September 2008


I’ve been pouring over the game film, so here are some general thoughts on the D.  Observations on individual players will follow in the next post.

Obviously, it wasn’t our best effort.  23 points on 347 consequential yards, with an untimely choke at the end of regulation.

And we were lucky to give up only 23 points.  The Bengals horrific clock management at the end of regulation kept 4 points off the board.  Earlier in the game, on the second series, an obvious endzone pass interference by Butler on Houshmenzadeh was not called, leading to the Bengals settling for a field goal.  And in the third quarter, and endzone drop by tight end Daniel Coates – who was double-covered by Dockery and Butler, neither of whom managed to get a hand on the ball – led to field goal instead of a touchdown again.

A key factor in the D’s struggles was the ineffectiveness of the blitz.  Yes, we had those 6 sacks, but Palmer – who did an outstanding job hitting his hot routes – burnt us on many a blitz.  As Justin Tuck himself said, “Sometimes, the stats are misleading.  We had six sacks today, but I don’t think we rattled [Palmer.]”

With a game like this, it’s hard to separate out where blaming the defense ends and crediting the offense begins: Was it Spags’ fault those blitzes didn’t work out, or was it because the Bengals’ line did a good job picking them up while Palmer got the ball out quickly and accurately?  Surely some credit must go to the Bengals’ game-plan, which was predicated on quick passes – to the elusive Chatman and the Housh, a big target – designed to neutralize our blitz.

On a somewhat related note, sometimes the offensive play call just happens to work out given what the defensive call is.  There’s not a “moral of the story” to every play, where you can neatly ascribe blame to a given defender for any big gain.  Sometimes the defensive play-calls, coupled with the offensive play-calls, give the defenders little chance to do their jobs well (and vice versa).  There’s not much to say after something like this, other than to hope we’re a little more lucky next time.

This seemed to happen to the Giants D on Sunday, including three big plays that totaled 76 yards and were instrumental in 10 Bengals points:

The most prominent of these was the Perry touchdown in the second quarter, when the Bengals went up 10-7 and we all knew we were in for a game.  It was 2nd and 10 and Spags guessed pass, which meant our dime defense was in. 

Normally, the dime defense is the “safest” defense, designed to minimize chance of a big play, but in this case it backfired.  Because of the personnel grouping, Michael Johnson had linebacker duties.  After slo-moing the tape a few times, I realized that it was his responsibility to fill the gap through which Perry galloped on the way to the endzone.

But because Johnson was in unfamiliar environs, he was hesitant to fill the gap, which allowed a blocker to engage him and clear a huge, gaping hole.  That, right there, sprung Perry, who sprinted through the hole “unmolested” – I can’t write that with a straight face – and away from Corey Webster, who was occupying the safety position.  (I don’t mean to overstate the point on this one: a hold on Johnson at the end of that initial block, a slow reaction to step up by Webster, and Big Fred’s and Tollefson’s getting more washed down than they should have didn’t help either.)

Why were we in the dime defense on that 2nd and 10?  A 25-yard gain two plays earlier might help explain why.

On 2nd and 10, we blitzed a safety off the quarterback’s blind side, which left Dockery singled up against Chatman with no deep help on that side of the field.  The  Bengals picked the blitz up, and Palmer hit a little hitch to Chatman, who had been given a huge cushion by Dockery.  Because he caught the ball with so much space in between him and Dockery, he had room to maneuver, and maneuver he did, scampering for 25 yards on the play.

This was an instance of Palmer doing an excellent job hitting his hot read and a blitz backfiring.  It also underscored how things aren’t as cut and dried – Dockery sucks! – as they often appear.  (Dockery does suck, and we’ll get to that in the next post, but he’s not as bad as he looked on that play.)

Also, this play to Chatman explains why Spags called the dime defense on 2nd and 10 on the Perry play.  When an offense is designed to get the ball to the receiver on the edges, it’s good to have as much speed as possible.  On the Perry play, we went speed while they went power, and we paid the price.

The third play I noticed in which we got caught in a bad defense for their play-call was on the Bengals’ last series of the first half, when we sent a zone blitz with Tollefson dropping back into pass coverage.  Unfortunately, Tollefson wound up being responsible for picking up Housh, who was dragging across the middle.  Not surprisingly, he didn’t get there nearly quickly enough, and Housh caught the ball with nobody around him, free to pick up 26 yards.

Again, it kinda just so happened that a wide receiver was running a shallow crossing pattern in Tollefson’s territory here.  It could have been a tight end, who would have been easier for Tollefson to spot and react to.

So much for the post-Super Bowl honeymoon and the hunky-doryness engendered by the 3-0 start: As FOXSports originally reported, Plax has been suspended for two weeks for “insubordination.”  Apparently, he missed practice/meetings on both Monday and Tuesday, and didn’t respond to phone calls asking where in the world he was.

