Oct 312008
 

October 30, 2008 New York Giants Injury Report: DT Fred Robbins (hand) and LB Bryan Kehl (toe) returned to practice, but both were limited.  LB Antonio Pierce seemed to suggest yesterday that Robbins has two broken hands.

“I just got a little banged up in the (Pittsburgh) game,” Robbins said. “A little bruises here and there, but you’ve got to keep on going. I just took a day off (Wednesday) to get them healed up.”

LB Gerris Wilkinson (knee), CB Kevin Dockery (back), and WR David Tyree (hamstring) did not practice again yesterday.

Article on WR Amani Toomer: Amani Toomer Still Catching Passes, Still Receiving Praise by Vic Ziegel of The Daily News

Article on the New Stadium: New Meadowlands Stadium, Lots of Bells and Whistles by Joe Lapointe of The New York Times

Notes: The Cowboys have a bye after the Giants game. The Cowboys are 16-3 in pre-bye games and 8-0 versus NFC East teams.

Oct 302008
 

10/30/2008

By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com

Approach to the Game – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, November 2, 2008: Many of the people who read this site know I’m a bit of a World War II history buff.  As the big game with the wounded, disappointing media circus that is the Dallas Cowboys approaches, the infamous quote from Adolf Hitler on the eve of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 has been ringing in my ear:

“We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.”

And in this quote there is opportunity, but also a great warning.  For many Germans drastically underestimated their opponent not only in the initial fight, but also their staying power and ability to recover from heavy blows when all looked lost.

With a win on Sunday, the Giants would be an impressive 7-1 at the halfway point of the season.  On the other hand, Dallas, once considered New York’s chief rivals for division supremacy and favored by many to win the Super Bowl this season, would be 5-4 with two division and four conference losses.  Heading into their bye, there would be all kinds of speculation about the safety of Wade Phillips’ job and a chance for real implosion in team unity.  In other words, the Giants really, really could hurt Dallas here.

But… Dallas may be wounded with the absence of Tony Romo, Felix Jones, and Terrence Newman, but they are still a very talented and dangerous team.  More than that, NFC East division games are ALWAYS wars, and the better team doesn’t always come out on top.  Factor in the fact that these two teams really hate each other and Dallas will be looking not only for revenge, but to help save their season, then anyone who thinks this game will be a push-over is – in my opinion – nuts.

And… looking long term, Dallas is not dead and remains a very dangerous obstacle for the Giants down the road.  The upcoming bye week will allow Dallas to regroup and get healthy, as will their annual post-Thanksgiving break.  In a way, it’s too bad that this quasi-meltdown on their part didn’t occur later in the year.  For now, they still have time to regroup and get on a hot streak, just like the Giants did last season.  Don’t count out Dallas, both in the short- or long-term.

Giants on Offense: The good news for the Giants is that they’ve seen a lot of the 3-4 defense in recent weeks.  This is a style of defense that has given the Giants some problems, but the recent of experience of facing this style should help New York against Dallas.

The Giants did not run the ball well last week against the Steelers’ 3-4 defense.  It is imperative that the Giants’ offensive line and running backs do a better job this week.  The Cowboys do a respectable job of stopping the run, keeping teams just under four yards per carry, 11th in the NFL.  The down three of RDE Chris Canty, NT Jay Ratcliff, and LDE Marcus Spears has never really lived up to expectations, but these three are solid players.  And they are adequately backed up by Tank Johnson, Jason Hatcher, and Stephen Bowen.

The two guys who have given the Giants problems in the past are LB/DE Greg Ellis and LB/DE DeMarcus Ware.  Both of these guys can rush the passer, especially Ware who has nine quarterback sacks.  Ware will likely beat LT David Diehl for a sack and some pressures, but the real challenge it keep the damage to a minimum.  And the more Diehl needs help, the more the Giants’ offensive options will be limited.

Dallas has issues in the secondary.  Before injuries and the suspension of CB Pacman Jones, the secondary was not living up to expectations.  But the suspension, combined with injuries to CB Terrance Newman (who will not play) and CB Anthony Henry (who will probably play) have deepened the crisis.  That said, the youngsters in the Dallas secondary played fairly well last week against a playoff-caliber opponent.  Rookies Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick are talented and fast.  If Henry returns (and he is a guy who has played well against Plaxico Burress at times in the past), Dallas may be in better shape here than some think.  However, the Giants may be able to confuse the rookies with different packages.  The Cowboys may have problems with a 4-WR package of Burress, Toomer, Smith, and Hixon.

One guy who had a bit of a coming out party last week for the Giants was Kevin Boss.  The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  Dallas has had some issues covering Giants’ tight ends in the past.  And Boss has the physical talent to do damage against linebackers and safeties.  I wouldn’t be shocked (pun intended) to see Boss have a good game.

This game is going to be a physical war.  Like last week, quarterback play will be crucial.  The Giants must get a strong game out of Manning.  He must out-play his Dallas counterpart.  Like I said last week, the team that makes the fewer mistakes (turnovers, negative yardage plays, penalties, etc.) will likely win.  Protect the football.  Be physical and do a better job of running the ball.  Take advantage of the Dallas secondary.  And – obviously – finish drives far better.  Don’t settle for field goals.  Get touchdowns.

Giants on Defense: The fact that Tony Romo is not playing really helps the Giants.  But Marion Barber is still a horse, and the Dallas offensive line, when on its game, is still quite capable of mauling the smaller, more athletic Giants’ front.  If I’m the Cowboys, I employ the exact same strategy I did last year in the first half of the playoff game where Barber and the Cowboys ran the ball down the Giants’ throat.  The Giants had better be ready for this.  It’s going to get physical and nasty.  If the Giants can stop the run, they will be in great shape.  If they can’t, this is a game the Giants can very easily lose.

