Dec 292005

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Oakland Raiders, December 31, 2005: It shouldn’t have come to this. If the Giants had taken care of business against the Vikings and the Seahawks, the division would already be theirs. But there is no point in looking back now. Beat the Raiders and win the NFC East. The injury situation at linebacker is a mammoth concern, but the Giants are relatively healthy everywhere else, although Shockey will be limited by his ankle (Update: Friday press reports indicate Shockey will not play). It’s time for everyone on this team to elevate their game and play like champions. Win the division, EARN that home playoff game, and let’s go from there. Get it done! The Raiders are ready for the season to end. Get on top of them quickly and turn this thing into a blowout.

Giants on Offense: This team has too much talent of offense to keep sputtering like this. With Tiki Barber playing the best football of his life, I would keep feeding him the ball. There is too much at stake here. He is the Giants’ best offensive player. Run right, run left, run up the middle. The Raiders are giving up over 120 rushing yards per game. Don’t get cute. Pound the football!

How productive the passing game will be might be determined by the weather. There is a chance it will be raining and windy. If so, again, that points to keeping the football on the ground. But if the conditions are not too bad, this is good opponent to get the passing game going again. Plaxico Burress needs to rebound from a poor game. He is facing rookie right corner Fabian Washington, and Burress has a half-foot height advantage here. The left corner, 2003 first rounder Nnamdi Asomugha, at 6’2′, matches up better physically with Amani Toomer. However, like Curtis Deloatch, Asomugha is a better prospect than player still. The safeties are tough and good hitters, but vulnerable in coverage.

The linebacking corps of the Raiders is a bit of a mess. This is an area the Giants can exploit with the short passing game, especially if Shockey plays and is effective. Short passes to Barber, particularly on screens, might be very effective.

Up front, LT Luke Petitgout faces an outstanding pass rusher in DE Derrick Burgess (15 sacks). He may need help from Shockey or Visanthe Shiancoe. But Burgess can be run on. The other end, Bobby Hamilton, is a decent run player, but nothing special. Hopefully, RT Kareem McKenzie (hamstring) will not be too rusty upon his return to the starting lineup. The toughest player inside is Ted Washington, who can be an immovable force at times. He will likely command double-team support from Shaun O’Hara and Chris Snee. The Giants also need a good game out of LG David Diehl against DT Tommy Kelly, who flashes on the pass rush.

If everyone plays near their capabilities, there is no reason why the Giants cannot cut up this defense and put a fair amount of points on the board. Run the football and use play-action to take a few deep shots. But really go after the linebackers in the passing game with Barber and Shockey.

Giants on Defense: For the life of me, I can’t figure out why the Raiders are struggling as much as they are on offense. This team is loaded with talent and ought to be putting up big numbers. The fact that they have not does not mean they are not capable of doing so. All Giants’ fans know that Kerry Collins, when hot, can torch a secondary. But they also know that he is streaky thrower that is quite capable of making mistakes. The key – as with all quarterbacks – is to get a lot of heat on him. The Giants really need defensive ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora to earn their paychecks this weekend. Strahan will battle against RT Robert Gallery, an imposing figure who hasn’t played as well as hoped early in his young career. Umenyiora will line up against LT Barry Simms, a solid pass blocker. Inside, the Giants will be helped if OC Jake Grove (questionable with a knee injury) does not play. However, back-up OC Adam Treu is experienced and capable. Ex-Giant RG Ron Stone can still run block and the DT Kendrick Clancy will have to use his quickness to avoid his strength at the point-of-attack. It will be interesting to see how much DT William Joseph (ankle) plays and how effective he will be.

While HB LaMont Jordan is out (which is very good news for the Giants), HB Zach Crockett should not be underestimated. While older, he can still be an effective power runner, particularly in short-yardage situations. His average rush per carry is actually higher than Jordan’s. Tom Coughlin has kept it a secret as to who will be starting at linebacker this weekend and where. One would think that Nick Greisen will start on the weakside, newly signed Kevin Lewis will start in the middle, and that either Alonzo Jackson or newly signed Roman Phifer will start on the strongside. But who knows? What matters is that there three stop the run and do an adequate job in pass coverage. TE Courtney Anderson (knee) is not likely to play, but back-up TE Randal Williams is former wide receiver who can cause match-up problems. Crockett can also catch out of the backfield.

The real scary part of the Raiders’ offensive potential is their deep passing game. Randy Moss, Jerry Porter, Doug Gabriel, and Alvis Whitted can all get deep and score. Collins is a very good deep-ball thrower. The Giants need to get a good pass rush, but they also need CB Will Allen to rebound in a big way from last week’s disaster. Do the Giants keep him on Moss, since he has experience in doing so? Or do they put the green rookie Corey Webster on Moss with double-team help? It is interesting that the Giants benched Deloatch for this game as physically he may be better suited to playing Moss. The Giants also need much, much better pass coverage support from their safeties, particularly SS Gibril Wilson.

The defensive scheme is simple. Stop the running game, get after Collins, and don’t give up the deep pass. Easier said than done.

Giants on Special Teams: Shane Lechler may be the best punter in the NFL; he is outstanding. Chris Carr returns both kickoffs (long of 62 yards) and punts (long of 34 yards). The Giants need to keep him under wraps.

Chad Morton looked good returning kickoffs last week and could use more the same or better this weekend.

Dec 272005
Washington Redskins 35 – New York Giants 20

Game Overview: I am not going to spend a lot of time on the specifics this week like I usually do. The reason the Giants lost this game is that the Giants were out-played on offense, defense, and special teams. Period.

Offense: The problem in a nutshell was the offense did not score enough points. There was one field goal and one offensive touchdown in the first half (and the latter came on a fluke play) and one field goal in the second half. Even if you count the touchdown that the refs took off the board late in the game, that’s too few points and that’s not going to get it done in the NFL. Lack of execution (missed blocks, dropped passes, errant throws) were a problem but so was some odd game-planning (too much Jim Finn, not enough Tiki Barber).

Quarterback: While he did not play a “good game,” I thought Eli Manning played decently against a quality defensive opponent. And I think the coaching staff put too much of the game’s onus on his shoulders, particularly early. For example, two-of-three plays on the first drive were passing plays, four-of-six on the second drive were passing plays, all three plays on the third drive were passing plays, and three-of-five plays on the fourth drive were passing plays. With Tiki Barber having an MVP season, that strategy did not make much sense.

Eli’s stats (23-of-41 for 244 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception) also would have looked much better had Burress held onto the 50-yard touchdown bomb on the game’s first offensive play and the refs not jobbed the Giants of the 36-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Eli’s inconsistent accuracy remains his major problem. There are times when he delivers a very accurate throw, sometimes in tough situations, but too often the poor quality of his throw causes the incompletion. He was better against the Redskins, but the inaccuracy remains a cause for concern – including his long-term development. There were two back-to-back passes in the second quarter that irked me. On the first, his throw was nowhere near Burress and on the second, his sideline pass to Toomer was almost picked off. On the next possession, his pass to Shockey was behind the tight end and picked off (though the contact on Shockey might have affected the route). This was a bad turnover for the Giants as they had regained the game’s momentum at this point and the turnover handed it right back to Washington.

Manning did well on the last drive of the first half, completing five passes and leading the team to an important touchdown. The Giants also moved the ball well on their first drive of the second half with Manning passing and running for key first downs on third down. However, that drive ended with a questionable waggle play and a blocked field goal. On the second drive of the half, the Giants did get into field goal range as Manning threw a nice deep pass to Toomer that resulted in a 41-yard pass interference penalty. He made a real nice 11-yard throw on 3rd-and-8 to Shockey. But two plays later, Manning took an 11-yard coverage sack on 2nd-and-3 when he should have thrown the ball away.

When the Giants got the ball back in the fourth quarter, the Skins were up 35-20. Manning hit Burress for a 27-yard gain, but the drive stalled when Barber never turned around for one pass and Manning’s 4th-and-6 pass to Burress along the sideline was thrown far too high (I didn’t care for the high-risk play call). The Giants got the ball one more time and scored a touchdown with over six minutes left in the game, but the officials called a bogus holding penalty to erase Manning’s touchdown pass to Toomer.

Manning played OK, but the Redskins’ quarterbacks outplayed him.

Wide Receivers: Plaxico’s drop of the 50-yard bomb on the game’s first play was a killer and changed the entire tone of the game. He’s got to make that play. Besides that, he was amazingly unproductive with just three catches for 40 yards. On the touchdown pass to Toomer late in the first half, the ball actually bounced off of Burress’ hands and should have been caught by him. The only quality play he made was his 27-yard reception in the fourth quarter where he used his size to out-muscle the defensive back for the ball despite heavy contact.

It’s odd that for much of the season, Eli Manning rarely looked in the direction of Amani Toomer, but in recent weeks he has become his favorite target. Toomer caught six passes for 85 yards and a touchdown and had a 36-yard touchdown reception erased due to a phantom holding penalty. Not only did he come up with the deflection off of Burress for a 25-yard touchdown reception late in the half, but he also had two other key catches on this drive. In the second half, he was the victim of a 41-yard pass interference penalty that helped to set up a field goal.

Tim Carter could not come down with what would have been a tough sideline catch.

Santana Moss out-played the entire Giants’ receiving corps.

Tight Ends: Not a good game for Jeremy Shockey. He hurt his ankle in the first half and spent much of the rest of the game in and out of the lineup. He had two catches for 18 yards. Worse, Shockey was so negatively affected by strong jam by the Redskins’ linebacker late in the second quarter that he did not run a good route, did not fight for the football, and then let the defender run free with the interception. Terrible all-around play by Shockey that cost the Giants dearly – regardless if it was a penalty or not (and I am not sure it was a penalty – it was within five yards of the line of scrimmage). On the next drive, Shockey was flagged with offensive pass interference. Truth of the matter is that Shockey was out-played by TE Chris Cooley.

Visanthe Shiancoe (3 catches for 40 yards) may have played his finest all-around game as a Giant. He was a factor as both a receiver and run blocker. Shiancoe was flagged with a false start however.

