Redskins will likely try to take advantage of that (plus they saw Pierce get burned by the fullback for a touchdown last weekend).

Moss is having an exceptional year. While not big, he can get deep with his straight-ahead speed, or break a big play after a short reception with his quickness and moves. The Redskins like to throw quick screens to him in an effort to break a big run-after-the-catch play. Thus tackling will be a priority. I would think that Will Allen, who has experience against Moss both at the pro and collegiate level, would be better suited to cover him than the angular Curtis Deloatch. The other starting wide receiver is ex-Giant David Patten.

As always, the Giants must stop the run first. Portis has already rushed for 544 yards and is averaging 4.4 yards-per-carry on the ground. He’s a threat to break the big play and can catch the football out of the backfield. Back-up Ladell Betts is a bigger, more powerful back who has proven to be very productive. You can be sure that the Skins watched the Giants’ inability to stop the run last week with great interest and will test New York, especially on the right side of the defense.

Up front, DE Michael Strahan will face RT Jon Jansen, who has given Strahan problems in the past. LT Chris Samuels has never lived up to the hype, but he is a solid player and the Giants need DE Osi Umenyiora to step it up this weekend as both a run defender and pass rusher. Inside, LG Derrick Dockery, OC Casey Rabach, and RG Randy Thomas are very solid. Both defensive tackles William Joseph and Kendrick Clancy need to play the run far tougher than they did last week or it will be a long day. The Giants also need improved run defense from the linebackers, while at the same time not getting burned on the underneath passes off of play-action to the tight ends.

Giants on Special Teams: Divisional games often come down to special teams play. James Thrash has been averaging a respectable 11 yards per return on punt returns. The Redskins will also sometimes use Moss on returns. Washington has not been strong on kickoff returns, but the Giants must make sure that trend continues.

The Giants really need to get their own punt return game going with ex-Redskin Chad Morton.

Oct 262005
 
New York Giants 24 – Denver Broncos 23

Game Overview: As a fan, the memories from this game are ones that will likely stick with you for a lifetime. Trailing by 13 points in the fourth quarter, the Giants looked pretty much dead. Dramatic comebacks happen for other teams (often against the Giants), but they are certainly something the Giants or their fans are not accustomed to. And how ironic was it that it was WR Amani Toomer to catch the game-winning winning touchdown pass, just like he did against Denver in the Meadowlands seven years before?

This was a big win for the Giants in terms of the evolution of QB Eli Manning and overall team confidence. But it matters less unless the Giants start to string some wins together. They have a far more important game this Sunday against the Redskins.

Offense: The Giants had four offensive possessions in the first half. One ended with a turnover; two ended with points (10 total). The Giants had the ball six times in the second half. There were two three-and-outs, one turnover, and two touchdown drives. The offense was dreadful in the third quarter, only accruing 26 total yards.

The Giants’ inability to run the football except for a couple of drives really hampered the offense on Sunday. Much credit obviously goes to the sturdy Denver run defense, but the Giants’ blockers and HB Tiki Barber need to become more consistently productive.

Pass protection was too shoddy. To Denver’s credit, they blitzed a ton and run some pretty ornate blitzing schemes that other teams besides the Giants have had problems with. But too often, blockers were beaten physically one-on-one. QB Eli Manning took too many hits.

Quarterback: The #1 thing that stood out to me in this performance was how calm “Cool Hand” Eli was down the stretch. This kid – and he really is still just a kid – is unflappable. It’s amazing. I will talk football blasphemy right now and say that this calmness that he exudes could very well make him a better quarterback than his brother. You can fluster Peyton. Eli is as cool as a cucumber. Also keep this in mind, although not sacked, Manning took quite a beating in this game and had a Bronco defender in his face just about every other passing play. Most quarterbacks – including veterans – get more than a tad gun-shy in such a situation. Eli did not.

Manning’s numbers (23-of-42 for 215 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception) are OK, but they don’t look great. As anyone who saw the game will tell you, the magnitude of this performance is based on Eli’s productivity and composure in the fourth quarter of the game (even despite an interception in that quarter).

The Giants had the ball four times in the first half of the game. The first drive ended prematurely with a fumble by HB Tiki Barber. The second drive was an impressive 5-play, 70-yard effort that resulted in a touchdown. On the first play of this drive, Manning did a good job of standing tough in the pocket despite pass pressure and finding Toomer for an 11-yard gain. Manning’s next pass, four plays later, was a well-thrown strike into the left corner of the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown to WR Plaxico Burress. On this play, Manning continued to demonstrate outstanding pocket presence by taking a couple of little steps to his left to avoid a blitzer. The ball was accurately placed high so that only Burress could make a play on the ball.

After a 16-yard gain on pass from Manning to Shockey, the Giants could not move the ball any further on the third drive of the first half. Their final possession was a 10-play, 41-yard affair that stalled at the Denver 34-yard line, resulting in a 52-yard field goal by PK Jay Feely. Manning was afforded inconsistent pass protection on this drive. His first pass was off the mark as Denver brought more rushers than blockers to pick them up and Manning was hit as he threw. Pass pressure two plays later caused Manning to throw an errant pass that was tipped by Burress and intercepted. Thankfully, Denver was flagged with pass interference on the play. Two plays later, Manning perfectly threw a pump-and-go route to Burress that picked up 40 yards, but a penalty on Burress erased the play. Probably Manning’s most inaccurate pass of the day came on the next play when he badly overthrew TE Jeremy Shockey deep over the middle. However, the Giants were able to move into field goal position because of Manning’s strike to Burress for 23 yards on 2nd-and-15. On this play, once again, Manning bought additional time with his pocket awareness and ability to move around in the pocket.

The Giants’ first and third drives of the second half were three-and-outs. Offensive line play was a problem on the first; inaccuracy by Eli was a problem on the latter. On the first possession, on 3rd-and-6, Manning was pressured and tried to force the ball to a double-covered Shockey – this was a risky and ill-advised throw. Sandwiched between these two three-and-outs, the Giants did move the ball a bit on a chaotic drive filled with penalties on both sides. On 3rd-and-15, Manning tossed a very accurate deep pass to a well-covered Toomer, that unfortunately passed through Toomer’s hands.

It was not until the fourth drive of the second half where the Giants put together another touchdown-scoring possession. On this 9-play, 65-yard effort, Manning had key passes of 7 yards to Toomer on 3rd-and-2, 10 yards to Toomer on 2nd-and-7, and 23 yards to Burress on 2nd-and-10. On the latter two passes, Manning delivered the football accurately despite pressure. This drive culminated with Barber’s 4-yard touchdown run that cut the Denver lead to 23-17.

Manning was picked off on the next possession, however, as there was clearly some miscommunication between Manning and Burress on the play (Coughlin later said that Burress thought the pass was intended for Toomer and did not want to deflect the flight of the football). Incidentally, this was a bad read by Manning too as he had Barber all alone in the left flat for substantial yardage.

The real drama started on the sixth and final drive. The Giants trailed by 6 points with 3:29 on the clock and the need to travel 87 yards for the winning score. On this drive, Manning completed 9-of-13 passes (including one drop) for 74 yards. He made three outstanding plays on this drive. The first came on 3rd-and-4 from the Giants’ 23-yard line. Manning looked Fran Tarkenton-like as he first scrambled to his right, then feeling pressure, peeled back to the left, and then threw an accurate pass on the run to Burress for a huge 6-yard completion and a first down. The next big play was his perfectly thrown deep pass to Shockey for 24 yards on 3rd-and-10 from the Denver 32-yard line. Finally, three plays later, on 3rd-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Manning bought time with a free blitzer bearing down on him by drifting backwards and yet still fired an accurate pass to Toomer for the game-winning score with 5 seconds left on the clock. It was a storybook ending.

Wide Receivers: The Broncos decided to keep their best corner, Champ Bailey, on Plaxico Burress. But Burress still had a good day with 6 catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. Burress’ second catch of the game was his 18-yard touchdown reception. On this play, Bailey played tight, bump-and-run coverage against Burress, but Burress was able to fight through this contact and create some separation in the endzone on Bailey with his deceptive gait. Burress used his size to leap over Bailey for the relatively easy score. Later in the half, Burress had a 40-yard reception erased as he unnecessarily reached back to push off of FS John Lynch (who had interfered with him earlier on the route). A few plays later, Burress caught a 23-yarder over the middle for a first down on 2nd-and-15 to set up Feely’s 52-yard effort. Burress did not become a factor in the game again until the fourth quarter when he badly beat Bailey’s bump-and-run coverage at the line of scrimmage and came down with a big 23-yard reception from Manning down to the Denver 4-yard line. On the next play, the Giants scored, cutting the lead to six points. Burress did contribute to Manning’s interception on the next drive by not understanding that the pass was intended for him and attempting to make a play on the football. Burress had two catches for 12 yards on the game-winning drive, including a huge 6-yarder on 3rd-and-2.

Amani Toomer had only 1 reception for 11 yards in the first half, but he was a major component in the victory with his 7-catch, 51-yard second-half performance. This was Amani’s most productive game of the season thus far. What was key was that Manning started to look more often for Toomer, including in clutch situations. In the third quarter of the game, Toomer made an outstanding, one-handed catch of an errant Manning pass for an 11-yard gain on 3rd-and-6. However, this drive ended on 3rd-and-15 as Toomer appeared to lose sight of a well-thrown deep pass by Manning that passed right through his hands (the two defenders most likely shielded the flight of the ball from Toomer on this play). Had Toomer caught this pass, he would have scored from 64 yards out. On the Giants’ first touchdown drive of the fourth quarter, Toomer caught a key 7-yard pass against Bailey on 3rd-and-2 to keep the drive alive. He then caught a short pass from Manning, broke an attempted tackle by FS John Lynch, and picked up 10 yards. On the game-winning drive, Toomer caught four passes for 23 yards. The highlight obviously was his 2-yard touchdown reception on 3rd-and-goal. On this play, Toomer went in motion from left to right before the snap, crossed through the end zone from right to left during his route, and then leapt and aggressively attacked the ball on his game-winning catch.

Tim Carter, who appears to have unseated David Tyree as the #3 receiver, had no catches but did pick up 11 yards on a end around on the Giants’ first touchdown drive of the game. Carter had a chance to be the hero late as he had his hands on Manning’s pass in the end zone from 32 yards out with less than 30 seconds left on the clock. However, Carter could not managed to secure what would have been a great catch.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey was surprisingly quiet. He caught two passes on the Giants’ second drive of the game for a total of 20 yards and was not heard from again until the game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. His blocking was inconsistent. At times, he easily handled his man at the end of the line, but I also saw his opponent get free a couple of times to get in on the play. In the fourth quarter, on the Giants’ second touchdown drive of the game, Barber was able to pick up 18 yards on two back-to-back runs by running to the left behind blocks from Shockey and his offensive line mates. But Shockey was also responsible for an illegal formation penalty right before Manning’s interception (this also erased Shockey’s 8-yard reception). Shockey’s biggest play of the game was his 24-yard completion on 3rd-and-10 with 21 seconds left in the game. Shockey badly beat the linebacker on his deep route on this play.