What has hurt Dallas this year – perhaps more than anything – is the offensive line has not played as well as it did last year.  They are missing their former offensive line coach, who is now the head coach of the Dolphins.  And LT Flozell Adams is having a down year and OC Andre Gurode is struggling.  But they are still HUGE.  And they can still dominate the line of scrimmage if playing at the top of their game.  A big question will be what OL will show up?  The Giants have to expect that they will see Dallas at their best.  Mathias Kiwanuka and Bryan Kehl will be tested in run defense on the weakside.  And the Steelers were able to run at the strongside with some success last week.  All of the New York defenders need to hunker down and play tough at the point-of-attack.  Gang tackling against the powerful Barber is a must.

Assuming QB Brad Johnson plays the entire game (this has been some talk that the more mobile, stronger-armed Brooks Bollinger might play), Dallas’ downfield passing attack is more limited by Johnson’s diminishing arm strength.  But he is still a smart and savvy veteran.  His best friend will be the ailing TE Jason Witten (ribs).  Witten has given the Giants fits in the past, as much as WR Terrell Owens.  Since Witten will be playing with a very sore midsection, the Giants must not take prisoners here.  Hit Witten.  Even when he doesn’t have the ball.  Punish him.  Get him out of the game.  But he should be a focal point in pass coverage because he is the kind of intermediary target Johnson will look for.

Terrell Owens has not had the kind of season expected of him for a variety of reasons.  But he is still quite capable of taking over a game.  The Giants had problems with the big play last week.  WR Nate Washington scored one long touchdown and had another called back due to a penalty.  The Giants’ secondary must play better against Owens.  The added danger is that with another week under his belt to get accustomed to the Dallas system, the talented WR Roy Williams might make a much bigger impact this week.  The Owens-Williams-Witten threat should provide a healthy scare to any secondary.  WR Patrick Crayton is an up and down player.  And WR Miles Austin can hurt you deep.

Aside from stopping the run, the real key will be the pass rush.  The Giants absolutely must pressure Johnson and prevent him from getting the ball to these dangerous weapons.

Giants on Special Teams: The Giants’ special teams were a big reason for the Giants win last week in Pittsburgh.  Hopefully that continues against the Cowboys.

Oct 302008
 

October 29, 2008 New York Giants Injury Report: DT Fred Robbins (hand), LB Bryan Kehl (toe), LB Gerris Wilkinson (knee), CB Kevin Dockery (back), and WR David Tyree (hamstring) did not practice yesterday.

“Robbins, we are just trying to get the swelling down on a hand and once we do that, obviously we can tape him and put something on his hand and he can go,” said Head Coach Tom Coughlin. “At first I thought in the beginning of the week and we will hold them until we see Bryan Kehl be able to run and so on, but he looked pretty good just a minute ago. They won’t practice today though.”

Mathias Kiwanuka Named “NFC Defensive Player of the Week”: DE Mathias Kiwanuka has been named the “NFC Defensive Player of the Week” for his 5-tackle, 3-sack, 1-forced fumble performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday.

“It’s definitely something that I am proud of,” Kiwanuka said. “As long as I use it and move forward and not take any steps back, then yeah, at the end of the season I can look back and reflect on it, but right now it’s not the time for that. I’m honored that I got it and appreciate all the accolades, but that’s something I will reflect on in the offseason.”

Article on WR Plaxico Burress: New York Giants’ Burress Getting Shut Down by Double-Teams by Mike Garafolo of The Star-Ledger

Notes and Quotes: Charges against HB Danny Ware from last month’s incident in Athens, Georgia have been dropped. Ware had been charged with being a pedestrian under the influence and a pedestrian in the roadway after the Georgia-Alabama game played during the Giants’ bye week.

DE Justin Tuck on the Cowboys: “They hate us and we hate them. That’s no surprise. It’s kind of one of those college games where you’ve got old-school rivals and you can throw those records out.”

Oct 292008
 
New York Giants 21 – Pittsburgh Steelers 14

Summary: In the Giants’ stiffest test of the rapidly maturing 2008 season, Eli Manning was again at his late game best rallying the Giants from a 14-9 4th quarter deficit to upend the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field and finally put a stake in the ground that declared…this Giants team is for real and ready to defend its title to the bitter end.  Amid constant media wariness over the quality of the Giants first 5 wins, New York’s favorite sons again took an opponent’s best punch, stood tall and delivered the knockout when it mattered most.

Coming into the contest, both the Giants and Steelers stood at 5-1, both behind Super Bowl winning 5th year QBs, with punishing ground games and oppressive defenses.  When all was said and done however, only Big Blue stood astride the wreckage that ensued for 3 hours and 19 minutes with their heads held high with the rest of the NFL realizing that these champs are not going quietly.

An auspicious start that saw the Giants down 7-0 after their own three and out and a 4 play 60 yard jaunt by the Steelers gave way to a long battle that would test both teams.  Racing out to that lead, the Steelers defense was as good as advertised and its ground game was chewing up the defending champions, but once the contest settled down, the Giants were able to turn 4 red zone possessions into only 9 points and a tenuous half time lead that would end on the Steelers second possession as WR Nate Washington blew past the Giants’ cover 2 shell for a 1 play 65 yard score that put the Steelers ahead 14-9 with 10:00 remaining in the 3rd quarter.

After Washington’s TD, the teams traded miscues and accrued a paltry 34 yards on their next 22 plays combined.  Eli and the Giants, then finally manned up, putting together a 12 play 62 yard drive that cut the Steelers lead to 2, and finished the game with a 7 play 53 yard march that once again saw #10 put the ball in the end zone when the Giants needed it the most.  The Giants pass rush was able to seal the deal, snuffing out two Steeler drives late in the 4th quarter with relentless pressure applied on QB Ben Roethlisberger.  When all the dust finally settled, the Giants poured out of Heinz Field with what is becoming a typical big game win, when few pundits gave them a chance against a “superior” opponent.