Running Backs: Sixteen running plays for Tiki Barber is not enough! Poor game-planning by Coughlin and Hufnagel. While Barber didn’t break a big run until late in the game, he wasn’t being completely shutdown. For example, while Clinton Portis averaged 2.8 yards per rush in the first half, Barber averaged 3.1 yards per rush. And after the intermission, there were only SEVEN more running plays called for Barber.

Barber also caught six passes for 49 yards and Manning finally continues to look more in his direction. My chief complaint was that Tiki never turned around to look for a key 3rd-and-6 pass early in the fourth quarter. On the very next play, the Giants turned the ball over on downs.

Because the Redskins’ coaching staff gave the ball more to Portis and thereby allowed him more opportunities to do more damage, Portis out-played Tiki Barber.

Jim Finn (3 catches for 12 yards; 2 more thrown in his direction) was too much of the focus of the game plan in my opinion. He had problems on a few plays handling Lavar Arrington’s hard charges on running plays.

Offensive Line: Except for Chris Snee’s play in the first half, I thought the offensive line played fairly well. Snee was terrible early as former Giant DT Cornelius Griffen gave him problems. Tiki lost two yards on his first carry as Griffen penetrated into the backfield. On the very next play, Snee allowed a pass pressure that forced Manning to dump the ball off short on 3rd-and-12, thereby forcing a punt. Later in the quarter, Griffen got to Manning again forcing another incompletion. Two plays after that, he was flagged with a false start.

Still the offensive line did a reasonable job. The only sack given up was a coverage sack and while the running game was not overly-productive, Barber got his yardage when called upon.

Defense: What pisses me off to no end is that the Giants let the two guys beat them in the passing game who are the only threats the Redskins have. And everyone knows who these two guys are – WR Santana Moss and TE Chris Cooley. No Redskins’ wide receiver caught a pass in this game except for Moss, but Moss caught five passes for 160 yards and THREE touchdowns! Cooley had five receptions for 41 yards and a touchdown. Not covering these two effectively is what cost the Giants the game. Inexcusable! I pray to God that the reason that Moss was not double-covered on his two long touchdown receptions was that someone blew the coverage. If not, then Tim Lewis deserves much of the responsibility for this loss.

The momentum shifts caused by Moss’ 59-yard touchdown right after the Giants scored on defense and his 72-yard touchdown right after the blocked field goal were astronomically important in this football game. And after the Giants cut the lead to 28-20 late in the third quarter, the Giants’ defense really let the team down by allowing a 10-play, 79-yard drive that gave the Redskins a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter. It was at this point when the Giants got soft against the run. And it was not all due to the injury situation at linebacker, although that certainly was a big contributor. The Giants did not play like a playoff team on defense.

The Redskins’ defense vastly out-played the Giants’ defense.

Defensive Line: The Giants allowed 156 yards rushing and no defensive lineman had a sack.

DE Osi Umenyioira (1 assist) signed his huge $41 million, 6-year extension and forgot to show up for the most important game of the season for the Giants. He ought to be ashamed of himself. He was LT Chris Samuels’ bitch. No pass rush and he got pushed around all day on the run, such as on Portis’ 19-yard touchdown run. He was unblocked and had a free shot on QB Mark Brunell on the Redskins’ first touchdown drive but missed the tackle and a first down resulted.

DE Michael Strahan (8 tackles) was very good against the run in the first half of the game, both on plays at and away from him. However, the Redskins were able to run at him, particularly in the fourth quarter. And he was not much of a factor on the pass rush.

DT Kendrick Clancy (2 tackles) flashed on a couple of plays, but did not stand out like he should have against a 43-year old backup. DT Kenderick Allen (3 tackles) and DT Fred Robbins (3 tackles) did not stand out.

Justin Tuck had one good pass rush that caused an incompletion. I also liked the formation where Strahan rushed from right defensive tackle and Umenyiora from right defensive end. That led to one good pass rush.

Linebackers: The injury situation has reach nightmare proportions. It is unbelievable that for the third year in a row, the Giants are getting hit incredibly hard at one or two positions by injury to the point that the starters and their back-up depth are being erased from the equation.

The linebackers played well against the run in the first half. Nick Greisen (9 tackles, 1 sack) rebounded this week with a strong effort. MLB Chase Blackburn (6 tackles, 1 interception for a touchdown) was better until he was forced to leave the game with a season-ending neck injury. SLB Reggie Torbor (5 tackles) was limited with a hamstring injury that forced him to leave the game (though he had to come back in once Blackburn was carted off the field). Blackburn missed an open-field tackle on TE Robert Royal on a 3rd-and-4 play that picked up 14 yards on the Skins’ first touchdown drive, but his interception and touchdown return gave the Giants back the momentum. Greisen’s problems were in coverage. He did not recognize the wide receiver screen to Moss that resulted in a touchdown and he gave up a 10-yard completion to Portis on 3rd-and-9 right before the 59-yard touchdown throw. Greisen also did not make the play on a 13-yard tight end screen late in the third quarter on the last touchdown drive.

Torbor lost contain on a 13-yard pick-up by Portis in the second quarter. Alonzo Jackson (4 tackles) was forced to play a lot in the second half and was not good. He got wired to too many blocks, especially at the point-of-attack or on cutback runs in his area. He was effectively blocked, for example, on the 19-yard touchdown run by Portis. The roughing the passer penalty called on him was bullcrap.

Defensive Backs: Will Allen (6 tackles) had a nightmare game. He was blocked on the wide-receiver screen to Moss that resulted in a touchdown (along with Brent Alexander); he was beat by Moss on a 59-yard touchdown throw where he never looked back to make a play on the football; he got beat by Moss again for a 72-yard score where not only did he allowed the completion, but he did not make the tackle; and then he lost his contain responsibilities on Portis’ 19-yard touchdown run. It doesn’t get much worse than that. Now to be fair to Allen, one of the safeties (probably Gibril Wilson) probably screwed up by not helping out on the two long touchdown throws. But still, Allen was in position to make plays on both and did not. Until the touchdown run, Allen had been fairly aggressive in run support although he had problems playing off blocks on those screens.

Curtis Deloatch (0 tackles) was flagged with a pass interference penalty on 3rd-and-4 early on the Redskins’ first drive. He would have been OK on this play had he not wrapped his free arm around the defender’s waist. He didn’t need to do that. Later in this scoring drive, he gave up a 9-yard completion to Moss on 3rd-and-8. I didn’t see him make any more mistakes in coverage, but he was replaced in the lineup in the game by Corey Webster. I can only assume that the coaches were unhappy with his run defense.

Webster (3 tackles) did well, but I would like to see him be more aggressive in run defense.

I don’t think Wilson (8 tackles) played well. I have a sneaky suspicion that he should have been in the picture on the long TD throws to Moss. He also continues to miss important tackles such as when he could not bring Betts down short of the first down on 3rd-and-8 in the third quarter. On the very next play, the Redskins scored from 72 yards out. Wilson did cause one 2-yard loss and looked good on one blitz.

FS Brent Alexander (4 tackles) was too quiet against both the run and the pass.

Somebody screwed up badly (Deloatch?) on the halfback option pass from Portis to Cooley that resulted in a 17-yard touchdown.

Special Teams: PK Jay Feely’s 29-yard blocked field goal was his fault. The kick was far too low and this was a big turning point in the game. A successful kick would have made it a one-point contest.

While Chad Morton could not generate anything on punt returns, he had two very good kickoff returns (one 41-yarder and one 38-yarder).

Punt and kickoff coverage was solid.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Washington Redskins, December 24, 2005)
Dec 222005

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Washington Redskins, December 24, 2005: This is another critically important game for the Giants. If Washington wins their last two games and the Giants lose their last two games, the Redskins will win the NFC East and the Giants may not make the playoffs.

The Redskins played their most impressive game of the season last Sunday in their blowout of the Dallas Cowboys. Toward the end of that game, their fans were shouting, “We want the Giants!”

Bring it on Washington. Let’s see what you got. Let the better team win.

Giants on Offense: The Washington Redskins’ defensive game plan cannot be anything different than this: stop Tiki Barber, particularly on the cutback run; make Eli Manning beat you.

If it is anything different than that, I’d be shocked.

Barber torched Greg Williams’ defense early this for 206 yards rushing. In 2004, Barber rushed for 42 yards (on 18 carries) and 38 yards (on 15 carries) against the Redskins’ defense. So there is precedent for both extremes, that is, Barber having a huge day and the Redskins almost completely shutting him down. It is doubtful that Barber will have anywhere near a 200 yard rushing game again. You’ve got to believe that Redskin defenders have been preached to all week about not getting burned on the cutback run like they did in the first game.

It looks like Luke Petitgout will be back at left tackle this week and David Diehl at left guard. Since Kareem McKenzie (hamstring) hasn’t practiced, expect Bob Whitfield to start at right tackle. This once-again re-mixed offensive line will have to deal with a very aggressive and confusing scheme that likes to both run and pass blitz. The Redskins’ defensive line is the healthiest it has been in some time and defensive tackles Cornelius Griffin and Joe Salave’a can be disruptive against the run. RDE Phillip Daniels is coming off a big game. LDE Renaldo Wynn will like face Whitfield, who does not have a lot of experience at right tackle.

If the Giants are going to win this game, the Giants’ offensive line, tight ends, fullback, and running backs will have to play a very physical and aggressive game. This is going to be an old-fashioned NFC East slugfest and the toughest and most determined team in running the football and stopping the run is going to win the game.

One of the big keys will be limiting the damage that LB Marcus Washington does. He is a play-maker against both the run and the pass. The Redskins love to send him on the blitz, where he is very effective.

If the running game struggles, which it very well could, then the Giants’ fate will be in the hands of Eli Manning. That’s bad news if he doesn’t get his head out of his ass and start hitting open receivers. He’s got to stop thinking so much and focus on delivering the football quickly and accurately to THE MAN THAT IS OPEN. Period. Keep it that simple. Easy progression – if Plaxico or Shockey are covered, dump it off to Tiki. Dump, dump, dump. Tiki will break it. If they cover Tiki, get it to Shockey. If Shockey is covered, get it to Plaxico. They can’t all be covered. I know the game is much more complicated than that, but I really think “Easy Eli” is pressing because he won’t just relax and play his game. Make some plays kid. Be consistent. It’s time. Your team needs you to step it up.

