New York Giants 34 – Washington Redskins 28

Game Overview: For fans who have become sick and tired of losing games during the second half of the season, this was a feel-good win over a bitter division rival. Most importantly, the victory enabled the Giants to make the playoffs (finally!).

Tiki Barber was magnificent – practically a one-man wrecking crew (though his blockers obviously deserve a lot of credit as well). If Barber does not rush for a career and franchise high against the Redskins, the Giants probably would have lost this game.

I’ll be called a defeatist and pessimist, but fans really should not be too giddy over this win. The Giants finished the second half of the season 2-6 and their only two wins came against non-playoff teams with significant injury issues. The defense was dreadful against the Redskins and the passing game was not much better. Unless both improve fast, the Giants will likely get knocked out of the playoffs by the Eagles.

Some fans charge that the win over the Redskins was proof that the Giants have not “quit” this season. As I mentioned in my Giants-Redskins game preview, “quit” is the wrong word. It is more a lack of confidence and faith in themselves and their coaching staff. Nothing that I saw from the defense or passing game changed my views in this regard. It remains to be seen if the rushing totals against the Redskins were more a product of the Redskins’ poor defensive personnel and the desire by Tiki Barber to go out with one final hurrah against his boyhood favorite team. The game against the Eagles will be very telling. Keep in mind that the first really negative statements by players came out this week.

“You may have some guys here that are like ‘Man, I’ve had enough of this,’ ‘This just needs to be over and we need to get ready for next year,’ ‘I don’t want to go into the playoffs at 8-8’ and so forth,” said HB Brandon Jacobs before the game against the Redskins. Another unidentified player told The Daily News, “You think the fans don’t like (Coughlin)? The players don’t like him, either. We’re tired of listening to him.”

Will the win against the Redskins reverse the Giants’ fortunes and the attitude within the locker room? Rumors continue to circulate that Coughlin needs to win at least one and possibly two playoff games to keep his job. The grapevine also says that it was John Mara who pushed for the removal of Offensive Coordinator John Hufnagel. If true, then Coughlin is even on shakier ground than many realize.

Defensive Overview: The Giants have serious problems on defense. Giving up almost 400 yards to the Redskins is not good. Most damning of all were the three consecutive touchdown drives (11 plays, 69 yards; 9 plays, 66 yards; 8 plays, 68 yards) that enabled the Redskins to almost come from behind and win the game. That is not playoff-caliber defense.

Let’s be brutally honesty here. The Giants are a BAD defensive football team. Period. They have had problems stopping the pass all year. They can’t rush the passer (even when they blitz) or cover. And worse, the run defense is now soft. The Redskins ran for 128 yards against the Giants, the Saints ran for 236 yards, the Eagles ran for 161 yards.

Why? Defensive schemes/coach? Morale/lack of confidence? Lack of talent? Most likely, it is a combination of all of the above. Personally, I think Tim Lewis stinks, but the players are not getting the job done either. They are missing tackles, not sticking to guys in coverage, not playing physical up front. I think the defensive players lack confidence in themselves at this point and the system. And the argument that the problem centers around Michael Strahan and LaVar Arrington being out doesn’t hold much water with me. Strahan is 35 years old. He’s nearing the end. Arrington played two quarters of good football and 20 quarters of bad football. The guys the Giants have on the field now are supposed to be able to get the job done. Mathias Kiwanuka and Osi Umenyiora are not getting enough heat on the quarterback. Antonio Pierce is having a terrible year for him. The defensive tackles are wearing down. The secondary is still not making plays on the football. The outside linebackers are slow.

One thing that continues to piss me off is that the opponent always picks up the Giants’ blitz. It seems as they are never surprised by it, know where it is coming from, and are able to effectively keep the blitzer or blitzers at bay. The zone coverage also continues to be a problem. Opposing receivers are finding wide open areas in the pass defense and there is no excuse for this.

The Giants desperately need an infusion of talent, speed, youth, and toughness on defense this upcoming offseason. They also need new coaches. This defense is not good enough for the team to do much damage in the playoffs.

Defensive Line: The Giants are not getting enough of a pass rush from their defensive ends. Osi Umenyiora (1 tackle) and Mathias Kiwanuka (5 tackles) need to play better. The problem is that even when they do get to the quarterback, they are not making the tackle. Umenyiora had QB Jason Campbell for what should have been a big sack on the Redskins’ first possession. Instead, Campbell got away from Umenyiora and turned what should have been a 3rd-and-long situation into a 1st-and-10 as Campbell scrambled for 12 yards. In the third quarter, Campbell made Umenyiora miss again on a 3rd-and-9 play where Campbell scrambled 15 yards to pick up the first down. A few plays later, the Skins scored. Umenyiora was not terrible stout against the run either. He did nail T.J. Duckett for a 5-yard loss late in the game.

