August 2006


Most football stadiums are nothing to get too excited about. Even the new stadiums that have been springing up recently haven’t been especially interesting, unless you happen to be predisposed toward an obscene amount of luxury boxes or tacky bells ‘n’ whistles.

But the new Cardinals stadium is pretty amazing. Really, it’s like no football stadium you’ve ever seen. It’s designed to evoke a barrel cactus starkly springing up from the desert. Its shimmering side panels reflecting the intense valley sun, and the vertical glass slits make it look like it’s “bursting at the seams,” to quote the Times critic, and also serve the purpose of giving the fans inside a great view of the surrounding landscape.

And the coolest part of all: the field slides out of the stadium on thousands of steel wheels so that the stadium can be used for concerts and other stuff, all in the temperature-controlled setting of a semi-translucent retractable dome. Pretty cool stuff.

So check it out:

I’ve analyzed the return game, the punter, and the kicker in previous posts.  They’re short, manageable reads.

  • First, my observations from yesterday on Friday’s preseason game.
  • Ernie Palladino writes that Colonel Tom was not pleased with the run defense, particularly the interior defensive line. Gap control needs to improve, and the Fred Robbins’ 2006 honeymoon may have come to an end. Expect an open competition between Robbins, Seawright, and Duckett for that Nose Guard spot. Note: This is one of many articles on the subject of Coughlin’s displeasure with the Giants run defense, which he characterized as “soft.”
  • Also from Palladino’s article, it turns out the Giants actually suffered a couple of very minor injuries during Friday’s game: David Tyree mildly sprained his ankle, and Rich Seubert came down with turf toe.
  • But Chris Snee (knee) is making faster progress than anticipated, and will return to non-contact work in today’s practice. Carlos Emmons (burner – when did a stinger become a burner?) has also been cleared for non-contact work, with hopes of returning to full-contact later in the week LaVar (knee) has been cleared for one practice per day, and Sinorice Moss (quad) hopes to get back to practice later in the week.
  • A detailed, comprehensive look at the first preseason game by Eric at Bigblueinteractive.com. I suggest you read it – really good stuff for the advanced fan.
  • Mike Garafolo points out five issues facing the Giants after their first pre-season game. One of these issues is effort: Colonel Tom says the team must “do a better job just flat-out getting after it, being more aggressive.”
  • Antonio Pierce is angry and embarrassed at the way the first team defense played, writes Mike Garafolo. Good. Any good defense needs a leader like Pierce.
  • Paul Schwartz on Michael Jennings electrifying punt return, with a great photo of him emerging from the pack and trying to keep his balance. Also in his Giants Notes, Coughlin praised Mathias Kiwanuka’s work habits: “His game was very typical of the way he practices,” said Colonel Tom. “He’s resilient as can be. He keeps it coming.”
  • Great article on Kiwanuka by John Altavilla in the Hartford Courant. For those who don’t know, Kiwanuka is the grandson of Benedicto Kiwanuka, who served as the first Prime Minister of Uganda from 1961 to 1972 and helped the fledging country gain its independence from England. When Idi Amin came to power, Kiwanuka angered Amin by refusing to ignore the human rights atrocities that characterized brutal Amin’s regime – it is believed that he ordered the killings of over 300,000 people. For his insubordination, Amin tortured and murdered him, and his body has never been recovered.
  • Richard Sandomir on Monday Night Football’s Tony Kornheiser experiment, which smacks of the same ill-advisedness as the disastrous Dennis Miller experiment. Now, I like Kornheiser and P.T.I. as much as the next guy, but can’t a football game be just a football game, announced by professional football announcers? Or are we so impatient that we need a witty guy interjecting his comedic everyman opinions every few plays. Please. It’s distracting.
  • Extremely interesting article by Aaron Schatz in the Times’ “Keeping Score” section. According to Schatz, the amount of penalties that a team accumulates might have as much to do with the refs that are assigned to their games than the discipline of the team in question. He points out that while the Giants had the second most penalties in the league with 167, their opponents actually had more penalties than they did with 170. As it turns out, the amount of penalties called varies wildly from crew to crew. Larry Nemmers’ crew (who, incidentally, officiated the Seattle game) averaged 20.6 penalties called per game, tops in the league. Bill Vinovich’s crew, on the other hand, called only 12.3 penalties per game. Interesting stuff.
  • And finally, some disturbing news. Keith Hamilton, the beloved “Hammer” of the Giants interior line for almost a decade, pleaded guilty to beating his 12-year old son after seeing poor grades on his report card.

It seems foolish to treat this game like an actual game and give a recap-style summary of it; these early preseason games are really just bunch of series’ in which different groups of players participate, many of whom won’t be in around in a few weeks. So here are a few impressions of last night’s game that shouldn’t be read too seriously into. There’s a lot of time between now and September 10.