This means that Plax is suspended from all team activities until October 6th, without pay, meaning that he will miss the Seahawks game.  Even when he gets back, you have to wonder if he’ll be at his best after being away from football for two weeks.  Just a bad situation…

Obviously, this is an extreme punishment from Tom, but one he felt he had to lay down.  Tom always talks about the principles of team, and in this instance, he put his money where his mouth is.  If a guy like Calvin Boothe or Dave Tollefson pulled what Plax did, we wouldn’t have objected to Tom making an example of them with something much harsher.  Say what you want about Tom, he showed he is a man of principle.  Especially considering Plax is only missing one game and our depth at the position, I have no problem with this – it will be good for this team in the long run.

Obviously, a brutal job by Plax to go AWOL.  Running a football team is like running a football play: every last man must be accountable for being in the right place.  If one man is not where he’s supposed to be, it threatens to screw up the whole operation.  This type of stunt – just falling off the face of the fucking Earth for two work days – gets you fired from many real jobs, so it’s hard to feel too sorry for Plax here.

The unanswered question here is: What in the world was going on with Plax?  Maybe this will come out, but for now, speculation seems silly.

Plax has been celebrated, and deservedly so, for how much he’s changed in the past couple years.  He heroically played all last year on a torn ankle, and played the Super Bowl with a seriously messed up knee.  As I just read in Ralph Vacchiano’s book about Eli, Plax acknowledged that his public arm-flailing displays after not being thrown to were bad for Eli and the team, so he approached Eli, apologized, and said he’s cut it out.  And obviously this summer, he got himself a new contract – and a very reasonable one, at that – with no holdout and virtually no public griping.  Combine that with his excellent downfield blocking and his obsessive note-taking during team meetings, and it seemed like Plax had evolved into the ideal teammate.

But now this.  Hopefully, this is nothing more than a temporary backslide, a moment of immaturity that he will duly apologize for and move on from.  From what I read, his progress as a professional has been real.  He screwed up pretty badly here, but it shouldn’t undermine everything he’s done up to this point.  Hopefully he takes his punishment like a man, moves on, and resumes being the good teammate he has been.

At worst, however, this sours his relationship with Coughlin and the team and evolves into a season-long – or worse, contract-long – distraction.

Correction: There wasn’t any activity on Tuesday, so Plax only missed meetings on Monday.

Update: Plax’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said Plax was attending to a family emergency, but didn’t provide specifics.  He said that while Plax is contrite, he’s appealing the suspension.

In Plax’s absence, Domenik Hixon will start as the X receiver.

“Well I think you expect that we’re gonna play well when the pressure’s on, and we’re gonna find a way to win the game.  And we did that today, although it was a difficult game.”

–Tom Coughlin

We’ll get into specifics later in the week, but for now, here are some general thoughts on today’s game:

It wasn’t the sharpest performance, but how can you not be very happy? Sure, the Bengals were a bad team in the previous two games, and having slipped to 0-3, there’s a good chance they’ll be a bad team from this point forward.  But make no mistake: they were a very good team today, led by a quarterback and an offense that didn’t look far removed from 2005, when they were one of the decade’s best.  As Coughlin and a lot of the players have said, give credit to the Bengals for playing an excellent game and putting our defense on its heels.

Last week, I wrote: “Two games into the season, the Super Bowl Champs couldn’t be more encouraging.”  Does this statement hold true three games into the season?  It’s an interesting question.

On one hand, for the first time this year, we didn’t play that well.  (Digression: Some have said we didn’t play that well in the first two games, but they’re wrong.  We did.  Even though the score was a little too close to comfort at points during both of those games, we dominated on a play-by-play basis.  Footballoutsiders.com, which calculates play-by-play stats based on situation and opponent, put us in the top spot in their advanced rankings this past week.  This is cold, scientific stuff, not some ex-jock bloviator being like, “They’re the champions, and until they’re not, they’re number one in my book.”)

Back to the point.  We didn’t play that well today for the first time all season.  I suppose if we had blown the Bengals out, that would’ve been a little more encouraging than gutting out a game we could have very easily lost.

But…  doesn’t this hard-fought win answer questions that weren’t addressed during our two dominant performances to start the year?  Pardon the cliche, but wasn’t there something “character building” about this game that is both a building block and a source of optimism going forward? After today, don’t you have a really good feeling about this team?

Going into the bye, we are where we wanted to be: 3-0 and healthy (though I’m not sure what happened to Aaron Ross’ shoulder…).  If anything, the struggle today will keep us grounded during the bye week as we prepare for the second half of our easy six-game opening stretch.  At this point, you’d have to say that a 6-0 start is likely, and anything less would be a disappointment.

**

Is there anyone out there who isn’t thankful Eli Manning is our quarterback?  At the 4:39 mark, was anyone not utterly confident Eli would take us down for the go-ahead touchdown?

Giants fans, do not take this feeling for granted.  Though it may be too early to call Eli Manning a “great quarterback” – the Super Bowl notwithstanding, there isn’t quite enough evidence yet to support this claim – there’s no doubt that he’s a clutch quarterback, a quality somewhat distinct from greatness.  By the end of the year, NYGMen predicts we will be able to count Eli as one of the game’s great, clutch quarterbacks.