Running Backs: The running game was not very good. If you take away Barber’s 34-yard gain, he rushed for 52 yards on 18 carries (a lowly 2.9 yards-per-rush). The Giants tried to run the ball with more consistency this week, it just wasn’t there. Much of that had to do with tough Denver defense up front, but sometimes I wonder if Barber is too eager to bounce things outside in an effort to make the big play. Bouncing things outside against Denver’s mobile linebacking corps is tough.

Barber obviously cost the Giants with his fumble on the game’s third offensive play. The turnover led directly to points for the Broncos. Barber’s highlight of the game was his very next carry as he broke off a 34-yard run. On this carry, Barber had a nice cutback off a good block from FB Jim Finn, broke a tackle by a defensive lineman, and then broke two more weak, attempted tackles down the field by defensive backs. Barber demonstrated nice acceleration down the sideline too. Two plays later, Barber had a nice, shifty 6-yard run off left tackle. After that, Barber was a non-factor for the remainder of the half as a runner and receiver.

In the second half, Barber was completely shut down until the two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter. The first drive started off with two runs for a total of 18 yards. Barber also had a 3-yard run out of the shotgun on this possession and finished up the drive with a strong, up-the-gut, 4-yard touchdown run. On the final drive of the game, Barber dropped a swing pass from Manning on the first play of the possession. But Barber also had two runs for 9 yards and two catches for 15 yards on this game-winning effort.

Barber did a very good job on blitz pickups.

Offensive Line: I was amazed at how much Denver blitzed and how sophisticated their blitzes were. It was like watching Philadelphia. While the Giants gave up no sacks, there was far too much pass pressure and hits on Manning. Some of this was not the line’s fault as Denver would at times bring more blitzers to one side than there were blockers. But there were also too many one-on-one, physical breakdowns. OC Shaun O’Hara (who has been pretty darn steady this year) played a horrible game in pass protection, as did LG David Diehl (he had problems last week against Dallas too). RT Kareem McKenzie, who was rarely penalized as a Jet, was flagged three times on Sunday.

What is frustrating is that there are times when the offensive line provides picture-perfect pass protection, even in the face of a heavy blitz. But the inconsistency is a problem. Keep in mind, however, that this unit has only played six regular season games together.

RG Chris Snee gave up a pass pressure on the first play of the Giants’ first touchdown drive. On the next possession, LG David Diehl was bull-rushed and Manning’s pass to Shockey on 3rd-and-6 fell incomplete (the receivers did not appear to be open on this play either). There were major issues on the final drive of the first half. Eli got crunched on the first play of the drive, but this was not the line’s fault. Lynch came late on the blitz and there were more rushers than blockers. Two plays later, however, OC Shaun O’Hara gave up a legitimate pressure that caused Manning to throw an errant pass that was picked off (a penalty on Denver erased the play). On this same play, Snee failed to pick up the stunt. McKenzie was flagged with a false start later in the drive. And then the drive stalled when Diehl got beat on one play, causing an incomplete pass to Shockey and O’Hara gave up another pressure on an incomplete pass to Burress.

In the second half, Manning forced an incomplete pass into double coverage on 3rd-and-6 as Diehl gave up another pressure. The next drive was a real mess. Diehl got away with a hold on another pressure on the 11-yard completion to Toomer on 3rd-and-6 (LT Luke Petitgout also gave up an outside pressure and big hit on Manning on this play). Two plays later, O’Hara and Snee got confused on who was handling a rusher and that led to another pressure and incomplete pass. McKenzie was flagged with an obvious holding penalty in pass protection that ultimately stalled the drive as it erased a 10-yard completion on 2nd-and-6. Two plays later, McKenzie gave up a pressure on Manning’s deep pass to Toomer that went through the latter’s hands.

In the fourth quarter, Diehl had problems picking up a stunt on Manning’s 23-yard pass to Burress down to the 4-yard line. On the next possession, Petitgout failed to anticipate a blitz from his side and Manning was under the gun again on an incomplete pass. On the game-winning drive, O’Hara gave up a pass pressure on the first play of the drive and Diehl gave up another pressure on a 7-yard completion to Toomer.

The running game was not consistent. The Giants’ offensive line was not blown back or anything like that, but there wasn’t a lot of room to run. And McKenzie was flagged with an obvious holding penalty on a Barber run on the first touchdown drive of the game.

Defense: Defensively, this is a strange game for me to write about. I felt much better about the defensive performance than that statistics indicate. Why? The main reason is that I felt the defensive backs played perhaps their best game of the season. However, the amount of rushing yards (191) is obviously disconcerting. I was a bit shocked when I saw that number because the Broncos really only had two good offensive possessions in the game – their first touchdown drive of the first half which was a real battle; and the quick-strike touchdown drive at the beginning of the third quarter.

What was frustrating was to see both Giants’ defensive ends forget to guard against the play-action rollouts by QB Jake Plummer. Virtually the entire Denver passing game is based off of these rollouts.

Defensive Line: The Giants’ defensive line played very well the week before, but were too inconsistent against Denver (though we do have to recognize that Denver has one of the league’s very best rushing attacks). In the first half, there were many plays where the Broncos’ rushers were stuffed at the line of scrimmage. However, the Broncos did nickel-and-dime the Giants. Whereas Denver only picked up one yard rushing on their first possession, Denver was able to rush for 21 yards on five carries on their next possession. Then on their third (and really final) possession of the first half, the Broncos were able to pick up 39 yards on 10 carries. As you can see, there is nothing earth-shattering in these numbers, but the Broncos were able to methodically move the ball. Surprisingly, some of the good runs came in the direction of DE Michael Strahan. And in most games this year, opponents have not been able to run up the gut much against the Giants, but the Broncos were able to do so.

The Denver rushing game in the second half was more productive because Denver was able to break off two big runs: a 23-yarder by HB Mike Anderson and a 37-yarder by Tatum Bell – both in the third quarter.

Osi Umenyiora (7 tackles) had some positive moments early. He did a good job of stuffing Denver’s first carry of the game for a 1-yard gain. And he made a couple of nice plays against the run on Denver’s next possession (along with Strahan). On this drive, Osi did a good job of not biting on one play-action rollout and pressuring QB Jake Plummer and then pressured Plummer again on the very next play. But on Denver’s first touchdown drive, Umenyiora bit on the play-action rollout that led to a 37-yard completion. His offsides penalty then erased a huge 3rd-and-12 sack on the same possession. Denver ultimately converted and scored. Umenyiora helped to stuff a HB Mike Anderson run on this drive, but was blocked on the 2-yard touchdown run. In the second half, Umenyiora had some issues. He got blocked (along with the tackles) on Anderson’s 23-yard run early in the third quarter. He also got blocked on the 37-yarder by Bell on the next possession. After that, we saw more of Justin Tuck, though Osi did also bite badly on the misdirection toss play that picked up 11 yards on 3rd-and-2 on Denver’s last field goal drive.

As mentioned, the Broncos were not afraid to run at Strahan and were able to generate some yardage in his direction. Strahan did combined with LB Carlos Emmons to hold a screen pass to two yards on 3rd-and-11 early in the game. He had a couple of good run defenses and a pass pressure on Denver’s first touchdown drive, but he was also flagged with an unsportsmanlike penalty after the 2-yard run by Anderson. In the third quarter, Strahan bit on the play-action fake by Plummer on a play that picked up 16 yards. The holding call caused by Strahan in the fourth quarter pushed Denver back out of field goal range and probably saved the game for the Giants.

Justin Tuck played quite a bit in the second half and looked good. He got badly mauled on one running play, but his penetration on another led to a 4-yard loss. Tuck also flashed in the pass rush department, including a hit on Plummer that was originally ruled as a sack and a fumble.

Inside, this was probably the worst game the defensive tackles have played (most of San Diego’s yardage came on outside runs earlier in the season). There were too many plays where William Joseph (1 tackle) and Kendrick Clancy (1 tackle) were effectively blocked at the point-of-attack on both small and big runs. Joseph was pushed out of the way on the successful 4th-and-2 conversion on the first touchdown drive (Kenderick Allen also failed to keep to his feet on this play). And Anderson’s 23-yard run came at the expense of Joseph and Clancy. Clancy missed a tackle on an 8-yard gain by Anderson later in the game.

Joseph had a couple of good pass rushes and Clancy had one as well, but I expected more of impact from Joseph as a pass rusher this year. Perhaps that will come. Kenderick Allen lost his contain responsibilities on Plummer’s 11-yard run on 3rd-and-7 in the third quarter.

Linebackers: This was somewhat of a disappointing performance this week by this group. MLB Antonio Pierce was credited with a lot of tackles (13), but few were of the impact variety. I often spotted him getting effectively blocked by the quicker, nimbler Denver linemen. Pierce did level a big hit on the tight end after a short completion in the second quarter. (On a side note, on the 4th-and-2 play on this same drive, a Denver linemen dove at the back of Pierce’s leg right in front of the official and it was not called). On the play preceding Anderson’s 2-yard touchdown run, Pierce was flagged with a personal foul for tackling the back by the helmet. Early in the third quarter, Pierce was beat in coverage by the fullback for a 4-yard touchdown reception. He had a couple of nice run stops near the line of scrimmage in the second half. Pierce had a shot at an interception late in the game off a deflection, but could not come down with the tough catch.

SLB Carlos Emmons (5 tackles, 1 pass defense) was forced to leave the game early with a chest injury. He had nice coverage on the tight end to limit one gain to two yards on the Broncos’ first possession. Two plays later, he did not bite on a play-action fake and tipped away a pass. This drive ended when Emmons expertly sniffed out a screen pass and held it to a 2-yard gain on 3rd-and-11. On Denver’s first touchdown drive, Emmons got blocked at the point-of-attack on a 13-yard carry (as did Strahan) and then overpursued on the 4th-and-2 carry by Anderson that picked up the first down. But he also made two solid plays against the run on this drive. Emmons got hurt on the 37-yard run by Bell as he could not bring down the back with his attempted-arm tackle.

WLB Nick Greisen (5 tackles, 1 pass defense) did not stand out like he did the week before. He misread the cutback on an Anderson run early that picked up 9 yards. He did help to stall this field goal drive, with his big hit on the back on 3rd-and-2, forcing an incompletion. Greisen got burned badly by the fullback in coverage on the 33-yard pass play to start the third quarter as he bit hard on the play-action fake. On the very next play, Greisen misread the running play, took a false step, and was a contributor to Anderson’s big, 23-yard run. Later in the half, Anderson overpowered Greisen for an extra four yards on one carry…pretty embarrassing.

