Tag:Brandon Jacobs
Posted on: October 14, 2009 2:39 pm
Edited on: October 15, 2009 2:06 pm

NY Giants Week 6 Preview: Saints of Circumstance

When the first whistle blows, there will be two undefeated NFC juggernauts going toe to toe. When the last whistle blows, there should be no questions asked about the legitimacy of either team.

In case you haven't heard, there's a big game taking place at the Superdome this weekend. The Saints - with their revitalized defense and strong-as-ever offensive attack  - lie in wait with their ears to the ground, waiting to pounce the moment a thundering herd of blue from New York reaches the watering hole...

There are number of interesting storylines attached to this game. There's Eli's Plantar fasciitis, which is a simple case of painful tissue swelling on the underside of the foot. There's deportee Jeremey Shockey - which is a simple case of painful tissue swelling between the ears. There's 5-0. There's 4-0. There's NFC bragging rights on the line, at least until the Giants travel to Minnesota for the last game of the regular season (depending on how the rest of the year shakes out, of course - the Saints do not face the Vikings this season). 

A somewhat overlooked element in this contest is the improvement both teams have made in what were believed to be their weakest areas. The Giants limped towards the finish line last year with no "legitimate" number one receiver, and concerns about their ability to score points and duel with high-flying teams like the Cowboys, Eagles, Cardinals and Saints were more than warranted. For New Orleans, it was their defense; there's no denying the fact that watching the scoreboard at a Saints game last year was like watching the backbox of a pinball machine played by 'Tommy' himself.  Had they been able to clamp down on their opponents to compliment the offensive production, they may have been the odds-on favorite to make it to the Super Bowl.

Fast forward to 2009.

There's lots to like about the 2009 New Orleans Saints, but first and foremost is their improved defense. Veteran Darren Sharper has single handedly turned one of the worst secondary units of 2008 into one of the most feared in 2009. New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has obviously worked well with new CB's Malcom Jenkins and Jabari Greer, but Sharper has been the primary influence, and his presence on the field is unmistakeable - it could turn out to be the best off-season signing of the year by any team.

The Saints currently boast the 6th rated defense in the league, so it isn't the secondary alone that's to credit for the turnaround. Allowing only 83 yards per game on the ground, with 10 sacks through four games against teams with pretty good offensive lines speaks volumes about their play at the line of scrimmage.

The offense continues to shine; despite less-than expected production over the last two games vs. the Bills and Jets, I'm not convinced (as many fans and analysts seem to be) that the Saints are somehow suddenly being "figured out". Rest assured that Drew Brees, Marques Colston and co. are still a force to be reckoned with. When WR Lance Moore is fully healthy again - and Sean Payton figures out why he's not getting Reggie Bush more involved in the game planning - they'll be back to putting a 40-spot on the board.

In regards to the running game, the Saints have one. Mike Bell was impressive the first two games of the season, and Pierre Thomas was equally impressive in the last two - this could be the makings of quite a 1-2 punch out of the backfield for New Orleans.

Imagine what Drew Brees could do with an effective running game?

Just imagine what the Yankees could do if they added Matt Holliday & Jason Bay to their already potent lineup... or just go with the odds that the Yankees will actually sign those two, wait until next year and see it for yourself.  

On the flip side, there's lots to like about the 2009 New York Giants, but first and foremost is their newfound corps of wide receivers. What initially appeared to be a severe void in their offense is now their most valuable resource. Second-year man Mario Manningham is proving that he may, indeed, have been the steal of the 2008 draft. His penchant for bobbling the ball is more than just dramatic flair; his circus catch against Cowboys corner Terence Newman in week 2 was exciting highlight material, but his inability to NOT bobble every pass thrown to him against the Bucs a week later was cause for concern. It goes without saying he's commited to improvement, which is why I'll say it. Rookie Hakeem Nicks has bounced back rather nicely from his week 1 injury to show he's capable of being the big-play threat Eli Manning needs, and Steve Smith has been nothing short of spectacular - playing more like the Steve Smith (yes, the other Steve Smith), and producing even better stats than that Steve Smith is. I think...

In a preseason blog, I called out Smith for letting a 60-yard dart slip right through his hands on a sure touchdown - I think my exact words were, "If Smith (and Hixon) - the team's starter(s) - can't make those catches in a preseason game, what will they do when it really counts? I guess he showed me.

Eli Manning finally seems 100% at ease with his offense, and perhaps those distractions of Shockey and Plaxico Burress were a little too much too deal with week in & week out. He's already built a strong report with these three receivers, and they seem to be just as synced up with him as Burress and Amani Toomer ever were.

The one concern I have is Brandon Jacobs. After their opening game against Washington, I wrote about the hit LB London Fletcher threw on him that would have knocked most human beings into a month-long coma. The funny thing was that Jacobs really didn't seem at all stunned by the hit, though he left the game for a bit and was looked at by the trainers. In the postgame blog, I wrote that "He didn't miss any time, but he never quite seemed the same after that."

Unfortunately, Jacobs still hasn't looked the same. He's suddenly and unexplainably become a very "tackleable" running back. This is not the Brandon Jacobs we've grown accustomed to, and had it not been for the exceptional play of Ahmad Bradshaw this season we'd be finding photos of the Giants running game on the back of milk cartons - "Have you seen this ability?". At some point, Brandon needs to shake off whatever is holding him back - if he's going to go down at the initial point of contact, then he's not very useful. 

And in the end - after extolling the virtues of the successful revamping of both the Giants wide receivers and the Saints secondary, what will this game come down to?

Can Steve Smith get open on Darren Sharper?

Will Manning continue his heads-up, mistake free play?

Can the Giants score from inside the 20's?

Will Pierre Thomas & Reggie Bush run all over the Giants defense the way Marion Barber & Felix Jones did?

Do the Saints have a plan to contain Ahamad Bradshaw?

Can Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora get to Brees quickly enough to force turnovers?

Will Manning's foot hold up for an entire game?

Will Jeremy Shockey be able to control his rage once he realizes that his former team is completely ignoring him and his pissing-match tactics?

Is there enough going on here to get your mouth watering?

Could I write a little more like Pete Prisco?

I make no predictions. I expect this game to be all it's hyped up to be - one for the ages. Or at least "one for" this season. For now, it's the best the NFL can possiby offer - and no matter which team wins, you can be sure the one that loses will be heard from come the playoffs. And that's really what everyone should be looking for in this game - legitimacy. There's enough mediocrity and lackluster play to go around - it's high time that we have more than one or two teams with a stranglehold on the NFL. There's nothing wrong with having seven or eight teams fighting for 'elite' status. 

A loss is a loss, and win is a win. But if I may take liberties with literary greatness, I'll credit George Orwell and say that - as you and I both know... " "All losses are equal, but some losses are more equal than others".

References: TheTimes-Picayune.com, pro-football-reference.com

Posted on: September 28, 2009 2:47 pm
Edited on: September 28, 2009 2:50 pm

New York Fans Have 'Two For The Show'

If you're looking for a backup running back that can single-handedly take control of a game, then look no further than East Rutherford: Leon Washington & Ahmad Bradshaw are #1 and #1A in the NFL

 Bradshaw's proving that 'Fire' can replace 'Wind'.

When the Jets and Giants offenses take the field for their first possession of a game, it's veteran Thomas Jones and 'Mount' Brandon Jacobs who are called upon to get things going. They are fixtures - penned in under all circumstances for the opening drive on gameday, and have earned those roles the hard way. Their presence in the backfield is unquestioned; their contributions are worthy of praise and their commitment to victory is always apparent. Each back brings something to the table that forces opposing defenses to plan around and prepare for, and over the past few seasons they've been instrumental in the level of success their organizations have attained. They get the attention and focus, and are expected to start the engines.   