I happen to be reading Ralph Vacchiano’s book, Eli Manning: The Making of a Quarterback, which I plan to review/discuss some time in the near future.  The book’s intro is written by Ernie Accorsi, who was famously smitten with Eli ever since laying eyes on him as a junior at Ole Miss in a game against Auburn.

The roots of Accorsi’s infatuation with Eli date back to 1970, his first year as the PR coordinator for the Baltimore Colts.  It was then that Accorsi first encountered John Unitas, the Platonic ideal for a quarterback whose form Accorsi has been trying to capture ever since.

Accorsi tells the story of noticing in Colts training camp in 1970 that Unitas has lost velocity on his ball, attributable to an elbow surgery two years before and old age.

“I turned to Milt [Davis, a Colts scout] and said, ‘Milt, he can’t throw like he used to.  Can we win with him throwing like that?’

“Milt, quite fatherly, turned to this brash rookie employee, put his hand on my shoulder and said: “Ernie, listen to me.  You evaluate the great quarterbacks on one element alone: Can they take their team down the field, with the championship on the line, and into the end zone?  That’s how you evaluate a great quarterback.

That, Unitas could still do.  We won the Super Bowl that season.”

And so Accorsi paid a King’s ransom for Eli Manning.  And three years later… “17-14 is the final score.  One touchdown, we are world champs.  Believe it, it will happen.”

(No, I’m not forgetting about the Asante Samuel and Brandon Meriwether near-picks on the final drive.  But you have to admit, Ernie was right: there’s something about Eli.)

**

So this was the trap game, it turns out.  It didn’t take the form of a flat performance against a bad opponent as we had feared heading into last week.  Instead, it was a flawed performance against a desperate and dangerous team.

**

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how easily we could have lost this game.  Sure, there are plenty coulda-woulda-shouldas we Giants fans could break out, but the Bengals clock management at the end of regulation was egregious.  If you’re a Bengals fan, you’re very, very pissed: your team just squandered its last, best shot to save its season.

You saw it, but to rehash: With 32 seconds left and a timeout remaining, the Bengals had just completed a 9-yard pass to Houshmenzadeh, giving them 3rd and 1 at the NYG 14.  But they took 20 seconds before snapping the ball for the next play, which became an 11-yard pass to Antonio Chatman.  This gave them first and goal at the 3, but left them with only 4 seconds.  They had no choice but to bring in Graham to kick the field goal.

So in the span of 32 seconds, with a timeout to burn, the Bengals ran just two plays.  Based on how they were moving the ball on that drive, is there anyone out there who thinks they wouldn’t have won the game if they had run a third play during that time?  Shit, they could have easily run four plays.

**

Today’s game added to the mounting pile of evidence that Brandon Jacobs is the third best running back on the team.

Yes, I know the Bengals game-planned against the run, which makes Jacobs’ 14 carries for 35 yards (2.5 YPC) a little misleading.  And of course Ward’s draw-plays were more conducive to success, which makes his 80 yards on 9 carries (8.9 YPC) a little misleading too.  As Jacobs-apologists would have you believe, it was Jacobs’ bulldozing his way to a succession of 2.5 yard-runs that “softened” up the defense for Ward.  (As for his latest dropped past… well, that’s beyond even their excuses.)

But my question is this: Is there anything that can happen on the field that can change the coaching staff’s preconceived notion that Jacobs is our best back deserving of the vast plurality of carries? 

Alas, probably not, and the egregious misallocation of resources will continue.  Today, Jacobs got 56% of the carries.  Ward got 36%.  Bradshaw got 8%.

This week – during which we nearly lost, and all three of our division rivals won impressively – proved it: We cannot rest on our Super Bowl laurels.  We need to improve this team if we want to beat out the tough-ass teams in our division.  Earth, Wind and Fire in its current proportions is not a “winning formula,” as the coaches and many in the media might think, but rather something that might preclude us from being as good as we need to be to defend our crown.

Kiwanuka: Probably the biggest injury news of the week was Coughlin’s pronouncement on Monday that Kiwanuka’s ankle injury would linger for the rest of the season.

“Let’s face it – I don’t know that those things ever get cleared up,” he said.

But ‘Nuke (so much of a cooler nickname than Kiwi) had a different take: He admitted that his ankle was still bothering him, but said, “It shouldn’t be all season long.  It’ll probably be a couple more weeks.  But if I can get it under control over the bye week, it should just be an afterthought.”

That’s good, but apparently, ‘Nuke is still battling the effects of his broken fibula from last year.

“After having surgery last year, it’s still going to take some time before it doesn’t swell up after a game,” he said.  “With the recent injury, yeah, it’s going to take some time.  But we have a bye week, so I’m looking forward to getting off it, and hopefully when I get back I shouldn’t have any issues with it.”