Giants on Defense: As I mentioned above, the team that runs the ball and stops the run will prevail. The bad news for the Giants is that they have been dreadful against the run the past two weeks. And the Redskins sure can run the football with HB Clinton Portis – much more effectively than when the Giants first faced them earlier this season. Making matters worse are the injuries: Pierce (out), Emmons (doubtful), Phifer (questionable + no clue about the Giants’ system and personnel). Torbor, Greisen, and Blackburn are not the most athletic group in the world and the Redskins are going to test them not only on the edges, but run right at them – just like Chiefs did. This is a scary match-up for New York.

Life can be made much easier for the linebackers if the defensive line shows up this week. Last week, they were practically invisible. Strahan will once again battle one of his toughest foes, RT Jon Jansen. DE Osi Umenyiora had a good game against Chris Samuels earlier in the season, but he was terrible last week. The Giants need him to rebound in a big way, particularly against the run. Inside, the Redskins will miss OG Randy Thomas, who suffered a broken ankle last week. The defensive tackles, particularly Clancy, need to take advantage of this. Be tough and physical. Get mean and nasty. The Redskins think you are soft – prove them wrong. Stuff that running game!

The keys to defending the Redskins’ passing attack are (1) watch out for the bootleg passes by Brunell (Patrick Ramsey burned the Giants with these in DC last year), (2) focus your secondary coverage on Santana Moss, particularly on the wide receiver screens (sure tackling is absolutely critical), and (3) cover TE/H-Back Chris Cooley. Moss is the big play man. He can beat you deep on a fly pattern or catch a short pass and break it on those wide receiver screens. But it is Cooley who keeps the drives alive and who scores in the red zone, along with TE Mike Sellers. Cooley and Sellers have a combined 12 touchdown receptions and both always seemed to get lost in traffic on the goal line. Shut down Moss and Cooley and you shut down the passing attack.

And if the Redskins are going to pull out a gadget play, this is the game to do it. The defense must be aggressive, but disciplined.

Giants on Special Teams: PK Jay Feely is going to be on the spot to hit pressure kicks in a hostile environment again.

Antonio Brown has given the Redskins a real spark as a returner, particularly on kickoffs. He can do a lot of damage. The Giants must keep him under control.

I have no idea what has happened to the Giants’ return game, but Chad Morton has a shot here to hurt his former team. Let’s give the guy some room to operate! It’s time for that wedge to start creating some big lanes for Morton…let’s see the big guys up front knock some folks out of the way.

Dec 202005
New York Giants 27 – Kansas City Chiefs 17

Game Overview: Needless to say this was a huge win for the Giants. Most pundits predicted the Chiefs to win this game and the G-Men went out and once again proved the doubters wrong. The victory, combined with Dallas’ defeat, gives the Giants’ a two-game lead in the NFC East with two games to play. It also helped the Giants to reassert their primacy in home games, finishing the regular season 8-1 at the Meadowlands. As we all know, the Giants had been dreadful in recent years in home games.

But there is much work to be done. A very dangerous and now-confident Washington Redskins team awaits. If the Giants don’t take care of business in Maryland on Saturday, their best laid plans could be all for naught.

Running Backs: There can be no doubt now that Tiki Barber is the finest running back in the history of the New York Giants. Barber holds just about every meaningful running back record in the Giants’ history books. For example, on Saturday, not only did he tie Rodney Hampton for the Giants’ career rushing touchdowns record with 49, but he broke the Giants’ single-season rushing record for the second year in a row (being the first Giant to surpass 1,500 yards for two years in a row), and now owns the single-game rushing record (220 yards).

Barber was magnificent on Saturday. What is most astonishing about his 29-carry, 220-yard effort was that he was held to 13 yards on his first 10 carries of the game. In other words, his final 19 carries picked up 207 yards. If you subtract the three carries for nine yards when the Giants were merely trying to run out the clock and get him the record (somewhat of a foolish injury risk if you ask me), then the bulk of his productivity was when he rushed 16 times for 198 yards (12.4 yards per carry).

Barber ran with vision. Barber ran will elusiveness. Barber ran with power. In a game with Barber highlight runs, the finest was his 41-yard scamper for a touchdown in the second quarter. On this play, Barber cut back and shifted through traffic near the line of scrimmage. He broke one tackle just past the line, then weaved and ran through four more attempted tacklers en route to his finest touchdown run as a pro. Much of Tiki’s damage on Saturday came on cutback runs designed to take advantage of an overaggressive Chiefs’ defense that had not allowed an opposing running back to top 100 yards rushing in 20 games. But Tiki was not just impressive in the open field, he picked up some very tough yardage in short-yardage situations with power and second effort. In the third quarter, he dramatically changed the momentum of the game back in favor of the Giants’ with his 55-yard sprint down the right sideline that set up the Giants for a go-ahead field goal. The final highlight was his 20-yard touchdown run to seal the game when he carried a Kansas City defensive back five yards into the end zone for the score.

In a sport filled with prima donnas, Tiki carries himself as an All-Pro both on and off the field. He’s a class act and one of the greatest players in franchise history.

FB Jim Finn blocked very well once again. He’s an underrated player by most Giants’ fans.

Offensive Line: You could not have hoped for a better performance from a makeshift group that started Bob Whitfield at left tackle, Rich Seubert at left guard, Shaun O’Hara at center, Chris Snee at right guard, and David Diehl at right tackle. There were only two penalties (one false start on Diehl and an unnecessary roughness penalty on O’Hara). Pass protection was mostly solid as the Giants only gave up one sack (allowed by Diehl) and a few pass pressures (one contributing to the lone interception). The Chiefs blitzed quite a bit and the line picked it up. The run blocking was outstanding, as evidenced by the 228 yards of rushing by the halfbacks. And the run blocking was strong across the board. The Giants cutback to the left with great success and they ran straight ahead to their right with great success. Snee and O’Hara looked sharp when pulling. My chief complaint is the line needs to do a better job of hitting moving targets on screen plays. Too many times, opposing tacklers are running by the blockers to get to Tiki.

I also want to make special mention of Rich Seubert. Seubert did not play a perfect game but what stood out to me, as it did before Seubert was tragically injured two years ago, is his hustle. On Barber’s 41-yard touchdown run, Seubert was as far down field blocking for Barber as were the wide receivers. Seubert never assumed, like the Chiefs did, that Barber’s run was over. He hustled and while the block he made did not impact the play, it was a testament to the man’s resiliency. It reminded me of the play in 2002 when Seubert was far down field blocking on Barber’s 44-yard touchdown run against Tom Coughlin’s Jacksonville Jaguars.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey’s major contribution this week was his run blocking. He was excellent in the run-blocking department. He only had three receptions in the game, but the first one was a key 7-yard catch on 3rd-and-7 that kept alive the initial Giants’ scoring drive. He also had a 17-yard reception that enabled the Giants to get into field goal range right before halftime. Shockey did drop one ball early in the game. He also could not reel in what would have been a tough catch in traffic on a perfect throw from Manning deep down the middle of the field. Shockey gave up one pass pressure.

Wide Receivers: I again want to highlight the blocking. The downfield blocking supplied by Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer was outstanding and critical in enabling some of Barber’s longer runs to occur. For example, on Tiki’s 41-yard touchdown, Plaxico actually got a piece of three potential tacklers and Amani another. Toomer got a downfield block on Barber’s 55-yard run as did Burress on Barber’s 20-yard touchdown run. Fine work!

In the pass receiving department, it is interesting to note that the ball is starting to go more and more in Amani Toomer’s direction. Toomer (5 catches for 69 yards and one touchdown) made a huge play when he caught an intermediate pass over the middle from Manning early in the fourth quarter, fought through two tacklers while appearing to keep to his feet, and then broke into the open for a 31-yard score that gave the Giants a 10-point lead. Toomer looked sharp over the middle early in the game such as his 15-yard reception on 3rd-and-12.

Plaxico Burress (2 catches for 34 yards) is getting open, but Manning is missing him and Burress’ frustration is starting to build. Burress’ biggest catch was his 15-yard reception on 3rd-and-4 on the Giants’ last touchdown drive. However, in fighting for extra yardage, Burress was waving the football around like a pennant; he’s got to protect the football better.

Tim Carter had a couple of passes thrown in his direction, making a nice reception on a high throw by Manning, helping the Giants to set up a field goal right before halftime. However, he could not come down with what would have been a difficult catch on 3rd-and-4.

Quarterback: I’ve explained in previous game reviews why I think fans need to temper expectations with Manning. But from here on out, I will merely report on what occurs on the field. Manning did not play well again. While not hurting his team, he certainly was not a chief contributor to the win. The problems remain the same: he is not seeing the field, not seeing open receivers while throwing at covered receivers. Or he is making the correct read, but making an inaccurate throw. Sometimes this is not his fault. For example, on the interception, O’Hara did not pick up the stunting defender and Manning could not step into his throw and the ball was underthrown. This should have been a touchdown pass to Burress had the protection held up and Manning was accurate.

And there are some bright spots. Manning is starting to check down to Barber more often and it is having positive results, especially in some crucial third down situations against the Chiefs. He did a good job of avoiding pressure and sacks in the pocket, while at the same time sometimes delivering the ball very accurately under duress. But he did miss Burress a number of times on occasions where big plays should have resulted. He missed Shockey and Toomer badly right before halftime. The angriest I was with Manning was his almost-pick on 2nd-and-3 from the Giants 41-yard line with seven and a half minutes in the game. Shockey was well-covered on a short route and Manning took the chance that Shockey would peel back to the inside. He didn’t and the Giants are fortunate that the linebacker dropped the football. If he hadn’t the Chiefs would have had the football in Giants’ territory, only trailing by three points.

Defensive Line/Linebackers: I am at somewhat of a loss to explain how the Giants held the Chiefs to 17 points. The Chiefs’ offensive line and tight ends controlled the line of scrimmage. There was very little pass pressure and the Chiefs rushed for 188 yards on the ground. The Chiefs had four legitimate drives in the first half. One was halted with the assist of two back-to-back false start penalties; the second was halted via good defense; the third was a 14-play, 81-yard drive where a quality goal line stand forced a field goal; and the fourth ended with a turnover. Before the Giants pulled away late in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs had four more possessions in the second half. The first was a 5-play touchdown drive; on the second, the Chiefs moved from the 2-yard line to the Giants’ 40-yard line before the drive stalled; the third ended with a three-and-out; and the fourth with an 8-play touchdown drive.