But what happens if that engine begins to sputter? When the flames turn blue and begin to flicker - and the most subtle breeze threatens to extinguish what's left of the fire - fans of these New York teams have grown accustomed to seeing their leading men take a back seat while their understudies come in and stoke the furnace to get the engines chugging again.

In reality, the term understudy is not an entirely accurate description. An understudy is someone who learns the entirety of a lead performer's role so they are able to replace that regular performer when/if required. When looking at the roles asked of the Jets' Leon Washington and the Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw, it's obvious - they have their own parts to play, and in many respects they are stealing the spotlight from the leads. And their head coaches wouldn't have it any other way.

Leon Washington earned the tag "game breaker" right off the bat; the 117th overall pick in the 2006 draft, Leon began turning heads in the '06 preseason with his speed and agility on kick returns. At the time, the Jets had signed Kevan Barlow away from the 49ers as the heir apparent to Curtis Martin, who had just retired. It didn't take long for Washington to outshine his lead performer, and Jets fans immediately recognized him for the threat that he was. Against the Detroit Lions in October, Washington racked up over 120 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns in a 31-24 victory. He would prove dangerous in the passing attack later on that year with over 100 yards through the air against the Miami Dolphins on Christmas day. He wrapped up the year as the team's rushing leader, and despite taking a back seat to Jones the following season has been a force to be reckoned with ever since - giving opposing defensive coordinators and special teams coaches fits in preparing for him. 

Ahmad Bradshaw's rise to prominence came a year later, having been drafted as the 250th overall pick out of Marshall in '07. Unlike Washington, Bradshaw's career started with less fanfare and more trepidation on the part of his coaching staff. His preseason performance was lackluster, prone to fumbling on kickoff returns and struggling to find open running lanes. Veteran Reuben Droughns began the 2007 season as the kickoff returner, but the aging Droughns started to show signs of slowing down and his abilities were quickly deteriorating. That - combined with injuries to Jacobs and Derrick Ward - gave Bradshaw the opportunity to show his stuff. His was given his first significant role in a game against the Buffalo Bills on December 23rd - and responded with 151 yards rushing on just 17 carries, including an 88-yard TD where he shot through the line like a missle and sprinted all the way to the end zone untouched. His team leading 42-yards rushing in Super Bowl XLII and heads-up recovery of an Eli Manning fumble further increased his stock. Despite losing 60-days worth of training camp heading in to the 2008 season (spent in Abingdon Regional Jail for violating probation for a juvenile charge), he worked his way back into shape and led the Giants in yards per carry with 6.7 for the season, being the third man on the totem pole in the "Earth, Wind and Fire" trio of running backs. 

Bradshaw is currently leading the Giants in rushing with 201 yards (5.7 per carry), despite touching the ball 23 fewer times than starter Jacobs. This past Sunday in Tampa Bay, Bradshaw did what Jacobs could not; find the open lanes and make defenders have to work at dragging him down. Even though the Giants dominated field possession, the game clock and every offensive statistic possible, this could have been a very different game if Bradshaw was not there to keep the clock ticking and the chains moving. 

Washington - despite being knee deep in a contract dispute - is the good soldier who puts his head down and does his job. He continues to be the x-factor for the Jets - and even though his performance this past Sunday against Tennessee was subdued in comparison, who can forget last years matchup in Music City when the Jets rolled to a 34-13 victory over the undefeated Titans? Washington ran for 83 yards on just 8 carries, and his 61-yard TD dash in the last quarter turned out to be the nail in the coffin. Whatever the details of his contract dispute are, it's hard to imagine that someone as valuable to his team as Washington is could be asking for anything more than he rightfully deserves.

This is not in any way meant to diminish the talent of other quote-unquote backup running backs in the league; some of the more valuable 2nd stringers like Mewelde Moore (Pittsburgh) and Darren Sproles (SD) have been clutch for their teams. And yes, there are other backup RB's out there such as Dallas' Felix Jones and New Orleans Pierre Thomas who have shown amazing ability off the bench and on special teams. But they haven't dominated games. They haven't been out there standing head and shoulders above the other 21 players on the field; like a solitary sailboat in an endless blue ocean, you fixate on the boat because there's really nothing else for you to look at.  

These are two prolific athletes. They may be backups on the depth chart, but they are second to none when it comes to the intensity and passion they spill all over the gridiron. In a day and age where leaders need to lead both statistically and emotionally, it's nice to know that there are two young men here in the Apple that have the same potential to do what players like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Adrian Peterson and Randy Moss can do - that is, to hoist their temmates up on their shoulders and offer them a ride.

The fact that they come out of nowhere to do this makes the experience that much sweeter. 

Every team is in the same boat; they trust their captains and sail the NFL seas with confidence in their crew. But every once in a while, things can slow down and goals become harder to reach than first thought. When spirits are low and someone needs to step up, Leon Washington and Ahmad Bradshaw seem to provide the gusts needed when the sails are up.

References: pro-football-reference.com, nfl.com

Posted on: September 27, 2009 5:43 pm
Edited on: September 28, 2009 8:21 am

Trampled Bay

Earth, Fire & Weather too Hot for Bucs to Handle as Big Blue Rolls Bucs 24-0

 Ahmad Bradshaw led the way with 104 yards

This past week, coach Tom Coughlin threw down the gauntlet.

Despite being fresh off the heels of a big divisional win on the road in Dallas, Coughlin challenged his team to show up in Tampa this weekend prepared to prove to him that the effort displayed last Sunday night was just a fluke, and that they could control the running game on both sides of the line. He wanted to see his defensive line shut down former teammate Derrick Ward and the rejuvinated Cadillac Williams - and the offense to regain it's form and command with the ground attack that led the NFL just a season ago. Coach Coughlin should leave Raymond James stadium this afternoon with a sense of relief and pride in the fact that his linemen responded on both counts, even it's due in some part to the uninspired play of the Buccaneers.

As if the heat brought down from Coughlin's ultimatum wasn't enough to deal with, temperatures on the field were a blistering 100+ degrees by game time. It was all just enough to ignite the running game; Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs combined for 196 yards - with some extra sprinkled in by rookie Gartrell Johnson and QB Eli Manning - to rack up 226 yards on the ground this afternoon as the Giants buried the lifeless Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24-0.

Eli Manning didn't have to do that much in today's game; he threw two touchdown passes to Steve Smith and Sinorice Moss (his first catch of the year) and was able to keep himself from trying to hard to squeeze passes in where they shouldn't be. The second TD strike to Moss was the one that put them up by 24 and iced it for New York. Backup David Carr was brought in off the bench with just under 12 minutes left in the game, which gives you an idea of what a stranglehold the G-Men had on this contest.

The defense did their share by limiting the Bucs to a measly 86 yards of total offense; QB Byron Leftwich will be waking up in a cold sweat all night dreaming that he's about to get knocked to the ground again. Despite not regisgtering a sack in the game, the front four of the Giants were able to penetrate the Bucs o-line at will, which resulted in numerous ill-advised throws by Leftwich (one of which was intercepted by cornerback Terrell Thomas). In the fourth, Tampa head coach Raheem Morris brought in 2nd year QB Josh Johnson in lieu of the ineffective Leftwich. Johnson appeared to bring a bit of a spark to the Bucs offense, and was able to thread the needle a couple of times despite prettu tight coverage by the Giants secondary - which continues to play well despite missing the services of starting cornerbacks Kevin Dockery and Aaron Ross.

Johnson - who Morris had referred to as his "permanent backup" to either Leftwich or QB of the future Josh Freeman - may need to get a little more attention from the coaching staff in the weeks ahead if Tampa plans to be part of a postseason race. He engineered the only substantial drive of the game for the Bucs, and even got them down to the Giants 5-yard line. He must have been pretty jacked up at the opportunity to score, as all four of his passes sailed high and fast, over and through, his receivers.