This was all a little confusing to me.  Like, how long will the ankle injury take, and how long will the fibula take?  Are their effects related?  And what do we make of the fact that ‘Nuke was completely shut down by Orlando Pace last week?  Is it attributable to ‘Nuke being hobbled, or is it attributable to Orlando Pace being Orlando Pace? 

Let’s just hope he has a good game Sunday and puts our minds at ease.

R.W: ‘Dubs hasn’t practiced all week because he’s still bothered by a calf injury.  But even if he were healthy, Coughlin said on Monday that Hixon has earned the punt returning duties.  R.W. McQuarters, meet Wally Pipp.  (Imagine if that encounter actually occured…)

Two thoughts on this: 1) It’s great that Hixon is returning punts – this moment couldn’t have came too soon.  But why isn’t he returning kicks as well?  For as much as I want to see Ahmad on the field, his kick returns have been pretty bad this year.  Come on, Tom.

And 2) Barring injury, this basically means that R.W. has no role on this team – you have to think Dockery will remain the nickelback.  This closes the book on what has been a pretty eventful Giants career.  Think of the big plays, good and bad, in which R.W. was involved in last year’s playoffs alone:   

The game-clinching pick against Tampa Bay; the huge punt return against Dallas to set up our go-ahead touchdown; the game-clinching pick against Dallas; the interception against Green Bay that he fumbled back to the Packers; and the fumbled punt return against Green Bay that was kicked around and finally recovered by Hixon.

But that’s R-Dubs for you.  Ever since the guy entered the league in the mid-nineties with that awesome name and those even awesomer dreads – which were original back then – he was never good, but he was always noticed. 

Tynes: He was limited in practice on Thursday, so he’ll probably be inactive at least through this Sunday.  The best guess is that he’ll be back the week after the bye.  Oh, and there’s no chance we get rid of Tynes in favor of Carney.  As many writers have pointed out, Coughlin hates carrying an extra kicker on the roster, so if we had any plans to cut Tynes, we would have done so already.  Plus, we just signed the guy to a 5-year, $7 million contract, though I’m not sure how much of that was guaranteed. 

Johnson: Johnson suffered a stinger against the Rams, but was back to practicing in full on Wednesday.  He played well against the Rams, and although Kenny Phillips is obviously breathing down his neck for the starting job, Johnson should still be a solid contributor to this team for the next few years.

Terrell Thomas: The rookie second rounder is back practicing after a preseason hamstring injury.

With the love-fest surrounding our Earth, Wind, and Fire running back trio, now seems a good time to get on the record with this statement: Jacobs gets way too many carries, Bradshaw gets way too few, and this state of affairs is holding this team back.  And with the hyper-competitive state of the NFC East, we can’t afford not to maximize our potential.

In the Rams game, Jacobs got 15 carries (54%), Ward got 8 (29%), and Bradshaw got 5 (18%).  In last year’s playoffs, Jacobs got 56% of the carries to Bradshaw’s 44%, despite the fact that Bradshaw averaged 4.3 yards per carry to Jacobs’ 3.2.

Clearly Bradshaw is the better back, but Jacobs gets more carries, a situation that represents nothing less than an underutilization of resources.  I see no reason for why this is so, but apparently some people do.  Here are some common rationales for why Jacobs get so many more carries than the other two, and why I disagree.

 

Jacobs wears down/softens up the defense, so the defensive fronts Bradshaw and Ward see are diminished versions of what Jacobs sees.

On the surface, it makes sense that being forced to tackle a huge back like Jacobs would wear down a defense.  But what actually wears a defense down is being forced to stay on the field for a long time, absorbing blocks from offensive linemen bigger than Jacobs and running sideline-to-sideline wind sprints to catch a guy like Bradshaw.  The way to wear down a defense is not to punish the one or two defenders who happen to tackle the running back, but rather to accumulate first downs and keep drives going.  Therefore, the carries should go to the guy that gives us the best chance of getting first downs, and that guy is Bradshaw.

Despite Bradshaw’s markedly superior yards per carry average, you will still hear people proclaim that Jacobs, in fact, is the guy that gives us the best chance at sustaining drives.  This theory accepts the conventional wisdom that while Bradshaw is an exciting home-run hitter, Jacobs is the better between-the-tackles runner who uses his physicality to grind out the extra yards and put us in manageable situations.

But this isn’t true.  For as big as Jacobs is, and for all his impressive displays of masculinity (the Woodson play against Green Bay, the Landry play in the season opener), he doesn’t drive the pile because of his high center of gravity.  Ward, with his outstanding lower-body strength, is probably better for this purpose, and Bradshaw, though some typecast him as a scatback, isn’t too shabby in this department himself.  Just ask Ty Warren.

Also, Jacobs’ lack of short-area quickness precludes him from being the short-yardage runner often say he is.  Case in point was his 4th down carry on the last drive of the Super Bowl, when he got chopped down at the legs – a frequent phenomenon – and sort of happened to fall forward a few inches past the first down marker.