The optimists will tell me that I’m being too harsh, especially considering the quality of the Chiefs’ offense and the fact that the team only surrendered 17 points. But the Giants’ front seven played miserably if you ask me. On the defensive line, Michael Strahan (3 tackles) and Osi Umenyiora (4 tackles) were practically invisible on the pass rush. Worse, Umenyiora was dreadful against the run. Strahan gave up two big runs to his side, although he was held on one of these. I saw occasional flashes from DT Fred Robbins (3 tackles). Kendrick Clancy (2 tackles) made a couple of plays against the run, did not make a consistent impact. Kenderick Allen (2 tackles) did pick up a sack.

The linebackers may have been worse. I thought the starting trio of Nick Greisen, Chase Blackburn, and Reggie Torbor looked sluggish. And they certainly had problems disengaging from blocks, especially Greisen and Blackburn. In my opinion, Greisen (7 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) played a terrible game. There were times that he so badly misread the play that he was still running away from the football while everyone on defense was chasing it. And too many times, especially on runs at the perimeter, he got wired to blocks. To his credit, he made a nice play on the goal line in run defense to save a touchdown. Blackburn (9 tackles) has more of a built-in excuse as this really was his first NFL action at linebacker. And he improved slightly as the game wore on. However, he too got wired to quite a few blocks and did not look like the most athletic guy in the world out there on the field. Torbor (3 tackles) did not see as much time as he was pulled from the field when the Chiefs went with three wide receivers. He did make one play for negative yardage against HB Larry Johnson – a rarity on Saturday.

The Redskins have got to be licking their chops to get at this group. The biggest insult you can give a defense is calling it soft. The Giants have been soft for two weeks in a row on defense.

Defensive Backs: One of the big reasons the Chiefs may not have scored more is that the secondary played pretty well again. QB Trent Green only completed nine passes for 108 yards to Chiefs’ wide receivers. And TE Tony Gonzalez was held to 51 yards on four catches. My biggest complaint is that run support from the secondary was lacking for the second week in a row. Too many players were not reading the running play, getting wired to blocks, or missing tackles.

SS Gibril Wilson (12 tackles) gave up a couple of important plays to Gonzalez, but he did a good job on him. Wilson did get beat for 12 yards on 3rd-and-3 on the first Chiefs’ scoring drive. He also got beat, despite tight coverage, for 25 yards on 3rd-and-6 on the last Chiefs’ touchdown drive. And despite his high tackle total, he badly missed some open-field tackles. Still, given the quality of his opponent, he did a good job.

CB Will Allen (3 tackles) continues to play very good football. CB Corey Webster (2 tackles, 1 pass defense, 1 forced fumble) may have played his best game as a pro. He defended one early sideline pass perfectly, had a late interception erased due to a penalty, and forced another late fumble.

CB Curtis Deloatch (6 tackles, 1 pass defense, 1 forced fumble) made a number of mistakes. He got beat for a 24-yard reception over the middle, but redeemed himself by forcing a fumble on the play. He gave up a 20-yarder early in the third quarter despite tight coverage. He also gave up a 6-yard completion on 3rd-and-4 and a 13-yard reception on 3rd-and-5. In the fourth quarter, his 20-yard pass interference penalty put the ball on the Giants’ 1-yard line. On the positive side, he made a nice play by knocking away a pass to WR Eddie Kennison. For a big corner, Deloatch is not much of a run defender.

FS Brent Alexander (8 tackles, 1 pass defense, 1 fumble recovery) was active, but he too needs to be more forceful against the run. He missed a couple of tackles. But he also made a big statement hit in the game and recovered a fumble.

Safety James Butler (2 tackles, 1 interception) continues to see quality playing time. He picked off a pass late. He also got some heat on one blitz.

Special Teams: The Giants coverage units did a great job of defending explosive kick/punt returner Dante Hall, who only returned two punts for seven yards and was held under 22 yards per kickoff return.

Jeff Feagles deserves credit for helping to keep Hall in check on punt returns. His three punts only averaged 39 yards, but two were downed inside the 20 and they had good height and direction.

Jay Feely hit both his 41- and 35-yard field goals, but the former was very close. His kickoffs in the cold were not great.

I thought Chad Morton showed more life as a kickoff returner this week, although he could only manage 23.5 yards per kickoff return. He only fielded one punt for -4 yards.

David Tyree came close to blocking a punt.

(Box Score – Kansas City Chiefs at New York Giants, December 17, 2005)
Dec 152005

Approach to the Game – Kansas City Chiefs at New York Giants, December 17, 2005: This is going to be a tough game for the Giants to win. The Giants are facing one of the most dangerous offense’s in the league without their on-field defensive orchestrator and best linebacker – Antonio Pierce. He will not only be missed in run defense against HB Larry Johnson, but also in pass coverage against TE Tony Gonzalez. The Giants’ own ability to run and pass will be hampered by the injury situation at both tackle spots. Even if they play, LT Luke Petitgout and RT Kareem McKenzie will be nowhere near 100 percent.

This is a “must” game for the Chiefs. If they lose, they won’t make the playoffs. But it is a critically important game for the Giants as well. It’s the last regular season home game. In order to win the division – and possibly even make the playoffs – the Giants will probably have to win two of the next three games. The “must” win for the Giants is the game against the Redskins in Washington. Personally, I would hate to see the Giants put in a position where they will have to beat the Raiders on New Year’s Eve and give Kerry Collins a chance at sweet revenge.

Giants on Offense: The Chiefs are going to score on offense and quite possibly score a lot so the Giants need to get their offense turned around and start putting up some serious points again. The problem is that not only are both tackles gimpy and questionable, but Eli Manning hasn’t been real sharp as of late. Look, it’s really quite simple. If the Giants are going to win the division and make some noise in the playoffs, Manning has to step it up. If he doesn’t, then the Giants and their fans will have to focus on next season. The team has to stop worrying about making mistakes and just go out there and play. If things don’t go well right way, Shockey and Burress have to stop sulking and make a play. Because, ultimately, it’s going to come down to the playmakers on the team – Manning, Barber, Shockey, and Burress.

It will be interesting to see how the Giants start off this game offensively. If we see a lot of Tiki Barber early, it might point to a strategy of trying to win the time of possession battle and keeping the Chiefs’ offense off the field. However, a heavy run-centric strategy is not usually conducive to scoring a lot of points. And Coughlin has been reluctant to reign in Manning despite his inexperience.

This is a game where the Giants need another 10-catch, 100+ yard effort from Shockey. And Burress has been far too quiet in recent weeks. The safeties of the Chiefs are ordinary at best in pass coverage and while the linebacking corps has some talent, it also has had some issues in coverage. Right corner Eric Warfield is an average player who Burress should be able to make some plays on. Left corner Patrick Surtain is a quality player. If the Chiefs leave him on Toomer, he may shut Toomer down, allowing the Chiefs to provide help for Warfield on Burress. If that happens, Manning must go to Shockey (which he did a lot last week) or Barber (which he does not do enough). As we have seen, Barber can take a short dump off and break a big gain – Manning needs to recognize that fact.

The primary concern up front is right defensive end Jared Allen, who has 10 sacks. He’s either going to be facing a gimpy Petitgout or an over-the-hill Bob Whitfield, who struggles at times in pass protection. The Giants may need to keep a tight end or back in to help out here. The problem is that the defensive coordinator for the Chiefs loves to blitz so the bigger question is where to plan to plug the dyke. Opposing teams have been blitzing Eli more up the middle in order to keep him out-of-rhythm and force him to throw off his back foot.

My strategy for this game would be to keep it simple for Eli and his receivers. Get the ball to Shockey, Burress, and Barber and let them make plays. When the team gets into the red zone, they must finish drives with touchdowns.

Giants on Defense: The Chiefs are a lot like the Giants in they are a well-balanced offensive football team that can run or throw the football. They have one of the best running backs and tight ends in the league. While the Chiefs’ receiving corps may not be as strong, they have more experience and mobility at the quarterback position. Even with Pierce, this would be a tough game. Without him, the Giants’ defense may find itself back on its heels.

As always, the primary key will be to limit the amount of damage the opposition does with its running game. Larry Johnson is a tough, durable interior runner. Where he sometimes gets in trouble is if you make him hesitate. The players on the spot really are going to be the defensive tackles (Kendrick Clancy, Fred Robbins, and Kenderick Allen) and the linebackers (minus Pierce). These two groups did not play very well last week. This week’s challenge will be different. While the Eagles attacked the perimeter of the Giants’ defense, the Chiefs will probably go at the middle far more. And to be honest, the history of Clancy, Robbins, and Allen playing the power running game has been spotty. At times they have done well; other times not. And with Greisen being in there and not being as instinctive or smart as Pierce, the Chiefs have to think they can pound the ball up inside. At the same time, Kansas City also probably noticed that the Eagles were able to get to the edge against Osi Umenyiora, Carlos Emmons, and the defensive backs on the weakside. Umenyiora will face LT Willie Roaf. Roaf is 35 years old but still a quality player. However, he has had some issues with speed rushers in the past. The key for Umenyiora, though, is to also play stout run defense against the big veteran.

The Giants also need a big game from DE Michael Strahan against RT John Welbourn. Inside, Clancy has the toughest assignment against future Hall of Famer RG Will Shields. Shields is not the player he used to be, but he is still very good. LG Brian Waters made the Pro Bowl in 2004 and he will face both Robbins and Allen. Casey Wiegmann is one of the better centers in the league.

Not having Pierce will make it much harder to cover All-Pro TE Tony Gonzalez (64 catches, 737 yards, 2 touchdowns). Where the Giants would have been comfortable leaving Pierce on him, you have to believe that leaving Greisen on him makes them nervous. So look for Gibril Wilson to be used much more in coverage on the tight end, as well as both outside linebackers. Reggie Torbor will be on the spot – let’s hope the practice reps against Shockey have done him good. Gonzalez is not only the security blanket for QB Trent Green, but like Shockey, one of the Chiefs’ primary game-breakers. Covering him is the key to the pass defense (along with the pass rush of course).