Reggie Torbor came into the game for the injured Emmons. He had one good pass rush but did not stand out in run defense.

Defensive Backs: I thought this was the best game of the year thus far for the secondary. Denver’s wide receivers only caught 8 passes for 115 yards. It looked like the corners were being allowed to play more aggressively.

Will Allen (5 tackles, 2 pass defenses) only gave up one pass in the first half as he got beaten for 11 yards and a first down on 3rd-and-7. Allen made a great tackle on HB Tatum Bell to hold the back two yards short of the first down on a 3rd-and-7 carry. In the second half, it was a mixed bag for Allen. WR Rod Smith was able to get separation on Allen on a deep pass, but the ball was overthrown. Allen was allowed to press Smith at the line, but bit on a stop-and-go fake. On Denver’s next possession, Allen knocked away a slant pass intended for the tight end on 3rd-and-8. In the fourth quarter, Allen was beaten badly by WR Ashley Lelie as Lelie faked Allen out of his shoes on an inside move across the field en route to a 28-yard gain. On the very next play, Lelie beat Allen to the inside again for an 11-yard gain. But Allen did expertly knock-away a huge 3rd-and-5 pass on Denver’s last offensive possession when the Broncos were trying to run out the clock.

CB Curtis Deloatch (3 tackles) was often called to cover WR Rod Smith and I thought he did well. He did give up an easy 8-yard completion early when he gave Smith a big cushion. But later in this drive, he expertly broke on the ball on a sideline pass to speedster Ashley Lelie and should have come up with the interception (the ball bounced off his hands and was completed for a short gain – Will Allen’s disease may be spreading). Had Deloatch cleanly caught the ball, he might have scored. Deloatch did get “beat” on Denver’s longest pass play of the day, a perfectly-thrown 37-yarder by Plummer to Smith, but Deloatch had good position on the play (Deloatch could have done a better job of jamming the wily Smith at the line however). Deloatch was rock solid in the second half. Lelie did catch a 16-yarder at his expense, but it was a perfect throw by Plummer against very tight coverage by Deloatch. Two plays later, the Broncos tried to burn Deloatch deep, but he had good coverage on the tight end and the pass fell incomplete.

SS Gibril Wilson (7 tackles) got picked (perhaps illegally) on a 10-yard reception that picked up a first down on 3rd-and-7 in the first quarter. Wilson’s man, the tight end, was able to get wide open as another receiver crossed right across his path. Wilson got blocked at the point-of-attack on Bell’s 37-yard run. In the fourth quarter, Gibril missed a tackle on Lelie’s 28-yard catch-and-run. He also should have intercepted Plummer’s pass on 2nd-and-15 a few players later.

FS Brent Alexander (9 tackles) had his most active game of the year. He made a nice play on the back for a 1-yard loss on Denver’s first possession of the game. Alexander also saved a touchdown on Bell’s 37-yard run by pushing the back out of bounds down the sideline. A few plays later, his coverage on Lelie on a deep post pattern caused an incompletion.

Special Teams: PK Jay Feely remains perfect on his field goal attempts and hit a 52-yarder right down the middle.

Willie Ponder had a decent day with his kickoff returns with returns of 36, 32, 25, and 31 yards. Chad Morton returned one punt for no gain (two others were fair caught). Shaun Williams could have cost the Giants the game with his personal foul penalty on Denver’s last punt. The Giants not only lost penalty yardage from the offsetting penalty, but Denver netted an additional 10 yards on the re-kick.

Kickoffs and kickoff coverage have been better. Feely’s kickoffs were fielded at 12 (a short and low kick), touchback, 10, 25, and 18. Making tackles were Derrick Ward (after a 19-yard gain), Gibril Wilson (after a 30-yard gain), and James Butler (after an 8-yard gain). Butler also recovered a lateral on Denver’s last return of the game for a turnover.

Jeff Feagles was very good in punting four times for a 46 yards-per-punt average (including two inside the 20-yard line). Deloatch did a great job of getting down the field quickly as a gunner and making a tackle after a 2-yard gain and forcing a fair catch on another. David Tyree did the same holding another return to no gain. However, the Giants did give up a 16-yard punt return that helped to set up Denver’s final field goal of the day (Deloatch and Reggie Torbor made the stop).

(Box Score – Denver Broncos at New York Giants, October 23, 2005)
Oct 252005
 

Wellington Mara, Giants Stadium (1976)

By David Oliver

It is a day we all knew was coming; it comes for each of us. That doesn’t make it any less sad. Notwithstanding the Irish tradition of sending a loved one on his way with celebration and telling of tales, I must take a moment to grieve for football, for fans of the game, for us as Giants fans and family. Each of us here has been born to the Blue. Wellington Mara was the essence of Blue. He was the owner of our team, but more than that, as we do, he cheered, he mourned, he angered, he reveled in the game and in his players. Mr. Mara was not perfect; no man is. But his last action as scion of the Giants speaks volumes of the man. He hired a coach in whom he believed; a Coach he hoped in his heart could bring us a return to the Glory Days of Giants football. It was his final gift to us.

Those of us who have reached a certain age cannot remember a time when there were no Giants; and concomitant with that remembrance, there was Wellington Mara. He, Mr. Rooney and Papa Bear Halas were the NFL. They were patricians and they were Gentlemen. In a violent world, in a violent sport, Wellington Mara and his cohorts maintained a sense of dignity, a style, and as my mother once told me, you have to know your place in the world; Wellington Mara knew his place. He sacrificed personal gain for the good of the sport and although the sport was good to him, there may not have been a sport without him.

I spoke very little with Mr. Mara. We would nod to each other, say hello or good morning and pass on our respective ways. But he knew I was a long time fan and he smiled at me a lot. He would smile and nod as he walked the field at mini-camp, or summer camp; he would nod and smile in the locker room after a Giants win; and he smiled and nodded that cold day in February as I was leaving the Meadowlands after interviewing a Coach and he was coming to work, walking into the Stadium alone.

He loved his team and his players and the team’s fans. Every day, at practice, when he was younger, he would pace up and down the field; later he would be stationary, but intent on watching every player, every play. Although not gregarious with strangers, he was not isolated. He would answer a question; sign an autograph, treat each fan as if he was, what we are, members of the Giants’ family. I have seen him sign autographs for young men and I have seen him sign autographs for fans wearing the jersey of another team. Everyone respected him, and he respected everyone.

The game is changing once again. The players are different, the owners are different, and the fans are different. With the coming of free agency, heroes come and go. In the age of entertainment, PSLs are the acronym of the day, the cost of taking a family of four to a game is astronomical. Players take pens out of their socks or cell phones from hidden places. But I remember a day when players and fans took the same subway to the stadium, when Frank Gifford regaled us with stories of Wellington Mara slipping enough C notes in his shoes to enable him to go home to California or buy a present for his family, and when Wellington Mara answered the cry of the fans to end the horrid days of the 60s and 70s and return football, Giants’ football, to its proper place.

But most of all, I will remember a courtly middle aged man as he, and I, aged, walking the field before his players arrived, watching every practice, nodding and smiling in my direction. As he always thought of us as family, we likewise count him in our families. So for a moment we will grieve; then we will celebrate a life well lived. Thank you, Mr. Mara, and God Speed on your final journey.

Oct 202005
 

Approach to the Game – Denver Broncos at New York Giants, October 23, 2005: To be honest, I am not exactly sure how I feel about the Giants’ chances in this game. The optimist in me believes that Denver is overrated both on offense and defense. The optimist also says that the offense and defense of the Giants will play at a consistently higher level as inexperienced key performers continue to gain experience. But the pessimist in me is still nagged by those inconsistencies and a growing fear that the Giants’ defensive coaching staff and/or personnel may be overmatched.

This is an important game because being 4-2 is a lot better sounding than being 3-3. But in the grand scheme of things, if the Giants were going to lose another game, this is one of the least important ones, being an AFC opponent. Nevertheless, the Giants need to keep pace with their division rivals in the standings and winning breeds confidence and more winning.

What I think we all want and want to see is a solid, complete game from the Giants’ passing game, running game, run defense, pass defense, and special teams. Let’s put together the complete package for once and kick some butt!

Giants on Defense: My write-up here this week is going to be short-and-sweet. It’s going to sound overly simplistic, but I do think it is entirely accurate:

Stop the run. Make QB Jake Plummer beat you.

As every pro football fan knows, the bread-and-butter of the Denver offense since Mike Shanahan arrived on the scene has been the ground game. The Broncos seem to be able to plug one running back in after another with equal, productive success. Denver basically relies on a tandem of halfbacks in Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell. “I think they are different in style and that is part of the difficulty in preparation,” says Head Coach Tom Coughlin. “Bell is a slasher with speed. Both backs are good, outstanding runners, obviously…Anderson has a 44-yard run and Bell has a 68- and a 55-yarder. So they both are capable of breaking off the long run as well.”

Except for RT George Foster, Denver’s offensive line is not a big group. They are more technicians than maulers. The Broncos uses more of a finesse, zone-blocking scheme that is designed to create a cutback lane for the back by cutting off the defensive pursuit. While physical play is important in defending this run-blocking scheme, the mental aspect may be even more important. Maintaining proper gap responsibility and not over-pursuing the play is absolutely essential. The good news for the Giants’ defense is that aside from the San Diego game, the run defense has been sound.

Denver has a solid offensive line. Both tackles are good players.

What about the passing game? I’m not a big fan of Jake Plummer. I think he can cause you problems if he gets out of the pocket (and he does well on organized rollouts as well as improvised ones), but if you keep him between the tackles and throw from a traditional setup, he is not as effective. To his credit, Plummer has done a better job in terms of ball security this year. Denver has not turned the ball over in four games – all wins. But his effectiveness will dramatically decrease if the Broncos can’t run the football. And Plummer will then also likely be far more vulnerable to making costly mistakes.

Denver will spread the football around to the wide receivers, tight ends, and backs. It’s a diverse offense. WR Rod Smith has been the main target thus far this year. He’s 35 but still playing well. It will be interesting to see if the Giants move Will Allen over to cover him this week like they did with Keyshawn Johnson last week. The speedster is Ashley Lelie. He can make the big play but is inconsistent. I would expect we’ll see the Giants’ corners to continue to play off the line, especially when facing Lelie.

Tight ends Stephen Alexander and Jeb Putzier both see a lot of action in two-TE sets. Putzier, the reserve, actually has twice as many receptions (14) as Alexander. Alexander is the better blocker. The Broncos also throw to the backs quite a bit. Anderson and Bell have 14 receptions between them and the fullback has five. So the undercoverage by the linebackers and safeties will be very important in this contest as well.