Lastly, there is a distinction between a guy who is hard to tackle, and a guy who tackling is a painful experience.  Sure, Jacobs is as bruising as they come, but unless it’s in the open field with a full head of steam, it doesn’t seem particularly difficult for NFL defenders to get the guy to the ground.  And if it’s the open field we’re talking about, I’ll take Ahmad or Ward any day.

 

We don’t want to overuse Bradshaw because he might get hurt.  Jacobs, as the bigger back, is better equipped to carry the load.

There’s some legitimacy to the fear about wearing Bradshaw down.  I’m don’t want to overstate the case here: yes, they should all split caries so that all three of them can be fresh and healthy.

But why do we assume that Bradshaw is this delicate flower who can’t be overused?  The guy was a featured back for two years at Marshall, racking up 214 and 249 carries his last two years.  Maybe it’s Jacobs who we should worry about overusing.  Last year, he missed five games with various injuries and definitely seemed to lose a half-step in the playoffs, which rendered him pretty ineffective.  Bradshaw, while small, is instinctive and maneuverable enough to avoid big hits.  Big Brandon’s penchant for relishing contact, on the other hand, leaves him exposed to hits, perpetually prone to the kind of nagging injuries that sidelined him for stretches last year.

 

Jacobs averaged 5 yards a carry last year and is averaging 5.8 yards a carry this year.  What’s wrong with that?  If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Indeed, it’s hard to complain about the Giants running game.  But it can be better, and if we’re serious about contending for another Super Bowl, it needs to be better. 

Perhaps the stubborn insistence on giving Jacobs the majority of the carries comes down to the fact that he looks like a featured back, especially a feature back for the New York Football Giants.  He’s big, he’s physical, he’s tough, and we’re the G-Men.  Of course he’s our back. 

But he’s not our best back.  Jacobs is fine, but we have a good one in Ward and a potentially great one in Bradshaw.  (We haven’t even discussed pass-catching, by the way, but it’s clear that Bradshaw is a good receiver, Ward is at least a competent receiver, and Jacobs is a pretty horrendous receiver – by the time he corrals the ball, six defenders seem always to have descended on him already.)

We must not let our rigidity about these roles get in the way of improving this team.  I’m not advocating for Ahmad to get 25 carries a game, but a more equitable distribution of the carries seems reasonable.  How about 11 for Jacobs, 8 for Ward, and 11 for Ahmad?  Can we start with that?  Can we get our best back in the game?

This is quite sad.  You’ve probably seen it: Mark Ingram, author of the greatest play in Giants Super Bowl history this side of this, is going to the can for at least seven years.

Ingram’s latest transgression – his seventh criminal conviction in the past 23 years – is a federal money laundering and bank fraud conviction.  Apparently, he laundered $200,000 in what he thought was drug money, but was actually given to him by an undercover cop as part of sting operation.  He also cashed more than $300,000 in counterfeit checks.

In the past few years, Ingram’s also done time for stealing a credit card from a golf course in his hometown of Flint, MI, and possessing more than $3,000 in counterfeit checks (again).  He was also charged with breaking and entering into a garage in an attempt to steal a purse from a car, but those charges were dropped.

It gets worse.  (And yes, this is pretty much a straight regurgitation of the AP article.  But this is bad stuff.  And if you’re a Giant fan, attention must be paid.)

Before being sentenced today, he had skipped his three previous sentencing hearings.  One time, he claimed an irregular heartbeat as an excuse: Basically, he said his heart was palpitating while he was driving to the hearing and he didn’t want to risk the cardiac episode that might ensue if he actually showed up.

As for the current charges, he actually pleaded guilty to them three years ago, but has tried to revoke the guilty plea.  In the process, he has firing three court-appointed defense attorneys who refused to file papers he thought should be filed.

Instead, Ingram filed these papers – basically pertaining to why he shouldn’t be sent to prison – himself.  One of his contentions in the filings was that he was immune from prosecution because he has diplomatic immunity as a head of state.

If this seems like rather erratic behavior to you, you aren’t alone.  Prosecutors referred to one of Ingram’s court filings as “rambling, confusing, outlandish, and largely incoherent.”  Clearly, it would seem likely that something is seriously wrong with this guy mentally.  But Ingram disputed this, saying, “I have not verbally on the record said anything about being a patriot or a head of state.  There was some case law that I presented that had some of that literature, but they’re trying to make me sound like I’m from outer space.  I don’t pretend to be a lawyer, but I’m very sane.”

That’s all the information that’s really out, so we are left to draw our own conclusions and ask our own questions.  And my first question with all this is: What happened to the guy’s money?  I know football players don’t make that much, but this guy played 10 years in the NFL, for Christ’s sake.  He must have been on the most ridiculously self-destructive path from the moment he cashed his first check – and probably before that – but it’s hard to fathom how you possibly fuck your life up that much.