The primary wide receiver is Eddie Kennison (56 catches, 911 yards, 5 touchdowns), who will Allen will likely cover most of the time. Kennison is a fast, deep threat who doesn’t tend to work the middle of the field real well. Curtis Deloatch will likely see more of Sammie Parker (25 catches). Small but nifty and quick Dante Hall (28 catches) is the third receiver.

Trent Green is more of an intermediate passer than a downfield thrower. He has decent, but not great arm strength. What makes him dangerous is his accuracy and he has some mobility to his game and will pick up some key first downs with his feet. But Green will hold onto the football and the Giants need to take advantage of this in the pass rush department. Get after his ass.

Quite simple. Stop the run, cover Gonzalez, get after Green. But it is easier said than done.

Giants on Special Teams: The Giants’ special teams has not been playing very well as a complete unit in since the first half of the season. The Giants need to get their own punt and kickoff return game going again. Period. It’s time to break one.

The big concern on special teams this week is obvious – kick and punt returner Dante Hall who is one of the most explosive returners in the history of the league. He is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the football. Jay Feely and Jeff Feagles need to kick the ball high and deep, and the coverage units need to stay in their lanes and make sure tackles.

Dec 142005
New York Giants 26 – Philadelphia Eagles 23 (OT)

Game Overview: The Giants are extremely fortunate to have won this game. Had they lost it, with teams such as the Cowboys, Redskins, Vikings, Buccaneers, and Falcons winning, the Giants would have been in a far more precarious playoff situation.

The Giants survived another rocky outing by QB Eli Manning. What was not expected was to see an injury-depleted Eagle offense put up 23 points on what had been a stingy Giants’ defense. There is no excuse for that.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m ecstatic that the Giants swept the Eagles and are still in first place in the NFC East. But the Giants have to start playing better right now if they are going to make the playoffs and make some noise in the post-season. If the team continues to sputter along like this, it’s going to cost them dearly.

The real bad news coming out of the game were the injures to MLB Antonio Pierce (high ankle sprain), DT William Joseph (high ankle sprain), LT Luke Petitgout (chronic back problems), and RT Kareem McKenzie (hamstring). Losing Pierce or Petitgout for any length of time would be particularly damaging.

Coaching: I don’t agree at all with Coughlin’s decisions to accept a holding penalty instead of a 7-yard sack by Michael Strahan. This didn’t hurt the Giants, but it was a strange decision. I also did not agree with Coughlin’s decision to not accept the offensive pass interference penalty right before David Akers 42-yard field goal – which he made.

Officiating: Dreadful once again. HB Brandon Jacobs was clearly in the end zone on one and perhaps both of his goal line runs. CB Will Allen was clearly clipped at the point-of-attack on HB Ryan Moats’ 40-yard touchdown run. RG Chris Snee had his helmet ripped off his head, but no penalty was called. MLB Antonio Pierce was injured on a play where an Eagle blocker wrapped his arms around his neck and was twisted to the ground – again no penalty. And I spotted a number of running plays where the Eagles got away with flagrant holds. TE Jeremy Shockey was mugged much of the day. And while the officiating favored the Eagles, the officials also helped the Giants such as when HB Tiki Barber was carried into the end zone by OC Shaun O’Hara. How can the League defend such ineptitude week in and week out?

Offense: The most glaring deficiency was being forced to settle for three short field goals instead of touchdowns. It’s not so much the play-calling, but the lack of execution. On the first effort, there was a penalty, pass pressure, and a dropped pass. On the second, Tiki lost a yard, Manning threw a fade too soon to Shockey, and an Eagle defender made a nice play on a fade to WR Plaxico Burress. On the third effort, Barber was stuffed on 3rd-and-2 as the Giants’ center was pushed backwards. While the Giants rushed for 138 yards against a tough defense, the Eagles stymied the Giants on a number of key short-yardage efforts.

Quarterback: The impression that the media, many fans, and even the quarterback himself have of Manning’s game was that he played alright for three and a half quarters, then made some mistakes. I don’t really agree with that assessment. I think Manning got lucky in the first half of the game as there were three throws that could have been picked off and returned for touchdowns. If you take away those three plays, then I would have been left with a more positive feeling. On the flip side, the last interception Manning threw, the one in overtime, was not his fault as he was hit as he released the football.

It’s frustrating watching Manning right now because you see glimpses of excellent play, followed by costly mistakes. Everyone would like to somehow accelerate the learning curve, but that isn’t really possible. Probably a year or two from now, many of us will forget he was even like this. Many fans correctly observe that if Manning was playing at a much higher level, the Giants would have a decent shot at the Super Bowl. But one can’t manufacture experience. That only comes with playing and learning.

Manning finished the game 28-of-44 for 312 yards, one touchdown rushing, one touchdown passing, and three interceptions. He did a very good job of completing passes on third down to keep drives alive. The Giants scored on their first drive of the game as Manning completed 6-of-8 passes to four different receivers (none of them wide receivers). He read the blitz well and called out blocking adjustments. Manning also got rid of the ball quickly when he had to. Aside from the almost interceptions in the first half, his biggest mistake was taking a 13-yard sack on 3rd-and-13 from the Eagles’ 25-yard line. This put the Giants outside of field goal range and forced a punt.

One thing that I have noticed about Manning is that he has a bit of chuck-and-duck in his play. Unlike Phil Simms, he would stand in there and get creamed when delivering the football, Manning looks to protect himself if he sees a free rusher coming at him. This almost hurt him in the first half as he tossed up a floater to Shockey that was almost picked off. The inaccuracy also remains a cause for concern. Manning really makes his receivers fight for the football at times.

Manning played well on the Giants’ first drive of the second half, completing five passes in a row. However, his fade to Shockey in the end zone was thrown too soon and the defensive back made a nice play on his second fade to Burress (which was a well-thrown ball).

The memory that sticks with many is the three late interceptions. Leading by three points with 3:35 to go in the game, Manning badly missed WR Amani Toomer on a throw down the field where it appeared that Shockey ran the wrong route and was in the same area. “Amani ended up being open. I threw it a little behind him and high. Just a bad throw and a bad decision,” Manning said. “In that situation, if something is not wide open, if something is not a clear lane, that’s when you take a sack or throw it away.” The turnover provided the Eagles with a short field to set up the game-tying field goal that sent the game into overtime.

The Giants got the ball back with 1:52 left on the clock. Manning completed four straight passes and had his fifth one dropped. Facing 2nd-and-10 from the Eagle 46-yard line with 37 seconds left, Manning badly overthrew an open Shockey down the middle of the field and the pass was intercepted. “I made the right read,” Manning said. “He had a step on him. I just threw it a little high. Just a bad throw.” The last interception, the one in overtime, was not Manning’s fault as he was hit as he threw and errant pass was the result. Earlier on this drive, Manning made a great play by somehow avoiding the free blitzer, stepping up into the pocket, and hitting Shockey for a 12-yard pass on 3rd-and-7.

Wide Receivers: Plaxico Burress was surprisingly quiet (two catches for 37 yards). He caught one big pass for 27 yards on 3rd-and-6 on the field goal drive in the second quarter. Amani Toomer was more active with six catches for 54 yards, but his longest reception was only 14 yards. Tim Carter had one catch for 14 yards and picked up four yards on an end around.

Tight End: Shockey had his second 10-catch, 100+ yards game in three weeks. What’s even more amazing is that 20 of Manning’s 44 throws were in Shockey’s direction. His longest catch was a 28 yarder on the opening drive, coming on 3rd-and-4. Shockey also came up big late in the 4th quarter and in overtime when the Giants were trying to get into field goal range with four catches for 38 yards. The negatives were that he did drop two passes and should have attacked the football on the pass that Manning floated that was almost picked off. Shockey’s blocking was good. He got a good block on Barber’s 26-yard run down to the 1-yard line of the Eagles.

Visanthe Shiancoe doubled his season pass total with two receptions for 15 yards. However, he was flagged with a false start.

Running Backs: If it were not for Tiki Barber, the Giants would have easily lost this game. He gained 195 yards rushing and receiving on the day (32 carries for 124 yards and five catches for 71 yards and a touchdown). Quietly, he’s having another big season. Barber had two big plays on Sunday. The first was a 26-yard run down to the 1-yard line of the Eagles. On this play, Tiki broke two tackles and carried two more defenders, including FS Brian Dawkins, for extra yardage. The second was a 32-yard gain after a short pass from Manning. After the catch, Barber cut across the field, and avoided two tacklers, setting up a field goal. Barber also had a 16-yard gain on a 3rd-and-10 screen pass that helped to set up a short field goal. Barber had an amazing 5-yard run late in the 4th quarter where he should have been tackled for no gain, but cut back through heavy traffic. Barber was tasked with blocking the defensive end on the play where Manning was intercepted in overtime, but he did not make the block and his man caused the errant throw.

Brandon Jacobs carried the ball twice down on the goal line on 2nd- and 3rd-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Both times he was ruled stopped short of the end zone. However, I thought he scored on both, and was sure he scored on the second attempt.

Derrick Ward had one carry for two yards; he also dropped a pass inside the red zone.

The Giants continue to use FB Jim Finn more and more as a safety valve receiver. He had a key 7-yard reception on 3rd-and-6 on the Giants’ first touchdown drive. Finn blocked well.

Offensive Line: The good news is that despite losing both starting tackles in the first half of the game, the Giants still managed to field a starting front five that did a reasonable job against a notoriously aggressive and confusing defensive scheme to block. After Luke Petitgout (back) and Kareem McKenzie (hamstring) left the game, the new look line had Bob Whitfield at left tackle, Jason Whittle at left guard, Shaun O’Hara at center, Chris Snee at right guard, and David Diehl at right tackle. In other words, only two guys were left standing at their original positions. With this line, the Giants rushed for over 100 yards and no sacks (the one sack came on a safety blitz where no one was responsible for the safety).

