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Tag:Hakeem Nicks
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 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: August 30, 2009 8:18 pm
Edited on: August 30, 2009 8:49 pm
 

In the Nicks of Time

With Sure-Handedness an anomaly for Receivers, Hakeem is a Dream that must become reality.



Call it "garbage time" if you wish. Explain it away as just being another pre-season 4th Quarter where the darkest and deepest corners of the depth chart are fighhting for their rightful place on the Giants practice squad. Take it for whatever you think it's worth, but as a Giants fan I saw something in a receiver that has been sorely lacking since Glendale in February of 2008; confident hands.

Hakeem Nicks hadn't shown much leading up to the 3rd quarter of last night's annual exhibition against the New York Jets, hauling in just two catches in the first two games. But two touchdowns and 144 yards later, Nicks is finally comfortable with his role and with his new team. "I feel like I know what I'm doing out there" he was quoted as saying in a postgame interview.

OK, so it was primarily David Carr - and not Eli Manning - throwing the ball to Nicks, and it wasn't as if he was being covered by the amazing Darrelle Revis or even the savvy-yet-suddenly-sloppy veteran Lito Sheppard (who was pulling at Mario Manningham's jersey like a 13-year old girl would claw at one of the Jonas brothers Marc Ecko sew fly shirts). But when the game was on the line - and for Nicks, this was his moment to show what he could do - he made the big grabs and showed the superior route running ability and quickness that Jerry Reese drafted him for.

In the first quarter, Nicks had made an impressive 15-yard grab off a pass from Manning as he broke back towards the sideline and gained the inside edge on Sheppard - falling to his knees and scooping up the low pass just as it was designed. His first TD was a corner route to the back of the end zone where he curled around behind CB Drew Coleman and twisted his torso to the right as the pass came down - perfectly positioning himself on what was basically a desparation play by Carr who was about to get hammered in the pocket. On the 71-yard TD pass, Nicks was simply the benificiary of a blown coverage scheme as he was streaking down the right side - there wasn't a single white jersey in sight, and it was beautiful.

What - you may be asking yourself - is so beautiful about an easy touchdown catch that any legitimate NFL pro should be able to make?
It was as beautiful as Steve Smith's dropped pass was ugly.
It was as beautiful as Domenik Hixon's mishandling of an Eli pass (resulting in a David Harris interception) was disappointing. 

The Smith drop was a tide shifter that would have put the Giants up by two touchdowns in the first quarter. After going up 7-0, the Giants defense stuffed NY(A) for three-and-out. On the first play of their ensuing drive, a perfectly thrown 60-yard heat seeker by Manning landed right in the cradle of a wide-open Smith - who had five steps on the nearest defender, The ball had 'touchdown' written all over it. In... and out. In and out. 14-0 suddenly became 7-7 less than four minutes later. The first thing I thought of was the eerily similar drop by Hixon against the Eagles last year - same situation, same result. It's what I call an "inflation transfusion" from one team's balloon to the other's.

Hixon's was much less egregious, a bullet over the middle that was a bit off target (Manning has yet to learn he needs to take a little something off those to avoid breaking his receiver's fingers). Hixon, however had both hands on the ball. You know what they say, and it's true - if you have your hands on it, you have to catch it. Hixon did not, and it popped off his hands and straight into the air resulting in a turnover that led to the Jets first score of the game. 

If Smith and Hixon - the team's starters - can't make those catches in a preseason game, what will they do when it really counts?

Steve Smith said in a post game interview, "Perfect pass, right in the bread basket. I'm just glad it was a preseason game."

I'm not. And I'm pretty sure Tom Coughlin's not.

Maybe it's time to start planning Hakeem Nicks' "gradual transition" into the starting unit sooner, rather than later. 



Quotes source: RSS Feed (Dan Graziano) 

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com