–The Giants first string defense did not look good, particularly the interior defensive line. William Joseph looked like he was out of position on a couple of runs, as if he had been goaded into abandoning his gap on a couple of counter plays. Chase Blackburn and Reggie Torbor didn’t look especially poised against the run, over-pursuing on those counters and generally looking as if they were a beat late. (Blackburn also seemed slow to react in pass coverage.) Because of the soft, undisciplined underbelly of the Giants defense on those plays, Jamal Lewis was able to get to the second level and power his way for chunks of yards.

–Gibril Wilson had a hard time with Todd Heap. As my friend Wong pointed out, because Wilson is not particularly tall, he’s going to have a difficult time being matched up in single coverage against tight ends. He’s listed at 6 feet, so he gives up 4 or 5 inches to many Tight Ends, including the 6-5 Heap. In Gibril’s defense, the Ravens did a good job picking up blitzes, which allowed McNair to stand poised in the pocket and find Heap and company.

–Corey Webster took the wrong approach to tackling McNair on McNair’s touchdown run. It seemed like he tried to grab McNair’s shoulders and sort rodeo him back away from the goal line, but McNair overpowered him and dragged him three yards across the plane. A better approach for Webster would have been trying to get his head across McNair’s front side and do his best to stalemate McNair until help arrived.

–Sam Madison made a beautiful play in pass coverage, during which he was definitely interfered with. I don’t know who the receiver was, but Madison ran with him stride for stride and made a good attempt at the ball. The receiver totally went through Madison to break the play up, and although he got credit for “playing defense” on the play (announcers love making this point), he clearly interfered with Madison.

–Brandon Jacobs had a good first run, but didn’t look so good after that. He was definitely making a conscious effort to run low, but he looked hunched over and unnatural.

Running low is a hard thing to teach. Some guys just don’t do it, and I think Jacobs is one of those guys. This doesn’t mean that he can’t be an effective running back; it just means that the Giants can’t keep pigeonholing him as a power, short-yardage guy like they did with Dayne. Jacobs actually looks really good on the wing – it seems like once he gets in space, he’s able to utilize his good vision, timing, and head-of-steam power. But on inside runs, he looks like he’s tiptoeing. Even though he’s big, he can’t really load up any momentum to utilize his power. Just like they did with Dayne, who, it turns out, wasn’t nearly as bad as he looked in our offense, the Giants are assuming the Jacobs is a tackle to tackle guy just because he’s big.

Let me go on record as saying that TIKI SHOULD GET ALL THE GOAL LINE CARRIES. Jacobs somehow got credit for “bowling his way into the end zone,” or something like that. He didn’t. He sort of awkwardly jumped and lunged his way across the plane. Because of Jacobs’ size, he’s obviously more powerful than Tiki if you’re talking about straight-up power. But because Tiki has so much more control over his body in tight spaces, he’s able to better maneuver himself into a position where he can use what power he has. Jacobs, although capable of producing far more power than Tiki, struggles to get in positions where he can leverage that power.

–Although the biggest offensive play for the Giants was a 43 yard completion from Eli to Plaxico late in the first quarter, 1) the play could have gone for many, many more yards if Eli had led Plax a little more and not forced him on an out-of-bounds path; and 2) Plaxico’s second foot was out of bounds by inches when he caught the ball – it shouldn’t have been a catch. Strangely, even after a challenge, the refs somehow didn’t see this. Plaxico seemed rather nonchalant about keeping both feet in bounds. He also seemed strangely nonchalant on the play that ultimately resulted in a pass interference call in the endzone, which set up Jacobs’ touchdown, although perhaps his politicking for the call was worthwhile in the end.

–James Sims was unimpressive. With Ward out, we’re really only two-deep at running back.

–Tim Carter looked very, very good, catching 3 balls for 36 yards in what was obviously very limited action. He used his speed to back d-backs off of him, and did a nice job coming back to the ball and making the catches. Carter is big, strong, and blazingly fast. We’ve seen flashes from this guy – parts of 2003, early 2004 – so let’s just hope he stays healthy. Kudos to Accorsi for re-signing him.

–Mathias Kiwanuka was another big positive. On one series in the third quarter, he had half a sack on first down, a quarterback hurry/knockdown on second down, and a sack on third down. He looks incredibly quick rushing around the bend and spinning to the inside. If this guy learns and develops, he could be a real force.

–Gerris Wilkinson saw a lot of action and forced a big fumble. This guy might play a big role on the team, so keep an eye on him.

–Michael Jennings had an electrifying punt return for a touchdown. I really wish I had a YouTube clip of this, but it was a sweet run. I believe Coughlin said the other day that Jennings “has some zip, but he hasn’t made many plays.” Well now the former track star at FSU has one huge play to his credit. At this point, you have to think that Jennings has a pretty decent chance of making the team. Because…

–Willie Ponder fumbled, sort of. The original fumble ruling was eventually overturned because Ponder’s knee was down, but I’m sure his carelessness with the ball irked Colonel Tom just the same. In the battle for the sixth receiver/extra return man role, you’d have to think that Jennings has the edge at this point.

–Tim Hasselbeck looked pretty good, and pretty mobile. There were times when you could convince yourself that it was Matt Hasselbeck out there.