The bad news was that Whitfield was very shaky at times at left tackle. He was flagged with three false starts and one illegal use of hands penalty. The latter was particularly costly as it moved the Giants back from the Eagle 7-yard line to the 17 and helped to cause the Giants to settle for a field goal. Whitfield also had issues in pass protection at times, and probably got away with a couple of holding calls.

McKenzie was having a good game before he got hurt, particularly with his run blocking. Diehl started off a little shaky at left guard with a couple of missed blocks on Barber carries and a pass pressure. But he also got a good pulling block on Barber’s 26-yard run. Where Diehl really saved the day was with his very solid work at right tackle. He gave up a couple of pressures on the Giants’ first field goal drive of the second half, but he did a good job against a quality opponent in DE Jevon Kearse.

Chris Snee played very well. I only saw three negative plays by Whittle: one false start, one holding penalty, and one play where he was not able to knock the middle linebacker out of the hole on a Barber carry that was stuffed. Shaun O’Hara was just OK. He got pushed back and allowed penetration on a few running plays (including the 3rd-and-2 play from the Eagle 9-yard line) and had he blocked someone on Barber’s 3rd-and-10 screen pass from the Philly 23-yard line, Barber probably would have scored. Instead, the Giants settled for a field goal.

Defense: The defense really kept this game closer than it should have been. The Giants scored on three of their first four possessions. The Philly crowd was quiet to start the game and ready to turn on the home team. But the defense allowed the Eagles to score 17 first half points and gave the opposing team and fans something dangerous – hope. That is dreadful when you consider who was missing from the Eagle offense. The Giants did not play inspired defense, even before Pierce was hurt. The Eagles rushed for 175 yards. 175 yards!!!

Defensive Line: Late-game heroics do not erase the fact that the defensive line did not play all that well. The Eagles were able to run in the direction of DE Osi Umenyiora (6 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble). He was effectively blocked on the 40-yard touchdown run and the 18-yard touchdown run by Moats. Right before the latter score, Umenyiora got to McMahon, but could not bring the quarterback down on a play where McMahon completed a 19-yard pass. Given the fact that he was playing against a back-up left tackle, more was expected. Umenyiora played much better in the second half and overtime against the run, but he also was blocked on the 11-yard run that helped to set up the game-tying field goal late in the 4th quarter. In overtime, Osi got a pass pressure that forced an incomplete pass and made the biggest play of the game on defense when he stripped McMahon of the football, setting up the game-winning field goal.

Michael Strahan (3 tackles, 3 sacks – one erased when the Giants accepted a holding penalty) was too quiet early in the first half, but really stepped it up in the second half. Strahan ran over his old adversary Jon Runyan in the third quarter for a 7-yard sack, but Coughlin accepted the holding penalty on the fullback instead. Strahan got pressure on the very next play when DT Fred Robbins sacked McMahon. On the Eagles’ first field goal scoring drive in the second half, Strahan pressured McMahon again and then picked up a coverage sack on the following play. He also hit McMahon on the very next play despite a 35-yard completion. On the Eagles’ first drive in overtime, Strahan came up huge as he pressured McMahon on a play where he was sacked by SS Gibril Wilson. Then two plays later, Strahan beat Runyan and chased down McMahon across the field for an 8-yard sack on 3rd-and-12, forcing a punt.

William Joseph was lost very early due to a high ankle sprain. Kendrick Clancy (1 tackle), Fred Robbins (4 tackles, 1.5 sacks), and Kenderick Allen (0 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) all played a lot. As he has been for the last couple of games, Justin Tuck (1 tackle) also saw some time at defensive tackle. Robbins had the best game as his 1.5 sacks would indicate. He split a sack with Umenyiora early in the second quarter and was unblocked on his full sack in the third quarter. At times, he looked good against the run and flashed good hustle. But he also missed a tackle on a key 8-yard run on the Eagles’ first field goal drive of the second half. He did help to force a holding penalty on the last Eagles’ possession before overtime. Clancy and Allen did not play well. Clancy did cause a holding penalty three plays before the Eagle turnover in overtime. Allen did recover the fumble in overtime that set up the game-winning kick.

Tuck was up and down. He flashed good pursuit on one running play and caused a holding penalty on a passing play. He also got good pressure on McMahon on a play where a 20-yard completion was the result. But he was effectively blocked at the point-of-attack on Moats’ 20-yard run On the drive right before overtime, he got killed from the defensive tackle position on a running play and then missed the back on a critical 6-yard gain a few plays later.

Linebackers: Not a good game. I was most disappointed with Carlos Emmons (3 tackles) who got effectively blocked on too many big plays, including the 40-yard touchdown run, the 18-yard touchdown run, and an 11-yard run on the drive that tied the game late. He also missed a couple of tackles, including a costly one on a 12-yard gain by the back after a short pass right before the 42-yard field goal before halftime (Emmons was also blocked on the 9-yard run on the running play before this).

Before he was injured, Pierce got beat on a 22-yard completion to TE L.J. Smith on the Eagles’ first touchdown drive. Nick Greisen (4 tackles, 1 pass defense) was far too quiet inside as Pierce’s replacement. He did cause a holding penalty by the fullback on the play where Strahan’s sack was erased. He also knocked away a pass on the play before Ackers’ successful 50-yard field goal that tied the game late.

Reggie Torbor (1 tackle) was practically invisible. He got blocked on the 20-yard gain by Moats on the second Eagles’ touchdown drive.

Defensive Backs: My biggest problem with the defensive backs was not their pass defense (coverage was mostly solid), but their run defense. Too often, defensive backs were effectively blocked on running plays or nowhere to be seen. For example, SS Gibril Wilson got crushed on Moats’ 40-yard touchdown run. And CB Curtis Deloatch got blocked at the point-of-attack on Moats’ 11-yard run on the drive that tied the game late in the 4th quarter.

CB Will Allen (1 tackle, 3 pass defenses) knocked away a few passes, including an intermediate strike into the endzone that saved a touchdown. But he did get beat by WR Reggie Brown on a 19-yard gain on the play before the Eagles’ second touchdown run. Allen was flagged with a defensive holding penalty.

CB Curtis Deloatch (3 tackles, 2 pass defenses) played far better than when these two teams last met. He got flagged with a somewhat questionable 11-yard pass interference penalty. Deloatch should have intercepted an errant throw by McMahon two plays before the Eagles’ first field goal in the 4th quarter.

CB Corey Webster (5 tackles) got beat for seven yards on a 3rd-and-5 play in the third quarter. In the 4th quarter, he had excellent coverage on a 3rd-and-10 pass down the right sideline, but he did not intercept or knock the ball away and a 35-yard completion was the result. This was a big play in the ball game as it allowed the Eagles to cut the Giants’ lead to three points late in the game.

Wilson (5 tackles, 1 sack, 2 pass defenses) caused one incompletion on a 3rd-and-9 play with a big hit. However, Wilson did get beat by WR Billy McMullen for a 34-yard gain down the middle of the field in the 3rd quarter. He knocked away another pass intended for McMullen later in the quarter. After an initial pressure by Strahan, Wilson also flew up in a hurry to dump McMahon for a big sack in overtime.

FS Brent Alexander (6 tackles, 3 pass defenses) almost came down with an interception on a pass down the middle in the third quarter. Alexander’s biggest play of the game was his sure tackle for no gain on a screen pass right before the Eagles turned the ball over in overtime.

Special Teams: PK Jay Feely was 4-for-4. Granted that the first three were short field goals (24, 21, and 27 yards), but the 36-yarder in overtime was a pressure kick. His kickoffs were pretty good too, with three reaching the end zone (two touchbacks).

Jeff Feagles punted twice for a 35 yards-per-punt average. The first was a sub-par 26-yarder that went out of bounds at the Eagle 12-yard line. The second was a 44-yarder that got returned 28 yards and set up a tying field goal right before halftime. Poor coverage.

Kickoff coverage was OK, allowing 24.4 yards per return.

The Giants’ kickoffs were not good. Willie Ponder averaged only 19 yards on five returns and did not look sharp. Sean Berton was flagged with a holding penalty on one return.

Chad Morton returned two punts – one for 12 yards and one for 7 yards.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, December 11, 2005)
Dec 082005

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, December 11, 2005: The win against the Cowboys was huge, but the Giants could flush down the toilet all of the advantages that game gave them if they lose this week to the Eagles. Anyone predicting that this game will be easy is dead wrong. Yes, the Eagles’ offense looked dreadful on Monday night and yes that offense is missing its most important components. But the Eagles still play very good defense, as indicated by the fact that they held Seattle to less than 200 yards of offense. The points in the Seattle game came mostly off of turnovers and you can’t expect the Eagles to do that again.

There are a number of reasons why this game will be close: (1) it’s a division game, (2) the Eagles got embarrassed and will look to redeem themselves, (3) they have a good defense and special teams, and (4) the Giants have not been a model of consistency themselves.

“I’m sure they were embarrassed and I’m sure they’re looking forward to getting back on the field to save face after that game,” says LB Carlos Emmons. “It’s the same feeling we had after the San Diego game. You can’t wait to play again.”

“It puts them in a situation where they can just sell out,” says Tiki Barber. “We’ve been there before. You don’t hold anything back. You don’t have any inhibitions as a play-caller or as a player. You put it all on the line and try to disrupt someone’s season. We have to be wary of that as we head down there.”

Prepare for a dogfight. Nothing ever comes easy for the Giants.

Giants on Offense: The Giants struggled offensively against the Eagles on November 20th because the Eagles’ defense were more physical on the line of scrimmage, largely keeping the running game in check except for one 55-yard run by Barber. On the other 20 runs by Barber, he was held to under three yards per carry. Worse, Manning was sacked five times and under duress much of the game.


The Giants need to do a much better job up front in blocking the Eagles. In particular, RT Kareem McKenzie really needs to step up his game. He struggled with DE Jevon Kearse in November, as did LT Luke Petitgout against rookie DE Trent Cole and veteran N.D. Kalu. The interior trio also must do a better job of playing more physical and intelligently, especially picking up stunts and blitzes. Unless the offensive line plays better, the offense is going to struggle moving the football.