All Giants’ fans know that the problem New York has been facing on defense is getting off the field on third down. The Giants are the only team in the league allowing greater than 50 percent conversion success on third down. That’s absurd and has to stop or it’s going to be a long, long season. To their credit, the Giants have been good at prevent the deep pass play. One gets the sense that the Giants don’t have a lot of confidence yet in their young corners and are trying to prevent the cheap, big play. There is logic in that strategy. But at some point, hopefully, the confidence and demonstrated ability of the players in question will encourage the coaching staff to allow the players to play tighter and more aggressively.

Giants on Offense: Denver’s defense played poorly in the opener against Miami, but has played fairly well since. They revamped their defensive line with Cleveland Brown imports in the offseason and have a very good and athletic linebacking corps.

Denver’s defense will give you multiple looks and blitz from all angles. Blitz pick-ups by the backs, tight ends, and offensive line will be crucially important.

I think the interesting subplot to this game is what to expect from the Giants’ running game. Denver is well aware of the fact that Coughlin has been under fire this week for not running the football more. I would think the Broncos are preparing to see a heavier dose of HB Tiki Barber. Do the Giants play into that and simply try to out-execute the Broncos? Or do they try to cross them up by passing the football more once again? The inexperience at cornerback seems to suggest the latter course of action, although Denver’s young corners have held up pretty well thus far. The guy really on the spot is rookie right corner Darrent Williams. At 5’8″, he is more than half a foot shorter than WR Plaxico Burress. Fellow rookie Dominique Foxworth will lineup against Amani Toomer if CB Champ Bailey (hamstring) does not play. However, Bailey has practiced this week and is listed as probable for the game. Would the Broncos move him over to cover Plaxico? The Broncos also have Lenny Walls, the tallest corner in the league at 6’4″. I could see them putting Walls on Shockey or even Burress (Walls has played against Burress before). This could be a game where the Giants really need Eli Manning to look at Amani Toomer and Tim Carter and for these latter two to step up in a big way. If the Broncos keep Bailey on Toomer, Toomer knows Bailey well and has had some good (and some bad) games against him. FS John Lynch is a big hitter, but he is vulnerable against the pass. The strong safety, Nick Ferguson, has been bothered by an ankle injury and his back-up will not play due to a shoulder injury.

Up front, right end Trevor Pryce can present some real problems and LT Luke Petitgout will have his hands full again this week. RT Kareem McKenzie will face left end Courtney Brown. Inside, right defensive tackle Gerard Warren has been disruptive and LG David Diehl will have to play better than he did last week. RG Chris Snee should be able to maul left defensive tackle Michael Myers.

The strength of the Denver defense is their linebacking corps. WLB Ian Gold, MLB Al Wilson, and SLB D.J. Williams can all run and hit. The Giants may be better advised to run between the tackles or off-tackle at this group than trying to run around end.

My game plan for this game would be to adjust to what the Broncos are doing. If the Broncos play the nickel to help defend against Burress and Shockey, I would run the football. If they don’t and gear up against the ground attack, I would pass the football. Pretty simple.

Giants on Special Teams: Punter Todd Sauerbrun is very good and it will be difficult for Chad Morton to break a return in this game. PK Jason Elam is inconsistent at distances of greater than 40 yards, especially outside of Denver.

Rookie Darrent Williams is the primary kickoff and punt returner; he has been more effective on punt returns.

Oct 192005
 
Dallas Cowboys 16 – New York Giants 13 (OT)

Game Overview: There were no silver linings from this game. This was a bad loss that could come back to haunt the Giants. The Cowboys tried to give this game away and New York refused to take it.

Offense: I think most of us expected some setbacks for the Giants’ offense, specifically the passing game, but their performance against Dallas was simply dreadful. Consider these facts:

  • The Giants only had 53 offensive snaps.
  • The Giants only picked up three first downs in the first half (and 11 for the game).
  • Seven of the Giants’ 12 offensive drives did not pick up a single first down.
  • Due to the defense, the Giants’ offense started drives at the Dallas 39, New York 47, Dallas 32, and Dallas 31, but came away with only six points on these four possessions.
  • The Giants’ had 15 net passing yards in the first half.
  • Four of the six drives in the second half ended with turnovers.
  • The Giants only really moved the ball in their final two possessions of the game with less than five minutes remaining.

Simply put, the offense was dreadful and lost the game.

Why? It wasn’t the running game. The Giants averaged almost 5 yards per rush on 19 carries. The problem was the passing game. And everyone was at fault here. At times, QB Eli Manning made the wrong decision or an inaccurate throw; at other times the pass protection failed; and at other times the receivers dropped the football, ran poor routes, or couldn’t get open. The coaching staff did not help matters either as they probably should have run the football more. Dallas played much of the game in the nickel in order to put an extra defensive back on the field to guard against TE Jeremy Shockey, who really wasn’t a factor until the second half. The Giants have some wonderful new toys in the passing game, but HB Tiki Barber is a proven performer who can make a difference in both the running and receiving game.

Quarterback: It was going to happen and it happened in a pretty big way. Eli Manning took a major step backwards in this game. Manning was 5-of-12 for 32 yards in the first half and finished the game going 14-of-30 for 215 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Manning continues to focus almost exclusively on Shockey and Burress and he needs to start spreading the football around more. On the Giants’ second drive of the game, he did try to hit WR Amani Toomer deep but the pass was badly off the mark out-of-bounds. Manning was not helped on his next drive but a terrible call (and instant replay review) of what should have been a deep sideline completion to WR Tim Carter. Then on the next play, on 3rd-and-8, Shockey did not get enough depth on his route and dropped Manning’s pass. On the Giants’ final drive of the first half, Manning threw an inaccurate slant pass to Burress. He then just missed Burress deep on a fly pattern on 3rd-and-9.

It was for most of the second half where Manning got really sloppy and looked more confused and/or rattled by the Dallas defense. He threw a terrible interception at the Dallas 1-yard line, taking almost certain points off the board. It was a bad decision (thrown into double coverage) and an even worse throw (nowhere near Burress). Later in the third quarter, his quick screen pass to Shockey was thrown too low. Two plays later, his 3rd-and-12 pass to Shockey was almost intercepted by S Roy Williams (and it might have been returned for a TD). Manning did throw a really nice deep, touch pass to Shockey on the 59-yard pass play in the fourth quarter, but this drive ended with a fumble by Manning after a big hit from DT La’Roi Glover. On the second to last drive of the game for the Giants, Manning found Shockey for 18 yards. But his throw to Burress two plays later should have been intercepted. Manning then threw a very wobbly ball to Tim Carter. On the next play, he abandoned the pocket despite solid pass protection and was forced to throw the ball away by doing so. Manning did remain calm on 4th-and-10 to find Shockey for 14 yards and a first down.

Manning’s best play of the day was obviously the 28-yard pass play to Burress on the last possession where he stepped up into the pocket, spun to avoid a defender, and then quickly reset himself to find Burress. On the very next play, Manning hit a wide-open Shockey for the 24-yard touchdown.

Wide Receivers: Plaxico Burress (5 catches for 55 yards) did not play particularly well. He had problems with CB Anthony Henry. Near the end of the first quarter, he slipped on a slant route and the timing was thrown off on an incomplete pass from Manning. On the next possession, a costly false start on Plaxico turned a 3rd-and-2 into a 3rd-and-7. Manning was sacked on the next play and the Giants were forced to settle for a field goal deep in Dallas territory. Late in the half, on Manning’s deep pass to Burress that was slightly overthrown, I thought Burress could have done a better job of running to the football. In the second half, Burress fumbled the ball away after a 10-yard gain, turning the ball over at the Giants’ 19-yard line. On the Giants’ final possession, Burress should have been able to keep his feet and scored on the play preceding Shockey’s touchdown reception.

Amani Toomer (2 catches for 11 yards) remains an afterthought in this offense. Both of his receptions came in the first half.

Tim Carter (1 catch for 15 yards) was robbed of a deep sideline route where he did an excellent job of keeping his feet in bounds (despite what the officials said). Carter made an excellent catch of low, wobbly pass for a 15-yard gain on New York’s second-to-last drive of the game.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey did not make much noise in the first half as the Cowboys often doubled him with a corner and linebacker. He had no catches in the first two quarters. Jeremy also contributed to a drive ending when he did not run his route deep enough on 3rd-and-8 and then proceeded to drop the pass from Manning upon contact with the defender. However, Shockey was a major factor in the game after intermission as he caught 5 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown. The first really big play was his 59-yard catch and run early in the fourth quarter. On the Giants’ second-to-last drive, Shockey caught an 18-yard pass to start the drive, and then kept the possession alive with his clutch 14-yard reception on 4th-and-10. On the final possession, Shockey got wide open and sprinted into the endzone from 24-yards out to send the game into overtime with 19 seconds left in regulation.

Both Shockey and TE Visanthe Shiancoe blocked well for the run. However, Shiancoe did miss a block a tight end screen to Shockey on the play where Shockey couldn’t handle the low throw from Manning. He was also guilty of a false start penalty at a very bad time in the game right after Shockey’s 59-yard catch and run.

Running Backs: I thought FB Jim Finn played a heck of a game in the lead blocking department.

HB Tiki Barber was productive; the problem was that the Giants were unwilling or unable to run him more (the fact that the Giants could not sustain drives kept his touches down). Barber carried the ball 8 times for 32 yards in the first half (a 4.0 yards-per-carry average) and 6 times for 32 times in the second half (a 5.3 yard average). The Giants should try to get Barber more involved in the passing game more. Coughlin did say they attempted two screens.

Derrick Ward looked good in limited work with 3 carries for 15 yards. I liked the way he ran with authority on a 2nd-and-1 play that picked up 8 yards in the first quarter. He later showed an ability to turn the corner with a 5-yard run around left end.

I’m really surprised at how much color commentator Troy Aikman’s comments regarding Brandon Jacobs’ carry on the goal line that resulted in a fumble seems to have impacted the point-of-view of so many fans and media types. Jacobs is THE short-yardage runner on this team. It is a role that he has been VERY successful with all during camp, the preseason, and thus far in the regular season. He made a very good power run on the play where he fumbled. Jacobs made a mistake, but to suggest that he should not have been in the game makes no sense to me at all. That’s why he is on the team.