Quarterbacks: If you judge Eli Manning by box scores, you might as well judge Stevie Wonder by his handwriting because you won’t appreciate the true talent in either case.  Facing the league’s most prolific defense, Manning was average to the guy ho-humming over his fantasy stats, but to a football fan he was a winner yet again.  Eli finished 19-32 for 199 yards and 1 TD which might not be eye popping, but no INTs, no turnovers at all, no sacks and a game winning TD pass against the Steelers front 7…you won’t hear me complain (about Eli anyway, don’t get me started on ATM fees).  Eli was pressured, but not hit, thanks to his offensive line, and Kevin Gilbride’s play calling, but in large part due to his ability to see the pressure and get the ball away before it got home.  Manning ended the Giants first drive in just 3 plays, coming up about a yard short on 3rd on and 9 to Steve Smith.  Manning attempted two passes on the Giants next drive, both from the 2 yard line but to no avail, as S Troy Polamalu and his idiotic lion’s mane of hair roared up to knock the ball away from an open Amani Toomer.  Manning was solid and in command, but it was clear from his checkdowns inside the Steelers’ 20 yard line (one to Derrick Ward, two to Kevin Boss, two incompletes to Steve Smith, and two to Plaxico Burress, none of which got the ball in the end zone) that the Giants were committed to not turning the ball over in the red zone and picking up points wherever they could.

Manning was as usual, at his level headed best late in the game.  On a 4th and 6, after taking a delay penalty on 4th and 1 because he didn’t like the play call, Manning coolly lofted a perfect strike down the right sideline to Amani Toomer for a 30 yard gain that put the Giants in FG range to creep to within 2 points of the lead.  Eli was again on target on the Giants’ game winning drive, going 3 for 4 for 35 yards, with the final 2 yards coming on a play action TD pass to Kevin Boss that put the Giants up 21-14 and effectively ended the game.

Running Backs: Statistically, the worst day of the year for the Giants RBs, but the ability to run the football kept the Steelers defense honest and gave the Giants a puncher’s chance late in the game.  Despite a paltry 2.4 ypc average, both Giant backs that touched the ball (Ahmad Bradshaw was oddly absent from the game) ran hard and ran often with Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward combining for 31 carries out of 67 plays on the day.  Jacobs had little room to operate and despite his speed and size was never really able to get moving against a big fast and physical Steelers front.  Jacobs had a rough go of it running ball, being dropped for a 3 yard loss on his first touch, and fumbling at the Pittsburgh 9 on a 1st and goal on the Giants second possession.  Jacobs did make a nifty grab and bowled over half the Steelers defense en route to a 6 yard gain en route to the Giants 3rd FG drive of the game.  I mention it only because I slam Jacobs for every silly drop he has.  Jacobs also delivered a crushing block

Ward fared better overall as he hauled in 5 catches for 43 yards, including a nifty 17 yard middle screen on 3rd and 5 that kept the Giants marching towards their first FG of the game and a solid catch and run for 9 yards on 3rd and 5 on the 3rd scoring drive of the day for the G-men.

No more throwing to Madison Hedgecock, seriously.

Wide Receivers:  Domenik Hixon started in place of Plaxico “IDWTFIW” Burress and made a nice grab on the Giants first scoring drive of the game for 17 yards but was not heard from the rest of the night on offense, in a good way anyway.  Hixon took a page out of Hines Ward’s book on blocking by laying a shot on Steelers’ LB James Farrior, but Hixon did come in a tad late and deserved the flag.  I can’t kill Hixon for it though, anytime the Giants need a play he’s been there this year and last, and every game, he seems to light someone up blocking.  Speaking of Burress, he managed a whopping 3 grabs and 15 yards, way to earn your paycheck.  I will give effort to analyzing your play when you start acting like a professional.  Don’t hold your breath loyal readers.  Steve Smith is a blue blanket.  Eli Manning is Linus.  Take one away from the other and you’d have a problem.  In only his second year out of USC, Smith has become the most sought after 3rd down target on the team, and the guy Eli looks for when he NEEDS yardage in a tight spot.  Smith, similar to Manning won’t wow you on the stat sheet, as he finished with 45 yards on catches, but when Eli and the Giants needed him most, #12 was there.  Witness all of Smith’s catches to see his importance to this offense: 8 yard catch on 3rd and 9 on the Giants first drive that fell JUST shy of a first down, a 12 yard grab on 3rd and 5 at the Steeler 21 yard line on the Giants first scoring drive, and a 25 yard grab on the Giants game winning drive on a 3rd and 7 at midfield.  Smith did have an uncharacteristic drop on a sure first down pass from Manning on a 2nd and 8 from the Steelers 17 yard line.  Amani Toomer made the catch of the day, hauling in a 30 yard Willie Mays type over the shoulder catch on 4th and 6 when the Giants were driving for the game winner.  I have called for Hixon to take his starting job in recent weeks, but Toomer is time and time again a key cog late in games because more than anything, Eli trusts him to be where he should be and Toomer always makes the big grab.  If only he didn’t spend so much time in hobby shops, he could be really good! (Author’s note: That’s a BBI Corner Forum inside joke!  For all of you non message board types, it’s worth your time to hang out there a bit and get involved in some great discussion about your Giants.)