My second question is: Isn’t it clear that the guy’s not right in the head?  Is he on drugs or something?  This wasn’t reported at all, but sleazy counterfeit schemes that always to get busted, stealing credit cards, and breaking into a car to steal a purse smack more of Tyrone Biggums than a former professional athlete.

Anyway, it’s a sad story, and the G-Men family (fuck all this “Nation” crap, foisted on us by SportsCenter as it is) grieves.  But as the man’s life takes its latest and saddest turn, let us remember that Mark Ingram is very important figure in Giants history. 

If not for David Tyree and Eli Manning, his moment of greatness would have been the single most heroic play in the history of the franchise.  Before there was David Tyree, there was Mark Ingram, just like before there was the shocking upset over the high-powered Patriots, there was the shocking upset of the high-powered Bills.  Like the Tyree play, there was no earthly reason why it happened: It was simply one of those miracles that underscored the specialness of our championship run, a moment where the G-Men were touched by the football gods.

I’ll never forget the NFL Films narration in the 1990 Giants video yearbook, “After the catch, seven yards and five tacklers stood between Ingram and the first down, a goal that appeared hopelessly out of reach.”  Nor will I forget Dan Dierdorf’s call during Super Bowl XXV: “We asked Hostetler who his favorite receiver was, and he said, ‘Ingram.  He works harder for me.’”

If you weren’t happy with the Washington win, is there anything to complain about now?  Sure the Rams suck, but one of the hallmarks of great NFL teams is that they blow out the scrubby ones.  This game is a reassuring sign that we are among the NFL elite.  Two games into the season, the Super Bowl Champs couldn’t be more encouraging.

Yes, it was a seven-point game as late as the fourth quarter.  But to say that the final score did not reflect the feeling of the game is bullshit: the Giants dominated this game on a play-by-play basis from start to finish, but it wasn’t until the final minutes of the fourth quarter that the scoreboard reflected this.  Look at it this way: we outgained them 441-201. 

At halftime, the score was only 13-6, yet the Rams had not advanced past the Giants’ 36-yard-line.  It was only those two 54-yard field goals by Brown – one of which was enabled only by Tuck’s facemask penalty [on a play he was held on, no less] – that kept the Rams in the game.

The G-Men seemingly put it away by mounting an emphatic 97-yard drive on their first possession of the third quarter, but the lucky bomb to Holt – who probably didn’t even catch the ball – meant that the G-Men had to keep the can of whoopass open.  To their credit, they did for the rest of the game. 

Offense: 

Eli was excellent, going 20-29 for 260 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 9 yards per attempt – for perspective, realize that his career YPA is 6.3.  He made a couple of bad throws, but didn’t seem to make any dangerous throws or bad decisions like the near-picks last week, which is an important distinction. 

The square-ins and back-shoulder fades to Plax, the hitches to Toomer, the touchdown on the post to Toomer – that’s the throw Eli routinely makes the best, in my opinion – the catchable passes to the backs, that pass to Boss that got called back, that gorgeous touch-pass to Hixon down the sideline, and last but not least, the lefty toss to Jacobs that set up Carney from 33…  Great job, Eli.

The pass protection was solid overall, save for a brief period near the end of the second quarter when Long sacked Eli and then McKenzie got a holding penalty on the next series.  Overall though, they did a good job. 

But the pass protection had nothing on the run-blocking, which is probably the single best facet of this team.  Jacobs had 93 yards on 15 carries, Ward had 58 on 8, and Bradshaw – in addition to his touchdown catch – had 5 carries for 32.  Overall, we had 203 yards and averaged 6.8 yards a pop.  Much of the credit for that goes to the fatties up front.

Like a lot of Giants fans, NYGMen has long beat the pro-Bradshaw drum, wondering why the clear-cut best back on our team doesn’t get more burn.  Once again, Ahmad was electrifying.  On his touchdown run, when he exploded through the hole with one man to beat, was there any doubt he was gonna beat that guy?  And after today, is there any doubt he’s criminally underutilized?  Please Tom, since we know you’re reading this, FREE AHMAD! 

As for Ward, he was very effective too.  Ward hits the hole decisively and he hits the hole hard.  With our physical offensive line and our physical fullback, he’s a good fit.

And now Jacobs…  Look, I know his overall numbers were good today (though much of his totals came from one perfectly blocked 30-yard run at the beginning of the third quarter).  And I know his overall numbers last year (5.0 yards per carry) were good too.  But please, how much more effective are the other two backs when they enter the game?  To put it another way, when was the last time you remember Jacobs being more effective than Ahmad or Ward? 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but the coaching staff’s insistence on making Jacobs the featured runner is holding this team back.  Yes, there’s a place for Jacobs on this team; it’s just a lot smaller than the coaching staff thinks. 

Moving on, the receivers were very good too.  Plax abused whoever covered him, and Smith made a couple great plays, one of which was called back on the down-by-contact call.  Amani, for some reason, was featured, and he acquitted himself well.