Kiwanuka, despite his reputation coming out of college, isn’t bad against the run. However, his pass rush is not as strong as it was earlier this season.

The defensive tackles got practically zero heat on the quarterback. At times, the defensive tackles played well against the run, but there were other times when they got effectively blocked. Fred Robbins (2 tackles) made a huge play by recovering a fumble and returning it 67 yards to set up a field goal. After being gassed by that play, William Joseph (3 tackles) came into the game. He made one nice play in run defense, but then was effectively blocked on runs of nine and 21 yards by HB Ladell Betts. On the latter, Joseph took himself out of the play by merely rushing upfield past Betts. Joseph is in his fourth season and his instincts remain questionable at best. It seems like he is merely guessing half the time where he thinks the ball is. Joseph played a lot against the Redskins, and while he made a couple of plays, he should be doing more with his talent.

Barry Cofield (2 tackles) will make a good play then get blocked. He’s wearing down.

Interestingly, DE Adrian Awasom and DT Jonas Seawright saw playing time. Each had one tackle and Awasom came up with the Giants only sack of the game (Fred Robbins deserves an assist on this play because he got there first). However, Awasom was also flagged for a neutral zone infraction.

Linebackers: The Giants have two slow outside linebackers, and Antonio Pierce, not a speedster to start with, has been hampered by a knee injury. Pierce quietly accrued a team high 10 tackles in the game, but did not really make any impact plays against his former team. He did a nice job of sniffing out one screen pass for a 5-yard loss, but he appeared tentative and lacking range against the run (knee?). And, once again, Pierce had problems in coverage. TE Chris Cooley beat him for 16 yards on 3rd-and-3. A few plays later, Pierce (and Umenyiora) missed tackles on the scrambling Campbell on 3rd-and-9. Instead of forcing a 4th-and-long, the Skins picked up the first down. Then four plays later, on 4th-and-4, Pierce was beaten in coverage by Ladell Betts for a 7-yard touchdown reception.

Brandon Short (9 tackles) made one of the biggest plays of the game. On the Skins’ opening possession, they moved from their own 27-yard line to the Giants’ 18-yard line and looked primed to score. Short smashed Betts in the hole and forced a fumble that was recovered by Fred Robbins and returned 67 yards. Short made some plays against the run, but also looked sluggish defending the corner.

I can’t wait until the Giants dump Carlos Emmons (2 tackles). He sucks. The only thing he brings to the table at this point is that he doesn’t get caught out of position and make mental mistakes. He badly missed a tackle on a 9-yard catch-and-run by Cooley early in the game.

Defensive Backs: SS Gibril Wilson (6 tackles, 1 pass defense) was up and down. He made a nice play early in run support but then badly missed a tackle in the hole on a play that picked up nine yards. In the second quarter, I spotted him getting creamed by the tight end on one run that picked up eight yards, but then he did a nice job of reading a draw play and holding the back to a minimum gain. In the 4th quarter, he was beat by WR Antwaan Randle El on a perfectly-thrown sideline pass for 24 yards, but a few plays later, he got good heat on Campbell on a blitz. Wilson just tipped away Campbell’s last desperate 4th-and-10 pass that sealed the win for the Giants.

FS Will Demps (7 tackles) has been playing better in recent weeks. He made a nice play to stuff a draw play early in the game that looked like it was going to pick up good yardage and generally played well in run support. Demps doesn’t have ideal range and didn’t quite get over fast enough on a deep pass to WR Santana Moss in the second quarter, but he got close enough to make Moss hear footsteps and drop the football.

Corey Webster (0 tackles) aggravated his turf toe and hurt his hip in the game. Early in the contest, he had good position on Moss on the trick play (throw by Randle El) but for some reason continued to run straight when Moss broke off his pattern to the inside on the underthrown football. Sam Madison (3 tackles, 2 pass defenses) appeared to be in position to save Webster’s ass, but Madison whiffed on his pick/deflection attempt and a 48-yard touchdown was the result. Not a good play all around despite the Giants not being fooled by it. Earlier on this drive, Madison may have gotten away with some heavy contact on a deep incompletion to Randle El. On the Redskins’ next series, Madison had good coverage on Randle El on a 3rd-and-7 incompletion where he almost came up with a pick. Early in the 4th quarter, Moss beat Madison in zone coverage for a 17-yard gain.