Tight Ends: Kevin Boss had his busiest day of the year, coming down with 4 catches for 34 yards and the game winning TD catch from Manning late in the 4th quarter.  Boss had a fantastic grab on the Giants first scoring drive that only picked up one yard, but was able to make a juggling grab as FS Ryan Clark was bearing down on him.  Boss had a nice 15 yard run and catch on the Giants’ second scoring drive of the game.  Some people insist that Kevin Boss has a long way to go before he’s a good or even solid blocker, but I beg each and every one of you who doubts him to watch every running play we run and chart how he does.  Everyone nitpicks on the few bad plays that may jump out, but Boss has come a long way since his rookie year and even the preseason of this year.  On a Jacobs 13 yard run down the Steeler 2, Boss had a perfect seal on DE Aaron Smith…again DEFENSIVE END Aaron Smith, not LB, not DB, not 3rd string special teamer.  Michael Matthews was shut out on the stat sheet and did miss a block badly on Jacobs’ first run of the game, but once again, the blocking TE from Georgia Tech proved his value with another solid blocking performance when Eli and his offensive mates needed it most versus a talented and aggressive Steelers defense.

O-Line: It was a love hate relationship against the Steelers for the Giants’ move ‘em out gang this week.  I love how they pass blocked, hated the run blocking, but just like the entire team this group fought and scrapped from whistle to whistle and most importantly kept their best player off the grass all game long.  I do have to take issue with the Giants’ 3rd drive of the game.  2nd and goal from the 1 yard line after an offside penalty on LB Lamar Woodley and the OL fails to punch it in 3 straight times with a 265 hammer at their backs.  OC Shaun O’Hara got absolutely flattened on Jacobs’ called back TD run by DT Casey Hampton on 3rd down.  But the boys up front had a chance to redeem themselves on the next play but according the officials they failed to do so with Jacobs coming up inches short, but from overhead shots it really looked like Jacobs broke the plane.

Overall the OL was not able to keep the Steelers big down lineman at bay and create the type of space they usually do to get themselves and their backs to the 2nd level.  Give credit where its due though, this group also kept a frenzied blitz at bay long enough to give its QB time to orchestrate 5 scoring drives, and most importantly the game winning TD pass.

Front 7: Author’s Note: Given the varied fronts and personnel packages the Giants use under Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, I’ll be looking at the front 7 as a whole initially rather than separating the D-line and Linebackers.  Hybrid roles such as LBs playing in a 3 point stance make analyzing the front 7 as one unit more cohesive.  It may change as we move forward or from game to game.

Right off the bat the Steelers did what good teams do; they attacked the Giants’ weak spots on defense.  That would be, covering the TE down the field and defending the run on the edges.  On the first play of the game though, a Ben Roethlisberger incompletion, was caused by pressure DE Mathias Kiwanuka and DT Fred Robbins, on what turned out to be a preview of what was to come.  Heath Miller was able to nab a 22 yard pass and 2 plays later RB Mewelde Moore popped outside right for a 32 yard TD run which I’m sure initially had many Giant fans worrying.  According to Troy Aikman they key “Block” was by TE Heath Miller, though the 10 times I re-watched it told me, Heath Miller had his hands hooked under DE Justin Tuck’s pads which against most teams would be a hold, but I won’t pull a Ben Roethlisberger and blame the zebras.  Not to worry though, as the Giants stuffed the Steelers on their 3rd possession inside their own 1 yard line to get the Giants the ball back with great field possession.  Tuck was able to shove TE Heath Miller aside, slant inside and stuff Mewelde Moore on a text book stop in the running game.  Tuck made 5 stops and 1 sack, and just like his DL counterparts, was pushing the Steelers’ OL back into Roethlisberger’s face all day long.  DE Dave Tollefson gives, dare I say, maximum effort which usually means “untalented” but Tollefson has improved greatly from week one and was able to chip in with solid pressure and one sack.

Kiwanuka has his best game as a pro, racking up 3 sacks, 5 total tackles and forcing one fumble.  My man Mike Garafolo at The Star Ledger predicted big things for Kiwi once his ankle healed and indeed he was right, as Kiwanuka was clearly the star of the defense against Pittsburgh, racing around RT Max Starks, and playing the run as well as he’s played it in his Giants career.  Danny Clark showed up with 5 stops, MLB Antonio Pierce rebounded from an uneven performance in his last game to collect 7 stops and force a fumble.  Pierce might be on the downside of his career, but he can still spearhead this run defense when he needs to as evidenced by his masterful orchestration of the Giants on the field defense on Sunday.  Rookie LB Bryan Kehl, the player with the most athletic ability of any LB on this roster, showcased his talent with a solid 4 tackle performance, no glaring mistakes (big for a rookie) and a heady interception off a James Butler hit.  Kehl is coming folks, I’ve been telling you that for weeks, and he is coming…just wait.

Defensive Backs: Kevin Dockery got the game started off on the wrong foot, by failing to seal the edge on Mewelde Moore’s 32 yard TD scamper on the Steelers’ 4th play from scrimmage.  Dockery simply overcommitted and took himself out of the play before the defense knew what hit them.  S James Butler was reportedly upset over surrendering Nate Washington’s 65 yard TD catch, but Butler should take heart, his play over a majority of the game was outstanding.  Butler ended the Steelers 2nd possession after 3 plays, by making a leaping grab on an ill advised out route thrown by Roethlisberger.  Corey Webster had another good football game, coming up with an INT and being all over the field again anytime his man came near the football.  A Pro Bowl bid has to be seriously considered for Webster for anyone paying attention in the NFC.  Webster did get bailed out by a holding call in which Nate Washington FLEW by him for a negated TD.

