the new york football giants
27 September 2006 ¬
" Atrocity By and Beyond The Numbers "
First, the cold, hard facts: the Giants are 27th in average overall yards allowed, 30th in average passing yards allowed, 30th in first downs allowed, and 31st in both points allowed and third down conversions allowed. Granted, we are only three weeks into the season, but as I've stated before, those sort of numbers are inexcusable for such a talented defensive roster. Tim Lewis was allowed to speak with the media this week, and expressed his frustration over how the unit has played so far. Lewis blamed both himself and the defense as a whole, saying that he was "trying to do something that they aren't doing well," but ultimately, "..from a responsibility standpoint, it's my defense.. if there are people running free.. it's my responsibility to get it corrected."

Here are five things that need to be corrected, defensively, if New York is going to rebound from their 1-2 start:

5) Find a role for LaVar Arrington.
Mr. Nickles was New York's biggest free agent signing this offseason, but he's been a ghost so far. He's been dropping back into coverage often but lacks the quickness (particularly with his ailing knees) to really be effective at breaking up plays in that regard. Time to start sending him on the blitz more often. It's true that Giants have played against three very good offensive lines, but the four man rush has been impotent. I might be more worried about gaping underneath routes if I thought that they could possibly get any bigger -- but they can't. Which leads to..

4) Cycle in Matthias Kiwanuka more often.
While Strahan and Umenyiora have been solid against the run, they've been totally ineffective at pressuring the quarterback. Kiwanuka has been tenacious in his few opportunities, and was a beast during the preseason. There's no reason why you couldn't give all three of those guys ample time on the field, similar to the way Philadelphia cycles their entire defensive line. Collapsing the pocket a little faster, particularly with how well Fred Robbins has been playing at tackle, would do wonders for this secondary. And speaking of which..

3) Start R.W. McQuarters at corner.
I've been harping on this a lot, and I'm going to continue to do so. Sam Madison has played poorly this year, and got particularly torched by Donte' Stallworth last week in Philadelphia on consecutive passing plays. Although McQuarters had a brain-dead moment on Sunday when he failed to cover Seahawks TE Will Heller in the end zone, he's already got two picks this year despite limited playing time. You can bring Madison in for nickel coverage, but Corey Webster and RW should be starting on the corners.

2) Do something on third down.
Admittedly, there's nothing too constructive here. But the Giants are the second worst team in the league in allowing third down conversions, particularly third and long. Every time the opposing team converts, this already-listless defense is left out on the field for at least two or three more minutes, and it's really been one of the Giants' most damning faults this season. There are times when it looks like they're playing prevent defense on third and short -- for the love of god, play aggressive football!

I don't think I've ever seen as many blown coverages that directly resulted in touchdowns as I did this Sunday against Seattle. It's totally insane watching Matt Hasselbeck drop back to pass, casually scan the field for about five seconds, then hit a man so ridiculously wide open it makes the secondary look like they're playing shorthanded. With all of their previous success and big-play potential, Will Demps and Gibril Wilson need to be a lot more aware of what's going on around them, particularly with the rest of the defense struggling as much as it has.

On offense, the only suggestion that I (and everyone else with two eyes and a brain) have is to let Elijah call plays from the no-huddle more often. Granted, the tremendous success in that regard has come mostly while opposing defenses are sitting back on their heels, but I think the potential is there. Eli's got the tools and the talent at his disposal, and there's no reason to think he can't pull it off as well as Peyton does. I think this is something that Coughlin can't help but implement, and I would be very surprised if the Giants offense goes into the huddle during their first possession against Washington.
24 September 2006 ¬
" Giants Pathetic Early, Downed 42-30 .. 27 More 4th Quarter Points in the Loss.. "
There isn't much I want or need to say about this game, aside from another entertaining 4th quarter. Through three games, the Giants have the worst defensive unit in the NFL. That's a pretty hard fact to wrap your head around, considering the talent on the roster, but there's no denying the numbers.

Against the run, they've been strong, but every other facet of the defense has been inept. The defensive line has generated zero pressure on opposing quarterbacks, leaving an already marginal secondary to get burned on virtually every passing play. Sam Madison has been a step late on every coverage. LaVar Arrington has been a total non-factor. Strahan and Umenyiora have combined for one sack over three games. When Fred Robbins is the best player on a line that led the league in sacks at the DE position last year, you know you're in trouble.