In the end, this was a solid effort from the Giants. They beat a team by 24 points they should have beaten by 24 points, and regardless of gameplans or ineptitude, it's difficult to shut down any professional ball club for a full 60 minutes. Next week, Big Blue travels to Kansas City for their third straight road game to take on the 0-3 Kansas City Chiefs - who just had their dorrs blown off by the McNabb-less, Westbrook-less Philadelphia Eagles. Manning and company will need to keep their heads on straight and take it one game at a time, as the week 6 showdown at the Superdome against the seemingly unstoppable Saints looms larger and larger as a potential matchup for NFC conference dominance.

It's not work that kills... 

By now, it's apparent that the active members of the Giants secondary have been reaping the benefits of the work they've put in through preseason and at practice over the past couple of weeks. It's clear that defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan has spent a lot of time with newly acquired C. C. Brown, rookie Bruce Johnson and the rest of the defensive backfield to fill the void left by the injuries to Aaron Ross and Kevin Dockery.

With news breaking this week that sensational 2nd-year safety Kenny Phillips will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury, this group will have to work even harder to maintain the cohesiveness shown over the first three weeks of the seaon. 2nd-year CB Terrell Thomas seems to be putting things together; he's getting to the ball much faster than he had last season, and his open field tackling is much improved. With the steady & reliable Corey Webster being the veteran and de facto leader of the group, the Giants could be doing a lot worse.

... it's worry.

Is it too soon to start worrying about Brandon Jacobs?

Ever since absorbing that massive hit at the hands of Redskins defender Albert Haynesworth in week 1, Jacobs has not looked like the same back. Since the 2nd half of that game, Jacobs has been prone to being dropped on the first or second touch of a defender, which is very unlike him. His downhill running style and propensity for bulldozing defenders is clearly lacking; his physical dominance is just not there right now. He doesn't seem slower, he doesn't appear to be "hurt" in the traditional sense. He just seems to be going down too easily. Fox commentator Tony Siragusa said it perfectly during today's game, "Brandon isn't utilizing his size to his advantage. He needs to start creating holes instead of waiting for holes to open up." Yeah, Tony. We know. That's why I hope it's too early to worry about him.

Offensive tackle Kareem McKenzie injured:

McKenzie was injured during a Lawrence Tynes field goal with just under six minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter. He limped off the field and remained on his back for quite some time while trainers examined his right knee. Later he was taken to the locker room on a flat bed for x-rays. No reports were available as of this writing, but let's just say it wasn't looking very optimistic. Guard Rich Seubert also left the game in the third quarter with an apparent right shoulder injury, but remained on the sideline with a wrap and didn't appear to be in much pain. McKenzie and Seubert - along with David Deihl, Shaun O'Hara and Chris Snee - currently lay claim to the longest active streak for offensive lines in the league, with today being the 34th consecutive start for the team of five. Rookie William Beatty would most likely take over the duties at tackle should McKenzie miss any significant time.
Posted on: September 13, 2009 9:34 pm
Edited on: September 13, 2009 10:19 pm

Giants Win Opener Old Fashioned Way:Predictably

Defense Stifles Campbell & Company 23-17; Some "Ware" & Tear, "Nicks" & Cuts Suffered.

The Giants took the season opener at the Meadowlands on Sunday with a 23-17 victory over division rival Washington. In typical fashion - in what appears to be their M.O. when facing the Redskins - they did just as much as they needed to for the win. Nothing more, and nothing less. For all intents and purposes, this game should have been a blowout. The Giants dominated the clock and their offense moved the ball at will... that is until they reached the "green zone" as Tom Coughlin refers to it.

Eli was 'Eli' - sharp as a knife in most situations, while thick as a brick in others. As we've come to expect, Eli threw the occasional ill-advised pass that can leave you scratching your head; for the record, Manning had two of those moments today, and luckily only one of them was intercepted. The beefed up Redskins pass rush - complete with newly acquired $100 million-dollar monstrosity Albert Haynesworth - definitely made their presence known as Eli took a number of shots in the backfield that he will be feeling in the morning. Manning managed to connect with 7 different receivers, which you should try to get used to since you'll be seeing a lot more of that approach to "spreading the wealth" this season.

The running game sputtered at times, but on the whole it did it's job. Brandon Jacobs appeared to injure himself in the first quarter when he took a pass over the middle and was caught by surprise as he turned up the field, where he was stopped dead in his tracks after being absolutely hammered by LB London Fletcher. Jacobs sprang up quickly, but was attended to by team trainers shortly thereafter (they seemed to be looking at his wrist). He didn't miss any time, but he never quite seemed the same after that. Ahmad Bradshaw led the way in rushing yards, and really gave the Washington defense fits at times with his "start-stop-start" motion and agility out of the backfield.

The most significant occurences in this game were the loss of two potentially key offensive contributors. Danny Ware - the newly annointed "Fire" in the "Earth, Wind & Fire" trio of running backs was lost for the day right out of the gate when he dislocated his left elbow on the opening kickoff. In the 4th quarter, rookie WR Hakeen Nicks caught a 7-yard pass but had his left ankle rolled on by - you guessed it - London Fletcher during the takedown. Nicks emerged from the tunnels later in the quarter wearng a boot to reports of a sprained ankle. X-Rays were negative, but Nicks will have an MRI this week to check for damage to the tendons or ligaments in what could be an awful blow to this offense should he miss any significant amount of time.   

The more things change...

While Steve Smith led the team with 80 receiving yards and a stellar over-the-middle grab in the 4th quarter, it was WR Mario Manningham who opened some eyes today by showing flashes of being that big-play threat we though he was when he was drafted out of Michigan two years ago.

His 30-yard touchdown catch along the sidelines in the 2nd quarter not only displayed his ability to remain focused in tight coverage, but it showed his awareness of where his feet are as he danced along the white stripe in spinning away from CB DeAngelo Hall and side stepping the incoming safety LaRon Landry before sprinting towards the end zone. While there's a long season ahead - and a lot of experience to be gained - Manningham seems comfortable in the offense, and appears one hundred-percent healthy.

...the more they stay the same.

Offensively, New York had four possessions inside the Washington 20-yard line in today's game; they came away with two Lawrence Tynes field goals and a turnover on downs on a failed 4th & 1 attempt from the 3-yard line.

Something happens to this team's offense once the field in front of them shortens to 60 feet or less; they begin to play "small ball" if there is such a thing in the NFL. I don't know if that's an appropriate use of the term, but it seems to apply to perfectly to the Giants mentality and approach to reaching the end zone once they hit the 20 yard line. Nibble off a few yards here, shave a little yardage off there - but they rarely take that huge bite out of the opposition and gobble them up.

This is something the Giants had struggled with all of last season, and Coughlin and Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride had better address quickly. Without an established big-play wide receiver, they still lack that legitimate "knockout punch". If they continue to squander red zone opportunities to the tune of 6 points per three trips, they will continue to find themselves hanging on for dear life at the end of games in which they've clearly outplayed their opponent.  

Defensively, the run defense was solid as always. Osi Umenyiora was certainly a sight for sore eyes. In his first game since suffering a knee injury (and the surgery that followed) during the preseason game against the Jets last year, he batted the ball out of the hands of Redskins QB Jason Campbell in the 2nd quarter - then scooped it up and bolted 37-yards for the score.

Without the services of cornerbacks Aaron Ross and Kevin Dockery, the secondary looked very thin. With the exception of the stellar job Corey Webster did covering WR Santana Moss, there was plenty of room for the Redskin receivers to gain chunks of yards after the catch. Newly acquired safety C.C. Brown did not look good out there; he's either still learning his role in the secondary or he's just that noticeable a dropoff from starters Kenny Phillips & Michael Johnson. Either way, he showed very little in preseason and needs to step up his game.