Kenny Phillips, you have now officially re-earned your nickname, but it won’t be “Bud” anymore.  I loved “The Cosby Show” and your pre-season nickname was fun for a few weeks, but it’s time for you to move into the big time with your teeth rattling shot on RB Mewelde Moore.  Chances are you’ll have 29 nicknames before I decide on one I like, and hell I may go back to “Bud” but this week your Delta Tau Chi name is…Thumper.  Yes the cute little bunny from Bambi who was too rambunctious for his own good, but the one you never really wanted to kick you.  By you I mean any cartoon character in the vicinity, which none of us are, but let’s not get hung up on technicalities.  Phillips, much like rookie counterpart Bryan Kehl, is starting to round into form as the rookie class of 2007 did.  The best is yet to come, but this Sunday sure was a fun preview.  Phillips made two outstanding open field tackles, first on a 2nd and 4 at the Giants 38 as the Steelers were driving toward the end of the first half and again on WR Limas Sweed, who was initially covered by the blitzing Corey Webster.  Phillips slammed into Moore on a 3rd and 5 play that was flagged for unnecessary roughness, but why bring the referees into this?  This was a good game played by two proud teams, there is no point in ruining it by talking about the horrid, inexcusable, lackluster, “are you fooking blind?” officiating.  I was ok with it really; if it was the aforementioned Stevie Wonder calling the game.

Special Teams: Domenik Hixon made what appeared to be a big special teams play, returning a Steeler punt 28 yards to the Pittsburgh 19 after the Giants turned it over on downs on their previous possession.  As was the theme for 3 quarters though, the offense tripped over itself in the red zone and was forced to rely on the 44 year old legs of K John Carney.  Enough cannot be said about Carney, whose only miss this season has been a blocked FG.  Carney was a perfect 4/4 on the day, and got the Giants their only first half points despite numerous attempts inside the 20 for the G-men.  Given the woeful ability to score TDs from deep inside opponent’s territory, Carney just might be the most valuable Giant thus far this season.  Ok weekly review fans (Daniel in MI this means you), P Jeff Feagles is really good.  I mean super duper terrific happy fun time good.  Feagles averaged 41 yards on 5 punts and when the defense needed to back the Steelers up the most, the old man responded with a 24 yard beauty that pinned Roethlisberger and his mates at their own 10 yard line with almost no chance to march the 90 yards needed to tie the game.

Coaching: Head coach Tom Coughlin once again suspended WR Plaxico Burress for a team transgression, and it did not hurt the Giants on the field or off.  Coughlin’s rules are now respected by the entire team (almost), and this group plays through the whistle and gives every ounce of effort they have inside the white lines.  It’s often said that a team will reflect its coach’s personality after time, and as I’ve mentioned before, this team is a carbon copy of their head coach.  Steady, consistent, aggressive, and unfailingly optimistic about its chances to find a way to win.

Offensive play caller Kevin Gilbride will be skewered more than a Spiedie at a Binghamton Summer BBQ, but rest assured, Gilbride is making the right calls.  Fans bellyache when he passes too much and runs too much, but the fact remains his play calling keeps teams off balance and has this team averaging over 27 points per game, good for 6th in the NFL.  The Giants also lead the league in rushing, and despite only a 2.4 yard per carry average, Gilbride never abandoned the run against the Steelers.  Even in a game against a blitzing team that stuffed the ground game, Gilbride called 35 runs to 32 passes and with the game on the line, again found the right combination for Eli Manning to lead his team to victory.

Steve Spagnuolo’s defense picked up 5 sacks, scooped up 4 INTs, held the Steelers to 1/10 on 3rd downs and kept the black and gold to 249 total yards for the game.  Just like last season, his defense is improving as its becoming more cohesive, and honestly, the best is most likely yet to come.

JPog (Joey’s Player of the Game) – Picking Eli would be easy, but my sentimental pick is DE Mathias Kiwanuka, who picked up 3 sacks and played the game of his short NFL career against the vaunted Steelers offensive line.  Kiwanuka was cut down by a cheap shot in college, saw his draft stock fall, got switched to LB after playing DE all his life, broke his leg in 2007 and missed the Giants Super Bowl run, and then he gets moved BACK to DE after Osi Umenyiora was lost for year.  That not enough?  On the final play of this season’s opening game, Redskins LT Chris Samuels dove at Kiwi’s knees and sprained his ankle.  Congrats to the lanky one, #97, for fighting through injuries, position changes and plenty of doubt to notch a 3 sack game and be a true difference maker on this defense.  For your outstanding courage Mathias, you get a “Rocky” lunchbox and an old Betamax copy of “The Wizard of Oz” (pay attention to the Lion).

JBog (Joey’s Bum of the Game) – The referees.  Wow.  You guys…you.  Wow.

  1. 3rd Down, Giants hold – Ticky tack personal foul on Kenny Phillips for actually trying to make play on a 3rd down the Giants stopped
  2. A blatant neutral zone infraction on Jacobs’ two failed goal line attempts.
  3. Ticky tack holding call on S Michael Johnson on a punt return when the man who was “held” was actually bumped with his toe on the white line.
  4. 3rd Down, Giants convert – Kevin Boss called for a hold on Lamar Woodley that negated a first down run when it was CLEAR as day that it was a clean block and Woodley pulled a Keanu Reeves and flopped to the ground.  (Keanu Reeves is “Joey” for “bad acting”)
  5. 3rd Down, Giants are held – A failed, you guessed it 3rd down conversion for the Giants, helped by CB Deshea Townsend pulling a WR’s jersey almost clean off, but apparently that’s OK in Steeltown.
  6. TD Run by Mewelde Moore – Tuck was held clearly by TE Heath Miller, no call.
  7. 2nd and Goal – Ike Taylor holds at the goal line, no call.

Refereeing is at an all time low in the NFL, and yes I’m biased on some of these calls, but the Steelers got the shaft on some calls too.  It’s almost Halloween; watch out for flaming bags on your front porches you blind as a bat bunch of buffoons.  Alliteration rules.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Pittsburgh Steelers, October 26, 2008)
Oct 292008
 

Practice Squad Moves – Giants Re-Sign QB Andre’ Woodson: As expected, the Giants have re-signed QB Andre’ Woodson to the Practice Squad, after terminating his contract from the Practice Squad last week. To make room for Woodson, the Giants have terminated the contract of OL Clifford Louis from the Practice Squad.