The only positive thing to take home is the continued persistence of this squad down big in the 4th quarter and the way Elijah orchestrates the offense through the no-huddle. While I don't expect any team to come back from a 42-3 deficit in the 4th, I think it's remarkable that the Giants made this one as close as it was. My admiration is tempered, however, by the stark reality that you're not going to make the playoffs in the league if you're only interested in playing hard for 15 minutes of every 60 minute contest. I'm also not sure what the repercussions will be following the decision to bench Plaxico Burress in the second half, after he directly accounted for two momentum-killing turnovers. To be continued.

New York goes into the bye at 1-2, and considering how close they came to 0-3, it isn't the end of the world. Tom Coughlin, and particularly defensive coordinator Tim Lewis, are going to have a lot to think about over the next two weeks.
21 September 2006 ¬
" State of the Division: The NFC East Heading Into Week Three "
This entire division is a mess.

The Redskins, formidble in the preseason, now look inept at 0-2. The Cowboys, at 1-1, are vulnerable, and will be playing their next game in Philadelphia in what will arguably be one of the most hostile road environments the franchise has encountered in a long, long time. The Eagles pulled an all-time choke job against New York, and depending on how they play next week against the 49ers, their season could be totally derailed before it even has a chance to hit full stride. In the midst of this collective train wreck, we have the New York Giants, who are feeling pretty goddamn good about themselves following their miracle last sunday and a narrow loss in Week One against one of the best teams in the NFL.

Clearly, New York is the only team right now with momentum on their side. The Cowboys, despite coming off their first win of the season, face the uncertainty surrounding TO's hand injury, as well as the disconcerting play of Drew Bledsoe. Although he rebounded from his woeful performance in Week One, he still completed just 50% of his passes against a mediocre Washington defense.

It all looks up in the air this point -- which is pretty much how it looked before the season even started.
18 September 2006 ¬
" Manning vs. McNabb - Upon Further Review.. "
At first glance, it's hard to criticize Donovan McNabb after the Eagles' 4th quarter collapse against the Giants on Sunday. He threw for 350 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, avoided virtually all of the pressure that New York's defensive line tried to generate, and built his team a comfortable 24-7 lead into the second half. You can certainly point to Philadelphia's weakened corners and Correll Buckhalter's ineffectiveness in running down the Giants late, and you can put plenty of blame on Andy Reid's timid and mismanaged game plan as the Eagles began to slip.. but a lot of it is justified falling on the shoulders of Philadelphia's beleaguered quarterback.

When the Eagles are playing well around him and momentum is on his side, McNabb is a top five quarterback in this league. That's easy. But what is also easy to see, at this point in his career, is that when the chips are down and the Eagles need a man to carry their offense, Donovan McNabb does his best Johnny Cash impression: ", no, no, it ain't me, babe." You'd have a hard time figuring it out if you lived under a rock and only had access to box scores, but the dark side of #5 -- a side that Eagles fans must be getting used to seeing by now -- made an appearance on Sunday. It didn't help that he drew a bizarre false start with 4 minutes left in the game and his team up by only 10 points deep in Philadelphia territory.. but more than that head-scratcher, McNabb looked helpless and complacent as he watched the game come undone around him. He went 4-8 and threw for a meager 32 yards in the 4th quarter and overtime combined; Eli Manning racked up 225 yards and accounted for three TDs during that same span, despite being sacked 8 times overall and being pressured on more than a dozen other instances. While it's true that the Eagles were more concerned with running the ball and eating clock, it's also true that McNabb suddenly became incapable of bailing out the running game when their conservative strategy stalled in its tracks.

Eagles history is chock full of similar examples. McNabb threw consecutive season ending interceptions in 2001 and 2002 during NFC Title Games, and in his third time around in 2003, he threw three picks and finished with a QB rating of 19.7. Millions of people watched in 2004 as a sick and dazed McNabb was unable to muster any urgency with his team down 10 and less than six minutes remaining in Super Bowl 39. While he did throw three TDs during that affair, he also threw three more INTs, including yet another interception that effectively ended the Eagles' season.