Posted on: December 22, 2008 1:52 am
Edited on: December 22, 2008 10:12 am

RECAP: Giants 34, Panthers 28 (OT)

Running down a Dream


Ward runs for 216 yards; Jacobs' 3 touchdowns lead Giants to OT victory.

The road to Super Bowl 43 will go through East Rutherford. 

Who was that guy wearing #34 tonight?

Derrick Ward has been as valuable a member of the Giants offense as anyone this season, but the effort he put forth tonight was nothing short of unbelievable. So it's appropriate that on a windy night in East Rutherford, New Jersey that "Wind" howled for 216 yards rushing as the offensive catalyst. "Earth" provided the points, as Brandon Jacobs rumbled in for 18 of them to help Tom Coughlin and his team finish off a terrific football game in overtime and claim the top seed for the NFC playoffs. The Giants running game regained its mid-season form to the tune of 301 yards, averaging 7.3 yards a carry as a result of Ward's explosives.

After the game Derrick Ward told NBC-NY sportscaster Bruce Beck "We knew that coming into this game tonight, we had to come out and play like the more desperate team... we needed this, we needed it more and we played like it"

Brandon Jacobs simply said, "Sweet as candy".

This game could have easily ended in regulation; The Panthers attempted a 50-yard field goal on 4th and 5 with :09 seconds remaining, but John Kasay appeared to stutter-step a bit as the ball was snapped, and it sailed just wide to the left, missing the post by no more than two feet. That was just one of the many magical moments in this game, as both teams came to claim home field in the playoffs. They came ready, and they came able - but Derrick Ward came in just a bit more willing than everyone else. Just as important was the Giants offensive line reestablishing itself as a force to contend with and to game plan around. Eli Manning was sacked three times tonight - a trend that needs to be dealt with  - but his overall pass protection was otherwise solid, and the run blocking was as good as it's been all season.

The Giants came out flying as fast as the arctic wind swirling around the Meadowlands. On the fifth play of the game, Manning scrambled away from the grasp of Julius Peppers and tossed a perfectly targeted 40-yard strike into the chest of a double-covered Domenik Hixon. The Giants eventually settled for a John Carney field goal for the early lead. For the remainder of the first half it was the DeAngelo Williams show.

Williams shredded the Giants defense for three touchdown runs in the first half, as the Panthers found themselves moving the ball very effectively thanks to the precision passing of Jake Delhomme who completed 8 of 10 to start the game. Particularly crushing blows were landed on a 60-yard completion to Mushin Muhammad, and a 35-yard strike to pro-bowl receiver Steve Smith; but when in range, DeAngelo got the call. Williams added a fourth touchdown in the second half on a beautiful 30-yard run to the outside, and would have been the toast of the coast had Carolina pulled this one out (the loss, along with Derrick Ward's performance, will unfortunately overshadow an otherwise phenomenal night for him). 

The Giants defense did not look sharp for the better part of the first three quarters, despite the return of sorely missed DT Fred Robbins; Justin Tuck - who did not show up on the injury report - was playing with the flu and was clearly in a haze for most of the night. He actually appeared to vomit on the field following a play in the 4th quarter, forcing the Giants to take a time out they would have preferred to save for later in the game. I don't know if it was better or worse for Justin to be taken in and out of the game as much as he was in the final minutes; understandably, the coaches wanted to give him some rest between plays but the man was literally wobbling at points. I wasn't sure if I should be applauding his efforts or screaming at him for not taking himself out of the game. Eventually the defense buckled down through some halftime adjustments to stop the run, as well as changing coverage schemes on Steve Smith.

As is usually the modus operandi  for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, he focused on the one player he felt could hurt the Giants the most; not that the tandem of Williams and rookie Jonathan Stewart can't do a lot of damage, but Smith is the guy that will kill you if too much attention is payed to stopping the run. Whatever Spagnuolo did, it worked; Smith finished the night with 3 receptions for 47 yards. It was Smith's second lowest output of the season and halted a 4-game streak of 100+ yard performances. He was shut out the entire 2nd half and the overtime; his last reception occurred with 4:34 left in the second quarter. That play was a 3-yard quick out to Smith which was initially ruled a touchdown, but was overturned on a Tom Coughlin challenge because Smith's knee was down before the ball broke the goal line. It only delayed the inevitable however, as Williams plunged in from the 1-yard line on the very next play to put Carolina ahead 21-10.

The Giants scored another 3 before the half came to a close, but at 21-13 appeared to be as out of it as they had been the past two weeks against Dallas and Philadelphia. After exchanging punts to start the second half (twice for Carolina, who received the opening kickoff), the Giants put together one of their quintessential drives... they took 8:36 of the clock on a 12 play, 84-yard drive that culminated in a TD pass to tight end Kevin Boss that pulled New York within a point at 21-20. Boss had another key grab on the drive, when faced with 3rd and 10 form their own 16 yard line, Manning found Boss on the left side for 11 yards which kept the drive alive. Four plays later, Derrick Ward ran for 22 yards that put the Giants at the Carolina 33 yard line.

Following DeAngelo Williams' fourth TD run, the teams exchanged punts again. The Panthers found themselves pinned back on their own 5 yard line, and punter Jason Baker could only muster a 49-yard kick with so little room to work with. The Giants took the ball from the Carolina 44 and rammed another one in - Jacobs' second touchdown of the night brought them within two points, 28-26. Kevin Boss was again a key contributor on this drive, as his 12-yard catch on 3rd and 5 planted Big Blue right on the Carolina 5 to set up the score. Coughlin emphatically waved at the offense to stay on the field for the 2-point conversion. A nicely designed play faked the handoff to Jacobs running right, as Eli dropped back and hit Hixon to the left as he ran under the coverage of cornerback Ken Lucas. Tie Game. Carolina got the ball back with 3:15 remaining in regulation, and executed a perfectly constructed drive to get them within field goal range with just :09 seconds left on the clock. As I stated earlier, Kasay's kick sailed left... overtime.

The Giants won the toss and went 3 & out on their first drive. Carolina returned the favor, and punted deep into Giants territory. R.W. McQuarters fielded the kick at his own 19, but misjudged the ball as it came down; it bounced out of his cradled arms as panther blue & white jerseys descended upon him. Luckily for the Giants (and McQuarters in particular) he was able to regain control as he fell ass-backwards, but now Eli Manning had to start this drive from the 13. Here's how it all went down from there:

Derrick Ward: 51-yard run up the middle to the Carolina 36... Brandon Jacobs: 3-yard run to the Carolina 33... Manning: incomplete pass to Hixon... Ward: 14-yard run right to the Carolina 19... Ward: 17-yard run right to the Carolina 2... Jacobs: 2-yard touchdown run left guard.

Don't you just love those full play-by-play charts?

Two heavyweights standing toe-to-toe in the center of the ring. This was a fantastic game to watch, and the Panthers showed what a heck of a football team they are. Despite the lackluster play of the Giants in recent games, it's not easy to go on the road and face the defending champs in their house, frigid temperatures and windy conditions to boot. And yet they almost left New Jersey with a huge win had it not been for a boot a few feet to the left - and they would have more than deserved it. 

For the Giants, the goal they've tried to reach for weeks now is securely in their back pocket. The team swagger that Antonio Pierce had talked about "getting back" is back - for now. It will be interesting to see how the Giants handle next week's game in Minnesota. Everyone talks about the fact that last year, they played all their starters against the Patriots in week 17... there's no denying that decision - and their performance in that one game - set the stage for one of the most incredible and unlikely playoff runs in NFL history. But then, at that time, they needed that game - they needed that effort against an undefeated team. They needed to see that they could play with the best of them, and needed to gain the confidence that would fill the tank for the long drive to Glendale, Arizona. Some will rest; I would be shocked to see Fred Robbins, Aaron Ross (who suffered a concussion in tonight's game) or perhaps even Jacobs on the field at the Metrodome this Sunday. I don't know what to expect, and I have no thoughts at this point. I just know it feels different this year, so I'm not expecting the same all-out effort I had the pleasure of seeing live in week 17 last year.