I’m not sure why Amani got so many looks – probably because Plax was being double-covered, though I’m not sure – but some of those plays showed pretty clearly that he’s lost almost all of his speed.  Amani is a very skilled receiver, adept at finding creases in the zone and a master of the toe-tap.  But at this point of his career, he’s just too slow to run by defensive backs.  There were at least two plays yesterday where he was isolated one-on-one against a corner, but the defender was able to run stride for stride with him.  Amani still has his uses, for sure, but he also has his limitations.  Going forward – and by forward, I mean possibly as early as the second half of this year – we’re going to be happy that we have Maningham, Hixon, and Moss on the roster. 

Defense: 

201 yards of total offense, and only 68 allowed against a ground game that boasts Steven Jackson, one of the best backs in the game.  6 sacks and pressure on Bulger all day.  The Tuck touchdown.  For the second straight game, what a performance by the D.

As was the case on offense, it all started up front.  Tuck, who has become the face of the defense after the Osi injury, was a beast.  Big Fred, who has late-bloomed into a star, was beastly as well. 

The pressure on Bulger was constant, and Jackson didn’t have any success running between the tackles.  The only success Jackson did have was running outside, but that’s a small thing to complain about.

The starting corners, Webster and Ross, were absolutely phenomenal.  How exciting is it that we have two potentially awesome young corners?  Who could have predicted this before last year? 

And even though the Rams’ touchdown came at Phillips’ expense, wouldn’t you even say that that play was overall encouraging?  I mean, here was our rookie safety running stride for stride with one of the best receivers of the era.  He made a smooth attempt at the ball, and although he didn’t haul it in, it was only an unpredictable bounce of the oblong ball – and a highly questionable call – that made that anything worse than a nice break-up.

Not so spectacular was Butler, who was late arriving in safety help on a big play during the series on which Holt scored the touchdown.  Yes, I know safeties are always left holding the proverbial bag, but doesn’t it seem that way too often, Butler is nowhere to be found on deep help?  He seems to lack the range you want from your deep safety – you have to think it’s only a matter of time before its Johnson and Phillips getting the majority of the burn. 

And Dockery had a bone-headed pass interference to keep that touchdown drive alive: on third down, he laid a hit on a receiver before the marker.

Special Teams: 

This was an underrated aspect of this game.  The punt and kickoff coverage was excellent, which was a relief after the brutal kickoff coverage last week.  And Hixon’s punt return in the fourth quarter should finally close the book on the R.W. era.

With a strong start, the New York Giants look like they are well on their way to defending its championship.

Eli Manning’s development has made the Giants on the best NFL football tickets out there. But it’s more than the younger Manning. Plaxico Burress has become one of the top receivers in football and Brandon Jacobs has taken up the mantle of the great Giant running backs of the past.

And then there’s the defense, which is why most fans buy New York Giants Tickets. Justin Tuck has become one of the best defensive linemen in the game, which is making the loss of Michael Strahan much easier.

It’s a great form of entertainment.

After the game, fans can go into the city and take in the sights and sounds of New York. And on non-football days, take the wife to a play with Broadway tickets, particularlySouth Pacific tickets.

Kickoff Coverage:

Last year, our kickoff coverage was pretty bad.  According to FootballOutsiders’ advanced stats, we gave away 6 points over the course of the year because of Tynes’ relatively weak kicks and our sub-par coverage team, placing us 26th in the league.

Thursday night, despite Carney’s strong kickoffs, covering kicks was obviously a problem.  Washington’s started their drives after kickoffs on our 27, 24, 35, the 50, and then on our 33 (this was after Kehl’s 15-yard penalty for going low on the wedge).  On average, the ‘Skins started drives on their 34 yard-line.

This is bad.  The average starting field position for an NFL drive off a normal kickoff is around the 27.5 yard line, meaning that we gave away 32.5 yards of field position during the game.  That’s significant, and this is something that has to improve.

 

Punt Returns:

Here’s my question, which I’m sure many Giants fans are asking too: Why the hell is R-Dubs still returning punts?  Are you telling me a team with Hixon, Bradshaw, Ross, and Sinorice, can’t get someone more explosive in there?

Last year, our punt return game ranked 22nd in the league, according to FootballOutsiders’ stats.  Things went from bad to disastrous for ‘Dubs in the postseason, when he relinquished his monopoly on sure-handedness by fumbling twice in the Green Bay game (although his return against Dallas to set up our go-ahead drive was admittedly huge).

Yes, Dubs always catches the ball – I’ll give him that.  But the man is slow and not explosive at all.  Last year was great for the Giants, but if we want to stay on top – and maybe surpass the Cowboys in our own division – Tom and the staff have to constantly look for ways to upgrade this team, even if it means taking a risk that someone will muff a punt.  Please, let’s get a potential game-breaker back there.

 

Hixon:

Hixon’s back was still bothering him last week, which is why Bradshaw returned kicks.  Bradshaw was accompanied “back deep” with Danny Ware, who would seem to be an upgrade from Droughns as the blocker/second option on kick returns. 