Offensive Line: The run blocking was solid, but the pass blocking was far too spotty. There were times when Manning did have an excellent pocket to throw, but he was also sacked four times in the game and these sacks (and other pressures) were a major factor in the passing game woes. On the Giants’ first drive of the game, Manning’s pass to Shockey was tipped as LG David Diehl was bull-rushed back into the quarterback. Later in the second quarter, there was a stupid pass blocking scheme that asked Diehl to cross the formation to block DE Greg Ellis on boot leg in that direction – in other words, Diehl had to run farther than the defender to block the man who Manning would also be running towards. Ellis caused Manning to hesitate and OC Shaun O’Hara got beat by DT La’Roi Glover on this 3rd-and-3 play that ended in a 7-yard sack. On the next possession, RT Kareem McKenzie got beat cleanly to the inside by Ellis for a 10-yard sack on 3rd-and-7 at the Dallas 17-yard line.

In the second half, the problems in pass protection continued despite occasions (such as the 59-yard pass play to Shockey) when pass protection was perfect. LT Luke Petitgout was flagged for tripping on a play where he was beaten by LB/DE DeMarcus Ware and Manning was forced to unload the ball early. In the fourth quarter, Ware got a great jump at the snap and ran around Petitgout for a 10-yard sack (Diehl also failed to pick up the blitz on this play). Diehl then gave up two bad pressures that cost the Giants dearly. Glover beat Diehl to pressure Manning and cause him to scramble on a play that Shockey got wide open in the endzone on. On the very next play, Glover beat Diehl again, sacked Manning, and caused a fumble that was returned 37 yards, costing the Giants at least a field goal attempt and changing the field position situation dramatically leading to more points for Dallas. On the next possession, McKenzie was beaten by Ellis again, leading to another incomplete pass by Manning. On the touchdown pass to Shockey, Diehl failed to pick a blitz and Manning was fortunate to get rid of the ball in time.

Kareem McKenzie was flagged with a false start penalty. In the running game, both guards looked sharp when pulling to the opposite side of the formation.

Defense: I may be in the minority, but I feel that the defense played well enough to win the football game. Not great, but well enough to win. And again, I take issue with some of those who seem to be paying too much attention to the commentary from Troy Aikman. One minute, he is saying what a good job the Giants’ defense has done in the game, and the next he is telling the TV audience that the Giants’ defense hasn’t really stopped the Cowboys’ offense, that it is the Cowboys who are shooting themselves in the foot. And for some reason, some folks seem to be parroting that message. Bullcrap. The Giants caused three of the four Dallas turnovers. Dallas had 13 drives in the game and only moved the ball on three of those drives. They had a long, 16-play, 8 minute drive in the second quarter that resulted in a touchdown; a long, 15-play, 9 minute drive in the second half that resulted in a field goal; and an 8-play, 51-yard drive in overtime that resulted in a field goal. The other field goal in regulation was set up by a Giants’ turnover. Basically, the Giants’ defense gave up 10 points in regulation (13 if you count the field goal that came off of the turnover). That is good enough to win most NFL games. More than that, the defense gave the Giants’ offense excellent field position four times (three times in Dallas territory).

Now it is unfortunate that the defense could not make a stand in overtime. But given the fact that the defense was on the field for over 40 minutes in temperatures over 100 degrees on the playing field, it is also somewhat understandable. The major issue still remains getting off the field on 3rd down as the Giants allowed a 56 percent conversion rate (9-of-16). Four of these 3rd down conversions occurred on Dallas’ lone touchdown drive. I give credit to the Cowboy play-calling on two of these…on 3rd-and-4, Dallas crossed the Giants up with a draw and on 3rd-and-1, they crossed New York up with a pass. And there was one run by the Cowboys in the red zone where the Giants were caught off guard by the quick snap, leading to an 8-yard gain down to the 2-yard line. This is something that San Diego did as well and the Giants have to be careful that future opponents do not continue to take advantage of this tardiness (though when Dallas tried this again in the fourth quarter on 3rd-and-1, the Giants were ready and stuffed the play).

I was extremely annoyed with one play in particular where WR Keyshawn Johnson caught a short crossing route and turned this into a 15-yard gain on 2nd-and-15 coming off the goal line in the third quarter. There was no Giant defender anywhere near Keyshawn so either someone blew their assignment (such as MLB Antonio Pierce) or the Giants were playing some super-soft zone coverage. This was a really damaging play because it allowed Dallas to continue a field goal drive that went from the Cowboys’ 5-yard line to the New York 11-yard line and took almost 9 minutes off of the clock. As Coughlin said on Monday: “And at some point in time, we have to take responsibility for getting them off the field defensively…We didn’t really give up the big play, although they got the 26-yarder, which put them in field goal range in overtime. Again, not enough concentrated tough, hard-nosed coverage in the underneath areas and even to a certain extent on the outside, which we still have to improve upon.”

Defensive Line: The defensive line played a solid game. Aside from a few runs, the Dallas ground game was pretty much stuffed. The Cowboys only averaged 2.4 yards-per-rush on 38 carries. The pass rush was not real dynamic, but the Giants (3 sacks) had much more success pressuring QB Drew Bledsoe than the Eagles did the previous week.

Michael Strahan (6 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 fumble recovery) played well both against the run and the pass. Strahan was regularly double-teamed with chip blocks aiding the right tackle. His first sack was very much assisted by a blitz by SS Gibril Wilson. In the second quarter, Strahan picked up his second sack by speeding around the rookie right tackle. In the second half, he got three good pass pressures, including on the 3rd-and-10 incomplete pass by Bledsoe out of the endzone near the end of the fourth quarter. Strahan was flagged with an offsides penalty.

Osi Umenyiora (2 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble) also made an impact. His run defense against a quality run-blocking left tackle was quite good. He stuffed one running play for a 2-yard loss when he was left unblocked. I spotted him getting one good pass rush in the first half. Early in the third quarter, Umenyiora sped around LT Flozell Adams for an 8-yard sack and forced fumble that was recovered by the Giants. In overtime, on Dallas’ first offensive play, Osi got good heat on Bledsoe on a play that was unfortunately completed.

Justin Tuck (2 tackles) played some and made a real nice play in run defense holding the back to no gain.

Defensive tackles William Joseph (5 tackles, 1 pass defense) and Kendrick Clancy (2 tackles) held up well against the run. Joseph made a nice play against the run on Dallas’ first offensive snap by playing down the line and making the tackle. Joseph later caused a holding penalty on a running play that helped to stymie a drive. In the second half, Joseph made two nice plays against the run for no gain. He also did a great job of deflecting away a screen pass on 3rd-and-goal, possibly saving a touchdown. Clancy got a good pass rush on Bledsoe on one play late in the second quarter, and later got heavy pressure on the quarterback on the 2nd-and-goal play preceding Joseph’s deflection. A few plays earlier, Clancy stuffed a HB Anthony Thomas run for no gain.

Reserve tackles Fred Robbins (1 tackle) and Kenderick Allen (1 tackle) also saw a fair amount of playing time. Robbins’ pressure on Bledsoe caused the latter’s deep pass to WR Patrick Crayton to be underthrown and intercepted. (For some reason, the officials chose to ignore the fact that Dallas’ right guard also ripped Robbins’ helmet off on the play). However, Robbins and Allen did get suckered on the key 3rd-and-4 draw play on Dallas’ lone touchdown-scoring drive. Robbins did trip up the running back for no gain on 2nd-and-goal from the 2-yard line.

Linebackers: I thought the most impressive linebacker was WLB Nick Greisen (10 tackles, 1 fumble recovery). Greisen was very active in run defense, making a number of plays right at the line of scrimmage. Early in the second quarter, Greisen also recovered WR Keyshawn Johnson’s fumble and returned it 26 yards, setting up a field goal. In the second half, Greisen got good pressure on Bledsoe on a blitz. Greisen stuffed HB Marion Barber on the 3rd-and-1 play early in the fourth quarter. Late in regulation, Greisen almost tackled Thomas in the endzone for a safety. Greisen came very close to saving the game for the Giants in overtime as he perfectly timed a run blitz that resulted in a 6-yard loss (and almost caused a fumble on the exchange).

MLB Antonio Pierce (6 tackles) and SLB Carlos Emmons (7 tackles) were fairly active, but did not stand out. Emmons did get picked on the well-designed touchdown pass to TE Jason Witten. At the beginning of the third quarter, he got beat by Witten for a 16-yard gain (this is the play where Emmons sprained his ankle).

Pierce tackled Thomas in the backfield for a 2-yard loss in the fourth quarter. But he also was flagged for a 2-yard defensive pass interference penalty on 2nd-and-7 in overtime.

Reggie Torbor recovered the fumble that Umenyiora caused in the third quarter.

Defensive Backs: Not a real strong performance. It is becoming somewhat clear to me that the reason the Giants’ corner may be playing softer is that they (1) lack confidence and/or (2) just are not that good. The good news is that the Giants are not giving up big passing plays. The bad news is that they are getting nickel-and-dimed to death.

Will Allen (2 tackles, 1 forced fumble) played a bad game. Interestingly, the Giants chose to play Allen at right corner for much of the game, matching up with Keyshawn Johnson. This didn’t seem to help matters early on as Allen was beaten on Dallas’ second offensive play for a 21-yard completion. When the Giants went to the nickel, Allen was often covering the slot receiver. Late in the first quarter, Allen was locked up with WR Patrick Crayton on 3rd-and-14. Allen had excellent coverage on Clayton, but as is Allen’s history, the ball somehow passed around his outstretched hand for a big 17-yard completion and a first down. In the second quarter, Johnson beat Allen for 26 yards on 2nd-and-16, but Allen forced Johnson to fumble and the Giants recovered (SS Gibril Wilson was credited with the fumble, but it was Allen who actually caused it). Allen did look good defending a running play to his side in the first half. Unbelievably, Allen screwed up again at the end of the third quarter by not only dropping a sure interception on 2nd-and-14, but his deflection of the ball enabled Johnson to come down with a key catch on a field goal drive that gave Dallas a 4-point lead. Allen’s inability to make a freaking play on the football is beyond ridiculous now.

Except for one drive, I felt that Curtis Deloatch (5 tackles, 1 interception, 2 pass defenses) acquitted himself pretty well. He played at left corner and gave up an early 18-yard completion to WR Terry Glenn on a deep out. But two plays later, Bledsoe was a tad late on a similar throw to Johnson and Deloatch knocked the pass away. Deloatch later intercepted an underthrown deep pass to Crayton and returned the pick 20 yards. Deloatch was holding up pretty well until the lone Dallas touchdown drive. Curtis had excellent coverage on Johnson on a 3rd-and-3 slant, but the ball was perfectly thrown and Deloatch just missed knocking it away. He later gave up completions of 9 and 10 yards on this drive by playing too soft. In the second half, Deloatch had excellent coverage on a deep pass to Glenn that fell incomplete. He did not give up another reception for the rest of the game until Crayton caught a 10-yard slant on him in overtime (but Deloatch supplied tight coverage on this play).