In his postgame press conference, Coach Coughlin said, "You talk about losing two games to divisional teams, but losing them really in not good fashion - particularly offensively. So to go out and to play well... to hang in there - to have the opportunity to get the thing to overtime, was a very very good sign."

A very good sign indeed coach. A very good sign indeed.



*DeAngelo Williams' touchdown in the 4th quarter was his sixth rushing score from 30+ yards this season.  It puts him in the record books, sandwiched between the great Jim Brown and ...the great Jim Brown. "First Down" did it 7 times during the 1958 season, and 6 times during the 1963 season. Congratulations to DeAngelo on an amazing year.

 *According to play-by-play man Al Michaels, the pass interference call on Panthers CB  Ken Lucas was the first defensive pass interference call on Carolina this season

Quote sources: WNBC-TV, New York

Posted on: December 16, 2008 11:31 am
Edited on: December 16, 2008 2:24 pm

NY Giants: What Are We Witnessing Here?

Mediocrity Exposed, or just missing Lynchpins? 


For the road to Super Bowl 43 to pass through East Rutherford, Big Blue needs two healthy bodies and one clear-minded leader to face Carolina this Sunday.

It was evident from the first snap Eli Manning took; DeMarcus Ware bolted from the left side untouched and plowed into Eli, knocking the ball loose (recovered by the Giants) and creating a 2nd down & 19 situation. That is not how this Giants team starts games. Or at least, it wasn't.

The Giants had an opportunity on Sunday night to all but seal the deal for themselves - a first round bye and home field throughout the playoffs were not guaranteed, but were more realistic than irrational reach when John Carney booted the opening kickoff in Irving, Texas. Defeating the Cowboys in their final visit to Texas Stadium would have been the cherry on top of what has been a season more successful than even the most ardent fan could have imagined. Alas, victory wasn't in the cards - and Plaxico Burress shooting himself in the leg may become a fitting symbol for the defending Champions who are now displaying a less egregious, but more demoralizing form of self-injurious behavior... One lands you on the DL with a suspension; the other gets you a plane ticket and hotel accomodations should you be fortunate enough to make it to the NFC Championship.

Give credit where credit is due. The Cowboys took care of business at home against a division rival, and they need the victory to stay alive for the postseason. They're defense continues to get healthy and improve, getting more aggressive as the season rolls along. Though receivers Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith showed a lot of toughness and fight, losing tackle Kareem McKenzie to an injury and guard Rich Seubert to an undisclosed illness for the second half did the Giants in as they couldn't get the running game established. In the end it was the eight sacks on Manning and the overall inability to sustain drives that made the difference in the game.

In last year's season opener in Dallas, Manning suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder. Luckily he didn't miss any time, as the injury wasn't serious enough that he couldn't play through it. As a Giants fan, hoping that Manning would emerge unscathed from the piles of white jerseys was the hardest part of getting through the entire game on Sunday. Hats off to Dallas - no one should question their talent or legitimacy regarding the playoffs; Tony Romo was back behind center and was not going to give up - regardless of the amount of pain the Giants' pass rush inflicted on him. 

While the past two games against the Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles were dissapointing, there's as many reasonable excuses to point towards as there are unreasonable ones. Mediocre teams don't pull off an 11-3 record in the NFL by sheer luck; meaning, the Giants are not mediocre. They are what their record says they are, and despite the past two weeks and the Burress situation had a very impressive string of victories against solid opponents heading into week 14. Some of what we're seeing with the Giants is obvious. No matter the circumstances, Philadelphia was hell-bent on leaving the Meadowlands with a victory two weeks ago, and Brian Westbrook was the project manager. 

Was it the distractions of week-long headlines about the Latin Quarter, New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Antonio Pierce that derailed the Giants against the Eagles? It certainly had an affect on them. But then what about their performance in Dallas? Did Tony Romo's presence make that much of a difference? Even in the two regular season games the Giants lost to them last year, they played with more intensity and managed to stay in the game until the end. On Sunday, the difference was alarming; the 7-3 lead the Cowboys held for most of the game felt like 27-3. So what has happened the past few weeks to keep the Giants from being competitive against these teams?

Three answers: Fred Robbins, Brandon Jacobs, Antonio Pierce.

Every team in the NFL will suffer their share of losses, injuries and off-the-field turmoil. The Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals have proven that some will suffer more than others (check out the Bengals blog by fellow member IGetNoRespect for a well written, heartfelt look at the rash of injuries his team has experienced).  As the 2008 NFL season got underway, the Giants had their own issues to cope with. Michael Strahan retired, Kawika Mitchell and Gibril Wilson - two main cogs in the defensive gears - were lost to free agency, K Lawrence Tynes suffered and leg injury, and Super Bowl hero David Tyree ( their best special teams player ) was put on the PUP list. Then the most devistating of all: losing Osi Umenyiora for the season to a torn lateral meniscus in a preaseason game with the Jets. This was a lot to overcome for the Giants, and to Tom Coughlin's credit they've managed to do just that. The underlying concern has been how they would do if hit with a few more injuries to key positions. In the Giants case, it could take a potentially elite team and render them quite ordinary, All the depth in the world couldn't change that. 

Now we come to the crux of the Giants current state, which is that the wheels are beginning to wobble a bit. Check the lynchpins. 

I'll begin with Antonio Pierce. Pierce is the captain and emotional leader of the new "Crunch Bunch" (a little nostalgia for inspriration - I used to have a poster with Lawrence taylor, Harry Carson, Brad Van Pelt and Brian Kelly wearing hard hats sitting on top of a bulldozer). But Pierce has found himself on the outside looking in; standing around the pile-ups as opposed to being buried in them, and watching backs and tight ends run past him instead of being taken down by him. Here is what I wrote following the loss to the Eagles back on December 7; it's eerily applicable to his performance in Dallas, and I see no reason to alter my commentary of Pierce's performance two weeks ago, while offering it up as somewhat of a bullet point (no pun intended) for future consideration: Antonio Pierce is playing this (Plaxico Buress situation & overall distraction) up as if everything is fine, and that there's nothing taking his focus way from football. After watching him and the rest of the defense today, I wouldn't necessarily agree. It may be unfair to lay everything on Antonio, but he was not on his game today... He was caught out of position quite often, and over-pursued on many of the plays out of the backfield... I'm curios to know if anyone else thinks that Chase Blackburn should have taken over for him at some point... He just seems out of it.

Now let's take a look at Brandon Jacobs. The loss of Jacobs is something the Giants offense can deal with when playing less physically overbearing opponents. However, the Eagles and Cowboys are anything but pushovers; both teams have stout, quick defensive lines that pride themselves on physical domination at scrimmage. What has made the Giants running game so efficient is the 1-2-3 combination of Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw. Community member Jimmy the Greek might appreciate the culinary references I like to attribute to Earth, Wind and Fire:  I call them TenderizeMarinade and Cook. Jacobs is the Tenderizer - he pounds you, pulverizes you until your soft and malleable. Ward comes in at this point and gives the offense a little flavor; a little spice to liven things up and provide some zest. Once Bradshaw enters the game, it's time to cook the meat - and the Giants like it "well done". That's the game. Have you ever tried marinating a steak fresh out of the freezer? It doesn't work, does it... well, without Jacobs there to punish a few defenders, the running game doesn't work either. Not against the like of Dallas and Philadelphia anyway.