HIxon got some action on the coverage teams, probably because they needed competent bodies.  But evidently the coaching staff thought a healthy Ahmad was better than a semi-injured Hixon for retruns.  Expect Hixon to get that job back once the brass is sure he’s healthy.  Frankly, I don’t know when this will be, but probably pretty soon.

 

Tynes and Carney:

It looks like Tynes might be out through the Week 4 bye. I’m no huge fan of Tynes, and it was nice that Carney hit that 47-yard field goal, but I still think Tynes is the better option going forward.

Last year, Tynes was 8-8 on field goals 40-yards or longer in the regular season.  Carney was 2-5, not a good sign for a 44-year old.  Of course, Tynes was 5-8 from 30-39 yard field goals, while Carney was 5-6, but it still seems like the 44-year old who struggles with the long ones presents a bigger risk going forward.

Interestingly, Carney’s kickoff length average was more than a yard longer than Tynes’, 62.8 to 61.8.

Great performance by the D, of course, which held the ‘Skins to 217 yards and 11 first downs.  Here are a few scattered observations.

–Great job by the D-tackles, especially Big Fred, who looks like he’s matured into a near-star at the age of 31.  The solid D-tackle rotation of Robbins, Cofield, and Alford is an unsung aspect of the great job Jerry (and Ernie) did building this defense.  Last year, our DVOA against the run was -8.5%, 10th best in the league.  A lot of the credit for that goes to the D-tackles. 

–Bryan Kehl, the rookie linebacker from BYU, rotated every other series with Gerris Wilkinson.  With all due respect to Gerris, this has to get you excited about the prospect of grooming two young ‘backers.  Kehl contributed in his first NFL game with 5 tackles, while Gerris had 4.

It’s all part of an overall philosophy of getting as many guys involved as possible, according to this article by Mike Garafolo in the Star-Ledger.  We used all four ends on Thursday (the starters plus Wynn and McDougle), and five wide receivers caught passes. 

Here are Colonel Tom’s thoughts on the matter:

“We know it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and you’re going to need everybody.  You need everybody involved right from the get-go, and we had this rotation going in a few spots a year ago.  We like what we saw from it, and we probably can develop this a little more, to be honest with you, where we can get some other people involved.” 

This is a good approach that fits well with the depth we have on the roster.  (Why this depth of good athletes hasn’t translated into good coverage teams, I don’t know)  This is basically about hedging for injuries, which of course are inevitable.  Like, we don’t want Gerris to have gotten all the snaps and then go down in Week 12, leaving us with an inexperienced rookie in his place.

–How good did Aaron Ross and Corey Webster look?  My friend Wong, with whom I watched the game, made a great point about how although Ross is good athlete, he does a great job playing within his athletic limitations.  For instance, he takes smart angles on tackles and is smart about wrapping up and not going for the big hit or flashy submarine.  And what an awesome blitzer that dude has turned out to be… 

A-Ross had eight tackles and made a beautiful play on that endzone deep-ball to Moss.  Although he got beat on the Moss touchdown, 1) he got picked by a crossing pattern; and 2) it seemed like his assignment on the play was asking a little too much of him.  Following Santana Moss across the field in single coverage with no help in sight?  That’s tough.

As for Webster, he made a beautiful play just before the touchdown when he leapt up to tip the ball on the Campbell bootleg, possibly breaking up a touchdown.  He also made a nice play on the ‘Skins first drive of the second half when, on 3rd an 8, he closed on Moss and made the tackle after he caught the ball a couple yards before the first down marker. 

Webster’s clearly still learning, but dude’s athletic potential is unlimited.  It amazes me what a good athlete he is – the best word to describe him is rangy.

–Speaking of rangy, and speaking of dudes with unlimited athletic potential, Kiwanuka was all over the place, making 6 tackles, 4 of them solo. 

As far as the pass rush goes, I think he can be counted on to pick up a lot of the slack left by Strahan and Osi’s absence.  What I’m more concerned about is his ability to anchor at the point of attack on running plays – the ‘Nuke-man is tall, and doesn’t have a low center of gravity, the proverbial “sand in his pants.”

And after the Samuels incident, I’m also worried that this guy might be injury prone.  He’s one of those tall, long-limbed dudes who I can see being susceptible to taking shots and being nicked up, kind of like Shockey and Jacobs. 

And yes, I thought was Samuels did was out of line.  At first I thought that he just took him down cleanly, but I watched it again and he brought his upper body down on ‘Nuke’s leg.  I don’t think it was intentional dirtiness – it was more instinctive than that – but it was out of line just the same. 

–Kenny Phillips made a big tackle on special teams and got significant burn.  (And yes, the coverage teams were horrendous.)  You have to think that this guy is gonna be one our more prominent defensive players by the middle of the season.

–This is old news, but how effective are our blitzes these days?  Do you remember our blitzes under Tim Lewis, when everyone watching on TV and their mothers knew what was coming?  Spags is the man.

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