Corey Webster (1 tackle) was beaten on a slant by Crayton for 9 yards on 3rd-and-5. He also played far too soft on an easy 6-yard completion to Johnson on the touchdown drive. In the fourth quarter, Webster was beaten by Glenn for a 6-yard reception on 3rd-and-6. In overtime, he missed a tackle on Glenn that turned a short pass into a 13-yard gain.

Gibril Wilson (10 tackles) was obviously active in bringing down ball-carriers. He did miss a tackle on a 12-yard run by HB Anthony Thomas in the first quarter. But later in this drive, his blitz up the middle helped to cause Strahan’s first sack of the game. Wilson missed another tackle on Glenn on a short pass that turned a 2nd-and-8 into a 3rd-and-1 on the Cowboys’ touchdown drive. On the very next play, he got beat by Glenn for a 10-yard gain on 3rd-and-1. In the second half, I was impressed with his run force on one play, but he later missed a tackle on the back in the backfield on a play that picked up three yards.

I have officially had it with Brent Alexander (3 tackles). On the play where Jason Witten was left wide open for an easy 15-yard touchdown, but the play was fortunately called back, I suspect it was Alexander who failed to spot Witten’s ploy of falling to the ground on an “attempted” block and then getting up to catch the pass. It was either him or Pierce and my best guess is that it was Alexander. Later in the fourth quarter, Alexander badly missed a tackle on HB Marion Barber that picked up 8 yards. Then in overtime, the play that killed the Giants was Alexander getting beaten badly by Witten for 26 yards. Instead of staying with his assignment, Alexander moved up to cover Johnson. “I should have just kept playing it, stayed back, took it away and made him drop it off into the flat,” said Alexander. When unathletic, aging, veteran safety starts making severe mental mistakes that costs football games, it is time to go in other direction.

Shaun Williams (1 tackle) got good heat on Bledsoe on a safety blitz on the play where Allen dropped a sure interception and Johnson caught the ball.

Special Teams: I thought the special teams played OK, but I was not as excited about their play as Coughlin was. Willie Ponder has not been able to break a bigger return since his 41-yarder against San Diego. Worse, against the Cowboys, he badly muffed a ball out-of-bounds that caused the Giants to start one drive at their own 7-yard line. His other three returns went for 31, 21, and 26 yards.

Chad Morton did not return a punt (he had his first fair catch of the season). Morton has not broken a big return since the opener.

Jeff Feagles punted 5 times for a 42.4 yard average, including four inside the 20-yard line. Punt coverage was mostly solid with David Tyree down in a hurry against double-team blocking. Making tackles on punts were Chase Blackburn (after a 3-yard return) and James Butler (6-yard return). However, the Giants were fortunate that Dallas blocked Tyree in the back on one big return where Reggie Torbor missed a tackle.

Kickoff coverage was solid. Dallas only average 20 yards per return on five kickoff returns. Making tackles were Justin Tuck (2), Gibril Wilson, Reggie Torbor, and Shaun Williams.

Tuck also made a big play by blocking Dallas’ 49-yard field goal attempt at the end of the first half.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, October 16, 2005)
Oct 132005
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, October 16, 2005: The six most critical regular-season games of the year for the Giants are the six games against NFC East competition. I firmly believe that if the Giants are going to win the NFC East, they must go at least 4-2 in the division. That makes this weekend’s game against Dallas absolutely critical. A loss here would reduce the Giants’ margin of error to one game with five left to play.

The Cowboys are a bit of an enigma. After four games, they were a somewhat inconsistent and unimpressive 2-2. Then last week they absolutely destroyed everyones’ NFC-favorite, the Eagles. Many, if not most, are saying the Cowboys are on the rise and should run roughshod over the Giants on Sunday. I am not buying it. I think the Cowboys played well, but it looked to me that the Eagles had a bad case of the pre-bye week blues. They simply did not look very focused or intense to me, while the Cowboys did. The Giants will be ready on Sunday – there is too much at stake.

Giants on Defense: We are going to find out real quick if the Giants 31st-ranked defense is as bad as it is ranked. The Cowboys have some quality offensive weapons, but this is an offense that the Giants’ defense can tighten up on. The Giants can and should play more aggressively against Dallas.

Once again, the key is to stop the run and make the opponent one-dimensional. We really don’t know what type of run defense the Giants have. The Cardinals and Rams rarely ran against New York. The Giants did a good job against the Saints but got creamed against the Chargers. HB Julius Jones made the Giants look foolish in the 2004 season-finale, but he is hampered with an ankle injury. If he can’t go, look for rookie HB Tyson Thompson to see the bulk of the carries, with HB Anthony Thomas (who gave the Giants problems last year as a Bear) also in the equation. Thompson is a big, north-south running back who has been a pleasant surprise for the Cowboys. But he could be vulnerable in blitz pick-ups.

To prevent the ground game from getting started, the Giants much play physical and stout up front, maintain gap control, and make sure tackles. There are key match-ups up-and-down the line of scrimmage. DE Osi Umenyiora versus the mammoth LT Flozell Adams, DT William Joseph versus LG Larry Allen, DT Kendrick Clancy versus Green Bay-import RT Marco Rivera, and DE Michael Strahan against the huge, but inexperienced, Rob Pettiti. The Cowboys have some issues at center where Parcells seems somewhat unhappy with both Al Johnson and Andre Gurode. The Cowboys are likely to test use their smash-mouth left-side to test Umenyiora and Joseph. But if Jones does not play or is limited, the Giants may catch a break as Thompson is not as shifty in bouncing things outside. Not to sound cliché, but this is going to be an old-fashioned mano-a-mano slugfest. The team that plays the more physical game with better leverage and greater intelligence is going to win.

Bill Parcells knows QB Drew Bledsoe’s limitations – he’s an immobile quarterback who will fall apart when pressured. So the Cowboys have focused a great deal on pass protection and having Bledsoe get rid of the ball quickly with 3- and 5-step drops. The more heat the Giants can get on Bledsoe, the better. But the Giants don’t want to get too blitz-happy (live by the blitz, die by the…). It will be interesting to see what strategy Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis employs. Thus far this year, the Giants’ corners have been playing softer coverage. Some of this is due to the obvious consideration that CB Curtis Deloatch and CB Corey Webster are both inexperienced and the Giants don’t want to give up the big, cheap touchdown. But playing soft against a team that uses a lot of 3- and 5-step drops is not ideal. You usually want to disrupt the timing of these plays by jamming the receivers at the line, make the quarterback hesitate, and allow your pass rush to finish the deal. Can the Giants risk having Deloatch and Webster play tight-and-aggressive coverage against experienced veterans such as WR Keyshawn Johnson and WR Terry Glenn?

What factors into this discussion as well is the effectiveness of the Giants’ blitzes. I see a lot of comments after football games that the Giants didn’t blitz or didn’t blitz enough. Too often, fans confuse unsuccessful blitzing with not blitzing. The Eagles, for example, blitzed the Cowboys a ton. But the Eagles did not get to Bledsoe. If the Giants blitz a lot and are unsuccessful in doing so, the defense will be in trouble. So along with the question on how tight do the corners play the Dallas receivers is the equally important question of how much and how aggressively do the Giants blitz? Regardless, when the Giants do blitz, it is all about match-ups again…the blitzers have to win their individual match-ups and get to the quarterback.

I actually like the Giants’ match-ups in the secondary. I think Deloatch matches up well physically with Keyshawn Johnson (the big, physical wideout) and Will Allen matches up well with Terry Glenn (the speedster). The wild card here is when the Cowboys go to three wideouts. Second-year man WR Patrick Crayton may be the best receiver on the Cowboys now. He can get deep and catch over the middle. There are going to be times in this game where Corey Webster is going to be forced to cover either him or Glenn. This will be a big game for Webster.

The man that makes the Dallas offense go is TE Jason Witten. And having LB Carlos Emmons (knee) limited or not playing does not help matters. The other linebackers will have their hands full in covering him and most likely SS Gibril Wilson will be called upon to cover him quite often.

My strategy? Focus on stopping the run. Mix up your coverages and pass rush schemes. Keep the Cowboys guessing. Don’t take too many chances, but take a few on defense. Watch out for the trick plays – Parcells will use them, especially in games where he feels his team might be undermanned. Most importantly, if the Giants are going to win on Sunday, they will have to want it more by playing with great intensity, toughness, and intelligence. Win the individual match-ups!

Giants on Offense: QB Eli Manning has not won a road game yet as a New York Giant. It’s time for that to end right now. The Giants have been so good on offense because they the foursome every team craves – the franchise quarterback who makes great throws while limiting mistakes; the Pro Bowl running back; the Pro Bowl tight end; and the big, go-to wide receiver. The engine that makes all of this fine machinery go, of course, has been a relatively solid offensive line.

The Cowboys alternate between the 3-4 and 4-3 defense. And last week, they even played some nickel on first down (though that probably had more to do with the fact that the Eagles are a somewhat self-imposed one-dimensional team). Dallas has an excellent nose tackle combo in La’Roi Glover (the quicker pass rusher) and Jason Ferguson (the more physical run defender). This will be an extremely important game for OC Shaun O’Hara who will have to deal with both the quickness and power, respectively. The right end is Greg Ellis (2.5 sacks), who has given the Giants problems in the past. The left end is Kenyon Coleman. The guy to watch and be wary of is DE/ROLB DeMarcus Ware (3 sacks). He is the “LT” of the Cowboy defense and along with the O’Hara-Glover Ferguson match-up, the Luke Petitgout-Ware battle is the most critical one up front. Ware may be too quick and fast for Petitgout. If the Giants have to help out Luke, the offense will suffer.

Not to sound overly simple, but offensively, this game comes down to the Giants’ offensive line giving Manning and his receivers time in the passing game and creating running room for Tiki Barber. The Cowboys did not have to worry about the running game last week, but they will have to do so this Sunday. The Giants may catch a break if ILB Dat Nguyen (neck) does not play. Nguyen has been a thorn in the Giants’ side in recent years.

When the Giants put the ball in the air, I like the match-ups here. SS Roy Williams is a superb run defender but he can have problems in reverse in playing pass defense. Look for TE Jeremy Shockey to make some plays here. Right corner Anthony Henry is a bit of a corner/safety ‘tweener. He has good size and plays a physical game, but so does WR Plaxico Burress. And Burress can run by Henry. This is a tough match-up for Burress, but if he can get open with regularity against Henry, the Giants will be golden. On the other side of the formation, WR Amani Toomer will line-up against CB Terence Newman, a good athlete who lacks some size. Newman hasn’t really lived up to his lofty draft status as of yet.

The Giants have to do a good job of blocking Dallas’ blitz in order to do well. Not only will the Cowboys send the linebackers, but they will send the defensive backs – especially Roy Williams (2.5 sacks).