Now, Eli Manning is a pretty easy target for ridicule. There's no doubt he's received the golden treatment for most of his life, and the terms under which he dictated his draft-trade to the New York Giants certainly rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. But there's also no doubt that in the most urgent and downtrodden situations, young Elijah has already demonstrated a focus and intensity that Donovan McNabb will likely never display. During both of New York's first two games this season, Eli led come-from-behind attempts that resulted in a victory on Sunday and a tight 5 point loss in the opener against Indianapolis. While his play for the full 60 minutes certainly leaves something to be desired (understandable for someone who hasn't yet played two full seasons in the NFL,) his last-minute heroics this year are really a microcosm of his short career. Since he entered the league during Week 7 of the 2004 season, no other quarterback has led his team on more 2-minute drill scoring drives than Elijah Nelson Manning -- not Carson Palmer, not Tom Brady, not Brett Favre or even big brother Peyton. The numbers don't lie: his QB rating during a given contest jumps, on average, almost a dozen points in the 4th quarter. Vince Lombardi once said that a player's "finest hour.. is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious." Eli has already proven to the Giant faithful that when the clock winds down, he's got nothing left in the tank. Can you really say the same for Donovan F. McNabb?

Eli is clearly a work in progress, and his performance during the Giants embarrassing shutout loss to the Panthers in the 2005 NFC Wild Card Game is an indicator of that more than anything else. But the most difficult traits to develop in a young quarterback -- poise, intensity, and quick decision-making under fire -- are all traits that he has already demonstrated in spades. To put it bluntly, Eli is a gamer, and as much as you can poke fun at baby brother, you can't deny the pedigree.

When my team is flying high, I'm willing to admit (a rather stout admission from a diehard Giants fan) there aren't many players I'd rather have behind center than Donovan McNabb.. but when it hits the fan, I'm not even sure I want to see him pacing the sideline.
17 September 2006 ¬
" Return of the Cardiac Kids.. Giants Go Down to the Wire, Steal a Win from Philadelphia, 30-24.. Following the Prophet Elijah "
For the second consecutive game, Eli Manning prepared to lead the Giants down the field in the waning seconds of the 4th quarter with the game on the line -- and this time, there would be retribution.

In order to discuss this one, you really have to understand that it's a tale of two entirely different football games - 45 minutes dominated by Philadelphia, and 15 minutes in which the Giants capitalized on enough mistakes and established enough momentum to tie the game with seven seconds remaining in the 4th quarter.

There are way too many things that went wrong during the first three quarters to point the finger in any one direction and say, this is what kept us down. The D-Line failed to record a sack and pressured Donovan McNabb maybe two or three times during the contest, something the Giants can't afford after having their secondary exposed against the Colts in Week 1. Sunday looked like more of the same, with Eagles TE L.J. Smith setting up camp in the middle of the field. Sam Madison got burned on consecutive plays by Donte' Stallworth in the 1st quarter, and it's really time to sit down and evaluate whether or not R.W. McQuarters and Corey Webster should be the starting corners on this defense. Clearly R.W.'s on Tom Coughlin's good side, as he split kick and punt return duties with Chad Morton, and he has the speed and explosiveness that the defense needs if it's going to rebound from yielding 275+ passing yards in consecutive games.

On the other side of the ball, the O-Line was completely helpless in protecting Eli from an unrelenting Philadelphia pass rush. The Eagles effectively cycled through eight men on their defensive line, a bizarre and hockey-esque tactic that paid dividends all game, as they constantly had fresh legs on the field. The O-Line also failed to clear any room for Tiki Barber, who had perhaps his worst outing against Philadelphia of his long career. Brandon Jacobs saw limited action, as the Giants trailed for most of the game and Coughlin obviously felt uncomfortable giving the occasional touches to anyone other than #21.

The first drive of the game was the lone exception, ending in a beautiful naked bootleg to a wide-open Amani Toomer to put the Giants up early, 7-0. From there, it was all downhill, with New York incapable of getting anything going on either offense or defense.

Then came the fourth quarter.