Eli Manning did not play well last week and it is anyone’s guess as to which Manning will show up in Philadelphia. Keep in mind that Manning has only won one road game in two seasons. And the Giants have not won in Philly since 2000. It is not an easy place to play. Manning needs to remain poised, quickly set up, make sure and sound reads, and get rid of the ball quickly and accurately. Take what the defense gives you and God-forbid, do not make any killer mistakes with turnovers that give the Eagles cheap points. That’s the big worry – turnover touchdowns or giving the Eagles a short field to work with.

Manning needs the help of his teammates too. Not only does the offensive line need to block better, but the Giants’ skill position players need to play well. Tiki needs to break some big runs. The wide receivers need to make some tough catches and gain yards after the catch. And Jeremy Shockey needs to maintain his focus and passion even if the ball isn’t coming his way early in the game.

One thing that would help the Giants out is if they can get the fans in Philadelphia to turn on their own team. In order for that to happen, the Giants need to score early. For four games now, the Giants have been shutout in the first quarter. Let’s score early.

Giants on Defense: On paper, this looks like a complete mismatch. The Giants’ defense is playing well and the Eagles are hurting with the loss of McNabb, Owens, Westbrook, and injuries on their offensive line. But all it takes is for a couple of bad plays for a team to put up 14 points. The Giants’ defense needs to continue to play at a very high level and not give the Eagles any hope on offense. Despite his terrible performance against the Seahawks, QB Mike McMahon threw for almost 300 yards the last time he faced the Giants – and that was at Giants Stadium. He also demonstrated he could hurt the Giants with his feet. TE L.J. Smith caught seven passes for 84 yards in that game and Eagle wide receivers had over 150 yards receiving. The Eagles are still capable of scoring points, and if Manning and the Giants’ offense struggle, the Eagles may not need that many points.

Up front, the Giants’ defensive line needs to dominate. The last time the Giants played the Eagles, the Giants did not sack McMahon and got little pressure. They need to stop the run first and foremost, then get after the quarterback.

In pass coverage, handling L.J. Smith is key. But the Eagles really went after Curtis Deloatch in the last game with great success and Corey Webster also bit badly on a double move for a 44-yard gain.

Don’t give the Eagles any life on offense. Dominate the line of scrimmage and force some turnovers.

Giants on Special Teams: As long as PK Jay Feely is struggling, there is cause for concern. Divisional games often come down to field goals.

I’d like the Giants to come after the Eagle punter again and try to block another punt. The Giants’ return game has not been good in recent weeks. The Giants need to get Chad Morton going.

Coverage on kickoffs and punts will be huge – that’s how the Giants lost the game against the Vikings.

Dec 072005
New York Giants 17 – Dallas Cowboys 10

Game Overview: There is something very comforting to a Giants’ fan to see their team’s defense kick ass and that’s what the Giants’ defense did on Sunday. Dallas really only mounted one viable offensive drive all game as the Giants’ front seven dominated the line of scrimmage, intimidated QB Drew Bledsoe, and largely kept HB Julius Jones in check.

The Giants are all alone atop the NFC East. If they can get the passing game cranked up again and somehow figure out a way for PK Jay Feely to revert back to his earlier season form, this will be a tough team to beat down the stretch. But there are no guarantees and the Giants still could miss the playoffs as they have to prove they can win on the road, with three tough road games remaining.

Quarterback: Let’s get this out of the way first, before I comment on the big picture. Eli Manning (12-of-31 for 152 yards, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions) played like crap on Sunday. He was not helped by a number of untimely dropped passes and inconsistent pass protection, but he needs to do better. On a couple of his incomplete throws, it looked like the intended receiver and Manning were not quite on the same page. His worst series in the first half was right after the Giants recovered a fumble on the Dallas 22-yard line. Manning badly overthrew a wide-open Shockey in the end zone for what should have been a 24-yard touchdown pass. On the very next play, with a rusher in his face, Manning badly underthrew Burress in the end zone and the pass was intercepted. To his credit, Manning did complete a number of key passes on both scoring drives in the first half, including two important passes to Tim Carter.

In the second half, under pressure again, Manning threw an ill-advised pass intended for Burress that was intercepted and returned to the Giants’ 7-yard line. Dallas scored on the next play and cut the Giants’ lead to 17-10. Unfazed, on the very next offensive snap, Manning threw a perfect 52-yard deep pass to Carter that was dropped. In the 4th quarter, the Giants mounted a drive that looked like it might result in points, but the drive stalled when Manning overthrew Shockey, underthrew Toomer, and was pressured into an inaccurate throw on 4th-and-6.

Now let’s turn to the big picture. The amount and type of criticism that Manning is receiving right now from journalists and fans is retarded. In each game review I have written, I have tried to accurately and fairly present the good and the bad in the development of Manning this year. But some folks don’t seem to understand that young quarterbacks who have only played in a handful of games are works in progress. For most, it takes a few years to even begin to start playing near their top level. And I’m not blowing smoke out of my ass based on what has transpired this season; I warned people of this back in the offseason (see my article from July 2005).

The development of a quarterback is not easy. And the progress is not linear. There are ups and downs, something we’ve seen all year with Manning. Fans screaming about his performance on Sunday seem to forget how well he played against Seattle and Philadephia. Before that, he played a terrible game against the Vikings. Fans and journalists complain he isn’t playing as well as he did early in the season. Guess what? The defenses he is facing are better now people! I have no idea what kind of quarterback Manning will eventually evolve into. No one does, unless they have some God-like power to see the future. My guess – based on what I have seen – is that he will be quite good and possibly even great. But to expect him to reach that level without any growing pains is unrealistic at best, and stupid at worst. Manning is still learning how to read NFL defenses, how opposing defensive coordinators are trying to confuse him, and the Giants’ own offensive system. He also is still developing chemistry with his own teammates.

And let’s get one thing straight: Eli Manning is the offensive leader and ringmaster of a team that is 8-4 and in first place in the NFC East. He has thrown 20 touchdowns to 12 interceptions and the Giants are one of the highest-scoring teams in the League. Much of that has occurred BECAUSE of Manning, and not despite him. Manning has demonstrated a coolness under fire and a knack for leading him team from behind that separates ordinary quarterbacks from great ones. You can’t teach that.

Recognize that his development is a growth process and that he will continue to have good and bad games.

Wide Receivers: The wide receiving corps had a very unproductive day. Burress had four catches for 47 yards, Toomer one catch for 8 yards, and Carter two catches for 48 yards. Much of this was on Manning, but the receivers are also to blame. There were times when the receivers and Manning did not seem to be on the same page. And while Carter came up big early with two key catches, he also dropped a perfectly-thrown 52-yard pass right after the Cowboys cut the Giants’ lead to seven points. Later, he didn’t really adjust well to a 3rd-and-3 pass when the Giants were attempting to run out the clock.

Burress did not play well either. He got away with a flagrant hold on one Barber run that picked up 10 yards. Later, he caught a 3rd-and-8 pass short of the first down marker, but was brought down by one of the wimpiest tackles you have ever seen…it was almost as if he knew S Roy Williams was in the area. The Giants were forced to settle for a field goal. Burress was flagged with offensive pass interference on a deep sideline pass when he shoved the defender way of him (this should have been an illegal contact penalty on Dallas) and then dropped the football. Late in the game, when the Giants were attempting to run out the clock, Burress misplayed a well-thrown fade pass by Manning and the Giants were forced to punt.

Toomer also dropped a high pass from Manning on the drive that ended with Feely’s missed field goal.

Tight Ends: Shockey was a virtual non-factor in the game. He caught two passes for 20 yards. His blocking was so-so. He got pushed backwards on one 3rd-and-2 run that lost a yard.

Running Backs: I’ve praised the run blocking of FB Jim Finn in recent weeks, but Sunday was not one of his better efforts. There were too many times when his intended target played off of the block to get in on the tackle of Barber. Finn did have a key 15-yard reception on third down. But Finn dropped a pass too.

Except for one run (a 27-yard, spinning effort), it wasn’t pretty for Barber, but it was effective. Dallas usually dominates the time of possession, but they did not do so on Sunday as Tiki and the offensive line continually hammered the football into a very stout defensive front. The final numbers were 115 yards on 30 carries (3.8 yards-per-carry average). The 27-yarder was a great run because Tiki somehow kept his feet when a low, attempted tackle spun him around as he was getting hit by a second defender. Great run. Some of Tiki’s most productive runs came out of the shotgun. Barber remains sharp on his blitz pick-ups, but he did drop a pass from Manning too.

Brandon Jacobs did well on both of his short-yardage efforts. One resulted in a 1-yard touchdown and the other a 3rd-and-1 conversion.

Offensive Line: A decent effort, but I was not particularly happy with OC Shaun O’Hara (who had fits with NT Jason Ferguson) and RT Kareem McKenzie (who had fits with DE Greg Ellis). Both Ferguson and Ellis caused problems on the pass rush and in run defense despite the fact that the Giants’ OL gave up no sacks (there was one coverage sack) and the team rushed for 127 yards. The Giants’ first drive ended when Manning was under pressure as McKenzie and LG David Diehl allowed immediate pressure. On the second drive, a 3rd-and-2 rushing attempt was stuffed when O’Hara was pushed way back into the backfield. Barber later lost two yards, when McKenzie’s man penetrated, and then two plays later, O’Hara did not pick up the stunting end, and Manning’s pass to Burress was intercepted in the end zone. In the second half, McKenzie gave up another pressure on a 3rd-and-12 pass that fell incomplete. Later, O’Hara missed the blitzing linebacker and Manning’s pass to Burress was intercepted again. On the drive that ended with the 4th-and-6 incompletion, O’Hara allowed another pressure on an incompletion, McKenzie did not make his block on a 2-yard run, and then McKenzie allowed another pressure on the 4th-and-6 incompletion (to his credit, McKenzie did get a good block on the 27-yard run by Barber).

Luke Petitgout bounced back with a fine game against a quality opponent (DeMarcus Ware). He did pick up one false start however. Chris Snee made some very good blocks, including an excellent pulling block on the Jacobs’ touchdown.