Of course, the man on the spot is Eli Manning. Truly great quarterbacks play great in big games. Well folks, this is a big game. Probably the biggest that Manning has played in as a New York Giant in his young career. We are going to find out a lot about Eli’s make-up on Sunday.

Giants on Special Teams: Division games are usually close and often come down to special teams play. After a fast start, the Giants’ special teams have not excelled in recent weeks. The team needs to get Willie Ponder and Chad Morton going again on kickoff and punt returns, respectively.

It may also be the first game where the placekicking efforts of Jay Feely really come into play.

The Giants need to do a better job of covering kickoffs.

Want a real game-breaker? Let’s block a punt!

Oct 052005
 
New York Giants 44 – St. Louis Rams 24

Game Overview: We have officially entered a bizarre time period in Giants’ history. For a franchise long-based on stingy defense and conservative offense, the Giants have become a team with an explosive offense and a porous defense. It’s like watching last year’s Colts or Chiefs.

The good news is that QB Eli Manning is developing rapidly, despite missing valuable practice time in the preseason with an injury to his right throwing elbow. The offensive line – while still experiencing too many breakdowns – is coming along and Manning has a whole host of skill players to work with at running back, wide receiver, and tight end.

The bad news – and this still doesn’t sit well with Giants’ fans – is the defense. Despite the fact that the Giants scored three touchdowns and two field goals in their first five possessions on Sunday, one got the sense that the Giants had not put the game out of reach. And what transpired on the field indeed proved that to be the case. The Rams came dangerously close to cutting what had been a 27-7 lead to a 27-24 lead early in the third quarter. That’s not playoff-winning football.

Quarterback: Eli Manning (19-of-35 for 296 yards, 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) played his best game as a pro. The good news is that it seems like we keep saying that every week now for a very young and inexperienced quarterback who just finished his 11th regular season game. Manning’s effort on Sunday was on par with the best performance of a veteran Pro Bowl quarterback. Probably his biggest stumbling block, surprisingly, remains inconsistent accuracy. When Eli gets his completion percentage around the 60-65 percent area, then we will see even bigger fireworks.

Now to be balanced, the St. Louis secondary is not good. Manning and the Giants’ offense will not enjoy this type of success when they face stingier defenses with outstanding secondaries such as the Eagles or Redskins. But Manning did what he was supposed to do – get the ball to his primary weapons in mismatch situations. And more than that, he made some pretty amazing throws. Manning is drawing defenses offsides with his cadence, reading defenses, and calling audibles like a vet.

The Giants have scored on every opening drive this year (three touchdowns and a field goal). Against the Rams, the Giants drove 75 yards in 5 plays on the opening possession with the big play being the scoring strike from Manning to WR Plaxico Burress for 31 yards and the touchdown. The second touchdown was set up by a 46-yard pass to Plaxico off a play-action boot. The ball was underthrown or Burress would have easily scored from 71 yards out. On the very next play, Manning demonstrated some toughness by making a positional block on a reverse by Tim Carter that picked up 22-yards. Manning used a fantastic play-action fake on first-and-goal, but TE Jeremy Shockey couldn’t make the catch. Manning’s made a risky decision to audible on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line by calling lower-percentage fade pass to WR Amani Toomer, but Manning made an excellent throw and Toomer made an even better catch to give the Giants a 17-7 lead.

Probably the most impressive throw in my mind was his 17-yard scoring toss to Burress on 3rd-and-7 on the next possession. Manning had two defensive linemen in his face, couldn’t step up, and yet he threw a relatively accurate pass to Plaxico for the score. Very impressive!

The down note in the rest of the first half was that Manning did attempt to force some balls into double coverage, including another shot into the end zone to Burress. He also badly overthrew a wide-open Shockey late in the second quarter or the Giants would have had even more points at halftime.

Manning’s favorite targets are obviously Burress (19 throws in his direction, 10 completed) and Shockey (ten throws in his direction, 4 completed). In other words, all but six of Manning’s 35 throws were intended for these two players.

The Giants scored a touchdown on their first offensive possession of the second half. Manning did a good job of avoiding a strong pass rush and finding Toomer for a 10-yard gain on 3rd-and-10. He then hit Shockey for 14 yards. After a holding penalty, Manning threw an absolutely perfect deep pass to Shockey on a seam route for a 31-yard touchdown. On the next possession, Manning again showed excellent pocket presence by scrambling away from heavy pressure, stepping up in the pocket, and delivering a 30-yard strike to a wide open Burress on 3rd-and-13. However, the Giants were forced to settle for a field goal when Manning did not see a wide open Shockey in the back corner of the endzone and his next pass – a fade to Burress – was slightly overthrown.

Wide Receivers: Plaxico Burress (10 catches for 204 yards and 2 touchdowns) was a man among boys on Sunday. The Rams simply could not contend with his combination of size and athleticism. It was one of the most dominating performances by a Giants’ wide receiver in team history. Burress’ first catch was his 31-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown on the first drive of the game. This was a superb effort by Burress as he was fully-extended and used all of his 6’5’’ frame and long arms to snag the football away from the defender and sprint to the end zone. Burress’ 16-yard deep out on the next possession helped to set up a field goal. On the next scoring drive, Burress blew past the corner who looked to be expecting safety support and came down with a 46-yard reception.

On the next touchdown drive, Burress quickly shot up field for a 14-yard gain after a quick pass from Manning. He then caught a 10-yarder on 2nd-and-17 and then finished up the drive with a 17-yard touchdown catch on 3rd-and-7. On this play, Burress got inside position on the corner and extended high for the football – another excellent effort. Plaxico finished the first half with 9 catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns. Burress was flagged with a false start and did drop a pass.

In the second half, Burress was interfered with on a deeper sideline route, leading to a 23-yard gain on the penalty. On the next possession, however, it was Burress flagged for offensive pass interference. Plaxico only had one reception in the second half, but it was a big one – a 30-yarder on 3rd-and-13 that kept alive a field goal scoring drive.

Amani Toomer’s biggest play was his superb, twisting reception of Manning’s 4th-and-goal fade pass for the touchdown. Toomer did an absolutely wonderful job of keeping both his feet in bounds while at the same time maintaining possession of the football. It was an All-Pro catch and a huge play in the football game. Toomer’s other big catch in the game was a 10-yard reception for a first down on 3rd-and-10. This came on the Giants’ opening possession in the third quarter and kept the touchdown scoring drive alive. On this play, Toomer impressively fought off the tackler to pick up the first down. Toomer was flagged for a false start in the game, however.

Tim Carter made a big play with his 22-yard reverse to help set up the second touchdown.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey (4 catches for 57 yards and a touchdown) was a focal point for the Rams’ defense. He made some big plays, but he could have had a bigger day. There was one dropped touchdown pass and he and Manning didn’t seem to be on the same page on a number of incompletions (10 passes were thrown in his direction). In the first half, Shockey made a great play after he caught a short slant pass from Manning. Shockey beat the corner with his size and as he caught the ball, a linebacker came over and smashed Shockey as the two were running right at each other. Shockey bounced off the hit, broke two tackles, and gained 13 yards. 15 more yards were added to the play with a face-mask penalty. Shockey’s big play of the game was his 31-yard touchdown on a seam route on 1st-and-20 in the third quarter. It was a nice catch despite tight coverage and being interfered with earlier on the route.

And for those who haven’t noticed, Shockey is now being split out wide a ton – perhaps even more than when he was as a rookie. Against the Rams, Shockey regularly split out to both the flanker and split end positions, as well as the slot. In fact, the Giants also did this some with Visanthe Shiancoe. This provides the Giants with some nice flexibility. For example, with the same personnel grouping, the Giants can go from a 2-TE, heavy running formation (they did this with Shockey and Shiancoe even lining up next to each on the left side of the formation) to a 4- or 5-wide formation (there was one play when both Shockey and Shiancoe were split out wide). The former lead to a 10-yard gain by Barber while the latter lead to a 14-yard gain for Shockey.

Shiancoe was flagged with a holding penalty in pass protection.

Running Backs: Lost in the Manning-to-Burress fireworks was that Barber had his most productive day of the year with 128 yards on 24 carries (and a touchdown). Barber had a big 13-yard cutback run on the game’s first drive as well as catching a 9-yard swing pass. Barber had a 15-yard run on the next possession, helping the Giants to set up a successful field goal.

Barber finished the first half with 46 yards on 11 carries (4.2 yards per carry). He was more productive in the second half when he picked up 82 yards on 13 carries (6.3 yards per carry). Tiki had a key 12-yard draw on 3rd-and-10 during the Giants’ field goal drive in the fourth quarter. Barber demonstrated nice power and effort on a number of carries on this possession. Tiki’s best run of the day was his 16-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. Barber dragged the defensive back five yards into the end zone for the score.

Barber and FB Jim Finn made superb blitz pick-ups on Shockey’s 31-yard scoring play. Barber did drop a pass in the second half. Finn made a nice block on Tim Carter’s 22-yard reverse and a real good block at the point-of-attack on a Barber run that picked up 7 yards.

Brandon Jacobs made a great, great run in the second quarter when he picked up 11 yards on 2nd-and-1. Most of the gain came after contact and I counted seven Rams who tried to bring him down as he drove relentlessly for extra yardage. Earlier in the game, the Giants also finally used play-action with Jacobs in the backfield in short-yardage, but Shockey dropped the touchdown pass. Jacobs also had a 5-yard carry on 2nd-and-3 in the fourth quarter.

Offensive Line: When you gain 456 yards on offense (164 rushing and 292 passing) plus score 44 points, your offensive line is controlling the line of scrimmage. For the most part, the offensive line did a good job of protecting Manning and giving Barber room to run. However, it was not a particularly strong performance for LT Luke Petitgout, who gave up one sack and was bull-rushed successfully three other times, in the first half (being flagged with holding on one of these occasions). There were also some breakdowns inside. In the first half, OC Shaun O’Hara was flagged with a holding penalty and both O’Hara and RG Chris Snee allowed pressure on Manning’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Burress. Snee or RT Kareem McKenzie allowed the defensive tackle to come free on the play where Manning was driven into the turf and a roughing-the-passer penalty was called. On the next possession, there was a jailbreak inside on an incomplete pass to Shockey on 3rd-and-10 as LG David Diehl, O’Hara, and Snee all missed blocks on the same play.

In the second half, O’Hara missed a block on the play where Manning completed a 10-yard pass to Toomer on 3rd-and-10. McKenzie was flagged for holding on a running play where he also did not keep his man out of the play. Diehl was beaten badly on the pass rush on the play where Manning completed his 30-yard pass to Burress on 3rd-and-13. But aside from these miscues, the play of the offensive line was outstanding.