Article on DE Osi Umenyiora: Osi: I Could Have Been Ready to Play by Ralph Vacchiano of The Daily News

Oct 282008
 

October 27, 2008 New York Giants Injury Report – Dockery to Miss Two Weeks: CB Kevin Dockery injured his back late in the second quarter in the game against the Steelers. He did not return. The Giants revealed yesterday that Dockery has a fractured transverse process in his back and will likely miss about two weeks.

“He will probably be out, hopefully no more than two weeks,” said Head Coach Tom Coughlin. “But I’m not sure on that one. It is a transverse process fracture, which is similar to what (linebacker Jonathan) Goff had; but only one. So we shall see.”

LB Bryan Kehl injured his toe. “Bryan Kehl has a toe that was bothering him (Monday) morning,”  said Coughlin. “They have to get the swelling down with regard to that.”

LB Gerris Wilkinson (knee) will likely miss at least one more week.

Article on the Upcoming Giants-Cowboys Game: Justin Tuck: No Excuses for Giants Against Cowboys Minus Tony Romo by Gary Myers of The Daily News

Notes: Steelers’ DE Brett Keisel said he overheard QB Eli Manning calling the play on the 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the second quarter. “I was watching Eli’s lips the whole time and I saw him say, ’32,’ so I went over and tried to tell everyone, ‘It’s right here,’ and we stopped it,” Keisel said.

The Giants ended the Steelers’ interconference home game winning streak at nine.

Manning and the Giants are 20-5 in their last 25 games, including the playoffs.

Manning’s record as a starting quarterback in October is 14-2.

Oct 262008
 

Giants Come From Behind to Defeat Steelers 21-14: In a defensive slugfest, the NFL Champion New York Giants defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-14 at Heinz Field earlier today.  The Giants trailed 14-9 in the fourth quarter but scored 12 unanswered points in the last period in a dramatic victory between what had been two 5-1 teams.  The Giants are now 6-1 and remain in sole possession of the competitive NFC East.

The Giants’ offense was held to 282 total net yards, including 199 net passing yards and 83 net rushing yards, and 14 first downs.  But the Giants did not turn the ball over.  Meanwhile, the Steelers were limited to 249 total net yards, including 154 net passing yards and 95 net rushing yards, and 12 first downs.  The Steelers turned the ball over four times, all four being interceptions by QB Ben Roethlisberger.  The Giants did not allow a sack while the Steelers gave up five sacks.  The Giants were 7-of-19 on third/fourth down conversions while the Steelers were 1-of-14.  The Giants also dominated time of possession 34:24 to 25:36.

The Giants had five offensive possessions in the first half of the game, three of which ended in field goals.  After going three-and-out on their first drive, New York punted.  The Steelers then drove 60 yards in four plays to take a quick 7-0 lead as Roethlisberger completed a 22-yard pass to the tight end and then two plays later HB Mewelde Moore scored from 32 yards out.

The Giants responded with an 11-play, 57-yard drive that ended in a 26-yard field goal by PK John Carney.  QB Eli Manning converted on two key 3rd-and-5 passes on this drive.

The second Steelers’ possession was cut short by an interception by S James Butler. Butler fumbled the ball on the play but CB Corey Webster recovered, setting up the Giants at Pittsburgh’s 42-yard line.  The Giants drove to the Steelers’ 2-yard line, but in five plays (a penalty added an extra down) New York was embarrassingly unable to punch the ball into the end zone.  HB Brandon Jacobs was stuffed at the 1-yard line on three consecutive running plays, including 4th-and-goal.

The Steelers were unable to escape the shadow of the end zone and punted.  WR Domenik Hixon returned the punt 28 yards down to the Steelers’ 19-yard line.  However, the Giants were unable to pick up more than two offensive yards and were forced to settle for a 35-yard field goal.  Steelers 7 – Giants 6.

On the Steelers’ ensuing possession, their fourth of the game, Roethlisberger was once again picked off, this time by LB Bryan Kehl.  The 17-yard return by Kehl and a 15-yard personal foul penalty on the Steelers gave the Giants the ball at the Pittsburgh 29-yard line.  Yet, after picking up one first down, the Giants again settled for a field goal, this one 25 yards out.  Giants 9 – Steelers 7.

The Steelers picked up two first downs on their final drive of the half, but then were forced to punt.  The Giants then kneeled on the football to take a 2-point lead headed into the break.

After intermission, both teams exchanged punts.  On the first play of the Steelers’ second possession in the third quarter, Roethlisberger hit WR Nate Washington for a 65-yard touchdown pass to give the Steelers a 14-9 advantage.

The Giants went three-and-out on their next possession.  This was followed by a bizarre penalty-filled, 10-play possession by the Steelers that only netted 17 yards.  A 53-yard touchdown pass to Washington was nullified by an offensive holding penalty.

The Giants were held to three-and-out again on their next possession.  In three 3rd quarter possessions, the Giants were held to 10 plays and 8 yards.

The good news for New York was the defense once again rose to the occasion.  Webster intercepted Roethlisberger at the Giants’ 25 yard line and returned the ball to the Giants’ 32-yard line.  New York then drove 62 yards in 12 plays, but for the fourth time in the game settled for a short field goal, this time from 24 yards out.  On the drive, Manning converted key passes to TE Kevin Boss (for 16 yards on 3rd-and-9) and WR Amani Toomer (for 30 yards on 4th-and-6).  Steelers 14 – Giants 12.

With just over eight minutes to play in the game, the Steelers received the ensuing kickoff but could not pick up one first down.  The long snap to the Steelers’  punter was off the mark and resulted in a safety.  The game was tied at 14-14.