Defensive Line: The defensive line dominated the Cowboys’ offensive line. Starters DE Michael Strahan (7 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 pass defense), DE Osi Umenyiora (4 tackles, 1 sack), DT Kendrick Clancy (4 tackles, 1 forced fumble), and DT Fred Robbins (5 tackles, 1 pass defense) all shined brightly as did reserves DE Justin Tuck (2 tackles, 1 forced fumble) and DT Kenderick Allen (3 tackles, 1 fumble recovery).

The defensive line, with the occasional blitz, harried Bledsoe all day. And the Cowboys could never generate any kind of consistent ground game. Strahan was particularly active against the run, including from the backside. His two sacks were huge in that they helped to end Dallas drives when momentum had shifted back to the Cowboys. One was a quick outside rush while the other was an inside power rush. And Strahan was involved in a number of pass pressures that resulted in incompletions. Strahan was flagged with one neutral zone infraction.

Umenyiora continues to play well, picking up another sack to lead the Giants with 11 (tied for first in the NFL). He combined with Antonio Pierce to stuff one run for a 3-yard loss. His sack came on an inside move – something he has used to great success in recent weeks. Osi’s best play of the game came on a 2nd-and-3 misdirection toss, where he was originally fooled. He quickly changed direction and chased down the elusive Julius Jones before he could turn the corner. Dallas could not pick up the first down on the ensuing play and the Cowboys were forced to punt.

Kendrick Clancy played very well. The highlight, of course, was his quick penetration against the Dallas center, leading to a fumbled QB-HB exchange that was recovered by the Giants for a touchdown. This was the play of the game. But Clancy played well throughout and was very tough against the run at the point-of-attack (he also caused a holding penalty). So was Fred Robbins, who played his best game of the season. Robbins was flagged with a costly encroachment penalty on 3rd-and-5, however, that helped Dallas get out of a hole deep in their own territory.

And interesting formation had Umenyiora playing left end, Strahan left tackle, Allen right tackle, and Tuck right end. In this formation, Tuck stripped Bledsoe of the football and Allen recovered. Tuck also continues to see some snaps at defensive tackle in passing situations as the Giants strive to find a way to get him, Umenyiora, and Strahan all on the field together.

Allen made a good play on a screen pass late in the game, causing a 1-yard loss.

Linebackers: The trio of Antonio Pierce (7 tackles, 1 pass defense, 1 fumble recovery for a TD), Carlos Emmons (6 tackles), and Nick Greisen (5 tackles, 1 pass defense) played well. There were a couple of plays where they overpursued against Jones on cutback runs, but for the most part they were very good in covering their gaps and stuffing the run. Pierce is just naturally instinctive against the run and against screen passes. He is also excellent in pass coverage. The big play he made was picking up the fumble and returning it for a touchdown. Emmons made a big hit after a short completion and Greisen made a number of strong tackles near the line of scrimmage (though he did miss Marion Barber on one 3rd-and-1 conversion that picked up 6 yards).

Defensive Backs: Bledsoe only completed 15-of-39 passes for 146 yards. The pass rush was a big factor in that success, but the defensive backs also played well. Terry Glenn was held to three catches for 37 yards and Keyshawn Johnson had two catches for 16 yards. That was it for the Dallas wide receivers!

Curtis Deloatch (1 tackle, 1 pass defense) did get beat by Glenn for a 7-yard touchdown right after the Manning interception. But he had good deep coverage on Glenn on a deep shot in the first quarter. Deloatch broke up a pass intended for Johnson late in the game.

Will Allen (4 tackles) continues to play well. He combined with Gibril Wilson on one deep shot to Glenn that fell incomplete. Late in the game, Allen also had good coverage on a pass to WR Patrick Crayton that fell incomplete.

Early in the game, it looked like Frank Walker replaced Corey Webster in the nickel package. But after two penalties on Walker, that experiment ended. Walker had good coverage on Glenn on a 3rd-and-8 slant, but stupidly wrapped his arm around the waist of Glenn (he didn’t need to do this, but this is a problem Walker has had throughout his career). Later, the same drive was kept alive when Walker was flagged with a late hit on a 3rd-and-12 incomplete pass. The penalties helped to alter the early field position battle in Dallas’ favor.

When Webster came into the game, he had good coverage on a slant pass to Glenn that fell incomplete.

The Cowboys’ biggest completion to a wide receiver – a 22-yarder to Glenn – came against Gibril Wilson (5 tackles, 1 pass defense). Wilson also badly missed a tackle on Julius Jones’ 25-yard screen pass (knocking Pierce off of Jones in the process too). Wilson did a good job of tipping away a deep pass to Johnson that was intercepted by FS Brent Alexander (5 tackles). And Wilson made a sure tackle on Jones late that kept the back inbounds and the clock moving.

Alexander and James Butler were lucky that a deep throw to Glenn on Dallas’ last possession fell incomplete as Glenn got behind both defensive backs. The completion would have given the Cowboys the ball at the Giants’ 45-yard line with over a minute left to play. James Butler did intercept a deep pass intended for Glenn near the end of the third quarter.

Special Teams: A mixed bag this week. The bad news was that Feely missed a 33-yard field goal and the Giants have to be concerned that this has become a mental thing for Feely. The miss was particularly damaging as it would have given the Giants a 10-point lead with just over five minutes left to play.

The other negatives were that the Giants gave up a 26-yard punt return as Deloatch and Butler lost contain. I don’t really see what Coughlin sees in Chad Morton as a kickoff returner (I prefer Willie Ponder). Morton did have one decent return of 25 yards, but lacks Ponder’s straight-line explosiveness. Morton also inexplicably fair caught two punts with plenty of room to operate. On the day, he averaged 20.3 yards per kick return and 3.0 yards per punt return. Not good. David Tyree was also flagged for being offsides on one Cowboy punt.

The good news was that Jeff Feagles punted very well in tough conditions. He averaged 44.7 yards on six punts, including two that were downed inside the 5-yard line. Tyree downed both of these punts and got in on two special teams tackles. Butler did a good job of getting down the field and forcing a fair catch on another punt. Kickoff coverage was outstanding as Dallas was held to 16.5 yards per kickoff return.

(Box Score – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, December 4, 2005)
Dec 012005

Approach to the Game – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, December 4, 2005: In a nutshell, this game will be decided by four things:

  1. The Giants’ coaching staff must come up with a top-notch game plan for offense, defense, and special teams without getting too cute. Let the Giants’ best players determine the outcome of this game.
  2. The Giants’ players playing up to their ability. On paper, the Giants are the better team. Prove it on the field. The respect will follow.
  3. Keep mistakes and mental errors to a minimum. The Giants have shot themselves in the foot in three of their four losses. Don’t play afraid, but don’t hurt your own team with dumb penalties, turnovers, or playing outside the scheme. Be alert to trickery from the other team.
  4. Fan support.

I want to make special mention of the last point. All Giants’ fans should have learned last week how fan support CAN impact the outcome of a football game. You can make the difference. I don’t care if the Giants are down by two touchdowns or up by two touchdowns with three minutes to play in this game. Screw the weather. Don’t leave the stadium early to beat traffic. Don’t sit on your damn hands. If someone tells you to sit down and shut up, you tell that guy to go to hell. Make a difference for your football team. And God-forbid you even consider selling your ticket to a Cowboys’ fan. Do that and I will have RAZE personally visit you and seek vengeance.

It’s a five-game season. The players and coaches are fired up. Let’s get it going and get this thing done, starting on Sunday.

Giants on Offense: Dallas has a very tough defense. It won’t be easy. But the Giants have the players on offense to put more than enough points on the scoreboard to win the football game. What is needed is for the offense to start generating point-scoring drives earlier in the game. “We’re only scoring when we have to score,” says Tiki Barber. “It should never come to that. We should be able to play with a sense of urgency and consistency that allows these games not to come down to the last two minutes of every one.”

Dallas will concentrate on the play-makers: Barber, Jeremy Shockey, Plaxico Burress. It is up to these three, as well as Eli Manning, to elevate their games to this situation. They want to be considered superstars so they need to perform like it – and perform like it for 60 minutes or longer in order to win the game. Barber had 64 yards the last time these two teams played – not good enough. Burress had 55 yards – not good enough. Manning only completed 14 passes – not good enough.

The coaches and the players also need to be prepared mentally for what Dallas will do on defense. “We had a whole week of preparation for those guys, but when we actually got on the field they weren’t doing any of those things at all,” said Burress of the last time they faced the Dallas defense. “It kind of seemed like they were a step ahead of us the whole game and we could never catch up to them.” Not good enough coaching staff.

Luke Petitgout, David Diehl, Shaun O’Hara, Chris Snee, and Kareem McKenzie owe their teammates a good game. Stay focused, be explosive off the snap, play with leverage, make that extra effort to sustain that block or make that block downfield. Give Manning the time he needs. Be physical, aggressive, and smart. Knock that Dallas star into the turf.

Giants on Defense: The defense is going to be fired up and aggressive. But they also need to be smart and disciplined. I guarantee you that Parcells will call at least one trick play on offense in this game. And he will likely go for it at least one time on 4th down. Stay focused, don’t celebrate until the game is over and the game is won. Watch out for the halfback pass, a fleaflicker, or any kind of misdirection. The Cowboys will try to use the Giants’ aggressiveness against them.

Other than that, the rest is obvious. Stop the run; cover the tight end, backs, and receivers; get after Bledsoe. Force turnovers. The Giants’ corners have two interceptions this year. Make a play on the football. Take it to the house. Dominate.

Special Teams: Jay Feely has to get back to being Jay Feely. Jeff Feagles has to get back to being Jeff Feagles. David Tyree, James Butler, Chase Blackburn, Justin Tuck, Reggie Torbor, Derrick Ward, et al. – stay in your lanes, get down the field, make sound, sure tackles. Hit hard, but wrap up. Force something good to happen. You guys are the young guns, the young Turks of the team. This is your arena of carnage. It’s time for the big guys on the wedge to start blasting some holes open for Chad Morton on kick returns. It’s time for the blockers to keep Dallas’ gunners of Morton on punt returns. Watch out for fake punts and field goals! Watch out for unexpected onside kickoffs! In big games where he feels undermanned, Parcells always uses trickery on special teams. Always. Defeat that trickery and you will drive a dagger into your opponent’s heart.