Defensive Line: The Rams tried to run the football very early without any success, the Giants took a big early lead, and the Rams’ backs only ended up with 14 rushes and 33 yards on the day (there was a 9-yard scramble by QB Marc Bulger as well). However, the Giants should have been able to put more heat on a quarterback who threw the football 62 times.

DE Osi Umenyiora (no tackles, 1 pass defense) had a few good pressures against LT Orlando Pace in the first quarter, but played a relatively quiet game. I did spot him receiving some double-team attention due to his quick take-off. Umenyiora was used a lot in coverage, where he also deflected one pass.

On a zone-blitz, DE Michael Strahan (4 tackles, 1 sack) went for the interception instead of the sure-tackle on a 3rd-and-4 swing pass to the halfback, resulting in a 13-yard touchdown. Strahan got a few pass pressures in the first half, especially on the Rams’ second touchdown drive. It was on this drive that Strahan picked up his 8-yard sack on a stunt to the inside. However, the drive resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run right at Strahan. Michael got only one good pass rush that I saw in the second half. However, unusually for Strahan, the Giants gave him a significant breather on the sidelines during this time period.

Justin Tuck (2 tackles) saw quite a bit of action and played decently. He lined up at both left and right end. Tuck got one good pressure off of a stunt and was pretty active in run defense the few times the Rams decided to run the football.

The defensive tackles played well against the run, but did not create much of a pass rush. One HB Steven Jackson run got stuffed in the backfield by Strahan when the Rams could not move out William Joseph (1 tackle) and Kendrick Clancy (0 tackles). This happened again when Jackson was tackled in the backfield by Justin Tuck when Joseph and Kenderick Allen (1 tackle) penetrated off of a stunt. However, the Rams did pick up 6 yards down to the 1-yard line when Joseph and Fred Robbins (0 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) were successfully blocked up front. Robbins did get one good pass rush on an incomplete pass very late in the first half. Joseph was also flagged with an encroachment penalty.

In the second half, Joseph was badly held on one strong pass rush but it was not called. He also later had another strong bull-rush, but ran by the quarterback instead of sacking him for some reason. On the 3rd-and-1 run to the fullback, Clancy and Allen strongly held their ground and prevented the first down. This drive ended when Robbins recovered the fumble off of the failed reverse by the Rams deep inside Giants’ territory. Clancy did a good job of reading a screen play late in the game. Robbins also got one more strong inside pass rush on another play.

Linebackers: The linebackers made an early statement against the run as Reggie Torbor (2 tackles, 1 interception) attacked a sweep aggressively and tackled Jackson for a 4-yard loss on the Rams’ first offensive play of the game. On the next snap, Nick Greisen (9 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) quickly flowed down the line of scrimmage to stop Jackson for no gain. Greisen recovered a fumble in the second quarter after a big hit by SS Gibril Wilson on a wide receiver.

It was a good game for Greisen who was around the ball a lot as his high-tackle total indicates. He had a couple of problems at the point-of-attack on the Rams’ first drive of the second half, including the successful 4th-and-1 conversion that picked up 11 yards. But Greisen stuffed Jackson on the ensuing possession and then did a good job of tackling the elusive HB Marshall Faulk after a short-pass on the same drive.

Antonio Pierce (7 tackles, 1 interception, 4 pass defenses) was active in pass defense. In the first quarter, he did a good job of breaking up a pass intended for the fullback. In the third quarter, he knocked away a pass in the end zone that was intended for WR Torry Holt. Then late in the third quarter/early in the fourth quarter, Pierce made two big plays in pass coverage when he first knocked away a deep 2nd-and-15 pass intended for Holt. Then on 3rd-and-15, Pierce came away with the pick at the Giants’ 18-yard line, returning it 24 yards. Pierce’s range in zone coverage on these plays was impressive. Pierce did miss a tackle on Faulk in the backfield that turned a big loss into a 3-yard gain.

Torbor sealed the game with his interception of Bulger and return of 37 yards with less than three minutes in the game. Torbor made a nice read and break on the ball.

Defensive Backs: This unit continues to struggle. Marc Bulger completed 40 passes for 442 yards. The yardage amounts are disturbing, but the Giants’ coaches are correctly pointing out that these numbers are more than a bit inflated given the game situations (Giants with big leads), opponents (some strong passing attacks), and a desire to prevent big plays (loose zone coverage). Against the Rams, the pass rush – which goes hand in hand with coverage – was also conservative with the Giants often rushing only three men in the second half of the game. Basically, the Giants were playing a form of prevent defense. However, what continues to be very worrisome is the inability to get off the field on third down. The Rams were 7-of-14 on third down (and 2-for-2 on fourth down). In fact, the Giants are currently tied with Cleveland for the worst third-down defense in the NFL (allowing 50 percent conversions).

There were flashes of solid coverage. I spotted Corey Webster (3 tackles) sticking close to one intended target in the first half and Will Allen (5 tackles) as well. Allen also flashed on a cornerback blitz where he nailed Bulger just as he threw the football. Curtis Deloatch (7 tackles, 1 pass defense) knocked away a deep ball into the end zone in a one-on-one match-up with Pro Bowl WR Torry Holt. Deloatch made a sure tackle on a short pass to the tight end and Gibril Wilson (11 tackles) forced a fumble with a big hit.

But there were too many mistakes. Gibril Wilson got beat in the slot by WR Shaun McDonald for 10 yards on 3rd-and-10 in the first quarter. On the very next play, Deloatch was beaten on a crossing pattern for 18 yards by WR Kevin Curtis. Two plays later, Allen had decent coverage on McDonald on another crossing pattern, but he missed the ball and McDonald picked up 31 yards (Deloatch was flagged with defensive holding on this play as well). On the play where Wilson forced the fumble, Deloatch was beaten on an in-cut for 18 yards by Curtis.

In the second quarter, the Giants gave up a couple of completions (for 16 and 6 yards) as the Rams found the soft spots in the Giants’ zone coverage. Bulger also completed an easy short pass to Holt for 8 yards as Deloatch was playing about a mile off the receiver. Corey Webster struggled in this quarter. He got beat by WR Dane Looker for 11 yards on 2nd-and-7 down to the New York 7-yard line. Later, Webster gave up a 21-yard completion on a play where he had good coverage but never turned around to play the football. Late in the quarter, he got beat for 18 yards by Looker again as the Rams were attempting to move into field goal range right before halftime. Two plays later, Wilson got beat on a 13-yard out to set up an attempted 48-yard field goal that thankfully was no good. Earlier in this drive, FS Brent Alexander (4 tackles, 1 pass defense) missed a chance to end the drive by dropping an interception that bounced off of Steve Jackson’s hands.

Allen committed a dumb personal foul penalty by driving his forearm into the throat of the running back after he was on the ground.

In the second half, Allen had a chance to pick off an errant throw but could not make the tough catch. On this same drive – the first of the second half – the Rams were starting to find more soft spots in the Giants’ zone coverage. In such situations, it is tough to determine whether a player got “beat” or if the Rams simply exposed the coverage by executing properly such as their 8-yard completion on 3rd-and-7 on a short-crossing route to Kevin Curtis. However, on the Rams’ second possession of the second half, Webster did get beat on a 19-yard gain to McDonald. Bulger then completed another 19-yarder to Holt when Deloatch fell down off the break. On the next play, Gibril Wilson had excellent coverage on Looker on a deep post route to the end zone, causing an incompletion.

After the Giants went up 37-17, their coverages seemed to be mostly zone and all loose. There were easy completions to McDonald for 12 (Allen and Deloatch were near the area), to Looker for 23 (Deloatch and Williams in the area), and to Curtis for 14 yards (Deloatch and Williams in the area again). The big mistake here was Deloatch getting beat deep in the end zone by Holt for a 22-yard score with 5:39 left in the game.

Shaun Williams (7 tackles, 1 sack) picked off a pass late during garbage time. He continues to see a decent amount of playing time.

My overall impressions of the secondary? There is no one scapegoat here. No one is playing very well yet. The steadiest corner on Sunday was probably Will Allen. Gibril Wilson was around the ball a lot with good hits and tackles. This was his best game thus far, but he is not playing as well as expected. Curtis Deloatch is learning on the job as is Corey Webster. Both are being exposed. For as much passing that is occurring against the Giants, it is amazing that Brent Alexander’s tackle total is so low. He’s not making any plays against the run or pass. The Giants need to start thinking about possibly getting James Butler or Williams in there more instead of Alexander. But that one switch won’t fix the problem. Deloatch, Webster, Wilson, and Allen have to all play better too.

Special Teams: A somewhat disturbing trend is that the Giants are beginning to allow big kick returns again. The Rams’ kick returner was able to break off returns of 39 and 48 yards – PK Jay Feely was forced to make the tackle in both instances. There were times when kickoff coverage was quite good. James Butler made a strong tackle after only a 13-yard gain. Justin Tuck made a huge hit to limit another return to a 15-yard gain. Indeed, it was an amazing play when you think that Tuck – a defensive end – was the first one down the field. However, Tuck needs to remember to wrap-up. Nick Greisen also kept one return to 16 yards and David Tyree another to 15 yards.

Jeff Feagles only punted twice – a 47-yarder and a 42-yarder (the latter resulting in a touchback). The Rams only had a 5-yard return with Antonio Pierce making the tackle.

Blocking for Willie Ponder on the Giants’ kick returns was not good. There were a couple of times in the first half when Ponder was hit pretty quickly by an unblocked man. Ponder only managed returns of 23, 22, and 20 yards. Chad Morton had a nice 11 yard return. David Tyree was flagged for being offsides on one Rams’ punt.

Tyree did a good job of successfully recovering an onside kick.

Feely nailed all three of his field goal attempts from 38, 32, and 23 yards.

Officiating: Simply horrifying and almost bad enough to affect the outcome of the game:

  • Officials did not call the obvious strong blow to the head to QB Eli Manning.
  • Shockey was regularly mugged by Rams’ defenders but the infractions were not called, except for the one on his touchdown reception.
  • The Rams were allowed to get back in the game by a simply atrocious spot by the officials on what should have been a failed 4th-and-7 conversion attempt in the second quarter. The Rams trailed 27-7 at this point and had the spot been made correctly, the Giants would have received the ball at their own 34-yard line and the Rams would have been completely demoralized. What made matters worse was that the first official on the spot marked the ball correctly and then a second official inexplicably moved the football forward one yard. The Rams went on to score a touchdown on this drive and cut the lead to 27-14.
  • Bulger’s 9-yard scramble on 3rd-and-9 on the Rams’ first possession of the second half was not properly marked. Bulger began his slide well before the first down marker. This enable St. Louis to continue a drive that came dangerous close to cutting the Giants’ lead to three points.
(Box Score – St. Louis Rams at New York Giants, October 2, 2005)