After the safety, the Giants received the kick and returned the ball 16 yards to the New York 47-yard line.  Manning completed a critical 25-yard pass to WR Steve Smith on 3rd-and-7.  Four plays later, Manning found Boss for the 2-yard score that gave the Giants a 21-14 advantage.

With only three minutes to play and trailing by seven points, the Steelers were unable to pick up one first down and turned over the ball on downs.  The Giants were also unable to run out the clock and the Steelers received the ball one more time with a chance to tie the game late.  But S Kenny Phillips intercepted Roethlisberger on 4th-and-15 to seal the deal for the Giants.

Offensively, Manning finished 19-of-32 for 199 yards, 1 touchdown, and 0 interceptions. HB Derrick Ward had five catches for 43 yards and 13 carries for 37 yards.  Jacobs was limited to 47 yards on 18 carries.  WR Plaxico Burress, who did not start and did not play for the entire first quarter as punishment for missing a medical treatment, was held to 15 yards on three catches.  Toomer caught two passes for 39 yards.  Smith caught three balls for 45 yards and Boss four passes for 34 yards.

Defensively, DE Mathias Kiwanuka picked up three sacks and forced a fumble.  DE Justin Tuck and DE Dave Tollefson also accrued sacks. Butler, Kehl, Webster, and Phillips intercepted passes.

Carney finished the game a perfect 4-for-4 on field goal attempts.

Post-Game Notes: Inactive for the Giants were HB Danny Ware, WR Sinorice Moss, OT Adam Koets, DE Jerome McDougle, LB Gerris Wilkinson (knee), CB Sam Madison, CB R.W. McQuarters, and PK Lawrence Tynes.

WR Plaxico Burress did not start today’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and did not play for the entire first quarter because he missed a mandatory medical treatment session yesterday morning.  Burress was suspended for the October 5th game against the Seattle Seahawks for missing team meetings.

Article on Running Backs Coach Jerald Ingram: New York Giants’ Backs in a Rush to Praise Mentor Ingram by Mike Garafolo of The Star-Ledger

Oct 252008
 

October 24, 2008 New York Giants Injury Report: WR Plaxico Burress (shoulder/neck) returned to practice yesterday. “I feel good,” said Burress. “I had a full day of practice, no limitations, so I am ready to go…I have 48 hours to get ready for the game and I should be back to close to 100 percent.”  Burress is officially listed as “probable” for the game against the Steelers on Sunday.

LT David Diehl (back) and LB Antonio Pierce (quad) practiced.  Diehl and Pierce are both “probable” for the game.

LB Gerris Wilkinson (knee) did not practice all week. He will not play against the Steelers.

Oct 242008
 

10/24/2008

By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Pittsburgh Steelers, October 26, 2008: OK, the Giants did almost as well as one could hope for during the soft part of their schedule.  Going 3-3 or worse would have been borderline disaster.  At 5-1, the Giants are in good shape to start the meat of their schedule.  This is a time of year that hasn’t been very kind to Coughlin’s Giants.  They’ve stumbled near the midway point of each season since Tom Coughlin arrived as head coach.  Some of those stumbles were worse (2004, 2006) than others (2005, 2007).

Looking at the big picture, the next three weeks are a brutal stretch.  It’s not that the Giants can’t beat these three teams.  The Giants are arguably the best team of the bunch.  But the physical and emotional toll the team will take over the course of the next few weeks will be tough.  The Steelers are a very physical football team.  Win or lose, the Giants must recover quickly.  Of the three games, the game against the Steelers is the least important (AFC game).  But if the Giants can manage to win two of their next three, they will be in fine shape.  If they drop two of three or worse, it’s going to be another dog fight down the stretch this season.

Giants on Offense: The Steelers are the #1 defense in the NFL.  They are so good not only because they have good players, but they have employed the same defensive system for decades.  It’s another 3-4 defense and the Giants do not always play at their best against a 3-4.  And a two-gap 3-4 defense often is especially problematic on a slow field and the field on Sunday is supposed to be a bit of a mess.

“They are the number one defense in the league, plain and simple,” says RT Kareem McKenzie.  “You can definitely see why.  They play well with each other, like New England did last year and two years ago.  They know their schemes very well.  They know their integral parts and what to do and what not to do.  They don’t make very many mistakes.  They do it very well, they have done it very well for a long time and they have a very good group of veterans in there to fill those positions and they’ve been around for a long time.”

All good or great defenses are predicated on stopping the run first and foremost.  Pittsburgh’s game plan will be to stuff Brandon Jacobs, make the Giants one-dimensional, and then get after Eli Manning.  Rattle him.  Force mistakes and turnovers.  Pittsburgh allows less than 70 rushing yards per game and holds opposing rushers to less than three yards per rush.  That’s run defense.

The two ways the Giants could approach this game would be to either (1) don’t play into Pittsburgh’s strength and come out throwing, or (2) say “screw it”, you may be good at stopping the run, but we can run the ball against anyone.  It will be interesting what approach the Giants will take.  The Giants have largely been balanced so we will probably see both, but don’t be surprised if the Giants come out throwing more often early.

But throwing against the Steelers isn’t easy either, they allow fewer passing yards than any other team (less than 160 per game).  So pick your poison.

The Giants are a good offensive football team.  The Steelers are a good defensive football team.  The field may be an issue.  This isn’t going to be pretty.  The real key, in my mind, is minimize the mistakes.  Don’t turn the ball over.  Keep negative yardage plays, including sacks and penalties, to a minimum.  The team that makes the most mistakes will likely lose.

