And the Beat Goes On...
And the Beat Goes On...
Without Jacobs or Burress, Manning takes control; Domenik Hixon's 261 all-purpose yards lead the way in Giant Victory
The Arizona Cardinals viewed this game as a "statement" game. At 7-3, they could wrap up an NFC West title with a win over the Giants. What better way to announce both the arrival and legitimacy of your team by beating the defending Super Bowl Champions - at the very stadium where they shocked the world just 10 months ago?
If you were a Giants fan tuning into the game just before kickoff, it might have been a bit surprising to find Brandon Jacobs in street clothes. There was speculation that Jacobs may sit to rest his swollen knee, but the reality of that 6'4", 264 pound bulldozer wearing less gear than his head coach began to sink in as Derick Ward was warming up along the New York Giants sidelines for his first start of the season. After the first Giants offensive series, wide receiver Plaxico Burress was held out for the remainder of the game with an aggrivated hamstring. Without their most dominant runner and arguably most important receiver on the field, the Giants once again controlled the flow of the game and made a statement of their own. That statement was "10-1", with a 37-29 win over the Arizona Cardinals in Glendale, AZ.
The Cardinals were extremely pumped for this game, since they had put so much emotion into what the outcome would mean for their eminence within league circles. The intensity they brought to the field in the first half visibly affected the Giants' normally "flaccid" reactions to opponent celebrations or taunts. In the first half, center Shaun O'Hara was flagged for unnecessary roughness, and Amani Toomer was called for unsportsmanlike conduct; both penalties were the result of releasing frustration over the physical nature of the game to that point.
Much like the Eagles game two weeks prior, the final score doesn't indicate the control defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and his defense had over the Cardinals offense. He did a phenominal job for the better part of three and a half quarters in keeping the monsterous tandem of Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald in check. WR Steve Breaston was the Cardinals second leading receiver as a result; as fellow blogger Yanks1in99 had pointed out earlier this week, you have to pick your poison with Arizona. Because the secondary was effective in shadowing the two main guns, Breaston often found himself in one-on-one coverage. Kurt Warner worked the formula that had seen success against the Giants defense in other matchups this season; quick drops and quick releases on crossing patterns. Warner surpassed the 300-yard mark for the fifth straight game; but with the exception of a late TD pass to Boldin with just over four minutes remaining in the game, the majority of his 351 yards were between the 20-yard lines.
Two important assignments I had hit on in my "Things to Do" list for this game were carried out. First was the need to get physical with Boldin and Fitzgerald at the line of scrimmage. My take on this was that Safeties Kenny Phillips and Michael Johnson would be backing up Aaron Ross and Corey Webster, and couldn't allow the underneath completions to turn into huge gains, since Boldin and Fitzgerald make their living by yards after the catch. Proof that the Giants carried out Steve Spagnuolo's decree today of allowing "no more than 4.0 yards after the catch" was cornerback Aaron Ross' four penalties, including hands to the face, illegal contact and pass interference calls where he locked arms with who he was covering. Fox color analyst Daryl Johnston noted, "You need to be physical with these receivers, and have to expect to take a few of these calls against you". The star of the Giants secondary was rookie Kenny Phillips; he was sent in on a number of blitzes after Warner and was spot on in his coverage all day. In one of the best defensive plays I've seen this season, Phillips broke up a sure touchdown in such a heads-up manner that makes you wonder why defenders don't do it more often. With 5:32 left in the first half, Arizona was on the Giants 8-yard line; Warner threw a bullet over the middle to Larry Fitzgerald in the back of the endzone. Fitzgerald caught it leaping, slightly above his helmet and appeared to have a firm grasp on it. Before he could come down with both feet, Phillips turned toward him and simply popped it out of his hands with a little jab. So in the moment, so simple, yet so effective. Rookie cornerback Terrell Thomas got his first NFL interception (Waner's only pick on the day) with just over 10 minutes remaining in the game.
The second thing I felt the Giants defense had to do was rattle Kurt Warner's cage. I don't remember seeing a single statistic on screen during Fox's coverage (we wouldn't want to take precious camera time away from field reporter Tony Siragusa, now would we?) but Warner had to have been knocked down 16-20 times, as linemen Justin Tuck, Fred Robbins and Dave Tollefson were harrassing Warner all day. During the Cardinals fist possession of the second half, I counted four straight knockdowns where Warner had just gotten the pass off in time, but wound up flat on his back. The Giants were able to stop the run with ease as the Cards gained a paltry 23 yards on 15 carries for 1.5 yards a carry. The gap space provided by Arizona's spread-out offensive line created easy lanes for the Giants secondary to plow through on blitz packages. The other defensive highlight was on the sack of Warner, where Justin Tuck overshot his rush but then caught him from behind and swatted the ball loose. Mathias Kiwanuka recovered the fumble.