Finally, the underrated defensive tackle Fred Robbins - the unknown soldier. Robbins has been nursing an injured shoulder for a month. Over the past three weeks, Robbins sat out the Redskins and Cowboys games, and played sparingly against the Eagles. Jay Alford has been filling in for Robbins and while he's done a fine job, does not have the strength, size or experience that Robbins has. In tandem with fellow defensive tackle Barry Cofield, Robbins wreaks havoc in the middle of the line, bottles up runners and forces them to the outside where Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka can either run them them down or allow the linebackers to track them as Tuck & Kiwanuka rush the QB. Clinton Portis was pretty much shut down in large part because of nagging knee injuries; and with Cowboys guard Montrea Holland out, much of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's success in pressuring Tony Romo was a result of mismatch opportunities against Cory Proctor. But don't think it's gone unnoticed that Tashard Choice & Brian Westbrook gained the majority of their rushing yards straight up the middle of the field. In fact , 22 of Westbrook's 33 carries against the Giants were right up the gut, and with the exception of his 30-yard TD run, his 10 carries to the outside only garnered 11 yards. Tashard Choice's blast right through the heart of the line for his 38-yard score further emphasizes the point that Robbins' presence on the field is sorely missed. 

We'll know a lot more as information is released about the Giants infirmary as the week progresses, but it's not overstating it to say that a healthy Brandon Jacobs and a healthy Fred Robbins are a must for the upcoming matchup against Carolina.

And Antonio Pierce having his head in the game wouldn't be the worst thing either. 

Lynchpins. They don't look like much, but they keep the wheels from falling off.

Posted on: December 7, 2008 8:09 pm
Edited on: December 8, 2008 12:17 am

RECAP: Eagles 20, Giants 14

Twisting in the Wind

Powerless defense. Indefensible drops. Westbrook. 

Big Blue wins the NFC East title.

"The pessimist complains about the wind;
the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails."

William Arthur Ward

Was it the wind, that at times reached 40mph gusts? Perhaps it was the distractions and interruptions of the past week, and maybe Tom Coughlin just didn't have the ability (or strength) to get his troops focused enough for a football game this afternoon. Or maybe the Eagles just played extremely well today; perhaps Andy Reid's crew was better prepared than Coughlin's. In reality, it was a little bit of everything - the Giants had an opportunity to wrap up the NFC east and secure a first-round bye in the playoffs with a victory over the Eagles this afternoon, but the Giants and their fans were left twisting in the wind as the Eagles monopolized the clock by almost 10 minutes and piled on the yardage much more than the 20-14 final score can possibly convey. The Giants were 3-11 on 3rd down conversions, and 0-3 on 4th down conversions. They went for it on 4th down in the first quarter, and they went for it on 4th down in the last quarter. There's one word to characterize the Giants today... "uncharacteristic".

There is a lot more than the final score that the Giants will be concerned about following today's game, the least of which is whether or not this group of receivers will be able to carry on without #17. Brandon Jacobs left the game midway through the 3rd quarter after appearing to twist his ankle as he was tackled by DT Brodrick Bunkley, and the normally stout defensive line - while able to pressure Donovan McNabb early in the game - was manhandled by Jon Runyan and the rest of the Eagles' offensive line on almost every play in the second half.

The most telling part of this game is the fact that the Giants - who've made a living by controlling the game clock and overall tempo - did not have a drive more than 5:34 the entire game. And that drive ended in a blocked field goal on a brilliant play by DE Trent Cole, who literally placed his hands on the backs of two Giants lineman and leapfrogged over them - had enough time to get his footing and leaped straight up in front of John Carney's 47-yard attempt.

The most (and only) positive moment of the game came with 4 seconds left in the first half. Philadelphia was lining up for a 31-yard field goal in hopes of going up 13-0, but Justin Tuck knocked it out of the air and CB Kevin Dockery scooped it up and ran it back 71 yards for the Giants first score of the game. It seemed that all the momentum had shifted from one sideline to the other at that point. It seemed that way. It wasn't.  

Eli Manning had a rough day to say the least; to say the most, Manning did everything he was supposed to do and got nothing for his efforts. Manning's numbers look putrid - 13 of 27 for 123 yards and a touchdown. It should be mentioned that Eli was 6 for 6 with his only TD on the Giants last drive of the game; prior to that, Manning was 7 of 21 for 66 yards. The tone was set early in the game, as Manning was not at all in sync with primary target Domenik Hixon. A crushing blow that the team never recovered from occurred at the start of the 2nd quarter. On 1st and 10, Manning dropped back and heaved a beautiful spiral from his own 8-yard line that sailed 55 yards right into the arms of Hixon. Unfortunately, Hixon - who had about 5 yards of separation on the cornerback - misjudged it and the ball shot right through his arms and onto the turf. A sure touchdown opportunity was gone with the... nope, not gonna say it... and the Giants were back to their own 15-yard line, 2nd and 10. That's when the 'dropsies' virus began spreading like wildfire to the rest of the receivers; Fullback Madison Hedgecock's stone hands were back on display just  four plays later as he let a high but catchable ball slip through his grasp on a screen play that left nothing but open field ahead of him. Later on, Steve Smith dropped a bullet right on the numbers that would have resulted in a much needed 3rd down conversion. 

Eli isn't absolved of any wrongdoing. As both time and opportunities were slipping away in the second half, Manning made an ill-advised pass deep down the middle of the field as he was being rushed that would have been picked off by Brian Dawkins were it not for his collision with a fellow teammate. At the 9:35 mark in the fourth quarter - when the Giants were down 17-7 - they went for it with a passing play on 4th and 1 at the Philadelphia 38. Manning stepped up in the pocket to avoid the blitz and had an opening to run straight ahead. Had he done just that, he would have picked up the first down and then some. Eli got a little case of "happy feet" and pulled up before hitting the line of scrimmage and threw a short pass to Sinorice Moss that fell incomplete.

The Giants' offense seemed to be a tale of two game plans; in the early going they were very confident and loose - almost too lose. Kevin Gilbride called for a double reverse to Mario Manningham on the fifth play of their first drive that not only seemed out of place, but resulted in a 12-yard loss. The deep pass incompletion to Hixon seemed to mark the end of that game plan, and the start of the more conservative approach Giants fans have been accustomed to. The problem was that Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson had an answer for everything the Giants tried to do. Linebackers Stewart Bradley and Akeem Jordan combined for 13 tackles on the day, and swarmed the middle in taking away both the outside run and the short passing game. D-backs Asante Samuel, Dawkins and Quintin Mikell were all over the Giants receivers. There were a few instances where Manning had no choice but to muscle the ball into Hixon's gut, despite being draped, because there were no other options open. It was impossible to tell if Kevin Gilbride had actually made adjustments at the half, because they never really had an opportunity to show us - the opportunities they did have, they squandered.

The story of  the game was the Eagles' #36. The Giants defense came out strong in the first quarter, and appeared to be getting plenty of pressure on Donovan McNabb. As was the case in their first meeting in week 10, Brian Westbrook found very little room to run. But by the 2nd quarter, Westbrook's 2-yard runs were becoming 5-yard runs; and once Westbrook got his legs moving there was no stopping him. Westbrook finished the day with 131 yards on the ground, 72 receiving yards and two touchdowns. To give you an idea on how much the Eagles offense dominated the Giants, Westbrook gained 203 total yards; the Giants gained 211. Westbrook has always been a Giants killer, and he looked nothing like the guy they held to under 30 yards in Philly; today he looked 100% healthy. To get back to halftime adjustments, whatever it was Steve Spagnuolo tried to put in place to keep "22 eyes on #36" (as he was quoted saying) in the second half , it was even less effective than what he did in the first half. The fact that the Giants defense was on the field for all but 3 minutes of the third quarter had everything to do with the outcome of this game. Philadelphia started the 3rd quarter with a seven-minute drive that ended with Akers' second blocked field goal of the game, but when the Giants gave it back to them a little over three minutes later, McNabb knocked another six minutes of the clock and rammed a 40-yard Brian Westbrook TD pass down their throats. It didn't matter that the 4th quarter has just gotten underway... the game was over.