R.W. McQuarters was OK. He was lucky that Moss heard footsteps from Demps and dropped a deep pass in the second quarter where McQuarters was badly beaten. McQuarters did make a nice tackle on a short throw to Moss that only picked up three yards. On the Redskins’ last touchdown drive, McQuarters had pretty good coverage on Randle El, but the receiver was able to come down with a key 16-yard reception.

Jason Bell made a nice play by diving for a deflected ball and coming up with an interception in the third quarter. This helped set up a touchdown. Kevin Dockery continues to flash solid coverage skills.

Offensive Overview: The running game was magnificent. And the play-calling with Kevin Gilbride calling the plays seemed more varied. However, before we get too excited, we need to keep in mind that an already undermanned and poor Redskins’ defense was missing even more of its key starters.

Aside from the running game, the biggest positives coming out of this game were (1) no turnovers, and (2) the Giants converting a season-high 57 percent of their third-down conversion opportunities (8-for-14). Unsurprisingly, when the Giants don’t turn the football over (four games this year), they win. And when a team converts on third down, it enables drives to stay alive, more offensive plays, and more scoring opportunities.

The biggest problem the Giants have is the passing game. David Diehl is likely to be a liability in pass protection at left tackle. Amani Toomer is gone. Jeremy Shockey is hurt and may not play, and even if he does, he will likely be very limited. Worse, Eli Manning is simply not playing good enough. Unless the passing game dramatically improves and fast, playoff-caliber defenses are going to shut down Tiki Barber and force what has become an anemic passing attack to beat them.

As for the play calling, I believe it was more effective because the Giants stuck with the running game. They called running plays not only back-to-back, but also back-to-back-to-back. This is something that John Hufnagel did not do enough of. The Giants also took quite a few deep shots, including to Tim Carter and once to Sinorice Moss. Coughlin said after the game that the Giants’ passing game was effective enough early on that it forced to Redskins to drop their safeties deeper, thus helping to open up the running game. The quarterback sneak with Jared Lorenzen was a play the Giants used well in the preseason. However, while I liked the 3rd-and-10 draw play late in the game, I hated the empty backfield set on 2nd-and-10 immediately before this – at least make the Skins think you might run the football!

The worst coaching decision of the game? Why the hell did Coughlin not decide to go for two points after the team scored its final touchdown with six minutes to go in the game? This decision could really have come back to haunt the team. And it’s not the first time this year that Coughlin has made this mistake.

Quarterback: It’s tough for me to grade Eli Manning in this game. In my opinion, the Redskins got away with six obvious pass interference penalties on well-thrown balls, including a couple of deep passes. Add those six incompletions to Manning’s stats (12-of-26 for 101 yards), and his game would have looked far better. In addition, keep in mind that Manning was without Jeremy Shockey and Amani Toomer and really only left with one wide receiver who has proven he can be productive (Plaxico Burress).

That said, one gets the sense that Manning is not playing with much confidence. While there are times when he stands tough in the pocket and delivers an accurate throw, there are other times when he appears nervous and gun-shy in the pocket (despite the fact that he has a decent offensive line). Indeed, if you ask me, based on this single game, Jason Campbell appeared to be the better quarterback.

Eli just seems unsure of himself. Heck, he even lost track of the play clock on one early series and Tiki Barber had to bail him out by calling timeout. On the first Giants’ touchdown drive of the game, Manning fell back away from pressure, threw off his back foot, and was lucky that his underthrown pass into the end zone was not intercepted. However, on the very next snap, he made a very decisive and strong throw to Burress for a 14-yard gain on 3rd-and-9 to keep the touchdown drive alive. On the second touchdown drive (a 97-yard affair), Manning made two big completions on third down – a 9-yard completion to Jim Finn on 3rd-and-8 and a 12-yard completion to Burress on 3rd-and-7. In the third quarter, he tried to force a couple of ill-advised throws to Burress, but also made a very decisive and accurate throw to Tim Carter for a 6-yard touchdown.

Wide Receivers: Again, it’s tough to grade the receivers. The officials were allowing the Redskins’ defensive backs to mug Plaxico Burress, Tim Carter, and Sinorice Moss.

The entire Giants’ wide receiving corps accrued only six catches for 55 yards. Burress had two catches for 26 yards, Tim Carter two catches for 14 yards, and David Tyree two catches for 15 yards. Carter was mugged on a couple of incomplete passes that should have been flagged as penalties. But he was also the beneficiary of a questionable 31-yard pass interference penalty despite some really shoddy acting on his part. Carter also caught the lone touchdown pass of the game on the very next play.

Burress was clearly mugged in the end zone on the final offensive play of the first half, but that was not called. He was also hit before the ball arrived on a late 3rd quarter toss, but that was not called either and on another play late in the game when the Giants were attempting to run out the clock.