Down 17, and with things looking all but decided, Eli Manning put the game on his shoulders. He found Plaxico Burress deep for a bizarre play that resulted in Plax fumbling the ball forward into the end zone, only to have it recovered by the fleet-footed Tim Carter for the touchdown. From there, the Eagles came apart at the seams. Donovan McNabb was flagged for a false start after hot-dogging on the line with 4 minutes remaining in the game deep in Eagles territory, and on the following play, the Giants recovered a Brian Westbrook fumble to set up their second touchdown of the quarter, with Eli throwing a strike to Amani Toomer in the back of the end zone. The comeback was capped off with another great drive from the Giants 20 with less than a minute on the clock and no timeouts remaining, including a spectacular 22-yard pass to Tim Carter as Eli was being hauled to the ground. Jay Feely punched the 35-yarder to tie it at 24 all.

Overtime was no less dramatic. With the Giants taking consecutive penalties to put them to the edge of Feely's range late in the extra session, Eli laid one out for Plaxico Burress at the goal line after picking up the all-out blitz by the Philadelphia defense. Plax came down with it and tumbled into the endzone for New York's first win of the season.

What really strikes me about this game is the persistence that the Giants demonstrated, down late in the game and having been thoroughly manhandled for three quarters. With everything on the line, Eli Manning shook off his frustration and played twenty minutes of football that showed all of us his capabilities as both a quarterback and as a leader for this offense. He finished at a monster 31-43 for 371 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, picking apart an Eagles secondary that went soft in the second half. Although the Giants were manhandled for the majority of the contest, there are way too many weapons on this football team to show such a blatant lack of respect in a game that was by no means decided. And the fact that all of this transpired in a division match makes the victory that much more important.

This is one to remember down the line, as we move towards January. If the Giants make a playoff push and are able to advance through the NFC, it'll be important to remember the game that looked all-but decided and an 0-2 start (including a division loss) that seemed a lock. Instead, New York is heading into a game against the Seahawks at a very confident 1-1. The only question that remains is which Giants team - Jekyl or Hyde - will we see in Seattle?
12 September 2006 ¬
" State of the Division: The NFC East Heading Into Week Two "
Welcome to Bizzaro World.

The Giants, Skins, and Cowboys are all 0-1 - and the only NFC East team to pick up a win in the first week was the previously 6-10 Philadelpha Eagles (granted, they beat the Texans, but I'm told that it still technically counts as a win. I'm having my people look into it.) While the Giants' loss to the Colts was foreseeable, the Skins and Cowboys were handed surprising losses at the hands of the Jaguars and Vikings, with the Minnesota road victory being particularly inexplicable (can you name anyone on the Vikings aside from Brad Johnson?) I'm a little surprised that both of those two offensive juggarnauts could stumble so mightily during week one.. Washington certainly wasn't helped by the preseason injury to Clinton Portis, who saw limited action on Monday night, and perhaps that contributed to the unimpressive debut of the Moss-Randle El tandem. On the Dallas side of things, the loss falls entirely on the old and immobile shoulder of Drew Bledsoe, who threw three picks and already looks like the washed-up caricature we all jokingly make him out to be.

The Giants head to Philadelphia next weekend in a game that should set the pace for the division. The Eagles technically have a wide receiving corps now that they nabbed Donte Stallworth from the Saints, making Brian Westbrook that much more dangerous in short yardage situations. The secondary is going to need a much more disciplined approach to this game than they did against the Colts, although the fear of the Peyton bomb is what had them ceding underneath routes all night. The Eagles have always been soft against the run, and Tom Coughlin will probably pound away with Tiki and Brandon as needed. Tiki usually has a field day against Philadelphia, including a monstrous 200 yard outing the last time the two teams met up. Sunday will be more of the same.

Dallas and Washington will also square off, and I really have no idea what to expect out of that one. Give it to the Cowboys in their home opener, but I don't know if this will be the shootout I was expecting.
10 September 2006 ¬
" Misplays, Missteps, Miscues: Giants Outplay Colts, Lose 26-21 "
This game gave us a lot of overwhelmingly positive things to walk away with - and a lot of overwhelmingly frustrating ones, too.