It was their own fault; as I stated earlier, Philadelphia converted on just about every third down situation in the second half, and the Giants were inneffective in wrapping up players and preventing yards after first contact. With his outstanding performance today, Westbrook surpassed the great Harold Carmichael to become the Eagles' all-time leader in yardage from scrimmage.

Donovan McNabb must also be creditied for a solid game, as he held his ground in the pocket as long as he could and still managed to complete his passes - or bolt to the outside when no one was open and hurt the Giants with his legs, five times scrambling for decent yardage (three times on 3rd down to move the chains and keep the clock ticking).

As I type up this recap, the Cowboys are in a battle with the Steelers, just over my right shoulder. All I hear is "ball comes loose..."  and either "Steelers recover" or "Cowboys ball" - lots of turnovers. And... Tony Romo has just turned it over for the fourth time...  Deshea Townsend runs it in for the score...the Giants win the NFC East, which I'm happy about.  At least something positive to end this day.

All this and three blocked field goals.

That damn wind!



Notes and Commentary: CONFIDENCE - where it is, and were it isn't... 

CONFIDENT: Despite their terrible performance today, I'm confident that these Giants receivers are capable of producing; there's been too many positives this year out of Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon to think that today was anything more than a bump in the road. There's been a lot of distractions in the past week, and it obviously played a part in the outcome. You never want to see easy passes dropped, but this is nothng new for Eli Manning. Neither is playing without #17, and the loss in Cleveland showed that this offense can bounce back from poor outings. Under the leadership of veteran Amani Toomer, these receivers are going to be OK.

CONFIDENT: The defense was not prepared for the Eagles today. It's very unlike them to be caught off guard, but Steve Spagnuolo has been able to regroup before, so there's no reason to think he won't have them ready for Dallas next week. having said that, there's got to be concern over the Antonio Pierce situation...

NOT CONFIDENT: Antonio Pierce is playing this up as if everything is fine, and that there's nothing taking his focus way from football. After watching him and the rest of the defense today, I wouldn't necessarily agree. It may be unfair to lay everything on Antonio, but he was not on his game today and was surprised to see that he led the team with 12 tackles. Pierce seemed to commit himself way too often one way or another while shadowing Brian Westbrook, especially on the touchdown pass; Westbrook broke out of a cluster of bodies behind the line of scrimmage and turned to face McNabb. Pierce started to break toward him, but Westbrook slipped a little to the outside and caught Pierce out of position. Westbrook caught the ball and ran right past pierce for the TD. I'm curios to know if anyone else thought that Chase Blackburn should have taken over for him at some point in the second half? He just seemed out of it.

NOT CONFIDENT: The latest word is that Brandon Jacobs' knee injury isn't that serious. While that's great news, my first thought was - "Really? He limped off the field and stood on the sidelines for the rest of the game, but it's not serious... If wasn't serious, why didn't he get back out there ? And if it was even a little serious, why wasn't he in with the trainers getting it worked on, or resting it?" 

Jacobs left the Ravens game after one quarter with a knee injury; He sat out the Cardinals game, then returned for the Redskins game last week. He left today's game... the running game relies on two things - the offensive line and the consistency of its three moving parts. The last thing the Giants need to worry about is Brandon Jacobs' durability.


stats source: sportsline.com

Posted on: December 3, 2008 4:00 pm
Edited on: December 28, 2008 9:02 pm

NY Giants 3rd Quarter Report Card

No Rest for the Weary

Big Blue improves in some areas, needs improvement in others, and expels a disruptive young man as they strive to be Valedictorians of the 2008 NFL class

I have a good friend that teaches high school in New York City; a not-so-nice part of New York City. I'll refer to him as "Steve" because, well... that's his name. And to that end "Steve" no longer needs quotations around his name. Steve... there, that's better.

Anyway, Steve has been a friend for almost 25 years. He's a tolerant, intellegent guy who understands the in's and out's of how things work in everyday life. To look at Steve you would never imagine him being able to survive teaching 20-30 students six times a day, especially when some of those students are criminals, to be blunt about it. To give you an idea of the type of "kids" he teaches, he's actually had NYPD officers - more than once - knock on his door and escort kids out of his classroom and into their squad cars. When I ask him how he puts up with this, he usually tells me that it's all in the relationships he establishes with his students the very first day. His philosophy is simple: I won't bother you, you won't bother me. If I ask you to do something and you do it, you'll pass; if you don't do it you'll fail. He won't give them a hard time about missing assignments, he won't write letters to their parents. He doesn't get involved in their business, and if he gives them a poor grade and they complain, he reminds them of the ground rules.    

I can't necessarily blame him for not teaching them to respect authority. While he'd never openly admit it, the ground rules are not about authority, they're about survival - his survival. And there's a reason he has to approach it this way... the school system, the parents and the laws are not on his side. How can anyone be expected to hold anyone accountable when you have to look over your shoulder when you head for your car at the end of the day? Or have to face angry parents who threaten you with lawsuits if you suspend their kids because "they deserve an education"? Or have school administrators forcing you to pass a minimum of 75% of your students, when 10% of them actually do the work? It's a setup for failure, and fighting the system is futile.

The reason I'm telling you about my friend Steve is because it illustrates two very important facts: First, that discipline and accountability are a necessary element to the success of any group, organization or team. Second, if a system is in place that does not support the authority, then the authority has to create ground rules that are very easy to follow but allow anarchy. Plaxico Burress was handled about as gently as possible by the New York Giants organization, because they know his days as a Giant are over, and there's no reason to rub salt in an open wound. The law - and the public - are taking care of doling out Plaxico's punishment, so there's no need for the Giants to do anything but cut ties and part ways. But because of discipline, authority and owner support, the Giants are able to stick to their guns and put team first. And are better off than most for it.

So Plaxico is escorted out of the classroom in hand cuffs as the rest of the students sit quietly, each feeling good about the choices they've made, and that it's not them. But snapping back into reality, the rest of this class has an assignment to finish; winning the division, having success in the playoffs and reaching the goal of "champions" - valedictorians.



 A+  ( no grade last quarter Why haven't I graded the coaching staff until now? What can be said to accurately describe the value of a coaching staff that keeps a team prepared, motivated and focused every single game, like Tom Coughlin? That fully understands the strengths and weaknesses of it's players and structures a plan built on exploiting the positives while surpressing the negatives, like Kevin Gilbride? Or finally, a staff that combines intuition and mettle to pick out the opponent's greatest asset, and target it with the sole purpose of blowing it to bits, like Steve Spagnuolo? This is hands down the best coaching staff in the league right now. I'm not implying that Coughlin is the best head coach in the league, or that Gilbride and Spagnuolo are the best coordinators. But right now, they are the best staff in football.



QUARTERBACK:  A  ( last quarter - B Eli Manning dropped from an 'A' to a 'B' at the midterm grading because I had crtitcized him for his inability to scan the field and avoid throwing into dangerous coverage - His passer rating had dropped nearly 10 points from the first four games, and his four interceptions in that span could have easily been ten. In his last four games, he's thrown 7 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, but more importantly his overall performance has improved while being asked to shoulder more of the load. He completed 63% of his passes this quarter, and has been sharper at the line of scrimmage in reading defensive formations and changing plays with successful results. With the running game being featured less prominently over the past two weeks (due to the Brandon Jacobs injury and Ahmad Bradshaw's absence in Washington), Manning has thrown for 545 yards with four TD's and only 1 INT, completing 47 of 67 passes.