On the offensive side of the ball, Eli Manning had one of his best performances of the year. He was highly efficient, completing 26 of his 33 passes for 240 yards and 3 touchdowns. Manning had two passes dropped on him today; one by Amani Toomer during the first drive of the game that was right in his gut and would have been good for about 20 yards. Kudos, however, goes to fullback Madison Hedgecock - not only for finally catching (and holding onto) a pass, but for a nice cutback on a defender for a 2-yard touchdown. Amani Toomer and TE Kevin Boss caught Manning's other two touchdowns. Toomer and Boss both had 4 receptions on the day, but New York's leading receiver was Domenik Hixon. His six catches for 57 yards are just the beginning of his contributions on the day.
Hixon was outstanding on kickoff returns; on back-to-back kickoffs in the 2nd quarter, Hixon had returns of 83 and 68 yards. Hixon finished the day with 201 return yards, on three kickoffs and two punts. "Great blocking, if you look on the film, the guys up front blocking - they give you the seams" Hixon told reporters after the game. "A couple times, I don't think I was touched at all until I was tackled. It was a phenomenal job and it starts with them."
The normally solid running game suffered a bit without Jacob's bruising presence, but Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw filled in well enough to maintain the offensive balance necessary for Eli to pass effectively. Ward - who found out an hour before kickoff that he would start - finished the day with 99 total yards and a touchdown. "I don't think it's a mental adjustment" said Ward, "Throughout the course of the week, I practice like I'm the starter. Even if I'm taking second-string reps or whatever, so to be able to go out there and duplicate, replicate what I do during practice - it pays dividends for the offense when we play on Sundays."
Things don't get any easier for the Cardinals - they have a date with the 5-5-1 Eagles on Thanksgiving Day. A win in Philadelphia will also accomplish the goal of grabbing the NFC West title. But head coach Ken Whisenhunt wanted that goal to be reached today. What Arizona did get out of today's loss will be similar to what the Giants got out of their Monday night loss in Cleveland to the Browns; a wake up call. The Cardinals are an extremely talented team, and some better special teams coverage and a few tweaks to their defensive scheme could have possibly made this game a lot closer than it was.
As for the Giants, they scored 37 offensive points - on the road, without their starting running back, and without one of their starting wide receivers. If there was any doubt that the offensive line - especially the play of guards Rich Seubert and Chris Snee - is the most valuable component of the Giants offense, today's game should eliminate it. Speaking of making statements; the Giants offense wanted to serve notice as well; while not as flashy, or perhaps even as talented as the Arizona Cardinals - they could keep bulbs active on the scoreboard and move the ball at will, too. That moment came in the third quarter. The Cardinals had possession for 4:40, drove 90 yards in 12 plays and RB Tim Hightower's 1-yard plunge cut the Giants lead to five, 24-19. On the very next drive, New York knocked 4:34 off the clock on a 10-play, 80 yard drive that culminated with a 10-yard TD strike to Boss, which hammered out the dent Arizona had just put into their lead. That's what the past five games have been about for the Giants; answering the bell. "Give us a challenge, we'll face it, and we'll meet it. No... we'll bury it."
NOTES & COMMENTS:
Number 17 is number five. If the Giants were an engine that was just rebuilt, Plaxico Buress would be one of those extra parts sitting off to the side of the driveway that didn't seem to fit anywhere. You don't know where it was supposed to go, but you know it's probably something important. Weeks later, you hope that you won't wind up getting stuck in the middle of nowhere if the engine breaks down. But the engine works... and keeps running, and keeps running. At this point, it's clear that Steve Smith and Amani Toomer are more reliable, more integral and more important to the Giants offense than Plaxico. Domenik Hixon is more athletic and more of a potential gamebreaker; Kevin Boss is more steadfast and tough.
Off and on. And off. K John Carney was given the start today over Lawrence Tynes (who started last week in place of John Carney, who had started for...). Tom Coughlin made the decision to go with the healthier, more reliable veteran once it had been announced that the University of Phoenix Stadium roof would be closed.
Anything less than a 4.0 average is a passing grade. As mentioned above, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo put it to his secondary that he wanted the Cardinals receivers wrapped up as quickly as possible - the goal was to limit Boldin, Fitzgerald and co. to a game average of 4.0 YAC or less. The end result was 3.4 YAC.
Distance, but with familiarity in the rear-view. With the Carolina Panthers losing to the Falcons 45-28, the Giants are two games up on the rest of the NFC in jockeying for that #1 playoff seed. However, with their 35-22 drubbing of San Francisco, the Dallas Cowboys are primed for another big run. Healthy and jelling again, Tony Romo and Terrell Ownes combined for 213 yards and a TD through the air. The Giants have a trip to Dallas in three weeks, where the 'Boys will be looking to even the score after the pounding they took in the Meadowlands. Arizona is playing very good football and the Panthers are still sitting at 8-3, but Dallas may just be the team to worry about most. "Getcha' popcorn ready!"
Statistical sources: sportsline.com, foxsports.com
Daryl Johnston quote: Fox Network / Domenik Hixon, Derrick Ward quotes: giants.com/multimedia