The Giants lost their home opener against the Colts, 26-21, and any glance at the box score might lead you to believe that this affair was dominated by Big Blue - and quite frequently, it was. The Giants had 186 yards rushing to the Colts 55, with Tiki Barber and Brandon Jacobs picking up first downs at will and the Giants D-Line absolutely shutting down Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes. Eli Manning outplayed his older brother, going 20 for 34 with two TDs and a pick versus Peyton's 25-41, 276 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. Plaxico Burress made a spectacular catch to put the Giants on the board, tipping a high pass back to himself and coming down with it in the endzone. Eli wasn't sacked once during the contest, and the O-Line took Freeney and Mathis out of the equation entirely. Even what seemed bad news at the time - an injury to Osi Umenyiora (which doesn't appear to be serious) - turned to gold, as Kiwanuka picked up right where he left off in the preseason, hassling the Colts O-Line and putting constant pressure on Peyton Manning.

And yet, the scoreboard tells a different tale.. L26-21. It offers no explanation for such a disparity. So.. what went wrong?

For starters, the Giants committed a slew of penalties on offense, constantly stalling drives and bringing back huge plays. Three of those gaffes came on Plax's behalf, and although his touchdown acrobatics certainly made up for some his hot-headedness. we can't afford having to move the ball 100 yards on every 60 yard scoring drive. I am not, however, referring to the offensive pass interference called against Tim Carter in the waning moments of the fourth quarter - a call so obviously erroneous that it requires no further mention on my part. If we're fortunate, the officials will offer a brief statement tomorrow morning, acknowledging that the call was ridiculous, but that'll be the end of it. Sorry guys! Our bad! Better luck next time!

But by far the biggest collective groan of the night came when Jay Feeley, who is quietly establishing himself as unreliable in the clutch, missed a pedestrian 40 yard field goal in the 2nd half. Had he nailed it, the Giants would have held onto a one point lead during the 4th quarter - instead of trailing by two and desperately trying to push the ball down field. And with the way the running game absolutely dominated the Indianapolis Defense, it would have been game over, easy.

The only other dark spot on the evening was the play of the Giants defensive backs in third down situations. The Colts went 11-16 on third downs, including an unforgivable 4-8 on 3rd down and 10+ yards to go. The Offense, on the other hand, moved the ball at will. The G-Men are primed to steamroll through Seattle and Philadelphia, and head into the bye at 2-1. From there, the sky's the limit.
07 September 2006 ¬
" Move Over, 1860.. This is the Brothers' War "
Step right up, folks - this may be the only time you'll ever see Manning vs. Manning in the regular season.

With the Giants and Colts not scheduled to play each other again until 2010, and certainly without any guarantee that Peyton will still be in the NFL four years from now (he would be 35 at that point,) this may be the only chance to watch Peyton and Eli go head-to-head - unless, of course, both squads go to the Super Bowl (not a wholly unimaginable scenario.)

Of course, the greatest brother v. brother matchup in the world of professional sports went down in 1997, when during an NHL game between the Sabres and the Whalers, Keith Primeau (of Hartford) and Wayne Primeau (of Buffalo) dropped the gloves and started pummeling each other - with their mother watching on in horror! (They later had to apologize to her and promise that it would never happen again.)

Nothing so dramatic here - they'll never even be on the field at the same time - but the Freeney-Eli and Strahan-Peyton matchups mean that this contest between the Manning brothers may be decided at the DE position. Prediction - the cameras will cut to a shot of a concerned Archie Manning at least five times in each quarter.

Are you ready for some football?
01 September 2006 ¬
" Primed to Start Strong.. Giants Topple Pats, 31-23 "
The New York Football Giants are now 4-0 in the preseason for the first time since their Super Bowl run sixteen years ago.

Big Blue took down New England yesterday, 31-23. Brandon Jacobs truly sparkled, rushing for 130 yards and two touchdowns, including an impressive 57-yarder and yet another goal line score. The running game is looking very strong this year, my friends. Very strong indeed.

Stray gave us a little bit of a scare after getting kicked in the groin in the 1st quarter and limping off the field, but it doesn't look like anything serious (although this is a bit of an understatement to anyone who's ever been kicked in the groin before.) Kiwanuka picked up another sack in the affair and threw in three tackles, and continues to impress at the loaded DE position.

The Giants wrap up the postseason on a very strong note, and they are in a good position to defend the NFC East this year - provided they can tip-toe through the three game minefield that starts off the season. I still think one 12-4 team and one 11-5 team are going to come out of this division, and both will obviously go to the playoffs. If the Giants end up losing 5 and taking the Wild Card (the likely scenario, as I see it,) I won't mind ceding the division title. Just as long as we see a little more in the postseason this time around.