As in any good 3-4 defense, the heart of the defense is the linebacking corps.  The edge rushers, the outside linebackers, are particularly dangerous.  James Harrison has 8.5 sacks already and LaMarr Woodley has 7.5.  James Farrior and Larry Foote, the inside guys, round out a very strong unit.

“The key to that defense is their linebacking crew,” says LT David Diehl. “Those guys are diverse, they can do a lot of stuff, and if you look on third down they are blitzing almost 70 percent of the time. This is a team that plays well at home, they have the same record as us, they are looking to get a win and keep their season rolling, and we know it is going to be a tough battle. We are going to have to go in there and play our best football, convert against that package, pick it up, and that is the time when big plays happen.”

Making things worse for the Giants is that NT Casey Hampton, a Pro Bowler, is likely to return this week after missing the last three games due to injury.  He gums things up inside.  The job of everyone up front is to free the linebackers.  However, LDE Aaron Smith may miss the game due to personal reasons (late note: he is listed as “questionable”).

The secondary will be without CB Bryant McFadden, who has both started and played nickel back this year.  The Giants may be able to take advantage of his absence.  Deshea Townsend is the right corner and Ike Taylor is the left corner.  They are solid, but they can be beat.  The safeties are former Giant Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu, a very aggressive and physical safety who is coming off a concussion.

For better or worse, my guess is that the Giants pass the ball early, attempting to use the passing game to open up the running game.  Coughlin may decide to stick with what brought the Giants here however.  If the Giants don’t turn the ball over or make a bunch of mistakes, they should be able to generate enough points to win if the defense does its job.  But those are big offensive and defensive “ifs”.

To me, the focal point offensively will be the Giants’ offensive line (this will be their toughest challenge by far to date) and Eli Manning (the Giants absolutely need him to out-duel Ben Roethisberger).

Giants on Defense: On paper, the one advantage the Giants have in this game is their offensive line.  Pittsburgh’s line has struggled this year, especially in pass protection.  And with LT Marvel Smith (back) ailing (late note: he will not play), this is an advantage the Giants must desperately take advantage of.  The Steelers have some size, but the Giants are by far more athletic.  Hopefully the field won’t prove to be the big equalizer here.  A slow track hurts quickness.

The Steelers had expected Willie Parker (knee) to return this week, but he has not progressed as hoped and may not play (late note: he is listed as “doubtful”).  If healthy, he can hit the homerun.  But his back-up, Mewelde Moore, is dangerous as both a runner and receiver.  He’s a guy who has presented some problems for the Giants in the past when he was with the Vikings.  Don’t discount him.

Like the Steelers, the Giants will attempt to shut down the run and make Pittsburgh one dimensional.  This is especially important in order to take advantage of the Steelers’ pass protection woes.  What helps too is that Roethlisberger will hold onto the football.

Though the Steelers prefer to run the football, they will go four wide and throw it.  Hines Ward has top intangibles, he just knows how to get open and make plays.  He has five touchdown receptions already.  Santonio Holmes is more of the deep threat.  The Giants’ corners will be challenged by both, though there is some question whether or not Holmes will play as he was just arrested for drug use (late note: he will not play).  Third receiver Nate Washington is an important cog in the passing attack as is TE Heath Miller.  Watch out for Moore on screen passes!

I expect this game to be a brawl.  I think the Steelers will attempt to out-muscle the Giants and wear them down.  New York also has to be very wary of the trick play – a flea flicker or an option pass from a receiver or back.  The key for the Giants will be to stop the run and get after Roethlisberger.  The Giants will have to be tough and physical, but they also need to take advantage of their speed advantage.  Will the grass field negate that?

Giants on Special Teams: Knock on wood, but the Steelers’ return game hasn’t proved to be particularly dangerous this season.  However, the Steelers are solid everywhere else.  In close games, between good teams, special teams play often decides the contest.  Don’t be surprised if this is the difference in the game…for better or worse.

Oct 242008
 

October 23, 2008 New York Giants Injury Report: WR Plaxico Burress (shoulder/neck) did not practice again yesterday. He underwent tests at a local hospital and no serious damage was revealed.

“There say there is nothing bone; no vertebra, nothing like that,” said Head Coach Tom Coughlin.  “He is very sore; still stiff today. But the reason that all of the tests were made was because he continued to have this stiff neck and issues along those lines. We thought it was down in the trap where it started from. So we wanted to rule everything out. All I got was on the field that there was nothing of the nature of any kind of vertebrae or anything like that. It is muscle…We will see how he does tomorrow.”

LT David Diehl (back) practiced on a limited basis. “Diehl worked; he got some limited work,” said Coughlin. “It was good to see him out there. He is much improved.”

“I felt great,” said Diehl. “The coaches and the medical staff did it a little more for precaution just to let me rest, but I felt great, practiced today, and felt good out there. I mean there is no doubt in my mind I am playing this weekend.”

LB Antonio Pierce (quad) practiced again for the second day in a row.

LB Gerris Wilkinson (knee) did not practice again.

WR David Tyree has suffered a hamstring injury, the severity of which is not publicly known. Tyree is still on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) List.

More Practice Squad Moves – Giants Terminate Contract of QB Andre’ Woodson: The Giants have re-signed CB Rashad Barksdale to the Practice Squad, after terminating his contract from the Practice Squad on Tuesday. To make room for Barksdale, the Giants have terminated the contract of QB Andre’ Woodson from the Practice Squad. However, Head Coach Tom Coughlin did indicate that the Giants would attempt to re-sign Woodson to the Practice Squad next week.

Article on Head Coach Tom Coughlin: New York Giants Coach Coughlin Not Happy with Mistake-Filled Victory Over 49ers by Mike Garafolo of The Star-Ledger

Article on WR Plaxico Burress: Pittsburgh Steelers Expecting Same Old Plaxico Burress When Giants Visit Sunday by Kevin Manahan of The Star-Ledger