OFFENSIVE LINE:  A+ ( last quarter - A+ ) When you have five guys that big and that bulky, doing what they do each game, you can't expect them to perform at peak levels as the season progresses. You wouldn't expect them to lay down and take a nap on the field, but you have to be a realist and understand that consecutive games against the Steelers, Cowboys, Eagles and Ravens is a taxing experience for an offensive line. You can almost determine the physical punishement they took in those contests by looking at the results they got in both  the running game and in pass protection. They continue to play at an extremely high level, and while the running game has softened up a bit for more reasons that the o-line's effectiveness, Manning continues to leave the playing field with a clean jersey. David Diehl, Rich Seubert, Shaun O'Hara, Chris Snee and Kareem McKenzie are giving everything they physically and mentally can. A few Pro Bowl selections are a lock for this crew. 

RUNNING BACKS:  B ( last quarter - A+ ) An 'A' for effort, all the way around. Had the last two games in Washington and Arizona been even half as productive as they were against Baltimore and Philadelphia, this grade would be higher. The back-to-back-to-back 200+ yards of rushing that Jacobs, Bradshaw and Derrick Ward had churned out weeks 9 through 11 were nothing short of amazing. The continued ability for the offensive line to push defenders backwards and create lanes played a large role in that amazing feat. Things have quited down over the last two weeks, however. Jacobs has been nursing a sore knee which kept him out of the Cardinals game and clearly affected his running style against the Redskins, where he ran for 71 yards but only 3.3 per carry. Derrick Ward picked up the slack nicely, but his average per carry is down as well. Ward's YPA over the first eight games was 6.1; over the last four games it's down to 3.3. Ward's biggest asset this quarter was receiving,  16 catches for 186 yards. Bradshaw was phenomenal against the Ravens, gaining 96 yards on just nine carries. He wasn't able to do much in Arizona, and he was inactive for last week's game in Washington, presumably due to the Plaxico Burress fiasco two nights earlier. All three backs are valuable to the offense in their own unique way; The upcoming game with Philadelphia will reveal a bit more about the true status of Jacobs' knee, and hopefully Ward gets back on track. Bradshaw has to be careful; he's already done a stint in the house for parole violations over the summer. Consider this 'B' grading a result of Ahmad's simply being present at the Latin Quarter, and the sharp reduction in average per carries as a unit. 

RECEIVERS:  A ( last quarter - B+Give credit where credit's due; Madison Hedgecock finally held onto a pass - not once - but twice against Arizona, one for a 2-yard touchdown (I'll look the other way on that "celebration" in the end zone, otherwise I'd have to decuct points). Kevin Boss continues to contribute, with 13 receptions for 162 yards and two touchdowns this past quarter. What's been a welcomed sight these past four games is Boss' improved blocking skills; he's standing upright more often and extending his arms to get his hands on the defender's shoulders or chest to drive them backwards, instead of curling up and throwing his body at them. Boss has made some huge receptions but is still prone to the occasional drop. The playmaking ability of starters Amani Toomer and Domanick Hixon really impacted the grading this quarter. Toomer looks like he has years left in him, still beating corners of the line and showing the athleticism of someone 10 years younger when having to dive for balls. Hixon's presence in the receiver corps has saved the Giants passing game, or at least has kept it at the level it's been since the end of last season. His sheer physical abitlity is equal to - or greater than - any of the Giants receivers. He's catching balls over the middle, taking hard shots and holding onto the ball. He's been Eli's favorite target in each of the games he started, and has the wherewithal to break out of a pattern when the play breaks down and provide Manning an opportunity to get rid of the ball. Steve Smith remains Eli's security blanket, and Sinorice Moss has started showing flashes of potential.



DEFENSIVE LINE / LINEBACKERS:  A  ( last quarter - A+ ) Two weeks ago in Seattle, Redskins running back Clinton Portis ran 29 times for 143 yards - almost 5 yards per carry. In his very next game - against the Giants - Portis ran 11 times for 22 yards. That's the story of the New York Giants defensive line & linebackers; they take away your best player. Sure, Portis got his bell rung by Michael Johnson in the second quarter while being tackled, and was clearly struggling in the rain-soaked conditions. But it was clear from the onset that Portis would be ineffective. Maybe not for the entire game, as I'm sure a player of his caliber would have gotten off a few big runs had they stuck with him. But in shutting him down time after time in the first half and scoring points as early as they did, Jim Zorn had little choice but to find other alternatives. It was the same story for the Ravens and Willis McGahee, as it was for the Eagles and Brian Westbrook. All three runningbacks mentioned were held to 13 carries or less, all were held to 26 yards or less, all were held to under 2.3 yards per carry. That's strong pressure up the middle and solid coverage on the outside. They were able to register four sacks against Jason Campbell last week, but only two in the other three games this quarter. The Eagles and Cardinals both had success throwing the ball on the Giants, but questions or concerns couldn't all be laid at the feet of the secondary. The swarming pressure from Giants lineman and linebackers that opponents had grown accustomed to wasn't always there, but it might have been a byproduct of the defensive game planning. Antonio Pierce anchors the defense and handles the radio, and he's looked a little more involved than usual. He still manages to somehow be standing around piles instead of being buried in them, but he seems to be recovered from the quad injury he suffered in week 3. Fred Robbins is still dealing with a shoulder injury, so Jay Alford has been starting at DT.

CORNERBACKS / SAFETIES:  A  ( last quarter - B+ )  Rookies Kenny Phillips (S) and Terrell Thomas (CB) have both seen increases in in playing time over the last four games. Phillips as a result of his performance and Thomas as a result of an injury earlier in the season to Kevin Dockery. Both have made strides with the opportunities given to them, but Phillips has been arguably the best member of the Giants secondary, second only to Corey Webster. Steve Spagnuolo finds himself with quite an arsenal of defenders, which he rotates in and out depending on which package he calls for. Michael Johnson and Phillips have been a strong pairing at safety, and Aaron Ross' game has picked up significantly, with three interceptions and touchdown this past quarter. The middle of the field is still a soft spot in their coverage, where tight ends like Chris Cooley and possession receivers like Derrick Mason can rack up yardage in a hurry. The secondary's ability to get to the receiver and limit yards after the catch has been the way they've countered that, which was never more evident than against the "dynamic duo" of receivers in Arizona two weeks ago. As for Thomas, he's started showing some of the physical style of play he displayed at USC which is an encouraging sign.         

SPECIAL TEAMS: B+  ( last quarter - B ) This is the third straight quarter that Special teams has failed to crack the 'B+' ceiling. Why is that? There are a few reasons, but first we'll focus on the positives. Domenick Hixon has been on fire in the return game, providing the offense with above average field position most of the time. Ahamad Bradshaw has been the kickoff return man, but was inactive last week so Hixon took over. Not too long into the game, Coughlin made the wise decision to give Sinorice Moss his old job back so that Hixon wasn't too heavily taxed. So Hixon's performance and the consistently reliable tandem of John Carney and Jeff Feagles (or "Grumpy Old Men", as I like to call them) are right on target. Where things get dicey are with the (a) kickoffs and (b) kickoff returns. As the season  moves  along, Carney's kickoffs have been noticeably shorter - usually falling out of the sky at around the 15-20 yard line. I;ve said it in previous report cards, but they'll need Lawrence Tynes to boot a few long ones out of the and zone at some point, so will they need to carry two kickers? the choice is to live with Carney's weaker kickoffs to have his accuracy on field goals, or keep Tynes for the stronger leg but have to deal with a less reliable field goal kicker. Or keep both. As for the kickoff returns, Ahmad Bradshaw hadn't exactly turned any heads so far. Hixon's going to start at WR for Burress, which means Sinorice Moss will see increased action. So it's Bradshaw or bust.


statistical sources: sportsline.com, pro-football-reference.com, nfl.com

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