Sinorice Moss was interfered with on a deep post pattern and that was not called.

Kudos to Tim Carter for some fine run blocking. Plaxico Burress also made a key downfield block on one of Barber’s long touchdown runs.

Running Backs: Tiki Barber certainly knows how to go out in style. In his last regular season football game, Barber rushed for a career and franchise high 234 yards. He also rushed for three touchdowns – from 15 yards out, 55 yards out, and 50 yards out. If not for his performance (and the performance of his blockers), the Giants would have lost the game and not made the playoffs. Barber’s first big run of the game was a 32-yarder on the Giants’ second drive of the game. Barber ran through a huge hole created by RT Kareem McKenzie and TE Visanthe Shiancoe, but then spun away from contact down the field to dramatically change the field position battle. On the Giants’ third drive of the game, Barber regained the lead as he scored from 15 yards out to give the Giants a 10-7 advantage (on this run Barber received good blocks from Shiancoe, FB Jim Finn, Tim Carter, LT Bob Whitfield, and a pulling RG Chris Snee).

On the next drive Barber broke off a 55-yard touchdown run behind good blocking from Shiancoe, Finn, Carter, Burress, Whitfield, and David Diehl. Barber also broke a tackle on the play. When the Redskins cut the score to 27-21 in the fourth quarter, the Giants put the game on Barber’s shoulders and he delivered – with runs of 10, 3, 2, 5, and then 50 yards for the touchdown. Again, Barber broke a tackle on the long touchdown run.

Jim Finn played very well. His run blocking was excellent and he made a number of key blocks for Barber. He also had his second carry of the season and made two catches, including a critical 9-yard reception on 3rd-and-8 coming off of the goal line. On this play, Finn fought hard for the first down. It was a huge play in the game as it kept alive what was to become a 97-yard drive.

Tight Ends: Visanthe Shiancoe performed well as a run blocker, with a number of key blocks on big runs. However, he was not much of a factor in the passing game with only one catch for eight yards.

Darcy Johnson played quite a bit. Eli even threw to him on one play (incomplete) and his run blocking wasn’t bad. However, the Giants were forced to burn a timeout in the game when he was confused and ran to the wrong side of the formation before the ball was snapped.

Offensive Line: Due to injuries (Luke Petitgout, Rich Seubert) and benchings (Bob Whitfield), the Giants started David Diehl at left tackle and Grey Ruegamer at left guard. For much of the first half, Whitfield was forced to return to left tackle and Diehl to left guard when Ruegamer sustained a deep cut in his shin in the first quarter.

The David Diehl experiment did not start off well. After a turnover gave the Giants the football at the Washington 12-yard line, Diehl was knocked on his ass by DE Andre Carter and Eli sacked from the blindside, effectively killing any shot at a touchdown. But after that, the pass protection was pretty solid despite a lot of blitzing by the Redskins. And the yardage totals in the running game speak for themselves. The Giants did run quite a bit to their left, but they were also productive running to their right. I thought Kareem McKenzie played an excellent game. Other than the Diehl sack, the biggest mistake of the game was the holding penalty given up by Shaun O’Hara that erased a 33-yard run by Barber at a key point in the game after the Skins had cut the lead to 27-14. O’Hara really didn’t need to hold on the play and this forced a bad three-and-out.

Special Teams: The special teams were OK. Jay Feely hit both of his short field goal attempts (34 and 31 yards). He was inconsistent on kickoffs. One kick would be high and deep, the next would be shallow and short.

Rock Cartwright can be dangerous on kickoff returns, but he only averaged 22.5 yards per return on six returns (with a long of 28). Players in on tackles included Reggie Torbor, David Tyree, Kevin Dockery, Chase Blackburn, Tyson Smith (twice), James Butler, and James Sims.

For some reason, Jeff Feagles has been punting down the middle of the field in recent weeks instead of employing his usual, reliable directional style that pins the returner against the sidelines. But the Giants did a very good job of covering the dangerous Antwaan Randle El on punt returns. Randle El returned only gained seven yards on three returns (and also had one fair catch). Making tackles on punt coverage were Brandon Jacobs, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Jason Bell.

R.W. McQuarters returned two punts – one for 12 yards and another for only three yards. Sinorice Moss was not impressive on kickoff returns, though to be fair, the blocking on kickoff returns continues to stink. He muffed one kickoff (which he recovered) and averaged a pathetic 15.6 yards per kickoff on five returns.

Penalties were an issue with Tyson Smith and James Butler being flagged with holding on kickoff returns and Grey Ruegamer being flagged with unnecessary roughness.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Washington Redskins, December 30, 2006)