–Jay Feely hooked a 44 yard field goal, and then almost hooked the game-winning 29 yarder. Let’s hope he gets on track – the last thing we need in the NFC East is a shaky kicker. But Feely was very, very good last year.

Now, all of these observations shouldn’t be taken all that seriously because it’s still so early on. Carl Banks pointed out that since this was the first live contact for the Giants, it’s not surprising that they were “a step too slow,” as he put it. It sure is cool to have football back though!

One of the toughest regular season losses in recent Giants history took place last November 27th in Seattle. In a Week 12 battle in which the winner would have the inside trace to the NFC’s number one seed, the Giants went into Qwest Field and thoroughly outplayed the Seahawks. They amassed 490 yards to Seattle’s 355, and with the game on the line, they were repeatedly able to stifle the Seahawks on defense and move the ball into a position to score on offense. On numerous occasions, it appeared certain that victory was at hand.

But Jay Feely’s choke-job for the ages rendered the effort moot. He missed consecutive field goals of 40, 54, and 45, each of which would have won the game for the Giants and sent them home in the driver’s seat in the NFC. His teammates said all the right things afterwards about how football is a team sport, and that how no one man can single-handedly win or lose a game. But in this case, those platitudes rang hollow. So horrendous was Feely’s performance that it was parodied six days later on Saturday Night Live, immortalized as an all-time gagger.

The loss went a long way toward knocking the Giants out of a first-round bye, which itself went a long way toward making the end of the Giants season a bitter disappointment. Had they had that first-round bye, perhaps they would have gotten some of their linebackers back and healthy. Perhaps Eli would have gotten a chance to sort out his mechanics. Perhaps Plaxico would have gotten a chance to recharge his batteries. Perhaps Coughlin and Hufnagel would have had more time to prepare for a Panther defense that was single-mindedly committed to stopping the run.

Whatever would have happened if the Giants had a first-round bye, the result surely would have been better than that dismal 23-0 loss.

And Jay Feely’s performance in Seattle was to blame. A game like that, one would think, would make for a pretty bad season all by itself.

But in Feely’s case, that one game diverted attention away from what was actually one of the best years of any kicker in the NFL, and one of the best seasons by a Giant kicker in recent memory.

Feely connected on 83% of his field goals, compared to the league average of 80.9%, and drilled all of his extra points. More impressively, he hit 8 of 10 field goals from 40-49 yards and 3 of 5 from over 50. All this despite playing his home games in the tricky conditions of the Meadowlands – Pro Football Prospectus’ measurements say that Feely kicked in the most difficult conditions of any kicker last year.

With his field goals alone, Pro Football Prospectus calculates that Feely contributed 7.0 points more than the league average, placing him fifth in the league and ahead of such notables as Adam Vinatieri and Mike Vanderjagt, as well as 25 other kickers. Yes, Giants fans: judging by field goals alone, we had one of the very best kickers in the league last year.

His numbers on kickoffs, the other component of a kicker’s job, aren’t too shabby either. He averaged 63.4 yards per kickoff, tied for eighth in the league, and boomed 12 touchbacks to finish sixth in that category. All told, Feely contributed 2.6 points more than league average with his kickoffs (based on a footballoutsiders statistic that translates yards of field position into points, based on the average next score that an NFL offense gets from that point in the field). Combining field goals and kickoffs, Feely contributed 9.7 points more than the league average, finishing as the fifth best kicker in the NFL.

Going into this year, it’s hard to know what to expect. Feely’s accuracy rate of 83.3% last year was the highest it had ever been – his career percentage is 78.7%, which is slightly below league average. And after a blistering first half in which he only missed only one field goal, he came back to earth in the second half by hitting only 18 out of 24 attempts for a 75% rate. To his credit though, he rebounded from an awful November by drilling 12 out of his 14 December attempts, including all three from 40-49 yards out. His kickoffs have always been excellent, and should continue to be. At 30 years old, he can be expected to continue at his present level for the foreseeable future.

Of course, a performance like his in Seattle is bound to have a scarring effect on a fan-base – seeing somebody melt down like Feely doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. But if we can give him a mulligan on that day and credit him for bouncing back strong, we should realize that we have one of the better kickers in the NFL, and if he is as accurate as he was last year, one of the very best.

I couldn’t find anything written about it, but MSG did a training camp report on Lavar Arrington yesterday. Despite missing many practices, Lavar continues to downplay his injuries. Yesterday, he repeated his mantra, “You don’t have to be injured to miss a day of practice.” He went on to say that the game-product will be worth the wait, and that games weren’t won and lost on the practice field. He also said something – and I don’t remember the exact quote – like “I’m looking forward to getting out there Friday night [against the Ravens], so the fans of New York know that I’m making hits in the name of the Giants.”

MSG’s Mike Crispino was tough on him, and claimed that his comments were Iverson-esque in the flippant attitude that he showed toward practice, but I disagree. Lavar has his aches and pains, and to play hard he needs to take it easy a little in practice. Get used to it, Giants fans, and look forward to the guy going all out on Sundays.

Ok, onto the news:

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